Rumors of a ghost cowboy didn't stop Jillian Brady from buying a rundown ranch in Cold Creek, Texas. When a mysterious horseman appears during a storm, she thinks it's the locals playing a prank.
Mitchell Crenshaw is a ghost. Murdered during a thunderstorm in eighteen seventy-seven, he's been riding the lightning ever since. Yet every time the storm moves on, he's pulled back in time, forced to relive the day of his death.
Unless Jillian can intercede and save Mitch's life, he'll be doomed to ride the lightning forever...
Cold Creek, Texas, Present Day
There he was again. Silhouetted against the slate-gray sky, Jillian Brady knew she hadn’t been seeing things a few weeks ago—the first time she saw that cowboy. He sat on his horse overlooking the ranch from Bunker’s Hill, calm as could be in the pouring rain.
Another flash of lightning lit up the land, followed by thunder a few seconds later. That was a close one. Likely this storm was here to stay for a spell. So why on Earth was that man out in the weather as if he didn’t have a care in the world? Especially when night was about to fall.
Who’d want to ride in the rain, and at night to boot?
The last time she saw him, it had been storming too. Strange. But even stranger than that—he was on her land.
The man was much too far away to yell at him. She’d have to go out into the downpour to give him a piece of her mind. If he was a neighbor welcoming her to the area, she’d say howdy. If he needed help, she’d be willing to give it. But he hadn’t come to the ranch house. He just sat on the hill, gazing down, as if he were God looking out upon His creation.
And that irked Jillian like nobody’s business.
She’d bought this ranch with her own piddly savings, the money she’d scrimped and saved over the years on her waitress’s salary and tips. The property had been secluded enough to suit her, as well as being the right price for her pocketbook. The bank had foreclosed on the previous owners, and Jillian had jumped at the chance to own a bit of land far away from civilization.
The house itself was rundown, but she’d been told this homestead had a history. All of the original buildings from the eighteen seventies remained, except for the barn, which had been struck by lightning and burned down a few decades back. No one had ever seen fit to build a new one, even though the foundation still stood not too far away from the main house.
In fact, this land hadn’t been used as a ranch probably for a hundred years. It was overgrown, aside from the yard around the house, and she owned it all. Forty acres was quite a spread. She couldn’t wait to explore it.
Rumors of the ghost hadn’t swayed her at all.
Her realtor had jokingly mentioned that this “ghost” had been the reason they hadn’t been able to sell the place. Jillian thought the woman had invented the ghost to add a bit of mystique to the land. But upon her visit to Cold Creek for supplies, she’d been stopped by a few folks asking if she’d seen him yet—the lonesome cowboy who appeared during thunderstorms.
Jillian’s eyes narrowed. That man on the hill now was probably a local, saddling up to scare the bejeezus out of her. Not even a few weeks settling in before her neighbors began playing pranks on her? Nice.
At that moment, she regretted not owning a shotgun. Perhaps she should invest in one. Maybe even a baseball bat. Right about now, she was mad enough to use it.
Grabbing her jacket off the wall, she’d barely pulled up her hood before marching out onto the porch and down the steps. It was wet, but nothing she wasn’t used to. She’d moved to Texas from Oregon. Nothing wrong with getting a little wet. Besides, that damned cowboy was going to get an earful. It was about time her neighbors knew she couldn’t be so easily scared.
But doubt ate at the back of her mind. Her closest neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Prichard, who were great-grandparents in their eighties, and one of the nicest couples she’d ever met. But that didn’t mean the rider wasn’t someone from town. It could be anyone from Cold Creek, deciding to give her a fright.
But the closer she got to the top of the hill, the more her thoughts plagued her. Would someone really take the time to come all the way out here on their horse, on the off chance she’d be looking out her window during a storm?
The man on the horse hadn’t moved. He was watching her. Jillian’s skin pebbled with goose bumps as she approached. Deciding to be civil until she knew the whole story, she waved.
The man sat on his horse a moment before tipping his hat. The way he did it made her heart shudder in her chest. Most men flipped their brim in a rush, if they did so at all. But this man, whoever he was, slowly reached up, inclined his head, and dropped his hand back to his reins as if he had all the time in the world.
His horse was gorgeous, a white and black piebald, apparently used to the rain, with its ears back and its head hung low.
Within a few moments, Jillian stood before the man and stared up at him. A bolt of lightning flashed, and she saw his face for a split-second. Rugged and handsome, he didn’t seem to be a mere prankster. His nose was straight and his lips full, set in a face with strong cheekbones and a square jaw peppered with stubble. He gazed down at her with interest.
“Hello?” she said again. “Are you all right out here? I...I saw you from my window.”
The man glanced over her shoulder to the house, then back at her. “You live here now?” he asked. His voice rolled over her, almost like the thunder had, seeming to reverberate every hair on her body.
She nodded. “Name’s Jillian. Jillian Brady. You live around these parts?”
The sad way he said those words had her wondering just what this man’s story was. If he used to live nearby, what was he doing out here now?
“I think I saw you a while back.”
Jillian nodded. “It was raining then too.”
The man seemed to heave a sigh. “I ride the lightning.”
