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Maddie Wallace stepped out into the early morning west Texas sunshine and drew a deep breath. Quietly closing the door behind her, she smiled in anticipation at the beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. She drew another breath and wrinkled her nose. While the air was fresh and clean compared to Fort Worth's city fumes, it smelled of fresh hay, a hint of sage and lots of cattle. Did anyone get used to that smell if they lived here long enough?
She walked down the flagstone pathway that led through the iron gates and headed for the foreman's houseonly a three-minute walk from the sprawling brick home she'd been staying in for almost a month. Today was the first day of her new job. Wiping her palms on the sides of her dark slacks, she had a moment of apprehension. She wasn't really a nanny. What if she was a total flop? Desperate times called for desperate measures and when the offer came, however reluctantly, she'd jumped at it. She was not one to freeload.
Not that her newly discovered twin ever hinted at such a thing. She'd suggested this opportunity with Ty as a way to keep Maddie in Grasslands.
"It's the perfect answer," Violet had said yesterday after they happened upon Ty and his daughter, Darcy, looking after a sow and her babies in one of the small barns. "You'd be helping Ty, and it means you'd stay here for a while longer at least. I'm not ready to lose my sister yet."
"I'm in," Maddie'd said to the sister she hadn't even known existed a month ago. "But it's possible Ty doesn't want me."
When the twins both turned to Ty, the handsome cowboy seemed genuinely torn. "I guess we could give it a test run," he had finally conceded after a long pause. "Maybe until school starts, anyway."
Although the sisters breathed a collective sigh of relief, Maddie still harbored secret doubts about sticking around. After all, to discover at age twenty-five that she had a twin sister was almost more than she could take in. Who would have suspected that breaking up with her fiance would result in finding a part of her family she never knew about?
Once again a thousand questions flooded her mind. What had happened so long ago to split their family? Why had her father never mentioned he had other children? Why let her and her brothers believe the only mother they'd ever known was their real mother when it seemed apparent now that Belle Colby was her mother? Hers and her older brother Grayson's.
Everything had been topsy-turvy in the past month. This job offer, such as it was, added to the Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole feeling.
But she was willing to give it a shotespecially after seeing the way Ty had kept a watchful eye over his little girl when she ran out of the barn and began scampering around the property. It filled Maddie with relief to see Darcy momentarily escaping the reality of losing her mother and moving someplace new. She could only imagine what a shock it must have been for the poor child to arrive at the ranch from Houston without a clue the man she met for the first time was her father.
As Darcy chased the goat around, Jack's dog, Nipper, barked at their antics, which had Darcy dissolving into gales of laughter. For a few precious minutes, she was a happy little girl. Yet, despite the girl's burst of exuberance, Maddie was struck by the bleak expression in Ty's eyes.
"Really, I'll do a good job," she said earnestly, trying to reassure him. "I mean, I can cook breakfast for herI know you get up early and are already at work when most of us are just getting up."
"City slickers," he murmured, but thankfully didn't rescind the job offer.
Granted, the job wasn't ideal, but it enabled her to stay on the ranch and get to know her sister and brother better.
Snapping back to reality, Maddie glanced at the corral where several horses stood, ears pricked, awaiting their morning hay. It was still amazing to her that she was here on the Colby Ranch.
What if she had not responded to Landon's phone call a month ago? She'd been avoiding him ever since she'd broken their engagement. Yet answering had led her to discovering she had an identical twin she hadn't known about. She had invited Violet to her apartment that fateful afternoon. Once inside, her twin had been drawn to some of the photographs on the mantelespecially a favorite one of her father and two brothers. Violet had been startled to see Graysona twin to her brother Jack!
Violet had invited her to the ranch, and Maddie had agreed. With her father away on a missionary trip due to last until Thanksgiving, and her two brothers unavailable, it seemed the perfect time to go. Landon thought she was rushing into something that required a bit more contemplation, but she'd gone with her instincts.
It still seemed weird to look at Violet and see herself. As far as they could piece together, they'd been separated as babies, each parent taking one of each of the two sets of twins. Jack had been kept in the dark, just like herand he hadn't taken the news well.
Even their longtime housekeeper, Rachel Everett, had not known the truth when Maddie called her to tell her about Violet and where she'd be going for a few weeks.
Now they were all asking the same questionwhat had happened to their family so long ago?
Reaching the small porch in front of Ty Garland's wooden house, she stepped onto it, her shoes echoing on the surface. The small house was rather plain with a porch that ran the width of it, green shutters flanking the two windows, and a green door in the center. While the clapboard was white, the mossy green was the same color used on the barn trim. Her focus shifted to the job at hand. She hadn't felt this nervous since her first day on the job at Texas Today, the beloved magazine she'd worked on for three years. Budget cuts had eliminated her job. She'd been devastated at the time.
Now, losing her job seemed like the work of God. She'd had time to extend her visit and a job had materialized almost the same moment she began to talk about returning to Fort Worth.
Thank You, Lord, for working this all out. Please, let us find some answers soon. And please let me do a good job here.
