Jun 5 2014 9:30am

Branded by Laura Wright’s Cavanaugh Brothers Series

Laura Wright takes us deep into the cowboy world of Texas with her new series The Cavanaugh Brothers. In the first book, Branded, it’s evident that unresolved matters of the past can fester wildly if allowed. And for the Cavanaughs and the ranch foreman at the Triple C, Mackenzie Byrd, the past haunts their every move. Complicating matters, a drunken kiss shared between Mac and the eldest Cavanaugh, Deacon, opens up a world of possibilities, if only they can find a common ground between what was and what could be.

From the very first page, a diary entry from the one daughter in the Cavanaugh family, Cass, it’s clear that Mackenzie has it bad for Deacon. Back then, she was far too young for him to notice, allowing her youthful crush to die out with time and distance. When Deacon returns to the ranch, along with his brothers, for their father’s funeral, Mackenzie’s resolve is tested. Seeing the grown-up version of the girl that used to follow him around stirs something in Deacon also.

It was damn unfortunate how beautiful she’d become. Granted, he was pretty exceptional at resisting the things that were bad for him. But in that moment, he wasn’t sure how he’d react if Mackenzie Byrd put her head on his shoulder like she had the cowboy’s. Wasn’t sure if his arm would steal around her waist, too, or if he’d pull her close to his side and brush his lips over the curve of her right ear.

Before they can establish if there really is something worth fighting for between them, they find themselves at an impasse over the fate of the Triple C.

Mackenzie’s love for the ranch is what keeps her going. She’s put her heart and soul into it, becoming the much loved and respected foreman. Deacon, on the other hand, has been trying to buy the place for years. It’s common knowledge he intends to level it, hoping to bury the pain of the past, along with the buildings that made up his childhood home.

Mackenzie struggles with her feelings and mounting passion for Deacon while trying to find out exactly what occurred, beyond their mutual loss of Cass, all those years ago that would cause his unstoppable push for destruction. She knows it has to be something more, since all of the brothers had found ways to leave the ranch ten years earlier in their efforts to cope. But she’d lost her best friend, too. Putting all of her energy into preserving the places that Cass had loved seemed like the best way to cherish those memories. If only she can now convince Deacon, and his brothers of this.

With their father’s death, the Cavanaugh boys now hold the fate of the Triple C in their hands. If they’re swayed by Deacon’s near obsessive attempts to lay waste to the ranch, Mackenzie will be out of work and so will many of the other townspeople. Mackenzie believes that if only Deacon can be shown what was once a great place, she’ll be able to change his mind.

“Everything’s fine, except you leaving without saying good-bye.”

Wait a sec. He’d come here for her? Her pounding heart dropped several feet to her stomach. “Well, if Elena didn’t tell you where I was, how’d you find me?”

His gorgeous face split into a wide grin. “Come on, now, darlin’.” He walked over to a nearby tree and tied Trouble, affording Mac a perfect moonlit view of his stellar ass. “I grew up knowing this land. I could find every house, building, or barn blindfolded. This is my third stop.” He came back her way and looked up at the small cottage. “When James and I were little, maybe around seven and eight, we used to hide from our mother here.” Something moved across his face, something dark, and it wasn’t the shadows. “She’d never get mad, though.”

Twists along the way make this task even harder for Mac. A potential ally to Deacon’s plan is discovered in a surprising fashion, taking the ranch to the brink before Mac has even had a chance to work any of her magic. Even when she can, Deacon’s counter moves foil her at every turn. As more secrets are revealed, everyone’s faith in the recently deceased patriarch and all he held dear is shaken to the core.

Despite all of this, Mac and Deacon grow increasingly closer. With both hearts on the line, it seems almost inevitable that one of them will lose big as the trauma of the past threatens the potential of a united, brilliant future.

Branded is a rich opening to what promises to be a compelling series.

Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.

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