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Her Risk To Take (PAPERBACK)

Her Risk To Take (PAPERBACK)

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Perfect Bound


Enjoy this short, steamy, Western Romantic Suspense by New York Times bestselling author Toni Anderson, set on a Montana ranch at Christmas.

She’s everything he doesn’t deserve. And when danger strikes, everything he stands to lose.

ER doc Sarah Sullivan has a problem. And he sleeps about a hundred yards away in the Triple H bunkhouse. On Christmas Eve, she offers Cal Landon her heart—and he turns her down flat. But even as Cal pulls away, Sarah refuses to give up because she can’t imagine a life without him.

Working in the ranch’s clean, frostbitten air, cowboy Cal Landon is able to put his past behind him—almost. Off the ranch, no one lets him forget he’s an ex-con. With the Sullivan’s finally getting back on their feet, he should be moving on—far away from the temptation named Sarah.

A woman who haunts his every thought. A woman who’s way too good for the likes of him. A woman, when she’s trapped in a dangerous hostage crisis, he would give his life to protect…


Her Risk to Take is a 20K-word novella that was written as a follow-up to Her Sanctuary. All books can be read as standalones.  

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Chapter One

It was November in the Treasure State, the sky so blue it made the russet of the dead grass glow like bronze, and the few remaining leaves on the trees shimmer pure gold. The scent of dark, fragrant earth rose up, filling the valley, mixing with the pungent smell of horses, saddle soap, and leather. Cal Landon cinched the girth another two notches as the quiet bay mare turned her head to give him a disgruntled look. Morven was smart and easygoing, but lately she was getting fat and lazy. When the heated indoor arena was built, the mare was going to be invaluable in helping kids and adults learn to ride, but in the meantime, Cal figured he better give her some exercise. He’d saddled a roan gelding for Ryan and was waiting for the other cowboy to head out after breakfast. Cal pulled a hoof-pick out of his back pocket and checked the horses’ feet, clearing away clumps of dried dirt.
He and Ryan were checking fences down near the reservoir today. Cattle kept escaping onto the road, and he didn’t want them causing any accidents. There must be a break in the wire somewhere. He and Ryan could have driven down, but the horses needed exercise, and they both liked doing things the old-fashioned way.
The Triple H Ranch was owned by the Sullivans— Nat and his wife Eliza, and Nat’s sister and brother, twins Sarah and Ryan. Cal had been close friends with Nat since school and had worked at the ranch after he’d gotten out of prison. Most of the time he managed to forget about that dark period of his life, and the Sullivans made it easy. They never judged him, never held it against him. He’d probably have screwed up years ago without their unflinching support. Off the ranch, some people went out of their way to remind him he was nothing but a murderer.
A breeze snaked down off the Flathead Range, the hint of frost in its teeth.
Fall was a quiet time on the ranch. They had a couple hundred head of cattle that needed shelter from the cold and a constant supply of food and water, but it wasn’t a particularly onerous time of year. He and Ryan could pretty much handle it themselves with the occasional help from
Ezra, when the older man’s arthritis wasn’t playing up. Nat and Eliza were busy overseeing the construction of the arena and establishing the stud side of the business.
Things were looking up for the Sullivans.
Cal grabbed the saddlebags, which contained an axe, a
spade, a couple of hammers, nails and some coils of fence wire. Enough to patch up any gaps they found until the scope of a proper repair job could be assessed. He pulled on his work gloves and swung his leg carefully over the back of his horse. She danced for a minute, adjusting to his weight, then settled and rubbed her nose against the wooden corral.
Sarah Sullivan came out of the house carrying her doctor’s bag in one hand and a pink Hello Kitty lunch kit in the other. His mouth went dry, the way it did every time he caught sight of her. She waved and sent him a happy grin. He felt the return smile on his face even as his heart raced. Ryan came out behind her, carrying his daughter, Tabitha. The cowboy strapped his little girl in her car seat, gave her a
loud smacking kiss that made her giggle, and then headed over to Cal at a jog.
Cal watched Sarah drive away.
“You should make a move there,” Ryan said as he swung aboard his horse.
Cal narrowed his eyes. “That’s your sister you’re talking about.”
Ryan snorted. “Yeah, but I’m not the one who wants to jump her bones.”
