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Loving Charlie Forever

Chapter 1


Charlie frowned as the librarian hefted a box of small plastic reels onto the counter before him.

“When I called in, I said I wanted to research old town newspapers,” he said drily.

“Well, young man. You forgot exactly where you were calling.” She pursed her lips, making him think of the old, shriveled apple dolls his grandma used to make every fall.

“What exactly are those?”

“Microfilm. Our internet, when you ask for newspapers from the 1800’s.”

“You haven’t converted to computer micro files?”

She gave him a sigh which should have been answer enough, but she must have felt compelled to expound. “This library started when the very first Mayor’s wife died and left her books to the town. Everyone since then has left their books to the library when they died. That’s been nigh on to,” she paused, and he could see her mentally doing the math, “one hundred fifty years. People here like to read.”

He looked around at the crowded shelves. “And die, apparently.”

She frowned at his sarcastic remark.

“Sorry, but is this the reason you haven’t converted to computer files?”

“Of course not. The library is a volunteer-run organization, and no one has the time to do that, much less the expertise. The only reason I am even here today is because my bridge club was canceled. Normally, I’m on duty Wednesday and Thursday.”

Charlie hung his head in defeat. He’d traveled to Stone, South Dakota, to do in depth research for his next novel, and she gave him microfilm. He could almost remember hearing about that when he was in grade school. Now he was expected to actually use it? If it had been an antique printing press, he could have managed, thinking of his stint at Colonial Williamsburg during college where he had…

“Come along.” The librarian turned from the counter to walk toward the back of the building, and he hurriedly grabbed the box and followed. She led him to an antiquated machine and showed him how to insert the film so the edges caught on the sprockets. She slowly turned a knob until the first newspaper popped up on the screen, the print tiny and blurry. Charlie pulled his glasses out of his pocket and jammed them on. The blur diminished, but the print still appeared impossibly small.

“Can it be enlarged?”

Silently she turned a different knob, and the print jumped out at him, but only one small section of the entire page. She then slid the third knob back and forth, and the picture went from left to right. She pushed the same knob in and out, the screen going top to bottom.

“Are you serious?” This would take forever, if he even knew what he was looking for, which he didn’t exactly. He had a vague idea…a very vague idea.

“We close at five, so you only have one hour. Please make sure when you’re through with a reel that you rewind it for the next patron.”

Charlie looked at the double row of microfilm reels, noticing dust on the lid of the box they were in. Chances are he was the only patron to want these particular files in however long the library had been in existence.


* * *



An hour later, Charlie was basically kicked out onto the curb. Well, if there had been a curb. He looked down the dirt street in front of him. What was so exciting that the librarian couldn’t have stayed a little longer? He had tentatively decided to write something taking place during the Black Hills gold mining period, the heydays of which were 1874 through 1886, but the one microfilm reel he had managed to get through hadn’t been the right time period. And since none of them were labeled, he would have to preview all of them.

He hitched his backpack over his shoulder and headed down the street toward the hotel. He had picked Stone for a possible setting for his next novel because initial research showed it to be the type of old west town he needed. It reminded him of Deadwood, but that town had been the setting of far too many novels. He wanted something unique, and Stone appeared to have it.

The dirt main street he walked allowed no cars to park on it. The stores, mostly two-story buildings, were built with adjoining walls in a long row on both sides of the street. He wondered if the owners lived upstairs as they would have back in the day. The stores were fronted with boardwalks and even had wooden hitching posts. There were saloons complete with penny-ante poker games, mercantiles and soda shops, even an apothecary, blacksmith, and livery.

From what he had learned, Stone began with the first gold miners around 1876, and while many places had become ghost towns when the gold petered out after the turn of the century, Stone had re-invented itself for tourists as it was a gateway to the Black Hills National Forest and Mount Rushmore. They now pulled in people from all over with old mine tours, panning for gold, and hiking and camping in the nearby Black Hills Forest. It provided the perfect setting for a western historical, the genre he wrote, but he still needed to find an outlaw or mystery element.

Like Dodge City, Stone’s historic area was somewhat separate from the rest of the town. Residential areas, a church, and a school nestled to the south of Main Street, and as far as Charlie had seen, the closest Wal-Mart was in Rapid City, more than fifty miles away. He liked that because it made Stone seem more authentic, even if everything behind the wooden facades ran with the latest technology, which meant he had WIFI in his hotel room. The hotel had an elevator hidden behind a wooden panel, so he didn’t have to climb stairs to the fourth floor.

