This week we discover who interrupted Lance and Amber’s first kiss. Calvin Bascom and his Uncle Jeremy whisk her back to French Town where Amber’s twin Heather has given birth.

Enjoy the jigsaw, and keep those comments and corrections coming. I am fixing all errors as they come in and am grateful for the feedback.

Hope you had a rousing Fourth of July!

<<<CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

 

It had been a long time since he kissed a woman. But he hadn’t forgotten how. Amber had pressed her lips against his so shyly and hesitantly that he figured it had been a while for her too. Which was surprising. Unless the fellers back in Washington State were blind in both eyes.

He took his time, enjoying the contrast between the cold air and her warm lips. He didn’t figure this was a prelude to her inviting him inside. Not when she kissed him goodnight at the door. That plump bottom lip that she liked to bite had been taunting him since the New Year. It was just as plushy as he had imagined.

When he tasted the corners of her mouth they lifted in a pleased smile. Maybe with her eyes closed she could forget how ugly he was. His whole world narrowed to the contact between her lips and his. Then the door she was leaning against opened and he had to grab her to keep her from staggering backwards into the cabin.

Laura’s brother Calvin stood in the doorway frowning like the world’s most disapproving daddy. “Where the hell have you been?” he thundered. What the fuck? Was Bascom setting his brand on Amber?

Amber’s jaw dropped. Lance took his steadying hands away from her waist. “We went into Success for the Valentine’s Dance?” he said flatly.

“Why are you in my house?” Amber recovered enough to speak.

Calvin backed up. Amber followed him through the doorway her back stiff. She turned and held out both hands for Lance’s. He gave hers a squeeze. “Thank you.” She spoke clearly and distinctly. “It was fun. I’ll see you at morning stables.”

Calvin stood with his legs braced and his arms folded across his jacket and tie. He continued to scowl. Lance did not want to pick a fight with a bigger, taller man who was also the boss’ only brother. But he couldn’t leave Amber alone with an angry man. Not that she seemed scared.

“It’ll be all right,” she whispered.

“If you’re sure?”

She nodded.

“Goodnight,” he said.

“Goodnight, Lance.” She closed the door firmly. He went back to his truck and drove off home leaving Bascom in possession.

Calvin was the boss’ brother and the CEO of B&B Oil. A big fucking wheel in Denver. Lance hadn’t seen him since Christmas. What right did he have to demand Amber’s whereabouts? None as far as Lance knew. But if Cal Bascom was pursuing Amber Dupré, battered Lance Prescott didn’t stand a prayer against a man that rich and handsome and single.

* * *

Amber glared at Calvin. He and her brother-in-law Patrick were two of a kind. Bullies of the first order. She shrugged off her coat and hung it up. And repeated her question. “What are you doing in my house?”

“Heather gave birth tonight. She’s been calling you for hours.”

Her phone was plugged into the charger. Its green light winked at her. “You came all the way from Denver to tell me that?”

He shrugged. “I’m on my way to French Town in the helicopter. I figured you would like to see your nieces.”

Heather had had her babies without her. Early. “Give me a second to catch my breath.” She retrieved her phone and checked her messages. Both Patrick and Heather had left her voice mail and texts. Patrick’s had photos of three squashed, red-faced bundles of humanity. Her nieces. Her beautiful nieces.

All girls. Wow. Who would have believed it? Suddenly her anger at Calvin dissipated. “Have you seen the pictures?”

“Patrick sent me some.” Calvin took the phone out of her hand. “I haven’t seen these. They aren’t very big.” There was worry in that deep voice. “Pat says they are in the NICU in the Yakima City Hospital.”

That was indeed worrying. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was where they put the frailest newborns. She swallowed. While she had been sitting in a bar, her twin had been giving birth. So much for their bond. “Is Heather okay?”

“Pat says she’s tired and being monitored, but they expect her to go home tomorrow.”

Amber swallowed harder. “You’re flying all the way to Washington State tonight?”

“That’s the plan. Are you coming?”

“Of course. Only what about the stables? Your sister is due any day herself. I can’t just take off.”

“Carlos already knows. He’s called some guys he knows in Success to fill in for you. Grab your purse. Jeremy is waiting for us at the big house.”

“He’s coming too?” That didn’t sound like Patrick and Zeke’s father who disapproved of his son’s wives. She didn’t recall Jeremy Bascom hustling his billionaire ass to the Ridge when Jenna and Zeke’s triplets had been born. He had shown up eventually, but it had taken months.

“Yup. Put your coat back on. I’ll bring my SUV around.” He left without another word.

