Rebekah McCauley is back home after ten long years of living and working in New York City. She left the Big Apple under circumstances she’d rather not share with her family—not yet, anyway—and all she really wants is time to heal and recover from the mess she’d made of her life. Luckily, her grandparents’ Kentucky bluegrass farm, Wind Ridge, provides the safe haven she craves, and the solitude she needs to heal.
Collin Kramer, the fox hunter next door, seems determined to infiltrate that peace and quiet, and invade that safe haven—not only with his noisy fox hounds running amok over her land, but with his Alpha male, take-charge attitude running roughshod over her wounded heart.
But as Bekah softens to Collin’s conquest, he realizes his own toughened heart needs healed. And just when he thinks he has that conquered, as well, all hell breaks loose. Poisoned horses, gutted dogs, and a barn fire are only the beginning. When Bekah’s farm house burns to the ground too, they know someone means business. But who? And whose past, Bekah’s or Collins, has come back to haunt them?
Woodford County, Kentucky
“I’m going, Mama.”
Rebecca McCauley stood hands on hips in the center of her family’s kitchen watching her mother peel potatoes for supper.
“I’ve worked hard for it. I’m going.”
Her arms dropped to her sides as she moved across the kitchen. She stood next to her mother and observed the rhythmic movements of the knife skimming off potato skins. At once the rhythm stopped; her mother’s hands lowered to the sink. Becca looked to the older woman’s thin face and saw her staring at the curled peelings.
“You’ll never come back.”
Becca’s gaze fell to the sink. The skin sagged from her mother’s bony hands. They were rough, wrinkled and callused, sprinkled with brown age spots, nails chipped and broken—dry and hard. And old.
Becca had seen those hands peel at least a million potatoes. She’d seen them gently pull tender tobacco plants out of their beds, then swiftly separate the plants to be set with one hand, while she pushed another plant into a setter cup with the other faster than anybody around. She’d watched them make garden and chop weeds and bust open a feed sack with ease. She’d seen them gently pat her father’s shoulders after a long day in the fields, and then wipe away tired tears when she thought nobody was looking.
But Becca was always looking.
Yes, I’m leaving.
“I need you here, Rebecca.”
I guess you do. You need me to cook and clean and feed the chickens and tend garden and any of a dozen other chores that a woman does on a farm. You need me to talk to you, to share things with you—to be your daughter.
She looked into her mother’s eyes. A small tear balanced on one lid, daring to spill down her mother’s cheek. Becca placed an arm about her mother’s shoulders and felt them sag. Those shoulders, along with her father’s, had bore the brunt of their existence since before she was born.
Again, her gaze fell to the fingers still gripping the potato and paring knife. She folded her own hands around her mother’s, and she let the potato and knife rattle to the sink. The soft, supple young fingers soothed the older ones with their touch. Becca’s were graceful, artistic—hands made to curl around a paint brush or a pen, not pull plants or scrub floors. Her nails were well groomed, and although they had seen their share of dirt and paint under them, they were in no way abused as her mother’s.
In twenty years mine will look like that.
“The scholarship will pay for everything, Mama. Money won’t be a problem for you or Daddy. It’ll pay for tuition and books and meals and housing—anything else I need I’ll work for it. You know I’m a hard worker...and I will be back.”
When her eyes lifted to her mother’s face, Becca saw the horror there. Her mother stared at their hands, the smooth still childlike ones of the daughter, and her own dried up prunes—the lone tear began a silvery trail down her cheek. Maybe it was a memory or a daydream that occupied her thoughts, Becca wasn’t certain, but it held tight for several minutes.
“You’re only seventeen. And it’s so far away.”
“I’ll come back, Mama.”
A long silence followed. Her mother was struggling. She turned and looked deep into Becca’s eyes, perhaps seeing herself, or someone she once was or wanted to be. Slowly she turned back to the sink, picked up the paring knife and the potato, and began again.
Eyes closed, she gave a quick nod, and flew into the peeling rhythm again. Then for one last time, she stopped, rested against the sink and turned.
“You go and get that education. You go and make something of yourself, Rebecca McCauley. Lord knows I always knew this day would come. You’ve said ever since you were old enough to go to the fields that you couldn’t wait for the day to leave this farm. You’ve worked hard, got good grades, and now this scholarship—there’s no way I can say no. Much as I’d like to now, hear? It’s just that I can’t.
“You’ve always had big dreams. Your daddy and me and the boys will be fine. We’ll all be here digging in the dirt till the day we die, I ‘spect.”
She glanced off out the window, looking toward the fields. “No. No, you go be somebody.”
Becca watched her mother’s face. The lines around her eyes crinkled with each word. Her firm lips moved matter-of-fact and Becca knew she was holding back tears.
Her voice cracked. “Just promise me this. Don’t you ever forget where you came from, Rebecca McCauley. Don’t forget what you’re all about. You go to college. You get all that education you want and you make something outta yourself, but don’t forget your roots, Becca, don’t forget your roots.”
The last potato skinned, her mother rinsed her hands under the running water, made quick work of drying them on her apron, and then turned to tend to the other dinner preparations. Becca watched as her tired frame moved about the kitchen. She looked so much older that her forty-three years.
Don’t worry, Mama. I won’t forget.
The Calumet Club
“Son, I can’t tell you how pleased I am.”
