Authors: Judy Christenberry
J.D. rode up beside her as she neared the corral. “You did a great job today with the herd.”
Rachel avoided his gaze. “You’re welcome.” Her legs hurt so much she doubted she could get off her horse. She was unaware of the tears rolling down her cheeks. But he saw them.
“Damn. I knew I was asking too much of you. Come on, honey, slide into my arms. I won’t let you go.”
His gentle tones persuaded her as much as his strong arms, and she gave herself over to him.
“It’s all right,” he said, his voice husky with emotion. He held her even closer as he carried her to the house.
She laid her head on his shoulder, a sigh of contentment escaping her lips. She was in a miserable state, so why did she feel as if she’d died and gone to heaven? Because being in J.D.’s arms was all she’d wanted. For days. For months. But it wasn’t enough….
I hope you will enjoy
my second book in the CHILDREN OF TEXAS series. As the title implies, I’m returning to my favorite type of hero—the cowboy. I have to admit that I’m hopelessly drawn to them, especially Texas cowboys! And so is Rachel Barlow, the stylish heroine of this story.
My sweet spot for cowboys notwithstanding, the theme of this series is family. It is a theme that occurs in many of my books, because I think family is very important in all our lives. Whether it is the traditional family, or a family made up of friends or co-workers, it is the support and love one receives from family that enables each of us to face the world and conquer our fears.
In this book Rachel has lost confidence in her adoptive mother and is alone in the world until she finds her birth sisters, Vanessa and Rebecca. But she expands her new family to include others, too. And of course, in the end, Rachel finds true happiness and is ready to start a family of her own.
I hope you’ll come along for the ride as Rachel, Rebecca and Vanessa discover other Barlow family members. And I hope you celebrate your family every day for the warmth and joy and support they give you.
If you have questions or comments, you can reach me at my Web site, www.judychristenberry.com.
Judy Christenberry has been writing romances for over fifteen years because she loves happy endings as much as her readers do. A former French teacher, Judy now devotes herself to writing full-time. She hopes readers have as much fun with her stories as she does. She spends her spare time reading, watching her favorite sports teams and keeping track of her two daughters. Judy lives in Texas.
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
579—WHO’S THE DADDY?
612—WANTED: CHRISTMAS MOMMY
626—DADDY ON DEMAND
701—IN PAPA BEAR’S BED
726—A COWBOY AT HEART
735—MY DADDY THE DUKE
744—COWBOY COME HOME
773—ONE HOT DADDY-TO-BE?
777—SURPRISE—YOU’RE A DADDY!
785—THE LAST STUBBORN COWBOY
817—THE GREAT TEXAS WEDDING BARGAIN
842—THE $10,000,000 TEXAS WEDDING
867—RENT A MILLIONAIRE GROOM
878—STRUCK BY THE TEXAS MATCHMAKERS
901—TRIPLET SECRET BABIES
969—SAVED BY A TEXAS-SIZED WEDDING
1000—A RANDALL RETURNS
1033—REBECCA’S LITTLE SECRET
For the first time in her life, Rachel Barlow had time on her hands.
After working nonstop for the last six months, she stood in Vivian and Will Greenfield’s spacious house, trying to rest. She didn’t know how. Her constant worries and her hectic schedule had caused her to lose weight. Still, she couldn’t stop fretting about her future.
Thanks to her adoptive mother, who’d stolen all of Rachel’s savings and even borrowed money in Rachel’s name, she’d been forced to take on one modeling assignment after another, with the hope of repaying the debt and building a nest egg. But in the process, she was about to crack.
Her two sisters—Vanessa Shaw, Vivian’s adopted daughter, and Rebecca Jacobs, who was Rachel’s twin—were concerned about her. They’d persuaded her to move into Vivian’s home, where she could be taken care of.
Rachel looked around the lavish Highland Park home, which after six months she was still not used to.
Not only was it strange to be living in such luxury, so was having a loving family.