She threw a few things into a bag first. Calvin had no idea how just folks lived. He was another of these super rich Bascoms who thought their money made them better than ordinary people. But right now he was her best opportunity to make sure Heather was all right and to hold her nieces. She took another peek at the photos. They sure were cute. Cute and awful small. Especially for bear cubs.

A motor started and cut off after a few seconds. Calvin must have been parked around back. With no lights on the drive, except the single bulb on her porch, his vehicle would have been invisible. It was embarrassing to think of Calvin Bascom watching her and Lance necking. She wished they hadn’t been interrupted. It had spoiled what had been the best part of her evening. She could only hope that they would be able to pick up where they had left off.

She didn’t want to spend several hours in a helicopter with those two jerks. Calvin and Jeremy Bascom made her feel as small as Patrick did. It wasn’t just their superior attitude either. Why bears wanted to look like someone out of GQ mystified her. She was a true bear herself. She liked her men big and hairy. She plucked her eyebrows a little, but Calvin and Jeremy waxed theirs into smooth arches.

Lance was blond. She had no idea if he had any chest hair to speak of. But if he did, she was certain he left it alone. And his eyebrows were just normal bars of gold above his blue eyes. Probably before he had been injured he had been a handsome guy. But handsome was as handsome did. And she should remember that.

Calvin pulled up close to her porch, but he let her pick her way to his SUV carrying her bag and getting her new boots wet. He leaned across the passenger seat and opened her door from the inside. She was willing to bet that he would have pranced around to open the door if she had been one of those svelte clotheshorses he and his Uncle Jeremy liked to date. Naturally, pudgy Amber Dupré could manage without any courtesies.

* * *

What the hell had made him flare up at Amber? It was none of his business if she was getting it off with every hand on the Double B. Only she needed to recognize that now she was connected to the B&B Oil Bascoms, she had a target the size of the Double B painted on her back. There would be lots of fellows who would see her as their ticket to Easy Street.

Amber was a worry. Her life in the backwoods community of French Town had left her ignorant of the seamier side of life. Patrick’s wife Heather was unbelievably naive. Patrick had confided that she had not realized that a woman could get pregnant the first time she had sex. Which spoke ill both of sex ed on Yakima Ridge, and of her understanding. No reason to think Amber was any savvier.

His sister Laura thought highly of Lance Prescott. He was one of the many veterans who worked on the Double B and the stud. When he was in charge, Great-granddaddy Clive had always made a point of hiring veterans. Time was that Clive had a lot of respect for servicemen. And Laura had kept up the custom when she became manager of the ranch.

Yet Clive had tried to prevent Cal’s cousin Zeke from going to West Point. And his will had cut Cal, Pat and Zeke off without a penny if they didn’t resign from the military. Of course Clive had soured on military service. It wasn’t hard to guess why. None of Clive’s sons had returned from the wars. Neither had a good number of his grandsons. Luther, Cal’s own twin, had come home in a box. Clive had never been the same after that. For that matter, neither had Calvin.

Yet he and Patrick had continued in the Reserves. It was part of being a fricking bear. Without his weekend training, he would have had no respectable outlet for his primitive desire for mayhem and roughhousing. Zeke had it worse. Until he had been given a medical discharge, he had been career army and proud of it. Especially proud of being in Special Forces. He had had no intention of quitting just to get Clive’s legacy. But a diagnosis of PTSD had forced his hand.

Neither he nor Patrick had contemplated knuckling under to Clive’s demands. They were indebted to Laura who, in exchange for the executors setting aside the clause demanding their resignation from the military, had put aside her own challenge to Clive’s will. The will was more or less settled now that Laura had married and had babies on the way. Her life interest in the ranch would turn into true ownership the minute her twins were born, which ought to be any day now.

Which brought him right back to Laura’s husband. Steve Holden was also former special forces and one more of Clive’s secret descendants. The lawyers were still turning them up. Holden and former Marine Lance Prescott were buddies. Did Lance hope to emulate Holden’s big score? Was he looking at pretty, curvy, innocent Amber Dupré as his entry to the Bascom billions? Heather was family now, and that made her twin sister the Bascoms’ collective responsibility.

What in blazes did Prescott mean by dragging that girl to Hank’s? Had to have been Hank’s. There wasn’t but the one place in Success, Colorado where there would be a Valentine’s Day dance. Hank’s was no place for an innocent female like Amber. If ever a female needed a keeper, it was that little girl.

He turned his head briefly from the controls of the helicopter. The Colorado snow had disappeared and they were on course to arrive in Washington State by three a.m. Jeremy had instantly fallen asleep like the experienced traveler he was. Amber had been keyed up and had stared big-eyed out the window. Now she too was deeply asleep, her dark lashes two thick fans on her pink cheeks. She really was a breathtaking little thing. As cute as her sister. And just as unsophisticated.

