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First pages

Chapter One

 

She was back home again, yet heartsick over what had brought her here….

Whitney Cole sat in the inner office of Bitterpill’s one and only lawyer. She tried to calm her hands but continued to fold and unfold the tissue she’d pulled from a box on the edge of Mr. Pratt’s desk.

While waiting for him to arrive for the reading of her grandma’s last will and testament, she also couldn’t chase away her curiosity over why he’d insisted they do it right away. Nonetheless, she was grateful he hadn’t arrived yet. Although she’d thought her sobbing was over and done with after three full days of it—and plenty more at the gravesite this morning—she’d been wrong.

A single tear rolled down each of her cheeks. She didn’t recall crying this much almost two years before, when she and Grandma had stood hand-in-hand in the exact same spot. Grandpa’s death had devastated both of them, but…

Never in her life had Whitney felt so alone.

She brushed the dampness from her face before she reached for another tissue and smoothed her sundress. Minutes later, after forcing herself to take a lengthy series of deep, soothing breaths, she began to feel in control for the first time in days.

When she heard the door opening behind her, she stood and turned to—

Her stomach did an abrupt somersault when the man from her past strode into Ben Pratt’s office. Drew crossed the room, hugging her as he whispered his condolences. The scent of him alone…something her heart hadn’t forgotten even after all these years…was enough to send her reeling, and she sank onto the chair as he took a seat on the one next to hers.

When he propped a booted ankle over the opposite knee, Whitney felt her throat tighten, her pulse race. And she forced herself to take another breath.

They weren’t that close to each other, yet his warmth seemed to be all over her. Closing in on her.

Dumbfounded, she could only wonder what on earth Drew Kincaid was doing here, little more than a yard to her right. Trying her best to pretend he wasn’t in the room, while also trying to convince herself his eyes were now a watered-down shade of clear, cobalt blue, she decided that perhaps her grandparents had let go of some of their grudge against him.

Ever since Drew had talked her into an early marriage—which hadn’t really taken much “talking,” considering the sizzling chemistry the teenagers couldn’t have put a stop to even if they’d tried—Eugene and Margaret Cole had never felt the same about him. At the time, her lifelong guardians dreamt of nothing more than her accepting the scholarship she’d earned to Duke.

They’d had a fit, insisting on an annulment. And Whitney had gone along.

Annulling their marriage hadn’t exactly been the hundred-percent honest way to proceed, but she owed her grandparents so much she’d kept quiet about that aspect of the legalities. They’d done everything for her. And more. So sparing them the details of a mere two days of wedded bliss had seemed the kindest way to handle things at the time.

Beyond that, it had undoubtedly been the right thing to do. She and Andrew Jackson Kincaid were so different, in fact, that their marriage couldn’t possibly have withstood the test of time.

“How are things going in Charlotte?” he finally asked, shifting in his chair.

“Fine,” she answered, not looking at him as she dabbed at her eyes again. Refusing to look at him while he stood just long enough to hook his straw Stetson on the hat rack nearby. “And…how about in Houston?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.”

Brilliant, stimulating conversation, she thought as they settled into total silence once more. It was a darned good thing they hadn’t wasted much time talking a dozen years ago. They could have been married for four hours, tops, instead of forty-eight.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Ben Pratt said as he bustled in, decked out in his trademark starched jeans, crisp white dress shirt, and turquoise-studded bolo tie. After adjusting the wooden blinds to fend off the fierce, late-afternoon sun of July in the Texas Hill Country, he took his seat, smoothed his silver mustache and reached for a file folder.

Again Whitney reflected on how thankful she was for the man’s tardiness. In the time she and Drew had sat there, awkwardly waiting for the attorney’s arrival, she’d managed to reconcile the situation and even admit this was a good thing.

Forgive and forget, right? There was absolutely no reason for her not to be happy that Grandma and Grandpa had decided to make a kind gesture by leaving Drew a little something….

* * *

“Half! Half of everything?”

