Struggling to pick up the pieces of her life, widow Brie Beaumont accepts an invitation to visit the Circle C ranch in Canada's Rocky Mountains. Co-owner Jed Cameron distrusts Brie's motives. He is determined to protect his brother and the ranch from the redheaded gold digger. But when tragedy strikes, Jed's only hope is the woman he vowed to run off.
Excerpt from chapter one:
She shouldn’t have come! From the moment two well-worn, black leather cowboy-booted feet hit the ground and the pilot swaggered around the nose of his plane toward her, Brienna Beaumont knew she shouldn’t invade Jed Cameron’s territory.
She inhaled sharply and pressed her fingernails to her palms but still failed to calm the butterflies twirling in her stomach. The merciless sun beating down on Vancouver airport’s tarmac added to her distress. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead and hoped her underarms didn’t display their discomfort.
The gleaming Cessna 210 drew her attention when she noticed the heat waves rippling above the metal surface of its bright yellow wings. The plane’s engines purred, poised for take off. Brie hurried to catch up with her new friends and Alaska cruise mates, Matt Cameron, blind part owner of the Circle C, and his foreman, Hank. They had begged her to return with them to their ranch in Alberta. Their friendship on board Holland America’s Ryndam had begun to erode her past year’s misery. Grateful for their help, she couldn’t back out and disappoint them.
They quickened their steps to greet the pilot, Matt’s brother, Jed. When Jed Cameron removed his sunglasses, Brie’s heart flip-flopped. His deep brown eyes twinkled as he grabbed Matt by the shoulders in a brotherly show of affection. Until his gaze fell on her.
Brie focused on the tall, lean and--judging by his scowl--surly man standing in front of her. At six-foot-two, he towered a good six inches over her. His coal black hair displayed a sprinkling of gray, but an errant forelock dipped low on his forehead, gave him a boyish appeal. For some indeterminate reason, she had offended him; his scathing appraisal told her so.
She stopped dead in her tracks. She had not even opened her mouth, but felt as if she were a piece of meat, inspected by him and found unfit for human consumption. She inwardly cringed; she had been made to feel like that before.
Brie carried on with her own examination knowing it wasn’t as tasteless as his. His deeply tanned, wind-burned complexion contrasted sharply with the white sparkle of his teeth. She wished he were toothless to destroy her initial impression of how handsome this guy was. If she could only get out of this arrangement and climb into a taxi for the short drive home. At least the jitters wouldn’t attack her in her apartment.
Against her better judgment, she had agreed to this additional excursion shortly before leaving the ship. She wished she had time to pick up other clothes. Her suitcases contained feminine, cool-weather duds, perfect for the cruise they had ended this morning, but suitable for a cattle ranch? Not likely.
Dressed in a dark green, long-sleeved shirt and beige palazzo pants, Brie forced herself to endure the suffocating heat and humidity. She pushed her long burnished tresses back from her face and prayed it would be cooler aloft. Why hadn’t her instinct kicked in and goaded her back to The Gallery so she could focus on her artwork? Then she remembered her instinct had advised her to take the Alaska cruise. The trip had given her hope that her emotional wounds had started to heal. Maybe some part of her wanted to accept this further challenge and continue the process.
Matt’s introduction carried an uncompromising tone. "Jed, meet our guest, Brie Beaumont." Had Matt expected Jed’s antagonism?
"Ma’am." Jed nodded, but he didn’t remove his hat or offer his hand.
"I’m pleased we’re meeting after hearing so much about you, Mr. Cameron." She ducked when a large plane thundered its takeoff overhead. She wrinkled her nose at the overpowering smell of jet fuel.
"Don’t believe everythin’ they said. Matthew’s been known to exaggerate and Hank’s not a helluva lot better." He winked at Matt. Hank shrugged his innocence and the pilot grinned.
Trying to appear unperturbed, Brie extended her hand. She glanced up at Jed’s face and wondered if the man would refuse to shake it. Was his rudeness a bluff or her imagination running rampant? He took the bait with obvious reluctance, but his grasp was firm, too firm. She was glad the handshake didn’t last long because her fingers stung from his tight squeeze, a deliberate show of power. If he thought he impressed her by his display of strength, he was wrong--she’d had enough strong-armed tactics used against her to last a lifetime.
"I’m really glad Brie is going to be staying at the ranch, Jed," Matt said. "She guided me around the ship when Hank was seasick. I think she deserves a longer vacation since I took up so much of her time."
