Montana Bred series
by Linda Bradley
Threatened by the unexpected, a devoted rancher refuses to compromise her ambition or her legacy.
Chloe McIntyre is determined to become the co-CEO of her grandfather’s Montana ranch, but her father isn’t ready to become partners—yet.
Jaded memories of her parents’ shotgun wedding gone wrong cloud her attraction for best friend Matt Cooper when she discovers she’s pregnant—with his baby. Chloe believes raising a child isn’t in her genes, and she doesn’t expect a marriage proposal. She keeps her condition a secret to hold her position on the ranch and continue what she does best: wrangling strays and working alongside hired hands.
After her father announces his first choice for co-CEO, a wild ride jeopardizes the pregnancy, and Chloe questions life choices. Will the cowgirl grit she has inherited from her grandmother be enough to rein in her disappointment, or will she walk away from everything that could flourish into love?
“Linda Bradley’s magical manipulation of words creates a symphony in the reader’s mind, building lasting impressions to savor. If you love young women with grit and determination, then this is the story for you.” – Roni Hall, author of Montana Wild and Third Man on the Left
Buy Link: https://amzn.to/3rHAByC
I peed on the stick and said a prayer.
I wasn’t sure which stirred the queasy flutter in my belly, the fact I could be pregnant or the fact I’d have to own the responsibility. Matt and I weren’t ready for an addition. We’d been friends since college. We never talked about marriage, and I liked it that way.
My toe-tapping didn’t speed up the process. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. The stopwatch on my phone ticked like the stride of a sloth. I wrapped the pregnancy test in tissue, tucked it beneath the washcloths in the vanity drawer, peeked into the hallway, then decided to go downstairs to the kitchen. I stuck my head in the refrigerator. The blast of air cooled my brow. My stomach rolled over.
My relationship with Matt wouldn’t ever be the same.
I grabbed a bottle of water, shut the door, and twisted the top off. The plastic container crackled. With an eye on the clock, I drummed my fingertips on the counter. The granite was cold, unforgiving.
I peered out the picture window. Maggie and Dad were nowhere in sight. The midday sun lit the majestic Montana landscape. Dad had brought me here to live on his parents’ 617 Ranch when I was eight—6/17, my grandparents’ wedding date.
“I miss you, Grandpa,” I whispered to his spirit and pictured him, the way he looked when I came here eighteen years ago. I wiped away brimming tears, turned on a heel, hurried back to the bathroom, and locked the world out.
I never knew my grandma, Ida May, and I wished I had. I’d seen her in old photographs and always wondered what part of me was like her. If any. And did she watch over me with my granddad?
My hands shook as I read the results on the white plastic stick. My vision blurred. There was no mistake about the outcome. I leaned against the counter and glanced in the mirror. I didn’t feel twenty-six and pregnant.
The knock at the door jarred me. I took a deep breath, wrapped the evidence in toilet paper, then buried it beneath the existing trash.
“Chloe, are you in there?”
I turned on the water, washed my hands, and took a seat on the toilet to search the far crevices of my mind for an answer. Every problem had a solution. All I had to do was find it. Maggie called my name, again. My heart raced.
“Just a second.” I pounded my fists into my thighs. The hangnail on my pointer finger caught in the fray of my blue jeans, and I bit my lip.
“Chloe? I could use your help.” She paused. “Chloe,” Maggie’s voice was muffled through the heavy door. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I dried my damp cheeks, stood, shook out my legs, and inspected myself in the mirror. My wavy, dishwater blond hair framed my flushed cheeks. The silver necklace I wore flickered in the light.
“I’m coming.” I steadied my hand and reached for the doorknob.
Maggie stood in the hallway, leaning against the railing. Her lips pinched when our gazes met. I hoped I could hide my secret behind a smile. “What’s going on?”
She stepped closer, the corners of her eyes her lined with concern. She was beautiful as ever, perhaps even more beautiful than when I first met her. Her slender fingers pushed strands of hair from my face.
Maggie tucked her long, strawberry blond hair behind her ears. I didn’t think she’d ever go gray. I desperately wanted to ask her how it felt to carry a child.
“What’s wrong, Chloe?”
My shoulders fell forward. What was I going to do with a baby? Maggie stroked my hair.
“Chloe, what’s wrong?”
I had no words. Maggie held my hands in hers. The flecks of gold in her green irises shimmered like an Irish field as the light streamed through the window at the end of the hallway.
“You’re obviously upset. You’re shaking.”
“Matt and I had an argument.” I lowered my gaze at this lie.
Maggie examined me through narrow slits. Hopefully, she wouldn’t go all Maggie on me. That’s what Dad called it when she sensed something was off. As amusing as I thought it was when she turned the tides on him, I didn’t want to be in the undertow should she suspect a fissure in my world. She had the nose of a hound when it came to pretense. I suspected she acquired this inherent sense before retiring from her elementary teaching career.
“I should talk to Matt first,” I answered.
I swallowed away the knot at the back of my throat and leaned against the wall. My shoulders fell forward. I tucked my fingers in my pockets and hooked my thumbs through the belt loops of my faded jeans.
My flat stomach wouldn’t be so flat much longer.
“I can’t imagine anything being so bad. You and Matt get along so well.”
I leaned back; my shoulder blades skimmed the wall. “Yeah, I’m sure we can work it out.” How do you work out a baby?
“I could use your help in the barn. Butch and Sundance have gotten into the burrs. I tried combing their tails, but they aren’t having it. Thought maybe you could win them over with your charm and sugar.”
I scuffed my boot lightly against the floor. “Butch and Sundance always find the burrs.” So did I.
“Yes, they do”—Maggie smiled—“but they make up for their horseplay with hard work and loyalty.”
