JD Cooper squinted into the sun as he tracked the bubblegum-pink car racing up the long, dusty driveway. God help him, if his brother had sent another woman to stay at the ranch, he’d have no choice but to get on a plane to Chicago, drag Ethan out of whatever meeting he was in and pound on him. Like he had when they were kids.
He cringed as the car hit a pothole and hung suspended for a minute before crashing down. Didn’t slow the woman down a bit. It had to be a woman. No man in his right mind would drive a car that color.
“Claire,” he called over his shoulder to where his brother’s former office manager was working at he-didn’t-know-what. Creating spreadsheets for every head of cattle or something equally…helpful. Ethan had given him some cocked-up story about why he needed Claire out of the office for a while, but JD knew bullshit when he smelled it. He suspected his brother had finally met a woman who could out-maneuver him. Claire had been a good sport about Ethan demoting her from office supervisor to ranch coordinator, whatever that meant, but he could tell she was biding her time. One way or another, Ethan was going to pay.
“Claire,” he called again. When he didn’t get a response from Claire or her friend Sammie, who had turned up on the doorstep three weeks ago, he eyed the horse barn, but decided he’d better wait to see if this was another one of Claire’s—what did they call them? BFFs. He sighed. The house was big, but not big enough for three females and him.
The car zoomed up the last few yards of the driveway and skidded to a halt. JD suppressed a groan of despair. Who in their right mind would paint a classic Porsche coupe that nauseating pink color? Whoever the woman was, he could already tell she was trouble.
A five-inch, spiked sandal, the same color as the car, winked sparkles at him as a slender foot emerged from the car, followed by impossibly long, slender legs clad in tight denim. His stomach started buzzing.
Aw, hell. That wasn’t his stomach that was getting all hepped up. How long had it been since he’d looked—really looked—at a woman? This particular woman was all curves and angles, with a face that he knew would haunt his dreams, topped off with a fistful of auburn curls that tugged a smile out of him. He swallowed hard as she stretched a full cat-like stretch. She finally turned toward him, her smile lit from within.
“I knew I’d find you here,” she said and stepped eagerly toward him.
And fell straight on her face into the only mud puddle in the county, thanks to Claire watering the new flower beds. JD jerked backward, as though yanked out of a dream. He hesitated, admiring how her tight little behind poked up into the air before he leaped off the porch to help the woman.
“Are you okay?” He got his arm around her waist and tipped her into an upright position.
“No, I’m not okay.” She pushed his arm away. “This is exactly how my life has been going the past year. I can’t seem to climb out of the damned mud pit.”
He smothered a smile at the red mud she smeared across her face. “Need a hand?”
“Thanks.” She reached for his hand. “Sorry for snapping at you. It’s been a long week.”
Once on her feet, she pulled herself up to her full height. She was almost as tall as he was. “I’m Maggie Kennedy. Nice to meet you.”
Maggie Kennedy had a beautiful mouth, especially when she smiled. He’d bet some man back home worked hard to keep that smile on her face. Ignoring the mud, he shook her dirty hand. “JD Cooper.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re Ethan’s brother.”
“He has a lot to answer for, sending Claire way out here.”
He certainly did, and JD planned to take his share out of his brother’s hide for foisting all these women on him. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
“Inside somewhere. Let me help you. Those shoes aren’t exactly appropriate footwear for a ranch.”
“I knew that. But they match the car beautifully.” She blinded him with another dazzling smile, despite the mud on her face.
He put his arm around her waist, and she leaned into him as she hobbled toward the steps. Of course, she smelled good. Delicious. Good enough to eat.
As they approached the bottom step, she put all her weight on one foot and winced. “Damnation. I think I sprained it. Okay, I can sit on my bum and scoot up the stairs backwards. I did that when I was a kid and broke my leg.”
“No need.” He scooped her into his arms and concentrated on not huffing as he carried her up the stairs. Maggie was thin. Too thin, really. He could feel her hipbone jut into his belly. But she was tall. An armful.
One of her curls brushed his cheek as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on, and he was suddenly aware that he hadn’t shaved today. Make that the last three days. He’d been letting things slip lately, telling himself he was too busy to care. But now he realized not only had he not shaved, he smelled like horses, because he’d spent the morning riding up to one of the back pastures. Sometimes it paid not to announce his arrival to the ranch hands, and the best way to do that was to go by horse. But he should have showered after lunch, and he hadn’t bothered.
“What does JD stand for?”
