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Authors: Elle James

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Thunder Horse Redemption

BOOK: Thunder Horse Redemption
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A WARRIOR WITH A BADGE

Life in the North Dakota badlands always has its dangers… but
the shooter who attacks Roxanne Carmichael has definitely raised the stakes.
Already struggling to keep her ranch from bankruptcy, Roxy is now faced with new
threats around every corner. To make matters even worse, her ex-fiancé, FBI
agent Pierce Thunder Horse, is visiting his family’s ranch—and once the Lakota
lawman learns Roxy’s at risk, nothing will shake him from her side.

When she threw his ring back in his face two months ago,
Pierce promised Roxy that he’d keep his distance. But leaving her without
protection is not an option. Pierce is determined to stick close, mend old
wounds…and strengthen the unrelenting desire that still rages between them.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” she said, her voice not much louder than a whisper.

“No. It shouldn’t have.” He didn’t try to kiss her again.

She leaned her head against his chest. “It won’t happen again.”

“Count on it.” He held her into the night as she fell into a troubled sleep. She clung to him, her body shaking, her head twisting back and forth as nightmares disturbed her slumber.

In the small hours of the morning, Pierce spooned her body against his, his gaze on the dying embers of the fire, his thoughts swirling around the shooting, the dirt bike, Roxanne and the bullet and wrapper they’d found in the cave.

Sleep escaped him with her body close to his and the wad of evidence in his pocket. The more he mulled over everything, the more dread filled his chest, crushing him with worry.

Elle James

Thunder Horse
Redemption

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A Golden Heart Award winner for Best Paranormal Romance in
2004, Elle James started writing when her sister issued a Y2K challenge to write
a romance novel. She has managed a full-time job and raised three wonderful
children, and she and her husband even tried their hands at ranching exotic
birds (ostriches, emus and rheas) in the Texas Hill Country. Ask her, and she’ll
tell you what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with an angry 350-pound bird! After
leaving her successful career in information technology management, Elle is now
pursuing her writing full-time. She loves building exciting stories about
heroes, heroines, romance and passion. Elle loves to hear from fans. You can
contact her at
[email protected]
or visit her
website at
www.ellejames.com
.

Books by Elle James

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

  938—DAKOTA
MELTDOWN
  961—LAKOTA BABY
  987—COWBOY
SANCTUARY
1014—BLOWN AWAY
1033—ALASKAN FANTASY
1052—TEXAS-SIZED
SECRETS
1080—UNDER SUSPICION, WITH CHILD
1100—NICK OF
TIME
1127—BABY BLING
1156—AN UNEXPECTED CLUE
1172—OPERATION
XOXO
1191—KILLER BODY
1226—BUNDLE OF TROUBLE
1244—HOSTAGE TO
THUNDER HORSE
1281—COWBOY BRIGADE
1306—ENGAGED WITH THE
BOSS
1357—THUNDER HORSE HERITAGE
1382—THUNDER HORSE REDEMPTION

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Pierce Thunder Horse—
Lakota Indian, North Dakota rancher and FBI special agent assigned close to home at the Bismarck, North Dakota, branch office. In charge of the joint FBI and ATF investigation of a radical militia that ended in a deadly explosion.

Roxanne Carmichael—
Last of the Carmichaels, independent and determined to keep her ranch afloat despite the bill collectors and attempts on her life. Blames her ex-fiancé, Pierce, for her brother’s death in the explosion.

Deputy Shorty Duncan—
County deputy in charge of the investigation of attempts on Roxanne Carmichael’s life.

Jim Rausch—
Roxanne’s foreman, who has been with the Carmichael Ranch as long as Roxanne can remember.

Tuck Thunder Horse—
Pierce’s younger brother and an FBI special agent, back at the ranch in preparation for his wedding.

Dante Thunder Horse—
Tuck’s brother and a helicopter pilot for the North Dakota branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Maddox Thunder Horse—
Rancher and oldest of the Thunder Horse brothers.

Ethan Mitchell—
Roxanne’s ranch hand with a sullen attitude and a murky past.

Toby Gentry—
Young ranch hand new to the Carmichael Ranch.

This book is dedicated to the brave men and women who serve our
country in the military, in law enforcement and as first responders.
Their dedication to making our country and world a better place is
selfless and commendable. Thank you.

