TO FALL IN LOVE
Stepping onto her estranged father's Colorado ranch, Brooke Harper hopes to find the missing piece of the puzzle that's left a hole in her hearther long-lost sister. But the Bucking Q Ranch is deserted except for the tall and rugged cowboy, Trent Landry, who is taking care of the place while the owners are away. She's determined to wait until the family she's never met returns home
And Trent will keep an eye on the mysterious Brooke until he finds out if she is telling the truth about finding her sister. Spending time alone with her, watching her take to ranch life as if she's a natural, he realizes she is definitely not a threatexcept maybe to his heart.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Brooke Harper drove along winding Interstate 70 that bordered the powerful Colorado River. It seemed as if the road was carved out of granite. Through the driver's-side window, she saw miles of lush green hillsides dotted with the rust-and-golden shades of the aspen trees that bordered the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
The scene took her breath away. Hidden Springs, Colorado, was so different from the southern Nevada landscape she'd been used to. And soon she'd be going back there. This was a short visit, so she didn't need to get used to anything. Once she was finished with her business, she'd be on her way back to Las Vegas.
Brooke slowed her seven-year-old compact, but not her heart rate, as she approached the turnoff that led to her destination. Following the GPS's directions, she took a side road, then after a few miles, another turn onto a gravel lane. She drove even slower through the grove of trees and was about to turn around when she came to a clearing, and the voice on the GPS announced, "You've reached your destination."
Just then she saw a large metal archway that read The Bucking Q Ranch.
Her heart began to race even faster. She was here. All she had to do now was put her foot on the gas pedal, drive up to the house and ask Rory Quinn about his daughter Laurel Quinn. Her sister.
Brooke felt her nerves take over and her grip tightened on the steering wheel. After all these years being told her father was dead then to have her mother confess that there was a twin sister. Or was this just one of Coralee Harper's confused memories? Her mother had had more of those moments the past year with the progression of her disease.
Still riddled with guilt, Brooke knew she'd had no choice, after her mother kept wandering off, but to put her into a nursing home two months ago for her early-onset Alzheimer's.
Pushing aside thoughts of Coralee, Brooke exhaled a long breath. She wasn't here to meet her long-lost father, only to bring back her sister, Laurel Quinn, to see their mother. She was hoping to find out if Coralee's ramblings were true.
She continued down the wide gravel road lined with pine and aspen trees that opened into a clearing where several large structures came into view: a glossy white barn and five outbuildings. A long split-rail fence ran beside a pasture housing several beautiful horses. The fence also lined the yard around a magnificent stone-and-cedar two-story house.
Brooke parked the car and climbed out, waiting for someone to come out, but the place looked deserted. She started up the lengthy drive and noticed decorative ribbons draped over the fence, each post tied with flowers. She reached the house where baskets of flowers lined the large porch.
She knew she could be interrupting something, but that didn't stop her. She went around the house to the back and froze, seeing rows of white chairs with a white runner down the middle, leading to a floral archway. On one of the chairs, she found a program detailing for Laurel Quinn and Jack Aldrich's nuptials. Great. She was crashing her sister's wedding.
Trent Landry raced his truck to the Bucking Q. A lot of good it had done him to go chasing into town after Al-drich. The creep was long gone, and so was their money. He took the corner off the highway too fast and kicked gravel up behind him, but he didn't slow down. He needed to stop Rory and Laurel from going after the runaway groom.
"Dammit!" Trent's fist hit the wheel. He knew that something wasn't right about the guy. "I should have listened to my gut." A dozen years in Special Forces and he'd let a two-bit hustler run off with their money.
His cell phone rang and he pushed the button on the wheel to answer Rory's call. "Rory, what's going on?"
"We're on our way to Denver. Laurel's hell-bent on finding Jack so he can explain his disappearance. I could barely talk her into letting us go along."
He was afraid of this. "Not a good idea, Rory. Aldrich has already broken the law. He's not going to let anyone take him into custody."
"I know," Rory said, his voice an angry whisper. "But I'm the one who hired this jerk. I gave him access to my daughter. Hell, he asked me for her hand in marriage. Dammit, I need to protect Laurel now."
Trent ran his hand over his jaw. "Okay, but you better be back in forty-eight hours, or I'm coming for you."
"Deal." There was a long pause. "I'm sorry about this mess, Trent, and what it's done to our partnership. I hate to ask any more, but could you let the wedding guests know ?"
