Read Chapter One of WILD DAKOTA HEART by Lisa Mondello

WILD DAKOTA HEART ~ Dakota Hearts Book 4

Former NAVY SEAL, Ethan McKinnon, has spent ten years trying to wash away the bad boy reputation that ultimately resulted in the death of his best friend Denny Newton.  Unfortunately, that meant leaving behind everyone, especially Maddie Newton, Denny’s sweet younger sister. Ethan had faced sniper bullets and lived through black ops missions that he never should have come home from.  But facing Maddie again, and gaining her forgiveness, is the most terrifying thing he’s ever had to do.

There was a time when Maddie Newton’s sun rose and set with Ethan McKinnon.  But that was before her world shattered with her brother’s tragic death, and Ethan had left her to grieve alone while he played hero somewhere else in the world.  Old motorcycle pieces in the garage have been a constant reminder of her brother’s unfinished life.  Now that Ethan is back in Rudolph, he insists they work together to fulfill Denny’s dream of restoring the motorcycle and bringing it to Sturgis. But how can Maddie work alongside Ethan when he’s the last man on earth she wants to be near…and the only man she’s ever truly loved?    

Chapter One

Ten years of doing right didn’t erase one moment of stupid in the course of a man’s life.  Ethan McKinnon knew that more than anyone.  There were some things you couldn’t change no matter how much you wanted a do-over.  No matter how much you had changed.
Eight years of military service, most of them as a Navy SEAL, and the past year as a police officer, hadn’t prepared him for what he had to do in the next few minutes.
Facing Maddie Newton.
The sounds of his cruiser’s wheels on the pavement drowned out whatever thoughts cycled throughout his mind during the few hundred yards between seeing the red compact car plowed into the tree. He didn’t have to radio in the license plate to know who the driver was, making this stop all the more difficult.
Pulling the mic from the radio attached to his duty belt, Ethan called into the station.
“Dispatch, this is W17.  I’m at the scene of a one car accident on Buena Vista Road.  Vehicle is a red sedan.”  He paused to read the license plate and transmit it to the dispatcher.  “I’ll need a tow truck.  Checking for injuries now and will radio back if an ambulance is needed.”
“Copy that,” the dispatcher said.
Ethan pushed the door open and stood for a second with his heart lodged in his throat, choking him.  On pure adrenaline, he quickly moved his legs forward until he was standing just outside the driver’s side of the car.    
He’d seen Maddie from afar while he was driving in town and then down at the shelter just after the ice storm hit months ago.  But he’d never ventured this close to her. 
The last time he’d seen Madelyn Newton, she’d been crying.  She’d walked right up to him with half the town of Rudolph standing around them, her eyes lifeless and her body fragile with emotion.  Then she’d slapped him across the face, telling him she never wanted to see him again.  A few hours later, Ethan boarded a plane heading to Fort Benning, Georgia, so he could start the basic training that launched his career as a Navy SEAL.
That was nearly ten years ago.  Ethan had been back in Rudolph for nearly a year and he’d done everything possible to remain invisible to Maddie.  Until now.  
Peering in through the window, he found Maddie slightly slumped over the deployed airbag, looking down at the red on her fingers. His mind focused on the red spot on the left side of her temple.
Instantly, all his specialized training kicked in.  His senses came alive and he quickly scanned the immediate area.  The smell of antifreeze hung heavy in the air around him and steam rose slowly from beneath the hood of the car.  But to Ethan’s relief, there was no smoke and he didn’t smell gasoline.  
As if just realizing Ethan was standing there, Maddie lifted her face and glanced up at him with a bewildered expression. Ethan opened the door and saw the red spot was now a streak trailing down the side of her face.  Panic hit him hard in the center of his chest.  He’d dealt with all types of emergency situations in his life, first as a Navy SEAL and now as a police officer.  But this was Denny’s kid sister!  And she was bleeding.
“Maddie?  Don’t move.  Just let me know if you’re hurt.”
She said nothing.  Her eyes were void of the lifelessness he’d seen the last time they’d been this close.  He’d braced himself for hatred.  Maybe even another slap across the face.  But Maddie just looked at him as if she were trying to piece the course of events that brought them there together.
“You just plowed your car into a tree.  Your airbag was deployed.  Do you feel any pain in your chest?”
She shook her head weakly.
“You hit your head during impact,” he said.  “Do you understand what I’m saying to you, Maddie?  Do you know who I am?”