The wine glasses tinkled as rims slightly touched. The toast was for him, a celebration. Kaulin Kramer fidgeted in his chair as he listened to his father’s praises. Too pleased. And his father never was too pleased with anything. But Kaulin wasn’t a fool. There was no conceivable way his father was going to give in that easy.
Veterinary school had been a trade-off for a double major in business administration. He had flown through the pre-vet program and had been accepted to Ohio State. He was to leave in August. That is, provided his father didn’t renege.
The running of the family business had been a sore spot since Kaulin was old enough to realize he wanted none of it—which was fairly young. He’d rarely seen his father growing up. The man took no time for pleasure, and little for family. He was the prime definition of a workaholic; his children were not a priority. No, the bloodstock insurance business, which his grandfather had started and his father had built into an empire, was never one of Kaulin’s favorite topics of conversation.
He loved his horses, his hounds, and the degree in Veterinary Science he was about to pursue was his only dream. That is, if he could pull tonight off without a hitch.
His father turned to Herb Kilpatrick, his closest friend. Herb and his wife Carolyn had been friends of the family for years. Kaulin’s mother and his two sisters Eileene and Jennifer rounded out the celebration party. Kaulin, the guest of honor, winced as his father spoke.
“Double major, you know Herb. Business and pre-vet.” His father had already downed the wine and was on to something a little harder. The bourbon made his face flush, enhancing his ruddy-faced complexion. Alcohol always had that effect on him. Kaulin’s shoulders slumped as he noted how his father emphasized the word business. “Don’t know what he’ll do with all that education though. Kind of seems a waste.” He turned directly to Kaulin, his face turning stony. “But he’s damned determined.”
Father and son locked gazes for several seconds. Kaulin could almost hear his father’s teeth grinding in rhythm to the slow blues tune playing in the background of the country club atmosphere. The lines in his face deepened. His jowl tightened as he set his jaw staring at Kaulin. His fifty-one years seemed like seventy when looking into his face. The liquor and the work and the stress had aged him far beyond his years.
Kaulin wanted none of it. “Father...”
“Kaulin?” His mother, obviously recognizing the signs of tension between father and son, quickly changed the subject. “Did you know that Amanda is back in town?”
Kaulin’s gaze stayed hooked with his father’s a slight moment longer, signaling that the subject was not closed. They would return to it eventually—likely sooner than his father realized. His attention focused on his mother.
“Amanda? Really?” Eileene rolled her eyes from across the table and Kaulin grinned. “Now when did she get back into
Amanda. Inches of flawless, golden skin and platinum hair swept across his mind’s eye. She was two years older than him, and when she was sixteen, at least ten years older in sexual experience.
Ah, Amanda. She had taught him well. The Kilpatricks would have died had they known his first sexual encounter had been at fourteen in their bedroom with their only daughter. Not to mention what his own parents would have thought.
He turned to Carolyn Kilpatrick. “Back from
so soon? I’d have thought France would suit her
“Oh, it did. A little too much I’m afraid. She’s running through her trust fund a mite more quickly that my daddy intended. Even though she’s twenty-four, I have some parental control until she’s thirty.” Carolyn screwed up her face and looked off past his shoulder. “I had to call the shots and order her home. Poor Daddy would be turning over in his grave had he known what she was doing with his money. Sometimes I think she used art school just as a pretense to live in
Kaulin arched his eyebrows, and then glanced at his mother’s warning look. She shook her head side to side and he knew he’d better not touch that one. Maybe Mother knows a whole lot more than I give her credit.
With a shuffling of soup bowls and salad plates, the waiter began serving the main course. The party settled down to eating, forks clanking softly on fine china, drinks refilled, a low hum of chatter around them, music playing softly in the background. His sisters, Eileene, the oldest at twenty-five and Jennifer, the baby of the family at eighteen, conversed softly among themselves. Kaulin, the middle child at twenty-two, was content to eat. He had no intention of crossing his father tonight, at least not here. If he could bear the tension around the table long enough this evening, he would settle the score in the morning. He was going to go to vet school whether he used his father’s money or not. He would work himself through if he had to. Plenty of people do it, he thought. I can do it. What he couldn’t do was live the rest of his life minding the family business. There was no way he was going to look seventy when he was fifty.
His mother’s screams woke him hours later. Images of Amanda’s silky body vanished from his head as he groggily shook off the erotic dream. Kaulin bolted upright and threw himself toward his bedroom door in one motion. His mother stood in the hallway, sobbing.
She slowly lifted one hand and pointed toward the open door of the master suite, her other hand covering her mouth. He saw Eileene by the bedside, the phone to her ear. As he cautiously walked down the hall and through the door, realization hit him. He knew what he would find. And he did.
His father lay in a heap on the bathroom floor, curled on his right side with his right arm pinned under him, his hand splayed upward across his chest. His father’s eyes were clamped tightly shut, his face contorted in frozen pain. Deep lines etched across the reddened, tightened, leathered skin. Kaulin leaned over him and touched his face. Ice cold. He’d lain there quite a while. No doubt he was gone.
Along the fringes of his mind he heard Eileene confirming information with 911. Time marched dizzyingly around him.
His father was dead.
A siren screamed softly in the background.
His father was dead.
Shards of his life drifted away.
His father. Was dead.