Lost Trails – Book 9 – Sneak Peek

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Lost Trails

She refuses to believe in love.

He’s never wanted anything so bad.

Hannah can’t believe she’s lost so much in her short life. Losing her parents, her sister-in-law, and then her brother broke her dreams of ever finding happiness. Watching each member of her family find happily-ever-after made her want to find it, too.

At first…

But when man after man passed her by over the years, Hannah is convinced there’s no one out there for her. She decides to make plans for her future that don’t involve a man – or anyone.

Zander knew Nate – the oldest Montana Trail cousin. A regular at the local watering hole, multiple drunken nights and an affinity for listening earned Zander the rare opportunity to hear about the Trails and the intrepid Hannah. Even in her shyness, the stories of her persistence with regards to searching for Nate impressed Zander. Tales of the large Montana Trails family warmed something inside Zander and he knew Hannah and the family were meant to be his.

He had to take the chance to meet Nate’s littlest sister. A woman like that…

Would he be able to win her heart?

Or would they continue to live lost?

Chapter 1

Hannah

Life at Bella Acres had changed drastically over the years.

Even in the early morning light, changes across the barn and other outbuildings were easily seen.

Pausing mid-step on her way to the garden, Hannah glanced over her shoulder at the large rancher with its updated exterior, remodeled deck, newly painted trim and shutters. Since Drake and Stefanie had purchased the house, land, and ranch from Nate’s bankrupt hands, they’d refurbished so many things and returned the house to its former glory and beyond.

None of that could be considered a small feat considering the dilapidated conditions of the home. When Emma’s health worsened, the home had fallen into a sickened state. There wasn’t much Nate could do since he was gone trying to make money as a ranch hand just to pay the basic necessities.

But now… the home had found a splendor unlike any Hannah could ever remember. When her parents had passed, the home had been warm and welcoming, but still simple in its elegance. Stefanie and Drake had reclaimed many of the pieces Nate had sold to neighbors to keep food on his sisters’ plates.

Focusing on the past wasn’t the best way for Hannah to move on, to grieve.

Hannah sighed, turning back toward her garden. Her garden. Not Emma’s anymore. Stefanie wasn’t interested in growing things. She loved design and style and riding with the men. Cooking, gardening, and canning were so far out of Stefanie’s scope of interest Hannah often found herself doubting they were sisters.

Brushing aside a dew-spotted spider web glistening in the early morning light, Hannah enjoyed the quiet of the morning. Her feet rustled across the longer grass she refused to let Drake cut.

Her garden gate was old and rotten in parts. No matter how many times Drake offered to put in a new fence, Hannah wouldn’t have it. Her father had built that fence with Lodge Pole pine from the back part of their property before he’d had it selectively forested. He’d been so excited to create the garden area for Hannah’s mom and there was no way Hannah would let it get torn down. She couldn’t lose that part of them.

Living on a ranch, Hannah would have expected to smell evidence of the animals in the barns instead of the fragrant lilac bushes bordering the garden and along the outside of the chicken coop.

The rickety gate creaked as Hannah pushed it open. She pushed her bucket ahead of her through the slight opening. The gate didn’t open all the way. Between rusted hinges and an over-grown Lovage plant, the gate wouldn’t open enough for more than an effort to squeeze through.

Yet Hannah wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Settling the bucket into the groove of her waist just above her hip, Hannah deftly picked at the large red berries. She’d been neglecting them the last couple days and they were going to make her work for it that morning. She glanced down the tall row of sagging raspberry bushes, smiling wryly. “Oh, Emma, look at what we made.”

Hannah jerked her gaze back to the berries at hand and blinked away tears that seemed to be so close to the surface lately.  She’d started the garden with its plentiful berries with Emma as a way to boost their nonexistent income. When Emma’s disease had worsened, everything had fallen to Hannah.

After Drake and Stefanie took over and Nate left, Hannah could’ve stopped the small business, but it was the only thing which was solely hers. She couldn’t let it go. Plus, it tied her to Emma and she needed the connection so much more than she wanted to admit.

From behind her the gate squeaked, announcing the arrival of someone new.

Hannah swiveled to glance behind her and grinned, pausing to watch her brother-in-law, Drake, try to maneuver his large muscular frame through the tiny opening. After extricating himself from all of the clothing snags on various items poking out, Drake glared back at the gate and then turned to Hannah, surprised to find her watching him. He jerked his thumb toward the gate. “You really need to let me refurbish that.”

