Book 4 in the Promise Cove Series
A driven Montana cattle rancher needs a no-strings-attached fake fiancée, and he’s willing to pay. She’ll play along to get back on her feet again.
Fiona Lambert is almost broke. When a stranger offers her cash to be seen on his arm for a few months, she figures she can put up with his overbearing attitude to get a stake for a new start. She’s got one condition: none of her Promise Cove friends can find out about it.
Kevin Dixon needs to wrest back control of the valley’s cattleman’s association before the jerk who used to be his best friend drives it into the ground. At the same time he needs prove he isn’t the ogre his ex portrays him to be and recover his reputation. When he meets Fiona, he decides she’s the perfect choice for his plan: pretty, smart, and uninterested in love.
She enjoys being seen with one of the most sought-after men in the valley; he laughs at her attempts to sand off his aggressive edges with affection. They’re having fun, but it’s a dangerous game of play-acting.
The scenic ranches of northwestern Montana provide the setting for this later-in-life clean western romance. Sit down with a cup of cocoa and cozy up to this charming story of unplanned love.
Buy Winter in Promise Cove now to discover if love can truly conquer all in the wild mountains of Montana.
Available on Amazon.
Read an Excerpt
Kevin Dixon yanked the cuffs of his blue cotton shirt from beneath the navy blazer and stood. He looked at the group seated around the conference table, taking time to make eye contact with each one. Some met his gaze, others looked away, one smirked.
“You’ve made your decision,” he said. “I will see you at the next meeting.” He picked up his black leather folder and headed out, snagging his Stetson from the hat rack as he left the room. His hard-heeled boots thudded on the tiled lobby floor of the hotel where the Flathead Rancher’s Association held its monthly meetings.
“Have a nice day, Mr. Dixon,” an attractive brunette called from behind the desk.
He paused and gave her a smile. “You too, Marsha.”
She beamed in return.
Kevin glanced over his shoulder to see Chad Worlston hustling in his direction.
Pretending he hadn’t heard him, Kevin continued toward the doors that whooshed open as he approached. He’d made it halfway to his pickup when Chad caught up to him.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Chad asked.
“Sorry, no.” Kevin slowed but didn’t stop. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings.”
Kevin whirled and faced his former best friend.
Chad came to a sudden halt.
“No hard feelings that you manipulated people to take over the association for your own purposes?” Kevin leaned forward ever so slightly. “Or that you’re marrying my wife?”
“Ex-wife.” Chad held his ground.
“She was still my wife when you started messing around with her.”
“Let it go, Kevin. The way you treated her, you deserved to lose her. And I’m going to take this association into the Twenty-First Century, not try to hang on to some short-lived myth about the American cowboy.”
“You’re going to do it by squashing the small ranchers.”
“Sign of the times. Bigger operations are more efficient. They should be rewarded for it.”
There was no point in the discussion. The members had made their choice, as ill-advised as it was. He’d go back to the ranch, lick his wounds, and figure out what to do about the association and the reputation his ex-wife was dragging through the mud.
Besides it was cold out here.
He touched his finger to the brim of his hat and turned back toward his pickup.
“Victoria wanted me to let you know she’s inviting you to the wedding. She figures you’d want to be there to show there were no hard feelings.”
The pickup beeped as Kevin yanked open the door and climbed in. The engine gave a satisfactory roar, and he pulled onto the recently plowed roads.
The new year was only two weeks away. Morgan was spending the time after Christmas with a close friend who’d moved to Missoula. There would be time to figure out how to get his life back on track.
Pushing his angst to a far recess of his mind, he lifted his gaze to the mountains to the east and smiled. Hard granite peaks deep with snow formed the western edge of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. At the bottom rich farmland, formed by prehistoric Lake Missoula during the last ice age. In summer, the land in between him and the Rockies would be bright with swaths of yellow canola and mustard plants.
Heading west, he put the mountains behind him and wove his way through the grasslands that dominated this section of the valley. In less than a half hour, he pulled through the arch denoting Lucky Dixon Ranch and drove to the main house, a one-story log building surrounded by a deep porch on two sides. A ramp covered part of the two steps that led from the ground to the porch.
After hanging up his hat in the mud room, Kevin entered the kitchen and walked to where a gray-haired woman sat in a wheelchair staring at a computer screen. “How’s my favorite cousin?” he asked as he kissed her cheek.
“Trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Morgan’s decided to become a vegetarian again,” Daisy said.
“I’d hoped we were past that,” he said, pouring a cup of coffee into a chipped and scratched coffee mug that had belonged to his grandfather.
“It’s better than gluten-free.”
“I can’t keep track. What happened to meat and potatoes?” He snagged a cookie from the always-filled jar. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I do,” Daisy said as she whirled the chair around to face him. “You’d eat steak and potatoes every day, die of a heart attack, leaving Morgan fatherless. Or she’d starve to death first.”
“Do you really have to be so dramatic?” he asked with a laugh.
“Just being realistic.” A frown crossed her forehead. “How did it go?” she asked.
“They voted me out.”
“It gets worse. They voted Chad in.”
