Secrets and Lace
Will the hero die for a second chance?
A cowboy on the run…
A secret son…
A second chance romance that can destroy more than one family…
When Robbie returns for his share of the ranch, he finds his heart never left. He’s brought back more than bitterness and regret. The secrets following him are more than dangerous, and he has to prove he’s more than his past to survive.
How does Amelia forgive Robbie for abandoning her and their son? Will she have a chance to see his side before she’s taken hostage? Or will she die wondering what might have been?
Face the gang after Robbie and ache with Amelia when he returns!
Ride into the sunset with the cowboys of Clearwater County.
Read this page turner today!
Broken down on the side of the highway wasn’t how Amelia wanted to face a dark shadow in the distance. She shook her head at herself. Her imagination could just as easily have made a branch moving in the wind into a man on a horse. Or into Robbie.
Ugh. She ran her fingers through her short cut hair. He’d be so pissed to see it that length. Enough about him. He didn’t get the right to occupy so much of her thoughts.
The sun beat down from a sky so clear and blue Amelia could believe in forever. On the highway, the blacktop spread east and west, disappearing into the trees in either direction. Black wet spots striped the street with dry lines. Dirty mud led into the snowy banks.
The shadow came closer, becoming a silhouette astride a chestnut brown horse in the sunlight. A black Stetson over an equally dark duster, broad shoulders straight and comfortable.
Amelia wiped at the tears streaking her cheeks. The last thing she needed was someone she knew seeing her cry. They’d probably think it was because of the car, but, secretly they’d wonder if it wasn’t because her long-lost love was back in town.
Damn Robbie MacAllister. Damn him! Hell, because there were no strangers in Colby, everyone knew her story and considered her a whore. Robbie had gotten off judgment–free.
She leaned against the closed car door, her butt to the side of the handle. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stared across the road into thick forest. Each branch had its own layer of dark green needles covered in a light dusting of snow. Just the other day a blizzard had caused white-outs across the region.
But Montana was nothing if not notorious for moody weather – at least on the western side. Snow around breakfast and tank-top weather by noon.
Damn cowboys were just as fickle.
According to the doctor, Robbie had shown up at the clinic two days ago. But hadn’t returned to Lonely River Ranch… his home. Did he know Amelia lived there now? Had he guessed? Where would he be staying? Probably in the arms of some out-of-town floozie.
Tugging at the silken scarf wrapped around her neck, Amelia unbuttoned the top three buttons of her dress. Either the thoughts of Robbie or the heat from the sun had her overly warm. A little bit of a breeze slipped under the material of her clothing and cooled her anxiety.
Every sound outside the house since Robbie had returned had cranked Amelia’s nerves tighter and tighter. She’d finally snapped about six that morning when Slate had gone outside to check the stock in the barn.
And of course, no way would she leave the house without being dressed like she might see Robbie… because she might… see him.
She’d taken her son into town for a checkup at the clinic and a light lunch.
Hoping she’d see him… Oh wow, she was pathetic.
Tap, tap, tap.
Amelia turned, bending down to see her son’s face. Mac. So dang cute. He waved from his booster seat in the back, a sucker in his hand. She returned the wave and crossed her eyes. His muted giggle brought a true smile to her face. If anything, he was everything. And almost losing her boy to appendicitis had slammed her priorities into the forefront. Surgery on the kitchen island. She’d slapped the doctor for crying out loud. Why would she want to add more stress to the situation? To her life?
Screw Robbie and his abandonment. Screw Ronan, her jerk-of-a-brother, and his attempts to control her and her son. Screw everyone in town who judged her based on their own assumptions.
She wanted so much more for her small family.
Thank Heaven for Robbie’s brother, Slate. If he hadn’t stepped in to help her when she needed it most, who knows where she’d be.
Straightening, Amelia crossed her arms. The wind picked up, whirling a chill from the melting snow around her legs and up her skirt. She shivered, glancing over her shoulder at the nearing man. She stilled, then clenched her fingers into her mid-biceps, biting her inner lip.
Why was it then?
Still a good hundred yards or so away, the clip-clops of the horseshoes didn’t reach her.
But damn it, Robbie’s all-too-familiar whistle did.
Emergency flashers gave away the stranded car’s position. Not much was out that way besides Ronan’s place and Lonely River.
Robbie shifted on the worn leather saddle. Damn bruised ribs had a while left to heal and he couldn’t get comfortable – on his horse, Revenge, or off. He whistled an old song, hoping to lend a friendly note to his arrival in case the person or people were still there. A lone man on a horse wasn’t always welcome, even in an emergency situation.
