Sweetgrass Springs Stories
Texas Heroes, Book 16
SECRETS DIVIDE A FAMILY
For Michael Cavanaugh’s entire life, his mother has kept a shocking secret: that she was married once before she married his father, and she gave birth to that man’s child. Stunned that the mother who’d loved him so would abandon a child and furious with his mother’s deceit, he sets out to find the older brother he has always wanted.
Ian McLaren, the favorite son of Sweetgrass Springs, has a full plate: a wife he adores, a baby on the way, a ranch to run and a town that depends on him. When a stranger arrives in town with the staggering news that he and Ian share a mother—the woman he’ll never forgive for abandoning him and his dad—his world tilts off its axis.
Gordon McLaren has had years to regret the path he chose that parted him from the only woman he’s ever loved. Now he is torn between his longing to see her again and the anguish doing so would cause the son he’s worked so hard to protect all these years.
Walking away from the child she cherished and the man she loved was far from easy for Sophia Bancroft McLaren Cavanaugh. Facing them again would be the single most terrifying step she’s undertaken since the day she left to save her sanity—and Gordon forbade her to return.
CAN LOVE REUNITE THEM?
Secrets divide the four of them, and the anguish of the past makes it impossible to hope they could ever overcome the years of heartache–
Until the threat of an even more unbearable loss gives them one last chance to unite.
Excerpt: Texas Hope
Sophia Bancroft strolled down the sidewalk near Union Square, her mind on the boyfriend her parents had chosen for her. Lawrence Rutherford was exactly who her patrician parents believed would complete her, the man who would give her the life they enjoyed, the privileged existence their cherished daughter deserved.
She would have more trips abroad, make a beautiful home in Pacific Heights, bear two well-groomed, intelligent children…and so on.
And on and…on.
She’d been born and bred to this existence. She knew all the dance moves, understood the rhythm of the bluest blood, descended from aristocrats who’d found a home in the New World and conquered its shores.
And all of it gave Sophia an itch. If only—
A tug at her shoulder, a yank, and she nearly fell to her knees—
Her purse! A young, slim form sprinted away.
Big hands caught her, stood her back up. “Are you all right?” Gray eyes captured hers. “Wait here—” He charged in the direction the thief had taken.
“Don’t—” she began. Don’t bother. He’ll be long gone, she thought, even as she tallied what would be lost. Everything in her wallet could be replaced, likewise the cosmetics she carried. The purse caused her a few seconds of grief, as she’d loved that purse.
But she’d manage. Only a nuisance—
Until she remembered the small compact that had belonged to her grandmother. That was irreplaceable. Valuable, yes, with its ornate enameling, but it was the memories that counted most.
She shook her head and sighed, giving herself a minute to mourn.
Footsteps nearby, strong ones, followed by a shuffling set. “Let go, man! I wasn’t doin’ nuthin!”
She glanced up, and her world narrowed to one face, one that seemed to have risen from her dreams. He was ruggedly handsome and tall, shoulders broad, muscles powerful.
He was holding her purse in one hand, the thief in the other, wriggling against the iron grip. “Here you are, miss.”
She liked his voice, baritone with a gravelly drawl. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to leave him. “Are you all right?”
The corners of his eyes crinkled as he grinned. “‘Course I am.” He glanced down. “You skinned your knee.” A muscle in his jaw flexed. “See what you did, jerk? Tell the lady you’re sorry.”
The boy—and he was clearly a boy, sneered. “Make me.”
The big man drew him around and got nose to nose. “Tell the lady you’re sorry.” The tone of command was unmistakable. Sophia was barely short of saluting herself.
A quick side glance. “Sorry.”
“It’s all right.”
The man’s attention whipped to hers. “It’s not. You don’t coddle criminals.”
“He’s just a boy,” she protested.
A muscle flexed in the man’s jaw. “Who will become a career criminal, if he isn’t already.” He glanced over at the miscreant. “If we were on my ranch, I’d make you work until you dropped to pay for the damage.”
Everything fell into place, the jeans, the boots, the drawl. “You’re a cowboy?”
When he looked at her, a dimple winked. “Right now I’m in the Navy, but yeah.”
“Oh, brother,” the boy smirked. “Just my luck. John Wayne comes to the big city. Where’s your horse, dude?”
“Back in Texas.”
He couldn’t be more exotic to her. Sophia’s life was filled with urbane men with styled hair and sharp creases in their slacks. With yachting clothes and the latest running wear.
“You want to press charges?” he asked her.
