Master of the Wilderness
MOUNTAIN MASTERS & DARK HAVEN, BOOK 10
Auto mechanic Erin Lockwood is not only newly divorced; she’s practically penniless.
When her emotionally-abusive ex flees the country to escape arrest for blackmailing other politicians, it’s actually a relief—a chance to reclaim her life. But retreating to the mountain house gifted by her mother, she’s met by hostility from the nearby town. The locals blame Erin for her ex’s corrupt actions that led to the construction of a private prison, drawing gangs, violence, and death.
Wilderness guide Wyatt Masterson lives by one rule: Don’t Date Locals.
It’s a rule he’s followed effortlessly until Erin moves to town, and the city girl gets herself lost in the unforgiving woods. He doesn’t want to like the politician’s ex, but how can he resist the little mechanic’s chin-up attitude, her fortitude, and her unwavering honesty?
Erin finds Wyatt devastatingly attractive.
The big, rugged cowboy is tough and confident. An unshakable shelter. However, it’s too soon to get involved with anyone. Look what a mistake she made with her marriage. She needs time to heal and rediscover herself.
But time is the one thing they don’t have. Her ex’s crimes have born violent fruit, and no one in town is safe.
Master of the Wilderness is part of a series of interconnected, stand-alone, romantic suspense novels. The long, more-than-spicy romance has a protective hero, a stand-up heroine, and an endearing girl gang. Don’t you deserve a sigh-worthy, happy ending with no cliffhanger and no cheating?
PRAISE FOR THIS SERIES
"No one can write an emotional powerhouse of a BDSM romance quite like Cherise Sinclair. When it comes to her books, I don't even bother reading the blurb. I HAVE to have them. Period."
~ Dirty Girl Romance
"The 𝑀𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑀𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 & 𝐷𝑎𝑟𝑘 𝐻𝑎𝑣𝑒𝑛 series will always be a favorite of mine..."
~ Shayna Renee's Reviews
"Opening the pages of each new book from the wonderfully talented pen of author Cherise Sinclair is like welcoming an old friend back into your life after a noted absence. You know you are going to laugh, cry and delight in the characters as well as each scene as it comes to life, literally right before the reader's eyes. Ms. Sinclair's ability for creating intense, sexually-charged and intriguing stories filled with dark, determined and dangerous Masters and strong, charming and beautiful submissives has given her quite a following of readers who just can't seem to get enough of this 'not to be missed" author." ~ The Romance Studio
"Miss Sinclair is a wildly talented author who takes the reader on a joy ride right along with her in each and every novel she writes. I don’t play favorites very often, but I in all honestly right now she is top of the list for me when it comes to reading." ~ Nobel Book Reviews
Now what am I going to do? Dread rose inside Erin as she left the Bear Flat realtor’s office. She couldn’t sell her house. Her small savings account wouldn’t support her for long. Despite the fact she didn’t have to pay a mortgage, the real estate taxes were steep. And there were other bills like food and utilities. And cars didn’t run on water.
I need a job. Here.
Who would hire her?
As she walked toward her car, parked a block down from the realty office, she passed by two men. One was tall with graying dark hair, and the lines on his face sagged like her housekeeper’s basset hound. The other was a burly man with a big belly and a receding hairline.
The basset hound of a man eyed her. “I know you. You’re Congressman Palmer’s wife.” The loathing in his voice was like a slap in the face.
The potbellied man straightened, his expression darkening. “You’re a Palmer? You’re the reason the prison was here. Why my son almost died.”
“What?” Shocked, she hastily stepped away as everything inside her cringed. “No.”
Would the man attack her? She glanced around for help.
She had a moment’s hope at seeing a police officer in a black uniform shirt. Big and brawny with super-short dark hair, he stood without moving and stared at her with…hatred.
The pot-bellied man’s voice rose. “You and your bastard of a husband got rich off our misery. Polluted our water, brought gangs to our small town. You should—”
“Hey, Simmons.” A tall, muscled man in a black cowboy hat stepped around her and put himself directly in front of her, blocking her from the shouter. His voice was deep and easy. “It’s been a while.”
To her surprise, Simmons stopped yelling. “Masterson, I’ll be. Wasn’t sure we were going to see you again.”
“Masterson.” The leaner man grinned and shook hands with her rescuer. “Welcome home, man.”
Gratitude swept through her at the man’s intervention. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
While the men were involved in their greetings, Erin silently retreated and escaped down the block. The police officer had already left. He sure wouldn’t have been much help if she’d needed him.
Instead, that man—the one named Masterson—had saved her. Did he even realize it? She checked over her shoulder.
He’d turned slightly and was watching her. His assessing eyes were a dark brown that matched his thick mustache and the wavy brown hair touching his shoulders. Red marks on his right cheek looked almost like burns. His right jaw had a long cut with black stitches in it.
Ow, that looked painful.
The shouter Simmons followed his gaze. “Hey, do you get she’s the politician’s wife? Palmer, the one who took bribes to—”
“Are you sure she had anything to do with the prison?” her rescuer said. “Palmer didn’t bring her here when he came. From the shit I heard him say about her, they weren’t close.”
“From the shit I heard him say.” Troy must have ridiculed her when he was here. She shouldn’t be surprised. He’d mocked her before…but each time it felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach.
Tears burned her eyes, but she was in public. People’s cold, accusing eyes jabbed at her. She had no friends here.
Pulling in a breath through her nose, she stiffened her spine and walked away. Head high. Jaw firm.
