Jackson walked from the barn toward the cottage, each of his steps
leaving a boot-print in the snow.
“Jackson, wait! Jackson!”
He turned at the sound of his housekeeper’s voice, saw Livvy Jones
running him, her breath huffing out in the cold.
Jackson smiled. “Take it easy, Liv, you’ll give yourself a heart
She drew in a panting breath and slowly released it. “I forgot to
tell you--I rented the cottage.”
“We talked about it, remember? You said we ought to do something
with the place instead of just letting it sit there and rot into the
“You said do something, so I did.”
He lifted his cowboy hat then settled it back down on his forehead.
“All right, I guess that’s fair.” He looked over at the cottage.
“So who’s the new tenant?”
“Sarah Hollister. She used to live in Wind Canyon when she was a
girl. She recently lost her husband. She wanted to come home and I
thought this would be the perfect place for her to recover from her
“Doesn’t sound familiar.”
“She was Sarah Allen when she was a girl.”
Jackson took the news like a sucker punch to the stomach. Sarah
Allen. Damn, he had known her voice sounded familiar. Sarah had
been two grades behind him in school. He’d thought she was the
prettiest, sweetest girl he had ever seen.
Man, had he been wrong.
Jackson glanced over at the cottage. He was no longer that same
insecure boy who had left Wind Canyon sixteen years ago. But he
would never forget the girl who had made him feel less than a man.
“You remember her, don’t you?” Livvy asked, breaking into his
thoughts. “She was real pretty, thick dark brown hair and big blue
eyes. She was kind of shy back then.”
“Shy? I’m afraid that isn’t the Sarah I remember. And I don’t want
her here.” He started walking toward the cottage, but Livvy caught
“What are you doing? I’ve already taken her money.”
“Then give it back.”
“She doesn’t want it back. She wants a place to raise her little
girl. I thought it would be nice to have a child around--and maybe
some female company once in a while.”
“Fine, but not here. Go back to the house, Livvy. I’ll take care
of this.” Jackson kept on walking. He tried to tell himself he
wouldn’t get the least satisfaction from throwing Sarah Allen off
his land. But he knew it wasn’t the truth.
Sarah was on her way back into the living room--wide-planked wooden
floors, a stone fireplace, a comfortable sofa and chairs--when she
heard a knock at the door. For an instant, fear gripped her. Even
with Andrew dread, she worried about who it might be.
She forced herself to relax. Assuming it must be Olivia Jones, the
lady who had rented her the property, she hurried over and opened
Her eyes widened. It wasn’t Olivia, it was Jackson Raines.
And he didn’t look happy to see her.
She wet her lips, which sudden felt stiff as paper. “Hello,
Jackson.” He was even taller than she remembered, around
six-foot-three. He had changed in sixteen years, each of his
features now more distinct, his dark brown eyes more intense. She
remembered the slight cleft in his chin but now a faint scar
bisected one of his nicely shaped eyebrows.
A little tremor of awareness went through her that she was surprised
to feel. It had been years since she had felt any sort of
attraction to a man. After Andrew, she thought maybe she never
“Do you...umm...work here on the ranch?” she asked.
The corner of his mouth edged up. “You might say that.” He looked
over her, saw the boxes she had been unpacking. “I’m afraid we have
a problem. Mrs. Jones made a mistake. The cottage is not for
Her stomach tightened. “That...that can’t be right. It was listed
on the Internet. The details have all been worked out.”
“I’ll see your money is returned. And I’ll pay for any extra
trouble this might have caused. Just tell me how much and I’ll
write you a check.”
Her voice rose. “I don’t want a check! This is going to be our
home. Holly and I...we need this place. We love it here already.”
Just then the little girl raced into the living room.
“Mommy--there’s a nest of baby robins under the roof right outside
“Please,” Sarah pleaded, looking up at Jackson again. “Isn’t there
any way you could speak to the owner, tell him how important it is
for Holly and me to stay?”
She glanced away, afraid he would notice the glitter of tears in her
eyes. “She just lost her father. She needs this, Jackson.
Please...I need it.”
Jackson looked down at Holly who was staring at him as if he were a
real life hero--which, to her, being a cowboy and their savior last
night, he was.
He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “I suppose it
wouldn’t hurt if you stayed for a while. Just don’t get too
comfortable. If things don’t work out, you’ll have to find another
place to stay.”
Relief hit her so hard her knees went weak. A bright smile broke
over her face. “So you’ll talk to the owner? You’ll make sure it’s
okay for us to stay?”
He made a scoffing sound. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He
turned and started walking.
Sarah ran after him. “Wait, I meant to ask.... What’s the name of
the man who owns the ranch?”
He kept on walking, his boots crunching in the snow. Over his
shoulder he called back to her. “Jackson Raines.”