Read Losing ladd Online

Authors: Dianne Venetta

Losing ladd

Advertising Download Read Online


LOSING LADD

by

Dianne Venetta

 

 

SMASHWORDS EDITION

 

 

*****

 

 

PUBLISHED BY:

BloominThyme Press

 

 

Losing Ladd

Copyright 2013 by DianneVenetta

 

 

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for yourpersonal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or givenaway to other people. If you would like to share this book withanother person, please purchase an additional copy for each personyou share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchaseit, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you shouldreturn it to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank youfor respecting the author’s work.

*****

 

 

LOSING LADD

 

 

 

Ladd Springs Series:

 

LADD SPRINGS ~ #1

LADD FORTUNE ~ #2

HOTEL LADD ~ #3

LADD HAVEN ~ #4

LOSING LADD ~ #5

 

 

Other novels by DianneVenetta

 

Romantic Women’s Fictionseries

The Gables Trilogy:

JENNIFER’S GARDEN

LUST ON THE ROCKS

WHISPER PRIVILEGES

 

Women’s Fiction

CONDEMN ME NOT

 

Losing Ladd

Copyright 2013 by DianneVenetta

ISBN: 978-0-9884871-9-2

Publisher: BloominThymePress

Editor: Best Foot Forward

Cover Design: JaxadoraDesign

 

This book is a work of fiction. Anyreferences to historical events, real people, or real locales areused fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidentsare the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance toactual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Thisebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without prior written permission from the copyrightowner.

 

Acknowledgements

 

For a writer, research iscritical. Not only because your imagination can take you to someamazing places and spin some wild tales, but because your readersmight have been there, done that, actually experienced some of thecrazy stuff you come up with! You don’t want them reading a sceneonly to say,that couldn’thappen. Hospital scenes are a primeexample. Doctors and nurses understand the procedures. Life anddeath situations are nothing new to them.

But explosives? Who knows anythingabout those details?

 

My nephew, for one. Ex-Navy, he workedas an EOD technician and is well-versed in the mechanics of howbombs are made, what makes them tick—and how to disable them. EODis short for Explosive Ordinance Disposal, which means it was hisjob to locate the device, assess its capability and neutralize thethreat, protecting your fellow men and women. It’s a tough job,especially considering much of his duties were performedunderwater. Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to createauthentic scenes for this book.

 

 

Dedication

 

This book is dedicated to my family.Without their support, I wouldn’t be able to spend hours upon hoursplaying with my imaginary friends. It’s a great life!

 

 

LOSING LADD

Book #5

 

Felicity Wilkins might own LaddSprings but when Jeremiah Ladd struts back into town withretaliation on his mind, she realizes how little her possessionmeans. Not far behind him, Jillian Devane arrives on scene andbetween the two of them, everything Felicity holds dear is injeopardy.

 

Travis Parker knows the players andknows the law. Problem is, Jeremiah and Jillian don’t play by therules and thwart his every effort to bring them to justice.Complicating the situation is the impending trial against Travis'twin brother Troy. Jack Foster continues to pursue his revengeagainst Troy, aided by his mother, Victoria. It's a battle thatthreatens to blow up the small town until a secret box of lettersdiscovered in an attic changes everything.

 

Cal Foster alone understands thevaluable find, and uses it to protect his new family from thebloodlust of past quarrels they had nothing to do with. But oneexplosive evening on hotel property threatens Felicity’s entireworld, throwing her at odds with Travis, and placing her life ingrave danger.

 

Will Jeremiah and Jillian finallyexact their revenge on Hotel Ladd? Will Jack and Victoria prevailin their vendetta? Family feuds pack a powerful punch leaving noone untouched in the grand finale, Losing Ladd...

Meet the cast ofcharacters ofLosing Ladd...

