Authors: Brenda Jackson
For there is nothing hidden, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come to light.
To my husband, Gerald Jackson, Sr. and my sons, Gerald Jackson, Jr. and Brandon Jackson. Thanks for your understanding and support. You make writing my stories easier.
To my family and friends, who continue to give their undying support.
To my avid readers, who believe in me and the work that I do. This book is for all of you.
To my Heavenly Father, who makes all things possible.
I love writing family sagas, and I am so happy that Kimani Press is reissuing my very first family series, the Madaris family. It’s been twelve years and fifty books since I first introduced the Madaris family. During that time, this special family and their friends have won their way into readers’ hearts. I am ecstatic to be able to share these award-winning stories with everyone all over again—especially those who have never met the Madaris clan up close and personal—in this special-edition collectors’ series.
I never dreamed when I penned my first novel,
Tonight and Forever,
and introduced the Madaris family, that I was taking readers on a journey where heartfelt romance, sizzling passion and true love awaited them at every turn. I had no idea that the Madaris family and their friends would become characters that readers would come to know and care so much about. I invite you to relax, unwind and see what all the hoopla is about. Let Justin, Dex, Clayton, Uncle Jake and their many friends transport you with love stories that are so passionate and sizzling, they will take your breath away. There is nothing better than falling in love with one of these Madaris men and their many friends.
For a complete list of all the books in this series, as well as the dates they will be available in a bookstore near you, please visit my Web site at www.brendajackson.net.
If you would like to receive my monthly newsletter, please visit and sign up at www.brendajackson.net/page/newsletter.htm.
I also invite you to drop me an e-mail at
[email protected]. I love hearing from my readers.
All the best,
he telephone rang—loudly, repeatedly.
After about the fifth ring, Jacob Madaris bolted upright in bed when the shrill sound finally infiltrated his sleep-entrenched mind. He took a deep breath, dragged a hand across his face then reached out to grab the phone before it reached its eighth ring.
“Yeah?” he said, glancing at the illuminated clock on the nightstand. It was three in the morning.
“Jake, it’s Sterling.”
There was a peculiar sound in his good friend, Sterling Hamilton’s, voice that made Jake throw back the covers and move to sit on the side of the bed. He could think of only one reason why Sterling would be calling him at this hour and sounding so strange. Jake’s heart suddenly began racing and knots began forming in his stomach.
“Diamond,” he said raggedly, almost fearful. His mind suddenly clamored with images of what could be wrong. “What is it? What happened?”
Sterling, to Jake’s way of thinking, didn’t respond quick enough. “Answer me, Sterling!” He was on his feet now and his voice had escalated to a shout.
“Calm down, Jake. Diamond’s fine, but—”
“She needs to come home.”
More images, worse than the ones before, flashed through Jake’s mind. “What happened? For Pete’s sake, Sterling, what happened to Diamond?” The racing of Jake’s heart increased.
“Someone broke into her home…and tried to attack her.”
“What!” After that explosion several earthy expletives poured from Jake’s lips.
“Jake, she’s okay. Diamond’s fine, Jake. Listen to me, she’s fine.”
But Jake Madaris was past listening. “Who was it? What happened?” One hand balled into a fist at his side, and the veins in his neck nearly popped.
“Some obsessed fan climbed over the wall and came in through a window, Diamond’s bedroom window. Luckily she was able to get away from the intruder and call the police.”
Jake closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Thank God for that. “What about the security system? I thought that place was wired tight.”
“The intruder managed to get past it.”
More earthy expletives poured forth from Jake’s lips.
“Your anger won’t help Diamond, Jake. She needs you to be calm when you see her. She’s pretty shaken up.”
“I’m on my way.”
“No need. She’s on her way there. I’m sending her on my plane. In fact she should be arriving in less than an hour. Just be at the airstrip when the plane gets there.”
Jake shook his head, angry with himself. He should have been with her tonight. He should have been there to protect her. Or better yet, she should have been here at his ranch, Whispering Pines, and not hundreds of miles away in California. He was her husband. The two of them should not be living apart.
His shoulders slumped when he remembered that their living arrangements weren’t the tip of their problems. The real scorcher was the fact that very few people even knew they were married. His own mother didn’t know, and only one of his brothers knew.
“I’ll be at the airstrip, waiting.”
“Call me after you get her settled in, and let me know how she’s doing.”
“All right and thanks.” As soon as Jake hung up the phone, he quickly began getting dressed.
Slow down, calm down,
he ordered himself, but it didn’t work. He moved around his bedroom, putting on his clothes at a frantic pace.
