Read Lone Stallion's Lady Online

Authors: Lisa Jackson

Lone Stallion's Lady (9 page)

BOOK: Lone Stallion's Lady
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Some of the Hip Hop regulars had shown up. Lily Mae Wheeler, Winona Cobbs and Homer Gilmore, the old guy with long gray hair and equally long beard who spent as much time in the hills spotting aliens as he did in town, had claimed their usual spots. Most of the patrons Janie recognized and called by name, but a few strangers were sprinkled about and more streamed in, filling up the booths and tables faster than the busboy could clear them.

Janie breezed between the tables, took orders, brought drinks and food and tried to ignore the fact that her feet were beginning to ache from the long hours she’d put in this week.

The girl with the paperback absently chewed on the edge of her lip and every once in a while eyed the Help Wanted sign taped to the front window. “Order up,” the cook yelled, and Janie scooped up four platters of steaming food. Balancing the plates carefully she wended her way through the tables to a booth in the corner. “Chicken-fried steak?”

“Right here,” a cowboy with red hair, freckles and Western-cut shirt said. He was a regular who hired out as a ranch hand on several of the nearby spreads. As she set a couple of Reuben sandwiches and a Cobb salad in front of each of his friends, the cowboy used two fingers to motion Janie closer. His gaze was fastened on the girl at table six. “Don’t suppose you know the gal over there with her nose stuffed into a book, do you?” he asked.

“No.” Janie shook her head. “This is the first time she’s been in.”

His brow creased. “Think she’s just visitin’?”

“I wouldn’t know. Is there anything else I can get you?”

His friends shook their heads and dug into their food, but the cowboy was distracted.

“Order up!” A bell rang as the cook yelled just as the Patsy Cline tune ended.

“I guess I’ll just have to find out,” the cowboy said
as Janie hurried back to the counter to pick up an order of burgers and fries.

From the corner of her eye she noticed the cowboy saunter over to the bookworm’s table. Grabbing the coffeepot, Janie headed to Winona Cobbs’s table.

Winona was eyeing the girl with the paperback when Janie came to refill her coffee cup. “Who’s that one?” Winona asked as she tore open a small package of cream. White clouds appeared in her cup as she drizzled in half the packet. She hitched her chin in the direction of the girl.

“You’re the psychic,” Janie teased. “You tell me.”

“All right.” Small lines appeared between Winona’s graying eyebrows. “To tell you the truth, I think she looks like Lexine Baxter.”

Janie nearly dropped the carafe of coffee. “Lexine? No way!” Lexine was pure evil and now in prison for crimes ranging from prostitution to murder. It was Lexine who had killed several of the Kincaid clan, including her husband Dugin and father-in-law Jeremiah. Janie shivered at the thought of the beautiful, seductive, and depraved woman. Thank God, she was locked away forever with no chance of parole.

“Yep.” Fiddling with a crystal pendant that swung from a chain around her neck, Winona cast another look at the girl at table six.

Obviously embarrassed by the cowboy’s attention, the newcomer blushed and swallowed, forced a smile she obviously didn’t feel, and looked as if she wanted to drop right through the floor.

“Well, I’m talkin’ about when Lexine was younger, before she had all that plastic surgery and she discovered that blondes really do have more fun.” Winona narrowed her eyes. “Take off that one’s glasses, dye her hair, and I’m tellin’ ya, she’s a dead ringer for Lexine.”

Janie wouldn’t believe it. She shuddered inwardly.

“You’re way off on this one.”

The door opened and more customers streamed in.

“Don’t think so. There’s Baxter blood in that one, unless I miss my guess, and there’s something more. Look at the way she’s trying to ignore the boy who wants to flirt with her. It’s not natural.”

The cowboy had placed a hand on the table and was leaning close, obviously interested, but he wasn’t getting any kind of positive response. Finally giving up, he returned to his seat, grabbed his knife and fork and tore into his steak.

The poor girl stared at her book, but Janie noticed she didn’t bother to turn a single page. Something was troubling her, and Janie knew the signs all too well. Worried glances, pursed lips, shadows darting through her eyes—all accompanied by heavy sighs. “You know, I’d bet that she’s here in town to mend a broken heart. She could have just broken up with someone.” Then, hearing herself, Janie shook her head as Elvis began to croon through the speakers. “Not that it’s any of my business.”

“I’m still saying she looks like Lexine in her younger days,” Winona insisted, sipping from her cup. “I mean, without all that bad energy she conjured up later.”

