No tongues. No nothing.

She licked her lips and took a deep, visible breath. “Samson Oil is trying to buy the Peyton ranch.”


Lucy was diabetic; she’d been diagnosed as a twelve-year-old. If she didn’t take her insulin, she sometimes got the shakes. But nothing like this. Facing the man she had come to see made her tremble from head to toe. And she couldn’t seem to stop. No amount of medicine in the world was ever going to cure her fascination with the ornery, immoral, two-faced, spectacularly handsome Jeff Hartley.

At the moment, however, he was her only hope.

“May I come in?” she asked, trying not to notice the way he smelled of leather and lime and warm male skin.

Jeff stared at her long enough to make her think he might actually say no. In the end, however, gentlemanly manners won out. “Ten minutes,” he said gruffly. “I have plans later.”

If he meant to wound her, his barb was successful...though she would never give him the satisfaction of knowing for sure. As they navigated the few steps into his living room and sat down, she found herself swamped with memories. This old farmhouse dated back three generations. It had been lovingly cared for and well preserved.

For one brief second, everything came crashing back: the hours she had spent in this bright, cheerful home, the master bedroom upstairs with the queen-size mattress and double-wedding-ring quilt, the bed Jeff had complained was too small for his six-foot-two frame...

She didn’t want to remember. Not at all. Not even the spot in this very room where Jeff Hartley had gone down on one knee and offered her a ring and his heart.

Dredging up reserves of audacity and courage, she ignored the past and cut to the chase. “My cousin is trying to sell his land to Samson Oil.” Recently, the outsider company had begun buying up acreage in Royal, Texas, at an alarming rate.

Jeff sat back in a leather armchair and hitched one ankle across the opposite knee, drawing attention to his feet. “Is it a fair offer?”

Nobody Lucy had ever known wore scuffed, hand-tooled cowboy boots as well as Jeff Hartley. At one time she wondered if he slept in the damned things. But then came that memorable evening when he showed her how a woman could take off a man’s boots at the end of the day...

Her face heated. She jerked her thoughts back to the present. “More than fair. But that’s not the point. The property has been in the Peyton family for almost a century. The farmland has contributed to Maverick County’s food supply for decades. Equally important—the wildlife preserve was my grandfather’s baby. Samson Oil will ruin everything.”

“Why does Kenny want to sell?”

“He’s sick of farming. He swears there’s nothing for him in Royal anymore. He’s decided to move to LA and try for an acting career. He pointed out that I sold most of my share to him, left for college and then stayed away. He wants his chance. But he needs cash.”

“And this is my problem, how?”


Lucy bit her lip until she tasted blood in her mouth. She couldn’t afford to let Jeff goad her into losing her temper. It had happened far too easily on his front porch a moment ago. Her only focus right now should be on getting what she needed to stop a bad, bad decision.

It might have helped if Jeff had gotten old and fat in the past two years. But unfortunately, he looked better than ever. Dark blond hair in need of a trim. Piercing green eyes, definitely on the hostile side. And a long, lean body and lazy gait that made grown women sigh with delight whenever he sauntered by.

“I need you to loan me twenty thousand dollars,” she blurted out. “The farm is self-supporting, but Kenny doesn’t have a lot of liquid assets. He may be bluffing. Even if he’s serious, though, twenty grand will get him off my back and send him on his way. He thinks the only choice he has for coming up with relocation funds is to unload the farm, but I’m trying to give him another option.”

“What will happen to the farm when he goes to the West Coast?”

It was a good question. And one she had wrestled with ever since Kenny told her he wanted to leave town. “I suppose I’ll have to come back to Royal and take over. At least until Kenny crashes and burns in California and decides to return home.”

“You don’t have much faith in him, do you?”

She shrugged. “Our fathers were brothers. So we share DNA. But Kenny has always had a problem with focus. Six months ago he wanted to go to vet school. Six months before that he was studying to take the LSAT.”