Arrogant Ethan Westerveld could scream that from the barn roof if he wanted. But half the place was now Hannah Kristoferson's. Not that she wanted one inch of the farm that reminded her of the only father she'd ever known—and his heartbreaking betrayal. Yet according to the terms of his will, she had to spend six months at Riverbend or forfeit the inheritance. Six months butting heads with too-handsome Ethan in order to make a quick sale and a new life far away? She'd do it. But Hannah didn't count on Ethan feeling like family...or that she'd want to stay forever.
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So this was the town Sam had scurried back to thirteen years ago.
Hannah rocked back and forth on her feet as she looked up and down the main street of Riverbend, studying it through the eyes of one left behind for this place.
The downtown boasted older-style brick buildings and ash trees lining the street, the first hint of spring in the fresh green misting their bare branches. Pleasant enough.
Even though Sam wasn't Hannah's biological father, she thought his nine-year relationship with her and her mother would have given him some permanent stake in their lives. But this town and his extended family had obviously exerted a pull stronger than they had because in the thirteen years he was gone he never came back for her, or wrote or even phoned. Two days ago, however, Hannah received the news from someone named Dan that Sam had passed away three weeks earlier. Dan had politely requested that she come to Riverbend for the reading of Sam's will.
Hannah glanced down Main Street and pulled a face.
This town was too small for this big-city girl's liking. Far removed from any major centre and with too many pickup trucks, Hannah thought, her attention drawn by a particularly loud red one making its way down the street toward her.
Hannah flipped open her cell phone and, though she'd had it on since she left Toronto, she checked her messages again. Nothing from Lizzie, her business partner, about how things were progressing on the purchase. Hannah had been reluctant to leave, but Lizzie had encouraged her, saying that nothing was going to happen in the next week, so here she was. She didn't need to meet with the Westervelds till tomorrow, but curiosity had her come a day early. Just to explore and familiarize herself with Sam's surroundings.
Hannah pushed back her own concerns as she drew in a long, slow breath, catching the tantalizing whiff of coffee blended with the distinctive scent of yeast and bread.
She rolled her stiff shoulders as the light changed, already anticipating the bite of the dark brew combined with a warm muffin. Or maybe a Danish.
A couple of young girls slipped past her and dashed across the street, waving at the driver of the noisy red pickup who had turned onto the main street and was parking in front of the bakery.
Then one of the girls bumped into a little boy coming out of the bakery.
The boy dropped his doughnut and his lip quivered as he looked at the treat now lying frosting-side down on the sidewalk. She hurried to his side and knelt in front of him. "Are you okay?" she asked.
He only nodded as she checked her pockets for loose change, but all that came up were a few nickels.
"Susie Corbett, get back here." A man stepping out of the fancy red truck called out to the delinquent girls.
The shorter girl with the curly blond hair heeded the summons and slowed her steps. The other kept running.
"I said now, Susie." While he barked out his demand, the man walked over to Hannah and the little boy.
"You okay, Todd?" he asked, though his gaze came to rest on Hannah.
His eyes, an unusual color of sage, fringed with thick, dark eyelashes, caught and held her attention. His finely shaped lips curved into a crooked smile emphasizing his hollow cheekbones. His expression clearly had one intention. "Thanks for helping," he said, the timbre of his voice lowering and, in spite of knowing what he was playing at, Hannah felt a lift of attraction.
"Back at you." She kept her smile aloof. No sense encouraging one of the locals on a quick visit.
She forced her attention back to the little boy. "Sorry, I don't have enough change for another doughnut," she said.
He sighed and nodded.
"That's okay. Susie will pay," the man said as the girl came nearer. "Won't you, Susie? I think you owe Todd about fifty cents."
"Uncle Ethan," she wailed, but even as she protested, she dug in her pocket. "You won't tell Mom, will you?" she asked as she handed the money over.
"Of course I won't tell your mom, you little twerp. Just don't act like such a toughie." He made the letter V with his fingers and pointed them at his eyes. "Remember, I see everything."
Susie gave a nervous laugh.
"Okay, Uncle Ethan." She took a few hesitant steps backward. "Can I go now?"
Uncle Ethan flipped his hand toward her in a dismissive gesture. "Shoo. Run along." Ethan handed the coins to the little boy, who took them with a quickly murmured thank-you and scooted inside the bakery.
When Hannah stood, Ethan looked at her again. This time she caught a hint of puzzlement in his eyes.
"Do I know you?"
Hannah laughed then. Any number of smart remarks came to mind, but his laugh answered hers before she could share any of them.
"That was as lame as a two-legged cat. Sorry." He scratched his head, rearranging his hair.
