Sunday, 11 August 2013

Excerpt From Wild Fire

I think falling in love is the most wonderful thing that can happen to anyone and I really believe that everyone deep down wants to find that true love, the only one for them. Sometimes though we think we've found the right one, but it turns out to be the wrong thing. That certainly happened to me in my life before I met my husband. When it all falls apart, it can be so very painful and hard to overcome.
That's what happened to the hero in my first book, Wild Fire. He turns his back on love after a terrible betrayal. It takes a special woman and a little magic to turn things around for him. Please read below for an excerpt from my book and feel free to leave a comment. I would love reader feedback.
If you really love what you read, you can buy the whole book on any Amazon store. It is currently available as a Kindle Edition and I am in the process of bringing it out into print for those that don't like ebooks.


Kerry sat in her car and wondered for the hundredth time if she was doing the right thing. Jake was going to kill her when he found out. She wasn’t even sure if she could pull off the meeting without rousing suspicion. Her heart was pounding, her palms were sweating and she was shaking from head to toe.
 Taking a deep breath, she pulled up the internet on her phone and looked again at the website for The Fairy Tale Match. It seemed to promise so much; a guaranteed love match or your money back. Simple, right? Not in her case. She was meant to be her brother coming here to meet with Ms Feather about finding a love match. However, her brother didn’t have the faintest idea that he’d signed up to their website at all. Kerry had done it all. She’d entered his profile and she’d answered the corresponding emails that had come from the company. Now they wanted to meet to finalise details before sending a match to stay with him for three weeks.
Her stomach flipped and she clapped a hand over her midriff, trying to quell the nauseating twists it was currently doing. She took another deep breath. This was just what Jake needed, she told herself. Even if the woman didn’t turn out to be his perfect match, it could open up his mind to the possibility of finding someone new. But if the website could find someone he’d fall in love with, then maybe, just maybe, she’d get her brother back…….and maybe he’d forgive Dan.
 Her heart squeezed at the thought. Jake hadn’t spoken to Dan in over two years and neither had she. If things didn’t change, there was no chance she’d ever have of a happy ever after herself. She’d loved Dan since she was a child and knew without a doubt he was the one for her. If only he’d seen it too then none of the horrible events that changed Jake would have ever happened.
Her brother had gone from an open, smiling and kind man to an angry, brooding man that had no time for anything or anyone other than work. It was not a life she wanted for him or for her. Resolved to her plan, whatever the consequences, Kerry turned her phone off and got out of her car. She locked the door, straightened her jacket and headed for the café doors. She could do this.
 Entering the café, Kerry looked around at the patrons, trying to pick out Ms Feather. The place was crowded, with several women sitting by themselves with laptops in front of them. How was she ever to pick out Ms Feather? Pursing her lips with determination, she approached several women, all of whom shook their heads at her enquiry. At last she spotted a tall thin woman sitting in a booth at the back of the café, almost hidden from view. This had to be her.
“Ms Feather?” Kerry enquired as she approached. The woman looked up from her laptop. Kerry found herself staring into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. For the first time in her life, she realised what was meant when people said someone had sparkling eyes. Ms Feather’s eyes really did seem to have a sparkle in them, despite the rest of her rather severe appearance. Her suit was a slate grey, without the slightest wrinkle to mar its surface. Her hair was twisted into a tight bun at the back of her head and she had small wire framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. Kerry gulped back the sudden need to confess everything; sure the woman could see her guilt on her face. Ms Feather reminded her of a governess.
“Indeed,” Ms Feather answered, standing politely and offering her hand. “And you are?”
“Oh, I’m Kerry Carter, Jakes sister,” Kerry replied nervously, shaking her hand quickly and letting go before Ms Feather could feel her trembling. “He asked me to apologise, but he was unable to leave the ranch today, due to an unexpected emergency. He hoped it would be okay if I came in his place?” She smiled at Ms Feather, trying to stop the wobbling of her lower lip.
Ms Feather pursed her lips, looking rather put out. “Well, really he should have just notified me and we could have rearranged the meeting.”
