Nevada-raised Nellie Campbell despairs of ever finding love because her father fiercely guards her chastity, keeping all virile men yards away from her. When she joins the hunt to capture a rogue stallion that has been stealing valuable mares from area ranchers, she soon learns Rogue Red is no ordinary horse. No way can she allow her father and the cowboys to kill or geld this magnificent creature.
To help him escape, she soon finds herself racing across the desert on the red stallion’s back, knowing there can be no return. All her father’s care to keep her pure will now be for naught because Rogue Red is also Steven Johns, descendant of a long line of shape-shifting were-horses. As a man he is even more gorgeous than he is as a horse!
Grief over the brutal slaying of his family has driven Steven to live in horse form for so long, his human side has almost been forgotten. Feisty yet charmingly naïve, Nellie reminds him there is more to life than leading his mares through the wilds while fighting off predators and angry ranchers. But will her father ever abandon the chase with the ultimate goal of seeing him rendered harmless?
It will take a tragedy and a heroic rescue to convince Jack Campbell that the right man for Nellie and the rogue stallion are both more than they seem.
Oh Lordy, but he’s magnificent! His long mane was just a shade darker than the blazing red-brown of his sleek coat. His auburn tail was like a flag, blowing on the wind as he held it high, shifting nervously back and forth. The blaze shown white in the starlight and she would swear his eyes glowed like coals. He wheeled and kicked at the rails of the inner corral. Although his hooves thudded hard on the wood, nothing cracked or even seemed to shift. He tried it a couple more times, but it wasn’t doing any good.
Nellie wasn’t sure why, but she reached a sudden decision. Nope, Pa’s not going to ruin this horse! I can’t let it happen. She slipped silently around to the main gate of the outer pen and opened it. The horse paid her no mind at all. Then she went to the inner pen and struggled to work loose the massive iron fitting that fastened that gate shut. It was heavy and awkward, hard as Hades to move even an inch, much less open.
When the deep, soft voice spoke just behind her she almost jumped out of her skin. “Don’t. You’ll only get in trouble. I don’t want that to happen. I can get it myself if I have to.”
She whirled, not sure if the red stud had suddenly started talking or just what was going on. The horse was nowhere to be seen, but a man stood there, a very tall and well-built man. A very under-dressed man too, clad only in a breechcloth like some of the Indians wore in the summer. He looked something like an Indian too, yet he didn’t. He seemed to be very clean, which in itself was strange, out here in the desert.
He was tall, slender but well-muscled, and the hair that blew free down past his shoulders was deep auburn red. She could see that even in the dim light. He was as magnificent a specimen of a man as that stud was of a horse, at any rate. A skitter of excitement danced along Nellie’s nerves.
“Who are you?”
“I’ve been called many things, few of them complimentary. Once I was a regular man, but no longer. I only take this shape now when it is needful. Somehow running as a horse seems to be a better life.”
Nellie shook her head. Surely she was dreaming or had gone plumb loco. Horses did not turn into men. For sure horses did not speak. Still, there was an uncanny similarity between this handsome stranger and the red stud. He spoke very quietly, with hardly any real sound. The effect was almost as if he communicated without speech at all. She’d read in a book that some people could, by something called telepathy, but she wasn’t sure she really believed it, at least not until now.
“If you’re here when Pa gets up, he’ll either shoot you or tie you up and cut you,” she warned. “I don’t want that happening. It isn’t right. I figured you wouldn’t leave without the mares, so I opened the main gate. There’s no getting out the way you came in, you know. Well, not for a horse anyway. I was fixing to let the mares out if I could just get this damned gate to open.”
He shook his head, an earnest intensity in his voice and even his vaguely glimpsed face. “No, please. Don’t do it. I will go before sunrise and shut the other gate behind me. Nobody will even know I was here. I’ll study on it today and come up with another way out of this, even if I have to stay in my man-form to think it through. Go back to bed. I promise you they won’t find me here when morning comes.”
“Are you sure? If Pa does, he’ll get his rifle or that big knife he uses to make steers out of bulls. Then I’d have to do something desperate. That would be worse.” Nellie shuddered as the horrible images flashed across her mind.
“Trust me, I will be gone. For a human filly, you have a good heart, and you’re fair to look upon. I appreciate your concern. It will be rewarded in time, but go now before anyone wakes and finds you missing.”