Mystic Creek Series
Harrigan Family Series
Coulter Family Series
Kendrick Family Series
Other Contemporary Romance
Valance Family Series
Coulter Family Series Historical
Other Historical Titles
INDIGO BLUE (reissue)
As I said at the beginning of Comanche Moon and Comanche Heart, I am truly delighted and grateful that New American Library/ Signet is reissuing my Comanche series. So many of you have tried for so long to get all these titles, and it grieves me greatly to know that some of you have paid exorbitant prices for used paperback copies. Now, thanks to my publisher, all of the Comanche series will eventually become available at fair market prices, and my readers will come away from the store with a brand- new book with a tasteful and attractive cover. How awesome is that?
In Indigo Blue, a sequel to Comanche Moon and Comanche Heart, you will be reunited with Indigo Wolf, the daughter of Hunter and Loretta, the hero and heroine in Comanche Moon. You first met Indigo in Comanche Heart when she was still an innocent adolescent who wore her heart on her sleeve and believed she would be judged by others for who she was, not for the color of her skin. Now Indigo is older, wiser, and disillusioned. She realizes that her Native American heritage does set her apart and, in many instances, makes her a target for racism. Caught between the white and Comanche worlds, she walks a fine line, clinging to the ways of her father's people and the beauty of nature as she struggles to mesh with white society. In short, Indigo is a curious blend of innocence and rebellion, strength and vulnerability, a lovely girl in buckskin clothing who is ever conscious of the injustices that may be inflicted upon her because of her bloodlines.
When Jake Rand comes to Wolf's Landing under false pretenses to run Hunter Wolf's mine, he is instantly attracted to Indigo, but is also bewildered by her. He never expects to find himself obligated to ask for Indigo's hand in marriage in order to save her reputation. But that is precisely what happens, and Jake finds himself wed to a beautiful girl he quickly comes to love but can't, for the life of him, understand. I invite you to turn the page now and step into Indigo's world.
I hope you enjoy reading this extraordinary love story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
RAIN LASHED JACOB RAND'S FACE, THE streaming rivulets on his cheeks blending with his tears to puddle in a salty pool in the cleft of his upper lip. A soppy hank of black hair dangled in his eyes. His vision blurred so that he could no longer clearly see his mother's grave. Not that it mattered. The downpour had made fast work of flattening the freshly mounded dirt. If not for the rock he had used to mark the spot, her burial place would have looked no different from the other churned-up mud. He wished his pa had taken time to whittle a cross, but as always, there was work to be done. Pa had helped with the digging, stayed to get Ma laid out right, and said some prayers. But cross whittling had to come later, after the daylight ran out. Times were hard, and it was up to Pa to feed them all.
Doubling one fist, Jacob scrubbed at his eyes, determined not to cry in front of his sisters. Now that Ma was gone, looking after the girls was up to him, the eldest. He had promised to do a good job, and he knew Ma was counting on him.
He glanced down at three-year-old Sarah, who stood beside him sniveling. He wished he could switch places with his younger brother, Jeremy, and be down at the creek working. Why did he have to be the one to finish up and say the final words? He didn't shine much to talking. He had already said the Lord's Prayer. Most of it anyways. He didn't know any others except for the supper blessing, and that didn't seem fitting. He reckoned he ought to finish up by saying something nice over Ma, but he couldn't think what. If only Jeremy was there. Right now, his gift for tonguing a subject to death would come in handy.
Sarah mewled again. He wished she'd hush. Fat chance. She looked like she was sucking alum. A string of snot dripped from her nose to her upper lip. He didn't have a handkerchief, so he made a quick swipe with his sleeve. Sarah snuffled, then sobbed, which made air erupt from her nostrils. He made another swipe.
Poor Sarah. Her black high-tops were clumped with red mud. Her tattered shirt, a castoff of Jacob's, clung like a sodden second skin to her bony shoulders. Beneath the hem, her knobby little knees were as red as apples from the cold. She gulped and shuddered, her tiny face twisting.