“He really didn’t want to put you out or to slow things down,” Kerry lied, feeling awkward. “He thought it best if I come in his place. Here, I have a letter he has signed giving me authority to act in his stead.” She shoved the letter under Ms Feather’s nose. It was true her brother had signed it, but he hadn’t known what he was signing. She’d stuck it in with a number of business letters and he’d trusted her enough just to run through them all and sign them without reading the contents. She’d felt guilty at the time, but it was for his own good.
Ms Feather read the letter. “Very well,” she said at last. “Take a seat Ms Carter and we shall proceed.”
Kerry sat down in the booth, opposite Ms Feather. She placed her hands in her lap and tried to hide their shaking. So far so good!
A waitress in a bright pink uniform fluttered up to the table. “Can I get you anything dear?” she asked Kerry, her round face beaming at her in a rather peculiar manner. She was almost bouncing on her toes as if really excited to serve them.
“Just a coffee, thank you,” Kerry replied, secretly wondering if the woman had had too much of the stuff herself. The woman nodded, but continued to stand there, staring at Kerry as if she was a long lost relative. Kerry had the weird feeling the woman was holding back from launching herself across the table to hug her. Ms Feather cleared her throat, trying to draw the woman’s attention away from Kerry.
“I’ll have another coffee too, please,” she said in a rather loud voice. The waitress jumped slightly.
“Of course; I’ll bring them right over. Nothing to eat?” she asked absently, still staring at Kerry.
“No, thank you,” Ms Feather said in a rather pointed voice. The woman nodded and at last drifted away. Kerry couldn’t help but wonder whose idea it had been to hire such a strange woman.
“Now,” Ms Feather said, drawing her attention. “Let’s go over the contract you will be signing on behalf of your brother.”
For the next hour, Ms Feather went over the finer details of the Fairy Tale Match contract. Kerry barely noticed when the waitress brought their coffees and stood there again for several moments until Ms Feather had glared her away.
It was to be agreed that The Fairy Tale Match would find a suitable candidate for Jake to meet and that they would spend three weeks in each other’s company. Since Jake had no idea that this was happening, Kerry had asked that the person come to stay with them, rather than Jake going to her home town. She’d made out he couldn’t leave the ranch and thankfully that was mostly true. They would pay for the airline tickets for the woman to travel to them and would put her up in their home for the three weeks she’d be staying. If after three weeks one or both of them felt they didn’t suit and had no wish to pursue a relationship, they would be reimbursed all fees on both sides.
“However, we are very confident we will find a match based on the details given by Mr Carter when he joined our site,” Ms Feather said, as she placed a copy of the contract in front of Kerry. “Our success rate is extremely high. We do give an option for a woman to bring someone with her, if she is travelling to the gentleman; however that isn’t often taken up, as the women we deal with know we do extensive background checks to ensure safety. We take our role in match making very seriously.”
“I have to say, this is a most unusual dating site,” Kerry observed. “I have never heard of one dealing with contracts or visits like this before. Don’t you normally give the person a choice of candidates?”
“At The Fairy Tale Match, we believe that the perfect person isn’t always just down the road from you or easily accessible. We are here to help people meet, who under normal circumstances, wouldn’t. That is why we are the Fairy Tale Match. We match people who wouldn’t normally meet without extra help,” Ms Feather explained proudly. “Our organisation has been working to help couples meet for many years now, with huge success. We believe the right person isn’t always obvious from the start. We have a certain method in finding our matches that really works and we ask that they take three weeks to get to know each other so they can really see if they are suited. I am confident we can find the perfect person for your brother, using our unique methods. No other dating site can boast the same success rates, I assure you.”
“This sounds amazing!” Kerry commented, awestruck. “How soon do you think you would find a match for Jake?”
“It could take a while depending,” Ms Feather replied, placing a pen down in front of Kerry. “If you’ll just check over the contract and sign, we will get the ball rolling.”
Kerry read through the details. It was all there, including getting their money back if they didn’t find a love match. Really, she had nothing to lose. Taking hold of her courage, Kerry picked up the pen and signed the document before handing them both back to Ms Feather, who tucked the contract into her briefcase. She then handed Kerry her copy of the contract, complete with Ms Feather’s signature on behalf of The Fairy Tale Match.
