Flirting with Fire


Kate Hardy

Meet Mr. July…

When meticulous rule-follower Emily Foster meets adrenaline junkie Lyle Tate, the last thing she wants to do is get involved with him–especially as her twin sister has fallen in love with his older brother.

But under his charming, reckless, sexy exterior, Tate’s the kind of man who rescues people. Can Emily break her rules enough to learn that she can trust Tate with her heart? And will Tate let Emily close enough to learn his deepest, darkest secrets and let her prove to him that he’s worthy of love?

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It made a change for Emily Foster actually to be in the same country as her twin. Charlotte was fast becoming a high-profile photographer, and that meant traveling. Lots of traveling. Which suited Charlie just fine—as well as her exhibitions in Paris, New York, and London, she’d spent the last six months traveling around the US. She’d been based in Manhattan for a while, but she still traveled anywhere and everywhere that gave her a chance to take a seriously good shot. Charlie was all about new experiences.

Whereas Emily preferred the familiar, and she’d stayed put in London after their parents’ deaths; she’d had more than enough of moving about between boarding schools in their teenage years, thanks to Charlie’s rebellious streak. Not that she’d ever admit to her twin how much she’d hated following her from school to school and how much she’d yearned for a stable space.

And so Emily had spent three years studying History of Art at university in London, a further year getting experience in every art gallery and museum she could talk into letting her spend time there, and three years working in the art department at a small museum for a boss who moved the goalposts every time Emily thought she was finally getting somewhere.

After this last exhibition, where she’d pulled out all the stops and her boss had still found things to nitpick about, Emily had finally cracked and taken a few weeks’ sabbatical. It was time to sort out her head and decide what she really wanted to do with her life. So she’d spent the last week in New York, spending her days wandering round the art museums and visiting paintings and collections she’d always wanted to see—the Monets at the Met Fifth Avenue, Van Gogh’s Starry Night at MOMA, the Hoppers and the O’Keeffes at the Whitney.

But what she hadn’t been able to do was pin down her twin. Charlie had been downright elusive, and that had set Emily’s trouble antennae twitching. Charlie wouldn’t actually say where she was right now—just that she was in the middle of shooting an important project. And Charlie always talked to her twin about her projects. Emily was always the first person she told about being nominated for awards, and about exhibitions and big deals.

Charlie’s silence meant that something was going on.

But what?

Emily tried to lose herself in art, the way she always did when things worried her, but today it just wasn’t working.

She was just about to text Charlie yet again—half the time, Charlie’s phone was switched off or on silent mode, so it was easier to text her than to call—when her own phone beeped.

Guess what? Am staying in Montana. Fallen in love with a rancher. C x

Emily stared at the message in disbelief. What? Apart from the fact that Charlie never stayed with anyone that long—she was a free spirit who didn’t like to be pinned down—what the hell was she doing in Montana, of all places? Wasn’t she supposed to be photographing America’s heartlands for that coffee table book? Or maybe Montana counted as heartlands; academically, geography was Emily’s one sketchy point.

She tried to think what she knew about Montana. Didn’t it contain Yellowstone National Park? OK. Maybe Charlie had been doing some nature shots there. Maybe that was the important project she’d been working on—though Emily couldn’t think of any possible reason why her twin would be secretive about something like that.

What else?

Her mind came up with a total blank.

She flicked into her phone and checked the map. Montana was in the northwest US, right on the border with Canada. A quick glance at an encyclopedia entry told her that Montana contained the Rockies, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and the Little Bighorn National Monument. Basically it looked as if the place was all about mountains, lakes, and farming.

And this guy Charlie claimed to have fallen for was a rancher.

Why would the daughter of jet-setting London socialites shack up with a cowboy? It couldn’t still be rebelling against her background, even though Charlie had always been the one to rebel, because their parents had been dead for seven years now.

So had Charlie really meant it about being in love?

Emily wasn’t so sure that love even existed. Her own relationships had always crashed and burned painfully.

