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He's the last man in the world she should even be talking to. But Rachel Kerrigan needs rancher Luke McCloud's help—despite the fact that their families have been feuding for as long as the Hatfields and McCoys. To get back the land the Kerrigans stole from his family generations ago, Luke is more than willing to turn Rachel's unruly horse into a champion. And they both agree it's strictly business. So what if Luke is the hottest cowboy Rachel's ever seen? Or that the memory of the one kiss they shared years ago ...
He's the last man in the world she should even be talking to. But Rachel Kerrigan needs rancher Luke McCloud's help—despite the fact that their families have been feuding for as long as the Hatfields and McCoys. To get back the land the Kerrigans stole from his family generations ago, Luke is more than willing to turn Rachel's unruly horse into a champion. And they both agree it's strictly business. So what if Luke is the hottest cowboy Rachel's ever seen? Or that the memory of the one kiss they shared years ago haunts her dreams? Luke's trying to get Rachel's horse under control—but the rising attraction between them could prove much harder to rein in!
Wolf Creek, Montana
Early Spring, Fifteen Years Earlier
Nothing in Luke McCloud's short fifteen years on earth had prepared him for the shock of abruptly losing his beloved grandfather.
Pain lodged in his chest, right over his heart. His head ached from the gathering pressure of tears behind his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. Instead he stared without blinking at the flower-covered casket. The glossy mahogany box with its gleaming brass handles was suspended over the open grave, waiting to be lowered into the Montana prairie. Beside him, ten-year-old Jessie sobbed, hiccupping as she tried to swallow the sound.
Several feet behind them, a uniformed Montana Department of Corrections officer, hands clasped behind his back, feet spread as he discreetly distanced himself from the proceedings, cleared his throat and coughed.
The wind picked up, sweeping down from the buttes behind the cemetery to ruffle the short spikes of green grass pushing their way up between winter's dried yellow stalks. Lead-gray clouds stretched across the sky from horizon to horizon. Nudged by the wind, they released the rain that had threatened for the past half hour. The shower spattered the small crowd and dampened the black tarp spread over the mound of dirt at one end of the open grave. Moisture pearled on the velvety petals of red roses and lush green leaves resting on top of the casket.
Luke drew in a deep breath, trying to ease the pain in his chest and shift the lump in his throat. The cool air was heavy with the familiar tang of prairie sage blending with the scent of sweet roses and damp earth.
On the far side of the grave, a crowd of black-clad mourners huddled together, their umbrellas bumping. At the head of the casket, the minister's wife quickly opened a large gray umbrella above her husband's head, stepping close to escape the rain. The somber dome sheltered the gilt-edged pages as the minister read from his leather-bound Bible.
On Luke's left, his little sister Jessie clutched the hand of their older brother, Chase.
Their mother, Margaret, stood on the far side of Chase, her auburn hair a bright flame of color against the deep black of her dress and hat. One hand gripped the arm of Luke's father, John, the other held the handle of a bright red umbrella. The uniformed officer stood several feet behind Chase, a set of handcuffs dangling from the left side of his black gun belt.
Luke ignored the deputy, glancing instead at his mother. Margaret was a strong woman, but losing her father-in-law was devastating, especially coming on the heels of Chase's jail sentence.
The cause of Angus's death was officially listed as pneumonia, but Luke knew his grandfather had died of a broken heart. And for that, he blamed Lonnie and Harlan Kerrigan. Their lies had sent Chase to jail, and Angus had visibly grieved, spending more and more time alone. His death was yet one more reason for Luke to hate the Kerrigans.
The McClouds had feuded with the Kerrigans since 1922, when a crooked poker game cost a McCloud their homestead, 2,500 acres of prime land. But this was the first time a McCloud had died because of the enmity between the two families.
Luke's gaze flicked from the casket to the mourners on the far side of the grave, traveling slowly over the familiar faces. His grandfather's widow, Laura Kerrigan-Mc-Cloud, stood near the front of the group, leaning heavily on a cane as she stared at the casket containing the body of her husband. At her left, his ruddy face set in grim lines, stood Harlan Kerrigan. Luke's glance moved on, registering and dismissing Harlan's sister-in-law, Judith, the wife of his deceased brother, her teenage son, Zach, and young daughter, Rachel, standing by her grieving great-aunt's side before searching the crowd beyond.
