Heartbreaking to heartwarming…stories of love and redemption, trust and second chances.
A midnight summons from rancher Nate Coltrane brings singer Jessie Adams back to the heart of the Rocky Mountains — not to see him again, but to say goodbye to her dying mother. Seventeen years ago, Jessie gave up Nate’s child for adoption and she hasn’t been home since. How can she sit by her mother’s side, surrounded by constant reminders of all she loved and lost? How can she face Nate without telling him the truth about the child he never knew existed?
Nate doesn’t think Jessie has the guts to return home and face him, but when she does, he’s afraid of losing everything he loves…for the second time in his life. But he’s made a promise to her mother. Bring Jessie home. Give the dying woman one last opportunity to heal the rift with her daughter. Nate will do anything for Jessie’s mother because if not for her, he might never have known the love of his child.
But sometimes the truth turns out to be a lie…
Ebook available at: Amazon
Complete Character List:
- Jessie Adams: Queen of country music, Jessie’s return to the Rocky Mountain ranch where she grew up is marred by her mother’s illness…and by the secret the two women share.
- Nate Coltrane: Rancher Nate Coltrane works hard to protect his daughter from the secret in his past.
- Sara Coltrane: Nate’s seventeen year old daughter needs someone to confide besides her dad, and Jessie’s arrival at the ranch may give her the lifeline she’s seeking.
- Maude Adams: The elderly housekeeper has no regrets…except for the one she intends to take to her grave.
- Sam Adams: Longtime foreman on the Coltrane Ranch, Sam stood by while his family disintegrated, but now Jessie’s back home and this is his chance to make things right.
- Harley Jane Davis: Harley took a leave from her nursing job to ease Maude’s final days, and she’s not above giving Nate relationship advice.
- Hale Davis: Harley’s cousin grew up on the streets of Vancouver and was in and out of trouble with the law until he started working for Nate.
- George Davis: Harley’s brother, the local doctor, plays bass in Nate’s band.
- Mike Toryn: The drummer in Nate’s band, Mike has problems at home that he doesn’t want to talk about.
Extras & Tidbits: Want to get the inside scoop on this story? Then check out the blog posts below.
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“Jess? Damn it, Jess, if you’re there, pick up the—”
The answering machine clicked off, silencing his voice. Across the room, Jessie Adams surged to her feet, started for the phone, then caught herself up short.
Hope flared within her, as brief as a falling star.
Disappointment came faster.
No, he wouldn’t call, not if he knew the truth.
The shrill ring of the phone jangled and the machine clicked on again. “There’s no good way to tell you. We’ve taken your mom to the hospital in Calgary. You need to come home as soon as—”
Guilt pooled in her stomach, followed by a rush of memories that refused to fade away—the silent hush of the hospital, the cries of an unseen child, her mother signing papers, tears that never stopped.
The phone rang again. Across the years and distance separating them, the soft angry baritone of Nate Coltrane’s voice reached out to touch her. “Jess, I know where to find you. Get home now or I’ll come get you myself.”
She heard the receiver bang into place, then only the quiet, eerily still and disturbing.
Mother, please forgive me.
Legs trembling, heart pounding, Jessie crossed to the machine, slid her index finger across the controls, and pressed the erase button.
If only she could silence the memories with the same ease.
Nate Coltrane ran his finger inside the rim of his suddenly too tight shirt collar, gave a tug at the stiff material, then just for good measure, grabbed the knot on his tie and yanked it loose.
Hell, all he needed was a bouquet of flowers in one hand, chocolates in the other, and his friends would call him the biggest schmuck alive.
All because Jessie Adams was about to saunter back into his life.
He’d had to badger her, sure, with phone call after phone call after phone call. Until finally she’d given in to his demands and agreed to come home.
With hard won control, he tore his gaze away from the vast array of planes and unloading docks at the Calgary International Airport, and focused on the familiar snow-covered mountains in the distance.
