When danger claims her, rescue comes from the one man she least expects
A cowgirl at heart, Bo Hamilton does her best thinking in wide-open spaces. So when money goes missing from the family foundation she runsmeaning one of her trusted ragtag employees is a thiefBo rides into the Crazy Mountains to figure things out. But a killer hiding among the sawtooth ridges takes her captive and isn't planning on ever letting her go.
Bo's disappearance gets folks thinking she's the guilty one who's run off with the money, but Jace Calder would bet his ranch that she's innocent. Not that he has any reason to trust the beautiful, spoiled senator's daughter. But she also gave his troubled sister a job when no one else would. For his sibling's sake, Jace is going after Bo and bringing her home to face the truth. But up in the mountains, he finds Bo at the mercy of a suspected murderer. As her only hope, Jace is about to find out what they're both made of.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author B.J. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, and three springer spaniels. When not writing, she quilts, boats and plays tennis. Contact her at www.bjdaniels.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/BJ-Daniels/127936587217837 or on twitter at bjdanielsauthor.
Read an Excerpt
The moment Jace Calder saw his sister's face, he feared the worst. His heart sank. Emily, his troubled little sister, had been doing so well since she'd gotten the job at the Sarah Hamilton Foundation in Big Timber, Montana.
"What's wrong?" he asked as he removed his Stetson, pulled up a chair at the Big Timber Java coffee shop and sat down across from her. Tossing his hat on the seat of an adjacent chair, he braced himself for bad news.
Emily blinked her big blue eyes. Even though she was closing in on twenty-five, he often caught glimpses of the girl she'd been. Her pixie cut, once a dark brown like his own hair, was dyed black. From thirteen on, she'd been piercing anything she could. At sixteen she'd begun getting tattoos and drinking. It wasn't until she'd turned seventeen that she'd run away, taken up with a thirty-year-old biker drug-dealer thief and ended up in jail for the first time.
But while Emily still had the tattoos and the piercings, she'd changed after the birth of her daughter, and after snagging this job with Bo Hamilton.
"What's wrong is Bo," his sister said. Bo had insisted her employees at the foundation call her by her first name. "Pretty cool for a boss, huh?" his sister had said at the time. He'd been surprised. That didn't sound like the woman he knew.
But who knew what was in Bo's head lately. Four months ago her mother, Sarah, who everyone believed dead the past twenty-two years, had suddenly shown up out of nowhere. According to what he'd read in the papers, Sarah had no memory of the past twenty-two years.
He'd been worried it would hurt the foundation named for her. Not to mention what a shock it must have been for Bo.
Emily leaned toward him and whispered, "Bo's She's gone."
"Before she left Friday, she told me that she would be back by ten this morning. She hasn't shown up, and no one knows where she is."
That did sound like the Bo Hamilton he knew. The thought of her kicked up that old ache inside him. He'd been glad when Emily had found a job in town and moved back to town with her baby girl. But he'd often wished her employer had been anyone but Bo Hamiltonthe woman he'd once asked to marry him.
He'd spent the past five years avoiding Bo, which wasn't easy in a county as small as Sweet Grass. Crossing paths with her, even after five years, still hurt. It riled him in a way that only made him mad at himself for letting her get to him after all this time.
"What do you mean, gone?" he asked now.
Emily looked pained. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this"
"Em," he said impatiently. She'd been doing so well at this job, and she'd really turned her life around. He couldn't bear the thought that Bo's disappearance might derail her second chance. Em's three-year-old daughter, Jodie, desperately needed her mom to stay on track.
Leaning closer again, she whispered, "Apparently there are funds missing from the foundation. An auditor's been going over all the records since Friday."
He sat back in surprise. No matter what he thought of Bo, he'd never imagined this. The woman was already rich. She wouldn't need to divert funds
"And that's not the worst of it," Emily said. "I was told she's on a camping trip in the mountains."
"So, she isn't really gone."
Em waved a hand. "She took her camping gear, saddled up and left Saturday afternoon. Apparently she's the one who called the auditor, so she knew he would be finished and wanting to talk to her this morning!"
Jace considered this news. If Bo really were on the run with the money, wouldn't she take her passport and her SUV as far as the nearest airport? But why would she run at all? He doubted Bo had ever had a problem that her daddy, the senator, hadn't fixed for her. She'd always had a safety net. Unlike him.
