Charming, easygoing Mitchell Tucker isn't at all what Rebecca expected. For this rancher is not only a millionaire businessman but also a world-class dad devoted to his two adorable children. Rebecca can't deny their attraction. But can she really leave the life she thought she wanted — to reach for the unknown?
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REBECCA looked out the window of the Cessna at the vast miles of majestic Rocky Mountain range. The brilliant May sun was reflecting off the dew-covered emerald-green pastures below.
Suddenly the plane dipped lower and she got a better look. The Tucker ranch came into view. Pristine white fences lined the road that led to a sprawling brick and white clapboard house trimmed with dark green shutters and surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn. Her attention shifted to the outer buildings, several brightly painted red barns. In a large corral two beautiful white and black leopard-spotted horses, Appaloosas, ambled back and forth.
So this is Mitchell Tucker's Wyoming empire. Rebecca felt the familiar stirring of excitement at the prospect of a new client. The chase and proving her talent were her favorite parts of the job. Her record was impeccable when it came to landing the premier accounts. She wasn't going to give this millionaire rancher the opportunity to consider any other agency to promote his new business, free-range beef.
The pilot tapped her on the shoulder and motioned that they were going to land.
"I'm ready," she called and drew a calming breath. This might be partly a vacation, but she planned to work her tail off too. It was the only thing she knew how to do. Besides, what else was there to do in Wyoming?
Waiting for the plane to land, Mitch Tucker leaned against his black Range Rover. His kids stood beside him at the end of the private landing strip. He was still wondering if he'd needed his head examined to agree to contact a New York ad agency. He'd relinquished that part of his life two years ago when he'd sold off all his international holdings. His focus was on business close to home in Wyoming. He'd resisted getting involved again with that old fast-paced lifestyle. He'd hoped to do everything locally, while being hands-on with the whole operation.
He glanced at his eleven-year-old daughter. Greta Caroline not only looked like her mother, blonde and fair-skinned with rich sapphire-blue eyes, she was also just as stubborn when she wanted something. His daughter was the one who'd practically taken over his idea to raise free-range beef.
Greta had spent hours on the Internet researching marketing agencies for this project. And after he'd done some of his own research he knew they needed the right promotion to make their venture profitable. Not that he needed to worry about money. Working together with his kids was what mattered most. This was the first thing Greta had taken an interest in since her mother's death. He couldn't deny her this.
If it hadn't been for his children, losing Carrie would have finished him. At the time of their mother's death, Greta was nine and Colby was only three. Someone had to take care of them. That alone made Mitch drag himself out of bed every day, put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.
Two years later, he'd long since stopped his travel and gotten more involved in the ranching operation. But always in the center of everything were his kids. They were the reason he was standing here waiting for a New York executive to help promote his new beef program. This was just the beginning of his new life. Someday, he wanted to give his kids a complete family again.
"Please, Daddy, promise you'll be nice."
He looked down at his daughter's worried face.
"This is business; you can't always be nice. I'll be polite."
"But you can be...intimidating."
"In business, that's not a bad way to be, Greta."
She sighed dramatically. "You said you'd give this a chance. I've researched this, and we need the right kind of advertising, the right market to promote our beef. Please, just listen to Ms Valentine's ideas."
He forced a smile. "I said I would, and you know I don't go back on my promises." How in the hell is a New Yorker going to know anything about ranching in Wyoming? "I talked with Brent Pierce and he's assured me that Ms Valentine is the right person for this job."
Greta nodded enthusiastically. "Rebecca Valentine is one of their top agents and a junior partner. She's worked for the Pierce Agency since college when she graduated Summa Cum Laude ten years ago — "
"Whoa, where did you get all this information?" She looked up at him, showing off the pretty smile that was going to do him in. "I did my research like you taught me."
Before he could say anything more, Colby began jumping up and down, pointing to the other end of the runway as the plane touched down. "They're here, Dad."