Jacob drew her close. Ma claimed a hug spoke a thousand words. The smell of urine floated up to him, and he realized she must have wet herself last night. Guilt washed over him. He had promised to take care of her and here she was, soaked, freezing, and as smelly as a cow pen in August. A fine job he was doing so far. She nuzzled her face against his side. He knew she was wiping her nose on him. Ma always scolded her for doing such, but he didn't have the heart.
Fresh tears burned behind his eyelids, and he dragged in a breath. He remembered quarreling with Mary Beth yesterday, right before Ma started feeling poorly. Then he recalled how he had played with Jeremy up on the hill, putting off his chores until later. Now Ma was gone, and there was nothing he could do to bring her back. Nothing. He couldn't even say how sorry he was.
His stomach churned with hunger, and his knees knocked with weakness. It didn't seem right, feeling hungry, but he hadn't eaten since yesterday at noon, and grave digging was hard work.
Almost as hard as mining for gold . . .
"It's muddy down there." Sarah gazed at the grave, then looked up, imploring him with her big brown eyes to set her world aright. Dripping strands of black hair stuck to her cheeks. She shivered so hard her teeth clacked. "Why do we gots to put her in the mud?"
Jacob had no answers. If there was a God, he was a far piece from here. Somewhere in California, more than likely, where the sun never stopped shining. If Jacob was God, that's where he would be.
From the far side of the grave, eight- year-old Mary Beth said, "Ma ain't here anymore, kitten. She's gone away to heaven to live with angels."
Jacob watched Mary Beth, willing her to say more. Something about harps and gowns and streets paved in gold. If Sarah kept picturing Ma with mud all over her face, she'd be plagued by nightmares for a year. As always, Mary Beth did just the opposite of what Jacob wished. Her mouth settled into a grim line, and she said no more. Still hopeful, he slid his gaze to six-year-old Rebecca, but she stood as still as a statue, gaze fixed, face white, her black hair hanging in wet streams.
It looked as if it was up to him. He gave Sarah's shoulder a pat. "Heaven's a fine place. There's nothin' but white horses up there, and the angels are all gussied up in fancy dresses the likes of which you ain't never seen."
"What kinda dresses?"
Jacob hesitated. The entire scope of his existence was mining towns, but once a long time ago, he'd gone looking for Pa at the saloon. "I reckon they're red with black lace."
Mary Beth, face mud-smeared and swollen from bawling, puffed up like a toad eyeing a fly. "They ain't neither! Angels wear white, Jacob Nathaniel! Don't go tellin' lies as gospel."
"What difference does it make, Mary Beth?"
"It just does, that's all. Red's one of Satan's colors, and only bad women wear it."
"White then. And quit flarin' up over the top of Ma's grave. You might as well walk on it."
Sarah, apparently oblivious to their bickering, was still stuck on heaven. "Why didn't Ma take us with her?" she demanded in a shrill voice. "She taked the baby! Don't she love us no more? I wanna red dress with black grace."
"Lace," Jacob inserted. "Someday when I'm rich, I'll buy you one, kitten. An angel dress, any color you want."
Jacob's throat ached. The raindrops felt like pinpricks on his face. Angels? All he could see was mud, and more mud. And when he closed his eyes, all he saw was his mother's blood.
"Someday when you're rich," Mary Beth scoffed. "You're startin' to sound just like Pa. We ain't never gonna strike it rich, Jacob, and you know it."
"Then I'll get rich doin' something else. Hush yourself, Mary Beth. You'll make Sarah start takin' on again."
"Better that than makin' her promises you can't keep. She don't even got a coat."
"I'll buy her a coat, and dresses, too. Just you watch. I'll buy you all dresses."
Mary Beth's eyes filled with tears again. She stared at him a moment, then lowered her gaze. "Even if you tried, Pa'd take your money and spend it on mining gear. All he cares about is finding color. He didn't care if Ma hurt herself and the baby by workin' so hard. And he don't care about us. Sarah won't never have a coat, nor dresses, neither. The only thing Pa'll ever give her is a shovel with her name on it. Same for me and Rebecca."
