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Master of Solitude (Mountain Masters & Dark Haven #8)
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Since childhood, Mallory McCabe has dreamed of falling in love with a hero. And then one saves her life. He’s honest…and blunt. Deadly, but filled with pain. Overpowering, yet ever so gentle with her. Oh yes, she’s found her hero. Taking him to her bed is simply…right. As is losing her heart.
How could she have known he’d want nothing more to do with her?
His indifference hurts. She vows to forget him…then he buys the land next to hers.
Released early from prison, all Sawyer Ware wants is to put his life back together. His police detective brother houses him while he makes plans. But when a violent gang targets his brother, Sawyer puts his future on hold. He’ll have to take on the gang first. After a decade as a Navy SEAL, he won’t–can’t–walk away if someone he loves is threatened.
His mission is likely to prove bloody. He sure can’t afford to get involved with a woman, especially his captivating neighbor. He hungers to be near her, to enjoy her clear laugh, her easy friendship, and the peace she brings wherever she goes. A relationship is absolutely out of the question.
Why won’t his heart obey orders?
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Sawyer Ware had been out of prison for a whole five weeks and was still acclimating to freedom. Wasn’t it interesting how a year in prison could give a man a whole new appreciation of life outside the walls?
In the ClaimJumper Tavern, he looked around and appreciated the hell out of everything. Like how the ice-cold, draft Budweiser tasted better than any specialty beer ever.
Like Johnny Cash on the jukebox. Women in tight jeans. Unlocked doors. Eating, drinking, and rolling out of bed anytime he felt like it.
And hanging out with his brother with no overbearing corrections officer nearby.
“I like this place,” Sawyer told Atticus. Every breath was redolent with the aroma of beer and French fries. Antlers on the rough log wall served as coat hooks for jackets and hats. In front of the jukebox, two couples were country dancing.
The end of July was the height of the tourist season. On this Saturday night, the small tavern in Bear Flat, California, was packed with loggers and ranchers, most in jeans and plain T-shirts. The tourists visiting nearby Yosemite Park added color with brightly patterned clothing and sunburned faces.
As Sawyer looked around, many townspeople either avoided his gaze…or gave him the stink-eye. This was the downside of small towns—like cockleburs in a horse’s mane, a bad reputation clung to a man forever.
Not that he particularly gave a fuck about the ugly stares. Unlike prison convicts, the law-abiding locals wouldn’t come after him with fists and shivs. “I see the locals aren’t setting out a welcome mat for ex-cons.”
“’Fraid not. They’re pretty resentful about the prison.” Atticus took in the bitter glances toward Sawyer and rubbed his short beard thoughtfully. Although the two of them looked alike—over six feet, muscular, brown hair, blue eyes—Att wore his hair to shoulder-length whereas Sawyer’d never lost a military preference for short hair and being clean-shaven.
Sawyer figured he looked more like a cop than Att did.
“Why would they be resentful?” Sawyer asked. “Doesn’t a prison boost the economy?”
“Bear Flat never wanted a prison located here…or the crime that accompanies one.” Atticus’s mouth curved into a grim smile. “The spotlight on the prison riot and breakout was very welcome.”
“I bet.” The investigation had exposed a multiplicity of bribery and kickbacks, beginning with how the private prison company acquired the building permits to the maneuvering for a state prison contract when its federal contract fell through. The suppression of failed environmental studies had been the kicker. California was very into the environment, and when the state EPA had seen the studies, the prison had been shut down so fast the warden was still probably in shock.
As of last Monday, Bear Flat no longer had a prison on the outskirts of town, and the citizens were damned happy. The locals also made it clear they wanted the prison riff-raff to leave just as fast as the prison staff had.
The noise in the tavern increased as three members of the tattooed, pierced, and over-muscled Neo-Nazi Aryan Hammers sauntered through the room. When the townspeople’s disapproval switched to them, the gangbangers sneered back and took a table in the far corner. Looking around, they spotted Sawyer and Atticus.
Atticus noticed the waves of hate coming from the corner. “Ah, hell. Looks like the morons finally figured out who stopped their buddies from escaping.”
Sawyer snorted. “I didn’t stop them, bro, hard as I tried. I just got stabbed. You were the one who actually took them out.” In the process of rescuing two kidnapped social workers, his brother had killed the leader of the imprisoned Aryan Hammers.
“You killed one and flattened another. They won’t forget it.” Atticus’s gaze turned serious. “It’s barely been…what…five weeks since you were nearly gutted? I know the big bad SEAL could normally flatten a platoon of nasties, but right now, one punch to your gut and you’ll be on the floor. Walk careful, frogman.”
“Hooyah, jarhead. Same goes for you, in spades. You’re at the top of their shit list.” At least as a cop, Atticus was packing.
“Oh, yeah. That’ll keep me up nights.” Att grinned and asked, “Want another beer?”
“Nah.” Sawyer hadn’t had a night out since his hospital release or, come to think of it, since being imprisoned. He was tired, and all the animosity was getting to him. “I’m ready to call it a night.”
“Sounds good. I’ll—”
“Hey, Ware. Did you bring in the saddle you want me to repair?” The shout came from an older, leathery-faced man at a nearby table.
Atticus turned. “I did. It’s in the pickup. Want me to toss it in your van?”
“Yeah. Door’s not locked. Lock it when you’re done.” The man resumed his conversation with a short, round woman.
“Leaving a vehicle unlocked is either trust or laziness,” Sawyer said.
“Actually, he probably doesn’t want to leave his wife right now. It’s their fortieth anniversary, and I’d say he’s going to get lucky.” Att chuckled. “I hope Gin and I still look like that in forty years.”