Early in my career, I wrote several novels inspired by Oregon’s stunning scenery. I’m thrilled that three of these books are now available again in one volume, with a new title, Ruthless. Best of all, here you’ll meet three of my favorite heroes: Attorney Jake McGowan, world-class skier Gavin Doel, and developer Brandon Scarlotti. Each is as rugged and memorable as the landscape—and as intriguing as the women they can’t forget.
Jake couldn’t feel much sympathy for the woman who’d married his wealthy, despicable, sworn enemy. But now that she was embroiled in a child custody battle, he would help her—and relish getting sweet revenge against her ex. . . . Superstardom hasn’t helped Gavin get over his first love, or the way she inexplicably left him. When he returns to Taylor’s Crossing and finds himself facing her, his bitterness is impossible to hide. But he’s determined to unearth the buried truth of their past. . . . No family, no strings. Except for his professional success, little has changed for Brandon since he left Rimrock—including his feelings for Dani Stewart. Now that he’s back, maybe he’ll discover what went so wrong between them. But what he doesn’t know will change both their lives forever . . .
If you enjoyed my previous collection, Revenge, then I’m sure you’re going to love Ruthless!
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"You can't do this to me!" Kimberly Bennett's fingers curled around the smooth oak arms of her chair. She stared, dumbfounded, at her attorney.
"And here I thought you'd be the first to offer congratulations!" Diane Welby, petite and blond, leaned her chin on her clasped hands. Her elbows were planted firmly on the top of her wide desk, and her eyes fairly sparkled. "I'm getting married, for God's sake!"
"I know, I know, but why now?" Kimberly asked, seeing all her plans go down the proverbial drain.
"Because Scott asked me." Diane had been widowed for seven years.
Kimberly's brows drew together in vexation. "Fine. Congratulations. I'm glad you're getting married, Diane, really, but do you have to move out of the state?"
"Scott's job is in L.A."
"But your practice is here and I need you!"
Diane sighed. "You don't need me — you need a good lawyer."
"You are a good lawyer. The best," Kimberly said, a slow panic spreading through her when she thought of her ex-husband and his most recent demands. She shivered. There was a side to Robert she hated to think about — a deadly side. "Robert's not kidding. He's threatened to take Lindsay away."
Diane grew sober. She tapped her pen on her desk. "Look, Kim, he doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. The court already decided to grant you custody."
"But that was before he cared," Kimberly pointed out, feeling her hands begin to sweat. As soon as the divorce had become final, Robert had married his mistress, a gorgeous woman who was blind to Robert's flaws — just as Kimberly had been, years before.
"And now he cares?" Obviously Diane didn't believe it.
Kimberly's throat felt tight. "I guess Stella can't give him a son, either."
"And now he'll settle for a daughter?" Diane asked dryly.
Hot injustice swept through Kimberly's veins. "So it seems."
Diane's mouth clamped together thoughtfully. "You know, I wouldn't just abandon you. I know Robert and how ... determined he can be. The man who bought my practice is a lawyer — the best — and he's agreed to either take my pending cases or refer them to someone else."
"I don't want some man I've never met." Kimberly insisted, trying to hang on to her rapidly escaping calm. "I want you." Unnerved, she stood, folded her arms across her chest and walked past Diane's desk to the window. She watched a few dying maple leaves fall to the wet asphalt of the parking lot. In the past few years Robert had changed, and his reputation had become black as ink. No court would give him custody — or would it? She couldn't trust fate. "Maybe it's crazy, but I'd rather have a woman represent me."
"Let me guess. You think a woman can better understand your maternal feelings?"
"Yeah." She glanced over the shoulder of her black suit. "A man might sympathize with Robert."
Diane scowled. "I doubt it. And as for Jake —"
"Jake McGowan, the lawyer who bought me out."
"He can help you. And he'll do a damn good job." Diane's voice was filled with admiration.
"He works on custody cases?" Kimberly asked without much interest.
"He used to."