Jacob had thought the same himself, but hearing it said out loud frightened him, especially now, after promising he'd watch after his sisters. He hadn't been big enough to do Ma's share of the work, but surely he would be by the time Mary Beth's turn rolled around. She was going to be a small fry, just like Ma. Working in the digs would kill her.
Jacob eyed the grave and remembered the desperate, pleading look in his mother's eyes last night just before she died. With her only remaining strength, she had clutched his hands and whispered, "Take care of them for me, Jacob. Promise me you will. Don't let your father . . ."
Her voice had trailed off, and her beautiful dark eyes had fluttered closed, the remainder of her request left unspoken. Jacob had held tight to her hands, hardly able to speak around the sobs that had torn up his throat.
I'll take care of them, Ma. I promise I will. I won't let it happen to the girls, Ma. I swear I won't. It's going to be all right. You'll see. Everything's going to be all right.
Even as the words passed his lips, Jacob had known he was lying. His mother was dead. His father had killed her and her unborn child chasing a fool's dream.
Nothing would ever be all right again.
THOUGH DARKNESS HAD NOT YET FALLEN, the gas lamps in the study were lit to ward off the gloom of yet another rainy February day. Burning the lamps was the one luxury, aside from the two comfortable chairs and an occasional brandy, that Jake allowed himself in this room. Otherwise, he maintained an austere simplicity, evident in the knotty pine walls, his handmade but serviceable desk, and the rough plank bookshelves.
He had selected the decor, if one could call it that, to create balance in his life and strike a mood totally at odds with the opulence of the rest of his home. The fireplace mantle was fashioned from a myrtlewood burl he had found years ago in southern Oregon. Above that a large painting of snowcapped Mount Shasta held court over a collection of nature scenes that took up every inch of available wall space, his favorite a crystalline mountain stream winding its way through a stand of dappled cottonwood trees.
His fiancée, Emily, complained of the clutter and insisted, quite rightly, that he should redecorate. But, so far, Jake had put it off. He couldn't explain why, wasn't sure he even knew why, but he needed this room, every ugly, ill- matched inch of it. He felt at peace here as he did nowhere else.
Jake usually kept the study door locked while he worked, and his family honored his wish to be left alone, but today had proved an exception. Earlier, two of his younger sisters had popped in with their broods in tow to bid him farewell before he left town on another business trip. Now Mary Beth had demanded an audience.
Disgruntled because he had a great deal of work to do before he departed for southern Oregon, Jake loosened his cravat, tugged on the waist of his gold silk vest, and leaned back in his chair to regard the eldest of his sisters over his steepled fingers. Just in from a shopping trip and still wearing a walking suit of wine- colored lightweight wool, she looked like a princess perched there on his extra desk chair. A very unhappy princess. Though they both had their mother's ebony hair and dark brown eyes and, according to some, shared the same insufferable stubborn streak, Jake had never yet come anywhere close to understanding Mary Beth. Her mood swings were as difficult to predict as Oregon's constantly changing weather.
After Joseph Rand's first gold strike, their circumstances had taken a drastic turn for the better, and Jake had endeavored tirelessly since to keep it that way. She had everything she could possibly want. But was she happy? Hell, no. At twenty-seven, she should be accepting one of her many suitors and marrying so she could have a child before it was too late, not getting addlebrained notions about attending college.
"Mary Beth, I'm expected to give Jeremy a briefing in ten minutes so he can handle everything here while I'm gone. I haven't even begun to pack. I really don't have time for this right now."
"And I have nothing but," she replied sweetly.
"I thought we discussed this to our mutual satisfaction last year."
She toyed with the silk-covered buttons of her suit. "We discussed it to your satisfaction, not mine."
A picture of his mother's haggard face flashed in Jake's mind. "You know how I feel about women working."
"Practicing law isn't work. It's a profession. A calling."
