An Amazon “Best Book of the Month”
A Romantic Times “Top Pick”
Lindsey Ward’s happy place has always been her grandfather’s Wyoming ranch, so it breaks her heart to have to sell it. She’ll miss the scent of sagebrush under the wide-open sky, but at least the sale will help fund the veterinary clinic she’s always dreamed of. She’ll be able to help the animals who need her most—the neglected, the abandoned, and the abused.
It’s not like Lindsey has a choice. The ranch is worth millions, and a mysterious stranger who claims to be a long-lost relative is blackmailing her for what he claims is his rightful inheritance. If she doesn’t pay up, he’ll spill a story about her grandfather’s past that will stain her grandmother’s memories. Who knows? In her delicate state, the truth might even kill her.
Lindsey’s not about to tell her granddad’s secret to anyone—not even Shane Lockhart, the ranch foreman. It hurts to let him believe she’s so heartless she’d force her grandmother to leave the home she loves just for the satisfaction of a big, fat check. But her grandfather trusted her with everything he had—the ranch, his wife, and his secrets.
Lindsey vows to put up with the pain—but Shane’s angry glares hurt more and more as she comes to know—and to love—this rugged cowboy whose stubborn idealism matches her own.
“Let’s get this sucker in the ground.” Grace Ward turned away from the gleaming casket and tugged at her escort’s arm. “He was a good-lookin’ sumnabitch and it’s a shame he’s dead, but, Lord, that preacher about talked us all into our graves already, and here he’s getting ready to start jawing again.”
The mourners surrounding the hillside grave gasped in unison. Grace Ward looked as delicate as the bluebells nodding at the graveyard gate, but her voice was as vibrant in old age as it was in her long-gone Hollywood heyday.
“My husband won’t take kindly to me ogling some stranger, dead or alive.”
Shane Lockhart, wearing his best black Stetson and his only suit, bent over the old woman and reminded her, as gently as he could, that the good-looking sumnabitch in the velvet-lined casket was her husband. Bud Ward had died suddenly at the intersection of a cowardly cow horse and a petulant porcupine, leaving Grace alone in the world. Her only remaining family was a granddaughter who’d run off to marry a man Bud disapproved of. So far, not even her granddad’s death was enough to bring Lindsey Ward back to the Lazy Q, so Grace was on her own at eighty-one.
As foreman of the ranch, Shane felt bound by love and duty to look after his late boss’s wife. It had been a challenge at first; she’d been inconsolable over his death. The job became considerably easier when an invisible Bud joined her for eggs and ham the next morning, so Shane had learned to welcome the brief appearances of Bud’s ghost. His phantom presence kept Grace calm, and she was less liable to wander off if she believed he was home.
It was just too bad he’d turned up during his own funeral.
“Come on, cowboy.” Grace tugged Shane’s arm again, so hard he almost stumbled. “Bud’s waiting, and all this sad stuff’s giving me a headache.”
The preacher paused at the interruption, and at the very moment, a meadowlark burst into song, shattering the sorrowful hush of the graveyard with unseemly, unfettered joy. Grace smiled up at the sky, her fringed, scarlet shawl fluttering like a flag in the breeze. She’d refused to wear black to the service.
“Bud and I were black and white in the movies,” she’d said. “He always liked me in color.”
Back in the fifties, she’d been a sweet Hollywood ingenue playing pioneer lasses in black-and-white Westerns, while Bud was a rough-riding stuntman, falling off horses and pitching himself out of second-story windows. He’d fallen harder for Grace than he’d ever fallen from a horse, and no wonder. For all her fragile appearance, she’d been able to ride as well as he did, and swear just as lustily.
A cloud drifted over the sun and she frowned, plucking at her shawl. “Where’s Lindsey?” For the first time that day, her voice quavered. “I thought she’d be here by now. She promised.”
Shane clenched his jaw, determined not to reveal his feelings for the prodigal granddaughter. If love for the two fine people she was fortunate enough to call family hadn’t drawn Lindsey Ward to Wyoming, inheriting some portion of Bud’s millions might do it. Shrewd investments and a fine head for cattle breeding had made Bud a very wealthy man, and Shane was willing to bet she’d show up for the reading of the will.