“We will be in touch as soon as we have found the right person,” Ms Feather told her. “If your brother has any questions in the meantime, he can contact us through our website or call this number.” She handed Kerry her business card.
 Kerry thanked her for her time before leaving the booth. She quickly ducked out the café and made her way back to her car. She’d done it. The meeting had gone well and she’d pulled it off. Now all she had to worry about was how Jake was going to react when he found out!
Back in the café, a small plump figure in bright pink, plopped herself down in the seat Kerry had just vacated.
“Well, I think that went well,” she said, her hand fluffing at her wild grey hair, trying to pat it back into its knot and failing miserably.
“You almost ruined the whole thing,” Ms Feather snapped. “What were you thinking, Flo? Standing there and staring at the girl like some kind of mad woman?”
 Flo drooped slightly on her seat. “I just got a little excited, Lotta” she defended herself. “It has been a long time since I saw her last.”
“But you have to remember that she doesn’t know you,” Lotta exclaimed exasperated. “She hasn’t the faintest idea that you are her fairy godmother. Times have changed, how many times do I have to remind you? People today don’t believe in us. They think we are myths and stories; that we aren’t real. That’s why we set up this business in the first place. It makes it much easier to help true loves find each other.”
Flo pouted. “I much preferred it when we could pop up in our charges lives and say “I’m you Fairy Godmother.” It was so much nicer when they knew who we were and what we were doing for them.” She sighed heavily. “We can’t even show off our magic anymore.”
“At least we still get to help them,” Lotta reminded her. Flo grumbled her agreement, but she still looked a little glum, which was very unusual for her and indeed it lasted all of two minutes before she sat up with bright eyes, her cheeks blooming red with her excitement.
“So, what happens now?” she asked, her eyes shining brightly. Lotta held back a groan. Why did she always end up with assignments that entwined with Flo? The woman needed restraints!
“We need to find Jake’s true love and hope she is already single and in a position to be pushed into this arrangement,” Lotta explained patiently. “He is the key to undoing the tangled web that revolves around several people, including your charge.”
“That shouldn’t take long,” Flo announced, popping a chocolate she’d plucked from the air into her mouth. “He is a very sweet boy. I remember him. He and his true love will be happily ever aftering before you can wave a wand!”
 “He was,” Lotta told her. “But that has changed over the recent years. I have done some digging and it seems that Jake has changed into a bit of a beast of a man. He won’t be easy to handle.”
Flo looked upset. “But he was so lovely. What happened?” “It’s complicated but part of the problem is that he thinks his heart has been broken,”
Lotta informed her. “It hasn’t, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking it has and making life very unhappy for those around him. He is full of bitterness and mistrust. He is determined never to give his heart again. It is going to take the very special beauty of his true love to turn this beast back into a prince.” She paused a moment, tapping her lip with her finger. Her eyes took on a sudden gleam. “And I think I know just where to find her!”

Chapter One 

Laura sighed heavily as she took a quick glance at the time. She was making good progress considering the two detours she’d had when she’d taken wrong turns and should be at the Twisted Tree Ranch soon. Her heart slammed in her chest and nerves ate at her stomach. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was bone dry. She grabbed the water bottle from the passenger seat of her hire car, flipped the lid and drank deeply. She threw the bottle back on the seat and tried to stop the shaking in her hands.
She could hardly believe that she was actually doing this. Laura was, by nature, a shy person. She didn’t like the lime light or attention of any kind, for that matter. It was a wonder to anyone that knew her that she’d ever had a boyfriend, not that he hadn’t been a total jerk! Yet here she was, having flown all the way from England, about to meet a man she’d only emailed a few times and had never seen.
A cold sweat broke out all over her body and she had to concentrate on not hyperventilating. It had seemed so easy and exciting back in England. The Fairy Tale Match website had appealed to her romantic side completely. She had always been soppy over fairy stories ever since she’d been a little girl. Finding a website that seemed to promise that kind of love had caught hold of her and she’d actually joined. Her! Laura Hamilton!
Laura felt a hysterical laugh building in her throat. How could she have thought it a good idea? She had virtually no confidence and could hardly describe herself as a real beauty. She wasn’t the kind of woman men went for. She was the friend type. The one they all came to with their problems. Not the wow, wouldn’t I love to spend my life with you type. She was going to be a real disappointment to Jake Carter. Her knees shook at the thought.
