Friday, June 21, 2013

The Rancher's Homecoming by Cathy McDavid

Image of Cathy McDavid

A Time To Rebuild 

It's gone-everything Annie Hennessey, and two generations of Hennesseys before her, had worked so hard to build. The devastating forest fire didn't just claim her family's Sweetheart Inn-it also burned half a town whose livelihood is wedding tourism. Now the struggle to rebuild is just beginning, and Sam Wyler's sudden reappearance isn't going to make things any easier on Annie. 
Nine years ago, Annie and Sam were deeply in love. When he left to seek his fortune, Annie couldn't forgive him. Now Sam, widowed with a young daughter, is back and eager to help the town recover. But Annie needs more than bricks and builders to heal her proud and wounded heart. Could the love they once shared hold the key?
Cathy McDavid
Cathy McDavid had no idea when she opened that first Walter Farley book in third grade, it would be a defining moment in her life. After devouring every Black Stallion and Island Stallion book written at the time -- the process took over a year -- she decided she wanted her own horse. That dream was realized a few years later, and Cathy went on to own horses and ride most of her life. Bonanza and Big Valley reruns every day after school enforced her love of all things western as well as a fascination with "cowboy" history.

Always an avid reader, she first put fingers to keyboard in 1995 and penned her first novel. She enjoyed some success with smaller publishers, but it wasn't until 2005 when she finally got to see her first mass market paperback on the shelves of Barnes and Noble book stores. There was no going back after that. In 2006, she started writing contemporary westerns for Harlequin American couldn't be happier. All those years of reading every horse book ever written and watching old western TV shows finally paid off!

These days, she is "mostly" retired from the corporate business world and writes full time from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona near the breath-taking McDowell Mountains, where javalina traipse across her yard, hawks fly overhead and bobcats hide in her trees. Her twenty-two year old twins have "mostly" left the house to live on their own, but return often, if only to use her washer and dryer and empty out her refrigerator -- a situation that does not make her two spoiled dogs and two spoiled cats happy. When time allows, she heads to her cabin in the mountains, always taking her laptop with her on the chance inspiration strikes. 

Author's Website

My Review:

The Rancher's Homecoming could be described as a nice easy going read; the story line flowed. It had the typical Harlequin controversy, broken-hearted characters, and a love story. 

What set this book apart was a lovable grandmother that you can't quite figure out. Is her mind fading away or does she have selective memories? After their inn burns down in a raging forest fire, the Hennessey women are left homeless and without the family business, and searching for an anchor in the madness. 

Most of the residents of the little town of Sweetheart have been forced to move after the fire raged through their town known for weddings. The Hennessey women are determine to rebuild the bed and breakfast that has been passed down generation to generation if it's the last thing they do. 

Life gets bumpy along the way, especially when Sam shows back up, determined to help the residents of the town rebuild. His motives are suspect and his attraction to Annie stronger than ever. In a little town that still has hitching posts outside the local bar, will she open up her heart to the one who broke it?

For those of you who love Harlequin romances, you'll love this one. 

Excerpt reprinted from Amazon

Six weeks since the fire and the lingering smell of smoke still burned like acid in the back of her throat. Annie Hennessy covered her mouth and nose, remembering the days immediately following the fire when they were forced to wear face masks and hazmat suits as they waded through the waist-deep ruins of the inn that had been in her family for the past fifty years.

Like then, she bit back the sobs, afraid even letting one escape would cause her to break down entirely. Where would she and her daughter be then? Her mother and grandmother? Homeless, probably. Or living on the generosity of some relative.

Annie took a tentative step forward, wincing as something crunched beneath the sole of her hiking boot. She dreaded looking down but did anyway.

The charred remains of a picture frame lay in her path, barely recognizable. Whichever room the painting had once hung in was anyone's guess. During the fire, the roof caved in on the second floor, which had then collapsed onto the first floor.

Only the foundation, parts of the exterior walls and a few blackened ceiling beams remained. All the precious heirlooms, antiques, furnishings and mementoes the Hennessy women had collected over the past half century had been reduced to a giant pile of rubble in a matter of minutes.

No, not everything. As Annie took another step forward, something metallic peeked out from beneath a plank of wood.

Squatting down, she shoved aside the plank, mindless of the grime smearing her hands. One by one, her fingers closed around the object, and her pulse quickened. Why hadn't she noticed this before today?

Like a miner discovering a diamond in a barren field, she unearthed the discolored desk bell and held it up to catch the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in from overhead. For as long as she could remember, this bell had sat atop the lobby desk. Hundreds, no, thousands of guests had rung it.
Another piece of Annie's shattered heart broke off.

She clutched the bell to her chest and waited for the strength to rise in her. She would add this to her collection of salvaged treasures. A metal comb, a silver teapot, an iron hinge to the storeroom door, to name a few.

Annie fought her way across the piles of crumbling debris covering the former lobby floor. Staying here another minute was impossible. Why did she insist on torturing herself by stopping every day on her drive home from work?

Because this was her home. Not the tiny two-bedroom apartment in town where she and her family currently resided.

Bracing her free hand on the front entrance door frame, she propelled herself through the opening and across the lawn, filling her lungs with much-needed clean air.

Her SUV stood where she'd left it, in what had been the inn's parking lot. The vehicle, a pea-green all-wheel-drive monstrosity, bore the logo of the Nevada Division of Forestry on its driver's side door.

Annie had started working for the NDF only last week and considered herself one of the lucky few. She'd gotten a job, low paying as it was. Too many of her friends and fellow residents were unable to find employment or even a place to live.