With a wave of her hand, Janie dismissed Winona’s comments. Besides, she wasn’t about to lump all the Baxters into one immoral pot. While Jordan had started out poor and made the best of a bad situation, returning to Whitehorn a prosperous, if not a kind man, his cousin Lexine had taken to a life of heinous crime. Though there was no doubt that both Lexine and Jordan hated the Kincaids, their need for revenge and the same grandparents were about all Jordan and Lexine had in common.

To think that the girl in the big glasses looked anything like the murderess was more than Janie could imagine.

“Take care of table eight,” she told the busboy just as the bell over the door rang again and a group of teenagers swaggered in, laughing and joking, before sliding into a corner booth.

Sweat prickling her brow, Janie started for the table, but the girl who had been reading caught her attention as she was about to hurry past. “Excuse me.” She looked up at Janie. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I couldn’t help but notice the sign in your window and I thought…I mean—”

“You want the job?”

“Yes. I’d like to fill out an application.” Large hazel eyes gleamed behind pop-bottle-thick lenses.

“Do you have any experience?” Janie asked the younger woman.

“A little.”

“Tell you what,” Janie said. “Go grab an apron from
a cupboard by the back door. The cook will point you in the right direction. There’s a pen and receipt book in the pocket. Then come back and start working.” She gave the newcomer quick, basic instructions.

“I—I’m hired?” the girl asked incredulously.

“For tonight. Think of it as a trial run.”

“Wow.” She brightened, and Janie motioned to the busboy to clear her table.

“Just one more thing,” Janie said as the girl started for the kitchen.

“What’s that?”

“I’m Janie Austin. I’m the manager here. What’s your name?”

“Emma. Emma Stover.”

“Nice to meet you, Emma,” Janie said with a smile as she wiped a droplet of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. “Welcome aboard.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘real friendly’?” Jack Henderson asked as he held the telephone receiver to his ear and paced in front of his desk. Glancing out the window, he spied cars whipping up and down the palm-lined street just a couple blocks off Sunset Boulevard. A thin layer of smog had Los Angeles in a choke hold, but that didn’t stop roller-bladers and pedestrians from walking on the bright sidewalks.

“I mean, I saw Gina and Remmington dancing there in the hotel bar, oh, about five, maybe six weeks ago.” Herb Atherton laughed, and the sound was nearly dirty.
Jack had never much liked Herb, whose credentials included a law degree but who did little in Jack’s opinion to improve the legal system. Herb was and always would be a taker, a man who had the morals of an alley cat and yet had cultivated the ability to look down on others as if he were related to God. Herb didn’t know the meaning of the word loyalty, but, if the price were high enough, he was willing to do whatever it took to win a case—right or wrong.

“Is that right?” Jack felt the vein above his eye begin to throb. Gina hadn’t mentioned meeting Remmington. In fact, he’d thought she had planned to go to Montana, locate that last heir, if he really existed, then get out. She hadn’t been interested in meeting Larry Kincaid’s brood of illegitimate children, had even balked when Garrett had asked that she be present when they all arrived in Whitehorn.

“Yep,
real
friendly, if ya know what I mean.”

Jack wanted to reach through the phone and strangle the smug attorney, but he somehow managed to hang on to his patience. “Gina didn’t mention it.”

“I’ll bet she didn’t. She spilled wine all over the guy, then gushed and apologized and ended up going up to his room—you know, to get the stains out or something.” Another nasty laugh that ended in a coughing fit.

“Was there something you wanted?” Jack asked, trying to hide his irritation.

“Yeah, I need a little help trackin’ down a dead-beat father,” Herb said, suddenly very serious. “The jerk up and left the ex-wife and five kids high and dry about six
months ago. I thought maybe you’d want to team up and help me out.”

“That’s really Gina’s department,” Jack said, the muscles tightening at the base of his skull whenever he heard about a man walking out on his family. Losers, every one of them—his own father included. “I’ll have her give you a call when she gets into town.”

“Do that.” Herb hung up and Jack was left with a bad taste in his mouth. He didn’t like Herb Atherton’s insinuations about his kid sister, but then, Herb wasn’t one to spout off without at least a seed of truth to back him up.

“Damn it all,” Jack growled, wishing Gina would wind up the Kincaid case and hightail it back here. He was always a little restless when she was gone, though he knew he was being overprotective, just as he’d always been. Yet he couldn’t help but feel responsible for her. He was the one who’d started the agency when he’d had it up to his eyeballs with the red tape of working for the L.A.P.D. Domestic violence, drugs and gangs had jaded him and at the first opportunity he’d quit the force and gone into business for himself.

Gina, after graduating from college, had begged to join him, and he’d reluctantly agreed to let her be a part of the team. He figured that at least he would be able to keep an eye on her. The kicker was that she’d proved herself to be one helluva investigator, especially when it came to tracking people down, and eventually Jack had made her his partner.

