A sharp, emotional novel about a tough-minded bar owner who makes a deal with a devil of a cowboy—and might just get burned…

Moving to Montana to buy a dive bar with her two best friends sounds like a can’t-miss idea to Charly Henwood. The scenery is breathtaking, and the cowboys aren’t bad-looking either. Not that Charly’s interested. Her heart is as unmovable as the surrounding mountains. After her cheating ex-boyfriend destroyed their relationship and their nightclub, she’s determined to take care of herself, her friends and their bar.

But it turns out the regulars resent newcomers swapping their craft beer for an extensive cocktail menu. One is particularly not happy—The Naked Moose’s previous owner, Jaxon Reed. The last thing Charly needs is a cocky cowboy telling her how to run her bar, or her life. But maybe she can use Jaxon to her advantage. If he’ll agree to be the prize in a charity auction, Charly will make the bar a little more cowboy-friendly.

When that plan backfires, Charly finds herself doing battle with the biggest temptation in Timber Falls. A man who has made it his mission to win her over, using every infernal means at his disposal. And if her resolve goes up in flames, her heart is sure to follow…

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“I loved it! Banter, spicy and cowboys? What more could a girl want!”
Goodreads Reviewer


Jaxon Reed clicked his tongue and the colt beneath him surged forward, its hooves pounding across the meadow of endless Montana beauty that had been in his family for generations. The wind brushed past his face as he narrowed his gaze at the sun beginning to dip in the sky. As he took a deep breath, the aroma of hot dirt and sweet berries wafted through the air. He eagerly filled his lungs, feeling an unmistakable sense of freedom that always accompanied long rides across the land.

Timber Falls Ranch was known for its top-notch quarter horses that were bought and shipped all throughout North America. Over one hundred horses on the ranch were raised in an old-fashioned way, remaining outdoors all year round and living off the land. The mares and their young occupied one field, while the geldings had their own space. Separately, in different fields, were the stallions. Many of those horses went on to be winners in rodeos, endurance trail rides and working hunter competitions.

Before he set out to check on the herd late in the afternoon, he had anticipated a quiet ride, but it soon became apparent that luck was not on his side today.

Out in the west, he found a chestnut mare lying on the grass, accompanied by her fellow herd members. Without hesitation, he clucked his tongue again and the colt beneath him leaped into a gallop across one of the valleys that lay between Yellowstone and Big Sky in Montana.

As Jaxon drew nearer to the mare, worry sank deep into his gut. The mare was lying on her side, breathing heavily and perspiring profusely. He pulled gently on his reins, speaking softly to the colt he had been training for the past month, who instantly responded to his words and slowed its pace.

In one swift movement, Jaxon swung his leg over the back of the saddle and tied up the reins around its horn. Assured that the colt wouldn’t wander away, Jaxon pulled out a pair of gloves from the saddlebag before giving Casey, one of his farmhands, an urgent call.

When Casey answered, Jaxon said, “I’m sending you my location. Get the vet out here—we’ve got a mare in trouble.”

“On it,” Casey replied.

Jaxon sent his coordinates, tucked his phone away and slid his hands into the gloves before approaching the mare. “Easy, Mama,” he murmured, striding around her. She had already birthed one of her foal’s legs. Cursing, he got onto his knees behind her, steadying the foal with both feet during the next contraction before giving a strong pull.

Three contractions later, along with Jaxon’s help, the baby horse slid out easily.

“Good. Good mama,” he breathed, confirming the sweet bay filly wasn’t in distress. Then he brought the foal closer to the mare’s head and stepped away, giving them space, while the mare licked her baby.

Catching his breath, he returned to the colt, pulled off the gloves and threw them in his saddlebag for later disposal. “Well done,” he told the colt before mounting him again.

Time ticked slowly as Jaxon watched the mare bond with her baby, when he heard the rumble of the ATV’s engine before he spotted Casey driving up. The twenty-year-old had begun working on the ranch after graduating high school. Beside him sat Dr. Newman, the local vet who was well past retirement age.

After Casey cut the engine on the ATV, Dr. Newman jumped out, his deep brown eyes shining with excitement. “Your first foal since you took over the ranch.”

Jaxon nodded in understanding. The thought hadn’t been lost on him either. This was the first birth on the ranch since his father’s untimely death from a heart attack six months ago. He shifted on his feet, the chilly awareness of the loss of his father clawing at his chest. The constant reminder was always there that he was still rocked to his core that his father was gone, and Jaxon had stepped into his father’s very large boots at the ranch. “I got here just in time,” he remarked, knowing had this happened overnight the mare likely would have died.