He picked up his pen and repositioned the papers he'd been working on. "I won't have my sister shouldering a man's load. I provide for you nicely. There's nothing you can possibly want."
Her fist slammed down on the surface of his desk with enough force to make his pen squiggle. Jake assessed the damage, then drew up an eyebrow. He had backed men down with his glare. Mary Beth didn't so much as flinch. Mary Beth, the bane of his existence, the one person who could goad him into losing his temper. Why she was his favorite sister, he hadn't a clue.
"Don't go back to your work as if I'm not sitting here!" she cried. "We're going to have this out here and now."
Jake laid down the pen and settled in his chair. He could only wonder what her strategy would be this time. After their last confrontation, she had shattered every glass object in the formal dining room. The time before that, she had taken to her bed for three days, refusing to eat. He had known all along, of course, that her maid, Charity, was sneaking her food. Mary Beth was nothing if not inventive.
"I don't run your life. You can do anything you like."
"Yes, except for that." He noted the high color on her cheeks, a sure sign she was about ready to let fly. "You're such a lovely woman. Isn't there a single solitary man in Portland who catches your eye? I don't care if he's a street sweeper."
"And you'll go buy him for me, I suppose? Just as you have all else. For once, I'd like to accomplish something on my own." She clasped her hands in her lap. "Besides, if the marital state is so blissful, why haven't you married Emily? You're thirty years old. Now that she's out of mourning, there's nothing holding you back. You've been engaged for over a year."
"Leave my relationship with Emily out of this." Jake sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Emily. Like redecorating his study, she was another piece of unfinished business. For reasons totally beyond him, he couldn't muster the enthusiasm to set a wedding date. Regarding the mountain of paperwork on his desk, he said, "I've plenty on my plate. You have nothing but time on your hands, time which you utilize to concoct fantastic notions."
She shot from her chair. "Fantastic notions? Damn you, Jake. Sometimes I come so close to hating you, it's frightening."
He flashed her a conciliatory grin and gestured at the books lining the wall. "Have you considered becoming a novelist? A poet? Why don't you take up painting or sketching. The work Emily does is lovely. I don't want to restrict you, Mary Beth, just protect you. Can't you see that?'
"I'm not another Emily. She's so complacent, she makes me nauseated. Well, that's not for me. If I study law, I can make a real difference in the world, Jake. I just know it, if only you'll give me a chance."
"Honey, you've already made a difference. Think of all the people in this family who love you— who need you."
"That isn't enough." She threw up her hands.
The beginnings of a headache centered behind Jake's eyes. He rubbed absently at his forehead. "We've been over this ground a hundred times."
"And you know what's best for me. I have the response memorized." Her mouth twisted in a bitter smile. "And then you return to your work, forgetting my existence." She waved a hand at the study. "And why not? You have the life you want."
Did he? In his peripheral vision, he could see the waiting paperwork. Tomorrow he was bound for a mining town to negotiate yet another acquisition for his father. When he returned, his desk would be piled high with still more papers. What was the point? To acquire more wealth? To make Mary Beth happy? The first made a cold bedmate, and he was clearly failing miserably at the second.
"Mary Beth, what is it, exactly, that you want? Is it to be a lawyer? I doubt it. You'd detest it after six months."
She took a step toward him. In a quavery voice, she said, "Would I? Who are you to decide? What I detest is being made to suffer because you are trying to absolve yourself!"
This was a new wrinkle. Jake narrowed an eye. "Absolve myself? What in hell does that mean?"
"Exactly what it sounds like! Keeping me imprisoned in this tomb, protecting me from what you regard as the harsh realities, won't bring our mother back. And it will never undo what our father did to her. Or that you stood by and watched it happen."
That stung. Jake rose slowly from his chair. "You, young lady, are an ungrateful, spoiled little brat. How dare you bring up what happened to our mother?" He braced his fists on the desk. "You ask why I haven't married Emily yet? Think about it. When have I had time for a wife and family? If not for me, an empty belly would have driven you to those tent saloons in the mining camps. You'd have danced for your supper, and possibly more. Was that my sin? Working a second job to keep food on your plate?"
