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"Did you hear Herman Bostwick's granddaughter is back in Denver and rumor has it she's here to stay?"
Jason Westmoreland's ears perked up on the conversation between his sister-in-law Pam and his two cousins-in-law Chloe and Lucia. He was at his brother Dillon's house, stretched out on the living room floor playing around with his six-month-old nephew, Denver.
Although the ladies had retired to the dining room to sit at the table and chat, it wasn't hard to hear what they were saying and he thought there was no reason for him not to listen. Especially when the woman they were discussing was a woman who'd captured his attention the moment he'd met her last month at a charity ball. She was a woman he hadn't been able to stop thinking about since.
"Her name is Elizabeth but she goes by Bella," Lucia, who'd recently married his cousin Derringer, was saying. "She came into Dad's paint store the other day and I swear she is simply beautiful. She looks so out of place here in Denver, a real Southern belle amidst a bunch of roughnecks."
"And I hear she intends to run the ranch alone. Her uncle Kenneth has made it known he won't be lifting one finger to help her," Pam said in disgust. "The nerve of the man to be so darn selfish. He was counting on her selling that land to Myers Smith who promised to pay him a bunch of money if the deal went through. It seems everyone would love to get their hands on that land and especially that stallion Hercules."
Including me, Jason thought, as he rolled the ball toward his nephew but kept his ears wide-open. He hadn't known Bella Bostwick had returned to Denver and wondered if she remembered he was interested in purchasing her land and Hercules. He definitely hoped so. His thoughts then shifted to Kenneth Bostwick. The man's attitude didn't surprise him. He'd always acted as if he was entitled, which is probably the reason Kenneth and Herman never got along. And since Herman's death, Kenneth had let it be known around town that he felt the land Bella had inherited should be his. Evidently Herman hadn't seen it that way and had left everything in his will to the granddaughter he'd never met.
"Well, I hope she's cautious as to who she hires to help out on that ranch. I can see a woman that beautiful drawing men in droves, and some will be men who she needs to be leery of," Chloe said.
Jason frowned at the thought of any man drawn to her and didn't fully understand why he reacted that way. Lucia was right in saying Bella was beautiful. He had been totally captivated the moment he'd first seen her. And it had been obvious Kenneth Bostwick hadn't wanted him anywhere near his niece.
Kenneth never liked him and had envied Jason's relationship with old man Herman Bostwick. Most people around these parts had considered Herman mean, ornery and craggy, but Jason was not one of them. He would never forget the one time he had run away from home at eleven and spent the night hidden in Bostwick's barn. The old man had found him the next morning and returned him to his parents. But not before feeding him a tasty breakfast and getting him to help gather eggs from the chickens and milk the cows. It was during that time he'd discovered Herman Bostwick wasn't as mean as everyone thought. In fact, Herman had only been a lonely old man.
Jason had gone back to visit Herman often over the years and had been there the night Hercules had been born. He'd known the moment he'd seen the colt that he would be special. And Herman had even told him that the horse would one day be his. Herman had died in his sleep a few months ago and now his ranch and every single thing on it, including Hercules, belonged to his granddaughter. Everyone assumed she would sell the ranch, but from what he was hearing she had moved to Denver from Savannah.
He hoped to hell she had thought through her decision. Colorado's winters were rough, especially in Denver. And running a spread as big as the one she'd inherited wasn't easy for an experienced rancher; he didn't want to think how it would be for someone who knew nothing about it. Granted, if she kept Marvin Allen on as the foreman things might not be so bad, but still, there were a number of ranch hands and some men didn't take kindly to a woman who lacked experience being their boss.
"I think the neighborly thing for us to do is to pay her a visit and welcome her to the area. We can also let her know if there's anything she needs she can call on us," Pam said, interrupting his thoughts.
"I agree," both Lucia and Chloe chimed in.
He couldn't help but agree, as well. Paying his new neighbor a visit and welcoming her to the area was the right thing to do, and he intended to do just that. He might have lost out on a chance to get the ranch but he still wanted Hercules.
But even more than that, he wanted to get to know Bella Bostwick better.
Bella stepped out of the house and onto the porch and looked around at the vast mountains looming before her. The picturesque view almost took her breath away and reminded her of why she had defied her family and moved here from Savannah two weeks ago.