“You mean tear it down. No, thank you.” Her smile remained as she turned back to the berries, picking them as fast as she could and dropping them into the bucket. A solid thunk followed each time a berry fell to the plastic bottom. In seconds, the sound disappeared as the first layer filled and the berries landed on other berries.

Drake crossed the bark-covered ground, his boots making the sounds of whispers as he walked. He stopped at the end of the row, just feet from Hannah, and reached out to pick a handful of berries and pop them in his mouth.

A few moments passed in comfortable silence while Drake watched her. Then he spoke, his congenial tone a testament to their brother-sister relationship. “You’ve got a lot of work to do out here, squirt. Need any help?”

Hannah scrunched her lips to the side and wrinkled her nose. “You don’t have time to do it, you have new hires you need to deal with. Thanks for the offer.” She’d watched the influx of trucks pull in and park at the back of the barn all week.

Pausing in her berry picking wasn’t an option – even as she talked with Drake. She plowed forward, continuing to pick, ducking at intervals to grab the ones hiding under the leaves. The sneaky hiding ones were usually the sweetest.

“Are you still interested in doing the jams, jellies, and preserves? Stefanie mentioned you talked about getting bee hives for a while, but then dropped it.” Drake picked more berries, ambling along as she moved along the line.

“Um, well, I just…” What did she say to that? Right then wasn’t the time to share her hopes and dreams, not without Stefanie. Her sister deserved to know at the same time as Drake, if not before.

“Stefanie also said you’ve been asking her if she wants to take over the business. You know she hates cooking unless you’re telling her exactly what to do. What’s going on? Are you ready to give up doing all this for good?” Drake motioned his hands over the expanse of the garden and quirked his eyebrows at her. His easy smile made talking to him like less of a burden and she liked the comfortable parts in their relationship.

Even as much as she trusted him and adored him, she could never tell him that she was trying to leave. She had dreams and wishes. Nothing was going to be the same for her since Nate left. She would never be able to be completely happy there at Bella Acres or anywhere near Taylor Falls. No matter how much she loved her family.

She didn’t answer his questions directly. Instead, she cocked a sad smile his way and avoided his gaze. “You know, it’s almost painful how much you remind me of Nate.”

Her oldest brother had that steady strength about him and he’d been supportive of any dreams she’d come up with. The easy way they’d been around each other had been something she missed and greatly enjoyed with Drake.

Drake lowered his voice, all humor draining from his face. “Hannah, he’s not dead.”

Hannah couldn’t shake the anger that was always present. It simmered inside her, ready to mount to a boiling intensity at the drop of a hat.

The bucket slipped from her fingers, the clatter of the handle hitting the plastic side loud as she groaned. Bending, she scooped the bucket from the ground, leaving the few berries there that had fallen out.

After a few moments of silence, she blinked back her angry tears and murmured, “He might as well be.”

“I understand you feel that way, but I want you to remember something. As long as Nate is alive, he has the ability to come home. One day, he’ll change his mind. At one point, he’ll finish grieving and then he’ll be ready to come back to us. We need to be ready to forgive him and welcome him home. He’s important to use and, like it or not, he’s making choices that help him. We have to respect that.” Drake popped more berries in his mouth and fell silent as if he knew his words needed time to sink in.

“I just wish he hadn’t left. I miss him.” Hannah sniffed. She wouldn’t cry. No matter what. Nate wasn’t going to take her pride or dignity. Not anymore.

Another moment dragged on between them where he didn’t correct her or argue with the logic of her statement. Nate had abandoned them all after Emma had died. While the Montana Trails cousins’ lives had gone on, empty without their brother and cousin, they’d been forced to move on and find love while a huge part of them was missing.

Hannah arched her eyebrow at the next handful of berries.

Drake changed the subject. “So, yeah, you saw we got another batch of hands which is why I came out to bug you. Um, Cookie’s gone for the weekend – last minute trip because his sister found out she has breast cancer and she wanted a quick family reunion. So, well, he won’t be back until Monday…” Drake lifted his eyebrows and narrowed his eyes.

Hannah stopped picking the berries and looked at Drake with the innocence of a doe in her gaze. “Oh, wow, that’s awful.” She knew what he was trying to ask, but she was definitely going to make him work for it.