The one Kerrigan he sought wasn't there.
Lonnie Kerrigan didn't have the guts to show his face at Angus McCloud's funeral, Luke thought, bitterness underscoring a newfound cynicism. His grandfather had married Laura when they were both in their mid-seventies, and more than once he'd told Luke that the women in the Kerrigan family were beautiful, strong and admirable, but the Kerrigan men couldn't be trusted.
Luke glanced at his grandfather's widow once more, but she was wiping her eyes, the lacy white handkerchief nearly the same color as her pale skin. Luke felt no glimmer of compassion for her grief. He couldn't bring himself to care that the elderly woman had shared his grandfather's life for only four brief years before she was bereaved. Luke had no room in his heart for anything other than his own grief and a deep thirst for revenge.
His gaze moved back to Harlan Kerrigan's niece. Lonnie's cousin Rachel was young, not more than ten or eleven, her thin, childish body wrapped in a black wool coat against the cold April rain. Her bare legs were long and slender. His glance slid impersonally over the girl, marking and filing away in his memory the thick mane of dark hair and black-lashed gold eyes that watched him with solemn compassion.
She has eyes like Lonnie, he thought briefly, as she stared back at him, unblinking. No, not quite, he realized. Lonnie wouldn't have the nerve to face any of us now. It didn't matter how much courage she had. Her last name was Kerrigan, that alone was enough to earn his hatred.
"Our Father, Who art in Heaven "
Margaret's tear-clogged voice lifted to join the minister's. Luke bowed his head, the girl's golden eyes forgotten as his lips formed the familiar words. His mother's voice faltered, catching on a sob before it steadied, her fingers tightening their hold on his father's overcoat. Jessie's small, cold hand slipped into Luke's and clung, and he clenched his teeth against the tremors that shook him. He didn't trust his voice not to break so he prayed silently, staring at the ground.
On the far side of the grave, Rachel Kerrigan bowed her head for the Lord's Prayer, but she couldn't resist watching Luke Mc-Cloud from behind the shield of her lashes. His features were devoid of expression, his gaze lowered, but she'd caught him looking at Laura moments before. And when that ice blue gaze had left her great-aunt and met hers, she'd been frozen by the fierce anger that leaped to life for a brief moment before he narrowed his eyes and they were once again unreadable.
The crowd around her stirred, shifting and murmuring, and Rachel realized the prayer had ended. She glanced quickly at her great-aunt, but Laura stood motionless, her head bowed in silent prayer. Behind them, two women whispered, their voices growing louder and more distinct.
"Such a shame. Poor John and Margaret."
"They must be heartbroken to lose Angus so soon after that awful business with their son."
Rachel stiffened. Her gaze flew to Laura but she seemed oblivious to the women, lost in her grief.
"Hmph." A third voice joined the first two. "If you ask me, it was Angus that had the broken heart. He was a proud man. It had to be hard on him when his grandson was sent to prison for murder."
Rachel spun to face the three older women. "It wasn't murder," she whispered fiercely. "It was manslaughter. And the car crash was an accident."
"An accident?" The heavyset woman who'd used the M-word pursed her lips and frowned. "That's certainly not what the judge decided. And clearly not what the Harper family believes, since there's not a single one of them here today. Why are you defending young McCloud? He swore your cousin caused the accident. If the judge had believed him, Lonnie would have gone to jail instead of the McCloud boy."
Rachel couldn't tell the gossip that it was possible Lonnie had lied about what happened when Chase McCloud's pickup truck rolled, leaving a third teenager, Mike Harper, dead. In her experience, Lonnie never told the truth if a lie would make his life easier. But her uncle and great-aunt stood within hearing distance and they both doted on Lonnie, stubbornly refusing to admit he was anything less than perfect.
Stymied, Rachel settled for giving the three women a withering glare and turning her back on them.
Luke echoed his mother and father's murmured amens before he steeled himself as the minister and his wife headed the line of mourners approaching his family. His parents accepted their neighbors' condolences with dignity as they filed past.
He gritted his teeth and met each curious, accusing glance without expression, silently daring them to say anything about his brother. If they say one word out of line, I swear, I'll hit someone.
