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SECRETS OF THE HEART
A Hightower Mountain Novel Book 1
BY JUDITH LUKE
After the sudden death of her abusive husband, Brooke Montgomery returns to her family’s Wyoming ranch in search of serenity. Busy with a client, her father is unable to welcome her. Instead, neighboring rancher and life-long friend, Adam Tower trots over from the arena on a horse belonging to her. Older now and still devilishly handsome, he disturbs her in every way. But more disturbing are her father’s evasive answers as to why Adam is training their show horses and living in their house.
Adam Tower has loved Brooke from the day she was born. The difference in their ages kept him from pursuing a relationship. When Brooke attended UCLA and unexpectedly married, he was devastated. Now eight years later, he may have a second chance, depending on how she handles the fact that she will not inherit the ranch.
Ranches bordering Hightower Mountain see a spike in crime. Within days of her arrival, Brooke is a victim of physical attacks and written warnings. Adam is determined to keep her safe. A trail of betrayal and deadly secrets lead them to a final showdown, where they lay their lives on the line to protect each other.
Brooke downshifted the white Mercedes convertible and came to a stop at the Montgomery Ranch Road. A warm glow flowed through her as she gazed at the wrought-iron gate with a giant ‘M’ in its center. She tapped in the code her father had sent her and watched the large gate swing open. After eight long years, she was finally home.
The road was a red ribbon of clay, snaking its way down the natural grade to the house and barns. Beyond the ranch buildings, the lush valley was bordered with snow tipped mountains. Before her lay the vastness of her family’s Wyoming homestead. Her heart warmed with the view.
Nearly a century ago, her grandfather had built the large two-story colonial home for her southern-belle grandmother. The brick exterior was enhanced with white trim and glossy black shutters. Blue spruce stood on each corner like stalwart soldiers. Cottonwoods lined the drive, spaced evenly like sentinels. Just past the house was the original barn. On the right, was the new arena and larger horse barns.
“This is your home. You’re always welcome.” Her father replied when Brooke spoke of her plans to return to the ranch. Over the years she had visited only a couple times for a few permitted days. Did she imagine an indulgent voice, as though he was forcing his enthusiasm?
Her mother died when she was barely five. From that moment on, Joe Montgomery kept her at arm’s length, giving her everything she wanted and needed but not enough of himself. Could it be he really didn’t want her to come back to live on the ranch?
Or was he still angry about her choice to stay in Los Angeles and marry a man he didn’t choose? Well, she hadn’t come to love Mike either. But he was dead, and she was finally free. Brooke pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. So many wasted years. A few tears escaped and slipped down her cheek, and she quickly wiped them away.
She shifted into first gear. Gripping the wheel, she breathed out a fortifying breath and headed down the drive. The gate automatically closed behind her. She parked her car adjacent to the brick walk that would lead to the back door. Before her was the original horse barn. The doors on both ends were open for a fresh breeze to pass through. Euphoria filled her as she stretched her limbs and breathed in the crisp mountain air. After a quick glance around, she opened the trunk to remove her suitcase.
Through the lilacs, she recognized the familiar horse trotting toward her from the arena. Brooke hurried to greet her father, but the pointy toe of her spindle-heeled boots clipped the ridge of the cement curb. She stumbled and careened across the drive into a lush lilac bush. She slid off the branches, landing face down on the recently watered lawn and wet gravel.
Embarrassed, she rose and looked around to see if anyone saw her flight into the bushes. She felt childish and clumsy—and now stained and dust covered. She rubbed her hands to ease the scrapes and tried to brush away the wet grass and pebbles sticking to her silk shirt. An errant leaf stuck to a button.
Brooke turned with the sound of footsteps and found herself staring into the smiling face of a much taller and more muscular man than her father—Adam Tower.
“Adam.” She could hardly raise her voice above a whisper. A thread of confusion led her eyes past him toward the new arena. “I expected my father.”
She swept the grass and dirt from the knees of her designer jeans and white silk shirt. She wanted to look nice on this first day home—at least look like she still had some money.
A deep chuckle rolled out of Adam. He tied the beautiful, sorrel mare to an antique hitching post positioned along the drive. Coming to stand near her, he picked grass bits from her sleeve and hair.
