Big Sky Mavericks
During Flynn Bensen’s last wildfire rescue, a woman died despite Flynn’s best efforts to save her. He can’t escape his sense of failure or recurring nightmares, but he can escape to Marietta, Montana, to a new job as the head of Crawford County Search and Rescue. When he meets his scorching hot co-worker on his first day, Flynn feels like he might have just jumped from one wild fire to another that threatens to burn out of control despite his determination to keep a safe distance.
Outspoken, direct, and ambitious, Kat Robinson isn’t thrilled to have a new boss—after all, if the timing had been different, she’d have been a shoe-in for Flynn’s job. But a single mom of a ten-year-old son knows where her priorities lay—with Brady, the light of her life. No way is she looking for a relationship and co-workers are always off limits. Too bad Flynn’s so darn hot, gorgeous, kind and authentic.
Will Flynn be the hero Kat needs to help her find the courage to fall in love again?
I’m so jazzed! MONTANA HERO made the “Must-Read Romances of 2015 List” from USAToday reviewer, Kathy Altman: USAToday.
“Montana Hero by Debra Salonen. Debra Salonen writes realistic and heart-wrenching romance with an irresistible mix of compassion, humor and sensual flair. She tackles some tough subjects, but her stories always leave you feeling fulfilled and uplifted — and eager to linger with the book family she’s welcomed you into. This one’s warm, touching, sexy and adventurous, and has left me impatient to check out the adventures of Flynn’s best buds in Montana Rogue and Montana Rebel.” ~ Kathy Altman
More great reviews:
“Montana Hero is a wonderful love story of two people with significant histories overcoming or learning to cope with and accept the past while moving forward with each other’s help, and in the process finding love. Initially, there seems to be an obvious tie in to the other Big Sky Mavericks books, but things are not always what they seem and this book creates a new angle for Ms. Salonen to continue to add to the Big Sky Mavericks series (yeah!). Flynn arrives in Marietta to head up the search and rescue operation decimated by the previous head’s unethical actions. But there are still office politics to sort out. Flynn is also dealing with a loss of life from a wildfire rescue and a divorce of his own so that when he meets Kat, one of his new employees, he vows to steer clear, despite the attraction. Kat similarly brings a lot of difficulties with her. She is a dedicated worker but office politics and old loyalties threaten her at S&R. She also is searching for the father she has never known, and based on minimal information given by her mother, believes he is in Marietta. Kat is the single mom to a child on the autism spectrum and Ms. Salonen does a thoughtful job of portraying the challenges parents dealing with ASD face – she makes sure the reader understands that while Brady is well-loved, ASD places a great deal of stress on a family. I thank her for not sugar coating that fact! In the end, it is Brady that brings them together and this story creates a wonderful and far from typical family – which is what so many families are today.” ~KimNY
“What a vivid & vibrant story! Salonen captured me heart and soul with this heartfelt and emotional tale of love in many forms. I love the way that she brought Montana to life, the beauty and the danger of it apparent in every scene. The way in which SAR worked in action was amazing. It was so real and life like, I could feel the intensity of the situations.
The variety of different situations that these characters had to deal with on a daily basis, bet they medical or familial or both, added a sense of poignancy and realism to the entire tale. Salonen brought each of them to life in a realistic and apparent way that also brought forth her sensitivity for the subject. I like the way that Brady was developed. His personal POV really let me see how he thinks and feels, as well as how he stands apart from what most consider ‘normal’. Surrounded by his loving mother and the ever present Flynn, who’s budding romance can’t be missed, this is an atypical familial unit that definitely drew me in.
Salonen never fails to capture me with the emotions conveyed through her novels. MONTANA HERO is no exception. If anything, this well plotted, exciting, and romantic novel stands above the rest. It’s definitely a novel that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to those who enjoy romance.” ~ Jonel
by Debra Salonen
Mid-January, the San Bernadino Mountains wildfire
Flynn Bensen recognized the dream the minute it started in his sleeping mind.
His old frenemy was back. The homestead looked exactly as he remembered it. An authentic log cabin in the high Sierra, aged to a rummy golden brown from dozens of summers. Its metal roof was rusted so poetically you’d have thought God used a fine-tipped paintbrush to add just the right touch of umber. The word bucolic came to mind. A word Flynn never used until that day last September.
