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Wild Wyoming Nights

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«Wild Wyoming Nights» - Джоанна Рок

“You’ll stay with me.” Emma Layton is working in Wyoming to get away from her abusive ex. But when wealthy ranch owner Carson McNeill learns of her plight, he insists she stay with him for protection. Emma agrees—even knowing this cowboy may prove irresistible….
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“You’ll stay with me.”

She can’t resist the rich rancher!

Emma Layton is working in Wyoming to get away from her abusive ex. But when wealthy ranch owner Carson McNeill learns of her plight, he insists she stay with him for protection. Emma agrees—even knowing this cowboy may prove irrestible... Proximity soon leads to passion, night after night. But when Carson learns her secret connection to his family, this ride gets a whole lot wilder!

Four-time RITA® Award nominee JOANNE ROCK has penned over seventy stories for Mills & Boon. An opti-mist by nature and a perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly—love is worth fighting for. A former Golden Heart® Award recipient, she has won numerous awards for her stories. Learn more about Joanne’s imaginative muse by visiting her website, joannerock.com, or following @joannerock6 on Twitter.

The Magnate’s Mail-Order Bride The

Magnate’s Marriage Merger His

Accidental Heir

Little Secrets: His Pregnant Secretary

Claiming His Secret Heir

For the Sake of His Heir

The Forbidden Brother

Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk

Wild Wyoming Nights

Joanne Rock


ISBN: 978-1-474-07667-8


© 2018 Joanne Rock

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.


To my warrior readers who’ve had the

strength to leave unhappy relationships—

may you find romance in the everyday

and joy in your new journey.



Back Cover Text

About the Author


Title Page


html#u5faa2ddc-25bd-5546-87eb-81b479faf69f" id="back_u5faa2ddc-25bd-5546-87eb-81b479faf69f">Dedication
















About the Publisher


Nerves prancing harder than the spirited stunt horse beside her, Emma Layton gripped the reins tighter. This was only her second day of shooting on location in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

She prayed there would be a third.

The gray Andalusian was specially trained for trick riding, one of a half-dozen animals delivered to the Creek Spill Ranch for filming Winning the West. The horse shook its long mane and stomped the ground, bristling with impatience to begin their work together. The mare was far better prepared for the day’s challenges than Emma.

When she interviewed for this opening—only her fifth paying role as a stuntwoman—Emma had been so focused on nailing the job that she hadn’t thought twice when asked about prior riding experience. While it was true she’d taken informal lessons as a teen on the property where her mother worked for the famous Ventura family, Emma knew she’d only been granted the job because of her connection to Antonio Ventura, the director. Not that she would see him any time soon. As a stunt performer for one of the more minor characters in the film, Emma served as part of the second unit on this location. That meant she answered to the stunt coordinator, while Antonio would direct the leads.

Both units were filming at the Creek Spill for the next two weeks, but Emma hoped and prayed the shoot would run over. She needed the work almost as much as she needed to be as far from Los Angeles as possible right now. Far, far away from her ex-boyfriend, due to be released from state prison tomorrow. This job had been a godsend, a boon that made her determined to exaggerate her limited horseback riding ability.

This morning, Emma and her assigned mare stood outside the pristine Creek Spill stables with five other body doubles and their mounts. All waited for instruction from Zoe Bettle, the stunt coordinator who also served as horse mistress for the film. Zoe, an accomplished horsewoman in her midforties with the body of an athlete, appeared to be in a standoff with a tall, impossibly handsome cowboy in a dark Stetson.

At least, he looked like a cowboy.

His broad shoulders filled out a fitted gray T-shirt tucked into faded jeans with creases bleached almost white where the fabric contoured to his movement and muscle. His boots had the distressed leather look that costume designers labored to replicate with sandpaper and acetone. But the weathered appearance didn’t extend to the rancher’s face. He had the square jaw, chiseled cheekbones and full lips a camera loved. Clearly, he was one of the lead actors—someone with enough clout to raise Zoe’s hackles. Emma could tell by the set to her shoulders that she was not pleased with whatever the man had to say.

Already, Emma didn’t like him. She needed her boss in a good mood today so Zoe would be forgiving of the mistakes Emma was sure to make. As it was, the woman appeared ready to fire the first stunt rider foolish enough to screw up. Emma tried to calm her nerves by stroking Mariana’s soft gray muzzle.

