River Road (River's End Series, #4)

 

 

River Road

 

by

 

 

Leanne Davis

 

 

River’s End Series, Book Four

www.leannedavis.net

Copyright

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

River Road

COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Leanne Davis

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Contact Information:
[email protected]

Publishing History First Edition, 2016 Digital

Digital ISBN: 978-1-941522-36-3

River’s End Series, Book Four

Edited by Teri at The Editing Fairy (
[email protected]
)

Copy Editing:
[email protected]

Cover Design by Steven Novak (
[email protected]
)

Dedication
:

 

For Keith Stuhr

Every time I’m at The Property I keep expecting you to walk across the lawn swinging a golf club.

Or at the very least to be bugging me to get my butt out of bed to go golfing with you at Alta Lake.

Thank you for all of the memories and summers I will cherish for the rest of my life.

 

 

Other Titles by Leanne Davis

Diversions

 

River’s End Series

River’s End

River’s Escape

River’s Return

River Road

 

The Sister Series

The Other Sister

The Years Between

The Good Sister

The Best Friend

The Wrong Sister

The Years After

The Broken Sister

 

Daughters Series

Christina

Natalie

 

The Zenith Trilogy

Zenith Falling

Zenith Rising

Zenith Fulfilled

 

The Seaclusion Series

Poison

Notorious

Secrets

Seclusion

 

 
Author’s Note:

 

I took some creative liberties in how it’s portrayed the foster care system so easily and speedily brought Cami Reed to live with her father. The paternity and guardianship issues are portrayed with some discrepancies to reality in order to keep the story moving forward and the conflict high.

 

Chapter One

 

KATE MORGAN FOLLOWED THE curves of the road while a large knot formed inside her stomach. She imagined birthing labor must feel something like this. Not that
she’d
ever know. But still, she was convinced her nerves were mimicking the pain. She ignored the bile that nearly climbed up her throat as her pretty, little sports car came to a stop in front of a log home. It was perched on a mound like a king upon his throne, lording over the land that rolled and swayed all around it. The river glinted so brightly, it almost blinded her with white-gold. She could not believe she was doing this. Nor could she believe how she found herself in this situation.

How could her mom keep that kind of secret? She really didn’t know the answer, much less, understand; and that pain, perhaps more than her nerves, made her stomach knot and cramp to the point she couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten a real meal.

Inhaling a deep breath, she kept trying to pep talk herself into opening the car door and stepping out. She was strong enough to handle this. She had to do it. She was not responsible for the situation. Her mother was.

Damn her mother.

Why then, did the very thought of her mother, now dead, nearly cut her in half? It made the knot in her stomach sharpen like a knife before twisting inside her gut and taking her breath away.
Oh, Mom, how could you do this to me? But I miss you. So much…

Don’t cry. Not now. Now wasn’t the time for grief, knowing she’d never see her mom again. She’d never learn the answers for why her mom would keep such a secret. Or what she was supposed to do about it.

She had no idea if coming there was right or wrong. Nothing felt right or wrong anymore. She didn’t know if her grief-stricken brain was still even capable of making the proper decision. But here she was…in the middle of freaking nowhere, at a dusty ranch with not a soul around. At least, none that she could see. Lousy, piece of crap location.

So, grabbing the handle on her convertible two-seater, she climbed out. She had long legs. Ridiculously long. Standing damn near six feet tall, she never once slumped her shoulders to lessen her stature. She was proud and sure of every damn inch of herself.

At least, she was until today. Now, the thought of going to a strange house and introducing herself as the long-lost sister to its owner managed to make her usual confidence waver just a smidgeon.

Shit. What could anyone say to that? As far as she could read the situation, Mr. Jack Rydell, her
half-brother,
wouldn’t know she even existed or consider the possibility. Same way she felt about him. Until two weeks ago.

She shook her head. Not now. She could not enter the psyche of her dead mother in order to figure out why she would have kept such a secret. Even worse, how could her mother abandon her own son? Turning her back on him as if he were an annoying cat or dog or guinea pig she no longer wanted?

