Sherryl Woods

Courting the Enemy


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      “This is my proof,” Karen murmured, still dazed.

      “Proof of what?”

      “That you’re a scoundrel and a thief. You stole that kiss,” she accused, managing to get the words out with a straight face.

      Laughter filled the air.

      “Maybe the first one, darlin’,” Grady conceded. “But the second one you gave me of your own free will. You can’t count that one against me. Once two people start to tango, so to speak, the blame pretty much falls by the wayside.”

      She frowned at him. “You would say that, wouldn’t you? It serves your purpose.”

      “And what is my purpose?” he asked, studying her with mild curiosity.

      “To get my land,” she said at once, but she was no longer as certain as she had once been. A part of her was beginning to believe that he just might be after her, instead….

      Courting the Enemy

      Sherryl Woods

       www.millsandboon.co.uk

      SHERRYL WOODS

      has written more than seventy-five romances and mysteries in the past twenty years. And because she loves to talk to real people once in a while, she also operates her own bookstore, Potomac Sunrise, in Colonial Beach, VA, where readers from around the country stop by to discuss her favorite topic—books. If you can’t visit Sherryl at her store, then be sure to drop her a note at P.O. Box 490326, Key Biscayne, FL 33149.

      Winding River High School

      Class of ’91

      Welcome Home—Ten Years Later Do You Remember the Way We Were?

      Karen (Phipps) Hanson — Better known as The Dreamer. Elected most likely to see the world. Member of the 4-H club, the Spanish and French clubs, and first-place winner at the county fair in the greased pig contest.

      Cassie Collins — Ringleader of the Calamity Janes. Elected most likely to land in jail. Best known for painting the town water tower a shocking pink and for making the entire faculty regret choosing teaching as a profession. Class record for detentions.

      Gina Petrillo — Tastiest girl in the class. Elected most popular because nobody in town bakes a better double chocolate brownie. Member of the Future Homemakers of America. Winner of three blue ribbons in the pie-baking contest and four in the cake-baking contest at the county fair.

      Emma Rogers — That girl can swing…a bat, that is. Elected most likely to be the first female on the New York Yankees team. Member of the Debate Club, the Honor Society and president of the senior class.

      Lauren Winters — The girl with all the answers, otherwise known as the one you’d most like to be seated next to during an exam. Elected most likely to succeed. Class valedictorian. Member of the Honor Society, County Fair Junior Rodeo Queen and star of the junior and senior class plays.

      Contents

      Prologue

      Chapter One

      Chapter Two

      Chapter Three

      Chapter Four

      Chapter Five

      Chapter Six

      Chapter Seven

      Chapter Eight

      Chapter Nine

      Chapter Ten

      Chapter Eleven

      Chapter Twelve

      Chapter Thirteen

      Chapter Fourteen

      Chapter Fifteen

      Epilogue

      Prologue

      Soul-deep weary, Karen walked into the kitchen at midnight, made herself a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table to face the mail. She mentally weighed the usual stack of bills against the intriguing envelope with its fancy calligraphy.

      Even if she hadn’t desperately needed a pick-me-up, she would have opted for setting the bills aside. There were always too many of them at the end of the month and not enough money in the bank. It seemed as if she and Caleb might never get their ranch in the black, might never be in a position to hire the extra help that would save them from doing all of the endless, backbreaking work themselves with only two seasonal men to pitch in.

      As late as it was, she had just come in from the barn. Caleb was still out there, trying to save a sick calf. Always at the edge of bankruptcy, they couldn’t afford to lose a single animal. She had seen the stress in his face, heard it in the terse, angry words from a man who’d always been quietly thoughtful and even-tempered.

      She pushed all of that aside as she opened the thick vellum envelope, and removed what turned out to be an invitation to her high school reunion in Winding River, Wyoming, a hundred miles away. Immediately the cares of the day slipped aside. She thought of her lifelong friends, the women who had called themselves the Calamity Janes, thanks to their penchant for heartbreak and mischief gone awry.

      This was perfect. A few days with her best friends would give her marriage exactly the boost it needed. It would bring some fun back into their lives. Though Caleb was older and hadn’t gone to school with them, he had grown to enjoy their company as much as she did. And because he was the only husband who’d displayed staying power, they fussed over him in a way that both embarrassed and pleased him.

      She was still thinking about catching up with Cassie, Gina, Lauren and Emma, when Caleb finally came in. She studied his face and tried to gauge his mood. Wordlessly he opened the refrigerator and took out a beer, slugging it back as if his throat were parched. Finally he glanced at her, then at the envelope she was holding.

      “What’s that?”

      “An invitation. My high school class is having its reunion in July.” She beamed at him. “Oh, Caleb, it’s going to be such fun. I’m sure Gina, Lauren and the others will come back. There are going to be all sorts of events, a picnic, a dance, plus the town’s annual fireworks on the Fourth.”

      “And how much is all of this going to cost? An arm and a leg, I imagine.”

      His tone dulled her enthusiasm. “Not so much. We can manage it.”

      He gestured toward the stack of bills. “We can’t pay the electric bill. The feed and grain bill is two months overdue—and you want to go to a bunch of fool parties? And where exactly would we stay now that your parents have moved? You planning on driving a hundred miles each way every single day? Motels are expensive.”

      “We need this,” she insisted stubbornly. “I’ll find us a place to stay.”

      “We need to hang on to every single dollar we can get our hands on, or this time next year we’re going to be worrying about a place to live.”

      It was a familiar refrain, and it was Caleb’s greatest fear. Karen knew that and she didn’t take it lightly. It wasn’t just a matter of holding on to the ranch he loved, the ranch that had been in his family for three generations. It wasn’t even a matter of pride. It was a matter of keeping the ranch out of the hands of the man he considered his family’s worst enemy.

      Grady Blackhawk had been after the Hanson ranch for years, the entire time Karen had been with Caleb. She couldn’t recall a week that there hadn’t been some communication from him, some sense that he was circling like a vulture waiting for the ranch to collapse under Caleb’s ineptitude. She didn’t fully understand Grady’s