Hi Melinda and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Rancher’s Redemption!
Hello, HJ Readers!
Tell us about the book with this fun little challenge using the title of the book:
The Rancher’s Redemption is Book 3 in The Return of the Blackwell Brothers series – 5 brothers estranged from their grandfather, who conspires to bring them back to the ranch. Unfortunately, Ben, my hero, can’t escape the mistakes he’s made in the past. He’s got a lot to do in terms of redeeming himself.
What’s your favorite line(s) from the book?:
Set-up: When now city-slicker Ben first returns home, he goes out for a jog, assuming that all the cattle have been moved to higher pastures for the summer. He assumed wrong.
Here’s when Rachel happens across him in the pasture bordering her ranch:
Rachel’s roan gelding, Utah, was ungainly but trustworthy. Nothing spooked him. Not her mother’s yappy poodle. Not Poppy pulling on his mane.
Not even the sight of Ben Blackwell being chased by a charging bull.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. What first attracts your Hero to the Heroine and vice versa?
These characters knew each other in school. He dated her best friend – although said best friend eloped with Ben’s grandfather on Ben’s wedding day. It’s only when they’re forced to look at each other as more than friends they’ve known forever that they begin to see each other romantically. You know, you always take what’s right in front of you for granted.
When you sat down to start this book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What were you most excited about?
The biggest challenge was to seed the other brothers in the story with meaning while respecting what other authors were creating about them in the series. I was most excited to write about a hero and heroine who are pitted against each other – Rachel is now a lawyer, too, and she’s taking Ben and the Blackwells to court to get her water rights back. I love it when a hero and heroine are at odds with each other.
What, in your mind, makes this book stand out?
I love redeeming flawed heroes, taking away all they hold dear, and getting them to confess their flaws to the heroine, hoping she hasn’t given up on him completely (sniff).
The First Kiss…
“I don’t like any of your options, Blackwell. I—”
Before she knew what was happening, he leaned across the distance between the two horses, slid his hand to the back of her neck and pulled her mouth up to meet his.
Rachel sucked in air and the taste of Ben, of coffee and warmth.
She’d wondered what it would be like to kiss him when she’d asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance in the seventh grade. And then last night… She’d thought about Ben as she contemplated the crack in her bedroom ceiling, sometime between worrying about refilling Nana’s medication and getting Poppy to the doctor for her booster shots and wondering about ranch gates that miraculously opened. With a kiss under her belt, she’d be able to at least put thoughts of Ben out of her head.
Ben was a good kisser. Better than Ted, who’d kissed her sloppily on her wedding day, having kissed a whiskey bottle first. Better than Andy, who’d given Rachel her first kiss on the Fourth of July and kissed her goodbye at prom.
And just the fact that Rachel was thinking of other males she’d locked lips with instead of enjoying Ben’s kiss said something about the chemistry between them. As in, there was none.
What a relief. Finally, something was going right.
Ben released Rachel, tilted his head and peered into her eyes. With the subtlest of leg movements, he urged his horse’s hindquarters to swivel away from Utah’s. He hopped to the ground and pulled Rachel out of the saddle, almost before she knew what was happening.
“What are you doing, Blackwell?” Oh, she knew what he was doing. She was just so very certain that whatever he was trying to prove wasn’t going to prove anything. “This is ridiculous. That kiss only goes to show we’re destined to remain frenemies.”
“Now see…” Those blue eyes sparked. “That’s the problem with you. You’re too quick to judge.”
“Obviously, this is the only way to win this argument.” And then Ben placed his hands on Rachel’s hips, drew her close and kissed her.
This time, Rachel didn’t think about coffee or the seventh grade or another male.
This time, Rachel was drawn into Ben’s kiss like a kid to a pillowcase full of Halloween candy.
This time, Rachel didn’t think about being a mommy or a family caretaker or a ranch manager. She thought about nights that were too cold and beds that were too big and how none of that had to be her future.
All too soon, Ben released her, grabbed his horse’s broken rein and led the stallion toward the gate that separated their properties.
“What?” she said in a daze. Rachel’s boots didn’t budge. “Where are you going?” They’d kissed. They had to talk about it.
