Can she forgive the betrayal of the past?
He was her first love . . . and her first lesson in betrayal.
Savannah beaumont once loved Travis McCord with all the intensity of adolescence. And one summer night she'd believed he loved her, too. But the light of day brought with it the truth -- Travis was gone, leaving Savannah feeling like a fool. Nine years later, she's still telling herself she despises Travis McCord.
Now Travis has returned to the Beaumonts' California horse ranch and Savannah is determined to keep him at a distance. But deception has many faces, and Travis is asking for her trust to help reveal secrets hidden within her own family. Can she forgive the betrayal of the past -- or deny the desire that still smolders them?
About the Author
Known for mixing sizzling romance with spine-tingling suspense, Lisa Jackson is the bestselling author of more than eighty books, including Left to Die, Absolute Fear, and Shiver, as well as the Colony series with co-author Nancy Bush, her sister. Lisa Jackson’s novels are published in twenty languages and have appeared on bestseller lists around the world.
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Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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Chapter OneBeaumont Breeding Farm - Summer
Savannah slowed the mare to a walk and patted Mattie's sweating neck. Her breath was as short as that of the mare; the sprint through the open pastures had been exhilarating. A soft breeze rustled through the branches of trees along the fence and made the July afternoon tolerable as it cooled the trickle of sweat running down her back. She pushed her black hair away from her face and squinted against the hot sun in the northern California sky.
"I guess it's time to go back home," she said reluctantly as she reined the mare toward the gate at the far end of the field. Mattie flicked her ears forward expectantly.
Looking east, Savannah noticed a tall broad-shouldered figure near the gate. She squinted as she approached and tried to place the man repairing the sagging fence. Must be a new hired hand, she thought idly, fascinated nonetheless.
She pulled Mattie up short, several yards away from the man, and waited in the dappled shade of an old apple tree. Unable to get through the gate until he was finished with his work, she leaned back in the saddle and observed him.
He was wearing only dusty jeans and boots. His shirt had been tossed over a post, and his deeply muscled back, tanned and glistening with sweat, wasstraining as he stretched the heavy wire around a new wooden fence post.
I wonder where Dad found him, Savannah mused, admiring the play of rippling muscles and straining tendons of his shoulders and back as he worked. His hair was dark with sweat, and the worn fabric of his jeans stretched taut over lean hips and muscular thighs.
"That should do it," he said, rubbing the small of his back as he straightened and admired his work. His voice was strangely familiar.
Then he dusted his hands together and turned, as if he'd felt her staring at him. Shielding his eyes against the lowering sun, he looked in her direction and every muscle in his body went rigid. "Savannah?"
The sight of Travis's eyes fixed on her made her stomach jump unexpectedly. Savannah urged her horse forward and stopped the mare only a few feet from him. "I ... I didn't know you were back on the farm," she replied, blushing slightly at being caught staring at him. It was Travis for God's sake. Just Travis!
His amused smile stretched over the angular features of his face. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he stretched his aching back muscles. "The prodigal son has returned, so to speak."
"So to speak," she whispered, her throat uncomfortably tight as she stared into his steel-gray eyes. The same gray eyes she'd seen most of her life. Only now, they seemed incredibly erotic, and the corded muscles of his chest and shoulders added to his intense masculinity - a sensual virility she'd never noticed before. He'd always just been Travis, almost a brother. "I thought you had a job in L.A."
"I do." He leaned insolently against the post and the hard line of his mouth turned cynical. "But I thought I'd spend the rest of the summer on the farm before I get stuck in the rut of three-piece suits and three-martini lunches."
"So you're staying?" Why was her heart pounding so wildly?
"Until September." He glanced around the farm, taking in the whitewashed buildings, the rolling acres of pastureland, and the dusky hills in the distance. "I'm gonna miss this place, though," he admitted, his gaze darkening a bit as it rested on the scampering, long-legged foals in the next field.
"And we'll all miss you," Savannah replied, wondering at the unusual huskiness in her voice.
