Denim and diamonds, p.1
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.1

           Debbie Macomber
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Denim and Diamonds


  Denim and Diamonds is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  2016 Debbie Macomber Ebook Edition

  Copyright © 1989 by Debbie Macomber

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Debbie Macomber Books, an imprint of Debbie Macomber, Inc.

  Distributed by Penguin Random House LLC.

  DEBBIE MACOMBER BOOKS is a registered trademark of Debbie Macomber, Inc.

  Originally published in paperback in the United States by Harlequin Books, New York, in 1989.

  ebook ISBN 9781941824115

  Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi

  Cover photographs: Lili Ana/Getty Images (pink roses in watering can), Johnny Adolphson/Shutterstock (background)

  debbiemacomber.com

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  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Dedication

  Ballantine Books from Debbie Macomber

  About the Author

  Prologue

  Dusk had settled; it was the end of another cold, harsh winter day in Red Springs, Wyoming. Chase Brown felt the chill of the north wind all the way through his bones as he rode Firepower, his chestnut gelding. He’d spent the better part of the afternoon searching for three heifers who’d gotten separated from the main part of his herd. He’d found the trio a little while earlier and bullied them back to where they belonged.

  That tactic might work with cattle, but from experience, Chase knew it wouldn’t work with Letty. She should be here, in Wyoming. With him. Four years had passed since she’d taken off for Hollywood on some fool dream of becoming a singing star. Four years! As far as Chase was concerned, that was three years too long.

  Chase had loved Letty from the time she was a teenager. And she’d loved him. He’d spent all those lazy afternoons with her on the hillside, chewing on a blade of grass, talking, soaking up the warmth of the sun, and he knew she felt something deep and abiding for him. Letty had been innocent and Chase had sworn she would stay that way until they were married. It had been hard not to make love to her the way he’d wanted, but Chase was a patient man, and he was convinced a lifetime with Letty was worth the wait.

  When she’d graduated from high school, Chase had come to her with a diamond ring. He’d wanted her to share his vision of Spring Valley, have children with him to fill the emptiness that had been such a large part of his life since his father’s death. Letty had looked up at him, tears glistening in her deep blue eyes, and whispered that she loved him more than she’d thought she’d ever love anyone. She’d begged him to come to California with her. But Chase couldn’t leave his ranch and Red Springs anymore than Letty could stay. So she’d gone after her dreams.

  Letting her go had been the most difficult thing he’d ever had to do. Everyone in the county knew Letty Ellison was a gifted singer. Chase couldn’t deny she had talent, lots of it. She’d often talked of becoming a professional singer, but Chase hadn’t believed she’d choose that path over the one he was offering. She’d kissed him before she left with all the innocence of her youth, and pleaded with him one more time to come with her. She’d had some ridiculous idea that he could become her manager. The only thing Chase had ever wanted to manage was Spring Valley, his ranch. With ambition clouding her eyes, she’d turned away from him and headed for the city lights.

  That scene had played in Chase’s mind a thousand times in the past few years. When he slipped the diamond back inside his pocket four years earlier, he’d known it would be impossible to forget her. Someday she’d return, and when she did, he’d be waiting. She hadn’t asked him to wait, but there was only one woman for him, and that was Letty Ellison.

  Chase wouldn’t have been able to tolerate her leaving if he hadn’t believed she would return. The way he figured it, she’d be back within a year. All he had to do was show a little patience. If she hadn’t found those glittering diamonds she was searching for within that time, then surely she’d come home.

  But four long years had passed and Letty still hadn’t returned.

  The wind picked up as Chase approached the barnyard. He paused on the hill and noticed Letty’s brother’s beloved Ford truck parked outside the barn. A rush of adrenaline shot through Chase, accelerating his heartbeat. Involuntarily, his hands tightened on Firepower’s reins. Lonny had news, news that couldn’t be relayed over the phone. Chase galloped into the yard.

  “Evening, Chase,” Lonny muttered as he climbed out of the truck.

  “Lonny.” He touched the brim of his hat with gloved fingers. “What brings you out?”

  “It’s about Letty.”

  The chill that had nipped at Chase earlier couldn’t compare to the biting cold that sliced through him now. He eased himself out of the saddle, anxiety making the inside of his mouth feel dry.

  “I thought you should know,” Lonny continued, his expression uneasy. He kicked at a clod of dirt with the toe of his boot. “She called a couple of hours ago.”

  Lonny wouldn’t look him in the eye, and that bothered Chase. Letty’s brother had always shot from the hip.

  “The best way to say this is straight out,” Lonny said, his jaw clenched. “Letty’s pregnant and the man isn’t going to marry her. Apparently he’s already married, and he never bothered to let her know.”

  If someone had slammed a fist into Chase’s gut, it wouldn’t have produced the reaction Lonny’s words did. He reeled back two steps before he caught himself. The pain was unlike anything he’d ever experienced.

  “What’s she going to do?” he managed to ask.

  Lonny shrugged. “From what she said, she plans on keeping the baby.”

