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Authors: April Arrington

The Rancher's Wife

BOOK: The Rancher's Wife
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COME HOME, COWGIRL

Logan Slade is bringing his wife home for the holidays—but can he convince her to stay for good? Despite a four-year separation and a devastating loss, the Georgia rancher refuses to give up on their marriage…even if he has been served divorce papers.

Amy misses Raintree Ranch and her beloved horses almost as much as she misses the man who was her best friend before he was anything else. But she's no longer a wild rebel determined to get her man at any cost. To win her back, the honor-bound cowboy will have to let go of the past and open his heart to a real future.

“I made you promises and I intend to keep them.”

“That's my Logan,” Amy whispered. “Always doing the right thing. The honorable thing. That's how you got into this mess to begin with.” She leaned in, her chest brushing his. “We both have a chance to get out of this. To get our lives back. All you have to do is sign.”

He caught her wrists and pressed kisses to her palms. “I vowed to take care of you and love you every day of my life.”

She stilled, her expression lifting. “And do you? Love me?”

“You were the best damn friend I'd ever had. I've always cared for you.”

“That's not what I'm asking.” She stepped closer, the heat in her eyes burning into him. “You said you swore to love me. What does that mean to you?”

“It means you have my loyalty. My fidelity and protection. And my support.”

Her face fell. The spark in her eyes faded. “Those are all very important things,” she said. “But what about your heart?”

Dear Reader,

I met a boy in college. A brawny, flirtatious one with a wide smile. He wore designer jeans, an expensive watch and spent way too much time on his hair. He enjoyed starting an argument and making me blush. He did everything he could to get me to look up from my books and give him attitude.

I thought he was ridiculous and told him so. I even rambled off a list of everything I disliked about him.

He just laughed and said, “Keep going.”

That's how it started. But not how it ended. Jason became the best friend I'd ever had. He knew my shyness was debilitating. He coaxed me out of it. He persuaded me to join his kickboxing class, showed me how to hustle at pool and talked me into one more dance after closing time. The music would stop, the lights would go out and he'd just whisper, “Keep going.”

Jason was a fearless boy. He would've grown into an extraordinary man. Only, he never had the chance.

In
The Rancher's Wife
, Logan Slade loses someone very important to him. His heart becomes hard, fills with regret and he finds it difficult to move on. It takes someone special to help him love again. To teach him to keep going.

Thank you for reading Logan's story.

April

THE
RANCHER'S
WIFE

April Arrington

April Arrington
grew up in a small Southern town and developed a love for movies and books at an early age. Emotionally moving stories have always held a special place in her heart. During the day, she enjoys sharing classic literature and popular fiction with students. At night, she spends her time writing stories of her own. April enjoys collecting pottery and soaking up the Georgia sun on her front porch. You can follow her on Twitter,
@april_arrington
.

Books by April Arrington

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Men of Raintree Ranch

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Dedicated to Jason.

“Keep going.”

Chapter One

Almost
. Two syllables with so much promise and no damn reward. The most disappointing word in existence.

Logan Slade stifled a grimace and spun the ring on his left hand with his thumb. The silver band glinted with each twist. He eyed the nervous movement, willing it to stop. It was an absentminded habit. One he'd almost managed to quit.

His mouth twisted.
Almost
...

“We'll almost have snow,” the white-haired man at his side chided again. “Yes, siree. Just needs to be a few degrees colder. They're predicting sleet tonight instead. Strange, huh? November ice in Georgia? Guess the angels left the fridge open.” He laughed.

A shaft of frozen air abraded Logan's forearms and he clutched the door of Hartford Insurance Agency's lobby against the whipping wind. Crumpled leaves swept across the walkway outside in a violent flurry. Logan began to regret his impulse to jump up and assist the elderly man out. The chill pierced his skin but he kept his grip, willing the man to shrug into his coat a little faster.

“My Pearl loved the snow,” the man mumbled. His jubilant expression melted away. “We almost had some here last Christmas.” Gnarled fingers struggled to fasten the top button at his neck.

“Here. Let me.” Logan tucked his heel against the door and gingerly threaded the button through its hole.

“Almost...” the man whispered, his gray eyes lifting.

Logan stilled. It was impossible to count the regrets haunting the depths of his gaze. They pooled in the corners of his eyes, seeping into the crow's-feet and coating his white lashes.

Almost
. Logan had almost not come today. Was no more than two thoughts away from calling the trip off when he finally twisted the key in the ignition and allowed his truck to haul him from his ranch.

And, after arriving, he'd almost left. Empty-handed, but with a heart crammed full of a thousand more regrets than he already carried.

Logan straightened, renewing his hold on the door.
Almost
be damned
.
He wasn't leaving until he did what he'd come here to do. What he should've done a long time ago.

He wasn't leaving until he saw his wife. And he wasn't leaving until she left with him.

The man's eyes still hovered on him. Logan summoned up a polite smile.

