A Little R & R
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by Morgan Ashbury
Description: When widow Rebecca Scott finally takes the vacation of her dreams as a 'dude' at a Colorado ranch, she never expects to lasso the heart of sexy rancher Rafe Lassiter. Time away from home and routine is supposed to give Rebecca the jolt she needs to plan the rest of her life. It is not supposed to be for sly innuendos, steamy kisses or sensual discoveries. Rafe has always avoided the dudes, focusing his attention, heart and soul, on his ranch. Suddenly he finds himself playing host to the most appealing woman he's ever met. Before long, he yearns to corral Rebecca for good, but understands that taming this particular filly is going to require all the patience and skill he can muster. Complicating his master plan are his brothers, her grown kids, and a secret hidden within the nearby Anasazi ruins.
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./BookStrand Mainstream Romance, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [343 KB]
Reading time: 214-300 min.
"5 Stars: A Little R & R is a beautiful love story. I enjoyed watching the love between Rebecca and Rafe grow. Morgan Ashbury brilliantly developed their love, proving that love is not just for the young. Ashbury incorporated humor, suspense, and romance in her story. She drew me in and held my attention throughout the tale. This delightful tale will be a favorite of fans of romantic suspense."--Debra, Review Your Book.Com
* * * *
"Richardson got carried away."
Proctor Farnsworth looked up from the documents he'd been scanning, pinning the man who'd spoken with one hard look as effectively as a predator pinned its prey.
"A girl is dead. I would say that's somewhat more serious than getting carried away, John."
"You're right, of course, Mr. Farnsworth. It is."
"That girl represented a guaranteed sale to a good customer, and her loss has cut into the profit of that shipment significantly. Not to mention all the effort I had to put into customer relations, being unable to fulfill that particular order. With what I'm paying him, Richardson could buy a willing playmate for his sick little games."
"How do you want it handled, then?"
Proctor motioned for John Logan to sit. Anyone just observing the two of them together would know they were men from different worlds. Proctor had been nicknamed 'golden boy' as a teen, and the moniker had stuck. Not just his blond Nordic-god good looks and the trust fund he'd been born into had earned him the name. Everything he touched turned to gold. And not everything he'd put his hands on had been on the up and up. He had nothing in common with John Drake Logan. His employee had endured a rough, hard climb out of poverty and it showed. There exuded a wild-animal quality from the man that not even the Armani suit could disguise. But the two of them had become a good business fit. Proctor planned, Logan executed.
In college Proctor had been able to get away with the most daring pranks. Behaving in a way sure to anger his parents had given him a rush like nothing else. He'd moved easily from harmless pranks to thievery, finding a particular joy in cleaning out the safes of his parents' wealthy friends. He'd even stolen from his parents, so as to direct suspicion away from his own front door. He'd taken the proceeds of his 'hobby' and invested them in safe and secure blue chip stocks. Then he inherited the company his father and grandfather had built and realized there were more lucrative ways to amass his fortune than either the simple business deal, or the liberation of goods.
He'd done his research, and then arranged to be introduced to a man who imagined himself much smarter than he actually was. Within a year that man had been history, but the small organization he'd built for himself transporting everything from drugs to people thrived and prospered in the hands of Proctor Farnsworth. Proctor had no trouble crawling into bed with the slime of the earth. Social status had never meant much to him. A man with a leg in each of two worlds, he considered his balance to be exceptional.
And business, after all, was only business.
On this point Farnsworth knew both he and his employee agreed.
"What does the man know about either of us that can cause us grief?" Farnsworth asked now.
"Enough, I'd say. He's been full of himself lately, as well. Jack Richardson is a worm."
John's assessment, Proctor thought, hit the mark. "He had his uses, and came with the original take-over. But now I'm thinking that we'll have to make some changes. More than just the termination of an employee who has become a liability."
"There's no way of knowing if he's been indiscreet or not, Mr. Farnsworth."
"You never trusted him. I should have listened to your instincts in this area. I won't make that mistake again."
John nodded in response to the compliment. "Perhaps we should change the schedule completely, and the route, for a time. Especially the consolidation point," he suggested.
