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Chapter 3

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Jake studied the pictures along the fireplace mantle, waiting for Peony to come back. He flexed his hand out, still feeling tense, but remembering the firm grip Liz had as they shook hands. Her blue eyes had shocked him, the colour of sapphires and her voice was sexy and firm. He was sure the blood had drained from his head when she'd spoken, reminding him of a smooth, aged whisky.

Why he'd had that response, he wasn't sure, because she was nothing like anyone he would ever find himself attracted to. She wasn't citified, or polished, her flyaway wavy hair barely contained under her beaten up work hat. But there it was. He ran a hand down his face and chalked it up to a long drive and a strange situation.

Pictures of his father and a myriad of horses were the main focus in many of the frames. A wedding shot of Peony and Brett was there too, with a much younger Liz, all buckteeth and piled-up hair, wearing some lace concoction in front of them.

Another picture off to the other side, was a beautiful, auburn-haired woman with two boys, sitting on a log, all of them in very nicely knitted sweaters, the fall leaves surrounding them. They must be his brothers, he thought. He picked it up, studying their faces, looking for recognition in them.

"Her name was Veronica. She was my mother," a voice said from behind him.

Jake looked up and did a double-take, putting the picture back quickly. Standing in the door was a more weathered version of himself, dressed in worn-out jeans, a brimmed hat in his hands. Tall, like he was, dark-haired and dark-eyed.

"Jake West," Jake said, walking towards the man, hand outstretched.

"I know who you are," he clipped, and did not take Jake's hand. Jake dropped it, stopping short, sensing the uncomfortable tone that had entered the room with him.

They eyed one another, neither of them moving, and Jake knew he was being measured and found wanting. This guy was the real deal. Likely resenting the hell out of him for even existing right about now. Jake had faced down restaurant critics that had been less intimidating.

"Tanner West!" Peony admonished as she returned, breaking the silence, a tray in her hands. "I know you are upset, but don't you be rude to our guest."

Tanner's flinty gaze turned from Jake and softened slightly. "Sorry. I'm on edge. We didn't kn—"

"You must be Jake!" another male voice said, and Jake turned to see another man bound into the living room, a smile on his face. He was a bit shorter than Tanner, and had auburn hair, like his mother in the photo. "I'm Brady, the baby."

Jake smiled and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you." And it was an honest statement. At least one of these men wasn't being an asshole. He was thankful for that.

"Frank's bringing his car around," Brady said as he flopped onto a chair, and put his hat on his knee. Peony handed him a glass of tea, and he poured it down his throat in one smooth motion. Jake put his hands in his pockets. He felt like an interloper. This family was obviously close, had lived here their whole life. He was...

Well, he didn't belong here. At all. Peony handed him a glass of tea, and he nodded his head in appreciation.

"Thank you."

"So, Jake, Frank tells me you are a chef in New York City?" Peony said, sitting herself on the sofa across from him, balancing her own glass, her eyes focused in on him. He nodded as he took a sip of his tea.

"Yes. Just sold my restaurant in Greenpoint."

"Oh, is that a nice area?" she asked politely. "Whereabouts is that in the city?"

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by Caroline A. Richardson
@MustangSabby
When long estranged Jake returns to West Line Ranch, Liz can't help b...
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