Sweet Nothings by Catherine Anderson

  Praise for Catherine Anderson

  Winner of Nine Consecutive KISS Awards for Her Heroes!

  “A major voice in the romance genre.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Catherine Anderson works her own special brand of magic…. She is truly an extraordinary storyteller.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Fabulous … a brilliant author … Catherine Anderson is one of the best romance writers today.”

  —Affaire de Coeur

  “An amazing talent.”

  —Elizabeth Lowell

  Praise for the contemporary novels of Catherine Anderson …

  Phantom Waltz

  “Anderson … departs from traditional romantic stereotypes in this poignant, contemporary tale of a love that transcends all boundaries … romantic through and through.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “With her usual flair, author Catherine Anderson expertly combines the drama of romance and emotion to build a truly wonderful read.”

  —Romantic Times

  Seventh Heaven

  “No one writes riveting emotion quite like Catherine Anderson. Her talent for delving into rich, emotional depths is unmatched.

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  Baby Love

  “Catherine Anderson is an author with an amazing expertise with words. Her stories are consistently magical and filled with deep emotion.”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  Forever After

  “Literary magic … heartwarming humor, beautifully handled sexual tension, and exceptionally well-developed characters add to this poignant, compelling story of wounded protagonists and their ultimate healing through the power of love.”

  —Library Journal

  “Forever After proves that this author has as much talent for penning contemporaries as she has for writing captivating historicals.”

  —Romantic Times

  And for her historical novels …


  “Ms. Anderson reaches new heights in Cherish. The magnificently drawn emotions and the arresting characterizations give readers another jewel to treasure more than once.”


  Simply Love

  “Simply Love is so beautiful a romance that words cannot do Catherine Anderson justice…. This is not a story you’ll quickly forget or one that will gather dust on your shelf. Pick up Simply Love whenever you need to reaffirm your beliefs or just when you need to feel good.”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  “A delightful comedy of errors…. With this latest, Anderson creates a heartwarming page-turner while establishing herself as a major voice in the romance genre.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  Keegan’s Lady

  “A story of stunning beauty and great power. Catherine Anderson has a gift for imbuing her characters with dignity, compassion, courage, and strength that inspire readers. The power of Keegan’s Lady and the lessons within this glorious romance will live on in your heart forever.”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  “Seldom have the themes of trust and forgiveness been so well treated…. Ace Keegan, despite his alpha-male persona, is a paragon of patience and understanding, a romantic hero in every way.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Annie’s Song

  “Only a writer with Catherine Anderson’s sensibilities can write a novel where the extraordinary becomes ordinary and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Annie’s Song is a remarkably beautiful love story that will leave an indelible mark on your heart. Here is a keeper if I ever read one.”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  “Tender and earthy, passionate and poignant … Annie’s Song will haunt you long after the last page is turned.”

  —Elizabeth Lowell

  Sweet Nothings

  Catherine Anderson


  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,

  London WC2R ORL, England

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood,

  Victoria, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,

  Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182–190 Wairau Road,

  Auckland 10, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:

  Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

  First published by Onyx, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

  First Printing, January 2002

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  EISBN: 9781101578759

  Copyright © Adeline Catherine Anderson, 2002

  Excerpt from Back in My Heart copyright ©

  Adeline Catherine Anderson, 2002

  All rights reserved


  Printed in the United States of America

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

  To my husband and hero, Sid, who has filled my life with sunshine. When I think back over the years, I realize that love is an ever-changing journey, and I am so very thankful you are the man who has taken that journey with me. When the way has been rough, you have always been there to steady me. When I’ve grown disheartened, you’ve given me the courage to keep trying. In the good times, you’ve laughed with me and shared in my joy. In the sad times, you have cried with me and given me strength.

  In short, you have always been and always will be my everything.


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three


  Chapter One

  Did they still hang horse thieves in Oregon?

  No, of course they didn’t, Molly Sterling Wells assured herself. And she would stop thinking that way immediately. Wasn’t that just like her? Always negative and imagining the worst. No wonder she always lost courage before she fin
ished anything.

  She had enough problems to deal with at the moment without borrowing trouble. She’d been on the way out the door early that morning when the phone rang, and now she wished she’d just kept walking. As a result of answering that call, she was now over a hundred and fifty miles from home, her stomach was growling with hunger, and, to top it all off, she was hot, tired, thirsty, and hopelessly lost. The next time she got it into her head to play Good Samaritan, she would think twice.