Besides, what did this guy see in Charlie? Did he see her for who she really was—or did he see her as a rich trust-fund kid who’d pay for the lifestyle he wanted? Men could be gold diggers just as much as women. Emily had found that one out the hard way, thanks to Rupert. And she didn’t want Charlie to make that same mistake.

There was only one way to know for sure what was happening with Charlie. But Montana was a big place—the fourth-biggest state in the US. She’d need to narrow that down just a little before she headed out there.

Sounds great, Emily lied. It sounded way more like trouble, to her. Something that would end in tears and she’d have to try and fix all the mess. So where are you?

The answer was a photograph.

Typical Charlie.

If Emily asked straight out where the hell her twin was, she knew Charlie would back off and simply refuse to answer, claiming later that her twin’s text hadn’t reached her. Nagging didn’t work. Neither did guilt, so it was pointless doing the “I love you and I miss you and I really want to see you, and we’re actually in the same country for once so can we meet up?” thing.

She fell back on self-deprecation. As an art historian, I can date a painting pretty well, but I’m not so good with geography and photos. Is this Yellowstone? E x

The reply took so long in coming that, by the time her phone finally beeped to signal the text, Emily was tenser than a coiled spring.

Not a bad guess. I’m about fifty miles north of Yellowstone. This is Copper Mountain. C x

Copper Mountain? Emily had never heard of it before, but it looked as if she needed to find out where it was. And fast. She headed for the art gallery’s café, grabbed a cappuccino, and looked up Copper Mountain on her phone. The nearest town to Copper Mountain appeared to be Marietta—a small former mining town.

A small town?


Once met, Charlotte Foster was never, ever forgotten. All Emily had to do was show up in Marietta, and she’d know exactly where her wayward little sister was within ten minutes. And then she could check out this rancher guy for herself. If he was genuine, great. But if he was taking advantage of Charlie, Emily would sort out all the trouble, the way she always did—and then she’d haul Charlie back home to London for a few days and try to talk some sense into her.

Looks pretty, she texted back. A small town. Eleven thousand people at the last count, according to the website. No way would there be enough in the place to hold her twin there. The Charlie Foster that Emily knew needed big cities and the space to travel.

I’m happy, Charlie said.

Was she really? Until Emily could see that for herself and know for sure, she’d withhold judgment. Good, she texted back.

Enjoying New York? Charlie asked.

Yes and no. Emily loved every minute she spent in the art museums. But being here and seeing couples and families everywhere made her grow more and more aware of how lonely and empty her life really was. She’d thrown herself into work to fill the gap after Rupert, and it hadn’t worked. Not that she was going to tell Charlie that. Emily was the one who always fixed things, and Charlie was the one who created mayhem. That was how it had always been. And the last thing Emily wanted was to worry her twin by having a meltdown—or, worse, make Charlie feel useless because this wasn’t something she could fix. Better to tell her half the truth. Loving the art here, she said.

Then she waited. Was her twin going to save her the bother of tracking her down and invite her to come and visit?

But no. Her answer was Good and a smiley face.

Of course. Charlie would think Emily was having the time of her nerdy little life in New York and wouldn’t want to drag her away from it. That was the problem with having parents who’d never really wanted you: it tended to make you feel that nobody else wanted you, either.

Back to plan A, then, and springing a surprise visit on her twin. A few minutes checking facts on her phone told Emily that the flight from New York to Bozeman would take a little over five hours. Hopefully she could pick up a rental car or a taxi at the airport there, and there would be somewhere to stay in the center of Marietta.

When she checked the Marietta Chamber of Commerce website, it looked as if she had a choice between staying in a homely B&B or a very swish hotel. Working on the basis that the hotel was more likely to be in the center of town, she booked a room there, plus the only flight from New York to Bozeman the next morning.

