Ghosts of High Paradise Ranch, Book 3
What the hell is this ghost trying to tell him? Hart Eastman has to figure it out or the poltergeist will never let him rest. As the new foreman on the High Paradise Ranch, he’s losing sleep, can’t concentrate on his work, and needs help – psychic help! At a suggestion from his ranch hands, he heads into town to seek advice from a new business owner, and Hart instantly focuses on her instead of on his spectral problem.
Master Medical Herbalist RosaLynn Bart has to laugh at Hart’s reason for requesting her assistance, but she’s not anywhere close to laughing when she experiences the cowboy’s sexy, quiet manners, his hot gazes, and his slow, relentless seduction. They find paradise in each other’s arms, but no matter how much RosaLynn is tempted to ask him for more, she must hold herself back. The secret she carries is too complicated to allow a man into her life. Especially not a keeper like Hart.
With the poltergeist’s antics escalating, Hart and RosaLynn grow closer. They begin to depend on each other and find their lives intertwining. But when the spirit reveals Hart’s illicit past, and RosaLynn’s secret becomes public, will these two lonely souls admit defeat or will they fight for their love against human and unearthly forces?
Hart Eastman shifted from one booted foot to the other, looking around the tiny Libby, Montana store called Roses, Herbs, and Healing. Bottles of oils and glass containers of herbs gave off unexpected scents. He’d never seen anything like this before.
A woman popped up from behind the counter holding a cardboard box. She spotted him and her whole body jerked, rattling glass inside the box. “Holy sh… crickets! I didn’t hear you come in.” Young, maybe twenty, her short pink and purple hair matched the beads on her eyebrow piercings. She gestured toward the front of the store. “We haven’t had a chance to put a little bell up on the door yet.”
Hart looked to his left, seriously considering bolting through that door and scrapping this crazy idea, but he stood strong. He’d driven forty miles for this, and he committed to see it through. Yanking off his brown cowboy hat, he nodded. “Ma’am. Sorry to startle you. Are you the…” He pointed toward a shelf containing glass pots of dried plants. “The herb lady?”
As she put down her box, she shook her head. “Ms. Bart is our Master Medical Herbalist, and she’s in, but on the phone right now.” The young woman came out from behind the counter, her baggy sweatshirt boasting a drawing of a marijuana leaf and the words, Legalize Cannabis.
Puffing out a long breath, he reconsidered his decision to not get the hell out of here. He fidgeted with the brim of his hat. “Should I come back? Will she be a while?”
“No, I don’t think so. She’s just placing an order.” The girl tipped her head. “Would you like a cup of tea while you wait?”
He could envision what sort of curious weeds this gal would put into a cup of tea. “Thanks, but no. Ah, I can…”
A click sounded from the back of the store and a plain white door swung open. “All fixed.” A woman’s sweet, high-pitched voice sang through the store. A second later, she appeared, about five and a half feet tall, her red hair pulled back, and wearing a white lab coat over her jeans. She handed the cannabis-shirt girl a stack of papers, then looked at him.
A moment passed where the air in the room grew electric, like the split-second before a lightning strike. Her dark green eyes reminded him of a deep forest, but her freckles gave her the look of a pixie. “Hi.” She walked toward him, stashing her pen in a chest pocket. “Has Bella helped you?”
The young woman wandered toward the counter, flipping pages and ignoring them.
“I’m looking for some specific help.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” The redhead smiled, showing slightly crooked front teeth that somehow Hart had known wouldn’t be perfect. She pointed toward the door she’d just come out of. “Let’s step into my office.” Turning, she walked quickly through the door, showing the thick, waving length of her hair in the pony tail. She waited for him to pass through into the small space, then closed the door, shutting them in.
He felt his hands fiddle with his hat again, and forced himself to stop. In just a few seconds, this woman would either laugh him out of her office or give him the cure he needed.
Instead of a desk, she had a round table with a wooden chair on each side. She sat in one, offering the other to him with a graceful flip of her hand. No nail polish, but more freckles.
Did those freckles cover every inch of her body? With a cough, he banished that thought and plopped down in the chair. “Do I call you doctor?” Not a great come-on line, but he’d tried worse ones.