"The threat of starvation ended so long ago that neither of us can even remember what hunger felt like." Tears filled her eyes. "I'm not a child anymore. Yet you address me as ‘young lady'? How long has it been since you really looked at me?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm looking at you now."
"Are you? You've become blind to everything but your own obsessions. As for sacrifices? Oh, yes, you've made them. So many that I could weep, not the least of which was your ethics. Do you know what breaks my heart the most? You've despised him all your life, and now you've become just like him."
Jake knew she referred to their father. The comparison was like a slap in the face. "I think we'd better postpone this little talk until we're both a bit calmer."
"When? You're leaving in the morning to visit another hellhole mining town. God knows Ore-Cal Enterprises needs every acquisition it can get its grasping hands on."
"That's part of our business, Mary Beth, acquiring mines."
The accusation knocked Jake clear off balance. "Stealing them? I've never stolen anything in my entire life!"
"Haven't you? If you want to pretend you're blind to what's going on, that's fine by me, but please don't further destroy our relationship by lying to me about it."
With that, she went to the door.
"Where do you think you're going? You can't say something like that and then walk out."
She froze with her hand on the doorknob. "Maybe I'll go down to the waterfront and"— she tossed him a glare over her shoulder—" dance for my supper. Prostitution is a feminine pursuit, is it not?"
Until that instant, Jake hadn't realized Mary Beth even knew about the seedy activities that went on down at the waterfront.
"Surely you can't argue with my doing that. That is all we women are good for. Correct? Females, whom men either protect or use, depending upon their nature. You, Jake, are a protector. And I am your victim. If only you would marry poor Emily. Then perhaps you'd make her life miserable instead of mine."
With that, she walked out and slammed the door with such force that the walls reverberated. Jake stood there, frozen and feeling strangely numb. His victim?
He sank into his chair. The ache behind his eyes intensified. With a vicious sweep of his arm, he cleared the papers from his desk. They fluttered aimlessly to the floor. He watched them land, knowing damned well he'd be picking them up in a minute. Propping an elbow on the desk, he rested his head on his hand.
Scarcely a moment passed before he heard the door creak open. His brother, Jeremy, dark hair aglisten with raindrops, brown eyes dancing, poked his head into the room. "What the devil's wrong with Mary Beth?"
"Nothing compared to what will be wrong with her. One more word, and I swear I'll throttle her."
Jeremy chuckled. Draping his gray frock coat over one arm, he stepped in and closed the door. The smell of rain, fresh air, and lavender swept in with him. Jake knew without asking that his handsome brother must have had late luncheon with one of his many ladies fair. Judging from the heavy scent of perfume, perhaps a bit more than luncheon.
People claimed Jake and Jeremy bore a marked resemblance, both of them extraordinarily tall, broad at the shoulder, narrow of hip, with ebony hair and naturally burnished skin, made even darker by their mutual penchant for being outdoors. Jake couldn't see the likeness, though, aside from the slightest of similarities. One look from Jeremy sent women spinning onto their backs like unbalanced tops.
"Jesus, Jeremy, you smell like a French whore."
His brother tugged on his starched white collar and stretched his neck, the picture of satiated masculinity. "Athena does go a bit heavy on the scent. A woman of excesses, that's Athena, bless her generous heart."
Jake searched his mind for a woman of their acquaintance who bore that name. "The dairyman's daughter? The one who looks—"
"Who noticed her face? The girl's glorious from the chin down. And don't preach. In case you haven't noticed, I'm old enough to tend my own stew."
Jake gave it up as a lost cause. "Your stew stirring is the least of my troubles."
In response to Jeremy's questioning look, Jake gave him a quick account of his argument with their sister.
Jeremy's teeth flashed in a grin.
Tugging up a gray pant leg, he perched his hip on the edge of Jake's desk. "At least she's gotten past the scalpel stage, and it's nothing bloody this time."
