Available from The Wild Rose Press
Country music star, Summer Jackson, left fame and fortune behind in Las Vegas one fateful night—the night an anonymous stranger checked her in to rehab—the same night her partner Houston Pierce was murdered. Living out of the spotlight as Johanna Caldwell should be easier, except her fractured heart and her infamous past won’t allow her any rest.
When Johanna arrives at Twin Rivers looking for a job, Austin Pierce remembers her as Summer Jackson, the woman he’s always blamed her for causing his brother’s death. Pierce hires the woman who calls herself Johanna, but her presence rekindles his feelings of resentment toward the woman he knew as Summer Jackson.
Will a new threat expose their secrets and endanger their future before they have a chance to forgive each other and build a new life together?
Johanna wanted a better life for Jake than she’d had—much better. Paula might not like her living so close to Durango, but then what could she do about it? If Paula wanted Jake back, she would have to fight Johanna for him. She didn’t know all the legal ramifications, but she knew it would look as if Paula had deserted him. After all this time, it wouldn’t be good for the boy to live with a stranger, even if Paula was his real mother.
Fall was approaching fast. The first snowfall of the year could descend on southwestern Colorado any day, turning the green leaves of aspen trees to golden. It was time to send Jake’s mother another note, something Johanna did two or three times a year. She wouldn’t ask for money. Hadn’t had to ask for any since she hired on at Twin Rivers Ranch. The ranch provided her with a room and meals as part of her employment. It wasn’t the best job she’d ever had, but she wouldn’t be staying here longer than a year anyway. Moving frequently was part of her agreement with Jake’s mother. She’d held eight jobs in eleven years. Sometimes she went without work. Those hard times where when she had needed Paula’s financial assistance.
She pushed a wayward tendril of hair out of her face and grabbed another stack of soiled dishes. A thump thump interrupted her thoughts. Heavy boots pounded wood flooring. Jeff Corbin barged into the kitchen in his usual rough manner. “Make me a sandwich.”
“Make it yourself.”
He yanked the refrigerator door open. “You’re in a nasty mood.”
“I was in a good mood until you walked into the room,” she muttered, shoving the last of the lunch plates into the industrial-sized dishwasher.
Jeff pulled out a loaf of bread and dropped it onto the counter. He prepared himself a messy, meat-heavy sandwich, loaded with an extra large dollop of full calorie mayonnaise, and wiped his hands on his pants. An uncharacteristically sloppy move for Jeff—he was picky to the point of being absurd. His fussiness was a startling contradiction to his overall crudity. He crammed the sandwich into his mouth, devouring it in four bites, then burped and sauntered toward the swinging kitchen door.
“Where are you going?” she snapped at his departing back.
“Got work to do.” He turned and glared at her before wiping his large paw across his foul mouth.
Her ire rose up from the tips of her toes. As if I don’t have work to do. The pig! “Clean up your mess.”
“That’s your job.”
“I just finished cleaning the kitchen… And I’m not your maid!”
“Well, actually…” Was the jerk really going to suggest that she was?
She threw the dishtowel on the counter. “I’m tired of this.” The cloth didn’t make the racket she wished it had. She wanted to throw something heavy that would wipe the smirk clean off his handsome face. How could someone so good-looking be so obnoxious?
“Are you gonna go tattle to the boss again?” He had the maturity of a bully on the elementary school playground.
Telling the boss was exactly what she had in mind. He had deflated her intentions with one prick of his verbal needle. She could see the nasty wheels in Jeff’s nasty mind turning and churning, ready to spit something rude up from the depths of his crude soul.
“Can I ask you something?” A depraved glint danced in his gray eyes.
“What?” she responded despite her misgivings.
“You’re not really Jake’s aunt, are you?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Jeff was right. Jake wasn’t a blood relation of hers, but after all this time, Jake was her son—genetics notwithstanding.
“Is he your son?”
“My son? I don’t…” She stopped. She couldn’t lie. Not about that. Not even to this devil in boot cut jeans.
She growled at him, daring him to further her discomfort. The conversation had to end before the jerk guessed too much.
“I’ve always thought you looked familiar for some reason. Are you hiding something, Johanna? What would you tell Sheriff Cantrell if he asked you the same questions? Are you a axe murderer or something?”
Her insides quaked at the thought of someone questioning her right to raise Jake. Or doing a background check on her. She tried hard to hide her reaction, but she was sure Jeff had sensed her apprehension. “Get out of here.” Her hand gravitated toward the drawer where the butcher knives rested in their lined cubbies.
“Hit a nerve?”
She pulled her wayward hand back from the knife drawer. “Jake’s relationship to me is none of your business,” she blurted. A bad comeback—very bad. Too defensive. Admitting nothing, but telling much.
A deep rumble from behind her made her jump. “What’s going on in here?”
“Mr. Pierce—” She shifted from one foot to the other.
“Didn’t sound like nothing to me.” A question darted in his dark eyes.
She had to tell him something or he’d keep asking questions. “Jeff messed up the kitchen after I cleaned up...again.”
The boss didn’t look as if he believed that was her real complaint. She tightened her mouth, pushing down the truth hard and fast.
Jeff snickered. “She’s touchy today.”
“Haven’t you got work to do?” Mr. Pierce snapped as if Jeff had used his last ounce of patience.
It wasn’t a good thing to get the boss riled. And it appeared they had irritated Mr. Pierce with their bickering once again. Johanna glared at Jeff. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.