He turned at the sound of his housekeeper’s voice, saw Livvy Jones running him, her breath huffing out in the cold.
Jackson smiled. “Take it easy, Liv, you’ll give yourself a heart attack.”
She drew in a panting breath and slowly released it. “I forgot to tell you–I rented the cottage.”
“We talked about it, remember? You said we ought to do something with the place instead of just letting it sit there and rot into the ground.”
“You said do something, so I did.”
He lifted his cowboy hat then settled it back down on his forehead. “All right, I guess that’s fair.” He looked over at the cottage. “So who’s the new tenant?”
“Sarah Hollister. She used to live in Wind Canyon when she was a girl. She recently lost her husband. She wanted to come home and I thought this would be the perfect place for her to recover from her loss.”
“Doesn’t sound familiar.”
“She was Sarah Allen when she was a girl.”
Jackson took the news like a sucker punch to the stomach. Sarah Allen. Damn, he had known her voice sounded familiar. Sarah had been two grades behind him in school. He’d thought she was the prettiest, sweetest girl he had ever seen.
Man, had he been wrong.
Jackson glanced over at the cottage. He was no longer that same insecure boy who had left Wind Canyon sixteen years ago. But he would never forget the girl who had made him feel less than a man.
“You remember her, don’t you?” Livvy asked, breaking into his thoughts. “She was real pretty, thick dark brown hair and big blue eyes. She was kind of shy back then.”
“Shy? I’m afraid that isn’t the Sarah I remember. And I don’t want her here.” He started walking toward the cottage, but Livvy caught his arm.
“What are you doing? I’ve already taken her money.”
“Then give it back.”
“She doesn’t want it back. She wants a place to raise her little girl. I thought it would be nice to have a child around–and maybe some female company once in a while.”
“Fine, but not here. Go back to the house, Livvy. I’ll take care of this.” Jackson kept on walking. He tried to tell himself he wouldn’t get the least satisfaction from throwing Sarah Allen off his land. But he knew it wasn’t the truth.
Sarah was on her way back into the living room–wide-planked wooden floors, a stone fireplace, a comfortable sofa and chairs–when she heard a knock at the door. For an instant, fear gripped her. Even with Andrew dread, she worried about who it might be.
She forced herself to relax. Assuming it must be Olivia Jones, the lady who had rented her the property, she hurried over and opened the door.
Her eyes widened. It wasn’t Olivia, it was Jackson Raines.
And he didn’t look happy to see her.
She wet her lips, which sudden felt stiff as paper. “Hello, Jackson.” He was even taller than she remembered, around six-foot-three. He had changed in sixteen years, each of his features now more distinct, his dark brown eyes more intense. She remembered the slight cleft in his chin but now a faint scar bisected one of his nicely shaped eyebrows.
A little tremor of awareness went through her that she was surprised to feel. It had been years since she had felt any sort of attraction to a man. After Andrew, she thought maybe she never would again.
“Do you…umm…work here on the ranch?” she asked.
The corner of his mouth edged up. “You might say that.” He looked over her, saw the boxes she had been unpacking. “I’m afraid we have a problem. Mrs. Jones made a mistake. The cottage is not for rent.”
Her stomach tightened. “That…that can’t be right. It was listed on the Internet. The details have all been worked out.”
“I’ll see your money is returned. And I’ll pay for any extra trouble this might have caused. Just tell me how much and I’ll write you a check.”
Her voice rose. “I don’t want a check! This is going to be our home. Holly and I…we need this place. We love it here already.”
Just then the little girl raced into the living room. “Mommy–there’s a nest of baby robins under the roof right outside my window!”
“Please,” Sarah pleaded, looking up at Jackson again. “Isn’t there any way you could speak to the owner, tell him how important it is for Holly and me to stay?”
She glanced away, afraid he would notice the glitter of tears in her eyes. “She just lost her father. She needs this, Jackson. Please…I need it.”
Jackson looked down at Holly who was staring at him as if he were a real life hero–which, to her, being a cowboy and their savior last night, he was.
He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if you stayed for a while. Just don’t get too comfortable. If things don’t work out, you’ll have to find another place to stay.”
Relief hit her so hard her knees went weak. A bright smile broke over her face. “So you’ll talk to the owner? You’ll make sure it’s okay for us to stay?”
He made a scoffing sound. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He turned and started walking.
Sarah ran after him. “Wait, I meant to ask…. What’s the name of the man who owns the ranch?”
He kept on walking, his boots crunching in the snow. Over his shoulder he called back to her. “Jackson Raines.”
- New York Times – January 16, 2011 – #20
- New York Times – January 23, 2011 – #27
- New York Times – January 30, 2011 – #29
- New York Times – February 6, 2011 – #25