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Forever Mine
 

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Forever Mine


  “It’s been a long time, Abby.”

  Letter to Reader

  Title Page

  Books by Jennifer Mikels

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Copyright

  “It’s been a long time, Abby.”

  She jerked to a stop, her heartbeat quickening. As she slowly faced him, Jack stepped out of the shadows. He was close enough to reach out, to touch.

  “I wasn’t sure if you’d talk to me.” Jack studied her.

  Before leaving home, Abby had vowed that he’d never know how hurt she’d been. “It’s been eight years. I hear you’re a celebrity now.” How often had he told her that he was going to be a world champion? “You got what you wanted.”

  He’d wanted her. And he’d wanted the rodeo. Logic had told him he couldn’t have both. He stuck a hand in his jeans pocket to keep from touching one of the soft silky strands framing her heart-shaped face. “The boy in the car—”

  Abby raised her chin. “He’s my son.” Our son. Years ago, she’d buried her secret so no one would guess the truth—she’d had Jack’s baby!

  Dear Reader,

  As you head for your favorite vacation hideaway, don’t forget to bring along some Special Edition novels for sensational summertime reading!

  This month’s THAT’S MY BABY’ title commemorates Diana Whitney’s twenty-fifth Silhouette novel! I Now Pronounce You Mom & Dad, which also launches her FOR THE CHILDREN miniseries, is a poignant story about two former flames who conveniently wed for the sake of their beloved godchildren. Look for book two, A Dad of His Own, in September in the Silhouette Romance line, and book three, The Fatherhood Factor in Special Edition in October

  Bestselling author Joan Elliott Pickart wraps up her captivating THE BACHELOR BET series with a heart-stirring love story between an amnesiac beauty and a brooding doctor in The Most Eligible M.D The excitement continues with Beth and the Bachelor by reader favorite Susan Mallery—a romantic tale about a suburban mom who is swept off her feet by her very own Prince Charming And fall in love with a virile Secret Agent Groom, book two in Andrea Edwards’s THE BRIDAL CIRCLE series, about a shy Plain Jane who is powerfully drawn to her mesmerizing new neighbor

  Rounding out this month, Jennifer Mikels delivers an emotional reunion romance that features a rodeo champ who returns to his hometown to make up for lost time with the woman he loves.. and the son he never knew existed, in Forever Mine. And family secrets are unveiled when a sophisticated lady melts a gruff cowboy’s heart in A Family Secret by Jean Brashear I hope you enjoy each of these romances—where dreams come true’

  Best,

  Karen Taylor Richman

  Senior Editor

  Please address questions and book requests to.

  Silhouette Reader Service

  U.S 3010 Walden Ave., PO. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

  Canadian P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont L2A 5X3

  JENNIFER MIKELS

  FOREVER MINE

  Books by Jennifer Mikels

  Silhouette Special Edition

  A Sporting Affair #66

  Whirlwind #124

  Remember the Daffodils #478

  Double Identity #521

  Stargazer #574

  Freedom’s Just Another Word #623

  A Real Charmer #694

  A Job for Jack #735

  Your Child, My Child #807

  Denver’s Lady #870

  Jake Ryker’s Back in Town #929

  Sara’s Father #947

  Child of Mine #993

  Expecting: Baby #1023

  Married...With Twins! #1054

  Remember Me? #1107

  A Daddy for Devin #1150

  The Marriage Bargain #1168

  Temporary Daddy #1192

  Just the Three of Us #1251

  Forever Mine #1265

  Silhouette Romance

  Lady of the West #462

  Maverick #487

  Perfect Partners #511

  The Bewitching Hour #551

  JENNIFER MIKELS

  is from Chicago, Illinois, but resides now in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband, two sons and a shepherd-collie. She enjoys reading, sports, antiques, yard sales and long walks. Though she’s done technical writing in public relations, she loves writing romances and happy endings.

  Chapter One

  “Mom, you’re frowning.”

  Abby Dennison brought forth a smile for her son’s sake. On the passenger seat beside her, he’d been chattering about the ranch, about seeing cattle and horses. She’d listened absently, her mind troubled ever since she and Austin had landed at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Until minutes ago, the drive to Sam McShane’s ranch for the wedding between him and her aunt had been ordinary. Along with nightfall, rain had begun. Now it pounded at the ground.

  “Boy, it’s raining harder, Mom.”

  She gripped the steering wheel and kept her eyes on the beam of light before her. She’d heard anxiousness in his voice. “The angels are bowling again,” she said lightly about the rumble of thunder.

  “How far do we have to go?” It amazed her that he hadn’t asked that question before this. At seven, he tended to run out of patience quickly.

  “Not far.” She spoke louder, to be heard over the rain hammering a beat on the roof of the car. She might have stayed in Phoenix for the night if she’d had an idea of a storm brewing. But monsoons swept abruptly through the desert in late August, and she’d already been on the interstate when the rain had started. “Want to sing?” she asked, hoping to distract him from the thunder and lightning.

  “What song?”

  She started singing a popular country song that was played so often on the radio that Austin knew all the words.

