But Gene Pratt, CFO, CEO and world-class SOB, was treating her defection as a “sabbatical” after she’d invoked the obscure clause in her upper level employment contract that allowed her six months of hands-on management training at the PFG property of her choosing. A clause her father couldn’t argue with, since he’d been enforcing it for years whenever he needed to divest his company of troublesome managers. His response had been predictably businesslike.

Why are you wasting your skills in some backwater burg? This isn’t an acting-out episode like I’m suffering through with your sister, is it?

Acting out. As if. But she’d never gone against the grain. Never bucked the system. Never argued with her father.

Never stepped out on her own.

After she first arrived at the Split Rock Ranch and Resort, she worried Renner Jackson would call her father to send her packing because of her obvious lack of people management skills. But she soon realized Renner was swamped doing ten billion other things, including running his stock contracting business, so he turned the accounting over to her entirely.

It’d almost been too easy to slip into the role of ball-busting bottom-line financier. But it gave her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: she’d recreate herself. Shake off the remnants of boring, brainy, geeky, reserved Tierney Pratt and find out who she really was when she wasn’t her father’s yes woman. Find a new direction for her life. Because the truth was, most of the time for the past two years, she’d felt more than a little lost.

“. . . plans for Thanksgiving.”

Tierney grabbed the aspirin bottle on her desk—guaranteed she’d have a headache after this conversation—shaking out two pills and knocking them back with a swallow of coffee. “I’m staying at the Split Rock, since we have a full booking that week. What are your plans?”

“Since Europeans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect time to go to Barcelona to check out a property that’s nearly bankrupt.”

No surprise her father had figured out a way to operate during the holiday. Official holidays had always been just another day to him, or worse, an inconvenience that interrupted his work. “Are they searching for a buyer?”

“No. But when has that ever stopped me?”

A short bark of laughter escaped. “You are unstoppable when you get your mind set on something and you don’t see anything except the bottom line.”

The phone line iced over with stony silence. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

Crap. Rewind. The last thing she needed was to antagonize him so he hauled ass here and messed everything up. “Nothing. Only that I hope you allow free time to enjoy yourself. I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona.”

“I’ll take you with me if you come back to Chicago where you belong.”

She retorted sweetly, “Maybe you should take your newly promoted right-hand man, Steven the wonder boy, to Barcelona.”

Petulant much, Tierney?

A weary sigh. “When will you stop this nonsense?”

So he thought it was nonsense that he’d passed her over for promotion again? “I’ll stop when you understand that calling my career nonsense only strengthens my determination not to come back to work for you. Ever.” So much for not antagonizing him. But she felt . . . freer for saying it.

“Sometimes I do not understand you at all.” Another impatient paternal sigh. “Very well. Have your little adventure. You’ll tire of it soon enough. I’ll touch base with you in a few weeks and we’ll see if you’ve come to your senses.”

Tierney said, “Nice talking to you too, Dad,” to dead air. She tossed the phone on a pile of books.

Distracted, she stared out the bay window beside her desk. No snow had fallen yet, but heavy gray storm clouds hung in the distance. Before moving to Wyoming she’d never noticed how the time of year affected the color of the sky and the shape of the clouds. After spending hours gazing in wonder at the wide-open space where rugged, unforgiving land met endless horizon, she could discern some differences in impending weather. But it’d take a lifetime to catch the nuances. That prospect appealed to her more than she’d ever imagined.

Bang bang bang pulled her out of her musings.

Only one person knocked with that much authority. And arrogance. Mr. Tenacious would keep banging until she answered.

She took her time crossing the room. Wouldn’t want him to think she jumped when he beckoned. She peeked out the blinds to find those vivid blue eyes peering back at her. Eyes the same beautiful hue as the Wyoming sky on a hot summer day.

“Dammit, Tierney, let me in.”

Sighing, she flipped the locks.

Renner rushed over the threshold. “We need to talk.”

“How about in the office tomorrow morning?”

He stopped wiping his boots on her rug, peeking at her from beneath the brim of his black cowboy hat. “Why not now?”

“Because it’s my day off.”

“Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but there are no days off in the ranch business.”

“Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but this isn’t a working ranch—I’ve yet to see a single cow. And last night you put me in my place as far as the horses are concerned. Since we won’t have guests checking in until tomorrow, I’d like one day this week without a confrontation with you.”

“You threw the drink in my face, remember?”

“You deserved it, remember?”


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