He glanced at her face so close to his and noticed a sprinkle of cinnamon freckles on her nose. Her hazel eyes had a luminous quality to them. Just looking at her made him want to smile. He bet she had that effect on everyone.
“That’s top-secret information.” He shouldered his way past the screen door and set her on the couch in the living room, then squatted in front of her and took her sprained foot in his hand. Her toenails were the same shocking pink as her shoes and car. His fingers itched to trace the delicate contours of her ankle, which was beginning to puff up. He snatched his hand away and stood. “You better take that shoe off before your foot swells up too much. I’ll find Claire.”
He escaped from the living room, trying to push the image of her pink toenails out of his head. Better to concentrate on where he was going to live if Maggie Kennedy decided to visit for a while. Because he knew, without even thinking about it, staying in the same house with her would drive him crazy.
And what had she meant when she’d said she knew she’d find him here? Had she confused him with someone else?
He could call Ethan and complain about the ranch being taken over by women, but Ethan would laugh and tell him to suck it up. Anything that kept Claire happy and here on his ranch, while he took care of business back in Chicago, was a bonus from his brother’s point of view. So, suck it up is exactly what he was going to have to do. For now.
He found Claire in the back summer kitchen, messing with something. Sammie, as usual, was at her side. He’d never gotten the full story on what had happened to Sammie, but anyone could see her spirit was broken. She was the little sister he’d never had, and now he was thankful he didn’t have a sister, because if he ever met the bastard who’d put that wounded look in Sammie’s eyes, JD planned to settle the scales.
He endured the girls’ squeals when they heard Maggie was here and watched them race to the front room. Apparently, the three of them had been best friends since childhood. Realizing he’d forgotten to tell them about Maggie’s ankle, he went into the kitchen for some ice.
He’d have to move out, of course. JD had known this day was coming, but he’d ignored the signs. The ranch belonged to Ethan, and he’d been acting as the temporary caretaker until his brother could close up a chapter of his life in Chicago and move here. Knowing Ethan, he had it all planned out. Sell his company, move here and persuade Claire to marry him and start a family. A pang shot through him. It was a great plan, and he wished his brother the best.
He didn’t have much of a sentimental attachment to the log house or the ranch. For two weeks every summer their parents had dumped Ethan and him here, at Uncle Charlie’s ranch. His uncle had been a crusty old dude, but he had been able to hold the boys’ attention with a story better than any TV show. When Charlie died, he’d had no one to leave his ranch to except Ethan and JD. The place had sat partially neglected for five years or so after Charlie’s death, both of them too busy with their lives to bother with it. They’d sold off the cattle and hired a caretaker until they could decide what they were going to do with the ranch. Neither he nor Ethan was ready to sell.
In Jackson Hole for a job, JD had driven out to Cooper Creek to check on the spread, and with one of his insights he was renowned for, JD decided to build his dream house halfway up a mountain, two miles east of the ranch. His wife had not been happy about moving from Salt Lake City, but the house was going to be a JD Cooper design, and, everyone knew, worth millions.
A few months later, when Ethan had dropped in for a weekend visit to see what JD was up to, he’d asked if he could buy JD’s share of the ranch and suggested JD section off the piece of land he wanted. JD liked the idea of living close to his brother.
It wasn’t so much moving out of the ranch house that unsettled him now, but where he had to move to.
He put a handful of ice cubes in a plastic baggie and went down the hall to his bedroom. His was the only bedroom on the ground floor, so obviously Maggie would have to stay there, at least until her ankle got better. He packed what he thought he’d need for the next few days and continued on to the living room, where he could hear all three women talking at once.
He halted in the doorway of the spacious living room and watched as Claire and Sammie fussed over Maggie’s injuries, which consisted, as far as he could tell, of a sprained ankle and a broken fingernail. They’d brought a cloth for her to wash her face, and she’d wiped away most of the mud. Somehow, she’d gotten hardly any dirt on her clothes. Probably because she’d kept her cute little butt stuck up in the air. His mouth twitched. She’d been a good sport about falling flat on her face. He liked when people didn’t make a fuss about things.
“Here’s some ice.” He held out the bag, but didn’t budge from the doorway.
Maggie’s face lit up. “Thank you. He carried me inside,” she said to her friends. “Me! And you know how much I weigh.”
Heat stung the back of his neck. Claire took the ice from him and raised her eyebrows when she noticed his leather bag. “Going somewhere?”
