Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones
Carlin Reed lives in fear, off the grid, moving from place to place. So Battle Ridge, Wyoming, a small town in the middle of nowhere, seems like a good place to lie low for a little while. But after becoming cook and housekeeper to cattle rancher Zeke Decker, Carlin suspects that she's made her first mistake. Rugged, sexy, and too distracting for her own good, Zeke is pure temptation mixed with something deep and primal that makes Carlin feel almost safe. Soon things are getting way too hot in the kitchen.
Zeke doesn't challenge Carlin's terms: cash, dead bolts, and no questions. It is easy to see that she's a woman in trouble. Problem is, he's so blindsided by his attraction to her he can't think straight. Zeke tries to stay all business, no complications--but that game plan is sabotaged the second Carlin gets under his skin. And when her terrifying past follows her to the ranch, Carlin faces a heartbreaking choice: run away from the man she loves, or put him in the crosshairs of a madman.
Nobody writes men like Linda Howard and this book definitely had an amazing male lead in Zeke. Zeke who is impatient, stubborn, and takes on many responsibilities to protect what he considers his whether it be his ranch, his family, his ranch hands, or soon, Carlin. Carlin is on the run from a stalker who is computer savvy and a cop--a combination that makes living "off the grid" an absolute necessity. Working her way across the country is her best plan to keep Brad, her nutcase stalker, off her trail. Pulling into Battle Ridge, WY, Carlin just wants a job to restock her cash stash so she can keep moving; little does she know she has found home.
Zeke needs a housekeeper since his previous one quit to be nearer her family. He is reluctant to hire a woman as he feels it would be a bad idea with all the men on the ranch unless said woman was married or middle-aged. Carlin is neither and Zeke is determined to steer clear of her until the hand who has been doing the cooking is hurt and unable to continue kitchen duty. With no other options, Zeke hires Carlin who insists she will only be able to stay until the spring. Carlin and Zeke are an amazing pairing who come together at a pace that is perfect. They both are attracted to the other but are understandably reluctant to get involved with each other considering Carlin's stalker, Zeke's worry she will run at any time, and their employee/employer status.
There were times I laughed out loud at the banter between Carlin and Zeke, I loved the secondary characters, especially Spencer, and the romance and suspense were both timed exquisitely. The ending confrontation with Brad happened fairly quickly but I didn't feel that it was short changed in any way. Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and would love to revisit Battle Ridge. I am in awe of how seamlessly this book flowed having been written by two different authors, I couldn't tell who wrote what. Instead I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
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I purchased this book with my own funds.