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Authors: Lisa Jackson

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BOOK: Lone Stallion's Lady
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“Oh, God.”

Gina slammed on the brakes and the Explorer shuddered to a stop.

There, big as life—no, make that bigger than life—was Gina’s own personal nightmare.

Trent Remmington was waiting for her.

And, from the looks of him, he was mad as hell.

Two

G
ina slowly eased her foot from the brake and shut off the engine. How could this have happened? Trent wasn’t supposed to be here until next week.

“Give me strength,” she whispered, her palms suddenly damp as they clenched the steering wheel. Through the open sunroof the Montana sun streamed down in what felt like harsh, merciless waves. Heat crawled up the back of her neck and images—a kaleidoscope of dark, seductive pictures—played through her brain. In her mind’s eye she saw all too vividly his tanned skin, rippling muscles, bare, broad shoulders and oh, so much more as he lay next to her on the bed in Dallas, kissing her, touching her, making her tingle inside….

Stop it!

Though it was only the middle of May, she was suddenly as hot as if it were late August. She couldn’t think of their night together in Dallas. Wouldn’t. Gritting her teeth, she reminded herself that she was a grown woman, a private investigator, for crying out loud. She didn’t have to feel an ounce of shame or obligation or…or even kid herself that she’d been in love with him. No way. No how.

So why was her stomach doing a slow roll of anticipation at the mere sight of him?

Crossing her fingers, Gina blinked and silently prayed that she was seeing things.

She wasn’t.

Trent Remmington was here at the ranch. All six feet, two inches of him. He stood on the front porch of the rambling, two-storied ranch house, his arms folded across his chest, his lips drawn into a thin line of disapproval. His eyes squinted against the bright spring sun, his jaw was set, and the hank of dark hair she’d found so fetching fell across his forehead as he glared at her.

Well, like it or not, she had to deal with him. Now. He would certainly demand answers she wasn’t prepared to give. Her feet scrambled into the sandals and for a fleeting second she thought she might have gotten lucky. Maybe the man on the porch wasn’t Trent, but his identical twin Blake. That would explain the uncharacteristic jeans and faded denim shirt.

No, she was only kidding herself. She’d researched both brothers. Blake and Trent, though they looked alike, were as different in personality as night and day.

Blake, a pediatrician now living in Southern California, was kindhearted, well-meaning, without the hard edge of his irreverent renegade of a twin. This tough-as-leather man glaring through the dusty, bug-spattered windshield at her was Trent Remmington. No two ways about it. He might have discarded his two-thousand-dollar suit and designer tie, but he still wore the same arrogant attitude of the maverick oilman he was.

To make matters worse, he obviously recognized her. If looks could kill, Gina Henderson, a.k.a. Celia O’Hara, would right now be six feet under and pushing up daisies.

She shoved open the door to the Explorer and stepped out onto sparse gravel. “Give me strength,” she whispered to any guardian angel who happened to be passing by. Leaving her briefcase, laptop computer and overnight bags in the car, she forced some starch into her spine as she marched across the lot. She was suddenly aware of her rumpled khaki skirt and sleeveless blouse that she’d thrown on hours ago in L.A. Her lipstick had probably faded and her hair was a tangled mess from the wind that had caught hold of it through the open windows and sunroof of the Explorer, but there wasn’t time to repair any of her feminine armor. Not that it mattered, anyway.

An old shaggy dog, with more shepherd than Lab in his gene pool, was lying on a patch of bare ground near the porch. In the shade of a shrub, he gave off a soft “Woof” as she approached.

“It’s all right,” she told the mutt, though she didn’t
believe it for a minute herself. He thumped the ground with his tail and didn’t bother climbing to his feet.

She stood in front of the stairs and looked up. “We’ve got to quit meeting like this,” she said to break the ice.

He didn’t so much as crack a smile.

She didn’t blame him.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

So much for pleasantries.

“Looking for me?” he continued.

“What?” She nearly laughed. If he only knew that she would have run in the other direction if she’d but guessed he was here.

“I don’t believe in coincidence.” Blue eyes drilled into her.

“Neither do I.” His voice brought back memories of laughter and seduction, memories she quickly cast aside. Her smile faded and she cleared her throat as she stared into a square-jawed face branded forever in her brain. “I’m actually here to see Garrett Kincaid.”

