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Rich, Rugged...Ruthless


  Stories of family and romance beneath the Big Sky!

  “I’m firing you, Ms….”

  “Samantha—Sam Carter. Mr. Montgomery, let’s get something straight. I’m not your maid, housekeeper or servant. I’m your nurse.”

  “What if I don’t want you?”

  “That’s not an option. For a while you’re stuck with a nurse. If you want someone else, you’ll have to talk with your sister, but I don’t think it will do any good.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because your reputation is well-known,” she answered honestly. “It means no one else will work for you. I was Rachel’s last hope.”

  “Why you?”

  “That’s easy to answer. I make it a point to take care of one grump a year. You’re it.” She cast a sidelong glance to see how he was handling that remark. There was the slightest curve at the edges of his lips as if he might smile.

  Couldn’t be, she mused.

  Everyone knew Max Montgomery never smiled.

  JENNIFER MIKELS

  Rich, Rugged…Ruthless

  JENNIFER MIKELS

  Bestselling author Jennifer Mikels was a longtime reader of historical romances before she penned her first contemporary romance. Since then, she’s had more than twenty-five books published. Many of her books have appeared on USA TODAY, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton bestseller lists.

  A native Chicagoan, she moved with her husband and two sons to Arizona, and has lived with them in Phoenix for almost thirty years.

  An animal lover, Jennifer enjoys long walks, reading, antiques shopping, seeing a good movie—especially a romantic comedy or a mystery—and spending time with her family and her collie-shepherd. Above all else, she feels she’s been blessed to have such a wonderful family.

  She loves to hear from readers. Please write to her c/o Silhouette Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.

  To Karen Taylor Richman,

  for your support and the

  wonderful opportunities.

  Contents

  Prologue

  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

  Chapter Fourteen

  Prologue

  “A curse on you, Max Montgomery. You’ll get yours one day.”

  Max leaned back in the forest-green wing chair behind his desk and watched Dwayne Melrose storm from the office. As president of Whitehorn Savings and Loan bank, Max could have let one of the loan officers handle Melrose, but because he’d once dated Melrose’s daughter while in his teens, he’d given the man a personal appointment. What had been the point? He’d known the outcome before Dwayne had arrived.

  Annoyed with himself for even considering an extension, Max pushed back from the highly polished cherry desk. It was past banking hours, too late, but tomorrow morning he’d authorize foreclosure on the Melrose ranch. He couldn’t let Melrose’s words touch him. The man had signed an agreement with Whitehorn Savings and Loan, and should uphold his part of it.

  He knew people viewed him as hard-hearted in business, but he believed in studying financial statements, not listening to sob stories. The bank’s success mattered more than his personal popularity.

  Standing, he stuffed a statement of the quarterly budget into his briefcase and shut it. He viewed himself as pragmatic, perhaps demanding. He had lived the life of the indulged, of one who was used to people doing as he said. From the time he was a little boy, he’d had servants catering to his needs. That was a part of life as Ellis and Deidre Montgomery’s son. As a child he’d had the finest schooling, and as a man, he’d worked hard for his own success.

  With a glance at the digital clock on his desk, he grimaced. He was going to arrive late for his father’s political speech to a ranchers group in Bozeman. Ellis expected him to come. Rachel, too, had probably received barked orders to make an appearance. Having his grown children in attendance presented the right image. Ellis wanted to be governor so badly he couldn’t think about anything else.

  Max stepped out of his office, nodded to Edna Redden, his personal assistant, stationed at her desk, but without a word he passed by. He knew she was widowed, had two married children and a grandson. By choice he knew nothing else about her. He kept his distance from her—from everyone.

  Beneath a darkening sky, he climbed into his gleaming, black BMW and headed down the town’s main street. In passing, he noticed the Hip Hop was jammed. It was fried chicken night, a crowd pleaser. He’d gone a few times, sat alone at the counter and read the newspaper, but talked to no one. It made sense not to make friendships. As the bank’s president, he held the purse strings to a lot of people’s dreams.