He tried to resist the pull. He knew how this story ended. Why subject myself to it again?
I won’t fall into the trap. I’ll turn left instead of right. I’ll ignore the whinny.
But the eerie sound filled his ears, sending a shiver through his body. The horse’s abject fear seized hold and wouldn’t let go.
Suddenly, he was deep in the fire zone. Heat from the hundred-plus temperature made every breath pure agony. His pack felt as if he’d loaded it with lead weights. His legs seemed disconnected from his body as he pushed onward toward the horse pen. Two frightened animals, the whites of their eyes visible at every turn, paced, reared, and tossed their heads. Every whiff of smoke drove them closer to the brink of frenzy.
This time will be different, he told himself. This time I’ll do it right.
This time I’ll save her.
The position of the old woman’s body never changed. Her head rested inches from the watering trough, face turned away, as if she couldn’t bear to watch what happened to her beloved animals. She seemed smaller in hindsight, fragile and delicate. Spikes of silver hair stuck out like a bad wig. But she was breathing…always breathing. Just enough to give him hope.
“Stay with me, now. We can do this,” he said, picking her up in his arms like a small child. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Nobody deserved to be tossed over a shoulder like a bag of rocks as he had that day. If he’d cradled her to his chest like a child, maybe she would have felt loved, respected, care for. Maybe she’d have stayed connected to him, to life.
“You’re gonna be okay. Just breathe. You can do that. Breathe. Breathe.”
Someone shook him. Hard. The woman fell from his arms. He watched her drop into the flames of the fire that had been chasing them. He lost her. Again.
He cursed and swung wildly, hoping to hurt whomever it was that made him drop her.
“Flynn. Wake up, Buddy. You’re dreaming.”
“Again,” another voice muttered. “What’s it going to take to make these nightmares stop? Drugs? I’ll find them. Just tell me what kind.”
Flynn blinked, coming back to the real world.
“I think he needs to see a shrink. This could be a classic case of PTSD.”
Awareness washed over him like a splash of rainwater from a bucket. He sat up, shaking his head like a wet dog, and looked around. He was on his cot in the tent cabin he shared with Tucker and Justin. His best friends. Brothers-in-arm.
Tucker “Mountie” Montgomery stood, arms akimbo, in baggie sweats and an army-green T-shirt. His scowl barely put a dent in his heart-throb handsome face. Even half-awake and pissed off he probably would have had his choice of groupies if any knew he was a wilderness firefighter in his day job.
Justin squatted a foot or so away. His standard issue undershirt and thigh-length gray shorts emphasized his compact muscles–finely honed from his off-season occupation: free climbing.
Flynn swiped at a bead of sweat that rolled into his eyes, stinging. “Another nightmare?” he asked.
“Same one, different night,” Tucker muttered. “Next time I’m making a Youtube video, I swear.”
He threatened that every time. But Flynn couldn’t blame him for being upset.
Tucker belonged to an elite, extremely well-paid troupe of dancers/entertainers that performed for women around the world on the off-season. He told everybody he couldn’t afford to lose valuable beauty sleep. His fans deserved it.
“Sorry, man,” Flynn mumbled. His throat ached, as usual. After every nightmare, he’d awaken to a body that somehow actually believed he’d just survived a close brush with death on the fire line.
Justin handed him the metal water bottle sitting on the floor beside the cot.
Justin Oberman–or “Goat,” as the other members of the crew called him–was the deep one. Ascetic, vegetarian, poet, and death-defying free climber who could scramble up sides of mountains like his surefooted namesake. “Flynn, this isn’t your fault, man. It sucks that your brain can’t let it go, but it’s been six months. Something needs to give, dude.”
They told him that every time this happened. What they didn’t know–because this was their first group deployment of the New Year–was he’d been wrestling with this dream since last fall when he volunteered to work a horrific fire near Yosemite National Park.
“We all know–your conscious mind knows–you did everything in your power to save that lady,” Tucker added. “You’re the hero among us. Ask anyone.”
Flynn smiled at that. False modesty wasn’t Tucker’s style. I must be in worse shape than I thought.
“Flynn, it was her time,” Justin said, repeating an argument Flynn had heard from others. Even the coroner confirmed the victim’s chances had been small to none. The subdural hematoma caused by the impact from hitting the water trough would have been tough for even a healthy young person to survive.
