“Now or never,” Jessica muttered, lifting the receiver. Holding her breath, she punched in Warner’s cell number. After two rings, the call went to voicemail. She slammed the phone down without leaving a message. Classic Warner, manipulating the situation. Abandoning her was one thing but cutting off communication left her with only one choice, one the smug son-of-a-bitch knew she’d do anything to avoid: calling her father.
Over the years, Jessica had often wished things were better between her father and herself, but she had never wanted it more than she did today. Weren’t you supposed to be able to count on your parents? As she was brooding over the sorry state of her life, a ray of hope speared through the gloom. Kendal. He was one of her father’s two assistants. Handsome, charming, and smart with a sense of humor that Amanda, Grafton’s other assistant, lacked, he and Jessica had forged an easy friendship. It was as if they knew each other from another life. His devotion to Jessica was exceeded only by his loyalty to her father and, in some instances, even that took a back seat to their friendship. They downplayed their bond, though, so neither her father nor Warner suspected how close they were.
With a quick look at her watch, Jessica calculated the time difference. Kendal should already have left the office. She took up the receiver again and had to pause as she attempted to recall his cell number. It was programmed into her mobile phone, but she hoped she could remember it. After pressing the correct keys, his ringtone played down the line.
“Kendal!” she cried when he answered.
“Jessica! How’s life in the Wild West?” The sound of his familiar voice settled on her like a warm blanket. She smiled, despite her situation.
“Not everything I hoped it would be. Do you have a minute?”
“Uh-oh. Trouble in Cowboy Paradise?” he teased. When she didn’t respond right away, he grew serious. “What’s up?”
Jessica huffed a harried sigh. “What’s up is that Warner ditched me in a tiny podunk town in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s not okay! He dumped my luggage out at a convenience store like a load of trash.”
“Ugh! Where do I begin?” she groaned.
Kendal kept quiet while Jessica explained her situation. How Warner had been an ass all morning. How he’d refused to discuss the Cedar Ridge development with her, told her to mind her own business—as if a GRH Developments project wasn’t her business. How she couldn’t face another two hours trapped in the car with him. And how, when he stopped for gas, she’d come back from the restroom to find the Bentley gone and her bags sitting on the sidewalk.
“What excuse did he give when you called him?” Kendal asked.
Jessica bit her lip. “I didn’t call him right away.”
“Why not?” Kendal’s baffled question magnified her humiliation.
“I kind of left my phone and wallet in the Bentley’s glove compartment.” Her cheeks warmed with the admission.
“So, you don’t have any money either?” Kendal’s voice rose in alarm.
Jessica pressed her fingers to her temple, shook her head at the absurdity of her situation. “I found a hundred-dollar bill in my makeup bag, but I might as well not have it at all. I walked to a diner in town, but it turns out they couldn’t break a hundred. Which, of course, I didn’t know until after I’d eaten.” She leaned forward in her seat, propped an elbow on the desk. “And, just to make things extra bizarre, I couldn’t change the hundred because the bank was closed. So, basically, I have nothing. No money. No phone. No fiancé. Just stranded, out here in the Wyoming wilderness.”
“That explains the weird number on the caller ID,” Kendal said with a nervous chuckle. “So where are you calling from?”
“That part almost—almost—makes up for being dumped at a gas station.” Jessica paused, enunciated her next words for maximum dramatic effect. “I’m at … the Silver … Jack … Ranch.”
“The McKendrick ranch? How did you end up there?”
“I ran into them at the diner.” Jessica shrugged. She wouldn’t believe that bit of dumb luck if she hadn’t experienced it firsthand. “Actually, they offered me a ride into town earlier, and I turned them down. Then, Jared—J. J.—and his mother showed up at the café right about the time I was considering doing an eat-and-run. They took pity on me and paid for my lunch, offered me a place to stay. Well, Faith did. I’m pretty sure Jared’s not thrilled to have me here.”
“I don’t blame him.” Kendal snorted. “The way he feels about your father and Warner? Be careful he doesn’t kill you in your sleep.”
“Thank God he doesn’t know who I am, right?”
That elicited an incredulous laugh from Kendal. “How did you manage to keep that a secret?”
“I used my middle name; introduced myself as Jessica Grace. And I didn’t mention Warner’s name at all. The only thing anyone really knows is that I got separated from my fiancé on our way to Yellowstone. I’m going to stay as vague as I can so I don’t blow my cover.”
Jessica could picture Kendal smirking, shaking his head.
“Why wouldn’t you reveal who you are? Other than it being awkward staying with people your daddy would see ruined before letting them dismiss an offer he made.”
It irritated her when Kendal referred to Grafton as her “daddy”. At his insistence, Jessica called him “father,” but that word, formal as it was, didn’t feel right on her lips. She’d taken to calling him by his first name in her head and when he wasn’t around. It was more fitting for their relationship. Kendal understood how she felt. Still, she let his comment slide. She had a plan and Kendal factored into it. “Because this is my chance. Warner dumped me right in the McKendricks’ laps, in a prime position to wrap up a deal he hasn’t been able to. It’s the shot I’ve been begging my father to give me for years.”
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