“Nice one,” I said, following her downstairs and into the main part of the house filled with rustic furnishings, love, and everything Montana. Pretty soon it would be filled with the pitter-patter of little feet.
“I’m sure whatever it is, it isn’t as bad as you think. It’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill.” Maggie stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned to face me. “When you want to talk, I’m here.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Do you feel like helping me?” She picked up Dad’s corduroy barn jacket from the floor and hung it on the antler hall tree.
“Yeah, I can’t let Butch and Sundance stay gnarled and knotted like your momma’s knitting yarn.”
“Speaking of my mom, I’d love to see her, up close and in person. I sure miss her.” Maggie straightened the plaid throw on the back of the leather sofa. “Your dad’s in the pasture rounding up cattle with the guys. Butch and Sundance have also been rolling in the mud. I can’t wait ’til someone fills in the hole they’ve made. You’d swear they were a couple of wallowing hogs.”
She stopped short in front of me, and I bumped into her. “Sorry,” I said.
“No need to be sorry. I’m used to it. You’ve been on my heels since the day I met you. Remember the time we bumped heads and I needed stitches?”
“How could I forget?”
Maggie pushed the hair away from her left temple. “The scar is completely gone, but the memory lives on, dear girl.”
There was a message in her words. She wasn’t one to hold a grudge. She was making a point.
“I figured if I brought it up again, it would take your mind off whatever is troubling you. Michigan seems like a lifetime ago.”
“Sure does,” I said. “Some days I’d give anything to be a little girl again.”
Maggie’s gait across the dark planked floors was slow and easy. Over the years, she had absorbed our Gallatin Valley tempo of living and tamed her Midwestern suburban ways, but she hadn’t forgotten her roots. When she wasn’t riding or doing chores, she photographed ranching life in Montana with hopes of publishing her images in a coffee table book.
I turned off the kitchen lights and put on my cowboy hat. Maggie reached for me and squeezed my hands. Her soft touch melted my insides.
“I miss those days, too. I think I got the better end of the deal though,” she said.
“Because I inherited you after the diapers, colic, and ear infections. I might’ve missed the baby and toddler years, but you were still young enough to cuddle with when I married your dad.”
“Actually, I think I got the better end of the deal. You’ve made life easier. Having you made up for my mom’s absence.” I hugged her. “Mom’s Hollywood modeling career has taken a toll on both of us. Me and her. Maybe someday she and I can make up for lost time, mend some of the rifts. She’s always busy though.” I opened the mudroom door. Samson, our scrappy bulldog, waited for us outside. He was seven but had the heart of a pup. “Come on, boy, let’s get to the barn and see what’s going on. If it weren’t for me, this place would go under.” Samson woofed and lollygagged down the path beside me. “I swear this dog is Bones reincarnated,” I said to Maggie. “He has the same swagger and muddy brown eyes.”
“Hey, what do you want for dinner tonight? I picked up some thick cowboy steaks at the butcher’s today. How’s that sound?”
She tripped on a rock and grabbed my arm to balance herself.
“Maybe.” I shrugged.
“Geez, you must really be down in the dumps. Steak is your favorite.”
“Steak sounds delicious. Wish Grandpa were here to cook. I wish he were here to do lots of things.” What I wanted most was to curl up in his lap and bury my head in his shoulder. At the end of the day, whether I’d screwed up or not, I was his girl. And with him gone, I didn’t quite fit in anymore. Somehow, Grandpa always made me feel like one of the guys. Dad, Grandpa, and I had been the three amigos. The banter came easily, and our intentions flowed freely in his presence. “I can’t believe it’s been almost two years,” I said.
“Seems like yesterday, most days.” Maggie blew a kiss toward his memorial marker up on the ridge, then whistled for Samson to get out of her garden. “His method of harvesting beets and carrots makes for a slim crop. He’s got to stop digging holes.”
Samson wasn’t the only one digging holes. I looked toward the ridge where we’d scattered Grandpa’s ashes. The shimmy down my spine forced my shoulders back, and I lifted my chin to the breeze. In my mind, my grandmother appeared to be nudging Grandpa out of the way. “You know what, Maggie? I’ll cook.”
“You sure? Your last attempt resulted in a near four-alarm fire.”
“I’m positive—and thanks for the reminder. I put the last fire out, and I’ll extinguish the ones to come.” I tucked my fingers in my back pockets. A baby might fill Grandpa’s void, but the sole way to make sure his legacy lived on was to take today’s bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. I’d dreamed of running the ranch, not raising a child. I was being given a chance to follow in my grandmother Ida May’s footsteps, which meant it was time to quit bellyaching about what I couldn’t change and do something about the things I could. The McIntyre ranch had an heir on the way, and I was speaking for both of us now.
Linda’s inspiration comes from her favorite authors and life itself. Her character-driven stories integrate humor found in everyday situations, family drama, and forever love. Her distinct voice creates memorable journeys and emotion.
Linda’s been a finalist in the Booksellers Best Contest and Romance Reviews Readers’ Choice Awards. Linda lives in Michigan with her artist husband, sons, and rescue dog. Linda loves art, animals, and stories with hope and heart.
“Maggie’s Way is a heart-warming tale of love and loss, fear and friendship. With charming characters and a moving plot, Linda Bradley’s debut gently reminds us that it’s never too late for second chances.” —Lori Nelson Spielman, International Best Seller, Author of The Love List and Sweet Forgiveness
“Linda Bradley’s fresh voice will keep readers riveted from beginning to end. Bradley delivers a heart-warming story full of disarming honesty and beautiful drama…This one stands out!” —Jane Porter New York Times and USA Today best selling author
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