“Fine.” Zoe’s last word had enough volume to reach Emma’s ears. She turned toward the assembled stunt talent. “A change of plans today, ladies and gentlemen.

” She strode closer to them, her tall riding boots stirring up dust from the pasture. Although she was just barely five feet tall, she carried herself like an Olympic gymnast, her perfect posture and musculature outlined by tan jodhpurs and a bright red T-shirt. “Our host, Mr. McNeill, has expressed concerns about our horsemanship.” She articulated the word with all the affront she must be feeling. “So I have assured him we will slow down our training schedule to meet the ranch’s safety standards.”

Their host? Emma glanced back at the rancher she’d mistaken for an actor, seeing him in a new light. If he was responsible for this sprawling ranch with its well-kept fields and neatly maintained barns, he excelled at his job. The Creek Spill was like a minitown in the middle of nowhere, from its bunkhouse full of ranch hands to its on-site cooking facilities and dedicated water tower.

“Ms. Bettle, I think you misunderstood me,” the cowboy called from where he stood near the freshly painted four-rail fence that separated the pasture from the paddock area.

The stunt coordinator ignored him. She folded her arms and glared at the talent.

“We will divide into two groups. Ms. Layton and anyone else involved in the race scene, please show Mr. McNeill how well prepared we are for the stunt.” Zoe’s eyes bored into Emma’s, warning her not to mess up. “The rest of you, come with me. We will be working in the far pasture so as not to disturb the local horses while they ‘adjust to our presence.’”

Emma’s boss did not roll her eyes, but her tone suggested how much she wanted to. Two other stunt doubles—both men, both stronger riders than her—stepped forward with their mounts and headed toward the rancher. Emma started to follow them, keeping hold of the leather reins as she spoke soothingly to the mare at her side.

“Ms. Layton.” Zoe stepped closer to her, voice lowered. Hints of an Eastern European accent came through. “Carson McNeill signed a unique agreement with the production company that gives him the last word on safety conditions here. Since the Creek Spill is a working ranch, we don’t have the luxury of sending him on a two-week vacation while we shoot. We must make sure he’s satisfied that we know what we are doing. Yes?”

Emma nodded. “I understand.”

Impressing Carson McNeill was priority one if she wanted to keep this job. Her palms began sweating on the reins as she glanced at the cowboy who now controlled her fate. Why couldn’t she be filming a fight scene? Or jumping off a building? Anything but horseback riding. No doubt Zoe recognized Emma was the weak link in the stunt crew.

She’d been warned.

While Zoe and the remaining cast members mounted for the ride to the far pasture, Emma urged her horse, Mariana, forward. Morning sunlight glinted off the creek in the distance behind the ranch owner. The whole property flanked the water on both sides for two miles. When she’d first arrived at the Creek Spill two days ago, Emma had been overwhelmed by the beauty of Wyoming with its endless blue sky, rugged cliffs and rolling hills dotted with wildflowers. Now the spectacular view narrowed to Carson McNeill, where he stood under the shade of a giant ash tree.

He appeared to give instructions to both men in her group, and the guys were mounted and riding away before she reached his side. Her pulse raced; she wished she didn’t have to speak to him alone. She’d mostly conquered her demons where men were concerned. After the nightmare relationship with her former boyfriend ended three years ago, Emma had started training herself for this competitive profession to supplement her work as a personal trainer. Stunt work appealed to her need to be more sure of herself, and she’d fooled a lot of people into thinking she had already arrived at that goal.

Right now, she was more worried about Carson McNeill calling her out for a fraud where her riding skills were concerned. Without the men in her crew to hide behind, she would be making it easier for the rancher to see her weakness. But the idea of appearing weak steeled her spine as she walked over to him, giving her the shot of bravado she needed to pull this off.

“I’m in the race scene, Mr. McNeill.” She tipped her chin up and braced her shoulders. It was her personal “ready” position. “What would you like to see from me?”

She had a degree in exercise science. She’d trained hard to be here. This man would not send her packing.

“Call me Carson.” He just barely touched the brim of his Stetson, a cowboy tip of the hat.

“Emma Layton.” She didn’t offer her hand since she held Mariana’s reins with her right one and it was slick with nervous sweat. In her left hand, she clutched the strap of her riding helmet.

