The Missing McCullen

2017-11-10T16:50:46+00:00

The Missing McCullen

The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek Series

The Missing McCullen

A loner seeks redemption…a single mother seeks the truth  

Defense attorney BJ Alexander is crafty, brilliant, and deeply scarred by the loss of her husband and child. Hired by the McCullen family, who believe Cash Koker to be their lost brother, BJ commits to the case—and vows not to become entangled with her devastatingly handsome client. Unfortunately, Cash is no stranger to hardship, and their mutual attraction is overwhelming. But nothing can prepare him when charges are mistakenly brought against him. Cash insists he’s being framed, and it’s up to BJ to find the truth. Because not only is Cash’s life at stake, but so is that of a missing little boy…

The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek

All the Dead Girls

2017-11-10T16:50:56+00:00

All the Dead Girls

Graveyard Falls Series

All the Dead Girls

When a violent storm hits Graveyard Falls, it unearths the unimaginable: skeletons of teenage girls, each dressed in white and holding a candle. It’s clear to FBI agent Beth Fields that this is the work of a long-standing killer—but could it be the one she escaped years ago? She has no memory of the man who held her captive and murdered her friend. But even though someone was jailed for the crime, she’s always feared that the real killer is still out there…waiting and watching.

Ian Kimball never believed his stepfather was guilty of Beth’s kidnapping or the slaying of two local girls. Now Graveyard Falls’s sheriff, he’s determined to catch the true perpetrator. And when more young women go missing, he realizes he needs Beth’s help. She is nothing like Ian expected, and everything he desires. But if they have any hope of finally ending the killer’s reign of terror, Beth and Ian will need to put everything aside, including their past, their mistrust, and their growing attraction…

Prologue

She had to run away.

JJ Jones had been planning it ever since she’d learned what would happen on her fifteenth birthday.

She would become a substitute for her foster father’s wife.

Her birthday was tomorrow.

Her stomach roiled at the thought, and she slipped from bed, retrieved her backpack, and then tiptoed over to Sunny’s bed.

Sunny was two months younger than JJ, but she was small for her age, frail, and terrified of her own shadow.

She gently shook her foster sister. “Wake up, Sunny, it’s time.”

Sunny groaned and rolled to her side.

“Come on, we have to go now,” she whispered.

If Herman caught them, she’d be punished.

He liked to punish.

Sunny’s eyes slowly opened, confusion clouding them. “What? I was dreaming.”

Probably of a better place to live. Clean clothes. A real family.

JJ had given up on those things a long time ago.

“It was Christmas, and we got to go to a party,” Sunny said.

She pressed her finger to Sunny’s lips. Sunny was always dreaming about parties or going to Disney World or to a beach.

JJ had her own dreams—or she used to, anyway. Dreams of a family, a nice house. Friends. Someone to love her.

Maybe she could save Sunny from becoming as jaded as she was. “Remember, I told you about my birthday. I won’t let that man touch me. We have to go now.”

Fear flickered across Sunny’s face, but she nodded, threw her covers aside, and dropped to the floor. They’d packed their backpacks before they’d gone to bed and slept in their clothes. Not that they had many clothes. Herman Otter and his wife, Frances, used the money the state gave them to support their booze habit.

JJ grabbed her jacket and shrugged it on, then tossed Sunny hers.

The wind howled outside, thunder rumbling. JJ’s adrenaline kicked in. They had to get to the bus station before the storm hit.

She jammed her feet into her boots, and Sunny did the same. They threw their backpacks over their shoulders, crept to the window, shoved it open, and crawled outside. The air was refreshing compared to the stench of the dirty house and the smell of liquor.

JJ had repeatedly phoned the social worker for help, but the woman had such a big caseload that she ignored JJ’s calls. JJ didn’t know what else to do but run.

Sunny’s legs buckled as she hit the ground, and JJ steadied her. A noise echoed from inside. JJ froze, terrified he’d woken up.

She motioned toward the woods in back, then mimed the word “Go.” Sunny nodded, and they ran toward the woods. JJ had stolen a flashlight from the house, and once they were far enough away not to be seen, she flicked it on and used it to light their path.

The coach’s son had promised to meet them at eleven. She hurried Sunny along, wincing as the bitter wind ripped through her and raindrops began to pelt them. The pennies in the jar in Sunny’s backpack jingled as she walked.

Sunny’s father had told her that the pennies were lucky, so Sunny collected every one she could find. So far they hadn’t brought her any luck, though.

She and Sunny yanked their jacket hoods over their heads, then picked up their pace, slogging through the woods as fast as they could.

A half mile from the house, she cut to the right toward the street, and they jogged toward the Dairy Mart where she was supposed to meet the boy. The lights were off inside the ice-cream shop, and the parking lot was empty.

JJ ushered Sunny beneath the awning to the side of the building, and they huddled in the rain, waiting.

Seconds dragged into minutes. Minutes bled into an hour. Disappointment and despair tugged at JJ.

“He’s not coming,” Sunny said, shivering.

JJ rubbed Sunny’s arms to warm her. A chill had wormed its way through JJ, too, and her teeth were chattering. She hated to admit it, but Sunny was right.

Lightning zigzagged across the sky, crackling as if it had struck a tree. Rain turned to hail, the icy pellets pounding the concrete.

They couldn’t stay here all night. Sooner or later the local cops might show, or someone would see them.

Then they’d take them back to him.

No way would JJ let that happen.

She grabbed Sunny’s hand. “We’re not giving up. We’ll walk.”

Sunny dug her heels in. “But it’s miles. I’m tired and cold.”

“Then let’s hurry.” Sunny balked, but JJ shook her by the shoulders. “Listen to me, you’ll be fifteen in two months. Then he won’t count you as a kid anymore either, and he’ll want you.”

Sunny’s face paled, ghostly white against the dark, gloomy night. “Where are we going?” Sunny whispered.

“My grandmother’s. She lives in Nashville.”

“I thought she didn’t want you,” Sunny said in a choked voice.

JJ’s heart clenched in pain. Sunny was right. Her grandmother hadn’t wanted her as a baby. But JJ refused to let that stop her from finding a better place to live. A safe one.

“She was sick when I was born,” JJ said. “When she hears what Herman planned to do to me, she’ll let us stay.” At least she hoped she would. Otherwise, she had nowhere to turn.

“What if she lets you stay but won’t keep me?” Sunny cried.

The fear in Sunny’s voice tore at JJ. She had no idea how her grandmother would react. Fifteen years ago, she’d told social services she couldn’t raise an infant. Would she feel the same about a teenager?

No, JJ would convince her she could take care of herself. All she and Sunny needed was a roof over their heads and for people to leave them alone.

“Don’t worry.” She gave Sunny a reassuring look. “I promised to take care of you, and I will.”

Sunny wiped at a tear, then gripped JJ’s hand, and they headed down the street together. The country road had no streetlights, and the clouds shrouded the moon. Sunny stumbled, and JJ flicked on the flashlight again.

She guessed it was about ten miles to the bus station. Thunder rumbled and the rain beat down, pounding the ground and soaking them to the core. Mud and water seeped into JJ’s shoes, adding to the chill.

A half hour later, Sunny complained that her legs were hurting. Occasionally a car passed, but JJ would quickly turn off the flashlight, and they’d duck behind some trees to hide.

Another mile and despair threatened. Sunny tripped over a tree stump, collapsed to the ground, and cried out in pain. “I hurt my ankle.”

JJ wiped rain from her face, willing herself not to cry, too. They had a long way to go. She shined her light on Sunny’s foot. It was turning red and swelling.

Panic streaked through her. What were they going to do?

The sound of an engine made her pause, and she pivoted. A truck was coming toward them. The headlights nearly blinded her, and she slid an arm around Sunny’s waist to help her stand.

“I can’t put weight on it,” Sunny whined.

Brakes screeched. The driver must have seen them. He slowed, gears grinding as he veered to the side of the road. The passenger door opened with a groan. JJ squinted through the bright lights.

“You girls need help?”

She couldn’t make out the man’s features, but a girl sat beside him. And there was someone else . . .

JJ’s lungs squeezed. Surprise filled her at the familiar face.

Thunder rumbled, startling Sunny. JJ helped her up, pushed Sunny into the cab first, and then hauled herself onto the seat.

As she closed the door, JJ turned to see who the man was, but it was so dark inside his face was shadowed. His clothes smelled, though, like some kind of men’s cologne. A cologne she’d smelled before . . .

“I’m sorry,” the girl said in a low voice.

JJ frowned. What was she sorry for?

A second later, the man shoved a rag over JJ’s mouth and nose, and the world swirled to black.

Chapter One

Fifteen years later—Graveyard Falls, Tennessee

No one in Graveyard Falls knew the real reason Sheriff Ian Kimball had moved from Sweetwater to this town. Hopefully, no one ever would.

None of that mattered, though.

He had a real mess on his hands.

Just a year ago, a serial killer had stalked the town. A sadist, nicknamed the Butcher, who’d carved women’s faces up and marked them with claw marks that resembled talons.