“Thank you, son,” the elderly man said, shrugging further into his coat and edging out. “Yes, siree. Just a few degrees...”

The arctic blast receded as the door closed and Logan returned to his chair by the exit. He pressed his palm against the thick fold of papers stuffed inside the pocket of his jeans. They cracked under the pressure of his touch, shooting chills through him.

The massive grandfather clock in the corner sounded the five o'clock hour, doling out bellows and chimes. Each lilt of the bells pierced his ears and dropped into the hollow of his gut.

“How much longer do we have to sit here?”

Logan jerked his head to the side. The teenager beside him slumped further into a crumpled heap on the wide lobby chair. A thick hood obscured her face.

“Please sit up, Traci,” he said.

“This is stupid.” The hood shifted with her grumble. “Why can't we wait at her apartment?”

Logan shifted in his seat, heat spiking up his neck. “We're in public.” He clenched his teeth, his knee bouncing with agitated jerks. “Sit up, please.”

The hood dropped back. Emerald eyes flashed up at him. Eyes the same shade as those of her older sister, Amy.
His wife
.

Logan snatched in a breath. Dear God, Traci reminded him of Amy. Made it impossible for him to forget how much he missed her or how much he'd failed her. As a husband and a friend.

Amy had been his best friend long before she'd been his wife. That was how it should've remained. He'd never wanted to jeopardize their friendship by clouding it with lust. But that was exactly what he'd allowed to happen. When he found out she was pregnant, the only option he was willing to consider was marriage. And damned if that wasn't exactly what Amy had planned on.

“I can show you where her apartment is, you know?” Traci smiled. “It's not that far. Only five or ten miles.”

Logan ducked his head and dragged a hand through his hair, the searing heat engulfing his face. He didn't need directions to Amy's apartment. He'd memorized her address four years ago. One day after she left.

He'd spent each morning counting the miles between them and each night adding more hours to her silent absence. The simple fact was, she'd never issued him an invitation to visit.

Logan had known better than to expect it. Amy had always been stubborn. Still, he'd hoped time would work its magic. Help her heal and bring her around to reaching out to him.

And she had finally reached out. But in a different way entirely.

Logan's fist clenched. His knuckles dug deep into the denim covering his thigh, driving a dent in the packet of papers filling his pocket. He wished he hadn't signed for them. Wished he hadn't taken the manila envelope from the mail carrier's hands, opened it and read them. Wished this ice storm would've changed direction and missed Georgia altogether.

Then, he wouldn't have been forced to leave Raintree and make the six-hour drive to Augusta. He could've continued to remain on the ranch, reminding himself why things were better left alone.

“We're waiting here,” Logan muttered through stiff lips.

“But the apartment complex is right down the road.” Traci perked up, straightening and sliding to the edge of her seat. “It's next door to a coffee shop and there's a rec room in the main hall that has a pool table. We could get a latte and shoot a round or two while we wait for her.” Her slim hand latched on to his forearm, voice rising. “They have a sub place, too, if you're not in the mood for coffee.” Her nose wrinkled. “It's different in the city. It's not like back at the ranch. Everything's right around the corner. You can find anything you want.”

Yeah
. He could find anything he wanted here. Anything except the friendship he'd once shared with Amy. The only place he had any hope of resurrecting that was back at their childhood home. At Raintree Ranch, the memories were rich. They grew out of the ground and wrapped around you on the wind.

“No,” he said. “We're waiting for Amy here.”

Amy
. Logan's mouth tightened.
His wife
.
His best friend
. Alone. Hundreds of miles away from her family.

No doubt she could hold her own in a big city full of strangers. Otherwise, he never would've agreed to her decision to leave four years ago.

At the time, he'd thought it was for the best. A chance for her to experience life somewhere else. Shake the depression she'd fallen under after the loss of their daughter. Learn and grow. Mature into a woman who knew the value of honesty and loyalty. Then, she'd choose to come back. Only, she hadn't come back.

Logan sighed. He just needed to get Amy home. Back to her family. The sooner they returned to Raintree Ranch, the better.

“It's not a big deal,” Traci continued. “Amy won't mind if we wait for her at the apartment. She told me I could use it whenever Mama and I visited. Even if she wasn't there.” Her eyebrows rose. “It's better than sitting here—”

“I said, no.”

“You heard that man. It's gonna sleet. The sign says they close at five and it's five,” she stressed. “There's no one here but us now. She's not coming and if we're not going to her apartment, we're better off leaving without her. Before it sleets and we get stuck here. Let's head back now.”

“I said no.” Logan shot her a firm look. “Now, that's the end of it.”

Traci released her death grip on his forearm and flopped back in an indignant heap. “I swear, if I miss Mama's turkey and dressing tomorrow, I'll never forgive you, Logan.” Her lip curled. “Never.”

Logan tensed and cast his eyes up to trace the popcorn patterned ceiling.
Teenagers
. Any other day Traci wouldn't utter two syllables strung together. Today, though, the endless chatter had begun the second the kid jumped into his truck insisting she take the trip with him. It had continued in a never-ending stream since.