"Sure, I can handle it. We'll talk later."
Trent disconnected the call.
He would do anything to protect the Quinns. Years ago, his father, Wade Landry, and Rory Quinn had ridden the rodeo circuit together. After the two retired, they settled here to raise their families and cattle. Then suddenly one day their tranquility had ended, and it had all gone bad for the Landrys.
Trent quickly shook away the dark memories. He had to deal with today. He pulled up to the Quinns' home and saw the car with Nevada plates. Who was the out-of-state guest?
"Time to find out."
Placing his Stetson on his head, he climbed out and glanced toward the deserted barn. The men had left early to repair a stretch of downed fence, so they could get back in time to get cleaned up for the wedding. Trent thought to his own rented tux, hanging in the back of his truck. Now he had to tell everyone the ceremony wasn't going to happen.
Trent cursed and started off around the back of the house. He was immediately greeted by rows of empty white chairs. A long white runner spanned the middle aisle, dotted with rose petals, and ending at a huge flower-covered archway where the bride and groom were to exchange vows. The real star of the show was the incredible view of the north-facing mountain range sprinkled with the fiery colors of the aspen's fall leaves mixed with evergreen ponderosa pines. A perfect setting for a late afternoon wedding. That was if you were into believing in happily-ever-after.
Feeling the warm late September sun, Trent rolled his sleeves on his Western shirt. Time to get to work. He paused when something caught his eye. A woman walking toward him.
Great, an early wedding guest. He took a second glance and something looked familiar about her. She came up the aisle in long easy strides. Dark trousers covered her long slender legs and a cream-colored silky blouse showed off gentle curves. Her chin-length hair was a silky, golden blond with some rich highlights. When she reached him a tentative smile turned up the corners of her full mouth, causing more of a reaction than he wanted to admit.
He swallowed and asked, "May I help you with something?"
"I hope so. I'm looking for Laurel Quinn," she said.
"Well, you just missed her. She's not here."
Brooke tried not to react to the man's abruptness. She considered going into town and returning another day. Too late. She straightened her shoulders. "Then could you tell me where I can find Rory Quinn?"
He folded his large arms over his wide chest, and he spread his stance as if to look intimidating. It was working.
"And who are you?"
She refused to back away, not after it had taken her so long to get here. "Brooke Harper." She arched an eyebrow. "Are you related to the Quinns?"
He shook his head. "I'm Trent Landry, a family friend and business partner. And again, why do you want to see Rory?"
She glanced away from the man's dark gaze. She'd dealt with a lot of businessmen in her job, but this guy was good at intimidation. Either he was military or law enforcement. But she could handle it. "I believe that is between Mr. Quinn and myself."
"Well, you can believe whatever you want, but both Rory and Laurel Quinn will be away for a few days. So why don't you return then?" He tried to read her eyes. "Or you can tell me what this is about and when I talk with Rory, I can relay your message."
Brooke didn't have a lot of time or choices. So she'd either wait until the Quinns returned home, or she'd have to take more time off work. But how much did she want to tell this man? Definitely nothing about her connection to Rory Quinn.
"Laurel Quinn is my half sister."
How can Laurel have a sister?
"Is that so?"
Trent watched Brooke Harper's hands shake, but she managed to extract papers from her oversize purse and give them to him.
His gaze didn't waver from those intriguing green eyes until he opened the folded sheets, then finally glanced over a birth certificate, stating that Coralee Harper gave birth to a female child on the twelfth day of December, 1988.
Trent looked at the other paper, a custody agreement, giving Rory Quinn full custody of his daughter Laurel Kathryn Harper. These weren't the originals, but he couldn't discount them, either. If true, that meant Diane Quinn wasn't Laurel's biological mother?
Damn, this was above his pay grade.
He studied the pretty blonde, looking for a resemblance. Her large eyes were deep green in color, her fair skin was flawless and her full mouth He halted the survey, realizing he needed to stop getting distracted by her. Brooke Harper's news could destroy the Quinn family.
He needed to get ahold of Rory. "Excuse me. I need to make a call." He walked out of earshot and punched in the familiar number. He glanced at the white tent that had been constructed in the predawn hours to house the guests for the Quinn-Aldrich wedding reception.
