Chasing the Renegade
He’s looking for the comforts of home and she’s longing to get out of the town of Bailey. Could he be the answer to her prayers…or the wrong man?
The wrong man in the right place at the right time.
Nothing in Bailey, Montana will be normal again – not after a man from the Bailey clan married a beloved daughter from the Smythe side.
Jasper Bailey comes home from working in Alaska for the last six years, pulling in just in time to attend his oldest brother’s wedding. Both sides of the Bailey feud are in attendance and because Jasper’s been gone long enough, no one recognizes him. The ushers even sit him on the bride’s side.
Treya is a Smythe through and through. She knows her duty to the family is to make something of herself and die before caring for a Bailey Boy. When she meets Jasper-No-Last-Name, she hopes he has plans to leave that town and take her with him. His darkly dangerous looks and easy smile make her heart beat a little bit faster and are just bonuses to his whole package.
Not ready for anyone to think she’s falling in love and could be leaving Montana, Treya convinces Jasper to keep their relationship a secret – for now. Something Jasper seems all too willing to do.
Sneaking around has its perks, but when Treya finds out the truth about who Jasper is, she has to choose between her family and the man she’s grown to love. Is love enough to cover the pain of betrayal? Or is Treya destined to spend her life doing what everyone else wants before being labeled a traitor?
Bailey, Montana smelled a lot better than the fishing boats Jasper had spent the last six or so years on. Even the sun seemed different than it did in Alaska. Something about the mountains and trees of Montana had a home-appeal like a big plate of chicken and mashed potatoes.
Nothing like coming home.
Jasper climbed down the steps of the Greyhound bus he’d gotten last minute from Spokane, Washington where he’d flown in from Anchorage, Alaska. Renting had seemed illogical since there was nowhere near Bailey for Jasper to return the car. He’d buy a truck or something when he got to town, plus, he really just wanted a chance to sleep on the six-hour drive.
He waved over his shoulder at the driver and swung his backpack into place over his arm. His scuffed dark black cowboy boots seemed to rejoice as they met the Montana ground. He grinned down at the lines of his boots for a moment as he adjusted to the ambiance in the air. How many times had he been warned against wearing cowboy boots in Alaska? Too many men had said he’d be better off getting a pair of work boots.
As far as he was concerned, nothing else was going on his feet and his boots worked just fine, thank you.
Lifting his gaze slowly as he stood on the side of the road, Jasper inhaled and exhaled as if that would dissipate the tension swirling around him. He could feel it like electricity in the air.
Trucks and modest cars lined the streets, as if all of Bailey had shown up for the wedding being held in the town square. An outdoor wedding in the park seemed appropriate since the Smythes wouldn’t step foot in a Bailey-owned establishment and the Baileys wouldn’t all fit in a Smythe-owned building.
Jasper shook his head as he recalled the warning in the letter he’d gotten from a cousin about the wedding. “The marriage is sure to fail, but at this point, Titus is demanding everyone show up. The Smythes are as stubborn as ever and the feud is alive and well.” Well, as far as Jasper was concerned, the feud was stupid and so was anyone else that was wrapped up in it. It still smarted that he hadn’t heard about the wedding from his own brother since Titus himself was the one getting married.
He’d been dropped off on the opposite side of Main Street and as Jasper glanced both directions, left and right, to cross the road, he couldn’t help taking inventory of just how many cars had taken up every spot they could fit as far as the eye could see. A rough estimate would suggest over a hundred. Honestly, Jasper didn’t remember if there were that many people in Bailey. He’d have to check with Titus after the event was over.
The buildings seemed the same, faded from the sun and time. However, the park had taken on a whole new vigor as the various greens in the grass, trees, and foliage stretched toward the sun and the stream slicing diagonally through the park sparkled like molten diamonds. A brand-new bridge had been built across the water and an archway erected over the center of the ten-foot wide structure.