The blush climbed into his cheeks. “I thought I’d give you girls some space for a few days. She can’t sleep on the couch.” He tilted his head toward Maggie. “She can have my bedroom until…” He let the sentence die off. It was hardly polite talking about her leaving when she’d just arrived. He wouldn’t mind if she left, though, so he could go back to thinking things were okay for a while longer.
They all started talking at once. Maggie tried to get up off the couch, but moaned with pain and fell back onto it. Sammie scolded her about putting weight on her foot. Claire talked over them to tell him it wasn’t necessary to leave.
Yeah, it was. Right now, before they drove him nuts. He turned on his heel and escaped out the door.
Maggie flopped back on the sofa and shoved her hair off her face as she looked up at her two best friends. Seeing their faces made her feel better. “I can’t believe he left. I feel so bad.”
Claire frowned at the doorway. “JD pretty much does what he wants. I hope he’s going to be okay.”
“Where is he going?” Her Great Idea was off to a lousy start. Right away she’d found the perfect man for the job, and she’d scared him off. Big surprise.
“He has his own house about two miles from here, but he hasn’t lived there, since I arrived, anyway. Maybe longer.”
“This is Ethan’s ranch?” Maggie asked.
“Yes. JD’s been working it for him. He’s a good rancher.”
Maggie grinned. “An honest-to-God cowboy. A really hot one, too. Remember our cowboy phase when we swore we’d marry cowboys someday?”
Sammie sat beside her and tucked her legs under her. “We were so young and naïve.”
“Oh, baby.” Maggie put her arm around her friend and kissed her forehead. “Don’t give up. Maybe things aren’t the way we thought they would be, but we can still dream. Take me, for example. I’ve decide to be mistress of my own universe.”
“What’s that mean?” Claire pulled over a footstool, sat and gently picked up Maggie’s foot until it rested on her lap. She put the bag of ice on the swollen ankle.
Maggie smiled at the suspicion in Claire’s voice. Always the one to play it safe. “I’ve made a decision. Since my ex couldn’t see his way to having a child with me, I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’m going to have my own baby.”
Sammie giggled. “Last time I checked, you needed two to get that job done.”
“Exactly. Which is why I’m here. I mean, other than spending time with my two best friends.”
“You’re looking for another husband?” Claire asked.
“Cut your tongue out! I’m looking for the father of my child. I’ve thought it over, and I want the best for my baby. I don’t want her to start life in a test tube or whatever. I want to have fun conceiving. And I’m sick of wimpy men. I need a real man. What better place to find one than in ranch country?”
“How’s that going to work? Will you tell the lucky man he’s going to be a father?”
Maggie squirmed. Trust Claire to hit on the weak spot of her plan. “There’s no sense in warning him beforehand. And after…well. Maybe when the child is four or five years old I could drop the father a note. It’s not like I need financial support. And you’ll both be aunties. Right? I don’t need a man to have a baby, but I thought I might as well have fun getting pregnant.”
“And you think JD is good daddy material,” Claire said.
Maggie’s pulse picked up. “I think he’s perfect. You have to admit he’s a gorgeous specimen.”
Claire scowled at Sammie when she nodded her head in agreement. “I don’t know JD’s story because he’s a private man. But I can tell you this. A smart, talented, good-looking man like JD isn’t single without a reason. There are deep waters there, Maggie. You’d do better to look elsewhere for your father material. And—”
When Claire hesitated, Maggie prodded her friend with her foot to continue. Claire had been her moral compass for most of her life. Claire’s warm hand wrapped around her foot and squeezed.
“—I worry about you, honey. You and Dominic had such an acrimonious divorce. It’s only been a year. Maybe you’re getting ahead of yourself.”
“No.” Maggie felt the old sadness settle around her. “When I look back at our marriage, I think, you know, I think it was never right. Maybe the first year was good. But he knew how much I wanted a baby, and he always convinced me to wait.”
She looked down at her hands in her lap. “Then he got that other woman pregnant and couldn’t wait to divorce me to marry her.” She swallowed the bitter despair that lodged in her throat. “I thought Dominic loved me, you know? But then I looked hard at our marriage and realized he used me to get close to my family.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Imagine his disappointment when he realized I was the black sheep, and the Kennedys weren’t my real family. I can’t believe it took me so long to leave him.”
She reached forward and took Claire’s hands in hers. “I know the ethics are a little wonky with my idea, but I want a family of my own. I’m tired of being screwed around by other people, and I need to take matters into my own hands. I need to prove I have some control over my life.”