He'd been on his own since eighteen. He'd been a senior in high school, struggling to pay the bills, hang on to the ranch and raise his wild kid sister after his parents had been killed in a small plane crash. He'd managed to save the ranch, but he hadn't been equipped to raise Emily and had made his share of mistakes.
A few months ago, his sister had gotten out of jail and gone to work for Bo. He'd been surprised she'd given Emily a chance. He'd had to readjust his opinion of Bobut only a little. Now this.
"There has to be an explanation," he said, even though he knew firsthand that Bo often acted impulsively. She did whatever she wanted, damn the world. But now his little sister was part of that world. How could she leave Emily and the rest of the staff at the foundation to face this alone?
"I sure hope everything is all right," his sister said. "Bo is so sweet."
Sweet wasn't a word he would have used to describe her. Sexy in a cowgirl way, yes, since most of the time she dressed in jeans, boots and a Western shirtall of which accented her very nice curves. Her long, sandyblond hair was often pulled up in a ponytail or wrestled into a braid that hung over one shoulder. Since her wide green eyes didn't need makeup to give her that girl-next-door look, she seldom wore it.
"I can't believe she wouldn't show up. Something must have happened," Emily said loyally.
He couldn't help being skeptical based on Bo's history. But given Em's concern, he didn't want to add his own kindling to the fire.
"Jace, I just have this bad feeling. You're the best tracker in these parts. I know it's a lot to ask, but would you go find her?"
He almost laughed. Given the bad blood between him and Bo? "I'm the last person"
"I'm really worried about her. I know she wouldn't run off."
Jace wished he knew that. "Look, if you're really that concerned, maybe you should call the sheriff. He can get search and rescue"
"No," Emily cried. "No one knows what's going on over at the foundation. We have to keep this quiet. That's why you have to go."
He'd never been able to deny his little sister anything, but this was asking too much. "Please, Jace."
He swore silently. Maybe he'd get lucky and Bo would return before he even got saddled up. "If you're that worried " He got to his feet and reached for his hat, telling himself it shouldn't take him long to find Bo if she'd gone up into the Crazies, as the Crazy Mountains were known locally. He'd grown up in those mountains. His father had been an avid hunter who'd taught him everything about mountain survival.
If Bo had gone rogue with the foundation's funds He hated to think what that would do not only to Emily's job but also to her recovery. She idolized her boss. So did Jodie, who was allowed the run of the foundation office.
But finding Bo was one thing. Bringing her back to face the music might be another. He started to say as much to Emily, but she cut him off.
"Oh, Jace, thank you so much. If anyone can find her, it's you."
He smiled at his sister as he set his Stetson firmly on his head and made her a promise. "I'll find Bo Hamilton and bring her back." One way or the other.
Bo Hamilton rose with the sun, packed up camp and saddled up as a squirrel chattered at her from a nearby pine tree. Overhead, high in the Crazy Mountains, Montana's big, cloudless early summer sky had turned a brilliant blue. The day was already warm. Before she'd left, she'd heard a storm was coming in, but she'd known she'd be out of the mountains long before it hit.
She'd had a devil of a time getting to sleep last night, and after tossing and turning for hours in her sleeping bag, she had finally fallen into a death-like sleep.
But this morning, she'd awakened ready to face whatever would be awaiting her back at the office in town. Coming up here in the mountains had been the best thing she could have done. For months she'd been worried and confused as small amounts of money kept disappearing from the foundation.
Then last week, she'd realized that more than a hundred thousand dollars was gone. She'd been so shocked that she hadn't been able to breathe, let alone think. That's when she'd called in an independent auditor. She just hoped she could find out what had happened to the money before anyone got wind of itespecially her father, Senator Buckmaster Hamilton.
Her stomach roiled at the thought. He'd always been so proud of her for taking over the reins of the foundation that bore her mother's name. All her father needed was another scandal. He was running for the presidency of the United States, something he'd dreamed of for years. Now his daughter was about to go to jail for embezzlement. She could only imagine his disappointment in hernot to mention what it might do to the foundation.
She loved the work the foundation did, helping small businesses in their community. Her father had been worried that she couldn't handle the responsibility. She'd been determined to show him he was wrong. And show herself, as well. She'd grown up a lot in the past five years, and running the foundation had given her a sense of purpose she'd badly needed.
