Struggling to pick up the pieces of her life, widow Brie Beaumont accepts an invitation to visit the Circle C ranch in Canadaís Rocky Mountains. Co-owner Jed Cameron distrusts Brieís motives. He is determined to protect his brother and the ranch from the red-headed gold digger. But when tragedy strikes, Jedís only hope is the woman he vowed to run off.
Conscious of his resentful eyes turned toward heróas if he expected her to steal the silveróshe refused to cave to his sulky behavior. "You have a beautiful house, Jed, from what Iíve seen of it."
"Yes, we do. Itís taken a lot of hard work to get it this way, but itís home. Tell me, Mrs. Beaumont...are you a contented little housewife or do you earn your keep?"
"That sexist remark wasnít called for." With a flip of her wrist, her mug tipped, spilling the contents into Jedís lap.
Jed rocketed to the sink and grabbed a cloth to sponge his jeans. "Dammit, thatís hot!"
"Sorry, you deserved it. For two cents, Iíd climb right back in your plane and leave."
Reaching into his dampened side pocket, he palmed two pennies. "Be my guest, Iíll fly you out."
"Letís go!" Brie stomped to the front door.
Jed chased behind her. A half-hearted grin pasted across his mouth, he reached out his arm and held the door shut. "Mrs...Brie, Iím sorry I made that comment." His other hand grasped air instead of her shoulder when she sidestepped his touch. He quickly withdrew and hooked his hands into his belt. "Come back...Iíll pour you more coffee. Iíll even mind my manners...so long as you promise not to empty your mug on me again."
Stunned by her own actions and by the force that willfully prevented her escape, Brieís insides churned. She gave a quick nod, but there would be no apology coming from her. Deploring the impossible situation she found herself in, she yanked her hand from the doorknob, marched back to the table and dropped into the chair. Jed strutted to the counter and picked up the coffeepot.
Brie remained quiet for a few minutes, then sighed, choosing to make one last effort to find a common ground for conversation. "In answer to your question, Iím an artist of sorts. I paint landscapes. I managed to do some sketching on the cruise, though not as much as Iíd planned. Matt was right in saying weíd spent a lot of time together. Later, when Hank was feeling better, the three of us were almost inseparable."
"Whatíll you do with the sketches?" He drained the coffeepot into her mug.
His interest appeared genuine and her nerves calmed with the first sip of the brew. "Iíll sell some of them at a gallery owned by my friend; most Iíll use as a basis for paintings." She picked up her mug and ambled to the kitchen window. "Matt and Hank were right about the beauty of your mountains. Theyíre more striking than those we see on the coast. I wish Iíd brought my paints."
Cradling the mug in both hands, Brie inhaled the fresh roasted scent of her drink and ignored the blistering silence behind her. If she were wise, she would get the hell out of here. But she hadnít been wise for almost a year. When pearls of wisdom were passed out, I obviously was in the wrong line. She sipped her coffee, trying to enforce her determination to stay in control of their cat and mouse game.
Jedís disapproval still emanated across the space between them, jacking her tension. "Do I get to have a grand tour of the house, or would you rather busy yourself elsewhere and leave the chore to your brother?"
"Follow me." Jed ground his chair from the table. The scrape against the ceramic tile shredded her nerves.