As the pickup truck rocked to a halt in front of her
family's Colorado cattle-ranch house, Katrina Jacobs started
a mental countdown for her return to New York City. In the
driver's seat, her brother Travis set the park brake and
killed the engine. Katrina pulled up on the silver door
handle, releasing the latch and watching the heavy passenger
door yawn wide-open. Then she slid gingerly down onto the
gravel driveway, catching most of her weight on her right
foot to protect her injured left ankle.
A week, she calculated. Two weeks, max. By then she would
have done her duty as a daughter and a sibling. Her ankle
would be in shape. And she could get back to her ballet
company in Manhattan.
Katrina hated Colorado.
Travis retrieved her small suitcase from the truck box. From
experience, she knew it would be covered in stubborn grit,
just like everything else in Lyndon Valley. She could vacuum
it as much as she liked, but the dust would remain.
She wrenched the stiff door shut and started to pick her way
across the uneven ground. She'd worn a pair of navy suede
Gallean ankle boots, with narrow toes, low heels and kicky
little copper chains at the ankles. They topped a pair of
skinny black slacks and a shiny silver blouse.
She probably should have gone with sneakers, blue jeans and
a cotton shirt, but she couldn't bring herself to traverse
both JFK and Denver International looking like a hick. She
wasn't often recognized in public, but when she was, people
inevitably snapped a picture. Between cell phones and
digital cameras, everyone in the world was potential paparazzi.
In his faded blue jeans, soft flannel shirt and scuffed
cowboy boots, Travis fell into step beside her. "You want to
take Mom and Dad's room?"
"No," she responded a little too quickly. "I'll bunk with
Katrina hadn't lived at home full-time since she was ten
years old. That summer, with the support of her rather
eccentric aunt, she'd enrolled in New York's Upper Cavendar
Dramatic Arts Academy, a performing-arts boarding school for
girls. Maybe it was because she'd left home so young, but to
this day, she was intimidated by her stern, forceful father.
His booming voice made her stomach jump, and she was
constantly on edge whenever he was around, worried that he'd
ask an embarrassing question, mock her career or make note
of the fact that she was an all-around inadequate ranch hand.
Her father was away from the ranch right now, having just
moved to a rehab center in Houston with a leading-edge
stroke recovery program. There he was impressing the staff
with his rapid improvement from his recent stroke. Still,
the last thing Katrina needed was to be surrounded by his
"He loves you," said Travis, his voice gentle but his
confusion evident. "We all love you."
"And I love you back," she returned breezily, as she took
the stairs to the front porch, passing through the door into
the cool, dim interior of her childhood home. It was large
by ranch house standards, with a big, rather utilitarian
entryway. It opened up into a large living room, with banks
of bright windows overlooking the river, a redbrick
fireplace and enough comfy furniture to hold the family of
five children and often guests. The kitchen was spacious and
modern, with a giant pantry and a big deck that led down to
a rolling lawn. And upstairs, there were six bedrooms,
though one had been converted into an office after Katrina
had left for good.
She knew love was compulsory. But the truth was, she had
nothing in common with the rest of her family. They saw her
as some spoiled, fragile princess who couldn't even ride a
horse, never mind toss a hay bale or swing an ax straight.
For all that she was a principal dancer in a ballet company
that regularly sold out New York City's Emperor's Theater,
and that she'd made the cover of Dance America and the Paris
Arts Review, in Colorado she'd never be anything but the
girl who couldn't make it as a ranch hand.
"Hey there, Kitty-Kat."
Before she could respond to his greeting, her oldest
brother, Seth, swooped her up in his strong arms.
"Hi, Seth." Her hug was slightly less enthusiastic. She was
embarrassed by the childhood nickname her two brothers had
bestowed upon her.
He let her go, and she stepped aside with a determined smile
on her face. The smile faltered when she caught sight of a
third man behind him. A taller, broader man, with
penetrating gray eyes, a grim mouth and what she knew would
be callused hands that could probably lift a taxi cab right
off the asphalt. Though it had been a few years since she'd
seen him, there was no mistaking their neighbor Reed Terrell.
He gave her the slightest of nods. "Katrina."
"Reed," she nodded in return, a fuzzy hitch coursing through
her chest. It was trepidation, she told herself, a visceral
reaction based mostly on his size and strength and overall
Just then her sister Mandy burst down the stairs. "Katrina!"
she cried, elbowing Seth out of the way and pulling Katrina
into her arms.
