Lone Star Baby Bombshell

By: Lauren Canan

One

Kelly Michaels slowed the car as she neared the twelve-foot-high black wrought-iron gates banked by native stone walls on either side. A bronze plaque on the left welcomed her to the C Bar Ranch. She stretched to reach the keypad and entered the code Don Honeycutt, the Realtor, had provided.

With a resounding click, the gates swung open, separating the giant C set in the center. She followed the long winding drive flanked by centuries-old oak trees towering over lush green pastures. She pulled around to the staff entrance. The home was enormous. It was more mansion than typical ranch house. But new construction was generally a breeze to clean. Gathering the implements out of the trunk, she went inside.

Her instructions were to clean two bedrooms and adjoining baths upstairs plus the den, office, foyer and kitchen downstairs. She should be able to wrap this up in time to get ready for the annual music festival and dance that evening. The generous pay she earned occasionally cleaning new homes for the local Realtor was more than worth the effort. It had once been her only income, but even after she landed a job consistent with her field of study, she’d held on to this one and the financial bonus it offered.

She started on the second-floor master suite, working her way downstairs. Some furniture had been delivered. New bedding and pillows lay on the mattresses. Kelly quickly and efficiently put everything in order. An interior designer would probably complete the rooms in accordance with the new owner’s preferences.

She loved the smell and freshness of a new home. Holidays in this house would be amazing. A turkey roasting in the oven while pumpkin and coconut pies cooled on the dark granite counters. The aroma of spices and home-baked bread filling the air. She could imagine laughter and teasing banter filling the great space while children played hide-and-seek around a huge tree. She envied the family who would live here. At least, she hoped it was a family. The gossip around town said the old ranch had been purchased by an out-of-state corporation for employee retreats. It would be a shame if no one actually lived in this beautiful home.

A couple hours later, while rinsing the last of the soap from the kitchen sink, she heard the door in the utility room open and close. Must be Don checking on her progress. She smiled, knowing she’d completed the house, just as requested.

“Kelly?”

The breath caught in her throat and all outward motion stopped. The voice did not belong to Don Honeycutt. Her heart slammed against the walls of her chest as denial overwhelmed her mind. It couldn’t be. Bracing herself against the counter, she turned and stared incredulously at the man standing less than four feet away.

“Jace.” His name came out a whisper, a testament to the pure shock pummeling her from every direction. She blinked her eyes, willing her mind to convey it was only an illusion.

But the illusion was very real.

In the year since she’d seen him, he’d changed very little. His rugged good looks hadn’t diminished. If anything, he appeared even more handsome than before, something she wouldn’t have thought possible. The deep line of his jaw was smooth now, missing the bearded shadow he’d had before. His dark hair was cut several inches shorter. The tiny scar was still visible, the only imperfection of full lips that could widen into a devilish grin showing perfect white teeth, a smile irresistible to most everyone, male or female, young or old.

Kelly swallowed hard. She knew the touch of those lips. A man in his prime, he took extraordinary care to stay in top physical condition. It was, after all, part of his job. Part of who he was. She hadn’t known it before, but she certainly knew it now.

“What are you doing here?” His deep, graveled voice mirrored her surprise, sending goose bumps over her skin.

With a wet sponge in one hand and a can of powdered cleanser in the other, she thought the answer should be obvious.

“I might ask you the same question.” But she feared she already knew the answer. The giant C on the front gate apparently stood for Compton. Suddenly the huge mansion took on the dimensions of a shoe box as the walls came crashing in. “You bought this ranch?” She needed to hear him confirm her worst fears.

“Yeah. I did.”

Her heart dropped to her knees. “I...I’ve just finished. I’ll get out of your way.”

She grabbed the mop, broom and bucket of cleaning paraphernalia and without another glance in his direction, headed for the door, her mind spinning.

“Kelly, wait. You don’t have to—”

She ignored him and all but ran through the side door. Why would Jace Compton, a man with the world at his fingertips, move to this tiny Texas town?

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