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Authors: Capri Montgomery

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BOOK: A Rancher's Love
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“Working? That’s sick. You don’t have to work if you play your cards right.”

“I like making wedding cakes and baking; it’s not really work for me.”

“You got fired and nobody will hire you here.”

She exhaled slowly trying to tell herself to keep her cool. “That wasn’t my fault.” She had put the fondant on the cake. She hadn’t baked the cake. Unfortunately the four hundred guest who got sick didn’t notice the difference. She had taken the blame, not because she wanted to, but because Enrique Doran was the “it man” in the Keys and he blamed her. What he said was perceived as truth no matter what. There was no way she could open her business there. If she won the show she would have to open shop in a new state.

Could she leave the Keys behind? Absolutely.

“Putting it behind me and moving on.” She uttered those words more for herself than for Daphanie.

Somehow the verbal reassurance held enough weight to allow her to keep her head held high until she could crawl out of hell. “Anyway, ladies,” she picked up her cake book portfolio—the one Val wanted to see just in case, she had said. “The dresses fit,” she mentally checked to make sure she wasn’t frowning. Val had no intention of letting her make the cake. While, until today, Zoe hadn’t thought Val had hired a wedding cake designer, Zoe should have known her mother wasn’t going to hire her. She found this out, too, while sitting in the company of the world’s worst set of friends. Vicious, maniacal witches was more fitting. She had implied, but never once had she said yes. Zoe had offered to do the cake for free. “Bring the book again,”

Val had said. So she brought the book and today Val had told her, not so subtly, that over a week ago she had hired someone who could design a much richer cake. Enrique! She had hired Enrique. Zoe wouldn’t be eating any of the cake that was for sure. And if they all ended up sick afterward, well then good for them. It would serve them all right for being snobs.

“I have to go. Don’t forget the rehearsal dinner Friday night and call me if you have any questions before then.” She left with haste. While she had managed to hold her tongue this far she couldn’t guarantee 8

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery how much longer she would be able to. She hoped, now more than before, that she landed a job far, far away. She wasn’t sure she could stick around for more of the insinuations, accusations and snide remarks.

Gracie and Cage, her half sister and brother from the third marriage were exactly like her mother.

Cage was a free loader who traveled the world on somebody else’s dime. She had thought marriage would settle him, but it hadn’t. He married Cecilia, who happened to be exactly like him. Then there was Gracie, snobbish, high maintenance and currently on marriage number two. This one was a pro golfer and since she had two kids with him already, and she liked the lifestyle he would give her, Zoe was almost certain divorce was not in the cards—at least not high in the deck. Still, they were both lucky. Their father still loved them.

They were also whole brother and sister while she was just a half.

“No real family, no job; that’s some life, Zo.” She started her ice blue Kia Spectra and headed for the Condo she was renting for another two months. She liked the condo, but the owner wanted to sell and she wasn’t looking to buy. When her lease was over she hoped she would find herself moving out west to do the show. Maybe she would stay there. Seattle was far from her family. Gracie lived in the Keys, but Cage had moved to Miami where his father lived. Her father lived in New York. He had made his desire not to see her clear. In his words, she had heard the silent wish for her not to contact him at all. As a child she had only seen him ten times. Even then, he left her with his secretary more than he spent time with her. Dinners were spent alone, breakfast might as well have been. He sat there reading his paper never lowering it from his face not even once to look at her. By the time she was fourteen she started finding reasons not to go. Ear infections stopped her from flying. She could have taken the bus, but why bother. Then she took on a part-time summer cooking program so that knocked out summer with dad at fifteen. She didn’t need the class.

Her mom hired the best chefs to come in and cook for them and Zoe had learned from all of them. At sixteen she had gone to work in Danny’s Italian restaurant—very upscale and expensive, but fabulous food.

She cooked dinners, made deserts, took out the garbage; whatever needed to be done she helped do it.

She skipped culinary school. They all thought she should go, except Danny. He understood her skills, the fact that she had been learning for years—literally with some of the best chefs in the country. She had been in the kitchen with one chef or another since she was six. Val never really cared. It was like having a built-in babysitter—a two for one kind of thing because she no longer had to worry about having somebody come in and watch her while she went to the spa to get her nails done.

