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By Darlene Graham
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCassie McClean had just about had her craw full of Mr. Jake Coffey.
She removed her soiled leather work gloves finger by finger with vicious precision, squinting out over the Ten Mile Flats and watching that hated man's pickup jolt up the narrow gravel road that shot straight toward her like a mile-long arrow.
That road, that ridiculous ... cow path of a road, was the most recent spear Jake Coffey had chucked into their escalating series of skirmishes. In the spring, it had been the watershed. In the dry weeks of August, the grading dust. With him, it was always something.
Her plans would be unfolding perfectly by now were it not for Jake Coffey.
Ten Mile Flats lay below her in a gentle sea of green winter wheat, a marked contrast to the high, darkly wooded ridge that she had christened The Heights. With its brick and wrought-iron gates, its curving concrete streets and newly installed underground utilities, The Heights was as sophisticated as the Flats were rustic. And that's exactly what Cassie had envisioned.
She had counted on the fact that Ten Mile Flats would never change. Out there, horse-farming operations with miles of white fencing and pristine barns had been producing their champions since the turn of the century. And as long as thehorse farms were there, those bottomlands would spread forth like a hazy patchwork quilt, meeting the curve of the South Canadian River, creating an unobstructed, timeless view, complete with breathtaking Oklahoma sunsets. The future homeowners of The Heights were willing to pay a fortune for that view. Yes, everything was perfect. Everything except Jake Coffey.
She bit her lip and whacked her gloves against her palm. That man.
She had jumped through hoop after hoop to appease the landowners out on the Flats. Many of them had come to consider Cassie's exclusive, luxury housing addition as a welcome cushion between their peaceful farms and the urban sprawl creeping westward from the city of Jordan. All of them had come to accept, grudgingly, that The Heights was a quality development of classic homes.
All but Jake Coffey. Owner of the nearest, the largest, the most productive of those horse farms.
What was that man going to complain about now? At the base of the hill, where the pricey lots were pocked with massive red rock formations that veered into a narrow creek, the noise of rock crushers cracked the morning calm, answering Cassie's question.
Of course. Undoubtedly he'd gripe about the rock crushers and the track hoe hammer and the bulldozers making so much noise as they cleared the lower lots.
Well, wait till the dynamite started!
The noise was certainly going to be the next thorny issue with her nearest neighbor, Cassie was sure. She wondered if he was going to overreact, as he had over the road access. A temporary restraining order, for heaven's sakes! Forcing Cassie's grading equipment, her delivery vehicles, and now her concrete trucks, to drive all the way around on Troctor Avenue. Five long miles out of the way, each way, when his road through his dadblame antiquated horse farm was an easy shortcut from Highway 86.
The elderly sisters who'd previously owned Cassie's land had held an easement to use the road through Cottonwood Ranch - mostly to haul feed to their wild goats in their rattletrap Toyota pickup. When Cassie bought the land, she made sure she got the easement in the deal. She thought everything was fine and that she could pass through Cottonwood Ranch until the interstate loop under construction to the north was completed.
But Jake Coffey had claimed that the easement allowed for light traffic only and that Cassie had "so changed the use of the easement that it had become an excessive burden on the road." Or, rather, his lawyer had claimed that. And now, the man was seeking a permanent injunction. Permanent.
Well, with that nasty maneuver, Louis Jackson Coffey had turned their peevish little telephone feud into all-out legal war. Cassie had contacted a lawyer and filed a counteraction of her own.
And right now it looked like the whole thing was about to get up close and personal.
Fine. C. J. McClean was more than ready to take on Louis Jackson Coffey.
When the crushers ceased their pounding for a moment, she slapped the gloves against the leg of her overalls and turned to holler up at the foreman from Precision Stone. "Darrell! This limestone looks perfect. Let's get that chimney rocked up today."
Darrell Brown, husky, middle-aged, hardworking and brutally honest, gave her a salute from high up on the twelve-pitch roof. "Yes, ma'am!"
Darrell's crew and a couple of the framing carpenters were hammering away, nailing toe boards and protective wood planks over shingles still slick with morning frost. "Just so long as you're happy with the quality, Ms. McClean," he called over the noise. "I don't want to be knocking no low-grade limestone off of this monster."
He jerked a thumb at the chimney towering behind him. The thing peaked a full seventy feet in the air - tall enough to clear all three stories of the eleven-thousand-square-foot house and the tops of the massive black oaks sheltering it.
Down the hill, the rock crushers started up again, cutting off further conversation.
Darrell shrugged and Cassie smiled, waving him off. She surveyed the woods rising up behind the house, remembering the design challenges those huge trees had presented. The timber on this hill had cost her in more ways than one, but on the outskirts of Jordan, Oklahoma, a forested crest like this was dear.
Every home builder from here to Oklahoma City had tried to get his hands on this land, and Cassie, using extreme patience and her aunt Rosemarie's social goodwill, had finally secured it for a fair price from the eccentric Sullivan sisters. In the deal, she'd promised that any tree over thirty feet tall would be preserved - a promise that had put her architectural skills to a real test. But C. J. McClean was always true to her word. Always.
In the end, she would make a killing off this exclusive housing development, but it was the quality and integrity of the homes, not the profit, that mattered to Cassie. The lasting beauty. Ever since she was a little girl, the one thing that had always made her spirits soar was the sight of a well-built, well-designed home positioned on a beautifully landscaped lot.
Pride rose in her chest as she backed up, giving the frame of the most recent house she'd designed a quick once-over. Board by board, stone by stone, her dream houses were becoming a reality. All custom-designed, all over ten thousand square feet, these majestic homes would grace this crest for generations to come. And her name, her good name, C. J. McClean, would stand solidly behind them. It was a hell of a dream - one she'd carried in her heart ever since the day her father had gone to prison. And now it was a thrill to see that dream materialize right before her eyes.
Excerpted from Dreamless by Darlene Graham Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.