Ty Garland was the foreman of Colby Ranch. A week ago, to his stunned amazement, he'd found out he had a daughteran eight-year-old little girl who was coming to live with him. According to Violet the news had rocked him. He hadn't even known his ex-wife had had a child, much less that it was his.
The foreman's job came with a small house, situated between the large brick house the Colbys lived in and the huge barn that held horses, hay and other accoutrements needed for ranching. She'd been given a tour of the prosperous ranch when she'd first arrived. This past month had given her a chance to get to know Violet and, to a lesser degree, Jack.
She was so delighted to have her twin sister in her life. She should focus on her blessings and live in the here and now. Speaking of which, she'd signed on to watch the little girl so in need of help and hoped she could do a good job. Ty's displeasure was not something she wanted. Quietly, she said a quick prayer for wisdom and guidance in dealing with Darcy. And her dad.
Knocking on the front door, she waited. Turning, she surveyed the barnyard, which was coming awake as the sun rose. Chickens searched for food in the dirt around the corral. Three horses remained standing near the fence. She could hear the nanny goat bleating. Was she waiting for food, too?
It was still, quiet and pleasant. Quite a difference from her rented high-rise condo in Fort Worth on a busy thoroughfare. Unexpectedly, she was growing used to it. Growing to appreciate the silence of the early morning. The beauty of God's handiwork spread before her. The ageless work of cowboys raising beef for the masses.
Ty opened the door and she turned, a bright smile on her face.
"Good morning. Here as promised." She was good at pretending she didn't feel as nervous as she did.
Maddie held her smile even though he merely nodded and opened the door wider for her to enter. The tall, fit cowboy with the stern face gave a whole new meaning to the word taciturn. He topped her by several inches. Without his hat, his dark hair gleamed in the light. His dark eyes rarely gave anything away. She always felt small and feminine around his wide shoulders, strong arms.
She'd met him several weeks ago when she'd first come to the Colby Ranch. Over the days since, she'd seen him often enough when he discussed ranch business with Violet and Jack. Yet she didn't feel she knew him any better today than that first day. Not for lack of trying. She always had a greeting for him when they met. He usually touched the edge of his cowboy hat with two fingers and moved on.
His frowning eyes met hers. She knew in a heartbeat he thought this was a dumb idea. Her gaze locked with his and Maddie wondered if Ty had only agreed to the arrangement because his boss put him on the spot. Now Maddie was having second thoughts herself. Could she work for this man? He was unlike anyone else she knew. Usually people were friendly enough when she smiled at them.
Not Ty. He replied to any direct questions with as few words as possible. Still, she was glad for the job opportunity. She'd been out of work for six weeks and her savings would only stretch so far.
The assignment was simple enoughwatch Ty's daughter for a month or so until he could make other arrangements. But could she deal with being in constant contact with the man whom she'd steered clear of in the weeks she'd been on the ranch? He obviously didn't like her.
Much as she wanted to dislike him, she didn't. He fascinated her. He looked as at home on a horse as he did walking. He'd study the day as others might study a financial report. She often wondered what he saw when he gazed off in the distance. His air of quiet confidence made the other ranch hands look brash and wild. His manner was always respectful, but distant. She had yet to see him smile and sometimes at night she'd daydream various ways to get him to smile. So far no brilliant ideas had come forth.
"We're in the kitchen," he said, heading down a short hall toward the back of the house. Maddie quickly followed, glancing into the living room as they walked by. A big recliner sat against one wall, lined up perfectly with the big flat-screen TV that hung on the opposite wall. There was a comfortable leather sofa with a throw over one arm. The coffee table was scarred as if he'd put his feet on it many times. There were beverage stains and a stack of what looked like ranching journals and a day-old newspaper. The hardwood floors rang with the sound of her shoes.
Stepping into the kitchen, she smiled at Ty's eight-year-old daughter.
Maddie liked the kitchen the instant she stepped in. The wide window over the sink framed a beautiful view of the land as it spread out in front of her. Trees scattered here and there, a slight roll to the ground. In the distance she could see some of the cattle grazing.
The appliances were fairly new and were in pristine shape. No dishes in the sink, nothing on the counter but a toaster and coffee machine. Ty kept a neat home.
Maddie was glad the job required her to cook for this small family. It meant she wouldn't have to share a dining room with Violet and Landon when he came to visit. After all, the newly engaged couple deserved their privacy.
"Good morning," she said. "Ready for breakfast?"
"I guess," Darcy said, darting a quick glance at her father.
Maddie looked at Ty also, struck by the mixture of confusion, hurt and longing she saw there. Her heart went out to him.
Maddie knew exactly how both Darcy and Ty felt. She had not known about her sister, he had not known about his daughter. Why did people do that? Keep families apart? It hurt to know her mother had so easily walked away and that her dad had never mentioned his other two children.
Pushing away the thoughts that spun in her mind daily, she focused on Darcy. Was it any more difficult to find the father she'd been told was dead was alive and had never known she existed?