Promise From A Cowboy
Book Three of the Coffee Creek, Montana Series
A Cowboy With Something To Hide
On the rodeo circuit, B.J. Lambert had plenty of chances to forget about his first love. Back in Coffee Creek, it’s impossible. Savannah Moody is as irresistible to B.J. as when they were teens. He’d still do anything for her—except give up the secret he promised to keep.
Sheriff Savannah Moody knows B.J. is hiding something. Not his feelings for her—it’s obvious to both of them that the attraction is as strong as ever. But she simply can’t afford to give in. She has her sister to care for, and the family land, and B.J. might be gone tomorrow. She also has a job to do: to pursue the truth and discover what really happened eighteen years ago when a barn burned and a man died. Even if it costs her dearly…
- Welcome to Book 3 in my Coffee Creek, Montana series. I highly recommend reading all the Coffee Creek books with a good cup of coffee and a delicious cinnamon bun close to hand. (Read one of the books and you'll understand why.)
- Winnie and her new baby still haven't returned to town, but don't worry, they soon will. And Jackson Stone will be waiting.
- Did you know the town is called Coffee Creek because of the topaz-colored water in the Creek that runs behind Main Street?
- Here's a piece of local gossip. I suppose you've heard about Savannah Moody, the new Sheriff? Her father was an alcoholic and gambler who lost the family's fortune before passing away from liver disease. Her mother is in the Mountain View Care Home. Mental problems. Not much of a family, but Savannah's a good Sheriff. And a beautiful woman. She's got a tough job to do today, though. She's got to break some awful news to the man she once loved, the oldest Lambert son, B.J.
- As the story opens, we're back in time, to the day Brock Lambert was supposed to marry Winnie Hayes. Savannah is just driving up in her patrol SUV. Grab your book and start reading--you have to see what happens, because this is where all the Coffee Creek, Montana stories really begin...
- View a map of Coffee Creek, Montana on my Extras page.
Coffee Creek, Montana
Justice is overdue in the coastal town of Twisted Cedars where two unsolved mysteries lay buried in the past. Read the complete trilogy:
Enjoy an Excerpt
B.J. had been a rodeo cowboy for almost as many years as he’d spent growing up in Coffee Creek. He’d met a lot of women in those seventeen years. None of them had ever meant to him what Savannah Moody had.
Was it because she’d been his first girl? He’d fallen for her the moment she stepped into the classroom, already beautiful at age fifteen in an unstudied, slightly exotic way that made her stand out from the crowd. Lots of the girls in Coffee Creek were blondes or toffee-colored brunettes, while Savannah’s hair was thick, wild and nearly black.
Her eyes, smoky and dark, had a mysterious, watchful quality and her smooth olive skin and generous, full lips sent a sultry invitation that belied her cautious nature.
Her brother had similar coloring, was also tall and naturally thin, but beyond that, the resemblance ended. Hunter had been cocky, belligerent, on the look-out for trouble. In contrast, Savannah was almost always serious, never one to break a rule or stretch a boundary.
B.J. and Savannah had dated for several years, and in all that time she’d never let him do more than hold her hand or kiss her modestly. At parties she’d avoided drinking and smoking which meant she’d always been the designated driver.
Her high standards had carried over into everything she did—whether it was studying or working at a part-time job, or looking after her baby sister. His friends had teased her at first, but Savannah had remained steadfast and eventually she was accepted and even respected.
He’d wanted to marry her.
And now, looking at her as a grown woman, all those old feelings were surging again.
He’d heard her motorcycle approaching and had been watching her for a while. She looked great in a fitted leather jacket and dark jeans that hugged her long, lean physique. She was almost as tall as he was.
“Find anything in there?”
He caught a whiff of a fresh orange blossom scent as she walked past him on her way to the barn. The big doors had long since fallen to the ground, leaving a gaping opening into the building. The walls sagged to the east, so much so that he felt as if one shove would topple the entire structure.
But it was sturdier than it appeared. It had to have been to have survived this long.
“Funny thing, having a barn in the middle of nowhere.”
She’d never been here before then. Until today, he, himself, had felt no wish to revisit the place where a man had died. “It was used for branding in the spring,” he explained. “Back in the days when the Turners were big into cattle, before my grandfather died.”
“When was that?” Savannah asked.
“He had a massive stroke the year before I was born. A day later, he was gone. According to his will, the land was divided between his two daughters. Mom inherited about five hundred acres of good grazing fields that butted up to my dad’s property. Maddie Turner was left with the rest, including the house, barn and all the outbuildings.”
“Is that when the feud between them started?”
“Their relationship was already rough. But it did get worse then. Mom told Corb that Aunt Maddie didn’t let her visit her dad after he had his stroke. Twenty-four hours later he died without her having had a chance to say good-bye.”
“Yeah. If it’s true.” B.J. knew he was supposed to be on his mother’s side, but he couldn’t help feeling skeptical.
“After her father’s death, didn’t Maddie keep raising cattle?”