The doctor moved closer. “You’ve got the same knack as your father. He always seemed to know when it was time to come out here and check on his ladies.”

Jaxon merely raised an eyebrow in response. His father did have a sixth sense when it came to horses, and he knew he had inherited it too. Becoming a third-generation breeder wasn’t what he’d planned to do so suddenly, but he would never let his family’s ranch break apart and lose its legacy.

He wasn’t even sure if he’d had a chance to grieve his father’s passing, or properly say goodbye to the life he had before he was weighed down with responsibility for the ranch. The moment his father died, Jaxon had dived into the business and never looked back.

The doctor started tending to the mare, and once Jaxon could see she was in good hands, he said to Casey, “I need to go check on the others in the herd. Give me a shout if you need me.”

“Will do,” Casey replied.

Jaxon gave a quick thank-you to Dr. Newman before giving another click of his tongue. The colt cantered away across the meadow full of wildflowers as they passed the wide spread of contented horses grazing on the grass and growing as they should.

As he and the horse ventured over a hill, Jaxon caught sight of the ranch with its breathtaking beauty and felt a warmth fill his chest, regardless that home looked unrecognizable without his father there. He’d grown used to a lack of female presence when his mother died from ovarian cancer when he was eight-years old, but his father’s absence felt…heavy. With a sigh, he gently patted the colt’s neck before settling into an easy walk, letting out some slack in the reins to allow the horse to cool off after their long ride.

Down the hill, a cozy three-bedroom house sat diagonally across from the barn. The pine logs and fieldstone structure had a rectangular sand ring in front for training, and a few large grassy paddocks for the horses. After his father’s funeral at the ranch that brought in hundreds of horsemen to say their final goodbyes to a man they respected, Jaxon moved from his cabin on the northern part of the land and into the house that his father had built.

As Jaxon arrived at the barn, Gunner Woods walked across one of the fields toward him, wearing tan-colored chaps over his blue jeans. A black cowboy hat was perched atop his stylish blond hair and his bright blue eyes glinted with amusement.

Gunner had lived in Nashville for a short time, pursuing his music career. When he’d come back to town after his album failed to deliver, Jaxon had hired him as a trainer without much thought and Gunner had moved into Jaxon’s cabin. Their shared high school memories forged a bond between them that could not be broken, and Gunner’s soft approach with young horses had always impressed Jaxon.

“Everything okay?” Gunner asked when he reached him.

“The mare and foal are fine. Doc is with them now.” Jaxon dismounted his colt and strode halfway to Gunner. “This guy is ready to be sold.”

“Good news all around,” Gunner said, propping himself up against the fence post.

“Done with him?” Wayne called, coming out of the barn. The gangly eighteen-year-old had gotten his start at the farm like any other kid. He’d stacked hay bales, cleaned the stalls and groomed the horses.

Jaxon let go of the reins. “That’s it for today,” he answered. “We’ve got somewhere else to be now.” If only Wayne was old enough to come along too.

“Where’s that?” Wayne asked, taking the horse’s reins over his head.

Jaxon shot Gunner a grin. “We’ve got a date with some cold beers.”

“Ah,” Gunner said with sudden realization. “The bar reopened today, didn’t it? I completely forgot.”

Jaxon couldn’t forget. Before his father’s death, Jaxon had owned a bar on Main Street. He’d opened the bar in the evenings and pitched in at the ranch during the day for a few hours. But after his father died, Jaxon had known he had to devote himself exclusively to ensuring their family business survived, so he’d sold the bar.

He was proud of what he’d brought to the town—a place where the locals felt like they belonged. It had been seven weeks since the town had a legitimate bar as opposed to just restaurants that served alcohol, and Jaxon could practically taste the crisp craft lager on his tongue.

He was also itching for a fun night out, something he hadn’t had in months besides a campfire and beers at the ranch. Word in town was all the twenty-somethings had been complaining about Jaxon’s bar shutting down, considering the closest bar catering to the younger crowd was an hour away in a larger city. He was not the only one looking for a new hot spot to cut loose. “I have never been so ready for a damn beer,” he commented.

Wayne mumbled something inarticulate about being young and wished them a good time as he led the horse away.

Jaxon chuckled, hearing tire treads crunching against gravel behind him. He looked over his shoulder right as Eli Cole pulled up in a truck with a horse trailer attached to it.

