Marriage at Circle M (Windover Ranch #2) - Donna Alward Page 0,2

didn’t leave her with a lot extra at the end of the month. Besides, Mike wouldn’t be there all the time now, would he?

“I guess I should be going,” he remarked quietly. “I have a few errands and then, well, we’re a man short at the ranch. And the building crew comes at nine.”

Grace’s head swiveled back to him. “Building crew?”

For the first time, Mike really smiled. The effect was devastating, making her heart thump ridiculously in her chest. Darn him for being able to cause such a reaction simply by smiling. His gray-blue eyes lit up as he ran a rough hand through disobedient, coppery hair. “Yeah. We’re breaking ground for my new house today.”

How did I miss that bit of information? Mike Gardner, with his own business and now a home. Was the eternal drifter really settling down? Wonders never ceased, it seemed.

“Anyway, if you need anything, just call Windover.” Mike called the house by its rightful name, even though the now defunct beef ranch was home of Circle M Quarter Horses. “I’m staying there while the house is going up.”

Not only at the ranch but living in the house, too. So much for not seeing him, then. And for wanting what she couldn’t have. Surely she could stay immune to him for the short term, though, couldn’t she?

Grace’s hands were devoid of the white paint now, but bits of it still colored her hair. She pulled it back from her face, anchoring the twist blindly with pins at the back of her head. The heat lately had been cloying, and the only way to keep the tender skin of her neck from breaking out was to keep her heavy hair up.

She sighed, turning from the mirror and picking up the light cotton skirt from the foot of the bed.

The reason she kept busy—the real reason she kept taking odd jobs—wasn’t really for the money, no matter how much it came in handy.

It was, simply, to keep occupied. To have idle hands meant admitting how empty her life was. How empty it would likely always be. She only had herself to worry about, and that wasn’t about to change. And so rather than sit at home, frittering away the time, she worked. Keeping her hands busy helped her forget about the disasters of the past. It gave her less time to sit and think about how everything could go wrong in the blink of an eye. Doing bookwork for the ranch again would fill even more hours.

And she absolutely wasn’t putting on a skirt today because she was going out to Circle M, she told herself. The light cotton print was simply cooler than anything else she had in her closet.

As she rolled down the windows of her car, she admitted that extra money wasn’t something to scoff at. The vehicle was past its prime and had only been a base model in its newer days. She hadn’t had her air conditioning serviced, either, and the interior was sweltering. She pulled out, heading west out of town toward the ranch. The brakes squeaked as she stopped at the intersection to the highway. One of these days she knew the car was going to up and die without any apology.

The drive to Circle M was a pretty one. Now, in late August, there was a hint of gold on the cottonwoods, and the last cut of hay lay in giant green rolls in the fields. Depending on the turn of the road or the elevation, she caught glimpses of the Rocky Mountains, snowless and the unforgiving color of steel. It was, to Grace’s mind, an almost perfect time of year. Another few weeks and the temperatures would mellow, the leaves would start to fall, and everything would change from the dry, frantic heat of summer to the mellow, filling warmth of prairie autumn.

Turning north, she smiled at the pastures that had once held Black Angus and now held quarter horses, their hides gleaming in the sun, tails flickering at the flies hovering. Ahead, the main house at Circle M—Windover—stood tall against the azure sky.

It didn’t look any different from the outside. But everything else at the ranch had changed.

The barns that had once housed beef cattle now held livestock of the equine variety. Windover Ranch, as it had existed for over a hundred years, was no more, and in its place was Circle M. The disease crisis of a few years back had meant the destruction of Connor’s black