Authors: Julie Korzenko
THE FIFTH SEASON
REVIEWS FOR DEVIL’S GOLD
“Fans of Alex Kava, Shannon McKenna, and Suzanne Brockmann will hope to see more…”
“With the wonderful characters, a page-turning plot, and interesting facts and details…a definite must-read.”
“…a thoroughly researched and sublimely readable thriller…”
RT BOOKReviews Magazine - 2009 Romantic Times Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense
REVIEWS FOR DRAGON DANCER
“A magical story about a love that defies time and refuses to be defeated. Julie Korzenko’s DRAGON DANCER swept me away!”
Debra Webb, author of the bestselling Faces of Evil series
“Korzenko pens a charming tale with charismatic characters that are surrounded by mayhem, mystery, ancient magic and a romance that will leave you breathless.”
Billie Jo, Romance Junkies, 4.5 Blue Ribbons
Copyright 2012, Julie Korzenko
Cover art: LFD Designs for Authors
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This book, or parts therefore, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Banyan Books. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.
Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy or copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Library of Congress Control No. 1-861113341
Thank you to Meg Allison for being my second set of eyes on an incredibly tight schedule. As always, a huge round of thanks, hugs and love to my husband and children who pick up the slack when the writing fever strikes.
OTHER BOOKS BY JULIE KORZENKO
ANGEL FALLS – COMING FEBRUARY 2013
DRAGON DANCER SERIES
BOOK ONE: THE AWAKENING
DRAGON DANCER ORIGINS (Novella Series)
ANCIENTS, BOOK I – FIRST BORN – COMING JANUARY 2013
Emma O’Malley stared out her office window. Sunlight reflected from the river, striking her eyes and making her squint.
“The new owner of River Run will be arriving sometime today,” Margaret’s estate lawyer stated in a blunt and matter-of-fact tone, not realizing he was ripping her world apart.
The sharp, clipped words hopped an unstoppable merry-go-round in Emma’s mind. She inhaled and exhaled rapid breaths, battling against the suffocating clutches of a full-blown panic attack. “I don’t understand. It can’t be true. It’s not fair.” She cringed inwardly at her whiny teenager-like voice.
“There’s not much to understand,” the man said. “Stone Connor is Margaret’s grandson. Please have the resort prepared for a tour and provide him with appropriate accommodations.”
Emma avoided eye contact and continued to focus on the scenery beyond the glass pane. Summer kissed the rambling fields with a vibrant green that became blurred and distorted with shock. “You can’t be serious? I know you’re Margaret’s attorney, but you were also her friend. She’d never leave this place to someone she barely knew.”
Her world crumbled last week, but she’d survived. Emma’s throat caught, and she pushed down the rock of grief.
She’d not only lost a woman she loved dearly, but also fifteen years of happiness, success, and security shattered by the power of the Almighty.
Sorrow was still very much an overwhelming camper within Emma’s heart. But now, that pain was being forced aside by an even deeper and well known invader…fear.
Losing River Run was something she’d never considered.
“Emma, Margaret has provided quite well for you. You have a healthy trust fund, but River Run has passed to her grandson. I’m sorry. I know how much you love the place. He’s mentioned the fact that he’ll be selling the resort. Maybe you can inquire as to a position with the new owners.”
“I don’t want her money.”
I want River Run, I need River Run
Tilting her head, she listened to her surroundings. Tick tock. Tick tock. The usual comfort the antique grandfather clock afforded suddenly resembled the last thirty-second countdown of her life. Doomsday dead ahead, it clipped.
“I’ve an appointment, Emma. As I said, Stone Connor will be arriving today. Now, if you’ll please excuse me. I’ll check back with you after he’s settled.”
Emma nodded and rose, shaking the meaty hand of the attorney. “Thanks, Matthew, for coming out here personally and explaining. I’m sorry for my rudeness.”
The elderly man smiled and wrapped her in a gruff bear hug. “Life has a funny way of challenging us. I realize this is a huge adjustment for you, but I know deep down that Margaret was only looking out for your best interests. These were not decisions she made lightly.”
Emma nodded, swallowed and swore under her breath when a tear escaped the corner of her eye. “I know. I’ll be fine.”
As Margaret’s attorney exited the resort, Emma tightened her mouth and inhaled a few sharp breaths. Stone Connor hadn’t even bothered to attend his grandmother’s funeral. His claim to River Run was a travesty. He had no right. With a glance at her desk, she traced the large flourished letters of Margaret’s Last Will and Testament with her fingertip.
Her mind waded through the maze of emotions, trying to find a way out. Every turn of thought increased her frustration until the need to scream scratched her throat.
She rose and stalked out of the office and into the main section of the resort. The ten thousand square foot estate nestled in a remote corner of Jackson, Wyoming held five suites. Featuring seven bedrooms, numerous fireplaces, extensive decks, three lounges, pool table, and exercise room, River Run was a favorite retreat for the wealthy. Emma was losing more than her job…she was losing her home.