  She had taken so many turns on this gravel country road that she had no idea where she was, and there were no street signs to tell her. For as far as she could see, which wasn’t far given the hilly terrain, there were only juniper trees, sagebrush, craggy rocks, and straw-colored grass. This was only April. Did they get so little precipitation in Oregon, east of the Cascades?

  Accustomed to the lush greenery and cooler temperatures in her rainy hometown of Portland, she puffed at a damp, curly hank of reddish-brown hair that had escaped her French braid. He red Toyota 4Runner lurched violently just then. She struggled to keep from driving off into the drainage trench, but the pitching weight of the loaded horse trailer made steering nearly impossible. She tromped on the brake before she lost control. Sweat trickled from her armpits as she twisted to look out the dusty rear window.

  “Blast it!”

  Through the front opening of the huge white trailer, she could see Sonora Sunset. Eyes rolling wildly, the black stallion shrieked in terror. Her heart ached for him, but there was a limit to one’s patience, and after five hours of fighting the wheel, she had reached hers. She wanted to jump out of the vehicle and scream at him. Didn’t he understand that she was trying to save his life?

  Curling her trembling hands over the steering wheel, she rested her forehead on the back of her wrists. This would teach her not to put any stock in Hollywood films. In The Horse Whisperer, a woman had pulled a frantic horse in a trailer halfway across the country with little difficulty, stopping at roadside cafés to eat, staying overnight at motels. What a departure from reality.

  She raised her head to stare at the road. I’m not really lost, she assured herself. She’d gotten directions to the Lazy J Ranch from a farmer before leaving the main road. She glanced at the dash to gauge the distance she’d driven, and it was right at ten miles, exactly how far the man had said she would come before reaching the front gate. Jake Coulter, the horse whisperer, couldn’t be more than a few minutes away. Before she knew it, she’d be handing Sunset over to a Robert Redford look-alike, and her part in this crazy rescue mission would be finished.

  As if to express his displeasure with the delay, Sonora Sunset shrieked again, making the trailer rock from side to side and end to end. The bucking motion of the Toyota brought Molly’s teeth together in a grind of frustration. Little wonder she was exhausted. She’d been trying to drive the equivalent of a mechanical bull all morning.

  She let her foot off the brake and allowed the vehicle to roll forward. No worries. After all the near misses she’d had on Interstate 5 this morning, navigating a deserted country road should seem easy.

  Narrowly missing yet another rut, she executed a sharp curve and spotted an arched entrance up ahead. Made of freshly peeled logs, it fit the description of the gate that the farmer had given her. As she drew closer, Molly could see the name Lazy J on the crossbeam, the letters bracketed by old horseshoes.

  Thank God. She’d finally found Robert Redford.

  She swung wide to make the turn onto the rutted dirt road. As she nosed the vehicle through the open gate, she heard the muted sound of a motor and leaned her head out the lowered car window to follow the noise. The road forked up ahead. The last thing she wanted was to go the wrong way and run into a dead end. Backing up a trailer wasn’t as easy as it looked.

  Sunset didn’t like the rougher road surface and lodged a loud complaint. Just a few more minutes, boy. They were almost there. According to the Portland trainer, if anyone could help this stallion, Jake Coulter could.

  Ker-whump. Molly’s teeth snapped together as the Toyota bumped over another deep hole. Dust billowed from under the front tires and hit her squarely in the face. She coughed and squinted. Why would anyone in his right mind choose to live out here? Jake Coulter might be a genius with horses, but he was otherwise sorely lacking in brains.

  The road suddenly began a steep ascent that made the Toyota’s engine lug under the heavy load. Molly tromped the gas. The engine coughed, and the Toyota lurched. She struggled with the floor shift to grab four-wheel low, breathing a sigh of relief when the SUV labored up the last few feet of hill and the overtaxed engine didn’t die.

  At the top of the incline, she braked to stare at the little valley below. It seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, a lush oasis at the edge of a desert. Broad expanses of shimmering green grass cut swaths through stands of tall pine, and a sparkling stream ribboned its way from one tip of the valley to the other. Off to the right, she saw a sprawling log home with a green metal roof and two rock chimneys, its rustic design perfectly suited to the forest around it. Maybe Jake Coulter wasn’t so dumb after all. What a gorgeous place.

