Rich Rancher's Redemption

By: Maureen Child

CHAPTER ONE


It had been two weeks since the funeral that…wasn’t. Jesse Navarro still felt like the world had shifted beneath his feet. But, he assured himself silently, that was probably the normal thing that happened when your brother walked into his own damn funeral.

He frowned into the afternoon sun and told himself it wasn’t easy to hold a fancy funeral when the guest of honor shows up. Alive. He pushed one hand through his hair and muttered, “Just be grateful, for God’s sake.”

And Jesse was. Grateful. Hell, he had his brother back. But he also had a damn mystery to solve. And Jesse didn’t like mysteries.

If Will Sanders was alive and just now showing up in Royal, Texas, then whose ashes had been in the urn they’d believed was Will’s? And who the hell was the guy who’d pretended to be Will for all those long months? And why did he do it?

“No,” Jesse said aloud, “I know why he did it. The money.” Hell, the Sanders name carried a lot of weight and not just in Texas. So the bastard had tried to cash in on Will’s name and had done a damn fine job of it, too. It wasn’t just Will’s name he’d stolen. He’d had Will’s face. Had his movements, his smile, down cold. He’d fooled Will’s family.

Hell. He’d fooled Jesse.

That was a hard pill to swallow. Somehow, Jesse felt disloyal for not spotting the damn imposter the minute he’d shown up at the family ranch. How had he been duped? In his own defense, Jesse could admit that “Will” hadn’t spent much time with the family. He’d avoided too much closeness and at the time, Jesse had just figured his brother had a lot on his mind.

Which, of course, he had. Or, the impostor had. The man had worked nonstop to keep up the illusion.

Jesse shifted his gaze to the main ranch house. A sprawling white mansion, it looked nothing like what you’d expect a ranch house to be. It was massive, elegant. All white but for the black shutters at the windows, the house boasted a wide, columned front porch and dormers on the second floor, and at night, the lights made it shine like heaven.

And somewhere inside that massive house, was the real Will Sanders. There were a couple of cars out front, and Jesse’s gaze narrowed on one of them. It was a beat-up, faded green Honda with Nevada plates, and the woman who’d driven it was inside. With Will.

The woman, Jillian Norris, didn’t fit her car. A woman like that belonged in a Porsche. Or at the very least a classic Mustang convertible. During all the chaos since Will’s return, Jillian had somehow become a friend of Jesse and Will’s sister Lucy, so she’d been at the ranch a few times. And every damn time, Jesse was slapped with an instant blast of heat that nearly swamped him. He’d spoken to her a few times, and her low, sultry voice had seemed to thrum in his blood, making it steam and sizzle in his veins.

He scowled at the distant horizon, telling himself that if he had any sense at all, he’d steer clear of Jillian Norris. Apparently though, common sense had nothing to do with what his body was demanding. Instantly, Jesse’s mind drew up an image of Jillian and everything in him tightened. Shaking his head, he could admit to himself, at least, that it had been that way from the first minute he’d seen her at the funeral.

Drop dead gorgeous, with curves that could bring a strong man to his knees, Jillian Norris had mile-long legs and bright hazel eyes that looked both wounded and defiant. An interesting mix that had drawn Jesse in from the beginning. At the memorial service, she’d stood at the back with her baby girl. Yes, she had a daughter, about two. A miniature version of herself, with big hazel eyes, white-blond hair and a wide smile.

Jesse’d wondered, of course, who the hell the woman was and why she was at Will’s memorial service. But then Will had strolled in, asked What the hell is going on? And suddenly there were much bigger questions that needed answering.

“And two weeks later, I’ve still got questions.” Jesse shook his head, slapped one hand on the top bar of the corral fence, then squeezed the plank of wood hard enough it should have snapped in two.

His little brother was back from the dead and he was grateful for it. But there were gaps in Will’s memories, leaving the family wondering exactly what had happened to him while he was missing. Naturally, Will wondered too, Jesse reminded himself, but somehow, it was harder to be on the sidelines. Hell, it was making Jesse crazy knowing there was nothing he could do to fix this situation. He was the older brother and he was used to riding to the rescue.

This time, though, no one had known a rescue was required and there had been nowhere to ride.

Chaos had erupted at the funeral, with Jesse’s mother shrieking Will’s name and flinging herself, followed closely by Lucy, into the man’s arms. Will had looked at Jesse for an explanation, but he’d been too glad to see his brother to find the words—and didn’t know if the right words had existed anyway.

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