Authors: Leigh Greenwood
Someone Like You
A Night Riders Romance
NEW YORK CITY
For Irma Vinson. Great teachers
make all the difference.
A Whole New Woman
Maria allowed herself to kiss him back the way she’d been wanting to kiss him since the first time he’d kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed her body against his, and covered his mouth with a needy eagerness.
This new Maria wasn’t afraid to acknowledge what she wanted, wasn’t reluctant to demand that she get it. She didn’t wait for Rafe to deepen their kiss, ratchet up its intensity, or decide its length. Nor did she wait for him to pull her firmly against him so she could feel the hardness of his muscles, the breadth of his chest, the strength in his arms.
She tried to reason with this new Maria, to tell her that Rafe loved her, wanted to marry her, that they would have years to explore what it meant to be together as man and wife, but the new Maria wouldn’t listen. She wanted everything, and she wanted it now.
For a moment, she could feel Rafe hesitate, but she didn’t mean to let him pull away. With slow deliberation, she dropped her arms from around his waist, reached up and placed one hand on each side of his head. She brought his face toward her and let her tongue invade his mouth.
All hesitation on Rafe’s part stopped there.
Rancho los Alamitos, California
olores Jerry tossed aside the embroidery frame and surged to her feet. “I can’t believe Warren made Rafe his executor,” she complained for the thousandth time in the seven months since her husband’s death. She kicked at the small dog huddled against her skirts. “I thought he hated Rafe.”
“I don’t think Warren ever hated his son.” Maria de la Guerra didn’t look up from the piece of delicate lace she’d been working on for the last five weeks. “He never said so, but I think he regretted sending Rafe away.”
“You only think that because you didn’t hear what Rafe said to him before he left,” Dolores told her sister.
Maria knew what had been said. The servants had recounted the argument to her many times over the last nine years. But Warren’s actions of the last several years caused her to believe he’d regretted throwing Rafe out of the house. He’d never mentioned Rafe’s name when Dolores was present, but Maria had often come upon him staring at a miniature of Rafe taken when he was a young boy astride his first horse. It had appeared on Warren’s bedside table after years of being hidden in a cabinet with other reminders of Rafe.
“If the letter Rafe sent the lawyer is a reflection of his present feelings, I doubt he will come home,” Maria observed.
to come home.” Dolores threw herself down on a velvet-covered daybed. The little dog huddled against her feet. “Soon we won’t have any money to buy food.”
“It won’t come to that. The lawyer is empowered to make necessary decisions until Rafe returns.”
“That lawyer hates me. I swear it hurts him to give me my pitiful allowance. Do you know he had the nerve to suggest I use it to buy food? I barely have enough to dress myself.”
Dolores and Maria had been born into the wealthy and historically important de la Guerra family, but when their father lost his land to an upstart American who had successfully disputed the legality of their land grant, Dolores’s fiancé backed out of the engagement. The humiliation was compounded when Mrs. Jerry invited Dolores to be her companion. For a woman who’d been brought up to believe she deserved to be waited on hand and foot, being forced to become a glorified servant was the ultimate humiliation. After Mrs. Jerry’s death and Dolores’s subsequent marriage to Warren Jerry, Dolores had invited her sister to live at the ranch.
“I can use
allowance for food if necessary,” Maria volunteered.
“You don’t need to. You have control of the house hold accounts.”
Dolores had been happy to turn over the accounts and the house hold duties to her fifteen-year-old sister soon after Maria arrived, but she was furious when the lawyer wouldn’t return control of them to her after her husband’s death.
I’m only following the instructions in Mr. Jerry’s will
, Henry Fielder had told her.
Dolores lay back on the daybed, her arm over her eyes. “Rafe was so in love with me, he went crazy when I told him I was going to marry his father. Do you think I should marry him now that I’m free?”
Maria was used to her sister’s capriciousness, but this was a step beyond what she could accept. “After what happened, I think you should keep as far away from him as possible.”
“He’s much younger than his father and a lot better-looking.” Dolores smiled, petting the little dog who had
jumped up on the daybed with her. “Besides, I like being Mrs. Jerry a lot more than the widow Jerry.”
