Lone Star Redemption (Harlequin Romantic Suspense Series #1806) [NOOK Book]


Rusted Spur, Texas, is full of secrets…until now 


Desperate to find her missing twin, Jessie Layton arrives at the Rayford ranch, the last place her sister was seen. But after meeting Zach Rayford and his fragile mother, the reporter is only left with more questions. Like why is the extremely handsome rancher defending his mother's obvious lies whenever Jessie mentions her sister?

Zach vowed to protect his mother and the ...

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Lone Star Redemption (Harlequin Romantic Suspense Series #1806)

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Rusted Spur, Texas, is full of secrets…until now 


Desperate to find her missing twin, Jessie Layton arrives at the Rayford ranch, the last place her sister was seen. But after meeting Zach Rayford and his fragile mother, the reporter is only left with more questions. Like why is the extremely handsome rancher defending his mother's obvious lies whenever Jessie mentions her sister?

Zach vowed to protect his mother and the four-year-old girl mysteriously abandoned to their care after his brother's death, but his mother's evasions complicate matters…and his growing attraction to Jessie. But even as they spar, a lethal danger pursues Jessie. Together they risk their lives confronting secrets that could destroy Zach's family…if he chooses to do right by the headstrong woman who's corralled him!

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460333570
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/1/2014
  • Series: Harlequin Romantic Suspense Series , #1806
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 117,011
  • File size: 307 KB

Meet the Author

Colleen Thompson began writing the contemporary romantic suspense novels she loves in 2004. Since then, her work has been honored with the Texas Gold Award and nominations for the RITA, Daphne du Maurier, and multiple reviewers'choice honors, along with starred reviews from Romantic Times and Publisher's Weekly. A former teacher living with her family in the Houston area, Colleen can be found on the web at www.colleen-thompson.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Stiff and tired from hours of driving across the desolate northern Texas prairie, Jessie Layton climbed from her blue hatchback and stepped into the howling wind.

Bent low against the gusts, she slung her purse over her shoulder and raced for the steps leading up to the wide white veranda without waiting for her cameraman to follow. By the time she made it to the mansion's front door, she was choking on the brick-red dust, her eyes and nose streaming and long ribbons of her reddish-blond hair whipping across her face. Shivering with a cold that her leather jacket barely cut, she felt scoured and sandblasted—and angrier than ever.

Leave it to my sister to drag me halfway to Hell.

No. That wasn't right. As she pushed the hair from her face, she reminded herself she hadn't driven all the way up to the Panhandle ranch, where her twin's trail had gone cold, for Haley's sake, no more than she was here for the "very personal human-interest story" she'd pitched to her news director as a pretext to get out of Dallas for a few days. Though the request must have come as quite a shock considering that she'd been on the verge of breaking a story bound to make national headlines, She had really come because she'd made a promise. A promise to the mother she was about to lose.

The thought brought with it a stab of fear, the same swirling sense of panic that threatened to pull Jessie under several times a day. She was still working to get past her father's sudden death two years before, and he had barely acknowledged her existence, except to criticize her. Now, her mother, too, was dying, the one parent she could always count on for support, for love—Jessie couldn't bear the thought.

She closed her eyes for a moment, steadying her breathing, reminding herself that they still had weeks or months left. Or maybe even longer. Aggressive as the cancer was, her mom was holding her own at the moment, and the oncologist had allowed that spontaneous remissions had happened in a few rare cases.

If she could find Haley and bring her home to make peace, they might get the miracle they needed. Or maybe Mom just wants to see her one more time before she dies… The reason didn't matter. Finding Haley, and getting her home fast, was more important to Jessie than anything else right now. Important enough that she scarcely gave a thought to the risk to her career and the story she'd been so focused on selling to her news director.

Henry Kucharski stumbled up the steps behind her, the bushy gray wreath that ringed his bald head swirling in the gale. A wiry little man with a woolly caterpillar of a mustache, he was struggling with the mini-cam, pulling off the lens cap as she pounded on the front door.

"Three in the afternoon, and it might as well be full dark," he said anxiously. "Without decent lighting, this footage won't be worth the—"

"Don't you get it, Henry? I couldn't care less about the lighting," she said, "or the footage, either."

Pried loose by the wind, a nearby shutter started banging. Concerned her own knock wouldn't be heard, Jessie tried ringing the bell but didn't hear it. As she'd suspected when she'd first spotted the darkened windows, the storm must have caused a power outage.