He led his horse through the Double T’s gate, closed it and crossed the road. He opened the Blackwell gate on the other side and went through that one. All without a word. All without looking back.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
There are a lot of subtleties – and fun – in the scenes where they are beginning to become aware of each other.
He glanced down. A rumbling sound rippled through the air between them. It was so loud, even Utah turned his head toward Ben.
“Was that your stomach?” Rachel laughed. Why was she knocked off-kilter by Ben? He was a thirteen year-old jokester in a grown man’s body.
“I’m hungry. There was nothing to eat in the ranch house.” He tried to look forlorn.
“You’re pathetic, Blackwell.” And harmless. Rachel took her booted foot from the left stirrup and held out her left hand. Ben clasped her wrist, put his sneaker in the stirrup and swung up behind her, settling on the saddle blanket.
Utah didn’t even look back to see what was happening.
Ben placed his hands on Rachel’s hips, which was so unexpected she nearly jumped out of the saddle. Instead, she heeled Utah forward and lurched against Ben’s solid chest.
She was wrong. Ben wasn’t harmless. He was handsome and charismatic and dangerous to single ladies.
Ben’s chin brushed her shoulder. “Are you ticklish?”
“No.” His touch made her lonely, made her regret wearing her mother’s overalls and made her want to touch up her makeup.
If your hero had a sexy-times play list, what song(s) would have to be on it?
I’m on Fire by Bruce Springstein
Wicked Game by Chris Isaac
I Put a Spell on You by Bette Midler
Urgent by Foreigner
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
That people make mistakes. That people can make amends. That everyone can move on together.
What are you currently working on? What are your up-coming releases?
This month, I’m also releasing a holiday book – Santa School – about a single dad who wants to make the best Christmas ever for his daughter, so he enrolls in Santa School and falls for his teacher.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Two lucky commenters will each receive a copy of Marrying the Wedding Crasher (autographed in the U.S., digital internationally).
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: What is it you like about contemporary cowboy romances? I mean, a sexy cowboy, obviously – lol – but what else?
Excerpt from The Rancher’s Redemption:
NEVER LOOK BACK.
That’s what Ben Blackwell’s grandfather, Big E, always said.
At least, that’s what he used to say. Back when he and Ben used to talk. Back before Big E eloped with Ben’s fiancée. Back before Ben left behind trail dust and boots and Montana to be a top public utilities lawyer in New York City.
And now, Ben was doing more than looking back, he’d gone back. Home to Falcon Creek and the Blackwell place, which had been a cattle ranch for five generations, but was now also a dude ranch.
“Big E wants us to call it a guest ranch,” Ethan, Ben’s twin, had corrected Ben when he’d muttered something about dudes on the phone last week.
Seemed like Ben had been muttering ever since—about his bossy older brother, Jonathon, who wanted him home ASAP; about his younger twin brothers, Tyler and Chance, who couldn’t seem to be bothered to help at the family homestead; about the grandfather whose picture was in the dictionary under selfish; and about the small-town attorney who was suing the ranch for water rights.
At thirty-two, Ben was too old to be dragged back into the family drama that orbited Big E and the Blackwell Ranch.
Too big for your city britches, more like.
That was his grandfather’s voice in his head. That voice had been talking nonstop since Ben had agreed to return to Falcon Creek.
You have arrived, big shot.
And he had.
Ben got out of his Mercedes, punched his arms into his suit jacket, ignoring the stifling feeling from being buttoned-up in the early afternoon heat. He’d just flown from New York to Montana, and then driven to Falcon Creek without stopping. He didn’t plan to stay more than a few days, a week, tops.
Across the street, Pops Brewster looked up from his chess game on the Brewster Ranch Supply porch to get a good look at the city slicker. Annie Harper slammed too hard on her truck brakes as she pulled up to the stop sign, gaze ping-ponging between Ben and the intersection. In the Misty Whistle Coffee Shop parking lot, Izzy Langdon tipped his straw cowboy hat up, the better to ogle Ben’s ride.
Rachel Thompson opened the door to the law office of Calder & Associates, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Ben. “Late, as usual, Blackwell.”
“Welcome home,” Ben muttered, walking around a knee-high weed bending over the sidewalk. He stopped in front of the steps of a white clapboard shack, which had probably been built over a hundred years ago when the town had been founded. “Traffic was gridlocked, it was impossible getting out of Bozeman.” That was like saying traffic in the Mojave Desert was bumper-to-bumper.