It didn’t escape him that it might be a trap. He’d been ambushed before – still wore the injuries from that night. He searched the forest warily, as if just the thought of taking another beating by men lying in wait would make them magically appear.
The edge of the chocolate-colored skirt flipped up in the wind, revealing cream nylons disappearing into multi-toned dress boots – cut low enough to show off shapely calves but high enough to suggest practicality had had a part in their purchase. The woman tucked her short blonde hair behind her ear.
Blonde. The only blonde woman that had lived out that way four years ago was…
His whistling stopped. Please, don’t have brown eyes that widened with pleasure when he walked into a room. Or a slightly crooked smile that enhanced the dimple in her cheek. Please.
Oh, it was an ambush alright.
He’d survived the last four years by being as far from her as he could manage without leaving the state. Oh, hell, who was he kidding? He’d crossed Idaho and disappeared into Washington for a small time until he’d realized even that wasn’t enough. He’d worked every grunt job he could find.
Being a ranch hand could sweat the pain from your bones – but not the soul. Time worked on the spirit.
No amount of time would erase her from his soul.
Closer, closer, and he couldn’t believe it. She’d cut her hair.
Amelia – just Amelia – stranded by the side of the road leading to both their places. Lacey Caverns – the James’s place – and Lonely River – his or half-his.
Robbie ground his teeth to keep from calling to her. He didn’t lift his arm or even acknowledge her with a nod as Revenge slowed behind the vehicle. He dismounted, ignoring her as she crossed her arms over her chest.
He whipped the reins to wrap around the saddle horn, sliding his fingers along the blued-barrel of his Winchester to the American walnut stock. Almost habit, mostly habit… he didn’t want to turn her way and see those eyes.
Eventually he had to turn to face her – head on – for the first time in four years.
Each step brought him closer, his boots crunching on the gravel lining the shoulder of the empty highway. A flash of the last time he’d lain beside her with nothing between them but stray blades of hay and her long hair. She’d tickled his chest with long unpolished nails and kissed his earlobe. He shook off the memories.
Amelia didn’t speak as he closed the distance between them – smart move on her part. He didn’t want to listen to excuses or lies, or worse that she’d forgotten about him. Because wouldn’t that be worse? If she’d forgotten him and moved on? How would he ever be able to get her back?
He slowed beside the car, inches from her. Tilting his hat, he finally met her deep brown gaze. “Well, well, Amelia James.” Robbie hooked his thumb into his front pocket. His injured arm hung nonchalantly at his side, his shoulder ever-throbbing.
“Robbie MacAllister. You’re back, huh?” A small tremor in her words, she covered with a cough at the end of her question. But the satiny tone of her voice was like a shot of heat that sliced across his chest.
“Nope, just passing through.” Damn it. Why couldn’t she have changed into some wart-covered-fat-ugly-witch-who-ate-children? He shot a glance at the front of the car, then back to her face. Her features he’d never forgotten, her face that had aged only enough in four years to soften the edges of her lips and thin out her curves. “Looks like you’re stranded.” And you need me. No matter what Ronan might have said.
Something sparked in her eyes and she jutted her jaw to the side. “I’m fine.”
Yeah, she was fine – beautiful, even, but with no cell reception on a fairly deserted road, she’d be there awhile unless she started trekking home. He arched his eyebrow and ignored the pull she had on him.
Wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her breath away seemed the natural thing to do – he’d never been good with natural and clenched his fists at his sides.
Around Amelia, Robbie’s self-respect disappeared. He became what his brother liked to call “wench whipped”.
Robbie gritted his teeth. “Let’s take a look anyway.” He held up his hand as he continued toward the front of the car, the crunch of the gravel under his boots more ominous than his words. “I know, I know, you’re fine. But I don’t feel right abandoning you here. Just humor me.” He tapped the metal of the hood. “Pop it, please.”
The monumental effort Amelia must have exuded to keep her mouth shut and do what he asked would have been overwhelming. Another testament to the time that had passed when back in the day, she would’ve called him out when she was mad or cry when she was sad. Now, her emotions were held in tight rein.
A wave of sadness pushed over him. Once upon a time, she would have lit into him about anything and everything – never holding her tongue. One of his favorite things about their relationship – their openness.
He lifted the hood, favoring his injured arm. He’d rather eat raw skunk than let her see him weakened. Nothing seemed completely out of the ordinary at first glance. Robbie leaned to the side, his eyes just past the edge of the hood to find Amelia standing beside the car again, almost leaning on the vehicle. He glanced past her to Revenge who hadn’t moved.
Focusing back on Amelia, he raised his voice. “Did you notice anything before stopping? Any sounds or weird jerking?”