9

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery Zoe pulled into her park at the condo complex. “I should have opened my own place.” She had taken the coward’s way out. She was a kick butt baker, but she was always afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle the business side while baking at the same time. After the fiasco with Enrique, she decided it was time to take the risk—just not in the Keys. She wanted to start over, some place fresh where nobody knew her, where her family’s reputation didn’t follow her or precede her, where she could just be Zoe-Quinnlyn Starks, Culinary Goddess.

By the time she got inside her condo she had six messages. The first was a reporter who heard from a source that she was trying out for a baking show. He wanted to know how her recent screw up factored in.

Basically, he wanted to know if anybody would want to eat her food. She hadn’t screwed up. She handled the fondant only. She had some of it herself while she made it just to be sure the taste was up to her standards. She didn’t get sick. The problem wasn’t her fondant. The problem was the cake. The problem for her was that scandal was more titillating than truth.

She deleted that message and made a mental note to change her phone number—again. She wondered who the source was. Not too many people knew she was doing the show since she hadn’t told anyone other than Val. Val had let it slip to Darin and Daphanie, but that was it—as far as she knew. She wouldn’t have told Val if she hadn’t thought the timing might conflict with her mother’s wedding.

The next message was from Gracie. “I shared your good news, hope that’s okay.” Apparently somebody else had let it slip to Gracie. Despite her words, Zoe was sure Gracie was far from concerned on whether or not it was okay. The last three messages were from Darin and her mother. They were sorry about the cake, but “after talking to your sister we figured it wasn’t the best choice,” her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather had said. “Thanks, Val. Couldn’t leave that message before I lugged my eight pound cake book to your luncheon.” She mumbled sarcastically. “And she’s my half sister,” she mumbled again.

Maybe she should leave town before the wedding. It wasn’t as if she was in it anyway. In fact, she was the only child not in it. She was, “better at planning,” Val had said. “Plan your own damn wedding,”

she snapped. She had been putting up with a lot. She had been smiling and pretending and trying to be the mature, dutiful daughter that wasn’t even allowed to call her mother, Mom. But she couldn’t do it anymore.

She just couldn’t.

Tempted; she was so tempted to pick up the phone and make that call. “They need me in Washington early. Hope you won’t mind if I miss the wedding,” she could say. Those words would be so 10

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery easy to say right now, but she wouldn’t. Val was still her mother, and beyond that, Zoe had already agreed to help plan the wedding so she couldn’t go back on that.

11

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery Chapter Two

T
he wedding day was like the day from hell, literally. Her mother looked flawless as always and the grounds were beautifully decorated. Red roses were everywhere, which made for a very potent, bee friendly environment. Honestly, the wedding was beautiful. It was what she had to endure at the wedding that made it hell.

“To think you could have married that man,” Stella Castle smiled so sweetly when she uttered those words, as if she didn’t mean to be cold and heartless.

“Oh yes, you were dating him weren’t you. I didn’t even realize the two of you had broken up until I heard he was dating your mother.” Beverly Dickens chimed in for the wedding day gossip session.

Yeah, well, that made two of them because she hadn’t either. Several more conversations like that and it was just too much to handle. She had tried to sneak away unnoticed. Everybody else was having such a good time that she didn’t think it would be a problem, but unfortunately, she didn’t make her escape fast enough. Her mother so sweetly pulled her up on stage and thanked her for being so supportive of her marriage to Darin. As if she really had been. Then she went on and on about how they wanted her to do the cake, but after the Enrique problem it just seemed better not to chance it. Zoe couldn’t see her own face but she was one thousand percent positive that she was redder than a red bell pepper.

When her mother finished publicly humiliating her Zoe gave a few smiles as she gracefully dismissed herself from the wedding. She didn’t even bother to check her body into bed. She showered, put on clothes suitable for a road trip, loaded the car, locked up the condo and hit the road. She had a little time so she stopped along the way at interesting spots, finding new ingredients to try in some of her cupcakes and enjoying the many bakeries the small towns had to offer. She loved seeing great bakers at work. Of course she did have some place she had to be so she couldn’t make too many off the mark stops no matter how much fun she was having.

