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The Rancher's Secret Heir

Written by Maureen Child

Chapter Four

One week later, JT was wondering if he’d done the right thing, insisting that Emily and the baby move in with him.

Getting to know his daughter was worth it, he told himself. He’d never thought to have a family of his own, yet he couldn’t imagine life without Lorelai now. It was her mother who was driving him to distraction. She talked too much, laughed too loud and seemed to leave pieces of herself all over his house.

And why did she have to smell so good?

He leaned both forearms on the top rail of the corral fence and watched as Matt put one of the horses through its paces. The big black took the turns around the barrel like a sports car clinging to a hairpin curve on a dangerous road. With a burst of speed, the horse jumped ahead, charging to the next barrel and then the final. JT clicked his stopwatch and smiled. “Good time,” he called to Matt.

The cowboy rode over, patting the horse’s long, elegant neck. “He loves it.”

“It shows.”

When a flashy red sports car zoomed up the drive and came to a stop with a cloud of gravel and dirt spitting up behind it, both men turned. Matt whistled, low and long, then said, “You’re on your own, boss.”

“Coward,” JT muttered as Matt left at a fast walk. And he idly wondered if he could disappear, too, rather than deal with the woman already climbing out of her car.

A gorgeous redhead in a tight black sweater, tighter black jeans and boots with three-inch heels got out and flashed a smile.

“Hi there, JT.”

“Shauna,” he said grimly. “You’re early.”

“Couldn’t wait.” She tossed her hair back. “Had to see my horse and looks like you’ve got him all ready for me.”

“I do.” JT couldn’t pick his customers, but if he could, he surely wouldn’t have chosen Shauna Winter. The woman was beautiful, cold as her last name and impossible to discourage.

She sashayed up to him, laid one hand on his upper arm and leaned into him. A heavy floral scent flavored his breath and he couldn’t help but compare it to the light, haunting scent that clung to Emily.

“My daddy’ll have the horse trailer here this afternoon.”

“That’ll be fine.” JT stepped back, but she moved with him, clinging to him like a burr in a horse’s mane.

“Y’know, JT, you and me should go out and do some celebrating.” Her wide green eyes looked up at him. “I’m gonna win a lot of contests on that horse, thanks to you.”

JT felt like a deer caught in a hunter’s scope. She’d been after him for a long time, and just to get it out of the way, he’d actually taken her out a year ago. A two-hour dinner that had bored him blind. “Yeah, thanks, but I’m busy.”

“With what?”

“With me.”

Emily walked toward them with long, swift strides. She’d been in the great room when she’d spotted the redhead making a move, so Emily had hurried out to intercept. It wasn’t like she had the right to pry the woman off JT, but while she was living with him, damned if she’d stand there and watch.

“Who’re you?” The woman’s gaze swept her up and down, and Emily knew how she looked. Blue jeans, gray sweater, blond hair in a tangle of curls and no makeup. Great.

“This is Emily,” JT blurted before she could speak. He dropped one arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. “My fiancée.”


Emily was as shocked as the redhead, but somehow she managed to hide it. She couldn’t disguise her pleasure though and didn’t bother trying. “I’m also the mother of his daughter.”

Shauna’s horrified gaze locked on JT. “You have a daughter?”

Emily plucked Shauna’s hand off of JT’s arm and dropped it as if it were dirty. It felt good to claim him as her own, even if it wasn’t real.

But could it be? Could they somehow build a future out of a shaky past and a tenuous present? Just the thought was enough to send a flood of warmth streaming through her.

“Well, hell, JT,” the redhead said slowly. “You do know how to keep a secret.”

“Not a secret,” he told her. “Just private.”

Well, that gave the other woman pause and she didn’t look too happy about it. “That’s plain enough, I guess.”

“Em and Lorelai have been away for a while, but they’re home now,” JT said.

Home? God that sounded so good to Emily, she couldn’t stop a smile from curving her mouth. She didn’t know why he’d claimed she was his fiancée—he could have gotten rid of Shauna without the lie. So maybe, she told herself, there was more to this two weeks than she thought. Confused, but enjoying the sensation of his body pressed along hers, Emily moved into him, wrapping her arm around his waist.

“Nice of you to drop by,” she said to the redhead. “And really good to meet one of JT’s friends. But Lorelai’s wanting her daddy, so...”

“Right.” Shauna stepped nimbly back, retreating from both the situation and the gleam in Emily’s eyes. “Okay then. Thanks again for training him, JT. We’ll have him picked up later today.”

“We’ll be here,” Emily said pointedly.

“Yeah,” Shauna said with a knowing nod of reluctant respect. “I see that.”

Once she was gone, JT looked down at Emily. “Thanks for the rescue. That woman’s been dogging me for nearly two years.”

“You poor man,” Emily said wryly. “It must have been hell for you.”

A reluctant smile curved his mouth. “Yeah, I feel the sympathy.”

He didn’t let her go and she made no move to step away.

“Why didn’t you just tell her you weren’t interested?” Emily asked and added silently, and why weren’t you interested?

“I tried.” He shrugged. “But Shauna only hears what she wants to hear. She made up her mind to go after me and nothing could push her off course.” He smiled. “Until you, that is.”

“That’s why the fiancée comment?”

He sighed and scrubbed one hand along the back of his neck. “Yeah. Sorry about that, but it worked. Scared her off. Or you did.” He grinned briefly. “You had some fire in your eyes when you came outside. Now, why’s that?”

He’d turned things around on her fast enough, hadn’t he?

She couldn’t tell him the truth, could she? Couldn’t admit that seeing that woman moving in on him had made her react instinctively to ensure the woman knew she didn’t have an open road to JT. Although, maybe Emily was wrong about that.

After a week of living with JT, seeing him every day, today was the closest she’d felt to him. And if she was honest about this, then she had to admit at least to herself that she hadn’t come to the ranch only for Lorelai’s sake. But to see if what they’d shared could still be alive and simmering.

Heaven knew that flame was still burning inside her. But what about JT?

“You didn’t look happy about her practically crawling all over you,” she said finally, “so I thought I’d help out.”

“Oh.” He released her, took a step back and Emily instantly missed the feel of his arm around her shoulders. “Well, like I said, thanks for the rescue. Shauna’s—”


“Good a word as any,” he agreed.

“You know she’ll talk about this,” Emily said, tipping her head back to look up at him. “Soon, everyone in Royal will hear about your fiancée.”

“Yeah.” He frowned thoughtfully.

Emily really wished she knew what he was thinking. Her own mind was racing from one scattered thought to the next, and she couldn’t seem to settle on anything beyond the simple truth that she loved being close to him again. Relished the feel of his arm around her shoulders. Was relieved that he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the fabulous redhead. But the reality was, Emily wasn’t JT’s fiancée and, sooner or later, that fact would come out.

“What’ll you tell everyone when Lorelai and I leave?”

He stared down at her and his almost-violet eyes looked deep, fathomless. “What if you just don’t leave?”

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About the author

When I started writing, I was just looking for a way to work and stay ...

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Maureen Child

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