Then came sunrise and there was no sign of the groom. When Laurel couldn't get ahold of Jack by phone, Trent had gone out to the general contractor's temporary residence, the small trailer at the building site. He'd found it completely empty. Obviously, Jack had cleared out sometime during the night.
Now, four hours before the ceremony the groom had disappeared; also all their money for the construction of the cabins was gone with him. If that wasn't enough, this woman had shown up and claimed to be Laurel's sister.
Rory's phone rang and rang, and finally went to voice mail. "Please leave a message."
"Rory, this is Trent." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I need you to call me, right away. Something has come up here, and no, it's nothing to do with finding Aldrich."
Just as Trent disconnected the call, he turned to see a truck, painted with the sign All Occasions Catering on its side, pull into the drive. Great, something else he had to deal with. And the troubles didn't stop, he thought, remembering the fifty-plus wedding guests arriving soon.
Around the barn appeared the ranch truck, and four ranch hands piled out. He needed help. Trent punched the ranch foreman's phone number.
"Hey, Trent what's up?" Chet answered.
"Hi, Chet. Has Rory called you today?"
"No, he hasn't. Why?"
"There's been a change of plans. Wedding's been called off."
Trent didn't want to go into details now. "Yeah, and the family has gone out of town. Rory asked me to handle things here. So could you send Ollie and Larry out to the gate and head off the guests? Have them explain that the wedding has been called off, and make sure they thank everyone for coming. But no more info."
"That won't be difficult since I don't know any more," Chet said, digging for more news.
"I'll fill you in later," Trent promised.
That seemed to satisfy him. "Okay, as soon as they get cleaned up, I'll send them down."
"Thank you, I know Rory appreciates the help."
"He's a good man," Chet added. "Do you need anything else?"
"Yeah, a few men to help take the chairs and tables back to the rental place?"
"Sure. Let me get the flatbed and we'll be up in a few."
Trent hung up and quickly went to handle his next problem, the caterer. Even bigger trouble was when he found Miss Harper talking to the man in the white uniform. He headed over to find out what she was saying to him.
Trent knew the catering owner, Bill Cummings, from town. "Hey, Bill." Trent shook the older man's hand.
"Hi, Trent." Bill grinned. "I hear from lovely Miss Harper here that there's been a change of plans."
Just what had she told him? He sent her a glaring look, and got a sweet smile in return. Feeling a sudden jolt of awareness, he turned back to Bill. "Yes, the wedding has been called off."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Bill frowned. "But there's no refunds, I told that to Rory when he paid the deposit."
"I'm sure they understood that when they hired you." He silently cursed Aldrich again for causing all this trouble. Not that he cared, but this news would be all over town once Bill's wife, Bess, learned of the cancellation. Nothing he could do about that.
Bill looked sympathetic about the situation. "So what do you want me to do with all this food?" He motioned to the truck.
"Donate it." Brooke Harper stepped forward.
"I worked for a large hotel and when we have leftover food from our events, we take it to a shelter or soup kitchen."
"Do I take it all? And what about the cake? It's three tiers with the bride and groom."
"Donate everything." Trent didn't have time or energy to think of a place. "Bill, you decide where it goes."
He glanced toward the barn to see Larry and Ollie getting into the truck and heading out to the gate to greet the guests and send them home.
Bill snapped his fingers. "St. Theresa's Catholic Church has a shelter." He looked at Trent as he pulled out his phone. "Do you think that will be all right with Rory and Diane? I mean, I know they go to the Methodist Church on Grant Street."
"I think when it's a charitable act, it doesn't matter," Trent told him. "And since Rory instructed me to handle things, I vote for St. Theresa's. I really appreciate you doing this for the family."
With a nod, Bill walked back to the truck, holding the phone against his ear.
Trent took Miss Harper by the arm and guided her aside. "I wasn't able to get ahold of Rory yet, but I left a message for him to call me back. Why don't you give me your cell number and I'll call you when I hear from him?"
She hesitated, her gaze searching his. "I think I'll hang around for a little while just in case he calls soon. Besides, it looks like you could use some help here."
Before Trent could argue the point, she walked toward the men and began directing them to specific jobs: folding and stacking the tables and chairs, then loading them on the truck. Since he didn't want to deal with more questions, he didn't stop her.
Over the next hour, the crew of men managed to get everything loaded onto the flatbed. Chet jumped behind the wheel and drove off toward town and the rental company.
