Saturday, August 22, 2015


Rancher Luke Morgan wants one thing—to coax city-girl Brenna home to Collins, Oklahoma.

Chapter 1
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11  
Airplanes were for no place for sissies. 
The jet sidled up to the disembarking ramp and the roar of the engines died. Suddenly the air vent above Brenna stopped humming, too. She drummed her freshly-manicured fingernails on the seatback tray table while the cabin grew unbearably stuffy. Beads of perspiration danced between her shoulder blades. 
The seatbelt warning sign flashed off, and Brenna groaned as she massaged painful pins and needles from her thighs before rising from the cramped window seat. Lucky for her, her petite frame allowed for a bit of headroom even as she eased onto her toes to stretch annoying kinks from her back.
Through the window, a streak of sunshine peeked between a cluster of angry, dark clouds. Maybe the thunderstorm was finally—thankfully—beginning to ease. Who knew the sky would unleash a torrent of winds and rain that tossed the plane like a rag doll on a trampoline? Her heart raced with thoughts of a possible storm-induced nose-dive from the sky. A stream of classical music she’d loaded onto her iPod had calmed her through the chaos. 
Passengers scurried through the narrow aisle and a platoon of rolling suitcases clacked down the disembarking ramp—proof that she was truly on the ground.
Thank God we made it safely. I hope Lily isn’t very worried and tired from waiting through the delay.
 Brenna tucked the iPod and its earpieces into her purse and scooted toward the aisle. She stretched her spiked heels to their limit as she struggled to reach the suitcase she’d stuffed into a bin overhead. Her fingertips barely grazed the bottom edge of the overhead compartment; it felt empty. Of course, the suitcase had shifted during the flight. Hadn’t she placed it right above her seat? The turbulence must have pushed it a bit further down the row. She stepped up onto a seat cushion and delved further. She yanked on the first handle she touched. 
“Hey, I think you’ve got my bag.”
Brenna eyed the tall, dark-haired guy who’d swallowed up the seat in front of her during the flight and crowded into most of hers, as well, when he’d tilted his seat back following liftoff.
“Excuse me? “ Brenna dropped the bag in the aisle. It felt lighter than she remembered…and the leather looked a bit worn. The turbulence had really done a number.
It feels almost empty. I hope I didn’t forget my spikeheeled silver pumps…or Lily and Ryan’s wedding gift.
The guy cocked an eyebrow. “That’s my bag. I really don’t think the clothes inside will do justice to your figure. “
He propped a tan-colored cowboy hat on his head and took a long, slow sweep of her, toes to forehead. Suddenly the oddest feeling swept through Brenna. He looks so familiar.
“You must be confused. It’s…” She tore her gaze from his cobalt blue eyes to glance at the name scribbled across the tag. Mortification had her stuttering. “Oh-oh my, this isn’t my bag. Are you…Luke Morgan?”
He nodded and rubbed a hand across the stubble that covered his chin. Waves of dark hair escaped the confines of his hat. It swept over his forehead and curled at the nape of his neck. “Yes…that would be me.”
“But the bag looks…”
“Just like this one…I know. You must be…” He checked the tag. “Brenna Langdon?”
“Yes…that’s right.” 
“Thought so. You look just like I remember, only all grown up and…prettier.” His gaze swept over her and he nodded. “Yeah, definitely…pretty.”
“Do I know you?” Brenna’s face burned as hot as the skin beneath a layer of sweater she’d donned when the air conditioning early in the flight chilled her. But now the air was off, and she was hot…sweltering. Confusion crowded all rational thought from her head.
“You used to know me…before you moved away from Collins.”
Before Mama and Daddy died…before I went to live with Aunt Jean and Uncle Tom…before the world ended…
“Here.” He eased a bag that appeared identical— except a bit less road-weary—toward her. “I believe this is yours.”
“Well, then…” Brenna tucked a strand of strawberry-blonde hair that had come loose from her ponytail behind one ear. She reached for the suitcase. “Yes, it’s much…” 
“Heavier?” A grin made his blue eyes shine. “You might need a crane. I think you’ve got a stowaway hiding in there.”
Brenna laughed, and the tension that crept from her temples across her forehead eased a bit. “No…just the essentials.”
“Must be a laundry list of essentials. Let me carry that for you. I believe you’re heading my way.” He hoisted his suitcase onto one shoulder and reached for hers. “Lily’s wedding?”
His comment startled her. “You know Lily?”
“Sure do. She’s marrying my best friend, Ryan.” His smile slid over her, and the flash of heat turned to a shiver despite the unbearably sultry cabin temperature.  “Ryan called me as we were boarding. He told me to keep an eye out for you, and to give you a ride.”
“Why didn’t you…”
“Say anything until now?” He shrugged. “You had those earphones in, and when the turbulence hit, it looked like you were praying a direct line. I didn’t want to interrupt…figured we needed all the prayers we could get.”