Adam was more stunningly virile than she remembered. The unwanted thought made her edgy. Tall, dark, rangy. She didn’t want to think of Adam in those terms. They had known each other their entire lives. His family owned the ranch next to theirs, the Hightower Ranch.
“Have a good trip?” His pun came with a grin.
“Nothing like a grand entrance.” She grinned reluctantly and continued to remove the small, wet pebbles from her shirt. Unprepared for this encounter, her face flushed. This was Adam. But the potent sexual package, picking grass from her long blonde hair and making her heart race, was not the memory she held of him.
Adam was thirty-five, six years her senior. As children, he enjoyed provoking and devilling her. She always took the bait, she recalled. Play slapping, pushing, and laughter usually ended the event. The smell of a freshly washed shirt with horsy overtones was a key to those memories. They wrapped around her like a warm blanket.
Towering over her, his frame was barely confined in the denim he wore so well. His self-assured mannerisms exasperated her own insecurities. Knowing who he was and what he wanted from life, he always made his own decisions, requesting nothing of others except honesty—even from her.
“Welcome home, Princess.” Adam smiled as he slid a pebble from her hair.
Princess, his pet name for her when they were children—usually in a derogatory way.
He could so unnerve her. But she remembered the constant contention between them—their relentless competition to win the prize, a coveted belt buckle, a trophy, a new saddle, the last chocolate cookie. Not this sexual magnetism flaring through her now. No, he was just Adam, part of her past life.
After the financial traumas related to Mike’s estate, not to mention years of spousal abuse, she wanted to fold herself into his solid body, have him hold her in those strong arms, and tell her she was going to be fine. Just like in the past. Just like when he held her while she cried over the death of her favorite horse. Just like he did at the county fair when he held her and told her the boy was no good, after flighty Kitty Jones walked off with her date. But they were not children anymore, and how could she admit to the terrible mistake she made?
“Where’s Dad?” Annoyed with her clumsiness and her uncomfortable attraction to him, she swept her hair from her face.
“He’ll be here shortly.”
“Isn’t that my mare, Sly?” The mare was her favorite from the time she was a small child when she watched the birth of a foal for the first time.
“Brooke, the mare is mine.” His voice was casual as he claimed her horse.
She thought she detected regret as he searched her eyes and reached for her thoughts. She stared into those soft, brown eyes until he gave her a caressing wink.
Brooke turned and headed to her car. His long strides made it awkward for her to stay ahead of him, while her high-heeled boots found numerous soft spots and stones to stumble over.
“Be careful with those city boots.”
His chuckle sent her spinning around to face him. “Don’t you have anything to do?”
Caught off guard, he nearly walked into her and grabbed her elbows to keep her from falling. Her senses bloomed with the scent of horse and man. Besides the musky odor on his shirt, his dust-covered jeans told her he had been working. A ring of sweat stained his light-gray Stetson as his dark hair curled around the worn brim.
“Joe saw your car on the hill. He’s with a customer and asked me to meet you. He’ll be coming soon.”
“Why are you here?” Her voice sounded blunt, rude to her own ears.
Adam took his hat off and ran his fingers through his dark curls. Slowly resetting his hat, his eyes caught and held hers. “I train your father’s show horses. Joe must not have told you.”
Fear rippled through her. Why would he be working on their ranch when he, his father, and brother owned twice the land they did?
Judith lives in Florida with her husband and canine administrator, Toby. In between golf and MahJongg, she writes. She called Colorado home for most of her adult life. When she bought two horses for her children to ride, she didn’t realize it would grow to a herd of registered Paint horses, lessons for herself, and training for her horses, not to mention lots of travel to shows. Driving to Wyoming to visit family and enjoying the wide-open land was the creative inspiration for the fictional farm community called Bantry and the mountain formation Hightower Mountain in SECRETS OF THE HEART.
The second book in this series, RETURN TO HIGHTOWER, is in progress and focuses on Adam’s younger brother Steve Tower and his lost love, Desiree Lorde. Both novels are stand-alone reads. She hopes to have it out by summer.
Thank you for purchasing SECRETS OF THE HEART. If you enjoyed the story, please leave a review on Amazon.com to let others know. You can contact Judith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Thanks, Judith, for sharing your story with us!
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