When the doorbell chimed, she called out, “I’ll get it.” Knowing the housekeeper would be in the kitchen, she figured she’d save Betty the trip.
She swung open the door and stared at the one man she’d never wanted to see again.
Frozen with horror, she said nothing.
Neither did he.
Then, when he took a step toward her, cowboy hat in hand, she asked, “What are
At the same time he demanded, “What are you doing
Neither of them answered.
After another awkward silence, J.D. asked, “Is this still Vivian Greenfield’s house?”
“Yes. Did you come to see her?”
“I’ll get her housekeeper,” Rachel said awkwardly, and backed away, leaving the door open.
She hurried to the kitchen. “Betty, J.D. Stanley is at the door. Do—do you know him? He wants to see Vivian.”
“Why, sure, we know J.D. Tell him to come in,” Betty said with a smile.
“I—I can’t. I have to go upstairs.” Rachel barely managed to blurt out the words before she scurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs, leaving Betty to welcome the guest.
Betty went to the door. “J.D., come in. Wait until I
tell Peter you’ve come.” Her husband would be delighted to see the young man. She turned and headed for the kitchen, sure J.D. would follow. “I just put on a fresh pot of coffee. And I believe I have some chocolate-chip cookies left over. It’s not easy keeping cookies around here. Joey, Rebecca’s son, just loves them. And Peter, too.”
She looked back and was surprised to find the man still standing on the doorstep. She retraced her steps. “J.D., what’s wrong?”
“What’s Rachel doing here?” he asked in a husky voice.
Betty looked at his unhappy face and then toward the stairs where she had disappeared. “Um, I think I’d better get Miz Vivian. You come into the library.”
She took his arm and tugged him along, not leaving him a choice. “I’ll get Peter to bring you something,” she said once she’d seated him.
At the kitchen door, she told her husband what she wanted him to do. Then she hurried up the stairs.
ACHEL COULDN’T BELIEVE
her luck. Lately it all seemed to be bad. No, that wasn’t true. She’d found her real family, part of it at least, and that could never be considered bad. They were wonderful.
But they knew J.D.
She wanted to cry, but she didn’t seem to have any tears left. Her…relationship, if you could call it that, with J.D. had happened right before she’d been bombarded with the devastation of betrayal and debt by her adoptive mother. The clothing designer who’d hired her
had chosen J.D.’s West Texas ranch as the backdrop for a catalog shoot. She’d had the good fortune—or was it misfortune—of meeting J.D. then and spending a few days at his ranch.
In retrospect, her brief time with him had seemed such a betrayal. She hadn’t trusted herself with anyone for a long time.
J.D. would take a break from his ranching chores occasionally and hang around the shoot. On her first day, she’d guessed it was curiosity that drew him. She’d noticed he held her hand longer than customary upon introduction, and his eyes had lingered on her throughout the day. On the second day, he’d become her shadow, showing up wherever she was. He took her on a long walk and he’d charmed her with his smile and wit, his manliness and his down-home courtesy. But there’d been more than that—an attraction she couldn’t explain. On the third day of her stay, she’d submitted to the temptation that had been burgeoning between them, and fell into his arms in a stolen moment behind the barn.
She’d intended it to be just a kiss. Or two or three. But they’d ended up in his bed. J.D. had made the most exquisite love to her all through the night. His caress was gentle, but his possession of her left no doubt about how much he desired her. She’d fallen asleep on his shoulder, feeling safe and loved for the first time in as far back as she could remember.
She’d woken up alone.
He’d left to tend to his cattle, she’d surmised, knowing his daily routine. He’d left behind no note, no promise, no future.
With no reason to stay, and hiding her tears, she’d left promptly with the other models. But she hadn’t forgotten that brief touch of heaven. And the betrayal that had broken her heart.
Now, finding him on the doorstep as she had, Rachel was devastated all over again. With a groan, she buried her face in her arms.
She had to pull herself together.
ITH A QUICK RAP
on the bedroom door, Betty entered. Vivian, now six months pregnant, was resting on a chaise longue, reading a book.
