Authors: Leanne Davis
River’s End Series, Book One
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Leanne Davis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Publishing History First Edition, 2014 Digital
Digital ISBN: 978-1-941522-06-6
River’s End Series, Book One
Edited by Teri at The Editing Fairy ([email protected])
Cover Design by Jeff Anderson (
For the Property
The place that owns all the summers of my youth and to the friends and family who have shared it over the years.
Acknowledgments: As always I must compliment my editor Teri who so thoroughly goes through my books with her red ink. Thank you for always doing it so well, and cutting my work in half.
And to cover designer Jeff Anderson for taking a vision I had for this book’s cover and making it into a reality.
River’s End Series
The Sister Series
The Other Sister
The Years Between
The Good Sister
The Best Friend
The Wrong Sister
The Zenith Trilogy
The Seaclusion Series
Erin Poletti cursed when the pavement ended. She slowed her car; cringing as her low-riding, Honda sedan hit the ripples and valleys of the barely maintained dirt road. Her car struggled over the jarring series of bumps that left her feeling like she’d been put into a Margarita shaker. There was no rail or turn-out to separate her car from the drop-off that followed the river, a good twenty feet below her. As she drove further, the drop-off turned into thirty, forty, and eventually, fifty feet as the road continued up the mountain. She gripped the wheel tightly and hugged the side of the road, blinking her eyes to banish the gritty feel of sleep deprivation. She was almost there. She had to keep driving. Now wasn’t the moment to get lazy driving.
Rounding the corner, she stopped her car in the center of the road. There wasn’t a soul around her in a five-mile radius and no reason to pull off to the side. She stared out before her. There it was. The small town of River’s End spread at the base of the valley and nestled along the white water Rydell River that spilled over the valley floor.
It was as odd a landscape to her as a drive across the moon. She had never traversed the Cascade Mountain range, which dissected the state of Washington into two halves: the western and eastern sides. Seattle born and raised, she rarely drove thirty miles beyond the radius of the city.
But now, hours from Seattle, after having crossed an entire mountain range to escape the mess of her life there, she hoped to find a new one here with her brother, in River’s End.
At least she assumed the small streak of houses that were across the river was the destination she had in mind. River’s End was smaller than a neighborhood. A white church steeple was the only indication it could be a town.
Her hands tightened over the steering wheel and her stomach heaved. How could her life become so dependent on her brother? It wasn’t like that was a good thing. It was a place she never thought she’d go, asking her brother for help. Or seeking an escape. Help he didn’t know he would be giving her, and certainly, never willingly offer to her.
She pressed her foot on the gas and started down the rough road again. It was another half mile before the large timber sign with the words “Rydell River Ranch” came into view. The driveway curved right, then left, like following a woman’s hips, ever so gently, as she drove her car over the land. When the road turned abruptly, her view of the valley changed. She gasped. She never expected this kind of spread. She assumed she was heading to a godforsaken ranch with sagebrush and dust as the only relief.
Instead, before her lay a scene straight out of a picturesque calendar. Grazing horses raised their heads when her car passed, dozens of them peppering the gently rolling land. It sloped downwards gently toward the river in front of her. The tall mountains encircled the entire idyll in a bowl-like effect. Pine trees and cottonwoods dotted the landscape. There were white-washed wood fences hugging the road, which all took off in various directions to make up separate fields and pastures. She rounded another turn before the ranch came into her sight. Her stomach recoiled with nerves. Oh God, it wasn’t some dive she could easily blend into. It was exquisite, and she felt as if she discovered a secret yuppie mountain retreat.
There was a large, two-story, rambling, log house perched on a small mound that elevated it gracefully from the land surrounding it. It had a green roof to offset the natural colored wood and the big river rock chimney. A covered porch encircled the whole homestead with an elaborate front that dramatically enhanced the house to appear like a resort.
The driveway approached the housing site, and widened into an ample swath of parking, outbuildings, and further off, a grid of roads that all went in different directions. She nearly groaned in dismay. The few e-mails to her mother, which Chance rarely sent, made the Rydell River Ranch sound like it was a hapless, dirty, poor enterprise, and certainly not this sprawling complex that had barns and fields as far as the eye could see.
