Part of the Bargain
To heal the wounds left by a broken marriage and the death of her beloved stepson, Libby Kincaid returned to the ranch where she grew up. But instead of the solace she craved, she found Jess Barlowe—sexy, alluring…and mad as hell.
For years Jess had been her constant opponent, and now malicious rumors tarnishing her reputation seemed only to enrage him further. But soon these adversarial sparks ignited into a fire of passion, and Jess wouldn’t stop until he made her his bride. Unfortunately, Libby knew all too well that being married to a man was no guarantee of his trust…or his love.
The landing gear made an unsettling ka-thump sound as it snapped back into place under the small private airplane. Libby Kincaid swallowed her misgivings and tried not to look at the stony, impassive face of the pilot. If he didn’t say anything, she wouldn’t have to say anything either, and they might get through the short flight to the Circle Bar B ranch without engaging in one of their world-class shouting matches.
It was a pity, Libby thought, that at the ages of thirty-one and thirty-three, respectively, she and Jess still could not communicate on an adult level.
Pondering this, Libby looked down at the ground below and was dizzied by its passing as they swept over the small airport at Kalispell, Montana, and banked eastward, toward the Flathead River. Trees so green that they had a blue cast carpeted the majestic mountains rimming the valley.
Womanhood being what it is, Libby couldn’t resist watching Jess Barlowe surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye. He was like a lean, powerful mountain lion waiting to pounce, even though he kept his attention strictly on the controls and the thin air traffic sharing the big Montana sky that spring morning. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but Libby knew that they would be dark with the animosity that had marked their relationship for years.
She looked away again, trying to concentrate on the river, which coursed beneath them like a dusty-jade ribbon woven into the fabric of a giant tapestry. Behind those mirrored glasses, Libby knew Jess’s eyes were the exact same shade of green as that untamed waterway below.
“So,” he said suddenly, gruffly, “New York wasn’t all the two-hour TV movies make it out to be.”
Libby sighed, closed her eyes in a bid for patience and then opened them again. She wasn’t going to miss one bit of that fabulous view—not when her heart had been hungering for it for several bittersweet years.
Besides, Jess had been to New York dozens of times on corporation business. Who did he think he was fooling?
“New York was all right,” she said, in the most inflama-tory tone she could manage. Except that Jonathan died, chided a tiny, ruthless voice in her mind. Except for that nasty divorce from Aaron. “Nothing to write home about,” she added aloud, realizing her blunder too late.
“So your dad noticed,” drawled Jess in an undertone that wouldhave been savage if ithadn’tbeen so carefully modulated. “Every day, when the mail came, he fell on it like it was manna from heaven. He never stopped hoping—I’ll give him that.”
“Dad knows I hate to write letters,” she retorted defensively. But Jess had made his mark, all the same—Libby felt real pain, picturing her father flipping eagerly through the mail and trying to hide his disappointment when there was nothing from his only daughter.