The breathtaking finale to The Coltons of Oklahoma saga by New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy!
Wrongly imprisoned for murder, renowned horse trainer Greta Colton gets sprung by Tyler Stanton's falsified alibi. The incredibly handsome oil tycoon's desire has been burning for Greta ever since they met. Now that she's no longer his brother's fiancée, he wants her in his bed and working in his corral. In that order.
Throwing caution to the wind, Greta accepts Tyler's brazen invitations. And with danger mounting, they reluctantly risk their hearts. But when a shocking Colton secret surfaces, can Tyler protect Greta from a treacherous family reunion? Someone means to kill her...and take all that's hers!
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Carla Cassidy is an award-winning author who has written more than fifty novels for Harlequin Books. In 1995, she won Best Silhouette Romance from RT Book Reviews for Anything for Danny. In 1998, she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series from RT Book Reviews. Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The jail-cell door clanked shut behind Greta Colton. She turned and grabbed the bars, staring at her brother on the other side.
"Ryan, you know this is all a mistake. I didn't kill anyone. I'm innocent. I didn't kill Kurt." She watched in horror as Ryan turned his back on her and walked away. How could he believe she was capable of murder?
"Ryan, please." She grasped the cell bars more tightly, frantic for him, for anyone, to believe her. "I'm not a murderer," she screamed, but he didn't stop walking away from her.
Greta sat up and looked around, disoriented as to time and place. Her pounding heart slowed. She was safe in her king-size bed in her bedroom. A glance at the clock on the nightstand told her it was just after four in the afternoon.
She was safe beneath her sky blue comforter with the afternoon sunshine drifting through the lacy white curtains at the window. She released a sigh of relief.
The nightmare she'd just suffered had become a familiar one over the past three weeks, ever since she really had been arrested for the murder of ranch hand Kurt Rodgers.
She'd decided to take a short nap after lunch but had slept longer than she had intended. Lately, sleeping had been far easier than being fully conscious and in the present.
The moments before and since she'd been released from jail had been fraught with anger, sadness, lies and questions. It wasn't just Greta who had been through hell but her family, as well.
She got out of bed and walked to the nearby window. From this vantage point she could see much of the green pastures and impressive outbuildings of the family ranch, the Lucky C.
But ranch business was the last thing on her mind. A lie had got her out of jail, ruined her engagement and destroyed her mother's happiness in planning a wedding. For the past two and a half weeks, Greta had been living like a hermit, trying to cope with everything that had happened to forever change her life.
She left the window and headed for the shower in the luxurious bathroom just off the sitting area in her bedroom. It was time for her to face the man who had lied for her, the man who had sworn that on the night of Kurt's murder he was in a hotel room with her in Oklahoma City.
She had been in a hotel room in Oklahoma City, but she'd been all alone, certainly not with Tyler Stanton, her future brother-in-law. She definitely hadn't been carrying on a torrid affair with Tyler, as he had implied to the police when he'd offered up the alibi that had ultimately released her from jail.
It didn't take her long to shower and dress in a pair of tailored brown slacks and a russet blouse that she knew complemented her slender figure. She pulled on a pair of brown suede dress boots and slipped inside her right boot the knife her father had given her when she'd turned sixteen years old.
Her father had worried about her having the run of the ranch, dealing with ranch hands who appeared to be good guys but might be a danger to her, so he'd gifted her with the knife for self-protection. He'd also told her not to pull it on somebody unless she had the guts to use it.
When closed, it was a beautiful mother-of-pearl palm-size case, but with a click of a button it became a wicked nearly-five-inch-long weapon. Thankfully, she had never had to use it or even take it out of her boot.
She left the Lucky C by one of the back doors, grateful when she didn't encounter anyone. She didn't want anyone knowing where she was going. Thankfully, the only person in the family who knew she'd been alibied with the lie of an affair was her brother Ryan and a couple of the officers who worked for the Tulsa police force. As far as she knew, none of them had shared that information with anyone else.