He dumped his backpack on the small desk and dug through his dopp kit for some aspirin. Reading the old print of the microfilm, even with his glasses, had caused a pain behind his eyes that he could only hope didn’t develop into a migraine.



* * *



Charlie headed for the library the next day, hoping Miss Grinch wasn’t volunteering. This morning he had fortified himself with a hearty breakfast and coffee at a little restaurant across the street from the hotel. It had red checkered tablecloths, real napkins, and old-fashioned cooking like hash browns and eggs, biscuits and gravy, and steak with American fries. Cream for his coffee had come in a small stoneware pitcher, not individual plastic containers. As a writer, Charlie noticed little things like that and incorporated them into his novels. Those little things made a story more authentic, and although he didn’t bog down his writing with details, he sprinkled them in here and there.

Still mentally noting details from breakfast, he turned and lifted a foot to the library steps, smacking into someone just leaving. He reflexively reached out and grabbed a soft and wiggly female. His day started to look up, until something pointy poked into the soft skin under his chin.

“It may only be a pen, but it can still put a hole in you,” hissed a voice in direct variance with the sight before him. Long brown hair lifted in the breeze to blow across her face, but her stormy blue eyes never wavered. She had a pert nose and generous mouth, even if it frowned at the moment. And her threat didn’t have him moving an inch.

“Hello, I’m Charlie.” He gave her his winning smile; the one they used on the back cover of book jackets. It didn’t work, as evidenced by the harder poke to his chin. With a sigh, he released her and stepped back. “Sorry, I was trying to be a gentleman and keep you from falling.”

She dropped her hand, but another minute passed in silence.

He tried again. “Hi, I’m Charlie.” This time he held out his hand.

She glanced at it then back to his face. Her frown was replaced with a look of confusion. She reached up and brushed the hair out of her face, something he wouldn’t have minded doing. It looked soft and probably smelled like some exotic flower.

He leaned in for a whiff.

She took a step back. “I’m sorry. I was in a hurry.” Her voice, low and incredibly sexy, made him think of a jazz singer in a dark, dangerous speakeasy from the twenties.

Not that he’d ever been in one, of course, but the writer in him instantly created an image. And this image continued staring at him, her head tilted to the side, her brows pulling down. Normally, he wouldn’t mind a woman giving him the once-over, but this particular woman’s glances were disconcerting.

“Do I know you?”

Ah, here we go; familiar ground. “I’m an historical western writer,” he replied with a grin. Always a great line he used because everyone wanted to know someone famous or be in a book.

She started to step around him. “I don’t read fiction.”

His mouth dropped open in surprise, so he pulled out the big guns. “New York Times and Amazon Best Seller lists.”

That stopped her. “Does that line work?” she asked in all seriousness.

Oh, he liked this girl. “Ninety percent of the time.” His grin widened.

“Then chalk this up to part of the ten percent.” She reached up, twisted her hair, and looped it over one shoulder.

He caught a scent of roses as she turned and walked away, leaving him standing on the library steps with his tongue hanging out. Damn, he wanted to do something with all that hair.



* * *



Jacy hurried away from the library, her boots thudding on the boardwalk but not as loudly as her heart. The man she had bumped into looked familiar, yet she was sure she had never met him before. There were too many strangers in Stone these days, and not all of them were tourists coming to visit the old gold mines. Like many, he wore a western style hat and boots, jeans and a button-down shirt. In their brief encounter, she had certainly noticed his well-built physique, his square chin, and dark brown eyes. Yet, unlike the others, this man was different, if the sparks still tingling her arms where he’d grabbed her were any indication.

As far as who he said he was, she hadn’t lied. She never read fiction. The reading she consumed at the moment was more a matter of life and death. Besides, he probably used that line just to get women. For now, she couldn’t worry about him. She had clients arriving at the office any minute, and because Stone didn’t have a lot of legal matters among its small population, she needed all the billable hours she could get.



* * *



Jacy didn’t have time to return to the library until the first of the week. Drought conditions meant she, Gram, and the regulars who helped at the ranch had been herding cattle to the last of the pastures with available grazing. She wondered how much longer it would matter if she didn’t find the information needed to keep the ranch.