"Used to?" Kimberly whirled, her blue-green gaze pinned on Diane's face. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Diane lifted a shoulder and slid her gaze away from Kimberly's. "He concentrates on corporate law now. You know — taxes, mergers, that sort of thing."
"Yeah, I know," Kimberly said, thinking of the bevy of lawyers who were retained by the bank for which she worked. And then there were the attorneys who had worked for Robert. It seemed as if half the lawyers in Portland had been on her ex-husband's payroll at one time or another. She worried her lip. The name McGowan was familiar — but not as one of Robert's gophers. No ... but there was something ...
"At one time Jake McGowan was the best domestic relations attorney in Portland."
"'Was' seems to be the operative word," Kimberly challenged.
Diane twisted in her chair so that she could stare up at Kimberly and hold her with her frank blue gaze. Her forehead creased thoughtfully. "I wouldn't refer you to him unless I had absolute faith. He's the best. The man you need. There was a time when he hadn't lost a case."
"And what happened?"
Diane hesitated. "He had a few personal problems."
"But they're in the past. Listen, Kim, would I refer you to him if he weren't the best? He'll go up against anyone Robert hires and come out on top."
"As sure as I am about anything."
Kimberly felt Diane was holding something back — something important. "What is it you're not telling me?"
"Nothing. As I said, at one time he was the best in the business. He still could be."
"If ..." Kimberly prodded.
Diane's mouth tightened. "If he were properly motivated."
"'If he were motivated.'" Kimberly repeated with more than a trace of cynicism. "This isn't some case in one of your textbooks, you know. This is my life, and Lindsay's."
"That's why you need Jake."
Kimberly wasn't convinced but forced a thin smile and raked her fingers through her long hair. A headache was building behind her eyes. "You know, I think it's wonderful that you're getting married again. Really."
"You have a funny way of showing it."
"Maybe I'm just envious."
"You? The woman who's sworn off men for life?"
Kimberly managed a thin smile. "Yeah, but Scott's a great guy, and I'm sure you'll be happy breathing all that smog in L.A. —"
"I'm just disappointed, that's all. I was counting on you."
"So, count on McGowan. Believe me, he can help you. Better than I can. I'll leave a note with Sarah — she's staying on — and she'll set up an appointment for you in the next couple of weeks." Diane touched Kimberly on the shoulder, "Trust me."
"I guess I have to," she said, feeling as if she had no other choice.
"You'll like him, I guarantee it."
"And if I don't?"
"You'll be the first woman who didn't."
"Oh great. A lady-killer." Kimberly wasn't impressed. Robert had cured her of that.
Diane shook her head. "It's not intentional," she said.
"Good. Not that it matters. He wouldn't get to me."
Kimberly skewered the lawyer with a suspicious look. "I'm not in the market for a man — any man. If Robert taught me one thing, it's that I can only depend on myself." She offered Diane a small smile. "I'm just interested in McGowan if he can help me keep my daughter."
"He can." Diane was firm.
Kimberly's answer was a skeptical smile. She glanced out the window, noticing that the ominous sky had opened up and rain was pounding the horizon in furious, windblown waves. Raindrops drizzled in jagged rivulets across the windows. The gutters of the old cottage-turned-office gurgled. Ever-widening puddles appeared on the uneven asphalt of the parking lot. Kimberly's thoughts were as dark as the slate colored sky. Could anyone really help her if Robert decided to follow through on his demands? Or worse yet, would Robert ignore the law, as she suspected he had in the past, and just steal Lindsay away? Kimberly's fist clenched. Over my dead body.
If it was the last thing she ever did, she'd keep Lindsay safe with her. And if it took Jake McGowan or an act of God to do so, then so be it.
Robert, whether he knew it or not, was in for the fight of his miserable life!
She left Diane's office and headed home, stopping for groceries before driving through the dark, rain-slickened streets to her neighborhood, an older section in the southeast section of Portland known as Sellwood.