That case had been spawned by the movie being made about the previous Bride Killer and Thorn Ripper murders—a story based on a true-crime book written by Josie DuKane, the daughter of a local resident.

With those cases solved, some locals had moved away as soon as they could find jobs and other homes. But others who’d grown up in these foothills believed that good existed here. They’d fought the gossip and rumors that evil was bred in these mountains, that you could hear the whisper of it in the wind.

But as he drove toward the trailer park to meet one of his deputies, a sick feeling seized his gut. Dammit.

Their strength and fortitude had given him hope that the town would survive. Seeing people work together to help each other and overcome obstacles raised his admiration for the human spirit. It made him want to protect them.

No one had ever needed him before. His family . . . well, he wouldn’t go there. They’d let him down, and he’d let them down.

The people in Graveyard Falls and the surrounding county depended on him. He wouldn’t make them regret it.

His gaze swept the terrain as he turned on the mountain road. The F-3 tornado that had hit thirty-six hours ago was just too damn much. It was almost like the town was cursed.

The nearly two-hundred-mile-per-hour winds and flooding had swept over the Southeast, striking three counties, including Graveyard Falls—and Sweetwater, where he’d grown up—with a funnel cloud that had ripped up trees by their roots and flung houses and cars as if they were ping-pong balls. The devastating damage had left the town picking up the broken pieces of their homes and shattered lives.

His tires churned over gravel, and he swung left to dodge broken branches, then parked at the edge of the trailer park.

One of his deputies, Deputy Clint Whitehorse, paced the edge of what had once been a mobile home but now looked like a mountain of twisted metal and aluminum.

Whitehorse had been with him over a year now. Although sometimes Ian felt like he didn’t know the man. He was quiet and intense, but he’d grown up in these mountains and knew them inside and out.

“Shit, I can’t believe this.” Deputy Whitehorse removed his hat and rubbed sweat from his forehead. “Just when the dust settled from that Butcher case, now this storm.”

Ian’s boots dug into the muddy earth as he assessed the damage.

Metal, glass, household items, clothing, underwear, lamps, kitchen utensils, dishes, linens, broken furniture, and children’s toys were scattered across miles of soggy soil. Ancient oaks and pines were split in two, ripped from the ground, and branches and limbs that had once been large and sturdy lay in piles like kindling.

Ian had already walked the town square. Most of the businesses and residents in the city limits had fared better than the outskirts, but the Falls Inn had lost its roof, a live oak had fallen through the kitchen at Cocoa’s Café, and numerous homes had flooded.

Ian had caught a couple of scam artists trying to rip people off with repairs, but he’d turned folks on to a couple of reputable renovation experts, and the neighbors had given him a deluge of casseroles for it.

The women’s club from the Methodist church had designated one of their basements as a lost-and-found where items retrieved in the debris could be recovered. The Baptist church had donated blankets, quilts, housewares, and clothing.

“How many casualties?” Ian asked.

“Three so far,” the deputy said grimly. “A woman trying to get home to her kids was struck by a tree when it crashed into her VW.”

Sympathy welled inside Ian. “Jesus, poor family.” Now those kids would grow up without a mama.

Deputy Whitehorse pushed his ponytail over his shoulder. “Ninety-year-old Marvin Trullet tried to save his chickens and got thrown against his tractor on the way to the barn. He died instantly.”

“If only people had heeded the warnings we issued,” Ian said, hating to hear about the old man. “Who else?”

“Edna Mae, elderly woman in the trailer on the end. Neighbor, Rudy Pillings, said Edna Mae lost her hearing and was confined to a wheelchair. He tried to convince her to let him take her to a safe place to wait out the storm, but she refused to leave her home. Rescue workers found her dead beneath the kitchen table. She was holding a Bible, a picture of her husband, and a tin of snuff.”

He pointed where the trailer had once stood, but all Ian could make out were a few pieces of metal, broken china, a needlepoint family tree, and a damp photo album that probably held precious memories of the woman’s life.

Sorrow for the families struck him, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it. There was too much to do.

The Red Cross had rushed in with emergency supplies, including a blood bank collection unit to help restock the hospital, and utility companies were working around the clock to restore power.

Rescue crews had worked nonstop to help residents escape their flooded and demolished homes and uncover victims who might be trapped. The community center that had been used to stage auditions for production of the movie was now ironically being used to house the homeless.

Ian’s phone buzzed. He snatched it from his hip, dread balling in his gut when he saw the name. His other deputy, a new hire, Ladd Markum. The last thirty-six hours had been nothing but bad news. “Sheriff Kimball.”

“Sheriff, you need to come to Hemlock Holler.”

Hemlock Holler was a desolate stretch of land by the river surrounded by hemlock trees. Rumors claimed nothing would grow on the stretch because the land was haunted.

A prison had stood on the grounds, but it had been destroyed in another flood five years ago. Seventy prisoners had died in the flood, leading locals to claim that their ghosts haunted the hills and the holler. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve got a problem. A big problem.” The deputy’s voice cracked a notch. “The pilot from that search and rescue team called. They spotted something suspicious, so I drove over to check it out.”

“And?”

“You have to see it for yourself.”

“I’ll be right there.” Wiping sweat from his forehead, Ian disconnected, then addressed Deputy Whitehorse. “I have to go. Let me know if there are any other casualties.”

Whitehorse nodded grimly. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Ian rushed to his police SUV, jumped in, hit the siren and lights, and sped toward the holler. Debris and tree limbs in the road slowed him, and he had to drive around a utility truck working on downed power lines, but finally he made it.

Early-morning sunlight fought to find its way through the aftermath of the dark storm clouds and lost the battle, an oppressive gray clouding the sky. The deputy’s vehicle was parked at an overlook on the mountain where tourists often stopped to enjoy the scenic view—or hear the so-called ghosts of the dead prisoners.

Ian swung his SUV in beside the deputy’s, dragged his jacket up to ward off the chill, and hiked down the hill. Wet dirt, gravel, and rocks created a slippery path. Ian latched on to trees and broken limbs to keep from falling and careening down the embankment.

His deputy waved him toward where he stood by a patch of mangled trees that created a V shape.

A hissing sound filled the air. Ian drew his gun and searched for rattlesnakes. But the tangled weeds and brush were so thick, he couldn’t see.

Deputy Markum tilted his hat to acknowledge Ian, but the man’s face looked colorless, almost sickly.

Ian rubbed his hand over his bleary eyes. He was going on forty-eight hours with no sleep himself. “What is it?”

“The storm was nothing. Just look.” The deputy shined his flashlight across the ground.

Ian followed the path of the light, cold engulfing him like nothing he’d ever felt before. A sea of white that resembled ghosts bobbed up and down on the surface of the flooded valley. He narrowed his eyes, trying to discern what he was seeing. The prison ghosts the locals gossiped about?

No. The white—Jesus, it was a river of thin, white, gauzy fabric. Well, at least it used to be white.

On further scrutiny, he realized the fabric was nightgowns. Gowns mired in mud, dirt, and leaves.

“What the hell?” He moved his flashlight across the murky water with a grimace. More sticks and twigs, broken branches?

No.

The truth hit him like a fist in the gut.

Bones.

The ground was covered in bones. Human bones. They floated in the water, protruded from the earth, clung to the white fabric, and lay scattered over the ground where the water had receded.

He swallowed back bile. Good God.

His deputy coughed. “Someone was buried here.”

Ian ground his teeth. “Not someone. There are hundreds and hundreds of bones.” He removed his hat and scrubbed a clammy hand through his hair. “This is a damn graveyard.”

****

Knoxville, Tennessee

Terror seized Beth Fields.

He hadn’t died in the prison flood after all. He’d escaped. He was hiding out in the mountains.

She’d moved to Knoxville in a secure building to be safe, but he’d found her.

He was watching her through her bedroom window. The man who’d destroyed her life fifteen years ago. The man who’d killed her best friend.

The man who’d held her for three days and then dumped her like she was nothing but roadkill.

His face was pressed against the glass, shadowed by the darkness. She strained to see his eyes. His mouth. Something to help her identify him.

Only she couldn’t distinguish his features.

A noise sounded. Loud. A car horn. Then a fire truck.

Beth jerked awake and clenched the bed covers, barely stifling a scream. God help her. She’d done everything possible to escape him and the nightmares. But nothing worked.

Every time she closed her eyes, she saw that blank face again. Felt his breath on her cheek as he pressed a knife to her throat.

His eyes pierced her through the darkness. The evil eyes of a predator. Wild and sinister—they were hollow black holes, ghostly looking.

Chest heaving for a breath, she slipped from bed and crept to the window to look out. But the face was gone.

Trembling, she ran to the living room and peeked out the windows overlooking downtown Knoxville. Nothing but the first hints of sunlight streaking the dark.

A self-deprecating chuckle rumbled in her throat. How could he be outside her window? She’d intentionally chosen an apartment on a higher floor and a building with top-notch security so no one could get in.

Especially him.