  Another rumble of thunder, this one directly over them, made Abby gasp. This trip definitely wasn’t starting out well. But then, she’d worried about returning to the ranch ever since her aunt’s phone call six months ago.

  An exuberant and optimistic woman, Laura Gallagher had sounded more cheerful than usual when she’d announced that she was marrying Sam McShane in the summer. Seeing Sam was no problem, but how would it be to be near Jack again? Abby wondered.

  “Whoa!” Austin yelled.

  Abby saw fingers of lightning stab at the peak of a distant mountain.

  “Did you see that, Mom?”

  “Yes, I saw it.” The storm could have waited until they’d reached the lodge. Getting caught in a rainstorm on a busy street in Boston meant inconvenience and being late to arrive somewhere. In Arizona, danger always lurked nearby when the rain drenched the dry ground and filled sandy washes, and water overflowed onto the roads.

  “Mom, should I call Sam uncle after he marries Aunt Laura?”

  “That’s up to you. Do you want to?”

  “I don’t know yet.” He shifted topics in the same breath. “Aunt Laura said he’s a rodeo champion.”

  “No, Sam isn’t.” Abby peered hard to see through a sheet of rain. “His son, Jack, is.”

  As lightning lit the dark two-lane road, Austin strained against the seat belt and leaned forward to peer out the rain-splattered window. “How come you know them?”

  “I used to work at their ranch.” Eight years ago, needing money for her last semester of college, she’d grabbed a plane in Houston and had taken a summer job waiting on tables at Sam’s dude ranch. She viewed that as the
most adventurous thing she’d ever done in her life. At first, she’d had difficulty dealing with the dust and the heat, and had almost quit the job. But the people had made her want to stay. She’d liked everyone she’d met, especially the owner’s son.

  “Don’t you like it here anymore, Mom?”

  His question alerted Abby to the frown she was wearing again. “I like it.” Before she left, she’d loved the country living, would have been content to stay there the rest of her life. “Sometimes it’s sad to come back to a place you’ve been, a place you have memories of.”

  “Why?”

  “Because it’s not the same as it was before,” she offered as an explanation.

  His eyebrows bunched, an indication her adult logic made no sense to him.

  “I worked there and made friends with other people who worked there,” she said. “Some of them are gone. That makes me sad.” She’d asked Sam about Lili Gentry, a thin, sharp-tongued woman who’d been in charge of the dining-room kitchen, and she’d learned that Lili had died five years ago. The woman had been tough, a taskmaster to work for, but fair, and caring.

  “There are cowboys there, huh?” he asked, the excitement in his voice raising a level.

  One cowboy in particular. “Yes.” Slowing the rental car, she negotiated a turn onto the dirt road that paralleled a stream.

  Headlights projected a narrow tunnel of light. Thunder rumbled in the distance. A crack of lightning resounded a second before it snapped at the ground. A downpour raged. As rain blocked her from seeing the road, she flicked on her signal lights and eased the car onto the narrow shoulder. She didn’t need to land in the ditch. Only a fool kept driving.

  “Are we stopping here?”

  “It’s getting too hard to drive, Austin.” In her rearview mirror, she saw the dim headlights of another vehicle, a truck, judging by the height of the beams, stopping behind them.

  Abby squinted out the side window at streams of rain running down the glass and scanned the inky darkness, trying to determine how far they were from the ranch. If she had a clear view, she’d be able to see the white adobe buildings with their red tile rooftops. To one side of the three-story main lodge were several cottages and a motel-style building with half a dozen rooms.

  The last time she’d seen the ranch, several guests had been strolling along the flagstone walkway that led to the pool, and beyond that the golf course, while other guests had lingered near the corral to wait for horses. Those were the images she remembered of the Double M. But her memories were wrapped around Jack McShane. Always Jack.

  She heard the slam of the truck door and fixed her stare on the side mirror. She saw no one, then like an apparition, the hazy outline of a man appeared at the end of her car.

  “Mom, are we scared?”

  Sound confident, she reminded herself. She slanted a smile at him. “Not at all.” No doubt one of the ranch hands had braked behind her.

  Austin looked unconvinced. “Okay.”

  During the time she’d answered him, the man’s feet had eaten up the ground. Peripherally, she saw him beside her before he rapped on the window, before she inched down her window to talk to him.

  “Are you okay?”

  Abby stared, simply stared. Breath lodged in her throat. She wasn’t ready for this moment. Tall, broad-shouldered, he stood beside her car with rain dripping from the brim of his Stetson. She knew the face with its high cheekbones and strong, square jaw as well as her own. She’d hoped she would feel nothing, but felt reluctant to make contact with the piercing blue eyes that used to melt her. “Hi, Jack.”

  “Abby?”

  She drew a deep breath. During the passing years, she’d convinced herself that she never wanted to see him again. He’d been the love of her life, her first love, the man she’d lost her innocence to, the man who’d owned her heart—the man who’d dumped her.

  She met his eyes now, eyes that appeared dark, shadowed by the mantle of night and the hat’s brim. He squinted as if he was trying to see her better. Then he bent forward to peer into the car, see past her, and she realized he was staring at Austin. Could he tell? she wondered.