So far she'd been spared the humiliating experience of trying to explain to her parents and siblings that she wasn't having an affair, no matter what Tyler had told the authorities.
It was almost seven when she pulled her red Jeep just inside the black wrought iron gates at the entrance to Tyler Stanton's estate. It was an hour-and-a-half drive from the Colton ranch in Tulsa to Tyler's home in Oklahoma City.
Throughout the drive, several times she'd considered turning around and heading back to the ranch. But ultimately, she knew she had to confront Tyler and tonight was as good a time as any. She hadn't spoken to or seen him since being released from jail. She needed answers that only he could give her.
She stopped the Jeep when the impressive sprawling ranch house came into view. It was definitely the living space of a successful man and Tyler was definitely successful. As owner and CEO of Stanton Oil, he was ridiculously handsome and socially sought after for various fund-raisers and events. The few times Greta had been around him, she'd always found him slightly cold and very intimidating.
Why would he risk his good reputation and his relationship with his brother, Mark, by implicating himself in an affair with her?
Thankfully, he must've greased some palms to keep her alibi quiet, for there had been no hint of tawdry rumors floating around. Of course, Mark had heard and had ridden into the Colton house a week ago on a self-righteous horse and declared their engagement over.
She'd spent five days in jail, and for the past week she'd been on the phone canceling wedding arrangements that had been made and praying her mother didn't spiral down into one of the deep depressions that had occurred often through most of Greta's life.
Stalling, she now thought. She was stalling by sitting here and staring at Tyler's house. She put the Jeep into Drive and moved forward, swallowing against the swell of anxiety that tried to waltz up the back of her throat.
She didn't have the answers to a lot of things that had been happening at the Colton ranch, but she could at least get an answer from Tyler as to why he had lied for her.
She parked right in front of the house. Light spilled from several windows, breaking through the falling darkness of the early-November night.
Tyler had a reputation as a workaholic. It was possible he wasn't even home yet. If he wasn't, then she'd wait. If his household help didn't want her inside, then she'd wait in her vehicle. She'd already put this conversation off for far too long.
Getting out of her car, she fought against the nervous energy that sizzled through her. She had nothing to be anxious about; after all, he was the one who had told the outrageous lie. But Tyler had always made her nervous with his cold blue eyes and hint of disdain when he looked at her.
She straightened her shoulders resolutely and rang the bell, hearing the musical chimes respond from someplace inside. As she waited, she pulled up the collar of her lightweight beige coat against the chilly evening air.
The door opened and she wasn't sure who was more surprised, she or Tyler. She'd expected a housekeeper, but instead a Tyler Stanton she'd never seen before stood in front of her.
The few times they had ever had any interaction, Tyler had always been impeccably dressed. The Tyler before her was absent his suit coat and tie. His white shirt was half-unbuttoned to reveal just enough bare chest to be distracting and his short light brown hair was slightly mussed. His dark blue eyes appeared to take in the whole sum of her with a quick sweep from head to toe.
"Greta, I was wondering when or if I'd ever hear from you. Please come in." He opened the door wider to allow her into a large foyer. "May I take your coat?"
Before she could reply, he had removed her coat and hung it in the nearby closet. He then smoothly ushered her into the great room and offered her a seat on the plush black leather sofa.
It was as if she'd entered an alternate universe. The Tyler she knew was stiff and formal, but this Tyler appeared casual and surprisingly welcoming. "How about something to drink? Maybe a glass of wine?" he asked.
"That would be nice." She finally found her voice.
"Red or white?" He moved to an elaborate built-in bar on one side of the large room.
"White would be fine," she replied.
"How have you been?" he asked and strode across the expanse of the room to hand her a long-stemmed crystal glass of wine.
He sat next to her and set his own glass of wine on the glass-topped coffee table in front of them.
"I've been better," she replied. He sat so close to her she could smell the scent of his spicy cologne, so different from Mark's woodsy favorite scent. "I guess you heard that Mark broke off our engagement."
His gaze held hers intently. "Are you heartbroken over it?"
