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When widow Jennifer Marless wins ownership of the Split Rail Ranch in a twist of fate, she plans to renovate the property and sell it to support her son, Aaron. Instead, she gets more than she bargained for. The ranch comes with an unexpected surprise: handsome ranch manager Jace Thompson. Armed with sexy wit and a devilish smile, Jace is the last thing Jennifer needs in her life.
Haunted by past demons, Jennifer isn’t looking for love. Her primary concerns are raising her son and putting her life back together, one piece at a time. Entranced by her inner strength, Jace sets out to show Jennifer how to love again. Nothing is as it seems, however. Not long after Jennifer allows Jace into her heart, she uncovers a dark mystery that threatens their new-found love. In a race against time, Jennifer must uncover the truth or risk losing him forever.
“Ms. Marless?” A thin Oklahoma drawl crackled over the line. “Jennifer Marless? Are you ready for an offer you can’t refuse?”
Jennifer was weary. It had been another long day of dead end job interviews and she wasn’t up to another unwanted telephone solicitor’s call right after walking through the door. “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling. Thank you for calling.”
“Ms. Marless, I’m not selling anything. I’m Ben Reston. Have you received your letter of confirmation?”
“Letter of confirmation?” She grabbed the mail off the kitchen counter and flipped through it, remembering her son Aaron had drawn her attention to an official looking envelope encrusted with a gold seal when she collected the mail from him earlier.
“Oh, that letter.” She pulled out the buff colored envelope and tore it open. “Yes, I received it today, but I haven’t had time to look at it. I figured it was one of those fake sweepstakes. Courtesy of my dear old friend, Ed McMahon.”
“Oh, no, Miss Marless, this is perfectly legitimate. I’m proud to announce you are the grand prize winner of Country Dreamin’ magazine ‘Win a Ranch’ essay contest.’ You’re now the proud owner of the Split Rail Ranch in Spayde, Oklahoma, population 5,000.”
Jennifer hesitated. “Thank you for calling, Mr. Reston, but I’m no longer interested.”
“No longer interested?” Reston’s voice teemed with pompous authority. “You don’t understand, Ms. Marless, I’m not asking you whether you’ll take the ranch. It’s yours whether you want it or not.”
“Pardon me?” Jennifer switched the phone to her opposite ear as if she hadn’t heard him correctly.
“The ranch, plus the surrounding land, is yours regardless of what you may or may not decide to do with it.”
“But you don’t understand, Mr. Reston. I entered that contest on a whim several months ago. Back when…when things were different.” Tears welled in her eyes. Had it already been six months since Reece’s death? She swallowed hard and regained her composure. Something she’d had to do on many occasions since she’d opened her front door and come face to face with a police officer’s somber expression. “Pick someone else, okay?”
Reston let out a laugh that was half bark, half wheeze. “We can’t do that, Ms. Marless. The owner of the property is deceased and my company is bound by the stipulations outlined in his will.”
Jennifer glanced at her index finger, which she’d nicked while chopping onions for dinner when the phone rang. It had finally stopped bleeding, but still throbbed with pain. “Well then, just choose an alternate winner.”
Reston’s voice grew taut and twangy as a high strung banjo string. “You don’t understand, ma’am. Reston and Associates have put forth a great deal of effort, not to mention money, in promoting this contest. We simply don’t have the time or desire to repeat the selection process.”
Jennifer sighed. “I understand your predicament, Mr. Reston. But I have my own considerations to worry about. This is my home, not Oklahoma. My husband recently passed away and I’m not ready to pack up and drag my only son from a high rise apartment to some picturesque little house on the prairie.”
“When may we expect to receive the completed papers?” Reston pushed for an answer, effectively ignoring Jennifer’s last statement.
“Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? I’m not interested in owning a ranch!”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Marless, but you are the new owner of the Split Rail Ranch. There’s nothing to say that you have to remain the owner, however. You do have the option of putting the property up for sale at any time.”
The idea wasn’t half bad. In fact, selling the ranch could be her ticket for paying off all the business debts Reece had incurred. With some luck, she could probably make enough profit to set aside a nest egg for her and Aaron.
Jennifer sighed. “Fine, Mr. Reston. I’ll sign the papers and return them to you by express mail.”
"Star Ferris does a remarkable job of combining two strong personalities of her main adult characters and a very perceptive child with her quirky secondary characters and a bit of mystery and suspense to boot."
--Joni, TwoLips reviews
"The main characters are written strongly, made [even] more believable by the secondary characters."
Reviewed by RIP
Rating *** Stars (out of four)
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 202
Paper Weight (lb): 8.6
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