Carson McNeill was even more compelling up close, where she could see past the shadows cast by his hat. His eyes were pale blue. A hint of dark hair escaped his hat, curling at the base of his neck. His gaze dipped over her briefly, inspiring a flare of unexpected heat along her skin even though she was thoroughly covered in a standard workout T-shirt with the jodhpurs and riding boots Zoe had provided.

“Nice to meet you, Emma. And I assure you, I didn’t mean to start the day on the wrong side of your boss.” There was a certain practiced charm about his smile. She bet he unleashed it on other women with great success.

Emma couldn’t afford to be interested, despite that lick of warmth she felt along her skin. The sensation wasn’t from the smile that was too automatic, but from the intelligence in those blue eyes. A shrewdness that told her there was more to the rich rancher than a handsome face and honed bod.

“Zoe knows stunts and horses as well as anyone.” Emma had read everything she could find about the woman on her flight to Cheyenne, and she’d been impressed. “She’s probably not used to having her judgment questioned.”

“I don’t question her horsemanship, only the skills of her crew members.” His gaze moved from Emma to Mariana, and he reached to stroke the mare’s nose. “In particular, I noticed yesterday during the workout that you appeared uneasy at times.”

Her stomach dropped. She hadn’t known she was being observed.

“Yesterday we were simply tasked with getting to know our mounts.” Sweat broke out along the back of her shoulders, though it wasn’t all that hot for August. A breeze stirred the mare’s mane and made Emma’s skin turn clammy. Her heart rate quickened. “I’ve never worked with a horse that uses so many specialty commands. She’s highly trained.”

“Unlike you.” He reached for the bridle. “May I?”

His fingers brushed hers, the contact sparking unwanted heat despite how he’d just insulted her. Relinquishing the leather, Emma tamped down her anger, knowing she needed to smooth things over with him or Zoe would send her home.

“Mr. McNeill—”

“Carson,” he reminded her, letting Mariana’s lead dangle to the ground. “And you don’t need to hold her so tightly. That’s why she’s rocking her head like that. She wants some breathing room.”

“Carson.” She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Seeing the way Mariana quieted, Emma could hardly argue with him. “Stunt work involves a wide variety of skills. While I may not be the expert horsewoman that Zoe is, I assure you, I am well qualified to scale heights, take a fall or drive a burning car into a building.”

He folded his arms across his chest, seeming to take her measure. “But you’re not working with a car or a building. You’re working with a nine-hundred-pound animal with a will of its own, and that brings a whole new level of danger to the job.”

“That’s why the production company imports horses like Mariana. They’re used to the rigors of filming and working with a variety of people.”

“That doesn’t mean you can waltz in here after a Saturday at the local dude ranch and expect to pull off a stunt on horseback.”

Too bad she had to do just that.

“Then tell me, Carson.” She looked him in the eye, unwilling to back down. “What do I have to do to prove to you I belong here? You name it, and I’ll rise to the challenge.”

Because whatever dangers Mariana and the Creek Spill Ranch held for Emma, they were nothing compared to the damage an angry ex could do if she went back home now.

* * *

Emma Layton was turning out to be an enticing distraction he hadn’t anticipated.

Carson stared into her deep brown eyes, her gaze unwavering as she awaited instruction. She was scrubbed clean of makeup, her brown hair scraped back into a ponytail and wrapped into a haphazard knot. Everything about her said she was here to work, from the determined set of her full lips to the tense shoulders she’s squared to him.

She was a half foot shorter than him, with the kind of lean muscles that dancers possessed. She was hardly what came to mind when he envisioned a stunt actor but based on her scowl, he guessed she might breathe fire if he spoke that thought aloud. With her long elegant neck and delicate features, she looked more suited for ballet than daredevil tricks, but to each his own.

Or her own.

The fact that he found her grit and determination incredibly appealing should not be on his mind right now given how much production the Creek Spill Ranch lost every day that shooting continued on his property. Carson had his overly cautious twin brother to thank for all the added clauses in the contract with the film company that said the McNeill family had the last word on safety for the duration of the shoot. Normally, Carson was the easygoing twin and Cody took care of being the hard-ass. But Carson had needed to step in and fill his brother’s shoes. Cody had a lot on his plate with his girlfriend expecting a baby. And now they were dealing with a new crisis: Cody and Carson’s stepmother was in a coma.

Paige had been in intensive care after a fall while hiking in Yellowstone, putting the whole family on edge the same week the film company came to town. Making matters more complicated, just a day before the accident, Carson’s youngest half sister, Scarlett, had received a blackmail note threatening to reveal some secret from Paige’s past that would damage the family.