 

Ernie & AlbertLadd– Brothers of Ladd Springs

 

Susannah LaddWilkins– Sister to Ernie &Albert

 

Delaney Wilkins– Ernie’s niece, married to NickHarris

 

Nick Harris– Founder, Harris Hotels

 

Felicity Wilkins- Delaney’s daughter

 

Travis Parker– Boyfriend to Felicity, twin to Troy

 

Troy and CaseyParker– Newly married

 

Cal and Annie Owens– Son of Gerald & Victoria/Mother toCasey

 

Jeremiah Ladd- Ernie’s forsaken son, father toCasey

 

Jillian Devane– Hotel developer, competitor to NickHarris

 

Malcolm Ward– Hotel developer, partner to NickHarris

 

Lacy Owens Ward– Wife to Malcolm, sister to Annie

 

Jack Foster– Brother to Cal, Delaney’s ex-husband

 

Beau and ClintFoster– Cal’s brothers

 

Gerald & VictoriaFoster– Cal’s parents

 

Hank Dakota– Town lawyer working with Jack &Victoria

 

Fran Jones- Owner of Fran’s Diner, aunt to Annie &Lacy

 

Candi Sweeney- Annie’s best friend

 

Jimmy Sweeney– Candi’s nephew, Assistant Mgr. Fran’sDiner

Chapter One

 

Felicity Wilkins took the sharp turnwith a death grip on the steering wheel. Negotiating the ruralmountain road as fast as she could, she had to get to the hotelfast. Someone unlocked the gates at the hotel stables, setting theanimals loose. Some were gone. Her horse, Blue, was one of them.Visions of what could happen to her black mare inundated hermind.

Felicity’s mother had called, herdeadpan tone sinking in deeper with every mile. Blue was missing.Gone. Tightening her two-fisted grip, Felicity focused on the wayahead. There’d been a string of horse disappearances in the lastmonth. Properties along the forest were being targeted due to theease of escape. If anything happened to Blue, Felicity would die.She would die!

With a tap to the brakes, she veeredhard to the left, then lurched right, taking the snake turn at highspeed. As she barreled down the final stretch of pavement, sheprayed no one pulled out of their driveway. She wouldn’t be able tostop. The road was heavily lined with forest, nothing but trees andbushes as far as the eye could see, save a few tin mailboxes pokingout. A route ingrained in her memory, a road traveled many timeswith Blue.

Blue. Felicity’s heart caught in her throat. The mare had to beokay.

Driving past a wall ofrock, Felicity faintly registered the stream of spring waterspurting from its façade. The neighbors had inserted a makeshiftpipe for easy collection of the water, water that belonged to LaddSprings. Her family’s property. As she passed a rusty old housetrailer parked twenty feet off the road, memories of Clem Sweeneyflushed through her mind. Not only did he try to steal their water,but he tried to steal their gold. Gold that had been discovereddeep in the forest of her family’s property little over a yearago.Her property. Last year, Uncle Ernie had signed it over to her before hedied. Muscles jumped in her jaw. It had been a sore spot betweenhim and her mother, Ernie refusing to give in and sign the deed aspromised, but in the end he did. Ernie had signed it over and diedweeks later.

At the time, Harris Hotels had beenvying for the land to build a hotel. They specialized in luxuryeco-resort hotels around the world and wanted to incorporate theTennessee landscape into their portfolio. At first, her motherresisted. But once she and the chain owner became romanticallyinvolved, her position flipped. Felicity leased the land to HarrisHotels, and they transformed the property into a beautiful mountainresort, complete with spa, restaurant and stables. Stables someonehad deliberately opened and forced the animals to flee.

Felicity’s car reverberated over thewooden planks of the creek bridge, skidding in a cloud of dust asshe floored the gas pedal and headed uphill. The staff parking areawould be closest to the stables. Spying an open space near a clumpof trees, she spun the wheel and braked to a hard stop, pitchingher body forward. Pushing out her door, she slammed it closed,startled by the thunder of noise behind her.

She whirled, calling out breathlessly,“Troy!”

Troy Parker’s truck rocked back andforth as it too took the gravelly terrain at high speed, mirroringher arrival. He parked haphazardly, jumped out and headed straightfor her, his muscular swagger reassuring in her time of need.Relief swept through Felicity. Her mom must have called him to comehelp. As Troy closed the distance with determined jean-leggedstrides, she saw concern digging through the brown of his eyes.“Your mom told you?” he asked.

Felicity nodded. “Blue—” shesputtered, words choking away.

“She told me someoneunhooked the gates,” Troy said. “Is that true? Do you know whatthis is all about?”

She shook her head, overwhelmed by ahorrible helplessness.

The brown of Troy’s gaze darkened,underscored by the black of his T-shirt and cowboy hat. He was nota man to contend with lightly. Not with that matchstick temper ofhis. “Whoever did this is going to pay, Felicity.”

She nodded, suddenly grateful forTroy’s brash, bull-headed nature. She wanted whoever did this topay, to suffer—especially if her horse had suffered. Felicity beganto shake. “We need to find her.”

