Redeeming the Maverick

ISBN: 978-1335143129

Redeeming the Maverick

August 2024
The return of the prodigal rancher…

Hayes Parker swore he would never return to Tenacity, a town that had given him nothing but hard feelings and heartbreak. Now his father’s illness has beckoned him home to the family ranch, bringing him face-to-face with…her. Chrissy Hastings, the one who got away. Hayes has changed a lot since he was a hotheaded teen. But he can’t just pick up where they left off. First, he must prove he’s a man she can count on…for keeps.

Montana Mavericks: The Trail to Tenacity


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What Readers are Saying

“I’ve just finished this fabulous story by Christine Rimmer! It’s the first book in the new Montana Mavericks series- Montana Mavericks: The Trail to Tenacity and it’s the perfect book to kick start the new series. Hayes Parker returns home, something he never imagined would happen, but his father is ill and needs him. Returning home to Tenacity reunites him with his teen love Chrissy Hastings. These two have so much baggage between them but they are so tenacious and determined, it was such a joy to see them grow and develop, their changing relationships and the best thing, watching them fall in love...”

5 stars, Sara, Goodreads reviewer

“Terrific start to the new series. There is a new town and new characters, with cameos by some old friends. Hayes left town when he graduated from high school after butting heads with his father for years. Though he swore he'd never go back, he went when his mom called, needing help. He didn't expect to come face-to-face with his high school girlfriend minutes after arriving in town. Chrissy was just as shocked to see him. Each plans to keep their distance from the other, but Fate has other plans…”

5 stars, Susan, Goodreads reviewer

“This is a great book. Welcome to the town of Tenacity. Redeeming The Maverick (Montana Mavericks: The Trail to Tenacity Book 1)" is the newest series about the Montana Mavericks, and it doesn't disappoint. Hayes Parker left town a long time ago when he clashed with his father... He married, but his wife passed away, and he's heading back because his Dad is sick and the family farm is in trouble. Crissy Hastings was his high school girlfriend who could not commit to leaving with him. She stayed in Tenacity, married, divorced, and is moving on with her life… Circumstances bring these two back into each other's lives, but whether or not to act upon it is another story...”

5 stars, Janie Evans, BookBub reviewer

“Loved it!! They say you can’t go home again, well never say never. Hayes Parker left Tenacity right after high school and never looked back. He has to come back due to his dad’s failing health. Then he runs into his old love, Chrissy. Can these two find love again, can they truly share the feelings they still have for each other? Another great read by Christine Rimmer.”

5 stars, thereselopez64, BookBub reviewer

“Christine writes books that make you keep reading and the characters are gold. I love the fact that the couples still have feeling now that they are older but still have road blocks having to do with each of their pasts.”

5 stars, Mary, Goodreads reviewer

“Christine Rimmer proves you really can go home again. A captivating & heartwarming Love story about first love lost & recaptured as well as deep family love, pride & loyalty. Highly recommended read!”

5 stars, Lynda Kirby, Goodreads reviewer

Chapter One

They say you can’t go home again, and that was just fine with Hayes Parker. He’d left the End of the Road Ranch on the day he graduated from Tenacity High School vowing never to return. For fifteen years, Hayes had kept that vow.

But hey. Never say never.

In early June of his thirty-third year, Hayes’s older brother Braden called.

“The ranch is in big trouble,” Braden said flatly. “As for Dad, he’s worse than ever, barking orders right and left. Nowadays, the man is incapable of a civil conversation. He’s just plain unbearable to be around.”

Hayes was thinking that none of that was news, but he took the high road and kept the snarky comment to himself.

Braden wasn’t finished. “Miles is off in the service and unreachable.” Miles was the youngest of the three brothers. “As for Rylee, she’s engaged, and living in Bronco.”

Hayes felt the sharp pinch of regret. Rylee was the youngest of the four of them, their only sister. And Hayes had never kept in touch the way he knew he should. He drew a slow breath. “Rylee’s engaged…”

“Yeah. To Shep Dalton.”

“Wow.” Rylee and Shep had been friends in school—just friends, the way Hayes remembered it. “The years do go by…”

Braden said, “She’s got herself a big-time job in Bronco.” A hundred miles from their hardscrabble hometown of Tenacity, Montana, Bronco was bigger, greener—and for some families, richer. “I’m telling you, Hayes, no way Rylee has time to deal with Dad, let alone to take on the near-impossible task of saving the ranch.”

