Two stormy romance classics from the master of romantic suspense!
Eleven years ago on a dusty Wyoming creek bank, Trent McCullough's lips claimed hers for one mind-spinning moment. But Ainsley Hughes was promised to another man. Now a widow, Ainsley has come home to find her family ranch in shambles and a distant, oddly callous Trent in charge. Despite all her time away, his steely gaze still leaves her parched for his former affection.
Everyone knows Cord Donahue embezzled the family fortune and fled, only to drown in the icy waters of Puget Sound. Numb with grief at Cord's betrayal, Alison Banning sought comfort in his brother's arms. But three years later Alison is a widow—and the prodigal son has returned, alive and well. Alison longs to believe Cord's innocence, but how can she ignore the bitter deceits of the past when doing so places her daughter's future—and her own heart—in jeopardy?
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Lisa Jackson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than seventy books including romantic suspense, thrillers and contemporary and historical romances. She is a recipient of the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award and has also been honored with their Career Achievement Award for Romantic Suspense. Born in Oregon, she continues to make her home among family, friends and dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Visit her at www.lisajackson.com.
Read an Excerpt
Trent McCullough stared across the dry acres of Wyoming ranch land and slapped at a wasp that had been hovering near his face.
"Don't mind him, he's just thirsty. Smells the sweat on ya," Jefferson Smith, owner of the Circle S, said with a raspy laugh. The older man leaned over the top rail of the fence and frowned at the cracked earth and dust. "Everything's thirsty this year." Cattle still grazed on the stubble in the field, but the grass had already turned from green to harvest gold and summer had barely begun.
"Can't argue with that." Pushing up the brim of his Stetson, Trent studied the horizon. In the distance, past the rolling foothills of the ranch, stood the sheer Tetons, the mountains' stone-gray spires knifing upward through the clear blue sky. "Not much snow in the mountains," he observed, squinting against the bright afternoon sun.
"Yep. It's gonna be a dry year."
"So what did you want to talk to me about? Couldn't be the weather."
"Nope." The older man took off his hat and wiped away the sweat beading around his head. His silvered hair stuck up in odd angled spikes and he smoothed the wayward strands with the flat of his hand. "I've got a deal to offer you."
"What kind of deal?"
"The kind that needs a drink to seal it. Come on inside."
They walked through the dust and gravel to the back door of the house.
"You leave them boots outside!" a voice called from the kitchen as Sarah Martin stuck her head around the door and eyed the men's dusty feet.
With a growl, Jefferson kicked off his boots and walked through the kitchen. "Whose place is this, anyway?"
"And who keeps it clean?"
A smile twisting his lips, Trent followed Jefferson into his den. While the rest of the house was spotless, Jefferson's study was a pigsty. Sarah never set foot within the hallowed walls of Jefferson Smith's private sanctuary, and the thick layer of dust covering papers and magazines scattered all over the desk and tables proved it.
"Okay, what kind of a deal have you got in mind?" Trent repeated as Smith found a couple of clean glasses and filled them with bourbon.
"It's simple, really," Jefferson said, handing Trent a glass and settling into his favorite chair. He motioned for Trent to do the same. "It's no secret that things haven't been going very well here. I've got bankers breathing down my neck and threatening to foreclose on the ranch."
Trent leaned against the window sill and felt a twinge of guilt. "I'd heard."
"Okay. And part of the problem stems from investing in that damned oil company of yours."
"Not just mine. It belongs to my entire family."
"Well, yeah, Jonah did talk me into it. But you and Lila are his partners."
"Can't deny it," Trent said, sipping his drink. Jefferson had finally come around, nearly begging to invest in McCullough Oil several years before and then, just after the old man had put money into McCullough oil wells on his land, the market had gone bust.
"So, I figure maybe you can help me."
"Because you think McCullough Oil owes you."
"Not necessarily. I invested by my own choice. But it wouldn't do none of us any good if I lost the ranch. Oh, sure, you'd probably retain the lease to the mineral rights, but the land your wells are on would be owned by someone else. I don't think you, or your brother or your sister would be too thrilled about that."
"So what're you getting at?"
"I just thought maybe the tables had turned. It's time you invested in my operation."
"That's right. For fifty thousand dollars, you can be a quarter owner and that includes the land where your wells are sitting."
Trent rubbed his jaw and his eyes narrowed. "Will that get you out of the red?"
"Not by a long shot. But it'll give me six months."
"So then we still have a chance of losing it all."
"I always thought you were a gambling man, McCullough." His old blue eyes sparked. "Besides, I know you've been itchin' to get out from under your brother's thumb."