  “Is she coming home?”

  “No.”

  Chase’s eyes narrowed.

  “I tried to talk some sense into her, believe me, but it didn’t do a bit of good. She seems more determined than ever to stay in California.” Lonny opened the door to his truck, looking guilty and angry at once. “Mom and Dad raised her better than this. I thank God they’re both gone. I swear it would’ve killed Mom.”

  “I appreciate you telling me,” Chase said after a lengthy pause. It took him that long to reclaim a grip on his chaotic emotions.

  “I figured you had a right to know.”

  Chase nodded. He stood where he was, his boots planted in the frozen dirt until Lonny drove off into the fading sunlight. Firepower craned his neck toward the barn, toward warmth and a well-deserved dinner of oats and alfalfa. The gelding’s action caught Chase’s attention. He turned, reached for the saddle horn and in one smooth movement remounted the bay.

  Firepower knew Chase well, and sensing his mood, the gelding galloped at a dead run. Still, Chase pushed him on, farther and farther for what seemed like hours, until both man and horse were panting and exhausted. When the animal stopped, Chase wasn’t surprised the unplanned route had led him to the hillside where he’d spent so many pleasant afternoons with Letty. Every inch of his land was familiar to him, but none more than those few acres.

  His chest heaving with exertion, Chase climbed off Firepower and stood on the crest of the hill as the wind gusted aga
inst him. His lungs hurt and he dragged in several deep breaths, struggling to gain control of himself. Pain choked off his breath, dominated his thoughts. Nothing eased the terrible ache inside him.

  He groaned and threw back his head with an anguish so intense it could no longer be held inside. His piercing shout filled the night as he buckled, fell to his knees and covered his face with both hands.

  Then Chase Brown did something he hadn’t done in fifteen years.

  He wept.

  Chapter 1

  FIVE YEARS LATER

  Letty Ellison was home. She hadn’t been back to Red Springs in more than nine years, and she was astonished by how little the town had changed. She’d been determined to come home a star; it hadn’t happened. Swallowing her pride and returning to the town, and the ranch, without having achieved her big dream was one thing. But to show up on her brother’s doorstep, throw her arms around him and casually announce she could be dying was another.

  As a matter of fact, Letty had gotten pretty philosophical about death. The hole in her heart had been small enough to go undetected most of her life, but it was there, and unless she had the necessary surgery, it would soon be lights out, belly up, buy the farm, kick the bucket or whatever else people said when they were about to die.

  The physicians had made her lack of options abundantly clear when she was pregnant with Cricket, her daughter. If her heart defect hadn’t been discovered then and had remained undetected, her doctor had assured her she’d be dead before she reached thirty.

  And so Letty had come home. Home to Wyoming. Home to the Bar E Ranch. Home to face whatever lay before her. Life or death.

  In her dreams, Letty had often imagined her triumphant return. She saw herself riding through town sitting in the back of a red convertible, dressed in a strapless gown, holding bouquets of red roses. The high school band would lead the procession. Naturally, the good people of Red Springs would be lining Main Street, hoping to get a look at her. Being the amiable soul she was, Letty would give out autographs and speak kindly to people she hardly remembered.

  Her actual return had been quite different from what she’d envisioned. Lonny had met her at the Rock Springs Airport when she’d arrived with Cricket the evening before. It really had been wonderful to see her older brother. Unexpected tears had filled her eyes as they hugged. Lonny might be a onetime rodeo champ and now a hard-bitten rancher, but he was the only living relative she and Cricket had. And if anything were to happen to her, she hoped her brother would love and care for Cricket with the same dedication Letty herself had. So far, she hadn’t told him about her condition, and she didn’t know when she would. When the time felt right, she supposed.

  Sunlight filtered in through the curtain, and drawing in a deep breath, Letty sat up in bed and examined her old bedroom. So little had changed in the past nine years. The lace doily decorating the old bureau was the same one that had been there when she was growing up. The photograph of her and her pony hung on the wall. How Letty had loved old Nellie! Even her bed was covered with the same quilted spread that had been there when she was eighteen, the one her mother had made.

  Nothing had changed and yet everything was different. Because she was different.

  The innocent girl who’d once slept in this room was gone forever. Instead, Letty was now a woman who’d become disenchanted with dreams and disillusioned by life. She could never go back to the guileless teen she’d been, but she wouldn’t give up the woman she’d become, either.

  With that thought in mind, she folded back the covers and climbed out of bed. Her first night home, and she’d slept soundly. She might not be the same, but the sense of welcome she felt in this old house was.

  Checking in the smallest bedroom across the hall, Letty found her daughter still asleep, her faded yellow “blankey” clutched protectively against her chest. Letty and Cricket had arrived exhausted. With little more than a hug from Lonny, she and her daughter had fallen into bed. Letty had promised Lonny they’d talk later.

  Dressing quickly, she walked down the stairs and was surprised to discover her brother sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for her.