“Aw, man…no fair.”
“Somebody should have tanned your hide long ago, taught you that a real man takes responsibility for his choices. You chose to be a criminal today. You want that life?”
His tone was surprisingly gentle, even as he held the boy in an unyielding grip. She bet he’d be an amazing father.
And she’d like to see him on that horse.
“No,” grumbled the boy.
The big man crouched to look the boy in the eye. “You can do better than this, son. This is not the life you want. Every choice is important. Each one counts.”
“Nothing really matters,” the boy muttered. “People don’t care.”
“I do.” It was impossible not to believe him. This man was rock solid. He’d never doubted where he belonged or who he was. He let go of the boy.
To her surprise, the boy didn’t race away. “Why?”
A gentleness rose in the man’s eyes. “You tame enough horses, you get to know when one’s just kickin’ up for the hell of it, which one is going to be a good mount for life.”
“I’m not a horse.” But curiosity mingled with the boy’s resentment.
“People are no different. It’s in the eyes. Just have to take the time to look.”
Sophia suspected the boy was as riveted by this man as she was. She couldn’t tear her gaze away.
The boy tried for one more disinterested shrug. “Big deal.”
The man glanced at her. “Got a pen and some paper in there?”
“Oh.” She stirred. “Yes.” She dug in her purse and handed him both.
He wrote in a bold, authoritative hand, then tore off the small piece of notebook page. “Here.” He handed it to the boy.
“What’s this?” Suspicion painted his tone.
“The phone number and address of the Double Bar M—that’s my ranch.”
“Why would I want this?”
Give it to me, Sophia wanted to say. She surprised herself.
“Because I’ll be out of the Navy in six months, and we can always use a good hand on the ranch. You could use a change of scenery.”
“Ranch hand?” the boy scoffed. “Texas is a thousand miles from anywhere important, and I don’t give a shit about horses and cows and crap.”
The man only smiled patiently. “You don’t have to use it, but keep it. You might change your mind.”
The boy glanced down. “Gordon McLaren.” An odd look passed over his features. “Double Bar M, seriously?”
“Been in my family for over a hundred and seventy-five years.”
“For real, you have your own horse?”
“Got a whole bunch of them. Cattle, too.”
The boy’s head canted. “Do you have a dog?”
“Always. You like dogs?”
“They’re not so bad.”
She guessed that Gordon McLaren could see the same too-thin frame she was observing, the neglected haircut and shabby clothes. “Here. I live in San Francisco. If you need help beforehand, you can call me.” She took the pen and notepad and wrote down her own information.
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “You look rich.”
She finished writing as she grinned. “I’m not, but my father is.”
“Maybe he’ll give me some money.”
“I doubt that. But I’ll help you find assistance. You could come with me now.”
Wary eyes met hers. “No thanks. Gotta jet. ‘Bye Cowboy! Bye, Rich Girl!”
Before Gordon could stop him, he was gone.
Leaving the two of them staring after him.
“He won’t call, will he?” she asked.
“Maybe not, but the Double Bar M isn’t goin’ anywhere.” He turned. “Sophia— I only caught the first name.” His eyes were warm and made her want to get closer so she could lean into that broad chest and inhale the scent of his strength.
“Sophia Bancroft.” He made her shiver. In a good way. “So how does a Texas cowboy wind up in the Navy?”
“Serving my country. I come from a long line of patriots. My great-great granddaddy Ronald McLaren won our land in return for fighting to free Texas from Mexico.”
“But now you’re a sailor?”
He shrugged. “Thought I wanted to see the world.”
“I’ve seen enough to know that I belong back on my land.”
What must it feel like, such certainty? She’d never belonged, not in her society life, not with the bohemians she’d fled to. She wasn’t sure where to try next, so she’d been floating along. “Would I like Texas?”
His quick grin and the crinkles around those warm gray eyes made her breathless. “Texas would like you, I know that for sure. Would a rich girl let a cowboy buy her lunch?” He held out an arm like the gentleman he was.
A completely new kind of gentleman to her experience, one who was rugged and strong but knew how to temper the rough edges. He’d take off his hat for a lady, she’d bet anything.
“That would be lovely,” she replied, and slipped her arm through his, holding on and feeling something inside her settle.
As they walked, they spoke of small things, what he’d seen, where she’d traveled, books they’d read, music they liked.
Most of it as different as cheese and chalk.
But beneath the surface, both of them felt the thrills, the little shocks.
And the racing river currents of longing.