Sneak Peeks

A diehard country girl. A city-boy newcomer. Some rules were meant to be broken… Read A Sneak Peek From Snowy Mountains Dawn by Alissa Callen


A diehard country girl. A city-boy newcomer. Some rules were meant to be broken… Read A Sneak Peek From Snowy Mountains Dawn by Alissa Callen

A diehard country girl. A city-boy newcomer. Some rules were meant to be broken… Opposites attract in this delightful rural romance, set in charming small-town Bundilla, from bestselling Australian author Alissa Callen

Horsewoman Brenna Lancaster has no time for relationships. Unless a man looks good on a horse and lets her call the shots, she isn’t interested. She’d rather wear a dress and heels than give someone else power over her life.

Finance guru Wyatt Killian is a self-made man who has left the train wreck of his childhood behind. There is zero room in his workaholic world for downtime and distractions, let alone emotions or country girls.

When Wyatt’s corporate horse-riding retreat is led by a woman determined to unplug him from his urban life, it isn’t just his laser focus that becomes compromised. Being in a saddle unlocks a part of himself that he’d long ago discarded. In a rare moment of nostalgia, he prolongs his stay in the high country.

After Brenna becomes mired in a family secret that involves a historic feud and bushrangers, she has no choice but to involve Wyatt in the search for answers. But as Wyatt’s past collides with his future, and the only home Brenna has known comes under threat, both must decide what they need to let go of and what is worth fighting for.

Brenna Lancaster was a breath away from doing the unthinkable.

The familiar timber and iron facade of the historic stables surrounding her never failed to wrap her in comfort and peace. Yet, in that moment, being in her favourite place wasn’t enough.

She was livid. Not just frustrated and cranky because she’d tried to follow a recipe that had yet again ended in a cooking disaster. And not just stir-crazy mad like when she was stuck inside on a rainy day doing bookwork. No, she was steam-out-the-ears incensed. She clenched her hands.

She would not swear.

The stables were her sanctuary. Her strategy of leaving her emotions outside and thinking only positive thoughts within had helped her through the loss of her parents. First, when a brain tumour had robbed her and her twin, Taite, of their loving mother and next when a tractor accident had stolen their father.

But right now, as she stood in the tack room and out of sight from the three city boys drinking their soy lattes in the kitchenette, she felt far from serene.

As much as she loved running her horse treks into the high country of her home at Glenwood Station, the months of wet weather had taken its toll. She prided herself on being organised and prepared for anything, but there were some things she couldn’t plan for. The tree that had fallen across the track on her first trek of the summer had only been the beginning of what Mother Nature had thrown at her. And don’t get her started on the mud. Or, more to the point, the aversion any city person had to getting their new boots mucky.

Her jaw ached from her tightly gritted teeth. And this morning, she had the fourth member of her corporate retreat party still sitting in his fancy four-wheel drive that wouldn’t know a proper dirt road if a neon sign pointed towards it. Not only was the man on his phone, but he wasn’t just making a quick call. His talk fest was forty-five minutes long and eating into the small window she had to get her clients to shelter before the forecasted deluge arrived.

She glanced through the window at the swollen clouds clustered around the mountain tops and strove for calm. She’d already made three trips outside to deal with the tardy trekker and if she had to go out again, she would at least need to appear professional.

The first time, surely, he couldn’t have missed her standing at the stable door or that her hands were on her hips. The second time, he’d left his car and stood with his back to her, his dark head angled as he listened to his phone. As irritated as she’d been, she’d noted the width of his shoulders beneath his blue-and-white checked shirt and the way his designer jeans hung on his lean hips. Usually her city-boy clients didn’t look as though they could do a day’s work outdoors.

The third time, the man had again been in his car. She’d marched over to tap on the tinted windows. As she couldn’t see inside, she had no idea what his response was, but it obviously hadn’t been to end the call.

She forced her hands to uncurl. Despite her polite request for the others to get their colleague off his phone, they’d refused. Even the cocky blond who was yet to stop giving her the once-over followed by what he apparently thought was a winning smile. Unfortunately for him she’d seen more charm in a dingo.

The tense glances the three exchanged warned her that the final member of their group could earn the title of her most pain-in-the-butt client yet. Which was saying something, as she’d had some doozies over the years. The final two weeks of her summer trekking season couldn’t end soon enough.

She left the tack room and channelled her inner optimism. Maybe she’d have four pampered city slickers in her kitchenette. A tan-and-black kelpie came to lean against her legs, and she ruffled his neck. Bundy called the small town of Bundilla home and had jumped onto the farm ute to stay with her when she’d been in town yesterday.

‘He’s not in there, is he, Bundy?’

The kelpie gave a soft whine.

Long ago whispers of her mother’s voice echoed in her head. Brenna, just breathe.

