It took only one impusive moment on an empty two-lane highway to cost her everything.
A man's responsible for his own prosperityespecially if he's Cooper Barnett, the most determined cowboy in the West. No one knows what he sacrificed to claim a piece of Beartooth, Montana, for himself and his beautiful fiancée, Livie. No one knows what he's willing to do for love until a stranger's twisted vendetta threatens the happy ending they should've had long ago.
One fateful mistake isn't the only secret Livie Hamilton is keeping from her fiancé. Victimized during a treacherous blizzard by a man she thought she could trust, she's pregnant but unsure who the father is. With an unknown blackmailer threatening to expose her, she must confess to Cooper and trust he'll still protect her. But when the truth falls into place, she may lose the only man she's ever lovedor worse.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author B.J. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, and three springer spaniels. When not writing, she quilts, boats and plays tennis. Contact her at www.bjdaniels.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/BJ-Daniels/127936587217837 or on twitter at bjdanielsauthor.
Read an Excerpt
Senator Buckmaster Hamilton stood on the second-floor outdoor balcony of the sprawling Hamilton Ranch house and surveyed the engagement party going on below him. Tiny white lights twinkled in the treetops as candles glowed on the cloth-covered tables around the provisional outdoor ballroom. A sea of Stetsons bobbed as a country music band played. The sound of clinking crystal glasses mingled with the hum of cheerful voices. It was a beautiful spring evening.
It should have been a perfect night since the party was to celebrate the first of his six daughters' engagements. All he'd ever wanted was for his daughters to be happy. That Olivia was the first to marry didn't surprise him. He'd seen the way she'd looked at the wrangler the first day he'd come to work on the ranch. Cooper Barnett wouldn't have been his choice for her, but what did he know about love other than it was blind?
He raised his own glass in a silent salute. No matter what happened after tonight, he couldn't have been more proud of his daughters, or as they were known around Beartooth, Montana, the Hamilton girls.
God knew he'd spoiled them after their mother died. In the twenty-two years since, he'd been over-protective, he'd be the first to admit it. There were stories that he'd met their dates on the front porch with a shotgun. He smiled. Although untrue, it had taken courageous young men to even dare to ask his girls out.
It was his fault, no doubt, that all six had grown into headstrong, hard-to-please women. Buckmaster sighed, although he truthfully saw nothing wrong with that. His girls had grown up with the run of one of the largest ranches in their part of the state. They had wanted for nothing, he'd seen to that.
Except for the mother they'd lost.
He took another drink to wash down the bitterness.
"One of our girls is getting married, Sarah," he whispered into the warm spring night. "You missed it all. Now you won't even be there to see Olivia get married." He let out a curse, furious with Sarah for leaving him. Even more furious with himself because he still ached for her after all these years, as if he'd lost a limb.
He didn't want to think about her. Not tonight. Focusing on the party instead, he surveyed the growing crowd and spotted his oldest daughter, Ainsley, gathered with four of her sisters near the bar. She'd been ten at the time of her mother's death and had become a little mother to the others. She even looked like her mother, a blonde beauty. Except that Ainsley was much stronger than her mother had been. She was the one everyone depended on, himself included.
His gaze moved to Kat, the daughter who'd taken after him the most. Strong willed, Kat had gotten his dark hair and his gray eyes. She looked rugged and unapproachable even as pretty as she was.
She'd been eight when Sarah had died. Kat, who'd become a photographer, was always in trouble growing up. He'd watched her pull away from the family first by becoming a vegetarian and demanding he quit raising cattle, and later by spending less time at the ranch and more time rebelling in every possible way. He worried about her and often wondered what it would take to make her happy.
He let his gaze take in the fraternal twins, Harper and Cassidy, and smiled. They were blonde, blue-eyed and adorable. He still thought of them as his babies since they'd only been a few months old when they'd lost their mother. They were both still in college and only home for their sister's engagement party.
As he found Bo in the crowd below, he realized she was the daughter who worried him even more than Kat. Kat was defiant and obstinate. Bo was the secretive one. She had been five when Sarah died. Even back then, Bo was the quiet one who seemed to move through the house like a ghost. Green-eyed with sandy-blond hair and freckles, she was also the smart one.