* * *

Of all the cops in the great state of South Dakota, how in the hell had she gotten stuck with Ethan McKinnon?  Maddie slowly glanced  up at the familiar face of the officer as his features came clearly into focus, trying her best to keep her emotions at bay.  Her head throbbed where it had hit the window, cracking the glass.  The  adrenaline rush from swerving on the road, hitting the tree, and feeling the impact of the airbag against her chest had left her winded and a bit frazzled.
Ethan pulled the door open wider.  “Maddie, do you know where you are?  Can you tell me if you’re hurt?”
Ethan McKinnon was standing inches away from her asking her if she was okay.  If she knew who he was.  How could she possibly forget the man who was responsible for bringing her such heartache years ago?  Heartache that never seemed to go away despite the years that had passed since.
“Go away.”
“I see we have recognition.  That’s good.  Are you hurt anywhere else but your head?”
“I said—”
“I heard you the first time.  I need to make sure you don’t need an ambulance.  So please cooperate.”
There were words running through her mind that were not fit for good company and yet as much as she wanted to say them to Ethan, she held them back.
“I’m fine.  Now leave me alone.”
“Can you stand?”
She unclipped her seat belt and let it slide back into place against the door.  He extended his hand to help her out.  She took it in hers momentarily forgetting all the reasons she didn’t want to be near Ethan McKinnon.  When she was standing outside the car, she pulled her hand away and leaned against the car, glancing to the front to see the damage.
“It’s dented,” she said with a heavy sigh.
“It’s a little more than dented.  Maybe even totaled.  I had dispatch call George to come pick it up.  If it’s fixable, George can do it.”
Ethan stood very close to her by the car—enough so their shoulders touched and she could feel the heat of his body.  It was strange.  This was the hottest time of the year in Rudolph with mid-summer temperatures making the sun feel infinitely hotter than it was.  But Maddie felt a rush of cold run through her body.
“Your body is in shock,” he said, guiding her so she was leaning against the car for support.  “Can you tell me what happened?”
“A mule deer and her fawn ran in front of the car.  I tried to avoid them but I might have hit one.”
“I’ll check the car for signs of that later.  Can you tell me what day it is?”
“Who is the president of the United States?”
“What is this, a game show? I know who the president of the United States is and what year it is.  I even know who you are.”
“That much I figured out when you told me to go away.”
“But you’re still here anyway.”
“Lucky for you I was driving by.  This road doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic these days since the bridge got washed out.”  Ethan sighed slowly.  “You have two choices, go to the clinic by ambulance or be driven there.  Take your pick.  If it were up to me, I’d call an ambulance.”
“No, thank you.”
“You could go to the hospital if you’d prefer.  Your head needs to be looked at.”
“I’m not going to the hospital and I’m not going in an ambulance.”
“Then, being driven to the clinic it is.  Stay here just for a minute while I look at the scene and radio into the station.”
Before she could protest further, Ethan was gone.  Maddie closed her eyes and tried to ignore the throbbing in her head and the ache in her shoulder caused by the seat belt.  Her heart was pounding and she shivered despite the sunshine beating down on her.  The feel of a blanket being wrapped around her shoulders had her opening her eyes again.  Ethan was careful in his movement, making sure she was completely covered.
“If you think you’re going to throw up, I’ll help you walk over to one of the bushes.”
She pulled the blanket tighter, relishing the warmth.  “I’m not going to throw up.”
“It’s not uncommon when you’re in shock.  If you need anything from the car, I’ll grab it now.”
She turned back to look inside.  “Just my purse.”
“Where do you keep your registration?”
“In the glove compartment.”
“I’m going to retrieve that for you along with your purse.  Is that okay?”
“My, you’re being so polite.”
Ethan shrugged.  “It’s protocol.”
After walking around the car, he opened the passenger side door, and retrieved her purse from the floor.  Then he opened her glove compartment and rifled through some papers until he found her registration.
“Protocol?  It’s not like you haven’t known me most of my life.”
As Ethan handed her the purse, Maddie turned to the sound of a large truck coming down the road toward them, steadying herself against the car with her hand. 
“What’s this?” 
“The tow truck.  Are you dizzy?”
“Just a little.”
“Let me bring you up to the cruiser.”
Ethan held out his arm for her to take.  Instead of doing so, she glared at him.  “I’m fine.”
“I’d prefer you not fall on your face on the way to the car.  If you want to be stubborn and walk yourself, then be my guest.  But I’m walking alongside you to make sure you don’t fall.”
