Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
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In the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain town of Nugget, California, falling hard is all too easy . . .
This is the summer of Annie Sparks—at least according to her. No more supporting lazy jerks or coddling irresponsible family or taking care of anyone who doesn’t deserve her help. Instead she’s headed to an estate in a remote mountain town, to spend her summer with her boots covered in mud and her hands working the earth. Love is the last thing on her mind.
Nugget is a long way from Logan Jenkins’ old life as a Navy SEAL. But before he starts fresh in the private sector, he receives a bequest from a man he never knew: his biological father. To learn more about his background, Logan makes his way to his late father’s estate, where he is immediately knocked on his heels by an incredible woman with a heart of gold.
Annie’s not looking for a fling, and Logan knows Nugget can’t be forever, so falling in love should be impossible. But when they’re together, time stops, and suddenly the impossible seems like the only thinkable option . . .
Logan laughed to himself. Who would’ve thought his ancestors were cowboys? The closest he’d ever gotten to livestock was the Kochis’ goat and sheep herds in the Hindu Kush. Here, he could see plenty of cows dotting the hills in the foreground like a poster advertising rural life on the farm. Pretty domesticated and attractive, he had to admit. Just not for him. He maneuvered better in chaos. Thrived in it, actually.
When he got close to the house, he circled around it to the back- yard. A couple of hammocks swayed under a log cabana. The large, kidney-shaped pool was tempting in the heat. The whole upscale setup was very dude-ranch spa.
So far, he wasn’t feeling his roots. No cosmic connection with the land. All he was feeling was a shitload of money. The old man was supposed to be buried in the family plot on the property. Maybe Logan would check that out and see if he could summon the ghost of the man who’d given him life. Thank him for being a douche bag.
Logan ambled down a well-worn path designated by a split-rail trail fence that jutted off from the pool area toward a stable. Like the house, the building was constructed of logs with two cupolas and a weather vane on top. It was probably where Rosser had kept the thoroughbreds or whatever kind of horses he’d raised.
“You’re late,” a woman called to him. She leaned against the side of the barn, shielding her eyes from the sun, a cowboy hat pulled over her forehead.
“Excuse me?” He walked toward her. Up close, he noticed her com- bat boots right off the bat. They looked funny with the bubblegum-pink tank top and short floral skirt that flared a few inches above her knees.
When he met her eyes—big ones that reminded him of golden brown sugar—she smiled and he went to DEFCON 3 in less than a heartbeat. It was like sunshine, that smile. So damn guileless that it instantly put him on alert. Where he’d come from everyone had an agenda.
“You were supposed to be here thirty minutes ago.” She pushed herself off the wall of the barn and shrugged as if she was willing to overlook his tardiness. “Come on. I’ll show you what needs to be done.”
Out of curiosity he followed her as she took the same path he’d started on through a wooded area. Her gait was brisk. Her legs and arms were toned, like she got plenty of exercise, and her ass . . . well, yeah, that looked toned too. They came up on a large cabin and she stopped.
“Your first task would be to clear this.” She swept her arm across the weeds and brambles strangling the building, which on closer inspection seemed more like a barrack, and eyed him up and down. “You look like you’re up to the challenge.”
Even with his Gatorz on, he could see the trail of freckles running across her nose. “What’s the cabin for?”
“It’s a bunkhouse and we’re going to use it for the program.”
He got the sense that he was expected to know what the program was, so he just nodded.
“There’s another one over there.” She pointed across a clearing at an identical building that had also seen better days. “Once the shrubs and weeds are cleared away, we’ll get to work on the insides.”
He probably should’ve told her he wasn’t the job candidate. But once he did, she’d kick him off the property and he wasn’t done looking around yet.
“After we finish up here, there are a few more cottages and a fore- man’s house we have to ready before the roofer and construction crew comes. If you still need work after that I could use you to help till the fields for the hay planting in the fall. You said you’re experienced operating a tractor, right?”
He’d never driven a tractor in his life, but there couldn’t be much to it. Anyway, he wouldn’t be here for that. His conscience told him to come clean because she’d find out sooner or later that he wasn’t here to clear brush. If she booted him off the land, he’d find another way to explore the place . . . his origins.
“Actually, no,” he said.
She tilted her head in surprise. “Were you trying to win me over on the phone so you could get the job?” Her mouth turned down into a frown. “I’ll be real honest with you: Riding a tractor isn’t required. We just need someone who isn’t afraid to put his back into the work.”
“No, I mean it wasn’t me on the phone.”
“Oh? Did you read the help-wanted ad in the Nugget Tribune?”
He felt compelled to remove a leaf that had gotten stuck in the band of her cowboy hat but kept his hands at his side. “Nope. I was checking the place out.”
“Rosser Ranch? Why?”