“You’re going to be a wonderful mother, Maggie.” Sammie laid her head on Maggie’s shoulder.
Claire’s expression softened. “Sammie’s right. You are. You’re going to be the fun mom on the block. And I’m going to be the honorary aunt who takes my niece to New York once a year.”
“I’ve got dibs on spending Christmas together,” Sammie added. “Where do you think you’ll live?”
“I haven’t a clue. Close to you two, I hope. It’s not like the Kennedys give two hoots where I settle.”
Claire stood. “I guess we’ll settle that part when we get to it, seeing as I’m stuck here for another six months. Ethan and his damned complicated contracts. I still haven’t a clue what he thinks he’s doing, but when I finally see him, I plan to find out.”
Maggie had an idea what Ethan was up to, at least about stashing Claire away on his ranch, and she was pretty sure it had nothing to do with organizing whatever there was to organize around here. She suspected Ethan had plans for Claire, and she fervently hoped she’d be around when Mr. Cooper discovered Claire preferred to make her own plans. Sparks were likely to fly.
Maggie slid forward. “I need a shower and to unpack. As soon as I’m mobile, I’ll visit JD and assure him I won’t be staying long. Especially if I can jump his bones right away.” She wiggled her eyebrows as a shiver worked its way through her.
With his broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms, JD was the perfect male specimen, no argument there. But she had to admit it was sad that he lived in his brother’s house while his own sat empty. Deep waters indeed. Good thing all she was looking for was a couple of long, sultry nights of hot sex. She imagined she and JD Cooper could manage that and hopefully have fun. Then she’d be on her way, and JD would never know what hit him.
JD eased his truck as close to the horse barn as he could and lowered the window. If he got out of the truck, Ethan’s head cattleman, Dave Winters, would want to talk half the evening about the pink Porsche parked in front of the house. He whistled and a few horses neighed in reply, and Dave came out of the shadowy interior of the barn.
“That’s some car.” Dave tipped his cowboy hat to the back of his head.
“Claire’s friend. I’m moving up to my house. I’ll be back in an hour. You can get me on my cell if you need anything.” He started to power the window up, but Dave clamped his hand on the edge to stop him.
JD shoved his sunglasses up on his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose. He hated when people talked to him with that mix of concern and pity in their voice. But he endured it because not so very long ago, it had been a legitimate question. He slid his glasses back into place. “I’m okay. I should have moved months ago.”
“You need help with anything, you call.”
JD nodded. “You putting the new mare through her paces this afternoon?”
“Some. She’s a big one, but she’s well behaved. It’ll be hard to find a buyer for her, though. She’s too big.”
“I know it. We’ll find someone to fit.” He thought of Maggie with her long legs and wide smile and wondered if she rode. Horses. Aw, hell. A few minutes around the woman, and she’d already burrowed under his skin. He shoved the truck in reverse and started edging backward. “If you don’t have time, leave her. I’ll take her out later.”
He knew he’d been foolish to buy those damned horses. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Just because they were flawed in some way didn’t mean there wasn’t a place for them somewhere. He cursed under his breath. Ethan was right. He had to give up and move on. He wasn’t a rancher, for chrissakes. At the moment, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but this…hiding on his brother’s ranch wasn’t working for him anymore. No more horses. Lulu was the last one.
JD turned his truck around and headed up the dirt road to his house. He’d planned to pave the road, but there hadn’t seemed to be any point to it if no one was living there. He could sell the house, of course. It was two miles from the ranch and wouldn’t affect anything there if he sold. But he hadn’t gotten to a place in his head where he could think about selling. Some dreams died hard, he supposed. He’d known this was coming. He’d felt restless more and more often lately. Maybe moving up here would be a good thing, push him out of the rut he was in. Make him think of the future instead of being stuck in the past.
He intended to toss his bag inside the door and turn on the water pump, then leave, but as usual, the house called to him once he stepped inside. Seduced him, really. Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone.
He ran his hand along the butcher’s block beside the propane stovetop. He was a good architect, had a feel for space and form. Before he’d quit, his house plans had been in high demand. He’d even gone out on his own and started a company. He’d thought maybe he could get a hold of the whole thing that way. Have more control over the hours he worked. Lydia had always complained about his long hours. She’d even accused him of having affairs, but that wasn’t true. He’d looked and had been tempted, but what he’d wanted most was a family. But people didn’t always get what they wanted, no matter how hard they tried
Lydia had been right all along. He’d worked too much. He turned and squinted up at the natural daylight spilling in through the row of windows high up in the wall. A nod to Frank Lloyd Wright. Funny how hard work was his saving grace now. Good hard physical labor, driving fence posts, herding cattle, riding hard. He liked it when his muscles ached at the end of the day, and he could look back and see how much he’d accomplished. He wasn’t as good a rancher as he’d been an architect, but he did okay.