Studying her face, he pressed his lips together. “You’re going to make me work for it, aren’t you?”

She laughed at his exact use of the phrase she’d been thinking. “Yep.” She inclined her head and adjusted the bucket on her hip, waiting for him to continue.

He sighed and adjusted his wide brimmed hat. “Alright, brat, can you help us out? Stefanie said she’d do it, but the last time she made chili the men were sick for a couple days. She’s not as good in the kitchen as you. Can you run it and she’ll help? I don’t want to tell her no, but I also don’t want to hospitalize the new guys. We don’t need that kind of reputation here at Bella Acres.”

Hannah would laugh at his reasoning, if it wasn’t as close to truth as gospel. Stefanie wasn’t good in the kitchen and the last time really had caused food poisoning.

Cooking for twenty men wasn’t Hannah’s idea of hard work and keeping them from the hospital could probably be considered service in some aspect. “Of course, I’d be happy to. I might take you up on your offer to help with the berries, at that rate, though.” Hannah knew the men would be asked to help with the garden which didn’t bother her. At the rate she was going, she’d be there the next five years before she’d finish. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but it felt like it as the rows stretched before her along with meal prep and cleaning up.

Relief smoothed the creases at the corners of Drake’s eyes. “Thanks, Hannah. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the business. I can just tell you don’t want to talk about it.” He reached into his back pocket. “I got the mail and these were in there for you. I’ll see you in the bunkhouse later.” He winked and grabbed another handful of berries from the bucket, dancing away from her glare and chuckling.

Rolling her eyes, Hannah laughed and put the bucket on the ground while she waited to inspect the stack of mail he’d handed her. After he disappeared into the house, she lowered her gaze to the envelopes. Her stomach ached with anticipation. They hadn’t been to town in a while to get their mail at the PO Box and she’d tried not to think about it too much.

Some canning catalogs and an invitation to set up a booth at the local fair were the first things in her stack. Then, second from the bottom, was a white envelope with the emblem of a culinary school in the corner.

She dropped the rest of the mail to land haphazardly amongst the berries and to the side of the bucket in the bark. Swallowing, she fingered the edges and the corners. Her application had been sent out a few weeks ago. She’d sent it with so many hopes and prayers attached. Now that the reply was there, she felt sick with nerves.

Glancing over her shoulder for any onlookers, Hannah bit her lip and then pried open the envelope flap. No, wait. She stopped. She couldn’t do it there. What if she was accepted? Her excitement would be hard to conceal.

And worse, what if she was rejected? Her tears and depression would prevent her from doing her job. She had to wait until later that night to open the reply.

Plus, in all honesty, the anticipation wasn’t too bad since she had the answer right there in her hand. She could hold onto it, savor it.

Her dreams of escaping Montana were close to being realized. Was she going to be able to do everything she’d ever wanted? Or was she going to be stuck there as the youngest Montana Trails cousin forever?

Chapter 2

Zander

His jeans were well-stacked with a crease down the front. Maybe not washing them had been a mistake. The afternoon sun cast sharp shadows on the lines of his jeans.

Zander wouldn’t accept anything less than the best, but the denim hadn’t been properly broken in. If cowboys had a nerd version, he would get the label. Running his hands through his hair, he regretted stopping in Taylor Falls at the small boutique to ask for directions and get clothes. He’d bought the entire wardrobe for working a ranch – not just any ranch.

Bella Acres.

Without access to a washing machine, he decided to suffer through the scratchy new purchases and hope no one noticed what he wore.

Trying to get on and off a horse, though, in denim that didn’t want to move was proving to be difficult. And he didn’t want to think about his boots. Dang things were apt to cause blisters before the day was out.

He held his groan inside. Just day one and he was already miserable. He missed his White’s boots and his Alaskan king-sized bed. Tommy would never have let him get on a horse in unwashed jeans. At least his men would’ve been honest when he made a fool of himself. The men he was supposed to work with at Bella Acres left him out and didn’t include him in much.

Yay for first days.

“Your last employer seemed pretty impressed with you, Zander. I’m excited to see how things go here at Bella Acres for you.” Drake Benson owned Bella Acres and was Nathan Rourke’s brother-in-law.

And Zander’s new boss.