As the minister droned on, Grace’s grip on his arm suddenly tightened. Shane followed her gaze down the narrow dirt path and spotted a dark figure in the distance. As it neared, it resolved into a slender brunette, dressed all in black right down to a pair of impossibly high heels.
Pausing, the new arrival stood on one leg, poised and dignified as a heron. Removing one shoe, she flexed her foot and replaced the footwear without wavering, then continued down the rocky path, navigating the ruts and stones with ease until she skidded on a patch of gravel at the graveyard gate.
Lindsey Ward. She’d finally arrived, slipping and sliding and flailing for balance despite her dignified funeral attire.
Grace lurched away from Shane to catch her granddaughter in a generous embrace before holding her at arm’s length for an appreciative once-over.
“Lindsey, darling! Don’t you look lovely!”
She did indeed. She’d evidently hurried to make the funeral, so her face was flushed to a very attractive shade of pink, and a faint sheen made her skin appear young and dewy as ever. Shane felt the same shock he’d experienced the last time he’d seen her, and it hit all the same bodily organs.
He’d never thought much of Lindsey back when she was a little tomboy hanging around the ranch every summer, but about the time he’d been promoted to foreman, she’d turned from caterpillar to butterfly. Her womanly curves had forced him to wrestle with a powerful surge of attraction, and he’d had to remind himself repeatedly that she was the boss’s granddaughter, strictly off-limits to a man who’d sworn off serious relationships.
Around the time of Lindsey’s transformation, her mother-Bud and Grace’s daughter-had become progressively paler and thinner until she was just a wisp of a woman. On her final visit, she’d looked weak as a spavined mare, and her eyes had gazed past the horizon at a future as empty as the clear blue sky. She’d passed away soon after-cancer, they said-and Lindsey’s visits had ceased until the fateful day she’d brought her fiancé to meet her grandparents.
Shane hated to even think of that day, when he’d played the role of the amorous cowhand to a very unappreciative audience. For his own selfish sake, he was relieved Lindsey had never come back, but he couldn’t help wondering if it was his fault she hadn’t been there for her grandparents as they grew old.
He shifted his gaze to watch her. Something about her had changed over the years-something hard to define. With a chill, he realized her eyes had become as pale and otherworldly as her mother’s. She stared into the distance, looking past the crowd, past the graveyard, and past the hills beyond with a sadness far beyond any present grief. The sorrow in those eyes ran bone deep, and he wondered what had happened since he’d seen her last. He’d known her as such a carefree, happy child, and her grief made him want to touch her, take her in his arms, and…
Wrong. The answer, which came automatically to mind, was as loud and intrusive as a game show buzzer. Lindsey Ward was nothing to him, and he was less than nothing to her. She’d made that very clear on her last visit.
“I’m so sorry, Grandma.” The absurd high heels forced Lindsey to bend nearly double to whisper in Grace’s ear. “I had an emergency with a-”
Shane couldn’t quite hear the rest. Something like a cockamamy, or maybe a cockapee. It sounded like some exotic, expensive bird, which didn’t surprise him a bit. Lindsey looked pretty exotic and expensive herself with those ridiculous shoes and elegant clothes. He was willing to bet those shoes alone would cost him a week’s wages.
Hopefully, she wouldn’t stay long. If he was lucky, she’d spend a few days at the ranch, admire how smoothly and profitably it ran under his guidance, and go home to her fine feathered friends.
He watched her turn away from Grace and stare off toward the mountains again. She brought a hand to her mouth, and Shane turned away in disgust. She’d yawned. Yawned.
Bored, no doubt, by the minister’s words of praise for her grandfather.
He felt a small hand clutching his pant leg and glanced down to smooth his son’s dark hair. He expected Cody’s eyes to be fixed on the casket as it was lowered into the grave, but instead the boy was gazing wide-eyed at the new arrival.
Of course he was. She was a woman. She had dark hair. And she was pretty, if you went for that type.
Which Shane didn’t. No way.
But his son looked like he’d just seen a fairy godmother, Glinda the Good Witch, and his own runaway mother, all rolled into one.