“I hear you,” Hayes replied. Because he did and he sympathized. But that didn’t mean he’d be headed for Tenacity imagining he could save the day.

“I’m done,” Braden said darkly. “Finished. On my way out the door. I’ve stuck it out as long as I can stand to. But no more. I’m leaving.”

Hayes tried to find the right words. Too bad there were none.

“Hayes? You still there?”

“I’m here. And, Braden, I get it. And I wish you well. But I’m not going home to try to deal with Dad. I gave all that up when I was eighteen. You have to know that.”

There was a silence, a silence weighted with grim understanding on both their parts.

Braden asked in a hollow voice, “Not even to save the family ranch?”

Hayes felt a tug deep down inside him. He hated that ranch. But he loved it, too. Even after fifteen years, it was all tangled up for him, the hurt. The frustration. The clear knowledge that he needed to get out or there would be no hope for him. “Uh-uh,” he said quietly into the phone. “I’m not coming back. No can do.”

Braden let out a heavy sigh. “I understand.”

“Sorry, brother.”

“Hey. It was worth a shot. You take care now.”

“Let me know where you end up,” Hayes said.

“Will do.” Braden said goodbye.

Hayes hung up the phone determined to stand his ground. Yeah, the very idea that the ranch might fall out of Parker family hands…it got to him, it hit him deep. True, he’d vowed never to go back there. But that didn’t change the way he felt about the ranch. It was Parker land. And it damn well ought to remain that way whether Hayes ever set foot there again or not.

He told himself to let it go, that he wasn’t going back and there was no upside to stewing about it.

But over the next couple of months, thoughts of home nagged at him. There had been good things back home. He’d found first love there, deep and true. At least for as long as it had lasted.

Since then, he’d been married—and widowed. He’d loved his wife with all his heart. And yet sometimes he still thought of Chrissy Hastings, his high school sweetheart. Of her long brown hair and big brown eyes, her sweet laugh and kind heart. It had cut him deep, losing Chrissy. But still, he’d moved on.

In the past fifteen years, he’d worked on ranches all over the Western states. Now, he was top hand on a fine spread called the Bar-M up in northern Montana near the town of Rust Creek Falls. The owner’s son on the Bar-M was ready to step up as top hand, so Hayes knew he’d be leaving here soon anyway—and when he did, he would finally buy his own land and build his own spread. He refused to go backward. Why in hell should he help out the father who’d rarely given him anything but grief?

But then, on the last day of July, his mother called.

He considered not answering. Over the years, he’d let most of his mom’s calls go to voicemail. She was such a good mom. He still missed her every day—and talking to her just made him long for the home he’d left behind.

She was the easy one to love, always gentle, thoughtful and full of understanding. The truth was, he’d always hated hearing the pain in her voice. It hurt so bad when she said how much she missed him.

He’d missed her a lot, too. But overall, it just worked better not to poke at a deep wound.

This time, though, he couldn’t stop himself from taking the damn call. “Hi, Mom.”

Norma sighed. “Hayes. It’s so good to hear your voice.”

He had to swallow to loosen the sudden tightness in his throat. “How are you?”

“I’m okay, honey. Doing well…” The words trailed off into silence. Finally, she spoke again. “I’m just going to go ahead and put it out there.”

He rubbed at the space between his eyebrows where tension had gathered. “Mom, look—”

“Please, honey. Hear me out.”

He should say he had to go and then hang up quick.

But he did no such thing. “What, Mom?”

“Your father, well, he’s sick. And he’s been sick for a while now.”

Sick? Not possible. Lionel Parker was too ornery to get sick. “Sick with what, Mom?”

“We’re not sure. For months, he’s been having horrible bellyaches with fever, and his stomach bloating up. Up till now, he’s always gotten better for a while, at least—but then he ends up in bed, sick and in pain with a fever all over again.”

“What does the doctor say?”

“Hayes.” Her soft voice held the patience of the ages. “I can’t get him to go to the doctor…”

Hayes rubbed that spot between his eyes a little harder.

Of course, Lionel Parker refused to find out what was wrong with him. Lionel Parker didn’t get sick. Getting sick would prove he was only human like everyone else.

His mom continued, “He says he’ll be fine, that we can’t afford to ‘throw money away’ on doctors. And honey, the hard fact is we’re dead broke.” She hesitated. And then she laid it on him. “We haven’t lost the ranch yet, but it could happen if things don’t turn around.” Her words only confirmed what Braden had said two months ago. As though she sensed the direction of his thoughts, she added, “Braden picked up stakes and left.”