Chapter One

His tailbone bruised, his thighs protesting the
prolonged position, Pierce Thunder Horse shifted in the saddle. He hadn’t been
on a horse in over two months. There wasn’t much call for FBI special agents to
saddle up.

His typical visits to the family ranch were short. He loved his
mother and brothers and would do anything for them, but the ranch held too many
memories. Pierce didn’t come home often—it hurt too much.

With Tuck’s upcoming wedding, he couldn’t avoid returning. The
frenetic wedding planning served as a stark reminder of Pierce’s own wedding
that wasn’t. When his mother had mentioned that someone should really check on
the local herd of wild horses, Pierce had jumped at the chance to get away from
the hubbub. But he’d ridden half of the day and had yet to find the herd. Soon
he’d run out of Thunder Horse Ranch property and cross over onto the Carmichael
Ranch.

Roxanne Carmichael.

The redheaded hellion, his former fiancée, had been the love of
his life. She was also the one who’d called off their wedding when her brother
Mason had died on the job, thanks to Pierce’s mistake.

His chest tightened, his hands gripping the reins so tightly
his knuckles whitened. Why couldn’t he locate the blasted herd? He was out here
to find the horses, not mull over what had happened.

Every member of the Thunder Horse family had a deep connection
to the wild horses of the badlands. They always felt they needed to make sure
the herd was healthy and thriving, even though official responsibility for the
area’s wild horses rested with the representative of the Bureau of Land
Management—Roxanne. Damn! Had he really thought riding out to check on the herd
would
stop
him from thinking about her? If so, he
was a fool. Their love of the wild horses had brought them together.

Pierce remembered as if it had been yesterday the night he and
Roxanne had saved a lost horse from a snowstorm. Roxanne had asked Pierce to
help her bring the filly to her barn, where they’d nursed her to health and kept
her warm and fed until the mare could be located and the two reunited. He’d
known Roxanne for years, but that was the first time he’d realized what an
amazing woman she’d become. It had been the beginning of their courtship. Eight
months later, he’d asked her to marry him. And two months ago, she’d ended
it.

Since then, he’d buried himself in his work to avoid the pain,
the blame and the loss. He’d made it his objective to dodge memories and force
to the back of his mind the date of his own wedding that hadn’t happened and
never would. But now that he was back at the Thunder Horse Ranch, Pierce had way
too much time on his hands. Plus, the ranch carried too many memories—not just
of Roxanne, but of Mason, who had been Pierce’s friend since they were kids. The
familiar settings only managed to dredge the painful memories back to the
surface, a constant reminder of his failure professionally and personally.

A cold chill slithered down Pierce’s back, chasing away the
warmth of an early summer day in the North Dakota badlands.

He glanced up at the position of the sun as it dropped toward
the horizon, his gaze lowering to the landscape. Nothing moved and only the
sound of his horse’s hooves clomping against the ground and the creak of leather
interrupted his tumultuous thoughts.

With the sun so close to setting, Pierce wasn’t going to find
the herd and still have time to return to the ranch house before dark. Pierce
had tugged his reins to the left, aiming the horse toward the barn, when a loud
bang ripped through the silence.

Was that gunfire?

Bear, his stallion, danced beneath him, whinnying his
fright.

Pierce spun back around and squinted against the setting sun,
his gaze panning the prairie. Firing a weapon on the plains was rare but not
unheard of, although it wasn’t hunting season. Should he check it out? The sound
had come from somewhere on the Carmichael Ranch. He hesitated, not at all
anxious to cross over onto Carmichael property. He couldn’t see anything, but
his gut told him someone could be in trouble.

Another shot rang out.

Pierce nudged his horse.

Already nervous, Bear leaped forward, his legs stretching into
a gallop, eating up the distance on the sparsely vegetated ground between him
and whoever was shooting.

A smudge rose above the landscape, capturing Pierce’s
attention. From this distance, he couldn’t tell if it was smoke or dust.

If the cloud was smoke, it meant a wildfire on the prairie.

The puff grew as Pierce approached. In the middle of the cloud
of dirt rising from the dry prairie grass, a horse and rider emerged, riding
hell-for-leather.