This year, spring in the foothills of Alberta had arrived with all the reluctance of a teenager getting out of bed. Well, his teen anyway, he thought as he tucked his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and squinted into the evening sun.
Seventeen-year-old Sara, with her fresh mouth and know-it-all attitude. He’d pressured her to join the school ski trip to Jasper and gained two weeks of parental reprieve from her unpredictable behavior. But teenage boys and teenage girls together…he didn’t like it, not one bit, yet the alternative was even worse.
Overhead, the intercom clicked on, announcing the arrival of Jessie’s plane, and he turned his attention back to the gate. Fifteen minutes later, the first passenger walked out of the brightly lit passageway, a teenager sporting blue jeans nearly as frayed as his nerves. But when it seemed the last of the passengers had exited the arrival ramp, two days worth of tension disappeared in a flash.
Nate reluctantly acknowledged the fact that he’d have to go after Jessie, for her mother’s sake, of course, but if he was lucky, he wouldn’t be able to find her.
Just as he was about to surrender to the urge to bolt, she appeared—Jessie Adams, queen of country music—and apprehension returned with the force of a punch to the gut.
Beneath the mirrored sunglasses perched on a perfect nose, the seductive line of her mouth curved upward. She had the kind of smile that sent every male over the age of twelve racing to download her latest single to their iPod. The kind of smile that left her male fans looking like love sick fools and her female fans mimicking her style. The kind of smile that had always weakened his knees, turned him inside out, upside down…hell, every which way but straight.
Nate’s attention dropped from her face to the squirming baby in her arms. Bitterness extinguished the last of his nervousness and he wondered if he’d make a promise he couldn’t keep.
Bring Jessie home. Make a sick old woman happy. Give her mother one last opportunity to heal the rift between them.
It was all Maude wanted, she’d said, all she needed before she could go in peace. Because if not for his housekeeper, Maude, he’d never have known…
Dammit, he didn’t have a choice. Nate scowled as he closed the distance between them.
From a distance, Jessie looked steady and cool, as though coming home to face him was an everyday occurrence. The baby waved her pudgy arms in the air, grabbed hold of the sunglasses, and yanked them off her mother’s face.
It was like being ten again, looking into Jessie’s eyes for the very first time. Instantaneous sweating of the palms. Heart thundering in response to the prettiest girl he’d ever seen.
He’d forgotten how the hues of green changed with her mood, like the ring he’d given her the summer she turned fifteen. Right now, her eyes were smoky with worry, a green so pale he was reminded of the first time he’d found her in the fields, alone and lost.
As her gaze connected with his, uncertainty pooled within the expressive depths of her eyes and he knew he had to admit the truth to himself. For the last seventeen years, he’d been waiting for her to return.
With each step forward that he took, the stiff set of her shoulders grew more rigid. Her chin crept up a notch and her mouth moved, the words swept away by the squall of the baby. Another wail from the baby reminded Nate where he was and why. Not to open old wounds, but to bring Jessie home and give Maude peace.
She shifted the sobbing baby in her arms and hugged the child close to her body. As he reached her side, she leaned forward and he caught the subtle fragrance of perfume, a hint of flowers at sunset, teasing him with a more potent memory.
The image of the morning after, the scent of her still on his skin.
“How’s my mother?”
No polite hello. No I so screwed you over, babe. He gritted his teeth. “We brought her home yesterday. Hired a nurse to come in and care for her. I thought it might be easier for both Sam and Maude that way.”
She nodded, glanced toward the passageway as though looking for someone—a husband?—then faced him again. “What are you doing here? I could’ve found my own way to the ranch. I don’t need your help.”
She hadn’t back then either. She’d walked off without a backward glance, without a goodbye. Not even a damn explanation. For just a moment, she reminded him of Sara, defiant, proud, and so damn spunky it annoyed the hell out of him.
A weary passenger bulldozed past them and nearly knocked her off her feet. Automatically Nate closed his arms around mother and child, and glanced down into the little tyke’s tear streaked face.