Her gram had less than a month to come up with the deed to her ranch or the bank would foreclose. She would lose everything. Jacy still couldn’t believe that after over one hundred fifty years of Gram’s ancestors and family living on the homestead, the bank suddenly decided it might not be her land at all. Not that she owed any money on it, for she paid her taxes annually from the sale of cattle she ran. But over the course of time, and Gram’s forgetfulness, she had lost track of the deed, and now the bank demanded proof of ownership.

More specifically, Mr. Norton full-of-himself Fulton, President of the bank, wanted proof, otherwise he would foreclose then sell the land to investors who wanted to build a multi-million-dollar western theme amusement park and resort. As she drove the road to town, she looked out over the vistas and hills that backed up against the town to the south. Even in the heat of summer, there were a hundred shades of green in the trees and grassy hills. Grey granite boulders, left from a million or more years ago, cut through the landscape in sharp contrast, and everything was topped by a brilliant blue sky.

Why would anyone want to destroy that view? Stone sat at the north edge of the Black Hills and had once been a thriving gold mining town. The western buttes were said to still contain gold, but the process of extraction became more costly than the gold that could be produced. Which was a good thing as strip mining would have ruined the hills that were almost as colorful and unique as the Badlands to the southeast.

The interested parties could have chosen anywhere else to build their theme park, but Jacy knew the National Park Service would never give the go-ahead anywhere near the Badlands or Black Hills forest. The investors had then narrowed their focus on the Circle B ranch, over seven hundred acres of land not much good other than for grazing cattle. Yet investors saw it as prime real estate for its proximity to everything the Black Hills had to offer.

According to Gram, the land was handed down from the maternal side of the family through wills, and she couldn’t remember ever seeing a deed nor had anything ever been disputed. It probably wouldn’t be now if not for the theme park interest. Her gram was eighty-five and at times somewhat absentminded, so Jacy had looked through the desk, the lockbox, and any other available hidey-hole, but they hadn’t found a deed.

Thus, Jacy spent all her available time going through old microfilm of Stone’s various newspapers to find something…anything…that would help determine ownership. She pulled open the library door and walked into the cool, musty interior. Without asking, Lucille placed the box on the counter when she approached.

“Haven’t had so much activity here in a long while,” she commented.

Jacy glanced down and noticed her marker, an index card with tally marks, had been moved closer to the front of the box.

“Research activity?” she murmured absently as her fingers flipped the reels forward, one at a time.

“Well, no; yes,” she replied. “They always have the book club meetings every other Tuesday, of course, but…” she paused with a frown, and it piqued Jacy’s interest.

“But what?”

She tsked. “These old microfilms haven’t been viewed in forever, and yet this week and last they’ve been checked out every single day.”

Since Jacy knew she hadn’t been in every day, someone else was looking at old newspapers and that raised a level of panic. “Who else would want to spend beautiful days inside a…library looking at old newspapers?” She refrained from using musty and creaky, although that described how she found the old building.

“Why that handsome young man.”

Jacy turned quickly, thinking he stood right behind her, but the area was empty.

“You know, the handsome stranger in town,” she said the word as though it were magical, but plenty of strangers always visited town.

Jacy shook her head.

Lucille sighed, and then said, “Surely you’ve seen him around?”

Jacy thought of the stranger she had run into the other day; the one who said he was a writer of all things. He… “Did he wear a cowboy hat, have brown hair and eyes?”

“Oh, yes. You have seen him.”

“And he’s been here; going through the microfilm?”

She nodded.

Jacy’s eyes narrowed. Who would need to go through microfilm when the internet was so easily accessible? She suddenly wondered if writing a book was really the man’s intent. She had seen various other strangers coming in and out of town over the last month, and they definitely weren’t looking to write a book. They surveyed the land and waited, like vultures. Her heart thudded heavily. If someone else found the evidence she needed to prove the land belonged to Gram, they could destroy it, and she would never know. She looked quickly down at the reels of film. Was one missing? The box appeared full, but not tightly packed. How many reels had there been?

“Do you want to check them out again today, Jacy?” Lucille asked, pulling the card from the end of the box for her to sign. Stone’s library wasn’t up on the latest technology, whether it was the research materials available or the checkout procedures.

