The Ranch She Left Behind

The Ranch She Left Behind by Kathleen O`Brien Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: The Ranch She Left Behind by Kathleen O`Brien Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kathleen O`Brien
the reflected color from the vivid turquoise-navy-and-pink-flowered pattern of her dress. This dress had been her only new purchase since Ruth’s death.
    The “Russian doll” dress was so unlike anything she’d worn—at least since she was a child. The people at the ice-cream store didn’t know her, so they didn’t know how out of character it was. But Bree and Ro hadn’t seen her look like this in years.
    Was it too much? Too conspicuous? She remembered Ruth’s voice, pronouncing flatly that “flamboyant” clothes made her look cheap, or foolish.
    Ruth had insisted on neutrals—white shirts, gray slacks, khaki skirts and brown or black shoes. For someone who loved color and pattern as much as Penny did—and had ever since she was a little girl gathering flowers to make garlands for her ponies—such a drab palette was torture.
    She smiled at her reflection, and the flicker of doubt soon disappeared. She loved Ruth—but the old lady had been wrong. This brightly colored dress, with its long, belled sleeves and gathered empire waist, might not look like a nun’s habit, but it suited Penny. It put pink in her cheeks and blue in her eyes.
    Or had that impulsive ice-cream kiss done those things?
    It didn’t matter. She was happy, and she was comfortable in her own skin, her own clothes, for the first time in a long time. She didn’t even care that she had worn no makeup—she rarely did—or that her ponytail had been torn to shreds by the wind through the windows.
    She was ready.
    She pulled into Bell River and drove around back, to the little parking lot. But that was full, so she rounded the house on the other side, till she reached the front. She parked near the new fountain, and then, without thinking much about it, walked all the way to the back again, so that she could enter by the kitchen door.
    Her aversion to the front foyer hadn’t ever subsided, and she wasn’t going to add that to today’s list of hurdles she needed to clear.
    She had climbed halfway up toward the back porch steps when she heard Rowena’s voice, equal parts shock and delight. “Pea, is it really you?”
    Penny smiled as Ro came rushing through the door, her arms still full of linens she’d obviously been folding. Rowena had always been an uncorked bottle of raw emotion. The difference, now that she’d found true love here in Bell River, was that the emotion bubbling out of her was happiness, not anger.
    “What on earth are you doing here? Why didn’t you call?” She draped an unfolded sheet across her shoulder like a toga, freeing her arms for hugging. The sheet was warm, straight from the dryer, and smelled sweet and clean.
    “I’m sorry,” Penny said. “I wanted to surprise you, so—”
    “I’m surprised, all right!” Rowena laughed. “Look at you! You look fantastic!” She smoothed the sleeve of Penny’s dress affectionately, with that big-sister pride, and Penny grinned as if she’d just gotten an A on something important. “But darn it. We’ve got every single room rented out through September. If I’d known you were coming…”
    Rowena frowned, her green eyes fiercely focused on solving the problem immediately. “Let’s see—”
    “It’s okay, Ro.” Penny took a breath. “You see, I’m not—”
    “Naw, don’t worry.” Rowena grinned, tucked her hand under Penny’s elbow and led her toward the house. “We’ll think of something. We’ll kick Alec out of his room if we have to. He’s in the doghouse anyhow, for sneaking out last night, and—”
    “I did not sneak out! I left a note!” As if out of nowhere, Alec suddenly bounded up the stairs behind them. “Hi, Penny! You can have my room if you want, but I did not sneak out!”
    Penny turned, hardly recognizing the mud ball she saw rushing toward her. Rowena’s new stepson, ten-year-old Alec Garwood, was ordinarily a twinkling, ridiculously handsome four-foot-three hunk of pure mischief. Today, though…
    Today Alec’s

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