"I agree. I think we need to deal with our liability--and I have someone in mind who can do just that--and then relocate to an area that is, perhaps, somewhat more remote. That way, if any interest has been taken in our past endeavors, the bloodhounds will be thrown off the trail." Farnsworth let his gaze wander. He found himself staring at a photograph taken a year or more before, a snapshot from his blameless, other life. It depicted him and his wife, Belinda, on vacation. He sported a cowboy hat, and a grin, with a corral and horses as the backdrop. Anyone looking at the picture could be forgiven for believing Farnsworth had enjoyed himself on that particular vacation. He'd only gone so as to appease his father-in-law, who had arranged the trip. In fact, that particular sojourn into the wilds of Colorado had been the scene of one of his greatest personal humiliations. The people there hadn't liked him, and the feeling had been entirely mutual.
A slow smile spread across his face, as he decided the time had come to get back at those self-righteous, holier-than-thou Lassiters. Using their land for his own purposes would be the perfect revenge. He'd also bet utilizing a site so off the beaten track would work so well, his business would never be discovered. He had but one base to cover to make it all work.
"You've got something in mind?"
Logan's question brought his attention back to their meeting. "I do. It requires only one thing."
"And that would be?"
"What do you know about horses, John?"
* * * *
"You don't really have to go through with this, you know."
"It's perfectly all right to change your mind, if you want to."
"I am not going to change my mind."
"Oh. Well, fine. Do you have your ticket?"
"In my hand."
"Good. Do you have the phone number there? You know, in case they forget to send someone out to meet you..."
"They won't forget to meet me and yes, I have the number."
"Good. Do you have...?"
Rebecca Scott came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the airport's concourse. Her companion took three additional steps before he realized she'd stopped. When he turned, one eyebrow arched in inquiry, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled something out, holding it up for inspection.
"I have a hankie to wipe my nose, too. Is there anything else?"
Kyle Scott had the good sense to flush and look down at his shoes. Then he seemed to gather himself and faced her square on.
"As a matter of fact, Mother, there is."
Rebecca had to work hard to hang on to her patience. A sure sign, she realized, that she really did need this vacation.
Since she was a little girl, she'd dreamed of being on a real, working cattle ranch. Round-ups and cattle drives. Riding the open range, nothing but space all around, the wind in her hair, the sun on her face as she and her trusty horse Diablo ... Rebecca stopped and took a deep breath. This particular dream that had been tucked away in the closet through all the years of her marriage to Jacob. Caribbean cruises and five-star resorts had been more his style of vacation destination, and he would have shuddered if she'd suggested a vacation on a cattle ranch.
But Jacob had been gone for more than a year. His sudden death at the very dawn of his middle years had shown her that time was too uncertain to keep dreams in the closet forever. And, she thought now, too precious to waste being impatient with a grown son who had a good heart and meant well.
A quick look told her the check-in line still stretched ahead of her. She gave Kyle a smile and an encouraging nod.
Her son stepped closer to her, and pitched his voice in a hushed tone.
"Mother, you and dad were married for a long time. I remember how he used to brag that he'd captured your heart in high school before anyone else noticed what a treasure you were."
Rebecca's heart softened. Tall good looks hadn't been the only thing her son had inherited from his father. Like his father, Kyle had a way with words when he wanted to.
"But it's a different world out there these days," Kyle continued. "A woman, especially one traveling alone, can't be too careful. And some men, especially those who are used to a more, shall we say, earthy environment, may not always be polite, or even completely civilized in their behavior. What I'm trying to say, Mother, is that--well, they may make advances that are not only inappropriate, but crude."
Rebecca had to fight the urge to laugh. Kyle's expression looked so serious. And, to be perfectly honest, his concerns were not completely without merit. She recalled just last week when the two of them had been out at the mall. Rebecca's running shoe had come untied. Rather than squatting to tie it, she had set her foot on the short concrete wall surrounding the center-court fountain and bent over to do the job. That action had netted her a wolf whistle from an unknown admirer and a sputtering, indignant son.
So she understood what had prompted his concerns. But the scenario he feared would likely never happen. Not only did she have no interest in any sort of relationship at this point in her life, she had no doubt she could put any would-be Lotharios in their place should the need arise.
"Honey, I appreciate your concern. Truly. I don't want you or your sister to worry about me at all. I can take care of myself."
"Mother, I don't think you fully understand what it is I'm trying to say, here."
"Sure I do. You're worried I'm going to be dragged off to bed by some lust-crazed, testosterone-driven cowboy. Relax, Kyle, it's not going to happen."
