Christie Ridgway

ZANE excerpt

Chapter 1

The sound of his name jerked Zane Tucker from his contemplation of the view of the Snake River outside the diner windows. His foot kicked out, catching the legs of the empty chair across from him and sending it crashing to the floor. “Hell,” he muttered, clambering to his size fourteen feet to right the thing, even as he glared at the intruder into his little private reverie.

“What do you want?” he demanded of the buzz-haired guy.

“Touchy, touchy,” the other man said.

He looked familiar to Zane, but just about everyone looked familiar in his small hometown of Eagle’s Ridge, Washington, situated near the Blue Mountains. With only ten thousand total residents and a single high school, the thirtyish man standing beside his table, wearing an annoying smirk, had to be someone with whom he’d grown up.

Oh, yeah, he thought, a name popping from his memory. Smerkman. Andy Smerkman.

“What’s up, Andy?” Zane said, dropping back into his seat. He tried to sound pleasant. He was a friendly, easygoing sort of man. Everybody said so, and it was a prerequisite in dealing with the clients of the adventure watersports business he ran with his twin brother. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“On a visit to the olds,” the guy said. “You know, my parents. Stopped in here at No Man’s Land for a coffee before heading back to Seattle.”

Andy Smerkman, he of the visit to the “olds”—who the hell said that?—was clearly angling for an invitation to join Zane at his table.

If memory served, Andy had always been a lousy fisherman.

“Have a good one,” Zane said, picking up his own mug of brew and hoping Smerkman would catch the hint and go away.

Instead he scraped out the chair on the other side of the rectangular wooden table and slid into it. “I heard your brother found himself a lady and it looks permanent.”

Zane grunted. Still a surprise, but it was true. The only thing Adam had ever taken seriously was work—first as a rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard, and then later with refurbishing their old boathouse as a youth adventure camp for at-risk kids. But when his Jane had showed up at A To Z Watersports, Adam’s legendary focus had widened.

“I heard your sister lassoed the town golden boy, Ryder Westbrook.”

Bristling, Zane sent out another glare. Like all big brothers, he felt protective of his little sister, Bailey. “He was lucky to catch her eye.” And Bailey seemed so happy that even though the Tuckers had been feuding with the Westbrooks for years upon years, Zane could only be pleased for her. She’d been put through the wringer by some NYC asshole, but she’d come home and found the best man for her.

“And I’ve also heard that you’ve been moping around town ever since your sister and your brother found true love.”

What? Outrage filled Zane’s chest, hardening his muscles to cement. “Moping?” he growled out.

“Uh-huh,” Smerkman said, looking up as Brenda Morgan, who ran the diner alongside Zane’s dad, bustled near with a steaming carafe of coffee. She filled the waiting empty mug then topped off Zane’s.

Smerkman smirked again. “Word is you’re walking around looking all lonesome since you’re now the babe-less Tucker twin. The only Tucker sibling without a soulmate.”

Don’t punch the guy, Zane commanded himself, even as his fingers curled into fists. He was a friendly, cheerful, easy-going sort. Everybody said so. But everybody now was saying he was looking lonesome? And worse, perhaps pitying him?

Brenda slanted Zane a sympathetic look. Damn it! Did she feel sorry for his babe-less self too or was it mere sympathy for having to share space with the dim-witted Smerkman?

The bells on the diner door caught Zane’s attention. A pair of men entered, and he lurched to his feet, setting the mugs on the table rattling. Patrons looked over in some alarm, but he was accustomed to that. Zane was a big man at six-four, two-twenty, and he tended to boom and clatter his way through life.

Though he didn’t try to frighten little kids or overwhelm fragile women, it just happened that way. He was athletic on and in the water—a true riverman to his marrow—and actually adept on mountain trails too.

It was only being indoors that gave him trouble. Probably because of the early years of inactivity that severe childhood asthma had forced upon him. Now grown and grown out of the condition, walls and roofs could no longer contain him comfortably.

“Where are you going?” Smerkman said, as Zane headed toward the newcomers taking stools at the counter.

Away from your recap of local gossip. Any more comments on the alleged state of his psyche and he’d be in danger of taking a swing at that annoying face and its irksome smirk. “Gotta see a guy about a bet.”

His rugged rubber soles sounded loud on the scarred wooden floor as he paced toward the newcomers. They swiveled around as he came to a stop behind them. “Wyatt,” he said, nodding at the man on the left. Then he fished for his phone and brought up a photo. He brandished it in the face of the guy on the right. “Look here, Denver.”