“You know him?” His eyes narrowed as she reached the bottom stair. Yet he didn’t make a step toward her, didn’t move, didn’t offer the hint of a smile, just stood, jeans-clad legs apart, denim shirttails flapping in the honeysuckle-laced breeze, arms folded across that broad expanse of chest she’d known so intimately.

This wasn’t the time for lies. “I work for Garrett,” she admitted, and could almost see the gears whirring in his mind with this new information.

“You work for him?” he repeated, assessing her all over again.

She mounted the steps and stood close enough to touch him for the first time since ducking out of the DeMarco Hotel five or six weeks ago as the first light of dawn had crept over Dallas. She blushed at the thought of their last meeting, but managed to keep her eyes trained on his.

“He hired me.”

“Then I take it you’re not a paralegal.”

“No,” she admitted, wishing she could drop through the battered floorboards. “I’m a private investigator, hired to locate all of Garrett’s grandsons.”

Deep grooves bracketed his mouth. “Anything else you lied about?”

“Oh, yeah,” she admitted, blushing as she nodded and cranked her chin up a couple of notches. “Quite a few things, unfortunately. It, um…” She met his gaze, then looked away in embarrassment. “It seemed appropriate at the time, but… Well, I don’t see any reason to beat around the bush now, but I think maybe Garrett should be involved in this conversation.”

“Why?”

“This is his gig. He hired me and I don’t know what he’s already said to you, if anything. There are things he might want to tell you himself.”

“I’ll bet.”

She glanced at the house. “I take it he’s not here?”

Trent shook his head and the afternoon sunlight
touched the thick mahogany-dark strands that brushed his collar and tops of his ears. “The foreman said he’s gone into town for some supplies.”

Wonderful, she thought sarcastically. Now she was stuck here. With Trent and her lies. “But you have met him.”

“Not yet.” Uncompromising blue eyes appraised her. “He called, invited me to come here next week, and I decided to jump the gun a bit.”

No wonder Garrett hadn’t warned her that Trent would be here. He hadn’t known himself.

“So, you live here in Whitehorn?” Obviously the inquisition wasn’t over.

“No,” she said quickly. “The L.A. part was the truth.”

“What wasn’t, Celia?”

She cringed inwardly at the name she’d come up with on the spur of the moment. “For starters, my name is Gina Henderson.”

One dark eyebrow cocked, encouraging her to go on. She glanced at the barn where a tractor pulling a trailer piled high with bales of hay had rumbled to a stop. Two ranch hands seated high on the mountain of hay jumped off and began unloading the bales, tossing them onto a conveyer that was positioned to move the bales upward and dump them into an open doorway on the second story of the barn. She could see other workers standing at the ready to stack them in the hay loft.

“Anything else I should know,
Gina?

“Oh, yeah, probably a lot, but let’s just wait and
Garrett can explain all the sordid, gory details,” she suggested, wiping away a drip of sweat that had slid down the side of her face.

“All right. We’ll play it your way. But when he gets here, I expect to hear the truth.”

“You probably won’t like it.”

His smile was as cold as a November rain. “I’m sure I won’t,” he agreed. “I’m damn sure I won’t.”

 

“Wait a minute,” Jordan Baxter insisted, leaning back in his desk chair and studying his daughter, Hope, with a jaundiced eye. Propping the heel of one polished boot on top of a neat stack of deeds, he narrowed his eyes on the one good thing he’d accomplished in his life. “You’re telling me that Garrett Kincaid is gathering all of Larry’s bastard children, here in Whitehorn?” His stomach turned at the thought. From the first time Dugin, one of those uppity Kincaid brothers had called him “white trash” back in grade school, Jordan Baxter had hated the whole family.

Hope slapped a file onto the edge of her father’s desk and leaned a hip against the corner. “I’m only telling you what I heard down at the Hip Hop Café at lunch today. It’s probably not true, anyway.”

Jordan hoped she was right. Hip Hop was gossip central in Whitehorn. Some of the information bandied about over elk hash, blueberry pie and hot coffee was right on; the rest was just the talk of bored, small-town minds ready to make a little excitement for themselves.

Hope lifted a slim shoulder as if she didn’t care what her father thought. Wearing black slacks and a T-shirt, her wheat-colored hair pulled back in a pony-tail, she looked even younger than her twenty-five years. She was on the naive side, but, given the way her father had protected her over the years, that was to be expected. She was smart as the proverbial whip.