Cal ignored him and urged Morven into a trot past the ranch house, but Ryan wasn’t done. Something the twins had in common was the inability to hold back anything they might be thinking or feeling. Most of the time it meant Cal didn’t have to say more than two words all day, which suited him fine. But when that focus was directed at him? Look out.
“No one lives forever, brother.” The wind whispered through the nearby aspens, rattling branches and making a shiver crawl over Cal’s skin, despite his flannel shirt and sheepskin jacket. “Don’t assume she’ll still be around tomorrow.”
Jesus, that thought was depressing, but Ryan had lost his childhood sweetheart to cancer, so no one knew better that life was short, and sweet could be snatched away in a heartbeat.
But Sarah Sullivan was too good for the likes of him. She was a doctor. He was an ex-con.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He dug his heels into the horse’s ribs. She shot forward and Cal would be lying if he said he didn’t get satisfaction from beating Ryan to the reservoir. But the guy still wasn’t done.
“I know how you feel about her, you know. I see it every time you look at her.”
Cal winced, then shrugged. Hard to lie to a man he’d worked with daily for the last decade.
“She feels the same way.”
“She tell you that?” Cal shot Ryan a look.
“I just know.”
Cal snorted. “You’re an idiot.”
“Right back atcha, brother.”
Cal rolled his eyes even as he ran his gaze along the wire. He pointed. “There’s the problem.” A tree had come down where the fence cut through a small wood.
“You bring the axe?” Ryan asked.
Ryan rolled his shoulders. “Looks like we’re going to get a good workout today.”
Cal grunted. As long as he didn’t have to talk about his
feelings for Sarah, that was fine.
The sound of the horses’ huffing breaths in the cold morning air was accompanied by the creak of leather and the jangle of harnesses.
“Remember what you said to me after Becky died?” Ryan asked quietly.
Cal froze. That was the first time he’d heard Ryan utter his wife’s name since she passed. “I remember,” he said.
“Sometimes all you can do is keep breathing...”
Cal nodded and looked straight ahead.
“You were right, Cal. Those words got me though the first few days, the first week without her—hell, maybe even the first year.” Cal glanced at Ryan who gave his head a sharp shake as if to clear it. “I don’t remember that time, at all. Just the pain, and the fact you told me to just keep on breathing.” Ryan swallowed repeatedly. Cal’s fingers tightened around the reins. “I don’t remember Tabitha as a baby—without Nat’s photographs I wouldn’t be able to picture her at all.” Ryan had totally ignored his daughter, unfairly blaming her for his wife’s death. “Becky would have
had my hide for that. Fuck, imagine if she knew about the rest...”
Cal closed his eyes at the pain in his friend’s voice. It had been the worst time imaginable, and they’d almost lost Ryan too. It had taken nearly two years of drowning in alcohol and women before Ryan had come through the other side. Cal could hear the knowledge, finally, that Ryan knew he had to move on without her, without the love of his life.
No one should have to go through that.
Ryan cleared his throat. “So those words of yours actually
saved me when I needed saving.”
Sometimes all you can do is keep breathing...
The cowboy looked out across the silver water of the reservoir, the mountains reflected in all their glory. “The thing is, eventually, you need more.”
Cal knew where this was going. He shook his head. “Nuh uh. Not everyone.”
Ryan grabbed Morven’s bridle, brought their horses to a stop and forced Cal to meet his eye. “Everyone. Even you.”
They were almost at the woods now. Cal slipped from the saddle and ducked under the mare’s head, leading his horse forward before tying her to a tree branch. He wasn’t about to argue with Ryan about life or happiness or expectations. Compared to where he’d been, this was
paradise, and not a day went by that he didn’t thank God for the Sullivans and the Triple H ranch. And, if his dreams sometimes included a certain petite, sassy strawberry blonde? That was his business. Didn’t mean he intended to act on it.
He took off his jacket. “Pass me the axe,” he ordered.
Ryan held it out with a grin. “As long as you don’t go all
Brokeback Mountain on me.”
Cal gripped the wooden handle and braced his legs apart. “I was thinking more The Shining, asshole.”
“The Shining Asshole?” Ryan guffawed.
Cal poured his energy into the foot-wide trunk of the downed birch and prayed he was man enough not to put his fist through Ryan’s pretty face. Thwack. It was great his friend was finally moving on after his own tragedy. It didn’t mean anything had changed for Cal and he didn’t expect it to.

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