The rider leaned far forward, almost one with the horse, urging
it faster.

As they neared, Pierce made out a small vehicle in pursuit. A
dirt bike, the man steering it bent low over the handlebar.

As the horse and rider approached, the cowboy’s hat flew from
her head and a mass of deep auburn hair spilled out, flowing behind her.

Pierce couldn’t mistake that red hair. It had to be Roxanne
Carmichael, riding like her life depended on it.

His heart thumped, pressing hard against his ribs, making it
difficult for him to breathe. Every instinct to protect what had once been his
reared up in Pierce’s consciousness. He spurred his mount to move faster.

Before he could reach her, another shot rang out and nicked the
hindquarters of Roxanne’s mare.

Already in a state of agitation, the horse bucked, then reared
so suddenly that Roxanne toppled from the saddle, landing hard, flat on her
back.

The mare took off, racing away from the dirt bike, leaving
Roxanne at the mercy of the shooter.

The dirt bike, which had stopped while the driver fired his
gun, now roared toward her again, speed increasing instead of decreasing, aiming
directly for the woman lying on the ground.

At the last moment Roxanne rolled to the side, avoiding being
hit.

Still too far away to intervene, Pierce pulled his rifle from
the scabbard on his saddle and fired a round into the air. At the same time he
dug his heels into Bear’s flanks, pushing him to close the distance.

The shooter slowed and spun the bike to face Pierce, his dark
helmet hiding his face. He lifted his hand, pointing it toward Pierce.

Sun glinted off the metal of the pistol he carried.

Pierce yanked Bear’s reins to the side, forcing the animal to
zigzag toward his target.

Another shot rang out.

Pierce answered, firing his rifle, careful to aim high to avoid
hitting Roxanne. With the horse’s movements the shot could go just about
anywhere. All he might hope for was to scare the bastard away.

When Pierce didn’t back down, the man on the bike spun his
vehicle, the rear tire skidding sideways, kicking up dust in a dense cloud. The
rider sped off across the prairie in the opposite direction. Within seconds, he
disappeared over a rise, leaving a faint haze of dust in his wake.

Pierce raced to where Roxanne lay on the ground, ignoring the
instinct pressing him to pursue the rider. His own need to find and capture the
man who’d shot at Roxanne mattered far less than making sure Roxanne herself
wasn’t badly injured. He jerked back hard on the reins, forcing his horse to
rear and spin all in one motion. As soon as Bear’s hooves touched ground, Pierce
flung himself out of the saddle and ran toward Roxanne.

She lay flat on her back, cursing beneath her breath.

Pierce let out the gulp of air he’d been holding and chuckled.
She couldn’t be hurt badly if she had the energy and wherewithal to form
coherent curses.

Roxanne pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose, her eyes
squeezed shut. “Did you get the license plate of the truck that hit me?” she
asked.

Dropping to his knees beside her, Pierce ran his hands over her
arms and legs, searching for fractured bones.

“I’m pretty sure there’s nothing broken,” she said, pushing his
hands away as her eyes fluttered open. “Hello, Pierce.” Her wide blue gaze was
cool and wary. It hit Pierce like a gut punch to see her look at him with none
of the warmth or love he’d cherished. He reminded himself that he was lucky she
was even talking to him. After what he’d done, he wouldn’t blame her if she
never spoke to him again.

His chest tightened as his fingers slid up her arms. “Hello,
Roxy. Are you okay?” He touched her gently, his hands moving around to the backs
of her shoulders to help her sit up.

She leaned away from his touch then swayed and would have
fallen back if Pierce hadn’t reached behind her and steadied her with his arm.
“Just had the wind knocked out of me in that fall. I’ll be all right,” she
replied.

He leaned her against his chest to keep her from toppling over
and further injuring herself, his heart clenching at the familiar aroma of her
hair—honeysuckle and hay and the incongruous scent of copper, indicating fresh
blood. When his right hand pulled away from her shoulder, it was red with her
blood. “You’ve been injured, and not from the fall. Care to tell me how?”

“What?” She stared at the blood on his hand. “I’m
bleeding?”