To his surprise, it had been Bo who'd wanted to take over the charity he'd started in their mother's name. The Sarah Hamilton Foundation had been a sentimental gesture he'd regretted the moment he'd found out the truth about Sarah's accident the night she died.
With concern, he now watched Bo down a glass of champagne as if it were water. He could tell it was far from her first. Something was going on with her. This wasn't the first time he'd noticed. He didn't know what it was and he'd been afraid to ask. Maybe he'd ask Ainsley, but not tonight.
He looked through the crowd for Olivia, his blue-eyed brunette, but didn't see her. Sarah had been a lot like Oliviaheadstrong, spoiled rotten and too beautiful for her own good. Cooper, he feared, was too much like he'd been, stubborn and uncompromising. He and Sarah had been so young, and Olivia was only twenty-five
At the thought of history repeating itself
He washed away that terrifying thought with a gulp of Scotch. Behind him, he heard the balcony door open.
"I thought you might be here," his wife of fifteen years said. Angelina Broadwater Hamilton glanced at the glass in his hand. "People are asking about you downstairs."
Influential people in their political circle, people who had made him one of the youngest senators ever elected from Montana. People who could make him president, something he knew Angelina yearned for even more than he did.
Now, it appeared that there was a very good chance the presidency was his for the taking. He had an excellent voting record and, while a conservative, he was moderate enough to gain respect from both parties. He'd made a lot of friends on both sides of the fence. All the work that Angelina had done had paid off.
While he had always been ambitious, Buckmaster believed in his heart that he could help the country. He would be a good president. He would make Montana proud.
Below him, he saw his brother-in-law, Lane Broadwater, working the crowd at the party. In his midthirties, Lane was blond like his sister with the same blue eyes. Although he was eleven years younger, the two looked more like fraternal twins. Angelina had talked him into hiring her brother to handle the campaign when he'd run for senator. He'd been skeptical at first about Lane's abilities, but he'd proven himself to be good at the job. Also he was enough like his sister that he went after whatever it was he wanted. Lane and Angelina wanted to put him in the White House. They'd proven to be very good at what they did.
He drained his glass and smiled as he turned to her. "Then we should get downstairs at once."
Angelina eyed him, clearly unsure if he was being sarcastic. She'd never been able to tell, but it didn't matter. He hadn't married her for her astuteness. While she was a beautiful blonde, tall, willowy, with a face that could have been carved from porcelain, he'd married her for her name. The Broadwater connection had definitely helped put him in the Senate and made him even richer. It would put him in the White House.
He could laugh about it now, but fifteen years ago some people were under the misconception that he'd married her so she could help raise his six daughters. Angelina wasn't mother material.
Fifteen years ago, he also hadn't particularly needed a wifenot in the practical sensewhen he'd met Angelina. Which was good because there was also nothing domestic about her. He'd hired a staff to run the house and take care of his children since he spent a great deal of his time in Washington.
Angelina, though, was queen of her realm when it came to throwing parties. She attracted the right people, the kind who had made Buckmaster Hamilton one of the most powerful men in Montana.
Now, Angelina took the empty glass from his hand, smiling as she laid it aside for the staff to take care of later. Then looping her arm through his, she said, "You look very handsome tonight, Mr. Hamilton. Ready for our grand entrance?"
"Why not?" He smiled, though most women would have seen through it. Angelina never looked past the surface. Because of that, she didn't know about the dark shadows he sensed at the edge of their lives. She couldn't imagine any problems that Buckmaster Hamilton couldn't fix. But then again, she didn't really know him.
Cooper Barnett walked along the side of the house to the ballroom floor that had been built for the occasion. Everyone who was anyone was here, which meant he didn't know most of the guests.
But he had to admit, it was some party from the tiny sparkling lights to the bubbly champagne and the imported caviar Buckmaster had flown in just that morning. No expense had been spared. It was the Hamilton way. Whatever it cost, money was never an issue.