Jacy took the card to sign but instead studied it intently. The last name on the card was Charles Cannon. Was that the man’s name who had bumped into her the other day?


“Hmm? Oh, no. Something has come up. I’ll be back later.” She turned and hurried out the door, not at all sure what she intended to do. She looked left and right. It wouldn’t be hard to find this man because Stone wasn’t that large. The Gold Strike Hotel, a four-story affair that had been modernized but still had an old-fashioned look, stood above the buildings surrounding it. If the man stayed in town, that would be where she found him.

She turned and walked toward the hotel, but slowed as she neared the front doors. What could she say? How could she find out who this man really was?

It ended up being easier than she thought. Upon entering the lobby and walking to the front desk, Maxine, the day clerk, looked up excitedly.

“Look! Mr. Cane signed my book.” Maxine held up a book, flipping it open to where a dark, indecipherable scribble covered the inside page.

Jacy glanced at the man leaning against the counter, smiling as he capped his pen. So, he was a writer, but when his gaze met hers, she realized he was more. She had that feeling again that she knew him but couldn’t place him, another reason to find out more about him. Not one to back away from digging for the truth, she stated without preamble, “We need to talk.”

His brows rose, the smile disappearing. “Does that line work for you?”

She knew he referred to their encounter on the library steps, but if he thought to be amusing, he wasn’t. “As an attorney, I’d say ninety-nine percent of the time.” She nodded her head toward the left where swinging doors led to the Four Aces Saloon.

He pushed away from the counter. “Far be it from me to ruin your statistics, but I never go on a date without knowing my pursuer’s name.”

Did he really want to play this game? He flashed her that sexy smile again, but she wasn’t about to let it affect her, even though her stomach gave a roll as his eyes twinkled. Okay, so he was cute, and he knew it. He stepped closer, and she quickly put out her hand to introduce herself. Actually, to keep him at a distance. “Jacy Douglas,” she said formally.

“J…C, as in…?” His large, warm hand engulfed hers in a firm handshake which he didn’t seem inclined to end. His thumb rubbed over her knuckles, and the rolling in her stomach turned into somersaults.

She pulled her hand from his, annoyed at the fact he flustered her. She turned toward the saloon, hoping he would follow. She walked to the farthest, darkest corner she could find. If this man proved to be other than what he said, she didn’t want the citizens of Stone to see them together. They would jump to the conclusion she might be negotiating a deal with the developers.

He pulled out her chair just as she reached for it, his hand covering hers. Damn stomach; had she not eaten today? But she knew Gram had fixed her usual enormous breakfast, and it was now only ten o’clock, so perhaps merely a case of nerves. Just the fact that this man might unnerve her firmed her resolve to get to the bottom of this situation quickly.

“Mr. Cane, you say you’re a writer, but why are you really here in Stone?”

If he was taken aback by her directness, he didn’t show it but neither did he answer. He signaled a waitress and when she arrived, ordered a beer on tap. “Miss Douglas?” He tilted his head in her direction.

“Root beer,” she told the waitress. “It’s a little early to be drinking anything else.” That comment was directed at him but only earned her another cheeky grin.

“How can you enter a saloon called the Four Aces and not order a beer, regardless of the time?”

Assuming that to be a rhetorical question, she clasped her hands on the table and waited. In court, most attorneys bombarded a witness with questions to make them crack. She used silence and an intense gaze. As it always had in the courtroom, it worked here as well.

“Look,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a card, jotting something along the bottom edge before sliding it across the table to her. “I really am a writer.”

The card had his name, website, and symbols indicating bestselling author. Regardless of how much she longed for him to be something else to justify her angst, perhaps she had misjudged him. Noticing what he had penned at the bottom, she decided perhaps not.

“Do you always give out your phone number?”

“Only to pretty girls.”

He flashed that sexy smile again, and there went her stomach, along with the blush warming her cheeks.

“You’ve been going through microfilm of the old town newspapers.”

He shrugged. “I have. Is that a crime here in Stone?” He nodded his thanks to the waitress as she brought their drinks.

“What did you say you wrote?” she asked, answering his question with one of her own.

“Historical westerns. It’s too hot in Texas and Arizona this time of year, so I decided to see what South Dakota had to offer.”