Shortly after the trial where her high school soccer coach who also served as the school counselor, Coach Gleason, was convicted of kidnapping her, she’d been placed in a group home. There she’d received counseling. To overcome the stigma and rumors dogging her, her therapist had encouraged her to change her name. Jane Jones had died, and she’d been reborn as Beth Fields.

Five years ago, when she’d heard Coach Gleason had escaped prison, she’d been grateful for the name change.

Vance, the executive assistant director of the criminal investigations division of the FBI, had assured her that he’d erased any paper trail to JJ, but she wore her nerves on her sleeves and saw Gleason everywhere she went. Although she’d questioned his guilt over the years, she still panicked at the thought of him hunting her down.

She blinked to clear away the nightmarish images that bombarded her. She was safe. Dammit.

She’d taken self-defense classes, learned to shoot, and joined the bureau in order to protect other girls from suffering as she had. Her specialty had become abductions, especially non-familial ones, and she’d honed profiling skills on the job. Immersing herself into the mindset of a killer helped her understand his motivation, his criteria for choosing his victims, and aided her in pinpointing his hunting ground.

But nothing could change the fact that she’d been a victim. That her foster sister, Sunny, had never been found.

And that the man accused of kidnapping her might want revenge for his imprisonment. That he could be searching for her.

Snippets of the past taunted her—whether they were real or figments of her imagination triggered by fear, she couldn’t be certain.

She and Sunny were trapped, locked in some dark place, their hands and feet bound. They huddled together, cold and crying . . . Sunny was afraid of the dark . . . Another girl screamed from somewhere deep in the cave . . . yes, it was a cave. Water dripped, a monotonous sound that made her want to pull out her hair. Another scream. Footsteps. A knife glinted against the dark.

She called out for help but no sound came out. Then everything went blank.

When she woke up, a deadly quiet reverberated around her. No water dripping. No footsteps. No crying Sunny.

Machines beeped instead . . . low voices, carts clanging . . . a sea of white coats . . . a hospital . . .

Shivering, she shut out the images. Determined to fight her demons, she yanked on running clothes, strapped her weapon in the holster, unlocked and opened the door, and stepped into the hallway.

Old fears and training kicked in as she entered the elevator, and she kept her gaze focused on the door as it opened to the lobby.

****

He saw the beautiful graves in his mind just as he’d dug them for the angels. He’d left each girl with a candle to chase away her fear of the dark and to light her way to heaven. He’d also given them a cross to cling to, a symbol that they’d been saved.

But the tornado and flood had destroyed the peaceful bed where they’d lain together, linking hands as they sang the praises.

A wave of sadness washed over him that their peace had been destroyed.

The sheriff had found the graveyard. He was here now.

He and his deputies would scour the floodwaters and excavate the bones. Then his people would pick them apart and analyze them with their tools and tests as if they were nothing but a science experiment.

No longer would the sweetlings lie saintly in their white gowns as he’d left them. So young and innocent. So in need of prayer and guidance.

He’d given them both.

Until the storm ravaged the area, they’d had each other.

Now a hand floated freely, a skull, a femur, the rib cage of another. They were scattered around randomly, disconnected, like a puzzle with missing pieces that needed to be put back together.

He clutched the edge of the tree where he stood, clawing at the bark so hard that blood dripped from his hand. Mesmerized as he had been when the blood had flowed from the girls, freeing them of their pain, he watched his own blood spatter the ground.

The droplets fell randomly like tears, creating a pattern on the soil. He always found a pattern in the blood spatters. This time the image looked like a face, features distorted . . .

Voices dragged him from the image, and he glanced back at the graveyard. The sheriff snapped a picture, then another and another, then knelt to examine the skull of one of the angels.

He bit down hard on his tongue to stop from shouting for the sheriff not to desecrate the girls’ remains.

Tears for the lost souls slipped down his face and fell, mingling with the blood at his feet.

His work wasn’t done.

Only he’d have to find a new burial ground for the others.

Warrior Son

2017-11-10T16:51:13+00:00

Warrior Son

The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek Series

Warrior Son

Deputy Sheriff Roan Whitefeather never thought he’d set foot on Horseshoe Creek. He was from a different world. But when the ranch’s patriarch dies unexpectedly, Roan suspects foul play. And so does Dr. Megan Lail. Roan has been trying to avoid the beautiful medical examiner since the one incredible night they spent in each other’s arms. After all, they had work to do. But crossing paths again only stirs up old feelings—and an even older web of murder and deception. The deeper he investigates, the more he realizes everyone has secrets. What will they do when they discover Roan holds the biggest secret of them all?

Coming Soon!

Roping Ray McCullen

2017-11-10T16:50:24+00:00

Roping Ray McCullen

The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek Series

Roping Ray McCullen

A MAN WITHOUT A FAMILY IS NO MAN AT ALL 

As soon as he was old enough, Ray McCullen left Horseshoe Creek and never looked back. It took his father’s funeral to return, though his anger hadn’t quite subsided. That’s where he met Scarlet Lovett, who seemed to know more about his family’s secrets than he did. Secrets ready to explode. Suddenly, Ray was at the center of a dangerous inheritance battle, with Scarlet caught in the middle. She’d only known kindness from the McCullens, but had enough pluck to stand her ground. And if Ray was to truly belong back home, he sure had to live up to the family name.

Prologue

Ray McCullen hated all the secrets and lies.

He despised his father, Joe McCullen, even more for making him keep them.

In spite of the fact that his brothers, Maddox and Brett, thought he didn’t care about them or the family, he had kept his mouth shut to protect them.

God knows the truth about their father had eaten him up inside.

Only now, here he was back at home on the Horseshoe Creek ranch waiting on his father to die, grief gnawed at him. Joe McCullen wasn’t the perfect man Maddox and Brett thought he was, but Ray still loved him.

Dammit.

He didn’t want to, but the love was just as strong as the hate.

Maddox stood ramrod straight in the hallway outside their father’s room, his expression unreadable while Brett visited their dad.

Ray moved from one foot to the other, sweating. He and Brett had both been summoned to the ranch at their father’s request—he wanted to talk to each of them before he passed.

Suddenly the door swung open. Brett stalked into the hallway, rubbing at his eyes, then his boots pounded as he jogged down the steps. Maddox arched a brow at him indicating it was Ray’s turn, and Ray gritted his teeth and stepped into the room.

The air smelled like sweat and sickness, yet the sight of the familiar oak furniture his father had made by hand tugged at this emotions. His mother had died when he was just a kid, but he could still see her in that bed when he’d been scared at night and his daddy wasn’t home, and he’d sneak in and crawl up beside her.

His father’s cough jerked him back to reality.

Ray braced himself for a lecture on how disappointed his father was in him—Maddox was the perfect son who’d stayed and run the ranch, and Brett was the big rodeo star who’d accumulated fame and money—while he was the bad seed. The rebel.

The surly one who’d fought with their father, left home and never come back.

“Ray?”

The weak sound of his father’s voice forced his feet into motion, and he crossed the room to his father’s bedside. God, he didn’t want to do this.

“Ray?”

“Yes, Dad, I’m here.”

Another cough, pained and wheezy. Then his father held out a shaky hand. Ray’s own shook as he touched his father’s cold fingers.

He tried to speak but seeing his father, a big brawny man, so thin and pale was choking him up. Joe McCullen had always been larger than life. And he’d been Ray’s hero.

Until that day…

“Thank you for coming, son,” his father said in a raw whisper.

“I’m sorry it’s like this,” he said and meant it.

His father nodded, but a tear slid down his cheek. “I’m sorry for a lot of things, Ray. For hurting you and your mama.”

Ray clenched his jaw to keep his anger at bay.

“I know I put a heavy burden on you a long time ago, and it drove a wedge between the two of us.” He hesitated, his breathing labored. “I want you to know that your mama forgave me before we lost her. I…loved her so much, Ray. I hated what I did to her and you.”

Grief and pain collected in Ray’s soul, burning his chest. “It was a long time ago.” Although the hurt still lingered.

“I wish I’d been a better man.”

Ray wished he had, too.

“When you find someone special, Ray, love her and don’t ever let her go.”

Yeah. As if he would ever tie himself down or fall in love. His heart couldn’t handle loving someone else to only lose them.

His father coughed, and Ray swallowed hard, the weak sound a reminder that this might be the last time he saw his dad. He wanted to tell him that nothing mattered, that he wasn’t ready to let him go yet, that they still had time.

But he’d been called home because they didn’t have time.

“The will…” his father murmured. “I tried to do right here, tried to take care of everyone.”

Ray tensed. “What do you mean—everyone?”

Joe squeezed his hand so tightly, Ray winced, but when he tried to pull away, his father had a lock on his fingers. “Ray, the ranch goes to you boys, but I need you to explain to Maddox and Ray. I owe…”

His voice cracked, his words fading off and he wheezed, gasping for air. A second later, his body convulsed, and his eyes widened as if he knew this was his last breath.

“Owe what?” Ray asked. Did he tell Maddox and Brett about his other woman?