Overexaggeration. Hyperbole. Sarcasm.
It was completely lost on Rachel. She spun on her high heels without so much as a roll of her eyes.
Reluctantly, Ben followed. It took him two tries to get the front door closed behind him. The building had settled, and the doorframe was no longer plumb. He slammed it home, earning a dry, “Really?” from Rachel.
“Really,” Ben said airily. “You should run a planer on that door.” And think about practicing law elsewhere.
The narrow, rectangular building was divided into two offices and a waiting area with a black couch that was so old it had butt impressions in the cushions. The building’s hardwood floor was worn to the nails that kept it in place and there was a crack in the ceiling plaster that spoke louder of foundation issues than the ill-fitting front door.
Everything about the office screamed struggling law practice, from the bare receptionist’s desk to the unread magazines perfectly fanned on the coffee table.
Rachel settled behind a large oak desk in her office, which had a clean blotter and a few neat, low stacks of paper.
By contrast, when Ben had left his office at Transk, Ipsum & Levi, his credenza had piles of depositions and his desk had been buried in briefs and court filings.
Ben paused in the doorway to Rachel’s office, assessing his adversary for any apparent weaknesses other than inadequate resources.
Rachel was still easy on the eyes, and still favored suits that lacked the sophistication and designer cachet most of his female opponents in New York wore into battle. Joe Calder was probably behind the closed door of the other office. He had to be ancient. When they’d met in court five years ago, Joe had shuffled into the courtroom slower than a turtle in deep sand.
Beware! Remember the tortoise and the hare, boy.
Well, this hare had won the last go-round, but not without a bit of finagling of the racecourse.
That’s what lawyers are supposed to do, boy, bend the law.
Ben ran a hand over his hair. “Where’s Joe?” He leaned back to see if the other office door was opening. “Will he be joining us?”
“Joe died last winter.” Rachel’s tone indicated she didn’t think she needed Joe. “He left me the practice.”
It looked like Joe hadn’t done Rachel any favors.
Ben dusted off the seat of a chair across from her before he sat down, but his gaze never really left Rachel.
They’d known each other since kindergarten, both raised as ranch kids on bordering properties. His grandfather hadn’t much cared for the Thompsons and hadn’t encouraged a friendship.
Ben had targeted Rachel in dodgeball in the fifth grade, because she wasn’t much of an athlete beyond being able to ride. She’d asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance in the seventh grade, but they’d both been awkward about it, because what did you do with the opposite sex when you were almost thirteen? When Ben was fourteen and in high school, he had the answer to that question, but he’d moved on to dating Rachel’s best friend, Zoe Petit. Back in the day, Rachel and Zoe were always made-up and dressed-up, looking like they went to school in a Beverly Hills zip code.
After Ben graduated law school, he and Zoe had made wedding plans. Rachel had been Zoe’s maid of honor—meaning she was supposed to stand up at the altar, smile serenely and hold Zoe’s bouquet while the preacher said his words. Instead, Rachel had stood up to Ben in the church aisle, smiled like she wanted to kill him and then told Ben that Zoe had run off with a wealthier Blackwell—Ben’s grandfather.
Kind of made it hard to look at Rachel’s pretty face after that.
Today, Rachel wasn’t so put-together. She’d straightened her blond hair, but missed a long lock on the side. The eyeliner beneath her left eye was heavier than the line beneath her right. And the pink blouse beneath her navy suit jacket was wrinkled with a stain near the neckline. He wasn’t so principled that he didn’t take a little pleasure in seeing how far the mighty had fallen.
“Lookin’ good, Rach.” Ben ran a hand over his hair once more. Behind her on the credenza was a picture of a baby, a cute one as babies went. Round face, big brown eyes, a thatch of blond hair. Brought to mind another baby and another court case. Ben didn’t let his gaze linger. He gave Rachel a peacemaking smile and reached across the desk to shake her hand. “Is that another one of your sister’s babies?”
“Still the charmer, I see.” Rachel’s fingers were small and cold. They convulsed around Ben’s hand before she drew back, rubbing her palm over her skirt as if he had germs.