Intent on ignoring the effect Whitney was having on him, trying to listen even though he’d been busy gawking at every tempting inch of her, Drew watched as she clamped her mouth shut.

Immediately after asking Ben Pratt her pointed question, she turned to simply glare at him. He lifted a shoulder, letting her know he’d had absolutely nothing to do with Margaret and Eugene’s final wishes.

Hell, he was having a hard enough time figuring it out for himself. They had always been fond of him—before he’d spirited their one and only grandchild away, at least. Eugene had hired him as an extra hand during his…and Whitney’s…last two summers of high school, and Drew had checked in with them on a regular basis during the remainder of each of his junior and senior years.

Because they were such warm, caring people, precisely what he’d needed in his life, he’d been more than happy to do any of the always small favors they asked of him. Just as her grandparents had treated Whitney as if she were their own child, instead of their grandchild, they’d seemed to look upon him as the son they’d never had.

“I can only tell you what I was able to surmise, Whitney,” the elderly lawyer said. “Margaret was going through some paperwork a couple months ago, and she summoned me out to the farm. First rattle out of the box, she shoved her copy of their will into my hands, demanding that I fix what I’d done wrong.”

“What on earth could you have done wrong?” she asked.

Drew recognized her hallmark, ever-present sense of impatience. This explanation, she’d undoubtedly decided already, wasn’t promising to go anywhere.

“Nothing that I could see, Whitney, but she insisted that I’d left your husband out—intentionally or not—and that I needed to get it fixed immediately.”

“Surely you set her straight, though.”

“Oh, I tried. But bless her heart, even though I reminded her y’all had gotten an annulment years ago, I figured maybe she was caught up in some kind of a time warp.” His mustache lifted as he smiled briefly. “Well, honey, you know how us old folks can get fixated on something from the past once in a while.”

Whitney could only stare at him. But, as usual, her silence lasted no longer than a moment. “I don’t understand. In all my weekly phone calls to Grandma, I can’t remember her sounding like anything but her usual self. No. This just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, be that as it may,” Mr. Pratt continued, “all she said when I tried to reason with her was, ‘Oh, pish-posh.’ So I took her dad-gum copy of the will, promising I’d get it taken care of. I filed it away, of course, but then she started calling me every couple days. And finally, when the phone calls changed to daily, I gave in. Not just to appease her, mind you, but because it was my sworn duty to go along with her wishes. I had it on my calendar to check with her next month, though. I figured by that time I’d be able to catch her in her right frame of mind. But then…”

“Look, Ben,” Drew said, and crossed his arms over his chest. He’d remained silent till now, taking care to give himself enough time to think the situation through. “This shouldn’t pose a problem. Surely you can find a way around—”

“Around the law? No, son. I don’t think so.”

* * *

Twenty minutes later, Drew had given up on trying to stay on Whitney’s tail as he followed her to the farm. On the contrary, he kept his SUV at a normal speed and tried his best to think of something besides how damned good she looked. Her bottle-green eyes were just as vibrant, just as expressive as they’d been when she was nothing but a girl. And her hair—a bit shorter now yet the exact same shade of ash blonde—looked even silkier than the long, long hair he’d loved to rake his fingers through way back when.

But her body…

Good Lord, he thought. How it had happened, he couldn’t imagine, but she’d become even more curvaceous and enticing than he’d remembered her being all those years ago.

She’d been a mere child then, he guessed. But now—

Now? Things were no different now than they’d been back then. For as long as he could recall, any time he was near her, all he could feel were sparks.

Electricity. And fire.

Drew hit his brakes, narrowly missing the white-tailed deer that darted across the road in front of him. Best to keep his mind where it belonged instead of on his strong-as-ever attraction to Whitney.

He had tried hard to do that very thing in Ben’s office mere minutes ago. But to no avail. Because they’d been sitting so close to each other, he’d even noticed she smelled as good as ever.

Even better, really, if that was possible.