“Dad, talk to me,” Ray said, panicked.

But his father’s eyes rolled back in his head and he convulsed again, his fingers going limp.

Ray jerked his hand free, then rushed toward the door shouting for help. Maddox barreled inside the room and hurried to the bed.

Grief seized Ray as his father’s body grew still.

He bolted and ran down the steps, anguish clawing at him.

Damn his father. He’d done it to him again.

Left him holding the secret that could destroy his family forever.

Chapter One

Two weeks later

Scarlet Lovett parked in front of the sign for Horseshoe Creek, a mixture of grief and envy coiling inside her.

This was Joe McCullen’s land. His pride and joy. The place where he’d raised his family.

His real family. The one with his three beloved sons. Maddox. Brett. Ray.

Maddox was the oldest, the responsible one who was most like Joe in his devotion to Horseshoe Creek. He was also the sheriff of Pistol Whip, Wyoming.

Brett was the handsome, charming bull rider who was most like Joe in his flirtatious smile, his love for women and chasing dreams.

Ray was the youngest, the angry one who looked most like Joe, but he resented his father because he’d walked in on Joe with Barbara and knew about his indiscretion.

Scarlet watched a palomino at the top of a hill in the pasture as it stood alone, seemingly looking down at three horses galloping along together. Just like that lone horse, she had stood on the periphery of the funeral a few days ago, her heart aching, her anguish nearly overwhelming her.

Yet she’d felt like an outsider. She hadn’t spoken to the brothers. Had sensed they wouldn’t want her to share their grief.

She wasn’t part of that family. No, she’d lived with Barbara and Bobby, the other family Joe had kept secret.

The one the McCullen boys knew nothing about.

Well…except for Ray. And he didn’t know about her or Bobby…just Barbara.

Still, Joe had been the closest thing she’d ever had to a father.

She swiped at a tear, her hands trembling as she unfolded the letter he’d left for her before he’d passed.

 

My dearest Scarlet,

I was blessed to have sons. But I never had a daughter—until I met you.

My sweet girl, the moment I saw you in that orphanage and looked into those big, sad, blue eyes, you stole my heart. I admired your strength, your spunk and your determination to make it in this world, no matter what hard knocks life doled out for you.

You taught me how to be a better man, that family is not all about blood.

I’m sorry I didn’t have the courage to tell my sons about you and Barbara and Bobby when I was alive. In my own way, I thought I was protecting them, and protecting the three of you by keeping the two parts of my life separate.

Truthfully, Barbara and I…we were over a long time ago. She knew that and so did I. But I’m trying to do right by all of you now.

If you’re reading this, you must have received the envelope I left for you. I have willed you a sum of money to help you make a fresh start, and a piece of ranch land with a small cabin on it for your own home.

Bobby will also receive a share, although you know that he resents me, and he’s had his troubles, so I have placed stipulations on his inheritance.

But you…my dear, I know you will use your inheritance to further our work at The Family Farm and help the children, and that you will treasure everything Horseshoe Creek has to offer.

Ranching and living off the land has always been in the McCullen blood, and in our hearts.

Know that you are in my heart, as well.

Love always,

Joe

 

Scarlet folded the letter again and slipped it inside the envelope, then shifted her Wrangler into Drive and wove down the path to the farmhouse Joe called home.

She wiped at a tear as she parked, and for a moment, she sat and admired the sprawling house with the big porch. It looked so homey and inviting that she could easily picture Joe here with his sons, enjoying family time riding on the land, big dinners over a table piled with homemade food and fishing in Horseshoe Creek.

But she had a bad feeling those sons wouldn’t welcome her.

Her stomach twisted at the idea of rejection, and she considered turning around and fleeing. Never contacting the McCullens and claiming what Joe had left her. Disappearing from Pistol Whip and starting over somewhere else.

Barbara and Bobby didn’t care about her. No one did.

Except Joe. He’d seen something in her that had inspired her to be a better person.

He’d made her feel loved, as if she was important, when she’d never felt loved or part of a family before.

She looked down at Joe’s handwriting again and remembered his words, and opened the door of her vehicle.

Joe had loved her and wanted her to have a piece of his land to remember him by.

She wanted it, too.

Like Joe said, she’d had hard knocks. She was a survivor and a fighter. But she also deserved love and a home.

She took a deep breath, strode up the porch steps to the front door, raised her fist and knocked.

 

Ray stared at the suitcase he’d brought with him when he’d come home, glad he hadn’t unpacked.

The itch to leave Horseshoe Creek burned in his belly. The burden of his father’s secret was just too damn much.

But the lawyer handling their father’s will had been out of town, so they still hadn’t dealt with that. And it would be something to deal with.

Maddox had also shocked him by asking him and Brett to stand up for him at Maddox’s wedding to Rose.

Dammit, seeing his oldest brother happy and in love had done something to him. Not that the brothers had repaired their relationship completely, but two weeks back together on the ranch had mellowed their fighting.

While Maddox and Rose were on their honeymoon, Ray had agreed to oversee the daily running of the ranch. He’d forgotten how much he liked riding and driving cattle.

Brett was busy drawing up plans for the house he and Willow were building for them and their son. They had married in a private ceremony, then moved in to one of the cabins on the property until their dream house was ready. Meanwhile, watching Brett with his little boy, Sam, had stirred up feelings Ray didn’t even know he had.

Like envy.

He shifted, uncomfortable with his thoughts. It wasn’t as if he wanted to get married or have a family. Not after the way his own had gotten screwed up.

He liked being alone. Liked hanging out in bars, meeting women who demanded nothing from him but a good night of sex. Liked owning his own private investigations business. He could take whatever case he wanted, travel to another state without answering to anyone and come home when he damn well pleased.

It’ll all be over soon, he reminded himself. Maddox and Rose would be back in a couple of days.

And so would Darren Bush, the lawyer handling the will.

Of course, if his father had made provisions for that woman in his will as he’d implied in his private conversation with Ray, the storm would hit.

Maddox and Brett would both be pissed as hell.

Maybe they could pay off the woman and she’d be out of their lives forever.

Then Ray could go back to his own life. Sink himself into a case and forget about family and being the outcast.

The front doorbell dinged, and Ray waited for Mama Mary, the family housekeeper and the woman who’d raised him and his brothers after their mother died, to answer it. But it dinged again, and he remembered she’d made a trip into town for groceries, so he jogged down the stairs.

When he opened the door, he was surprised to see a woman standing on the porch. Instinctively heat stirred in his belly. He didn’t know they made women like her in Pistol Whip.

She reminded him so much of those porcelain dolls his mother liked to collect that, for a moment, he couldn’t breathe.

She was petite with long wavy blond hair, huge oval-shaped baby blue eyes and milky white skin. A faint sprinkle of freckles dotted her dainty nose, making her look young and sweet. But that body told a different story. Her curves had been designed for a man’s hands.

The wind kicked up, swirling her hair around her heart-shaped face, and she shivered and hunched inside her coat.

“Mr. McCullen?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I’m one of them. Who are you looking for? Maddox? He lives here.”

She shrugged. “Actually I’d like to talk to Ray.”

Her whisper-soft voice sent his heart into fast motion. “That’s me.” Did she need a PI?

She shivered again, then glanced in the entryway. “May I come in?”

He realized she was cold, and that he’d been staring, and he stepped aside and waved her in. Good grief. Women didn’t normally cause him to stutter or act like a fool.

But the combination of her beauty and vulnerable expression mesmerized him.

A wary look crossed her face, but she squared her small shoulders and followed him inside to the den. A fire roared in the ancient brick fireplace, the rustic furnishings the same as they had been when Ray lived here years ago.

The manners Mama Mary had instilled in him surfaced. “Would you like some coffee?”

“That would be nice.” She clutched a patchwork homemade shoulder bag to her and sank onto the leather sofa in front of the fire.

He walked over to the sideboard in the adjoining dining area where Mama Mary always kept a carafe of hot coffee, then poured two cups.

“Cream or sugar?” he asked.

“Black,” she said, surprising him. Half the women he met wanted that froufrou fancy flavored coffee and creamer.

He handed her the cup and noticed her hand trembling. She wasn’t simply cold. Something was wrong.

“Now, you wanna tell me what this is about? Did my receptionist at McCullen Investigations tell you where I was?”

Again, she looked confused. “No, I didn’t realize you were a PI.”

Ray claimed the wing chair facing her and sipped his coffee. So, she wasn’t here for a case. “I don’t understand. If you don’t need my services, then what?”

She fidgeted. “I don’t know how to tell you this, except just to be up front.”

That sounded serious.

“My name is Scarlet Lovett. I knew your father, Ray. In fact, I knew him pretty well.”

Anger instantly shot through Ray. He’d been thinking how attractive she was, but he’d never considered that she might have been involved with his old man.

Well, hell, even from the grave, Joe McCullen kept surprising him. And disappointing…

He hardened his look. “Damn, I knew he had other women, but he was robbing the cradle with you.”

Those big eyes widened. “Oh, no, it wasn’t like that.”

