The Cowboy’s Claim


Sinclair Jayne

“No strings,” he said….

Ex-special forces soldier and military dog handler Calhoun Miller is lucky to be alive. He wouldn’t even be in Marietta but for a vow he made to his fallen team leader to solve a mystery that spans decades. Spending a sexy, magical night with a beautiful woman isn’t part of the plan, but he’s never felt more compelled to seize the moment. And then a freak accident hospitalizes him, risking his mission to honor his friend.

As if returning to her hometown of Marietta isn’t awkward enough, hospitalist Dr. Jory Quinn is blindsided when her sexy, anonymous hookup becomes her patient, possibly derailing her career. She begs him to keep their secret, but when Calhoun reveals he’s in town to solve the long ago disappearance of her father and brother, keeping her distance, hands, and secrets to herself is beyond challenging.

Not to mention she might be…pregnant?

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Chapter One

The sirocco tore at the corners of the airplane hangar screaming vengeance. The howls matched the way Otis Calhoun Lael-Miller V’s soul shrieked as he watched his best friend’s bloody helmet make the rounds through the large, capable hands of his Coyote Cowboy brothers. Like most of his team, his head was bowed as if in silent prayer, although he knew none. It was far too late anyway.

Using peripheral vision, he watched the helmet’s progress as each of his teammates drew a slip of paper out of the helmet. Jace’s amends. Or vows. Plans that he’d never get the chance to complete.

Calhoun’s throat squeezed, and his chest felt crushed. His eyes burned.



Not tears. Millers didn’t cry. They tamed land. Ran cattle. Built towns and then cities. Racked up architecture awards. Had Emmy-award-winning shows based on their lives. The Lael side of his family crafted award-winning wines in several different states and two countries. They launched fashion houses and brands that were global and every celebrity It Girl’s wet dream.

If either side of his ambitious, famous, and extravagantly wealthy family was asked—and he doubted they had thought about him in years—he would be the underachiever.

By design. He’d walked away at eighteen, dumping Otis and Lael and the Roman numeral and any stake in the empire.

His family wouldn’t consider that not dying in the desert or jungle or mountain pass in a country few Americans could find on a map counted as an achievement. Ditto for saving the lives of people who weren’t and never would be shareholders.

Calhoun had built his own ladder of success until it had crashed down on him because he’d gone with instinct, not training. When his team had received faulty intel or had been compromised, and the mission had spun south, he’d run to protect his military dog instead of his team leader.

Seeing Duke take two hits, he’d slithered into his lizard brain, sprayed the field with returning fire and launched himself into Duke’s position, slapped two pressure field bandages on him, picked him up and called for an emergency extraction before he realized Jace and Huck had been hit. Pinned down because he’d given their enemy a clear shot at their position with his Spider-Man leap, Calhoun—whispering reassurances to Duke—had dug in and kept returning fire while Huck worked on Jace, and Rohan crept to higher ground to pick off the two nests of snipers so Huck could retreat with Jace.

They’d had to shoot their way out to the extraction point. Duke had made it. Jace hadn’t. And Huck never said a word about it to command.

Another team had completed their mission, a first for the Coyote Cowboys unit.

And Calhoun would have to exit his prestigious service career with that stain on his soul, if not his record.

He’d planned to muster out along with Jace McBride, one of the best friends a man could have. But Jace was gone, and Duke’s career was over—though he’d survived the two surgeries that might save his life.

It was touch and go, and despite the gravity of this morning’s situation, Calhoun kept looking at his phone for updates from the vet’s team.

He dragged in a ragged breath and out of the corner of his eye saw Wolf Conte, the new temporary team leader, focus on him. Damn. He angled his shoulders back, spine rigid. He was a sequoia standing vigil for centuries, unbowed by fire, earthquakes, storms or anything else God or fate wanted to toss at him.

Wolf didn’t speak. He rarely did. Only when necessary. Calhoun waited, pretending to be at ease.

Wolf inclined his head, pivoted and walked outside the hangar while the other Coyote Cowboys finished their beers and waited for the plane carrying Jace to finish preparations for takeoff.

Calhoun followed.

Dr. Jory Quinn stripped off her scrubs, peeled off her cotton body suit, balled it up into a small, webbed bag that she tucked into her gym bag to hand-wash when she got home and then slid her feet into her Oka-B silver flip-flops with the frivolous flowers—one of her few financial splurges in life—and stepped under a cool shower.