After they’d been ushered out, each with a copy of the will, Drew was glad they’d agreed to meet at her grandparents’ farm to discuss how to handle their dilemma. And in the time he’d had to think in the past twenty-some-odd minutes, he’d decided perhaps this wasn’t a dilemma after all. Maybe, just maybe, the current situation could provide an answer to the restlessness—the indecision—his mind had been struggling with for a full year now.

He knew damned good and well he was practical enough to ignore what had been stirring inside him since the minute he’d laid eyes on Whitney.

No, he corrected himself. Wise enough. Instead of plunging headlong into those torturous waters again, like he’d been fool enough to do eons ago, he would simply ignore whatever crazy thoughts his mind had been stuck on for the past hour. Well, along with various other parts of him.

Shifting against the leather seat, Drew yanked on the denim covering his thighs. Again.

He most certainly was no kid anymore. He’d developed a vast amount of willpower. More than enough to concentrate on the idea that had just begun to take form in his mind.

* * *

Lord have mercy on my soul, Whitney thought as Drew took a seat at the kitchen table. He’d simply knocked on the door and walked in while she was at the refrigerator pouring two glasses of iced tea for them.

Before he’d arrived she had shed her sandals and changed from her cotton dress into shorts. Thankfully she’d also had time to blow her nose—yet again—and dab her puffy eyes with a cool washcloth. And now, she was determined not to ogle the fully grown, mature man he had become.

He’d been a boy back then, really. But not so anymore.

Whitney could swear he was even a couple of inches taller. At least six-two. And his hair was a darker shade of brown, probably because he didn’t spend as much time outdoors as he had in his youth.

She wished he’d worn a suit today—anything, matter of fact, but the snug-fitting, worn yet starched and creased jeans he had on. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his pearl-snap shirt on the drive from town, exposing the sprinkling of dark hair on his forearms.

Holy smokes, she managed not to say out loud, while also managing not to fan her face as she took the chair across from the one he’d turned around and straddled. That being the exact way he’d always sat and talked with her grandparents, she couldn’t stop thinking how sexy it looked. How his taking that position at this very table had always made her belly do an unexpected—

“I’ve been thinking about this all the way out here, Whitney.”

“Thinking about…” This? she wondered. Him, too?

“About the fact that I have a workable solution to our problem here. Lately I’ve seriously considered putting my company on the market. Starting something brand new. So why don’t I buy out your half of the farm?” Before she could protest he raised a placating hand. “And don’t worry. I know you never thought you’d only get half instead of all of it, but my offer would be generous enough to—”

“No, Drew,” she stated flatly. “No. That idea isn’t workable at all. I’m leaving North Carolina for good. I have plans here.”

“Whitney, you always have plans.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just what I said. You always have plans, but…”

“But that’s beside the point?” she asked. “Because I never follow through with them? Is that what you’re insinuating?”

“I’m not insinuating, Whitney. I’m saying.”

“You see?” She declared, unable to keep from raising her voice. “This is why we never could’ve made it.”

He seemed to be taken aback for a brief moment, which gave her a chance to stare at the cleft in his chin. And immediately afterward, at the five-o’clock shadow he’d been endowed with even in his teens. Blessed with it, as far as she was concerned.

Enough, she thought, suddenly disgusted with herself as much as she was with him. She’d vowed to ignore his appeal—and her memories of him from so long ago. Yet here she was mooning over him at the same time she was irritated with him.

“Well,” he said then, “there’s no sense in arguing about what might or might not have been. Not right this minute, anyway. But okay, I give. What are your plans?”

“I’m starting a camp.”

“A camp? What kind of camp?”

“A camp for kids.”

“What do you know about kids, Whitney? You don’t even have any, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” she said, trying not to flinch. Or to sound defensive. “But I know a lot about kids. I have a ten-year-old godson, I’ll have you know. And I’ve been extremely close to him his whole life.”

“Just how close?” he asked. “How many times have you taken complete responsibility for him while his parents, say, took an extended trip?”

“Well, none, but…”

“But nothing,” he replied, as if there were no more words to be said. Finito, the end. Case closed.