She saw a rather battered sign at the side of the road and felt her stomach knot in fright. The Twisted Tree Ranch was just down the next turning. With shaking fingers, she flipped on her indicator, even though there was no other traffic on the long dusty road and turned into an even smaller dirt road that wound along ahead of her. Driving slowly, she jostled down the road, looking out for the ranch house.
Suddenly it came into view, round a bend in the road. She slammed on the brakes and sat staring at it. It looked large, even from a distance, its wooden walls looking warm and inviting, easing some of her panic. Nestled under a hill, she could see the rest of the ranch spread out in the valley, lush green grasses swayed in the breeze with a number of horses grazing in the fenced off pasture.
Men worked hard amongst the horses, some wiping sweat from their foreheads with their neck kerchiefs. They had a real western feel about them, decked out in jeans, shirts and complete with Stetson hats. She could see a number of smaller cabins tucked away to one side, which must have been where the ranch’s usual guests stayed. She knew from Jakes emails that they ran part of their ranch as a tourist attraction and many people from all over the world came to experience life on a real old west style horse ranch.
Laura’s stomach fluttered again and she began to sweat even though the rental car was blasting her with cold air. Pulling on every bit of courage she possessed, she put the car back on the road and continued towards the ranch.
“Just breathe and stay calm,” she counselled herself as she drove. “You can do this. He sounded like a very nice man in his emails and he is looking forward to meeting you,” she continued. “Of course, he is expecting you tomorrow!” she grimaced to herself. Her flight time had been moved up, so she’d flown in much earlier than expected and decided to drive down the same day instead of staying over a night at the airport. She had managed to email Jake. She just hoped he’d read the email before she showed up.
Feeling sick, she drove up the long dusty driveway to the front of the ranch house. A wooden porch surrounded the dwelling with wide windows on both sides of the front door. She parked her car, grabbed her handbag and got out. Her legs trembled, whether from the long drive or her nerves she wasn’t quite sure. She wiped her sweaty palms on her trouser legs and walked with purpose to the front door, her boots thumping up the five steps to reach it.
She knocked and waited, running her hands over her long brown hair that hung in a ponytail down her back, trying to smooth away any stray hairs. A young woman came to the door, her bright blue eyes full of curiosity. “Can I help you?” she asked, wiping her hands on a dish cloth.
“Hi, I’m Laura Hamilton. I believe Mr Jake Carter is expecting me?” she smiled, sticking out her hand in greeting, while trying to subdue her shaking.
The woman ignored her hand, her face going completely white. She swayed slightly on her feet. Forgetting her own nerves for once, Laura grabbed the woman’s arm in concern, scared she was going to faint. “Are you okay?” she asked with a worried frown.
“You weren’t due until tomorrow!” the woman cried in distress.
“I’m very sorry to cause you any trouble. My plane time was changed. I did email Mr Carter. Did he not tell you?” she asked hesitantly. The woman seemed so upset, Laura began to feel dreadful. “I can stay in an inn or something, if my arrival is inconvenient. I don’t wish to put anyone out.”
The woman gathered herself together and shook her head. “No, I couldn’t let you do that. Please come in.” She stepped back and Laura walked into a beautiful open plan living room, with wooden floors, a huge stone fireplace and soft comfy chairs. The whole feeling was welcoming. Laura fell in love with it instantly.
She was about to comment on the beauty of the home when she heard the sound of a door banging somewhere in the back of the house.
“Whose car is that outside, Kerry?” came a deep male voice. “I didn’t think we were expecting new guests till the weekend.”
The sound of heavy footfalls approached before a large man came into view. Laura sucked in a breath at the shock of awareness she felt racing through her body at his presence. She locked her knees and hoped she wouldn’t disgrace herself by slumping to the floor like a rag doll. The man was stunningly good looking! He stood well over six feet, his body thick with long lean muscles, obviously from long hours working outside on the ranch. His deep blue eyes were very much like the woman who opened the door, whom Laura had heard him call Kerry. Oh, God, she thought, this must be Jake and the woman was his sister, Kerry that he’d told her about. Suddenly she felt very inadequate.
