Feels Like Home

By: VickiLewis Thompson


Prologue




August 23, 1980

from the diary of Eleanor Chance

I THINK MOST FOLKS IN Shoshone, Wyoming, would say that I’m a nonviolent sort. In fact, ask anyone in the entire Jackson Hole area who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m a calm woman not prone to outbursts of rage.

So these same people might be shocked to learn that I could, given the opportunity, twist Diana Chance’s head right off her scrawny neck. I’ve never been so fired up in my entire life, which includes the time that my dear husband, Archie, forgot my birthday AND our anniversary in the space of a month.

If I had Diana in my clutches, nothing would save her except a promise to stay and be a devoted mother to my sweet little grandson, Jack, and a wife to my son, Jonathan. But the irresponsible piece of baggage has LEFT. She’s abandoned both my son and my grandson, and for that I will never forgive her.

I hated the fighting between Jonathan and Diana, but I hate this more. No child should have to grow up knowing that his mother didn’t love him enough to stick around. I will do all in my power to make it up to this poor little boy, but he’s not even two. How can he be expected to understand?

All he knows is that his mother is gone. Her note tells us not to try and find her. Believe me, I’ve considered it. I have a little money put away, and I could hire a P.I. to track her down, but then what? Other than twisting her head from her neck, what do I want with her?

I want what I can’t have, which is for her to be a good mother to my grandson and a good wife to my son. It’s not possible. Archie tells me to let it go, that dwelling on it is useless and will make me even more miserable. I suppose he’s right, but what I wouldn’t give for two minutes with that sorry excuse for a mother.





1




Present day

Last Chance Ranch

SO THIS IS THE HOME MY MOTHER left more than thirty years ago.

With a sense of foreboding, Rafe Locke turned into the circular gravel drive that fronted a two-story log ranch house, climbed out of his rented Lexus and pocketed the keys. He hoped the car’s shocks were okay.

The luxury sedan might not have been the best choice for driving over the rutted dirt road leading to the main house, but trucks were his twin brother Wyatt’s style, not his. Wyatt operated a wilderness trekking company and loved long, arduous hikes. Rafe gave financial advice to high-profile clients and worked out at a gym.

Although Wyatt had offered to meet his plane at the Jackson airport, the guy was a busy bridegroom with things to do. And things on his mind, like whether their mother, Diana, would risk returning to face her oldest son, Jack, in order to attend Wyatt’s wedding.

Whether Diana showed up or not, Rafe wanted to be in charge of his own transportation during the week of wedding festivities. Once their dad, Harlan, arrived, he’d also appreciate having the Lexus at his disposal. He didn’t like driving trucks, either.

As Rafe surveyed the house with its wide porches and country ambiance, he had no trouble imagining his mother’s objections to the lifestyle. The structure represented home and hearth, not the sleek sophistication Diana craved.

She would sneer at the rockers lining the porch and the horseshoe knocker on the massive front door. She’d think the multicolored flower beds on either side of the porch steps lacked design and restraint. She’d hate the wrought-iron boot scraper anchored in cement beside the steps.

The house had quite a bit of square footage, though, and Wyatt had said the acreage was considerable, too. Rafe hoped the Chance family had a good financial advisor. Considering property values in a resort area like Jackson Hole, they were likely sitting on several million in assets.

Wyatt seemed oblivious to that, which was so like him. Instead he’d rattled on about the family history, and how Archie Chance and his bride, Nelsie, had built the center section themselves during the Great Depression. Later two wings had been added at an angle that made them look like arms reaching out to welcome visitors.

Or ensnare them. His mother had said she’d felt trapped at the Last Chance. Escaping to San Francisco and marrying financier Harlan Locke had been her solution. Except her marriage to Harlan had come apart eighteen months ago, and Rafe knew she wouldn’t look forward to socializing with her ex, especially when they’d be prominently showcased as the mother and father of the groom.

But that issue paled in comparison to her confronting Jack, the son she hadn’t contacted since she’d left, the son who Wyatt, Rafe and Harlan hadn’t found out about until after the divorce. Wyatt had chosen to visit the ranch and meet his half brother. He’d discovered that Jonathan Chance, Jack’s father and Diana’s first husband, had died, but he’d left two more sons, Nick and Gabe, and a widow, Sarah.

Wyatt had fallen in love with Jackson Hole, the Chance family and Olivia Sedgewick. Rafe wished to hell Wyatt had agreed to marry Olivia somewhere else, anywhere else. But she was local and Wyatt wanted the wedding to take place at the ranch, which he considered his new home base.

Rafe suspected Wyatt also had an agenda that included Diana finally making peace with Jack. Wyatt had bonded with his half brother and wanted the old wounds healed. Knowing softhearted Wyatt, he had dreams of the Lockes and the Chances becoming one big happy family.

Although Rafe was also Jack’s half brother, he had no such dreams. He’d do his job as best man because he loved his twin, but Wyatt was the outlier in the Locke family. Diana, Harlan and Rafe were dyed-in-the-wool San Franciscans used to their sushi bars and lattes. Whooping it up in cowboy country wouldn’t be their idea of a good time.

Thinking of urban conveniences reminded Rafe that he hadn’t checked his cell phone reception since turning off the main highway. Monday was a busy trading day and he’d been AWOL for a good part of it. Time to play catch up before he announced his presence to anyone inside.

After tucking his Wayfarer sunglasses in his shirt pocket, he reached inside the car, pulled his iPhone from the holder on the dash and tested the internet connection. Amazingly, it worked.

Absorbed in checking end-of-trading stock prices, he lost track of his surroundings until the sound of rapid hoofbeats made him whirl in alarm. A horse and rider bore down on him. Swearing, he dove into the car to avoid having himself and his iPhone smashed to bits.

Instead of stampeding past, the rider pulled up right next to the car. The horse snorted loudly and stretched its nose toward the Lexus. The beast could be breathing fire and brimstone for all Rafe knew.

“Did I scare you?” The voice was decidedly female. “Sorry about that.”

Rafe tossed his phone on the seat and slid carefully out, giving the brown-and-white horse a wide berth. “I wasn’t scared. I was startled.” He glared up at the rider, whose red hair curled out from under the brim of a brown cowboy hat. “Anybody who sees a horse running straight at him would—”

“Cantering. Spilled Milk and I were just cantering toward you.”

“Looked damned fast to me.”

“I was trying to catch you before you went inside. I saw the car and realized you must be Rafe, and I wanted to introduce myself.” She swung down from the saddle, dropped the reins to the ground and held out her hand. “I’m Meg Seymour, Olivia’s maid of honor. We’ll be in the wedding together on Saturday.”

So this was Meg, and she wasn’t at all what he’d expected, but she had a warm, firm handshake. Now that she was on the ground, he estimated her height at around five-eight. The boots added another couple of inches, and the hat a couple more, which made her seem almost as tall as he was.

“I thought you were from Pittsburgh,” he said. Wyatt had told him that, and Rafe had held out the vain hope that Meg would be a kindred spirit who wasn’t into the jeans and boots routine. Instead, here she was decked out like a certified cowgirl.

“I am from Pittsburgh.”

“Have you spent a lot of time out here?” Rafe eyed the horse, which kept stretching its neck toward him as if wanting to take a bite. Rafe edged back.

“Nope. My first time. Hey, don’t worry about Spilled Milk. She’s just curious. You can rub her nose. She likes that.”

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