“Look, Drew. You don’t have to be with children twenty-four/seven to know enough about them to start a camp. And besides that, I have no doubt Grandma would’ve given her full approval to my idea.” Whitney had been aching to tell her about it for months now, knowing she would understand why this goal meant so much to her, but… “You remember Laurel Webb, don’t you? My cousin who’s a few years older than I am and lives over in Solitude?”

“Oh, yeah,” he answered, a smile reaching his dark blue eyes. “She’s still living in the next town over? For some reason, that surprises me.”

“She’s been away for quite some time, actually, till last summer. Her husband was a Navy SEAL, but she decided to move back home with their son a couple of years after Pete was killed in combat.”

“Oh,” he stated. “I’m sorry to hear about her husband…but what does that have to do with a kids’ camp?”

“It has everything to do with it. I want to start a camp where kids whose fathers died in combat can come to learn all the things their alpha-male type dads would’ve wanted them to experience.”

“You’re a journalist, though. What do you know about teaching kids—”

“I wouldn’t be the only one teaching them that sort of thing. Oh, sure, I can hold my own when it comes to horseback riding or fishing or campouts, if nothing else. Maybe even things like archery. But my idea is to get a bunch of veterans involved. There are plenty of them around here who’d be happy to volunteer—a number of wounded vets, as well, which would be a great thing for them and the kids. I don’t foresee any problems along those lines.”

“It sounds like a noble cause, and you’re probably right about how Margaret would feel about it. But way out here—more than an hour’s drive from San Antonio or Austin—you couldn’t possibly run it as a day camp, which would mean you’d need cabins and a main dining hall and kitchen. Lord knows what else, darlin’. That’s just off the top of my head.”

There it was. She’d wondered how long it would take him to drop the Whitney-this and Whitney-that and slip back into calling her darlin’. Not that she’d wanted him to.

Her hands flew to her hips as she pushed that notion aside. “For heaven’s sake, Drew. I’ve thought all that out, gone over every one of the pros and cons. It’ll take a while to get everything ready to go, but this project is important to me, and—”

She stopped herself. If he wouldn’t accuse her of being a dreamer, which he most assuredly would, she’d be happy to share her entire plan with him. For ages now she’d been building up her savings. She was itching to write her first novel, as well, and there was no reason she couldn’t whip out a proposal, get an advance, and use that money to get things up and running.

“Well,” she added, “suffice to say, my idea is more than workable.”

“Maybe so, but it seems like you might be biting off more than you can chew. Why don’t you at least think about letting me buy the place from you?”

She crossed her arms in front of her chest, ready to ask some questions of her own. “While we’re on that subject, just exactly what reasonable plans do you have for this place?”

“Farming. What else? It is a farm, after all.”

“And you’re a farmer?” she asked, almost having to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.

“No, but I could become one. I’m tired of the rat race, really tired of Houston, and what better way could there be to get back to the basics of life?”

“The basics of life?” she asked, slowly annunciating each word. “Good grief, Drew. You’re an IT consultant!”

“I know what I am,” he shot back. “What makes my idea any more outlandish than a journalist hoping to take a bunch of boys under her feminine wing and teach ’em about all the macho experiences their lives are missing?” He repositioned his arms across the chair’s back and simply stared at her. “Seems my idea’s got yours beat by a country mile.”

“Girls, too. Not just boys. But never mind that,” she finally relented. “It’s obvious we’re not going to get any of this settled right now.” He couldn’t possibly understand how vital her plans were to her future. “Let’s discuss it again tomorrow, when we’ve both had a chance to calm down a little.”

“Sure,” he said, rising, turning the kitchen chair back around and heading for the front of the house. “That sounds great. Let’s do that.”

When she opened the door to show him out, Whitney saw the trio of suitcases on the front porch. “What’s all that?” she asked.

“What do you think it is?” He crossed the threshold, grabbed all three pieces of matching luggage and turned back toward the door. “It’s my stuff. Bitterpill’s nearly thirty minutes down the road. And since I own half the place now, I figured there’s no reason to waste time and money on a motel.”