Everything was going great until her GPS betrayed her, and Bambi decided to occupy the road. At that moment her road trip took the path her career and personal life had taken, and it was definitely not the path of least resistance.

12

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery

“What was that?” Dean Collins dropped the reins on Snow Button, his white Mustang.

“I don’t know,” Guy Forbes, Dean’s best ranch hand turned his head in the direction Dean was looking.

Dean noticed the tension creeping into Guy’s shoulders. He figured he must have had the same realization—that noise sounded a lot like a crash which meant somebody was injured, maybe even dead. It was too loud not to be something serious. “Get the truck,” he took hold to Snow Buttons reins and handed them to Justin so that he could put her back in her stall. “We’ll go check it out.” As they drove closer to the edge of his property he heard the car horn. Once the wreck was in sight Guy increased his speed.

“I hope whoever it is survived that;” Dean jumped out of the truck the moment it came to a complete stop and he ran across the creek. His blue jeans got soaked up to his shins as he crossed.

“It’s a woman,” he yelled. He reached inside the open window and unlocked the car door. He tugged open the door and gently pushed her back from the steering wheel. He checked her pulse. “She’s alive. Let’s get her back to the house. It’ll be hours before an ambulance can get up here and we can’t leave her out here.” He unhooked her seatbelt and carefully lifted her into his arms.

“She’s so beautiful,” he stood looking down at her. He was getting the hard on of the century and she was unconscious. But her body fit so perfectly in his arms. She had soft curves and delicate skin and something about her made him think of an angel.

Guy cleared his throat. “We should get her back to the house. She’ll be more comfortable in your bed;” he reminded him that they couldn’t just stand there all day.

“Right,” he forced his legs to move from where he stood. She was probably in some measure of pain after that crash and a bed would be more comfortable than his arms in her present condition. He crossed the creek and got into the truck, holding her gently and safely in his arms. While Guy closed the truck door for him, Dean stared at her, mesmerized by her beauty. It had been a long time since he had that kind of reaction—too long.

“Get Doc and have him come up to the house.”

13

A Rancher’s Love ~ Capri Montgomery

“He’s a vet,” Guy put the truck in gear and started driving. It wasn’t as if Dean needed a reminder.

He knew what kind of doctor the man was. He also knew whenever they had an emergency on the ranch he was the first guy he called while they waited for an ambulance to come up. “What if she needs a human doctor?”

“It will take a while for anybody to get up here. We’ll have Doc look her over and make sure. If she can’t wait then we’ll call it in and get an ambulance to come up here. It’ll be over an hour before they get here so she has to wait either way. And if Doc says she looks good enough not to go in, we’ll nurse her to health here.”

“Uh huh,” Guy mumbled knowingly. Yes, he was just trying to find a way to keep her on his ranch, at least long enough for her to wake up and tell him who she was. He needed to hear her voice, to know her name. He felt something, something he hadn’t felt in years, something burning inside him and he wanted to explore the desire. He couldn’t do that if they took her down to the hospital. It was too far away and she would probably be gone before he knew it. No. She could recover on his ranch, provided there were no serious injuries. If she needed the hospital then he would make sure she got there; otherwise he was going to be one selfish bastard and keep her in his bed while he helped take care of her.

He looked down at her soft features once more. She was beautiful. Even unconscious she looked at peace. He reached one hand up and traced his finger over her cheek. Her skin was so soft, so smooth to the touch. He sighed heavily. People always said the Lord worked in mysterious ways, but did his work have to include hitting him with such a heavy load of sexual awareness of a woman he probably didn’t even have a chance with? He had been single for a long time—since his wife’s death, and on that day he had cursed God for taking her from him. He had sworn he would never love again; never want, or desire another woman again, and yet here he was wanting, desiring, the woman in his arms and he didn’t even know her.

BOOK: A Rancher's Love
7.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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