Tycoon Takedown

By: Ruth Cardello

Chapter One

Whoever said time heals was full of it.

Melanie sat on her bed next to her one bag of luggage and laid a shaky hand on it. She could admit that time dulled the pain. Concealed it. But it sure as hell didn’t fix shit.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her jeans and faded blue plaid shirt were as worn as her leather cowboy boots. Her straight brown hair was long and healthy, but hadn’t been more than brushed and tied back in a ponytail for years. She regretted not borrowing concealer for the telltale shadows beneath her eyes.

Why am I even worried about how I look? Because of Charles? It’s not like there is any chance our paths will cross. New York is a big city.

Melanie frowned into the mirror.

Forget him.

Focus on what’s important.

Her inner reprimand went unheeded. Images of Charles—or Charlie, as his sister called him—flooded her mind and sent her heart racing. On paper, he wasn’t her type. Fancy limos, expensive suits, beautiful blue eyes hidden behind dark glasses as if he worked for some top secret government agency. The two times she’d met him he’d looked as out of place in her world as she was about to look in his.

Who wears a suit on a horse ranch?

Wall Street multimillionaires, that’s who. People who need to prove to everyone that they’ve made it. I don’t need a man like that. Neither does Jace.

She raised her chin and studied her reflection again. I used to be beautiful. At least, a younger me used to think I was.

When she’d first come to work at the Double C horse ranch, she’d wanted to be left alone, so she’d downplayed her looks. Apparently I’m very good at it since not one man here has ever so much as flirted with me.

She was tanned, but not from a spray bottle. Her color came from hours of chasing Jace beneath the hot Texan sun. Almost as soon as he could walk, he’d wanted to ride horses—a by-product of being raised on a horse ranch.

Horses and ranch life were all her son had ever known. At five he’d spent more hours in a saddle than most people would in their lifetime. Everyone said he had a natural talent with them. Another reason she was glad this upcoming New York trip was just that—a trip.

For a while, she’d been sure she’d have to move. Over the past summer, her solitary boss had met and fallen in love with a true Yankee—as green as pastures in the spring. Melanie didn’t believe in love, at least not the romantic kind, but she had to admit Tony Carlton was a better man for having met Sarah Dery.

Melanie had worked as a housekeeper and cook on the reclusive horse trainer’s ranch ever since her son was an infant. Tony had purchased the Double C after a deadly accident involving one of his clients. He’d closed the ranch off from outsiders and trained his horses in seclusion until he met Sarah.

It’d been easy to dislike Sarah in the beginning. Nearly everything made her smile and she spoke fast enough to make a person’s head spin. She was also a strikingly beautiful natural blonde, with a figure that made men trip all over themselves in her presence.

Which may have been why I threatened to poison her coffee the first time I met her. Who knew she’d stick around and get engaged to my boss?

Fortunately, Sarah forgave as easily as she smiled and they’d become close friends. Over the years of self-imposed isolation, Melanie had forgotten how good it felt to have a woman to talk to. Her friends from high school and college had tried to stay in touch in the beginning, but Melanie hadn’t answered their phone calls. She’d been angry and ashamed.

And when she’d surfaced from that dark place—she’d pushed everyone so far away, she didn’t know how to begin to piece the friendships back together. So she hadn’t tried.