“I know, Mom. He called me before he took off. Tell me you at least hired someone to help out.”

She didn’t answer. Her silence felt weighted with reproach.

“Right,” he muttered. “You already said there’s no money.”

“Rylee has offered to take a leave from the great job she loves. She’s director of marketing now for the Bronco Convention Center.” His mother’s voice was full of pride. But then she added wearily, “Hayes, it’s just wrong to ask her to give up the job she’s worked so hard to earn.”

“I get it, Mom. I do.”

“Did you know she’s going to marry—”

“Shep Dalton. Yeah. Braden told me. I’m glad for her.”

“Oh, Hayes…”

At his feet, his dog, Rayna, made a low, anxious sound. He shifted his gaze down to her. She’d sensed his mood. Now she stared up at him through worried eyes. He gave her a quick scratch on her furry head.

And his mom finally hit him with the big question. “Do you think you might possibly see your way clear to come on home for a bit?” Hayes could hear the tears in her voice. She was trying so hard not to cry.

Those unshed tears broke him.

He found himself thinking that he really needed to get over himself. He was no longer an overgrown boy with a heart full of grievances. Uh-uh. Now he was a grown-ass man who’d loved and lost—twice.

It was about time he tried to put the past behind him. “Okay, Mom. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

She burst into tears then.

He soothed her as best he could, offering reassurances that everything was going to be all right while at the same time wondering if he’d somehow lost his mind.

When he hung up with her, he texted Braden to let him know what was going on.

And the next morning, as dawn painted the purple sky with streaks of orange, Hayes packed up his crew cab, hitched up his horse trailer and clicked his tongue for his dog. Rayna jumped right up onto the passenger seat. She was a big girl, a hundred-pound Bulgarian shepherd, long-haired and bred to live on the land guarding and protecting livestock. His late wife, Anna, had raised her from a pup, treating her like one of the family. As a result, Rayna was more pet than guardian dog.

“You ready to go?” he asked.

Rayna gave a low whine in answer.

“All right. Let’s hit the road.”

It was a seven-hour drive to Tenacity—seven and a half counting a stop to let his horse stretch his legs. They rolled into Hayes’s dusty hometown at 1:30 in the afternoon. He drove down Central Avenue thinking that things hadn’t changed all that much.

The local watering hole, the Grizzly Bar, still had that flat roof, like most of the commercial buildings in town. And it still had a big orange door with weather-beaten benches to either side and a rough façade of bricks made from natural stone. Directly across the street from the Grizzly was Tenacity’s one bus stop complete with a bench, a sign and a plexiglass shelter where you could catch the Trailways bus that rolled by twice daily going southwest toward Bronco, or northeast to the North Dakota border.

And if he drove on a few more blocks, he’d be leaving town. In no time, he’d find himself rolling onto Hayes family land.

But he wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

Instead, he went left at the next intersection and then left again. That had him ending up not far from where he’d turned off the highway in the first place. Pulling into the parking lot of the Tenacity Inn, he stopped beneath the porte cochere next to the lobby doors.

The way he saw it, he needed someplace to escape to, just in case. A room for the night would do just fine. That way, if his dad really drove him up the wall, he’d have a place to hole up for a few hours—after he put his horse out to pasture, somehow managed to get his pigheaded father to visit the damn doctor and saw to the evening chores.

Did they allow pets as big as Rayna here?

One way to find out.

He let the dog out. She promptly peed on a big, rounded landscaping rock. Luckily it didn’t look like she’d hit any of the decorative plantings. Hayes decided to call that a win. From the trailer his sorrel gelding, Roscoe, nickered softly.

“Won’t be long now,” he called to the horse. Roscoe snorted once and let it go at that.

Hayes ran up the steps and pulled open the glass door to the lobby, ushering Rayna in ahead of him. Inside, the Tenacity Inn was nothing fancy, but it was clean with a nice, big lobby and plenty of windows to let in the afternoon light.

He led Rayna straight to the front desk, where he swept off his hat and asked for a room. The pretty blonde desk clerk said that she could reserve him a room, but he couldn’t check in until three—and yes, he could have his dog with him as long as the dog was quiet and well trained.

Rayna could bark with the best of them whenever she sensed a threat. She was bred to guard livestock, after all. But Hayes kept his mouth shut about that.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s a good dog, easy-natured and well behaved. Sit, girl.” Rayna tucked in her low, furry tail and dropped to her haunches. She was something. She sat there looking nothing short of regal, waiting for his next command.

