CHAPTER ONE

“Wade Brooks, how the hell are ya?”

 

Grinning, Wade walked forward and shook the well-respected rancher’s hand. “I’m doing well, Mr. Bowman. How’s the wife?” 

 

Mr. Bowman laughed. He was a boisterous man whose ranch was located on the other side of Shady Springs. “Still driving me

crazy, but she ain’t driven me into the ground yet.”

 

He patted the man on the back. “You two will be fine. It’s good to see ya, Mr. Bowman.”

 

After the old man nodded and walked away, Wade blew out a deep breath and looked around the farm, bustling with people from far and wide who had come for the auction. 

 

Shifting the baseball cap on his head, he continued to stroll the grounds. The sun was high, and already the temperature was climbing. It was a perfect day for the event, even though it was a somber one. No man wanted to be in the Roman family’s shoes. They’d been hit with hard times, and from what Wade had heard, they owed Uncle Sam a pretty hefty sum. The auction was one way to keep from selling their entire farm to pay the taxman. Horses, machinery, and even antiques were said to be up for bidding. 

 

Wade was interested in the horses, but was open to see all they would have available. 

 

Depending on the amount they owed, the land would be next. 

Arriving at the corral, he leaned against the fence where the horses were being kept for bidders to observe before they went up for sale, eyeing a few potentials. 

 

The Brookses, Wade’s family, was well known in the county and legendary in the state, owning and operating the Blazing Eagle Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in Colorado. Wade was a fourth-generation rancher who would one day share the full responsibility of running it with his brothers. 

 

He was extremely close with his brothers, Parker and Carson. Parker, the eldest, had been a bull rider at the top of his game, until an injury ended his career. Returning home to the family ranch, he dove into his responsibilities as a Brooks man. Their younger brother, Carson, had gone off to play college football. After receiving his degree, he then came back to work alongside Wade and their father, Jonah. 

 

Wade had held the ranch down while his brothers were off pursuing their dreams. Attending junior college online, he got a degree in business. His heart had been on the ranch. The open skies and the land were his bloodline, and he had worked his fingers to the bone to help ensure Blazing Eagle prospered. 

 

He had founded The Kiddie Camp, something he loved. It gave him a chance to work with the youth and help cultivate future ranchers and farmers. Every summer, Blazing Eagle was overrun with children of all ages who wanted to learn the ins and outs of ranching. He had a solid crew who taught the kids how to ride horses, organized activities, and even hosted a camping trip. 

Kiddie Camp was very popular and expanded every year. 

 

His nephew, Tyler, thrived on it. He was a fantastic kid who Wade enjoyed spending time with. He was proud Parker had finally met his son. It had been a hard pill to swallow to learn of the depths their father had gone through to keep Parker away from Maddy. 

 

Jonah was a hardened man who always preached that Brooks men should look after each other. Welp, Jonah had done the unthinkable by lying to keep Parker and Maddy apart. Little did he, or any of them know, Maddy was pregnant when she disappeared. 

 

When she’d reappeared, all hell had broken loose, and all the lies were brought to light. 

 

Luckily for Parker, he and Maddy got their happy ending. They were now engaged and expecting again. 

Wade shook his head, trying to concentrate on a particular horse who stood out, away from the others, staring right at him. 

 

This one had spunk and attitude. 

 

Jonah had taught him and his brothers all they needed to know about the family business. As the next generation to take over the ranch, Jonah was insistent upon the boys inheriting Blazing Eagle, settling down, and raising families of their own. 

 

Wade snorted. 

 

It wasn’t that he was opposed to settling down; it was just the opposite. He was thirty years old and realized it was time to find that special someone. 

 

But that was the problem. 

 

Where would he find her?

 

“Well, well, well. Looks like the vultures are hovering.”

 

Wade stiffened as Joy Whitaker leaned against the fence next to him.

 

He wasn’t going to counter with a snide remark. Joy always tried to get under his skin, and her comment was a spiteful dig on his family crest, which was that of an eagle, hence the Blazing Eagle Ranch. But he wasn’t going to correct her. 

 

There had been bad blood between their families long before either of them were born. It was practically a custom for a Brooks not to get along with a Whitaker. 

 

He’d known Joy since they were kids, and she was a fierce competitor in everything she did, from perfect grades in school, to racing horses, and even horseshoes. 

 

But there was something else about her. 

 

She was a beauty. 

 

Light brown skin, dark brown hair with blonde highlights, and light, hazel eyes, that at the moment were reflecting the sun, appearing almost amber. 

 

Her curves were what every man dreamed of, so it was a wonder she wasn’t already tied down and starting a family of her own.

 

All the eligible men in town pined after her, but none were courageous enough to approach the little spitfire. 