Her house, built in the early twenties, was a story and a half, painted white, trimmed in beet red and mortgage free. Though a little cramped inside, the rooms were cozy and big enough to accommodate a single mother and an energetic five- year-old. The fenced yard was surrounded by a laurel hedge and was equipped with a sandbox, picnic table and swing set. True, the house wasn't nearly as grand as the massive brick colonial she'd shared with Robert during their marriage, but the little cottage would do. And do nicely. If only Robert would leave things as they were.
As if expecting Robert or one of his shady underlings to be watching, she glanced nervously over her shoulder, then shook off her case of nerves. She couldn't afford paranoia — not now.
She locked the car, then, balancing two grocery sacks, ducked under a dripping clematis and hurried up the cracked concrete walk to the back door.
"I'm home," she called as she stepped into the kitchen and shook the rain from her hair. She heard a high-pitched squeal and the scamper of excited feet as Lindsay clambered through the hardwood halls to the kitchen.
"Mommy!" Two blond pigtails, their ribbons long gone, streamed behind an impish face and sparkling blue eyes. Lindsay flung herself at her mother.
"How're ya, pumpkin?" Kimberly asked, scooping her daughter into her arms and kissing Lindsay's flushed cheek.
"Oh, don't tell me, Arlene doesn't feed you?" Kimberly guessed, laughing as she pointed to the stains from lunch on the front of Lindsay's sweatshirt.
Lindsay's lower lip protruded. "She doesn't feed me enough!"
With a chuckle Arlene Henderson, a neighbor who took care of Lindsay while Kimberly worked, entered the room. An energetic, whip-thin woman of fifty-five, Arlene seemed taller than her five feet two inches. With frizzy, steel-gray hair and twinkling brown eyes, she winked broadly at Lindsay. "She's just mad 'cause I won't let her have a cookie until after supper. We made pumpkin cookies today, didn't we?" she asked a still-pouting Lindsay. "Even though Halloween's long over and Christmas is just around the corner."
Kimberly chuckled, but Lindsay's brow pulled into deep furrows. "I'm starving," she complained, rubbing her stomach theatrically.
"You'll survive," Kimberly predicted. "We're going to have hamburgers in less than a half an hour."
Lindsay frowned again, then squirmed out of her mother's arms. "I like McDonald's better," she pronounced, sneaking a sly look up at Kimberly.
"I know you do."
"And they've got fries and McNuggets and — and fruit pies!"
"We'll go on Saturday," Kimberly promised.
"Then not at all."
"Saturday!" Lindsay cried.
Mollified, Lindsay cast a suspicious look over her shoulder and wandered back into the living room. Once there, she began assembling Legos in front of the television.
"Robert stopped by today," Arlene said when the child was out of earshot.
Kimberly felt a cold knot settle in the pit of her stomach.
"What did he want?"
"To talk to Lindsay, which he did." Arlene scowled as she slipped her arms through the sleeves of her oversized jacket. "Of course I didn't leave the room. I don't trust him."
Kimberly fought down the panic that crawled up her spine. "What did he want?"
"Well, actually he asked about you."
"He knows I work —"
"I know, but he stopped by the bank and you weren't there, so he assumed ..." Arlene shrugged.
"I was with Diane."
"I didn't mention you had a lawyer."
"Good — because I don't," Kimberly said, kicking off her heels.
"No lawyer? And why in heaven's name not?"
"It's a long story — I'll fill you in later. Just tell me about Robert."
"Well, the pixie was glad to see him."
"She should be — he's her father," Kimberly said woodenly.
Arlene rolled her eyes. "If you can call him that. Anyway, he didn't stay long, just said hello, hugged her and asked about you."
"Was anyone with him?"
"Two men. But they waited in the car."
His bodyguard and chauffer. In recent years, Robert was never without either man.
"Lindsay wasn't upset?"
"No," Arlene admitted grudgingly. "And I guess he does have the right to see his daughter, but ..." She shrugged her slim shoulders.
"Of course he does," Kimberly said, ignoring the ridiculous panic that chilled her to the very bone. She'd been married to Robert for less than two years, and he'd been a stranger. She hadn't known him at all. The marriage had been a mistake from day one. They both knew it. And now, suddenly he wanted Lindsay. Ignoring the tightness in her chest, she reached for one of the cookies still cooling on racks near the window.