Denver—his name was actually Mike, but he went by the place he’d hailed from, before he came to the Eagle’s Ridge area to work at a dude ranch—groaned, loud and long. He was around twenty-two, a decade younger than Zane. “You didn’t really do it, did you?”

“Proof is in the picture, buddy.” He turned the phone so Wyatt Chandler could have a look too. “Dressed up that statue of town founder John Westbrook at one end of Sentinel Bridge. In broad daylight, as stipulated, and I didn’t get caught, also as stipulated.” Zane didn’t add that he’d released the leash on his dog who then provided a helpful distraction by galloping through the nearby park, chasing squirrels, knocking over trash cans, and wreaking other general but benign mayhem.

Wyatt shook his head. “Nothing stops Insane Zane.”

A nickname he’d been given all those years ago during a semester of high school detention, in honor of the crazy bets he was in the habit of making. “Don’t you think the statue looks good in that spangly Wonder Woman outfit? I thought the headband was a nice touch. Who knew you could find a male size XXL costume? But the Internet has everything.”

Looking as if he was fighting a smile, Wyatt shook his head again. “I thought the quarrel between the Tuckers and the Westbrooks had simmered down now. Aren’t you afraid something like that will start it up again if people find out the statue-defiling perp was you?”

“Nah. Not a chance. Not with Ryder and Bailey our own happy-ever-after Romeo and Juliet.”

“About that…” Wyatt hesitated. “You doing okay?”

Zane narrowed his eyes. “I’m doing great.”

Smerkman, who now stood at Zane’s elbow, had the balls to put in his two cents. “Moping,” he declared. “Heard it from my mom who heard it from my aunt—”

“Take off the boots,” Zane said over him in a steely voice, his gaze on the fancy cowboy pair on Denver’s feet. Anything to deflect the conversation and his renewed desire to punch a wall—or at least Smerkman’s nose.

Maybe he’d been a bit out-of-step lately, especially since Adam had coupled up with Jane. It was…odd, a life change, to have both siblings now pledged to romantic partners. Perhaps he’d experienced a little loneliness in recent days too, but by God, he wasn’t moping in a way that anyone should be noticing.

He had more pride than that.

“Zane.” Denver glanced down at his fancy footwear. “I really can’t see why you’d want them. You’re more of the hiking boots type.”

“You’d not be entirely right,” Wyatt told the other man. “You’re talking to a former Army Cavalry Scout.”

Denver’s eyes went wide. Yeah, it had been a surprise to Zane’s family too. Not that he’d opted for military service, that was a familiar route for the young people of Eagle’s Ridge which had been founded by veterans of World War II. But despite all his ease on the water, he didn’t go Coast Guard like his twin or aim to become a SEAL like Wyatt.

“I was a kid,” he said, shrugging. One who had watched hundreds of hours of old Westerns when he’d been cooped up inside the house until he was fourteen. “There’s spurs. And a Stetson. Look it up.”

Denver blinked. “You rode a horse?”

“No. Recon specialist. Until I tore up my shoulder and came home after ten years in. But enough stalling.” He sent a pointed look at the boots. “Hope your socks don’t have holes in them.”

The kid from Colorado took his time taking off the tooled leather, but Zane remained unmoved. “That should teach you not to make bets when you’ve had a beer too many.”

“That should teach you to never make a bet with Zane,” Wyatt said.

Zane turned to his old friend, another of the West Side kids who’d grown up on the “wrong” side of the river, just like him. Wyatt had spent years as a SEAL but then arrived in town a couple of weeks ago, fresh out of the Navy. “How are you settling in to civilian life?”

Wyatt shrugged. “Okay.”

Which said nothing at all. “Have you considered your next move?”

“A job, you mean?” Wyatt shrugged again. “Something will come up.”

Zane eyed the other man’s fit form and the bouncing knee that proclaimed he was used to doing and not dithering. He could relate. “Maybe we could find you something on the water—”

“I’m not up for that,” Wyatt said quickly, then cleared his throat. “I’ve had some other offers. Right now I’m just spending time with Gran. She’s getting on, you know.”

His grandmother had raised him after his parents died. But Wyatt talked about the older woman as if she was a doddering elderly, not the vital senior citizen that Zane knew to be active in her church’s social club and other endeavors around town. As Denver handed him the boots, Zane took them in hand while studying Wyatt’s closed expression.