Until now she’d proved herself to be levelheaded, smart, efficient and professional.

So what was she doing with Trent Remmington?

He picked up his cup of now-cold coffee, walked over to a potted avocado plant and tossed the dregs into the soil.

When their old man had left, Gina had only been four years old. Jack, all of twelve at the time, had decided then and there that he’d take care of her. And he had.

Until now. Or so it seemed.

Swearing under his breath, he reached for his Lakers’ cap and strode out the door. It slammed with a bang behind him and the heat of the city hit him full-force. Not that he cared. He’d go for a run along the beach at Santa Monica, think long and hard, then call his sister in Montana and ask her what in the hell was going on.

Eight

“J
ust tell me this, Gina, and give it to me straight. Are you involved with Trent Remmington?” Jack demanded from the other end of the line.

Gina’s back muscles tightened as they always did when her brother pushed his way into her personal life. But, standing in the middle of the kitchen, she couldn’t get into it with him now. She twisted the cord around her as she turned her back to the table where Garrett and Trent nursed cups of hot coffee and mopped thin pancakes through rivers of maple syrup. Suzanne, humming softly, was already stripping off her apron as the scents of bacon grease and java were blown around by a breeze rolling through the open windows.

“I don’t see that it’s any of your business,” she said, keeping her voice low.

“Hold it. Stop it right there, Gina. We had a deal, you and me. We
don’t
get involved with clients, or subjects of our searches or—”

“Murder victims?” she teased, trying to lighten the mood while silently praying that Trent wasn’t listening. He and Garrett had been talking about Blake before the phone had jangled.

“Don’t try to be cute, okay? I’m not in the mood,” Jack growled.

She could envision the lines of disapproval bracketing his mouth. “And don’t you blow a gasket. I know what I’m doing.”

Her brother snorted and she wished she could reach through the phone lines and shake some sense into him.

“I am twenty-seven, you know.”

“Old enough to avoid a mistake like this.”

“Just trust me,” she whispered. With any luck, her words were drowned out by the shouts of workers who had already arrived, intent on getting on with the job of renovating the place. Hammers pounded and a tractor started up outside, the rumble of its engine adding to the curtain of noise. “This is my life,” she reminded her brother.

“Damn it all, Gina, you
are
involved!” He swore a blue streak before somehow managing to retrieve a bit of his composure. “You should know better.”

“And you should butt out.”

“Didn’t you say that Trent Remmington is a rich playboy? A maverick oilman? A gambler?”

With each charge she cringed. If her brother only knew that she worried she might be pregnant. What would he say then? Well, he couldn’t find out. He’d have a stroke, Garrett would go through the roof, and Trent would probably think she was using the baby to blackmail him into a relationship. Oh, Lord, what a mess. The hammering stopped and the tractor drove off, the sound of its engine fading. Again she lowered her voice. “I know what I’m doing, Jack,” Gina lied, unconsciously crossing her fingers. “I would appreciate you having some faith in me.”

“Holy Toledo.” There was a moment’s pause in the conversation, then he sighed loudly and she pictured him running stiff, frustrated fingers through his brown hair while his hazel eyes darkened with concern. The little scar on his chin, a result of a tango with a knife-wielding crack addict, was probably more pronounced as his anger rose.

“And, by the way, since when did you start listening to gossip?”

“Oh, give me a break, Gina.”

“You give me one. Herb Atherton? Please!”

“Okay, so Atherton is slimy, I’ll grant you that, and he’d sell his grandmother if he thought it would guarantee him a judgeship, but he usually gets his facts straight.”

“The jerk should mind his own business. And so, brother, dear, should you.”

“I am, Gina,” Jack said, his voice tightening into the big-brother timbre she recognized and resented. “This is my agency and—”

“And I thought we were partners.”

“We are but—”

“Then for God’s sake, trust me, and don’t come unglued. I’m handling everything, okay?”

She hesitated. Was it her imagination or had the kitchen become suddenly so still you could hear the proverbial pin drop?

She cleared her throat. “The rest of the half brothers are arriving in a few days, so if you’re done, I think I’ve had my fill of browbeating for the rest of the day. But call back next week. I’ll probably be under quota by then.” She slammed the receiver back into its cradle. Turning, she found Garrett and Trent pretending to show interest in their clean plates while Suzanne, hanging her apron on a hook near the back door, lifted a curious eyebrow before saying, “I’ll be back in a few hours.” The screen door slapped shut behind her.

“Trouble?” Garrett asked as Gina settled into her chair where her breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and pancakes had congealed into a swamp of melted butter and syrup.

