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"I still can't understand why you went to Scotland, of all places," Priscilla grumbled. "I know you wanted to get away from everything that reminded you of Nigel, but what's wrong with Nice?"
"France? Are you serious?"
On the other end of the phone, Priscilla winced.
"Sorry. I wasn't thinking. Obviously, anything connected with France is out of the question. But there's always Monaco or Greece. Or Brazil. Now, there's a change of scene! You could find yourself one of those fantastically good-looking Brazilians and have a good time. Trust me, you'll forget all about Nigel. And who knows? The new guy might have a brother you can introduce me to. We could end up being sisters and sisters-in-law"
"Will you stop? I'm not looking for a man and neither should you. They're nothing but bad news."
"They're not all like Nigel," Priscilla said.
"Really?" Katherine scoffed. "You couldn't swear that by me. Remember Sam? And Thomas? And don't forget Lucas. He was worse than Nigel. He took me home to meet his parents and forgot to mention the little fact that he had another girlfriend. His parents were totally confused."
"Jackass," her sister retorted. "If I could punch him and the others in the nose, you know I would. But it wouldn't change anything, and it certainly wouldn't make you feel better. The only thing that's going to do that is getting on with your life."
"I'm not jumping back into dating, Cilla. Not this time."
"Buck said the same thing, and so did Elizabeth, and look what happened. They both found love when they least expected it. You can, too."
"No, thank you," Katherine said, shuddering. "Just the thought of putting myself through that again turns my blood cold."
"You're cold because you're in Scotland," her sister said bluntly. "Has the sun even been out since you've been there? It hasn't, has it?"
"I didn't come for the sun," she reminded her. "I just wanted some time for myself."
"Time for what? To mourn? To slip into depression? Being alone now is the worst thing you can do. You need family. Why don't you go to Colorado and see Elizabeth and Buck?"
She had to admit, she'd thought about it. But then she remembered she wouldn't just be visiting her brother and sister. Buck had Rainey now, and Elizabeth was head-over-heels for John. Regretfully, she shook her head. "I can't. Everyone's in love there. I'd only bring them all down."
"Hogwash! They love you. And none of us want you to go through this alone. We're all here for you if you'll just let us."
Katherine knew she was right, but she didn't know if she was ready to face anyone. She felt like such an idiot for not seeing Nigel for the lying dog he really was. "I'll think about it," she promised. "Just give me some time."
Time was something she had plenty of, and Katherine should have used it to her advantage. After all, she had plenty to do. She was an illustrator for one of the most well-known publishers of children's books in England, and she'd brought her latest project with her. It was due in a month, and she would need every second of the next thirty days to finish her illustrations on time.
But three days after her telephone conversation with Priscilla, she still found it impossible to focus on her work. The silence of her own company was driving her mad, and just when she thought she was getting her emotions under control, images of Nigel would float through her head uninvited, and tears would once again flood her eyes. Scotland obviously wasn't working for her. She had to get out of there.
For all of thirty seconds she considered going to a tropical island far, far away, somewhere where the language and food were so foreign that she wouldn't think twice about him. In the end, however, she knew there was only one place where she would find solace, and that was the Broken Arrow Ranch, near Willow Bend, Colorado.
She hadn't spent much time at the ranch, and six months ago, when she and her sisters and brother had inherited the place from their long-lost American relative, Hilda Wyatt, leaving London for a cattle ranch in the wilds of Colorado was the last thing she'd thought she'd ever be interested in. It was too far away, too rugged, too different from the kind of life she'd led in England, and she'd wanted nothing to do with it. She had gladly let her brother, Buck, move to Colorado and she'd stayed in London.
Her feelings about the ranch, however, changed drastically when her family came under attack. And it was all Hilda Wyatt's fault. She hadn't left the ranch to them outright, with no strings attached. Instead, through the terms of her will, she'd required someone from the family to spend every night at the ranch for a year. Buck or Katherine and her sisters could be absent from the house for one night, but not for two in a row. If they failed to meet the requirements of the will, then the ranch would go to an unnamed heir.
Katherine appreciated the fact that Hilda respected family heritage enough to include her and her siblings in her will even though she'd never met them. She'd obviously wanted the British branch of the Wyatts to inherit the Broken Arrow, if possible.
Unfortunately, she'd probably never suspected that once the citizens of Willow Bend learned of the conditions of the will and the unnamed heir, they would attack the legal heirs in order to drive them away from the ranch so someone else could inherit. They'd harassed Buck and Rainey, made their lives miserable. Then, while the newlyweds were gone on their honeymoon, someone had terrorized Elizabeth when she'd taken Buck's place at the ranch. If John, the ranch foreman, hadn't been there to protect herand fall in love with hershe could easily have been seriously hurt, even killed, during her stay at the ranch. Someone had shot out the windshield of the vehicle she was driving and even set the hunting cabin she and John had escaped to on fire.
Over the past few weeks, however, things had calmed down considerably at the ranch, which wasn't surprising. Buck and Rainey had returned home from their honeymoon, and Elizabeth and John were engaged and busy rebuilding the cabin where they would live once they were married. When she arrived, three-fourths of the family would be in residence. Surely, whoever was after the ranch would realize that their odds of driving the Wyatts away from the Broken Arrow were slim to none.
She would, she decided, be safe and have thousands of acres to lose herself in and forget Nigel. The decision made, she booted up her computer and booked the first available flight to Colorado.
