BOOK 1: GALLAGHERS OF SWEETGRASS SPRINGS:
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jean Brashear comes a new tale of her much-loved Gallagher family…
When scandal and an ambitious prosecutor wreck Scarlett Ross’s life and she learns of a grandmother she never knew she had, she flees the notoriety to pay an anonymous visit to Sweetgrass Springs, Texas, a town kept alive only by her grandmother’s determination and carried on the strong shoulders of sexy rancher Ian McLaren. There she is surprised to discover a yearning to sink roots deep in the Texas Hill Country–but she is terrified that the secrets she’s hiding will endanger everyone she’s come to love.
Excerpt: Texas Roots
What had possessed her mother to keep Sweetgrass Springs a secret for thirty-two years? To tell her that they had no family?
Scarlett Ross pressed the accelerator and tried to think about that mystery instead of the fear that tangled beneath her breastbone: would she be safe there?
No one knew about the town—she herself had not until two weeks ago. She’d been careful not to be followed, leaving New York. She had bought a throwaway cell phone—not that she had anyone to call after the scandal—and the car was not registered in her name. She hadn’t had any use for a car in Manhattan, so she’d never owned one.
The District Attorney would be furious, of course. He wanted her on hand in case her testimony would make the difference. How that could be, when she’d known nothing about her boyfriend Andre’s illegal activities until she’d wound up in handcuffs, she hadn’t a clue.
But that didn’t seem to matter to a DA running for reelection, determined to take down a very bad man named Viktor Kostov. Kostov, she’d learned, was suspected in a variety of crimes both here and in his native Bulgaria, and the DA would use anything that might possibly help him. He didn’t want to believe in her innocence. Blind ambition, yes—that she was guilty of. Being too trusting—check. Ridiculous optimism? That, too.
What seems too good to be true usually is, she’d always been told—but she’d wanted her chance so badly. She was a talented chef, but there were plenty like her in New York, so when she’d been offered a shot at headlining in a high-end restaurant, she’d jumped on it with both feet.
Damn you, Andre.
She crested the last hill, the tiny town a small diamond of light cushioned in flocked green velvet as the smudged violet of night stole over the Texas Hill Country. January here was far kinder than in New York. While the grass was a flaxen hue and some trees were only bare trunks and branches, many were still green.
The road curved left, right, left again, while Sweetgrass Springs winked in and out of view. Dead tired from the long drive fleeing the wreckage of her life in Manhattan, Scarlett longed for a meal and a bed. Best she’d been able to tell from the limited information available online, however, only the meal would be available in this town of fifteen hundred sixty-seven. The nearest motel was an hour back the way she’d come, but after running full-speed halfway across the country, Scarlett couldn’t bear to wait another night to find out if she, in fact, was not alone in this world, after all.
She had nowhere else to go. Her career was in ruins and the media hounded her every step, screaming for juicy details of her affair with a drug lord. For two years she’d been a meteor on the rise in the only city that mattered…and now she was a star in a tragedy. A farce, except that a cop had died in the raid.
She wasn’t a criminal…but she was criminally stupid, no question. How could she not have seen? How could she have blithely accepted Andre’s assurances that it was his love for her that made him want to showcase her talents in the gem of a restaurant into which she’d put her heart and soul?
Instead, Mirelle had been simply a front for illegal activities that had gone on under her nose. And she’d never once, in the whole two years, suspected. Never wanted to look. She’d simply been grateful for the focus, the distraction from her grief. His offer had come right after she’d lost her only family, and she’d boxed up her mother’s effects without a look. Instead of immediately leaving for parts unknown as her mother had always done when things got crazy, she’d tried something radical: she’d planned to stay in one place. She’d been too devastated to think straight, had been ripe pickings for Andre’s machinations.
She’d been grateful, so grateful for the rescue. She’d lost her only compass in a life spent on the move, and she’d welcomed the chaos and endless work that allowed her not to think. The solace of someone who cared.
Except Andre hadn’t really cared, had he? She’d been a dupe, and she’d walked into his trap with gratitude, playing her part to perfection.
The velvet-lined trap had sprung just when her future seemed brightest, when she was at last emerging from grief and loneliness.
Only to wind up in handcuffs, with her picture on the front page of the newspaper and featured on the evening newscast. Andre had escaped scot-free, no doubt on some tropical island drinking mai tais with a new idiot, while she stood holding the bag because he’d put her name on the more damaging documents.
And she’d thought him so sweet to both bankroll the venture and give her Mirelle.
She’d been trapped in New York for twelve days while the District Attorney had bled her brain dry, then she’d been freed under the stipulation that she’d testify against Andre and his cohorts—should they ever be found. On one of many sleepless nights, wandering the apartment filled with hated memories of Andre, in desperation she’d dragged out a box of her mother’s things. There, in her mother’s girlhood diary, a stunned Scarlett had discovered family. In Texas, of all places, one of the few states she and her mother had not lived.
A grandmother, still alive, from what little Scarlett could determine…a treasure she’d longed for all her life. Why Georgia Ross had never spoken one word of Sweetgrass Springs or family was reason for caution, certainly, but Scarlett had decided that once she had her life back together, she would seek the answers she craved to the riddle of her mother’s past.
Then came a late night visit from two very scary men there to silence her before she could testify. Thanks to her drunken neighbors’ screaming battle, the cops had shown up next door, and she’d been left with the memory of a knife to her throat and a whispered warning.
Scarlett’s timeline had abruptly sped up. She’d left town within hours.
Texas had been the only place she could think of to go. To pay a visit to the grandmother she’d never known existed and to buy herself a few days to think what to do next.
She had nowhere else to go. No options.
Okay, she still had her skills, and there might be some corner of the world where no one read the headlines. Truth to tell, New York only thought of itself as the center of the universe—there were other foodie towns like Santa Fe or San Francisco, other places where her skills could take her. Where the confidence she’d once had in spades could land her a new position.
If only she weren’t so tired. So scared.
What if her grandmother wanted nothing to do with her? Why had her mother kept her family a secret? A million things could be wrong, so many ways this could go bad.
She was alone as never before in her life. Until two years ago, there had always been her mother. They had moved often, yes, but they were a team, they were solid. As long as they’d had each other, they needed little more.
How Scarlett missed her.
In Georgia’s place remained only a mystery.
Who was her mother? Why did she leave here and never say one word to Scarlett about this place, when they had always been so close? Why did Scarlett have to find out about it when she could ask no questions? Was there some reason she should stay away, too? Her mother had been footloose but not foolish.
It was only a meal. A chance to reconnoiter. She didn’t have to say anything to a soul.
The road ran alongside a ribbon of water, and a little further she could see it wind through the town next to a three-story courthouse that formed one corner of the town square, most of the buildings dark and closed, only a handful of them taller than one story. It was surely the tiniest town she’d ever seen.
She rounded the corner, and one building spilled out light in welcome. Ruby’s Café. Owned by one Ruby Gallagher.
The grandmother Scarlett had never known existed.
Scarlett sucked in a deep breath for courage. She’d been the new kid countless times.
But her mother had always had her back.
Nonsense. I’ll be okay. I’m a grown woman. It won’t matter if she can’t love me.