Authors: Susan Mallery
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery returns with a new Fool’s Gold trilogy featuring three rugged cowboys who will find love in the unlikeliest of places….
Locked in an unexpected land dispute, Rafe Stryker is trapped in the one place he vowed never to return to—the Castle Ranch in Fool’s Gold, California. He made millions facing ruthless adversaries in the boardroom, but nothing could’ve prepared him to go head-to-head against stubborn, beautiful Heidi Simpson. No one is more surprised than Rafe to discover that he’s finding Heidi—and life as a cowboy—much more compelling than he wants to admit.
For Heidi, the Castle Ranch is the home she’s always wanted. After a life on the road, the vivacious blonde has finally put down roots. She won’t give that up without a fight, not even for a man whose late-night kisses make her yearn to be a little less…wholesome.
As the two turn from passionate adversaries to passionate, period, they’ll discover that summer love can last a lifetime.
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery
“If you want a story that will both tug
your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone, Mallery is
the author for you!”
“When it comes to heartfelt contemporary romance, Mallery is in
a class by herself.”
“An adorable, outspoken heroine and an intense hero…set the
sparks flying in Mallery’s latest lively, comic, and touching family-centered
“Mallery…excels at creating varied, well-developed characters
and an emotion-packed story gently infused with her trademark wit and
humor.” One of the Top 10 Romances of 2011!
“Mallery’s prose is luscious and provocative.”
“Susan Mallery’s gift for writing humor and tenderness make all
her books true gems.”
“Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert
blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.”
Also available from Susan Mallery
and HQN Book
Hot on Her
Straight from the Hip
Under Her Skin
Someone Like You
Watch for more Fool’s Gold books, coming soon!
All Summer Long
This book is for Kristi.
Here’s what she asked that the
I’d like to dedicate this to my mother, Doris, for
teaching me the fun and value of reading and always having a good book for me.
To my dear friend, Ann, who exchanges books with me and can laugh with me for no
good reason and then do it again! To my husband, Kevin, you are the love
of my life, keep me laughing and never keep me from a good read. Then
to my dear daughter, Julie, who inspires me and I am so proud of you. I
love you all, thank you for all the fun and laughter and the love of a good hat.
would a Mercedes be brought to a stop by a goat. Rafe Stryker turned off the engine of the powerful sedan and climbed out. The goat in the middle of the road surveyed him with a confident gleam in her dark eyes. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn she was telling him this was her road and if anyone was going to back down in this battle of wills, it would be him.
“Damn goats,” he muttered, looking around for whomever owned the wayward animal. Instead, he saw a few trees, a broken fence line and, beyond all that, mountains soaring up to the heavens. Some would describe this as God’s country. Rafe knew that God, being smart and all knowing, would have nothing to do with Fool’s Gold.
Hard to believe that a three hour drive west would return Rafe to San Francisco—land of fine dining, high-rise buildings and beautiful women. It was where he belonged. Not here, on the outskirts of some town he’d promised himself he would never set foot in again. And yet he had returned, drawn by the one person he could never turn his back on—his mother.
Swearing under his breath, he eyed the goat. He would guess she weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds, give or take. While he’d spent the past eighteen years doing his best to forget his time in Fool’s Gold, the lessons he’d learned on the Castle Ranch lived on. He figured if he’d been able to wrestle an adult steer as a scrawny fourteen-year-old, he should be able to take a goat now. Or at the very least, pick her up and move her to the side of the road.
He lowered his gaze to her hooves, wondering how sharp they would be and what they would do to his suit. He rested his elbow on the roof of his car and pinched the bridge of his nose. If his mother hadn’t sounded so broken on the phone, he would turn around and go back home. In San Francisco he had a staff, minions even. People who would take care of things like goats in the road.
He chuckled, imagining his starchy assistant facing down a goat. Ms. Jennings, a fifty-something powerhouse with an innate ability to make the most successful of executives feel incompetent, would most likely stare the goat into submission.
“You found her!”
Rafe turned toward the voice and saw a woman jogging toward him. She had a rope in one hand and what looked like lettuce in the other.
“I was so worried. Athena lives to get into trouble. I can’t find a gate lock that will keep her contained. She’s smart. Aren’t you, baby girl?”
The woman approached the goat and patted her on the back. The goat moved toward her, like a dog seeking affection. She took the lettuce and the rope around her neck with equal acceptance.
The woman glanced back at him. “Hi. I’m Heidi Simpson.”
She was maybe five-nine, with blond hair she wore in braided pigtails. A cotton shirt tucked into jeans showed him she was leggy and curvy, a combination that normally appealed. Just not today. Not when he still had to deal with his mother and a town he despised.