When he and Diamond had married a little over year ago, he had gone along with her request that they keep their marriage a secret for a number of reasons. The main one had been for their privacy. If the tabloids knew that Hollywood’s most sought-after African-American actress, Diamond Swain, was married to wealthy Texas rancher, Jacob Madaris, they would have a field day at their expense. Diamond had not wanted their special relationship, their extraordinary love, scrutinized, criti
cized or placed under the media’s attention. She had been determined to protect the love they shared at any cost.
“Yeah, but not this cost,” Jake muttered as he finished putting on his boots. He didn’t care about the media. But Diamond, who was always in the spotlight, and constantly hounded by the press and paparazzi, had felt differently. She had wanted a secret place she could always come to when she needed to escape. He and his ranch had become her loving and safe haven.
Another reason for the secrecy was that there was no way he could ever give up his life as a rancher. Knowing that, he knew he could never ask her to give up her life as an actress. The decision to keep their marriage a secret had been a difficult one for him. The Madaris family was a close one. But he had gone along with her request, although he hadn’t liked it, because at the time all the reasons for doing so had seemed for the best.
But now, none of that mattered. What mattered most was keeping her safe. As far as she was concerned, their secret had run its course.
As he rushed out of the house, he couldn’t help but remember how it had begun. He couldn’t help but call to mind another time, nearly eighteen months ago, when he had gone to the airstrip to await Diamond’s arrival.
e needed to have his head examined, Jake Madaris thought as he peered up into the sky. Dark clouds were forming, which meant there would probably be a torrential downpour later tonight. Evening was setting in, and with the possibility of bad weather, he had more things to do with his time that sit at the airstrip and wait on, of all things, a woman.
Maneuvering the vehicle’s seat as far back as it could go, he stretched out his long legs and tilted his Stetson to cover his eyes. He frowned slightly and wondered how on earth he had let Sterling Hamilton talk him into this.
Sterling had known exactly what he was doing during his last visit to the ranch, when he’d suggested that they play what was supposed to be a friendly game of poker. The stakes had been whatever either of them
wanted from the other…within reason. Sterling’s desire had been a three-week stay at Jake’s ranch, Whispering Pines.
Jake had simply shrugged upon hearing that, thinking Sterling’s request was an easy one. After all, since the time he and the well-known movie actor had formed a friendship over fifteen years ago, Sterling had been a frequent guest at Whispering Pines, often staying for weeks at a time.
It was only after Sterling had won the poker game that he had dropped the bombshell that the three-week stay was not for him, but for a friend.
A serious frown encased itself in Jake’s expression as he remembered that night two weeks ago. He had literally blown his stack when Sterling had announced just who that friend was. Jake shook his head, still ticked off when he thought about it. The last thing Whispering Pines needed was a visitor the likes of Diamond Swain.
Granted, some people would be honored to have the most sought-after African-American movie actress as a guest. But he wasn’t one of them. Whispering Pines was not a celebrity resort or a dude ranch. It was a working ranch that encompassed hundreds and hundreds of acres of land for grazing cattle.
The Whispering Pines ranch was known worldwide to raise only the highest quality grass-fed Texas Longhorn cattle. And although the ranch house was a real piece of art, a massive hacienda-style villa that he himself had designed, it was not a hideaway for the rich and famous. He had told Sterling that in no uncertain terms.
But, as Sterling had pointed out, Whispering Pines was also like a fortress. No one got on its land unless
Jake Madaris wanted them there. That meant there was no chance of Diamond Swain being bothered by pestering reporters. The other thing Sterling had been quick to point out was the fact that the people who worked for Jake were fiercely loyal to him and could be trusted. That meant news of Diamond Swain’s visit wouldn’t get leaked to the press.
But Jake had not been appeased and had continued to put up a strong argument against her visit. Sterling had smoothly shot down every argument that he’d given, so here he was sitting and waiting patiently for the renowned Diamond Swain to arrive and not liking it one bit.
Jake shifted in his seat when he saw the first signs of Sterling’s private plane as it jetted across the horizon. According to the media, Sterling and Diamond, who had appeared together in numerous movies, were an item and had been for years. Sterling had always flatly denied the rumor, claiming he and Diamond were nothing more than the best of friends. Her father, Jack Swain, was one of the few African-American movie directors to make his mark in Hollywood during the late sixties. Sterling’s first starring role, at the age of twenty-four, had been in one of Jack Swain’s films. That particular movie, made nearly ten years ago, had been the first ever to be directed by an African-American and nominated for Best Picture of the Year.
