Fake Fiance, Real Revenge

By: Roxanne Snopek

“Ah, the bear awakens!” The smile fell off her face like the curtain at the end of a show. “I’m bored, honey-pie. I’m richer than everyone else I know, which means my friendships are all suspect. I don’t have the energy for another husband, not to mention sex.”

Mitch squeezed his eyes against the image. “Thank you for that.”

“So I’ve turned my considerable resources to doing whatever interests me at the moment. Right now, you interest me. Your background as a cowboy interests me. Your hometown interests me.”

But it wasn’t his home anymore and he hadn’t been a cowboy in a long time. A knife twisted in his chest. He’d cut it all off, the good along with the bad. That was the sacrifice he’d been forced to make. And it had all been worth it. He was a new man.

“That was a long time ago, Della.”

But sometimes, when business stresses kept him awake at night, he imagined riding, alone, the feel of warm leather against his legs, the smell of grass and earth and horse. Every now and then, he dropped by a local riding stable. It wasn’t the same, following a set trail on a bored, anonymous horse, but it was the best he could get.

Did remnants of an honest-to-God cowboy still lie dormant within him, deep down and buried? No matter how he tried, he’d never stopped craving the open range, the rugged mountains, the smell of horses and sagebrush. He could never get the land entirely out of his system. He could never let go of his home.

Only it wasn’t his anymore. It belonged to Carson, who’d earned it fair and square. Who’d met the terms of his father’s will and gained the title and everything that went with it.

Land, success, community acceptance, space to pursue his dreams…

And love.

Carson had been in the right place at the right time.

Mitch’s luck never went that way.

“You’re a cowboy, all right.” Della put her hands on her hips. “You’re not spit-shined and hair product-ed to death, like this crowd. A little shaggy, a little of the bad boy about you. But whatever you say.”

He bristled, then forced himself to smile. “I missed a haircut. That hardly makes me Butch Cassidy.” Not to mention he’d paid an image consultant good money, way back when, to create exactly the right look.

“Here’s the deal.” She pursed her lips, as if reading his mind. “I’ve got a few properties I want to look at. Foreclosures, rundown places I could get for a song. I’m thinking of a high-end mountain resort. Horseback riding, hiking, maybe golf, plus every spa treatment under the sun and top-notch chefs. What do you think?”

“I’ll need to see the spec sheets.” His interest was piqued, but there was something about Della’s behavior that set off warning bells in his head.

“Paris’s father fancied himself a cowboy,” Della mused, ignoring him. “But he made his money in oil. He built himself a little spread. A few thousand acres. Of course, he was tired of it by the time I came on the scene, so we didn’t spend much time there. But Paris did and she misses it. Maybe I should have held on to the place, for her.”

“Is there a thread I should be following here, Della?”

“Before I make any decision,” she continued, “I need to do a little market research. That’s where you come in.”

“The US of A’s a big place. You wanna give me a clue?” he asked.

You could just walk away, Mitch reminded himself. Stop this crazy race to the top. Tell Ellis this one didn’t pan out. Go back to your luxury condo, focus on your existing clients, be satisfied.

Be happy.

Ah, but that was the problem. He’d tried that. No matter how many deals he landed, no matter how high he’d climbed from construction joe to contractor to investor to bigger investor to the next big thing, it was never enough.

Underneath, he was still the loser from Lutherton.

She narrowed her eyes at his tone. “You can’t guess where we’re going?”

Suddenly he understood. He met her eyes and saw her smile triumphantly.

“Surprise! We’re going to Montana! Your old stomping grounds, to be precise!”

“You can’t be serious.” Mitch laughed. “You want to build a resort out there? Why? No one goes there. Not voluntarily, at least.”

“Just ’cause it wasn’t your cup of tea don’t mean there’s not busloads of software execs wondering what life would be like if they chucked it all to live off the land. Horses, hard work, sunshine. Never underestimate the power of money, delusion, and regret, Mitch, my boy.”

Oh, yeah. He knew.

“Besides, land is cheap right now and I’ve got myself a brilliant land baron who knows the area inside and out.” She reached over and patted his hand.

Mitch thought fast. He’d stayed away for a long time, when he first left. But now, he’d be there on business. Carson would see the influence that Granger-Ellis had, and if they found a spot and went ahead with the project, the whole town would bear witness to his success.

“It’ll be the biggest job of your career, Mitchy-boy,” Della said. “You know you want it.”

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