Back when Mom put her into a ritzy private high school, she’d learned that taunting only grew worse if she cried. These people wouldn’t get the satisfaction of seeing how much their scorn hurt. Or how much they’d scared her.
Thank goodness the tall man in the cowboy hat had interrupted.
Wyatt watched the woman walk away, hands fisted at her sides, as if she relaxed, she’d lose her nerve and flee. Reminded him of when Morgan popped a balloon and Kallie’s cat had jumped a foot, then stalked out of the room exuding attitude, like, “I wasn’t scared, no, not me. Nothing scares the fierce Maine coon.”
He shot Simmons a hard look. “You frightened her. No matter how much of an asshole her husband is, she’s a woman.”
Simmons blew up like a puffer fish and deflated as fast. “You’re right. My pa would’ve tanned my hide.”
“Mine as well.” Anatole Thibodeaux, the lean owner of the Mother Lode restaurant, heaved a sigh as he studied the retreating woman. “Palmer took off without her, after all. Though it’s odd his wife is here at the scene of her husband’s crimes, so to speak.”
Wyatt frowned. “Yeah. It is odd.” Did she know how much of an asshole her husband was? About the women Palmer brought in to entertain himself and his guests?
“So, Masterson, I see you got yourself a nice tan from down there in Africa. Did you also happen to have trouble starting a campfire?” Simmons gestured to the burns on Wyatt’s face.
“Hey, fires are tricky.” Wyatt gingerly touched the healing skin. “Like women. Get too close or be inattentive, and you get burned.”
As the men laughed, Wyatt grinned and headed toward his pickup.
Pierre’s Auto and Small Engine Repair sat outside of the small downtown area. Nothing pretentious. Just a big auto shop with three repair bays and the office at one end.
As usual, there was no one in the office, so Wyatt started checking the repair bays. Walker, the older mechanic, was working on an aged Yukon in one. In the second, young Marco was doing an oil change.
In the third, Pierre was talking to—go figure—the politician’s wife.
Erin felt like an idiot. Why didn’t I take the time to buy jeans and a T-shirt before coming here to ask for a job?
The owner, Pierre Thibodeaux, was about her height of five-nine but all wiry muscle with short black hair and brown eyes. Years of grease had stained his calluses a shade darker than his skin.
And here she was, in her congressman-approved, up-market clothing. In light colors, no less. “I know I look like I can’t figure out which end of a wrench to use, but I do know my way around a car. Can you give me a—”
The owner of the only auto repair shop in town looked past her, and his eyes widened. “Wyatt Masterson. It’s about time you got your tail-end home.”
Even before turning, Erin knew who she would see. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Rugged. In a cowboy hat. The man looked as if he’d sauntered out of the Old West movies her grandfather had loved.
And his name? Wyatt Masterson—seriously?
The cowboy held out his hand. “Pierre, good to see you.” With a deep, rough voice, he sounded like country-western singer Tim McGraw might after a long night of drinking. Could he be any more of a typical cowboy?
Except, okay, maybe he—and his hat—were remarkably sexy.
Not that she noticed.
After a manly exchange of handshaking and back-slapping, the two stepped apart. Wyatt glanced at her. “Sorry, miss. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No, no, you did not interrupt us. We were finished.” Pierre shook his head at her. “I hire only certified—”
“I’m an ASE-Certified Master Automobile Technician.”
The owner’s surprise was quite insulting. On her phone, she pulled up the photo of her certificate.
Pierre studied the cell display, then eyed her. “I don’t think—”
Tall, Dark, and Rugged interrupted. “You should give her a chance, Pierre. Your lot is full, which means you’ve got a backlog of work. I know Jonas retired before I left last year. Did you ever replace him?”
Pierre’s mouth thinned. “You’re as pushy as your father was.”
Oh great, now he was angry. Erin’s heart sank. Even though the big guy had spoken up for her, he’d probably done her no favors.
Pierre’s gaze went to the parking lot, and he scowled. “You brought in your pickup for work, Masterson?”
“Yep. It sat for almost a year. Needs servicing.”
“Merde,” Pierre said under his breath, then raised his voice. “Then we will do this.” He pointed to the empty repair bay where they stood. “Put your pickup in here.”
Wyatt nodded, his lips tilting up under the dark mustache.
“You, cher, will service the vehicle. Here. Now.”
Yes! No, wait… “Now?” She gulped.
“Yes. You come to me like this; you work like this—or you do not work at all.” The short man’s dark eyes snapped with irritation.
“My tools are—”
“I have spares.” Arms crossed over his chest, he watched as Wyatt Masterson drove his pickup into the bay.
Masterson jumped out, a box from the bakery in one hand.
Pierre pointed to the door. “Be off with you and do not come back until I call you.”
The big man grinned, totally unfazed. “Got it. Key’s in the ignition. Good luck, Ms. Palmer.”
“It’s Lockwood, not Palmer.” She winced because she’d totally snapped at a customer.
But did he get upset? Not hardly. His eyes just crinkled like he was trying not to laugh. He touched his fingers to his hat brim and… The way he sauntered out of the repair bay, it was like he was heading for his horse that was undoubtedly tied up in front of some saloon.
Pierre stood, arms folded. Waiting for her to react.
“Let me get to work then. Tools?” At his gesture, she headed for an ugly tool cabinet.
After an hour or so, her clothes would be unsalvageable. Ah well. She’d never liked them anyway.
Instead, anticipation rose. There’d been no time to play with tools since the disastrous night when Troy tried to blackmail a senator. Whether she got the job or not, she was going to enjoy herself today.
She pulled in a breath and rolled up her sleeves. Enjoyment or not, she needed this job.