Successful businessman Griffin Haddon just wants a quiet place to start over again alone. Griff doesn't realize that in a small town like Serendipity, Texas, solitude's hard to come by. Especially at Redemption Ranch, where the stunning Alexis Grainger struggles to keep her ministry for troubled teens afloat. The last thing Alexis needs is a distraction like slick city-boy Griff with his designer jeans and boots. But her meddling, matchmaking twin has other plans. As Alexis and Griff work to save the ranch, can they also heal his broken heart?
Three small-town matchmakers
finding Texas-size love.
About the Author
Award-winning author Deb Kastner writes stories of faith, family and community in a small-town western setting. Deb’s books contain sigh-worthy heroes and strong heroines facing obstacles that draw them closer to each other and the Lord. She lives in Colorado with her husband. She is blessed with three grown daughters and two grandchildren. She enjoys spoiling her grandkids, movies, music, reading, musical theater and exploring Colorado on horseback.
Read an Excerpt
Alexis Granger awoke to the smell of bacon and the tinny sound of pots and pans being shifted around in one of the kitchen cupboards. It might have been a pleasant surpriseif it wasn't for the fact that she lived alone.
With a start, she bolted out of bed, shakily wrapping a plush magenta-colored cotton robe around herself. She reached for her cell phone, which she usually kept on the nightstand, but it wasn't there. Her pulse ratcheted up right along with her thoughts. Where was her stupid phone? In her purse? Her coat pocket? Not good either way, since she routinely dumped them both in an inglorious heap on one of her kitchen chairs.
Her heart slammed in her chest as she looked around for anything she could use as a weapon against the intruder. In a panic, she swiped the largest item from her vanity and tucked it into the pocket of her bathrobe.
Oh, why didn't she keep a baseball bat by her bed?
Maybe because she didn't play baseball. And maybe because she resided in small town Serendipity, Texas. Crime was virtually nonexistent here. Only businesses secured their doors at night. Regular townsfolk rarely bothered to lock their cars, much less their houses. There was simply no need.
At least until now there wasn't. She sucked in a breath and held it. She had locked her door last night, hadn't she?
Yes. Of course she had. Or at least, she thought she had, since her ranch was also technically a nonprofit ministry. Out of habit, if nothing else. Oh, Lord, please let there be a rational answer. But how else would someone have gotten in? Only her twin sister, Vivian, had a key.
Alexis let out the breath she'd been holding and her shoulders sagged in relief.
Of course. It had to be Vivian, even though Alexis hadn't expected to see her. Vivian was busy in Houston trying to get her new business off the ground and didn't have time to make the commute home more than a few times a year, but it was the only explanation that made sense.
For about one second.
Until she remembered that Vivian could not and did not cook.
At all. Ever. Period. Exclamation point.
Alexis dearly loved her sister, but she had no qualms admitting that the woman couldn't even boil water, much less cook bacon.
Then again, house thieves didn't pause to cook themselves a meal, either; at least none that Alexis had ever heard of.
Rational explanation, Alexis, she coached herself. Don'tpanic. Don't freak out.
Despite her efforts to be quiet, she couldn't contain the shaky laugh that tittered from under her breath, more nervous than amused, as she pictured a thief cooking breakfast in her kitchen. Barefoot and silent against the hardwood floor, she crept down the hallway toward the kitchen. The light was on, bacon was crackling on the stove and someone was humming.
A male someone.
Definitely not Vivian, then.
Alexis plastered herself to the wall, her breath coming in short gasps, her skin burning as if it was on fire. Even though she'd doubted the mystery intruder was Vivian, she'd still held out hope that there was nothing more sinister at work here than her sister fresh off a cooking class. But there was a man in her kitchen. And he appeared to be making himself at home.
What on earth?
Her pulse was pounding in her ears, nearly drowning out the sound of the mystery man. She was going to be in full-out panic mode if she hesitated much longer. Before she could think better of it, her fist circled around the makeshift weapon in her pocket and she sprang forward, brandishing the flat-iron wand in front of her like a sword.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" she demanded with a good deal more bravado than she actually felt. If her voice came out a little high and squeaky, who could blame her?
The tall man hovering over the oven had been humming a pleasant tune to himself, but when he heard her voice he jumped back in surprise. He dropped the tongs he was holding and they clattered into the pan, spraying grease over his exposed left hand. He howled in protest and shook his wrist, then nursed his knuckle between his lips.
"Who am I?" he growled as he swiveled around to face her. "The better question would be " The man's sentence drifted off into a strained silence and his dark brows lowered over gray-blue eyes. He shook his head, clearly bewildered.
"I asked you a question." Alexis lifted her weapon and took a defensive stance.
