Read No Strings Attached (Last Hope Ranch Book 1) Online

Authors: Amanda McIntyre

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Western, #Westerns

No Strings Attached (Last Hope Ranch Book 1)

BOOK: No Strings Attached (Last Hope Ranch Book 1)
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


No Strings Attached





Amanda McIntyre



To the strong and loyal men and women of the armed forces at home and abroad. For your services rendered, your sacrifice for home and country.

With gratitude immeasurable, we will remember.

Chapter One


“You’re out of your mind.” Aimee gathered toys and other sundry baby things and stuffed them in her diaper bag.

“Hey, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sally replied, pressing a kiss on her goddaughter Grace Kinnison’s tiny forehead. “Gracie would love to have someone to play with when she comes to visit Aunt Sally, wouldn’t you, buttercup?” She focused on the child she adored. Never mind that her mother, who was her best friend, thought she was nuts.

“Are you hearing yourself?” Aimee tossed her a worried look.

Sally bounced Gracie on her hip. “As a matter of fact, I have been thinking about it—a lot, in fact. Does it sound that unrealistic?”

“Yes.” Aimee hiked the diaper bag over her shoulder, and held her hands out to Grace. Grace tucked her head under Sally’s chin and pouted at her mother.

“You’re not gaining me any points here, kid,” Sally said quietly to her goddaughter. She knew that her friend might have a better grip on reality. Maybe she’d grown too desperate to have a family of her own. She’d taken the role of godparent quite seriously, and loved the times when Aimee would drop Gracie off while she ran a few errands. The little girl was an angel to care for with a sweet disposition, bright blue eyes like her mama, and wavy, raven-black hair like her daddy. “I blame you.” She placed Grace in Aimee’s arms.


Sally chucked the baby under the chin and received a quick, shy smile in return. “If your kid wasn’t so cute, I’d have probably ignored the ticking of my biological clock.”

Aimee sent her a dubious look. “Somehow, I knew you’d drag me into this.” Her expression softened. “Are you sure about this? If you really want a child, there are many out there who need good homes.”

Sally nodded. “Believe me, I’ve thought of that. But when I looked into the process, I discovered that the red tape for a single mom to try to adopt a baby is horrific—even for someone like me who has enough love and means to care for a child. It’s an uphill battle.”

“But have you thought about the tests, the time off, the cost alone?” Aimee rested her hand on Sally’s arm.

“I’ve been saving and I have the little bit that dad left me.’

Aimee’s expression was less than agreeable--more like ‘you’re crazy’ and, possibly, ‘you-have-really-gone-over-the-edge.’

Gracie squealed, and her fussing startled her mother back to reality. “We need to talk.” She pointed her finger at Sally and used her best teacher voice. “
… you do anything.”

Sally found Grace’s pacifier in the pocket of the diaper bag and popped it in the little girl’s mouth. Her fussing ceased.

“Promise me we’ll talk more about this, Sally,” Aimee insisted as she jostled open the door.

Sally sighed. “Well, okay, but that means you’ve ruined my plans to go stand on the corner by Betty’s diner tonight.”

“That’s not funny.” Aimee shot her a look of warning.

“Not true. Please, give me some credit.” Sally held up her hands. “Everyone knows the Git & Go is the place to pick up guys.”

Aimee leveled her with an exasperated look.

“I’m kidding. Go on now, your kid is hungry.” She shut the door and leaned against it. The house seemed far-too-vacant again. There was a silence that she no longer enjoyed. Before her friends had gotten married there’d been evenings of impromptu potluck dinners, movies on Friday night with popcorn and wine. But one by one, her friends had found their Mr. Right and were now starting families, starting their own traditions. She was completely happy for them. Family traditions and bonding with each other was vital to the health and well-being of any child. She saw it every day in the students she taught.

She released a sigh, walked to the living room, and plopped down in her oversized reading chair. Drawing the afghan over her legs, she thought about what Aimee had said. God knows she’d dated just about every eligible bachelor in End of the Line under the age of forty-five. A couple had made it to second date status, but thus far
Mr. Right had yet to be found.


Sally stared at Rein. “How much did you say it’d cost again?” She’d met with him on Saturday morning at Betty’s to discuss the plans she had to remodel her house. It was the first step in her goal of getting her life ready for a child.