  Because he was running late, before reaching the edge of town, he decided to shortcut down an unpaved road that bisected the woods and cut twenty minutes from traveling time. Within half an hour, his car’s headlights beamed on the dark road. He didn’t need light to know exactly where he was. As if the car had a will of its own, he found himself slowing it at a certain curve. He stared at the woods and in the direction of the rocky embankment where his youngest sister had died.

  During those last seconds, had Christina been afraid? Or had her last seconds passed without her being aware someone was behind her with a shovel raised over her head, that danger was near? He hoped for that. He hoped she hadn’t been frightened.

  Years ago when they’d been closer, he remembered how scared she’d been of a spider that had floated down from a barn rafter and nearly landed on her shoulder. How old had she been? Three. Maybe four, he recalled. He’d wrapped an arm around her shoulder until she’d stopped crying.

  But he hadn’t been with her on the last day of her life. In the weeks before her disappearance she’d telephoned him a few times—including the day before she died. He’d heard a break in her voice. Had she needed to cry that last day? Had she needed him?

  Under his breath, he swore and jammed a foot on the accelerator, irritated he was dwelling on something he couldn’t change. Why the overload of guilt this evening? Nothing could bring her back. Stupid. It was stupid to keep thinking about it. He eased his foot off the pedal. Speed wouldn’t help, he reminded himself. He couldn’t go fast enough to get away from his own thoughts.

  Damn it, he should have been there for her, should have gone to her. I’m sorry. He wished he could say those words to her.

  With the window cracked open, he could smell the pines that bordered one side of the road. A chill still clung to the evening air in late May. Instinctively Max braked at a curve, but not soon enough. He caught a glimpse of an outline. Its doe eyes glazed, the deer had frozen, trapped in the beam of the headlights.

  Gripping the steering wheel, Max veered right and faced inky darkness. As the car bounced over the shoulder of the road and the uneven ground that edged the dark woods, the silhouette of a tree trunk appeared. He saw it only a second before the car slammed into it. The air bag inflated, but his head whacked against the side window, snapped back, then hit again. So did his arm. Something cracked. A bone.

  Max groaned, tried to reach up and touch his head. Pain shot through his arm. Nausea rose. With the side of his head pressed to the window, dizzy, he started to close his eyes. The last thing he saw was the silhouette of the deer dashing into the woods.

  One

  Voices intruded on a dream. Max grappled to hold on to it, but it fluttered away and left him with the sounds, an annoyed masculine voice and
a more worried, feminine one. Slowly he opened his eyes for the second time that morning. His head ached, as though someone had taken a hammer to it. He blinked, struggling for coherence. Through slitted eyes, he took in the room, painted a soft blue.

  He was in a hospital, he remembered now. Earlier when he’d awakened, everything had been fuzzy. He’d learned then where he was. He’d been in an accident, the doctor had told him. Max remembered jerking on the steering wheel, seeing a tree looming, a deer running. But not much more. The panic he’d felt then returned now. He’d be damned if he could remember his name or how old he was. And who these people in his room were.

  “Max?”

  He focused on the woman, a pregnant woman, who was standing at the foot of the bed.

  “Max, thank God.” Pretty, with dark brown hair, she rushed to the side of the bed.

  Who the hell was she? He turned his attention to the man. Tall, somewhat portly, he had raven-black hair. It was too black for a man his age. Max guessed he was in his late fifties and using something to cover his gray. His face was angular, his eyes blue.

  “Max, we’ve been so worried about you,” the woman said.

  He looked down as she grabbed his hand. Was that his hand? It was large, strong-looking. The nails were trim and clean. It was the hand of a man who didn’t do manual labor. He raised the hand and stared at it, turned it to examine the palm. The other arm was in a cast to below his wrist.

  “We know everything is confusing, Max.”