“We will.” Troy graspedFelicity by the arm and directed her toward the stables of HotelLadd, a place he loved as dearly as she loved it, marching themonward. Troy and Felicity had been friends for as long as she couldremember, along with his twin brother, Travis. The three were atrio. They rode together, played together. Horses were in theirblood, part of their everyday lives. The thought of anythinghappening to one of their animals cut deep. Would they findthem?

After they passed through a cluster oftrees, the packed clay ground was uneven, marked by jutting rocksand gnarled roots, the aroma of pine dominated the shaded trail.Unable to wait, Troy and Felicity began to jog, picking up theirpace as they raced through the canopy of green toward the newstables. A creek trailed along their path, the babble nearlyinaudible as fear and uncertainty rang in her mind, the pound ofboots jarring her body.

Blue knew this land as well asFelicity, but the hotel stables were new to her, having moved inonly weeks ago. Surely Blue wouldn’t run off. She might wander, butshe wouldn’t go far.

Unless she had been frightened. Buther mother didn’t relay any such detail. Probably because Felicityhadn’t given her the chance. The minute she heard Blue was missing,she ended the call, jumped in her car and peeled out of Casey andTroy’s driveway in two seconds flat. She’d been visiting with themand the baby when her mother called. As manager of the stables, thehorses were her mom’s responsibility. It was a job she took toheart. Like Felicity, Delaney Wilkins Harris adored horses. Shelived and breathed them. If anything happened to any one of theanimals, her mother would be devastated. Felicity glanced to herside. As would Troy. He was a horseman through and through. Hecould work a horse quicker and better than anyone, retrain them forriders or break them in for the first time, his recent performancein the stables of Hotel Ladd proof positive. Hired by her mother,Troy had been in heaven. It was his second chance, his dream cometrue. Until her father stole it from him.

Her father, Jack Foster.An evil man, he had attacked her mother one night and Troy jumpedin to defend her. The two fought, a gun was fired, then afterwardher father lied like the devil to have Troy wrongly charged withassault. Assault with a deadly weapon. Troy had pointed a gun ather father—her mother’s gun to be precise—using it as a way toprotect the two ofthemfrom the real criminal. Her father. Could he beresponsible for setting the horses loose?

“Are you okay?” Troyasked.

Felicity was falling behind. Now theywere out in the open air, the August sun was taking its toll, aswas the incline. The trail was graded but steep. Lengths of whitefour-board fencing lined their path up to the stables. At the topof the hill the distant tin roof reflected silverywhite.

Urgency clawed at her. “Fine,” shemuttered, her chest heaving under labored breath. Troy slowed andshe cried, “But we have to get there!”

“You sure you don’t needto slow down?” he asked.

Perspiration gathered at her neck andbeneath her blouse, a sure sign her fair skin would be flushed red.“Yes,” she replied and pushed at him to continue forward. Blueneeded her.

Her mother needed her.

Within minutes they reached the levelground surrounding the stables and paddocks. Her mother emergedfrom an open doorway of the stables, her bearing rigid, tense. Longwhite blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail; her low-waistedjeans hung snug on her slender frame, her body fit from a lifeoutdoors. She wore a navy tank top, her bare arms buff. But thatwas her mom. Delaney Wilkins Harris would rather be out hiking,throwing sweet feed or sitting on the back of her horse, Sadie,than primping with fuss and makeup.

As she approached her mother, the chipof fear in her brown eyes stopped Felicity cold. Was her mom’sPalomino gone, too? “Is Sadie okay?”

“Fine. But the others arestill missing. I’ve got several of the hands out looking, but youtwo are the ones I need.” Delaney glanced between Felicity andTroy. “The horses will respond to the sound of yourvoices.”

“What happened?” Felicityasked.

Delaney slid a hand over her shinyhead of hair, then dropped it to her waistband. “Someone came inthis morning and unlatched the gates. Several of the horses stayedaround but most of them left.”

Because they were new to Ladd Stables.Because the animals came from other ranches and weren’t fullyacclimated to their new home yet. As though reading her thoughts,her mom said, “Blue is probably down by the old stables. ButSpirit...” She turned to Troy and his expression went slack.“Spirit is a different story.”

“He’s not ready forrelease.”

Delaney returned a minor shake of herhead. Spirit wasn’t ready for riders, let alone freerange.

