Her phone had rung, and she’d glanced at the display and said, “Shit.” It had been her father’s girlfriend, Susan. That was, actually, not really true. Susan Chambers was more than just her father’s girlfriend. She’d been with him since Rafferty was little and was the strongest female influence in her life. Susan was so put together and tolerated her father’s hours because hers were just as bad, but they had clicked and still clicked. Her father hadn’t looked at another woman since he’d met Susan, and that made total sense. She was gorgeous, one of the premier lawyers in New York City, and made the best macaroni and cheese ever.
She’d ignored her calls all the way through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Susan had left her a voicemail outside of Illinois to call her or else. Then, she stressed about it all the way through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
It was true that she had opted to drive to California for business but take a side trip to scout out some land in Montana. Hamilton Hoteliers was always looking for strategic and scenic sites to place its resorts. Her father, Ross Hamilton, ran his empire with an iron hand. She worked closely with him and loved her job, but was tired of seeing the country from an airplane window. That was her cover story and she was sticking to it.
“Are you going to lecture me? I might disappear into the Rockies and never come out. Become a mountain woman and live off the land.”
“That’s going to be hell on your high heels and mocha latte addiction.”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“Don’t you ignore my calls and texts again, sweetie, or I’ll ground you.”
That made her huff a laugh. “I ignored Daddy’s, too, if that helps.” Her stomach dropped and she blinked back tears as she looked to the open brown meadow dotted with thick copses of trees out her side window.
“Yes, since I live with the man, you have been a topic of conversation recently. I mean this in the best sense, honey. You can’t run from your emotions.”
The tears slipped down her cheeks, and she brushed them impatiently away, her throat tight. “According to Sean, I don’t have any. I’m incapable of being emotionally intimate.” That had scared her the most. Was that true? The loss of her relationship sent doubts through her every day until she had to get away. This road trip was a perfect escape.
She had thought she loved Sean. “I’m afraid he was right.” She couldn’t keep the words from sounding nose-clogged from crying.
“That’s so not true. You are a wonderful, caring person.” There was just her sniffling, then Susan, her voice even more sympathetic, said, “Aw, honey. If you’re crying, you’re feeling. So he’s full of it.” Rafferty’s eyes welled up all over again. Susan’s words helped her feel a bit better.
“Sean really fooled us all. Sure, he looked good on paper, but you didn’t seem all that happy to me.”
Realizing that the tow guy was going to be here any minute, she wiped at her eyes, needing to get control over her emotions. “I guess I wasn’t, and I didn’t really realize it. I thought I was in the perfect marriage.”
“Sweetie, don’t beat yourself up too much. It takes two to tango, so this is not all on you. He cheated on you. There’s no reason for that in my book. Have the balls to step up and talk about it.”
“I guess that is true. He never said a word to me.”
There was a pregnant pause, and Susan said, “Sean was all about prestige and showing wealth. Flaunting it. He thought of you as just another possession that he could show the world he’d accumulated. You’re no one’s trophy wife.”
“Thank you for saying that. It means a lot to me. I guess I wasn’t prepared.”
“Who’s ever prepared for the end of their marriage?” Susan said softly.
She certainly hadn’t been, and she had spent many nights going over all of it in her head. She had failed—felt like a failure because she had really thought she was making it work.
Her tone turned serious. “Really, sweetheart. It’s his loss.”
Rafferty smiled at the emphatic way Susan said those words.
“How about we make a day of it when you get back? Shopping, spa day with a manicure and pedicure. I’ll treat for lunch wherever you want to go.”
“Yes, that sounds wonderful. I’ll have to let you know when I get back. Hit a snag.”
“This fabulous little sports car broke down. I’m waiting for a tow. If I was back in Manhattan—”
“It would be twice as long,” she said wryly. “Isn’t that car new?”
“It sure is. It just went clunkity-clunk and stopped working.”
“Hopefully it’s not something serious and you’ll have something to look forward to when you get back. So, other than the unresponsive car, how is your escape from Manhattan going? You’re up early.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to see the sunrise, and it was spectacular. All pink and purple watercolor streaks. Montana is breathtaking, but damn this state is big, filled with guys wearing cowboy hats, tight jeans, and sexy boots, which as far as I’m concerned all go in the plus column. I see trailers on the road hauling horses, cattle, and other stinky livestock. Con column.”
“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”
“That is the honest truth. I have never seen so many cattle—”
A shiny white-and-chrome tow truck pulled in front of her with Black’s stenciled on the side in black. All she caught was a glimpse of a black Stetson. She did have to think again that Montana, or Cowboy Central as she was starting to think of it, was chock full of plenty of sexy men to take her mind off how lonely she felt.
The door to the truck opened, and a leg appeared. But all she could focus on at the moment was his thick, jean-clad thigh. He reached down to unsnag the hem that had caught on the top of his well-worn black cowboy boot, the hat obscuring his features, but the glimpse she’d gotten of a hard, clean-shaven jaw made her stomach jump and heightened her interest.
She followed his movement back up as he swung out of the truck, giving her the full view of his slim-hipped, broad-shouldered body, but then he raised his head, and the shadow caused by the brim disappeared from his . . . Ohmigod . . . face.
The sight of him sucked the breath right out of her. Her mouth went slack and Susan’s voice was nothing but a buzz in her ear.
Brown hair curled around his ears and tickled his neck, dark brows arched over a set of blue eyes that were a knee-melting deep cobalt. She tightened her hand on her phone as she took in his Roman nose, and a mouth with lips that were made to be kissed, the bottom lip fuller than the top.
His blue work shirt stretched over an impressive wide chest. Stitched on his left pocket was his name, Trace, and on the other pocket, Black’s Garage.
He moved with a sexy, rolling gait filled with confidence. When he saw her get out of the car, he slowed, his eyes going over her. The way he gazed at her made her breath hitch. Even when she looked down and away from that stare, she could feel his scrutiny. For the first time since she’d signed those divorce papers and walked out of her lawyer’s office, she felt exposed and vulnerable all over again. Those . . . blue . . . oh-so-blue eyes. What was she supposed to do about them when all she wanted to do was look back, deeply back, and ask questions?
“The mechanic is here. I’ve got to go.”
“If you need me, just let me know,” Susan said.
She needed a big bucket of really cold water right now, wanting not to be affected by him at all. “I’ll call you with an update,” she said, disconnecting the call and tucking her phone into her bag. She eyed the driver again and tried to remember that oxygen was an important, life-giving requirement.
Maybe Laurel Falls was a perfect place for both breakdowns.
luck that wish came true. Her other passions include traveling the world, owning a beach house (she believes she was a mermaid in another life), and seeing her books in movies. When she’s not writing, she’s painting or killing virtual MMORPG monsters in World of Warcraft. She lives in North Carolina with her two grown children and one small, furry gray cat.