“Come again?” What did that mean?
“I ride the lightning,” he repeated.
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t expect you to.”
Great. He was talking in circles while the rain soaked her through.
“Do you need any help?” she asked.
“Don’t think anyone can help me, ma’am.”
He chose that moment to dismount. Peeling the glove from his right hand, he held it out to her. “Name’s Crenshaw. Mitchell Crenshaw.”
She took his hand, and her entire body zinged as if from an electrical shock. But she couldn’t bring herself to pull away first. He was a tall man. She barely came up to his chin.
He withdrew slowly, and his palm grazed hers. It was all she could do not to gasp at the sensation. She’d been too long without a man. That thought had her blushing. His gaze was captivating, and she was hard-pressed to look away.
“Mr. Crenshaw, it’s rather cold and wet out here. Would you like to come in for some coffee? I don’t get any visitors, and I’d hate to think of you all by yourself in the rain.”
The man smiled as if her words amused him. “I’ve been by myself in the rain for decades, ma’am. Think I can manage. And you can call me Mitch.”
She knit her brows in confusion. He wasn’t that old. He was maybe thirty-four if he was a day. Perhaps he was teasing her with his choice of words. But the husky way he’d told her to call him by his first name made her want to keep him talking, if only to hear his voice again.
“My house is warm and dry.”
Why was she trying to entice him back to the house? She didn’t know the man from Adam, but if he didn’t want to join her for coffee, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“Sounds wonderful, ma’am. Maybe it’s about time I come in from the rain.”
He looked at the sky, then back to her. A shiver raced down her spine, and she swallowed hard.
“Don’t have a place to put your horse,” she told him.
“That’s all right,” he said, patting the animal’s neck. “Gypsy here is used to the elements.”
“Pretty name for a lovely horse.”
“Thank you, ma’am. But if you don’t mind me saying, we should probably get you inside before you catch a chill.”
She had to grin at his sincerity. “Oh, I’ll be fine. Been stuck in weather nastier than this. Come on, I’ll get you warmed up.”
Jillian walked back down the short hill and glanced over her shoulder. He followed her, leading his horse behind him.
The clouds were dark, but another flash lit up the heavens, sending a rumble of thunder all around them. She couldn’t help but remember what he’d said to her a few minutes before.
He rode the lightning. What had he meant by that? Maybe that was some rodeo term she wasn’t familiar with. Probably. Perhaps he could tell her more about it once they were inside.
It didn’t take long to reach the house. Mitch hobbled his horse on the railing of the porch and followed Jillian up the steps.
“Been a long time since I’ve been in here,” he said, his voice rumbling behind her.
He must have known the previous owners. “You were friends with the people who lived here?”
She opened the door and kicked off her muddy shoes, leaving them on the porch. He watched her and did the same with his boots. She had to smile at the hole in one of his socks. His big toe peeked at her.
“Uh...no. I used to live here.”
That shocked her. She left the door open longer than she intended, letting out precious heat. By the time she’d come to her senses, he was grinning at her.
Instead of being struck by his words, now she was struck by his beauty. The man in front of her was a vision. He’d taken his hat off, and his dark hair was wet, plastered to his head. The coat he hung up on a peg next to the door had taken most of the rain, but the tan button-up shirt underneath was still damp. It fit him snuggly, accentuating every curve of his upper body.
She tried not to look down his frame, but couldn’t stop herself. He was wearing a gun belt. Men still wore gun belts? Two revolvers rested on his hips, while his muscular thighs were covered in a pair of dark brown pants.
If she didn’t know any better, she’d swear she was looking at a gunslinger from a John Wayne western.
“You gonna close that door?”
His words snapped her out of her reverie. She cleared her throat and turned away, mortified that he’d caught her staring.
“Sorry,” she said, still flustered. “It’s not every day I see a man wearing guns.”
He looked down. “They bother you?”
“No, no, it’s fine,” she said with a smile. “Let me go make that coffee.”
She breezed through the living room on her way to the kitchen, but the moment she passed him, the undeniable scent of leather came to her, mixed with something else she couldn’t quite place. Perhaps it was his cologne. Thinking about it had her swallowing her pounding heart.
Maybe inviting him in hadn’t been her finest idea. She was alone with a smokin’ hot cowboy who claimed he used to live in her house. Once she’d measured the coffee grounds and poured in the water, she flipped on the machine and turned around.
By the groaning of the floorboards, she knew he’d followed her, but Jillian hadn’t been prepared for how completely he filled her kitchen. The man had been big outside, but he was enormous in here.
“So you used to live in this house?” she asked.
He nodded. “Long time ago.”
“Is that why I found you on the hill? Do you come out here to reminisce?”
Mitch pulled out one of her dining chairs and sat in it, running his fingers through his wet hair. Ah damn. The man probably wanted to dry off some. She pulled open a drawer and handed him a clean dishrag.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know where my manners have gone.”
“That’s all right, ma’am.”
“Please, if you want me to call you Mitch, least you can do is call me Jillian.”
He took the towel and ran it over his head and face before wiping his hands on it.