This is where it got tricky. He didn’t want to lie—liars were louses—but he wasn’t ready to advertise the truth. Hell, he’d just learned the truth seven days ago and was still trying to wrap his head around the news. The old man hadn’t even owned the ranch when he’d died. So to come here like this . . . well, it would seem strange.
“I was passing through, saw the gate, and got curious.”
“Passing through?” She seemed dubious. “So you’re not looking for work?”
Actually he was, just not this kind of work. He’d gotten out of the navy a couple of weeks ago and had found himself at loose ends, which was strange when for the last twelve years he’d been told where to shit and when to sit.
Gabe, also a former SEAL, wanted to start a private security business. Everything from risk management and cyber security to VIP protection and contract work for Uncle Sam. He wanted Logan to work for him and was trying to scrounge up investors and a few con- tract jobs to keep them busy. Any time now, Logan expected to get a call with an assignment.
“Nah,” he told her, and took off his shades and stuffed them in his shirt pocket. “You having trouble finding someone?”
“The only guy who called from the ad is a no-show. That’s why I thought you were him.”
“Sorry. I should’ve told you from the get-go.”
“That’s okay.” But her shoulders deflated in obvious frustration. “You sure you don’t want the job? It comes with living quarters . . . nothing fancy, but you get to live here.” She spread her arms wide.
“Yeah, it’s quite a place. You own it?” Somehow, he didn’t think so.
“Gosh, no. The owner, Gia Treadwell is great, though. She bought the place less than a year ago, after her financial-advice show got canceled.” She watched him closely, presumably to see if he recognized the name Gia Treadwell.
Logan wasn’t surprised that a celebrity owned it now. It would take that kind of money to maintain a place like this. He remembered seeing Treadwell’s program once or twice and hearing that she’d been embroiled in some sort of legal problems.
“She hired me to plant a Christmas-tree farm,” she continued. “I get to live on the ranch as part of the deal, which includes prepping the place for a residential program to help women down on their luck get back on their feet.” She hesitated and then said, “After . . . uh . . . Gia’s troubles, she wanted to pay it forward.”
Logan swiveled around to peer at the bunkhouses again. “They going to live in these?”
“Yep. And there are cottages for the women who have children.” “Nice.” He wanted to ask her if he could continue to check out the place, maybe wander over to the family cemetery plot, but thought
better of it. “I’m Logan Jenkins, by the way.” She stuck out her hand. “Annie Sparks.”
Annie had a good grip, even though his hands dwarfed hers. And she was so freaking pretty, with those big, soulful eyes and peaches-and-cream skin, that he couldn’t stop looking at her. Everything from her trusting demeanor to her flowered skirt and faded straw hat said sweet. Logan usually avoided the sweet girls; they always cried when he left and it broke his heart.
“Why don’t you show me where I’d get to live if I took the job?” It was an excuse to see more and to throw her a bone after initially misleading her.
“Sure,” Annie said, and perked up. She led him further down the path to a smaller log cabin. Unlike the others, this one had been cleared. The front porch even had a rocking chair and flower boxes underneath green trimmed windows.
She climbed the stairs and opened the front door. “Feel free to check it out.”
He went inside. The place was tiny, just a living room, galley kitchen, eating nook, and sleeping loft. What it lacked in space it made up for in charm, though Logan’s bar was pretty low. He’d been deployed so many times, living in enough CHUs—containerized housing units—that even the moldy, shoebox of an apartment he shared with Gabe in Coronado seemed like a palace.
“It’s adorable, isn’t it?”
“Not bad,” he said. Through the trees he could see wide-open pastures. The view certainly didn’t suck. “Where’s your place?”
“Over the garage. In the fall I’ll be commuting to finish my PhD program at UC Davis.”
“PhD, huh? What in?” “Agricultural economics.”
“Whoa, you must be smart.” Logan was lucky to have a high school diploma. Not that he was dumb, but he’d had trouble sitting through classes. The doctors had told his mom it was ADHD. They were wrong. He could concentrate just fine if it were something he was interested in. He loved to read, picked up languages fairly well— at least enough to be conversational—and was a quick study when it came to people. “So does that make you an economist or a farmer?”
“A farmer. Third generation. I don’t see that changing. I suppose the degree gives me extra credibility and the option to teach. How about you? What brings you to Nugget?”
“Uh . . . I recently got out of the navy, found myself between jobs, and have been doing a little traveling. The town looked interesting.” Most of what he’d said was true.
“I thought you might be military. Were you in the Middle East?” “Afghanistan and Iraq.”
“So you saw combat, huh?”
Logan nodded. “So why’s the place called Rosser Ranch?” He knew damned well why; he was fishing and it was a better topic than war.
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Stacy Finz is an award-winning reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. After more than twenty years covering notorious serial killers, naked-tractor-driving farmers, fanatical foodies, aging rock stars and weird Western towns, she figured she finally had enough material to launch a career writing fiction. In 2012 she won the Daphne du Maurier Award for unpublished single-title mystery/suspense. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband.
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