She stayed in the Met until closing time, then headed back to her hotel and ordered dinner from room service. It didn’t take her long to have everything packed for the morning; she ordered a cab to the airport, allowing an extra hour for wiggle room, then read one of the art books she’d bought from the Met’s gallery shop until she was sleepy.

Tomorrow she’d be able to track her sister down.

And hopefully she’d get answers that would stop her worrying.

The next day, Emily caught the flight to Bozeman and found a cab at the airport.

“It’s a half-hour drive to Marietta from here,” the cabbie told her.

“Thank you. That’s great.”

It was a pretty drive from Bozeman through the mountains, and Emily could see what would’ve drawn Charlotte here. The light, the colors, the shapes—her camera would’ve been working overtime.

The cabbie drove Emily past a school and they turned onto Front Avenue, giving her a better view of the town itself. There was a petrol station on the corner; the railway line and depot were on her right, and the police station and firehouse on the left. There was a church, and then a large redbrick building that looked like a nineteenth-century railway inn. It had ornate yellow cornices and decorative work around the tall windows, and a porch with a balustrade; Emily fell in love with it on the spot.

“This is the Graff Hotel, ma’am,” the cabbie said.

“Thank you so much,” Emily said. She paid him the fare and a tip, but carried her own luggage in to the hotel to check in.

The building had clearly been renovated and whoever had worked on it had done an excellent job. Inside it was all marble floors and oak paneling and chandeliers, with good artwork hung properly on the walls—Emily always noticed if the artwork was hung properly—and a grand staircase that stretched up to the next floor.

“Good morning. I made a reservation yesterday. Miss Foster?” Emily said to the receptionist.

The receptionist did a double take when she looked at her. “Oh, excuse me, Miss! For a moment there I thought you were Charlie.”

“Charlie’s my twin,” Emily supplied. She was used to this reaction; they were identical twins, but whereas Charlie let her naturally curly hair go wild, Emily always tamed hers with straighteners. Emily was never seen without full “barely there” makeup or high heels—to do her job, she had to dress the part as well as know her stuff. Charlie, being self-employed, could wear whatever she wanted and tended to look a bit of a scruff, in Emily’s view; but Emily was so used to corporate dress that she tended to wear it outside work as well.

“You’ve come to visit with her? Why aren’t you staying at the ranch?” the receptionist asked, looking curious.

“It’s a surprise. She doesn’t know I’m here, yet,” Emily said with a smile. And this was going to be so much easier than she’d hoped. She’d expected to have to find the town’s most popular bar and ask for her twin there—because it was a fair bet that Charlie had spent a lot of time in a place like that and could drink all the regulars under the table. Now, all she had to do was ask for proper directions to the ranch.

Although she felt a bit bad about doing this sneakily, it would be worse having to admit the truth: that Charlie hadn’t given her twin her new address, probably because she’d known that the first thing Emily would do would be to check it out. “There’s only one problem. My phone crashed in New York and I lost half my data—including Charlie’s new address.” It was a total untruth, and in reality Emily backed up everything in three places so that if her phone or laptop ever crashed she’d be able to retrieve everything she needed. But it was easier than explaining the real situation. “I don’t suppose you might be able to tell me the ranch’s address, would you, please?” she asked, giving her best smile.

“Of course,” the receptionist said. “It’s the Double T.”

“Double T?”

“It belongs to the Tate brothers,” the receptionist said helpfully.

So now she had a name for Charlie’s new man—or, at least, a surname. Rancher Tate. And clearly he had at least one brother.

“Thank you so much,” Emily said. “And would you also be kind enough to recommend a cab firm in town?”

“Sure. I can order you a cab for whenever you like. But wouldn’t it be easier just to call Charlie and get her to give you a lift out to the ranch?”

“But then my visit wouldn’t be a surprise,” Emily said.

“Got you.” The receptionist smiled. “Let me check you in and get you some help with those bags.”

“Thank you,” Emily said.

