As they rounded a bend in the road, her pulse quickened. This place was huge and creepy-looking. Sun glinted off a line of bleached white antlers piled in the middle of a rock garden. She noticed other heads of dead animals, the bones picked clean and hanging on the wood fence under a row of huge cottonwoods. As she looked at the house, she thought of the “big bad wolf” fairy tale and wondered if a kindly grandmother—or something a lot more dangerous—was waiting inside.
Jack parked in front and killed the engine. A breathless silence seemed to fill the air. Nothing moved. A horse whinnied from a log barn in the distance, startling Josey. Closer a bug buzzed, sounding like a rattlesnake. She felt jumpy and wondered if she’d lost her mind going along with this.
“Are you all right?” he asked. He looked worried.
She nodded, realizing she was here now and had little choice but to go through with it. But this ranch certainly wasn’t what she’d expected. Not this huge, eerie-looking place, that was for sure.
“I know it doesn’t look like much,” Jack said, as if reading her mind.
The house was a massive, sprawling log structure with wings running off from the main section and two stories on all but one wing that had an odd third story added toward the back. The place reminded her of a smaller version of Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone Park.
At one time, the building must have been amazing. But it had seen better days and now just looked dark and deserted, the grimy windows like blind eyes staring blankly out at them.
“Don’t look so scared,” Jack said under his breath. “My grandmother isn’t that bad. Really.” He made it sound like a joke, but his words only unnerved her further.
As the front door opened, an elderly woman with long, plaited salt-and-pepper hair filled the doorway. Her braid hung over one shoulder of the black caftan she wore, her face in shadow.
“Showtime,” Jack said as he put his arm around Josey and drew her close. She fit against him, and for a moment Josey could almost pretend this wasn’t a charade, she was so relieved that at least part of Jack’s story had been true. An old woman lived here. Was this the grandmother?
Jack planted a kiss in her hair and whispered, “We’re newlyweds, remember.” There was a teasing glint in his blue gaze as he dropped his mouth to hers.
The kiss was brief, but unnervingly powerful. As Jack pulled back he frowned. “I can see why we eloped so quickly after meeting each other,” he said, his voice rough with a desire that fired his gaze. This handsome man was much more dangerous than she’d thought. In at least one way, she had definitely jumped from the skillet into the fire.
She gave Jack a playful shove as if she’d just seen the woman in the doorway and was embarrassed, then checked to make sure the scarf around her neck was in place before opening her door and stepping out, taking the backpack with her. Showtime, she thought, echoing Jack’s words.
No one would ever find her here, wherever she was. She had to pull this off. She was safe. That was all she had to think about right now, and as long as she was safe her mother would be, as well. One week. She could do this.
Jack was by her side in a flash, his arm around her, as they walked toward the house. An ugly old dog came out growling, but the elderly woman shooed him away with her cane.
Josey studied the woman in the doorway as she drew closer. Jack’s grandmother? She didn’t have his coloring. While he was blond and blue-eyed, she was dark from her hair to her eyes, a striking, statuesque woman with a face that could have been chiseled from marble, it was so cold.
“Hello, Grandmother,” Jack said, giving the woman a kiss on her cheek. “This is my wife—”
“Josey Winchester,” Josey said, stepping forward and extending her hand. The woman took it with obvious surprise—and irritation. Her hand was ice-cold, and her vapid touch sent a chill through Josey.
“I didn’t realize you were married, let alone that you’d be bringing a wife,” his grandmother said.
Jack hadn’t planned on bringing a wife. So why had he? Josey wondered. It certainly hadn’t ingratiated his grandmother to him. And as for money … was there any? This place didn’t suggest it.
“This is my grandmother, Pepper Winchester,” Jack said, an edge to his voice.
The elderly woman leaned on her cane, her gaze skimming over Josey before shifting back to Jack. “So, you’re my son Angus’s boy.”
Wouldn’t she know he was her son’s child? The woman must be senile, Josie thought. Or was there some reason to question his paternity?
“I remember the day your mother showed up at the door with you,” Pepper said. “What were you then?”
“Two,” Jack said, clearly uncomfortable.
His grandmother nodded. “Yes. I should have been suspicious when Angus involved himself in the hiring of the nanny,” Pepper said.
So Jack was the bastard grandson. That explained this less than warm reception.
Jack’s jaw muscle tensed, but his anger didn’t show in his handsome face. He put his arm around Josey’s waist and pulled her closer, as if he needed her as a buffer between him and his grandmother. Another reason he’d made her this phony marriage offer?
When he’d told her about his grandmother and this visit, Josey had pictured an elderly woman lying in bed hooked up to machines, about to take her final gasp.
This woman standing before them didn’t look anywhere near death’s door. Josey had speculated that this was about money. What else? But if she was right, then Jack had underestimated his grandmother. This woman looked like someone who planned to live forever and take whatever she had with her.
“Since I didn’t realize you had a wife,” Pepper Winchester was saying, “I’ll have to instruct my housekeeper to make up a different room for you.”
“Please don’t go to any trouble on my account,” Jack said.
The grandmother smiled at this, cutting her dark gaze to him, eyes narrowing.
Be careful, Josie thought. This woman is sharp.
JACK HESITATED at the door to the huge ranch lodge. This place had once been filled with happy memories for him, because he’d lived here oblivious to what was really going on. Ignorance had been bliss. He’d played with the other grandchildren, ridden horses, felt like a Winchester even before his mother had confessed that he was one and he realized so much of their lives had been lies.
“Coming, dear?” Josey called from the open front doorway.
He looked at his beautiful wife and was more than grateful she’d agreed to this. He wasn’t sure he could have done it alone. Josey, so far, was a godsend. His grandmother was a lot more on the ball than he’d thought she would be at this age.
Grandma had disappeared into the musty maze of the lodge, leaving them in the entryway. Jack was surprised that he still felt awe, just as he had the first time he’d seen it. This place СКАЧАТЬ