Her overprotective parents had tried talking her out of what they saw as a foolish move on her part mainly because they hadn't wanted her out of their sight. It had been bad enough while growing up when she'd been driven to private schools by a chauffeur each day and trailed everywhere she went by a bodyguard until she was twenty-one.
And the sad thing was that she hadn't known about her grandfather's existence until she was notified of the reading of his will. She hadn't been informed in time to attend the funeral services and a part of her was still upset with her parents for keeping that from her.
She didn't know what happened to put a permanent wedge between father and son, but whatever feud that existed between them should not have included her. She'd had every right to get to know Herman Bostwick and now he was gone. When she thought about the summers she could have spent here visiting him instead of being shipped away to some camp for the summer she couldn't help but feel angry. She used to hate those camps and the snooty kids that usually went to them.
Before leaving Savannah she had reminded her parents that she was twenty-five and old enough to make her own decisions about what she wanted to do with her life. And as far as she was concerned, the trust fund her maternal grandparents had established for her, as well as this ranch she'd now inherited from her paternal grandfather, made living that life a lot easier. It was the first time in her life that she had anything that was truly hers.
It would be too much to ask David and Melissa Bostwick to see things that way and they'd made it perfectly clear that they didn't. She wouldn't be surprised if they were meeting with their attorney at this very moment to come up with a way to force her to return home to Savannah. Well, she had news for them. This was now her home and she intended to stay.
If they'd had anything to say about it she would be in Savannah and getting engaged to marry Hugh Pierce. Most women would consider Hugh, with his tall, dark and handsome looks and his old-money wealth, a prime catch. And if she really thought hard about it, then she would be one of those women who thought so. But that was the problem. She had to think real hard about it. They'd dated a number of times but there was never any connection, any spark and no real enthusiasm on her part about spending time with him. She had tried as delicately as she could to explain such a thing to her parents but that hadn't stopped them from trying to shove Hugh down her throat every chance they got. That only proved how controlling they could be.
And speaking of controlling her uncle Kenneth had become another problem. He was her grandfather's fifty-year-old half brother, whom she'd met for the first time when she'd flown in for the reading of the will. He'd assumed the ranch would go to him and had been gravely disappointed that day to discover it hadn't. He had also expected her to sell everything, and when she'd made the decision to keep the ranch, he had been furious and said his kindness to her had ended, and that he wouldn't lift a finger to help and wanted her to find out the hard way just what a mistake she had made.
She sank into the porch swing, thinking there was no way she could have made a mistake in deciding to build a life here. She had fallen in love with the land the first time she'd seen it when she'd come for the reading of the will. And it hadn't taken long to decide even though she'd been robbed of the opportunity to connect with her grandfather in life, she would connect with him in death by accepting the gift he'd given her. A part of her felt that although they'd never met, he had somehow known about the miserable childhood she had endured and was giving her the chance to have a way better adult life.
The extra men she had hired to work the ranch so far seemed eager to do so and appreciated the salary she was paying them which, from what she'd heard, was more than fair. She'd always heard if you wanted good people to work for you then you needed to pay them good money.
She was about to get up to go back into the house to pack up more of her grandfather's belongings when she noticed someone on horseback approaching in the distance. She squinted her eyes, remembering this was Denver and people living on the outskirts of town, in the rural sections, often traveled by horseback, and she was grateful for the riding lessons her parents had insisted that she take. She'd always wanted to own a horse and now she had several of them.
As the rider came closer she felt a tingling sensation in the pit of her stomach when she recognized him. Jason Westmoreland. She definitely remembered him from the night of the charity ball, and one of the things she remembered the most was his warm smile. She had often wondered if he'd been as ruggedly handsome as she recalled. The closer the rider got she realized he was.
And she had to admit that in the three times she'd been to Denver, he was the closest thing to a modern-day cowboy she had seen. Even now he was riding his horse with an expertise and masculinity that had her heart pounding with every step the horse took. His gaze was steady on her and she couldn't help but stare back. Heat crawled up her spine and waves of sensuous sensations swept through her system. She could feel goose bumps form on her skin. He was definitely the first and only man she'd ever been this attracted to.
