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So this is the home my mother left more than thirty years ago.
With a sense of foreboding, Rafe Locke turned into the circular gravel drive that fronted a two-story log ranch house, climbed out of his rented Lexus and pocketed the keys. He hoped the car's shocks were okay.
The luxury sedan might not have been the best choice for driving over the rutted dirt road leading to the main house, but trucks were his twin brother Wyatt's style, not his. Wyatt operated a wilderness trekking company and loved long, arduous hikes. Rafe gave financial advice to high-profile clients and worked out at a gym.
Although Wyatt had offered to meet his plane at the Jackson airport, the guy was a busy bridegroom with things to do. And things on his mind, like whether their mother, Diana, would risk returning to face her oldest son, Jack, in order to attend Wyatt's wedding.
Whether Diana showed up or not, Rafe wanted to be in charge of his own transportation during the week of wedding festivities. Once their dad, Harlan, arrived, he'd also appreciate having the Lexus at his disposal. He didn't like driving trucks, either.
As Rafe surveyed the house with its wide porches and country ambiance, he had no trouble imagining his mother's objections to the lifestyle. The structure represented home and hearth, not the sleek sophistication Diana craved.
She would sneer at the rockers lining the porch and the horseshoe knocker on the massive front door. She'd think the multicolored flower beds on either side of the porch steps lacked design and restraint. She'd hate the wrought-iron boot scraper anchored in cement beside the steps.
The house had quite a bit of square footage, though, and Wyatt had said the acreage was considerable, too. Rafe hoped the Chance family had a good financial advisor. Considering property values in a resort area like Jackson Hole, they were likely sitting on several million in assets.
Wyatt seemed oblivious to that, which was so like him. Instead he'd rattled on about the family history, and how Archie Chance and his bride, Nelsie, had built the center section themselves during the Great Depression. Later two wings had been added at an angle that made them look like arms reaching out to welcome visitors.
Or ensnare them. His mother had said she'd felt trapped at the Last Chance. Escaping to San Francisco and marrying financier Harlan Locke had been her solution. Except her marriage to Harlan had come apart eighteen months ago, and Rafe knew she wouldn't look forward to socializing with her ex, especially when they'd be prominently showcased as the mother and father of the groom.
But that issue paled in comparison to her confronting Jack, the son she hadn't contacted since she'd left, the son who Wyatt, Rafe and Harlan hadn't found out about until after the divorce. Wyatt had chosen to visit the ranch and meet his half brother. He'd discovered that Jonathan Chance, Jack's father and Diana's first husband, had died, but he'd left two more sons, Nick and Gabe, and a widow, Sarah.
Wyatt had fallen in love with Jackson Hole, the Chance family and Olivia Sedgewick. Rafe wished to hell Wyatt had agreed to marry Olivia somewhere else, anywhere else. But she was local and Wyatt wanted the wedding to take place at the ranch, which he considered his new home base.
Rafe suspected Wyatt also had an agenda that included Diana finally making peace with Jack. Wyatt had bonded with his half brother and wanted the old wounds healed. Knowing softhearted Wyatt, he had dreams of the Lockes and the Chances becoming one big happy family.
Although Rafe was also Jack's half brother, he had no such dreams. He'd do his job as best man because he loved his twin, but Wyatt was the outlier in the Locke family. Diana, Harlan and Rafe were dyed-in-the-wool San Franciscans used to their sushi bars and lattes. Whooping it up in cowboy country wouldn't be their idea of a good time.
Thinking of urban conveniences reminded Rafe that he hadn't checked his cell phone reception since turning off the main highway. Monday was a busy trading day and he'd been AWOL for a good part of it. Time to play catch up before he announced his presence to anyone inside.
After tucking his Wayfarer sunglasses in his shirt pocket, he reached inside the car, pulled his iPhone from the holder on the dash and tested the internet connection. Amazingly, it worked.
Absorbed in checking end-of-trading stock prices, he lost track of his surroundings until the sound of rapid hoofbeats made him whirl in alarm. A horse and rider bore down on him. Swearing, he dove into the car to avoid having himself and his iPhone smashed to bits.
Instead of stampeding past, the rider pulled up right next to the car. The horse snorted loudly and stretched its nose toward the Lexus. The beast could be breathing fire and brimstone for all Rafe knew.
"Did I scare you?" The voice was decidedly female. "Sorry about that."
Rafe tossed his phone on the seat and slid carefully out, giving the brown-and-white horse a wide berth. "I wasn't scared. I was startled." He glared up at the rider, whose red hair curled out from under the brim of a brown cowboy hat. "Anybody who sees a horse running straight at him would"
"Cantering. Spilled Milk and I were just cantering toward you."
"Looked damned fast to me."
"I was trying to catch you before you went inside. I saw the car and realized you must be Rafe, and I wanted to introduce myself." She swung down from the saddle, dropped the reins to the ground and held out her hand. "I'm Meg Seymour, Olivia's maid of honor. We'll be in the wedding together on Saturday."
So this was Meg, and she wasn't at all what he'd expected, but she had a warm, firm handshake. Now that she was on the ground, he estimated her height at around five-eight. The boots added another couple of inches, and the hat a couple more, which made her seem almost as tall as he was.
"I thought you were from Pittsburgh," he said. Wyatt had told him that, and Rafe had held out the vain hope that Meg would be a kindred spirit who wasn't into the jeans and boots routine. Instead, here she was decked out like a certified cowgirl.
"I am from Pittsburgh."
"Have you spent a lot of time out here?" Rafe eyed the horse, which kept stretching its neck toward him as if wanting to take a bite. Rafe edged back.
"Nope. My first time. Hey, don't worry about Spilled Milk. She's just curious. You can rub her nose. She likes that."