Laura was surprised to see that the left side of his face was scared. It ran from his left temple, right down his cheek to his well defined lips. Thankfully, his eye had been left intact. He’d not mentioned anything to her about any kind of disfigurement. Maybe he’d been worried the knowledge would put her off meeting him. The thought warmed her heart. She would show him that it didn’t matter to her at all. Even with the scar, he was an incredibly handsome man. It gave him character, if anything and made her feel rather like a little sparrow next to a powerful hawk.
He stopped short when he saw her standing there, his face frozen in what she assumed was shock. Maybe he hadn’t seen her email Determined not to come across as a shy wall flower, even if she was one, she stepped forward. “Hi Jake? I’m Laura. I’m sorry I am a day early. I hope it’s not too inconvenient. I did email you, but it looks like you didn’t get it.” She held her hand out to him, looking him directly in the eyes and smiling brightly. “Anyway, it’s wonderful to finally meet you! Your home is even lovelier than you said. You must just love living here.” She forced herself to stop talking before she sounded even more stupid than she already did. Nerves always did make an idiot out of her.
He stared at her hand, then at her face. “Who the hell are you?” he snapped. “And why are you talking to me like we’re best friends? Guests don’t book in here, they book in at the customer care cabin over by the guest cabins. Kerry can direct you. In future, I’ll thank you not to intrude on our family home again. We always make it clear that main house is off limits to guests. We do need a private life you know!”
Her smile faltered. “But I’m Laura Hamilton,” she stammered out, puzzled. She could understand he thought she was arriving the next day, but she’d already explained she was early. What was wrong with him? He’d seemed so nice in his emails. “You told me to come straight to the main house. I’m supposed to be staying here in your home with you for three weeks! You said you were looking forward to it” She tried not to get upset, but could feel herself on the verge of tears. She was tired, the drive and jet lag were beginning to creep up on her and now Jake Carter was acting like he’d never heard of her. It was all too much!
“I beg your pardon? What the hell are you talking about?” he snarled at her, losing his patience. Without even waiting for an answer, he turned to his sister. “Who the hell is this lunatic and why did you let her in the house instead of directing her to the guest customer service cabin? Although, on second thought, I’m not sure we want this crazy woman staying on the premises. Perhaps it’s best to refund her and send her home. She probably escaped from some nut house anyway!”
“How dare you!” Laura huffed, angry now. If he’d changed his mind upon seeing her, he could at least have the good grace to just admit it instead of making out he had no idea who she was and that SHE was crazy. “You asked me here for three weeks. I have the emails on my phone to prove it.” She began fumbling in her bag for her phone. “I would never have come had I known what a rude, grumpy man you are, instead of the sweet guy you pretended to be! Really, you could just say you’ve changed your mind, instead of this ridiculous charade. Honestly, why join a dating agency if you weren’t happy to meet someone. It’s not my fault that agency won’t work with photos. You must have known it was a risk, being sight unseen!”
Jake held his hand up to stop her tirade, refusing to take the phone she was trying to thrust in his face. “Hold up there. You have the wrong place. I have not, nor would I ever join a dating agency. You must have driven to the wrong address.” He shook his head in relief.
“But, this is the Twisted Tree Ranch and you are Jake Carter, are you not?” Laura asked, wondering why he was insisting on this pretence of not knowing her. A strangled sound from behind her drew her attention.
Laura turned to look at Kerry, who was still standing frozen by the front door. Her face held a look of horror and guilt, as she looked from Jake to Laura. A sinking feeling came over Laura. Something was seriously wrong with this picture.
“I am so sorry,” Kerry whispered looking back and forth between Jake and Laura. She twisted the dishcloth in her hands so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Laura closed her eyes as the truth began to slowly dawn on her. It would seem that Jake Carter didn’t know anything about her after all.
“What are you apologising for? What the hell is going on?” Jake thundered as he stepped closer to his sister.
Kerry took a deep breath. “I was going to tell you at dinner,” she continued. “Try and break it to you gently.”
His eyes glinted dangerously. “What are you talking about? Break what to me gently?”
Kerry swallowed several times. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Jake’s expression turned darker and darker the longer the silence went on. He advanced on her, his hands curling into fists.