Her son's mouth opened and closed like a fish sucking plankton. The imp that had compelled Rebecca to deliberately shock him also urged her to laugh; meanwhile, her good angel stood back and tried to figure out just when she and Kyle had reversed roles.
Additional ticket agents opened, and the line ahead of her began to move more quickly. In just a few minutes, Rebecca had her boarding pass and Kyle his composure.
"Sweetheart, if I could raise you to be such a fine young man, and your sister to be such successful, independent young woman, I can surely look after myself for the next few months."
"I know, Mother. I'm just a worrier. And I love you."
"I love you, too, honey," she said as she gave him a quick hug. She resumed her walk, with Kyle resuming his pace beside her.
"Don't forget to write."
"Couple times a week."
"Once a week."
"Bye!" With a final wave Rebecca showed her ticket to the security guard on duty at the entrance to the boarding gates.
An hour later she boarded the plane. As she took her seat Kyle's worried face came to mind. How sweet of him to consider her attractive enough that she'd have to worry about fighting off ardent admirers! But she recalled vividly how many candles had been on her last birthday cake. The truth of the matter was that even if that ranch had a handsome cowboy on staff, it was highly unlikely he would even look at her twice.
* * * *
Rafe Lassiter looked, and then looked again. His heart gave a little catch, his libido began to stir and he inhaled deeply. In the next instant he forced himself to relax.
Of course the angel approaching the information desk couldn't be his guest. Wishful thinking that, brought on by what felt like hours of waiting.
However, he had already decided that Mrs. Scott had to be somewhere in her fifties, a little plump, probably dowdy, and most certainly myopic.
As a matter of fact he'd bet she bore an amazing resemblance to Miz Campbell, his eighth grade teacher.
The vision drawing nearer was as different from Miz Campbell as night from day. His eyes took inventory. She was encased in the most alluring jeans he had ever seen stretched over long, long legs and womanly hips. The blue of her silk blouse matched her eyes. Had he ever before noticed how well silk clung to the curves of a woman's breasts? He didn't think so.
Then his eyes moved up to her face. Sweet. Her smooth, almost pixie-like features appealed to him in a profoundly arousing way. Her lips, wet and full, urged him to sweep her into his arms and taste them.
Of course with his luck some six-foot-six linebacker of a husband would appear and punch his lights out.
It would almost be worth it.
Her long brown hair swayed as she walked, and Rafe had the sudden image of that hair spread out across his pillow, or curtaining him as she rose above him.
He closed his eyes, determined to defeat the physical effects his daydreaming had invoked. He didn't usually indulge in fantasies. Of course, he didn't usually waste a day driving into Denver to pick up a dude, either.
The 'dudes' were his brother Robert's responsibility. Rafe usually stayed as far away from them as humanly possible, as did his other brother, Travis. But aside from having instituted the dude program at the ranch, Robert also served as the ranch's veterinarian--the profession he'd trained for. And right now he was back at the ranch helping one of Rafe's favorite horses, Shadow, through an unexpectedly difficult labor.
Rafe let go of the frustration threatening to swamp him. He and his youngest brother had merely traded places for the day. It all fell under the heading of ranch business, after all.
Rafe frowned. Perhaps Travis' accusation that Rafe had become obsessed with the ranch had some basis in fact. When had that happened? When had caring for his heritage become so germane to his existence that half a day spent away from his land would cause him to become so stressed? Whenever that had happened within the last few years, he didn't really think he needed to worry about it much. There were worse things a man could lose himself to than his work.
Rafe left his introspection behind as he scanned the people milling about the terminal. Not a one of them looked like his dude. He hoped he found her soon. He wanted to get home and see how Shadow was doing.
He turned his attention back to the angel who had caught his eye earlier just as she turned hers to him.
She smiled, changed course slightly, and approached him.
"Are you from the Lassiter Ranch?"
Rafe swallowed hard, tipped his hat and nodded.
"Oh, good! I'm Rebecca Scott," the vision said, holding out her hand.
Rafe continued to smile at her for a long moment. It occurred to him that perhaps he ought to say something.
"Miz Scott," he acknowledged, noting that his voice croaked worse than after a three-day binge.
"Please, call me Rebecca. And you are?"
Acting like an idiot. "Rafe Lassiter. Welcome to Colorado." He took her hand, but only briefly. He didn't need that kind of a jolt to his juices.
"Thank you. Am I the only guest you're picking up today?"