  “I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever wake up,” he said, grinning. The years had been good to Lonny. He’d always been handsome—as dozens of young women had noticed while he was on the rodeo circuit. He’d quit eight years ago, when their father got sick, and had dedicated himself to the Bar E ever since. Still, Letty couldn’t understand why he’d stayed single all this time. Then again, she could. Lonny, like Chase Brown, their neighbor, lived for his land and his precious herd of cattle. That was what their whole lives revolved around. Lonny wasn’t married because he hadn’t met a woman he considered an asset to the Bar E.

  “How come you aren’t out rounding up cattle or repairing fences or whatever it is you do in the mornings?” she teased, smiling at him.

  “I wanted to welcome you home properly.”

  After pouring herself a cup of coffee, Letty walked to the table, leaned over and kissed his sun-bronzed cheek. “It’s great to be back.”

  Letty meant that. Her pride had kept her away all these years. How silly that seemed now, how pointless and stubborn not to admit her name wasn’t going to light up any marquee, when she’d lived and breathed that knowledge each and every day in California. Letty had talent; she’d known that when she left the Bar E nine years ago. It was the blind ambition and ruthless drive she’d lacked. Oh, there’d been brief periods of promise and limited success. She’d sung radio commercials and done some backup work for a couple of rising stars, but she’d long ago given up the hope of ever making it big herself. At one time, becoming a singer had meant the world to her. Now it meant practically nothing.

  Lonny reached for her fingers. “It’s good to have you home, sis. You’ve been away too long.”

  She sat across from him, holding her coffee mug with both hands, and gazed down at the old Formica tabletop. In nine years, Lonny hadn’t replaced a single piece of furniture.

  It wasn’t easy to admit, but Letty needed to say it. “I should’ve come back before now.” She thought it was best to let him know this before she told him about her heart.

  “Yeah,” Lonny said evenly. “I wanted you back when Mom died.”

  “It was too soon then. I’d been in California less than two years.”

  It hurt Letty to think about losing her mother. Maren Ellison’s death had been sudden. Although Maren had begged her not to leave Red Springs, she was a large part of the reason Letty had gone. Her mother had had talent, too. She’d been an artist whose skill had lain dormant while she wasted away on a ranch, unappreciated and unfulfilled. All her life, Letty had heard her mother talk about painting in oils someday. But that day had never come. Then, when everyone had least expected it, Maren had died—less than a year after her husband. In each case, Letty had flown in for the funeral, then returned to California the next morning.

  “What are your plans now?” Lonny asked, watching her closely.

  Letty’s immediate future involved dealing with social workers, filling out volumes of forms and having a dozen doctors examine her to tell her what she already knew. Heart surgery didn’t come cheap. “The first thing I thought I’d do was clean the house,” she said, deliberately misunderstanding him.

  A guilty look appeared on her brother’s face and Letty chuckled softly.

  “I suppose the place is a real mess.” Lonny glanced around furtively. “I’ve let things go around here for the past few years. When you phoned and said you were coming, I picked up what I could. You’ve probably guessed I’m not much of a housekeeper.”

  “I don’t expect you to be when you’re dealing with several hundred head of cattle.”

  Lonny seemed surprised by her understanding. He stood and grabbed his hat, adjusting it on his head. “How long do you plan to stay?”

  Letty shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. Is my being here a problem?”

  “Not in the least,”
Lonny rushed to assure her. “Stay as long as you like. I welcome the company—and decent meals for a change. If you want, I can see about finding you a job in town.”

  “I don’t think there’s much call for a failed singer in Red Springs, is there?”

  “I thought you said you’d worked as a secretary.”

  “I did, part-time, and as a temp.” In order to have flexible hours, she’d done what she’d had to in order to survive, but in following her dream she’d missed out on health insurance benefits.

  “There ought to be something for you, then. I’ll ask around.”

  “Don’t,” Letty said urgently. “Not yet, anyway.” After the surgery would be soon enough to locate employment. For the time being, she had to concentrate on making arrangements with the appropriate authorities. She should probably tell Lonny about her heart condition, she decided reluctantly, but it was too much to hit him with right away. There’d be plenty of time later, after the arrangements had been made. No point in upsetting him now. Besides, she wanted him to become acquainted with Cricket before he found out she’d be listing him as her daughter’s guardian.

  “Relax for a while,” Lonny said. “Take a vacation. There’s no need for you to work if you don’t want to.”

  “Thanks, I appreciate that.”

  “What are brothers for?” he joked, and drained his coffee. “I should get busy,” he said, rinsing his cup and setting it on the kitchen counter. “I should’ve gotten started hours ago, but I wanted to talk to you first.”

  “What time will you be back?”

  Lonny’s eyes widened, as though he didn’t understand. “Five or so, I guess. Why?”

  “I just wanted to know when to plan dinner.”

  “Six should be fine.”

  Letty stood, her arms wrapped protectively around her waist. One question had been burning in her mind from the minute she’d pulled into the yard. One she needed to ask, but whose answer she feared. She tentatively broached the subject. “Will you be seeing Chase?”

 
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