A romantic hardened by reality…
Evelyn Lancaster turned her back on her love for ranch hand Jesse Greenwood when she was sixteen to pursue a career and marry into wealth that could save her father’s struggling ranch. Now twenty-three, she works hard to keep the property afloat, but no suitor has stirred her heart the way Jesse did. After her father falls ill, she needs all the help she can get to keep the ranch running.
A cowboy returning to what he left behind…
After making his fortune, a newly wealthy Jesse has returned home to see his younger sister married. Still smarting from Evelyn’s rejection, he finds the tables have turned, and now only his investment could save the ranch that he vowed to never step foot on again.
When he agrees to help her salvage her family legacy, they must overcome their pride and painful past to work together. As long-held emotions rekindle, Jesse pretends indifference, only to admit his true feelings in an unsigned letter left on Evelyn’s porch.
Evelyn finds the missive and writes back, beginning a furtive correspondence. She dares to hope her mystery admirer is Jesse, but then another man comes forward to claim the letters as his own. Will one last letter give them the courage to say yes to love on the wild Texas plains?
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Jesse Greenwood looked up from the paper he was writing on to the blue sky in front of him. A year. A whole year since he’d seen her long black hair flying behind her as she raced across the field on the back of a horse, challenging her mount with verbal commands and physical kicks every chance she found. A whole year since she’d made him promise he would keep writing to her while she was away. A year since he’d spoken to her at all.
Maybe she didn’t receive his letters. The idea had dawned on him before, especially when he was all by himself out on the ranch. Maybe her father kept the letters from him. Maybe someone at that fancy school of hers burned them before they could reach her hands.
He watched the herd of cattle graze on the pasture. The cattle were lazy, chewing cud all day and staring blankly at any lone cowboy who tried to herd them. They didn’t worry about not receiving letters.
One letter out of—how many was it now? Thirty? Forty? Every spare moment he had ended up filled with writing to her. Maybe it was time to give up. He swallowed feelings of surrender. No, he’d promised to write.
Jesse sighed. After putting away the paper, he headed back toward his horse. Promises sure were hard to keep when you didn’t know if the other person gave a damn. As he herded the cattle to head back to the ranch, the sun began to set. The fading light filled the sky with deep purple and orange hues. There was no way Eve could see that sunset off on the East Coast, where the sun probably never shined and children probably never learned how to race horses.
He turned his head at the call of his name. Another one of the ranch hands, Preston, rode up next to him. The beginnings of a beard peppered Preston’s jawline, reminding Jesse that he hadn’t shaved in days. He didn’t really shave anymore, ever. There didn’t seem much incentive when Evelyn wasn’t around.
As if reading his mind, Preston slapped Jesse’s back and whistled low. “Your girl’s coming home.”
Jesse nearly dropped the folded letter in his hand. He tucked it into his pocket instead and tightened his hands on his reins for a better grip. “What did you just say?”
Preston arched an eyebrow and grinned. “You heard me, all right. Evelyn Lancaster’s headed back to Hamilton.”
While his eyes never strayed from the cattle he and Preston were taking back to the ranch, Jesse’s body was on autopilot. With the trail to the ranch memorized, his mind whirred, trying to process the information Preston had given him.
Preston headed off in the opposite direction and took the cattle from the other side as another ranch hand opened up the gates. Jesse waited until Preston finished trotting around the extent of the corral. Either Preston’s daily check of the corral needed more time today, or he was just taunting Jesse. He stepped out of the stirrups and jumped to the ground, his hand drifting to his pocket where the letter lay in the process. When Preston finished, he finally let go of his reins and also dismounted.
The two guided their horses back toward the stable. Jesse could feel Preston’s eyes studying his expression. “I ain’t lying. She’s back for good.”
His throat felt dry. “How would you know that?”
Preston chuckled. “Heard it from the big bug himself. ‘Make sure Blue Star is ready, Preston.’ That was when I asked. Boss said she’s come back to be married. Heard she’s become real pretty now, too.” Preston took off his beige hat as they stepped out of the stable. Once they reached the house, he stamped his feet on the mat in front of the porch door. A plume of dust flew up from the mat in a cloud, a tribute to the day’s work on the ranch. He brushed off the dirt from his clothes, taking extra care to appear presentable. Jesse raised an eyebrow.
Preston shook his head. “Not trying to make myself look good for Evelyn—she’s your girl.”
Jesse took off his black hat and stepped inside. “Not talking about her, Preston. I know who you’re trying to impress.” Preston Dean had been chasing Jesse’s baby sister for the last year, not that Jesse approved. He figured Preston’s interest in her would fade, the way the rest of his friend’s annual infatuations did. Thankfully, Loretta Greenwood hadn’t shown any interest in him, and Jesse planned to keep it that way.
“She’s the same age Eve was when you two got all lovey-dovey. If I wanted to do the same with your sister, then I—”
Jesse shot his friend a warning look, but Preston smirked. “You just wait and see.
Loretta will come around.”
The two walked down the hallway of the bunkhouse Mr. Lancaster had provided for his ranch hands. Their heavy footsteps thudded against the wooden flooring. The hallway was empty, and Jesse guessed all the other cowboys were eating at the cookhouse. Beds lined the back of the bunkhouse, each one stacked a level on top of each other to conserve space. The boss hadn’t provided them with much, but a clean bed was all Jesse needed. It had been hard trying to find a job after his parents died; landing a place as a ranch hand had also meant Loretta could work in the kitchen and sleep in the big house, which seemed more than generous to him.
He swallowed hard and pulled the letter from his pocket. The folds seemed to ruin it somehow, and he smoothed the paper with care on the nearest table. So she’d returned to be married. His heart knew who she wanted. She’d told him so; she didn’t want to marry anyone else.
His heart beat faster, and he felt perspiration begin to gather in the base of his palms. Her father must have come around after all. There was a knock at the door from the back entrance. Too early for the other ranch hands to return from supper. Preston nearly darted forward to answer the door, but Jesse shot him a stern look. If it really was Loretta at the door, he certainly didn’t want Preston greeting her.
He set his black hat on the table before he walked over to the doorway. What was she thinking? It really wasn’t proper for his sister to come to the bunkhouse at this time. He opened the door. “Loretta, I told you for the last time to stop encouraging Preston into believing that …”
His voice trailed off once his eyes recognized the figure standing on the other side of the doorway. His eyes widened, and he felt his pulse racing. The girl at the door was definitely not Loretta.
Evelyn Lancaster wanted to run away as fast as possible.
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