Once the bellboy had taken her luggage to her room and she’d tipped him, she looked round the room. There was a comfortable-looking queen-sized bed with a black wrought-iron headboard, a bedside table with a light, and a deep yellow duvet that matched the floor-length curtains at the windows. The walls were painted cream, and there was a gorgeous watercolor of what she assumed was a local scene.

There was a small two-seater sofa in front of a deep red patterned rug and an old-fashioned writing desk; a folder on the writing desk gave her information about the area as well as the room-service menu. It seemed that continental breakfast was served in the restaurant downstairs between seven-thirty and ten; that suited her just fine. At the side of the room was a granite-topped luggage dresser, clearly mimicking the old-fashioned granite-topped washstand that would have been there when the hotel had first opened. Thankfully nowadays there was a luxurious en-suite bathroom containing a claw-footed bath with a shower over it, a porcelain sink, and a toilet.

So far, so good, Emily thought.

She handed her key in at the reception desk and went for a walk around the town. Opposite the hotel was a bridal shop, pizza parlor, and cinema; she also found a chocolate shop that practically begged her to walk through its door, and the woman behind the counter did a double take.

“Charlie? But you look so…” She gestured to Emily’s suit, high heels, and immaculate hair.

Emily smiled. “I’m Charlie’s twin. Though I’m here on a surprise visit, so please don’t tell her you’ve seen me.”

“I… Well. How can I help you, Mizz Foster?”

“Please, call me Emily,” Emily said. “And, since you know my sister, I’m guessing you’ll know what are her favorites from this incredible-looking selection and you can help me choose the perfect gift for her?”

She ended up with a beautifully wrapped package for Charlie and some samples for herself. And a little more confidence that maybe Charlie wasn’t making a huge mistake in staying here, if people in the town knew her and liked her.

At the end of the street was a park, a nineteenth-century courthouse and a library that made her itch to go inside and start exploring the shelves. But that wasn’t why she was here. She turned into Main Street and noted the wood-framed buildings and an old-fashioned saloon with a balustrade. The place was seriously pretty, like an old-fashioned Wild West town, and she’d already seen pockets of green space in the town with spring bulbs bursting through. She could understand why Charlie might’ve fallen in love with the place. Her twin must’ve taken dozens of photographs.

Though, as a small town in the old Wild West, Marietta was the complete opposite of the kind of place where their parents would’ve chosen to stay. Was Charlie still subconsciously rebelling against them? Emily wondered. In the US, the Fosters would’ve stuck to Manhattan, Aspen, and the Hamptons, with maybe a trip out to Bel Air or visiting a friend with a Malibu beach house. Being wealthy socialites, Justin and Camilla Foster had well-connected friends whose lifestyles revolved around endless parties at gorgeous houses. Friends who’d all melted back into the shadows as soon as the Fosters’ private plane had crashed in the Swiss Alps.

Emily was jolted out of her thoughts by the sound of tires screeching behind her. She whirled round to see a battered pickup truck swerving on the road—and of course the guy would have to drive straight through a huge puddle right next to her, at the kind of speed where the contents of the puddle practically hit the other side of the street. Emily caught the whole lot, and the muddy water soaked her from head to toe.

“Sorry, ma’am,” the driver called out of the window, tipping his white Stetson at her.

Sorry? Like hell he was, or he would’ve been driving more sensibly in the first place.

Thankfully her package for Charlie had been wrapped in cellophane, so it wasn’t ruined. But, cold and wet and a little bit cross, Emily didn’t want to bother exploring the town any further right now. OK. She’d go back to the hotel, have a long bath, change into dry clothes, see if there was some kind of dry-cleaning service that could deal with her suit, order something for dinner from room service, and curl up with a book.

And tomorrow she’d find her sister and make sure Charlie really was happy.

Lyle felt guilty about soaking the woman in the street, but what else could he have done? It was either swerve and drive through the puddle, or hit the brown-and-white dog that had appeared in front of him out of nowhere.