When the plane stopped taxiing, Mitch took his son's hand and the three of them hurried onto the runway. He would give this a chance, just as he'd promised, realizing he had to be crazy to invite a career-driven female into his home. Ms Valentine wasn't the type of woman he planned to expose his kids to, or the type who would be content living on a cattle ranch.
Mitch paused next to the Cessna as his pilot and his ranch manager, Wally Hagan, walked around and popped open the passenger door. The first thing he saw of the New York agent was a pair of black high-heeled shoes that were attached to long, shapely legs. A sudden dryness in Mitch's throat made it difficult to swallow when bare knees and part of a thigh made an appearance.
Holding Wally's hand, the passenger finally made it out of the plane. Clearing the wing, she stepped into the sunlight and Mitch couldn't catch his breath. Rebecca Valentine was a tall woman with golden brown hair that was drawn back into a bun, except for a few wayward curls that circled her pretty face.
A smile touched her full mouth, but it was her light blue, almost gray eyes that he was drawn to. He didn't realize he'd been staring until his daughter nudged him.
"Ms Valentine...I'm Mitch Tucker," he said and held out his hand. "Welcome to Wyoming."
She had a firm handshake. "Please, call me Rebecca."
"And I'm Mitch." He quickly moved on. "This is my daughter, Greta."
She took the girl's hand. "Greta, it's good to finally meet you."
"I'm glad to meet you, too, Ms Valentine."
"Since we'll all be working together, please call me Rebecca."
Greta turned to her father and he nodded his permission.
Mitch gathered his small son in front of him. The five-year-old was already dirty and his dark curly hair unruly. "And this is Colby."
She leaned down to look in his eyes. "Hello, Colby."
Colby smiled, showing off his missing bottom tooth. "Hi, Rebecca, I'm five." He held up his spread fingers.
"My, that's old," she said. "I bet you go to school." He bobbed his head. "This year I start kindergarten." Mitch motioned to the SUV. "Well, let's take you to the house and get you settled in."
Wally helped Mitch load the suitcases and the kids climbed in back. He came around the passenger side to find Rebecca attempting to climb into the high seat. Her narrow skirt rose up dangerously, threatening Rebecca's modesty, and Mitch's sanity.
"SUVs and short skirts don't mix," she said. "I guess I didn't think about this outfit being impractical. I should have worn pants."
"Jeans might even be better," he offered. "If you'll allow me to help, we can get going."
She gasped as he scooped her up. He dropped her in the bucket seat, but not before he caught a whiff of her scent, and felt the enticing curve of her small waist.
"Like I said, pants will make it easier...for all of us." He grimaced, knowing his words were too revealing.
Hell, he'd been widowed for two years. Just about anything would set him off.
The house was even more impressive close up. Rebecca eyed the small details of the fence and flowers that hung from the front porch. Mitch pulled the car into the circular drive and continued around the structure to the back.
"We live pretty simply here and the back door is closer to everything," Mitch told her.
"I know," Rebecca replied. "I spent a lot of time at my grandparents', we always used the back door."
For some reason she was just chattering away. She knew Mitch Tucker hadn't been exactly thrilled about calling in a New York company, but a good businessman should want the right promotion for his product. She just needed to convince him that she was the best person to do that for him.
Once parked, she opened the truck door and got out without any help. Mitch grabbed her bags and went up the step to the small back porch. Colorful pots filled with flowers were arranged against the house, making the place look homely and welcoming.
Mitch opened the glass-paneled door and motioned her in. She walked into a mud room with a washer and dryer; several pairs of boots were lined against one wall. She crossed another threshold into a bright yellow kitchen with maple cabinets and white-tiled counters. A trestle-table sat in front of a row of windows that overlooked a view of the ranch.
"This is lovely," she said as Mitch walked through, carrying her bags down a hall.
She started to follow him when Greta stopped her. "Yellow was my mom's favorite color," the girl said.