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By Lisa Jackson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'm dyin', Randi-girl, and there ain't no two ways about it."
Randi McCafferty stopped short. She'd been hurrying down the stairs, her new boots pinching and ringing on the old wooden steps of the house she'd grown up in - a rambling old ranch house set on a slight rise in the middle of No-Damn-Where, Montana. She'd been thinking of her own situation, hadn't realized her father was half lying in his recliner, staring at the blackened grate of the rock fireplace in the living room. John Randall McCafferty was still a big man, but time had taken its toll on his once commanding stature and had ravaged features that had been too handsome for his own good. "What're you talkin' about?" she asked. "You're going to live forever."
"No one does." He glanced up at her and his eyes held hers. "I just want you to know that I'm leavin' you half the place. The boys, they can fight over the rest of it. The Flying M is gonna be yours. Soon."
"Don't even talk that way," she said, walking into the dark room where the afternoon heat had collected. She glanced through a dusty window, past the porch to the vast acres of the ranch that stretched beneath a wide Montana sky. Cattle and horses grazed in the fields past the stable and barn, moving as restlessly as the wind thatmade the grass undulate.
"You may as well face it. Come over here. Come on, come on, y'know my bark is worse'n my bite."
"Of course I know it." She'd never seen the bad side of her father's temper, though her half brothers had brought it up time and time again.
"I just want to look at ya. My eyes ain't what they used to be." He chuckled, then coughed so violently his lungs rattled.
"Dad, I think I should call Matt. You should be in a hospital."
"Hell, no." As she crossed the room, he waved a bony hand as if he was swatting a fly. "No damn doctor is gonna do me any good now."
"Hush, would ya? For once you listen to me." Incredibly clear eyes glared up at her. He placed a yellowed envelope in her palm. "This here is the deed. Thorne, Matt and Slade, they own the other half together and that should be interestin'," he said with a morbid chuckle.
"They'll probably fight over it like cougars at a kill ... but don't you worry none. You own the lion's share." He smiled at his own little joke. "You and your baby."
"My what?" She didn't move a muscle.
"My grandson. You're carryin' him, ain't ya?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
A hot blush burned up the back of her neck. She hadn't told a soul about the baby. No one knew. Except, it seemed, her father.
"You know, I would have rather had you get married before you got pregnant, but that's over and done with and I won't be around long enough to see the boy. But you and he are taken care of. The ranch will see to that."
"I don't need anyone to take care of me."
Her father's smile disappeared. "Sure you do, Randi. Someone needs to look after you."
"I can take care of myself and ... and a baby. I've got a condo in Seattle, a good job and -"
"And no man. Leastwise none worth his salt. You gonna name the guy who knocked you up?"
"This conversation is archaic -"
"Every kid deserves to know his pa," the old man said. "Even if the guy's a miserable son of a bitch who left a woman carrying his child."
"If you say so," she replied, her fingers curling over the edge of the envelope. She felt more than paper inside.
As if he guessed her question, he said, "There's a necklace in there, too. A locket. Belonged to your ma."
Randi's throat closed for a second. She remembered the locket, had played with it as a child, reaching for the shiny gold heart with its glittering diamonds as it had hung from her mother's neck. "I remember. You gave it to her on your wedding day."
"Yep." He nodded curtly and his eyes grew soft. "The ring is in there, too. If ya want it."
Her eyes were suddenly damp. "Thanks."
"You can thank me by namin' the son of a bitch who did this to you."
She inched her chin up a notch and frowned.
"You're not gonna tell me, are you?"
Randi looked her father steadily in the eye. McCafferty to McCafferty, she said, "Hell would have to freeze over first."
"Damn it, girl, you're a stubborn thing."
"Guess I inherited it."
"And it'll be your undoin', mark my words."
Randi felt a shadow steal through her heart, a cold premonition that settled deep inside, but she didn't budge. For her unborn child's protection, she sealed her lips.
No one would ever know who fathered her child.
Not even her son.
Excerpted from Best-Kept Lles by Lisa Jackson Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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