Jake sank into the soft leather cushion of his chair and leaned his head back. As he let his eyes drift closed, he asked, "Am I wrong, Jer? Is my way of thinking so terribly unfair?"
Jeremy took a moment to answer. "I don't think it's a question of right or wrong, fair or unfair. There are times, though, when I believe it's possible to love people so much that we make the mistake of trying to wrap them in cotton."
A heavy silence fell between them. Jake recalled Mary Beth's words and was plagued by uncertainty. He had felt guilty about his mother's death. To this day, he could remember shirking his chores the afternoon she died to play with Jeremy. His mother had gone to the creek and hauled the water herself. Though nineteen years had passed and he could look back on it now as an adult, realizing that any overworked eleven-year-old boy probably would have done the same, Jake couldn't quite forgive himself. It was frightening to think he'd spent all these years trying to atone for his father's sins. It was even scarier to think he'd forced Mary Beth to do penance with him.
"Tell me . . ." he said hoarsely. "If you were I, Jeremy, what would you do about Mary Beth?"
Jeremy sighed. "I don't know. The hard part is that I can understand both sides. Mary Beth feels that her life is meaningless. But I can see how you feel, too. I can't blame you for wanting to keep her home, where you have some control."
Control. Was that how everyone saw it? "You know what it'd be like for her if I let her attend school. She'd meet with more opposition than she can possibly imagine getting admitted to the bar."
Jeremy picked up the gold nugget from Jake's desk that served as a paperweight. "Mary Beth's a little bored, Jake, but boredom won't kill her. She'll get over this, just like she has a dozen other times. Why are you so upset? You've always laughed it off before."
"Because I want to do right by her." Jake sat more erect, not quite able to put his feelings about Mary Beth into words. "Why does it have to be my decision, anyway?"
Jeremy laughed and held up his hands. "Oh, no, you don't! Leave me out of it."
"Maybe I'm tired of the responsibility." Jake pushed up from his chair and paced a moment. Raking a hand through his hair, he paused before the window to gaze out into the street. A carriage passed by, its wheels sending up twin sprays of muddy water. "At least you can reason with her. God knows I can't. When she gets on these tangents, the first thing I know, I'm so furious all I can do is yell. She had the audacity to accuse me of underhanded business tactics. Can you believe that?"
Jeremy made no response. Curious, Jake glanced over his shoulder. His brother kept his head bent, studying the gold nugget. Jake turned and waited. Jeremy remained silent.
"Well, aren't you going to laugh?" Jake asked. "I've never done a dishonest thing in my life."
Jake walked slowly back to the desk. "Jeremy . . . ?"
Sliding from his perch, Jeremy returned the nugget to its place, his broad shoulders stiff beneath the gray silk of his vest. The sleeves of his white shirt stretched taut over the bunched muscles in his upper arms. "Now isn't the time, Jake."
"Now's the perfect time. What in hell is all this about?"
"Damn Mary Beth and her mouth." Jeremy pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "You're putting me in a hell of a spot."
"That's too damned bad. We've never kept secrets in this family."
"Maybe you and I haven't," Jeremy said in a strained voice.
"And what, exactly, does that mean?"
"That Father isn't so candid around you as he is me."
Jeremy's lips thinned. "Meaning I've overheard certain things, seen things, that have made me—" He swiped his sleeve across his mouth. "I have reason to believe our father assists small operations in going under so he can buy them out."
Jake stared at him. "Have you any idea what you're saying?"
"Yes." The starch went out of Jeremy's shoulders. "Take Wolf's Landing, where you're headed tomorrow? About two months ago, as I was approaching Father's office, I heard a conversation between him and Hank Sample. Wolf's Landing was mentioned. I remember the name because it's unusual. Father said, ‘Take care of it, Hank.' Now, you're headed there to make the owner an offer."
Jake waved a hand. "So? It's a fair offer. And he'll be damned glad to get it. The owner's laid up with an injury and can't work. He won't be able to for months. Our stepping in may save him from financial ruin."
"How was Hunter Wolf injured?"
"You know the man's name?"