Rafe brought his horse to a stop on a ridge overlooking the big Cíbola Creek where it dropped into the valley below. He had never forgotten this view because it was one of his favorites. Unfortunately, it brought back a bitter memory as well. It was on this spot that he’d first told Dolores he loved her.
The letter in his pocket burned like a hot coal. He wished he had never responded to the newspaper ad requesting that anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of Rafe Jerry, son of Warren Jerry, contact the law offices of Henry Fielder in Cíbola, California. He hadn’t spoken to his father since he’d walked out of his house ten years ago, yet his father had made him sole executor of a ranch he’d inherited jointly with a half brother he’d never seen. He was a thirty-year-old bachelor. What could he have in common with a nine-year-old child?
“Where is your ranch?” asked Rafe’s closest friend, Broc Kincaid. During the Civil War, Broc had served with Rafe in a cavalry unit that conducted night raids on shipments of supplies, munitions, and gold. He’d come to California with Rafe in hopes of finding Laveau di Viere, the man who’d betrayed their unit to the Yankees.
“Down there.” Rancho los Alamitos land stretched as far as Rafe could see. “Everywhere. All of it.”
Broc’s eyes grew wide. “I can see thousands of acres from here.”
“My father owned more than two hundred thousand acres.”
Broc stared dumbfounded at the fertile acres stretching into the distance until they merged with the horizon. “How could you leave all this? It’s almost as beautiful as Tennessee.”
How could he explain that he didn’t want to be heir to a ranch worth millions, that he didn’t want to be the guardian of a half brother he didn’t know, that he wanted nothing to
do with a woman who decided she’d rather be his stepmother than his wife? He’d been happy ranching in Texas with some of the other men from his cavalry unit. The work was hard, but the bunk house was comfortable, the food good, and the friendship the kind that couldn’t be bought. Why would he give that up for the responsibility of a huge ranch, an undoubtedly spoiled child, and the conniving bitch who’d broken his heart?
Rafe hadn’t told anyone that Dolores—the woman he’d once loved—had seduced his father while he was grieving over the death of his wife, or that Rafe had been thrown out of the house because he couldn’t treat his stepmother with respect. As he gazed out over the lush acres, some of the anger inside him eased. He loved this place, and that was a large part of the reason he’d come back to California. To see the ranch again. “I didn’t leave the land.”
Broc shook his head. “Must have been something really bad to make you give up this.”
“I thought so at the time.” He hadn’t changed his mind, so why had he come back? Why had he
to come back?
“You going down there, or are we going to see if we can find any trace of Laveau?”
They had traveled up the coast of California, following the line of the old Spanish missions. They had found reports of Laveau in Monterey and San Francisco, but the traitor was always one step ahead of them.
“We’re going into town to see the lawyer first,” Rafe told Broc. “I hope he can explain why my father wrote that infernal will. When I walked out of here, I told him I never wanted to see this place again.”
“You’re his son,” Broc reminded him. “Naturally he’d want you to have your inheritance.”
Rafe had lost all desire for his inheritance ten years ago—his half brother could have it all. Rage burned hot within
him. He could feel the life he’d spent ten years building for himself slipping away. He was being drawn back into a quagmire of blighted love and shattered idealism, of lust, avarice, lies…and hate.
“He has another son, one he wanted more than me.” Rafe reminded himself he wasn’t angry at the boy. Even though his creation was the source of the enmity between Rafe and his father, the child was innocent. He would not judge this child until he’d seen him. It was possible he didn’t take after his mother. “The last words my father spoke to me were to order me out of the house.”
Broc turned his horse away from the cliff overlooking the ravine. “Apparently he changed his mind. Let’s head into town.”
Henry Fielder was middle-aged, gaunt, and inhabited a law office as small and cluttered as an old maid’s closet. Clean shaven and nearly bald, he looked at Rafe out of clear, piercing blue eyes. “You can’t turn everything over to me,” he said. “The will specifically states that you, and you alone, must be executor of the estate.”
Rafe had nothing against Henry Fielder, but he had never liked lawyers. They lived in a world of their own, creating rules no one else could understand. They said these laws benefitted the average citizen, but as often as not, a man discovered what he wanted to do was the one thing he