. This would not work out. She couldn’t crash here. She couldn’t even imagine getting out of her car here.
She slowed to a stop, and sat there with the bright March sunlight glinting through her windshield, and highlighting the film of dust. Where was Chance? How could he, her loser, ne’er-do-well brother, end up working at an outfit like this? They appeared to have real money and real work to do; why would they risk that on a man like her feckless, opportunistic brother? It didn’t make any sense. And it stole away any prospects for her to count on.
Leaning her head against the steering wheel, she realized she had nowhere left to go. And nowhere to stay. She had come here to stay with her brother, no matter how much she loathed the idea. In the few bits of correspondence he had with her mother over the last few months, Chance made it sound like he was kicking back and lazing around an old, rundown dude ranch. The only feature that drew her here was because the owners gave her brother his own place to stay in on their land. A place she prayed he’d let her stay too.
But people who kept spreads like this had to have money. As well as high standards. Why then, would they allow her nefarious brother to live there?
Sensing movement through her windshield, she spotted a man coming through the wide doors of the barn. He stopped when he noticed her car and raised a hand to shade his eyes from the merciless glare of the late morning sun. Was it her imagination, or did the sun shine harsher here than it did in Seattle?
She took a deep breath and fumbled around for her car door handle. She had to get out and face the man now staring at her after emerging from the barn, and heading towards her, no doubt, wanting to know what she, the stranger, wanted. It wasn’t like a place as far out as this one regularly received passing idle traffic or lost travelers. One had to work to get there.
She opened her car door, which wasn’t in good shape. The once bright white color had faded long ago and now sported dings and rust along the wheel wells. She’d had the same car for five years and considered it a blessing she managed to hold onto it for that long. Standing in the opening of her car door, she watched the man saunter forward with a relaxed, almost cocky gait. At least, he wasn’t carrying a shotgun to scare her off. It definitely seemed like the kind of place that didn’t like or encourage strangers. The kind of place where the residents kept their guns proudly displayed in the backs of their pickups. To the right of the house she saw a lineup of half a dozen pickup trucks in varying sizes, models, and shapes.
The man started to smile as he got within a car distance from her and she could only smile back. His smile was that contagious. His eyes ran over her, and he made it clear he was checking out whatever he could see of her, smiling even wider when he finished.
“Well, hello there,” he said, his eyes bright with interest.
“Hi,” she said, as she stepped away from her car and shut the door. She steeled her nerves, having no other choice. Running her eyes over the man, she immediately noticed he was breathtaking. He looked like a cowboy that should have been modeling a pair of jeans on the cover of a popular horse and rider magazine
Probably in his mid-twenties, he had blonde hair, brown eyes, and a smile that put chills on her arms. She was a couple of inches over five feet and figured he was only a few inches taller.
“No. No, I’m not. I meant to find the Rydell River Ranch.”
His grin widened. “Yeah, well you found it. I’m Joey Rydell; why were you looking for us?”
She took the hand he offered as he stepped closer, and felt an undeniable zing as their fingers touched and his eyes finished his visual assessment of her.
“Hi Joey. My name is Erin. Erin Poletti.”
His eyes rounded. “Poletti? As in Chance Poletti?”
She cringed at his obvious surprise, and regretted that she indeed was related to Chance Poletti. “Yes.”
Joey’s mouth dropped open and his eyes lost their initial sparkle of interest. “I had no idea he was married.”
“Oh, no. God, no. I’m not his wife. I’m his sister. I was, I mean, I am hoping to visit him.”
“Sister, huh?” Joey said, his eyes rekindling interest and the smile appearing once more. “He never mentioned you.”
“I haven’t seen him in a while.”
As in a year
. But this man didn’t need to know that. Or that she was desperate to see her brother and stay on their land indefinitely.
“Joey? Where the hell are you? Augusta isn’t going to wait all day.”
The shout came from inside the shadows of the barn. Erin turned towards the voice, slightly dismayed to realize there were more men to deal with. She hoped the other Mr. Rydell would be kind enough to take pity on her and let her “visit” her brother.