Her gaze turned serious. “No, I’m not a doctor. If this is something that you would usually see your physician about, I’d suggest you make an appointment with them first to—”
“No, ma’am.” He hadn’t meant to cut her off, but now that he was really here, really going to ask her for this insane treatment, his brain wouldn’t calm itself. Running his hand through his brown hair, he effectively undid all the combing and wetting he’d done back at the ranch, and his hair would now be sticking straight up.
She stared at the top of his head for a few seconds before her gaze met his again. “Can I get you a cup of tea?”
A hoarse laugh blasted from his chest. “I must seem as jittery as a newborn colt.” He shook his head and took a breath. “Ma’am, I’m not sure if this is something you can help me with, but I’m going to ask you anyway.”
“Okay. You’ve got me very curious. I’m RosaLynn Bart, by the way.” She held out her hand across the table. “Please, call me RosaLynn.”
He took her hand in his, her small, fragile-looking hand, then she gave his a squeeze that told him she meant business. “I’m Hart Eastman, foreman of the High Paradise Ranch, about forty miles northwest of here.” He let go of her, but wished part of her medicine was holding patients’ hands.
“Good to meet you, Hart. I’m fairly new in town, but I’ve already heard of the High Paradise. It carries a solid reputation.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her legs, showing a pair of functional boots on her feet. Did she actually go out and pick all the herbs she sold?
“Yes, ma’am.” Hart looked at her. “RosaLynn.” Pretty name for an impressive woman. “I’ve just recently become the foreman, but I’ve been on the ranch for two years, and it’s a good place.”
“I’d love to see it sometime.”
Was she just making small talk? There was no way she was flirting. Was there? He hadn’t been on the dating circuit in more than three years, so how the hell would he be able to tell?
“Tell me what you’re here for, Hart.”
He’d been staring. Shit. This was going to be hard enough without her thinking he was only half-here. “A couple of the guys on the ranch, the ranch hands, well they told me there was a potion…” Looking at his hand, he noticed dirt under his nails. He should have cleaned up a little better, but he hadn’t expected to meet someone this intriguing.
“I love the word potion. Herbal remedies can do some rather spectacular things nowadays, even taking on seemingly magical properties.” Taking her pen from her pocket, she clicked it open and slid a small notepad in front of her. “What are you looking for? I’d love to help you.”
Her attentive gaze calmed him, gave him the nerve to go through with this. “I’ve got a ghost. And I need herbs or oils or something to get rid of it.” There. He’d gone and said it. Now it was up to her.
As her eyes popped wide, her mouth curved into a big smile. “Okay, so some of the ranch hands told you to come and see me for a cure for a ghost?” Her voice vibrated with laughter.
His gut clenched. Those assholes. They’d set him up. He should have known. The boys were in for a shit-ton of hard work when he got back to the ranch. Hart stood. “I’m very sorry, ma’am.” Taking a step toward the door, he jammed his hat on his head and unclenched his teeth. “I feel like an idiot wasting your time.” He reached for the handle.
Her hand grasped his wrist. She’d moved fast, and stood next to him. “Wait, Hart. I’m the one who’s sorry.”
Turning his head to judge the integrity in her eyes, he quickly caught her sincerity. “You have no need to apologize to me.”
“Yes. Yes I do.” Keeping her warm hand wrapped around his wrist, she tugged him gently around to face her. “You came to me with a real concern, and I laughed. And that was not professional and it was not kind.” She released him but stayed close, looking up at him.
Hart could tell his cheeks grew red above his beard scruff. “I’m…” What was he? An idiot? A gullible fool? Embarrassed as hell? He just shrugged.
“While I’m not any kind of a spiritualist, I do have experience in a technique that might help.”
“A technique?” He wasn’t sure what that meant.
“All you have to do is invite me to your house.”
RosaLynn hadn’t intended to flirt. She’d just wanted to make him feel more comfortable with her, but now he had that strange look in his bright green eyes that told her she’d sent out mixed signals. “Let me explain.”
Stepping to her bookshelf, she scanned the spines. “Here it is. It’s a Native American tradition. The way I learned is a Plains Indians smudging.” She flipped through the book looking for the right page.
“Smudging? And that’s okay for you to do?” He stepped closer, leaning toward her as he looked at the book in her hands.
Having him right beside her became a powerful stimulant and she had to swallow to find her voice. “Yes, many cultures now participate in this, and it’s said to remove negative energy from spaces.” She found the page showing a person holding the roll of smoking dried sage and an eagle feather.
