The Texas rancher and navy SEAL who fathered Bristol Lockett’s son died a hero’s death…or so she was told. Yet when Laramie “Coop” Cooper strolls into her exhibit at an art gallery three years later, he’s very much alive—and still making her pulse zing. The all-consuming chemistry between them is as undeniable now as it was then, but Bristol won’t risk her heart—or their son’s. Little does Bristol know he’s determined to win over his unexpected family at any cost!
The Westmoreland Legacy:
Friends and relatives of the legendary Westmoreland family find love!
Discover the full miniseries!
Book 1: The Rancher Returns
Book 2: His Secret Son
Book 3: An Honorable Seduction
“Brenda Jackson writes romance that sizzles and characters you fall in love with.”
—New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, San Diego, California, three years later
"Let me get this straight, Lieutenant Cooper. You actually want to give up your holiday leave and remain here and work on base?"
Laramie "Coop" Cooper forced his smile to stay in place while answering his commanding officer's question. "Yes, sir. I actually want to do that."
He wouldn't tell anyone that he'd looked forward to going home for the holidays, because honestly, he hadn't. The phone call he'd gotten from his parents that they would be jet-setting to London again this year was expected. They'd done so every holiday for as long as he could remember. He doubted they'd even canceled those plans that Christmas three years ago when they'd thought him dead.
At thirty-two, he had stopped letting his parents' actions affect him. As far as Ryan and Cassandra Cooper were concerned, the universe revolved around them and nobody else. Especially not a son who, at times, they seemed to forget existed. It wasn't that he thought his parents didn't love him; he knew they did. They just loved each other more. He had long ago accepted that his parents believed there were different degrees of love, and that the love they shared for each other outweighed the love for their child.
In a way, he should be glad that after thirty-five years of marriage his parents were still that into each other. They shared something special, had this unbreakable bond, and some would even say it was the love of a lifetime. But on the other hand, that love never extended to him in the same degree. He knew their lack of affection had nothing to do with his deciding to become a navy SEAL instead of joining his parents' multimillion-dollar manufacturing company. His father had understood Laramie's desire to make his decisions based on what he wanted to do with his life, and he appreciated his dad for accepting that.
More holidays than not, for as far back as Laramie could remember, he'd been packed up and shipped off to his paternal grandparents' ranch in Laredo. Not that he was complaining. His grandparents had been the best and hadn't hesitated to show him the degree of love he'd lacked at home. In fact, he would admit to resenting his parents when they did show up at his grandparents' ranch to get him.
So, here he was volunteering to give up his holiday leave. It wasn't as if he hadn't received invitations from his SEAL teammates to join them and their families for the holidays, because he had. Bane Westmoreland — code name Bane — had been the first to invite Laramie to spend the holidays with his family in Denver. But given the fact that Bane's wife, Crystal, had given birth to triplets six months ago, Laramie didn't want to get underfoot.
Same thing with Thurston McRoy — code name Mac — with his wife, Teri, and their four kids. Gavin Blake — code name Viper — would be celebrating his first Christmas as a married man so Laramie didn't want to intrude there, either. The only other single guy in the group was David Holloway — code name Flipper. Flipper came from a huge family of four brothers, who were all SEALs, and a father who'd retired as a SEAL commanding officer. Laramie had spent the holidays with Flipper's family last year and didn't want to wear out his welcome.
"I'm denying your request, Lieutenant."
His commanding officer's words recaptured Laramie's attention. He met the man's gaze and tried to keep a frown off his face. "May I ask why, sir?" "I think you know the reason. SEAL Team Six, of which you are a vital member, has been pretty damn busy this year. I don't have to list all the covert operations successfully accomplished with very few casualties. You deserve your holiday leave."
"Even if I don't want to take it?"
His commanding officer held his gaze. "Yes, even if you don't want to take it. Military leave is necessary, especially for a SEAL, to recoup both mentally and physically. Don't think I haven't noticed how much you've been pushing yourself. It's like you're trying to make up for the time you were a captive in Syria." Laramie remembered all eleven months of being held prisoner in that guerilla hellhole. He hadn't known from one day to the next if he'd survive that day. The bastards had done everything in their power to make him think every day would be his last. They'd even played Russian roulette with him a couple of times.
It was on one of those particular days when he'd been rescued. Leave it to Bane, who was a master sniper, to bring down the four men from a distance of over a hundred feet. Laramie was convinced there was no way he would have survived if his SEAL team hadn't shown up.
During those eleven months he'd fought hard to stay sane and the one memory that had sustained him was the face of the woman he'd met in Paris just weeks before the mission.
It had been a three-day holiday affair. Sadly, there was little he knew about her other than sharing her bed had been the best sexual experience of his life.