She closed her eyes and pictured herself at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at night in the open-air shower by the pool. She imagined she could hear the rhythmic roar of the ocean and the soft calls of the birds settling in for the evening. The soft, cool pulse of the water flowing over her head and down her goose-bumped skin washed away the smells, pain and demands of work that puddled at her feet and swirled down the drain. She sighed and visualized the last warm kiss of the sun as it tucked behind the horizon of pinks, oranges and purples.

She held tree pose for thirty seconds with her left foot and then thirty seconds with her right. Jory then stretched her arms over her head, palms together and back arched, counting down from thirty. Then she did warrior II pose on both sides for thirty seconds each before bending forward and placing her palms flat on her feet. She kept her eyes closed, feeling her body in the space of the hospital locker room shower. She still held the image of the velvet sky, tiki torches glowing, the long lap pool, crisp water gleaming and beckoning her to swim the length, surrounded by swaying palms to the end, and contemplate the mercurial Pacific.

Jory quickly used her L’Occitane lemon verbena body wash, shampoo and conditioner, rinsed and turned off the water. She was shivering by the time she scrunched excess water from her curly bob and quickly blotted water from her skin with a towel before smoothing lemon verbena body oil over her taut olive skin.

“Mahalo,” she murmured as she reluctantly opened her eyes.

Jory Quinn had never been to Hawaii. And as for the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai where basic rooms started at thirteen hundred a night on the website, that wouldn’t be in her budget for years—probably never.


She was sick of Montana winters. They were marrow-sucking cold, and the snow wasn’t done with the fools who lived here well into April, sometimes beyond. She’d looked at the temperature and knew, just knew, she’d be scraping ice off the windshield of her ancient but reliable Subaru.

“Like always,” she muttered resentfully, thinking of the one inch she’d had to scrape off yesterday morning after the end of her shift, but she loved working nights because she hated being home alone at night.

It was April and her need for sun and warmth was primal, and working nights allowed her mornings, and a stolen late-afternoon hour or two to absorb what little sun the universe would gift her. Walking into the day—work complete—had become her routine since finishing residency, and the mostly rural hospitals in Montana needing locums hospitalists always jumped to sign her up because she took night and weekend shifts without complaint.

Because she was meeting briefly with the chief of the medical staff this morning, she added a soft pink lip gloss and swipe of mascara. She didn’t need foundation or blush or contouring for her clear, olive skin, thick dark brows, large dark eyes and ethnically ambiguous high cheekbones and strong nose.

“Where are you from? What are you?” had been nosily asked as long as she could remember.

“I’m me,” usually shut them up.

In a professional setting and at college and medical school she’d learned to soften the shut-down a little with a smile and shrug and say her family had deep roots in Montana’s Paradise Valley.

Not that Paradise Valley and the small town of Marietta were eager to claim any Quinns, nor did Jory particularly like Montana. And as soon as her commitment to the state was complete, she was driving southwest and never looking back. Yes, she’d still have her medical school loans, but working in rural hospitals for a four-year commitment had halved her loans, and frugal living had allowed her to pay down her debt ruthlessly while still helping her mom and her oma finally sell off the last little bit of the Quinn land and start over outside Lodi, California.

No more Quinns in Montana. No more dark family secrets. No more poor Jory Quinn whose daddy was in and out of jail before finally taking his son and leaving his mom, wife and daughter behind for good.

No one had been surprised. The sheriff hadn’t even sent a deputy to take a statement because her father and brother didn’t matter. Her family had been considered lowlifes. Losers. Although only highly civically engaged Carol Bingley had been willing to say the quiet part out loud: ‘Good riddance.’

The Quinns, landowners for well over a century, had never fit in with the good churchgoing people of Marietta. And Jory, despite her stellar grades and long hours working at Monroe’s Grocery Store, had still been side-eyed with suspicion like she was a shiny apple hiding a rotten core.

Jory stuck her tongue out in the mirror at her past and turned away to catch up with Akil Chopra, the head of medical staff at the hospital in Helena. Tonight was her last shift as a locums hospitalist, and she was planning to take a week or two break to visit her mom and grandma and see how they were settling in before the next contract with her locums company.

She’d used up most of her savings for the hefty down payment for the few acres and small ranch house for her family. The low-rate doctor loan made it feasible that she could still pay the small mortgage for her mom, along with her medical school loans. And in another month, escrow would close on the final parcel of Quinn land, along with the tired-looking farmhouse, and for the first time in their lives, her mom and oma would have financial security when that money was banked.