“He could be anywhere,”Troy mumbled.

“You’re the one he’llrespond to, Troy,” Delaney said. “If anyone can find him and bringhim back home, it’s you.”

Felicity looked to Troy. He’d beenworking with the horse since the animal’s arrival. He’d come toLadd Stables from a rancher friend in Georgia with a warning. Hewasn’t suitable for accommodating guest trails rides. But her momtook the animal anyway. Said she fell in love with the mahoganyQuarter Horse the minute she laid eyes on him, and she was takinghim. It was an emotion Felicity understood. And her assessmentappeared to be right on, once Troy got his hands on the horse. He’dmade huge progress but it was a process, one he hadn’t quitefinished.

Because he lost his job.Because of her father. Felicity closed her eyes.Please don’t let him lose the horse,too.

“Who would have done sucha thing?” Felicity demanded in a surge of anger.

“I have my suspicions, butright now we need to find those animals.”

Something moved behind her mother’sgaze. Did she know?

Troy responded immediately. Looking toFelicity, he asked, “You goin’ down to the old stables?” Shenodded. “Okay. I’ll take the north side. Call me if you seeanything, you hear?”

“Will do,” shereplied.

“Felicity!”

At the sound of her name, she turned.Travis Parker jogged up to them, his gaze darting between her andher mother. “I came as fast as I could. What’s goingon?”

Felicity circled her palm around hisbicep, drawing him close. The smooth round of his muscle wasreassuring in its strength, his calm level-headed presencecomforting to her nerves. Travis was an identical twin to Troy, thebrothers sharing the same build, sporting the same dark eyes andovergrown layers of brunette hair complete with a strong jaw lineand determined gaze. Unlike Troy who never left home without hiscowboy hat, Travis saved his for rides and hikes.

Yet both shared her love ofhorses.

Travis honed in on her mom. “Do weknow who did this?”

“I think Jeremiah Ladd hadsomething to do with it. Someone paid his debt to the casino,making him a free man.” Delaney glanced briefly to Troy. “He’s outand he’s back in town.”

Travis raked a hand through his hair,a fiery gaze landing on his brother. “You’d better watch yourback.”

“Oh my gosh—” Felicity’spulse tripped. Frightened for Troy’s safety, she darted a glancebetween the two of them. “You don’t think he would come back tocause trouble, do you?”

Travis glared at his brother. “Troydidn’t exactly befriend the man while he was in town.”

“Back off,brother.”

“Well, it’s true,” Travisshot back. “What did you think would happen when you tried to sleepwith his girlfriend?”

Troy angled toward Travis. “I did nosuch thing.”

“I caught you in theact!”

Delaney stepped between the boys.“Stop it you two. Infighting will get us nowhere.”

Felicity thought Travis had some nervebringing up the past at a time like this. Jeremiah Ladd was not aman to take lightly. Sure, Troy might have gotten mixed up with theman’s girlfriend, but it didn’t give Jeremiah the right to hurthim. Didn’t Travis care that Troy could be in serious danger?Didn’t he remember what happened the last time Jeremiah was intown? Not only had he tried to take Ladd Springs from Felicity andher mother, but he threatened Uncle Ernie’s life! Thank goodnessher uncle was a tough old goat and didn’t take grief from anyone,including his own son. He’d signed the property to her and that wasthe end of that. Uncle Ernie didn’t care what Jeremiah wanted orwhy he wanted it.

Memory cut loose a flurry of angst.According to her mom, Uncle Ernie had even gone so far as to haveJeremiah beaten and left for dead in the street to stop him frominterfering. Felicity centered on Troy. Would he now receive thebrunt of Jeremiah’s revenge?

“He’s back,” Delaneyintervened, “and I don’t think this it’s any coincidence, but ithas nothing to do with Troy.” She paused, settling a heavy gaze onFelicity. “It has everything to do with us.”

Chapter Two

 

Travis stepped back, tugged at hisplaid shirt and doused his anger. Felicity needed him. She neededto find her horse, and that’s why he was here. He’d deal with Troyanother time. “C’mon,” Travis said, taking his girlfriend by thearm. “Let’s go after Blue.”