That's why she was anxious to find out the results of the audit now that her head was clear. The mountains always did that for her. Breathing in the fresh air now, she swung up in the saddle, spurred her horse and headed down the trail toward the ranch. She'd camped only a couple of hours back into the mountain, so she still had plenty of time, she thought as she rode. The last thing she wanted was to be late to meet with the auditor.
She'd known for some time that there were discrepancies in foundation funds. A part of her had hoped that it was merely a mistakethat someone would realize he or she had made an errorso she wouldn't have to confront anyone about the slip.
Bo knew how naive that was, but she couldn't bear to think that one of her employees was behind the theft. Yes, her employees were a ragtag bunch. There was Albert Drum, a seventy-two-year-young former banker who worked with the recipients of the foundation loans. Emily Calder, twenty-four, took care of the website, research, communication and marketing. The only other employee was forty-eight-year-old widower Norma Branstetter, who was in charge of fund-raising.
Employees and board members reviewed the applications that came in for financial help. But Bo was the one responsible for the money that came and went through the foundation.
Unfortunately, she trusted her employees so much that she often let them run the place, including dealing with the financial end of things. She hadn't been paying close enough attention. How else could there be unexplained expenditures?
Her father had warned her about the people she hired, saying she had to be careful. But she loved giving jobs to those who desperately needed another chance. Her employees had become a second family to her.
Just the thought that one of her employees might be responsible made her sick to her stomach. True, she was a sucker for a hard-luck story. But she trusted the people she'd hired. The thought brought tears to her eyes. They all tried so hard and were so appreciative of their jobs. She refused to believe any one of them would steal from the foundation.
So what had happened to the missing funds?
She hadn't ridden far when her horse nickered and raised his head as if sniffing the wind. Spurring him forward, she continued through the dense trees. The pine boughs sighed in the breeze, releasing the smells of early summer in the mountains she'd grown up with. She loved the Crazy Mountains. She loved them especially at this time of year. They rose from the valley into high snowcapped peaks, the awe-inspiring range running for miles to the north like a mountainous island in a sea of grassy plains.
What she appreciated most about the Crazies was that a person could get lost in them, she thought. A hunter had done just that last year.
She'd ridden down the ridge some distance, the sun moving across the sky over her head, before she caught the strong smell of smoke. This morning she'd put her campfire out using the creek water nearby. Too much of Montana burned every summer because of lightning storms and careless people, so she'd made sure her fire was extinguished before she'd left.
Now reining in, she spotted the source of the smoke. A small campfire burned below her in the dense trees of a protected gully. She stared down into the camp as smoke curled up. While it wasn't that unusual to stumble across a backpacker this deep in the Crazies, it was strange for a camp to be so far off the trail. Also, she didn't see anyone below her on the mountain near the fire. Had whoever had camped there failed to put out the fire before leaving?
Bo hesitated, feeling torn because she didn't want to take the time to ride all the way down the mountain to the out-of-the-way camp. Nor did she want to ride into anyone's camp unless necessary.
But if the camper had failed to put out the fire, that was another story.
"Hello?" she called down the mountainside.
A hawk let out a cry overhead, momentarily startling her.
"Hello?" she called again, louder.
No answer. No sign of anyone in the camp.
Bo let out an aggravated sigh and spurred her horse.
She had a long ride back and didn't need a detour. But she still had plenty of time if she hurried. As she made her way down into the ravine, she caught glimpses of the camp and the smoking campfire, but nothing else.
The hidden-away camp finally came into view below her. She could see that whoever had camped there hadn't made any effort at all to put out the fire. She looked for horseshoe tracks but saw only boot prints in the dust that led down to the camp.
A quiet seemed to fall over the mountainside. No hawk called out again from high above the trees. No squirrel chattered at her from a pine bough. Even the breeze seemed to have gone silent.
Bo felt a sudden chill as if the sun had gone downan instant before the man appeared so suddenly from out of the dense darkness of the trees. He grabbed her, yanked her down from the saddle and clamped an arm around her as he shoved the dirty blade of a knife in her face.
"Well, look at you," he said hoarsely against her ear. "Ain't you a sight for sore eyes? Guess it's my lucky day."