Her mouth still gaping wide open, Whitney could only stand back in shock, dismay and silence as Drew Kincaid ushered himself and all his “stuff” right into her parlor.

. . .

Chapter Two

 

Almost before he could set his bags down next to the settee, just as Drew expected, Whitney began to protest. Vehemently.

“Hold on a minute, darlin’. We can make this work.”

“Famous last words,” she muttered. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s precisely what you said twelve years ago.”

“Maybe I did,” he came right back with, not about to let her get away with that line of reasoning. “And maybe we could have made things work—if only you had given us a chance.”

Yet again, her hands flew back to her shapely hips. “Look, mister. That annulment was your decision, too.”

“Oh, no,” he quickly corrected her. “It was Margaret and Eugene’s decision. And you went right along with it—no arguments whatsoever—so what choice did I have? I was clearly outnumbered.”

And that was the reason it had stung so much. An immature kid at the time, yearning for something close to true family, Drew had felt almost as hurt by her grandparents’ rejection as he’d been by hers. He understood the elderly couple’s motivation better now, but back then—

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.”

He watched as she turned on her heel and flounced off to the kitchen. Yanking on the refrigerator door and then flinging cabinets and drawers open, she appeared to be getting ready to do one of two things. Either chop some vegetables or chop him into little pieces. Best to give her a minute and hope she chose the one he preferred.

Drew could only shake his head. Five-foot-eight, he thought, and still hotter than a pistol.

That spirit of hers was both infuriating and downright irresistible. He’d loved nothing more than yanking her into his arms when she got like this, settling her down by holding her firmly against his—

Damn it, he thought, forcing his mind away from that kind of thinking. “You were right, Whitney. We should talk more tomorrow.”

“Yes, we should,” she agreed, pushing out a lengthy sigh. “Why don’t you get settled in the back bedroom while I start dinner?”

“Sure. Be right back.” Over his shoulder he added, “If there’s chicken in the fridge, I’ve been known to make a pretty mean stir-fry.”

It took him less than a minute to deposit his bags and return to the kitchen. She didn’t have a single word to say to him, but when he began rummaging around in the refrigerator, she spoke up.

“You’re making me—” With deliberation, she placed her knife on the cutting board and turned to him. “Hey, Drew, why don’t you go out and take a look in the barn? Maybe check on what kind of condition Grandpa’s tractors are in? I don’t think they’ve even been started up in a couple of years, so…”

“Excellent suggestion,” he said, more than a little pleased to know his presence seemed to make her nervous.

Yeah, Drew thought as he took off out the kitchen door, maybe this was the answer to his problems. And when the screen door banged shut after him, he didn’t even make an attempt to wipe the broad smile off his face. In no time at all, she was bound to give up on that lofty, pie-in-the-sky project of hers.

* * *

It was all Whitney could do to keep her smug expression in check as she went back to slicing the squash.

All she needed to do was wait him out. A day or two, tops, and she’d have the infuriating man begging to hightail it out of here.

That much patience she could muster up, she reminded herself. Mainly because she knew there was no way on God’s green earth that Drew Kincaid could make the drastic transition from city slicker to farmer-in-the-dell.

Oh sure, he’d spent a lot of his youth in Bitterpill. But his mom had lived inside the city limits, and despite his working for her granddad a couple summers, and the Grady ranch for a while, he was ill-equipped to handle a physically grueling job such as this. Certainly not after sitting behind a desk for the past decade.

Besides that, farming—with its wide and wild range of variables—simply wasn’t a precise science. And precise was the kind of thing Drew’s logical, methodical, buttoned-down mind was drawn to.

Whitney understood that facet of his character. She’d always understood it, even as a girl.

Undeniably, the kind of woman who reared him—with his dad always mysteriously “out of the picture”—had led directly to his desire for a well-ordered life. Dysfunctional, she knew, wasn’t nearly as strong a description as his family deserved. Drew’s mom had been every bit as irresponsible and laid-back, to use a kind term, as her own mother had been. Perhaps not quite as flighty as her mom, but at least Janet Cole had managed to garner a tad of sense.