“Yes.” He ripped off his denim shirt and the clean white
T-shirt beneath, tearing a piece from the hem. He folded the soft fabric into a
tight square wad and pressed it to the wound on her left shoulder, frowning as
he evaluated the injury. It appeared to be just a nick, but it could have been
so much worse.

“The shoulder doesn’t hurt as bad as the back of my head.” She
pressed her fingers to the back of her skull.

Pierce brushed her hand aside and parted her hair, finding a
soft knot. “More than likely, you’ll live. The shot to your shoulder was just a
flesh wound. Are you up-to-date on your tetanus shot?”

“Had one a couple weeks ago.” She snorted. “Stepped on a
nail.”

Pierce shook his head. “Sounds like you. You seem to follow
trouble.”

Roxanne sighed. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“What just happened here? Why was that man shooting at
you?”

She started to shake her head, until the movement made her
wince and clutch at the back of her head. “Remember the filly we rescued from
the snowstorm two years ago?”

Pierce swallowed hard on the lump clogging his throat,
remembering the night he’d fallen in love with Roxanne. “Sweet Jessie?”

“Yeah, that one.” Roxanne opened her eyes wide and blinked
several times. “I was following Sweet Jessie toward the canyon, hoping she’d
lead me to the herd of wild horses, when I heard a shot from behind. I felt a
sting and when I turned around, that dirt bike was behind me. I took off, he
followed after me… You know the rest.”

“Do you have any idea who the biker was?” Pierce hadn’t been
able to make an identification, but it had been years since he’d lived full-time
on the ranch. Roxanne would be more familiar with the locals—and their
bikes—than him.

“No.” She pinched the bridge of her nose again. “It’s a bit
blurry. I must have hit the ground pretty hard, just now. I was good until
then.”

Pierce stared into her eyes. “You could have a concussion. Can
you get up on your own?”

“Absolutely.” She pushed away from him and staggered to her
feet. Then she swayed and her knees buckled, tipping her over into Pierce.

Pierce straightened, then hooked his arm beneath her knees and
scooped her up, settling her against his chest. He glanced around, searching for
Bear. He gave a short, sharp whistle.

The stallion trotted toward him, snorting and tossing his mane,
still hyped up from the mad dash to save Roxanne.

“Easy,
Mato Cikala.
” Little Bear.
Pierce spoke low and slow in his native Lakota language as he approached the
spooked horse, maintaining eye contact with the animal the entire time.

Ultimately, the stallion calmed, his dancing hooves settling to
a stop in the dry prairie grass.

Pierce lifted Roxanne up onto the saddle, seating her sideways.
He placed her hands on the saddle horn and said, “Hold on.”

Roxanne’s lips tightened. “I know how to ride a horse.”

“I know,” he said, before he placed his boot in the stirrup and
mounted behind her. Then he slid into the saddle, lifting her to sit across his
lap.

“This is silly. I can handle a horse by myself.”

“You may be fully capable, but I don’t intend to walk all the
way to the ranch.”

“My mare—”

“Is halfway back to the barn by now.” He bit hard on his tongue
to keep from saying more. He knew she didn’t want to be anywhere near him, so
the least he could do was make the trip as unobtrusive as possible. Besides,
when they weren’t talking—arguing—he could almost pretend that things were the
way they used to be. Pretend she didn’t hate him…and that he didn’t hate
himself.

The stubborn look on her face didn’t match the glazed look in
her eyes and the way she swayed as she sat there alone.

His heart clinched. “Try not to argue, for once.”

* * *

“I
DON

T
ARGUE
,”
SHE
muttered, her body naturally
leaning against his, despite her better judgment.

With her brain somewhat fuzzy, she had to work to remind
herself that Pierce Thunder Horse wasn’t someone she could trust.

When she realized he was headed away from her ranch, Roxanne
frowned. “You’re going the wrong way.”

“I’m taking you home with me.”

“I can’t go home with you! Some maniac is out there on a dirt
bike shooting up every rider he sees—I need to get home so I can call the
sheriff and tell him what happened. Then I need to check on my horse and make
sure she got back safe and isn’t badly hurt. And when that’s done, I’ll need to
saddle back up to go check on Sweet Jessie—I think the bullet that winged me
might have hit her, too, but I didn’t have a chance to check.”

BOOK: Thunder Horse Redemption
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