As Jake watched the plane land and then come to a stop on the runway, he wondered just what he was going to do with Diamond Swain for three weeks. He shrugged, deciding it would probably be best if he just ignored her. According to Sterling, her doctor claimed she was on the brink of physical exhaustion and
needed a rest from the high pressures of her hectic lifestyle of moviemaking and public appearances. If that was the case, then hopefully she would closet herself in the cabin he had arranged for her to stay in, and keep out of his way. It was roundup time, and he and his men would be extremely busy. No one had the time to baby-sit some stressed-out movie actress who was probably used to getting attention.
When Diamond stepped off the plane and Jake took a really good look at her, he knew at that very moment that ignoring her would definitely be a problem. Oh, he’d known she was a beautiful woman. Like most people, he had seen many of her movies at one time or another. But what he hadn’t counted on was her beauty being so vivid, so rich and so knock-him-dead brutal. And he sure hadn’t counted on the sudden surge of desire that jolted his body.
He watched her graceful stride as she moved down the steps of the plane, thinking how elegantly her taut body moved—the lush curves of her hips in black denim jeans, not to mention the long legs. Her hair hung like a silk curtain around her shoulders.
Jake shifted in his seat, feeling sweat pop out on his forehead and perspiration form in his hands. A breath hissed forth from his closed teeth as he studied her almond-colored features that went above and beyond drop-dead gorgeous. Another ripple of desire tore through his body.
Jake clipped back a deep, gutted sigh.
What had Sterling gotten him into?
Diamond Swain threw her black denim jacket over her shoulder and walked down the steps of the plane.
When her feet touched the earth, she gazed around at the beauty of the land that surrounded her. The aerial view had been gorgeous, simply magnificent. Even the clouded sky hadn’t detracted from its loveliness. The mesquite-covered valleys had an unlimited area of canyons and mountains on one side, and miles and miles of lush green grassland on the other. Never had she seen a place so scenic. According to Sterling, the owner was someone by the name of Jacob Madaris. She wondered if anyone had ever approached him about filming a movie here.
She spotted a black Jeep Cherokee parked a short distance away. Sterling had said Mr. Madaris would be picking her up and that he was a good friend of his. As far as she was concerned, any friend of Sterling was definitely a friend of hers. Besides, she appreciated Mr. Madaris for extending an invitation to her to stay at his ranch for three weeks. That was very thoughtful of him, and she could definitely use the rest.
“I’ll get your bags for you, Ms. Swain.”
The sound of Sterling’s pilot interrupted her thoughts. “Thanks, John. I think Mr. Madaris is parked over there,” she said. She looked beyond him to the parked vehicle. She couldn’t help wondering why Jacob Madaris had not gotten out and come to greet her.
No sooner had that question crossed her mind than the Jeep’s door opened and what she saw nearly took her breath away. The man who straightened himself out of the vehicle had to be every bit of six feet seven inches tall. The Stetson on his head nearly covered his face, but even from a distance she could make out intense, dark eyes and skin the color of chestnut. Ev
erything about him said diehard Texas cowboy. Dressed in western boots, jeans, shirt and his Stetson, he looked like the traditional cowboy. With the masculine swagger in his stride, he walked like the traditional cowboy.
“Welcome to Whispering Pines, Ms. Swain. I’m Jacob Madaris,” he said, tipping the brim of his hat in greeting when he reached her.
Diamond smiled. With his slow, deep drawl he even sounded like the traditional cowboy. His voice was rough and sexy. And his smell, a musky male scent of outdoors, was enticingly cowboy. She looked into his face, and her smile vanished when he removed his hat. The man, who appeared to be in his early forties, was dangerously handsome. His curly hair, damp from sweat, was a succulent blend of black and gray. The premature strands of silver gray were in stark contrast to his hard muscled body and made him appear more mature, charismatic and sexy.
Her breath expelled and her pulse stopped.
He is gorgeous,
she thought to herself. He is as gorgeous as the land he owns.
Suddenly feeling like she had a mouth full of cotton and unable to get any words out, Diamond swallowed quickly and took the hand he had offered her seconds ago. “Yes, and thanks for the invitation,” she recovered her voice to say.
It was on the tip of Jake’s tongue to tell her that he had not invited her, but decided not to. “I’ll help John with your luggage.”
Tilting her head to one side, Diamond watched him walk off, thinking that Jacob Madaris definitely knew
how to wear a pair of jeans. The back view of him was incredible, fascinating. His entire body was physically potent. And his walk…he moved like someone aware of his surroundings and comfortable with them, as well.