She zipped her gym bag shut after rolling her damp towel in a waterproof bag and went to find Dr. Chopra to say thank you and goodbye and probably get a job offer she wouldn’t take. And then she’d head home to her suite at the Comfort Inn and call her mom and then the locums agency to book her next Montana placement. At least the late spring and summer wouldn’t involve any snow, but with Montana, she crossed her fingers. You never knew.

Calhoun kicked at the slick snow on the sidewalk outside Grey’s Saloon where he was supposed to meet his Coyote Cowboy brothers for a welcome-home beer. Not that Marietta, Montana, was home. Nor did it appeal, particularly. It looked unbearably cute—western-movie-set vibe. He didn’t do cute. And he was sick of snow. In April. No, this town was no longer his final destination without Jace, and he was shocked that his brothers were still here. And ashamed to face them. He should have helped with Jace, even though Huck had grimly shrugged off his apology months ago with a growled “no one could save him.”

But maybe if the two of them… He broke off from his dark, unprofitable thoughts. Time to focus on his last mission. He was here hopefully for a day or two tops to discover if Jace had or hadn’t seen a murder or accidental death when he’d been a kid. At least that was Calhoun’s takeaway from Jace’s cryptic scrawl on the to-do task he’d drawn from Jace’s helmet. He wondered what his brothers’ marching orders had been and if they’d succeeded yet.

He felt keyed up. Ryder had collected a now healthy Duke, who, at the advice of the Last Stand–based former soldier, Chance Rafferty, who rehabbed and retrained military working dogs on his family’s ranch, had been renamed Kai. Calhoun couldn’t wait to be reunited with his buddy. Tonight, he’d do some research after the reunion, and then tomorrow he and Kai would take a drive and hike along some access roads over Rohan’s family ranch and play Sherlock Holmes. But maybe—he regarded the double saloon-style doors with wry amusement—he should consider himself Walt Longmire. No, those books were based in Wyoming, another snow-littered landscape he hoped to avoid.

But he couldn’t return to California like his ultimate betrayal of his family had never happened. Burning those bridges had been a conflagration likely visible from space.

Where did he want to settle? After Jace had died, Calhoun hadn’t thought about the void of his future beyond adopting Kai and giving him the best life he could. He’d never intended to leave the army until his friend and team leader Jace had asked him to.

He ran a hand through his sandy-colored hair that he intended to grow long now that he was stateside and checked that his dark Wranglers and dark blue T hadn’t rumpled from the long drive from the base in Washington. He laughed at himself. Kai wouldn’t care how he looked.

But will he remember me?

Calhoun hadn’t seen Kai since July when he’d been sent for life-saving surgery. His recovery had been several months, and then Calhoun had paid a hefty donation to the nonprofit in Last Stand for Kai to stay and recover from any emotional wounds and retrain to enter civilian life. Calhoun had also asked for Kai to have the opportunity to train for search and rescue because even though his future was uncertain, he knew he and Kai would need a purpose.

No office for him.

No big city.

Again he looked at the double doors of Grey’s Saloon. All he had to do was open them.

But all the Coyote Cowboys would be in there waiting. Did they know what he’d done? Had Huck finally told them?

Would he face welcome or judgment?

Judgment had loomed and shouted his entire life because he hadn’t lived up to the Lael or Miller names in any way. After fifteen years away from his home, a prestigious military academy, years serving his country, he shouldn’t care what anyone thought.

Except my brothers.

But Kai was inside. And this was the first step into his future.

Calhoun grabbed both doors and swung them wide.

Marietta. Montana. Snow.

Jory glared at her reflection in the elegant bathroom mirror with the vintage sconces on either side of the vanity. Dark eyes, olive skin, poofy lips that had been an object of rabid teasing when she’d been a kid and now looked like she’d had one too many squirts of filler. Dark, arched brows that were also natural and a thick, curly bob. Her hair and her brain were the two things she liked best about herself.

But she knew being self-critical was a spiral into a deep hole she’d spent much of her life crawling out of. She’d hated her family’s reputation growing up. She’d hated being poor. She’d hated how everyone had felt free to comment on her ‘exotic’ looks and lack of height like she was a piece of furniture they’d decided not to buy.

She smiled at herself in the mirror. “Be kind.”

It was something that she’d often said to herself—self-care even before self-care had become a bragged-about movement.

She was lucky. She was smart. Hardworking. Healthy. Her body was strong, petite at five two and one-hundred and five pounds. And so what if she looked like a ‘doll’ with her small size and wide-spaced dark eyes. She was achieving her goals—except she was back in Marietta—temporarily.