He parked by the courthouse, intending to find the woman and apologize properly, offer to pay for her dry cleaning or whatever—but she’d vanished.

Too late.

Well, he could at least try to find the dog. He searched the side streets and alleyways, and finally found it cowering behind the bins at the back of Rocco’s Italian. He crouched down and held his hands palm upright so the dog could see he wasn’t holding anything. “C’mon, little fella,” he said softly. “You look too young to be out here all on your own.” Four or five months old, he’d guess. No collar, which would suggest that the pup had been dumped rather than got himself lost; and he looked thin, as if he hadn’t eaten for a while.

“Are you hungry, fella?” he asked.

Stupid question. Of course the dog couldn’t talk. Luckily Lyle normally kept dog treats in the pocket of his windbreaker for the ranch dogs. He slowly took one out, stayed crouched, and made sure that the pup could see the treat on his outstretched hand.

“C’mon, little fella. Let’s get you fed and warm, and we’ll work out what to do with you,” he said.

The dog looked suspicious but sniffed the air, scenting the treat. Slowly, slowly he crept forward, then snatched the treat and ran backward to eat it.

Lyle wasn’t one for violence—he’d seen more than enough of that in his twenty-seven years—but mistreating animals was one thing that made him see red. Whoever had made that pup so afraid should never be allowed near animals again. At this age, a pup should see everyone as a potential friend.

“It’s OK, little fella. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, and took out another dog treat.

It took another three treats, but finally the pup got close to Lyle and allowed him to stroke him and then pick him up.

“So what are we going to do with you, fella? Let’s go see if we can find your family,” Lyle said.

He carried the pup over to the town veterinarian’s office. Sheryl, the receptionist, looked up from the desk with a smile. “What can I do for you, Lyle?”

He smiled back at her; he’d always liked her. Stout, matronly, and warm, she was the kind of mom he wished he’d grown up with. “I don’t want to bother Matt if he’s in the middle of consultations, sugar, but I was wondering if you’d heard of anyone looking for this little fella?”

“Aw, isn’t he a cutie?” Sheryl was a sucker for anything with four paws, Lyle knew, and she kept a bowl of dog treats behind the reception desk. She fed one to the pup, who whined and licked her hand. “Oh, baby,” she said, making a fuss of him. “Nobody’s reported a missing pup here, Lyle. But I can scan him in case he’s been microchipped.”

“That would be great. Thank you, sugar.”

As Lyle handed the pup over to Sheryl, the pup peed down the front of Lyle’s T-shirt out of sheer nerves, but it didn’t bother him. The most important thing was finding out whether the pup had a home and the owners were frantically looking for him; then reuniting them would be a good thing.

Sheryl came back and made a last fuss of the pup before handing him back to Lyle. “No microchip.”

“I was kinda hoping he was lost,” Lyle said, “because I don’t like the idea of the alternative.” That the pup had been deliberately dumped and left to fend for himself.

“You could talk to Lori at Whiskers and Paw Pals Animal Rescue,” Sheryl suggested. “She’d find room for him.”

Put the pup in the shelter? But Lyle had seen something in the pup’s eyes. Something he’d felt himself only too often when he was a kid. “I could,” Lyle said, “but it’s getting late. It’d be better to take the pup home with me tonight and maybe look in on Whiskers and Paw Pals in the morning.”

Sheryl gave him a look as if to say that she knew he was as soft as she was when it came to little ones with four paws. “You do that, honey,” she said.

“Thanks for your help, sugar.” He nestled the pup back in his arms. “C’mon, little fella. Let’s get you a bed for the night, and some food.” And a collar. There would be spare collars back at the ranch from when their previous dogs were pups. His brother Logan would roll his eyes and make some smart comment about Lyle rescuing yet another stray. Then again, Logan was all loved-up nowadays, since he’d gone after Charlie and talked her into coming back for good, so maybe this time it would be different.


End of Excerpt

Flirting with Fire is available in the following formats:


March 28, 2017


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