Gwen Worthington is horrified when the woman she loves commits a terrible crime. Fearing for her life, she flees Chicago. An office job on a remote guest ranch promises refuge, possibly even a new start. Minus her phone and credit card, but with a new name and hair color, Gwen heads for Texas.
Having recently lost her partner, Jesse barely makes it through each day. Despairing over the life she no longer has, Jesse agrees to exchange her native Germany for a three-month stint in the US where her mom’s horse-loving friend Gittie lives.
Gwen, now Nicole, immediately dislikes Jesse, who smells of horse manure and barely talks except to taunt her. Tempers flare when the first guests arrive and Nicole is forced to share her living quarters with Jesse. If only she wasn’t attracted to the blasted woman!
Annoying or not, Nicole falls for Jesse. Just when she suspects the feeling may be mutual, a revelation from Jesse’s past shatters that illusion. Nicole’s still trying to recover when a visitor from her former life shows up.
Can the two fake cowgirls save their budding relationship? Or will ghosts from the past destroy their one chance at love?
It had taken Jesse until well into the night to get all the stalls and the bad weather paddock shoveled. But she’d done it. And she’d gotten up when her alarm went off, even though it felt like she’d just closed her eyes minutes earlier, and fed the horses. As Jesse trudged toward the patio for a breakfast she didn’t want but didn’t dare miss, she noticed an unfamiliar car off to the side, partially obscured by the trees. Lovely. Two days ago it had been the vet, and yesterday the farrier. Who was it today, someone to give massages to all the horses?
Max was already at the table, and across from him, over to the side a little with her back to Jesse, sat some woman. She was blonde and seemed of medium height -- it was hard to tell. There was something about her that stood out, yet at the same time seemed familiar. The fact that she actually had a decent haircut maybe? Or the skirt and pumps, un-farm-like as they were?
Jesse slid into her usual seat on the bench, which happened to be almost exactly across from the woman and reached for the orange juice. Hand frozen in mid-air, she stared when the woman -- the apparition! -- smiled at her and extended a perfectly manicured hand.
“Hi. I’m ... Nicole. And you are --?”
It’s me, Jesse! The one you swore undying love to! Don’t you remember? Her hand fell to her side as she blinked in disbelief at the girl across from her. The girl she had loved at first sight those seven years ago and had never stopped loving since. Julia.
Gittie came through the double doors bearing a platter of biscuits. “Velinda is bringing the gravy. Oh, Jesse, this is Nicole, our new office manager. You were already in bed when she got in last night.”
“Hi, Jesse.” The girl across from her was still smiling, albeit somewhat perplexed, and Jesse blinked again. Office manager? And her name was Nicole? Not Julia, Nicole.
“Office manager?” Max, who’d snatched three biscuits as soon as Gittie had set them down, raised his brows.
“Among other things, Schatz.”
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here! It was a very long drive yesterday, but I’m eager to get started. Who will be training me?” The Julia-doppelganger looked around the room, clearly not sure what the hierarchy was on the ranch. “Will I be attending any classes or seminars during my orientation period?”
The more this Nicole talked and gestured the less she looked like Julia, and Jesse’s heart slowed down to a more normal rhythm. What the hell! Of course this wasn’t Julia. How could she even have thought it? Julia was dead. She’d died on that ski slope in the Alps. But this Nicole, with her blonde mane stylishly cut in exactly the same fashion as Julia’s and the same unblemished fair skin, did resemble her. Heck, she could have been if not Julia’s twin, at least her sister. She had the same carefully shaped eyebrows, the same ... no, her nose was a little different. And the mouth, too. Julia’s lips were fuller and her eyes were ...
“You okay, Jesse-girl? You look a little pale this morning.” Gittie, who’d apparently taken it upon herself to act as Jesse’s ersatz-mother, gave her a concerned look.
“Just tired,” Jesse managed to croak out, but thankfully it was enough for Gittie to shift her attention back to the Julia-lookalike.
“No, Nicole, we don’t offer any classes, but I will get you started. Now, that computer in the office can be a little tricky, but I’m sure a young thing like you will have it figured out in no time. As I mentioned on the phone, this is a small operation. Mostly we do package deals, but if those don’t fill up we also rent out the cabins on a nightly basis. Our first international guests arrive ... Schatz, what day is today?”
“Monday.” Max was more interested in the gravy Velinda was placing on the table.
“Thank you. Now, let’s see ...” Gittie was tapping away on her phone as if on a mission. “There’re six people arriving on Wednesday. Shit! Darling, are you working this Wednesday?”
“Sure am. Twelve-thirty till closing.”
“Figures. And they’re all flying in late, too. Oh, well, we can make it work. I’ll pick up the two flying into Austin, and Jesse, you’re going to take the van to the San Antonio airport for the other four. You do have a license, right? Jesse?”
They were all looking at her now, including the girl. “Yes, Aunt Gittie. But it’s in German.”