The big blue eyes. The quivering bottom lip as the kid prepared for another ear-piercing wail. The tantalizing softness of mother and child.
In an instant, Nate released them. “We better get your luggage and get out of here.”
He headed for the baggage claim, aware of Jessie following him down the escalator, the noise in the terminal quieting as one by one, people claimed their luggage and vacated the building.
Eventually there was just the two of them, standing there watching the empty ramp go round and round.
And round some more.
The room had turned silent except for the gurgles of the child and the reassurances of her mother. Nate reached up, yanked at his shirt collar. Damn. It was beginning to feel as small as a broom closet in here.
He glanced to the side. The baby jammed her thumb into her mouth, her big eyes glistening with more unshed tears, her bottom lip still trembling. He tried not to watch them. Couldn’t help but be fascinated by the little one nuzzling at Jessie’s breast, seeking nourishment. Tried not to listen as Jessie cooed softly to the child.
She looked and sounded like the perfect mother. Who’d have thought?
He frowned down at her, caught by the image of mother and child, and he realized that he could spend a lifetime watching her with the baby. Didn’t that just bite?
She raised one eyebrow in his direction. “Trying to kill me with that look?”
Nate cleared his expression and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I…um…was thinking.”
“About whether or not my luggage is lost? Me, too.” She sighed, kissed the top of the baby’s head, and shrugged. “I guess there’s no big rush. I’m waiting for someone anyway.”
“Husband?” he asked, then wished he could take back the question.
“Friend,” she responded easily as she wiped a bit of drool from the sleeping baby’s mouth. “I’m not keeping you from anything, am I?”
“No, I’m in no rush,” he said, except maybe to get her out to the ranch. Because once they arrived, Jessie would stay with her parents in the house Nate’s father had built when he’d first hired her father, Sam Adams, as his foreman. And Nate would stay as far away from her as possible.
He had no other option.
Dragging his attention back to the luggage ramp, he tried to banish the image of her and the baby.
She looked so natural at it.
Too bad it was all a lie.
With great appreciation, Jessie watched Nate bend at the waist, his worn blue jeans snug against his butt. When he straightened, he held up a white envelope.
Jessie felt her heart miss a beat. She reached out and snatched the envelope from his hand.
One masculine eyebrow quirked up. “Must be important.”
“Yes, thank you, it is.” She tucked it back into her purse, somewhere safe where it couldn’t fall out again, and just in case he recognized the agency’s address said, “Charity work.”
He shrugged, uninterested, and turned to face the baggage ramp. From the corner of her eye, Jessie peered up at Nate’s profile. Blank, impartial, impervious to her presence.
It was clear they had nothing to say to each other, but she was determined to be pleasant. After all, she was the guilty party here. Not him. No, Nate would never have done what she did. “How have you been?”
“Getting by.” He shifted from one leg to the other and she caught a whiff of his aftershave.
God, he smelled good. Looked good, too. His nearly pitch black hair peeked out from beneath the edges of his worn cowboy hat. His face was tanned from hours spent outside. And his broad shoulders…even now, Jessie could feel his arms around her, protecting her and the baby.
What was he thinking? That he’d like to put her on the first plane out and never set eyes on her again? Most probably.
She bit back a sigh and reminded herself that Nate wasn’t the reason she’d come home. “I want to thank you for taking care of my mother.”
He glanced her way, his eyes as blue and as cold as a mountaintop glacier, before he turned his attention back to the baggage ramp. “Don’t kid yourself into thinking I did it for you.”
She nodded and took the hint. So what if he didn’t want to talk to her. She didn’t have anything to say to him, either. She pressed her lips together and patted her purse to make sure the envelope was still safely tucked away. Then she snuggled the baby closer to her breast, wishing more than anything that she’d been given a chance at motherhood, to raise and shape another human being. But what was the point of dwelling on something that could never be? Her life had taken her in a direction she’d never imagined when all she’d wanted was Nate at her side and a house full of love and laughter and children.