Logan shot to his feet. “Wait here.” Taking swift steps to the reception desk, he tossed over his shoulder. “Quietly.”

A rough exhalation was her only response.
Thank God
.

“Excuse me, ma'am.” He placed his hands flat on the reception desk to still the tremors running through them.

The young receptionist looked up, smiled and eased closer to the counter.

“Your daughter sure is talkative,” she giggled. “I don't think she's drawn a breath in the last hour.”

“She's not my daughter.” Logan's throat tightened, a sharp pain ripping through his chest. “She's my sisterin-law.”

“Oh.” Her smile slipped. “I'm sorry. I just assumed—”

“I don't mean to be a pest but I was wondering if Amy Slade has come in yet?”

Her forehead scrunched, confusion clouding her features. “Amy Slade? You mean Ms. Johnson, right?”

Logan swallowed hard, the wad of papers in his pocket burning through his jeans.

He nodded, forcing out, “Johnson. Amy Johnson.”

“Well, she had a lot of claims to document today. She was trying to squeeze in as many as she could before she left for vacation.” She grimaced in apology. “I thought she'd be back by now but it looks like she may not make it in. I'm sorry. I know you've been waiting a long time.”

“Can you give me her cell number?” His face flamed. “I'd like to give her a call. Let her know I'm here.”

“Sure,” she stated quietly. She held a business card out between pink nails. “I could...”

Johnson.
Logan's hand halted in midair. There it was. Her maiden name. In bold, black ink stamped in the center. Plain print. Thick paper. Such a harmless item. But it cut to the bone.

“Sir?” Concern contorted the receptionist's features. “I could give her your number, if it's an emergency? Ask her to give you a call tonight? Or tomorrow?”

“No,” he choked, ripping his hand away from the card.

He'd let four years of tomorrows slip by. He should've been here yesterday. His shoulders slumped.
Four years of yesterdays
.

“No, thank you,” he repeated. “I'd like to wait a little longer.”

A push of cold air swept in from the hallway, fluttering the papers on the desk. The receptionist glanced over her shoulder at the muffled clunk that followed.

“Back entrance,” she said, rising from her seat. “That might be her. I'll go check.”

Logan strode around the desk to the mouth of the hall.

“Please give me a moment, sir.”

He drew to a halt at her raised hand and pleading expression. She cast anxious glances behind her.

“Just let me tell her you're here. Please?”

Logan managed a stiff nod. She dropped her hand and moved down the hall, disappearing into a room on the left.

His legs tensed and his torso pitched forward.
Wait.

He glanced back at Traci still slouched in the lobby chair then found himself inching down the hall despite his polite promise. His ears strained to capture the receptionist's hushed tones and low words.

“...been here for hours. Very insistent on seeing you.”

“Who is he? Is he filing a claim?”

Logan faltered, his breath catching.
Amy
. There was no mistaking her soft, questioning tone. His steps quickened, the tips of his fingers slipping inside his pocket and curling around the papers in a crushing hold.

“I don't think so. I think he might be...” Hesitancy coated the receptionist's words. “I think he's your—”

“Husband.” Logan clamped his lips together and flexed his finger against his wedding ring.

He'd reached the threshold. The view of the room remained obscured by the receptionist. She swiveled to face him, hands twisting at her waist.

His earlier reminder to Traci returned.
We're in public.

He issued a tight smile. “I apologize for not waiting. I didn't mean to rush you but it's important that I see her.”

Floorboards creaked. That quiet voice returned. It drifted around the receptionist's tense frame. “It's okay, Kimberly.”

The receptionist blinked and glanced back over her shoulder. “Would you like me to stay, Ms. Johnson?”

“No. You go ahead and start your holiday. I'll lock up.”

The receptionist hovered briefly then nodded and slipped past Logan, the click of her heels fading.

A thousand thoughts had clamored in Logan's head on the ride up here. A million words had vibrated on the tip of his tongue as he drove. He'd sifted through each one, preserving or discarding them with precision until he'd carefully arranged a select few that were the most important. The ones that needed to be delivered first. Ones that would give him a fighting chance.

One glimpse of Amy and every one of them dissipated. Just as they always had.

Amy had been a pretty girl from the start. Eight years old to his twelve when she'd first arrived at Raintree, she'd been all daring smiles and impish expressions. At nineteen, she'd been beautiful. That shiny length of black hair, and tanned legs that seemed to stretch on forever.

Now, as a woman of twenty-four, she was breathtaking. Curves replaced the coltish angles and a relaxed strength resided in her lithe frame.

“Logan.”

His attention shot to the lush curves of her mouth and the deep jade of her eyes. Both opened wider with surprise.

“I needed to...” His blood roared, his tongue clinging to the roof of his mouth.

Needed to see her
.
Touch her
.
Hold her.

BOOK: The Rancher's Wife
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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