White tips of her teeth nibbled on the pink of her lower lip. “Um, there was a snap and then the temperature started going up. But I didn’t stop until I saw smoke.”
Smoke. There was no evidence of a fire or even melting pieces. “I think you saw steam, not smoke.” He ducked lower into the engine compartment, pushing around until he grabbed onto a limp rubber belt. Aw, the snap.
Pulling the belt from its precarious position, Robbie hung it from his fingers and came around the side. He approached Amelia, offering the damaged material. He waited until she took the item with unease written across her features. He continued holding his hand out to her.
Amelia looked from his exposed palm to his face, questions mingling with her discomfort to create a look close to fear.
Without thinking, Robbie reached out, grasping her shoulders in each hand. The tingle of having her so close and in his hands added a rasp to his words. He spoke slowly, wishing he had the right to mean what he was about to say. “Amelia, take your nylons off.”
She gasped, jerking back. Her fear dripped away to leave behind disgust and indignation. “I don’t know what the hell you’re thinking, but I’m not going to lie down for you wherever and whenever you tell me to.” She punched her flat hand, her chest rising and falling with each heavy breath.
Chuckling, he pointed toward the engine. “No, Amelia, although it’s tempting…” He talked over her deep inhale, her breasts rising and falling with exaggeration. “I need your nylons to replace the fan belt. It’s a good thing you pulled to the side when you did, the radiator boiled over and you could have seized your engine.” He leaned close, lowering his voice and lifting his eyebrow suggestively just to get a further rise from her. “Now, shed them. I’m also going to need any water you might have with you.”
Amelia stepped back, away from his nearness and to the side of the window, exposing the car’s interior.
Robbie blinked long and slow at the dark-haired, blue-eyed boy staring back at him. The child’s intense and sweet gaze held no small amount of curiosity.
Watching Robbie like he knew him, the child waved pudgy fingers in the air.
Unable to stand up straight or acknowledge Amelia, Robbie reached for the handle to the door and slowly pulled the panel open. A rush of warm air pushed the smell of graham crackers and juice boxes over him. The sounds of a chattery child replaced the tense silence between Robbie and his heart-breaker.
No. His coloring. He looked so similar… But Robbie shook his head. No. No way. If Amelia – if anyone – had had a child of his, Slate would have told him. Hell, anyone in town would’ve let him know what was going on. If nothing else, Ronan would have contacted him again just to piss Robbie off.
Robbie clenched his jaw, his shoulders tense as he pulled back and closed the door, leaving it ajar. Whoever the child belonged to had to have replaced Robbie’s spot in Amelia’s bed pretty quick – the boy had to be roughly three or four.
Amelia bent, slipping her foot from the boot and rolling the silken stocking from her leg.
He swallowed. He’d been with women, lots of them, since being shunted from the arms of the Chilly Miss James. How irritating that the sight of her pale, naked calf could raise his heart rate to an alarming level. How embarrassing that he’d never recovered from the pain.
Handing the balled up pantyhose to him, Amelia lifted her chin. Her gaze challenged him to comment, say something.
Robbie gave a nod, as if to say, touché, I didn’t think you’d do it. Behind the cover of the hood, he allowed the pain to tighten the skin around his mouth, tightening his resolve.
Gravel scuffed as she shifted. “So, what’s with the horse? Are you staying somewhere?”
Maintaining neutrality in his voice didn’t feel natural, but he did it anyway. “I haven’t driven anything but farm equipment since I picked Revenge up in a poker game a few years back. Hard to buy a truck when you don’t have a steady address or check.” Knotting the nylon, Robbie slipped it around the pulley system, testing the tautness of the material. He didn’t want to face her again. She left him raw and bleeding. With nothing. And who the hell was the boy? He didn’t continue the conversation, uncaring about the jagged history between them at the moment.
He shut the hood. The click echoed against the walls of trees on either side of the highway. Trailing his fingers on the paint, Robbie followed the line of the car back to Amelia. Back to the open door which protected the small child.
Stopping in front of her, Robbie cleared all emotion from his face. She wrapped her arms in front of her stomach, as if afraid of what he would do. He wanted to scoff. She had torn him apart. In ways, he’d never recover from. And she dared to protect herself from him?
Disbelief, hurt, and desire heated the chilly air around them. Faint sounds of the happy child carried from inside the car at complete odds with the outside environment.
Gazes locked, Robbie and Amelia faced each other. He held himself rigid, muscles tight from his neck to his Achilles’ tendons.
He couldn’t help but catalogue her features. Her soft lips, curved in the sexiest bow on the upper, and a nice full petal on the bottom. High cheekbones underscored large chocolate brown eyes. Grazing his fingers over her cheeks would tell him if they still felt like rose petals and he’d probably get slapped.