Roses and lilies and other flowers Jasper didn’t recognize clung to the shape of the arch. Chairs set up on either side of the stream faced inward but angled as if they couldn’t bear to stare at each other and only wanted to see the ceremony.
Judging by the placement of the seating and the symbolic joining of the two pieces of land via the bridge, one side of the park had been designated for the Smythes and the other for the Baileys.
Jasper didn’t care about all that. He just wanted to get through the wedding and then find a place to crash. He’d heard things about Titus still taking in the Bailey men and boys who had been affected by the awful curse. Jasper couldn’t help wondering who would take Titus in when his new wife either died or left him? Or worse, would his wife, Abby, kick everyone out of the house?
Slowly crossing the street, Jasper kept the brim of his cowboy hat low as he watched others slowly making their way to the designated entrances around the park. An usher dressed in a suit waited to seat each family or person who showed up, taking them carefully to their side of the wedding.
Usually in town, Bailey men were differentiated by their black hair and green eyes, but it looked like there were enough Smythe men in town with different coloring that anyone visiting was automatically taken to the Smythe side of the wedding.
Being a Bailey, Jasper moved to the side of the park that his family seemed to be sitting on. He even recognized Nolan, Connor, and Archer as they stood near the front of the chairs, hands in their suit pockets while they glared toward the Smythe side. Boutonnieres in their lapels labeled them as wedding party. Jasper hadn’t been sure of his arrival or even if he’d make it, so he’d turned down the request that he be Titus’s best-man. Plus, weddings weren’t his thing. Seeing his cousins dressed for their parts left him a little melancholic but also relieved.
Jasper grinned. He couldn’t wait for them to see him. They were going to freak out and with good reason. Before he’d left, his mother had died and he’d been barely eighteen. He hadn’t wanted to stick around and waste his life like everyone else seemed to be doing. He needed out of Bailey and Montana and he’d gone as far as he could without moving to a city or somewhere you couldn’t see the sky and mountains. He looked far different from the scrawny kid he’d escaped as.
He fell into line behind a couple people he faintly recognized, but couldn’t name, and waited his turn to be seated.
The young man returned, glancing at Jasper and taking in his worn jeans, scuffed boots, and overall travel-weary attire. He cleared his throat and motioned along the perimeter of the park. “Sir, I’m going to have you move along this line and Billy down there will seat you.” He smiled politely, his thick black hair clearly defining him as one of Jasper’s nephews or cousins.
Curious to see how it would play out, Jasper nodded and did as instructed, finding Billy at the next entrance with his red hair and freckled nose. Billy smiled toothily and motioned for Jasper to follow him.
Furrowing his brow, Jasper fell into step behind the teenage boy. He watched the division of the two parties and himself from his own family grow wider as he followed the usher toward the back of the Smythe section.
White chairs on both sides had been set up in neat rows and decorated with flowers and ribbon which moved gently in the soft breeze. At the last row, the usher stopped and smiled, clasping his hands at waist level as he waited for Jasper to join him. “This is where we’re seating single guests. Make yourself comfortable. The ceremony will start soon.” Billy left Jasper and returned to his job, clearly reciting a script he’d been pressed to memorize.
Curious as to how he’d been confused as a Smythe, Jasper decided to wait it out. He didn’t care where he sat and as long as he didn’t have to sit by a money-hungry Smythe woman, he’d be fine. Even though that thought was as biased as they could get, Jasper couldn’t help it. He’d known plenty of Smythes and most of them only cared about money and how they were going to marry someone from outside of Bailey who had lots of money. That was the goal.
Wasn’t Abby proof of that? The woman marrying Titus was a direct descendant of Abigail Smythe and the Peters family. From the rest of the information in the letter from his cousin, Jasper could safely assume Abby was exactly like every other Smythe he’d heard about growing up. As much as he hated the feud and thought it was stupid, every Bailey knew that the Smythes were money hungry and stubborn. Titus had money in spades. Abby apparently knew that. Why else would she go after Jasper’s brother?
