By: Diana Palmer

“In my working clothes? Fat chance! Besides, he’s only seen me once, behind a desk.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll be ready.”

“Better be, or I’ll dress you myself,” he warned.


But he’d already hung up.

She got up, putting aside her trowel. “Mrs. Harcourt, we need to tell Manuel to finish clearing these beds for me,” she said as she mounted the steps. “Jason’s taking me to a sale.”

“All right, darlin’,” the graying old woman said with a smile. She was tall and amply padded, with black eyes and a lovely smile. She’d come to work for the family before Jason was born and was considered part of it. She and the maid, Dilly, and the chauffeur, John, were all part of the family. There was other staff that worked part-time, but the old retainers were full-time.

Gracie loved living here on the big estate in San Antonio. The staff did go down to the ranch in Comanche Wells occasionally for a few weeks, especially when Jason had company down there. If he did, though, it wasn’t the same local society crowd he invited to the San Antonio mansion. It was often world leaders who needed a break from the backbreaking pressure of their daily lives, high government politicians running from scandals, even an occasional billionaire who wanted privacy even for a few days. Jason chose his friends by their character, not their wealth. It was one of many things Gracie loved about him. He had a big heart and he was a soft touch for people down on their luck. He gave heavily to charities. But he didn’t seem the sort of man who could be approached.

He was an introvert. It was hard for him to connect to people. Consequently he was intimidating to a lot of guests, who found him hard going in private conversations. Only with Gracie could he relax and be himself. It was, she considered, a matter of trust. He felt safe with her, as she did with him.

What a pity, said her friend Barbara, who ran a café in Jacobsville, that Jason and Gracie were brother and sister, when they had so much in common. Gracie had reminded her that there was no blood relationship there. Jason’s father had married Gracie’s mother, who was killed only a couple of weeks after the wedding in an automobile accident. Myron Pendleton had kept Gracie, who had no other living relatives, and soon gave her another stepsister, Gloryanne Barnes—now Mrs. Rodrigo Ramirez—when he married Glory’s mother, Beverly, months later. Glory and Gracie had more in common than anyone else knew. They were best friends. It was the two of them against the world when they were in school, because both had scars from their childhoods and neither was comfortable with boys. They rarely dated. They were targets of some vicious bullying, which Jason had quietly and efficiently nipped in the bud. Even today, Glory was still the closest thing to a sister Gracie had ever had.

She showered and dried her hair, dressing in jeans with a vine of pink roses embroidered down one leg, with a pink T-shirt. Impulsively she brushed out her long, pale blond hair and braided it into pigtails. She grinned at herself with twinkling gray eyes. She had a soft complexion with radiant smoothness. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was pretty, in her shy way. She frowned, wondering if it was appropriate to wear pigtails at her age. Sometimes she did things that seemed odd to other people. That little glitch in her brain did a lot of damage to her ego, from time to time.

Well, it was too late to worry about it now. She put on her fanny pack and pulled on her boots over thick socks. A horn was blowing outside the front door. Jason, impatient as always.

She ran down the staircase, almost stumbling head over heels, remembered that she’d left her cell phone in her room. She hesitated. What the heck, Jason had his. She continued down the stairs and out the front door.

“I’ll be out for lunch!” she yelled.

“All right, dear,” Mrs. Harcourt called back.

Jason was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. He glowered as she quickly descended the front steps of the elegant brick mansion and hurried down the paved walkway to the circular driveway where his big black ranch truck was waiting with the door open.

She tumbled in beside him and slammed the door.

“I know, I know, I’m late, but I had to have a shower,” she rationalized as she fumbled with her seat belt. “I couldn’t go out with dirt on my hair!”