Weekend cowboy, Hannah deduced, taking in the long legs clad in crisp blue jeans and the polished cowboy boots.
"It's so hard to come up with original lines these days. All the best ones have been taken," Hannah said.
He looked as if he was about to answer with a smart remark of his own when a woman's voice caught his attention.
"Ethan. Wait up." A lithe blond woman came alongside him and slipped her arm through his. "I didn't know you were coming to town, handsome."
Ethan flicked his attention toward the woman, then back to Hannah.
Who, officially, was no longer interested. She had spent too much time with guys like Ethan. They encouraged women until things got too serious, then the men developed a sudden severe case of attention deficit disorder and moved on to another woman.
Case in point, Alex Deerborn.
She moved past him, the scent of coffee growing stronger and more tantalizing by the minute.
"So who was that?" she heard the blonde ask.
"I'm not sure, Jocelyn," he responded.
His vague comment made her look back again. "Uncle Ethan" stared at her, a frown pulling his well-shaped eyebrows together, ignoring the woman clinging to his arm.
"I think I saw her."
Morris Westerveld lowered his newspaper and favored his son with a puzzled look. "Saw who?"
"Hannah Kristoferson." Ethan dropped onto the couch in his parents' house, balancing the plate he'd stacked high with the freshly baked peanut-butter-chip cookies he'd found cooling on the kitchen counter. He'd lived on the farm for the past few years, but he still dropped in on his parents in town from time to time. Though his father, the principal of Riverbend High School, hadn't done any work on the farm since he was in high school himself, Ethan often used him as a sounding board. Although his dad had never liked farm work or living on the farm, he humored Ethan by listening.
"Where did you see her?"
"I thought I saw her by the bakery after I gave Susie trouble for knocking Todd over."
"What does she look like?"
"She should comb her hair. I'm sure Janie didn't let her out of the house looking like that."
"I meant that Hannah girl."
Ethan took another bite. He had known whom his father meant. He didn't want to think about Hannah and why exactly his uncle Sam had been so insistent she come for a simple reading of a will that had been postponed against her arrival.
"She's tall. Long brownish hair, pretty thick. Curly. She was wearing some kind of bandanna over it. Brown eyes. Doesn't look much different from the picture Uncle Sam had in the house." Ethan added a shrug to the monologue as if to show his father that Hannah was simply an inconvenient blip on his radar instead of someone he'd been wondering about ever since he had first seen that picture.
Ethan didn't want to think about the implications of Hannah's presence and the questions that raised. He preferred to concentrate on the chewy cookies and the shred of comfort they gave him. A feeling in short supply since Sam's death.
Though Sam had been in the hospital for the past six months, each morning Ethan got up, he still expected to see his beloved uncle and farming partner standing by the stove, asking Ethan how he wanted his eggs. Each morning the pain was as deep as the day before. That had made it difficult to get the equipment ready this spring for a job that, of all the farm work, Sam had loved the most. Working the fields.
"She doesn't sound too remarkable," his father said.
"Nope." Ethan took another healthy bite. "Nothing remarkable about her at all."
And he was lying through the peanut butter chips filling his mouth. When he had seen the girl he assumed was Hannah standing on the street corner, her expression holding the faintest glint of humor, he'd been intrigued enough to slow his truck down for a second look.
When she had tried to help out his nephew, she struck a chord in his heart. And then he'd tossed out that lame question.
Do I know you?
He blamed his lapse on the hint of laughter in the shape of her arching eyebrows and her soft mouth. Brown hair flowing like melted chocolate over her shoulders and down her back had also added to his momentary brainlessness.
In spite of his rather uncharacteristically gauche question, he still wanted to go after her and ask her a few questions, which would have violated his hard-won rules for living.
Keep your pride. Don't go running after any girl. Let them come to you.
This had been his mantra ever since Colby left him the day before their wedding because she suddenly decided she couldn't move onto the farm.
It took him four months to get over her, five months to use up all the envelopes that came with the thank-you cards and six months to decide he would never go running after a girl again.
"Hannah was supposed to be here by today, so that girl could easily have been her." Morris Westerveld gave his newspaper a shake and dived into the news of the world again.
Ethan sighed and picked a crumb off his fingertip.
If that girl was Hannah, she would bring nothing but questions and potential trouble to the family and—more specifically—to him.
The family had all breathed a collective sigh of relief when Sam came back from Ontario thirteen years ago. Grandpa Westervel...
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Book Description Steeple Hill, 2008. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0373874863
Book Description Steeple Hill, 2008. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0373874863
Book Description Steeple Hill, 2008. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110373874863