“Why do you need the microfilm? Why not simply use the internet wherever you live?”

He sipped his beer, looking at her over the rim of the mug. His gaze was intense, and she had an uneasy feeling he could read her thoughts.

“Does your concern have anything to do with the hubbub in town over a resort coming in?”

Her eyes widened before she could prevent it. “You are one of them,” she practically hissed, scooting back her chair to leave.

He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “Whoa; hang on. I don’t know who put a bee in your bonnet or under your saddle, or whatever they say here, but you’re jumping to conclusions. I am an author, but before that I was an investigative reporter. My ears tune in to town chitchat, even when I don’t want them to.”

When she neither stood nor relaxed back in her chair, he tugged on her hand. “Somehow we got off on the wrong foot, and I’m sorry about that.” There was that winning smile again. “Can we start over?”

When she said nothing, he let go of her hand and put his out for a handshake.

“Hi, I’m Charlie.” His brown eyes twinkled.

With a sigh, she let her shoulders relax. She liked him; she couldn’t help it. Not only did he exude plenty of male testosterone, but he had an affinity for history and very trusting eyes. Gram always said trust was in a man’s gaze. While she had lived in Stone her entire life, except for her college years, she no longer knew who to trust. The town was divided—those who wanted the theme park for the revenue it would generate, and those who didn’t. And those who did want it saw her and Gram as direct deterrents because of the land. For now, she would take a leap of faith.

She put her hand in his, curling her fingers in his strong grasp. “Hi, I’m Jacy.” For the first time in weeks, she allowed a smile.


* * *



Charlie would have had to be dead not to react to her, and it wasn’t just her smile, which lit her entire face and made her blue eyes sparkle. Her hair, thick and wavy, curled down below her shoulders and swayed like those shampoo commercials. His hands itched to slide through it. She wore a light blue checked western cut shirt that hugged her breasts and tucked into a pair of tight jeans, and he couldn’t help but admire her curves. Actually, he wanted to reach across the table, cup her face and kiss her. But in their very short acquaintance, he didn’t figure that would get him very far. In fact, he was pretty sure it would set him back about a hundred years. So instead, he gave her hand a light squeeze and let it go, setting back in his chair and sipping beer to cool the heat sizzling through his body. It had been a long time since he’d experienced such instant attraction, if he ever had. He certainly wasn’t averse to it, but it had caught him unaware.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “There’s too much happening at the moment and you’re another stranger in town.”

“Trust me, I’m not one of the big money boys. You can tell them a mile away.”

“Really?” She sipped her drink, and he watched her lick foam off her upper lip.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah. They wear suit coats with jeans, and their boots are brand spanking new.”

He watched as she shifted her gaze to where he had one booted ankle crossed over his knee. Actually, he needed a new pair of boots, but these were broken in and comfortable.

“I still don’t understand—why the microfilm?”

“Believe it or not, everything is not available via the internet. Really old history—accurate history—needs primary sources, not Wikipedia. Small town newspapers are gold mines. They not only printed the news but gave you favorite recipes, obituaries, public notices and maybe even a fashion plate.”

“So, you’re here to do a story about the town?” Her eyes held wary interest.

“Not today’s town and certainly not the brewing controversy. Like I said, I write on historic western themes.”

“Well, there is definitely a lot of history in this area. Depending on how far you intend to go back, some of the old timers might serve as primary sources.”

He shook his head. “Further back than that; probably mid to late 1800’s. Maybe something with an outlaw gang and unrecovered stolen gold.” Hello, his mental knuckles rapped his brain. “You know, until talking to you, I didn’t have a clue. I had just mindlessly been cranking microfilm, hoping something would pop out at me.” He grinned. “Being an attorney in this town can’t keep you very busy. Maybe you can be my muse.”

She laughed, and the silky sound of it caused electricity to sizzle through his entire body, straight to his…

He cleared his throat. “Who knows, it might be fun. Apparently, you’ve been searching for something in the microfilm too, so together we can look for interesting historic tidbits.”

Her smile disappeared, and he was sorry he had pushed her.

“I’m not being nosey, but your name was on the checkout card.”

“My reasons for going through the reels are far more important than research for a fictional book.”

He raised his brows. “Not if you have an agent and editor browbeating you for an outline on the next best seller.”