Beside her, he shifted again, the scuff of his cowboy boots against the floor tile loud in the silence between them. Jessie settled the unfamiliar, yet oh-so-welcome, weight of the baby in her arms. The little girl sighed, her tiny body shuddering as though releasing the last remnant of her confrontation with the plane and the crowd.
Jessie inhaled the sweet, fresh fragrance of powder, wiped away a lingering tear from the baby’s cheek, and savored the rose petal softness of her skin. So innocent, so dependent and trusting. Like she’d once been, before she’d left everything she wanted, everything she’d loved, behind.
A movement near the escalator caught her attention. Jessie’s heart skipped a beat. She tightened her arms around the baby and wished for a few more seconds, a lifetime of days.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nate push back his hat. His gaze darted in her direction, then ricocheted back to the baggage ramp. Jessie stood a little straighter, her gaze fixed on the shadows as they materialized into a person.
A pretty blonde woman appeared with identical twin boys clinging to her hands. “I’m sorry I took so long. It took a while to convince the boys that they weren’t too old to go into the women’s washroom.”
“No problem.” Jessie clung a little tighter to the baby and forced a smile as she gestured toward Nate. “Nate, you remember Brenda Mann. She was in our graduating class.”
The tension on his face eased and his mouth curved into a welcoming smile. “Yeah, sure. Brenda Mann. You used to sit at the front of biology class.”
The other woman blinked and looked pleased. “I didn’t think you’d remember me, Nate.”
“The smartest girl in school?” The tone of his voice softened, turned intimate. Jessie closed her mind against the memory of whispered promises, torrid embraces, so long ago it seemed like a dream. “You were the only girl in class who had the stomach for dissecting those poor little frogs. So what are you up to now? You Jessie’s nanny?”
“Nanny?” Brenda’s confusion cleared as her gaze settled on the sleeping child. Reluctantly, Jessie handed the baby to the other woman. “No, I’m Lori’s mom. I ran into Jessie on the plane and she was kind enough to help me with the baby.”
Jessie brushed a silky lock of hair from the baby’s smooth forehead. “It was fun. Too bad the flight ended so quickly.”
“Wait till you have children of your own.” Brenda turned to snag the collar of one of the boys before he scampered away. “Will I see you around town?”
Staring down at the sleeping child, Jessie felt a pain in her chest. If only. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. If I get a chance, I’ll definitely call you, okay?”
“That would be great. I’d love to hear more about your life on the road.”
Nate caught the other twin before he could escape. “Do you need help with your luggage? Maybe a ride somewhere?”
“No thanks. We left the city in a hurry and…” A nervous laugh escaped her and she shrugged. “We didn’t bring anything. My parents should be along any second. I’ll just…oh, there they are now.” She waved at the gray haired couple entering the terminal, then gently pushed the boys in their direction. “Take care, Jessie. I hope your mother is feeling better soon. It was nice seeing you again, Nate.”
Jessie watched her shepherd the boys toward the exit and only when they departed from the building did she realize that Nate was studying her, the expression in his eyes somber, reflective, maybe even a little angry. Well, he had the right. More than the right. He had the best reason in the world to be mad at her and he didn’t even know what it was.
She squared her shoulders, grabbed up a bag as it went around the ramp, and shoved it at him before grabbing another one. Finally, they could get moving. “Ready?”
By the time they left the terminal, darkness had fallen and the lights of the city lit up the sky. She stifled a yawn, only now feeling the effects of the long trip home.
Beside her, Nate guided the truck into the heavy traffic, his hands gripping the wheel. She pulled her gaze from the firm set of his jaw and rested her head against the window, letting her eyes drift shut.
Get in. Get out. No time for regrets or old promises.
She’d visit with her mother and father, confirm that Nate had overreacted to her mother’s illness, then head back to the city with her guilty conscience intact.
Get in. Get out. Don’t tell him the truth.