Have you ever had a nemesis? Someone who challenged you, brought out your best and worst in the heat of battle? That’s what Cassie Callahan is dealing with in my latest sweet romance, MONTANA HOMECOMING, which is being released in July. Here’s a quick sneak peek:
Cassie Callahan gripped her auction paddle, determined to keep it on her lap until the proper moment. She was, after all, the queen of self-control. The embodiment of coolness under fire. As an assistant school district superintendent, she dealt with unpredictable school boards, principals, teachers and students by calmly addressing facts, laying out pros and cons, refusing to budge unless a decent compromise presented itself. And then she became a master negotiator. She loved it—or at least she used to love it. Lately she’d had the nagging feeling that she was putting more into her job than she was getting out of it.
Burnout, pure and simple, so it made sense that if she had something to occupy her time when she wasn’t on the job, she’d once again feel the thrill of battle as she headed out to work each morning. Thus, the auction paddle.
“Sold!” the auctioneer bawled as a nice palomino gelding was led out of the auction ring, and Cassie shifted in her seat. Showtime.
The palomino had sold for a lower price than Cassie had expected, as had the two horses before. Maybe she’d be able to buy McHenry’s Gold for a reasonable price; maybe the people attending the semiannual Gavin, Montana, horse auction didn’t understand the bloodlines the mare represented. Or perhaps they didn’t care.
Unlikely. McHenry horses were legendary, but that wasn’t why Cassie was bidding. This particular McHenry mare was a daughter of the mare that had seen her through her turbulent teen years. The last daughter. The mother, McHenry’s Rebel, had died the previous year.
“The next mare up is something of a gem, folks.”
No. Don’t make her look good. Just start the bidding.
Cassie clenched her teeth together, then instantly relaxed her jaw. No more of that. She’d promised her dentist.
The auctioneer continued singing the praises of McHenry’s Gold and Cassie had to fight to not stand up and tell him to just shut up and get on with the bidding.
Of course, she didn’t, because that was what old Cassie would have done, back before she’d had a couple thousand classes in management and psychology. Back before she realized that direct confrontation didn’t always work.
“We’ll open the bidding at ten thousand. Do I hear ten? Ten? Ten?”
Ten? The last horse had opened at three.
The ring steward led the mare in a circle. She had excellent conformation but wasn’t flashy otherwise. A bay with a broad white blaze and one white hind foot—a carbon copy of her mother, and Cassie wanted her. She practically had to sit on her paddle.
The auctioneer continued his patter. The guy in front of Cassie leaned forward as if to get a better view of the mare. His paddle hand twitched when the auctioneer lowered the opening bid to five thousand dollars and suddenly Cassie’s paddle was in the air.
The spotter pointed at her. “I have five,” the auctioneer announced. “Do I hear six? Six?”
No six. No six.
“Five and a half? Five and a—I have five and a half.”
Cassie leaned forward as she searched the crowd on the opposite side of the sale ring to see who had the temerity to bid against her. She couldn’t see who’d bid in the sea of cowboy hats. Well, she’d spot him next time if he dared do it again. She raised her paddle for a bid of six thousand, then narrowed her eyes as she spotted the man who bid six and a half.
Her dentist would have hated what she did to her teeth when Travis McGuire met her gaze across the distance that separated them, looking very much the smug know-it-all she knew him to be.
She was in trouble, because when Travis wore that expression, it meant game on. She searched her memory, trying to remember who had won their last confrontation years ago.
Maybe it had been a draw.
This one would not be a draw. Or a loss.
No one appeared interested in bidding higher than six thousand five hundred. The auctioneer worked the crowd, then began intoning, “Seven? Seven? Six and three-quarters… No? Going…going…”
Cassie thrust her paddle in the air just after the second going. She didn’t look at Travis, because she told herself she was beyond their old rivalry. She’d thought he would be, too. They were never going to be friends, but after so many years, surely they could be civil?
“I have a bid of six and three-quarters,” the auctioneer announced.
Cassie could go to seven. That was her limit. But when Travis raised his paddle at seven thousand, she knew that she was going over budget. She wanted that horse.
“Seven and a half? Anyone? Sev—”
Up went her paddle.
“Eight?” He pointed at Travis, who sat motionless, giving Cassie a flicker of hope. “Seven and three quarters?”
Travis nodded and Cassie’s stomach fell.
The auctioneer pointed at Cassie. “Eight?”
She hesitated, then lifted the paddle. After that things became a blur as Travis continued to meet every bid and her blood pressure continued to rise. The seesaw continued until the auctioneer reached ten thousand five hundred. He pointed at Travis, who grimly shook his head. Cassie’s chest swelled. Unless someone had been waiting in the wings for just this moment…
“Sold to number 325.”
Only then, when the heat of battle began to ebb, did she fully process what she’d just done. Ten thousand five hundred dollars. Three thousand five hundred more than she’d allotted. She never got carried away like that. Her gaze strayed across the auction ring to where Travis sat with his forearms resting on his thighs, staring at the ground between his boots. She hadn’t seen the man in over five years, and he still had the power to bring out the worst in her.
And there you have it, the beginning of a new challenge for both Travis and Cassie as she temporarily returns to her home ranch before beginning a sabbatical. I wonder what’s going to happen with Travis and Cass?
Have a great day!