While hell broke loose all around them, Carson was left to oversee the Creek Spill, plus make sure Cody didn’t overlook anything at the other major family holding, the Black Creek Ranch, while everyone took turns sitting with Paige at the ICU in Idaho. Thankfully, Paige was being transported to the Cheyenne hospital today, now that she’d shown signs of coming out of the coma.

Still, it definitely wasn’t a good time to be noticing the sex appeal of Emma Layton, who stared him down as though she wished he was the one driving a car into a burning building. Preferably at full speed. More often than not, women found him charming. How damned ironic that the one woman to turn his head in recent memory looked like she wanted to take his head off.

“I want you to feel more at ease on horseback,” he told Emma finally, reminding himself he was not the demanding, inflexible McNeill brother. “That will decrease your risk of injury considerably.”

Once he felt assured of her competence, he would return to work. She was a professional, after all, and she had a stunt coordinator watching over her shoulder. The company was insured for this kind of thing and the ranch wasn’t liable.

Except Carson had a conscience to answer to, and damned if it hadn’t grown bigger with his ever-responsible twin out of the picture. Their own mother, an experienced rancher, had died from injuries sustained while trying to separate a bull from the cattle. Carson had been four years old at the time, and he’d been there, along with his older brother. Her death had haunted the family and changed their father forever. He knew all too well that animals could turn unpredictable.

Emma lifted her riding helmet and strapped it on her head. “I’m ready.”

“I sent your two colleagues out to the arena to work on their leg positioning.” He pointed out the track his younger brother, Brock, used to show and train quarter horses, a lucrative side business at the Creek Spill. “There’s a training area beyond that, next to a tack shed. Let’s take your horse out there and we’ll start working on your hands.”

“Her name is Mariana.” She pointed toward the horse as he began leading the gray mare out to the training field. “And what do you mean about my hands?”

He took the quieter shady route behind the barn, his boots finding the worn grassy path that hadn’t been trampled to dirt yet. He thought he’d been prepared for the added activity of a film production on his property, but he’d underestimated how much equipment and manpower it required.

“They’re too stiff.” He hadn’t given riding lessons since Scarlett was a girl. “You need a more elastic hold that doesn’t place extra pressure on the bit. As it is, Mariana will get confused about what you want from her if she feels like you’re tugging.”

“I’m a fast learner.” Emma slanted a look his way, peering over the horse’s nose. “Just tell me what you want to see from me, I’ll do it. I can’t afford to lose this job.”

There was more to that story. He could hear it in her voice. See it in the hint of vulnerability in those dark brown eyes. And he regretted that he couldn’t give her the reassurance she clearly sought.

Opening the gate to the training area, he waited until Mariana and Emma were through before he latched it behind them. “And I can’t afford for anyone to get hurt on my property. I made it very clear to the production manager when I signed the contract that a ranch is a dangerous place. I won’t allow you to continue if I think you’re at risk.”

She huffed out a breath, regarding him with frustration she didn’t bother to hide. Hands on hips, she faced him.

“Every single thing we do in my business puts us at risk. In my last job, I once had to reenact a knife fight over twenty times before it was right. The take they liked best was the one where I took a slice to the right calf that sent me to the ER. That comes with the territory and I know that going in.” Her cheeks flushed with color.

He’d hit a nerve. Or else just wounded her pride.

“I’m more concerned about head trauma. If your horse throws you—”

“I’m trained to fall the right way,” she reminded him.

“For a woman who is concerned about keeping her job, perhaps you should listen more and interrupt less,” he suggested mildly, even though she was beginning to get under his skin.

She pursed those full lips thoughtfully. Then her shoulders eased a bit. “You’re right. I’m nervous and defensive, and that isn’t going to help. What should I do first?”

He had to admire how fast she shifted gears.

“Hop on your mount and I’ll show you.” He watched as she placed a boot in the stirrup and swung her leg over. Smoothly. Easily.

He amended his earlier assessment of her skills. She had more in her background than a weekend at a dude ranch.

Quickly, he ran down what he wanted to see from her, starting with an explanation of what her hands were telling her horse. She practiced gripping the reins farther apart so she could feel the horse’s natural movement, allowing her to stay in sync with the animal. While the horse trotted around the track, Carson stepped out of the practice yard to check in with the two male riders in the arena. They looked better, but Carson wasn’t releasing them yet. He called over Nate—a ranch hand who’d been working closely with Brock and the quarter horses for more than a year—and tasked him with giving the riders a few more tips.