"Uh, no thanks." Although he kept his attention on the horse, he managed to get a quick glimpse of Meg's green eyes and the light dusting of freckles across her nose. She was cute enough, but thanks to her he was too damned close to an animal who wanted to eat him. Meg had dropped the reins as if abandoning all responsibility.
She shrugged. "Okay. I guess you're not much into horses."
"Not really. Shouldn't you be holding on to her?"
"She's trained to stand still when I drop the reins."
That was all well and good, but from where the horse stood, she could easily reach him with those big teeth. "Is she trained not to bite?"
"Absolutely, but if she's making you nervous, I can"
"I'm not nervous, but I don't want to get bit, either." Great. Now he looked like a wuss.
"Let me back her up some." Turning to the horse, she picked up the reins. "Back, girl. That's it. A little more. Good."
Rafe breathed easier, which allowed him to pick up a cinnamon scent that he'd guess belonged to Meg and not the horse. When she'd turned to move the animal back, he also couldn't help noticing the great fit of her jeans. He wasn't into the country look, but snug jeans showed off a woman's ass to good advantage, and hers was worth admiring.
Keeping herself between Rafe and the curious horse, she faced him again. "Better?"
"It's just that I live in the city." That wasn't much of an excuse. She lived in the city and she was totally at ease with this animal. "Where did you learn so much about horses?"
"I'm no expert, but I ride English back home. I had to adjust to a Western saddle when I arrived, but I've about accomplished that, so tomorrow I can start learning how to rope."
"You want to learn to rope this week?"
"Because it's something I've never tried and being on the ranch gives me a golden opportunity. I really love it here." She smiled.
And Rafe's breath caught. Earlier he'd thought she was cute with her freckles, her shamrock-green eyes, and her red curls peeking from under her hat, but that smile of hers turned cute into beautiful. Her beauty was all the more impressive because he couldn't see a trace of makeup.
She studied him for a moment. "You know, Wyatt said you didn't look like him, and you sure don't."
"We're fraternal twins, not identical."
"He said that, but still, I expected some similarities. Instead of being on the fair side like Wyatt, you're a GQ version of Jack Chance. Same dark hair, same dark eyes. Dress you up in Jack's trademark black shirt, jeans and boots, and you could pass for him."
"I doubt it. There's not an ounce of cowboy in me."
She gave him another once-over. "Then you'll have to fake it for the wedding."
"I'll follow the dress code when I have to, but not until then."
Her eyebrows rose. "You didn't bring jeans and boots?"
"Don't own any."
"Oh, that's no problem. I'm sure you'd fit into Wy-att's clothes, or Jack's for that matter."
The idea of wearing jeans and boots was bad enough, but wearing borrowed jeans and boots was worse. "Thanks, but I really don't need them until the wedding and I'll pick up the required outfit for the ceremony later in the week."
Her look of confusion was almost funny. "But
how can you try riding if you don't have any jeans and boots?"
"I can't, which is fine with me. Wyatt promised me I wouldn't have to get on a horse, and I'm holding him to it."
She stared at him, apparently at a loss for words.
"The thing is, Wyatt and I not only look different, but we have totally different personalities. He's the rugged outdoor type, and I'm the urban professional type. I'm crazy about the guy and wish him well in whatever he does, but we have almost nothing in common."
"Yes, but you're not in San Francisco now. You're here. Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of what the Last Chance has to offer?"
A tiny voice in the back of his head murmured because I don't want to make a fool of myself. He wasn't ready to acknowledge that voice to himself, let alone to the maid of honor. "Because riding and roping and mucking out stalls, or anything that's involved with ranching, doesn't interest me."
"Then what will you do all day?"
"I have my iPad and my iPhone. When Wyatt doesn't need me for wedding stuff, I'll work remote."
"Ah." She nodded. "He said you're involved in the financial world somehow."
Trust Wyatt to be vague on that point. His twin had never quite grasped what Rafe did for a living. "I'm a financial advisor."
"And I'm sure you're good at it, too."
"I hope so. I have clients who depend on me being good at it." He even managed some investments for Wyatt, who gave him carte blanche to do whatever he thought was right.
Her green gaze became serious. "Please take this next comment in the spirit of friendly advice."
"The Last Chance is an amazing place. In the few days I've been here, I've heard stories of lives being changed by contact with this ranch and the people on it. I'd hate for anyone to waste that privilege."
He thought her earnest advice was sweet, even if it was misguided. "The thing is, I don't want my life to change."
"Well, then." She gave him a look filled with pity. "I guess it's a good thing you brought your iPad and iPhone." She mounted up. For a moment she hesitated, clearly still thinking about his response and whether to say anything more. Then her expression closed down. "See you at dinner."
"Sure. Nice meeting you."
"Same here." With a wave, she turned Spilled Milk around and urged the horse toward a large, hip-roofed barn about two hundred yards to the right of the house.
Rafe didn't have to be a mind reader to know that Meg was disappointed in his attitude. But damn it, he hadn't come here to attend cowboy school. Or to change his life.
Most guys would give their eyeteeth to live the way he did. He made decent money, rented an apartment with a view of the bay and dated sexy women. He was only twenty-nine, and although his twin had decided to tie the knot, he felt no similar urge.
After watching his parents' marriage dissolve and the messy financial entanglements of that dissolution, he'd vowed to be very sure before he made a commitment. If he should find the perfect woman in the far distant future, he'd want her to be a successful businesswoman in her own right, someone who was as happy with a San Francisco lifestyle as he was. And there would definitely be a prenup.
In any case, he was in no hurry to get to that stage. He liked his present status just fine, and if Miss Meg Seymour wanted to dive into ranch activities and see about changing her life, she was welcome to it. But she could leave him out of that program, thank you very much.