Travis's head jerked up and he stared at her for a moment. His brows drew together in concentration before he cleared his throat. "Not much to miss, really," he argued. "I haven't been around much."
"That's what happens when you go to school to become a politician."
"Lawyer," he corrected.
Savannah shrugged. "That's not the way I heard it. Dad is already planning a future for you in politics." She cocked her head to the side and smiled. "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if someday you become a senator or something."
"Not on your life, lady!" Travis let out a hollow laugh, but his gray eyes turned stone cold. "Your old man is always scheming, Savannah. But this time he's gone too far." He reached to the ground and picked up a bottle of beer that had been hidden in the dry grass.
"But your father -"
"Was a senator from Colorado, and now according to the press, the old man might not have been as lily-white as the voters thought." Travis scowled, swore under his breath and kicked at the fence post with the toe of his boot. "But then you already knew that." Eyeing her over the top of the bottle, he lifted his chin and took a long swallow of beer, then tossed the empty bottle to the ground. With a sound of disgust, he wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and then raked tense fingers through his hair in frustration. "It seems to be the popular thing to do these days, digging up the dirt on dead politicians."
Savannah didn't know what to say, so she looked away and tried not to notice the way the afternoon sun played in Travis's rich, chestnut-colored hair. Tried not to notice the ripple of his shoulder muscles as he shoveled a last scoop of dirt around the post, or the fact that the curling hairs over his chest were dark with sweat and accentuated the flat contour of his abdomen.
"I can't worry about it, anyway. What's done is done. Right?"
"Right." He looked up at her again and she couldn't help but stare at his mouth. Thin lips curved slightly downward in vexation as he noticed the intensity of her gaze.
He pretended interest in his work and avoided her eyes. "Still going with that boy ... David what's-his-name?" he asked.
"Crandall. And no."
She lifted one shoulder and shifted uncomfortably in the saddle. For the first time since she could remember, she didn't like Travis poking his nose into her private life. "I don't know. It just didn't work out."
His jaw tightened a bit. "Want to talk about it?"
"No, uh, I don't think so."
"You used to tell me whatever was on your mind."
"Yeah, but I was just a kid then."
"And now?" He slid a glance up her body.
"And now I'm seventeen." She tossed her black hair away from her face and sat up straight in the saddle, shoulders pinned back, unconsciously thrusting her breasts forward.
Travis sucked in his breath and frowned. "Oh, I see; all grown up."
"Just like you were when you were seventeen." She arched a disdainful eyebrow, hoping to appear more sophisticated than she felt sitting astride Mattie. Her T-shirt and cutoff jeans, wild black hair and freshly scrubbed face didn't help the image. She probably looked the same as she did when she was a skinny kid of nine.
"Seventeen. That was so long ago, I can't even remember."
"I do. That's how old you were when you moved in with us."
"You remember that far back?"
"Give me a break, Travis. I was nine, and I've got a great memory. I thought you were so ... I think the word they use today is 'awesome.'"
Travis shook his head. "I was a rebellious brat."
"And I was impressed by your total disrespect for anything."
Travis winced. "Reginald wasn't."
"Dad is and always has been the ultimate authoritarian. That's why I thought you were so ... brave." She laughed and some of the growing tension between them dissolved. "And now you're an old man of twenty-five."
"Yeah, I guess so." He leaned against the wooden post and crossed his arms over his chest as his smile faded. "And it's time to quit sponging off your dad and try and make a living on my own."
"You've never sponged off Dad!" Indignation colored Savannah's cheeks. "Maybe some people don't know it, but I do."
"He took me in -"
"And you worked. Hard. On this farm. For nothing. Just like you're doing now! As for your education, you had a trust fund. You didn't exactly come here as a pauper, you know!"
"Whoa!" He laughed deep in his throat. "I didn't know I had such a bulldog in my corner."
"Just stating the facts, counselor." She smiled and blushed a little under his unyielding stare. The warm familiarity that had existed between them just seconds before suddenly vanished.
Excerpted from Mystic by Jackson Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.