“He was a two-timing, cheating liar.” Ray stood and paced to the fireplace as an image of his father in bed with Scarlet flashed behind his eyes. “How long was it going on?” And what did she want?

“Listen to me,” Scarlet said, her voice rising in pitch. “Your father and I were not involved in that way. He was nothing but honorable and kind to me.”

Yeah, I bet he was. He turned to her, not bothering to hide his disdain. “So what do you want?”

She set her coffee down and folded her arms. “He told me you were stubborn and resented him, but he didn’t say you were a jerk.”

Ray angled his head toward her. “You’re calling me names. Lady, you don’t even know me.”

“And you don’t know me.” Scarlet lifted her chin in defiance. “But if you’d be quiet and listen, I’d like to explain.”

Ray’s gaze locked with hers, rage and grief and other emotions he couldn’t define rolling through him.

The same emotions were mirrored in her own eyes.

Needing something stronger than coffee, he set the mug down, then strode to the bar and poured himself a finger full of scotch.

“I’ll have one of those, too,” she said.

He bit back a retort and poured her a shot then carried the glasses back to the fireplace. He handed her the tumbler, then sank into the wing chair and tossed his back in one gulp. “All right. You want me to listen. Say what you have to say, then get the hell out.”

* * *

Scarlet shuddered at Ray’s harsh tone. She’d seen pictures of him and his brothers, and knew Ray was the formidable one.

He was also the most handsome. Sure Brett was the charmer and Maddox was tough, but something about that dark, mysterious, haunted look in Ray’s eyes had drawn her.

Maybe because she understood how anger changed a person. She’d dealt with her own share over the years in the children’s home.

But Ray had been lucky enough to have a father who’d wanted him. Even if Joe McCullen hadn’t been perfect.

“So, spill it,” Ray said. “Why are you here?”

“This was a mistake.” She stood, fingers closing over the edge of her bag. “I’ll leave.”

She started past him, but Ray shot up and grabbed her arm. “No way you’re leaving until you tell me what the hell is going on.”

Her gaze met his, tension vibrating between them. She gave a pointed look at her arm where his fingers held her.

“Take your hands off me.”

For a brief second, something akin to regret glimmered in his expression. But he released her and stepped back. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually manhandle women.”

She wanted to believe him, but she’d met too many men who did. So she refused to let him off the hook.

His loud exhale punctuated the air. “Please sit down. I’ll behave.”

He looked so contrite that a tingle of something like respect danced through her. But she refrained from commenting as another image taunted her. One of Ray’s hands on her, tenderly stroking her, making her feel safe. No, not safe. Alive.

Fool.

Ray McCullen was anything but safe.

And judging from his brusque attitude, he was going to hate her when he learned the reason for her visit.

 

All the Beautiful Brides

2017-11-10T17:08:43+00:00

All the Beautiful Brides

Book 3 of The Graveyard Falls Series

All the Beautiful Brides

Releasing: September 15, 2015

A young woman lies dead at the bottom of a waterfall, dressed in a wedding gown with a rose stem jammed down her throat. And in the small town of Graveyard Falls, the horrifying vision stirs a long-ago nightmare back to life.

FBI Special Agent Cal Coulter gets called in to investigate the murder, which bears a terrifying resemblance to a series of killings committed thirty years ago: three teenage girls were found dead at the waterfall’s base, all bearing rose stems in their throats. The high school football star was convicted and imprisoned for those murders, so now Cal suspects that the real killer is still out there.

Now, the body count is rising again. The monster’s sights are set on counselor Mona Monroe, Cal’s best friend’s widow…and the woman he’s always loved. Can Cal stop the killer before Mona becomes the next victim?

McCullen’s Secret Son

2017-11-10T17:08:51+00:00

McCullen’s Secret Son

Book 2 of The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek Series

McCullen

Releasing: September 1, 2015

HIS CHILD’S LIFE WAS ON THE LINE—AND TIME WAS RUNNING OUT… 

Sexy-as-sin rodeo star Brett McCullen is Willow James Howard’s past. But when her estranged husband is killed and her son kidnapped, she’s forced to accept help from the man who broke her heart. Little does Brett know that the very child he’s trying to rescue is his own flesh and blood—the result of a fling years earlier. He can’t deny his rising desire at Willow’s reappearance…even as he struggles to forgive her secret. But with the ransom deadline looming, Brett must go to extremes to save the family he never knew he wanted…

Lock, Stock and McCullen

2017-11-09T13:58:33+00:00

Lock, Stock and McCullen

Book 1 of The Heroes of Horseshoe Creek Series

Lock, Stock and McAllen

Releasing: August 1, 2015

Sherriff Maddox McCullen cradled Rose Worthington, every protective fiber of his being firing as she shuddered against him. She told him how she had been brutally attacked and had killed the man—her fiancé!—in self defense. But when Maddox investigates the crime scene, he finds nothing. No bullet casing, no blood, no body.

The deeper Maddox probes, the more questions arise, revealing a mysterious past that shatters all Rose has ever known. Caught in the crosshairs of escalating danger—and his powerful desire for Rose—Maddox vows to protect her. He’ll risk his life to find a desperate enemy who will stop at nothing to keep the past buried.

Cold Case at Cobra Creek

2017-11-09T13:58:34+00:00

Cold Case at Cobra Creek

Book 3 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case at Cobra Creek

A Native American tracker makes it his mission to bring a missing child home, just in time for Christmas…

After two years, Sage Freeport had all but given up hope of seeing her little boy again…until she met Dugan Graystone. They shared a disdain for local law enforcement, the same folks who’d hindered Sage’s efforts to find her son. As an expert tracker, the broad-shouldered Native American was sure he could find the child—even if he had to leave Texas to do it. Spending time with Sage, watching as she broke down every time a lead didn’t pan out, Dugan worked harder than he ever had before. Now, with Christmas just days away, Dugan knew Sage trusted him to give her the greatest gift of all: bringing Benji home….

Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing

2017-11-09T13:58:34+00:00

Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing

Book 4 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing

A decades-old cold case is testing everything one Texas Ranger thought he knew about obtaining justice…

A lot of men on death row profess their innocence. Those men are mostly just scared of dying. Jaxon Ward understands that, but as a Texas Ranger he needs to uphold the law. Yet the story Avery Tierney tells him… He’s convinced her brother is awaiting execution while the real killer remains at large.

Searching for the murderer opens old wounds for Avery, and now she has to face a past so traumatic she blocked it out. A past not so dissimilar to Jax’s. Before long, the only comfort they find is in each other’s arms. Avery’s lost everything once before. And now, if she loses Jaxon, she fears she’ll never recover.

Going to the Chapel: A Novella

2017-11-09T13:58:34+00:00

Going to the Chapel: A Novella

Book 1 of the A Welcome to Matrimony NovelSeries

Going to the Chapel: A Novella

If there’s a naughty list, Izzy Sassafras is on it—but she’s ready to make a new start this Christmas. Especially after leaving her lying, cheating, no-good husband and fleeing to her old hometown of Matrimony, Georgia. Izzy’s made herself a promise: no more men. All she wants to do is get her wedding business up and running—and mend fences with her estranged sisters. But Izzy knows she’s in trouble when her very first client, a smooth-talking Texan, makes her light up like a Christmas tree.

Desperate for business, private investigator Levi Fox reluctantly takes a case involving a runaway wife in a town called Matrimony. When he meets sweet, sexy Izzy, he decides she can’t possibly be as innocent as she seems. At first, posing as her client is the perfect cover; but he soon imagines himself as a groom—with Izzy as his Christmas bride! Will this case end with a trip to the chapel…or the jailhouse?

There Goes the Groom

2017-11-09T13:58:34+00:00

There Goes the Groom

Book 4 of the Looking for Love Series

There Goes the Groom

In the sequel to HERE COMES THE BRIDE, Marci Turner has always been a no strings attached kind of girl. But when her twin sister gets married, she suddenly begins to yearn for true love.

Determined to change her footloose and fancy-free ways, she heads to the alter with wealthy Paul Pendergrass, a man who swept her off her feet with his expensive gifts and promises of happily-ever-after.

But is he who he seems?

Detective Cade Muller has been watching Pendergrass for months and is determined to catch the con man at his game. If his fiance, sexy little Marci Turner, is in on his ill gotten gains, she’ll go to jail, too.

Their wedding is the perfect place to catch Pendergrass off guard. But all hell breaks loose when someone shoots at the groom, and he goes on the run!

Detective Muller knows the only way to trap Pendergrass is to handcuff Marci to his side.

But can he resist falling in love with her.

Marry Me, Maddie

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Marry Me, Maddie

Book 1 of the Bachelor Pact Series

Marry Me, Maddie

Maddie Summers is tired of waiting. To force her fiancé into making a decision, she takes him on a talk show and gives him a choice: Marry me, Or Move On.

The fumbling line he gives her makes her realize it’s time to kick him to the curb and get on with her life – and her search for a man.