She couldn't help wondering why he was paying her a visit. He had expressed interest in her land and in Hercules when she'd met him that night at the charity ball. Was he here to convince her she'd made a mistake in moving here like her parents and uncle had done? Would he try to talk her into selling the land and horse to him? If that was the case then she had the same news for him she'd had for the others. She was staying put and Hercules would remain hers until she decided otherwise.
He brought his horse to a stop at the foot of the porch near a hitching post. "Hello, Bella."
"Jason." She gazed up into the dark brown eyes staring at her and could swear she felt heat radiating from them. The texture of his voice tingled against her skin just as it had that night. "Is there a reason for your visit?"
A smile curved his lips. "I understand you've decided to try your hand at ranching."
She lifted her chin, knowing what was coming next. "That's right. Do you have a problem with it?"
"No, I don't have a problem with it," he said smoothly. "The decision was yours to make. However, I'm sure you know things won't be easy for you."
"Yes, I'm very much aware they won't be. Is there anything else you'd like to say?"
"Yes. We're neighbors and if you ever need my help in any way just let me know."
She blinked. Had he actually offered his help? There had to be a catch and quickly figured what it was. "Is the reason you're being nice that you still want to buy Hercules? If so, you might as well know I haven't made a decision about him yet."
His smile faded and the look on his face suddenly became intense. "The reason I'm being nice is that I think of myself as a nice person. And as far as Hercules is concerned, yes, I still want to buy him, but that has nothing to do with my offering my help to you as your neighbor."
She knew she had offended him and immediately regretted it. She normally wasn't this mistrusting of people, but owning the ranch was a touchy subject with her because so many people were against it. He had wanted the land and Hercules but had accepted her decision and was even offering his help when her own uncle hadn't. Instead of taking it at face value, she'd questioned it. "Maybe I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."
"Yes, maybe you shouldn't have."
Every cell in her body started to quiver under the intensity of his gaze. At that moment she knew his offer had been sincere. She wasn't sure how she knew; she just did. "I stand corrected. I apologize," she said.
"Thank you." And because she wanted to get back on good footing with him she asked, "How have you been, Jason?"
His features relaxed when he said, "Can't complain." He tilted his Stetson back from his eyes before dismounting from the huge horse as if it was the easiest of things to do.
And neither can I complain, she thought, watching him come up the steps of the porch. There was nothing about seeing him in all his masculine form that any woman could or would complain about. She felt her throat tighten when moments later he was standing in front of her. Something she could recognize as hot, fluid desire closed in on her, making it hard to breathe. Especially when his gaze was holding hers with the same concentration he'd had the night of the ball.
Today in the bright sunlight she was seeing things about him that the lights in the ballroom that night hadn't revealed: the whiteness of his teeth against his dark skin, the thickness of his lashes, the smooth texture of his skin and the broadness of his shoulders beneath his shirt. Another thing she was seeing now as well as what she remembered seeing in full detail that night was the full shape of a pair of sensual lips.
"And what about you, Bella?"
She blinked, realizing he'd spoken. "What about me?" The smile curving his lips returned and in a way that lulled her into thoughts she shouldn't be thinking, like how she'd love kissing that smile on his face.
"How have you been besides busy?" he asked.
Bella drew in a deep breath and said, "Yes, things have definitely been busy and at times even crazy."
"I bet. And I meant what I said earlier. If you ever need help with anything, let me know."
"Thanks for the offer, I appreciate it." She had seen the turnoff to his ranch. The marker referred to it as Jason's Place. And from what she'd seen through the trees it was a huge ranch and the two-story house was beautiful.
She quickly remembered her manners and said, "I was about to have a cup of tea. Would you like a cup, as well?"
He leaned against the post and his smile widened even more. "Tea?"
She figured he found such a thing amusing if the smile curving his lips was anything to go by. The last thing a cowboy would want after being in the saddle was a cup of tea. A cold beer was probably more to his liking but was the one thing she didn't have in her refrigerator. "I'd understand if you'd rather not," she said.
He chuckled. "A cup of tea is fine."
He chuckled again. "Yes, I'm positive."
"All right then." She opened the door and he followed her inside.