“Nah.” She shook her head.

“I heard the browbeating comment,” Trent remarked, and there was a tension near the corners of his mouth she’d never noticed before.

“Oh, it was just my brother. He can be a real pain sometimes.”

Trent nodded but didn’t seem convinced. He took a long swig from his cup. “I know about brothers.”

“And you’ll get to know more, real soon, unless I miss my guess,” Garrett observed, rising to glance out the window as a sleek black Acura purred into the yard. “Looks like the first one’s just rolling up now.”

“Already?” Gina asked.

“Yep.” Garrett’s eyes narrowed as the man behind the steering wheel stepped out into the bright Montana sunlight. “Appears that twins are more alike than they might want to admit.”

Gina moved to stand beside Garrett and braced herself. Trent scraped back his chair without so much as cracked smile.

The new arrival pulled a smooth leather suitcase from the backseat and when he straightened, Gina caught sight of his features for the first time. Straight brown hair, high cheekbones, thin lips—identical to those of the man striding to the back door to greet him.

Blake Remmington had arrived in Whitehorn.

 

“So I’m not the first,” Blake said as Garrett and Trent strode across the parking lot.

Trent forced a smile he didn’t really feel. He and Blake had never gotten along. He didn’t expect their relationship to change just because they now knew that their mother had lied to them and that they were, in fact, Larry Kincaid’s sons. True to form, Blake was dressed in tan slacks, an open-necked polo shirt, and polished
loafers. No jeans and boots for this guy, Trent thought, not even in Montana.

Garrett stretched out his hand. “Garrett Kincaid. Your grandfather. It’s probably easier if you just call me by my first name.”

Trent noticed an entire gamut of emotions run across Blake’s strong features as he took the old man’s outstretched hand. “Glad to meet you.”

“Same here.”

Blake’s gaze moved past Garrett to land full-force on his brother. “Trent. You’re here early, aren’t you?”

“Just couldn’t stay away,” Trent drawled, knowing he shouldn’t bait his twin, but unable to stop himself. “What about you?”

“Once I got the phone call, I took care of business, threw some things in a bag and started driving.”

“Pretty spontaneous for you,” Trent observed.

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ve changed.”

“Is that just after hell froze over?”

“Right before.” Blake gave his brother an exaggerated wink. “Give it a rest, okay?”

“I’ll try. No promises.”

“Fair enough.” Blake nodded curtly but not one of his perfectly combed strands of hair had dared fall out of place. Though more people than Trent wanted to admit had insisted that he and his brother were dead ringers, they didn’t have a whole lot in common.

Unless, of course, you excepted that their mother had been a lying, social-climbing witch whose only
concern was the advancement of her career and their father had been a womanizing cheat. They did have those terrific traits to share.

Trent winced inwardly at the thought of how much his night with Gina had mirrored his biological parents’ meeting. Their mother had been a Montana state commissioner when she’d had the bad luck to run into Larry Kincaid at a Ranchers Association convention. After too many drinks and a roll in the hay, she’d found herself pregnant. Somehow, Barbara managed to convince Harold Remmington the boys were his and they’d married.

“Trent arrived a few days ago,” Garrett explained casually.

Blake’s blue eyes, so much like his own, found Trent’s and, though the slight tensing of his brother’s shoulders or the touch of disapproval in the curve of his lips was hardly noticeable, Trent saw it. He’d also bet that the old man hadn’t missed a single strained nuance between the brothers.

“Trent was never known for his patience.” Blake forced a handshake. It was strong, firm, and brief. “How’ve you been?”

“’Bout the same,” Trent drawled. He’d never been one to confide in Blake. Oh, sure, whenever he’d gotten himself into a mess now and again, he’d had to turn to Blake, but that had been years ago.

“Still wildcatting?”

“Yep. What about you?”

“Well, things have changed a bit since Garrett called.”

Trent heard footsteps behind him and Gina appeared. “Excuse me,” she said, and stuck out her hand. “You must be Blake.”

To Trent’s irritation Blake’s blue eyes sparked and his smile widened. “And you’re…?”

“Gina Henderson,” Trent said quickly before Garrett could make introductions. “Seems Gina was hired to track us down.”

“Congratulations,” Blake said so warmly and smoothly that Trent thought he might be sick. The guy was like warm pudding. Trent had forgotten how women had fallen at his brother’s feet. Even now. Gina wasn’t immune.

“Let me help you get your things,” Garrett offered. “You can either stay up here in the main house or in the bunkhouse. Plenty of room in either.”

