With her chance at the US equestrian team shattered by an injury, Sydney Wellesley arrives at the Lazy Windmill ranch angry and heartbroken. But the rugged red bluffs and wild high plains of the Black Hills inspire her to purchase land where she can train her own Olympic hopefuls. Everything's going according to Sydney's new life planuntil her funding suddenly dries up. . .
Alone in the ramshackle house she had planned to raze, Sydney is ready to admit defeat and slink back to civilizationuntil she discovers an injured mustang. Seeing herself in the desperate wild mare, she feels compelled to save the animal at all costs, little knowing that the horse just might return the favor. For as Sydney's circle grows to include an autistic child, an earthy array of local characters, and hired help in the form of Hunter Redhawk, a man as indomitable as the land itself, she realizes that heroes are everywhereand healing is the first step on the road to true happiness.
About the Author
Lois Greiman was born on a cattle ranch in central North Dakota, where she learned to ride with the best of them. After graduating from high school, she moved to Minnesota to train and show Arabian horses. She sold her first novel in 1992 and has published more than forty titles since then. A two-time RITA finalist, she has won such prestigious honors as RT Book Reviews Storyteller Of The Year, MFW's Rising Star, and RT's Love and Laughter.
With more than two million books printed worldwide, Ms. Greiman currently lives in Minnesota, where she is actively involved in horse training and animal rescue. You can learn more about Lois and her books at www.loisgreiman.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Lois Greiman
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Lois Greiman
All rights reserved.
Hey, grab the coffee, will you, Syd?" Colt Dickenson was Indian dark and cowboy lean. He had a take-no-prisoners grin and a rugged workingman's body. But none of those attributes was particularly surprising. What stopped Sydney dead in her tracks was his easy informality, the offhand camaraderie with which he seemed to treat every individual who crossed his well-trodden path ... including paying guests.
This was Sydney's third day in South Dakota. Her second at the Lazy Windmill, the "anywhere" her favorite cousin Tori had found for her. A way to escape from the chilly disapproval of her family and a means of visiting the state of her mother's origins.
The Lazy was a strange place, more underfunded working ranch than cushy vacation spot. A place where they did not, apparently, have staff to fetch and serve.
"Not necessary," Emily said and reached for the coffee. Emily Kane, the African-American cook, had not yet reached her twentieth birthday. Sydney was certain of that. But the girl seemed to manage the weathered old farmhouse as easily as she did motherhood. Even now, Colt stood near the table gently propelling Emily's mocha-skinned baby through the air like a slow-motion 747. The situation was disconcerting on several levels. Sydney, for instance, could barely manage being a daughter and had never, as far as she could recall, impersonated so much as a small-engine Cessna. "Have a seat. Breakfast'll be ready in a minute."
"No, I'll get it," Sydney said and bumped herself back to the here and now, though honest to God, the kitchen was as foreign to her as Tel Aviv. In the world of the Wellesleys, a lady managed the kitchen. She did not enter it. The battered coffeepot was as unfamiliar to her as the scarred, claw-footed table that stood barely five feet from the stove. But the dark bean fragrance that wafted from the coffee felt friendly and warm as she filled their cups.
"Thanks," Colt said and cuddled the infant against his flannel-clad chest. The baby was dressed in a nubby, parti-colored sweater that matched her mother's to oddball perfection. She did not, however, sport the kind of abused army boots that Emily seemed to favor. "You sleep okay?"
"Yes." The scene was surreal for a number of reasons. Roughstock rodeo cowboy Colt Dickenson, for instance, had no blood ties to the child. And blood, Grandmother said, would always tell. Neither was he the mother's lover; his devotion to Casie Carmichael, the owner of this tattered-around-the-edges ranch, had been immediately apparent upon Sydney's arrival, making his dedication to Baby Bliss patently odd. Perhaps it was that very peculiarity that caused the pang near her heart. "Thank you." It was strangely difficult to drag her gaze from the pair; she had never liked children. Not even when she was a child. Or, perhaps more correctly, she had never quite mastered being one. "I slept quite well."
"So the bunkhouse wasn't too cold?" Colt settled the infant into the crook of his right arm with extraordinary casualness and reached for his coffee cup with his left.
Sydney shifted carefully into a nearby chair. Limping, Grandmother said, should be limited to decorated war veterans and panhandlers with cardboard signs. A Wellesley invited neither speculation nor pity. "It was fine."
"Good to know." He narrowed his eyes against the silvery curl of caffeinated steam as he raised the coffee to his lips. The clay mug was earth-toned and strangely misshapen. "We don't get many guests this early in the spring."
Outside the far-seeing windows, the temperature had not topped thirty degrees since Sydney's arrival. "So this is spring?" she asked and cautiously tested her coffee. True to form, it was strong enough to knock the uninitiated out cold and hit her with the gentleness of a stun gun.