Trent's shoulders flexed. "So that's why you came to me instead of Jonah?"
"One reason," the older man said, rubbing his jaw.
"I'll have to think about it. See the figures." He finished his drink and set the empty glass on the corner of the old battered desk.
"Got 'em all here." Jefferson reached into a drawer, pulled out a stack of papers and handed them to Trent. "Take them with you. I've got copies."
"You're really counting on this, aren't you?"
The older man's shoulders slumped. "I've got no choice."
Trent scanned the documents and frowned. The Circle S was tied up so tight he couldn't find one loophole in the mortgages and second trust deeds. "So what's my collateral?" he asked, studying Smith.
"You get the plane." Jefferson's chin thrust forward.
"That's right. But when we turn this thing around I'll expect her back."
"For the money."
"And that's it?"
"Not quite. I expect you to stay on as foreman. You know, run the place."
"I don't know about that—"
"Why not? Jonah practically runs the oil company by himself. And Lila, she don't care."
"Not much," Trent agreed, his lips twisting wryly.
"And you've been handling your ranch—you still can. I just want you to put in a few hours over here. You'd be paid, of course."
Trent doubted it. The Circle S was already drowning in red ink. "I'll think about it," he said, walking to the door. He hated to see the wiry old man so beaten. Always a scrapper, Jefferson Smith had managed to hold on to his ranch in good times and in bad.
"Do." Jefferson took a long swallow of his drink and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"There's something else you might be interested in." His old eyes glinted.
"And what's that?"
"Ainsley's coming home for the summer."
The muscles in Trent's back tightened and his teeth clamped together so hard they ached. Looking over his shoulder, he studied the old man and wondered what, exactly, Jefferson's game was. "So?"
"I know how fond you were of her."
"That was years ago."
Jefferson sighed and pretended to study his hands. "I know, but if you would've spent that last summer here instead of down in Houston, things might have been different."
"I had to work."
"But you came back. And it wasn't too late. If you hadn't let your pride stand in your way, maybe you would have turned out to be her husband."
A corner of Trent's lips curved cynically upward and his eyes grew hard. Ainsley. Just the thought of her did dangerous things to his mind. "You think so?"
"Yep, if I recollect right. And I do. You let Robert Hughes slip in the back door when you weren't lookin'."
"It was too late," Trent said, remembering all too vividly the last time he'd seen her. "And it really doesn't matter one way or the other, does it? She married Hughes."
"And now he's dead, and she's havin' trouble raisin' my grandson alone."
Jefferson stood and stretched as he studied the younger man. "Yeah, well, it doesn't have to be. Like I said, Ainsley's comin' back for the summer. But I was hopin' you might help me find a way to get her to stay."
Jefferson looked away, out the window to the shaded porch and the sun-parched acres beyond. "I'm gettin' older, Trent. And I'm alone. All I got in the world is this miserable patch of ground, some oil wells that aren't worth the money I paid for them and a headstrong daughter with a rebellious son."
"Some people might say you were rich."
"Well, they'd be wrong, wouldn't they? The bank's ready to take back the ranch, my only daughter lives in San Francisco, for God's sake, and I don't have all that many years left."
"You talk like you're dying."
"We all are."
"So what does Ainsley coming back have to do with me?"
Jefferson frowned. "I may as well be straight with you."
"I'd appreciate it."
"Good. Because I think you should marry my daughter."
Trent's gray eyes flashed and his jaw tightened as he stared incredulously into the older man's serious gaze. Then he laughed. "You're out of your mind! You can't be serious."
"As serious as I've been about anything in my life."
"Just hear me out."
"Look, Jeff, I can't stand here and listen to this." He shoved his hat back onto his head. "I don't even know why you thought I'd be interested."
"That's simple enough. You're a good man, a damned sight better than that husband of hers was, and she needs help raising Korey. From what I hear, the kid's a regular hellion. That's my grandson we're talking about. My only grandchild."
"And Ainsley's son. Don't you think she should have any say in this?"
"Of course. Of course," Jefferson agreed, walking up to the younger man and tilting his head back to look Trent straight in the eye. "But I figure all she needs is a little push. From you."
"Is this part of your 'deal'?" Trent asked, holding up the papers.
"It could be," Jefferson said.
"Think about it, Trent. In the end you'd inherit this ranch—you and Ainsley. You and I both know there's more oil here; it's practically running in rivers under the ground. But right now it's not worthwhile to drill it. That'll all change someday. Depending on the market and what happens in the Middle East, this ranch could be worth millions in a few years."
