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Welcome at Henderson's Ranch

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Blurb

-a Henderson’s Ranch Big Sky romance story-

Freelance journalist Colleen McMurphy finds her Irish penname far more professional than the Kurva Baisotei her Japanese parents perpetrated upon her at birth. Her “itinerant writer” role fit her deliciously single lifestyle, until an assignment sent her to Montana’s Big Sky Country to write an article about Henderson’s Ranch.

Raymond Esterling, summertime cowboy, gratefully forgets his life beyond the prairie, at least for those precious months beneath the Big Sky. But when he meets Colleen, he can’t help but make her Welcome at Henderson’s Ranch.

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Chapter 1

1

Dateline: August 15, Henderson’s Ranch,

Bloody Nowhere, Montana

Colleen McMurphy could write this article in her sleep, with her keyboard tied behind her back, and…

“The wife and I had such a splendid time there. You simply must go and write us an article about it.” For some reason Larry always went old-school English whenever he got excited—which coming from her Puerto Rican boss who lived in Seattle seemed to be almost normal for Colleen’s life.

He, of course, was too busy being Mr. Hotshot Editor to write it himself. That and he couldn’t write his way out of a martini glass. He was one of the best editors she’d ever worked for—and as a freelancer that had included a suckload of them—but his twelve-year-old daughter could write new material better than he could. Hillary was named for Sir Edmund of Mt. Everest fame and just might follow her namesake at the rate she was being amazing. She was a precocious little twerp who was so delightful that she made Colleen feel grossly inadequate half the time and totally charmed the other three-quarters.

So, off to Montana it was. Magazine feature article—she was on it.

The most recent in a cascade of ever-shrinking planes banged onto the runway in Great Falls, Montana clicking all Colleen’s vertebrae together with a whip-like snap that surprisingly failed to paralyze her. A Japan Airlines 747 had lofted her from the family home in Tokyo to LAX. The smallest 737 ever made hopped her up to Salt Lake, and a wing-flapping 18-seater express fluttered as hopelessly as a just-fledged swallow to Great Falls. If there’d been another plane that was any smaller, they were going to have to put her in a bento box.

But finally she was here in…major sigh…Nowhere, Montana.

She’d used this job as an excuse to cut the two-week trip home in half. Two weeks! With her family? What had she been thinking? She was going to have a serious talk with her sense of filial duty before it dragged her from Seattle back to Japan again.

Outside the miniature plane’s windows the airport stretched away pancake-flat and dusty. Four whole jetways, the place was smaller than a bento box. But their plane didn’t pull up to any of them—because it was too short to reach. Instead, it stopped near the terminal and the copilot dropped the door open, filling the cabin with the familiar bite of spent engine fumes and slowing propeller roar. She’d spent the whole final flight glaring out at the spinning blades directly outside her window, waiting for one to break off, punch through the window, and slice her in two like one of Larry’s martini olives.

“Enough!” she told herself so loudly that it made the fat-boy businessman—who’d made the near-fatal mistake of trying to chat her up across the tiny aisle—jump in alarm. Twenty hours and nine minutes in flight didn’t usually make her this grouchy. Her parents did though.

“Why did you change your name?” Because everyone in America would laugh their faces off calling her Kurva—for the Hokkaido mulberry tree you conceived me under, much too much information by the way. It especially doesn’t translate so well for a girl who is Japanese flat. Besides there isn’t an American alive who can say Baisotei properly. Kurva Baisotei was not a moneymaking byline.

Then, not “When are you going to get married?” but rather “Why do you not give us grandchildren like your sister?” My sister has three. How insatiable are you as grandparents?

“Why do you not return home?” Because you live here.

“Ma’am?” Fat-boy was waiting for her to get out of her seat first. Maybe because he needed the full width of the tiny plane, or maybe he was just being nice. She was about to step back on American soil—even if it was Montana—so she gave him the benefit of the doubt and offered a “Thanks” with a smile that hopefully he didn’t read as encouraging.

The air outside the airport smelled strange. It definitely wasn’t Seattle, which had an evergreen scent that wrapped itself around you like a warm, though often damp, welcome home. Her best girl Ruth Ann always met her when she landed from trips to Japan to drag her to their favorite dive, the J&M in Pioneer Square, and make sure that she got safely drunk within an hour of landing. It was doubly strange to arrive somewhere else without Ruth Ann’s patiently sympathetic ear.

Montana was dry and, despite the warm afternoon, somehow crisp. In Seattle there were a gazillion things sharing the air with her: Douglas firs, seagulls, dogs playing in the park, ferry boats—the list went on and on. Here it tasted more rarified. More…special.

Also high on the special list was the guy leaning comfortably on a helicopter with “Henderson’s Ranch” emblazoned down the side like it had been branded there with a flaming iron. He already had one beaming couple beside him with Los Angeles cowboy written all over their Gucci. He towered above them: six-two of dark tan, right-out-of-a-romance-novel square jaw, and mirrored shades for a touch of mystery. His t-shirt was tight and his jeans weren’t bad either. And—crap!—ring on his finger. Fantasy cowboys weren’t supposed to have rings on their fingers, but she wasn’t going to complain about this piece of the Montana scenery just because of the “Back Off” sign.

Another couple joined them. First-timers by their lost look.

“Hi!” He even had a nice deep voice to go with that big frame. “I’m Mark Henderson. Climb on aboard,” and he was helping the two couples into the back seats.

Handsome guy who flies a helicopter. Sweet! Maybe Montana wasn’t going to be so bad. Ruth Ann was gonna be wicked jealous. She snapped a photo of him just for that purpose.

“Looks like you’re up front with me, beautiful,” he aimed a lethal smile directly at her.

She returned the smile, feeling pleased. Then lost it when she realized the implications.

Two happy couples in the back.

Handsome married dude in the front.

And that’s when the background research she’d done on their website finally made a horrible kind of sense. Weddings this. Couples that. Family horseback rides the other. Larry should have sent Colleen’s perfect sister’s family, not her.

She was a single Japanese chick, with an Irish name she’d taken from the old TV show China Beach. (She’d always liked the main character—strong woman back when that wasn’t a very popular thing to be.)

Be strong now!

She was going to a couples’ paradise. This was going to be worse than the parental purgatory.

She’d be pleasant. Polite.

And as soon as she got home, Larry was a dead man.

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