Tucker threw up his hands impatiently. “She probably wouldn’t have lived even if you could have predicted the fire would veer away from her place at the last minute. But for all our sakes, we have to find a way to get the message to your subconscious.”
Flynn shifted sideways, his feet landing on the dirty canvas floor with a muffled thud. His friends were right. Flynn thought getting back on an active fire line would purge his guilt. The physicality and exhaustion that came from walking four miles from a drop zone to the leading edge of a fast-burning forest fire then beating Mother Nature into submission sounded like the answer. Surely after a ten-hour day he’d be too exhausted to dream.
But, so far, that hadn’t been the case. He only felt drained–physically and emotionally. The answer to this problem seemed glaringly obvious in the pre-dawn gloom. “I need a different job.”
Tucker’s epithet echoed in the stillness, and may have been heard three tents over.
Justin’s sigh seemed to start at the center of his soul and vibrate outward.
Flynn had been wrestling with the idea ever since his brother emailed him a link to a job opening for Head of Operations, Crawford County Search and Rescue, Marietta, Montana. He looked at his friends, soberly. “I’m moving to Montana, guys. I just filled out the application online and won’t know for a while, but there’s a good chance I’ll be manning a desk in the very near future. You two will have to keep the WildFire Hot Shots going without me.”
Tucker and Justin exchanged a look.
“They have mountains in Montana, right?”
“And fires in the summer, too, I’ve heard.”
Flynn got their meaning. They’d saved one another’s lives too many times not to be able to read what went unsaid. “But Kentucky is home base for both of you.”
Justin shrugged his broad, powerful shoulders. “It’s only a place if your friends aren’t here.”
Tucker nodded. “Truth.”
Flynn looked from one to the other. “Ryker sent you the job link, didn’t he?”
“He thought you might need a kick in the pants,” Tucker said, plopping down on the cot, crowding Flynn’s space like he always did. “I’ve been looking at property online for awhile and I think I’ve found the perfect spot for Mountie’s Most Awesome Montana Zipline and Enduro Course.” He flashed the grin that drove women in his audiences wild.
Justin rolled his eyes. “That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard.”
“I like it. So do my investors. They’re lining up as we speak.”
Older women with more cash than sense, Flynn thought. But who was he to criticize? Tucker lived boldly, followed his dreams, and always came out smelling like a rose. The guy had more than enough money to risk on a short-lived investment.
“Our independently wealthy friend can dabble in a new commercial enterprise, but I put in for a transfer ten minutes after reading the email. It got approved yesterday. This summer, I’ll be in Yellowstone, which on my map appears to be in your neck of the woods. If that Search and Rescue gig doesn’t work out, I’ll put in a good word for you. Maybe you can get your old job back with the Park Service.” His serious smile told Flynn he meant every word. “But, for the record, I think this change of venue will be good for you. Hopefully, no more wildfires means no more nightmares.”
Flynn agreed. He stood and the two exchanged a quick, manly hug that Tucker immediately crashed. “Oh, you guys,” Tucker said, wrapping them both in his long and very strong arms. “It’s a moment, isn’t it? A fresh new beginning for the MHS.”
Flynn gave him a look. “The what?”
“The Montana Hot Shots. We were the Wildfire Hot Shots. I just changed it. We have a Facebook page. Didn’t I tell you?”
Justin stiff-armed his way free and headed for the tent flap. “Screw social media. I wouldn’t even carry a stinking cell phone if not for you two.”
Flynn let out a long sigh. He’d been worried about breaking the news to his buddies. Maybe that tension is what triggered tonight’s episode. His nightmares had been coming less frequently–or so he told himself–since his visit to Marietta last November. Seeing his brother so happy, in love and looking toward the future, made the stark emptiness of Flynn’s life all the more disappointing by comparison. He put in his forty hours and did a little volunteer work with a couple of after school programs in the area, but his social life was nil when Justin and Tucker weren’t around.
Would a change of venue rid Flynn of his nightmares? He didn’t know, but Ryker had made a fresh start in Marietta and found the woman of his dreams–the living, breathing, sexier than heck kind of woman. Maybe, Flynn would get lucky, too.
But, honestly? He’d settle for a good night’s sleep.