Katrina hugged her sister tight in return. The next youngest
after Katrina, Mandy was the one who had always tried to
understand Katrina's passion for dance.
Mandy released her, scanning Katrina from head to toe. "You
Katrina knew it was a compliment. But when her family called
her pretty, she couldn't seem to help hearing useless.
Pretty didn't get you anywhere in Lyndon Valley.
"Thank you," she told her sister, self-consciously smoothing
back the wisps of blond hair that had escaped from the
twisted knot at the back of her head. Maybe she should have
gone with sneakers and blue jeans after all, or perhaps
skipped her makeup this morning. She could feel her family
sizing her up and finding her frivolous.
"You remember Reed?" Mandy gestured to the big man standing
silently in the background.
"Certainly," said Katrina.
Her gaze involuntarily met his again, and a shiver ran
through her body, momentarily making her knees go weak. For
a woman with a dancer's balance, it was a ridiculous
reaction. What was the matter with her?
She tried to drag her gaze from his, but for some reason, it
stuck like glue.
"I can't wait for you to meet Caleb again," Mandy rattled on
in an excited voice. "You probably don't remember much about
him, since he left Lyndon ten years ago."
"I know he's Reed's twin brother," said Katrina.
Reed's nostrils seemed to flare when she uttered his name.
The men were fraternal twins, not identical. She remembered
Caleb as a smaller, less intimidating version of his brother.
For Mandy's sake.
Katrina caught her sister's expression, and saw that her
eyes were sparkling with unadulterated joy.
"Congratulations," she put in belatedly, giving Mandy
another tight hug.
"We're thinking of a late-fall wedding. You know, after Dad
is up and around again. You'll be a bridesmaid, of course."
"Of course," Katrina forced out a laugh. She wasn't wild
about family togetherness. But Mandy loved it, and Katrina
wouldn't do anything to mar her sister's big day.
"You'll look so beautiful in a bridesmaid dress."
"It's what I do best," Katrina joked, keeping the smile
pasted on her face. For some reason, she darted a look at
Reed and saw his eye-roll.
He obviously thought she was being conceited. Fine. Easy for
him to judge. She was willing to bet not a single person in
his entire life had ever called him useless. Around here,
he'd be revered for his strength and his hard work. He
didn't have to live with being pretty.
Not that he wasn't attractive. In fact, there was an
appealing dignity to his craggy features. His chin might be
overly square, and his nose slightly crooked, but his eyes
were an intriguing, silver-flecked gray, and his full lips wereâ€”
Wait a minute. She gave herself an abrupt mental shake. What
on earth was the matter with her? Reed was a tough, hulking,
strong-willed cowboy. He could out-macho anyone in Lyndon
Valley, and there was nothing even remotely appealing about
Since Reed Terrell was alive, conscious and male all at the
same time, he had the hots for Mandy's sister Katrina. It
didn't mean he had to act on it, and it sure didn't mean
he'd succeed even if he tried. Everything about the woman
said she was out of his league, from the wispy updo of her
wheat-blond hair to her sexy boots, the clingy slacks and
shimmering blouse in between.
When he'd met her earlier at the Jacobs ranch, her earrings
had been dangling strands of gold, silver and diamonds,
while a matching necklace glimmered against her dainty
cleavage. She should have looked comically out of place on
the ranch, but she didn't. She looked like a princess
inspecting the commoners, someone to be revered and admired,
then left untouched. Which was exactly what Reed intended to do.
Now he entered the foyer of his own family's ranch house,
shutting the door against the gathering dusk, another long
day of work behind him. For years, Reed had lived in the
spacious, two-story house with his exacting father. Though
his father was dead, out of habit, Reed placed his hat on
the third hook from the left and straightened the mat
beneath his feet. There was a place for everything, and
everything was always in its place in the Terrell household.
His father had prized practicality, but also quality, so the
hardwood floors were clear maple, the furniture was
custom-made and the kitchen appliances were top-of-the-line,
replaced every ten years.
The outbuildings that housed the cowboys and staff necessary
to run the big ranch were also kept in tip-top shape, from
the cookhouse to the bunkhouses to the barns and sheds. The
line shacks were all getting older, but they were still kept
clean and in good repair.
"Danielle wants to talk to you...