For the Hennessys' inn wasn't the only structure in Sweetheart, Nevada, that succumbed to the fire's insatiable hunger. Nine thousand acres of pristine mountain wilderness and two-thirds of the town's homes and businesses were destroyed—along with all of their livelihoods and very way of life.

Once behind the wheel, Annie didn't head to the apartment. Instead, she took the road out of town. Her mother wasn't expecting her for another hour. And as much as Annie wanted to see her beautiful daughter, she needed a few moments of solitude in a place that had escaped the fire. A place where her spirit could mend.

She slapped the visor down as she turned west. Before the fire, she hadn't needed to shade her eyes. The towering ponderosa pines on both sides of the road would have blocked the sun's glare. Now, a sea of scorched trunks and branches stretched for miles. Every hundred feet or so, a single tree stood, lush and green and miraculously spared.

What Annie wouldn't give to have her family's inn be like those surviving trees.

This wasn't just the town where she'd grown up and the inn her place of work. Her roots ran deep. According to her grandmother, the Hennessy line went all the way back to the first settlers.

Shortly after the gold rush of 1849, a wagon train passed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On it, two young passengers met and fell in love. When the wagon train stopped in what was now Sweetheart, the man proposed to the woman. They married in California but returned to the spot where they'd become engaged to settle and raise a family. The next year, the man discovered gold. Word traveled and people arrived. The small town that sprang up was called Sweetheart after its first settlers and founders of the mine.

Many of the businesses in town, including Annie's family's, capitalized on the legend. To Annie, it was more than just a story, it was her heritage.

Ten minutes later, she stopped the SUV at the security gate blocking the entrance to the Gold Nugget Ranch and got out. Several years earlier, after the ranch had been closed to the public, the caretaker had entrusted Annie's family with a spare key. She was supposed to use it only for emergencies.

She considered mending her broken spirit as good an emergency as any.
To her surprise, she found the gate closed but padlock hanging open. Had Emmett been here and forgotten to secure the lock when he left? Doubtful. The caretaker was as dependable as ants at a picnic. But what other explanation could there be?

Returning to her SUV, she navigated the steep and winding mile-long dirt road to the ranch. Even before she got there, she spotted an unfamiliar Chevy dually pickup parked near the sprawling front porch.

The truck was empty. So was the porch. Whoever was here must be inside or out back. But why would they have a key to the gate?

Annie strode determinedly across the dirt and gravel yard to the porch steps. Every inch of the house and grounds was familiar to her. Not only had she visited on countless occasions, she'd seen it over and over while watching syndicated reruns of The Forty-Niners on TV.

The front door stood partially ajar and creaked loudly when she pushed it open. Her footsteps echoed ghostlike as she crossed the empty parlor.

"Hello? Anybody here?"

She should be nervous. The stranger prowling the house or grounds might be a vandal or a thief or even an ax murderer. Except what ax murderer drove a fireengine-red pickup truck?

Maybe a real estate agent was here showing the ranch to a prospective buyer. It had been for sale the past several years, though there had been few lookers and no serious offers. Despite the ranch's claim to fame—a location used to film The Forty-Niners for eight years during the late '60s and early '70s—and a much reduced price, it was a bit of a white elephant.

Annie was secretly glad. For as long as she could remember, it had been her dream to buy the iconic ranch.

Since the fire, her only dream was to survive each day.

At a noise from above, she started toward the staircase. "Hello!" Taking hold of the dusty newel post, she let her gaze travel the steps to the second floor.

A figure emerged from the shadows. A man. He wore jeans and boots and a black cowboy hat was pulled low over his brow.

Even so, she instantly recognized him, and her damaged heart beat as though it was brand-new.

Sam! He was back. After nine years.

Why? And what was he doing at the Gold Nugget?

"Annie?" He started down the stairs, the confused expression on his face changing to one of recognition. "It's you!"

Suddenly nervous, she retreated. If he hadn't seen her, she'd have run.
No, that was a stupid reaction. She wasn't young and vulnerable anymore. She was thirty-four. The mother of a three-year-old child. Grown. Confident. Strong.

And yet, the door beckoned. He'd always had that effect on her, been able to strip away her defenses.

A rush of irritation, more at herself than him, galvanized her. "What are you doing here?"

Ignoring her question, he descended the stairs, his boots making contact with the wooden steps one at a time. Lord, it seemed to take forever.

This wasn't, she recalled, the first time he'd kept her waiting. Or the longest.

At last he stood before her, tall, handsome and every inch the rugged cowboy she remembered.

"Hey, girl, how are you? I wasn't sure you still lived in Sweetheart."

He spoke with an ease that gave no hint of those last angry words they'd exchanged. He even used his once familiar endearment for her and might have swept her into a hug if Annie didn't step to the side.

"Still here."

"I heard about the inn." Regret filled his voice. "I'm sorry."

"Me, too." She lifted her chin. "We're going to rebuild. As soon as we settle with the insurance company."

"You look good." His gaze never left her face, for which she was glad. He didn't seem to notice her rumpled and soiled khaki uniform. Her hair escaping her ponytail and hanging in limp tendrils. Her lack of makeup. "Th-thank you."

"Been a while."

"Quite a while."

His blue eyes transfixed her, as they always had, and she felt her bones melt.

Dammit! Her entire world had fallen apart the past six weeks. She didn't need Sam showing up, kicking at the pieces.

"What are you doing here?" she said, repeating her earlier question. "How did you get in?"

"The real estate agent gave me the keys." He held them up in an offering of proof, his potent grin disarming her. "I always liked this place."

He had. They'd come here often when they were dating. She'd show him the areas off-limits to tourists, all the while going on and on about her plans to buy the ranch and turn it...

Pub Date   

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