Maybe he was a horrible kid and man? Maybe he was a serial killer in the making and she kept him a secret just to protect Kate. Could that be? Glancing around, Kate gave the ranch a passing grade. They weren’t destitute. She sniffed; that didn’t mean anything. There had to be some kind of compelling reason why this Jack Rydell was always kept from her. And why her mother ran from this place, literally never once looking back or returning or even mentioning it.

Perhaps it was the smell? A gust of wind tinged with the earthy scent of horses and manure wafted up her nose. She nearly gagged. She hated farm animals. Along with farms. Ranches. Chickens. Goats. Cows. Horses. Anything country. She grew up in a condo overlooking Elliott Bay in Seattle, and lived in a different condo in Fremont now, but a condo, never the less. Hell, the world needed farms and farmers and all that stuff; and she proudly bought only locally grown, sustainable, organic products from Pike Place Market. But she turned her nose up at living on a farm. No way. Uh-uh. Definitely not for her.

She slipped her sunglasses off and stared up at the ranch house. Nothing. No movement. Damn it. She—

“Excuse me, ma’am, I think you turned off at the wrong road. The resort is the next driveway.”

Ma’am?
Kate froze in horror over hearing the expression directed at her, rather than being startled by the unexpected deep voice that interrupted her surveillance. She spun around and cast her gaze right smack on the chest of a man. It was impossible not to stare at the broad chest, as it was bare and gleaming in a sheen of sweat. Her gaze descended instead of rising, and she couldn’t help noticing how low the light blue jeans rode over his lean hips. A large, silver belt buckle was the only distraction from his perfect abdominal wall. The voice, however, didn’t totally match the chest. His voice was quiet, almost soft and so respectful with the
ma’am
attached to it.
Ma’am?
She lifted her glaring eyes to inspect the man’s face. He probably had a good half inch on her. Maybe. She could totally eclipse him in heels, or even just a good pair of boots. It was impossible to get much of an impression. The white cowboy hat he wore was pulled down low over his forehead and deliberately shielding his eyes. His jaw was under its shadow, but she didn’t fail to notice the square cut of it. Almost to the point of being boxy. His mouth was flat and his nose hooked slightly to the left as if it had had a bad break at some point. Interesting face, but not perfect. Not even all that handsome.

She mentally bitch-slapped herself for gawking at the man. He was her brother! Gross.
God, Mom! How could you not tell me?
she kept wondering.

“Are you Jack Rydell?”

An infinitesimal smile tugged at the man’s mouth and he grunted his reply, which she took to mean “as if.” The man lifted a hand to the brim of his hat where the white was grayed, no doubt, by the man’s dirty hands often doing that very move. He tilted the hat back far enough so his eyes could totally meet hers. They were a bright hazel that glowed against the dark tan of his skin. She caught a glimpse of sandy-colored hair. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m not Jack. Mr. Rydell isn’t here right now. You’re not looking for the resort then?”

There it was again.
Ma’am.
How the hell old did she look to this cow hick? Forty? He had to be riding close to thirty and she was just barely past it. Resort? What resort? What the hell was he talking about?

“Uh… yeah. Sure. Of course. Jack Rydell runs it, right?”

“He and his wife, and all his brothers.”

Brothers? She didn’t know he had other siblings. “Are you one of them?”

His eyes never left hers, and she felt something shift in her stomach. It changed from a dull ache to butterflies. There was no mistaking the connection and electricity between them. Her breathing instantly sounded thicker and raced faster while her hands grew moist in a new kind of anxiety. He was hot. Harsh face or not, the man’s body created an irresistible urge inside her to lick and caress it.

“No. I’m AJ Reed, their ranch foreman. I have nothin’ to do with the resort. You’ll want to go back out to the River Road and take a left. The resort’s driveway is just a half mile down it. You won’t miss the sign for Rydell River
Resort
.”