“Oh, yeah.” The heat of a healthy blush warmed her neck. “I did get a little worked up when we hit that first rough patch.”
“I understand. Flying’s not really my thing, so I had a few tense moments myself. But the flight delay has thrown everything off kilter. Lily can’t make it to the airport to get you. She’s at the ranch because the wedding rehearsal’s just”—He checked his watch— “Two hours away.”
“The ranch? What ranch?” “I’ll explain on the way. We’re going to miss the rehearsal if we don’t hurry, and that won’t do, seeing as I’m the Best Man.”
“And I’m the maid of honor.” Brenna gnawed her bottom lip and frowned. The gloss she’d slicked on that morning had worn away hours ago. “Look, I hope you won’t be offended if I call Lily first…just to check.” A bit embarrassed, she lowered her gaze. “After all, you are a…stranger.”
“Not exactly.” He laughed. “But you probably don’t remember spending an afternoon at my place when we were just kids.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry.” And yet he looked so familiar. Why? She racked her brain and came up with nothing. The look in his eyes told Brenna that he certainly remembered.
“It’s OK, I’m not offended…well, maybe just a little. But I’ll get over it. You go right ahead. I’ll wait over there.” He motioned toward several rows of plastic seats in the boarding area, where a lone businessman surfed his laptop. “Come on over when you’re finished…checking me out.”
Brenna didn’t miss his double meaning. She watched him saunter across the room and drop both their bags beside a chair. Faded Levi’s hugged muscular thighs and the dark blue button-down cotton shirt accentuated broad shoulders and biceps he’d probably bulked in a gym. The clean scent of his aftershave lingered. How was that possible, when she felt like something the cat dragged in?
I’m sure I look it, too.
She dialed Lily’s cell number, and then smoothed the floral-print skirt she’d donned that morning. Brushing a hand over the soft fabric of her white cotton blouse, her hand paused as it reached the third button.
Is that a coffee stain? Ugh! She rubbed the fabric, but the stain was set. She’d certainly downed her share of bitter, muddy brew while she waited in the terminal for her flight to be called.
And the caffeine made her antsy…or was it the sight of Luke, leaning lazily against the wall like a rugged cowboy come to life. All he needed was some spurs and chaps… Brenna shook the image from her head.
Her sandals clicked across the tile floor as she paced the length of the terminal with her cell phone poised at one ear. On the other end of the line Lily’s phone continued to ring. The hour edged toward late-afternoon and already it felt like days had passed since she’d left Chicago. The plane should have landed an hour ago, but the storm had diverted them into a standby-and-circle pattern that devoured the time.  At least she’d made it here…to Oklahoma…home—or what used to be home. She’d sworn never to return—ever. If it weren’t for Lily and her wedding she’d be back in Chicago, working on that project Mr. Daniels wanted done by Monday afternoon.
“Brenna, where are you?” Lily’s panicked voice rushed over the line. “It’s nearly time for the rehearsal.” 
“I know. The plane just landed, thank goodness.” Brenna shifted the phone to her other ear and turned away from Luke’s gaze. “Look, there’s some guy here who says he’s supposed to take me to meet you for the rehearsal.”
“Tall…impossibly broad shoulders and eyes like dark blue crystals?”
Rena glanced at Luke and a tingle danced through her belly. “That’s a fair description.”
“So you’ve met Luke. He’s the second most handsome guy in Oklahoma…after my Ryan. Yeah, he’s coming back from a business trip to Chicago. Since you’re both on the same flight, Ryan asked him to give you a lift. So get in the car with him, Brenna, and hurry over here. We’ve got to fit your dress and go over details for tomorrow. There’s so much to do, and I’m a bundle of nerves. I need you.”
“OK. I’m on my way.”
Brenna pressed the end button and sighed. Across the room, Luke’s gaze followed her like a panther. His look annoyed her, because he appeared so…put together when she felt so out of sorts.
How do I know him? Why can’t I remember? She sighed and pressed a hand to her aching forehead. Her eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep. Who could sleep on a crowded plane that danced the tango through a thunder-filled sky?  He can, I guess.
She turned her back to Luke and searched for a restroom. Maybe a bit of cold water splashed on her face would revive her. Another cup of coffee would be even better, but this small airport was a far cry from O’Hare in Chicago…not a coffee shop in sight…not even a machine that dispensed the bitter brew. Already she missed the conveniences of the city. I shouldn’t have come here, even for Lily. If I remember right, nothing in this town is within twenty miles of the next place. It’s going to be a long ride…too much time to dwell on memories.  

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