But Maddie’s two overprotective brothers are terrified of Maddie being footloose and fancy free – and available. Desperate, they coerce their best friend Chase Holloway, who is like a brother to them and to Maddie, to protect their little sister.

Chase is the only man they trust, the only man who can keep Maddie from jumping into bed with a stranger.

Only babysitting Maddie becomes impossible when Chase suddenly realizes that little Maddie is not the knock-kneed kid sister he’d grown up with, but a knockout lady! A sexy one he can’t resist climbing in bed with himself.

But Chase must keep their romantic entanglement – and their secret trysts in the closet — from Maddie’s brothers or they’ll kill him.

Still, when the competition for her hand heats up, Chase must risk destroying his friendship with Maddie’s brothers by admitting his real feelings toward her, or risk losing Maddie forever…

4 Stars!”Marry Me, Maddie is a charming, humorous and flat-out fun ready.” ~ Jill Smith, Romantic Times

“Rita Herron’s lovable, laughable style…will keep the reader in stitches.” ~ C. Penn, WordWeaving

“Get set for an entertaining read with a lively set of characters.” ~ Scribes World Reviews

Here Comes the Bride

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Here Comes the Bride

Looking for Love Series

Here Comes the Bride

Kimberly Turner vowed never to let her twin sister Marci get her in trouble again…but when Marci offers her a deal to play phony fiancé to a friend in need, she can’t resist the money. After all, it’s going to help underprivileged children. And it’s just a weekend…what will it hurt?

Except the handsome architect Austin McDane is nothing like the men Marci usually tangles with. And when Kimberly meets his family and the charade snowballs out of control, she can’t help but wish the engagement – and impromptu wedding she gets roped into – were for real!

Want to know what happened to Marci? Read the sequel, THERE GOES THE GROOM.

Husband Hunting 101

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Husband Hunting 101

Book 1 of the Looking for Love Series

Husband Hunting 101

Avoid commitaphobics!

That is Jenna Barrett’s number one rule in her search for a husband. So why is she so attracted to the sexy advertising executive she’s hired to design a new ad campaign for her lingerie store?

Zachary West knows all the ploys women use to trap a man into marriage and he is not falling for any of them. Worse, Jenna Barrett has made no bones about the fact that she’s on a full-fledge husband hunt – she’s taking a class called How To Get Married Within a Year!

Sure, he can’t seem to stop fantasizing about the sexy redhead modeling the sheer teddies she sells.

But when images of the beguiling woman in a wedding gown and a long white veil taunt him, he knows he’s in big trouble!

Will he be able to overcome his panic attacks at the mention of the M word, or will Jenna have to continue her husband hunt – without him.

Sleepless in Savannah

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Sleepless in Savannah

Book 2 of the Bachelor Pact Series

Sleepless in Savannah

# 1 Amazon Bestseller in Single Women’s Fiction!

When Lance Summers discovers he’s being duped into a date with the sexy talk show host Sophie Lane on Sophie’s popular TV show, he knows he has to protect his treasured bachelorhood.

So he tricks her into going out with another man.

But images of her half naked on a sultry beach with the hunk who won the date torment him, and soon Lance finds himself with a terrible case of insomnia.

One only a lifetime of tangling with Sophie between the sheets can cure…

But when he finally gets her in bed, he isn’t sure either one of them will be sleeping…

A fun and fast moving story. ~ Romantic Times, Reviewer; Susan Mobley

A fun contemporary romance…an amusing read. ~ Amazon.com, Reviewer: Harriet Klausner

Single and Searching

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Single and Searching

Single and Searching

Reporter Gabe Thornton is not interested in romance or the crazies who advertise for love in the paper. But a lead in a robbery case takes him straight to Casey McIntyre’s door, and her Single and Searching ad, and now he must investigate her…

When Casey placed that personal ad to find a date, she never dreamed she’d find true love. But she also never expected her date to write about it!

Determined to get revenge, she dresses for seduction.

But payback is hell, and when Gabe turns the tables and pursues her with a vengeance, Casey finds herself falling in love.

Only Gabe holds her fate – and her heart – in his hands…

When the truth is revealed, will Casey be single and searching again, or will she succumb to the passion burning between them?

Love Me, Lucy

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Love Me, Lucy

Book 3 of the The Bachelor Pact Series

Love Me, Lucy

A stalker is after Lucy…Lucy’s lover is after Lucy but
LUCY IS ON THE RUN

All Lucy Lane wants for Christmas is to spend it with her family and the man she loves – Reid Summers. And truth be told, she wouldn’t mind a marriage proposal…

But Lucy has a stalker and must get out of town fast. Not
wanting to endanger Reid, she fibs and tells him she’s
auditioning for a movie in L.A.

Instead, she hides out in a senior’s resort in South Florida!

Reid Summers vowed to keep his bachelor pact intact …until he met Lucy. Maybe for Christmas, he’ll overcome his marriage phobia though, and ask her to move in with him. That’s
commitment– right?

Then he discovers that Lucy lied to him and fears she’s run off with another man.

Determined to find her, he sneaks into her apartment, but is
arrested for being her stalker!

Reid didn’t know Lucy had a stalker, but the thought of her in danger, or in another man’s arms, drives him crazy.

He will do anything to find her and protect her.

But will he put a ring on her finger?

Under the Covers

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

Under the Covers

Book 3 of the Looking for Love Series

Under the Covers

Marriage counselor Abigail Jensen believes whole-heartedly in the sanctity of marriage, so much that she’s written a book on the subject. But just as her book hits big raising her to celebrity status, she discovers her husband has left her.

And not for another woman – for a man!

Meanwhile, fans have dubbed her the Dear Abby of the bedroom and her publicist is demanding a publicity tour. Against her better judgment, she lets her sister hire an actor to play her husband.

Worse, her new spouse is drop-dead gorgeous and with him, she experiences the titillating touches and mind-boggling orgasms she’d only written about before.

Trouble is, she has no idea that her fake husband Hunter Stone is not an actor, but an undercover reporter out to get a story, expose her secrets – and destroy her career!

Caught up in a tangle of lies, will Abby and Hunter find true love…

An engaging story that is both humorous and poignant. ~ Romantic Times, Reviewer: Jill Smith
“Rita Herron’s lovable, laughable style…will keep the reader in stitches.” ~ C. Penn, WordWeaving

“Get set for an entertaining read with a lively set of characters.” ~ Scribes World Reviews

The Rancher Wore Suits

2017-11-09T13:58:37+00:00

The Rancher Wore Suits

Trading Places Series

The Rancher Wore Suits

Dr. Dex Montgomery was all business. And Ty Cooper had to remember that, if he wanted people to believe he was his identical twin brother. But when the rugged rancher met sophisticated Dr. Jessica Stovall, mixing business and pleasure seemed like the perfect plan! Unfortunately he wasn’t the man she thought he was….

Jessica usually needed a blowtorch to blast through Dex’s icy demeanor. But when his sexy gaze and charming smile suddenly focused on Jessica, she was the one feeling hot and bothered. Getting involved with the sinfully handsome and wealthy doctor would be all wrong—but why did it feel so right? And why did Dex act as if he had something to hide…?

Chapter One

O’Hare Airport

What else could go wrong?

As if his godawful trip to Chicago hadn’t been bad enough, Ty Cooper glanced at the overhead screen and noticed his flight back to Montana had been delayed. Two hours.

More time to think about the deal that had slipped through his fingers this week.

He might as well settle in, have a drink and try to come up with some ideas to expand his cattle business. The investor he’d met with in Chicago had promised big things for the Coopers’ shrinking cattle market, but all that fancy talk across conference tables hadn’t seemed practical to Ty. Ty and the five generations of Coopers who’d run the Circle C were men who lived off the land, not men who wore suits, talked stock options and thought about marketing strategies. His grandparents had done without the niceties in life, and Ty wanted to give them all the luxuries they had never had. After all, he owed them so much….

A pretty little waitress smiled at him, and he tipped his Stetson, then laid it on his knee as she approached. He might be in a foul mood but Ty Cooper’s grandma had raised him right – a man always behaved like a gentlemen in the presence of a lady.

“Can I get you a drink, sir?”

“A beer’ll be fine, sugar. Whatever you’ve goton tap.” He winked. “I’m not picky.”

She gave him that funny grin, the same one everyone in Chicago had given him for the past week every time he’d spoken. They probably didn’t see too many real-life cowboys in the windy city. A few seconds later, the waitress left him a full cold mug and he sipped the beer while he studied the report from the investor.

There was no way he could make this deal work, he realized seconds into the reading. He had to face the grim truth; there would be no upgrading at the Circle C this year. Disappointment ballooned in his chest. He’d wanted to hire an extra hand so his grandfather wouldn’t have to work so hard. Pa Cooper was getting on in years. Ty worried he’d wear himself out. He also wanted his grandfather and grandmother to be able to spend more time together, take a trip, enjoy the good life in their golden years. Do things they had never done.

Frustrated, he glanced up, wishing he had a cigarette, but he’d given them up years ago, so he searched for the waitress’s smile again, the only bright spot in a dismal day. Instead, his gaze landed on a man across the room and he froze, his mug lifted halfway to his mouth.