She closed her eyes, swallowed sharply and pulled herself together. This was the first real vacation she had taken in years. Her agent, Shelton Penn, usually had her on an airtight schedule. There was no time in between filming to ever totally relax. That was one of the reasons her doctor had ordered that she find someplace to go and rest.
According to him, she couldn’t keep up her vigorous pace without some sort of break. At first he had ordered six weeks of rest. But after she had given him every reason imaginable as to why she couldn’t take off six weeks, he had then pushed for five, not less than four. She had countered with three, and seeing that she wouldn’t budge any further, he had let it go at that. So here she was, in the heart of Texas on a ranch that was too beautiful for words, and whose owner could make her forget her vow not to get seriously involved with a man for a long time.
Her short and unbearable marriage to Samuel Tate had taught her a long-lasting lesson. When it came to the women they were married to, some men were possessive, overbearing and insanely jealous. Samuel had been all three. Never would she place herself in a position to live through something like that again. He had gone so far as to actually pay people to spy on her. He had even tried to destroy her long-standing friendship with Sterling. She knew for a fact that he was the one who started the rumor that
had begun circulating after her divorce that she and Sterling were having an affair. She would never forgive Samuel for trying to cheapen her and Sterling’s friendship. And then last, but clearly not least, she would never forgive him for his betrayal of the vows they had taken.
“I’m ready if you are.”
Jacob Madaris’s deep, husky voice broke into Diamond’s thoughts. She turned quickly. Her gaze went straight to his face and once again she thought the premature graying of his hair gave him a abundance of raw sex appeal. More than any one man should have. Breathing deeply, she felt a strong attraction to him. Diamond’s forehead wrinkled. Nothing like this—something this quick, spontaneous and gripping—had ever happened to her before. And more than anything, she didn’t want it to happen. She was here to get some rest, nothing more.
“Is something wrong? You’re frowning.”
Diamond commanded herself. This man didn’t miss much. He was sharp at picking up on things. “No, I’m fine. Just tired,” she responded, forcing a weak smile. She almost lost it again when she gazed into his dark eyes.
He watched her for a few seconds before nodding. “That can be remedied. If you’ll follow me, I’ll see that you get settled in.” He then turned and walked off.
Not even trying to keep up with his pace, Diamond followed him to the vehicle.
Jake’s brow furrowed as he drove his Jeep toward the area where the cabin was located. He tried, against all odds, to ignore the woman sitting next to him. He couldn’t remember a time any woman had caught his
interest as seriously as Diamond had. And that was totally out of character for him.
“Now you’re the one frowning, Mr. Madaris.”
Jake couldn’t help but smile at Diamond’s observation. She must have been watching him pretty closely to notice. He took a glance over at her and his smile widened. “Yeah, I am, aren’t I? And you can call me Jake.”
Diamond nearly groaned out loud. His smile was deadly. “Thanks, and I’m Diamond. I’ve never cared for nicknames so if you don’t mind, I prefer calling you Jacob.”
Her voice was like silken oak. It stirred Jake’s insides and sent his pulse spinning. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that she could call him anything she liked, but he decided it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Does your frown have anything to do with the fact that you really didn’t invite me here, Jacob?”
Jake blinked in surprise at Diamond’s question. He wondered how she had figured it out. “What makes you think that?”
“From the expression that crossed your face when I thanked you earlier.” She then let out a chuckle. “I’m an actress, remember. I’m trained to display a number of expressions, as well as being able to read them on others. Although the expression crossed your face quickly, I was able to pick up on it.”
When Jake still didn’t admit one way or another whether she was right or not, Diamond glanced over at him. “What did Sterling do? Threaten you with bodily harm, or does he have some incriminating information on you?”
Jake couldn’t hold back his laugh. “It was nothing as bad as either of those two,” he finally answered, deciding to level with her. “I lost a poker game to him. I’m still wondering if he played fair. I’m usually a better poker player than Sterling.”
Diamond smiled and her eyes lit up in a sparkle. “You’re too trusting if you have to think about whether or not Sterling played fair. I doubt very seriously that he did. He knows how to cheat at cards when it suits him.”
Jake considered her words. They were spoken like someone who evidently knew Sterling extremely well. Suddenly and expectedly, he felt a tinge of jealously at the thought of just how well that might be. He was tempted to ask, but decided it was none of his business. Sterling had told him on numerous occasions that he and Diamond Swain were friends and nothing more. He knew that although his friend might have a tendency to cheat at cards every once in a while, he was fairly honest otherwise. Besides, Sterling had no reason to lie to him.