Luke McGrew slammed the top of her desk and stood up so abruptly that his chair toppled backward. "You know what I like about you, Janie?" he demanded, glaring fiercely at her. "Not one fucking thing!"
Jane Cook inhaled sharply, not dropping his gaze. She stood up, too, slowly and deliberately as she composed her response. As the president of Enterprise, Wyoming's only bank, she never enjoyed rejecting anyone's loan application, but as a woman she craved justice for wounds this too-handsome man had inflicted long ago.
"Well, then," she murmured. "At least you won't be luring me into the back of your camper to screw me out of anything this time.
Will you, Lucky?"
His eyes narrowed in a face that was way too striking--and way too famous. "Is that what this is about? A stupid stunt I pulled in high school?"
"Nope." Jane crossed her arms, lifting her breasts so the pale green lace of her camisole would taunt him beneath her sage suit. "This is about a" financial statement that's gone too far in the hole for me to dig you out. It's about the feasibility--or lack of it--of making any profit from ranching on your mama's property. So unless you sell it--"
"Not an option!" he barked. "I've come home! I tell you, I can make this thing
work, if you'd get your head out of your--"
"And how will you pay off your sisters' shares? Crystal and Tiffany have already been here, demanding I settle the estate and get them their money," she countered coolly. "I can't see them waiting for you to turn a profit, Luke. Not that it'll happen."
"You can't see
shit--because you never shoveled any!" he rasped. He leaned across her desk, bracing himself with his hands...long, strong hands with manicured nails....bared forearms that tensed beneath a black knit turtleneck with the sleeves shoved up. "How nice for you, that you followed in your daddy's white-collar footsteps! Just because you took over his office here doesn't mean you know
squat about ranch appraisals, or these figures you quoted me for replacing fence and reseeding the pastures and--"
"Go talk to Daddy, then.
He'll tell you the same thing.""
Just to annoy him--just because she could--Jane braced her hands on the desktop too, with her face mere inches in front of his. It was a dangerous move. It showed her just how flawless his complexion looked, up close...clear pores and the closest shave she'd ever seen. His midnight hair was layered and sprayed, and his eyebrows and short sideburns had been waxed to accent those mean green eyes...eyes women around the globe fell into when they ogled his magazine and billboard ads for western wear. No doubt about it, Lucky Luke McGrew was a fine, fine piece of work these days.
Not that she was interested. She let her gaze fall to his chiseled lips and made a little kissy noise.
Luke's face curdled. "Been there, done that," he finally spat. "He told me you were in charge now."
"I guess this conversation's over, then. The luck stops here." Jane stood up straight again and lowered her voice. "I'm truly sorry about your mother's passing, Luke. I wish we could make you this loan, but when I gathered your financial data I found no evidence you could repay--"
"Oh, save it!
I'll go somewhere else for my money and you can just go screw yourself!" He turned on his heel, still muttering. "Should've known the minute I saw your name on the--"
Jane winced when he slammed her door. She turned to watch him out the window then, wondering how he'd latched onto that Lincoln Navigator... how he'd worked as a high-dollar model for all these years yet had less than nothing to show for it. And why on earth did he want to come back to this dusty little town, after fifteen years of living the high life in New York? When he spun out of the bank's lot, his tires squealed and a chunk of gravel pinged against her window.
"That didn't go well. I'm profoundly disappointed in your lack of vision and professionalism, Jane."
"Daddy, did you even
look at--?" She grabbed the papers off her desk and waved them at the man in her doorway. Carter Cook was technically retired, but he came in most days rather than rattle around the house alone. "You
know how I researched his credit history--debt out the wazoo! And you know I appraised Patsy's ranch twice, trying to fudge for him! Just like you know it would take a monetary miracle--an act of God!--to make that poor old place turn a profit! The house is a wreck! The outbuildings are falling in, and the fences--"
"Invite him to dinner tonight. We'll grill something."
"What?" Jane fought the urge to throw her papers up in the air and walk out--which made her realize just how badly Luke McGrew had upset her. Where did he get off, using words like "fuck" and "screw" when he came begging? "Daddy, this was a business decision! Had you handled his app,
you would never in a million years have--"
"Luke has lost his mother, Jane. Surely you recall what a painful ordeal that is." He gripped the lapels of his pinstriped suit then, fighting the fall of a face that had aged considerably since his wife died. "His two sisters are circling like vultures--never had an ounce of class or compassion between them. We don't know
why Luke's so strapped, or why he's coming back here to live, but we owe it to Patsy's memory to give him a better welcome than you just did. Let's show him some common courtesy and a good meal, now that you've rendered your
And where the hell did THAT come from?" Jane stared after her father's retreating, rather stooped figure. He hadn't trusted Luke McGrew any farther than he could've tossed him when she and Lucky were kids. And Patsy's memory, well...a lot of wives in Enterprise weren't sorry she was gone. She'd had more than her share of troubles, starting when her first husband disappeared--and she'd capitalized on every one of them. Patsy's ranching savvy hadn't paid her bills, that was for sure."
Jane stuffed the loan papers in a
manila file folder. She rarely took work home, but having those cold, hard facts with her suddenly seemed like a good line of defense for when she paid Luke a visit.
And what are you afraid of, Plain Jane? Sticks and stones can break your bones but you swore off letting Lucky Luke hurt you anymore. Grow up! Move on!
Easier said than done, wasn't it? Luke had looked so damn good when she'd gone nose to nose with him. And for just a moment, hadn't she seen that old spark in his predatory eyes? But she was the top dog in this fight!
She had all the control over his future in Enterprise, and she'd told him a big, fat no!
If you'd said that on Prom night, this would be a helluva lot easier.
No sense in putting it off. Daddy would give her that look until
she obeyed his suggestion to invite Luke to dinner.
When she got home, Jane entered the house from the garage as usual, yet something made her walk more slowly up the stairs to her room. The house looked the same; on the surface, so much had remained just as it was when her mom was alive. But the aromas of dinner and fresh bread no longer greeted her after a day's work...no cheery voice called out from the laundry room. The comfortable furniture and lace curtains maintained appearances of the happy home she'd grown up in, but she and her father both knew it was a sad, fading illusion they hid behind. The place felt like a morgue without Miriam Cook.
Jane hurried upstairs, as if she could escape her mother's absence that way. She changed out of her pretty sage suit into jeans, tennies and a tee-shirt, and grabbed that loan file again. No sense in making Luke think he deserved any special treatment or fixing up, on her part. While she couldn't take her eyes off striking features that had matured so well these past fifteen years, she also couldn't deny that Lucky Luke was a helluva lot prettier than she would ever be. And what woman wanted to deal with that?
Out the door she went, without calling first. Lucky would only cuss her and tell her to stay the hell away...and this way, the element of surprise was in her favor. The ball was in her court and she intended to keep it that way.
Top of Page