However he never let his bear choose his women. Even if Amber hadn’t been family, she wouldn’t have made his short list. He selected his partners from the sleek, cosmopolitan beauties he encountered at his level of society. Women like the future Mrs. Jeremy Bascom.

Although, he didn’t recall seeing the lovely Tiffany Holcomb lately. Perhaps Uncle Jeremy had tired of her as Calvin had. Tiffany had only two topics of conversation. Herself. And investment banking. And she was ice cold in or out of bed. He had never worked out if Tiffany wanted to marry him or take a crack at investing his fortune.

Patrick seemed blissfully married to Heather Dupré. And Zeke and Uncle Gil seemed equally happy with their hillbilly brides. Their wives were built on the same voluptuous lines as the Dupré sisters. As his own mother and Jeremy’s first wife and Zeke and Pat’s mom had been. All the more reason to restrict himself to the elegant women he preferred. The sort of devotion that his father had felt for his mother was not what he wanted for himself.

By two fifty, right on schedule, he was touching down in Yakima City. It was too early to go to the hospital but they could catch a few hours of sleep at the hotel and clean up before visiting the maternity ward. Jeremy opened his eyes and was ready to go. Amber struggled awake, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She looked around at the dripping skies and smiled.

“I guess we’re home,” she said.

Their limo drew up. A chauffeur got out with an umbrella. “You first, Uncle,” Cal said. He turned and flipped down the back of Jeremy’s empty seat so Amber could move to the door.

“Thank you.” She looked apprehensively at the chauffeur and his umbrella but she accepted his help to get down and got in the back seat of the limo.

Cal shook his head at the driver’s offered umbrella. He needed to arrange for service and re-fueling before he left the airstrip.

He woke Amber when he got in beside her. “We’re set,” he told the driver. “The Bridgefield Hotel.”

Amber looked shocked. “Aren’t we going to the hospital?”

“It’s too early. They won’t let us near Heather yet. We’ll go check in at the Bridgefield and maybe get some sleep, eat breakfast.”

Her plump features set. “I can’t afford a hotel,” she hissed. “I never thought you meant to stay in Yakima City.” She sounded as outraged as if he had brought her to some den of vice.

Jeremy cut in smoothly. “Patrick would have my head if I didn’t look out for his sister. We have a suite all arranged. Doesn’t cost any more to have you stay in it with us.”

Which was a barefaced lie. But little Miss Amber swallowed it whole. Her face cleared. “Thank you,” she whispered.

It was as good as a movie to watch the way she responded to the best hotel in Yakima City. It was pretty run of the mill as far as he and Jeremy were concerned but Amber gazed around in awe at the lobby. “Are those flowers real?” she asked big-eyed.

A massive display of white orchids cascaded from a tall bronze pedestal under the chandelier. Similar plants graced the check-in desk and the corners of the room.

“They are.” Jeremy was at his most genial.

“Wow.” She looked down at the carpet and then at their bland expressions. All the joy died out of her face. He felt as if he had kicked a kitten.

He bent to her ear. “There’ll be more in the suite.”

“Really?”

He nodded.

“I guess you can tell I’ve never stayed in a hotel.”

“Never?”

“This is my first time.”

Which made him wonder what other firsts she had in her future.

* * *

The Yakima City hotel was amazing. It made the French Town Inn look like a hovel. It was big. The ceiling of the enormous lobby soared up to a huge crystal chandelier. There were enough sofas and chairs for every resident of French Town and then some. And orchids! Some greenhouse had been stripped bare so the hotel could be filled with drooping sprays of huge white flowers.

Her room was just as lavish. The dresser held the tallest vase of orchids she could have imagined if she had not just been in the lobby. These white blooms were dappled with purple. The room was both modern and opulent. She looked down. The gray leather of her boots was buried in the pale carpet. She didn’t know what to call this color which looked like smoke or the sea or clouds depending on the angle. It was on the walls which shimmered like they were covered in taffeta. And the armchairs were the same.

Calvin poked his head through the connecting door between her bedroom and his. “Try to get a couple hours of sleep. I sent Patrick a text and he’ll meet us at the hospital in the morning.” Jeremy had taken the room on the other side and vanished with a murmured goodnight.

Amber felt too stunned to be polite but she nodded. “Thank you. Goodnight.” She shut and latched the door.

Despite napping in the helicopter, she was worn to the bone. Too much stress. First that bar fight, and then learning that Heather had had premature babies—without her. She needed to get into that huge, elegant bed and try to catch up on her sleep. Her toothbrush and stuff looked as out of place on the marble counter top of the bathroom as she did in the room. Marble! She peeked into the shower stall. For sure she was too tired to figure out how to operate all those jets.