For a second he considered it – touching Amelia would be worth it.
But the time he’d been gone stretched far and wide. He’d considered her finding someone new, just hadn’t accepted it, hoped it would never happen, wanted to die because it obviously had.
In the space between them, Robbie couldn’t contain the question burning in his chest. His words scraped from his throat, barbed and dipped in acid. “Who’s the new guy?”
A shadow crossed her already distrustful gaze. She tossed her hair to the side, her protectiveness evident in the strength of her stance. “It doesn’t matter, Robbie. You’re just passing through, right?”
Ah. “Got it.” He withdrew, nodding toward the car. “It’ll get you home. Have R.J. take a look at that.” He paused, staring at her. “Or whoever.”
And turned toward Revenge, clenching and unclenching his fists from having her in his grasp and then letting her go.
The woman could still turn him inside out. Would he ever be free?
Amelia had never been so relieved to pull into Lonely River’s drive.
Fighting back tears of frustration and longing, she parked then unbuckled Mac from his car seat. “Come on, honey, we need to get inside. It’s starting to get cold again.” The winds had picked up and the sun had decided to disappear behind angry clouds in a cruel game of hide-and-seek.
Heat from the warm driveway caressed her ankles but dissipated before it found her bare calves. Radiant heating had to be the best invention ever.
She’d undressed for Robbie. Again. Who cares that it was for the sake of her car? Who cares that he hadn’t even noticed that he’d pretty much held her underwear in his hands, or something close to it… okay, she was making a jump, but she’d pulled off her nylons and handed them to him and he hadn’t even blinked!
“Mommy, wait.” Mac pumped his free arm back and forth as he struggled to keep up with her long strides.
Contrite, Amelia slowed to match the child’s shorter steps. “I’m sorry, Mac. Mommy was just thinking.” And fuming. And plotting someone’s death! Okay, not really, but oh he made her so mad.
“About Uncle Slate? On the new horse? I like that horse. Will he let me ride him?” Mac gazed up at her as they crossed the blacktop to the house. “He looked different.”
“Who looked different?” Amelia glanced at her son, eyebrows pulled tight. “What new horse? When did you see Uncle Slate?” She shifted her purse which doubled as a snack holder higher on her shoulder with her free hand, repositioning Mac’s smaller one in hers.
“He helped us with the car, Mom, remember?” Mac raised his blue eyes to focus on her as they reached the steps.
“Oh, right.” Uncle Slate? How did she explain to her child that it wasn’t her uncle who’d helped him, but his father? And that his dad hadn’t wanted anything more to do with Mac? Her son had never really talked about who or where his father was. She’d taken it for granted ‘til then. How did she tell him that when he got bigger, he might hear things from the kids in school because their parents were bigots and thought she was a whore.
Like she’d ever slept around. Hell, the only man she’d been a slut with was her illegally obtained husband.
Part smugness softened the jerkiness to her movements. If he only knew that technically they were married, he wouldn’t be so quick to just “pass through”. It didn’t matter how long he’d been gone, Amelia still simmered with him just feet away. And she could feel his answering burn.
“Couple more steps, Mac.” Avoiding his question didn’t make it go away, but it helped stall the onslaught of further questions an answer would certainly stir up.
Although heavy, the door gave way with little pressure. Amelia had grown accustomed to living in the crux of luxury only a five-star bed-and-breakfast could offer. The dude ranch – Lonely River – that Slate and Robbie had created a while back had been named the classiest stay-spot east of the Rocky Mountains by Travel-Fine U.S.A.
Any other time, she would trace her fingers over the satiny polished wood walls, admire the intricately worked wrought iron decorations, and breathe in the careful amount of pine scent mixed with cedar to make a person’s senses feel outside while being in. The ambience would calm her, steady her.
Instead she tossed her purse toward her bedroom and slammed the front door behind them. She sighed and tugged her son with her to their suite. She’d be lucky, if he’d sleep for just a little bit and she’d be extremely grateful for just a few minutes of quiet.
“Okay, Mr. Mac. It’s nap time.” Amelia motioned for the boy to come closer so she could take his jacket. “Kick off your shoes. I’ll get you a drink of water and then you need to get into bed, okay?”
After the promised drink, she left the light off in the conjoining bathroom between their rooms and mama-beared him through the doorway into his bed. Over his whining, she answered firmly, “You just had surgery, Mac. This isn’t a joke. Okay? Take a little nap and then we’ll go check on Pig.”
The mention of Slate’s stallion brought a smile to Mac’s face and he bounded into bed, curling on his side. “Thanks, Mom. I like you.”
