Today's Reading

He'd probably take a ride to Big Bend and another to the coast and do a trek up to the Piney Woods in the coming weeks and months, but today, for now, he'd take the scenic route toward the little tourist town of Redemption. He'd look up Jackson and share the salient pieces of his story. Jackson would give him the space he needed right now. Plus, he could be counted on to smooth Tucker's way with the rest of the famdamly.

While Tucker had been waging war in Washington, Jackson had taken point in dealing with a family windfall, the inheritance of Enchanted Canyon from a distant relative. He'd overseen the remodeling of the nineteenth-century brothel and dance hall that stood at the halfway point between Redemption and the ghost town and former outlaw conclave of Ruin, snuggled at the back of the canyon. The cathouse had been converted to a bed-and-breakfast, and the Fallen Angel Inn had recently opened to great success. Many of the guests it welcomed came to hear music at the Last Chance Hall, which was Jackson's pet project.

Jackson was the perfect person to run interference for Tucker. No stranger to turmoil after a contentious divorce and child custody fight, he would be a sympathetic ear for whatever parts of Tucker's story he wanted to share. And maybe, just maybe, Jackson could help Tucker find his way to somewhere.

So Tucker headed for the Hill Country and took pleasure in the ride through a fertile stretch of rolling plains along the way. The afternoon was overcast, but the temperature hovered in the mid-seventies. A mild breeze carried the lingering scent of morning rain. The cotton harvest was underway, some of the fields stripped bare, others white as snow. Fat Angus, Herefords, and Holsteins populated the pastures. Seeing them made him hungry for a good steak. A short time later, as he rode through a bottomland pecan orchard, he added pecan pie to the menu.

He would need to decide where he wanted to stay overnight before long. He could step up his pace and make it into Redemption tonight, but camping held greater appeal. Today's weather forecast called for a cold front to blow through around sunset, taking the clouds with it. It had been way too long since he'd camped beneath Texas's starry sky.

As was his custom, Tucker carried essential gear with him. He simply needed to find a place to build his fire and a shelter. In his mind's eye, he pictured the map he'd studied before heading out from Fort Hood this morning and reviewed the landmarks he'd noted along his meandering today. Bastrop State Park wasn't too far away. He could alter his direction a skosh and go there. Finding a vacant campsite this time of year shouldn't be a problem. Tomorrow, he could take a morning hike through the park, then circle around Austin and arrive in Redemption mid-afternoon.

Decision made, he took the next southeast turn, and a few minutes later, zoomed past a figure before he registered what he'd seen.

A woman.

A vision with mile-long legs and glossy waves of hair the color of rich mahogany that fell almost to her waist. She had finely drawn features: her face heart-shaped, her nose straight, her lips lush and full. A sleeveless red dress hugged her voluptuous curves, its narrow tab shoulders revealing the strap of a red bra underneath. Her full hips enticingly swayed as she walked on the shoulder of the road in a pair of red high heels.

No car was in sight. No house was in sight. No other human being was in sight.

Former Army Ranger Tucker McBride had just spied a long-legged damsel in distress.

Gillian Thacker was having a wretched day.

She'd had a fight with Jeremy, the worst they'd ever had. It had started out over a relatively little thing—wedding details—and escalated quickly. Before she knew it, they'd had the row of their relationship.

The trip to Bastrop for an arts festival and two nights at a historic B&B was supposed to have been a romantic getaway for the two of them, a surprise he'd popped on her earlier this week. She'd been thrilled. She'd needed both a break from work and to spend some quality time with her fiancé. The entire month of August had been ridiculously busy at Bliss Bridal Salon, the wedding gown shop in Redemption, Texas, that she owned in partnership with her mother. Due to her workload, in the past three weeks Gillian had had to cancel two dates with Jeremy in addition to her plans to accompany him to Houston last weekend for a banking industry symposium at which he was a speaker.

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