Joey turned his body and yelled, “We got a visitor.”
A man appeared in the dusty darkness of the barn doorway. He stood staring at her car before looking at her. The cowboy hat on his head kept his eyes shaded from the sun and hidden from her. Erin had never been to a place where men really wore cowboy hats. This man looked tall, lean and strong; and his hat seemed more like an appendage than any kind of fashion statement. Like Joey, the man wore blue jeans tucked into brown, worn cowboy boots and a brown jacket made of a tough-looking material. The only thing she could tell for sure was that he was scowling at her.
“Your father looks mad.”
Joey laughed and slapped a hand to his leg. “God he’d hate to hear you say that. He always looks mad. And he isn’t my father. That’s my older brother, Jack.”
Jack. Jack Rydell
. Jack Rydell was the one she was here to see. Chance claimed Jack was the owner of the ranch and an ass who acted like he was master and commander of the pissant spread. Jack might have been an ass, but it was no pissant ranch that he lorded over.
He started towards them in a long, slow stride, and his carriage seemed almost predatory. He made no secret of his gaze skimming over her. He grimaced in dismay as his eyes ran over her starting from her strappy shoes, up her bare legs and flouncy skirt, to the thin, long-sleeved sweater that covered her green t-shirt. She was freezing. She never expected the temperatures to feel so sharply cold here. Spots of snow dotted the mountains around them. The air was nippy and stark on her bare legs. If she had any hairs on her legs, they’d be standing at full attention and shivering.
She pulled her eyes away from Jack. How could he already show such disapproval of her? He didn’t even know about her connection to Chance yet.
“Who are you?”
Jack’s voice was low, deep, and commanding. He sounded the way she thought any general would have. There was no welcoming, flirtatious smile like Joey offered her. Neither was there any appreciation for her as a woman, like Joey displayed. This man completely dismissed her. What was it? Her car? Her age? Her skirt? What could have possibly already turned Jack Rydell against her? With one look at her, he clearly decided she was of no interest to him; and therefore, not even worthy of common courtesy.
Not a particularly intelligent person, Erin didn’t even finish high school. She had no real talent or hobby or job. But despite having done nothing, in some ways, she’d done everything. She worked as a waitress, grocery clerk, coffee barista, bartender, and janitor, just to name a few. Her limited intelligence was reflected in every boyfriend she ever chose, one loser after the next; although each time she met one of them, she thought he would be the answer to her love life. She already knew all of this about herself; but in one glance, one scathingly rude glance, Jack Rydell also determined the truth about her. She stepped back in surprise, unprepared for how much his scorn shamed her.
The single, remotely positive personality quirk she did possess was her magnetism: most people liked her. She had an easy smile and could be charming enough when she needed to be. Joey was indeed charmed as he stared at her legs. The problem was, Jack was about to order her to leave.
“I’m Erin Poletti.”
Jack’s face shifted from neutral to distaste in his scowl, and her heart plummeted to her knees. God, he must hate Chance, made obvious by his physical reaction to hearing her last name. The same reaction she felt. She detested being put on the same level as her brother by sharing the name Poletti. But what else could she do?
“Great. So there is more than one of you Polettis. What are you? His wife?”
“No. I’m his sister.”
Jack rolled his eyes and she dropped hers. If Jack detested her brother so much, why did her brother work for him? Jack turned on his heel and walked away. That apparently was that. She was dismissed. Not even worth his time. Much less, another glance.
Joey snorted and shook his head, and when she looked at him, he smiled at her. “Hey, don’t sweat Jack. He doesn’t care much for your brother.”
“I gathered that. Why does Chance work here then?”
“I let Chance work here. Jack isn’t the boss. It belongs to all of us.”
“All of us? How many are there?”
Joey grinned. “Four. Four brothers. We all have an equal stake in this place.”
She had two more Jack Rydells to get through? Oh shit!
What if the others were just like Jack? She could only hope they were like Joey and easily distracted by a flash of leg and a glimpse of breast. She smiled, focusing her full attention now on Joey. She was nearly blinded by the perfection of his face: deep, penny-colored eyes and dimpling smile.