"Or nothing," Trent said, his eyes narrowing. "Remember, the bank still owns it."
"More incentive for you to get it into the black."
"Just remember that I haven't agreed to anything yet."
"But you will."
"Maybe." His face muscles grew taut. "But let's get one thing straight, okay?"
"You'd better leave Ainsley out of this."
"Can't do it. She and Korey will be here in the next couple of weeks." His face relaxed at the thought of his grandson. "I'm gonna have Ainsley send the boy along first—so we can spend some time together alone." He stretched his arms over his head. "The way I see it, Ainsley's back for good."
"Whether she wants to stay or not?"
"I'm just suggesting that maybe you can make her want to stay."
Trent snorted. "Why do you think I'd care?"
"'Cause you used to be in love with her—"
"That was years ago."
"You never married."
"Right woman never came along."
"Well, she's comin' along now."
"Forget it, Jeff. I'm not interested."
"Why not? You've spent your life raising your sister's kid while she's off gallivantin' in New York, and you work like a slave for your brother."
"My choice." He tugged open the door and strode angrily through the halls to the screened-in back porch. Jerking on his boots, he watched a fly buzzing on the screen, trying to find an escape route through the tattered mesh.
"Don't get your dander up," Jefferson suggested, following him.
Trent strode into the midday sun without saying anything.
But the older man wasn't through. "Think about it, son," he said, cursing as he stomped on a boot and hurried after Trent. "When I die, this place could be yours."
"Yeah. Mine and Ainsley's and First Federal Bank's!" He jumped into his pickup and slid into the sun-baked seat. "No thanks, Jeff."
"You'd better think about it."
"And you'd better quit meddlin' in your daughter's life. I remember Ainsley's temper, and neither one of us wants to be around when she finds out that you're trying to fix her up with a husband." He started the engine and slammed the pickup into gear.
"Not just any husband, Trent. You! How many men get a second chance?" Jefferson shouted as Trent roared away, gravel spinning out from under the old Dodge truck's tires.
His blood boiling, Trent roared out of the lane and headed toward the offices of McCullough Oil. This entire "deal" with Jefferson smelled of one of Jonah's plans and he was going to get to the bottom of it.
Ainsley Hughes stretched and looked through the open French doors of her third-floor studio. Pale rays of morning light were streaming through the panes, giving the old attic a warm glow.
Through the open doors, she could see the city of San Francisco stretching out to the Bay. A few lingering wisps of fog still clung to the dark water and ships slipped in and out of the mist.
She set her brush on the easel and ignored her cold cup of tea. Walking out onto the balcony, she lifted long, chestnut hair off her neck and took a few deep breaths of salty air. The wind was brisk but warm against her face, and she wished she could ignore the restlessness deep inside her. It was a perfect day. So why was she so uneasy?
As she watched a sea gull swoop from the blue-gray sky, she heard the front door open and slam shut.
"Oh, no," she said, recognizing the pounding of Korey's feet as he climbed the stairs to the second floor. Her son was home early. Trouble again.
With a sigh she hurried back inside the house and climbed down the steep stairs to the second floor. Then, softly, she knocked on Korey's door.
"What?" he demanded, sounding defensive already.
Ainsley's shoulders slumped. "I just want to talk to you," she said, cracking the door open and poking her head inside.
"Well, I don't want to!" He flopped onto his unmade bed, put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling.
"Maybe you should tell me—"
"No! You'd just get mad!"
"Would that be any worse?" she asked walking into the room and receiving a hard glare from her son.
His dark eyes cut right through her. "Probably."
Ainsley sat on a corner of his bed and frowned. Comic books and boxes of crackers and cookies were strewn across the wrinkled quilt that draped to the carpet. Toys, books and records were cast in every direction. In one corner of the small room an aquarium gurgled and a long-forgotten rock collection gathered dust.
"What're you doing home so early?" she asked, ignoring the mess.
"I got sent home. There. You satisfied?" Crossing his arms over his chest, he met her gaze. His brown eyes were brightly belligerent.
"No." She hooked her hands under her knee and pursed her lips together. "You've been getting into a lot of trouble lately—"
"So who cares?"
"But school's almost out."
"I know. So, maybe it would be smart to play by the rules for a while. At least until summer."
"Why? So we can go to Wyoming? Mom, that's nowhere!"
Give me patience, she thought, looking at the ceiling. "Just tell me what happened, okay?"
"Nothing." He lifted a shoulder, as if to dismiss the subject.
"The school sent you home because nothing happened?"