  How did she know? He barely knew what was happening. The doctor had told him his name—Max Montgomery. He rolled it over in his mind. He could have gotten worse. Okay, so he knew who he was. But who was this woman? Wife, fiancée, cousin, sister, friend? He wanted to close his eyes.

  “Max, don’t close your eyes again,” she practically pleaded.

  He felt a gentle grip on his right forearm.

  “Max, please.” She shook his arm. “Please, stay awake.”

  Max opened his eyes because she sounded so anxious, so caring. “What’s your name?” he asked, and swallowed hard against the dryness in his mouth. “Who are you? My wife?”

  In a flash, hurt rushed into her dark blue eyes. “Rachel. I’m Rachel.” She mustered up a smile. “I’m your sister. And you’re not married.”

  “He knows that. Don’t you, Max?” the man insisted, taking a place on the other side of the bed.

  Now what? Another face? Another person he couldn’t remember. “Who are you?”

  Instead of hurt as he’d seen in the woman’s face, the man’s expression delivered a message of annoyance. “Damn. This is impossible. We can’t have this. Rachel, we have to do something about this.” He fixed another stare on Max. “I’m your father. I’m Ellis Montgomery.”

  He could have been saying, “I’m the man in the moon.” Max didn’t know him. He wasn’t too sure he wanted to know him. “I’m tired.” Anger and fear had him in their grasp and he wanted only to be alone. His mind was so empty. He’d tried to remember a day, a minute from his childhood, but nothing came to mind. Nothing. He swallowed down the pressure tightening his throat. He needed these people to go before he did something stupid, before he lost it. “Just leave me alone, damn it.”

  Standing by the nurses’ station, Samantha Carter heard the raised, angry male voice. She knew it belonged to Max Montgomery. She’d hung out at the Medical/Surgical Unit, waiting to talk to the doctor of one of her patients and had listened to the gossip. Max Montgomery had regained consciousness after two days.

  Rich. Handsome. Arrogant. Hard-as-nails and ruthless in business. Impossible. Those were the words people used to describe him. A few more could be added since his accident. He’d broken an arm, and while medication kept the pain at bay, he’d no doubt be ornery with the cast on his arm hindering his every movement.

  If he was difficult now, she figured he had a right to be. She’d heard that he also had amnesia. That sometimes happened after head injuries. She assumed it was a temporary condition. Regardless, it wouldn’t be easy for a proud, controlling man to ask for help.

  Samantha noticed the sister scurrying from the room. Poor thing. Quite pregnant, she looked ready to burst into tears. Often the problems of illness proved just as difficult for family members as for the patient.

  “He could be the town’s most eligible bachelor,” one of the nurses gushed. “So handsome.”

  Samantha agreed. She remembered seeing him at the bank. With chiseled good looks, raven-colored hair and broad shoulders, he had only to walk into a room for people to notice him. He held himself tall and strode with an air of arrogance as if he knew he was right—always.

  But Samantha hadn’t expected their paths to ever cross. He was Mayor Ellis Montgomery’s only son. She was Samantha Carter, Teresa Carter’s love child. He’d attended the finest schools; she’d gone to the one across a field from the trailer court where she lived. Theirs were completely different life-styles.

  Turning, she found herself the object of Shirley Cassidy’s attention, though the head nurse was talking to Rachel Montgomery Henderson.

  “She doesn’t knuckle under easily?” Rachel asked.

  “Not that one,” Shirley assured her, and gestured in Samantha’s direction.

  Sam laughed and started toward them. “Are you talking about me?”

  Shirley met her halfway. “I heard you’re between jobs.”

  Sam had considered applying for a position as a physical therapist at Whitehorn Memorial. Therapeutic exercise and rehabilitation was her specialty, but if she could find something with a more flexible schedule, she would prefer it to the ten-hour hospital shift. “Did you hear about something?”

  “Rachel Henderson is looking for a private nurse for her brother,” she said, pointedly looking at Rachel, who was only feet away now. “I’ll leave you two to talk.”