  “Let’s get you out of the rain. I’ll lead in the truck and keep you on the road,” he said, making eye contact with her again. “All you have to do is follow my taillights to stay out of the ditch.”

  A temptation coursed through her to U-turn, hop a plane, go home. Silly actions. He meant nothing to her anymore. She was simply nervous, worried she’d reveal a secret she’d harbored for eight years.

  “Mom, who was that?”

  Abby marshaled her thoughts back to the moment. Your father. “That’s Jack McShane, Sam’s son.” That was all Austin needed to know. More explanation would have made no sense.

  She waited until Jack eased his truck from the shoulder, then followed, staying close to the taillights of the horse trailer. She supposed this was the easiest way for this meeting to happen.

  She hadn’t known what she’d expected. She’d been hurt rather than angry years ago. He’d left the ranch suddenly one night, left her without even a goodbye. In retrospect, she knew it was her own fault for having expected too much. He’d never lied to her, never made promises. He’d told her no marriage. Marriage and kids usually went hand in hand. He’d wanted neither. But young, foolish, she’d thought he would change his mind.

  On the road ahead of her, he passed through the wooden archway that announced the Double M Ranch. As the brake lights on the horse trailer flashed, Abby stopped her car. Out the opened window, he arm-signaled her to go straight to the lodge. He turned right.

  “Where’s he going, Mom?”

  “To the stables.” To the place where your father kissed me for the first time.

  “There’s Aunt Laura,” Austin yelled when the buildings were visible.

  Standing on the well-lit porch, her aunt, a trim, petite woman in her mid-fifties, was dressed in jeans and a western shirt and a Stetson. She looked so much like Abby’s mother had that Abby felt a small twinge of grief return. It was almost as if she were looking at her mother instead of her aunt Before Austin unbuckled his seat belt, she’d scurried down the steps with an umbrella. The next few moments included a rush of hugs from her aunt and Sam.

  “How’s my best boy?” Laura asked, enveloping Austin in her arms.

  His face scrunched against her body with her exuberant hug, he raised his eyes to her and gave her his best smile. “Aunt Laura, can I ride a horse?”

  Glowing, her blond hair shining beneath the porch light, Laura looked elated. “Of course you can,” she assured him without a moment’s hesitation.

  Abby decided to take charge. “We’ll see.” She didn’t need mind-reading abilities to guess that her aunt planned to indulge Austin during the next two weeks.

  “I’m glad you both came,” Sam said, trailing them with the luggage. Tall and barrel-chested, he wasn’t a handsome man, but he had an infectious laugh and a compelling smile that reached warm blue eyes. “It’s great seeing you again. A lot has changed since you were here before.” Lovingly he looked at her aunt “I’ve got you to thank for that.”

  Abby saw the depth of pleasure in his face. Last Christmas, when she and Austin had left Boston to spend the holiday with her aunt in Houston, they’d gone to a horse auction and had run into Sam. Abby had introduced him to her aunt. And Cupid had taken over.

  “We’re going to have a lot of fun.” Sam touched Austin’s shoulder to let him know he was part of that “we.” “And we’ll have to find you a hat real soon.”

  Austin looked thrilled, flashing a smile that revealed a missing tooth. “Mom, he means a cowboy hat for me.”

  “Absolutely.” Laura draped an arm around Austin’s slim shoulder and urged him toward the door. “I’ll show you to your rooms.”

  Inside, everything looked as Abby remembered it. They crossed the massive timbered lobby with its wood-beamed cathedral ceiling and plank flooring. Above a flagstone fireplace hung an enorm
ous Indian weave. Grouped near a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a view of the desert and the distant mountains were soft, cushiony, western-style sofas. To the left were several round wooden tables with captain’s chairs that circled a piano.

  “Abby, you are happy for me, aren’t you?” Laura asked softly.

  Abby couldn’t have been happier. She’d always liked Sam. In fact, she’d envisioned him as her father-in-law eight years ago. “Of course I am.”

  Their arms hooked, they climbed the heavy oak staircase to the second floor.

  When they reached the hall, Sam was opening a door. “I hope you like your rooms,” he said to Abby.

  Warm and welcoming, the room was large and cream-colored with a glass door that opened onto a terrace. Like the living-room section, the adjacent bedroom had whitewashed furniture. It contained a king-size bed, a writing desk, a chest of drawers and another chair. An adjoining door on the opposite side of the suite led to another bedroom, similarly furnished.

  Austin sat on the bed, and bounced only once as Abby sent him a quick look.

  “This is lovely,” Abby assured Sam, returning to the living room and touching the sofa with its dark blue and tan Southwestern design.

  “I’ll see both of you later then.” Instead of looking at them, Sam glanced toward the window. “It’s still raining.”

  “Now, don’t worry.” Abby’s aunt patted Sam’s forearm. “I’m sure he’s fine. We thought Jack would be here by now,” she explained.

  “He is here,” Abby said. “He stopped on the road to lead us in. He’s probably at the stables.”

  Relief softened the lines in Sam’s face. “Good. I’ll go find him.” In passing, he let his hand touch Laura’s.

 
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