Trace & Tori (The ShadowDance Club #4)

By: Avery Gale

The ShadowDance Club 4

Trace & Tori

Tori Paulson has been stalked by a Houston police officer for the past year. When she unexpectedly inherits a small ranch near Climax, Colorado, from a great-uncle she’d never even met, Tori thinks fate may finally be planning to give her a break.

Braving roads she doesn’t believe really qualify as highways while battling near-blizzard conditions, Tori misses her meeting with the local attorney, and that is only the beginning of the bad news. Sitting outside in the snow wondering where she is going to sleep without freezing to death, she suddenly realizes the gorgeous cowboy watching her thoughtfully has actually spoken to her.

Dom Trace Bartell is totally unprepared for the snow angel he finds sitting stunned in front of the local tavern. He is drawn to the vulnerability he senses in her. But Tori’s stalker hasn’t given up. Can Trace keep Tori safe from a stalker whose past is much darker than anyone knows?

Chapter 1

Trace Bartell was one of the few Doms at The ShadowDance Club that everybody liked and respected. Club owners, Alex and Zach Lamont had always maintained that anyone who thought ranchers weren’t multitalented, versatile businessmen who could step in to almost any situation and make it fly had never met the man known locally as The Gentle Giant. Bartell was known for always being cool under pressure, and his aptitude for business was widely regarded as nothing short of brilliant.

After losing his wife going on three years ago, when she’d been run off the road by a drunken teenager from a neighboring community, the man had done the unthinkable and become the offender’s advocate. Even though he had been devastated by his loss, he had lobbied the prosecutor and judge to impose a sentence that would require the young man to work on his ranch for nothing but room and board for a year and perform a thousand hours of community service. Trace had discovered the kid had been considered a problem in his hometown for years. Everybody he’d talked to had expected the young man to fail, and damned if he hadn’t tried his hardest to prove them all right. But the year he spent on the Bartell Ranch had turned the kid around. Trace had taught him values and was even helping fund his college education. When people had asked him why he’d done it, he’d assured everyone it had been healing for them both. Trace had reasoned that imprisoning the kid would have made the single-fatality accident that stole his loving wife into a double fatality. Everyone who knew him hoped that Trace would find a woman who would appreciate the kind spirit that was still mourning the loss of a great love.

Trace had been trying to buy the small ranch next to his for years, but the elderly owner had always politely refused even the most generous of offers, telling Trace that his family would need his place someday. The old man had often referred to his modest acreage as the “thing that will be that young gal’s saving grace.” Trace had never understood the man’s ramblings even though they’d been neighbors as long as Trace could remember, and he’d never known any family members to visit the elderly rancher. While Trace’s parents still lived on the ranch, his mother had always invited their neighbors for holidays.

Smiling to himself, Trace remembered the celebrations his family had shared. Their home had been a virtual cornucopia of anyone in or around their hometown who didn’t have a family of their own to celebrate with. Some of his fondest childhood memories were based in those mixed-up holiday observations. When his elderly neighbor had passed away a few months ago, Trace had made inquiries again and been told the old man had left his entire estate to a family member living in Texas. He’d been told Victor Paulson was a Harvard-educated attorney and that the man was expected in town later today. Trace had wondered briefly what had happened to the woman the old guy had so often referred to, but had come to the conclusion it was useless to think about wanderings of another man’s mind.

Trace could honestly say he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been completely blindsided by anything other than his wife’s death. But it had certainly happened today. And finding out that Victor Paulson was in fact Victoria Paulson, the beautiful woman he’d found sitting in front of the local tavern had been the best news he’d had since he’d lost his sweet Nan.

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