Jasper stood at the end of the row, uncertain where to go. Did he stay there on that side or push the point and sit on the Bailey’s side?
He scanned the rows, taking in the blonde-haired women sitting here and there with men of varying description. Finally, his gaze landed on two women sitting at the far end of his row. One glanced around the group in front of her, turning her face half in Jasper’s direction but not seeing him as she looked back toward the woman beside her.
The pertness of her nose and the straight way she sat in the seat caught Jasper’s eye and held it. From the side, it looked like she had the Smythe blue eyes, but her hair was a darker gold color and not like the corn-silk blonde of the rest of the family. There was strength in her high cheekbones and the lift in her chin.
She sat in the row he’d been assigned, so she was single or at least alone. Jasper arched an eyebrow. If she was a Smythe, she could be a distant cousin or something. Another thing he’d grown up understanding was that a Smythe woman was good for a fling but that was about it. You didn’t fall for a Smythe and you certainly didn’t date them for long.
Just in from Alaska and a long fishing trip on one of the bigger boats in his fleet, Jasper could do without commitment. She was right up his alley and exactly what he needed to get back into the swing of things at home.
She didn’t know it, but she was about to be his next catch. He ignored his previous rejection to the idea of sitting beside a Smythe woman and started down the row of chairs. They could be good for something. It all depended on what you wanted.
Treya was stuck in Bailey and not because her family lived there or even that she had prospects in town. No, Treya was stuck there by fear. Fear. Plain and simple. She was afraid of leaving her home town and striking out for the unknown alone.
Alone. That was her biggest fear. Being alone. On her own wasn’t a big deal. She had an apartment across from where her close first cousin, Abby, lived – or had lived. Things were changing now that she was marrying a Bailey.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Treya took a deep breath at the thought. A Smythe and a Bailey were marrying. A Smythe was going to be living on the Bailey ranch. She couldn’t believe it and neither could most of the people there as they looked around the wedding setup with bewilderment and confusion on their faces.
They all knew why they were there. The problem was no one could believe it was happening.
She studied the Smythe side of the seating arrangement, leaning to her left and muttering out of the side of her mouth. “Can you believe Mrs. Davies wore black? That’s pretty bold.”
Her cousin, Debra, shook her head and leaned back, raising her hand to talk behind it. “My mom told me to wear bright red or white.” She rolled her eyes. “If you ask me, the women in this town need to get over themselves.”
Treya nodded, but wasn’t sure that was possible. The division of Bailey seemed to be generational, but at the same time, she could see it taking hold with the people her age. There were some Smythes who wanted nothing to do with the feud and they left, taking their hope into the big world. Treya envied them something fierce.
She smoothed the blue embroidered forget-me-knots running along the edge of her soft cream-colored sheath dress. Her mom had advised the same thing – white or red. She wasn’t going to tell Debra that. The last thing she needed was to direct Debra’s derision toward Treya’s mother.
Debra reached over and took Treya’s hand in hers. “I’ve missed you. My mom said your mom moved to Taylor Falls?” She squeezed Treya’s fingers. “When do you think you’ll follow her?” As if it was a given that Treya would leave Bailey with her mom.
Which, wasn’t it? Wasn’t that what Treya wanted? She wanted out of Bailey, sure, but she didn’t want to go from one small town to the next. She shook her head, not withdrawing from Debra’s clutches like she longed to do. “I don’t see the point in moving laterally. When I go, it will be for bigger and better.”
“Yeah, but that’s going to be next to impossible for you, Treya, honey. You don’t have any education or money to get out. Unless you somehow are getting rich by working at the clinic.” She let go of Treya’s hand and waved her fingers between them. “My mom told me you’re still there. Sorry to sound like a gossip monger. I’m anything but.” She grinned, crossing her ankles and clutching her hands in her lap with a primness that defied her city-talk and the way she wore her streaked hair.