“Me? I’m no riding instructor.” The younger man scratched his head under his hat as he stared out at the arena, planting a dusty boot on the lowest fence rail. “I train horses, not people.”

“But if you had to give these guys a handful of tips to make sure they survive two weeks on horseback, what would you say?” Carson glanced back to check on Emma, who had slowed to a walk.

“I’d say I’d rather work the hot brunette.” Carson followed Nate’s gaze, and noted the appreciative grin pulling at his mouth as he watched Emma.

His protective instincts stirred, surprising him.

“Seniority has its privileges.” Though Carson didn’t plan on pursuing his attraction for the prickly stunt double, he needed to keep safe for two weeks, especially after seeing that vulnerable look in her eyes.

Then again, he wasn’t ready to walk away yet, either.

“You’re the boss,” Nate told him agreeably, turning his attention back to the stunt actors riding circles around the dirt track. “But the dude on the left rides too high in the saddle. Guess I could pull off his stirrups. Get him to work on his seat.”

Carson clapped Nate on the shoulders. “Good thinking. Whatever you can do. By the end of the week, they’re going to be racing and fighting on horseback, so I’d like to do whatever we can to keep them in one piece.”

Leaving Nate to take over with the men, Carson returned to the practice yard, his attention fully on Emma. The thought of her racing at breakneck speed in just a few days from now made him edgy. He didn’t want to tick off the stunt coordinator any more than he already had, and he had to get back to overseeing ranch operations, so he didn’t have time to interfere with the filming. But he wasn’t impressed with the level of safety he’d seen on set so far.

“Am I doing it wrong?” Emma called over to him as he neared her and Mariana. Her lean body swayed in the saddle. “You’re scowling.”

Of course he was. He wanted to drag her off her horse and see if those full lips were as soft as they looked when he kissed her. Instead, he was stuck teaching her how to stay on her horse before she broke her neck performing unwise stunts on his property. The thought of something happening to her only made him scowl more.

“Your hands are fine, but your seat is all wrong.” Had it been a mistake to work with her? To get involved when he had a multimillion-dollar ranching operation to oversee?

Heat crept up his back as he stared at her, an amused smile playing around her kissable mouth.

“My seat.” She forgot about her hand position and let the reins go slack as the horse halted beside him. “I didn’t know I could mess that up.”

He would have preferred crooning extravagant compliments in her ear about the tight curve of her ass, but that wasn’t going to help her stay upright during a race scene. Tightening his hold on his control, he reached to touch her left hand, nudging it higher.

“You need to be aware of your body at all times. Right now your hands are sending a bad message.”

Her eyes widened for a moment before she redirected her focus and moved her hands to the exact position he’d shown her ten minutes earlier. Away from his touch.

“Right. Like this.” Her cheeks pink, she stared down at Mariana’s head. “What else?”

He shouldn’t touch her again. Not when the point of contact from the first time still supercharged the air between them. He hadn’t gotten involved today because he wanted to hit on her, damn it. He was only trying to keep her from getting hurt.

“You’re sitting too far back in the seat.” His gaze veered to her hips as she edged forward. Saddle leather creaked. She used a hand on the pommel to inch along.

Killing him.

Making his throat dry as dust.

“Better?” she asked, her voice a quiet stroke to his ears.

He nodded. Then, forcing himself to finish the instruction since it was damned important, he touched the back of her thigh.

“Legs should be directly under you.” He let go almost instantly, backing up a step.

Still, the feel of her—lean muscle under those body-skimming jodhpurs—imprinted itself on his brain. He would be tracing a lot more of her in his dreams later.

“Is this better?” Her voice took on a husky note that he told himself must be from the dust in the air and not because the touch affected her as much as it had him.

“Looks good,” he managed. “Take a lap or two and see if you can maintain it.”

She rode off in a hurry and it was all he could do not take off his hat and use it as a fan.


He’d exchanged far more provocative talk—and touches—with willing strangers in bars that had left him cold. Why was this bristly, defensive stunt performer getting under his skin so fast?

The sooner he finished the riding lesson the better. He had a ranch to oversee, a family falling apart and a blackmailer to catch. Thoughts of Emma Layton would have to wait.


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