Felicity didn’t resist, though hecould see the hesitation in her soft green eyes. As usual, herstrawberry blonde hair was pulled back into a French braid, a frameof fine strands curling around her face. In the afternoon heat, herfair skin was flushed pink, brightening the spray of frecklesacross her cheeks. Felicity had always been sensitive at heart, butbeing hung up on Troy’s well-being, currently jeopardized becauseof his own stupid actions, was plain wrong. If Troy hadn’t tried tomake it with Jeremiah Ladd’s trashy girlfriend, he’d have nothingto worry about. He wouldn’t be wearing a bulls-eye on his back. Butthat was Troy. Act first, think second. Travis deemed it wouldultimately be his undoing.

“Go on,” Troy toldFelicity. “I’ve gotta go after Spirit.”

“But what if Jeremiahfinds you?”

“We don’t know it’sJeremiah,” Travis interjected. Sending a dodgy gaze towardFelicity’s mom. Running off half-cocked was Troy’s specialty, nothis. Miss Delaney should know better. Unfortunately, she sharedTroy’s hair-trigger impulse control.

“Travis is right,” Delaneysaid. “We don’t know for sure who did this. The more importantmatter is finding those horses.”

Relieved by her retreat, Travis asked,“How many others have gone missing?”

“Other than Blue andSpirit, we’ve got five unaccounted for. One of the guys called andsaid he located two of the animals grazing in a field on the otherside of the river. The other three might be of a similar mind. I’veasked the men to check all the clearings.”

“Spirit won’t be in theopen,” Troy said. “He’s too skittish.”

Delaney looked to Troy, and Travisfelt an admiration string between them. “I’m going to let youdecide on where to look for Spirit.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Delaney Wilkins Harris was like amother to them. Hanging out with Felicity since they were kids,Travis and Troy spent nearly every day at her house or on horsebackalong the river. They’d been a team, an inseparable trio. The firstcracks in their bond didn’t show up until high school when itbecame clear as a mountain stream both brothers harbored feelingsfor Felicity, feelings that went beyond friendship. In thebeginning he and Troy joked about it, but one afternoon it came tofists. Travis insisted Felicity wasn’t Troy’s type. She was morelike him. Studious, more sophisticated. Troy flew out of controland the two hit the ground, rolling and punching. It had been ugly,both walking away with bruises. In the end, Felicity chose him.Travis had won and Troy couldn’t get past it. He’d stewed over theloss for weeks. Until he decided to hook up with Casey—right afterhe was messing with her father’s girlfriend. Disgust roiled inTravis’ gut. Sometimes he wondered how they could bebrothers.

“Be careful, Troy,” Hergaze held immense affection as Felicity said, “I don’t wantanything to happen to you.”

Travis’ stiffened asFelicity’s words lit into him.Maybe Ichose the wrong brother.Maybe Casey’s thesmart one and I’m the loser. The remarksfrom months ago still cut raw. Felicity seemed more concerned withTroy than him. And Casey and her brand new baby, too. She broughtclothes for the kid, played the flute for her. She went to theircabin practically every day. Staring at his girlfriend, Travis feltthe pinch. Since when did they rank higher than him?

“I’ll be fine,” Troyreplied. “You go on with Travis.”

Travis agreed. “C’mon,” he saidquickly and led Felicity away.

She followed his lead, cruising downthe trail, keeping pace with him. The sun was scorching today, nota cloud in the sky, and Travis was hot. Mostly from his run up thehill, but the temperature had to be pushing a hundred. Swiping ahand through the hair on his forehead, he slid it back. Grass wasdry, more brown than green. There hadn’t been much rain lately, andthe fields were beginning to wear. Casting a sideways glance, hecould see Felicity was hot too. Not only was her skin flushed fromexertion, but her neck was slick beneath her braid, her green shirtspotted with perspiration. The crux of her concern could be foundin her face. While orange-blonde strands of hair caught andreflected the sunlight, reminding him of many a day spent outdoorsin the sunshine, her emerald green eyes were knotted withworry.

Travis hated that she was upset, butat least she called him to come over and help her look for Blue.Ever since Felicity had overheard the Foster wives gossiping abouthow her father hit her mother and that’s why she dumped him, sheseemed changed, as if what happened between her parents ten yearsago had bearing on her life today.

Other books
wings of tavea by devri walls
a vintage from atlantis by clark ashton smith
the sorcerer's bane by b. v. larson
born wild by julie ann walker
alexandria of africa by eric walters
loving a lawman by amy lillard
heartland by david hagberg
miss lizzie by walter satterthwait
the ghosts of greenwood by maggie mackeever