"It's not always so balmy this time of year. Is it, Soph?" he asked and glanced up as Sophie Jaeger entered the room. The girl, once a paying guest like herself, was dressed in riding breeches and a sleek, long-sleeved tee. She was even younger than the Lazy's dreadlocked cook, but if Sydney understood the dynamics correctly, she managed the ranch horses as efficiently as the other girl cared for the house.
"Coffee," Sophie said robotically and poured herself a cup before sliding into a chair across from Colt. "And no, this isn't spring." She wrapped cold-reddened hands around her mug, sighed, and took a drink. "How did you get in here so fast?"
It was barely seven o'clock in the morning, but judging by their rosy cheeks and heat-deprived expressions, they had both been out of doors for some time.
Colt grinned. "Motivation. Heard Em was making Bacon Bake."
"With biscuits and rhubarb jam," Emily added and gave something inside the discolored oven an exploratory poke.
Dickenson lifted his shoulders in an "enough said" shrug. "You get chores done already?"
Sophie took a grateful swig of coffee and didn't seem to care that it could surely erode tooth enamel from thirty paces. "The stalls are clean. The horses fed."
"'They say she's grounded 'til she's dead,'" Emily crooned and plunked a pitcher of frothy goat's milk onto the center of the table.
They stared at her in wordless concert.
"Garth Brooks. What kind of cowpokes are you? 'Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up).' It was a hit single." She propped her fists on curvy hips. "Do I need to sing the entire song?"
Sophie and Colt spoke in unison and with some alacrity.
Emily deepened her scowl, causing Colt to change the subject, perhaps more out of a sense of self-preservation than curiosity.
"So who had the honor of milking Bodacious this morning?"
Sophie grinned as she reached for the pitcher.
"You got out of it again?" Dickenson swayed, rocking the baby against his chest "What was the bet?"
"Listen ..." Emily sounded honestly peeved and maybe a little impressed as she pointed a charred wooden spoon at the other girl. "There were, like ... a hundred pancakes." She turned back to stir something on the stove. The house smelled like Sundays from a bygone era. "Nobody should have been able to eat that many. Not if she's human, anyway."
"Way to go, Soph," Dickenson said and gave her a fist bump.
The girl shrugged, pretty face smug. "It's a gift."
"And a curse," Em added grumpily. "Hey, Ty."
Sydney glanced toward the door. The boy who entered had the angular build of a teenager and the solemn eyes of an ancient. He nodded his shaggy head silently and took a seat across from Sophie. Their gazes met for one fleeting instant, then snapped hotly away.
Dickenson raised his brows at Sydney as if sharing a little-known secret about young love.
"How's Angel?" he asked.
The boy lifted a shoulder that was leaning hard toward manhood. "Hungry."
"If that mare eats any more, we're going to have to make the barn aisles wider."
"Like you should talk," Emily muttered.
The front door creaked and in a moment Casie Carmichael entered the room. Still shedding her well-worn outdoor clothes, the Lazy's owner was tall and lean, with nondescript hair and unspectacular features. She did not, to Sydney's way of thinking, possess a single outstanding physical characteristic. So why did both males watch her every move as if she might, at any given moment, yank a rabbit out of a hat?
"Morning," she said.
Emily, still apparently peeved about the hundred-pancakes wager, wordlessly pressed a cup of coffee into her hands.
Casie murmured her thanks and settled her gaze on Colt. "I can't believe you beat me in again."
"Em's making Bacon Bake." His tone suggested the casserole held the secrets of the universe.
"You didn't have no trouble out there, did you?" Tyler's eyes, always solemn, looked as worried as a hound's.
"No trouble." Casie cast a maternal smile over the rim of her coffee cup, though apparently there were no familial bonds between her and Tyler, either. "But we do have three new lambs."
"I would have checked the ewes," Colt said. "But ..."
"... there's Bacon Bake," Sophie finished for him. He chuckled as he pulled out a chair for his fiancée.
Emily nestled a basket of steaming biscuits between two mismatched plates. "I suppose the lambs are going to start coming for reals any time now."
"Like darts from a blowgun."
"I'll take the night shift," Tyler said.
"Don't you have an essay due?" Casie set her mug on the table before pulling the baby into her arms and settling into a chair.
"For Mrs. Trembly's class?" Colt asked, and taking the adjacent seat, poured milk into her glass. It had the consistency and hue of fresh whipping cream.
Ty nodded and Colt shivered.
"Holy sh ..." He paused, cast a wary eye in Casie's direction, and let the expletive die on his tongue. "Listen, I'll take night duty. What's a couple hundred sheep compared to Terrible Trembly? You just make sure you don't piss her off. She's been gunning for me for more than a decade."
