Authors: Carolyn Brown
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 by Carolyn Brown
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
To each and every person at Montlake Romance who had a hand in putting this book together…thank you all!
The loud, grating noise of the big black-and-chrome motorcycle had no place at a funeral service but there it was, roaring into the cemetery right in the middle of “I’ll Fly Away.” Whoever was riding the thing had best get on down the road with his Harley. If he was still there when Aunt Maud’s spirit flew away—“Hallelujah, by and by”—he would suffer a side of Sophie McSwain’s red-haired Irish temper that no one, not even the head honcho of the Hells Angels, wanted to aggravate.
Kate touched Sophie’s arm and whispered, “Ignore the rude idiot.”
Sophie tried, but it wasn’t easy when the rider parked the machine only a few feet from the grave site, hung his helmet on the handlebars at the exact moment the singers harmonized with “I’ll fly away, oh glory,” and squatted down at the end of Aunt Maud’s blue casket.
“Who is that?” Fancy Lynn asked Sophie.
Sophie shrugged. It could not be Elijah, could it? Her glare bored into his face, but she couldn’t see a thing of the man she’d met only a few times back when she was a young girl. No, that wasn’t Elijah, and besides he wouldn’t disrespect
Aunt Maud by riding a Harley to her funeral. The man had made a big mistake when he had squatted down beside Aunt Maud’s casket. He was going to be an embarrassed Angel when he figured out that he was at the wrong funeral.
Sophie blinked and looked down at the words to the song written on the back of the memorial cards the lady from the funeral home handed to each person in attendance. Fancy sat between her and Kate, and they all three looked on together. Aunt Maud would have liked that. The three of them sitting in the chairs and sharing her service like they did everything else.
Fancy and Kate had been Sophie’s best friends since grade school, and they were there to support her during the difficult time of her aunt’s passing. They kept stealing glances at the man with his head bowed in reverence, as if tucking his chin against his chest would grant him absolution for all the noise he’d just made. If he thought it would, he was in for a big surprise because he was about to pay dearly for upsetting the short service. As soon as it was over, Sophie intended to tell him exactly what she thought of his rude arrival.
“Let us pray,” the preacher said.
All heads bowed and Sophie tried to listen, but one eye slid open to look at the intruder. He wore a red bandanna tied around his head, do-rag style, but a few strands of jet-black hair escaped around his ears. A six-inch ponytail hung down his back and a small gold hoop hung in one ear. His cheekbones were high, his face a study in angles that left no doubt about his Native American heritage. He wore tight jeans, a black T-shirt, and plain black boots.
He looked like he should have ridden up to the funeral service on the back of a painted horse with no saddle, clad
in leather buckskins with fringe on the sides, his chest bare and war paint on his face.
“Amen,” the preacher said. “This concludes the service. Maud only wanted that song and a prayer. Her spirit has flown on the wings of that hymn, and there is rejoicing in heaven this morning. Sophie has asked me to announce to all of you faithful friends that dinner will be served at the ranch house. Everyone is invited.”
Mr. Rude Biker raised his head and locked gazes with Sophie. Her eyes, the color of heavy fog on a winter day, did not back down from his glare. His cold, steely blue eyes looked out of place with all his other Indian features. They bore no warmth and sent a chill down Sophie’s spine.
He arose from the squatting position, took two steps forward, and stuck out his hand. “You’d be Sophie McSwain? The kinky auburn hair is still the same, and those weird gray eyes. The rest of you has grown up from a whiny, leggy teenager.”
Sophie rose to her feet from the folding chair in front of Maud’s casket. Kate and Fancy did the same.
“And you are Kate Ducaine, the tall, dark-haired one with brown eyes, and you are Fancy Warren, the short one with blue eyes and blonde hair,” he said, getting both names right.
“And exactly who are you?” Kate asked.
“I’m Elijah Jones, half owner, soon to be full owner, of Aunt Maud’s ranch,” he said, a big grin splitting his face and showing even white teeth.
Sophie’s gray eyes turned icy. “In your wildest dreams that won’t ever happen, Mr. Jones.”
“I’m tougher than you are by a long shot. I’ll wear you down with pure determination,” he whispered.
“This isn’t the time or place to discuss business,” Fancy said.
Elijah grinned. “Just statin’ facts. I’ll see you back at the ranch then for lunch? Preacher said everyone was invited. Shall I stop and buy a pizza for my contribution?”
“We have plenty. You won’t need to buy a thing,” Kate said.
In a few easy strides he was beside his motorcycle. He threw a long leg over the seat and rode away, leaving only a puff of dust in the August heat. Texas is always hot in August, but that year it had broken all records. Farmers were to the point that they’d do rain-stomp dances for a weeklong, soaking rain. But in spite of the heat, another chill danced down Sophie’s spine that morning.
She shivered and had a vision of the almighty Elijah Jones chanting for rain in full regalia like the stomp dancers she’d seen in Oklahoma at an Indian festival. Well, he could stomp. He could rev up his motorcycle engine. He could even conjure up the rain, but he wasn’t buying her part of the ranch. And that was a fact!
“That was strange,” Kate said.
“My worst nightmare has come true. I had no idea that man was Elijah,” Sophie said.
“You knew him before?”
Sophie wiped sweat from her brow with a tissue and nodded. “I think I did, but I didn’t know he was Elijah. Aunt Maud called him Bud, and I knew he was related to Uncle Jesse, but I didn’t know how.”
“Well, you do now, and he doesn’t seem like he’s in a mood to sell his half. You might have a problem,” Kate said.
“He hasn’t met determination, but, honey, it is right up in his face. Before the year is over, he’ll be signing away his half just to get away from me,” she said.
Kate chuckled. “And there, ladies and gentlemen, is our Sophie, clad in her black armor and ready for the battle that lies ahead. Aunt Maud would be proud. She can rest easy now.”
“I’m going to miss her so much.” Sophie’s chin wobbled.
Kate touched her arm. “We’ll fight him for you. He might whip one of us, but, darlin’, he ain’t got a chance against all three!”
“Yes, we will,” Fancy said.
“He’d best bring his dinner because it’ll be a long affair,” Kate said.
Kate had been sworn to secrecy on her wedding day back in April and had to bite her tongue to keep from spitting out what she knew. Aunt Maud had purposely left half the ranch to Elijah and was playing matchmaker after her death. However, after meeting Elijah, Kate believed the old girl’s brain tumor had affected her judgment. Elijah Jones and Sophie McSwain were as suited as a rabid coyote and a jackrabbit. Elijah would know before the first day was over that he was the jackrabbit and had better hop on his cycle and get his sorry rear end on down the road. Sophie would have to stiffen up her backbone even more if she was going to hoodwink that ranch out from under him and that big, black motorcycle, but Kate had no doubts that she was up to the task.
The three women rode back to the ranch in the funeral-home limousine along with Sophie’s mother, Ellen; her father, Donnie; and her two sisters, Layla and Sandy. Kate’s husband, Hart, drove their pickup truck behind the limo. Fancy’s husband, Theron, and Tina, his daughter, rode in the truck behind Hart. The rest of Maud’s neighbors and church family filed in behind them, creating a long procession moving slowly
north from the cemetery to the ranch. The cars drove past Angus and longhorns, mesquite trees, rolling hills, ranches, and barbed wire. All a part of Maud’s world; things she had loved and cussed all in a day’s time. She’d left big boots behind, and Sophie wasn’t sure she could fill them, but she’d never let Elijah Jones know she had a doubt in her mind.