Something was up.

“I don’t know that your granny requires a round-the-clock caretaker,” he said. “She’s getting about just fine, I’ve seen her myself.”

“She needs me,” Wyatt said stubbornly.

“Maybe some of the time,” Zane conceded, glancing again at the man’s bouncing knee and then at his steely jaw. This guy needed to lighten up. “But you have some free hours for a gig as a rodeo clown, don’t you? I have a contact. The job promises plenty of action, danger, and the weird face paint too. As a matter of fact, I bet—”

“I’m good, Zane,” Wyatt said sharply, too sharply, without even a hint of a smile. Then he ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry about that. Coming back home…it’s made me a little edgy, I guess.”

“I’m glad I got out of this town,” Smerkman declared. “Because it’s made Wyatt edgy and Zane’s moping—”

“I’m not moping!” Hell, that didn’t sound pleasant or friendly or the least bit calm. Zane could feel every customer in the diner staring at him, and guessed if he looked that their gazes would be filled with pity. The need to knock something down rose inside him and he sucked in a breath to push it back. “You know what? I gotta go.”

Fully aware of the stares from every corner of the room, he made his way to the rear of the restaurant. Was this how it was going to be? Slowly smothered in sympathy by those around him because he was the un-partnered Tucker?

Since when had he shown any inclination to secure a missus anyway?

Never.

A long time ago he’d come to the realization that a woman looking for a long-term man would want one with less hard muscle and more softness inside. Less raw power and more gentle romance. That was not him.

He bypassed the kitchen where Brenda and his dad were taking a quick breather between the breakfast and lunch rush. His dog, Gambler, waited in the storeroom, where a full water dish and a cushioned bed were always available for his visits.

The yellow Lab jumped to his feet when Zane opened the door, rushing to greet him as if they’d been parted for months instead of less than an hour. Going down on one knee, he set aside the cowboy boots and rubbed his hands over the dog’s warm and wiggling body. Gambler’s sweeping tail knocked a plastic-wrapped stack of paper napkins off a shelf and when Zane reached over to retrieve it, his own elbow tumbled a second stack.

Chuckling, he put both back into place, then clipped the dog’s leash onto his collar. “We’ll always have each other, won’t we, boy? Birds of a feather.”

As he led the dog toward the rear door, Brenda wandered out of the kitchen. “Leaving already? You didn’t have more than coffee.”

“I’m good, thanks, Bren.” The concerned kindness on her face and in her green eyes made him hunch his shoulders. After their mother took off for the bright lights of Hollywood, she’d been a warm presence for all the Tucker siblings, but right now he thought she might be about to offer him some of that unwelcome concern for his babe-less—as Smerkman had put it—state.

Tugging on Gambler’s leash, he edged closer to the door. “I’ll see you later.”

“You know,” she said, “it’s okay if you feel a bit out of sorts. Anyone would feel a little lost with this new shift in the family dynamics.”

Out of sorts? Lost? Frustration, embarrassment, and exasperation roiled in his belly. Did he really seem so doleful? “Brenda—”

“Maybe if I fixed you up with someone,” she continued, in a voice soft with compassion. “There’s a woman in my photography class who has a daughter…”

That was it. It. He drew the line when sympathy turned to talk of fix-ups. To escape a renewed urge to knock something over, Zane managed to force out some non-committal noise and shoved open the door.

Apparently energized by the fresh air and his owner’s distraction, Gambler took a sudden leap, the leash yanking from Zane’s loosened hold. The dog took off, splashing through the rain puddles in the parking area in the direction of the front entrance. Zane followed, cursing the animal, himself, and the whole world.

Maybe he did deserve to be pitied.

Then, in horror, he watched as Gambler did exactly what his master had been itching to do. The dog knocked something over.

Someone.

And the person who truly warranted a hefty dose of pity was a delicate-looking woman with dark blonde hair who now lay flat on her back on the sidewalk, books, purse, and various personal belongings scattered around her.

 

Harper Grace stared up at the blue sky, her heart in her throat, her breath backed up in her lungs. There was a ringing in her ears. What just happened?

Then a slavering monster entered her field of vision, hairy and toothy and totally terrifying. She choked out a sound and tried scrambling backward, using her heels and her shoulders. Sitting up would only put her closer to the beast.