"What'd you do?" Emily asked and set a bubbling casserole beside the crock of preserves.
"Nothing," Colt said, and slathering butter onto a biscuit, slipped it almost surreptitiously onto Casie's plate.
His fiancée's expression was an exasperated meld of gratitude and amusement. "Except glue her chair to the floor."
"Well, there was that. Help yourself, Syd," Colt said and indicated the Bacon Bake.
She took a modest serving and turned the handle of the spatula toward Sophie, who wasn't, she noticed, quite so cautious about portions.
"And hide her syllabus," Casie added.
Colt grinned and dished the entrée onto both of their plates.
Casie sighed. "And turn chickens loose in her classroom."
"That was probably my best ..." he began, but one glance at Casie made him clear his throat and taste his breakfast. After the first bite, he cast a dreamy glance at the cook and thumped a fist against his chest as if the emotions there were too much to express in words.
Emily rolled her eyes as she lifted the baby from Casie's arms, but didn't quite manage to hide her grateful smile behind the child's buoyant curls.
Quiet settled in for a moment, broken only by the sound of clinking flatware and contented sighs. Sydney sampled a biscuit. It was unreasonably tasty, possibly because it consisted of approximately five hundred fat grams per serving.
Colt was the first to break the silence. "How's that palomino doing, Soph?"
The girl's milk mustache looked ad-campaign perfect beneath her polished features. "At riding or driving?"
"I don't know." He turned toward Sydney and raised his brows at her sparsely filled plate, but didn't broach the subject. "Which do you prefer, Syd? Saddles or carriages?"
"What?" She felt the muscles tighten like winched ropes across her shoulders and back.
"Horses," he said. "You do ride, don't you?"
"No!" The word darted from her lips. She forced a smile, and abandoning the half-finished biscuit, pushed her hands beneath the table. She had been warned against stressing her still-knitting femur and fragile spine. But no one had said she wouldn't want to ride. That her hands would shake and her heart pound at the very thought of doing what had once made her life worth living. "I just came to relax." She tapped her thigh with a restless index finger. "I enjoy hiking." Walking was, in fact, highly recommended to hasten her rehabilitation. "I don't ride."
"Well ..." Colt polished off a rhubarb-spread biscuit and reached for another. "We can fix that." He cut his gaze toward Sophie. "You've got some time for a lesson, don't you?"
Sydney entwined her fingers and felt sweat prickle her hairline. "That won't be necessary." The words sounded prissy and arctic cold against the farmhouse's cozy bonhomie. The room went quiet. It was Ty's muted voice that interrupted the silence.
"Soph's a real good teacher." The boy's tone was strangely soothing, as if he not only sensed her reluctance but understood her fear. "And you could ride Angel if you want. She maybe ain't as pretty as the palomino, but pretty don't pay no bills."
Casie's gaze landed softly on the boy. Colt pointed at him with a fork.
"Now there's an offer," he said. "Ty loves that mare more than ..." He skipped his attention to the teenage girl across the table from him. Their gazes met before she snapped hers away with a disapproving scowl. "More than most," he finished and grinned.
Sophie's cheeks flushed prettily and Colt laughed again as if all was well. As if the world was good and right and unfettered joy waited just around the bend.
But Sydney knew better. Unfettered joy was not for poor little rich girls like her. Good-hearted men with knockout grins did not cuddle her like precious treasure against their work-hardened chests. Wounded youngsters didn't bask in her healing presence.
Disaster struck at mind-numbing intervals, leaving her with a disappointed father and throbbing limbs. She pressed a palm against her thigh and tried to breathe through the memories.
It was Emily's rendition of "North to Alaska" that brought Sydney back to the present. Sung to a rap beat, it was punctuated with a spoon against the countertop and performed without so much as a nod to any recognizable tune. Sophie groaned, Ty cracked a captivating grin, and Colt catapulted into a ludicrous story about the correlation between barometric pressure and bucking bulls.
And despite everything, their homey goodwill seeped slowly into Sydney's bones like errant sunshine. As they talked and laughed and badgered, hope unfurled cautiously inside her battered soul.
So what if Leonard Wellesley wasn't going to be nominated for Father of the Year? So what if Grandmother bore a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler, and David Albrook, her erstwhile fiancé, preferred the company of girls barely out of diapers?
The others gathered around the Lazy's battered table probably didn't come from perfect circumstances, either. Yet they had somehow forged this astounding warmth, this unheard-of contentment.
So maybe ... Sydney's heart sped along in her chest. Her muscles trembled with anticipation. Maybe she could find the same thing. Maybe all she needed was a few hundred acres of South Dakota, a couple inspiring vistas, and a front porch.
The blossom of hope opened wider.