That drew a reluctant smile. “You’re right of course.” Her cell pinged, and she dug it out of her pocket and looked at the readout. “I have to go.” She stood but didn’t immediately turn. Instead, she pursed her lips in thought. “I’ll ask my gram. Her ancestors have been here over a hundred years.” She allowed another slight smile. “If I happen to see you at the library...” She let the sentence trail off as she turned and left.

Charlie watched her hips sway with her long stride. Damn, can she wear a pair of jeans.

For the first time since he’d come to Stone, he felt excited about his work. He tossed some bills on the table and went back through the swinging doors to the hotel. Climbing the stairs to his room, his head spun with ideas, simply from talking to Jacy. He could do some basic research on his laptop which would help narrow the focus so when he hit the microfilm tomorrow, he’d have a better idea what to look for.

Even as he read historical information about the area and took notes, he thought of Jacy. She caught his interest, and not only because she was gorgeous with all that long hair that he ached to touch. She apparently was not an advocate for the theme park, and he wondered why since it would definitely be great for the town. And why her interest in old newspapers?



* * *



Jacy hurried down the block and around the corner where she’d parked her truck. Luckily, she didn’t have appointments this afternoon. She jumped into the cab and started the engine.

“Ha, like there’s so much to do,” she muttered and pulled out of the drive. A town the size of Stone didn’t have a lot of crime, although she wasn’t an expert in criminal law. She dealt with contracts, wills, and land deeds, which should have helped in her gram’s situation, but she had no luck so far.

She turned off the highway onto the road to the ranch before she saw the cars and trucks. Several men stood nearby, and surveying equipment leaned against the bed of at least one truck. That didn’t concern her as much as the fact that her gram stood under the Circle B sign with her shotgun aimed at the man who stood directly across the cattle guard, barely outside their property line.

“Great,” she grumbled as she pulled to the side and shut off the truck. All heads turned her way, but she kept her gaze on the man front and center—Norton Fulton. All she needed was the bank president breathing down her neck.

“Miss Douglas.” He doffed his hat as she came abreast.

She ignored him and kept walking until she stood facing her Gram to the opposite side of her gun. “Please tell me you haven’t shot anyone.”

Her gram’s gaze never left the intruders. “Not yet.”

With a sigh, she turned to face Fulton, who took the move as an acceptance of his right to be there.

He took a step closer.

“Mr. Fulton, you and these men are very close to trespassing. If you step any closer, my grandmother has every right to shoot you.”

Her threat stopped him and several of the other men stepped back so their vehicles were between them and Gram’s gun. Still, he puffed up his chest and glared at her. “Miss Douglas, you know why we’re here. These men want to—”

“These men,” she spat, “have no right to be here; no right to do anything dealing with this land. So just take your shiny boots and crawl back into the hole you came out of.” She had glimpsed several of the men before they hid behind vehicles. Charlie was right. They were all part of the conglomerate, pretending to fit into town with their fancy boots and brand-new cowboy hats.

“Now, Miss Douglas,” Fulton said, his ingratiating tone stiffening Jacy’s spine. “I recently heard of an obscure law which allowed the legal confiscation of land belonging to outlaws.”

“Well, you just go find you some outlaws then,” Gram said.

Jacy glanced over her shoulder in warning.

“Because we haven’t found the deed yet,” she said, “now you’re pulling some cockamamie story out of your…hat? Obscure laws have in most cases been overwritten or negated by more current laws. Besides, legal confiscation is by law enforcement, not by an individual with possibly illegal, personal interest in said property.”

“Now see here,” he sputtered, stepping closer.

Jacy reached across her gram and took the shotgun, pointing it at Norton’s right boot. “Gram’s eyesight is not as good these days, and she might miss.” She paused as she carefully chambered a shell. “I won’t.”

“Story is you had outlaw relatives back when this land was being homesteaded,” Fulton doggedly continued. “According to this law, you can’t own this land.”

Jacy had had enough. “Most of this land; in fact, probably most of the country was settled after the government stole it from Native Americans. And don’t get me started on claim jumpers during the gold rush. You probably have some varmints in your own family tree, so I wouldn’t point fingers if I were you.”

She lowered the shotgun with a sigh. “Take your crew and go back to town, Mr. Fulton. You’re not welcome here.”

