Merline Lovelace

A Man of His Word


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      “I’m trying to think of a way to talk Reece Henderson into reading the script for me.

      “He’s got just the voice I want, all smooth rawhide and rough velvet,” Sydney said.

      The camera operator snorted. “If I wasn’t married, I’d surely to goodness be trying to get Reece Henderson to do more than read to me.”

      “He’s not interested in anything more,” Sydney replied, eyes downcast. “I offered to buy him dinner. He turned me down flat.”

      “Turned you down? Uh-oh. That means he’s either A, engaged, B, married, C, gay or D, in love with his grandmother.”

      Sydney was forced to fess up. “According to him, it’s not A or B, and from the kiss he laid on me the other night, I know it’s not C. I can’t speak to D, though—”

      “For the record,” the rawhide-and-velvet voice drawled from the door, “it’s E…none of the above.”

      Dear Reader,

      I never know what’s going to catch my attention and spark a novel. In this instance, it was a National Geographic photo of a small village in Italy, abandoned and subsequently flooded when the government built a massive dam just a few kilometers away. Once every ten years engineers drained the reservoir to perform maintenance on the dam and the village rose like Brigadoon from the murky waters.

      I was so enthralled by the photo, I immediately started spinning a story in my head. The village became an ancient Anasazi site in Arizona, the heroine a documentary filmmaker determined to capture its reemergence, and the hero the hardheaded engineer in charge of emergency repairs to the dam.

      And the best part was I got to make the hero one of the five Henderson brothers—all men of the Bar-H. So I hope you enjoy Reece’s story and will look for the stories of his brothers.

      All my best,

      A Man of His Word

      Merline Lovelace

       www.millsandboon.co.uk

      MERLINE LOVELACE

      Merline Lovelace spent twenty-three years in the air force, pulling tours in Vietnam, at the Pentagon and at bases all over the world. When she hung up her uniform, she decided to try her hand at writing. She’s since had more than fifty novels published, with over seven million copies of her work in print.

      Contents

      Prologue

      Chapter 1

      Chapter 2

      Chapter 3

      Chapter 4

      Chapter 5

      Chapter 6

      Chapter 7

      Chapter 8

      Chapter 9

      Chapter 10

      Chapter 11

      Chapter 12

      Chapter 13

      Chapter 14

      Chapter 15

      Chapter 16

      Epilogue

      Prologue

      F our of the five Henderson brothers stood in a loose semicircle, nursing chilled champagne while they watched their grinning brother waltz his bride of thirty minutes around the dance floor. Tall, tanned, each seasoned as much by his chosen profession as by his youth on the northern Arizona ranch they all still called home, they made a striking collection of broad shoulders, hard muscle and keen blue eyes.

      Jake, the oldest of the five and the only other married Henderson male present, shook his head. “Still hard to believe it happened so fast. Of all of you, I expected Sam to hold out the longest. Instead he fell the hardest and the fastest. Molly’s gonna lead that boy around more than the dance floor.”

      Tough, cynical Marsh, the middle brother, grunted in disgust. “He reminds me of your polled Herefords right now, Jake. Big, moon-faced and completely dehorned.”

      Even Evan had to agree. Smiling, the attorney tipped his glass in a salute to his newly married sibling. “Sam’s got it bad, all right. He told me he would have strangled the bastard who came after Molly with his bare hands if the police hadn’t arrived when they did.”

      Only Reece kept silent. Closest to Sam in both age and temperament, he wavered between a fierce happiness for his younger brother and an equally fierce hope that Sam and Molly could hang on to the love they didn’t even try to disguise at this moment.

      So few couples did.

      Involuntarily his gaze shifted to the vibrant, laughing mother of the groom. Despite her dove-gray hair and the character lines that came with raising five boys and running a twenty-thousand-acre spread in the shadow of the rugged northern Arizona San Francisco Mountains, Jessica Henderson looked almost as young as Jake’s wife, Ellen…and so unlike the woman who’d fallen apart one cold, February night that Reece’s heart clenched.

      None of his brothers knew about that night. About the terror of those dark, desperate hours, when Reece had come home unexpectedly between the engineering jobs that took him all over the world, and found his mother ravaged by loneliness and alcohol and a bitter, corrosive anger. She was almost incoherent when Reece arrived at the Bar-H, but she’d cried and clung to him, begged him not to call a doctor, not to shame her any more than she’d already been shamed.

      A grim, shaken Reece had forced gallon after gallon of coffee down her throat. Walked her the length of the ranch house and back a thousand times. Listened to her wrenching sobs and searing anger at the husband she’d buried two years before.

      That was when she told him about the letters she’d found hidden in a storage closet…and about the woman his father had carried on an affair with for years. At his mother’s fierce insistence, Reece had burned the letters. Many of his illusions about marriage went up in smoke with those blue-edged notes.

      Jessica Henderson had bottomed out that night, emptied the well of her self-pity and anger. Soon afterward, she’d turned the ranch over to Jake, who now managed it along with his own spread for the absent Henderson brothers. She’d bought a condo in Sedona and taken up golf, of all things. Now she traveled with her new friends and drove out to the ranch occasionally to visit the old ones. She’d put the terror of that cold, desperate February night behind her…as well as her anger at the husband who’d betrayed her.

      Reece was still working on it.

      Seeing his mother laughing and his younger brother grinning like a dope at his new bride helped.

      What didn’t help was knowing that Reece had to leave right after the reception to make the long drive back to the sleepy little town of Chalo Canyon in south-central Arizona because of an early-morning meeting with another determined home wrecker.

      His champagne goblet hit the bar with a chink of crystal against wood. “I’m claiming a dance with my new sister-in-law,” he told his brothers, “then I’m out of here.”

      Marsh lifted a brow. “You’re not going to stay and help us send Sam off on his honeymoon in the hallowed Henderson tradition?”

      “Right,” Jake drawled, “the ‘hallowed’ tradition you clowns started with me. Ellen still shudders when she remembers our wedding night.”

      “You boys will have to handle this one on your own,” Reece said. “I