"That's not what you told Vivian." Behind his gold-rimmed glasses, Henry squinted against the wind. "And I'll remind you, she's my boss, too. You and I both know how she holds on to grudges. And how many ways she has of making our lives miserable."

Jessie, who towered over him in the high-heeled boots she wore with a tunic and leggings, spared him an apologetic look, remembering how allergic the poor guy was to confrontation. And how sweet he'd been to postpone his wedding anniversary dinner with his wife of twenty-six years to make the six-hour drive out here with her when it was clear that no one else would. "I'll take full responsibility. Don't worry."

She rapped at the oversize mahogany door again, more insistently this time. Please let someone be home. She'd spotted a big pickup parked out back, but for all she knew, the owners were off somewhere in another vehicle from the attached four-car garage.

"Oh, I'm not worried about me, so much. It's you, especially after you jammed that story on the mayor down her throat. Vivian has friends, I hear, including one very close friend supporting—" As the doorknob rattled, Henry went silent, tensing as he readied his camera.

The moment the door cracked open, a gust sent a swirl of sand spinning into Jessie's face. She cried out, covering her stinging eyes with her hands.

"Come inside, out of the wind," insisted a female voice, thin and scratchy. "Quickly, please. You're letting in the dust."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Henry as he ushered Jessie inside and pressed a handkerchief into her hands.

Blotting her streaming eyes, Jessie blinked in the dim light of a surprisingly formal entryway for this part of the world. Half a dozen tiny flames flickered, where someone had set out candles atop a fussy table with carved, curved ivory legs. The soft glow was reflected by a tall, ornately framed mirror, its illumination warming the cool marble floor beneath a vaulted ceiling. Like the huge old house, miles from its nearest neighbor, this entryway had been built to impress, even overwhelm, potential rivals.

Having grown up in Dallas's upscale Highland Park neighborhood, Jessie had long since gotten past the notion that privilege necessarily deserved protection. It was part of what made her fearless when confronting those who considered themselves untouchable, from a beloved sports legend who was systematically cheating customers at the car dealership he'd purchased, to the mayor of Dallas, who would very soon be facing his own reckoning over his crooked reelection campaign.

The lady of the house would find herself no more immune, especially if the woman kept doing everything in her power to frustrate Jessie's search.

"Mrs. Rayford? Nancy Rayford?" She blinked at an attractive older woman with a silvered pixie cut and blue eyes a shade darker than her soft cabled sweater.

It was hard to imagine this was the same woman who had answered her questions on the phone so brusquely before repeatedly hanging up on her. She was a tiny, mousy-looking thing, so frail and insubstantial that Jessie quickly closed the door behind her, half-afraid that a stray gust could waft her up into the shadow of the elegant curved staircase just behind her.

"Yes, why—" Voice faltering, Mrs. Rayford took a step back before reaching for a candle with one trembling hand. Lifting its light toward Jessie, she gasped and spread her hand over her chest. "Haley? Oh, my— I thought you weren't—"

Jessie shook her head. "My sister. Remember? I tried to tell you on the phone." Her heart fell with a realization. "Then, Haley really isn't here?"

She'd been banking on finding her sister hiding out here, after having talked her way into some menial job with some sob story about being pursued by an abusive stalker. It was Haley's time-honored method for avoiding creditors, former lovers and, Jessie suspected, her family, as well.

Mrs. Rayford's blue eyes widened before she flicked a fearful glance behind her, toward the stairwell. "You're— Then you're really not her? Truly?"

"We're identical twins," Jessie explained, offering a smile in an attempt to reassure the frightened woman. And more important, to gain her trust. "Our own father couldn't tell us apart."

Not that he'd ever made much effort. But Nancy Rayford didn't need to know that.

From outside came a low hum, and a moment later, the chandelier above them flickered on. The sudden illumination revealed the older woman's pallor, painting gaunt shadows in her hollowed cheeks.

Reminded of her own mother's illness, Jessie said, "I'm sorry I've upset you. Do you need to sit down?"

Taking the woman by the arm, Jessie led her to a bench seat and squatted before her when Mrs. Rayford sank down to it.

"Are you all right?" Jessie asked, thinking of heart attacks and aneurysms, and the sudden, fatal stroke that had taken her father over one of her family's mandatory Sunday dinners. "Is there something I can get you? Someone I can call?"