“Oh, dear.” Daisy shook her head. “What are they thinking?”
“They’re believing what they’re hearing,” he said, snagging another cookie.
“Victoria still spreading rumors?” Daisy asked.
“Looks like it. No one will say anything to me directly, but I overheard one of the desk clerks asking another if the rumors that I’d slapped my wife were true.” Anger boiled within him. “Character doesn’t count anymore. It’s only the latest they’ve heard from their neighbor.”
“Or over the internet.”
“I’d never hurt a woman. Never.” The cookie snapped in two and crumbs fell to the floor. He grabbed a paper towel and scooped them up. “Sorry.”
“As long as you pick up after yourself, I don’t care.”
She rolled herself over to one of the cabinets and pulled open the top one. Checking the cans, she nodded. “I’ll pull together a vegetarian chili, put some aside for Morgan, and add beef to ours.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said.
“Speaking of plans,” she said, “what are you going to do about Victoria?”
“I think you should find a woman to date, be seen around town, and have her spread some counter rumors about what a nice man you are.”
“No one in Kalispell is going to date me after the dirt she’s spread,” he said. Not that he wanted to date ever again. Living the rest of his life without a woman other than his cousin sounded perfect.
But the idea of having a female friend to flaunt in front of Victoria and Chad at social gatherings appealed. He wasn’t above a bit of petty revenge. But no woman in her right mind would agree to something like that.
“I’m going to go change and check with Gris about feed and the conditions out on the range. Maybe take a ride to check on the cattle.” He grabbed a final cookie and grinned as he left the kitchen.
Gris Packard was his year-round manager and ranch hand. The Lucky Dixon raised shaggy, horned Highland cattle on its two hundred and fifty acres. It wasn’t a huge ranch, but Kevin made a solid living. With what his grandfather left and conservative financial practices, he could be considered a rich man.
That’s what Victoria had seen in him. The difference was she’d wanted to spend it as rapidly as possible.
But she was gone. In spite of their tumultuous end, he still had Morgan. As far as he was concerned, the sun rose and set on his daughter. Another good reason not to invite another woman into his life. Morgan didn’t need the stress of another “mother,” no matter how well-intentioned the woman might be.
Kevin hung up the sports coat and traded the pressed blue shirt for a more practical flannel version. After divesting himself of his dress boots, he put them in the closet with the other shoes.
Why did a man need so many pieces of footwear?
When he walked back through the kitchen, Daisy was rinsing the few things in the low sink he’d had installed when she’d moved in a few years ago to help out when Victoria became too busy with her social duties to handle the bulk of the household tasks. A cleaning crew came in once a week, but Daisy scheduled everything, including any maintenance tasks.
His cousin was a godsend, and he didn’t regret making the necessary kitchen, door, or bathroom modifications for one moment.
Victoria, however, had complained about the expenditures incessantly.
Had she always been as self-centered? How could he have missed that trait?
After shoving his feet into his worn-in work boots, he pulled on his stained Carhartt jacket and headed to the barn. Inside, Gris was checking supplies and making a list. He looked up when Kevin walked in.
“Calving season starts soon. Pays to be ready,” he said.
Kevin nodded. Gris didn’t say much, but what he said was always right on the money and always truthful. Kevin trusted his manager with his ranch and his life.
“You think any more about what I said,” he asked. “I want to give you a percentage of the ranch, make you a small partner.”
“Still thinking. Not sure I wanta be tied down that much.”
“I could always buy you back out if you wanted to move on.” The discussion was nonsense. Gris had been with the ranch when Kevin took it over from his grandfather. If he hadn’t moved on in the last twenty-five years, he wasn’t likely to do so. “Let me know. The offer stands.”
Kevin’s phone buzzed.
“Lucky Dixon Ranch,” he said.
“Is this Kevin Dixon,” a male voice asked.
“Yep. How can I help you? If you’re looking for beef, we won’t be slaughtering until fall.”
“Um. No. No beef.” The man sounded less sure of himself than he had a few moments before.
“Then how can I help you?”
“My name is Les Kinberg. I’m an executive producer for Blue Lake Pictures. We’re checking into logistics for a movie we’re planning. The studio is all about authenticity. The book takes place in that area of Montana, so we’d like to shoot there.”
“Okay,” Kevin said slowly, still not sure what the man wanted.
“I figured as president of the local cattleman’s association …”
“Ex president. Got the demotion this morning.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. My contact … ah, here it is … she met you last year at a charity event. She said you were a straight shooter. Do you think you could help us?”
“I’m not sure what you want,” Kevin said, vaguely remembering a couple from Hollywood he’d met at the Friends of Glacier National Park affair he’d gone to in the fall.
“Yes. Of course you need to know that.”
“We want to shoot our film up there. We’ll need access to locations for shooting on ranches, people to help make sure we’re being authentic, horses, cattle, a caterer, wranglers … stuff like that.”
For a second Kevin thought of turning the whole mess over to Chad. It would serve him right. But Chad would guide the Hollywood folk to the big landowners. It was the smaller rancher who could use the cash.
Instead he said, “Get me more details, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
End of Excerpt