That was fairly easy. Trent grabbed a bottle of water that had been retrieved from the kitchen and took a long drink. He looked around and found Brooke Harper standing at the floral archway. He grabbed another bottle. Determined to tell her it was time to leave, he walked to her, but paused, catching her biting her full lower lip, a frown creasing her high forehead.
She seemed to have sensed his presence, turning with a smile. "This is so beautiful. It's a shame to waste all these lovely flowers."
He handed her the cold water bottle. "What do you suggest we do with themship them off to a hospital?
"They'd probably appreciate them."
She took a drink and Trent watched her slender neck bend back, exposing the smooth skin.
He quickly turned away to the white arch intertwined with greenery and colorful flowers. He inhaled the soft scent and didn't know if it was the blooms or the woman. "Okay, I'll have one of the men take care of the delivery. I don't want Laurel to have any reminders of today."
Brooke turned her head. Her green eyes flashed him a look that reminded him a lot of Laurel. "I'm sorry. She must be devastated."
Trent shrugged. "Probably, but I didn't get a chance to talk to her. She took off to Denver to find him. Her parents went with her. That's why Rory isn't here."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very good book. Brooke's mother has developed Alzheimer's and has let slip the fact that Brooke has a twin sister. Now she has been charged with making contact with Laurel and bringing her to see their mother. Brooke is happy to know that she has a sister, but is worried about what her reaction to the news will be. When Brooke arrives at the ranch, she discovers that her sister and father are gone, leaving their neighbor Trent to look after things. Trent is suspicious of Brooke at first, especially after he calls her father. Rory judges Brooke by what he knows of her mother and that isn't good. Keeping a close eye on her is no hardship, as Trent finds her beautiful and intriguing. I loved the way he did that by including her in ranch activities. I liked Trent's protectiveness toward his friends, and how that quickly extended to Brooke. Even though she grew up in Las Vegas, Brooke takes to ranch life very quickly. There are some really fun scenes of her as she learns to ride and deals with the aftereffects of time in the saddle. She and Trent form a connection very quickly, but hesitate to think in terms of a future. Trent is carrying a boatload of guilt from the death of his little brother years ago, and thinks that makes him a bad bet for a relationship. As much as Brooke would like to think of staying in Colorado, she is committed to returning to Vegas to her job and taking care of her mother. Plus, there's more to her visit than she has shared with Trent, and she's certain that it will affect the way he looks at her. I loved seeing them grow closer. When Laurel and Rory return to the ranch, things get both better and worse for Brooke. I loved seeing Trent's protectiveness toward Brooke and how he tried to ease things for her. Their attraction grew stronger and I loved seeing Brooke go after what she wanted from him, even though she knew there was no future. Trent is surprised by the strength of his feelings for her and begins to consider the possibility of more. Then Brooke overhears something that sends her back to Vegas without revealing the biggest part of her news, hurt by the rejection she experienced. I ached for her and the loss she felt. I loved seeing Trent's confrontation with Rory, and Rory's shock at what he learns. I loved Trent's big moment as he shows Brooke exactly how he feels. The ending was emotional and the epilogue a nice segue into Laurel's story.
Count on a Cowboy is a sweet and easy story to read, with minimum amount of drama and angst, even though the topic could have provided plenty of that. Being separated from her father and twin sister when she was four months old, is news to Brooke. She has had a loveless, tough childhood, she has grown into an independent and resilient young woman, who is used to deal with life's storms by herself. Out of her mother's request, Brooke goes looking for her twin sister, but what she finds instead, is a handsome ex-soldier cowboy. I liked how Brooke and Trent had the opportunity to get to know each other, and spent time together before she met her family. They are rather adorable together, they like each other, they have a great time together, the attraction is obvious, and her enthusiasm about the ranch life is contagious. The story flows smoothly, and Trent and Brooke such a joy, when riding and dining together. They both have their pain and burden to carry. Trent has guilt over his brother's death, even guilt of not being there for his father before he died. Brooke never had it easy with her mother, and her selfish behavior, having to work from an early age, to provide food for herself, to take care of herself, instead of being taken care of by her mother. Life hasn't been easy for them, but with each other, they find peace and joy in a very short time. Now, if only Brooke's family wouldn't keep them apart. The character's are delightful and engaging, the surroundings are beautiful and alluring, and the plot has just enough spice to make a clever and pleasurable tale. ~ Four Spoons