According to Nathan, the man had swept in and stolen the land, the house, and his sisters from him. The way Nathan told it, Drake was a nefarious swindler determined to ruin everything in Nathan’s plans. Curiously, when Nathan spoke about Drake, his tone was riddled with bitterness but laced with envy and respect.

Judging by the easy grin on Drake’s mouth and the comfortable way he stood around the men in work clothes and worn boots, Zander couldn’t help wondering just how much of Nathan’s drunken rambling had been truth and how much had been bitter perception.

Zander cleared his throat and shifted in the blistering new boots. Had anyone else heard the creaking of the unworn leather? He had to look like a dandified city boy. Not what he was going for in the least. “Yes, sir. I got along great with my last boss.” He better, too, since his foreman back home had set up the references like Zander had asked but had let his bias through.

Zander would have to remember to keep Tommy’s bonuses in check or the near-hero worship from the men who worked for him could be a problem.

“Well, we’re glad to have you.” Drake resettled his hat, a habit Zander had picked up on as soon as he arrived. Some men spit or adjusted their pants, Drake adjusted his hat often and Zander found it to be an honest trait. The way your hat sat on your crown could make or break another man’s impression of you – did you appear sneaky, forthright, or just plain dumb? The tilt of a hat could define that.

Zander nodded politely. He’d up and left his own ranch on the east side of Montana to take the job at Bella Acres. Silver Spoons Ranch had more than a hundred hands working under his main foreman and Zander was taking a huge gamble by being gone six weeks like he planned.

Six weeks should be plenty of time to fall in love. He hoped. He’d never been in love, but judging by the stories Nathan told, the Montana Trails cousins were worth falling in love for.

Not that he would fall for the entire group of cousins. He had his mind set on one – the last one.

Hannah Rourke.

Drake shoved off the side of the barn he leaned against and nodded with a satisfied smile at the group of men around him. With a new summer upon them, Drake had hired a fresh batch of hands and Zander had been lucky enough to get in on the ground floor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too well-versed in hand work, but he was a hard worker and an easy learner.

He wasn’t worried about the work. He was a little nervous about taking orders. That wasn’t something someone like him did comfortably.

“You guys are in for a treat. My sister-in-law and my own wife are cooking for you tonight. They’re better than any high-ranked restaurant. Cookie will be back in a couple days.” He nodded his head toward the men and turned to gather some rope at the base of the barn wall.

His wife was Stefanie. Was Drake talking about Hannah, too?

Disconcerted by the sudden increase in his pulse rate, Zander sought for a more nonchalant tone than the one of a lovesick kid – who had never actually met the woman he was supposed to love. “What are their names? I want to be able to thank them.” Did Drake sense his nervousness?

Zander bent over and brushed off imaginary straw from the toe of his boot. He stood, his face now flushed from bending and not from the question.

“Hannah is my sister-in-law and Stefanie is my wife. They’ll be down later and thank you for wanting to express gratitude. I’m in their debt for taking on this task. They’re busy enough as it is.” Drake looped the rope around his elbow and his hand then tossed the bulk of it over his shoulder. He set out toward the front of the barn and the house, calling over his shoulder. “Get settled, men. Tomorrow we’ll roughen up this ranch and get some things done. Welcome to Bella Acres.”

Zander avoided the group camaraderie which was already forming in the six other men. He’d hired one of them a few seasons back and he hadn’t been fond of the man then. The ranch hand had been drunk most of the time. A glazed look in his eyes when he glanced at Zander explained the lack of recognition. He probably thought Zander was familiar but wasn’t sure how.

Hopefully, his drinking habits had stopped, but Zander wouldn’t count on it.

Zander stepped to the side as the men passed by him, laughing and talking amongst themselves as they headed toward the bunkhouse. After the men had left, Zander leaned against the newly painted red side of the barn and took a deep breath.

Spring and early summer had left Montana smelling like a fresh pine potpourri bag as the occasional rain storm kept things smelling clean. Greenery was more abundant on the western side of the state, but Zander still missed the plains of his hometown and the way the sky stretched for miles before the ground broke it up.

He checked one more time for any passersby or onlookers and then pulled out a picture of a family he’d stashed in his wallet. The family was large and the picture incomplete. Nathan had said many of the cousins in the picture had since gotten married or found their significant others. He’d glanced fondly at it while he’d been sitting at the bar by himself.