No sooner had she asked the questions than she heard the sounds of approaching boot heels on the marble. As Henry faded back, turning to hide the mini-cam still perched on his shoulder, a deep voice boomed, "Generator's back online, Mama. Should keep us up and running for a while, anyway—"

A tall man holding a broad-brimmed gray hat came striding through the archway and stopped short, looking in confusion from Henry to Jessie before finding Mrs. Rayford. She had leaned forward, holding her bowed head in her shaking hands.

"What's going on here? Mama? Is something wrong?" He rushed toward her so quickly that Jessie rose and stepped out of his way. "These people—are they bothering you?"

Blinking back tears, his mother waved off his concern. "No, no, Zach. They're just—" She looked to Jessie. "They took a wrong turn in the storm, but they saw our gate and stopped to ask directions to town."

Jessie stared in surprise. Why on earth would you lie to your own son?

"I was just helping them when all of a sudden, one of my headaches came on," Mrs. Rayford continued. "They've been very kind, but I'll need my prescription.

You remember where I keep it, don't you? And some water, too, please."

Clearly uneasy, he looked from Jessie to Henry.

"I'll be fine," his mother said, tenting her fingers over one side of her forehead. "Maybe it's the wind, but this migraine's getting worse. If you could get my pill right away…"

"Sure, Mama. I'll be right back," he said, his concerned eyes as vibrant a blue as his mother's. But that was where their resemblance ended.

Where Mrs. Rayford was petite and frail, her rancher son was broad-shouldered and long-limbed—a trim six-three, at least, and only a few years older than Jessie's twenty-nine. The wind, or maybe the hat, had mussed his short jet-black hair, but it was his strong jaw that caught her attention—that and the high cheekbones, deep tan and dark brows that hinted he had Native blood, despite the color of his eyes. To her surprise, there was no ring on his finger, she noticed, sneaking a glance at his strong, work-roughened hands as he rushed back in the direction he had come.

He might be wearing a barn jacket, boots and worn jeans—well fitted to the contours of his body—rather than Armani, but she knew instinctively that if a gorgeous specimen like him showed up in Highland Park, he'd have half the women in that ZIP code lined up, hoping for a ride. And if they had any idea how much land and livestock his family owned—and how much oil had been found here, according to her research—a good number would be out to permanently corral him. She couldn't imagine herself among them, though, for if she'd learned anything from her last boyfriend, it was that guys who looked that good and had the money to back it up tended to have a lot more ego than she cared to deal with.

"You'll need to leave now," Mrs. Rayford told them. "Before my son gets back. Please."

Jessie squeezed Mrs. Rayford's ice-cold hand and said, "I'm very sorry you're not feeling well, but I'm not going anywhere until I find my sister. My own mother— My mother's seriously ill and needs to see her. And every lead I've uncovered stops right here at this ranch."

Mrs. Rayford straightened to look her in the eye, her otherwise pale face marked by two splashes of bright color. "I told you on the phone, Haley Layton moved on six months back," she said, her voice going cold and brittle. "She and that good-for-nothing boyfriend of hers sneaked out of the old bunkhouse they were renting without a single word—or a penny of the three months' rent they owed me."

The part about the money didn't surprise Jessie. Haley had a long history of abusing the trust of everyone with whom she came in contact. Jessie herself had fallen for a couple of Haley's hard-luck stories—the last time to the tune of nearly five thousand dollars—all the savings she'd had at the time.

The very last time, she'd sworn, cutting off all contact once her sister had skipped out of a battered women's shelter and disappeared almost four years before. It had hurt Jessie, too, turning her back on someone so close. She felt almost like a part of Jessie's own body, but she knew, too, that if she kept enabling her twin, Haley would never learn to stand alone—and would never stop resenting Jessie for the accomplishments that set them apart.

"I'll write you a check right now for the back rent," she offered, now more intent on offering her mother peace than in fixing her sister's life, "if you can only tell me where she went or even this boyfriend's name. Then I'll be on my way."

The woman moaned. "I don't care about the money. As I told you before, I have no idea where your sister's gone."

"Then why act so evasive on the phone, and why hang up on me every time I tried to call back?" Jessie demanded. "When you saw my face, too, I saw how you—"

From behind her, Zach Rayford returned to interrupt them. "What's really going on here? Who the hell are you people, and what do you think you're doing upsetting my mother?"