He turned on the water and watched it run for a minute, then opened the cupboard for a glass. Damn. He’d forgotten he didn’t have even a glass to drink out of, because he’d never lived here, and neither had anyone else.
He’d have to go back to Ethan’s house and get a few things until…until he needed more. He couldn’t imagine really moving into this house. When he’d built it, all he could think about was living here. But by the time the house had been completed, he couldn’t bring himself to spend even one night.
Three years. He didn’t expect he’d ever forgive himself for what had happened. But at least he’d stopped picking at the scab that covered the wounds.
And maybe now it was time to take another step. Try staying for a night or two. More like a week to give himself a chance. If it drove him crazy, he’d put the house on the market. Several people had already approached him about buying it. He’d give each of them a call first. One way or another, maybe he could finally leave the past behind.
He locked the side door he’d used to come in and went out the back door to the slate terrace. He’d planned to plant roses along the edge of the terrace but had never gotten around to it. It still needed something. The terrace was nice with the mountains climbing right up out of the backyard, but the space was too sparse. Nothing to soften all that stone and rock. Maybe he could get Claire and her friends interested in planting a few bushes.
He went back in and turned on the outside light in case he was late tonight, then locked the door and pocketed the keys. He didn’t want to think about coming back to all this emptiness later. The house had been built for a large family, and he’d never have children. He’d be better off if he sold it, not to mention a helluva lot richer. But after all the work and money he’d put into the house, he could at least stay for a night or two. He could handle that.
Maggie carefully placed the chocolate cake on the backseat of her Porsche and collapsed into the car. She’d sat on the sofa for three days waiting for her ankle to mend and for JD to reappear. God knows why she’d waited for him. What had she thought? That he’d fallen under her spell? Love at first sight? She snorted. Sure. Happened all the time.
She revved the engine, and felt marginally better as the car smoothly slid down the driveway. She didn’t like sitting around, waiting for things to happen. She needed action.
Surprisingly protective of JD, Claire had cautioned Maggie not to bother him. Apparently, he had a lot on his mind these days. Well, so did she. She hadn’t come all this way to sit on her butt all day. Both her friends had full, busy days, and it was only in the evening that she got to visit with them. Claire was preoccupied with managing the ranch, although Maggie had yet to discover exactly what that meant. Whatever Claire was doing, she kept busy. Maggie’s lip curled. The only thing that needed managing was Ethan and his high-handed ways of handling her friend. Not that she’d ever say that to Claire. No doubt she had found ways to improve the efficiency of running the ranch. If anyone could, it would be Claire.
Sammie had taken to the cowgirl’s life with an enthusiasm that surprised Maggie. She was up and at ’em before it was fully light in the morning, cleaning stalls and brushing down horses. Sammie, who had worked for a fashion mag for the last ten years. Maggie never would have guessed her friend would like mucking about in the…well, muck.
Claire said the ranch made its money running beef cattle. JD bought and resold horses as a sideline, but according to Claire, most of the horses were ones other people didn’t want. The Moondance Ranch was getting a reputation as a place to sell the old mare who ain’t what she used to be. Taking in horses no one else wanted didn’t sound like a paying proposition, but then not everything was about money. At least, she hoped it wasn’t. Sometimes, though, it felt like money was the only thing people cared about.
She slowed and turned onto the dirt road that Dave had told her about. While he’d drawn a map to JD’s place in the dust beside the barn, she’d surreptitiously studied the older cowboy. He looked to be in as good shape as JD, and although his face was weathered, she could tell he was a kind man. He would probably do as a second choice if JD wouldn’t cooperate with the baby project, except Dave had a standoffish air to him, and she had a feeling he’d head for the hills if she ever propositioned him. Not that she was inclined to. Not while JD was still a possible candidate.
Dave had said that JD likely spent most evenings at his house, but he didn’t know for sure, because JD kept to himself, which had probably been meant as a gentle reprimand to leave JD alone. Everyone acted so protective of him. She’d love to know why. His house was only a couple of miles away, so no problem if he wasn’t home. She wanted to see the house he’d built, anyway. Claire and Sammie and Dave all said it was something special. JD looked so much like a cowboy, it was hard to imagine him as a renowned architect, wearing a suit and having an office in a high-rise somewhere.