“What. Have. You. Done!” he gritted out slowly.
Laura just wanted to disappear. If there was ever a moment she wished the ground could open up and swallow her, this was it. Humiliation swept up her cheeks, turning them a fiery red. Kerry looked ready to bolt. “Laura is at the right address. I signed you up with a dating agency.” She said the words so fast, Jake shook his head as if to clear his hearing.
“You did WHAT!”
“Jake, please, you have to understand. I was only thinking of you!” Kerry rushed to explain. “You haven’t been the same since you know what and I thought it was about time you got your life back. I want my old brother back. The one that could laugh and enjoy himself. I miss that side of you.” She broke off as her brothers face went from slack with shock to out and out murder.
“Are you out of your mind?” he roared. “How could you do this to me? My life is none of your business!” He ran his hand through his dark hair, making it stick up in all directions which just added to his furious look. He looked at Laura from head to toe, as if seeing her for the first time. She flinched at his rude perusal. He waved his hand up and down to indicate her person. He laughed rudely. “This is what you come up with to turn me into the perfect brother? This plain little English prim and proper lady with a Pollyanna complex? This is the person that’s supposed to put me right?”
Both women gasped at his harsh comments. Laura had never been so humiliated in her life. She knew she was no oil painting, but had never had anyone rude enough to tell her that to her face. She blinked her eyes furiously, determined this angry man’s words would not reduce her to tears.
He stalked toward Kerry, anger in every stride he took, until he stood toe to toe with her. He glared down into her upturned face. “I do not need you sticking your nose in my life, sister,” he spat poking his finger at her face. “You get that woman on the next plane home, do you hear me? And don’t you ever, EVER interfere like this ever again.” He didn’t even wait for a reply before he stormed out of the house, banging the door behind him.
Kerry closed her eyes and took a deep breath. His reaction had been worse that she’d feared. What had she been thinking? Dan’s face popped into her mind’s eye. She knew exactly what she’d been thinking and it hadn’t all been about her brother. She looked at Laura still standing frozen to the spot, her face was stricken and humiliated though she was trying hard to hide it. Kerry felt even worse. She’d dragged a poor innocent woman across the globe to be shouted at and ridiculed.
“I am so sorry,” she said again. “I shouldn’t have lied to you. I’ve made a terrible mess of things. I’m so, so sorry.” She felt the tears sliding down her face, but didn’t seem to have the energy to stop them.
Laura dragged her eyes to Kerry’s stricken face. Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to add to the young woman’s suffering. She walked over and gently patted her heaving shoulders. “You must have had a very good reason for doing what you did,” she said quietly. She couldn’t believe it was with any malicious intent that Kerry had lied to bring her here.
Kerry sniffed. “I thought so at the time, but really I think I was being very, very selfish.” Laura pulled out a clean tissue from her jacket pocket and handed it to Kerry, who took it gratefully. “He wasn’t always like this you know. He used to be so happy and sweet and kind. You would have liked him. Things happened and he changed. I really did want to do something to help him find his way back from this nightmare he lives in, but it wasn’t the only reason.” She clammed up, not really wanting to tell someone she didn’t know about Dan. It was just too personal.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to explain,” Laura said, her heart going out to Kerry, seeing her obvious misery. Thinking back on what had just happened, she could understand Jake’s anger, but it was no excuse for the very personal and hurtful things he’d said to her. He had to be a man in the deepest of pain, for only people hurting so badly would hit out at someone they didn’t even know. She sighed. Something really bad was going on in this wonderful warm house. It wasn’t really her business and she would be leaving soon anyway, but her soft heart went out to the troubled siblings all the same.
”Is there somewhere I can rent a room nearby?” she asked Kerry. “I just can’t face driving too far today. It’s been a long journey as it is and I’m starting to feel it.”
“You can stay here,” Kerry offered.
Laura shook her head. “I don’t think that would be a good idea, under the circumstances.”
“Please, I’ve put you to so much trouble. The least I can do is offer you a room. This is my home too, so if Jake doesn’t like it, he knows what he can do!” Kerry’s eyes gleamed with determination and anger. “I think it’s the least he owes you too. It was me that cooked up this scheme, not you. You didn’t deserve the way he spoke to you.”