The sound of a deep voice penetrated her hearing. “Gambler! For God’s sake! Gambler!” The furry thing was hauled back to be replaced by something even bigger who now took his own turn to stare down at her from the most startling aquamarine-colored eyes she’d ever seen.

“Are you all right, miss?” the creature asked, a man creature, obviously, in a denim work shirt and jeans.

Some instinct caused her to make another feeble attempt at a rear scramble.

He frowned. “Do you need medical assistance?”

Her head was dizzy and her mouth was dry but her limbs appeared to be working and nothing seemed to be broken on the inside either. At the sound of an insistent jingle, she glanced over and saw the original monster sitting on its haunches, looking at her like she might be raw meat.

She swallowed. “You have a good grip on that…that thing?” she asked, noting the leash in the big man’s hand was connected to a collar of thick metal links around the beast’s neck.

“He’s Gambler,” the man replied. “My ill-mannered dog. And we’re both very sorry he toppled you.”

Her side-eye glance at the canine didn’t convince her he felt the least bit apologetic. Not with his pink tongue hanging out like that.

“Damn.” The man’s eyes narrowed, and he hunkered down, his long legs folding in half. “You’re really scared.”

“No.” She denied the charge as she took in his tree trunk-sized thighs. “I was just…startled.”

Not scared. Because she’d moved to Eagle’s Ridge to be someone different. To try different things. To shed the “boring” that her ex said he’d tired of. The Harper Grace who’d been nervous around big dogs and reluctant to experience a bunch of other things had been left behind in San Francisco.

“Let me help you up,” the man said, holding out his free hand. His palm looked to be as big as a dinner plate.

“I can do it.” Half-rolling, she got to her knees and then to her feet. Still with one cautious eye on the dog, she tugged at the hem of her long black cardigan, brushed at the leaves clinging to her black pants, then paused, noting the two massive dirty paw prints on her formerly pristine white shirt.

“You can send me the cleaning bill for your clothes,” Gambler’s owner said.

“Nonsense.” Harper was proud of the brisk tone of her voice. “It’s nothing a little laundry detergent can’t handle.” But she’d have to return to her condo for different clothes before visiting any more of the Eagle’s Ridge businesses. If she was going to ask to leave flyers and post notices about her upcoming charity event to benefit the library, she figured the new librarian should appear tidy and clean.

The man stretched out a long arm and snagged her fallen purse. The contents had spilled out on the sidewalk and he plucked up those too, tossing pen, pencil, wallet, and ChapStick inside. Then he straightened to his full height and handed over the black leather bag.

“Thank you.” She settled the strap on her shoulder and then reached for the plastic portfolio he held out next. It had come from the copy shop just that morning and she was glad that the papers inside hadn’t been scattered. With the cement still damp from an earlier rain, she’d have had a sodden mess on her hands.

“I’m really sorry,” the man said again, and turned to glare at the dog. “We plan to take obedience classes as soon as he overcomes some of his fears. Right now I think it would put too much stress on him.”

Curiosity got the better of her. “He has…fears?” And suffered from stress? The dog looked big enough to intimidate anyone and anything.

Gambler’s owner nodded, his expression serious. “Skateboards. Doorbells. Bubble wrap. Don’t get me started on frogs.”

A gurgle of laughter worked its way up Harper’s throat. “Bubble wrap? Frogs?” She shifted her gaze to the dog again, and suddenly he seemed much less menacing. “Poor guy.”

“You say that because you’ve forgotten the mud he’s transferred to your clothes.” Then the man’s gaze snagged on something nearby and he brightened. “Hey, maybe this will help.” Bending again, he scooped up a last refugee from her purse, an instant stain remover stick that she never left home without.

Popping off the top, he took a step forward. “Hold still and I’ll…” He froze, his hand hovering a few inches from the smears of dirt on her shirt.

Harper glanced down, saw that a couple of buttons had unfastened, and now the fabric gaped over her breasts, exposing the top inches encased in a pale pink lace bra. “Oh!” Heat rushed from the edge of the intimate garment to the top of her head.

Harper Grace didn’t flash strange men in the street!

Her hand flew to the placket, just as a truck pulled up alongside them. The passenger window rolled down, revealing a familiar female face. Not long ago the woman had come to the library and introduced herself as Jadyn McAllister, an assumed name she’d used because of her unwitting mix-up in a revenge plot on a drug lord. Once the dangerous mess had cleared, she’d returned to the library and explained she was really Jane McAllen.