"Vivian? What are you doing here?" He hesitated a moment, his head tilting as he scrutinized her features. Uncertainty flashed in his eyes. "You're not Vivian."
Alexis sighed in relief and let her posture relax a bit. If the man knew her sister, then he probably wasn't a thief, although what he was doing making breakfast in her kitchen was still a mystery.
That said, she was impressed that he could tell her apart from Vivian. Most folks couldn't, at least not right away. It wasn't the first time she'd ever been mistaken for her twin sister and it probably wouldn't be the last. But she reminded herself not to give him too much credit. Since this man knew Vivian, he'd probably realized his mistake in calling Alexis by her sister's name as soon as he saw the complete lack of recognition on her face.
He was clearly out of his element, and not just because he was cooking up a meal in her kitchen as if he owned it. She guessed him to be in his mid-thirties and well-to-do. Thick dark hair threaded with the occasional touch of silver lent him a sophisticated air. Everything about the guy screamed city boy, from the spit-shine of his black cowboy boots to the designer scarf draped around his neck.
Designer clothing. On a guy. In Serendipity, Texas. He might as well have a Kick Me sign on his back. Men around here wore the scuffs in their boots like trophies.
"Alexis," she corrected. "Grainger. Vivian's twin sister."
"Alexis? A-Alex?" he stammered. "I I'm, uh "
"Confused, obviously." No one ever called her Alex, for one thing.
He nodded adamantly. "Yes, there is that. Were you" he gestured toward her hand, one corner of his lip rising "planning to stab me with your curling iron?"
Heat flooded her face as she hastily lowered her "weapon." She stuffed the flat-iron wand back into her bathrobe pocket, frantically looping the uncooperative tail around her palm. The cord stubbornly refused to follow and it took a humiliating length of time to complete the action. Her cheeks were positively burning by the time she finished.
"Yes. No," she stammered, shaking her head and scowling at the unwanted intruder. So he wasn't a random stranger but rather a friend of her sister's. That didn't mean he was welcome to barge into her home at a ridiculous hour of the morning. "Maybe. I thought you were a burglar."
Alexis didn't like the way the stranger flustered her with his sharp gaze. She liked it even less when he burst into laughter at her expense.
"Lady, if I was intent on swiping your possessions or causing you bodily harm, you would have been a lot smarter to sneak out the front door, get yourself to safety and call the cops on me. I'm guessing most criminal types wouldn't be deterred by your curling iron, no matter how bravely brandished."
His eyes flooded with amusement, but there was something else there, too.
The nerve of the man.
"Well, you're not here to steal my things or to hurt me, now, are you?" she demanded, annoyed that she continued to wrestle with the ridiculous inclination to defend her actions. Why should she? He was the one who was trespassing.
"No, ma'am, I'm not."
"It's a good thing for you I didn't call the police or you'd be in handcuffs right now. You should be thanking me, not giving me a hard time."
"Thank you," he said, sounding as if it were more of a concession to her than a heartfelt expression of gratitude. His lips quirked as he wiped his greasy palm against the black denim on his thigh. He extended his hand. "Griff Haddon, at your service."
"At my service? Really? I was under the impression you were helping yourself to breakfast." She ignored his outstretched hand and crossed her arms, not caring if the gesture looked defensive. Why should she care what he thought?
"I brought my own food." He gestured to a canvas bag tipped flat on the counter, spilling a carton of eggs and a loaf of bread.
He frowned. "Obviously there's been a misunderstanding here."
"Oh, I believe I understand just fine, or at least I can take a good stab at it. If I don't miss my guess, you're making yourself at home in my house because of something my ditzy sister said or did. What's lacking here is communication, a fact I'm going to rectify at my earliest convenience. I have a few words to exchange with my dear sister. I'm assuming she loaned you the key to our house?"
He scoffed and shook his head. "I'm glad you seem to think you've got a handle on what's happening, because I certainly don't. Yes, your sister gave me the key to the house, but in my defense, I was given to understand it would be empty. And for the record, I thought Vivian's sibling was a guy."
"I'm not, obviously."
"Obviously," he agreed wryly, his gaze altering as he swept a glance over her that made her skin prickle. She was relieved when he shifted his attention back to the stove and the bacon, which had burned down to shriveled, blackened crisps. Smoke was billowing from the pan. Griff snapped the knob on the burner off with a grunt.
"I'm surprised the fire alarm didn't go off," she said with a chuckle. Not that she'd noticed the food smoking any more than he had. She'd been too intent on Griff's presence to pay attention to anything else. Her house could have blazed down around them and she would have been oblivious.