Biting her tongue, Treya smiled politely. Debra was one of the worst gossips in the Smythe family. As soon as she’d seen Treya, she’d plowed through a couple of the married couples on the Smythe side and rushed right over, quick to ask Treya what she knew and didn’t know and then proceeded to fill Treya in on what she apparently didn’t know. Debra didn’t even live in Bailey anymore. She’d moved to Butte a few years back.
“Well, I’ll get out when the time is right. I’m not worried about it.” But Treya was worried. Desperately. She had to get out of there, if she ever wanted to be happy. The only men in town were either taken or off-limits because they were Baileys. She couldn’t be with a Bailey. As much as everyone else denied it, there was something the Baileys did with their women, killed them or scared them off. Nothing ever ended well in the Bailey side of the population.
The announcement of the wedding between a Smythe and Bailey had set the town in an uproar only surpassed by the fact that the preparations for the wedding would be completed in a month.
Abby had pulled an entire town wedding together in less than a month. There was even a reception out at the Bailey Ranch afterward. Treya had no doubt the rest of the Smythe family wouldn’t go even though they were riddled with curiosity and had good reason to attend.
Treya wanted to go but the expectations that surrounded being a Smythe involved not falling for a Bailey and not fraternizing with a Bailey.
Marrying a Bailey had put Abby in a very uncomfortable position and Treya didn’t envy her that one bit. She did covet the romance Abby had found, even if Treya denied longing for love to anyone who asked and some who didn’t.
Shaking her head at her abnormal pessimism, Treya blocked out Debra’s negativity and tried to absorb the hope in the day. Weddings were supposed to be momentous and romantic and hopeful. They were supposed to be the start of something beautiful. Yet, Treya couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to continue to attend weddings alone, put into the row where they were seating the singles. She’d be at the reception alone. She’d go through the rest of her life alone.
Clear desperation hit her in the chest, more demanding than she’d ever experienced before. She didn’t want to be alone. She didn’t want to live in a small town anymore where she was insignificant. She needed to have value and she needed to do it in a place where everyone didn’t know her business before she did.
Treya couldn’t deny the truth in Debra’s observations. Treya might not have gone to school or gotten much education, but she had a few years’ experience working as a medical technician in the clinic and she was good at what she did. Certainly, there was a call for that kind of experience in other places, bigger places. People had to get sick in other parts of the world, right?
Scanning the wedding guests on the Smythe side, Treya realized she was looking for an available man in the worst possible place on earth. Any of the men there were married or dating another Smythe woman and she couldn’t go after them. But that insistent hope wouldn’t let her stop searching. Maybe one of the men had brought a brother or a cousin of their own. Someone, anyone, who would be willing to fall for Treya and whisk her away from the depression of the small-town life.
Debra pressed her fingers to Treya’s arm, pulling her attention to the left again. “Oh, you’ll never believe what my mom told me about Cynthia and George. It seems they lost the diner to Titus.” She arched an eyebrow like the news was new to someone who actually lived in Bailey. Treya nodded but didn’t say anything. For a brief moment and only in the hopes that she would get away from Debra, Treya considered flirting with one of the taken men there. Anything to get away from Debra.
Someone sat down beside her, giving her the excuse to turn away from Debra and her meddling ways. Treya pasted a polite smile to her lips and turned to face the newcomer at the same time a jean-clad knee brushed against the side of her thigh.
She glanced down at her leg where the knee touched hers and then she slowly raised her eyes toward the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. Treya swallowed, taking in the thick, short beard framing a masculine set of full lips under eyes that didn’t look away from her. Dark wavy hair peeked from under the edge of a black cowboy hat.
He folded his arms across his chest, his well-defined forearms enhanced by green and white plaid sleeves rolled to his elbows. He didn’t look away as he boldly studied her the same way she studied him.