Jory turned off the lights and sat in the dark on the edge of the bed in the beautiful hotel room at the Graff Hotel, still stunned that she’d been assigned to the hospital in Marietta. Her mother and aunt had said a visit now wasn’t convenient and that they didn’t need help settling in. With nowhere else in mind to go, and not wanting to spend the money for a real vacation, Jory had contacted her locums company and been stunned to silence when they’d assigned her to Marietta. Her inability to speak had unleashed a torrent of pleas as the hospital was desperate, and then a rather large bonus was tacked on for taking the two-month position and starting immediately.

Jory never had turned down work or money so here she was.

Back where it all started only in much swankier digs. But she didn’t want to spend her bonus on the Graff. She’d have to find something cheaper and very temporary.

Tired of her thoughts and her own company, Jory stood up.

This was it. A chance to take charge of her life in a different way. She had the education. The career. She was close to the financial security. Now she had to pursue…happiness? That sounded like something stuffed in a fortune cookie or on a fridge magnet.

“Be the change you want to be,” Jory mocked the turn of her thoughts. Still. She didn’t intend to hide in her room for two months, only coming out at night to work. She wasn’t a vampire.

“New rules to a new attitude.” She bounced up off the bed. She’d go for a walk. No. She’d go for a drink at Grey’s Saloon. Her daddy had often disappeared in there for hours, drinking and swapping stories with friends. She’d always been curious, but since she’d left town at barely seventeen for college, she’d never been inside.

She’d give herself a makeover, the same as the town seemed to have had since she’d left for college. Take the Graff. When she’d been a kid, it had been a derelict building, empty, falling apart and inspiring stories about ghosts. Now it had been restored by another long-time local family, the Sheenans who’d managed to hang on to their land, family and money.

According to the glossy brochure in her room, Marietta was now a travel destination boasting of restaurants, a chocolate shop, a brewery with music, dude ranches, adventure companies, seasonal outdoor activities and more. Tourists visited the town year-round now, not just for a brief photo stop on the way to Yellowstone.

Maybe if she thought of herself as a tourist—not Jory Quinn the forgotten daughter, the one who never fit in, the problem—she could have her own personal renaissance.

She kicked her feet into her plum leather ankle boots—the one western-style thing in her entire wardrobe. And slid her arms into a pink cardigan, leaving it unbuttoned over her white tank top.

She paused. Should she wear a bra? Not that she needed it, and she didn’t imagine the cowboys who’d steered well clear of her in high school would swivel around on their barstools now for more than a cursory look.

Still, her first college roommate had insisted that ninety percent of success was attitude. Jory thought it was more determination, goal setting and hard work, but Lisa had had confidence and charisma that wafted around her like a cloud of perfume, and while it hadn’t rubbed off on Jory, she had observed Lisa’s bouts with destiny.

Marietta had changed, and she could too. Tonight she’d channel a little of long-ago Lisa’s swagger and bubbly personality and walk into Grey’s and order a drink. She was no longer the socially awkward woman who’d finally had sex in medical school when she’d been twenty-three, not because she wanted to, but because she’d been embarrassed by her virginity.

The sex had been a disappointment, and an experiment she hadn’t put much effort into since, but that could change.


“Yeah, you go, Cowgirl,” she mocked herself and scrunched some product on her curls to tame the frizz.

She looked at the results of her primping.

She was a long way from the sad, hungry, anxious but determined teen she’d last been in Marietta. That had taken will, not luck. And she had will in abundance.

“I will have fun tonight,” she told her reflection.

Jory squared her shoulders and firmed her glossy lips. She was walking into Grey’s Saloon and drinking a cocktail and dancing if they had dancing. She vowed she’d strike up at least one conversation and not with the bartender. She’d be fun, flirty, and maybe even seduce a cowboy, which had been a secret fantasy in high school and college.

Why not? She was an adult. Successful. A doctor. She’d never see the cowboy again. Besides it was a waste to enjoy the Graff’s thread count alone and unconscious.

Was it safe?

Probably. This was Marietta. Besides, she knew how to wield a syringe. She made a gunslinger move in the antique mirror near the cherry mission-style wardrobe and swiped her hotel key and purse off the quilt folded at the foot of her bed and then she hurried out of the room before she could change her mind.

The door clicked shut behind her.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping June 18, 2024

The Cowboy’s Claim is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-09-1

June 18, 2024

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