The man looked to be his height, and wore one of those expensive dark suits with a red power tie. The hair on the back of Ty’s neck stood on end. Something about the stranger seemed familiar.

Eerily familiar. Then the man turned and looked straight at Ty. Shock rode through Ty’s system, as it obviously did the other man. Ty could have been looking in a mirror. What the …? The man looked exactly like him. Same thick dark hair, only cropped a little shorter than Ty’s. Same dark eyes … same square jaw … same … everything.

The man suddenly pushed to his feet, his mouth gaping open momentarily before he snapped it closed. He strode toward Ty, his back ramrod straight. He stopped in front of Ty’s table, shifted his drink to his left hand and extended his right.

“Dex Montgomery.” His voice even sounded like Ty’s, although he had a slight Southern intonation. Not much though. Judging from the man’s expensive clothes, he came from too much money and education to allow himself a true Southern accent.

Ty closed his work-roughened hand over the man’s smooth one. “Ty Cooper.”

The contact was brief, but something passed between them – energy that felt strange yet oddly familiar. As if they had some connection.

Ridiculous. “Maybe you’d better sit down,” Ty said, grappling for an explanation.

The stranger tugged at his tie as if it was choking him and sat. “This isn’t possible. I mean …” He shook his head again. “I’m a doctor and even I’m at a loss for an explanation.”

Ty scrubbed his hand over his chin. He had no idea what to say, either. “You’re right, partner. It’s damned weird looking at your reflection in another man’s face. Maybe we’re related somehow?” A nervous laugh escaped Ty. “You know, distantly. Identical cousins or something.”

Dex Montgomery lifted one shoulder, then let it fall. “That’s possible, I suppose.” He hesitated, his eyebrows drawing together in thought. “Did you say Cooper?”

Ty nodded. “Of Rolling Bend, Montana. We have a cattle ranch called the -”

“Rolling Bend, Montana?” The man’s face paled.

“Yeah?” Ty’s stomach knotted. “You know the place?”

Dex’s gaze settled fully onto Ty. “My mother’s name was Tara Cooper. She was born in Rolling Bend.”

It couldn’t be. Ty signaled the passing waitress. “Ma’am, we’re gonna need another round here.”

She glanced at Dex, then started visibly when her gaze landed back on Ty. “Doubles for doubles,” she said with a giggle. “Are you guys twins or something?”

Dex glared at her and she scurried away. Ty almost told him to apologize, but he was too disturbed by this man’s statement. He leaned forward, unable to believe what he was about to say. “Tara Cooper was my mother.”

A choked sound, not quite a laugh, burst from Dex. “But my mother died when I was three months old.”

“My birthdate is May 21, 1970,” Ty countered. “My mother died in an accident with my father when I was three months old.”

“Oh yeah? Well, so did mine. But I don’t have any siblings,” Dex argued.

“Neither do I,” Ty retorted. “Well, except for two adopted brothers. Actually they’re my grandmother’s sister’s boys. She died when they were little and Gran took them in.”

And Ty had had a twin who had died at birth. At least he’d been told he had. What if … what if they’d lied to him? An empty hollowness clawed at him. But why?

Dex gestured vaguely. “Maybe there were two Tara Coopers in Rolling Bend.”

Ty moved his head slowly from side to side. “We’re the only Cooper clan in that neck of the woods.”

“I’m certain there’s some reasonable explanation,” Dex suggested.

Ty’s heart thundered. He had a sinking feeling he knew what had happened. But he didn’t like it. And judging from the shock on Dex Montgomery’s face, he wasn’t going to be happy about it, either.

“There is an explanation,” Ty said, his chest growing tight. “We’ve been had.”

(Continues…)

Looking for Love

2017-11-09T13:58:38+00:00

Looking for Love

Box Set

Looking for Love

A boxed set of three of Rita’s romantic comedies:

3 single women looking for love – but are they looking in all the wrong places?

HUSBAND HUNTING 101 – a woman takes a class to find a husband and is suddenly attracted to a commitaphobic advertising executive she just hired to create a new ad for her sexy lingerie store!

HERE COMES THE BRIDE – a twin switch leaves Marci Turner playing fake fiancé to a sexy man at his best friend’s wedding. But his parents decide to throw them an impromptu wedding and the fireworks begin!

UNDER THE COVERS – a marriage therapist hires an actor to play her husband for publicity purposes when her husband leaves her for a man!

The Bachelor Pact

2017-11-09T13:58:38+00:00

The Bachelor Pact

Box Set

The Bachelor Pact

Three men sworn to bachelor hood meet their matches in this trilogy about friendships, family and love!

Marry Me, Maddie — When Maddie is dumped on television, her brothers’ best friend is enlisted to babysit her — but will they fall in love?

Sleepless in Savannah — a dating game show goes awry and forces Sophie to take a weekend date with a stranger instead of Maddie’s brother — the man she wants to be with.

I Love Lucy (renamed to Love Me, Lucy) — all Lucy wants for the holidays is to be with her family and the man she loves — instead she’s hiding out from a stalker in a sixties & up community!

Have Cowboy, Need Cupid

2017-11-09T13:58:39+00:00

Have Cowboy, Need Cupid

Hartwell Hope Chest Series

Have Cowboy, Need Cupid

Suzanne Hartwell was all work and no play—until she caught the latest Hartwell bridal bouquet and received a hope chest from Grammy Rose! Suzanne had to convince the most stubborn cowboy in town to sell his ranch, but the magical hope chest suddenly made Suzanne want to mix business and pleasure….

The Lazy M Ranch was Rafe McAllister’s heart and soul. He wouldn’t sell it to anyone without a fight. But one look into Suzanne’s eyes and Rafe had a hard time resisting her sophisticated charms. Could Suzanne turn out to be the cowgirl of Rafe’s dreams? The hope chest never lies….

Chapter One

Rebecca tossed her bridal bouquet straight at Suzanne, but Suzanne jumped aside so she wouldn’t catch it. So, how did it land in her hands anyway?

And why did she have this odd pang in her chest? This twinge of sadness. Of envy. A feeling of desperation, as if she would never find a man who would look at her with adoration and unbridled passion in his eyes the way Thomas did Rebecca. Or the way her other cousins’ husbands looked at them.

Maybe because your latest boyfriend just dumped you like the rest of the guys you dated.

Why did all those men keep dumping her? Did she have some big sign emblazoned on her forehead that said, Can’t Love This One?

Sure, she knew how to attract a man, to cast the line and throw out the bait. A little flirting here. A smile there. Throw in some hip movement, and voilà, they chased her like flies after honey. But once they sampled a taste of the nectar, she never could quite keep them for more than a few quick bites.

The wedding drowned out her thoughts as everyone rushed past the white folding chairs, food-laden
tables and the gazebo to see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon. The scent of freshly cut grass and wildflowers seemed to warm the cool air, the first signs of spring evident in the tulip bulbs sprouting along themountaintop. Fading sunshine dappled golden rays over the happy couple as they stopped to laugh at the words Just Married painted on the back of Thomas’s Porsche. Then Thomas folded Rebecca into his arms and kissed her, stirring a round of cheers and applause, and another bout of heart-sickness rippled through Suzanne.

Drat. She did not need a man to be happy. She was managing fine on her own. Right?

“Have fun on your honeymoon!” Mimi shouted.

“Take lots of pictures,” Alison yelled.

“Be happy,” Grammy Rose hollered.

“Drive safely!” Hannah called.

Laughing and waving, Rebecca and Thomas climbed in his Porsche convertible, streamers and tin cans trailing behind the car compliments of her uncle Wiley.

Suzanne’s father, Bert, strode up beside her, his ruddy face even pinker from emotions. A rarity for her father since his life normally revolved around work and making money. “That boy better take good care of Rebecca,” her father said.

Suzanne tucked her hand in her father’s bent arm. “I’m sure he will, Dad. They look totally in love.”

Her father angled his head to study her. “What about you, baby? Are you happy?”

Suzanne frowned, surprised by her father’s question. He usually didn’t venture anywhere near such personal territory. “Of course,” Suzanne replied automatically. She had a great job, a great condo, everything she wanted. Didn’t she?

She stroked the delicate gold cross tucked between her breasts, the one her mother had given her before she’d died. “Always wear this and feel my love,” her mother had whispered.

Suzanne had felt her love then, but she’d been angry that her mother was leaving her. Had she felt loved by anyone since? Sure, Rebecca loved her, and so did her father, but a man?

“Anyone special in your life?” her father asked, glancing at the bouquet. “A boyfriend I don’t know about?”

“Dad, well … no, not now.” Suzanne coughed nervously.

His graying eyebrow rose a fraction. “How about your boss?”

“James?”

“Yes, you and Horton seem to get along pretty well.”

Suzanne frowned. “We work well together, but that’s all there is to our relationship.”