It was said that money couldn't buy happiness, but so far as she knew, the theory had never been conclusively proven.CHAPTER 2
Hello again." Philip Jaeger shared his daughter's glossy good looks. Like Sophie, he was tall and well built. More importantly, he was a Realtor who knew the area. A Realtor, Sydney hoped, who would find her a home in the deep hills of South Dakota.
Nerves jangled down her arms to her fingertips.
"Good morning," Sydney said and concentrated on moving smoothly from the Lazy's graveled drive onto the step of his three-quarter-ton pickup truck. Her thigh complained, but she ignored the niggle of pain. Sunlight warmed her face and turned the world a hopeful shade of impending spring. "Where are we headed today?"
"I thought we'd look at that property near Pringle first, then head over to Minnekahta."
"The place you e-mailed me about. The one with the brick silo?"
"It's got a house, too," he said and gave her a winning smile.
She tilted her regal head in a gesture that suggested she would reserve judgment on whether or not this particular structure deserved the title. They had seen more than a few that didn't warrant such an optimistic nomenclature, but she felt hopeful about the silo.
"Maybe it's not quite as posh as what you're accustomed to," he said.
"Maybe it's not quite as posh as the silo," she countered.
He chuckled. "I almost bought a farm in California a few years back," he offered.
"Almost?" Sydney asked and thought that could be the title of her theme song. Almost won the World Cup. Almost qualified for the Olympics. Almost got married. But things were going to be different now. She could feel it in her still-mending bones.
"When my ex and I were planning to get back together," he said.
She watched the country roll past. Long valleys sweeping up to red-rocked cliffs. Pines spearing toward the sapphire sky like ancient arrowheads. And peace. Everywhere she looked, there was that quiet peacefulness that spoke to some unknown place deep inside her.
"Monica." He pronounced the name with a long e sound and a fair amount of pain, she thought. Or maybe it was anger. Sometimes the two were almost indistinguishable. "Sophie's mother."
Excerpted from Hearth Stone by Lois Greiman. Copyright © 2015 Lois Greiman. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another great read from this author! Sydney Wellesley is determined to escape high society Virginia, an oppressive father, and impending marriage to an all-out cad. Finding temporary respite at the Lazy Windmill Ranch in South Dakota, she’s single-minded in her effort to build a new life. Down the road a piece, Sydney finds the potential answer to her dreams: a dilapidated property she will transform into an elite equine center. But the purchase won’t be easy. Sydney is cut off from cash, even credit cards. Defiant and determined, she makes an impetuous request to secure a loan—but when the reality of renovation sets in, her will and stamina waver. Hearth Stone is the first book in Greiman’s new Home in the Hills series, which follows her Hope Springs books. As always, she populates her writing with characters who grip one’s emotions and hold tight. Sydney strikes up an intriguing, yet unsettling working relationship with Hunter Redhawk, at once resolute, tenacious, and enigmatic. Tonk, a man Hunter considers a brother, carries the effects of a possibly traumatic childhood. And Vura Lambert, a young mother skilled at concealing pain while throwing herself into work, lives for her four-year-old daughter – who just might be wiser than them all. The sweeping hills and bluffs hold unexpected challenges. Through compassion and stubbornness, Sydney convinces Hunter and friends from the Lazy Windmill to help rescue and nurse an injured mustang that most “sensible” people would put down. Meanwhile, a long-kept secret shakes Sydney’s life to the core. This is a fascinating tale of courage, steadfastness, and redemption.
Its courage and love in a book.
This was an endearing book to read. I have already read some of Lois's books and liked them a lot. This was a bit different but it was still a good read. I wasn't sure where this would go when I started reading. Lois has introduced some powerful people into this story. Sydney finally used her backbone to refuse to marry her fiancee who she saw cheating on her. She goes to South Dakota to a resort to recover and decides to buy a ranch sight unseen. She is surprised when she has It and sees what a shambles it is. She meets Hunt Redhawk and he decides to help her. As soon as Daddy hears this he shuts her money off. Some spoilers here. She keeps on trying to fix the ranch when Vura stops by to take a job working there. Lots of spoilers attached here. Finally Daddy comes by and tells her how he wants it. Big fireworks going off here. This story flowed through nicely. I hope you want to hear about the Mustangs and Lily. You need to grab this book to reach the end. I hope you enjoy this book. I have this book for an honest review for NetGalley.
Really liked and enjoyed this book along with author's writing style. Author has ability to draw reader in...Very real, like you are there within the characters' lives. Would recommend and will read more of her books.
Good book! I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and can't wait to read the next in the series.
This was a well written book. The characters were real. The plot moved well. My only complaint was there was not clear resolution of the sisters nor with either father. That bothered me.
Trotted in and looked around.