After realizing how rude she was being by staring at him, Treya shook her head and cleared her throat. Holding out a hand, she smiled. “Hi, I’m Treya Smythe, and you are?” She held her breath, unable to drag her gaze away from his hypnotic eyes. Please, don’t be married. She wasn’t worried about him being a Bailey. The ushers were being extra careful on where they sat people. No, the enemy of the wedding was going to be married men. She wanted to sneak a peek at his left hand, but didn’t dare while trying to introduce herself.
A slow side-smile revealed straight white teeth as he reached out and enclosed her hand in his. The touch sent a jolt through her flesh all the way to the back of her neck where it seemed to warm and electrify her spine. “I’m Jasper, Treya. Nice to meet you.”
Jasper. Just his name alone gave her a thrill and his voice sent shivers where the thrilling sensations had been.
He motioned toward the stream and then nodded toward the chairs filling up with more people. “Do you know what’s going on?”
He had to be from out of town. A man that good looking would have to be from out of town and he had no idea what was going on? Could this be Treya’s lucky day? Could he really not know anything about the feud that divided the town or the fact that Treya was one of the undesirable Smythe women? The optimism she’d struggled to hold onto burgeoned with fresh hope in her chest.
Weddings were good luck. She just had to make sure she recognized it when she saw it.
Maybe Jasper-No-Last-Name was the ticket she needed to get out of town and no longer be alone. Even if he wasn’t, a girl could hope and that’s exactly what she was going to do. Hope that she could snatch the man before he left for his home.
She needed him to take her with him.
Treya’s blue eyes had an even more startling effect up close. Jasper had tested her by letting his knee touch hers when he sat and he grinned when she didn’t move away. The attraction in her eyes confirmed it. She didn’t even suspect that he was a Bailey.
Things could be complicated after they broke things off, but he wasn’t worried about that. He’d be home and that’s all that mattered.
“It looks like you’re traveling, Jasper. Did you come far?” Treya peeked at him from under her long sooty lashes, her hands demurely folded and placed in her lap. She craned her neck and jerked her chin in the direction of his backpack taking up a seat beside him.
Jasper glanced at his bag and then nodded, startled. He’d forgotten all about it. “Yeah, I’m down from Alaska for the festivities. Barely made it.” He stretched his legs out in front of him and looked around. He couldn’t keep staring at her, if he wanted to keep his wits about him. There was something more than captivating about the slight up-turn at the end of her nose and the soft crease in the center of her chin. A strong yet feminine jaw suggested a propensity for stubbornness and Jasper had the sudden urge to see just how far he could push her.
Was she a spitfire or was she docile like a lamb? So far she was friendly as all get out and his bitterness from being sat on the Smythe side faded long ago.
“Alaska? That’s really far from here. What part?” She crossed her long legs at the knee his direction and Jasper blinked as he tried to focus on what she was saying.
Something about what part. What part of what? Oh, Alaska. He smiled and shook his head. “I’m sorry I’m so distracted. You are simply a delight to look at.” He glanced away from her becoming blush and silently reprimanded himself. A fling. That’s all he was looking for. A fling. He cleared his throat and ignored the other blonde trying to lean around Treya and see him more fully. “I’m mostly from Anchorage, but sometimes I make my way to Juneau.”
Reaching up, Jasper adjusted his hat. Things were starting to get warm. He didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to know what it would take to get her to go out with him. As soon as she found out he was a Bailey, she’d change her mind. The goal would be to keep things a secret, but how would he get her to agree to that? Most Smythe women wanted to flaunt their men on their arms for all the world to see. Was Treya going to be the same way?
“That sounds fascinating. I work over in Taylor Falls in the clinic, but I’ve never been further than Missoula. Are the moose really as big as they’re rumored to be up there?” She hadn’t taken her large blue eyes off him. He’d never been the center of such intense focus. He kind of liked her direct studying. The woman was bold and he couldn’t help but like her more.