Would Zander be able to recognize Hannah from the young girl she’d been in the picture? Not for the first time, he brushed his thumb over her features in the photo. Had she met someone already? Had she lost her heart to another man?

Nathan hadn’t talked to the family in a long while, but he kept tabs on the cousins with various contacts he had around the state. The oldest Trail had described Hannah and the family so often and so acutely, Zander couldn’t be more enamored with them and the entire ideal around the Montana Trails. He felt like he knew them, like they were his family, his cousins. He wanted that sense of belonging that Nathan had abandoned when he’d lost everything.

Hannah was going to be the only chance Zander had at joining the family. At the risk of sounding like an obsessed stalker, he couldn’t help longing for something so basic yet so valuable.

Did Hannah know they were already in love?

Chapter 3

Hannah

The kitchen at the house was Hannah’s favorite place to cook, but she wouldn’t turn down the chance to work in the commercial grade kitchen Drake had put in the remodeled barn and outbuilding. Her favorite part was probably the stainless-steel counters. She’d heard that all of the restaurants had them, but she’d only been to a few over the years. Taylor Falls wasn’t exactly the best place to go for dining out experiences.

Wiping her hands on the white cloth she’d tucked in her apron, Hannah thrust her hands on her hips to survey the kitchen and get things figured out in her head.

She’d taken away the lure of temptation of opening the envelope by tucking it into the top drawer of her nightstand in her room. What if it said yes? What if she was going to be a chef and not just someone who cooked really well?

Her dreams spread before her with so many possibilities that nothing felt like work.

Drake had taken the new hands for a tour of the property earlier and then must have dismissed them because the sound of boots moving across the floors above her had grown into a cacophony of dragging and stomping. Drake would have to insulate the space between the two floors better. The noise was distracting.

She’d gone with chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy for the main part of the meal. A fresh cucumber and onion salad and homemade rolls would round out the dinner. The men wouldn’t care if she served rice and chili but she cared. Serving amazing food was something she took pride in. Even if no one else cared.

Stefanie had actually been a huge help and she’d run back to the house to grab the stack of multiple serving spoons Hannah had just bought on her last trip to town.

Hannah sniffed the rich aromas filling the kitchen. Yep, everything smelled ready. Except the rolls, they needed about five more minutes before she pulled them out to rest before applying a coat of melted butter to the tops.

She turned and strode outside onto the north-facing deck Drake had added for outdoor eating in the summer. The shade from the building gave ample space for comfort outside and Drake had covered the area in case of inclement weather. Rain didn’t always cool things down in the Montana summer heat. Nothing anyone did would warm things up once the snow flew.

A large metal triangle hung from the eave of the overhang. Ringing the bell was her favorite part. She loved what it signified – dinner was on and it was time to eat what she’d spent all her time doing.

Not to mention the fact that it was also like a finishing bell. She’d been working on the meal for a couple hours and the bell ringing said she was done cooking. She loved cooking but she was still exhausted after the hard work.

She turned back to the kitchen, rolling her head on her shoulders and tucking some stray strands of hair behind her ear.

“That sure smells good, ma’am.” A cowboy with green eyes and tanned skin stood in her path leading back to the kitchen. He had his thumbs tucked into the tops of jean pockets that looked custom fit to his form – and what a form.

The white top of an undershirt peaked out from the opening of his collar as he’d left a couple buttons undone.

Each batch of cowhands brought their own lothario and this one, with his swarthy good looks and direct way of looking at a person was going to be the most persuasive one yet.

There was like a goal out there from the universe to make her dreams hard to achieve. If she was entranced with a cowboy’s good looks, she’d never want to leave Bella Acres. This one’s tone of voice sent a sensation down her like the one you got when you took a bite of a really decadent piece of chocolate.

She shifted her gaze away from him and smiled tightly. “Thank you. It’s about time to eat, if you want to wash up.” She kept her tone light with politeness but forced indifference into her words. There was no way she was going to encourage any interest from anyone.

Not while she had an envelope with her dreams in it inside the house.

Hang the man for being so good-looking, though. Five o-clock shadow darkened the angles of his jawline and enhanced the straight shape of his nose and the intensity of his gaze. He had the slightest bump on the bridge between his eyes which only made him more interesting instead of marring his looks. Broad shoulders didn’t hide the rolling edges of muscles under the well-fitted shirts. Strong neck muscles flexed as he inclined his head and she’d be a stray dog’s aunt if she missed the shape of his hands with well-maintained fingernails.