Crossing the main living room, she walked down the stairs to the lower level and entered the first suite to her left. She ran her hands slowly across the down bedding that covered an antique, four-poster bed and smoothed non-existent wrinkles.
Emma sighed as her fingers glided against the crisp, white cotton. It felt heavenly soft and called to her with an irresistible invitation to Neverland.
Verifying that the dresser and nightstands shone brightly, she nodded in approval when the late morning sun reflected its beams of light upon the gleaming surface. A slight lemon-scent remained from the furniture polish, tickling her nose and springing forth a memory of Margaret performing her daily white-glove inspections.
If only she could bring the peaceful surrounding within, it might make the future manageable.
A soft chime signaled the approach of a vehicle. Emma installed the underground security wire several years ago after a group of over-zealous reporters tracked one of their celebrity guests to the lodge. The signal was the first alert, the second alert was at the gated front entrance, where you either needed a code to enter or call the office for admittance.
Due to the fact that there were no guests this week, she’d released the staff to privately grieve for Margaret and spend personal time with their own families.
She hurried up the stairs, jogging down a narrow hall and into the office. Swearing with the voracity of an Irish sheepherder, Emma sat down and stared at the image in the security camera. The slight trembling of her hands an annoyance.
It must be him, she thought. Stone Connor currently stood at the end of the long gravel drive. Threatening and dangerously close to the only place she’d ever called home.
He was leaning against the front of his Jeep Wrangler, gazing around the massive property. Even though the picture was grainy, she didn’t deny that the man had the presence of someone who knew what he wanted and intended to achieve his goals, at all cost. With a start, she realized he wasn’t admiring the property but taking stock.
As if he felt her presence, Stone turned his head and glared into the surveillance camera.
Emma gasped then released a shaky laugh. It was impossible for him to know she was watching.
He was scruffy. And she leaned forward to see what lay beneath the beard and mustache. The picture was too fuzzy, and it was impossible to obtain any idea of his motivation.
Her eyes widened when he snarled, shook his head in disgust, and walked around the vehicle. Jumping behind the wheel, he gunned the engine and sped through the gates. Margaret’s attorney must have given him the code, she realized. Resentment sparked and fired.
He was coming.
Emma began to shake. “Stupid woman. He’s not the enemy.” She inhaled and exhaled several times, attempting to smooth her anxious nerves.
Wiping her sweaty palms on the front of her jeans, she walked out of the office, through the kitchen, and opened the large mahogany front door. This was her territory. He might be the owner, but he didn’t belong here.
River Run would be hers.
Stone was irritated.
Why hadn’t he been informed of his grandmother’s death? Granted, he’d cut ties a lifetime ago, but someone could have notified him. A small pang of regret and sadness clenched his heart, and Stone quickly doused it. No good to start caring at this late date, but he’d like to have been at the funeral. The old woman hadn’t ever pushed him or pried into his soul like everyone else. She’d been okay in his book…until now.
He didn’t understand Margaret Connor’s motivation for leaving him River Run. He didn’t want it.
Stone prided himself on being a man with no connections.
Those only caused pain when Death came to visit. And Death was always there, waiting until the perfect moment to rip into your soul. He knew. He’d seen it.
Hundreds of lifeless eyes wavered before his face and behind each set were thousands more filled with an aching anguish no living person should witness.
Not for him.
Even before he’d entered the Army’s Ranger program, Stone realized the detachment he coveted so dearly was steadfastly established. War merely reaffirmed it.
Yet, here was something that threatened to invade his territory. A possession.
“Never,” he said softly. He’d sell this place, donate the money somewhere and be on his way.
Pulling the Jeep to the front of the lodge, Stone mentally noted the missing roof shingles and peeling paint. He didn’t care. River Run could rot.
The woman framed within the mammoth front doors was another thing all together. She was tiny, but the invisible mini-Teton lodged firmly on her shoulder was an entirely different matter. Dark amber hair swept back from a pixie face in waves of soft curls while green fire crackled from beneath thick lashes. At least, green was the color he imagined. Clad in jeans and a white polo shirt sporting the resort’s logo, she silently challenged him to move forward.
Stone hissed between his teeth. This was a complication.
Margaret’s attorney had warned him…this woman and River Run were one in the same.
Hell, she could have the damn place. In fact, he’d gladly sign it over and be done with it all. Except that wasn’t the provision of the Will. Four seasons. He had to spend four insufferable seasons here.
If he didn’t, then possession reverted to his father. And that wouldn’t do.
He’d never allow that.
And that meant River Run was his for the next twelve months.
So, here he was, in an uncontrollable situation. Again.
“Mr. Connor?” Emma couldn’t believe the man stood there staring at her as if she radiated some sort of black plague. How rude.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered in a gruff, raspy voice. Stepping away from the Jeep he sauntered slowly in her direction. Hands shoved within the pockets of his faded denims, head cocked slightly to the side, eyes roving everywhere and nowhere all at once. What was he searching for?