Well, enough sense to leave her only child with her parents, who were the salt of the earth.

Whitney couldn’t deny having inherited one or two of her mother’s not-so-sterling traits, but at least her grandparents had instilled their sterling morals and values on her. For that, she would be forever grateful.

Tears began flowing down her face. When the kitchen door opened, she reached for an onion and started chopping away. She wasn’t about to let Drew see the emotional turmoil she’d managed to set aside during their heated talk.

“Good news,” he said cheerily as he approached her, “or pretty good, anyway. Looks like with a little effort tomorrow, I’ll be able to get the tractors started and—”

He touched her arm, and she felt a spark of electricity before pulling away. Great, she thought. She was already a mess. Why couldn’t he just keep his hands to himself?

“Whitney? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she insisted. “It’s this onion. You know how—”

“Aww. Come here,” he said, his tone gentle as he took the knife from her hand, set it down and folded her into his warm embrace. “I’m sorry, baby,” he whispered, his breath caressing her hair, “I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine how hard all this has been on you.”

Whitney gave in, burrowing her face against his chest as she allowed herself to sob. This was what she had needed, she realized. Someone who cared about her, someone she cared about, being beside her to share her sorrow. And it felt so good. So very right.

He held her until her tears subsided—for how long, she had no idea. When she looked up, at last, he lifted her face and lowered his.

The kiss started gently, ever so gently. Warm and welcoming. Like coming home.

And then came the heat. The frenzy and the fire. She felt his sudden arousal…and pressed her body against it. She felt his hand as he slid his fingers through her hair, felt his tongue as he accepted the invitation she couldn’t stop herself from giving.

Just as abruptly, though, he stopped himself. His lips moved to brush against her hair as each of them struggled to calm their ragged breathing.

“Forgive me, darlin’,” he whispered. “The last thing I want to do is take advantage of you. Not at a time like this. I know you’re hurting, I know.”

He stood back and took her by the hand, leading her to the room he must have seen her belongings in earlier, on his way to the back bedroom.

“You rest for a while,” he said as he skimmed her cheek with the side of his hand. “I’ll finish making us something to eat.”

With that said, he was gone, leaving Whitney feeling empty again. Completely, devastatingly empty and alone. She turned and flung herself onto the bed…pushing her face against the pillow, hoping to muffle the sound of her crying.

* * *

It was all Drew could do to keep from cursing himself out loud as he finished dinner preparations and went down the hallway to check on Whitney.

Seeing that she’d fallen asleep, fully dressed in her white shorts and summery, pale pink blouse, he stood in the doorway and simply took in the sight of her. My God, but she was beautiful. More beautiful than he’d remembered her all these years.

There had been a lot missing from his life during that time, for sure. That was of his own choosing, of course, and maybe because no other woman ever seemed to measure up to Whitney. So it was no wonder he’d almost lost it there in the kitchen, before reminding himself how vulnerable she was at the moment. He’d come dangerously close to picking her up and carting her off to either one of their bedrooms.

Trouble, he thought. Nothing but trouble allowing himself to think this way.

Drew moved to grab a quilt and cover her up. Anything to keep from staring at her long legs and fantasizing about being curled up right alongside her.

He sighed and returned to the kitchen. As quietly as possible, he put the raw ingredients into plastic containers, then into the fridge.

The sun was going down now, so maybe she’d sleep through the night.

He slipped out the kitchen door and headed for the barn again. There, after turning on all three fans in the stifling-hot structure, he went ahead and cursed himself out loud for the next two hours. The damned tractors wouldn’t respond to anything he tried as he moved from one to the other and back again before giving up.

Tomorrow, he decided, he’d simply slip away for a couple hours and read the two manuals he’d finally located on a rotting, swaying shelf near the back of the barn. And if that didn’t pan out…

Well, he’d worry about that if it happened. No sense stewing about it anymore tonight.

