Rancher and Protector

By: Judy Christenberry

CHAPTER ONE




“I NEED to see Mr. Barton at once. It’s urgent.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but you need an appointment.”

“But I’ve come from Wyoming and I need to go back this evening. Please, can you just get me a few minutes?”

“What is your business in reference to?”

“I’m here about the ranch he thinks he’s buying.”

That sentence got Jason Barton’s attention. The door to his Denver architectural firm office stood open and he had heard the entire conversation between his secretary and the interloper. Normally he depended on Janice to deflect any unscheduled visitors, but in this case he hit the call button. “Janice, send the woman in.”

He didn’t think he was buying a ranch! He’d made a fifty thousand dollar down payment and was due to close the deal in two weeks. He watched the door, interested in seeing this person who thought differently.

A beautiful young woman appeared in the doorway, wearing a fashionable blue suit that displayed long legs and a trim figure. Her hair, auburn in color, was in some kind of fancy hairdo piled on her head. She exuded confidence as she entered his office.

“Mr. Barton?” Her voice was low, sexy.

He glared at her, refusing to be swayed by her appearance and tone. That had happened to him once before and the result had been devastating. “Yes?”

“I’m Rosemary Wilson. My father offered to sell our family ranch to you.”

As if to dismiss her, Jason remained seated, not offering his hand. “Ms. Wilson, I suggest you talk to your father. I’ve made a down payment to buy the Bar G ranch and we’re closing in two weeks.”

To his surprise, her eyes filled with tears. What happened to the self-assured woman from a moment ago?

“I can’t do that, Mr. Barton. My—my father died last week.”

He frowned, studying her face as she tried to regain composure. “I’m sorry for your loss, Ms. Wilson.” He paused. Then he said, “But I’m afraid that doesn’t cancel the contract.”

The young woman lowered her eyes, no doubt struggling to regain her composure. Jason took the moment to appreciate her appearance, though he missed her big hazel eyes. He wouldn’t be doing her bidding, but he wouldn’t mind spending some time with her. Aside from the hour at the closing, of course.

Acting impulsively, which he rarely ever did, he said, “We could discuss the situation over dinner this evening.”

She looked up at him and shook her head. “I have to get back to Wyoming this afternoon, but I could have lunch with you—if you’re free.”

Without responding to Ms. Wilson, he leaned forward and pressed the intercom. “Janice, get me a lunch reservation for two at the club.”

“Yes, sir.”

He looked up at his visitor. “If you’ll let me sign a couple of papers, I’ll join you out by Janice’s desk in five minutes.”

“All right.”

He watched her walk out of his office and called himself every kind of fool. But he told himself he wasn’t going to be taken in by another gold digger. He was just going to enjoy the company of a beautiful woman for a couple of hours. That was all this was.

And he certainly enjoyed entering the club with Ms. Rosemary Wilson on his arm a few minutes later. But once they were seated, she immediately began her plea.

“Mr. Barton, the ranch has been in my mother’s family for four generations—”

He held up a hand. “I think we should order first, Ms. Wilson, don’t you?”

She nodded, sitting back in her chair.

After the waiter took their orders and disappeared, Jason turned to her. “Now you can make your case.”

“But it won’t matter, will it?” she suddenly asked. “You have no intention of giving in to me.”

“Probably not.” He wouldn’t lie to her.

“Then why am I here?” she demanded, and pushed her chair back to leave.

“Because I got the impression that your family ranch mattered to you, and I’d hear you out in case it mattered to me.”

She stared at him and gradually relaxed in her seat again. “Very well. As I said, the ranch has been in my mother’s family for four generations and I had no idea my father had intentions of selling it. Please reconsider, Mr. Barton.”

He didn’t want to reconsider. He’d fallen in love with the ranch in the foothills of the Rockies, away from city life. Having been raised on a ranch, he treasured the idea of returning to that life one day. He could understand the pride in the tilt of her chin at keeping the same home for generations. Too bad his father had sold his family spread. He stared into her hazel eyes, seeing the determination there at war with the fear of losing the homestead, and he could feel his resolve wavering. He wasn’t so far gone that he didn’t realize how unlike him this was. Normally he was steel-willed, a visionary with the strength and fortitude to back it up. But there was something about Rosemary Wilson…

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