As United Airlines flight 7689 dropped its flaps and landing gear, the jet gave a soft, subtle jerk backward. Devra closed the novel she’d been trying to lose herself in for nearly the entire flight and shoved it into the side pocket of her leather purse. With eyes bleary and burning from a sleepless night and bouts of weeping, she gazed down on the winter-browned, rolling landscape east of Colorado Springs.
In past flights home for her annual Christmas visit, this particular moment had always filled her with a heady anticipation. Soon the plane would land and she’d disembark to find her father, Logan MacKay, and sometimes even their housekeeper, Thelma McCune, waiting for her outside the security checkpoint. The broad smiles that would brighten their expressions when they first caught sight of her never failed to warm Devra’s heart. It made the trip worth every penny of the first-class seating and the two weeks of lost income when putting her lucrative plastic surgery practice on hold.
This year, however, there’d be no beloved father awaiting her. Though Colorado Springs boasted some fine cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, nothing could be done for her father. He had died before the EMS ambulance could even reach him.
“At least your dad died on the ranch he loved,” Ross had offered yesterday on the telephone in an attempt to console her. Devra’s mouth twisted sourly. Only men obsessed with ranching, as both Ross Blackstone and her father had always been, would find comfort in that. All she could think of was that maybe if her father had lived closer to the city hospital, he would’ve had a chance.
Still, considering there was little love lost between her and Culdee Creek’s foreman, Devra supposed she would have received anything Ross said poorly. She didn’t like the man. He was just too arrogant and self-centered. And he treated her—even now, seventeen years after he had first sauntered onto Culdee Creek looking for a job—like some kid wet behind the ears.
He’d soon get what was coming to him, Devra vowed. The tables had turned. Though she would’ve wished it otherwise, she was now owner of Culdee Creek and he was just another hired man.
The plane’s wings tipped, angling the huge aircraft into its final approach. From her window, she caught a brief glimpse north to the dark swatch of forest stretching from the Front Range for miles east until it dwindled into the rolling hills of the high plains. Culdee Creek was up there, nestled at the edge of the Black Forest. Her heart twisted.
Culdee Creek . . . home. But now a home without a mother or father.
Tears burned her eyes, and with a fierce, almost angry effort, Devra blinked them back. Tears were a sign of weakness. She had learned that all too well in the days of her medical training. And when it came to her pending encounter with Ross Blackstone, she didn’t want to show any signs of weakness.
For one final instant, Devra allowed her anger at him to flame hot and bright, then squelched that too. She’d deal with him later. What mattered now was her father, getting through his funeral, dealing with the cards and condolences, sorting through his possessions, and putting everything to right. One day at a time was all she could manage, and Ross Blackstone was hardly high up there on her list of priorities.
The plane was rapidly losing altitude now. Devra focused on the ground rising up to meet them. She leaned back in her seat, tightened her safety belt an extra notch, and closed her eyes. It was time to turn off the emotions and just do what needed to be done.