"However, since I know you're going to insist," his commanding officer said, reclaiming Laramie's thoughts again, "I've got an important job that I want you to do. However, it means traveling to New York."
Laramie raised a brow. "New York?"
"Yes. An important delivery needs to be made to a member of the United Nations Security Council."
Laramie wondered what kind of delivery. Classified documents no doubt.
He'd heard how beautiful Manhattan was when it was decorated for this time of year. He'd been to the Big Apple a number of times, but never around the holidays. "Once I make the delivery, sir. Then what?"
"That, Lieutenant, is up to you. If you decide to take your holiday leave, then you won't have to report back here until the end of January as scheduled. However, if you still want to give up your leave, then you're free to come back here and I'll find more work for you to do."
Laramie nodded. He might take a week off to enjoy the sights and sounds of New York, but there was no doubt in his mind that he would be returning to San Diego for more work.
Bristol glanced around the art gallery. She always felt a sense of pride and accomplishment whenever she saw one of her paintings on display. Especially here at the Jazlyn Art Gallery of New York. She wanted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming.
She had worked so hard for this moment.
"Looks good, doesn't it?"
She glanced up at her manager, Margie Townsend. "Yes, I have to admit that it does."
Margie's tenacious pit bull-like skills had landed Bristol a showing at this gallery, one of the most well-known and highly respected galleries in New York. She and Margie had met last year on the subway and struck up a conversation. When Bristol discovered what Margie did for a living, she felt their chance encounter must have been an omen. She'd invited Margie to her home to see her work, and the excitement reflected in the woman's eyes had been incredible. Margie promised to change Bristol's life. She promised that Bristol would get to the point where she could quit her job as an assistant magazine editor and make her living as the artist she was born to be.
Less than eight months later, Margie had sold one of Bristol's paintings. The buyer had been so taken with her work that he'd also purchased several others. The money had been enough to bring about the change in Bristol's life Margie had guaranteed. She had turned in her resignation and now painted full-time in her home.
Bristol was happy with the direction of her career. She got to spend more time with her son since she kept him with her every day instead of taking him to day care like she used to do.
She smiled when she thought about her rambunctious two-year old — the most important person in her life. He was her life. Every decision she made was done with him in mind. She'd already started a college fund for him and couldn't wait to share the holidays with him. Last night they had put up their Christmas tree. Correction, she thought, widening her smile. She had put up the tree. Laramie had gotten in the way with his anxiousness to help.
It was hard not to think of Laramie's father whenever she thought of her son. She had named him after his biological father, Laramie Cooper, who had died way too young, and without knowing about the child they'd created together. Sometimes she wondered what he would have done had he lived and gotten the letter she'd tried to send him.
Would he have been just as happy as she'd been? Or would he have claimed the child wasn't his? She might not have known Laramie Cooper long, but she wanted to believe he was a man who would have wanted to be a part of his child's life. The way her father had wanted to be a part of hers. The two years she'd shared with the man who'd fathered her had not been enough.
"Are you ready to go? You have a big day tomorrow and I want you well rested."
She chuckled as she tightened her coat around her. "And I will be."
Margie rolled her eyes. "I guess as much as you can be with a two-year-old running around the place."
She knew what Margie was hinting at. Bristol was spending less and less time painting now that Laramie was in the terrible twos. It was also the get-into-everything twos. The only time she really got to paint was during his nap time or while he slept at night.
"Did you give any more thought to what I said?"
Margie had suggested that she send Laramie to day care two to three days a week. "Yes, but I'm thinking of hiring someone to come to my home instead of me having to take him somewhere."
"That might work, but he has to start learning to interact with other kids, Bristol." As they walked toward the waiting private car that was compliments of the gallery, Margie changed the subject. "Have you decided to go out with Steven?"
Bristol shrugged. Steven Culpepper was nice enough, and good-looking, too. However, he was moving too fast. At least, faster than she liked. They'd met a few weeks ago when she'd closed a huge deal for a commissioned piece. He was the corporation's attorney. He'd asked for her number and, without thinking much about it, she'd given it to him. Since then he'd called constantly, trying to get her to go out with him. So far, she hadn't. She hated pushy men and Steven, she thought, was one of the pushiest.
"I like him."
Bristol grinned. "You would. You have a thing for wealthy businessmen." She knew Margie had been married to one. Or two. She was on her third marriage and not even fifty yet. But the one thing all three men had in common was the size of their bank accounts.
"Well, I know you still have a thing for Laramie's father and —"
"What makes you think that?"
"Bristol, you make it quite obvious that you haven't gotten over him."
Did she? The only thing she'd told Margie about Laramie's father was that he'd been in the military and had died in the line of duty without knowing he'd fathered a son. She'd even fabricated a tale that Laramie had been her deceased husband and not just her lover.