“Six bastards?” he repeated with a long, low whistle. “And all boys?”

Hope offered an indulgent smile. “I’m not sure, Dad. It’s just what I heard, and now you’re getting all worked up again.” She sighed and moved from his desk to lean against the door frame to the outer office. “I shouldn’t have said anything.” She actually looked as though she regretted confiding in him.

“Listen, honey, this is the kind of thing I need to know. In a small town, fortunes can be made or destroyed by one little bit of information. If it’s true. So, who was talking about it—and don’t tell me Lily Mae Wheeler. That old battle-ax lives and breathes gossip and none of it’s reliable.”

“I overheard Janie talking with Winona Cobbs.”

“Winona? Well, that explains it.” Jordan let out a puff of disgusted air. “With all her psychic mumbo-jumbo, that woman should be locked away instead of being allowed to sell junk on the interstate.” He glanced up and saw Hope trying to swallow a smile. “What? You know as well as I do that she acts as if she’s been smokin’ peyote.”

“Janie was the one who had the information. And you’d better be careful, Dad,” Hope said, “talk like that about Winona could get you into trouble. It’s called slander, I think.”

Jordan let his feet fall to the floor. “I just call ’em as I see ’em.” But if Janie Austin was passing along the information on the Kincaids, then there might just be some truth woven into the local gossip. Janie usually knew her stuff. Bright and pretty, she had access not only to all the information that was passed from table to table at the Hip Hop Café, but she was married to Reed Austin, the deputy sheriff, who knew just about everything going on in the county. Nope, Janie wasn’t someone to create grist for the ever-turning gossip mill of Whitehorn.

So it could be true.

Whitehorn might be about to have a huge influx of Kincaids.

Stomach acid burned in Jordan’s esophagus and he reached into his desk drawer for a package of Rolaids tablets to help with the heartburn. He shoved back his chair. “I guess I’ll just have to check this out myself.”

“You do that,” Hope advised as she returned to her desk in the reception area.

Jordan grabbed his hat and caught his reflection in the mirror mounted near the door. At forty-six he was a long way from over the hill, but the silver in his dark hair and the lines around his eyes and mouth reminded him that he wasn’t getting any younger. He exercised
regularly, was fit, didn’t even have the hint of a gut, but the years were beginning to show. He’d hate to think how many of those gray hairs and wrinkles were the direct result of dealing with those damned Kincaids. That family had been the bane of his existence all his life and the thought that there were six more heretofore-unknown brothers about to appear in Whitehorn did nothing to improve his mood.

“Don’t forget that Jeremiah Kincaid killed your grandmother,” he said, passing his daughter’s desk.

Hope rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Dad, that isn’t fair. The coroner said she drank too much and was smoking in bed. That’s what caused the fire, not some devious plot by the Kincaid family. You’re the only person in the entire State of Montana who thinks Jeremiah was behind it.”

“He was.” The bastard. Rich, powerful, and deadly, he’d taken Vera Baxter to his bed, then cut her free. When she wouldn’t accept his rejection, she’d ended up dead in a conflagration that Jordan didn’t believe she caused for a minute.

“Does it matter? They’re both dead now. Let it go.”

“I’ll think about it,” he lied, as his fists clenched in frustration. Slowly he straightened his fingers. He wanted to argue, to bring up every incident where a Kincaid had screwed over a Baxter, so that his daughter would understand the legacy of pain every Baxter had borne, but he didn’t. Hope wouldn’t believe him, anyway. She was just too damned naive for her own good.

“I hope you’re wrong about this,” he said, straightening his tie.

“Me, too.” She held his gaze for a second. “I don’t want to see you get all crazy about it.”

“I won’t.” Well, not crazy, but his blood did curdle at the thought of even one more Kincaid in the area. Jeremiah had been a half cousin to Garrett, or something like that. The way those Kincaids screwed around it was hard keeping ’em all straight. Not that he really wanted to.

“So, Larry fathered six kids out of wedlock. It figures.” He chuckled without a hint of mirth as he squared his hat on his head and reached for the doorknob. “I bet that just about killed Garrett when he found out.”

“The way Lily Mae tells it, Garrett’s planning to divide up the Whitehorn ranch among the heirs. To make amends or something.”

That stopped him short. He let the doorknob go, and faced his daughter. “I thought you said Janie Austin had the information.”

BOOK: Lone Stallion's Lady
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