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She was a coward.
Josefina Slater jumped into her BMW and drove away from the Lazy S Ranch, her childhood home. Before she'd left California two days ago for Montana, she'd told herself she would be able to come back here and help with her father's recovery from a stroke. But when she'd arrived at the house and saw her older sister, Ana, she found she wasn't ready to face Colton Slater, or her past.
When Josie had arrived at the ranch house and was greeted by her older sister, Ana, she froze right there on the spot. She needed more time. She told her sister she wasn't ready and got back into her car and started driving. To where, she had no idea.
She'd grown up here on the ranch with a man who didn't want the daughters Lucia Slater left behind when she walked out. Outside of her siblings, her twin, Tori, and older sister, Ana, and younger sister, Marissa, there hadn't been much else to keep her here. This was Josie's first time back in nearly ten years.
About two miles down the road, she opened the window. The air was brisk, reminding her that winter was fast approaching. With the quiet hum of the engine mingled with soft music from the radio, she finally started to relax.
She glanced out the windshield at the rolling green pastures that seemed to go on for miles and was framed by the scenic Rocky Mountains. Tall pines covered the slopes as the majestic peaks reached upward to the incredible blue sky.
Quite a different landscape from her home in Los Angeles, or her life. Success in her career as an event planner came with a lot of hard work and little sleep. Except she'd been told if she didn't stop her hectic pace, her health could be in serious trouble. To help ease her stress, her doctor suggested she take time off. Tori, her twin sister and partner in Slater Style, had been the one who'd insisted she come back here to the ranch and try to relax.
Sure, returning here was going to ease her stress. Right. She couldn't even get through the front door.
Her grip tightened on the steering wheel. No, she wouldn't let Colt Slater turn her back into that insecure little girl. She shook her head. "Not again." She wouldn't let any man do that to her.
She continued to drive down the road until she could see part of the Big Hole River. Memories flooded her head, reminding her how she and her sisters used to sneak off and swim there. That brought a smile to her lips. It was also where Ana was building the new lodge along with some small fishing cabins. They'd hoped to add income to help the other problem, the Lazy S's struggling finances.
Curiosity had Josie turning off onto a dirt road and driving the half mile to where several trucks were parked. She pulled in next to a crew cab pickup that had GT Construction embossed on the side.
Why not check out the progress? Anything to delay her going back to the house. She climbed out, glad she'd worn her jeans and boots, and pulled her lined jacket closer to her body, shielding her from the late-October weather.
Feeling excitement for the project she'd helped create with Ana, she headed across the grass toward the river to observe the progress of the two-story log cabin structure taking shape about thirty yards from the water's edge.
"Good job, Ana," she breathed into the cool autumn breeze.
Suddenly someone called out, but before she could turn around she felt something hit her in the back, sending her flying. Josie let out a cry as she hit the hard ground.
Garrett Temple felt pain shoot through his body as he cradled the small woman under him. It took a few breaths to get his lungs working from the impact, but at least he'd kept her from getting hit by the lumber truck. He managed to roll off her as his men started to gather around.
"I didn't see her, boss," Jerry said as he leaned over them. "You okay?"
Garrett nodded, but his attention was on the still woman facedown on the grass. He knelt beside the petite body and traced over her for any broken bones or visible injuries.
"You want me to call the paramedics?" someone asked.
"Give me a minute," Garrett said as he gently brushed back the long whiskey-colored hair from her face. He froze as recognition hit him. The olive skin, the delicate jawline, long dark lashes. He knew that underneath those closed lids were mesmerizing blue eyes. His heart began to pound even more rapidly. "Josie?"
She groaned, and he said her name again. "Josie. Can you hear me?"
With another groan, she started to raise her head. He stopped her, but caught a whiff of her familiar scent. Hell, how could he remember what she smelled like? He drew back, already feeling the familiar pull to this woman. It had been nearly ten years. She rolled to one side.
"Take it easy," he told her. "Do you hurt anywhere?"