Instead of the Rydell River Ranch. Yeah, confusing much? At least, it made her look legitimate. Resort, huh? Could she stay there? Instead of just popping into the Rydell home with,
Gee, I think I’m your sister, Jack?
Maybe a stay at the resort was a better plan after all. She could scope things out. See what Jack Rydell was like and if it was worth even informing him about their shared mother. She suspected there was something gross, or off about him, which was why her mother kept so silent. Perhaps she could stake him out, and see what was up.

And not only that, but maybe she’d like a quick joy ride on the fine-looking specimen of a cowboy standing before her. Her insides started to hum at that salacious thought. Yeah, maybe… a little game of giddy-up with Mr. AJ Reed.

“What does a ranch foreman do?” she asked, her gaze sliding with captivated interest from his eyes to the angular lines of his body. He wore brown cowboy boots under the scruffy jeans. Nothing finer in her opinion than a working man in a tight pair of ripped jeans. Sigh. Women had to go designer and risk breaking their ankles in heels, and men? All they needed was a nasty pair of jeans and look at him! Undiluted sexual perfection.

At least, that’s how he appeared to her. No man she ever knew walked around at two o’clock in the afternoon looking like
that.
The thought made her almost snicker out loud. Imagine Greg Danners, her co-worker and current fling, walking around her office with his shirt off, letting the sweat and dust glisten off him instead of wearing his usual black suit and neatly coiffed hair.

Resort, huh? Yes, she could use a vacation. She could work from there. Internet made life workable almost anywhere.

“Does this resort have internet and all that?” She glanced at the surrounding mountains with a glare of disgust. Stupid, confining mountains! They were tall enough to possibly block off any signals for the internet, although she didn’t know exactly how things in damn, rural hick-hell ran.

He nodded. “All the amenities.”

“A pool?”

“Well, no, there’s no pool. But the river’s right there,” he nodded off towards it.

“Ick. Who knows what kind of bugs and yucky stuff are in it?”

“Probably a whole lot less harmful than chlorine,” he replied dryly.

“But I can get online. Right? It’s not dial-up or something backwards like that, is it? I need a high speed modem.”

“Uh… sure?” His eyes started to dim as his gaze skittered away from hers. Despite her ceaseless drilling, she suspected he didn’t actually know the answer, but he didn’t want to push a potential customer away.

“Well, back to River Road then, huh? Pretty easy address for you all, isn’t it? 1227 River Road, River’s End, Washington?”

His eyes returned to hers. “Yeah,” he mumbled, adding, “longest one I’ve ever had.” His gaze again left hers. Was he shy? She studied his face, and he never once looked back at her. He seemed unsure of what to do under her intense scrutiny. He shuffled the weight of his hips over his feet, and kept shifting from one foot to the other. Was it merely embarrassment? Or was he painfully shy? Such bashfulness seemed a stretch for a specimen of man like him. He could give her a hot flash and make her think she was in early menopause just by looking at him. Imagine a guy like him being shy! He could blind a woman with the sheer bulk of his shoulders and the perfect U-shape of his pecs. Hot. Hot. Hot. Lick him up and down, that kind of hot. Yet he was so soft-spoken as he nervously shifted his feet? Something didn’t fit.

“Well, I’d best get back to it before Mr. Rydell returns.”

“Back to what? Again, what
does
a ranch foreman do?”

“Uh, anything and everything. Right now, we’re thinning the orchard. I’m overseeing that.”

“So you’re a farmer too, huh?”

His smile was small as he glanced at her and then away. “Sure. Whatever needs doing.”

Sounded like a good guy to have around. He obviously had no airs about what he should or should not be doing. He turned and said, “Ma’am, have a nice stay.”

“Oh, I will,” she said, smiling at his back, already deciding he would play a definite part in her
nice stay.

She turned back to the house and saw no more movement. Okay, on to the resort. She was anxious to see who Jack Rydell really was and what the hell he was all about. Then she’d decide whether or not to divulge the fact that she was his half sister.

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