A few minutes later, she stopped the car below the house, even though she could see she was supposed to keep driving up to the side entrance. She got out and leaned against the car, her hand on her stomach. Gazing upward, she felt like someone had taken a big wooden spoon and stirred up her insides. Tears pooled in her eyes as laughter bubbled up her throat. It was the most beautiful house she’d ever seen, and it made her long for things she didn’t think would ever be part of her life.
Made of rock and cedar, the house clung to the side of a steep hill. A foothill, she supposed, as there were mountain ranges farther in the distance. It had several levels, the highest probably the bedroom with a wall of windows and its own balcony. Beneath was the main floor, again all windows and wood. An enormous rock chimney rose up through the middle of the house. The main floor had a large, extended deck, projecting out in front. The house was framed by hardwood trees, their leaves a tender spring green. In the fall they’d turn amazing colors.
But the most startling feature was a stream that sprouted out of the mountain above the house and cascaded down beside it, close enough that someone standing on the main deck could reach out and stick their hands in the waterfall. It was a fantasy house. The house of her dreams if she’d had a big enough imagination to have visualized it. If it were her house, she’d never leave.
Suddenly, going to see JD didn’t seem to be such a good idea. She wanted to keep things simple, and she was beginning to understand what Claire had been going on about. JD was a complicated, sophisticated man, playing at being a cowboy. Talent like his shouldn’t be wasted, but she was the last person to criticize someone’s decisions.
She climbed back into the car and headed back to the ranch. What a shame. Physically, he was perfect for what she had in mind. They might even have had fun for a couple of weeks. But she’d finally disentangled herself from a loveless marriage, and she wasn’t interested in having a relationship—any relationship. She was free, and she planned to stay that way for a long time.
About a mile down the road, she pulled over and maneuvered the car around until she was headed back up toward the house. Years of Dominic criticizing her had resulted in second-guessing every decision she made. She wanted to see JD’s house, and she wanted to see JD. She refused to tuck her tail between her legs and scurry back to the ranch just because he’d built the most beautiful house in the world.
Heavens! Maybe that was her house. Maybe he’d sell it to her. She hoped to settle close to her friends, so why not here? And so what if he was a complicated man? He was still a man, and that was the part she was most interested in.
She continued on up to the side entrance and parked. Her throat ached when she saw the view from that high up. The ranch house and barns stretched out in front of her, sitting in a valley of their own, framed by hills with a stream running through the middle of the valley. The blue sky stretched on forever from up here, and the brilliant green pastures, fresh from the winter melt-off, almost hurt her eyes. Moondance Ranch was a little piece of heaven right here on earth.
She could be content living here. She could raise a child here. Filled with a sense of purpose, she practically skipped to the door.
Although JD’s truck was parked by the house, no one answered her knock. She rapped her knuckles against the door one more time, the chocolate cake she’d taken the trouble to bake for him balanced on one hand. She tried the doorknob. The door swung open, and she tiptoed into the house. It was even more beautiful inside than out. All wood and windows and tiled floors. The kitchen she’d entered was huge and opened onto a small dining area and a big family room. Perfect. But empty. There were two stools in the kitchen. That was it for furniture.
She tripped over a pair of work boots, JD’s likely, put the cake on the blue slate counter and tiptoed farther into the house. “Hello?” she called. When no one answered, she continued with more confidence. People didn’t leave their door unlocked if they didn’t want visitors.
She drifted through the spectacular, but empty, living room, whose peaked ceilings mirrored the mountains outside, and slipped outside to the front deck. The minute she opened the patio doors, the sound of cascading water filled her ears.
And there was JD, sitting in a hot tub at the edge of the deck. Maggie took advantage of the fact that his eyes were closed to study the man closely for the first time. Until now, she’d caught only brief, tantalizing glimpses. She wasn’t close enough to see, but quite possibly, he was naked. Certainly his chest was bare, and even as relaxed as he appeared, she could see the well-defined muscles in his abdomen and his massive shoulders. His head rested against the back of the tub, his corded neck and jaw shadowed with several days’ growth of beard. His light brown hair had probably been cut short once but now looked shaggy and too long for the cut. It was several shades lighter than his beard. His mouth was perfect, firm but well defined, as if someone had outlined it with a pencil.