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Rancher's RedemptionRancher's Redemption

When Clay Colton reports a crime on his ranch property, his ex-wife Tamara is on the CSI team that arrives from out of town to sweep the scene.  The intervening years have changed his ex-wife but not his feelings for her.  As evidence of a grisly murder on his property mounts and an accident injures Tamara, Clay insists she recuperate at his ranch where he can protect her.  But how can he protect his heart when rekindled memories and an undeniable attraction draw Tamara back into his arms?


"Five years after his divorce, Clay Colton feels like he's getting his life back on track in Esperanza, Texas. Then, in one second, it all turns upside down. First, he finds an abandoned car on his land with a large amount of money in the trunk. When a CSI team from Austin comes to investigate, Clay gets more surprises: One of the investigators is his ex-wife, Tamara Brown, and she discovers a dead body. As the two are pushed together, they have an unexpected opportunity to talk about what went wrong with their marriage. Will they give love a second chance? Beth Cornelison adds a wonderful, emotion-filled, second-chance-at-love-story to The Coltons: Family First. Readers will enjoy this journey as Clay and Tamara find they can go home again in Rancher's Redemption (4). " Sandra Garcia-Myers, RT BookClub


Jericho met Clay halfway and extended a hand in greeting. "Clay."

Shaking his friend's hand, Clay nodded a hello. "Afternoon, Hoss. So what did you learn about the car?"

Jericho swiped a hand over his blond mustache and sighed. "It's a rental from a little outfit up the road. Reported stolen a few days ago."

Clay arched a thick eyebrow. "Stolen?" He scowled. "Guess it figures. So now what?"

Jericho squinted in the bright sun and glanced toward the stolen Taurus where one of his deputies was already marking off the area with yellow police tape. "Chances are that money didn't come from someone's mattress. Heaven only knows what we could be dealing with here. I'll call in a crime scene team to do a thorough investigation. Probably San Antonio. They'd be closest."

A crime scene team.

The words resounded in Clay's ears like a gong, and he stiffened.

Tamara.

He worked to hide the shot of pain that swept over him as bittersweet memories swamped his brain.

Clay had two regrets in life. The first was his failure with Ryder– the brother he'd helped raise, the brother who'd gone astray and ended up in prison.

His second was his failed marriage. Five years ago, his high school sweetheart had walked away from their three-year marriage to follow her dream of becoming a crime scene investigator. Clay blamed himself for her leaving. If he'd been more sensitive to her needs, if he could have made her happier, if he could have found a way to–

"Clay? Did ya hear me?" Jericho's question jolted Clay from his thoughts.

"Sorry. What?"

"I asked if you'd altered anything on or around the car before you called me. Say opening a door or moving debris?"

Clay shook his head. "I nudged the trunk open. One finger, on the edge of the trunk hood. Didn't touch anything else."

Jericho jerked a nod. "Good. I'll let the CSI team know. Be sure to tell your men this area is off limits until we finish our investigation."

"Right."

"And we'll need you to answer some questions later."

Clay cut a sharp glance toward Sheriff Yates.

Jericho raised a hand to forestall Clay's protest. "Just basic stuff. You're not a suspect. All standard procedure."

Clay clenched his teeth. "Fine. Whatever you need." Removing his Stetson, Clay raked his fingers through his unkempt hair. "Guess I'm just on edge considering what Georgie's been through with that Trotten woman."

"Understandable. But there's no reason at this point to think there's any connection."

"Yates." The deputy who'd arrived with Jericho approached them.

The sheriff turned to his officer and hitched his chin toward Clay. "Rawlings, this Clay Colton. Clay, my new deputy Adam Rawlings."

"Hey." Clay nodded to the neatly groomed deputy and shook his hand.

"Sorry to interrupt, Sheriff, but I found something. Thought you should take a look."

Jericho faced Clay, but before he could speak, Clay waved a hand. "Go ahead. I need to get back to work, too."

Pulling his worn gloves from his back pocket, Clay strode back toward the ravine where his fence had been damaged and got busy stringing wire again. He had a large section to repair before he went back to the house, and all the usual chores of a thriving ranch to finish before he called it a day. Unfortunately, though fixing the damaged fence was hot, hard work, it didn't require any particular mental concentration. So Clay's thoughts drifted– to the one person he'd spent the last five years trying to get out of his head.

His ex-wife.

If he knew Tamara, not only had she achieved her dream of working in investigative law enforcement, but she was likely working for a large city department by now, moving up the ranks with her skill, gritty determination and sharp mind. Once Tamara set her sights on a goal, little could stand in her way of reaching it.

Except a misguided husband, who'd foolishly thought that ranching would be enough to fill her life and make her happy.

A prick of guilt twisted in Clay's gut.

Why had he thought that his own satisfaction with their marriage and the challenge of getting the Bar None up and running would be enough for Tamara? Ranching had been his dream, not hers.

Why hadn't he listened, truly heard her, when she spoke of her hopes for leaving Esperanza and her dream of working in law enforcement? Because of the newlywed happiness in other aspects of their relationship, he'd too easily dismissed signs of her discontent and her restless yearning to achieve her own professional dreams. Soon even the honeymoon stars in her eyes dimmed and her unhappiness began eroding their marriage.

He'd ignored the warning signs until the night they'd argued over the right course of treatment for a sick stud, and he'd returned from the quarantine stable to find her packing her bags. His heartache over having to put down his best breeding stallion paled to the pain of seeing his wife in tears, pulling the plug on their life together.

Renewed frustration burned in Clay's chest. Failure of any kind didn't sit well with him, but failure in his personal life was especially hard to accept. His broken marriage was a blemish in his past that marred even the success of the Bar None. His single-minded dedication to building the ranch was what had blinded him to the deterioration of his relationship with Tamara. Until it was too late.

He gave the barbed wire a vicious tug. His grip slipped, and the razor-sharp barb pierced his glove.

"Damn it!" he growled and flung off his glove to suck the blood beading on the pad of his thumb.

Stringing wire might not take much mental power, but letting his mind rehash the painful dissolution of his marriage didn't serve any purpose. Tamara was gone, and no amount of regret or second guessing could change that. Besides,  he was married to his ranch now. Keeping the Bar None running smoothly was a labor of love that took all his energy, all his time. He'd scraped and saved, sweated and toiled to build the Bar None from nothing but a boy's youthful dream.

But today the sense of accomplishment and pride that normally filled him when he surveyed his land or closed his financial books at the end of the day was shadowed by the reminder of what could have been.

Clay squinted up at the blazing Texas sun, which was far lower in the sky than he'd realized. How long had he been out here?

Flipping his wrist, he checked his watch. Two hours.

Crockett snorted and tossed his mane.

"Yeah, I know, boy. Almost done. I'm ready to get back to the stables and get something to drink, too."

Like Jack Daniel's. Something to help take the edge off. Revived memories of Tamara left him off balance and had picked the scab from a wound he'd thought healed.

He snipped the wire he'd secured on the last post and started gathering his tools.

"Clay?"

At first he thought he'd imagined the soft feminine voice, an illusion conjured by thoughts of his ex-wife. But the voice called his name again.

He shielded his eyes from the sun's bright glare as he angled his gaze toward the top of the ravine. A slim, golden-haired beauty strode across the parched land and stopped at the edge of the rise. "Clay, can I talk to you?"

Clay's mouth went dry, and his heart did a Texas two-step. "Tamara?"

October 2008
Silhouette Intimate Moments #1532
ISBN 978-0-373-27602-8

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