Authors: Sherri Thomas
“Why’d you tell me your name was Lynn?”
His low voice and breath on her face brought her back to the present. Jordan fought the urge to step back, holding her ground while her knees wobbled, threatening to give out. She wanted nothing more than to stay composed and not be affected by him, but her body defied all reasoning and leaned forward, inhaling his spicy, animal mixed scent.
Irritation flared, and she met his glare with annoyance. “It’s my middle name. Jordan Lynn Reece. As for using it, I didn’t know you from Adam.”
The corner of his mouth tilted up and his eyes darkened. “But we got acquainted real quick.”
“As much as you can in the span of twelve hours.”
“I memorized every inch of your body, every sound you made…every whimper.”
She stumbled back and held up a hand. “Don’t.”
Trent’s gaze shifted to her mouth. His warm palm caressed the side of her cheek. “Why the charade?”
Her heartbeat sped up at his contact. “I didn’t think you’d remember me.” She cringed at the admission. Damn him and his closeness, and damn her loosened tongue.
His hand slipped to the nape of her neck and massaged the tight muscles. Fighting the urge to moan, she held herself rigid, refusing to let him see how he affected her.
“How could I forget the most fearless, open, passionate girl I’d ever met?”
Praise for Sherri Thomas
“I’ll definitely be looking for more from Ms. Thomas!”
~Mandy, Night Owl Reviews
“If you love cowboys and are a sucker for romances, then you will want to add this Sherri Thomas book to your reading list.
~Matilda, Coffee Time Romance
“Sherri Thomas did an amazing job of telling the stories…and I absolutely loved the story and all that went with it.”
~Angel, Book Junkie
The Matthews Dude Ranch Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Sherri Thomas
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Yellow Rose Edition, 2015
Print ISBN 978-1- 5092-0150-1
Digital ISBN 978-1- 5092-0151-8
The Matthews Dude Ranch Series
Published in the United States of America
to my wonderful husband and children
Wicked red and yellow flames licked out of the two-story windows, streaking across the night sky. Glass cracked and shattered. Heat scorched her skin. The smoke chased any trace of oxygen from her lungs. She scrambled through the dense fog, coughing and calling.
They’re here somewhere, but where?
Crawling through an open doorway and into a room, her hand connected with a solid form. She scooted closer, peering down at the obstacle in the thick haze. A woman’s face so like her own came into view, then a man’s crumpled body.
“No. Please no,” she cried, reaching out to move hair from her mother’s eyes. A sharp pain pierced her heart. Tears streamed over her cheeks as she drew closer to her father.
“Oh, Daddy, I’m so sorry. So very sorry.” She bent to kiss his forehead as the ceiling groaned, drawing her attention. “We have to hurry.” Tugging on his arm, then her mother’s, she swore, “I’ll get you out of here. I promise.”
A loud crack sounded seconds before the roof crashed down on top of her, burying a scream deep in her chest.
Jordan Reece bolted straight up, heart pounding and breath erupting in short, quick bursts as the horrific accident haunted her.
“You’re safe. It’s over,” she chanted in an attempt to remember the present time.
Sweat beaded out of every pore. Her hands shook as she wrung the digits together and sucked in massive amounts of clean air, fighting to gain control while her body trembled with dread.
She glanced to the clock flashing four a.m. and strangled a cry of frustration. The exact hour of her parents’ death. In the beginning, the dreams occurred every night. Over the weeks, months following, the figures lessened until she’d finally been able to sleep a full six hours without interruption.
Why had the nightmare returned? Why after all this time? She hadn’t even been home at the time of the fire, but the images never failed to appear crystal clear during her slumber and always ended with the ceiling burying her alive.
She needed something to concentrate on, something to draw her attention away from the horror. Staring through the dark in the vicinity of a wall, she wished for the ability to ward off the doom waiting to swallow her soul.
Her dry throat stuck shut as she kicked off the tangled sheets and hurried out of the bedroom. Forgetting the late night journey to her friend’s cabin, she stopped short with a hand on the door frame, taking in the unfamiliar shadows. Step by step, careful not to stumble over unknown objects, she inched across the room to the small end table and flicked on the lamp. Light flooded every corner of the combined living/kitchenette area.
Struggling with the loneliness and despair threatening to suffocate, Jordan advanced to the sink and splashed water on her face. Her mother’s lifeless stare flashed, hovering in her psyche next to a picture of her father’s twisted body lying on the floor where he fell in desperation to flee the flames of hell.
Jordan swiped an icy palm over her neck to rub away the nervous tension. Her limbs grew colder despite the ninety degree air, and she gripped the edge of the counter for support.
As a registered nurse, she knew the steps to curb the effects of a panic attack—the techniques just didn’t always work.
No. This was not anxiety. She’d come too far to permit the weakening of her emotions.