"My chest," she whispered. "Hard to breathe."
"You got the wind knocked out of you."
She blinked and finally opened her eyes, and he was hit with her rich blue gaze. She looked confused, and then said, "Garrett?"
He rose to his knees. "Hello, Josie."
Josie felt as if she were in a dream. Garrett Temple? It couldn't be She blinked again, suddenly realizing it was reality. She pushed him away, sat up and groaned at the pounding in her head. "What are you doing here?"
He didn't look any happier to see her. "Trying to save your neck."
"Like I need your help for anything." She glanced up and saw several men peering at them. "I'm fine." She brushed off her sweater and jeans, trying to act as if nothing was wrong. "I just need a minute."
The crew didn't move away until Garrett stepped in. "Everyone, this is Ana Slater's sister Josie."
The guys mumbled a quick greeting, and then headed back to their jobs.
Once alone, Josie turned to the man she'd never expected to see again. The man who'd smashed all her dreams and the last person she needed to see right now.
"Do you hurt anywhere?" he asked again.
A broken heart. "No, I'm fine," she lied. Her ankle was suddenly killing her.
Garrett got to his feet and reached down to offer her some help. She got up under her own power, trying to ignore her light-headedness and her throbbing ankle.
"Still as stubborn as ever, I see."
She glared at the large man. He was well over six feet. Nothing had changed in the looks department, either. He was still handsome with all that black wavy hair, not a bald spot in view. Her attention went to his mouth to see that sexy grin, and her stomach tightened in awareness. Well, dang it. She wasn't going to let him get to her again.
She tested some weight on her tender ankle. Not good. "I know why I'm here," she began, "but why are you?"
He folded his muscular arms over his wide chest. So he'd filled out from the thin boy she once knew in high school.
"I own GT Construction. Ana hired me."
No. Her sister wouldn't do that. Not when she knew how much Garrett had hurt and humiliated her. "We'll see about that." She started to walk off but her ankle couldn't hold her weight and she started to fall.
"Whoa." He caught her in his arms. Big strong arms. "You are hurt."
"No, I just twisted my ankle. I'll be fine when I get back to the ranch."
"You aren't going anywhere until I get you checked out."
"You're not doing anything" She gasped as he swung her up into his arms as if she were a child. "Put me down," she demanded, but he only drew her closer and she had no choice but to slip her arm around his neck to keep her balance.
He carried her the short distance to his truck. One of the men rushed over and opened the passenger door. Garrett set her down in the seat.
"You can't kidnap me, Garrett." He was so close to her, she could inhale that so-familiar scent of the man she'd once loved more than anything. "Just take me home."
He shook his head. "You were hurt on my construction site, so I'm responsible for you. We're going to the E.R. first, then I'll take you back to the ranch."
She started to speak, but the door got shut in her face. A few minutes later, he appeared in the driver's seat. He handed her purse to her. "You might want to call your sister and tell her where you're going."
"No. She'll get all worried and she has enough on her mind." She stole a glance at the man beside her, unable to stop studying his profile. Okay, so she was curious about him, darn it.
"What about my car?"
"I'll have one of the men drive it back to the house."
She folded her arms over her chest.
Garrett started the engine and began to back up, then headed for the highway. "Josie maybe this would be a good chance to talk."
She glared at him. "What could we possibly have to say to each other, Garrett? I got the message nine years ago when you said, 'Sorry Josie, I'm going to marry someone else.'" She hated that his words still hurt. "So don't waste any more words."
Josie managed to fight back tears. She had to concentrate on getting through this time with a man who broke her heart once. She wasn't going to let it happen again, so she decided to head back to Los Angeles as soon as possible.
An hour later at the emergency room in Dillon, Garrett sat with Josie while they waited for the doctor. Even in the silly gown they had her put on, she still looked good. There was no denying that seeing her again had affected him, more than he thought possible.