Jasper chuckled. “The full-grown moose down here are like babies compared to the ones up there. Even the mountains here are small.” He sighed as he took in the purple shadows of the Rockies just over yonder. “But there’s something about Montana that calls to ya, you know?” He glanced at Treya, surprised she had a look of sadness in her eyes.
After a moment, she nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” She glanced over her shoulder and then scooted back in her seat, nodding forward as she folded her arms. “It looks like it’s about to start.”
Jasper paused, taking in the scene of her despondency before turning toward the wedding ceremony unfolding in front of him. When had the seats filled up to where there was standing room only? He moved his bag from the seat beside him and motioned toward a gentleman standing behind the row that he could have the seat. The man nodded, his smile tight and polite.
Following Treya’s gaze, Jasper couldn’t stop the half-smile on his lips. Leave it to Titus to look as though he lifted weights six hours a day and wear jeans to his own wedding. The only thing that was traditional about his wedding attire was the black cummerbund. He even wore a bolo tie under the collar of his white button-down shirt. A special black Stetson set off the shape of the Bailey jaw and Jasper suddenly swallowed past a lump in his throat.
Man, he’d missed his older brother something fierce. He just hadn’t realized it until that moment how much.
Titus approached from the Bailey side, his gaze directed across the wooden arch as he stared at a woman in a pristine white dress climbing the bridge. She didn’t try to stick to the pacing set by her father and the music trying to waft through the park from the far side. When had the band gotten there? Had Jasper been so wrapped up in Treya that he’d missed the band playing music?
His brother was about to marry a woman that, from the look on his face, he loved completely. The adoration on Titus’s face gave Jasper pause as he waited for them to meet at the peak of the bridge where the arch and the pastor stood.
The rest of the wedding guests seemed to hold their breath as if they didn’t want the event to happen, as if glaring at the couple would stop the event in its tracks. There was nothing breaking the delirium of happiness Titus and Abby were wrapped in.
Even Jasper could see that.
Treya sighed beside him, tears sparkling on her lashes as she watched the two uniting the feuding clans.
Jasper understood exactly how she felt. He couldn’t help himself. He reached out and took one of her hands in his, keeping his gaze trained on the couple getting married.
Stiffening, Treya turned and stared at him a moment. Then she seemed to relax as she turned back to watch the wedding. Jasper exhaled softly. He hadn’t known what to expect when he’d boldly taken her hand, but he didn’t reach out to cajole her into liking him more. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he needed the connection.
Watching his brother take on a wife he obviously cared deeply for was like watching a man walk the plank. There’d be nothing but heartache in the end. It always came down to that and Jasper had left six years before to escape watching his family, extended and otherwise, fall victim to it.
He needed to hold Treya’s hand for a smidgeon of comfort. As Titus leaned in to kiss Abby, Jasper couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to kiss the woman beside him. Weddings did crazy things to a man’s heart.
As soon as he was able and without seeming rude, he’d let go of her hand. Until that point, he’d just enjoy the sensation of her soft skin in his and the wonder at how delicate her fingers felt. He hadn’t realized how petite she really was.
The crowd should have cheered as Titus kissed his bride. The shocked silence stunned Jasper a moment. Releasing Treya’s hand, he stood, keeping his hat down a bit over his face as he clapped and whistled for the newly-married couple. He didn’t approve of the marriage, but that didn’t mean he was going to let anyone ruin his brother’s day.
He didn’t want to be recognized yet. The last thing he needed was for any chance with Treya to wash away on the water of the stream.
A few more people stood, clapping politely, as more and more joined the crowd. Soon, the majority of both sides honored Titus and Abby, some a bit more reluctantly than others.
Treya’s top of her head reached his shoulder. Jasper couldn’t stop himself from looking down at her. She was like a little imp and he smiled. He didn’t want to get attached. There was too much at stake for that to happen. He wanted to come back home, but he’d never be able to pull off something long term with a Smythe. He wasn’t Titus.
Wasn’t that part of his problem?