With supreme effort, Rafe sucked back the quip about one honey of a pick-up and instead said, "Yes, you're the only guest arriving today. Shall we get your luggage?"
The professionalism of his response pleased him. He planned to keep things just that way--professional. His resolve lasted until Rebecca bent over to retrieve her one, albeit very large bag from the luggage carousel.
Only his iron will--and the likelihood of a slap--prevented him from reaching out and caressing the enticing bottom before him.
"Only one bag? Aren't you staying for the entire summer?"
Amazing how he had forgotten that little fact until now. He swallowed hard. If he had to spend from now until September watching Rebecca's tempting backside, something was going to give.
"I don't believe in carting along a whole lot of stuff," Rebecca said as she turned to face him. "What you bring on vacation you have to look after and I have no intention of spending the next few months doing huge loads of laundry."
"I am a sensible woman, for the most part."
Rafe, her luggage in hand, quirked one eyebrow and asked, "For the most part?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
He couldn't help but chuckle. "Yes, ma'am, you sure are."
* * * *
It would be a three and a half hour drive to the ranch, Rafe informed her as he loaded first her luggage, and then her into his truck.
"Are you hungry?"
"No, I ate on the plane, so I'm good for a bit. I wouldn't mind a cup of coffee, though. The tiny cups the airlines use are laughable. I'm afraid I've developed a bit of an addiction for the brew."
"In that case you're in luck. There's always a fresh pot of coffee on the stove at home. It is one of the most sacred of ranch traditions."
Rafe piloted the vehicle through a coffee shop drive-through close to the airport, just by the on-ramp to the Interstate. And then they left Denver behind, traveling through some of the most breath-taking scenery Rebecca had ever seen.
Not counting the man beside her, of course.
She was glad the Rockies afforded her the excuse she needed to keep her eyes trained elsewhere than inside the cab of the truck. She needed a little more time to get her equilibrium back.
She felt shaken to her core. In the year since Jacob died, she'd not noticed another man in that special woman-man way. Nor had she all the years they had been married. If anyone had asked her even a few days ago, she would have asserted with utter confidence: that part of her life had ended with her husband's death. Hadn't she just assured her own son of the same thing this very morning? Yes, she knew men had a tendency to look her way or occasionally whistle. But neither of those actions had ever touched her.
What a shock it had been to look into Rafe's obsidian eyes and feel herself beginning to drown, to inhale his scent, fresh soap and pure man, and feel the bottom drop out of her stomach and her world, to brush against him innocently as she got into the truck and feel her nipples tighten in arousal.
Covertly, she stole a peek at him out the corner of her eye. Big, powerful and gorgeous. She hoped she didn't embarrass herself and drool.
She wondered how old he was.
There's a sobering thought. His features caught the eye, nearly putting the breath-taking scenery outside her window to shame. But she would bet she was at least ten years older than he.
The heat of embarrassment burned her face. She fixed her attention out the window once more. Good heavens, what had gotten into her? Lusting after a younger man, like one of those Cougars she'd read about! How pathetic!
She'd come to Colorado to break the stagnant pattern of her existence, to experience something new, something different. To learn about a way of life completely unknown to her.
Well, lusting after the first cowboy she met certainly met all the above criteria.
Oh, no! What if she was going through a mid-life crisis and this was just the beginning? What if she began to lust after every cowboy she met? What if she did more than just lust?
"This is your first time, isn't it?"
"Pardon?" She almost choked on her coffee.
"You seem entranced by the mountains. I thought this must be your first time seeing them."
Rebecca smiled and told herself that her brain had been just a little addled from jetlag.
She turned her attention back to the question at hand. "Yes, it is. I've longed to see them all my life. They're even more beautiful than I imagined."
Rafe smiled and then his expression sobered. "Beautiful," he agreed, "but deadly if you don't know and respect them. It's vital for you to know there's one ranch rule set above all the others: No riding off alone."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Rebecca said, turning her attention fully to him. "To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not certain, even given nearly four months, if I'll be able to learn to ride a horse. It's something I've never tried before, and I haven't tried anything new in years. Besides, having raised two children into adulthood I have a healthy respect for rules."
"Glad to hear it. Because there are other safety precautions we insist our guests take. Before we get to the ranch we have to go through the town of Barstow. They have a dry goods store there, and we'll be stopping to get you a hat. Unless, of course, you have one packed in your luggage?"
Rebecca shook her head. "No, I don't, which is stupid, really. I never go outside for any length of time at home without one."
