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Bonnie Paulson Books

Endless Trails, bk 6

Endless Trails, bk 6

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Can Ryland find what he’s looking for or is Amy the fate he’s meant to have in this sweet romance set in the wilds of Montana?

Excerpt

Racing after the leader of the family wasn’t a glorious job, but Ryland Johnson wasn’t backing down. He would wrangle his older cousin, Nate, right back home where he belonged or one of them was going to die.
Okay, not really and the humor probably wasn’t appropriate considering his cousin’s wife had passed away. That’s what started this whole mess, not that Emma dying was a mess, but it affected the whole family in more ways than just the visible loss.

Ryland leaned his elbow on the windowsill of his old pickup and he rested his chin on his palm. One-hand driving was a requirement on that long stretch of I-90 between Missoula and the junction toward Billings. The road seemed to go forever into nowhere and the skies and the prairies melded together way in the distance. A blend of blue and gold suggested they ended somewhere, but not any time soon.

His cousin, Nate, had run. Up and run right after his wife had died from a very aggressive cancer that had plagued her throughout her life. She’d given up and Nate hadn’t waited around to see how anyone else in the family was coping.

Keeping his eyes dry while thinking of Emma and Nate was impossible. Ryland placed his finger across his lip. He watched the skyline seemingly meander past, tripping along at a brisk eighty miles per hour. The landscape locked him in never-changing beautiful redundancy.

If this kept up, he’d go blind. Maybe not, but he had to think about something besides Emma and her death. Nate’s abandonment just ripped her loss harder through Ryland’s heart.

The phone in Ryland’s front pocket buzzed, jerking him from his thoughts. He willingly grabbed at the small vibrating body and flipped it open, slamming it to his ear. “Yeah.”

“Ry, I thought you weren’t leaving until after dinner?” Damon’s husky voice sounded too much like Nate’s and Ryland scowled.

“Yeah, I know, but I told you. I’m getting Nate and bringing him home. Can’t do that sitting on my butt, waiting for Rachiah or Stephany to tell me what they need done.” He let his wrist rest on the lower cracked vinyl curve of the steering wheel and stared at the hazy road ahead. His dig at his brother wasn’t as churlish as it sounded. He was happy Damon was happy with Rachiah, lots of happiness, just oozing happiness.

Ryland forced himself not to groan.
“Don’t be a brat. Hannah just got back from town and she said one of her friends mentioned running into Nate in Great Falls a couple of days ago. I think you’ll be safe heading that direction.” Damon sounded tired, but not as much as Jareth would be since he’d taken on leading the ranch-handing cousins, The Montana Trails.

Nate had led them effortlessly while everyone else just kind of did the best they could without falling apart.

“Okay, I’ll head that way. How’s Rachiah?” Ryland grinned. That Salish princess was going to give Damon a run for his money and Ryland didn’t think Damon would ever be happier. Plus Ryland liked Rachiah. He liked women with spunk and beauty who didn’t rely on their looks to get what they want.

Damon sighed, his frustration carrying over the line like hot air. “Fine, her brother is a bear. I’m thinking about proposing, but I’m not sure how her family will react since I’m white.”

“Yeah, well, they aren’t sure if she’s half-white or not either. They won’t get better than you, Damon. I don’t care how white you are or aren’t.” Ryland had grown up with the divide between the ranches and the reservations. That didn’t mean love didn’t bridge that separation on occasion.

He ignored the twinge of jealousy he had whenever he thought of Damon and Rachiah. He wasn’t stupid.

Ryland could see what happened when you fell in love.

You were torn apart when you lost the other half. No one needed that kind of pain or vulnerability.

Especially not Ryland.

“Just find Nate and get home. Drake and Stephanie got more than just bison and we need all the hands we can get. I’ll let you know, if I hear anything else.” Damon’s concern carried over the phone as easily as his frustration had.

“Got it. Thanks, Damon.” Ryland meant it. He hadn’t felt whole in the last few weeks since Emma had died.

“Hey, Ryland, no one can make you happy. You have to give yourself permission to find it. And for the record, it’s not Nate’s fault Emma died.” Damon’s tone shifted from consoling to admonishing.

Clenching his jaw, Ryland shook his head, pulling off the window. “Well, I don’t think it’s fair. Why fall in love, when you’re going to lose them anyway? Doesn’t seem to be worth it.”

“When you find Nate, I want you to ask him.” Damon sighed.

Ryland set his jaw to the side. Of course he would have another task piled on top of retrieving the older cousin and getting him home. “Ask him what?”

“If any of it was worth it. Would he have traded his time with Emma for never knowing her so he wouldn’t hurt so badly?” Damon’s tone hardened and then softened as he continued. “Look, there’s more to happiness than just grinning all day. Once you realize that, you’ll see nothing is perfect and you’re going to find happiness in imperfection.”

“Yeah…” Ryland didn’t really believe him. “It still doesn’t seem fair.”

“Life isn’t about fair. Life’s about making it, leaving, learning, finding people to love again along the way and trying to survive. That’s what Nate needs to do. He needs to figure out a way to live after something like that.” Damon’s end of the phone rustled. “Look, I gotta go. Rachiah’s hollering for something. I’ll call you, if anything comes up.”

“Got it, thanks.” Ryland hung up and tucked his phone back in his shirt pocket. The sun would set soon and the oranges and purples streaked across the sky as the sun got lower in the sky. He’d heard once that all the colors in the sunsets were from chemicals in the atmosphere. Hopefully, that wasn’t true. Something so beautiful shouldn’t be attributable to something so awful.

The new angle to the sun gave a better view of the road ahead.

Just past Nissler and the southbound I15 junction toward Dillon, the silhouette of a vehicle flashed emergency hazards in the far distance.

As he got closer, Ryland squinted his eyes, searching for the occupant or signs of life. If there was someone there, he’d stop to help. If not, he’d keep on driving.

Most oftentimes, people stopped right away in Montana. Courtesy and helping their neighbors were unspoken state mottoes. Ryland lived it and he knew many more that did, too.

The sedan’s hazards blinked in a slow pattern that didn’t really scream urgent. The battery was probably running down which meant the car had been out there long enough to burn it out.

He just about decided to pass the abandoned-looking car when movement caught his eye from beside the back tire facing away from the highway.

Ryland would never pass up the chance to help someone, let alone a woman whose hair flew about in the hot breeze.

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