From the moment when he noticed Josie Slater in Royerton High School and saw her big blue eyes, he'd been a goner. They'd been a couple all through school, even after he graduated and went off to college. Josie finished high school and went to college locally two years later. Then one weekend he'd come home to tell her about his apprenticeship. They had a big fight about him being gone all summer, and they broke up. Josie refused to talk to him for months. Then he met Natalie .
Now all these years later, Josie was back here. Seeing her today had been harder than he could imagine. But her reaction toward him was a little hard to take. He didn't have to worry about her having any leftover feelings for him.
Garrett stood outside of the cubicle and the curtain was drawn as the doctor examined Josie.
"So, Ms. Slater," the doctor began, "you're getting a nasty bruise on your forehead." There was silence for a moment, and the middle-aged man continued, "You're lucky. It doesn't seem you have a concussion."
Grateful, Garrett sagged against the wall, knowing he shouldn't eavesdrop, but he still listened for more information.
"I want you to take it easy today," the doctor told her. "Your ankle is swollen, but the X-ray didn't show any broken bones. But you'll need to put ice on it." He paused. "Do you take any medications?"
Garrett heard Josie rattle off a few. He recognized one was for anxiety and the other for sleeping. What was wrong with her?
The doctor came out from behind the curtain. "She'll be fine, although she'll have some bruises."
"Thank you, Doctor."
He nodded. "Just make sure she rests today and have her stay off her feet."
The doctor walked away, and Garrett called,
"Yes," she grumbled.
He went behind the curtain and found her sitting on the bed, not looking happy. "I got a clean bill of health, so can we go home?"
He nodded, suddenly wishing she was home. But he had a feeling that Josie was headed back to California real soon, and he'd lose her for the second time.
It was another forty minutes before Garrett pulled up in front of the Slater home. Josie's pulse started racing once again as she looked up at the big two-story brown house with the white trim. It was a little faded and the porch needed some work. So a lot of things around the ranch hadn't been cared for in a while.
Garrett got out of the truck and walked around to her side. He pulled the crutches out of the back, but propped them against the side of the truck as he reached in and scooped her into his arms. Instead of setting her down on the ground, he carried her toward the house.
"Hey, I can do this myself."
"It's crazy to struggle with these steps when I can get you in the house faster."
She wasn't going to waste the effort to argue. Soon she'd be inside and he'd be gone.
Garrett paused at the heavy oak door with the cut-glass oval window. She drew a quiet breath and released it. It was bad enough that the man she'd once loved was carrying her around in his arms, but she still had to face the other man in her life. Her father.
"You okay?" Garrett asked.
"Yeah, I'm just peachy."
He stared at her, but didn't say a word. Wise man. He managed to turn the knob and open the door.
Inside, she glanced around. This had been part of the house she hadn't seen much as a child. Everyone used the back door off the kitchen. This was the formal part of the house.
Nothing much had changed over the years, she noted, as Garrett carried her across glossy honey-colored hardwood floors and past the sweeping staircase that led upstairs. He continued down the hall where the living room was closed off by large oak pocket doors. She tensed. Her father's new living quarters since coming home from the hospital.
They finally reached Colt's office. "She's home," Garrett announced as he carried her inside.
Ana Slater glanced up from the computer screen and froze. Her older sister was tall and slender with nearly black hair and blue eyes.
"Josie! Oh, God, what happened?"
"I had a little collision at the construction site."
Garrett set her down in the high-back chair across from the desk. "She'd gotten in the path of a truckload of lumber," he told her. "I pushed her out of the way. She landed funny."
"You mean, you landed on me."
Ana glanced back and forth between the two. "When you called me, you said nothing about being injured." She looked concerned. "But you're all right?"
"No!" Garrett said. "The doctor wants her to rest."
"I need to stay off my ankle, but I have crutches to help get around."
"I'll go get them," Garrett said, and walked out of the room.
Josie turned to her big sister. "So when were you going to tell me that Garrett Temple was building the lodge? Or was it going to remain a secret?"
Ana tried to look innocent and failed. "Okay, how was I supposed to tell you?"
"By telling me the truth."