She hesitated, wondering if she should lie and make Tyler feel bad. "No, I'm only sorry he beat me to the punch," she replied honestly. "I was behind bars for five long days and nights and he didn't even visit me once. Five days in jail gave me a lot of time to think. In fact, I've heard from a couple of my friends that while I was locked up, Mark was making the rounds of his old girlfriends, so I'd intended to break things off with him anyway. But that's not why I'm here."
She paused and took a sip of her wine and then set the glass down. She eyed the handsome man beside her boldly. "Why, Tyler? Why did you lie for me?"
"Because I knew you were no murderer," he replied easily.
"Didn't you hear that my DNA and fingerprints were all over the crime scene? My own brother arrested me." Pain swept through her as she remembered Ryan placing handcuffs on her and putting her into the back of his patrol car.
"I also know they had a hotel receipt to support the fact that you checked into the Regent Hotel on the night that Kurt was murdered, but since you were alone and had no interaction with the hotel staff, that nobody could substantiate your alibi. Besides, I didn't care what incriminating evidence they had. I knew you didn't have it in you to hurt anyone. I lied because you needed an alibi and I knew nobody would question my word."
It was not arrogance in his tone; it was just a statement of fact that reminded her that Tyler was an important, powerful businessman not just in Oklahoma City but in Tulsa, as well.
"Why on earth would you even involve yourself with my problems?" She knew that he and Mark weren't particularly close, so she couldn't believe he'd intervened for Mark's sake, especially given the alibi he provided of being her lover.
Her cheeks warmed at the thought. She had a feeling when Tyler Stanton made love to a woman, it would be more like a total body-and-soul possession rather than just a pleasant sexual encounter.
Tyler leaned toward her, his nearness seeming to suck all of the oxygen out of the air. His blue eyes were piercing, as if wanting to see something deep inside her. "Do you really want to know why I got you out of jail? Why I involved myself in your life?"
She nodded. She'd never noticed before how easy it would be to fall into the depths of his dark blue eyes and how hypnotic his smooth deep voice could be. She leaned toward him, as if anticipating a secret that might change her life and right her world forever.
"Mark was never supposed to take you for himself. That day in April I sent him to meet with you because I had a troubled horse that I wanted your help with. But I also wanted to get you here and hopefully into my bed."
She reeled back, shocked by his words. "What are you talking about? Mark never mentioned a horse to me that first day he came to the ranch to see me." She didn't even want to address the rest of what he'd said to her. She could scarcely wrap her brain around his bold audacity.
"No, I'm sure he didn't," Tyler replied drily. "He simply set out to win your heart for himself and he accomplished that."
He picked up his wineglass and took a sip and then set the glass back down. "Despite my own desire for you, I was happy for Mark when the two of you got engaged in June. My brother and I see eye to eye on few things, but I wanted him to be happy, and if you were his happiness, then I would have never done or said anything to ruin things for the two of you."
"Mark is happiest when he's the center of attention," she replied. "But he only wants positive attention. I always suspected that when I was at home on the ranch in Tulsa and he was at his town house here in Oklahoma City, he was seeing other women."
Tyler said nothing, but in his silence Greta recognized the truth. Mark had never really loved her. He had been in love with marrying a Colton, with all the society-page tidbits about their romance and upcoming wedding. But he'd never truly loved Greta, the tomboy who was happiest wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and working with and training horses.
"I thought that the relationship with you might make a man out of him," he said. "But I guess I was wrong."
"Do you still have that troubled horse?" she asked, eager to turn the course of the conversation.
"I do. She's a three-year-old filly who has had no training and very little human contact. Are you interested in working with her?"
"I might be," she replied. She needed something to focus on besides the fact that the man she'd nearly married wasn't in love with her and she really hadn't loved him. She needed a challenge to take her mind off all the strange and frightening things that had been happening in her life and around the Colton ranch.
"I still have the horse and I still have an intense desire for you. Would you also be interested in sharing my bed tonight?" he asked.
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