“Doesn’t matter where.” Blake took a sweeping view of the place and as his gaze moved from the two-storied house to the stable, bunkhouse and outbuildings, he actually smiled, as if he liked the raw, rugged acres that unfolded in a patchwork of fields. “It’s pretty up here.”

Garrett practically beamed. “I think so.”

“Bet you’re not the only one,” Blake said.

Garrett, rather than nod proudly, sobered. “No,” he said, but didn’t elaborate. “Let me help you with these.”

Along with his suitcase, Blake had brought a briefcase, laptop computer and another smaller bag, all of the same matching leather, every piece engraved with his initials. Probably Blake’s ex-wife Elaine’s doing.

“Stayin’ awhile?” Trent asked.

“I think so, yeah.” Blake squinted against the morning sun as a warbler sang from a nearby tree and carpenters banged their hammers at the site of the new arena. “If that’s all right with you,” he said to the weathered man who claimed to be their grandfather.

“The longer, the better,” Garrett said, grabbing Blake’s laptop. “I think we all need to get to know each other.”

“What about your job?” Trent asked. He’d never seen his brother so laid-back before. For as long as Trent could remember, Blake was always on a schedule, or a regimen. The son with a plan. As far as Trent knew, his twin had never faltered in his path.

“I’m taking a month off. At least. Maybe longer.” They started toward the main house and Blake eyed the horizon. To the northwest the jagged snowcapped peaks of the Crazy Mountains loomed upward to a few hazy clouds. “Even doctors need some time off.” He glanced at his brother. Deep lines creased his forehead. “Thing’s haven’t been great.”

“I heard about the divorce.”

Sadness touched his brother’s eyes. “It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. Elaine and I…” He shook his head and frowned. “Well, it’s all water under the bridge now.”

For the first time in a long while, Trent felt a pang of sorrow for his brother. Even though Trent could have told Blake way back when that social-climbing Elaine Sinclair wasn’t the kind of woman who would want to stay home and raise the couple of kids his pediatrician
brother longed for. Elaine had liked money, social events, and knowing who was doing what. She’d had visions for her doctor-husband and herself that didn’t include her getting pregnant and fat or baking cookies or coaching soccer or attending dance recitals for a “snot-nosed brat.” Why Blake hadn’t seen it, Trent had never understood.

Blake had married Elaine and, upon her urging, taken a job in Southern California. Life in the fast lane of Los Angeles hadn’t been Blake’s cup of tea. Trent had known it from the get-go, but Blake hadn’t asked his opinion at the time and Trent probably wouldn’t have given it if he had. He figured each man made his own mistakes and paid for them.

At that thought, he glanced at Gina. God, she got to him. Even now, dressed in a pair of dark shorts and a pale yellow sleeveless blouse, she was sexier than any woman he’d met in a long time. Her hair turned to flame in the morning light and her little nose, spattered with those nearly invisible freckles, wrinkled when she laughed. Her smile was infectious and her legs, slim and tanned, seemed to go on forever.

Yep, he was hooked, he thought as he climbed the steps and held open the door.

And it ticked him off. Just as the spurt of jealousy he’d felt when she smiled at Blake bothered him. He’d never been the jealous type. If anything, he’d been the one who inspired jealousy and now that the tables were turned, he didn’t much like the new feeling.

Once inside, Garrett led Blake up the stairs and offered him a room next to Gina’s. Not that it mattered, Trent told himself as he set the bags he was carrying on the rag rug near a small bureau. Yet Trent’s damned jaw hardened to the point it ached.

“Fixin’ the place up?” Blake observed as two workmen carrying buckets of paint walked toward the back of the house.

“A bit. It was pretty rundown.” Garrett placed Blake’s laptop on his bed and glanced out the window. “Looks like Rand might need me,” he said, spying the foreman striding toward the house. “Why don’t you have Trent and Gina show you around? They’ve been here a few days.” Garrett started to turn toward the door, but Blake grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Thanks, Garrett,” he said, as if he were genuinely glad to meet the older man and embrace this chaos of a family. He threw out his hand again and clasped Garret’s palm hard. “I’m really glad to be here.”

“That’s good to know, son.” Garrett’s smile touched his eyes. He clapped Blake on the shoulder. “Good to have you.”

Trent strode out of the room. He couldn’t stand another second of all this fake family togetherness over Larry Kincaid’s bastard sons.

BOOK: Lone Stallion's Lady
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone
The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt
Sustenance by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Assassin's Rise by CJ Whrite
Heat Wave by Karina Halle
Alien Sex 103 by Allie Ritch
Counternarratives by John Keene
Night Train to Lisbon by Emily Grayson
A Tale of Two Trucks by Thea Nishimori
Fire Bound by Sherrilyn Kenyon