“Miz Vivian, we’ve got problems.”
The woman sat up and put her feet on the ground. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, my goodness, Betty, that’s not a problem. I knew he was coming sometime soon. I’ll just go down and—”
“Miz Rachel opened the door. She knows him. When I told her to ask him in, she freaked out, said she couldn’t, and ran upstairs.”
Vivian came to an abrupt stop. “She knows J.D.? How? Maybe she thinks he’s someone else.”
Betty shook her head. “He knows her, too. He wanted to know what Rachel was doing here.”
“Oh, my.” Vivian couldn’t think what was going on. True, Rachel hadn’t been part of the family for long, but Vivian thought she was feeling more at home lately. “Go take him something to eat and tell him I’ll be right down.”
Once Betty had left the room, Vivian did what she always did these days when there was a problem: she called her husband. Will, a private investigator, always seemed to have the answer to whatever troubled her. They’d been married for almost a year now.
She dialed the number of his office. His assistant answered. “Carrie, it’s Vivian. Is Will in?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll put you through.”
As soon as she heard Will’s deep voice on the line, Vivian felt more at peace. “Dear, I think I need you to come home if you can.”
Bless his heart, he never questioned her need of him. He merely said, “Okay” and hung up the phone, and she knew he’d be there within five minutes.
Drawing a deep breath, she headed for Rachel’s room. If Vanessa or Rebecca had been there, she would’ve enlisted their help. But her daughter was at school, and Rebecca probably on her way to work.
Last year when she’d begun the search for Vanessa’s five siblings, all of whom had been orphaned when their parents were killed in a car crash over twenty years ago, she’d only dreamed she’d be surrounded by the Barlow children. Rebecca had been the first of the Barlow siblings to be found, followed by Rachel. Vivian smiled when she thought of the beautiful reunion of the three sisters, and of the family that filled her house now.
She knocked on Rachel’s door.
Vivian opened the door a tad to find Rachel sprawled across the bed, her face covered by her arms. “Dearest, what’s wrong? Was J.D. rude to you?”
Rachel immediately sat up and looked at her. “You know him?”
“Well, yes, of course. He manages my husband’s ranch.”
“I didn’t know Will had a ranch.”
“No, I meant my first husband, Herbert. He bought it years ago.”
“Oh. I thought— Never mind. I just, uh, have a headache. I’m sorry if I was rude to him. Please apologize to him for me. I’m having a bad day.”
“Of course, dear. Do you want Betty to bring you some headache medicine?”
Rachel grasped at that straw quickly. “Oh, yes, please, that would be wonderful.”
Vivian backed out of her room and returned to her own. She called Rebecca at her husband’s law office, where she worked in the afternoons.
“Hi, Viv. What’s going on?” Rebecca asked as she answered the phone.
“It’s Rachel. Could you come here and talk to her?” Since Rebecca and Jeff married five months ago and she’d moved into his home, Will and Vivian didn’t see her as often as they used to.
“Of course. What’s happened?”
“Well, I’m not sure, really. J.D. Stanley, who manages the ranch for us, came to the house and Rachel got upset.”
“I’ll be right there,” Rebecca promised, and hung up the phone.
Vivian started downstairs. They were all worried about Rachel. As a fashion model for print ads, she
didn’t make the big bucks runway models made. Shortly before Rachel found Rebecca, she’d discovered that her adoptive mother, who also acted as her business manager, had been stealing Rachel’s money ever since she started modeling at the age of fifteen. Rachel was left with almost nothing and owed a number of people from whom her mother had borrowed more money in Rachel’s name.
Trying to pay her mother’s debts and build up some savings again, Rachel had taken on more modeling jobs, which she’d come to hate. She’d lost weight, which she couldn’t afford to do, and grown pale. Though it gave her an exotic look the cameras loved, everyone worried about her health.
Much to Vivian’s relief, Will was coming in the front door when she reached the ground level. He rushed to take her in his arms, wanting to know what was wrong.