His childhood friend had moved away to Seattle, where he’d owned a carpentry business before settling back home after his sister had passed away. Jaxon and Gunner had never experienced having siblings but found family in each other over the years, and Eli had been there right next to them.

Eli eventually parked the truck and trailer next to Jaxon’s vehicle and got out. His dark hair poked out from beneath his worn cowboy hat while his wise green eyes glimmered from underneath. “Delivery went smoothly,” he remarked in his gravelly voice.

The latest delivery was a five-year-old filly Eli had trained himself. Their three-man team operated flawlessly, as they’d all grown up on this ranch, working their summers and weekends under the guidance of Jaxon’s father.

“Up for a beer?” Jaxon asked Eli.

“Been waiting on this all day,” Eli replied with a smirk. “Let’s get out of here.”

Jaxon was sure that luck was finally on his side today.

Until he arrived at the rustic town square of Timber Falls twenty minutes later, and his mood took a nosedive.

The Old West vibe of the bar’s storefront was gone, replaced by sleek black modern windows. After selling the bar seven weeks ago—choosing to know nothing about the buyers aside from their promise to keep the place a bar, so the town wouldn’t lose its hot-spot—he hadn’t come to town. The renovation would have ripped his heart out. The only consolation was knowing that the space he created that gave the hardworking people of Timber Falls a place to unwind and enjoy would continue.

But as he opened the bar’s door, which now opened easily and didn’t need a little force as it used to, he walked straight into hell.

The walls were no longer adorned with license plates. Now they were painted light gray and the wood paneling on the lower half was stained white. The moose head trophy from a hunting trip with his father and grandfather now wore a pink feather boa and sparkly sunglasses, while the tables and bar stools remained unchanged. In place of the mirror on the back wall hung a banner proclaiming She overcame everything that was meant to destroy her. The greasy aroma normally emanating from bar food had been replaced by an unexpected floral scent.

Jaxon removed his cowboy hat as he took a seat at one of the booths. The blaring country music had been replaced by a Taylor Swift song, and freshly cut flowers had taken the place of a bowl of peanuts. Two women stood behind the bar wearing pink shirts with THE NAKED MOOSE scrawled across them.

“This is something,” Eli muttered, sliding into the booth across from Jaxon.

“That’s one way to put it,” Gunner said, adjusting the waistline of his Levi’s before sitting next to Eli.

“Hmm,” Jaxon agreed.

A cute ginger-haired woman came up to greet them. Her name tag read Willow. “Welcome to The Naked Moose’s grand opening. What can I get you?”

She talked like a city girl, sounding from the Midwest. Obviously, the bar’s new owners weren’t from around here.

“A beer,” Jaxon replied.

Her cheeks flushed bright pink as she handed him a menu featuring only cocktails. He gave the menu back. “A Budweiser please.” A store-bought beer was better than nothing.

Willow shook her head apologetically, letting out a soft “um.”

The other woman standing at the bar hurried to Willow’s side. Her name tag read Aubrey.

Before Jaxon even looked over at Gunner, he knew his friend would be grinning at this woman. He always did have a thing for blondes, and she was just his type.

Aubrey smiled tightly and presented him a plate of small rainbow-colored cookies. “Macaron?”

Jaxon shook his head and gestured at the bar. “Plain old beer, if you don’t mind.” Everyone in town had anticipated the reopening of this place—especially after Jaxon had abruptly shut it down—but this…what the hell was this?

His real estate agent, Billy Palmer, told him the bar would be restored and revived by its new owners. Not…turned into a big-city cocktail lounge, where the hardworking townsfolk would feel not only out of place but unwelcome. He and his friends were coated in layers of dust. Their hands were grimy, their faces caked in the stuff. His gaze drifted to where they’d walked in and left a path of dirt along the spotless floors. Every damn spot in this bar sparkled. He felt like he’d stepped into a place that not only didn’t cater to anyone he knew in Timber Falls, the people he respected and valued, but that did not belong in a small rustic town.

He’d built his bar with only one thought in mind: provide a fun space that got to the heart of what the town and the people needed. A place where there was always dirt on the floors for the cowboys who came, a place where sports were playing on the television screens to appease fans, music and dancing for the people looking to party, and the best craft beer out there. Nothing in this space resembled the bar he’d dreamed up, and his heart twisted in agony over watching his dream burn.

“Can I help you?”

Jaxon’s gaze jerked toward the sound of a firm yet sultry voice. The woman standing before him had flames in her light brown eyes, a color that reminded him of cognac. Her long brunette curls were twisted around her oval face, and all his focus went straight to her full lips, now pressed together in annoyance.