Rein sighed and looked again at the floor plan sketches. He’d been the one who’d helped her remodel the family home where she’d spent years caring for her father with multiple sclerosis. It’d been designed to accommodate his needs—wider doors, lower countertops—special touches that allowed him to get around on his own while Sally taught music at End of the Line Elementary School.

“Kitchen, front hall, opening that area between the kitchen and the living room in an open floor concept. And we’ll need to get Tyler in there to make sure the wiring and plumbing are up to code. Your old farmhouse is great with all of its woodwork and beveled glass French doors, but they can be a nightmare to do as much as you’re wanting to do here.”

Sally gnawed on her lip in thought.

“I know that look, Sally. What are you thinking? And if you don’t mind me asking, why are you wanting to do this now?”

She glanced up and met his steady gaze. Those crystal blue eyes were hard to ignore. Always had been. That’s what had precipitated their short and sweet dating experience back what seemed now a hundred years ago. Fortunately, friendship turned out to be a better fit for them than romance. Rein turned out to be the big brother she’d never had and was ecstatic when he and Liberty had married. He’d just announced a few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, that he was to be a father himself for the first time. Part of her wanted to share her thoughts with him, but she hesitated. After Aimee’s reaction, she’d decided to keep her plans to herself. “I’ve got the money saved to do this.”

He shrugged. “I’m sure you do. I don’t doubt that you’ve been meticulous in your thoughts.” He glanced at the sketches again. “I’m just curious, though--why now? Your dad’s been gone now… what is it, four years?”

“Five this spring.” Sally took a sip of her coffee and eyed her partially eaten cinnamon roll—a Betty’s Saturday tradition.

Silence prompted her to look up.

Rein raised his brow in question.

“I have my reasons. It’s a great old house and I guess maybe I’m ready to make it my own. Anything wrong with that?”

He studied her like he could see what she was thinking. And he was right. She averted her eyes, not wanting to share her reasons yet with the whole town.

“Not at all.” His gaze narrowed. “I just want you to realize what you’re getting into.”

“Thanks. I’m sorry if I seem tense. I have a lot on my plate and I’ve just been elected to spearhead this year’s Montana Buckle Ball. Guess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

“You could say no,” Rein offered. “With your house being remodeled, I’m sure the committee would understand.”

Sally tossed him a cursory glance. “It seems that my status as a competent woman makes me more qualified than most.”

“Meaning?” He gently touched her forearm.

She let out a quiet sigh. “Meaning I have no commitments like a family or children to tie me down.”

“Oh, come on now, you don’t really believe that’s why they elected you. It’s because they’ve seen you pull together that massive wedding for Wyatt and Aimee last spring. That, and how you’re damn good at corralling your students.”

Rein’s smile touched her. “I know, you’re right.” She toyed with her coffee cup. “It’s just…”

“It’s just that your girlfriends all happen to be pregnant? Is that it?”

She met his gaze. Sometimes she wished they weren’t such good friends. “It’s stupid, really.” She bit her lip, willing to hold back the emotion welling inside her. “I don’t know why it’s affecting me so much. It’s not as though I’m a spinster. I have plenty of time to find someone, right?” She smiled, though it wobbled a bit.

“You’ve been so busy taking care of everyone around you, sweetheart, that you haven’t had time to think about what you need.” Rein caught Betty’s eye and motioned for her to bring more coffee.

Sally straightened her shoulders, determined not to let the fear of her ticking biological clock show. “And what exactly do you think I
, Mr. Mackenzie?”

“Looks like you two are over here solving the world’s problems.”

“Just need more coffee, Betty.” Rein smiled. Betty had been like a mother in many ways to just about everyone in town. She and the café had the reputation of bringing down-home hospitality and comfort food to their patrons. “And another of your famous cinnamon rolls to go. Liberty can’t seem to get enough of them these days.” Rein smiled and held up his cup.

Betty smiled as she topped off his coffee. “That girl has enough wiggle room on that body to indulge a little.” She winked at Rein then turned to Sally. “Need a warm-up, sweetheart?”

“According to just about everyone I know.” She held out her cup, keeping her gaze steady on Rein.

He chuckled with a shrug. “I’m just saying maybe it’s time for you to get out and have a little fun. That’s all.”