No surprise in that handshake. As adults, the Blackwells and the Thompsons were about as friendly as the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Ben flattened his smile out of existence. Best get to the point. “I hear there’s an issue over river water rights.” That’s why he’d returned to Falcon Creek. At his twin’s urging, not his grandfather’s. Big E had apparently gone on drive-about in his thirty-foot mobile home and wasn’t taking calls.
For centuries, ranchers in Montana’s high country had been fighting over water rights. Water nourished crops. Crops fed cattle. Cattle was sold to pay bills. Limited water meant skinny cattle, small herds and limited income. Permission to divert river water for agriculture or to communities was determined in court and by the state water board, and was based on several factors, including historical use and legal precedent. Properties and towns were assigned allotments and priorities. Those in first position had first rights to river water even if they were farther downstream. Ben and Big E had won the first position from the Double T five years ago with a slick piece of legal wrangling that should be iron-clad.
“The Double T has decided it’s time to revisit your rights.” Rachel opened a thin manila folder. “I’ve done some research with the water district and it appears the Blackwell Ranch hasn’t been using their allotment of water, which—as you know—means the claimant with secondary rights can divert more river water. And the ranch with second rights—as you know—is the Double T.”
She’d done research?
Ben was surprised, but not worried. This was Rachel Thompson. She used to copy off his test in Mrs. Whitecloud’s science class. There’d be no competition here. He’d graduated from Harvard and practiced law in New York City. Rachel had graduated from the University of Montana and only ever practiced in Falcon Creek.
Rachel thought she could break the deal Ben had drawn up five years ago? Not on her best day.
He gave her a pitying smile. “I haven’t seen your brief yet, but—”
“I have a copy for you here, along with Exhibit A, the Blackwell Ranch’s year-to-year river water usage.” Rachel handed Ben a few pages, a challenging spark in her brown eyes.
For the first time since arriving in Falcon Creek, Ben felt like doing more than muttering.
He sat up straighter and scanned the brief. But his mind was chugging along an unpleasant train of thought. Both ranches relied on the river for water. The Blackwell Ranch also had rights to an underground reservoir, although it was their practice to use aquifer water only if the river was low. But there was a third player in the water game. Decades ago, the Falcon County Water Company had won legal access to the metered pumps monitoring river water use on both ranches, claiming someday the community’s needs might supersede theirs.
Rachel shouldn’t have the Blackwell Ranch’s water information. She shouldn’t have filed a lawsuit with the court either. There were new housing developments south of Falcon Creek. Unused water would make the water company salivate. There were legal firms out there being paid to watch for opportunities just like this.
He should know. Up until last week, he’d worked at one and as soon as he wrapped things up here, he hoped to work for another.
And then Ben noticed something odd in her brief. Battle alarms went off in his head, ringing in his ears. “Why are you mentioning aquifer rights? I thought this case was about river water use.”
Rachel’s smile contradicted the wrinkled blouse and frizzy lock of hair. “We’d like to establish with the court that the aquifer provides you with more than enough water. More than enough,” she repeated.
More than enough as in…more than enough to share?
There was something about Rachel’s attitude that made Ben wonder…
Is she going to make a run for aquifer access?
She couldn’t. Not without a land ownership claim. And to do that, she’d have to suspect the Double T had rights to the property above the reservoir. Or she’d have to have proof of…
The alarm bells rang louder.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
His family committed a terrible wrong
Ben Blackwell wants to make it right
The last time Ben saw Rachel Thompson was when her best friend left him at the altar. Now Rachel’s suing the Blackwells over river water rights. Rachel’s a triple threat—rancher, fellow attorney and single mom—and Ben’s plan to win in court hits a snag when mutual attraction blooms. If he divulges a long-held secret, will his family forgive him? Will Rachel?
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Meet the Author:
Prior to writing romance, Melinda was a junior manager for a Fortune 500 company, which meant when she flew on the private jet she was relegated to the jump seat—otherwise known as the potty. After grabbing her pen (and a parachute) she made the jump to full-time writer. Between writing sweet romance for Harlequin and indie-pubbed sweet romantic comedy, Melinda finds time to bond with her husband over home remodeling projects. She recently came to grips with the fact that she’s an empty nester and a grandma, concepts easier to grasp than jet-setting on a potty.
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