She woke to rapping on the communicating door. The hotel had left a great fluffy white terry robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door. She got out of bed to fetch it, calling, “Just a minute.”

She unlocked the door. Calvin Bascom was looking spruce and well rested. She felt foolish talking to a fully dressed man in her bare feet and over-sized bathrobe, but she smiled anyway. One of them had been properly brought up. “Good morning. I won’t be but a moment. I just have to get dressed.”

Calvin leaned an arm on the door-jamb. His teeth were very white but his smile made her want to step backwards. “Take your time. We’ll go to breakfast first and then head to the hospital. Pat says to come around eleven. I only knocked on your door because you didn’t answer your phone.”

“Oh. It’s probably still turned off from the flight. I’ll be ready in half an hour.”

“Pat slept at the hospital. He says Heather slept most of the night, and the babies have gained two ounces each.”

That was good, wasn’t it? “I’ll have my shower now.” She let the door shut in Calvin’s surprised face. Probably he hadn’t expected their conversation to be over. But she was not used to standing talking to strange men wearing only a bathrobe, no matter how thick it was.

She had missed a call from Jenna. Her cousin had left a message. Jenna was at pains to assure her that Heather was perfectly okay. “The girls are a little underweight. Good weights for dates, but the hospital likes babies to be over five pounds before they send them home. But their lungs are well developed and they are doing well.”

She was feeling a little more cheerful when she joined Calvin and Jeremy in the hotel coffee shop. The waitress directed them to the breakfast buffet, but Jeremy and Calvin shook their heads. They didn’t even open their menus, they just rattled off what they wanted.

“I’m going up to the buffet,” she told the waitress.

You would’ve thought she had said something outrageously amusing by those broad grins on the Bascoms’ faces. But she didn’t care. She had never seen such a spread in all her born days. There were three kinds of melon, and a bunch of other fruit she didn’t recognize, all laid out on platters that were almost too pretty to touch.

She filled her plate with exotic slices and went back to their table. The coffee had arrived. She would think better after a little caffeine. She couldn’t help but contrast the stiff discomfort of this meal with Calvin and Jeremy with the coziness of that impromptu burrito breakfast she had shared with Lance.

The melon was delicious, and so was the pineapple, but that pretty, white slice with its pink and green frill was tasteless. She was bitterly disappointed, but she hoped she was too mannerly to say so. She chewed and swallowed in silence.

Calvin chuckled. “Dragon fruit is pretty, but it doesn’t have much taste.”

“I’ve never had any before.” She pointed to some deep yellow cubes. “Do you know what that is?” She was not going to pretend to a worldliness she didn’t possess.

“Mango.” Jeremy patted his lips with his linen napkin but she knew he was smiling too. “You’ll like that.”

“It’s delicious.” It was. Sweet and exotic and almost melting.

“Go back up and have something hot,” Jeremy told her when she had finished her fruit. He and Calvin were still eating their poached eggs on toast. Which wasn’t anything like as fancy as the food they had rejected. Rich people were just a puzzle.

She fully intended to eat her fill. It was way past her normal breakfast time. She stood up and went to pick up her plate.

“Leave it,” Calvin instructed. “Department of health regulations. You can keep your cutlery, but you may not go back up to the table with a used plate.”

That seemed awfully wasteful. This time she had the young man in chef whites make her an omelet. She’d never seen anything as clever as his little burner, or as dexterous as the way he stirred the eggs around on top of the vegetables he had sautéed for her and then flipped them in the air to brown the other side. It did not however taste better than the western omelet from the French Town diner. Go figure.

The waitress came back and refilled their coffee cups. Jeremy relaxed. “I’ve got to make some calls before we go to the hospital,” he said. “Shall we be ready to go at a quarter to eleven?”

“That works for me.” The waitress came over with their bill and Calvin signed.

Heather wasn’t quite finished her coffee but she stood up with the other men. “Are we going to check out?” she asked.

They looked surprised. Calvin spoke. “We probably won’t stay the night, but it will be good to have a base to come back to.”

Everything about these guys was incomprehensible. She didn’t even want to think about how much it had cost for one night in this place, let alone dragging it out to two. “Thank you for breakfast,” she said pushing her chair back under the table. “It was a treat.”

“You’re welcome.” Jeremy’s smile was patronizing.

Calvin just nodded. She felt patronized by him too. But these Bascoms were her ride to the hospital and to Heather who needed her.

This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017

CHAPTER FIVE>>>