“Hey, Harper!” she called now. “Is everything okay?”

It would be, as long as no one noticed her fumbling with her shirt buttons and didn’t guess she’d been standing partially disrobed on the streets of Eagle’s Ridge. “Just fine. How are you?”

The other woman popped her door and then climbed out of the vehicle, just as a man emerged from the driver’s side. Harper recognized those blue eyes, the exact same, startling shade as those of Gambler’s owner.

He was big like him too, though maybe a bit shorter and leaner, and with similar bone structure to his handsome face.

Because yes, the dog’s owner was very handsome, in a very virile, very rugged kind of way. Both men had the kind of masculine good looks that had always unsettled Harper.

“Have you met Adam Tucker?” Jane was asking now, slipping her hand into the crook of the newcomer’s elbow.

Children of the mansions in Nob Hill had manners instilled in them at the cradle. Ignoring her usual twinge of stranger-shyness, she held out her hand. “Harper Grace, new county librarian.”

His fingers closed over hers for a brief shake, and then he glanced over at the other man. “I’m guessing you’ve met my twin.”

Ah. That explained the resemblance. “No, not really. We just now—”

“Gambler took her out like a bowling pin,” Adam’s brother said, grimacing. “We didn’t get to introductions yet.”

Jane shook her head. “Oh, my. Are you all right, Harper?”

“Just embarrassed.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be,” Jane said. “Zane should have better control of him.”

Harper glanced over at the dog’s owner. “Zane.” Then back at the woman. “Jane.”

“I keep telling her she picked the wrong twin,” the taller man said with a smile. He had very nice, very white teeth. “What couldn’t a power couple named Zane and Jane achieve?”

“More like Tarzan and Jane,” his brother muttered, then hitched his lady closer to him.

Harper liked the way Jane leaned into Adam’s body in return, trusting and warm, as if she knew she could count on him. As if she knew that he wouldn’t be the kind of man to break a two-year engagement on the day she booked the wedding chapel.

She also liked the teasing byplay between the brothers. Her only sibling was a thrill-seeking older sister and though she hadn’t been around males much growing up or as an adult, she recognized the approving expression on Zane’s face as he watched his brother hug Jane.

“I should get going,” Harper ventured now, recalling her need to return home for a clean outfit.

“Or come in the diner and join us for a late breakfast or an early lunch,” Jane said, gesturing to the front door.

“Oh, I couldn’t. Not with soiled clothes.”

“Dad won’t mind,” Adam put in. “He owns No Man’s Land—the diner—by the way. Sam Tucker.”

“I was going to ask him if I could put a poster about the library charity event in the front window,” Harper confessed. “But I’ll come back later.”

“Give it to us,” Jane said. “We’ll take care of it.”

Pleased, Harper began to open the flap on the portfolio. “That would be great.” She withdrew one of the 11 x 13-inch tagboard notices. Then Zane was there taking it from her hand.

His eyebrows rose as he read aloud the bold-faced heading. “Get Dirty for Books.”

She ignored the ridiculous heat rising on her face. “It was my predecessor’s idea. She had most of the logistics in place before her husband was quickly deployed and they had to move across the country. It’s a charity mud run. The proceeds will go toward new books.”

A grin broke over the big man’s face. “I like that. Get dirty.” He glanced from the poster to Harper. “Are you going to participate?”

She lifted her chin, not even thinking before she replied, “Of course.”

Now why the heck had she said that? she wondered, wanting to slap the heel of her hand to her forehead. She’d had no intention of actually participating in the event, especially as her exercise of choice in San Francisco had been nothing more vigorous than the spin class described as a “beach cruise.”

It was Zane Tucker’s fault.

He was too handsome and too virile—that must be it.

A guy that good-looking touched a deep, feminine part of her. It would be the same for any woman, she told herself. Looking into those fascinating eyes could compel a female to want unwise things. To make crazy claims. To participate in mud runs!

Still, how could she have actually said so?

Yes, Harper wanted to be different, but not that different.

“Really?” the man said now, his gaze sweeping over her body as if assessing her readiness. No doubt he could tell that the only truly fit muscles in her body were the ones used to lift books and turn pages. He looked down at the poster he still held and then back at her face. “You’re going to run through four miles of mud and obstacles?”