"Nah, it's not stupid. Only one guest ever thought ahead to bring his own hat." He shot her a sideways grin. "Looked like Hoss Cartwright."
The image his words invoked made her chuckle. "How long have you been receiving guests at your ranch?"
"Three years, now. My brother Robert came up with the idea, and for the most part he runs it."
Since Rafe seemed at ease with her questions, Rebecca saw no reason not to feed her curiosity. "Why take in guests? Doesn't it get in the way of ranching? And yes, I know how silly that sounds, coming from me."
"No, it's a valid question. After our dad died, we all came home to look after the ranch. We discovered what we had pretty much suspected--he'd not done a real good job taking care of things financially. We knew we had a lot of hard work and belt tightening ahead of us to get the place back into shape. Then one day, Robert came back from a trip into Denver. He told us about meeting a couple on their way to a dude ranch. What had our eyes popping out was the money they had paid for the privilege."
When he shot her a look of embarrassment, she laughed. "Go on, I'm not offended."
"Well, no way Travis--he's my other brother--and I wanted to switch entirely from cattle to dudes. But we figured that if we took in a few guests each year it might be enough to improve our cash flow and help us to become solvent again."
"Smart. Is it working?"
"It is. Between the guests and the modifications we've made to the operation, we're not only solvent but thriving."
"And still taking in guests?"
"It hasn't turned out to be as much of a pain in the ass as we'd feared. No offense."
"Also--and please don't tell Robert I said this because I will never live it down--there's something special about sharing the land, the history and the way of life that has been a part of our family for generations. There are those who say that our way of life is nearing its end. Perhaps in our small way we're helping to preserve it."
"I wouldn't be in the least surprised."
"Now turnabout is fair play. Tell me about Rebecca Scott."
"There isn't much to tell. I'd bore you, you'd fall asleep behind the wheel and we'd crash."
Rafe chuckled. "I've got pretty good staying power. Besides, I can't believe that a woman who would travel all the way from New York to stay for the entire summer on a ranch in the middle of Colorado is the boring sort."
"You don't usually have women guests?"
"Oh sure, all the time. Tag-along wives who are indulging their husband's fantasies."
Rebecca absorbed that and acknowledged to herself that she had been just such a wife. Jacob had loved their annual vacations, especially if the resort had a casino attached to it. Those precious weeks every year had been the only time he'd allowed himself to do anything even remotely risky. To her, every resort had resembled the last. But she had gone along, indulging him, because she'd loved him.
She gazed out the window and realized with a bit of a start that for the first time it really was her turn.
"I guess I'm the one with the fantasy," she said softly. "I just wanted ... no, needed something totally different."
"How long has your husband been gone?"
It didn't surprise Rebecca he knew she'd been widowed. She recalled mentioning that to Robert when she'd booked her vacation. "Thirteen months."
"You must still miss him."
Rebecca took a sip of coffee then relaxed more fully in her seat. Thoughts of how empty the house had been in the last few months swamped her. Though her eyes remained dry, a deep sadness welled up. "Yes, I do. We nearly celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary. We got married right after my high-school graduation. I worked while he finished first university, then law school. But once he made the bar and began to practice, I became a stay-at-home mom. We had our kids right away, which in one sense was foolish. We really struggled those first few years."
"I bet you did. But you made it all work out in the end."
"Yeah, we did."
"So, tell me about your kids."
"Cynthia is twenty-three, pursuing her lifelong dream of being a model. She lives in New York City and is having some success. Kyle, my first-born, lives in Albany about five blocks from me. He's an accountant." She shot Rafe a serious look. "I have a feeling that he and his wife, Janet, are going to make me a granny in the not-too-distant future."
"No way. You don't look anywhere near old enough to be a granny."
"Ancient," Rafe agreed solemnly. Too solemnly. She saw the corner of his mouth twitch and raised her fist, ready to give him a mock slug in the arm.
"Don't do it, honey. At the speed we're going, we'd skid off the road."
"Honey?" she repeated, testing the word out on her tongue as she lowered her hand.
"Yeah. Since you've only got four years on me, I don't feel right calling you ma'am."
Four years? This gorgeous hunk of cowboy was forty years old? Rebecca forced her attention away from him and swallowed hard. Kyle's speech about a woman alone and cowboys reverberated in her mind.
She had the sinking feeling that her son might just get the last laugh, after all.
* * * *