Her father’s newest wife, Eleanor, coasted toward them, pearls dripping from her earlobes and neck, her pale-blue silk dress shimmering in the orange glow of the sunset. “Not everyone finds the romantic kind of love, Suzanne. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good partnership.” He sipped his champagne. “You’re a smart girl. You’re going places in this world. Just keep that in mind and find someone who’ll help you achieve your goals.”

Her father kissed her goodbye, then curled his arm around Eleanor and headed toward her grandmother. Suzanne watched carefully, just in case he crossed paths with her uncle Wiley and the two of them got into one of their brotherly arguments. Although her father had promised to behave himself and not spoil Rebecca’s wedding, Suzanne had become his self-appointed guard dog.

Her mission was accomplished when she saw him veer toward his Mercedes. Suzanne’s gaze dropped to the bouquet in her hands, one finger tracing the edge of a delicate rose petal as she sniffed the heavenly fragrance. Maybe her father was right. Maybe she should consider the fact that she might not have a soul mate.

A few minutes later, when the crowd had dispersed, Suzanne found her grandmother in the homey kitchen. “I’m leaving now, Gram.”

“Come into the parlor first, dear,” Grammy Rose said.

Suzanne’s stomach flip flopped. “Is this about the hope chest?” Rebecca and her cousins had already warned her.

“Yes, I want you to take yours home today.”

“But, Grammy, there’s really no need. I’m not even dating anyone.” Suzanne followed her grandmother into the nostalgic parlor filled with antiques, silver-framed photos of family members and scrap-books overflowing with memorabilia marking the special days in her grandchildren’s lives. For some reason this room always brought a surge of emotions – feelings both happy and sad at the same time. Maybe it was the reason she’d opted for such modern decor in her own apartment. No frou-frou or sentiment …

“Your love life will change soon,” Grammy said with a wink. “Now, I’m going to clean up in the kitchen if you want to look through the hope chest before you go.”

(Continues…)

Have Bouquet, Need Boyfriend

2017-11-09T13:58:39+00:00

Have Bouquet, Need Boyfriend

Hartwell Hope Chests Series

Have Bouquet, Need Boyfriend

Shy, mousy Rebecca Hartwell had a shocking secret—she was in love with the town’s hottest bachelor, Dr. Thomas Emerson! Her feelings seemed hopeless, but when the latest Hartwell bridal bouquet landed smack on her head and Rebecca received an heirloom hope chest full of seductive surprises, she suddenly had an outrageous idea. Dare a shy virgin ask her secret crush to father the baby she yearned for?

He’d been burned by a Hartwell before, but Thomas couldn’t get Rebecca off his mind. The quietly lovely woman blushed fiery red every time they met. She was hiding something…and uncovering it might just be the cure for this doc’s jaded heart and soul!

Chapter One

“Who’s getting married next?” Alison Hartwell Broussard waved her bridal bouquet of roses in the air in open invitation, looking pointedly at her cousin Rebecca.

A few shrieks answered in reply. “Me!”

“No, me!”

A quiver of longing rippled through Rebecca, but she remained silent, hugging her arms around herself in a protective embrace as she stood beneath the sprawling branches of a live oak. She was the least likely of all the single and female bridesmaids at her cousin Alison’s wedding to tie the knot.

Her model-gorgeous sister, Suzanne, would probably be next. That is, if she ever decided to settle down with one man. Right now, marriage and monogamy were two words missing from Suzanne’s vocabulary.

Rebecca was the very opposite.

She ached for marriage. For one man to love her and hold her and make her feel special. To give her a child.

Unfortunately, the man she yearned for happened to be Thomas Emerson, a man who had once been engaged to Alison.

A man who had his pick of women in town. A man who might still be in love with Alison. A man who’d barely noticed Rebecca.

Well, except for the time she’d dropped an entire platter of pastries on his head at Vivi Broussard’s wedding. He had gazed at her through the whipped cream dripping from his hair as if she might possibly be the biggest klutz in the world. Which she was.

Especially when she got nervous. And being around Thomas Emerson made her extremely nervous.

“Come on, ladies, line up.” Alison stepped beneath the trellis of roses, an early-winter breeze carrying the spicy scent of flowers through the air. “Brady and I are ready to leave. He’s finally promised me a honeymoon.” She slid her arm around Brady’s waist. “I only had to marry him twice to get it.”

Laughter and cheers erupted. Alison’s sisters’ husbands, Jake Tippins and Seth Broadhurst, grinned wickedly, obviously remembering highlights of their own honeymoons.

Brady slung an arm around his new wife. “Honey, it’ll be worth the wait.”

More laughter followed, envy mushrooming inside Rebecca. Her three cousins had all married this past year in the gazebo on top of Pine Mountain at Grammy Rose’s, and their husbands obviously doted on them. She wanted that kind of love, that mind-altering, earth-shattering bond with a man.

But every time she got physically close to a man, she lost her cool. Rational conversation fled, and she stumbled all over her size-seven feet. And sometimes, God help her, sometimes she even stuttered.

“Becca, come on.” Suzanne jerked her toward the small crowd of women gathering on the lawn, their long dresses fluttering in the wind. “Angie and Caitlin are about to attack Alison for those flowers.”

Rebecca laughed at her twenty-three-year-old twin cousins – daughters of her aunt Shelby who giggled and squealed – vying for the place in front of Alison. Although the twins shared a sibling rivalry born of being identical, they also shared a loving sisterhood, as did Hannah, Mimi and Alison. For some reason, she and Suzanne had never quite had that connection.

Probably because they were so different.

Another stab of envy assaulted Rebecca as Mimi nestled her three-month old baby to her chest. Rebecca’s own biological clock beat inside her like a drum. She desperately wanted a baby.

But a husband had to come first.

“Back to earth, Becca.” Suzanne waved her hand in front of Rebecca’s eyes, but Thomas gazed their way, and Rebecca froze. A frown marred his lips, his charcoal-black hair gleaming in the early evening light. The immediate pull of attraction that engulfed her slid through her nerve endings, sending a frenzy of delicious sensations spiraling through her. Sensations that paralyzed her.

His six-foot-plus muscular frame filled out his dark suit. His broad shoulders almost seemed massive in the crisp white dress shirt. The sparkle of laughter normally present in his light-green eyes was replaced by a dark, faraway look, arousing her curiosity. Was he wishing Alison had married him instead of Brady?

Contemplating going to him and offering a comforting hand, Rebecca started across the lawn. But her heel caught on a twig. She took a step forward and nearly plunged to the ground. Yelping, she reached for something to steady her, or at least break her fall, but found nothing to hold on to, not a chair or a tree or a table in sight. Thomas pitched forward as if to break her fall, although he wasn’t near enough to reach her, but Suzanne, ever the graceful one, slid a long manicured hand beneath her elbow, catching Rebecca first. Mortification stung Rebecca’s cheeks.

A fraction of a second later, Thomas raised his gaze, the dark intensity disappearing as a slow smile spread across his face.

Rebecca’s heart fluttered.

Suzanne poked her. “Wow, who is that hottie eating the groom’s cake?”

Her heart sank.

If Suzanne wanted him, even though she lived miles away in Atlanta, she would have him. Suzanne always got what she wanted.

“Thom-Thomas Emerson, the OB-GYN -” She took a deep breath to steady her voice. “He works with Hannah.”

Suzanne whistled beneath her breath. “Whew, a girl might be tempted to tear up her little black book for him.”

Rebecca gulped. Thomas continued to stare, his gaze almost unnerving this time.

He had to be looking at Suzanne. Everyone stared at her dark-haired, incredibly exotic-looking sibling. Not that she could blame them. Suzanne was beautiful. Dazzling. Mesmerizing. And, darn it, she was even nice, so Rebecca couldn’t hate her. Suzanne didn’t try to get all the attention. People were just drawn to her.

But Rebecca was the mousy blonde who hid behind books and art and wire-rimmed glasses. The impossibly shy one who couldn’t talk or walk without tripping over her own tongue or feet.

“Let’s hurry, she’s getting ready to throw the roses!” Suzanne gently pushed Rebecca forward just as Alison released the flowers. The bouquet soared through the air, bouncing first from Caitlin’s hands to Angie’s, then finally landing with a thump on Rebecca’s head. She reached for the arrangement, but the ribbon caught on the stem of her glasses, dangling over her eyes, blinding her, and a thorn from the rose stabbed her finger.

(Continues…)

Have Husband, Need Honeymoon

2017-11-09T13:58:39+00:00

Have Husband, Need Honeymoon

Hartwell Hope Chests Series

Have Husband, Need Honeymoon

When Alison Hartwell’s boyfriend proposes marriage, tradition finds the youngest Hartwell sister the proud owner of a hand-carved hope chest from her beloved Grammy Rose. But amongst the lace and satin is some disturbing news: Alison is already married to someone else!

After Alison and her high school sweetheart, Brady Broussard, eloped, her father quickly annulled it, or so they thought. When Brady returns to town for his sister’s wedding, Alison has the chance to make things right between them. But she has never stopped loving the handsome air force pilot. Can she convince Brady their love was meant to last a lifetime?