Ten years ago Brett Bishop made a bad mistake...and paid the price. Now he's finally come back to the Nevada ranching land he loves. He's not asking forgiveness, only the chance to see his little girl--the child his brother is raising as his own. That's all he wants.
Except that's not all he gets when the new teacher moves to town. As if Claire Flynn didn't have enough on her hands with a school full of unruly kids, now she can't seem to leave him alone. But Brett won't let Claire help him reclaim a place in his family.
And he doesn't deserve the special place she's carving out for him in her heart.
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February 11, 2008
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Excerpt from The Brother Returns by Jeannie Watt
No one expected Claire Flynn to last long in Barlow Ridge. Even Claire had her doubts about making the transition to life in the tiny Nevada community, but she had sworn to herself that no matter how great the emergency or how dire the circumstances, she would not ask for help. It was a matter of pride.
And now here she was, going in search of help. Drat.
She trudged up the rickety wooden steps leading to Brett Bishop's front door. Technically he was her landlord and therefore the logical person to help her with domestic emergencies. But he was also her sister's new brother-in-law, and a bit of an enigma. An interesting combination, Claire mused as she raised her hand to knock on his weathered kitchen door. It opened before her knuckles touched wood.
Brett did not look pleased to see her, but then he never looked too pleased about anything. That enigma thing. Claire enjoyed enigmas.
"There's a snake in my house."
His brown eyes became even more guarded than usual. "What kind of snake?"
"Grayish, no markings, maybe twelve to eighteen inches long. Very fast and uncooperative."
It had scared the daylights out of her when she'd moved a box and found it curled up in a corner. The feeling had apparently been mutual, since the creature had shot off toward the washing machine before Claire's feet were back on the ground. It was then that she'd decided to go for reinforcements. If her computer had been connected to the Internet, she might have done some quick research on snake removal, but it wasn't, so she took the coward's way out. When she'd made her vow of independence, she hadn't factored in reptiles.
Brett regarded her for a moment, his mouth flattening exactly the way it had when she'd made the mistake of flirting with him during their wedding-duty dance just over a year ago. And then he gave his dark head a fatalistic shake.
"Let's go see what you've got," he said.
WHEN CLAIRE FLYNN SMILED, she looked like she knew a secret, and if you treated her right she might just tell you what it was. Brett did not want to know Claire's secrets. He'd had enough secrets for one lifetime.
He stepped out onto the porch, preparing himself for the inevitable. His brother, Will, had asked him to give Claire a hand when necessary, and Brett had agreed, but he hadn't anticipated snake removal as one of the services required.
"I appreciate this," Claire said as he pulled the door shut behind him.
"No problem." But he did wonder how much more help she was going to need before her year of teaching was over. And he also wondered just how well she was going to fit into this small community, with her choppy blond hair and trendy clothing. Not many women in Barlow Ridge wore skirts that clung and swirled, strap-py tops or flimsy sandals. In fact, none of them did. He imagined the locals were going to have a fine old time discussing her.
Claire walked briskly beside Brett as they left the homestead house and headed across the field toward the single-wide trailer she was now calling home. The field had just been mowed and baled with third-cutting alfalfa, so although the walking was easy, he expected the hay stubble was probably scratching up Claire's bare ankles pretty good. She didn't say a word, though, which kind of surprised him.
And she hadn't whined about the condition of the trailer--the only place to rent in Barlow Ridge--which happened to sit on the edge of his hay field. Another surprise. The previous teacher to rent it, a guy named Nelson, had registered at least a complaint a day.
"Where'd you last see the snake?" Brett asked when they were a few yards from the house. Dark clouds were moving in from the south. The evening thunderstorm was brewing early today and Brett hoped he'd be able to get rid of the snake and return home before lightning began to strike.
"It went behind the washer."
Brett grimaced. Nothing like moving a heavy major appliance with his worst nightmare lurking behind it.
Claire opened the trailer door and stood back. The interior smelled of industrial-strength cleanser. Brett wheezed as the stringent odor hit his nostrils. "You know," he said, "if you just close the door and give the snake a little time, it'll probably pass out from the fumes."
He sucked in a breath of fresh air, then stepped inside and headed down the hall to a narrow alcove where the washer was installed. Claire was close behind him. He grabbed a broom propped against the wall and handed it to her before taking hold of the washer, keeping his feet as far away as possible.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" she asked, lifting the broom, a clunky wooden bracelet sliding down her arm in the process. Who cleaned house wearing a bracelet?
Brett took a firm hold and started rocking the appliance toward him, fully expecting the snake to shoot straight up his pant leg at any moment.