The blonde nodded approvingly. “She’s a calm one, I can see that,” she said as she took Hayes’s credit card.

The clerk had just handed him his room key when someone behind him gasped—and somehow, right then, just from that one sharp, indrawn breath, he knew. “Hayes?” the woman behind him asked in complete disbelief. “Is that you?”

He’d been in town for a matter of minutes. And somehow, already, the past had caught up with him.

He made himself turn to face her.

Damn. She looked great. Beautiful as always, but not the same girl he used to know. She was all woman now.

Her face was a little thinner, her cheekbones more pronounced. Her seal-brown hair was pulled back and anchored in a thick knot at the back of her head. Her eyes were exactly as he remembered them, deep brown around the iris, raying out to amber and green rimmed with gray. He saw sadness in those eyes—pride and grit, too.

“Chrissy,” he said rough and low.

Those soft, full lips were slightly parted in surprise. “What are you doing here?” She asked the question quietly, her voice carefully controlled.

He took his time answering because he needed a moment to catch his breath. Even though she’d spoken to him in a soft and civil tone, to have her standing right here in front of him felt like a slap in the face.

It was bad enough he was about to go try to deal with his old man for the first time in a decade and a half. But Chrissy…

That was a punch to the gut all over again.

She glanced down at Rayna. “Who’s this?”

“My dog. Her name’s Rayna.”

“Hey, Rayna,” Chrissy said. Rayna tipped up her big head, awaiting strokes. Chrissy gave her what she wanted.

He explained, “My dad’s sick and there’s no one to help out. You could say I drew the short straw. What about you?”

“I’m the catering manager here at the inn.”

“I heard you got married,” he said, playing it casual for all he was worth.

She lifted one shoulder in a sad little shrug. “I’m divorced now.”

He’d had no idea. “Sorry to hear that.”

“Uh, thank you,” she replied stiffly. God, this is awful, he thought. And then she asked, “You?”

He gave her the truth. “I was married. My wife died…”

Those big eyes got shiny. She looked like she might cry. “Oh, Hayes. I’m so sorry…”

Way to go, Parker, he thought. He’d developed a real knack lately for making women cry—yesterday, his mom. Today, his first love.

With a tiny sniff, Chrissy glanced away, out toward the porte cochere and his truck and horse trailer waiting beneath it. He looked her over some more. Because he couldn’t stop himself.

She had one of those word tattoos in a delicate font wrapped around her left forearm: Be Bold. Be True. Be Free.

That tattoo surprised him. The Chrissy he used to know wasn’t the type to get inked. He wondered so many things—like why the tattoo and how she had ended up divorced.

His brothers had never said a word about her in all the years he’d been gone—probably because they knew the subject of Chrissy was a painful one for him. Now and then, though, he would check in with his buddies in town. From them, he’d learned that Chrissy had finished college with a degree in hospitality, that she’d married a successful accountant. The last he’d heard, she and her husband were doing great over in Wonderstone Ridge, a resort town down the road toward Bronco.

Was it the divorce that had her choosing to move back home?

Not that it was any of his business.

“Well,” she said, drawing her shoulders back, her lips tipping up in a cool smile, “I should get to work…”

“Good to see you, Chrissy.” It was only halfway a lie.

Her smile wavered just a little. “You too, Hayes. Take care.”

“Thanks.” He tipped his hat to her as he settled it back on his head. And then, clicking his tongue for his dog, he turned for the door. Chrissy made no effort to slow him down.

He went out into the bright August sunlight reminding himself that he was bound to run into her at some point and it was just as well he’d gotten that over with quick.

His pulse roared in his ears as he opened the passenger door of his truck and clicked his tongue at his dog. Rayna jumped up to the seat.

And then, for a minute that seemed to stretch into eternity, he just stood there with the door open, staring blindly at his dog, his heart beating like a wrecking ball in the cage of his chest.


At the ranch, things were every bit as bad as he’d expected.

The iron sign above the main gate had come loose on one side. Both the barn and the house needed repainting. The tractor shed and the chicken coop cried out for a fresh coat of whitewash. A quick glance around showed him that shingles were missing from just about every roof. A rusted pickup with two flat tires sat in the dirt next to the rough rail fence that surrounded the house.

And other fences were clearly down. Chickens scattered, stirring up dust, as he drove in. By the rail fence, a black Angus cow nibbled at Norma Parker’s wilted roses while a baldy calf stuck his nose under the bottom rail to crop at the fringe of grass on the other side.