She briefly closed her eyes and did exactly that. Her anger dialled down a notch.

‘Okay, Bundy, here’s the plan. We check on the others and if that …’ She stopped to make sure she kept to her non-swearing policy whenever in the stables. ‘That person isn’t out of his car, we’re leaving without him.’

Bundy wagged his tail. She gave him a pat. ‘Don’t forget my front door is open so you can hang out there until Wedge arrives. Trust me, this is one trek you don’t want to come on.’

She didn’t know how the kelpie knew but he sometimes turned up to accompany her into the high country when her brother couldn’t. If she was ever on her own, she’d sleep with her trusty stockwhip by her swag.

She made her way into the kitchenette. When she’d renovated the stables after her third year of running her trekking business, she’d made sure she included a shiny new coffee machine in the small kitchen and a shower and bedroom next door for her luxury-liking clients.

As soon as she entered, all three men stopped what they were doing on their phones. She’d never understood the attraction of technology. She did admit she was partial to viral goat videos because Grace had a tiny goat called Rebel who terrorised her twin, but otherwise she mainly used her mobile for calls. There was a reason why she had a box in her safe for her clients’ phones. The whole idea of the trek was to unplug, get back to nature and reconnect.

‘Right.’ She kept her voice businesslike. It was a constant mission to prove that despite her lack of height, she was a force to be reckoned with. ‘We leave in twenty-five minutes, with or without your colleague.’

Jim, a redhead with pale skin, swallowed. ‘Wyatt won’t like that.’

‘I don’t like having to wait.’

The blond smirked. ‘I vote for leaving him behind.’ His gaze slid over her, the message clear. The less competition there would be for him.

She stopped herself from rolling her eyes. Just. If it wasn’t enough that men usually thought she needed help, they assumed she was available.

‘Dean, you look anywhere except at my face and I’m leaving you behind.’

Disbelief caused his brows to shoot upwards. ‘You can’t.’

‘Yes, I can. You are my guest and as such the rules of common decency and respect apply. The money your employer paid is nonrefundable if I kick you off the trek for sexual harassment.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘It’s your call. You know where the door is.’

Dean gave a stiff nod. His reaction wasn’t a surprise. Despite the amount of urban swagger she dealt with, she didn’t often encounter resistance. If she did, and it pointed to an iota of aggression, she used the out clause in her contract to send the client packing.

She glanced at the room’s third occupant whose attention was focused on where Bundy sat beside her.

‘Is he a wild dog?’ Steve asked, voice thin. ‘I heard there were dog attacks in the mountains.’

She summoned the acting skills she always professed to have after a starring role in her kindergarten play and offered a reassuring smile. Usually, she didn’t mind answering questions and bridging the information gap between her world and the one her riders were from. She wanted her guests to leave loving the high country as much as she did. But thanks to the no-show client, her well of patience was a little shallow.

‘Bundy’s a kelpie. You’ll find he’s a local celebrity.’ She cast Dean a saccharine sweet glance. ‘Out of the two us, my bite is far worse.’

Dean glowered but wisely didn’t say another word.

She checked the weather through the window beside her. The clouds had darkened to a dull pewter. ‘Okay, it’s twenty minutes until we ride out. You lose your phones in fifteen.’

She spun on her boot heel and left to deal with the thorn in her side that had grown to the size of a blackberry thicket. Whoever this Wyatt was, his total disregard and lack of awareness would only cause further disruptions. There was no way he was coming on this trek. Taite wouldn’t be there to play peacemaker and hand beers out around the campfire to smooth any feathers ruffled over her necessary rules.

She squared her shoulders as a deep-seated fatigue dragged at her. As independent and self-sufficient as she was, if she was honest, she was becoming weary of being a one-person team. She only had to see the smile on Taite’s face now he was engaged to Hettie and feel his joy through the twintuition she hoped he didn’t share, to know how empty her life was.

If that wasn’t enough, they weren’t the only loved-up couple she had to contend with. Clancy, Rowan and now Trent all had someone special in their lives, making her one of the last singletons in their closeknit group. As much as she loved Bundilla, the small town didn’t exactly offer a smorgasbord of dating prospects, let alone anyone who met her non-negotiable criteria. Unless a man looked good on a horse and let her call the shots she wasn’t interested.

She’d seen what the world beyond the mountains offered and there’d been even slimmer pickings there. Her steps slowed as the darkness of what had happened a few years ago while she’d been away from her beloved high country overshadowed her anger. Never again would someone else have power over her life. The only silver lining to her secrets was that Taite wouldn’t ever know what she’d been through. She couldn’t have ever added to the burdens he’d carried after the death of their parents.