"I've done some investigating, yes. How was he injured?"
A trickle of uneasiness inched up Jake's spine. "A cave-in, I think."
Jeremy nodded. "One of several. Just small ones. Little inconveniences, costly but fixable. There has been a rash of accidents in and around that mine this last month."
Jake knotted his hands into fists. "That's a despicable accusation, and you know it. Hunter Wolf was nearly killed. Father may be greedy. God knows I'd be the last person to defend him. But he's no murderer."
Jeremy's gaze didn't falter. "That's a risk with arranged accidents. Sooner or later, someone is bound to be in the wrong place at the right time."
Jake could see by the look in his brother's eyes that he truly believed what he was saying. He slumped against the desk.
"Check the records," Jeremy challenged. "There've been no injuries in the past, but practically every acquisition Father made was preceded by a string of bad luck that put the business in the red. I'm certain of nothing, but in every instance, the bad luck miraculously ended the moment Ore-Cal took over."
For a moment, Jake was swept back in time and standing by his mother's grave. Mary Beth's voice rang in his mind. All Pa cares about is finding color. "I couldn't be that blind."
"Maybe I'm seeing what you don't because Father isn't quite so careful around me. I've seen him tidying his desk before you enter the office, stashing papers, covering them with other correspondence." Jeremy threw up his hands. "Just think about it, Jake. How is it that Father always knows, Johnny-on-the-spot, when a business is in trouble? It's not only mines, you know. Three months ago, it was a hotel. In every case, he steps in with an offer at just the right moment. Do you think people facing bankruptcy send out notices to prospective buyers?"
Jake stared at the ceiling. There was a ring of truth in what Jeremy said. His father did seem to have an almost uncanny sense of timing, moving in for a takeover at the perfect moment. And Jake knew Jeremy well enough to feel certain he wouldn't say such things without reasonable cause. Dear God. The study seemed to close in around him.
"I'll check into it," he said.
"And do what?" His brother's voice sounded shaky. "I'm sorry, Jake. I never intended to drop it on you like this. I wanted more proof. But if I'm right, what are we going to do? We have to make amends and keep it quiet somehow. The scandal will ruin us. You can scotch your engagement to Emily."
Right now, Emily was the least of Jake's worries. As a boy, he had once run head-on into a tree, and he felt exactly the same now, dazed, disoriented, unable to remember what he had been thinking an instant ago. Scarcely able to feel his feet, he circled his desk and lowered himself into his chair.
"Jake, are you okay?"
Was he okay? Jake bit back a harsh laugh. His sister had just ripped him wide open, and now his brother was telling him that he'd been orchestrating unethical business acquisitions. Hell, no, he wasn't okay. He thought of all the times he had dealt the death blow to businessmen, buying their livelihoods for a fair market price, believing he was doing them a favor because he was saving them from inevitable financial ruin.
You've despised him all your life, and now you've become just like him. Everything within Jake rebelled against that thought. He loved his father in a detached way, but he had never liked him. And therein lay the problem. He was happiest when he didn't see the man. Until this moment, Jake had been content to keep a separate household and tend the management of their enterprises, sparing little if any thought for his father's end of the business, acquisition and investment.
"I should have spent more time at the main offices," he whispered hoarsely.
"That's famous. Blame yourself. Good old Jake with the broad shoulders. Overseeing a few mines would be a gargantuan undertaking. He's loaded you down with nearly forty, plus several other non-mining enterprises. When you're not worrying about safe working conditions, you're doing accounts. Has he ever once offered to hire someone to take over part of the load? Has he encouraged me to do so? Hell, no. And now we know why. He wanted to keep you so bogged under, you wouldn't have time to notice anything he did."
Jake's mouth felt dry. He tried to swallow and couldn't. "We can make excuses all day, but the bottom line is that I should have seen what was happening."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to Wolf's Landing, just as I planned, and check into it."
Jake knew he was repeating himself, and that it wasn't a solution. But beyond that, he hadn't a clue. How did one rebuild destroyed lives?
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