"Sure, just rub it in," he muttered crossly as he wrapped a towel around the handle and removed the skillet from the burner. "There goes my breakfast, and after I drove half the night to get here in the first place," he added in disgust. "Oh, well. It is what it is. Where do you keep the trash can?"
Alexis leaned her hip against the table. Now it was her turn to be amused. "Under the sink. But there's no sense throwing perfectly good meat away, even if it's burned to a crisp." She couldn't help but rub it in a little bit. "I've got a few dogs out back that'll be happy to chow down on that bacon. If you hand me the skillet I'll take care of it."
"Dogs, huh?" he said, gingerly transferring the pan to her, towel and all. "Good thing I didn't run into them. They probably would have believed I was an intruder, as well."
"Good thing," she agreed, opening the back door and depositing the contents of the skillet into one of the dog dishes just to the right of the door. Good thing for him, anyway. In her mind, he was an intruder of sorts, even if he had no intention of making off with her flat-screen television. He was lucky she wasn't the type of woman to sic her dogs on him.
"Coffee cups?" Griff asked when she returned. "Once I've got some caffeine in me, I'll explain what I know and maybe you can fill in the rest. After that, I guess we'll decide what we're going to do about this situation."
She pointed to the cabinet above the microwave. What did he mean, decide what they were going to do? He was going to leave, thank you very much, and the sooner, the betterlike, as soon as he had coffee in his system.
"It's hazelnut coffee. Cream or sugar?"
"Black, thank you."
He retrieved two mugs and poured the steaming coffee, then offered her one and gestured her to a seat on the bench side of the small breakfast nook table she kept in one corner. The larger table, where she usually took meals with her kids from the ranch, was located in the dining room. Her house was usually brimming with troubled teenagers, but this was the weekend between Mission Months and all was uncharacteristically quiet.
He waited until Alexis was seated before sliding into the chair opposite her and capturing her gaze with his.
"So let me get this straight," Alexis began, diving straight to the point. "Vivian loaned you her key and led you to believe the house was vacant." She cupped her mug in both hands and breathed in the rich hazelnut scent. "And you're looking forwhat? A vacation? Some time away from the hustle and bustle of Houston?"
The left side of his lips twitched. "It's a little more complicated than that." He threaded his fingers through the tips of his dark salt-and-pepper hair, spiking the ends even more than they already were. "I'm looking to settle down, take a permanent vacation from the rat race, so to speak. Buy a ranch. Raise some horses."
He was a little too young to be thinking of retiring. In fact, he was a lot too young. Yet the sheer determination on his face gave Alexis no room for doubt that he meant what he said. If he was looking for peace and quiet, Serendipity was the perfect town for itbut really, what could this city boy possibly know about ranching? He would crash and burn in a week on a working ranch.
Wait. He wanted to buy a ranch?
Her heart sank. Oh, no. What had Vivian done?
"You're not thinking of buying Redemption Ranch, are you?" Alexis's voice squeaked out an octave higher than usual. With the financial troubles she'd been facing recently, losing her childhood home was at the forefront of her mind. Unless she could find a new source of capital, there was a very great possibility her worst case scenario was about to become a reality and she wouldn't be able to afford to keep the place running. But she wasn't ready to sell yetor ever, if she could avoid it. Ugly knots formed in her gut. Surely her sister hadn't suggested that their land might be for sale. Yes, the land belonged to both of them but Alexis was the one who was actually doing something with it. Vivian was self-absorbed, but not so much that she didn't understand what the ranch meant to Alexis. No ranch, no ministry.
Alexis had done everything in her power to see that Vivian could follow her dreams. She'd sacrificed everythingpossibly even her own hopes and plans. It looked that way right now, in any case.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this story.
I've been reading a lot of these Harlequin Love Inspired series books lately, and for the most part I enjoy them. They are easy reads based on love and faith, and the romance is beautifully and tactfully written. This book, however, was a big disappointment. The plot was so predictable that I was bored reading it and actually decided to stop reading it before I was finished. The good news is that I bought it in a pack with other stories so it didn't cost me much.
I loved Redeeming the Rancher, part of the Serendipity Sweethearts series, by Deb Kastner especially the unusual way the story started! Once I started reading it, I got caught up in Alexis' and Griff's lives and couldn't put it down. It's really 2 stories in one - Alexis' struggle to keep Redemption Ranch going through her trust in the God that He will continue to help her ministry to troubled teens afloat. She trusts so much that she can't see that she needs to ask for help from the people God has placed in her life. While she struggles, Griff has been hurt by someone he trusted and doesn't want to trust again not even in God. In addition, he is opposed to the teen ministry. Can Alexis and her troubled teens help Griff learn to trust again and to redevelop his relationship with God? Can Griff help Alexis?