Needing a distraction, she drew the blue and tan checkered curtain back from the kitchen window and gazed into the early morning sky. A blast of stifling air filtered through the screen as dry lightning cracked in the distant horizon. She slid a hand up and down the clammy skin of her arm and shivered as ghosts of the past glided along her spine. The consequences of that night settled heavy on her chest. Bad decisions never to be forgotten.
Bad decisions she continued to make.
She missed the time when her life remained on track, disciplined, and she had known the course of action to keep ahead of hospital politics. Now, after letting one man convince her to give up everything and take a chance, the future appeared bleak. She honestly believed she could make a go of things this time, that he loved her enough for their relationship to succeed. Another error in judgment, but one she thought she had grown enough to handle. She hadn’t imagined the end result leaving her jobless and almost homeless, if not for her best friend’s generosity.
A rumble of thunder jostled her out of her haze and vibrated the room, followed by an amazing light show illuminating miles of rolling pasture. The storm closed in on the arid Texas range at a startling speed, spraying droplets of water through the screen.
Lugging the glass pane shut, she let the drape fall back in place. Not one to stay still for long, she spent the next few hours listening to the rain pelting the metal roof while unpacking her clothes, hanging the neatly pressed garments in the closet. Anything to eat up the hours until the meeting with Dr. Sheffield, her father’s college buddy, and a lifeline to getting her old job back. The physician had been the one who encouraged nursing school and guided her through the process, even giving a star recommendation when the RN position opened at the local hospital.
As day finally showed its full light and the appointment time neared, possessing a need to appear bright and cheery, Jordan selected a yellow sundress. Pulling the cotton over her head, she crossed to the mirror on the wall and inhaled a shaky breath as the reflection mocked her.
Going back to her natural hair color had been one of the many steps to getting her life back, a fresh start. Never would she give anything up for a man again. She ran a brush down the black locks. The strands had been blonde for years, and seeing the transformation harbored many unwanted memories. The person who caused so much grief and disappointment.
No! That girl is long gone
She was stronger now, older.
Shaking off the unpleasantness of her past, she grabbed her purse. This was the point in her life when she needed to hold her head high and move forward. Determined to make something of herself and make her parents proud, she straightened her spine and unlocked the door…just as the wood sprang open.
“There you are.” Darcy Brooks stepped forward, light brown curls bouncing on her gray, short sleeved shirt. “Oh my, God, your hair. I’ve never seen it so dark.”
“I missed you, too.” Jordan accepted the hug and patted her best friend’s back, a bit taken by an unexpected rush of longing.
Why did I stay away?
Because you trusted an unworthy man.
Because she believed her ex-boyfriend when he told her how much he loved her, how he’d do anything for her, and how he admired the ladylike qualities instilled upon her. So much so, she moved away with him to support his singing career. And by finding a two bedroom apartment and maintaining a full time job while he jumped from gig to gig, she had been able to keep the responsible path she’d carefully planned out for her future. In the end, the joke was on her, letting time and distance separate her from the people who mattered most and truly cared about her. Guilt tumbled through her.
Darcy fingered the tresses. “I love it. It’s stunning. Why on earth did you ever bleach it? I like this much better. Your blue eyes really pop.”
“And your hair is a lot lighter.” She lifted a few of the brown strands.
“Too many hours in the sun.” The brunette smiled, linking their hands. “I wish you’d have let me pick you up from the airport.”
“My plane landed later than scheduled, and I didn’t want to cause any problems. That’s why I texted you saying I’d stay at a motel.”
But oh no, her friend had refused to let her spend the night anywhere besides the Matthews Dude Ranch. She’d even kept the porch light lit on one of the cabins to guide the way up the driveway.
“Didn’t matter. I couldn’t sleep anyway, and it killed me not to rush over here when you pulled up, but Nick insisted I give you time to settle in. He said you’d probably be beat and want to sleep.”
Jordan had yet to meet Darcy’s fiancé, Nick Matthews, who ran his parents’ dude ranch along with his brothers. While she was happy for her friend and grateful to the man who put such a radiant smile on her face, she couldn’t help the apprehension sneaking in over this new chapter of her own life.
“He’s right. I wouldn’t have been much company. You sure it’s okay for me to stay? I don’t want to intrude on the family.”
“Are you kidding? You’re
family, and this is where you belong. And I don’t want to hear anymore on the subject.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She laughed, relieved to find her friend still considered her family. Not having any living blood relations, they had adopted each other as honorary sisters after a horrible accident landed Darcy in the hospital with amnesia, and Jordan had been assigned as her nurse.
“How was your drive? Did you sleep okay? Do you have everything you need?”
“I realize you’re excited, darlin’, but give the lady a chance to answer,” a deep drawl sounded from the doorway.
Her friend tilted her head with a bright smile for the tall cowboy sporting a snug, black T-shirt and equally tight fitting blue jeans.