  “Thank you, Shirley.” Rachel turned the smile on Samantha. “Shirley said you’ve lived here five years.”

  “Yes, I’ve been around. Sometimes I work in Big Timber or Billings.” Sam wasn’t certain Rachel had heard her, because as the town’s mayor came out of his son’s room, her attention shifted.

  Known as an affable and loquacious man, he delivered a good morning to a nurse passing by. A politician above all else, he would present a public face no matter what was happening in his personal life. “Rachel,” he called to her.

  Rachel answered with a nod. “Be right there.” Her gaze returned to Sam. “Perhaps I could meet you at the Hip Hop, and we could talk.”

  “Fine.” Sam brushed back strands of her curly red hair. She had planned to leave the hospital in a few moments, anyway, to stop in at a former patient’s house. “One o’clock, Mrs. Henderson?” she asked, to give herself time for her plans.

  “Perfect. And please call me Rachel,” she insisted.

  As Rachel joined her father, Sam waited to say goodbye to Shirley.

  She was nearby completing a conversation with Gavin Nighthawk. A good-looking Native American, the doctor turned the heads of several nurses as he strode to the elevator.

  Slipping her purse strap over her shoulder, Sam waited another moment for Shirley to finish making a notation on a patient’s chart, then waved and gave her a “See you.” She headed to her car and made her way through town, her thoughts on her former patient.

  Billy had needed extensive physical therapy after an accident had caused him to be tossed from the bed of a pickup. He had endured several operations and months of physical therapy. But at thirteen, Billy was unstoppable.

  Within ten minutes Sam was braking at the curb in front of his parents’ house. Pleasure swept through her the moment she heard the thumping sound of a basketball. When she neared the house, she saw Billy outmaneuvering his brother to the net. Moments like this, when she witnessed a patient resuming his life, gave her the most joy in her work.

  “Sam! Hi!” he yelled when he spotted her. “Come on and play.”

  Smiling, Sam crossed to h
im.

  At five minutes to one and in good spirits after her visit with Billy, Sam entered the Hip Hop. Janie Austin, the café manager, waved before the door closed behind Sam. Janie, a slim woman, was in her twenties, married to Deputy Sheriff Reed Austin. Her blond ponytail swinging, the pretty manager hustled toward the cook’s counter to place an order. Sam wandered past several tables before spotting Rachel Henderson in one of the booths.

  “As I told you at the hospital, my brother needs a private nurse,” Rachel said once Sam had ordered a cup of coffee. “You heard he has partial amnesia?”

  There was love here between brother and sister, Sam decided. Although from all she’d heard about the town’s bank president, he was as stingy with affection as he was with the bank’s money. “Yes.” Everyone was talking about Max’s amnesia. They always talked about the Montgomerys. And someone with amnesia wasn’t an everyday occurrence in Whitehorn.

  “Fortunately he’s intellectually the same. He was always so bright,” she said with pride. “I’m glad he didn’t lose that. But he has lost so much more. He doesn’t remember anything prior to the accident.”

  Sam offered encouraging words. “In cases like this, amnesia is usually short-termed.”

  “Yes, we’ve been told that. We were so scared for him after the accident.” Worry laced Rachel’s voice. “When we learned he was okay and he was out of danger, I—we expected him to be in a foul mood.”

  Sam felt for the woman. Clearly she loved her brother, but didn’t know how to reach him. From what Sam had heard about Ellis Montgomery’s indifference to his children, she assumed he wasn’t much help. This woman with the kind eyes was on her own.

  Rachel twisted the napkin in her hands. “With the head injury, he shouldn’t be alone until he recovers his memory.”

  She had a major problem. Sam easily guessed what it was as she detected a hint of desperation in Rachel’s voice. Because of her brother’s reputation as difficult and demanding, she was worried she wouldn’t find someone to take the job.

 
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