She yanked the blanket around her body and started walking up the small incline toward the shoulder of the road.  Black tire marks stretched across the hot tar from her skidding when she’d swerved to avoid the deer.  She could only imagine what Ethan had thought when he’d come upon her car plowed into that tree.
No matter what had gone down, no matter how strained their relationship was, Ethan would always look out for her.  He and Denny always had when she was a kid.  Despite their shenanigans, they never once put her in harm’s way.  Denny would have liked that Ethan was still this way.
She pushed the thoughts of Denny and childhood memories aside.  She didn’t want to think about Ethan this way.  She didn’t want to be near the man after what he’d done.  Because of him, her beloved brother had paid with his life, while Ethan came out a hero. 
Maybe she was being childish, but time didn’t heal all wounds and even after ten years, hers were still very raw.  
All these years while Ethan was gone it was easier to hang on to the bitterness of losing Denny and the part Ethan had played in his death.  As Ethan eased her into the back seat of the cruiser, she laughed bitterly at the irony that he was here for her during her accident when he’d left Denny to die alone. 
“What’s wrong?”
The tow truck pulled up alongside the cruiser.  Ethan walked over to the truck as the driver rolled down the window and leaned over to talk to Ethan.  Then the driver climbed out of the truck and walked with Ethan down the slight embankment to look at her car.
Damn Ethan for still being so handsome.  The teenager that Maddie was couldn’t help but be starry-eyed over her big brother’s best friend.  She’d been a fool for him with the kind of crush that was fuel for made-for-TV-movies and teen magazines. 
Years of being in the military and working out hard had changed his body, giving Ethan muscles that were clearly visible beneath his short-sleeved police shirt.  He’d never been a scrawny kid like a lot of high school boys.  But now…  He stood tall and very sure of his every move, something Maddie had always been drawn to.
The tow truck shifted gears suddenly, startling Maddie out of thoughts of Ethan.  She was thankful for the diversion.
Ethan smiled at her as he walked back to the cruiser.  She turned her head away. 
“George will take care of this.  I had a chance to quickly look at the car.  I didn’t see any sign you hit the deer.  There was no fur or blood on anything I could see.  You more likely hit a rock or log when the car went off the road.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.  She hated the idea of an injured animal out in the wilderness, vulnerable to prey.
“There is some serious damage though.  You have a dent in your hood and your radiator is caved in.  There’s probably more underneath that I couldn’t see.  George will have to tow it back to the garage to get a full assessment.  But your insurance company might total the car.”
“What?  It can’t be that bad.”
“George will let you know.”
“The garage is clear across the other side of town.  How am I going to get home from there?”
“Your parents—”
“My parents went to Rapid City to visit my aunt.  She’s in the hospital.”
“I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“No, just minor surgery.  But they won’t be back until late.”
“That’s no problem.”
“For you.”
“After Hawk checks that bump on your head at the clinic, I can drive you home.”
“Sure.  My shift is ending soon.  I can do my paperwork on the accident while I wait for you.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“I could call an ambulance.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.  I don’t need an ambulance.”
“Then we’ll stop by the clinic.  Hawk is probably still there.”  He leaned closer to Maddie. “Just stay in the car for a minute while I take some pictures.”
“Pictures?  What for?”
“The insurance company.”
“It’s that bad?”
He stood next to her and just looked at her face, directly in her eyes.
She held up her hand to push him away.  “What are you doing?”
“I’m a first responder.  All police officers are.  I just want to make sure you’re not in shock.”
“Are you always this thorough?”
“Yes.  Even when dealing with difficult people.”
“I’m difficult just because I don’t want you staring at me?”
“Look, you just plowed your car into a tree.  You might think you’re fine.  And you may be.  But I have to check.”
“I’m not going to spend a few hours in the ER waiting to be checked.  Your brother can check me at the clinic.  But I’m not going to the hospital.”  His brother, Hawk McKinnon as he was known to most people, was the local doctor with a clinic in the center of town.   
Frowning, Maddie settled  herself against the plush seat. She reached to her side and grabbed the strap of the seat belt and secured it. 
The door on the driver's side opened. Ethan slipped into the cruiser, grabbing his keys from his pocket.  It had been years since they’d both been in any car together.
As he started the car, his eyes met hers. “You buckled in?”
Maddie glanced out the window. “Yes.”
And panic suddenly hit her hard with the thought that for the first time since Denny died she was inescapably stuck with the man who’d caused his death.


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