“Ah, feels good to be dry,” he said, closing his eyes. Lord, he was handsome. She tried not to stare, but she wasn’t too successful. He opened his eyes and caught her watching him. He gave her a slow, easy grin. “Mind if I call you Jilly?”
She reached for the other chair and plopped into it. If she’d remained standing any longer, her legs would have given out. Right about now, he could call her “hey you” and she’d be giddy about it.
“Sure, I guess. No one’s ever called me that before. It’s usually Jill or Jillian.”
He narrowed his eyes, studying her from across the table. “Nah, you look like a Jilly to me. Jillian sounds too stuffy.”
She should have been offended. She loved her name. But the way he’d called her Jilly in his raspy voice had her melting into a pile of goo. Damn. She suspected he knew it by that grin of his.
“Is that why you go by Mitch instead of Mitchell?”
He shook his head. “Just like it better.”
The coffeepot beeped to let her know it was finished. Jillian stood and walked to the cupboard to pull out two mugs.
“You take cream and sugar?”
“Black suits me just fine.”
She turned back to the counter and smiled. She’d pegged him right. A rugged cowboy fresh off the range wouldn’t take any less than black coffee. But that didn’t stop her from pouring the creamer into her own cup.
“So tell me, Mitch,” she said, holding both mugs as she returned to the table. “When did you live here?”
He glanced around the kitchen, as if remembering another time. “The seventies.”
“Oh you must have been a baby back then.”
He gave her a strange look then took a sip of his coffee to hide it. After he swallowed, he nodded, but remained silent. She noticed the way he wrapped both hands around his mug as if his hands were icy cold. How long had he been in the rain?
“So why were you up on Bunker’s Hill?”
He smiled and took another sip. “Still call it that, eh? Thought someone might have renamed that rise by now.”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Well, it’s like I told you. I ride the lightning.”
“What does that mean?” Jillian took a sip of her own coffee, hoping he’d start making some sense. It’d be a damn shame if this fine specimen of a cowboy wasn’t right in the head.
“It...means I’m always out in the rain. I ride during the storms. But not just any storm.”
“Only the ones with lightning?”
“Right.” His eyes twinkled over the brim of his mug. “This is good coffee. It’s been so long, I’d almost forgotten what it tastes like.”
“So you’re the one everyone talks about.”
He arched a brow at her.
“Folks around these parts. When I first moved in, the realtor told me they had a hard time selling this place due to the ghost cowboy who still haunts the property. That had to be you she was talking about.” She giggled. “They think you’re a ghost.”
Mitch gave her a long, hard stare. He didn’t laugh with her. The seriousness in his expression quieted her mirth.
“Are you all right?” she asked him.
“Think I might have overstayed my welcome. Thank you for the coffee.”
He stood and put his hat back on, making sure it was firm on his head.
“Wait!” she yelped. “It’s still raining out there. Don’t you want to stay until it passes?”
“I can’t stay, Jilly. I’ll disappear on you.”
She stood and looked into his eyes. They were as dark as his hair. “What are you talking about?”
Mitch turned his head as if listening for something. “The lightning’s almost gone. I’ve gotta go.”
He put his empty mug on the table and strode into the living room. Jillian trotted after him. He pulled his jacket off the peg and swung it onto his shoulders.
“Wait, I don’t know anything about you! You never told me why you ride the lightning. Will I see you again?”
He turned abruptly, making her suck in her breath. With his coat and hat, he was a menacing figure and sexy-as-hell. Her body took notice and responded by gravitating even closer.
“Whenever it storms, whenever you see the lightning, I’ll be there on the hill.”
Without another word, he opened her front door. The sun had gone down. It was completely dark outside save for the light of her lamps shining through the doorway. Jillian spotted his horse right where he’d left her.
He grabbed his boots on the porch and pulled them on. Jillian stood, watching him helplessly, knowing he was going to leave whether she wanted him to or not. But why did she feel so disappointed? She wanted him to stay. She knew her feelings were irrational, but she couldn’t help but grasp at straws to think of a way to keep him with her.
“Where do you live?” she asked suddenly.
He turned back to her, his face a mixture of frustration and determination. “Nowhere.”
His hand suddenly cupped her cheek. Once again, the touch was electric, and her entire skin buzzed with energy.
“Thank you for making me feel...alive again, Jilly.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but the words she’d planned to say died the moment his mouth covered hers.
Mitch’s lips were soft and warm—his kiss, quick and chaste. When he pulled back, she leaned forward, wanting more. He merely tipped his hat once more and gave her a sad grin.
“I sure do hope I get to see you again,” he said, his voice caressing her. “Very soon.”
“Wait.” Jillian followed him onto the wet porch despite her stocking feet. He didn’t stop but bounded down the steps and grabbed the horse’s reins. “Mitch, wait!”
He mounted up. “I’m sorry, honey, I can’t stay any longer. But look out your window the next time you hear thunder. I’ll be waiting on Bunker’s Hill.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“The folks from town were right, Jilly. I’m not what you think I am. But damn if I didn’t wish I was. You take care now.”
He turned Gypsy toward the hill and kicked her into a trot. And just like that, his form vanished into nothing, right before her very eyes.