“Rafe Stryker,” he said.
The woman—Heidi—stared at him, her green eyes widening as she took a single step back. Her full mouth trembled slightly and she lost her smile.
“Stryker,” she whispered and swallowed. “May is your—”
“Mother. How do you know her?”
Heidi took another step back. “She’s, ah, at the ranch right now. Talking to my grandfather. There seems to be a mix-up.”
“Mix-up?” He used what Ms. Jennings referred to as his scary, serial-killer voice. “Is that how you’d describe what happened? I was thinking more along the lines of fraud and theft. Felony theft.”
* * *
, wishing she could simply run for it. Not that she wasn’t one to face her problems. But in this case, she would feel a lot better facing them around other people, rather than on a deserted road. She eyed Athena, wondering if the goat would protect her, then decided probably not. Athena would be more interested in getting a taste of Rafe Stryker’s well-cut, obviously expensive suit.
The man standing in front of her looked seriously pissed. Pissed enough to plow her over with his big car and keep going. He was tall, with dark hair and eyes, and right now he looked angry enough to crush her with his bare hands. She had a feeling he was strong enough to do it, too.
She drew in a breath. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t crush her, but he wanted to do something. She could read that in his brown-black eyes.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she began.
“I doubt that.”
His voice was low, silky and made her feel unsettled. As though she couldn’t predict what was going to happen next and, whatever it was, it was going to be bad.
“My grandfather overstepped his bounds,” she began, thinking it wasn’t the first time Glen had given in to his “ask forgiveness rather than permission” philosophy of life. “He didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
“He stole from my mother.”
Heidi winced. “You’re close to her?” She shook her head. “Never mind. Stupid question.” If Rafe didn’t take care of his mother, he wouldn’t be here now. Not that she was surprised. From what she could tell, May was a lovely woman who had been very understanding about the mistake. Although not understanding enough to keep her son out of it.
“Glen, my grandfather, has a close friend who was diagnosed with cancer. Harvey needed treatment, didn’t have insurance, and Glen wanted to help.” Heidi did her best to smile, but her lips didn’t feel as if they were cooperating. “So, um, he got the idea of selling part of the ranch. To your mother.”
“The ranch that belongs to you.”
“Technically.” Her name was the one on the bank loan. She hadn’t done the math, but she would guess she had in the neighborhood of seventy thousand dollars in equity. The rest of the ranch was tied up in her mortgage.
“He took two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from my mother, and in return she owns nothing.”
“Your grandfather has no way to pay her back.”
“He gets social security and we have some savings.”
Rafe’s gaze moved from her to Athena and back. “How much in savings?”
Defeat made her shoulders sag. “Twenty-five hundred dollars.”
“Please move the goat. I’m going to the ranch.”
Heidi stiffened her spine. “What are you going to do?”
“Have your grandfather arrested.”
“You can’t!” Glen was the only family she had. “He’s an old man.”
“I’m sure the judge will take that into account when setting bail.”
“He didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
Rafe was unmoved by her plea. “My family grew up here, Ms. Simpson. My mother was the housekeeper. The old man who owned the ranch paid her next to nothing. At times there wasn’t enough money for her to feed her four children. But she hung on because he promised to leave her the ranch when he died.”
Heidi didn’t like this story. She just knew it had a bad ending.
“Like your grandfather, he lied. When he finally died, the ranch went to distant relatives back east.” His dark eyes turned into lasers that seemed to bore into her, promising untold punishment. “No one is going to screw my mother out of this ranch twice.”
Oh, no! It was worse than she’d imagined. Much worse. “You have to understand. My grandfather would never hurt anyone. He’s a great guy.”
“He’s the man who stole two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from my mother, Ms. Simpson. The rest is simply window dressing. Now, move your…goat.”
Unable to think of what else to say, Heidi stepped to the side of the road. Athena trotted along with her. Rafe got in his car and drove away. The only thing missing from his angry departure was a cloud of dust. However, the road was paved and well maintained by the city. One of the advantages of living in Fool’s Gold.
She waited until he’d gone past, then turned toward the ranch and started to run. Athena kept up easily, for once not insisting on extending her time of freedom.
“Did you hear that?” Heidi asked, her athletic shoes pounding on the pavement. “That man is really mad at us.”
Athena trotted along, apparently unconcerned about Glen’s fate.
“You’ll be sorry if we have to sell you to pay back May Stryker,” Heidi muttered, then wished she hadn’t.
All her life she’d only wanted one thing. A home. A real home with a roof and a foundation, hooked up to sewer and water and electricity. Something most people took for granted. But she’d grown up moving from town to town, the rhythm of her days defined by the carnival where her grandfather worked.