She left the stables, the brisk wind toying with her loose hair. Wyatt was again out of his car. All she could see of his face was his carved profile as he stared out at the granite peaks, hip propped against the wooden fence. One large hand pressed his phone to his ear and his other hand was casually shoved into his jeans pocket. Despite the high-end cut of his clothes, his boots were worn. No doubt he was a city boy who’d adopted the trend to wear boots with his suits. Just like his fancy four-wheel drive, his traditional rural footwear wouldn’t have seen a speck of real dust.

She swapped an exasperated look with Bundy. She could forgive Wyatt if this was some sort of emergency, but she was yet to hear him talk. It was as though all his focus was on letting the other person have their say.

Wyatt may have listed a work colleague as his contact person but that didn’t mean he wasn’t in a relationship and this wasn’t some sort of long lovers’ goodbye. She was far from an expert on such things, but if so, wouldn’t he at least appear as though he felt something, let alone speak? No, this had to be a work call. There wasn’t any other reason why Wyatt would look as though he had all the time in the world to chat. Unluckily for him, she didn’t.

She stalked over. He finally appeared to speak before he casually lowered his arm and slid his mobile into his shirtfront pocket.

Brenna stopped a body length away. As she was out of her happy place she technically could swear, at least in her head. She pressed her lips together and mentally ran through every word in her venting repertoire before making up some more.

Wyatt pushed himself away from the fence and turned. Alarm ricocheted through her. He was gorgeous. Not just stop-and-stare gorgeous but to-die-for gorgeous. And he wasn’t even smiling. His flint-grey eyes locked with hers and she felt the impact to the bottom of her scuffed soles.

The functioning part of her brain immediately crossed the let-her-call-the-shots item off her potential partner list. Even if Wyatt was unattached, there was no way he’d meet such a criterion. He was no mollycoddled city boy. The hard, strong lines of his body and his piercing gaze said he’d never concede control to anyone. Beneath his polished veneer was a man as tempered and immovable as the mountains surrounding them.

The silence lengthened and something indecipherable skated across his features before a muscle worked in his cheek. As unemotional as he’d seemed earlier, she now sensed a don’t-mess-with-me edge.

If he thought she’d duck and run, he was mistaken. Her tough guy wrangling skills were top notch. After all, she’d been bossing around her twin since the day she was born. His colleagues might not be game to take him on, but she was.

She kept her tone polite, despite the message she was about to deliver.

‘I’m Brenna. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but you have been on your phone for almost an hour, keeping everyone waiting. This corporate retreat will only involve three members of your team. I will no longer accept your booking. If you need a place to stay, I recommend The Bushranger in town.’

Wyatt studied her before scrubbing a hand across his clean-shaven chin. A weariness that almost matched her own dulled his eyes and left lines of strain bracketing his mouth. If anyone needed a corporate retreat and a break, this man did.

She pushed aside her sympathy—plus the thought of how his jaw would look with three days’ worth of trekking stubble.

‘Dean give you any trouble?’

She frowned at the conversational U-turn as well as the way his low deep voice skittered over her skin like a physical touch. ‘Nothing I can’t handle.’

An almost smile shaped his lips before he assessed the sky like any country boy would. ‘Sorry I didn’t keep a closer watch on the weather.’

Brenna raised a brow. That was unexpected, but she needed more than a half apology.

‘And,’ Wyatt moved to pat Bundy, ‘I’m truly sorry I’ve held up the trek. My call was unfortunately necessary and unavoidable.’

She hesitated. He’d not only apologised and with a sincerity that surprised her, but Bundy greeted Wyatt like a long-lost friend. Even as she watched, the kelpie rolled over to have his stomach scratched.

An unwelcome suspicion unfurled.

Bundilla had a local quilting group who filled their days with as much matchmaking as they did patchworking. But Bundy was gaining his own reputation as a master at bringing couples together. She’d thought the kelpie had either popped out to see Taite’s cream kelpie puppy, Waffles, or had known Taite wasn’t accompanying her on this trek. He’d better not have turned up to work a little Cupid’s magic because all four of the city boys would not pass muster.

She snuck a quick glance at Wyatt. He’d already failed to meet the first item on her list. As for the second, it was a given he’d look good on a horse. He’d look good riding a go-kart. But her stipulation was about more than aesthetics. Nothing moved her more than seeing the depth of a true bond between a horse and their rider. Horses were a discerning judge of character. Considering Wyatt had indicated on his form that he hadn’t ridden in fifteen years, his challenge would be to simply stay in the saddle.

Wyatt gave Bundy another belly rub and straightened. She’d thought his eyes were a pure grey but now glimpsed flecks of steel blue. She ignored the trip in her pulse as he turned his full attention on her. A raindrop had splashed onto her cheek, reminding her of the urgency to get going. She was just twitchy thanks to how the morning had started.

‘I better not regret this,’ she said, tone firm. ‘But if you’re ready to go in fifteen minutes, you’re back on the trek.’

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