He pushed his hat back on his balding head. “Find that deed, Ms. Landers,” he said directly to her gram. “Or you lose this land.” He turned on his heel and signaled the others.

Jacy returned to her truck but didn’t start the engine until the last truck had disappeared down the road. She drove across the cattle guard and waited until Gram was in the Jeep then followed her down the long drive to the house.

Over dinner, Jacy asked about Fulton’s claim.

“Oh, honey,” her gram replied, “there was probably an outlaw or two, along with brothel owners and saloon keepers. Back when gold was discovered, every manner of a body could no doubt be found in Stone, along with every other town in the area.” She got up to clear the table and Jacy helped. “But there were probably also teachers, lawyers, and sheriffs.” She sent Jacy a sweet look. “I like to think you came from the smart branch of the family tree.”

“Which would be your side,” Jacy replied with affection.

“Of course,” Gram laughed. “Fact of the matter is, the old family Bible has our family tree in it, but it doesn’t say what our ancestors did. It simply gives births, marriages, and deaths. Any other information would only be handed-down stories.”

“May I see?” Jacy asked.

Gram nodded and went into the living room to retrieve the old Bible from a shelf. A large book with a padded cloth cover, she reverently opened it to the middle, where heavier pages decorated with gold leaf edges were covered with all manner of writing. The ink was blue or black, even pencil on a few of the entries, and she could tell the generations by the change in handwriting.

Her breath caught at the last entries. Charlotte (Landers) and James Douglas, her parents. They had died when she was only three, and she had lived here at the ranch with Gram ever since. She really had no recollection of them other than the photos Gram kept in an album. She only hazily remembered how sad her gram was for the longest time, having lost her only daughter. Below their names was hers, Jacy Elizabeth Douglas, named after both her parents. Written in her gram’s hand was her birth date—July 13, 1990.

When Gram saw where her gaze was, she carefully turned a few pages back to the beginning of the family history. “If what Fulton said has any truth to it, the law would have been written back in the homestead days.”

Jacy pointed to the second group of entries at the top of the first page where two children were listed. “I can read the name Sissy Brown, and her birth and death, but what’s the other name above b1857, d1877?”

Her gram tilted the book and looked closely. “It looks like Billy.”

“Why is it scratched through?”

“Not sure.” Gram’s forehead winkled in thought, her finger sliding over the dates. “Someone apparently tried to erase him from the family tree.” She looked up at Jacy. “Maybe if there was an outlaw in our ancestry, it was him and others in the family wanted no one to know.” Although she tried to keep it light, Jacy could hear the worry in her gram’s voice.

“I’ll start going through old law records tomorrow. If there ever was a law on land confiscation, I’ll find it and trace it to the present.”

“Oh, honey, you’re already looking for information on the deed. Plus, you have your law practice.”

Jacy gave a soft snort. “There’s not much in Stone needing legal assistance at the moment. Besides, I met someone today; a writer who is researching history and outlaws, and he just might be interested in this time period. Perhaps I can get him to focus on finding information about Billy Brown, just to be sure.”

Gram looked at her with surprise, spun around, and hurried over to her recliner where she snatched up a book. “It wouldn’t happen to be him, would it?” She held the book up in front of Jacy’s nose.

Jacy stepped back, taking the book and lowering it to bring the back-cover jacket into focus. There, staring back at her with that sexy I-can-be-yours look, was Charlie.

“How did you know?”

“Maxine called, and he’s staying at the hotel. It’s so exciting, having a well-known author visit us.”

“I didn’t know who he was.”

Gram tsked. “I keep telling you to read his books. He’s very good.”

Jacy had an instant picture of dark bedroom eyes and a wide sensual mouth, and then wondered just how good that might be.

“We’re going to invite him to our next book club meeting, even though Lucille at the library already has the agenda. I mean, it’s not every day someone that famous comes to town.”

Her gram was clearly besotted by the man. Jacy gave her a hug. “I’m calling it a night unless there’s something you need me to do.”

“No, dear. You go ahead. I’m going to make out a grocery list.” She headed back to the kitchen.

“Be sure you lock up. I don’t trust Fulton not to come sniffing around again.”

“Yes, dear. Good night.”

When her gram disappeared around the corner, Jacy turned to the book shelves, quickly finding what she wanted. Feeling like a teenager hiding a copy of Playgirl under her ...

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