It had been pretty easy. Dionne's fiancé, Mark, had helped. Mark worked for a judge in Paris and had falsified the papers before Bristol left France. It was a way to make sure her son had his father's last name without people wondering why her last name was different. It wasn't as if she was trying to cash in on her son's father's military benefits or anything.
"If you ask me, I think you should finally move on ... with Steven," Margie said, interrupting Bristol's thoughts.
Bristol wanted to say that nobody had asked Margie. But deep down, a part of her knew Margie was right. It was time for Bristol to move on. However, she doubted very seriously that it would be with Steven.
A short while later she was entering her home, a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn that she'd inherited from her aunt Dolly. She loved the place and knew the neighborhood well. She'd come to live here with her aunt ten years ago, when she was fifteen. That had been the year her mother died.
She didn't want to think sad thoughts, especially after her positive meeting with Maurice Jazlyn, the owner of the gallery. The man was excited about tomorrow night's showing and expected a huge crowd. He loved all the artworks she would be exhibiting.
"How did things go tonight?"
She turned toward the older woman coming down the stairs to the main floor. Charlotte Kramer lived next door and had been a close friend of her aunt Dolly. With her four kids grown and living in other parts of New York, Ms. Charlotte had thought about moving to a condo not far away, but had decided she'd rather stay put since she'd lived in the area close to forty years and loved her neighbors. Ms. Charlotte said there were a lot of memories of Mr. Kramer stored in that house. He'd passed away eight years ago, a couple of years after Bristol had come to live with her aunt.
Bristol appreciated that Ms. Charlotte loved watching Laramie for her whenever she had meetings to attend. And Ms. Charlotte had offered to watch him again tomorrow night when Bristol attended the exhibition.
"Everything went well. Everyone is excited about tomorrow. Mr. Jazlyn thinks he'll be able to sell all my paintings."
A huge smile touched Ms. Charlotte's lips. "That's good news. Dolly would be proud. Candace would be, too."
She doubted the latter. Her mother had never approved of Bristol becoming an artist. It was only after she died that Bristol learned why. Her father had been an artist who'd broken things off with her mother to study in Paris. It was only after he'd left the country that her mother discovered her pregnancy. She'd known how to reach him but refused to let him know about his child. She had resented him for ending things with her to pursue his dream.
Bristol had been sixteen when she'd met her father for the first time. She would not have met him then if it hadn't been for her aunt's decision to break the promise she'd made to Bristol's mother years ago. Aunt Dolly wanted Bristol to know her father and vice versa. When Bristol was given the man's name, she had been shocked to find that the person whose art she'd admired for years was really her father.
She'd finally gotten the courage to contact him on her sixteenth birthday. Randall Lockett was married with a family when they'd finally met. He had two young sons — ages ten and twelve — with his wife Krista. Bristol was his only daughter and she favored him so much it was uncanny. She was also his only offspring who'd inherited his artistic gift.
When he'd died, he had bequeathed to her full tuition to the school he himself had attended in Paris as well as the vast majority of his paintings. He'd felt she would appreciate them more than anyone, and she had. She'd heard that Krista had remarried and sold off all the artworks that had been left to her and their sons.
Paintings by Randall Lockett were valued in the millions. Art collectors had contacted Bristol on numerous occasions, but she had refused to sell. Instead her father's paintings were on display at the two largest art museums in the world, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Orsay Museum in Paris.
A few months before her father had died, they had completed a painting together, which was her most cherished possession. It was so uncanny that when it came to art she and her father had possessed identical preferences. They even held their brushes the same way. On those days when she felt down and out, she would look at the portrait over her fireplace and remember the six weeks they'd spent together on his boat while painting it. That was when they'd noticed all the similarities they shared as artists. She hadn't known he was dying of cancer until his final days. He hadn't wanted her to know. He was determined to share every moment he could with her without seeing pity and regret in her eyes.
Forcing those sad thoughts from her mind, she glanced back over at Ms. Charlotte. "Did Laramie behave himself tonight?" she asked, placing her purse on the table.
The older woman chuckled. "Doesn't he always?"
Bristol smiled. "No, but I know you wouldn't tell me even if he was a handful."
"You're right, I wouldn't. Boys will be boys. I know. I raised four of them."
Yes, she had, and to this day Ms. Charlotte's sons looked out for her, making sure she had everything she needed and then some.
After Ms. Charlotte left, Bristol climbed the stairs to her son's room. He was in his bed, sound asleep. Crossing the bedroom floor, she saw he had put away all his toys. That was a good sign that he was learning to follow instructions.
Excerpted from "His Secret Son"
Copyright © 2017 Brenda Streater Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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