Rogue's Revenge - By Gail MacMillan
Allison and her mother followed the pallbearers and coffin out onto the church steps and she saw him for the first time in over a dozen years. Standing alone in the fog beside the waiting hearse, his field coat and Snowy River hat filmed with mist, he brought memories stabbing like a knife blade back into her heart.
Why did he come? He knew I’d be here. Doesn’t he have any shame? Couldn’t he leave me in peace today of all days?
The last time she’d seen him he’d been a lanky teenager in faded jeans and black leather jacket, a rude comeback always ready on his lips, a defiant challenge in his tawny eyes.
But during her years of absence he’d filled out. The open jacket didn’t hide broad shoulders and a lean, firm torso. Beneath it he wore a faded green shirt, with khaki bush pants below. His boots were scuffed and muddy.
Gramps didn’t change him. Heath Oakes is still a hoodlum who doesn’t even know how to dress for the funeral of the man who was like a father to him.
When he looked in her direction, Alison knew his attitude toward her hadn’t altered, either. The moment he recognized her, his mouth curled into a deprecating smirk. He let the power of his feral gaze roam over her. Then he pulled off his hat and strode up the church steps two at a time to assist the pallbearers struggling to get her grandfather’s coffin down the narrow wooden stairway of the century-old country church. Seizing the brass handle on the rear left side, he swung the casket about as easily as Allison recalled he could turn a canoe in the river’s current.
“Dad was right,” Allison heard her mother breathe. “He said Heath was a man who knew how to take charge.”
Myra Armstrong squared her slender shoulders and, with Allison by her side, led the mourners down the church steps behind her father’s casket. In her black Italian trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, she was the epitome of quiet elegance. She moved with an easy, self-assured grace that came from years of practice and well-received results. The few tiny lines at the corners of her soft green eyes suggested an age little more than that of Allison’s older sister if she’d had one. Once, when Allison and Myra had been visiting a horse-breeding farm in search of a new hunter, Allison had overheard one of the grooms refer to Myra as a classy broad. That said it all.
Allison pulled herself back to the moment and joined her mother as Jack Adams’ friends and neighbors surrounded them. One by one they shook hands, offered their condolences, got into their vehicles, and drove out of the mist-shrouded country churchyard. They’d been informed during the funeral service that the graveside ceremony was for family only. Allison, Myra, the undertaker, and Heath were left standing in the thickening fog at the back of the hearse.
“Well.” Myra forced a smile. She swept it wide enough to include Heath and the austere man in black, as well as her daughter. “Shall we go? Heath, will you drive with us?”
“Thanks, Mrs. Armstrong, but I have my own vehicle.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of a battered old canvas-topped Jeep parked a short distance off in the mist. “I’ll meet you there.”
He slapped his hat back over the dark blond hair that curled below his ears and shot Allison another critical head-to-toe appraisal.
You can’t make me squirm, you bit of back-street trash. You won’t.
She stuck out her chin and faced him with what she hoped was an appearance of absolute disdain.
But as their gazes met, her resolve faltered. Why had he grown up to be such eye candy? Why couldn’t he have been as ugly as his parting shot at her all those years ago? The rugged outdoorsman face, bronzed by sun and wind, had the firm jaw lines, high cheekbones, and intense untamed eyes that could easily send a woman’s pulse racing to triple speed.
On occasion, it must have. Allison remembered one of her mother’s wealthy friends describing her visit to her grandfather’s wilderness lodge and nature retreat, the Chance, where Heath was guide foreman and camp manager.
“Robert fished,” Candace Breckenridge had drawled as she sat draped over a chaise longue at the Armstrong’s Muskoka summer place, “while I found my pleasure with that decidedly delicious and heroic-looking wild-woodsman-type guide named Heath. Lord, even his name is earthy and wild! The minute I laid eyes on