Betty fisted her hand to her ample hip, focusing on her task. She slid Rein a glance. “Since when are you giving advice on relationships, Mr. Mackenzie? Seems to me that had it not been for Liberty’s persistence, you might not yet be a married man.”

Rein held up his hands. “Whoa. Idle down, ladies.” He gestured toward Sally. “I simply made the observation that between her job, the volunteer work with the kids from the shelter, and helping with Gracie—”

“That’s my goddaughter you’re referring to. Tread carefully, cowboy,” Sally warned with a half-smile. She knew he meant well, as did Aimee, who had probably confided in Wyatt and soon she’d be reading about her plans in the local paper. She pictured the headline—
Sally desperate for a baby. Qualified men needed. Commitment not required, but helpful.

“I’m just suggesting you take some time to think about you for a change.”

Sally shrugged. “It’s not in my DNA. One of the reasons I’m a teacher.”

Betty looked from one to the other, then sighed. “God knows the pickings in this little town are slim,” she said--more to herself than to anyone else. “Still, Rein has a point. You can’t just keep giving. Every once in a while you need to let others give something to you.”

Rein ducked his head, hiding a wicked grin. Poor Betty had no idea the implication of her words.

“Shut up.” Sally wadded her napkin and tossed it at Rein’s head. She looked up, meeting Bettys puzzled look. “May I have a to-go box for the rest of this roll, please?”

Betty adjusted the pen sticking out of her fifties-era bouffant hair. “Coming right up.” She turned on her heel, the rubber soles of her shoes squeaking on the new hardwood floor put in a year ago by Liberty. Betty had hired her to redecorate, at a time when Rein hadn’t yet realized he was falling in love. The man had fought it tooth and nail. But in the end, they both won.

“Hey, what about a double date?” Rein’s face brightened, clearly enamored with his great idea.

Sally didn’t have the heart to squelch the idea--at least, not to his face. She dropped her chin on her fist. “Yeah, because single guys in this town are a dime a dozen, right?”

“Tyler Janzen.”

“Tyler?” She straightened. Rein couldn’t seriously think that she and Tyler were even remotely suited for one another.

He leaned his arms on the table, getting into the idea. “Sure, he’s a great guy. Sense of humor, and cute, I guess--as guys go.” Rein added.

“I hope your wife doesn’t hear you say this.”

“Hear what? Hi, baby.” Liberty leaned down and kissed Rein without apology. “Did you get my cinnamon roll?” She shrugged from her jacket, hanging it on the coat hook on the high-backed bench. Betty’s husband had seen them once at a restaurant in the city and thought the cafe should have them. Liberty slid in next to her husband. She wasn’t terribly far along—three months, maybe—but with her dancer’s physique, Sally wondered if she’d even show very much at term.

“I did. But we can get more if you need them.”

Liberty smiled and patted his cheek. “You won’t be as charming when you have to start helping me put my shoes on.” Liberty turned her attention to Sally. “So I understand you’re doing some remodeling?”

“Yes, I am,” Sally answered, not wanting to delve back into her reasons why. Instead, she steered away from the topic by bringing up the date-night idea. “Rein thinks a double date might be fun.”

Liberty grinned. “I’d be up for that, sure!” Her expression dissolved to one of curiosity. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone. Who is it?”

“I’m not seeing anyone,” Sally answered flatly.

Liberty slanted a look at Rein. “Are you playing matchmaker?”

“I just thought maybe it’d be fun to do something with Tyler… and Sally.”

“Tyler Janzen, the heating and plumbing guy?”

“Rein seems to think he’s cute, as guys go. I believe that’s what he said.” Sally grinned. Paybacks were delicious.

Liberty’s brows disappeared into her dark hair. She’d grown it shoulder length and had removed the vivid purple streak from the chopped-off style she’d been wearing when she’d first arrived at the ranch. Her looks, then decidedly Goth, and her edgy demeanor had softened since the arson fire that had almost killed her and Aimee and had landed Rein in the hospital with a gunshot wound. In retrospect, it had certainly been a tumultuous year, but from the ashes rose a stronger Kinnison clan, and bonds of friendship between the women that Sally felt blessed to know. Liberty’s rebel attitude was something Sally had always admired, as it was polar opposite of her practical, common sense side.

BOOK: No Strings Attached (Last Hope Ranch Book 1)
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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