“That depends,” he replied, glancing at her name tag that read Charly. He uttered her name, liking how it rolled off his tongue.

She gave him a bored stare. “On?”

“Got any beers here?”

Her expression was stern. “Sorry, we don’t carry beer. We’re a cocktail lounge.”

Jaxon held her intense stare, enjoying the challenge in the depths of her eyes. Oddly, he felt drawn into it, even if she had something to do with the fact that the bar he had cherished no longer had any of the elements that made it the town’s hotspot.

He tore his gaze away and noticed a chalkboard that proclaimed Book your divorce party today!

“I’ll have scotch on the rocks,” he said, finally glancing her way again. Eli and Gunner ordered the same.

“Coming right up,” Charly said before walking away, revealing her ripped shorts that Jaxon shouldn’t be ogling.

And yet…and yet…he couldn’t look away.

After she returned and handed them their drinks, she gave a polite smile. “Thanks for coming to the grand opening. Enjoy your drinks.”

Life in Timber Falls was always the same. Every day just like the last. But that woman was not like anyone he’d ever met before. “I’ll see you again soon, Charly,” he promised, calling after her.

She glanced back and grinned, all teeth. “Let’s not make it too soon.”

He smiled after her. He’d never been shut down so fast. Oh, hell, who is this woman?

“You weren’t expecting this, were you?” Eli asked when she was out of hearing distance.

Jaxon raised an eyebrow at him. “The state of my bar or the woman who looks like she wants to stab me in the eye?”

Gunner laughed.

“Both,” Eli said, his mouth twitching.

“Both are surprising,” Jaxon admitted. “But one is more unwelcome than the other.” Taking a sip of his scotch, Jaxon found that at least they had chosen top-shelf alcohol.

Gunner knocked back his glass in one go and then asked, “What are you going to do?”

Jaxon just shrugged. “What can I do? They own the bar now.” He never expected that whoever took over his bar would change it so drastically. The bar looked plucked out of New York City. The residents of Timber Falls lived there for its rustic roots, not modern luxuries.

While Jaxon had catered his bar to the needs of everyone in town, the hardworking ranchers held a special place there. He’d grown up around the men and women who worked the land and cattle for generations. His father had close ties to every rancher in the area, and Jaxon had seen they had lacked a place to get together and enjoy some beers and laughs.

His bar meant something to the people of Timber Falls. It meant something to him. And these big-city ladies seemed determined to make sure the favorite weekend spot and after-work hangout was transformed into a place where the only people who would feel welcome there were out-of-towners.

With a thick taste of disappointment in his mouth, he scowled at the glitter and feathers. “What could be their motive?” he questioned. “They’re pretty much alienating all their beer-drinking customers.”

Eli said, “Big cities have cocktail lounges.”

“This isn’t a big city,” Gunner said.

He felt an ache in his chest as he considered what they’d done to his bar. “This won’t stand,” he said eventually. “For years, this bar belonged the people of Timber Falls who want a rugged experience that included great beer, not…this.” He scraped a hand across the scruff on his face. “I need to fix this.”

Eli had his glass halfway to his mouth. “How do you plan on doing that?” he asked.

Jaxon glanced at Charly talking with another customer he didn’t recognize—a tourist he’d bet—and took a sip of his scotch. He savored the flavor of the oak barrels it was aged in before answering, “We need to show them what this bar means to Timber Falls.”

Gunner snorted. “And you think you’re going to be the one to show her that?”

“Who better is there?” Jaxon challenged confidently.

Eli burst out laughing and shook his head in disbelief as he gestured toward Charly. “Anyone, Jaxon. Absolutely anyone would be better than you. She looked ready to cut you.”

Not deterred, Jaxon threw back the remainder of his drink. His gaze followed Charly’s movements as she headed to the other end of the bar. As if aware he was speaking about her, she turned her head and their eyes met. Hers narrowed.

An amused grin spread across his face. “She isn’t so bad. Even if those claws are sharp.”

“Sharp?” Eli snorted. “I’d say they’re downright deadly.”

Gunner agreed with a nod and asked, “What will happen if you fail to convince her to bring beer back?”

“I won’t fail,” Jaxon declared with conviction. He winked at his friends and leaned across the table to add, “You know I’m always up for a challenge, especially one that’s a pretty brunette.”

The Naked Moose series

The Devil in Blue Jeans
Lone Wolf in Lights