Laura could see that Kerry wouldn’t be swayed from her decision. Part of her was grateful not to have to find somewhere else to stay when she was already feeling so tired and another part of her kind of wished she didn’t have to see Jake Carter again.
She smiled gratefully at Kerry. “Well, if you’re sure, I’ll get my things out of the car.”
Jake slammed out of the house and into the nearest stable. He pushed a wheel barrow to the entrance of the first stall, setting it down with a satisfying thump. He grabbed the pitch fork hanging on the nearby wall and started attacking the dirty hay, throwing large forkfuls into the wheel barrow. He needed good hard graft to work off his temper.
How could Kerry betray him like this? He’d thought she of all people, understood how he felt. She’d been there through his whole awful ordeal. She knew what it had cost him and yet here she was trying to fix him up with someone, like he wasn’t broken. How could she not see how she was cruelly highlighting to him everything he’d lost? All his hopes and dreams, the whole rosy future he’d thought he’d have. All of it had been swept away by the betrayal of two people he’d trusted and believed loved him. The memories pushed at his mind and heart, driving him to work harder and harder in an effort to shove them away.
“What bug crawled up your butt, boy?” came a gruff voice from behind him. Jake grunted and refused to answer. He was not in the mood to speak to anyone. He should have known Bill Handley wouldn’t be ignored. The gruff older man knew him far too well to be intimidated by Jake’s black scowl.
“Come on, spit it out. No use holding it all in,” he pushed.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Bill,” Jake growled, wiping the sweat from his forehead and continuing to attack the hay in the stall with furious stabs of his pitch fork.
“Well the way I see it you have two choices,” Bill drawled. “You can tell me what’s wrong, by far your easiest choice or I can follow you round for hours and sing,” Bill threatened with a grin, for everyone knew that Bill sang at the top of his voice, horrendously off key and only ever knew a couple of lines of a song, which he repeated over and over for added pain.
Jake growled. He really didn’t want to discuss what had happened in the house, but he knew Bill was as stubborn as an old goat and really would drive him mad with his singing if he didn’t comply. He wouldn’t leave Jake alone until he got the whole sorry story and he wasn’t the sort of person Jake could intimidate away.
Sighing, he paused in his work and considered how to start to explain what Kerry had done. The whole thing was completely humiliating! If he hadn’t walked out when he did, he may well have strangled her for this.
“You may as well spit it out, ‘cause I’m not going nowhere till you do,” Bill assured him.
“It’s Kerry!” Jake choked out.
“What’s she done now?” Bill asked, raising his bushy grey eyebrows.
Jake swallowed hard several times. “She joined a dating agency on my behalf,” he gritted out.
Bill stared at him in surprised shock for several seconds before throwing his head back and laughing till he cried.
“I’m so happy to amuse you, old man,” Jake snapped.
“Come on, boy, that’s funny! Best laugh I’ve had in years!” Bill said wiping the tears from his cheeks. “What kind of profile could she have put down for you? Grumpy, mean spirited horse rancher seeks someone special to sweeten him up? Has she lined you up with multiple dates?” He bent over, gasping for breath.
“You don’t get it. It’s worse than that. There is an English woman in the house, right now, who thought she was coming to meet me for romance.” Jake felt a twinge of guilt. He’d been incredibly rude to the woman. After all, it hadn’t been her fault Kerry had done what she’d done. She was as much of a victim of Kerry’s scheming as he was. He remembered the shocked look on her face. She’d obviously had no idea he didn’t know about her coming. He’d just been so damn mad that he’d been put in such a position, he’d let his mouth run away with him and taken it out on her too.
“You mean they sent someone to stay here?” Bill whistled, finally sobering up. “For how long?”
“Three weeks I think, but it doesn’t matter,” Jake insisted, pushing the guilt aside. “She’s not staying anyway. I told Kerry to send her home.”
Bill’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t just send that poor woman packing,” he exclaimed.
“Why the hell not?” Jake didn’t like the look on Bill’s face. The man had acted like a father to him and Kerry ever since their father had died when they were still quite young. He had stepped back from that role as they reached adulthood, but when he felt it was necessary, he would still sometimes pull that authority figure from his back pocket. Now looked like it was one of those times.