“She tried. But she soon had to scale down operations. Apparently Maddie doesn’t have my mother’s head for business and she made one bad decision after another. From what I hear, she only has about fifty head now, as well as a few dogs and some chickens.”
“So this barn hasn’t been used in a long time.”
Savannah pulled a flashlight out of the breast pocket of her jacket. “Strange she never had it torn down.”
B.J. hung back near the entrance. He’d been wishing he had brought a torch and admired her foresight. She traced the light along the building’s foundation until she came to a corner where the boards were almost entirely black: the obvious starting point of the fire.
“I guess Maddie’s had bigger problems to worry about, than a falling down barn in the middle of nowhere. But if you hadn’t shown up when you did, I might have rectified her oversight.” He pulled a pack of matches out of his pocket.
Savannah’s light flashed a line across the ground ending up at his boots, then his face. “No way. You wouldn’t have.”
But he could tell she wasn’t sure. Fact was, neither was he. Burning down this building once and for all would have solved a lot of problems.
And he wasn’t thinking about himself, here. Though she would never believe that.
Savannah returned to her investigation, trailing the light over the charred boards that led up from the corner and spread out along both the north and east walls of the barn. A good section of both walls had been severely burnt, though the fire had never reached as high as the loft area above them.
“I wonder if Sheriff Smith had an arson team out here to investigate. There was no mention of it in the file.” She examined the blackened boards more closely. “You’d think lightning would strike at the roofline, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
He said nothing. Only he and Hunter, his father and Sheriff Smith knew that lightning hadn’t caused this. There was no reason to draw Savannah into their deception.
“When did you find out a man died here?” Savannah asked him.
“Not until the day after the fire.”
“That’s what Hunter said, too.”
He could see the skepticism in her gaze and he glanced away. His father had come into the cattle barn to give him the news.
B.J. had been shocked. And afraid. He’d started to tell his dad the truth then, but Bob Lambert had shaken his head. “Don’t talk, son. I’ve been over this with the Sheriff and we’ve agreed the most likely cause of that fire was lightning. Unfortunately that poor vagrant was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Despite the “official story” there had been rumors. Most of them centering around Hunter Moody whom everyone agreed had always been a shady sort of kid—just like his father.
B.J. couldn’t do much about the rumors. But he’d kept his promise to his father and kept mum about that night, never telling anyone that Hunter had been up in the loft that night, and so must have seen the vagrant.
He could have put all the blame on Hunter, but he hadn’t. He’d protected the other guy out of a sense of responsibility. He should have figured out what Hunter was up to and stopped him.
He’d also kept quiet for Savannah. She had enough problems with her family. He hadn’t wanted to add another.
“You’re still not going to tell me what happened, are you?”
“Better ask your brother for that.”
She made a sound of frustration, then gave up on him and resumed her inspection of the barn. “I’d like to get a look at that loft,” she said.
He glanced up. Light was coming through gaps in the wood. “It’s probably not safe.”
“Just a quick once over.”
“I’ll go.” He leaned some of his weight on the ladder, which was on the opposite side of the barn from where the fire had been started. It didn’t feel very solid.
“Let me try it,” Savannah said. “I’m lighter.”
He gave her a “get serious” look, then, despite his better judgment, put a foot on the second rung. Half expecting the lumber to crack apart under his boot, he took another step, and another.
Anxiously Savannah gripped the bottom of the ladder. “Be careful, B.J.”
He grinned. “How many times have I heard you say that?” Glancing down, he thought he could see her smile in return. He was just about at the top now. He reached one hand from the ladder to the floor of the loft, and was about to take the final step up when he heard a loud “crack” and his left foot fell through rotten wood.
He grasped desperately with his free hand, managing to secure a two-hand hold on the loft, while the rest of his body swung free as the ladder disintegrated beneath him.
“Hang on, B.J.!”
“Believe me, I am.” He grunted as he worked at shifting his body weight up to the loft. “You okay down there?” He hoped she hadn’t been struck by any of the falling wood.
“I’m fine. Try swinging your legs. If you get some momentum...”
She’d no sooner said the words, than he was putting them into action. And the extra momentum did help. He grunted again, pushed hard, and finally was able to drag his body up to the second level.
“Look out. I’m tossing you the flashlight.” He heard a thud a few feet to his right.
“Don’t stand, in case the wood is rotten up there,” Savannah added.
“Roger that.” He crawled toward the torch and once he had it securely in hand, switched on the light and played it against the far wall. Slowly he surveyed the space, but saw nothing except a few bales of moldering hay and a pile of blankets in the far corner.
“Any signs of fire up there?”
He studied the rafters and roof for several minutes before admitting, “No. I can see where the guy died, though. There’s still a pile of blankets in the corner.”
Savannah hesitated. “I don’t imagine there can be any physical evidence worth salvaging at this point. But want to take a closer look?”
He did and was already crawling toward the corner. When he arrived, he carefully set down the torch, then picked up first one blanket, then the other. He saw nothing, but heard the chink of something metal falling to the wooden surface.