"I—I'm looking for my sister, that's all," Jessie stammered, forced to step aside once more as the rancher gave his stricken mother the pill and glass of water he had brought.

Gently, he touched her rail-thin shoulder. "Don't you worry, Mama. Take this, and I'll send these people on their way."

She tensed visibly and then, a moment later, nodded.

"I—I'll do that," Nancy Rayford said, her voice small as a child's as she pressed the pill to her lips and swallowed with a sip of water. "And then, I might— I think I may go up and lie down for a bit. I'm not— I'm feeling a little—"

"Go on ahead, Mama. I'll be up in a minute to check on both of you. And I'll look after Eden, so there's no need to worry."

Bending his powerful frame, he helped the fragile woman to her feet. As soon as she was standing, she murmured to Jessie, "Forgive me," with a plea in her eyes before she started up the stairs.

"Just her boyfriend's name," Jessie called after her, caring far less about this stranger's inexplicable desire for secrecy than her promise to her mother. "Please, if you can tell me that much, I'll be on my way."

Zach Rayford narrowed his eyes. "It's time for you people to leave. Now."

Still looking at Jessie, Mrs. Rayford shook her head. "I—I'm not sure I can—"

"You don't have to answer her." Laserlike in its intensity, Zach's glare flew from Jessie's face to Henry's, where he quickly did a double take. "What the hell? Is that a camera you're hiding? You people are filming us? Right here in our home?"

He stalked toward Henry, saying, "Give me that right now, you little—"

Scrambling backward, Henry twisted in an attempt to keep the mini-cam out of reach, but the rancher wrested it from his hands before the older man could do anything about it.

"Wait!" Jessie said, fearing the expensive camera would be damaged. And fearing even more that her foolish attempt to appease her boss had cost her her only real chance at finding Haley.

Rayford stopped, a mirthless grin spreading across his handsome face as his gaze swung from her to Henry. "Now that I have your attention," he said, "maybe I can get some answers. First of all, you're going to tell me right this minute, who are you?"

He nodded toward the red-faced cameraman, who was rubbing his neck and darting glances toward the door. It didn't take a mind reader to see that he was thinking about bolting before the rancher's big hands found him, too.

"Henry Kucharski," he finally murmured, shoving his own hands into the pockets of his jacket. "And I'll need that camera back, or I'm a dead man when I get back to Dallas."
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 3, 2014

    Lone Star Redemption by Colleen Thompson is filled with action,

    Lone Star Redemption by Colleen Thompson is filled with action, suspense and romance. Jessie Layton is a TV reporter who is looking for her twin sister, Haley. Haley, who had left home to get a way from their father, has led a troubled life; but Jessie is determined to find her so that she can reconcile with their dying mother. Her search has led her to Rusted Spur, TX where she meets Nancy Rayford and her son, Zach Rayford. After interviewing them and not getting any answers, Jessie stays in the area to continue digging for clues.
    Zach Rayford has recently returned to Rusted Spur after his brother, Ian, dies, because his mother's grief on losing Ian has affected her health. She has also "adopted" a little girl named Eden who she has told Zach is Ian's daughter. Zach has a lot of questions regarding Eden; but he will do everything in his power to protect his family.
    Jessie and Zach are both strong willed and independent; but their love for their families will bring them together and keep them apart at the same time. Yet the sparks are always there and their passion will bring them closer together. But will their passion and their love be enough to face all of the obstacles that Colleen easily works into the plot? The secondary characters were some of the best I have read to keep the plot line moving.
    Colleen wrote a story that was a powerhouse of mystery and suspense. I kept turning the pages so that I could find the next clue. The plot was tightly woven with secrets, lies and half-told truths that kept me guessing. If you enjoy reading a great romantic suspense book, don't miss this one.

    I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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  • Posted June 2, 2014

    Never disappointed when reading a book by Colleen Thompson. Ther

    Never disappointed when reading a book by Colleen Thompson. There is suspense, mystery and romance. The characters are very detailed and have great interactions in an interesting storyline. Jessie and Zach, two lonely hearts hurt by the past, must trust each other enough to work together. They try to solve a mystery while dealing with their growing attraction. There is an abduction, murder cover up and attempts on their lives. A really great story full of suspense that keeps you guessing to the end.

    Gifted copy for review

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