"Well he isn't much of a father, and don't you stand up for him!" Arlene didn't even try to hide her dislike. "You and I both know he walks on the dark side of the law."
"It's never been proven," Kimberly said, defending him instinctively, as she had for years. She couldn't believe some of the stories she'd heard about him — wouldn't. And yet ...
"No, but then he didn't do right by you. Carrying on with that Stella woman while you two were married."
"That Stella woman's his wife now."
"And now she wants your daughter."
"She won't get her," Kimberly said, though she felt the familiar fear knot in her stomach.
"Diane tell you that?"
Kimberly frowned. "No," she admitted, explaining about her visit with her attorney.
"So Diane's remarrying — that's good," Arlene said, scratching her head. "But what do you know about this McGowan character?"
"Not much, except that Diane's sure he's the man for the job."
In the living room Lindsay giggled loudly, and Kimberly's heart turned over. She glanced down the hall and spied her daughter. Lindsay, tired of her building blocks, was trying to do headstands on the couch. She tossed her legs into the air, tried to balance against the wall and ended up flopping back on the couch only to start the process all over again.
"Things'll work out," Arlene predicted with a steadfast smile. "The Lord will look after you."
"I hope so," Kimberly said.
"I know so!" Arlene snatched her umbrella from the floor. "Don't you worry, and if you take Lindsay outside, you bundle her up good. There's already a foot of snow in the mountains. Winter's coming early this year."
"I'll remember that," Kimberly replied.
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow." Waving, she hurried down the hall and called a quick goodbye to Lindsay.
As Arlene shut the door behind her, Kimberly snapped the blinds shut and thought ahead to meeting with Jake McGowan. Why did she feel there was something she should know about him? What was it?
"Come on, Mommy! Let's cut paper dolls!" Lindsay gave up her balancing act, turned off the television and, dragging one tattered, fuzzy pink bunny, dashed over to her mother. "Please, now!"
"I thought you couldn't wait to eat."
"We can do both!"
Kimberly laughed, forgetting about Jake McGowan for the moment. "I don't think so," she said. "I might get confused and cut my hamburger with the scissors and pour ketchup all over the dollies."
Lindsay giggled. "That's silly!"
"So are you pumpkin," Kimberly said, poking a finger in Lindsay's belly.
* * *
"No way!" Jake growled, disgusted. His shirtsleeves rolled over his forearms, his tie strung loosely over the back of his chair, he sat amid boxes, pictures and framed awards that had been stacked against Diane Welby's desk. With a flourish he signed the contract for the house and grounds Diane had owned. A second document took care of the legal practice. "You know how I feel about custody cases."
"She needs your help," Diane insisted.
"She doesn't need me. There are several dozen lawyers in the yellow pages."
"Humor me, Jake — meet with her." Diane skimmed her copies of the agreement, deed and contract before stuffing all the papers into a file and jamming them into her briefcase. Satisfied, she snapped the black leather case closed. "The movers will take care of all this —" she motioned to the office debris she was shipping to Los Angeles "— on Thursday."
"Now, about Kimberly — give it a shot, okay?"
Jake's lips compressed, and he grew thoughtful. "Oh, I get it," he drawled. "This is a 'special client,' right? Maybe a friend or a friend of a friend, and she's upset you're abandoning her."
"Something like that."
Shaking his head, Jake said, "Find someone else."
"Just meet with her. If it doesn't work out, refer her to Dennis Briggs or Tyler Patton."
"They're both good."
"Not as good as you are —"
"As I was."
"You could be again if you'd stop wallowing in self-pity."
"Is that what I'm doing?" Jake asked, feeling his lips curve downward. He really didn't give a damn.
"Yes. And it's such a waste. You could've been — could still be — the best!"
"Maybe I don't want to be," he said, scowling darkly.
"Suit yourself. But this time someone needs you."
Excerpted from "Ruthless"
Copyright © 2018 Kensington Publishing Corporation.
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.