Hart bent closer to look and the scent of cedar drifted in the air. “Okay. If you think it’ll work.” Straightening, he smiled at her. “Even if you aren’t one-hundred percent sure, I’m willing to give it a try. When can you come to the ranch?”
RosaLynn put the book back on the shelf, giving herself some space from the cowboy. That smile had caught her off guard, and the vibrations from his change of emotions messed with her equilibrium. “My calendar is open. We’re still setting up the storefront and don’t have many customers yet.” Stuffing her fingers into her coat pockets, she watched his face. A few wrinkles marred his skin, but he looked about thirty or so. He’d had a rough life at some point. The dark circles under his eyes proved that whatever this “ghost” was had been keeping him awake nights.
“How about tonight?” He frowned for a second. “Can you do this at night, or does it have to be during the day?”
“I usually limit my work hours to days, but I can perform the ceremony any time that’s convenient for you.” Picking up her phone, she accessed her calendar. “What works for a busy foreman?”
Hart took a breath. “Let me throw this out there, and you can say no.”
RosaLynn stopped breathing for a few seconds. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out at first, then, “Sure, what is it?”
“It’s active at night, like from seven when the sun goes down to around three the next morning.” He tugged off his hat again and shuffled it in his hands.
“And you’d like me to stay the night?” She felt her cheeks warm.
His eyes sparkled. “I would.” He grinned, then held up a hand. “What I mean is, we have a new wrangler, a woman. I can ask her to be in the house with us so you don’t feel…uncomfortable.”
“Oh.” Staying the night with Hart Eastman. Under most circumstances, she’d have saucy thoughts running through her mind, but her life situation at that moment was not amenable to anything but a working relationship with this cowboy. Or any cowboy. Or any man, for that matter.
“She’s living alone in the wrangler’s house, so you’d be welcome to bunk there with her after the ghost stuff is done.” He shook his head. “Maybe this is too much to ask.”
“No.” She stepped forward, her hand out to reassure him, but then she dropped it. She couldn’t let him think this was anything more than a business relationship. “It sounds interesting and very much something I’d like to help you with. I’ll come out this evening and we’ll sage the house, then see what happens during the late hours, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am. It sounds perfect. Except…” He lifted his dark brows. “Could I ask you to come for dinner?” He glanced down, then back at her with a smile. “I haven’t had the opportunity to cook in a few years, and I’m lookin’ for reasons to be in the kitchen more.”
How could she resist that invitation? A man, a cowboy, who cooked. “Of course. Is six okay? Can I bring anything?”
“Six works, and nope, just bring yourself and your smudgy equipment.” He pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to her. “Address and phone.”
She loved that he even had longitude and latitude for the place. “Perfect, I’ll see you tonight.” She gave him one of her cards. Holding out her hand, she waited for Hart to take hers in his big, rough palm again. When he did, the scratch of his callouses abraded her skin, the warmth of his touch did something mysterious and wonderful to her insides.
He held her hand for a moment longer than necessary. “You’ll keep my problem confidential?”
“Of course. I won’t even mention it to my assistant.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you soon, Ms. RosaLynn.” With one of his sexy grins, he tugged open the door and headed out through the store.
She moved to watch him leave. Tall and lanky, his legs appeared as long as a stork’s in those battered jeans, and his butt… “Mmmm.” She could get used to watching him walk away.
“Yeah, he’s a slice of yummy.” Bella sat cross-legged on the floor to her left enjoying the same view.
“I’d heard about Montana cowboys, but I had no idea it was all true.”
Bella sighed. “It is. I’ve been looking for one of my own for a while now.”
With a laugh, RosaLynn walked back into her office. “I’ve got a few more calls to make.” She wanted to suggest that a few changes to her assistant’s look might accomplish her goal of finding a cowboy a bit quicker, but Bella had her own thing going, and it wasn’t RosaLynn’s place to meddle in her personal life.
“K.” Bella went back to stocking the shelves.
After closing the door, RosaLynn dialed the number of a friend who specialized in connecting with and exorcising spirits. The call went right to voicemail. “Hi Fiyama, its RosaLynn. I’ve got a client who believes he is haunted by a ghost. I’m going to try smudging and see if that helps the situation, but if that doesn’t do the trick, I may need your help.” She ended the call and looked at the cowboy’s business card.
She’d be cautious about how much she told Fiyama, though. Hart Eastman didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d want his life to become an episode of a reality show.