Brie reached down and patted Matt’s hand. "It was a pleasure to help you enjoy the scenery, Matt. It forced me to look at the landscape in more detail so I could describe it to you. I felt like I was seeing everything through your eyes and that made it extraordinary."
"If you two are through fawnin’ over each other, we’ll get underway," Jed muttered. "There’s a lot of work waitin’ and we’re burnin’ daylight, Miss Beaumont."
"It’s Mrs. Beaumont, but please, call me Brie."
"Your family in the cheese business?"
Her mouth dropped as she noticed the lack of humor in his voice. She choked back the lump in her throat. She had always liked her first name; it was the Beaumont that caused her to want to puke. If she could, she would switch back to her maiden name, but changing monikers was for divorcées, not widows.
"Have you ever flown in a small plane before, ma’am?" Jed’s neutral question surprised her. She had expected a snarl.
"This will be my first time, and I’m excited. After enjoying our cruise so much, the flight will be doubly rewarding." She noticed he did a double-take at her last statement. As he pivoted on his heel, she saw his jaw flinch. What’s his problem? Had she unknowingly increased his irritation? In the midst of rolling her eyes at Hank, Jed turned back and saw her. His dark eyes flashed a warning.
"You don’t have any responsibilities to take care of?" Jed asked, walking backward. His eyes pierced her like they were pitching shards of glass.
"I called my friend, Carol, from the ship after I accepted Matt’s invitation. I told her where I was going; she volunteered to take over my obligations."
As they caught up with him, Jed turned and grumbled into Matt’s ear, "Is ‘Matthew’ too formal for the lady?"
Brie’s fingernails dug into her palms. He was the first stranger she had ever met with the ability to irritate her right away. She’d be damned if she would let him keep the upper hand.
Side by side, Brie and Jed rode through the south gate. The prospect for simply enjoying the day looked bleak. Brie turned up her jacket’s collar as cool spits of breeze brushed harshly against her neck. With her breath billowing puffs of white vapor, she unfastened the tie that held up her hair in order to gain a little extra warmth from the thick mass falling loosely to her shoulders.
Since Jed wasn’t chatting and showed no aspiration to be friendly, she concentrated on the scenery. Now and then he’d pause to straighten a fence post and she would be far ahead before she’d realize he hadn’t kept up the pace. He seemed perfectly content to ignore her jaunts. Brie made up her mind to put up with the slight, and instead, relish the pleasure derived from roaming the range.
At one point, Jed galloped past her. She deliberately kept her pace even so she could study the mountains. She didn’t realize Misty had caught up to Jed, until she felt her foot in the stirrup brush against his. He had stopped and waited for her. The silence between the two of them was obviously getting on his nerves, too.
"Are you warm enough? he asked. I have a blanket in the saddlebag you could wrap around yourself. Your jacket is too light."
She was about to argue the fact, not wanting to admit he might be right but thought better of it. He wasn’t blind and could probably detect the shivering she’d struggled to keep to a minimum. He’d be angrier if she acted stupid as well. She accepted the offer with a smile, slung the blanket on--shawl style--and soaked up the additional warmth.
Gradually, the heat from the sun warmed the air as they continued along the barbed wire. Eventually, Brie was able to remove herself from the cocoon. The rancher broke the silence again as she handed the blanket back.
"You seem to be more relaxed the last hour or so. Were you jumpy about being out here alone with me?" He looked her straight in the eye, silently demanding an honest answer to his nerve-wracking question.
"To tell you the truth, yes. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea." The force behind his stare irked her. "Does that give you a feeling of power?"
He ignored her question. "You don’t like me much, do you?"
"I don’t know you, just as you don’t really know me. You’re so blatantly critical of me that I do think you’re pathetic."
"I never once criticized you."
"Not with words--with your eyes. For some reason, Jed, it seems I have to prove myself to you."
"You don’t need to prove anythin’ to me. I already know all I need to know."
His satisfied smirk was more than she could stand. "You don’t know me nearly as well as you think. You’d love to prove that I don’t fit in here. Wait a minute, dammit. Can I borrow your rifle?"
Surprised by the request, he hesitated, then reluctantly withdrew his Winchester from its sheath and passed it over.
"See the beer can sitting on the post near that gate?" she asked. Her teeth bit down on her lip.
Jed squinted in the direction she pointed. About seventy-five yards away perched the can, a lonely edifice to the world she had temporarily left behind her. He nodded. She raised the rifle, aimed, and fired.
Something About That Lady is available in trade paperback from http://champagnebooks.com/store/index.php?id_manufacturer=14&controller=manufacturer
Strong, smart, sensuous heroines; heroes to die for.