Because that poor girl has travelled a long way, thanks to your sister, based on a lie. The least we can do is see to her welfare. You can’t just order her to leave, Jake. I taught you better than that.” Bill’s grey eyes had turned to chips of steel.
“I can’t have her here, Bill. I’ll pay her damn airfare back to England, but she’s not staying here.”
Bills eyes narrowed onto Jakes face. He bit his lip in contemplation. Jake looked away. He hated the feeling that Bill could see right through him. “What’s with you, boy? Why are you so insistent on getting rid of this girl?” he mused. Then his brow cleared. “Ahhhhh,” he grinned. “She must be something special to get you all rattled this way.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Jake denied.
“No, don’t bother trying to deny it. You wouldn’t be itching to send this girl packing if she didn’t bother you in some way,” Bill grinned. “Maybe Kerry did a smart thing after all.”
Jake glared at Bill, but the man kept on grinning away in his annoying fashion. Jake didn’t want to admit to anyone, even himself, that Miss Laura Hamilton had turned his insides to mush and nearly made his legs buckle. She’d stood in his living room, her huge green eyes sparkling away at him and she’d looked at him. Not his scar, but him. For a moment he’d felt like the old Jake, the one who’d been so confident and sure. Who’d been happy and carefree. She’d had a feeling about her that made him think of sunshine and flowers and almost made him forget. She’d taken his breath away…….She’d scared him to death!
He’d said some horrible things to her, but fear made him determined to keep her away from him. Something told him that Miss Hamilton was very dangerous to him and to his heart. He wouldn’t risk the pain of heartbreak ever again. Not with her or anyone else. He just didn’t have it in him to trust and love again. Victoria had seen to that.
“You have to let the past go sometime Jake.” Bill came up to him and put his hand on his shoulder, his expression serious for once. “You can’t let one woman colour your view of every other woman or turn you into a bitter lonely man.”
“This isn’t about that,” Jake denied weakly. They both knew he was lying.
Bill sighed sadly. “I really think,” he said softly, “that Kerry may have done you a bigger favour than you think. If you’re so quick to push this woman away, maybe she should stay a while. Maybe there’s something here worth exploring.”
“I’m sending Miss Hamilton back where she belongs because there’s no point in her being here,” Jake insisted. “Not because she bothers me.”
“Sure,” Bill said sarcastically. “If that’s really true, why are you pushing so hard to send her home without even letting her stay one night?”
Jake glared at the challenge Bill threw down. He was not happy. If Kerry asked for Laura to stay, which knowing her she would, he wouldn’t be able to say no without proving Bill right and then he’d never hear the end of it! Jake sighed. He could feel a noose being slowly tightened around his neck and he didn’t like it one bit.
Unseen by anyone, two figures stood in the stable having observed the first meeting and Jakes confrontation with Bill.
“Do you think he will let Laura stay, Lotta?” Flo asked, her round face full of concern.
“I am sure things will work out so Laura will stay the intended three weeks,” Lotta replied confidently.
“I still say we should have left her car as a pumpkin,” Flo sniffed, still very much insulted that Lotta had undone her wonderful work.
Lotta rolled her eyes and tried to hold on to her temper. “How many times do I have to explain that we can’t just do things that mortals will question? What do you think would have happened if Laura had seen the car gone and a pumpkin in its place? She would have called the police thinking the car had been stolen, that’s what!” Lotta answered her own question before Flo could put her bit in. “That’s one complication we don’t need. Trust me, this way works better.”
“But it’s so boring!” Flo complained. “Where’s the excitement and magic in getting someone to talk him round?”
“It’s the way we must do things in today’s world, Flo. You know that! At least we are getting people matched up. It’s not like before when we would drop thoughts in their heads they just ignored. At least we are taking an active role in getting true loves together and giving them a happy ever after.” Lotta smiled, happy with her speech.
Flo huffed, unconvinced. She decided to keep a close eye on things here, in case her interference was needed. After all, Kerry’s happiness hung on things working out with Jake and Laura and she wasn’t about to let her young charge down. Happily, she hugged her round frame in secret. She’d just have to find ways of doing things that Lotta couldn’t interfere with.

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