 

Wade sighed, turning his attention back to the horses when someone added a few sheep to the corral. “What do you want, Joy?” 

 

“Wondering what you’re doing here. Doesn’t the Blazing Eagle have enough horses?” She turned her killer smile on him and inclined slightly toward him. 

 

When he caught the scent of her floral perfume, he shook his head. “We do, but I run a camp, and I’m always searching for the best horses to train for the kids. If a fellow rancher needs to liquidate their assets, I would be willing to offer them a fair price.”

 

He didn’t have to offer her an explanation, but the way she watched him put him on the defensive. 

 

How the hell did she rile him the way she did?

 

“Your family sure seems to make a habit out of trying to help others by buying their assets.”

 

Wade’s cheeks warmed. He swung around and glared at her, knowing exactly what she was hinting at. Years ago, before either of them were born, his grandfather, Cyrus Brooks, had made a deal with Macon Whitaker, Joy’s grandfather. The Whitakers had come upon hard times themselves, and Cyrus purchased land from Macon to help them out, and allow them to get their hands on some much-needed cash. 

 

The Whitakers had never let them live it down. 

 

Because of a deal gone wrong, there had been bad blood between their families ever since. He Wade had never wanted any part of it, and had nothing to do with it, but because of his last name, he was the enemy of any Whitaker who lived in Shady Springs.

 

Joy returned his glare and stood with her hand on her hip. She tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder, as if to dare him to argue with her. 

 

Joy Whitaker lived to argue with him. 

 

He wasn’t going to play into her little game today, though. 

 

“The Blazing Eagle isn’t selling any land no time soon.” Wade smirked. That would rattle her something fierce. 

Joy narrowed her gaze on him. It had worked. 

 

If smoke could come out of her ears, it would. Wade loved seeing her pissed off. Her brown eyes darkened, and her nose flared. She was downright cute when she was pissed off. 

 

“That piece of land your house sits on used to be Whitaker land,” she bit out through clenched teeth, her hands balled into tiny fists. 

 

“Keyword is used to be,” he taunted. 

 

Growling, she spun away on her heels and marched off without glancing back at Wade. His gaze strayed down to her nice round ass as he took notice of her swaying hips. 

 

His cock took notice too.

 

What the hell was he doing? If she knew he was checking her out, she’d more than likely turn her shears on him, shaving him like she would the sheep her family raised. 

 

Wade’s gaze followed her until she disappeared through the thick crowd.

 

Shaking his head, he pushed back off the fence and moved on. He had to get her off his mind. Turning his focus back to the reason he was at the auction, he thrust all thoughts of how sexy Joy Whitaker was when she was mad at him out of his head.

The auction should be starting soon, and he wanted to see what else would be up for purchase. He wasn’t sure what he was there for, but he was an honest businessman, and if he saw a deal, he’d make an offer. 

 

Walking through the large barn, he inspected some tractors that appeared to be in good shape. A few other men gathered around the machines, checking them out as well. 

 

Strolling over to the hood of one, he hefted it up, leaned over it, and assessed the dirty metal. The engine looked sturdy. He wasn’t an expert, but he was sure Carson could give it a good tune-up. He loved to tinker in the garage, and this would be the perfect project for his younger brother. 

 

“Fine machine, huh?” a gravelly voice spoke up next to Wade. 

 

Lifting his head, he met the gaze of an older gentleman in a black and gray plaid shirt, jeans, and a wide-brimmed hat. His face

was covered in wrinkles, which easily spoke of a man who’d spent most of his life out in the sun. 

 

Wade nodded. “Seems to be good.” 

 

“I hear it runs pretty decent, but needs a good fixin’. You thinking of making a bid?” 

Wade stepped back and wiped his hands on his jeans. He didn’t want to give away if he was or wasn’t. Reaching up, he closed the hood as softly as he could. 

 

“Doubt it. I was just browsing.” It was well-known that at auctions, these such people lingered around to get a feel of what would be popular so the price could be driven up. Giving the stranger a nod, he walked away. 

 

Wade wandered around a bit more, taking in other things marked for sale. The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly rose. 

Someone was watching him. 

 

Casually, he glanced about. The barn was full of people taking in the inventory that would soon be auctioned off. And then, his eyes met a pair of familiar brown ones. 

 

Joy. 

 

Enjoying the fact that he rattled her, he grinned wide, tipping his hat to her. She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes before ambling around the barn. 

 

“The auction will be starting in five minutes,” a voice announced over the speakers. “Five minutes until the auction begins!”

 

The crowd shifted and headed toward the auction block out in the back. Wade followed, having made up his mind about a few things he’d bid on. 

 

It was a beautiful day outside. The skies were clear, and the atmosphere was light. There was nothing like a good ol’ country auction.

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