How out of place on a cowboy.

Wait, why was she noticing things like that? She wasn’t interested in cowboys that moved from ranch to ranch. She knew how they thought and their goals. She was related to quite a few who used to be like that. True, they’d settled down when they’d found the right one and would probably live disgustingly, happily-ever-after. But that was beside the point since Hannah wasn’t them and her fairytale ending was wrapped up in making herself happy and not counting on anyone to do it for her.

She didn’t want to settle down, not yet. She had too many dreams. And even if she did want to, there wasn’t a ranch hand in the entire state of Montana that was in the position to offer her a happy-ever-after worth trading everything for. No, she wanted too much, needed too much.

“I already washed up, ma’am. Is there anything I can do to help?” He arched an eyebrow at her and waited on the other side of the counter as she walked into the inner depths of the kitchen.

Was that a pine and spice men’s cologne he wore? Whatever it was, the aroma was rich and heady while being subtly present. It didn’t overwhelm the smell of the rolls baking or the chicken. His scent mingled nicely in the kitchen setting and Hannah found herself wanting to walk beside him to catch another waft.

Yeah, real strong, Hannah. She sighed, disappointed that she couldn’t even stick with her resolve when a man like that ranch hand walked by.

She turned toward him, hands on her hips and her forehead furrowed. “If you really want to help? I’d appreciate it if you could fill those watcher pitchers over there with ice from the box and then water and cut lemons from the sink.” She grabbed a bright red folded hand towel and pulled the rolls from the oven, placing them on the gas range-style stovetop to cool. Turning off the oven, she closed the door and set the towel on the counter.  She moved to grab plates and silverware to take them to the buffet-style table set up on the far side of the room beside the door to the deck.

The cowboy grabbed the pitchers as instructed and busily filled them at the left sink of the trio set in the stainless-steel counter.

Hannah was more aware of where he was then what she was doing.

They worked congenially together in the quiet and Hannah almost forgot he was there – almost forgot was as close as she was going to get to be able to ignore his presence. There was something about him that continued to draw her gaze and it wasn’t just the bunching and flexing muscles of his back and exposed forearms under rolled-up sleeves.

He finished filling the pitchers and placed them on the table beside the cups. Turning back to her, he clapped his hands together and looked around, as if searching for someone else. “Okay, that’s done. What else can I do for you?” The look in his eyes bordered suggestive but in more of a testing-the-waters way.

He approached Hannah, the curve of his smile unnerving as she tried to move around him to put the gravy warming dish on the table. The cowboy sidestepped to stay in front of her and cautiously claimed the dish from her hands, holding her gaze the entire time.

She let him take the pot and watched as he placed it by the ladle she’d placed out while setting the table for sizing. How had he known where it went? Not that it was hard to figure out, but he’d put it right where it went instead of just placing it on the end of the table where most men would’ve done.

His proximity had stunned her enough she didn’t move from her spot while he set things up. He turned back to Hannah, a devilish grin on his face.

As he approached, Hannah put up a hand to stop his advance. “That’s far enough, Don Juan.”

He knitted his eyebrows together, his grin unwavering. “That’s’ not my –”

Hannah shook her head, stepping back for more distance. “Nope, I don’t care what your name is. I’m just being blunt here. I’m not interested.” She didn’t share that she didn’t date ranch hands or that there was a conflict of interests. Not to mention with how high the turnaround rate was in the industry, falling for a ranch hand wasn’t smart for her heart or her emotional stability. He’d be long gone and she still be figuring out what was going on.

He continued approaching her, as if her words hadn’t meant anything. But once he reached her, he smiled softly, the flirting greatly dimmed in his gaze. “I’m sorry. I just want to help. I’m not proposing marriage or trying to be inappropriate given the circumstances.” He stuck out his hand and smiled. “I’m Zander. Not Don Juan. I’m far from it.” He laughed at himself with derision but soft humor as well.

Eyeing him suspiciously, Hannah narrowed her gaze. “I’m not playing. I’m not interested. I’m not available.”

An almost hurt but determined look filled Zander’s gaze. He nodded tightly, but didn’t let his grin dim. “Of course.”

With his easy acquiescence, Hannah had the distinct feeling it wasn’t over and she had no idea why that left a sensation of anticipation in her gut – and not in a bad way.

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