  The road cut right between the house and a green metal pole building she guessed was a stable. Wide doorways along the back opened onto paddocks, which in turn had gates that led to green pastures fenced with split rails. She saw several horses grazing, the sight so picturesque that the ache of worry in her chest eased. It was a perfect place to leave Sonora Sunset.

  Her faith in Hollywood films was restored. All that remained to make the scene complete was for Robert Redford to appear. Though she knew it was foolish, Molly watched for him as she drove the remaining way to the house. After passing the stable, she parked near a corral so she wouldn’t block traffic. Then she cut the Toyota engine, pushed at the strands of hair that kept falling over her eyes, and went limp with relief.

  She’d done it. Sonora Sunset was safely delivered to the horse psychologist.

  As she climbed from the vehicle, the breeze felt lovely against her hot skin, carrying with it the country essence of pine, grass, wildflowers, and a faintly pungent odor she suspected was horse manure. Oddly, the last didn’t strike her as being unpleasant, merely earthy, which seemed fitting.

  The shade cast by the tall pines and the close proximity of the creek made the temperature at least ten degrees lower here than out on the road. Horse paradise. It was so peaceful that she wouldn’t have minded staying there herself. For the first time since leaving Portland that morning, she felt safe.

  The feeling was short-lived. She jumped with a start when the engine she’d heard earlier roared to life again. Turning, she saw a man off to one side of the house in a stand of tall trees. He was wielding a chainsaw with fluid precision, cutting up a fallen pine. She got a vague impression of tousled sable hair and dark features. Then her gaze dropped, and for the life of her, she couldn’t force it back up to his face.

  Stripped to the waist, his bare upper torso rippled in a glorious display of rugged strength. Muscle bunched and flattened as he moved, his sun-bronzed skin glistening with sweat. Molly wasn’t usually given to gaping at people—she didn’t care to be stared at and felt it was rude—but good manners momentarily abandoned her.

  He was beautiful.

  It was an inappropriate description for a man, she knew, but it was the only word that came to mind. His broad shoulders and back angled in a classic wedge to a lean waist, the furrow of his spine forming a shadowy line down to the top of his jeans. Faded denim sheathed powerfully roped legs that seemed to stretch forever. His body was as sculpted and perfect as a carving in seasoned oak. Just looking at him aroused everything within her that was feminine.

  The reaction surprised her. Since her divorce, she had sworn off men. Some women enjoyed the game. Others could never quite grasp the rules. She’d learned from hard experience that she fell into the latter category.

  As if he sensed her presence, the man suddenly turned to look over his shoul
der. When he spotted her, he went stock-still. Even at a distance, his eyes were as blue and searing as laser beams.

  A wave of self-consciousness crashed over Molly, and she wished she’d taken the time to dress for a trip to the country. First impressions were important, and Sonora Sunset’s life hung in the balance. Her comfortable wedge heels—practical, go-anywhere shoes in the city—were frivolous and inappropriate for this type of terrain. She brushed at her slacks. Beneath her palms, she felt the network of creases her sweaty body had steam pressed into the twill. There was nothing more unflattering to fat thighs than wrinkled khaki.

  The man shifted his gaze to her trendy SUV, then to the huge horse trailer. Over here in this land of macho fourwheel drive trucks, a Toyota pulling a two-stall trailer clearly wasn’t a common sight. An expression of incredulity crossed his dark face.

  That made them even. She’d been expecting Robert Redford, and instead she’d got “I’m too sexy for my shirt.”

  Molly assured herself that he couldn’t possibly be the ranch owner. Men that young and good-looking were far too preoccupied with flexing their biceps to successfully operate a business.

  Using one powerfully muscled arm, he swung up the saw to turn off its engine. After laying the wicked-looking piece of equipment beside the log, he grabbed a dark-brown Stetson and a blue chambray shirt from a nearby stump.

  As he walked toward her, he carefully dusted off the hat and put it on, tipping the brim just so to shade his eyes. That struck her as odd. If she were nude to the waist, she’d throw on the shirt first and worry about her head later.

  The well-oiled swing of his hips measured off slow, lazy strides that covered an amazing amount of ground with an economy of effort. With every movement, his large silver belt buckle winked at her in the sunlight. She stared at the triangular furring of dark hair that bisected his flat, striated abdomen and narrowed to a dusky line just above his jeans.

  As he drew up a few feet away from her, he gave the shirt a hard shake to rid it of sawdust, then shoved one arm down a sleeve. His chest muscles rippled with each movement. Tanned deliciously dark, his skin put her in mind of melted caramel.

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