When she’d found the Castle Ranch, she’d fallen instantly and madly in love. With the land, the old house and especially the nearby town of Fool’s Gold. She had a herd of eight goats, uncounted feral cows and nearly a thousand acres of land. She’d started a business making goat cheese and goat-milk soap. She sold goat milk and goat fertilizer. There were natural caves where she could age her cheese. This was her home and she wasn’t giving it up for anything.
But she might have to give it up for somebody. Glen. Who’d sold a part of what he didn’t own to a woman with a very angry son.
* * *
mother’s car and parked. The ranch looked worse than he’d remembered—the fence lines more theory than substance, the house sagging and in need of paint. He could think of a thousand places he would rather be than here. Leaving wasn’t an option. Not until he got this mess cleaned up.
He climbed out of his car and looked around. The sky was blue—typical for California. That impossible color movie makers loved and songwriters sang about. In the distance, the Sierra Nevada mountains rose toward heaven. When he was a kid, he’d stared at those mountains, willing himself to be on the other side. Anywhere that wasn’t here would have been better. At fifteen, he’d been trapped. Funny how all these years later he was back and just as stuck.
The front door to the house opened and his mother stepped out. May Stryker might have been in her mid-fifties, but she was still beautiful, with shiny black hair that fell to her shoulders and a tall, lithe build. Rafe had inherited his height and coloring from her, although, according to his mother, his personality came from his father. May was a softhearted nurturer who wanted to take care of the world. Rafe would rest a lot easier when he’d conquered it.
“You came,” May said, crossing to him and smiling. “I knew you would. Oh, Rafe, isn’t it wonderful to be back?”
Sure, he thought grimly. Maybe later they could stop by hell for a marshmallow roast. “Mom, what’s going on? You weren’t very clear in your message.” What he meant was she hadn’t explained how she’d gotten in this situation in the first place.
All she’d said was that she’d bought a ranch, and that the man was now telling her she couldn’t have it. Mostly because he didn’t own it. Fraud before noon. Or grand theft. Either way, it was going to be a long day.
“Everything is fine,” his mother said, moving toward him. “Glen and I have been talking and…”
The smile widened. “The man who sold me the ranch.” She gave a little laugh. “Apparently he had a friend who was sick and—”
“I’ve heard this part,” he said, interrupting.
“Oh, you met her. Isn’t she wonderful? She raises goats here on the ranch. They’ve been here nearly a year, and they’re just wonderful people. Glen is Heidi’s
grandfather. She lost her parents when she was little and he raised her.” May sighed. “They’re a wonderful family.”
He didn’t like the sound of that. “Mother,” he began.
She shook her head. “I’m not one of your unruly clients, Rafe. You can’t intimidate me. I’m sorry I called you and asked you to come all the way out here, but I have everything under control.”
“I doubt that.”
Both eyebrows rose. “Excuse me?”
“You’re not the only one involved. I signed the paperwork, too. Remember?”
“You can unsign it. I’ll take care of this. Now, go back to San Francisco.”
Before he could explain there was no “unsigning” a legal document, the front door opened again and an older man stepped out. He was taller than May, with white hair and sparkling blue eyes. He winked at May, gave Rafe a charming smile and hurried forward.
“There you are,” the man said, holding out his hand as he approached. “Glen Simpson. Nice to meet you. I understand there’s been a mix-up with your lovely mother here, but I want to assure you, we’re going to work it all out.”
Rafe doubted that. “You have the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars you stole from her?”
He ignored his mother and continued to stare at Glen.
“Ah, not exactly,” the older man admitted. “But we’ll get it. Or work out something with May. There’s no reason for any of this to be difficult, don’t you agree?”
“No.” Rafe drew his phone out of his shirt pocket and turned away from his mother and Glen. Before pushing the number, he loosened his tie. Then he hit speed dial.
“I told you not to go there,” a familiar voice said by way of greeting.
“I pay you for legal counsel,” Rafe muttered. “Not to say, ‘I told you so.’”
Dante Jefferson, his lawyer and business partner, chuckled. “You get the ‘I told you so’ for free.”
“How bad is it?”
Rafe looked around at the familiar acres of land. He’d grown up here, at least until he was fifteen. He’d worked his ass off here, had gone hungry here.
“It’s bad. I need you to drive over,” Rafe said. He’d filled Dante in on what he knew before he’d left town that morning. “There’s no money to pay her back and, from what I can tell, the old man isn’t the owner of the ranch.”
Dante snorted. “Did he think she wouldn’t notice she wasn’t getting a ranch after paying two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and agreeing to a schedule to pay the rest?”
“I’ve never been to Fool’s Gold,” Dante said.