Whitney was still asleep when he returned to the house, so he showered before heading to his room. After switching on his bedside lamp, he quietly closed the door and fell onto the bed.

Tired as he was after a morning of travel—and everything else that had happened since he’d arrived in Bitterpill—he decided he’d at least get a start on one of these stinkin’ manuals.

* * *

The heavenly aroma of coffee greeted Whitney as she rose just after six. And sure enough, yesterday had been real and not a dream.

She was certain of that because her long-ago husband was sitting at the kitchen table as if he owned the place. At that thought, she reminded herself that he did. Half of it, anyway.

“Morning,” she said, not caring one iota that she was still dressed in her shorts and blouse from the day before.

“Good morning,” he replied, smiling. “I’m glad you got a good night’s sleep. I did, too.”

“Umm. Thanks for making the coffee.” Noticing the pot was already half-empty, she poured herself a cup and headed back to the bathroom, realizing that it might be a good idea to take a look in the mirror, then maybe even brush her teeth and fluff up her hair.

Years of living alone and working out of her own condominium had spoiled her. There was no telling what she looked like to someone else at this time of day. Then again, perhaps that would be the surefire way to drive the man out of her life once and for all.

Okay, she admitted moments later as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror attempting to put herself together. Maybe she didn’t want to drive him away once and for all. Not just yet, anyway.

He’d been so sweet to her the night before. She’d have let him make love to her, and done so willingly if he hadn’t had the decency to…

At some point after she’d drifted off, he must have even come into her room and covered her with one of Grandma’s quilts. And thankfully, she had gotten the best night of sleep she’d had all week. Perhaps now she could act a little more sensibly than she had the day before.

She would keep reminding herself of that, she thought, smoothing her blouse and shorts on her return trip to the kitchen.

“What would you like for breakfast?” she asked, pouring him another cup of coffee.

“Anything at all. A bowl of cereal is just fine for me. Don’t go to any trouble.”

“I’m starving, so I’ll make us a big ‘Grandma style’ breakfast.”

The book he’d had open when she first came out of her room was gone now, she noticed, and Whitney couldn’t help wondering what he was reading. He’d enjoyed all kinds of nonfiction years ago, and for some reason she was curious about whether his tastes had changed. Maybe he’d even moved out of his comfort zone, taking in an occasional novel or thriller.

Who knew? she thought, keeping her amusement to herself as she set about making biscuits, sausage, gravy, the works. Miracles could happen.

Nearly an hour later, they’d caught up on each other’s lives—barely scratching the surface, of course—managing to skirt around the co-ownership issue Whitney knew they would have to tackle later. Funny, she thought, that neither of them had shared any real revelations. She had kept informed of the run-of-the-mill details of Drew’s life over the years, and apparently he’d done the same regarding hers.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

My parents were reared in rural Oklahoma and moved to Texas shortly after they married. During my childhood, summers were always spent visiting relatives—good-old country folks who also happened to be compelling, vivid, amusing storytellers. As an adult bringing up my own children, I’ve lived in the ruggedly beautiful Texas Hill Country for many years. In all that time, I’ve loved observing…and telling my own stories about…the quaint, caring people who populate these close-knit communities.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
It's not so much “what” books. More importantly, as soon as I got out of school I realized I could read anything I wanted—not just the literary volumes a teacher forced upon me. After sampling all kinds of genres, I eventually realized that romance was what I adored...and was dying to write.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Since these novels are set in a tiny, gossip-over-the-back-fence ranching town, they're the polar opposite of, say, Beverly Hills 90210. So I wanted to come up with a series title that lets you know exactly what you’re getting—without even a peek at the book’s blurb! Thus, BITTERPILL, TEXAS 78020.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Despite my kinfolks' colorful stories, I knew precious little about farming. So I asked a friend, a farmer's wife, to read what I'd created so far. She set my mind at ease by pointing out that naturally, my hero and heroine were pretty clueless, too—making the story that much more fun to complete.

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