"What do you mean you need someone to pick you up?" Elizabeth asked, shocked. "Where are you?"
"Changing planes in New York." Katherine laughed.
"I'm scheduled to arrive at four in Willow Bend. You can pick me up, can't you?"
Surprised, Elizabeth said, "What? Oh, yes, of course." Her thoughts on the wedding she and John were scheduled to attend at three-thirty, she didn't have a clue how they would get there on time to pick her up, but she could hardly tell Katherine that. She'd been through too much latelythe last thing Elizabeth wanted her to think was that her arrival was an inconvenience. "Everything's kind of crazy today, but someone will be there. Are you okay? Priscilla said you were in Scotland."
"I was. I just needed a complete change of scene. But I need family, too," she added huskily. "I don't want to be alone anymore."
At the sound of her sister's voice thick with pain, Elizabeth wanted to cry. "I know it hurts, but give it some time. Things will get better."
"I know," she choked. "I'll see you this afternoon. All right? I've got to go."
She hung up almost immediately, and Elizabeth didn't doubt for a minute that her sister was crying her eyes out. Her heart aching for her, she hurried into the dining room, where the rest of the family was lingering over an early lunch.
"Who was that?" Buck asked as Elizabeth took a seat across from her fiancé, John. "I've been expecting a call from Luke Hucklebee about the livestock trailer he's selling"
"Katherine's in New York," she said. "She decided Scotland wasn't the right place for her, after all."
"Thank God for that," Rainey said. "What time's her plane getting in?"
"Four!" Buck repeated, frowning. "But we won't be back from the cattle auction. And you and John will still"
"Be at the wedding," she finished for him. "I know."
"We could leave the auction early," Rainey suggested. "Someone needs to be there to pick her up."
"I agree," Elizabeth said, "but I don't see how John and I can just walk out in the middle of the wedding. Unless, of course, we leave between the wedding and the reception, make a quick trip to the airport and bring her back with us to the reception."
"Oh, I don't think that would be a very good idea," Rainey said. "The last thing she's going to want to go to right now is a wedding."
"True, but what else can we do? After all the cows we lost to rustlers, you and Buck really need to go to the auction and pick up some calves"
When everyone at the dining room table turned to him in surprise, John's half brother, Hunter Sinclair, grinned crookedly. "Did you think I meant the auction? No, thanksBuck and Rainey can handle that. I don't know one end of a cow from another. I was talking about Katherine. I'll pick her up at the airport."
"Are you sure?" Elizabeth asked him. "I thought you were going to Aspen."
"I can do that anytime," he assured her. "I don't mind. Really."
Studying him, Elizabeth still hesitated. Hunter had only been at the ranch a few days, but she'd recognized him for who he was within the first twenty minutes of his unexpected arrival. A flirt and a tease. He was too good-looking for his own good, and he could sweet-talk a woman without even thinking twice about it. That was the last thing Katherine needed right now. "I appreciate the offer, Hunter, but Katherine's been having a difficult time lately. She's not going to be very good companyit would probably be better if either Buck or I picked her up."
"You mean because of that louse she was dating," he said. "He broke her heart and now she doesn't want anything to do with men."
"Well, I don't know that for sure, but she's been crying a lot. You shouldn't have to deal with that"
"I'll handle her with kid gloves," he promised.
"Honest. I know better than to take on a woman who's just found out the man she gave her heart to is a rat. She's safe with me. I'll treat her like my sister. Scout's honor."
"You don't have a sister," John pointed out, grinning.
"And as far as I know, you were never a Scout."
"I could have been," he retorted with twinkling eyes. "I will be in my next lifetime. And I'll have a sister, too. Okay?"
"Yeah, right," his brother chuckled. "You'll probably pester the hell out of her, God help her. Elizabeth just wants to make sure you don't do that to Katherine."
"Me? C'mon, you know I'm a sweetheart. I'm certainly not going to pester Katherine. She's Elizabeth's sister, for heaven's sake. I've got to keep peace in the family. So go to your friends' wedding. I know you've both been looking forward to it, though God knows why. Why people celebrate when they're making the biggest mistake of their lives"
He grinned at Rainey's warning tone. "Okay, okay. Each of you Wyatt women has the soul of a romantic.
That's another reason Katherine's safe with me. Unlike you guys, I'm not going anywhere near that."
Far from offended, Buck only chuckled. "Don't knock it until you've tried it."
"Yeah, come on in," John teased. "The water's fine."
"No, thanks. I prefer to be footloose and fancy-free and only answer to me. The only reason I'm offering to pick up Katherine is because you all have plans. I don't. But if you don't want me to "
"Oh, no, it isn't that," Elizabeth assured him. "If you're sure you don't mind and you won't flirt with her you would really be helping us out."
"Then it's decided," he said promptly. "All of you go do what you have to do and I'll take care of Katherine. Don't worry. I'll make sure she's fine. Okay?"
Elizabeth knew he wouldn't deliberately hurt Katherine or make her feel uncomfortable. If he could make her laugh after all the tears she'd shed, then she would kiss him for it when she and John got back from the wedding.
"Okay," she sighed, relieved. "I've got a picture of her from Buck's wedding that's great. You can take it with you so you won't have to ask every woman who steps off the plane if they're Katherine."
"Damn," he retorted, wicked mischief dancing in his eyes. "That was the part I was looking forward to the most."