He caught his reflection in a mirror as he passed through the house, and he straightened his tie. Wouldn't his family be surprised to see him now? He looked nothing like the old Cooper Barnett; he still felt a lot like the old oneexcept in nicer clothes. It was that old one who worried him.
You don't belong here. Worse, he feared that a lot of people at this party knew it. He shoved the thought away as he exited the house and walked among the crowd outside, anxious to find his fiancée. Stars twinkled overhead. A light breeze swayed the nearby pines and music filled the air. The Ham-iltons couldn't have ordered a more beautiful night. Even the weather did what Buckmaster wanted, he thought with a wry smile.
Then he saw his bride-to-be and forgot all about his future father-in-law and the old Cooper Barnett. His heart did a little stutter-kick in his chest. Damn but Livie Hamilton was breathtaking tonight. She wore a burgundy-red dress that accentuated her rich olive skin and contrasted perfectly with her long dark hair. He still couldn't believe she'd fallen in love with him. How had he gotten so lucky?
Not that she wasn't a spitfire who fought him at every turn. Also he'd done his best not to fall in love with her. He'd been warned about the Hamilton girls and he'd wanted nothing to do with her.
When he fell, though, he'd fallen hard. He wouldn't admit it to her even at gunpoint, but her independent, mule-headed stubbornness and determination were part of her charm. But she was a Hamilton and that came with its problems.
He was headed for her when she saw him. Her face lit, making his heart take off at a dead run. The band broke into Livie's favorite song, just as he had requested. It was sappy, but when he saw her smile of recognition, it was all worth it.
"You look amazing," he said, taking her in with his gaze, then his arms.
She smiled up at him, her blue eyes wide and luminous. "You don't look so bad yourself. You clean up nice, cowboy."
He pulled her out onto the dance floor, drawing her in closer. As he nuzzled her neck, he caught the scent of light citrus. Desire almost buckled his knees. Overhead, starlight glittered down on them from Montana's big sky. The night really was perfect.
"I am the luckiest man alive," he said as he drew back to look at her. He'd never understand why she'd fallen in love with him. If only she wasn't a Hamilton, he thought, and shoved the thought away. He wouldn't let anything ruin this night.
He'd never believed in luck. He'd gotten where he was through hard work. But he was afraid to jinx this, afraid he didn't deserve this woman, deserve any of thisand he knew he could blame his father for that.
Ralph Barnett had told him from the time he was a boy that he wasn't worth two cents and would never amount to anything. He's spent most of his twenty-eight years trying to prove the man wrong. But there was still that part of him that didn't believe he deserved anything, especially happiness.
"I'm the lucky one," Livie said.
Cooper pulled her closer, leaning down to whisper, "I love you," against her hair. He relished the soft sweet moan she uttered in response. He ached with a need for her. The two of them had been so busy they had hardly seen each other for weeks. Once this shindig was over, he couldn't wait to get her alone.
As the song ended, she drew back to look at him, her gaze locking with his. He lost himself in her sky-blue eyes. Her dark hair floated around her bare shoulders, making his fingers long to bury themselves in it. No woman had ever made him feel like this and he knew, after Livie, no other woman ever could.
"I love you, Coop. Remember that always." She said it with such force that he felt a niggling of worry. She looked a little pale, he thought, and recalled that the few times he'd seen her over the past few weeks she hadn't been herself.
He'd been busy working on the ranch, getting it ready for when she moved in after they were married. Livie had also been busy, taking care of the wedding plans. He would have been happy to elope, but Buckmaster Hamilton wasn't having that. His first daughter to marry was going to have a huge wedding, no expense spared.
Cooper had gone along with it, knowing it was important to Livie. But he'd dug in his heels when it came to her father helping them financially, which had been a bone of contention between them, among other things.
He would also have gladly gone for a longer engagement, giving him time to finish the house he was building for them on his ranch. But Livie wasn't good at waiting for anything. It was her impulsiveness that he lovedbut it also caused him concern. She often acted without thinking of the consequences.
Like last winter when, after a fight, she'd taken off with a storm coming and ended up in a ditch. Even though she swore her injury was minor, she hadn't been the same since, he thought now.
"Is everything all right, Livie?" he asked, his heart suddenly in his throat.