She felt her chin lift again. “Yes.” Oh, God. Oh, God. Who had taken over her voice? But with Zane, his brother, Jane, and that dog all looking on, Harper found she couldn’t renege now. With a vigorous nod, she doubled-down. “I’m sure I’ll find it great fun.”

Before she could promise she’d be climbing Everest next, she tucked her purse closer to her body. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

Goodbyes were quickly said and Jane took the poster, promising to personally ensure it had prominent placement in the diner. Then, with a last wave, Harper headed in the direction of her small condo complex.

Only to find herself accompanied by Zane and the dog.

“Oh,” she said, feeling the pinch of a slight frown between her brows. “Are you going in this direction too?”

“I was planning on it. I take Gambler on walks around town so he can experience different sights and sounds. I’m hoping to desensitize him to his fears.”

The dog didn’t look that anxious to her at the moment, trotting along with his tongue hanging out, but what did she know?

“We can walk behind you if that would make you more comfortable,” Zane offered.

“I don’t think I want Gambler where I can’t see him.”

The man gave another of his grins and she looked away in case it caused blindness. “How did the dog get to be so fearful anyway?” she asked.

“I don’t really know. A guy came through town, part of a group of hunters that we get up here. One night at a local bar, he was complaining that the Lab he bought as a hunting dog was no good. He was thinking of dropping it off at an animal shelter on his way back home to Colorado.”

“Oh.” Harper sent a sympathetic glance to the dog, who was lifting his leg and peeing on a bush, apparently unaware of his close call. “Poor boy.”

“I was actually concerned that what the man really intended to do was leave the dog behind at their campsite.”

Harper swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. “That’s horrible.”

“It happens.” Zane’s mouth flattened. “So I offered to take him off his hands, but the minute I expressed an interest, Mr. Shoot ‘Em Up wanted me to pay him three thousand dollars.”

“For a dog he was intending to get rid of one way or another?” Harper frowned. “Did you pay?”

“I enticed him into a bet. If I could get the phone number of a woman in the bar—any woman of his choosing—in less than thirty seconds, then the dog was mine for free. If she refused, then I’d pay him the asking price—”

“And still get the dog.”

He smiled. “And still get the dog.”

When he didn’t continue, she sent him a pointed look. “Well? Obviously I know you got Gambler, but how?”

“Mr. Heartless-and-Smug pointed to a very beautiful woman a few tables over, dressed in stylish city clothes and wearing high-heeled boots that probably cost as much as he wanted to charge me for the animal. Likely the hunter supposed the sophisticated lady would never respond to a come-on from an oversized mountain bumpkin like me.”

“But she did,” Harper said, certain.

The slyest of grins broke over Zane’s face. “Lady Luck was looking out for me that night. The woman in question—an attorney on a visit from LA—just happened to be my high school prom date.”

Delighted, she laughed. Then looking around, realized they’d reached the pathway leading to her complex. She halted.

“Congratulations on your good fortune,” she told Zane, “though I’m sure any woman in the room would have been just as eager to hand over her contact info—former prom date or no.”

“Yeah?” Zane angled his head and the sunlight that took that moment to break through the clouds seemed to catch in his bright, blue-green eyes. “How about you?”

Instantly flustered, Harper hugged her plastic portfolio to her chest. “Men don’t customarily ask for my number.”

“Is that right?” He didn’t look away from her face. “Well, you’re in Eagle’s Ridge now, where men have eyes and brains—so expect that to change.”

The comment left her speechless. For a moment she just stood in dumbfounded silence, but then manners came to her rescue and she stretched out her hand. “I’ve got to go. Goodbye, Zane Tucker.”

“Goodbye, Harper Grace.” His big hand enfolded hers.

Sensation shimmied up her arm, a prickly heat that burst across her skin. Her nerve endings danced beneath the surface and she felt as if she’d been tumbled once more, except she was still on her feet.

And Zane’s hand continued to hold hers.

Under the influence of that firm clasp, the sky was brighter and the sun was warmer and the trees were taller than any she’d ever seen before in her life.

It was like a new world.

Her pulse started racing.

“You’re in Eagle’s Ridge now,” Zane repeated, a low murmur.

Eagle’s Ridge, where he’d said she should expect things to change.

But this didn’t feel like simple change to her, she thought, as worry chased a shiver running down her spine. This felt like a sudden, brilliant, not-just-a-little-bit scary revolution, and Harper was worried that even a woman determined to make over her life wouldn’t be able to handle it.