Lonnie Kerrigan's reckless driving had caused the car accident that killed Mike Harper—but Chase was the one in jail. And six months after Lonnie testified under oath that Chase was driving the truck that caused the accident, Angus McCloud suffered a massive heart attack followed by pneumonia. The accident, the teenager's death and the trial resulting in Chase's being sent to a Montana youth correctional facility had devastated the Mc-Cloud family.
Luke ignored the passing mourners, his gaze drifting beyond them, locking onto the only five figures that hadn't joined the line shuffling past his parents.
Harlan Kerrigan was shaking off his sister-in-law's hand, clearly growling a refusal at her as he took his aunt Laura's arm and turned his back on the graveside. Zach's unreadable gaze met Luke's before he walked away. The girl hesitated, looking back over her shoulder. Her gaze collided with Luke's, a silent apology in their gold depths, before she turned and hurried after her family.
Harlan helped the widow into the passenger seat and stalked around the heavy green sedan to climb behind the wheel, leaving Zach to open the back door for Judith. The girl scrambled into the back with her mother and brother, barely getting the door closed before the vehicle was moving.
Luke marked the passage of the luxury vehicle as it pulled out onto the graveled county road, following it until it disappeared over the rise of a small hill. Behind him, the officer stepped forward, pulling his attention away from the departing Kerrigans.
"It's time, son." The officer's voice was apologetic but firm as his hand settled on Chase's shoulder.
Resistance roared through Luke, and he tensed, his fingers curling into fists.
Margaret's hand tightened over Chase's forearm, her eyes tortured.
"I have to go, Mom."
"I know." Margaret's voice trembled and caught on a sob. She threw her arms around him and hugged him fiercely. "We'll come see you soon."
"No." Chase returned her tight hug and stepped back. "I don't want you to see me there."
"Chase," she whispered, tears filling her eyes. "You'll be in prison for two years. Don't ask me to spend two years without seeing you."
Luke couldn't imagine having to endure that long without Chase. His brother was only eighteen months older, and they'd been inseparable all their lives. He held his breath, waiting for him to answer.
"I'm not asking you to never visit, Mom. Just—wait awhile, okay?"
Luke drew a deep breath, struggling for control. Clearly torn by Chase's request, Margaret met his gaze for a long moment before she sighed and gave in. "All right, but don't forget to write."
He bent closer and kissed her soft cheek. Luke saw Chase's eyes close and knew he was dragging in a deep breath, storing away in his memory the smell of her perfume.
Chase held his mother close one last time before he turned to his father and held out his hand. John McCloud pulled him into a tight hug. "Take care, son."
"Yes, sir." He gripped his father, then stepped back and turned to Jessie. "Be good while I'm gone."
"I will," Jessie echoed. Her deep blue eyes were brilliant with the tears that overflowed and slipped down her pale cheeks. She sobbed and flung herself at Chase, wrapping her arms around him, her tight grip desperate.
Chase hugged her, smoothing a hand over the silky crown of auburn hair before he pried her little fists free of his shirt.
Jessie didn't make a sound, but her tears coursed down her face and dripped slowly from the soft, rounded curve of her chin.
Chase's gaze met Luke's, their exchange wordless before they shared a short, hard hug.
Then Chase turned to the officer and held out his wrists. Luke couldn't suppress a growl of protest when the officer snapped the handcuffs in place.
"This is standard procedure, Luke." Chase's look warned him not to interfere. Luke clenched his hands until the short nails bit into his palm as he struggled to contain his rage. The last glimpse Luke had of his brother was a shared glance as the patrol car drove away, leaving the four of them standing by the open grave in the rain.
Posted March 27, 2006
Luke's Proposal is a charming story. This is a couple you cheer for from the minute Luke looks up and sees Rachel heading right for him. Take two families that have been bitter enemies for generations, mix in the handsome son of one family and the pretty daughter of the other, throw in some disputed property and horses, and Lois Dyer's delightful way with words and you get a wonderful story. This is book one of Lois Dyer's 'The McClouds of Montana' series. I can't wait to read book two.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 22, 2006
Luke McCloud is my kind of hero. A man's man, a stand up guy with a strong sense of honor. Rachel makes him sizzle with good old fashioned lust. Oh, and the title is a tease. The proposal is a business deal offered to Luke by Rachel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.