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More Than Life
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Hart Jarrett was only supposed to be passing through Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He wasn’t supposed to get involved, no emotional entanglements to tie him down. Setting down roots was never part of the plan, not until he opened himself up to love. Too bad the man he bet on bailed and left Hart holding the ranch. There were two choices after that: run away, or stay and build something real from nothing.
Nearly six years later, Hart has created a home and a life he never expected, with the help of his best friend and foreman, Morgan Brace. The ranch is thriving thanks to its loyal men and strong ties to the community. But there’s a snake in the garden, and it takes many forms. There’s a dead man on Hart’s property, a man he knows, and the questions are piling up. As if that weren’t enough, his ex has reappeared out of the blue, with plans to reclaim what he willingly gave.
Everything Hart has built is unraveling.
The life Hart wants doesn’t work without Morgan in it. Imagining a future without Morgan, him turning elsewhere for love and coming in second to someone else in Morgan’s heart—as well as his bed—is almost unbearable. So maybe, just maybe, the answer lies in Hart confessing that he loves Morgan more than life itself.
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It was early for this. When I saw the two cars park in front of the house, one a sheriff car, the other a newer Ford Bronco, I took a breath and sipped my coffee instead of getting up. At the moment, I was warmish with the heater behind me, even sitting outside in the early morning thirty-degree weather. And again, it wasn’t even nine yet—too early for an interrogation—so for once I set my manners aside and stayed put. Besides, I was tired. I’d been burning the candle at both ends for weeks, working on new contracts, acquisitions, and hiring temporary staff for the winter to help with yearly events. I was running on coffee and adrenaline and wishing for something stronger to keep me vertical. Mostly a vacation would have been nice, but being a rancher wasn’t the kind of job you could hit the pause button on. And besides, we were gearing up to be busy, as we were every fall.
“Morning, Hart,” Sheriff Octavia Lange called over to me, not smiling but lifting her hand in greeting.
“Tavi,” I called back. “May I offer you some coffee?”
She reached the wraparound porch of the cabin before the others. “Did you make it or did Wes?” she asked hesitantly.
I scowled at her as one woman and three men stepped around her so they were no longer standing in snow up to their ankles. November in Wyoming was cold but beautiful with all the white diamond powder. The trouble became that underneath the blanket of Disney-movie perfection, on my ranch as well as everyone else’s, was either dirt or grass. It didn’t help that my little five-hundred-and-fifty-square-foot home wasn’t anywhere near the main house. Instead it sat on the other side of the foreman’s house, which was past the newly renovated bunkhouse beside the stable. Near and around the mansion was all gravel, but that wasn’t the case here. My home was surrounded by a sea of thick, wet mud. They had all just slogged through it to reach me.
“I made it,” Wes Haggerty announced in answer to the sheriff as he stepped out the front door with a tray of mugs and a steaming carafe of French roast. There was sugar and creamer and a separate mug, because the man had the memory of an elephant.
Once he set the heavy tray down, he took hold of the mug and walked it over to the woman in the silver fox hat—which I’d told her, the last time she was on the ranch, that I didn’t approve of. Fur, in my humble opinion, always looked better on the animal it grew on.
“Here you are, Miss Thomas. Earl Grey with a bit of cream and the lavender honey you said you liked the last time you were here.”
She practically whimpered as she took the mug and gifted the caretaker of the Ironwood Ranch with a glorious smile that lit up her whole face.
When he turned back to me, I rolled my eyes. The smack on the shoulder I got as he walked over to stand beside my chair hurt just a bit. He was not a small man. None of the men who worked for me were, and Wes, in particular, was built like a tank with tree trunks for arms. No one would have looked at him and intuitively thought that he was the one who planned and made three meals a day, seven days a week, as well as baking for every holiday and special occasion. He came off as scary, maybe even deadly, and the scar that bisected his left eyebrow didn’t help matters. But when anyone saw the joy on his face when he covered the dining table in the bunkhouse with all kinds of different pies, they understood instantly that the man took too much joy in his culinary triumphs to ever slit your throat in your sleep.
“Be nice,” Wes muttered under his breath, bumping the side of my chair with his foot before he retreated into my tiny house.
I was always nice. “He’s getting scones,” I informed the group on my porch, warm now as they’d all grabbed cups and poured coffee, and the heater was close and pretty powerful. I had bought one of the same ones that sat on the sprawling wraparound deck of the main house, so I knew it was top-of-the-line.
Close to six years ago now, when I was new to the area, when Lee Quantrell first brought me out to the homestead so he could not only fuck me under his father’s roof, shoving me, and the fact that he was bi, in the man’s face, the ten-room, ten-thousand-square-foot hunting lodge of a house was where the owner of the Ironwood hung his hat. But when Lee and his father, Henry, had locked horns over the running of the legacy ranch, in a surprise move, Henry had bought property on Maui and left to start a new life in the Aloha State. A month later, Lee got the news that his father had married a woman half his age. He was hoping to have more children.