Savannah heard it too. “What was that?”
He flashed light over the area. Something gold sparkled. “It’s some kind of coin. Should I leave it here? Or take it?”
He slipped the coin in his pocket, then satisfied himself that there was nothing else he hadn’t noticed, before crawling toward the bales.
“There are some old straw bales up here. Stand back while I toss them down. They’ll probably break apart when they fall, then after you mound up the straw, I’ll jump.”
“I’ve been wondering how you were going to get down.”
“No problem,” he said, mostly out of bravado. He was looking at a fifteen foot drop and these bales were the small, square kind.
“Okay. I’m out of the way.”
“Here they come, then.” He heaved one, then the other over the edge. As he’d predicted the old twine broke apart on impact and the straw spilled free onto the dirt floor.
Savannah lost no time in piling the straw into the softest landing pad possible. “I wish we had more straw.”
“And I wish that damn ladder hadn’t broken,” he mumbled. He’d better not break an ankle with this fool manoeuver. Hobbling around in a cast wasn’t his idea of how to spend the summer months.
He sat down, letting his legs dangle over the open side of the loft. Savannah was standing back, watching.
“This is crazy,” she said. “Why don’t you wait while I drive to my place? I can be back with a proper steel ladder in under an hour.”
He didn’t fancy hanging around this loft like a damsel in distress for five more minutes, let alone an hour.
“Incoming,” he called out. Then he let the rest of his body follow his feet off the edge of the loft.
* * *
B.J. rolled as he hit the straw pile and ended up a few feet from the tips of Savannah’s boots.
Her heart had taken a leap of its own when he’d jumped, but she managed to sound cool. “You look good down there.”
For a moment he stood his ground, too close for comfort, making her aware of how much stronger and tougher he’d grown in the years since he’d left Coffee Creek.
Of course, she was stronger and tougher, too, but mostly in ways that couldn’t be seen.
“You all right?” she asked, trying to switch her focus from her feelings—which felt ridiculously fragile right now—to his well-being.
He took a few tentative steps. “Seem to be.” He handed her the flashlight, which she hadn’t even noticed he was still carrying. Then he dug the coin out of his pocket. “What do you make of this?”
She stepped out of the barn, surprised to see that the sun was almost behind the distant Highwood Mountains to the west. She studied both sides of the coin. It looked brand new, but was dated more than a century ago. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. I wonder if it’s valuable?”
B.J. had followed her outside and now he looked over her shoulder at the coin. “Seems like an odd thing for a young guy to have dropped out of his pocket.”
“Maybe our runaway took more than his father’s watch with him.”
“It does look like something from a collection. Maybe he planned to pawn it for cash.”
“Whoever stole the watch, mustn’t have known about the coin.” She put it in her pocket. After seventeen years exposed to the elements, she was certain no fingerprints could have survived. But she’d store the coin in the evidence room at the office, just in case it turned out to be significant.
She glanced back at the barn, then at B.J.. She wondered what he was thinking. There had been moments, back there, where it had felt like old times between them.
She’d done a lot of thinking on the long drive home from Oregon. For so many years she’d blamed B.J. for the party, and for Hunter’s subsequent downward spiral.
She realized now that she’d been unfair.
B.J. had been good to her brother. He’d taught him to ride, and to wrestle a steer and rope a calf—all skills that Hunter still put to good use on the rodeo circuit. He’d included Hunter in their group of friends, most of whom were responsible kids who worked hard at school and were involved in sporting events in their spare time.
The wildest thing they ever did was gather at the creek bank behind Main Street to drink a few beers on weekend nights.
“Kind of late now.” B.J. shrugged. “But yeah.”
“Why did you lie?”
“Why do you think?” he asked quietly.
Her heart sank. Because there could be only one answer. “You did it for me.”
After she’d picked Hunter up from the Sheriff’s office, her brother had really laid it on thick about how B.J. had insisted they all take their ATV’s out to that barn. According to Hunter, B.J. was the one who’d sourced the hard liquor, as well.
She’d been so upset, she’d refused to take B.J.’s calls. And she’d avoided him at school, too.
Two months later, they’d graduated from High School—and then B.J. and Hunter were both gone.
She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry.”
“Well. It was probably for the best. We were too young.”
Back then, yes. She nodded. “So how long are you home for? Where’s the next rodeo?”
“Not sure.” B.J. picked up his hat, which he’d left on a rock when he’d gone into the barn earlier. He glanced up at the sky and frowned. “Looks like a storm is blowing in.”
“That happened fast.” She thought of the other night, seventeen years ago. According to her brother, the big thunderstorm had blown in quickly then, too.
B.J. glanced at her motorbike. “You better get moving before those clouds get here.”
Yet they both stood for a few seconds longer, watchful and tentative as good memories and bad swung in the balance. She’d come out here hoping to convince herself that the story Hunter and B.J. had told all those years ago had been true.
Instead, she was only more certain that there was more to the story. A lot more.
End of Excerpt
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