Hayes pulled to a stop by the low gate that opened onto a natural stone walk leading up to the front porch steps. For a long string of seconds, he just sat there, engine idling, dreading getting out, not wanting to face what waited inside.

And then the front door opened. His mom, looking worn and weary beyond her years, stepped out. With a cry, she rushed down the steps.

That got him moving. He shut off the engine and jumped from the cab in time to catch her when she threw herself into his arms.

“Hayes! Oh, honey… I’m so glad you’re here.” She stared up at him, dark circles beneath her eyes, tears on her cheeks. “Look at you. More handsome than ever…” A sob escaped her.

“Hey, Mom. Hey…” He pulled her in for one more hug before asking grimly, “How is he?”

She sniffled and swiped at her eyes with a work-roughened hand. “It’s bad, honey. He won’t listen to me. We have to do something.”

He clasped her shoulders. “I need to take care of my horse. I’ll be quick. And then I’ll be in.”

She squeezed his arm. “Hurry.”

“I will.”

Fifteen minutes later, he instructed Rayna to wait on the porch and went inside, where everything looked pretty much as he remembered—only older and more worn out.

“No damn doctor!” It was his father’s voice, rough, angry and full of pain. The sound came from the master bedroom across the great room and down a short hallway.

His mother answered, “But you’re ill, Lionel. You’re sick enough that you’re scaring me.” She said something else, but Hayes couldn’t make out the words.

“No, Norma,” blustered his dad. “I’ll be all right. Just leave me be!”

His mom started shouting then. “Lionel Parker, you are spiking a fever of a hundred and two! This cannot go on!”

His dad launched into more objections as Hayes started walking. His boots echoing on the worn wood floor, he strode toward the bedroom.

The door was open. He hesitated at the threshold, shocked at what he saw.

His dad lay on his back on the old iron-frame bed, his belly enormous, his face heavy, unshaven, his scruffy beard dead white, his skin yellowish and his eyes red-rimmed.

Those eyes locked right on him. “Well. If it isn’t the prodigal son coming home at last…” Lionel Parker’s insult died on his lips as he pressed his hands to his belly and moaned in pain.

Hayes swept off his hat. “Hey, Dad. Real good to see you, too. I’m here to help Mom get you to the hospital.”

“No!” Lionel clutched his stomach even harder and groaned again. “We can’t afford—”

“You’re going, Dad.”

“Do not call me any damn ambulance!”

“Okay, I won’t.” Hayes spoke to his mother. “Let’s get him in my truck.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” growled Lionel.

“That’s what you think, Dad.”

Lionel kept saying no, but somehow Hayes managed to sit him up, put his slippers on him and drag him to his feet. From there, Hayes slung Lionel’s beefy right arm across his shoulders. Norma pulled Lionel’s left arm around her neck so she could support the old man on his other side.

They started walking. Lionel objected with each step. More than once, he almost got loose. But he was in bad shape and could barely stand on his own. Hayes kept a strong hold on his wrist and around his swollen middle as they went.

Somehow, they got him out the front door, where Rayna was waiting.

“Stay,” Hayes commanded. Rayna sat.

With his dad sagging between them, Hayes and his mom staggered down the steps and across the walk. Norma ran around the truck bed and got in the crew cab’s back seat on the far side. Hayes boosted Lionel up as Norma did the best she could to pull him into the cab.

“I’ll stay back here with him,” his mom said as she gently hooked up his seatbelt for him.

Hayes glanced at his dog, who sat watching him from the porch. He hoped the rail fence would be enough to keep her close to the house. “Stay!” he shouted once more.

She gave him a worried-sounding whine.

Hayes shut the front gate, then ran around and got in behind the wheel. As he buckled himself in, his mom said, “I put in a little fountain in the backyard a few years ago. Your dog will have water when she needs it.”

“Thanks, Mom. That’s great.” He started up the truck and headed for Bronco. Once they reached the highway, he kept the speed just over the limit while constantly fighting the urge to floor it and get them there quicker.

His mom called Bronco Valley Hospital from the back seat to let them know they were bringing Lionel in. As the miles rolled away beneath the crew cab’s wheels, Lionel stared straight ahead, a grim scowl on his face. Hayes appreciated the quiet. But every time he glanced in the rearview mirror and met his mother’s worried eyes, dread marched like cold fingers up and down his spine.

His father was in bad shape. Hayes was not a praying man as a rule. But he was praying now.