“I’m sorry, dear. I should’ve said the baby and I are fine.” Vivian’s first pregnancy at the age of forty-three had the entire household hovering over her, her husband most of all.
“Thank God!” Will whispered, holding her tightly. “So what’s wrong?”
“J.D.’s here.” Vivian gave Will the full explanation. “Rachel says she has a headache, but I think it’s something more.”
“Maybe she mistook him for someone else.”
“He asked Betty what Rachel was doing here.”
“Oh. So much for that theory.” Will stepped away from her. “Well, want to come introduce me?” he asked, holding out his hand.
“Yes, thank you, Will.”
When they reached the library, Peter was standing by the sofa, talking to J.D., who’d taken a seat. He immediately stood as Vivian and Will entered.
“Hi, Vivian,” he said, a smile on his lips.
If Vivian hadn’t known he’d been through an awkward meeting, she would think he was his normal calm self. She kissed him on the cheek and pulled Will forward. “J.D., this is my husband, Will Greenfield. Will, this is J.D. Stanley, our ranch manager.”
The two men shook hands and they all sat down.
Betty came in with a plate of warm cookies. “Coffee for you, Mr. Will?” she asked, putting a glass of juice in front of Vivian. The doctor had taken her off coffee long ago.
“Yes, please, Betty,” Will agreed.
“Betty, could you also take some pain reliever up to Rachel?” Vivian asked, watching J.D. out of the corner of her eye.
A spasm of pain crossed his face, but he said nothing.
Peter followed Betty out of the room and silence fell.
Vivian cleared her throat. “As always, I’m delighted to see you, J.D., but there seems to be a problem between you and Rachel. I didn’t know you knew each other.”
He frowned. “I think I mentioned in one of my letters that I’d allowed a designer to use the ranch as a backdrop for a photo shoot. Rachel was one of the models.”
“Of course, I remember now. What an amazing coincidence,” Vivian exclaimed, still smiling.
J.D. said nothing else.
It was Will’s turn to try to find an answer. “I gather you two had problems?”
J.D. shrugged. “I think we were both surprised to see each other today.”
“Oh, yes. Rachel said to apologize to you,” Vivian stated.
“Did you want to discuss the ranch?” Will finally asked.
“I wanted to ask Vivian if she’d thought any more about selling the ranch to me. Since my mother’s death, I’ve figured up my financial assets and I think I can swing a good purchase price.”
Vivian nodded. “And you deserve to buy the ranch. You’ve done a great job of managing it for the past ten years after your dad’s death. Will and I have talked about it, and we both feel that if you can offer a good price, we should sell the ranch.”
J.D., a handsome young man, well built and clean-cut, looked guilty, which bothered Vivian.
“Isn’t that what you want?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. But…how do you know Rachel Morgan?”
“She’s Rachel Barlow now,” Will said. “And she’s one of Vanessa’s sisters.”
J.D.’s heart stopped. Rachel had gotten married? “How—”
Will was quick to explain. “She took back her original name, Barlow, after she found out who her birth family was.”
J.D. started to breathe again, relieved that she hadn’t married. But he was still confused. “I thought Madge said you’d found one sibling, named Rebecca.”
“How is Madge, by the way?” Vivian asked, naming the longtime housekeeper on the ranch.
“Good. So, you found a second sister?”
“Yes, Rachel is Rebecca’s twin.” She paused as she heard the front door open. Leaning toward the door to the library, she called, “Rebecca, is that you? Come in and meet J.D. Stanley.”
Much to J.D.’s surprise, a double for Rachel walked into the room. Except for being obviously pregnant, Rebecca looked exactly like Rachel—tall and dark-haired. After introductions, she excused herself and went upstairs.
“Um, I’m not sure you’ll want to sell me the ranch now, Vivian. I’ve made a mistake. In fact, I’ll find you a new manager. Just give me a month or two and I’ll have everything set up.” J.D. stood, his hat in his hand, edging toward the door.