Amelia grinned. “I like you, too.”
For the four-year-old saying like instead of love was a whole lot more important. She’d asked him about it once and his answer had been, “I always love you, but sometimes, I don’t like you. Like when I have to go into timeout.”
Being told he liked her meant a lot and they both understood that.
Amelia stepped out of Mac’s room, leaving the door open enough to let a little light in from the sitting area.
Squeezing the nape of her neck, she let the pull of the kitchen guide her course. The ache between her shoulders spread up beneath her hairline and she rolled her head from side to side. Robbie. He’d never brought her anything but pain. And stress. And fun times. And laughter. Okay, enough, thinking about it. He wasn’t around right then, she didn’t need to dwell on him.
She shrugged off the memory of him by the side of the road, asking for her nylons. Her nylons! Of course it wasn’t anything sexual or meaningful, but her mind had run that direction faster than she could hold it back.
Could anyone blame her? She hadn’t been held by a man taller than three feet in four years. A woman has needs.
“Slate? Are you in here?” She crossed into the kitchen, spying the silhouette of her housemate in the breakfast nook as he relaxed on the couch. “Oh, great. You are. So, you’ll never guess who I just ran into.”
A croissant nested with a half-dozen other baked goods, calling her name. She picked up the treat and nibbled from its flaky edges absently, remembering everything Robbie had said and done. “Your brother.” She sighed, looking toward the window. “I don’t know. It was like he’d never left or maybe like we’d never been together?” She waited for his comment. He always supported her, no matter what ideas she had. Sometimes he just let her vent which was invaluable in a friend.
He tapped the back of the couch with a free hand stretched along the cushions.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t bombard you with this. Has he still not contacted you?” Amelia rounded the corner and stepped down into the separate eating area. Sitting across from him, she took a napkin to set the croissant on. After she settled in, she looked up and froze.
His half-smile screamed arrogance. Robbie rested a wrist on his lap. “You know, that’s twice I’ve been mistaken by women for my brother.” He spat the latter like a cuss word. “What are you doing here?”
Pressing her hand to her chest, Amelia glared. “Me? I live here. Why are you here?”
His laugh curled around his words, filling them with bitterness instead of joy. “No. I live here, Amelia. You just…” He looked her up and down, derision rich in his expression. “What are you doing here? Sleeping with my brother? Is he that kid’s father?”
Thrusting from the sofa, Amelia sputtered, black blurring her vision as rage overwhelmed her. “How dare you? You haven’t lived here in four years. Four years, you jackass. Four years.” Tears flooded and spilled over her cheeks. She dashed them away, angry at her weakness. “You. Left!”
Unable to remain in that room, that close to him, with so many questions and pain between them but too emotional to resolve anything, Amelia spun on her heel and raced to the hallway.
But not fast enough. Robbie grasped her shoulder and whirled her to face him, pinning her against the wall beside the door. His familiar scent washed over her, leather, and cologne. The smell thrust her back to the night they’d conceived Mac, unnerving her. Putting her in her place.
Cheek to cheek, the rough scratch of his stubble as he spoke was as distracting as his solid forearm holding her to the wall. “You know why I left…” His blue gaze roved her face, landing hungrily on her lips.
She couldn’t stop from licking them, nerves twisting in her stomach. She couldn’t do more than offer a jagged plea. “Why are you back?”
He jerked his gaze from her mouth to her eyes. The side of his jaw ticked when he clenched it. She ached to touch the soft spot beneath his ear.
“Why am I back?” Robbie’s skin scorched her through the thin material of her shirt.
Amelia’s breathing shallowed. “Of course, more questions. Never answers with you.” She wiggled her hips and shoulders to escape but only succeeded in tightening his hold. He pressed his body against hers.
Robbie’s eyes darkened. A deep timbre from her memories edged his tone. “Stop.”
Like he’d popped a hole in her anger, Amelia deflated, slumping into his support, holding his gaze. She’d missed him. As many times as she’d imagined him back in front of her – pushed against him and so aware of his nearness had been the scenarios she’d saved for the dark loneliness of her nights.
The intense blue of his gaze melted her resolve. He’d abandoned her for hell’s sake. Even the long, jagged scar lurking beneath his dark-as-sin stubble only added to the longing in her gut.
A door opened and closed.
Then she blinked again. And again. But couldn’t break his dang spell.
Robbie could… and did. He disconnected, pushing away and looking down the hall.
Amelia turned away, breathing deep and running her hands down her face.
He’d never answered.
Of course, why would he? He hadn’t bothered to give her a reason then, why would he explain himself now?