The Dream by Whitney Dineen

CHAPTER ONE

KEELY WELSH FELT his presence before she looked up and saw him. It had been that way from the day she met Boone Sinclair, her best friend’s eldest brother. The man wasn’t movie-star handsome or gregarious. He was a recluse, a loner who hardly ever smiled, who intimidated people simply by walking into a room. For some unknown reason, Keely always knew when he was around, even if she didn’t see him.

He was tall and slender, but he had powerful legs and big hands and feet. There were rumors about him that grew more exaggerated with the telling. He’d been in Special Forces overseas five years earlier. He’d saved his unit from certain destruction. He’d won medals. He’d had lunch with the president at the White House. He’d taken a cruise with a world-famous author. He’d almost married a European princess. And on and on and on.

Nobody knew the truth. Well, maybe Winona and Clark Sinclair did. Winnie and Clark and Boone were closer than brothers and sisters usually were. But Winnie didn’t talk about her brother’s private life, not even to Keely.

There hadn’t been a day since she was thirteen when Keely hadn’t loved Boone Sinclair. She watched him from a distance, her green eyes soft and covetous. Her hands would shake when she happened on him unexpectedly. They were shaking now. He was standing at the counter, signing in. He had an appointment for his dog’s routine shots. He made one every year. He loved the old tan-and-black German shepherd, whose name was Bailey. People said it was the only thing on earth that he did love. Maybe he was fond of his siblings, but it didn’t show. His affection for Bailey did.

One of the other vet techs came out with a pad and called in Bailey, with a grin at Boone. It wasn’t returned. He led the old dog into one of the examination rooms. He walked right past Keely. He never looked at her. He didn’t speak to her. As far as he was concerned, she was invisible.

She sighed as the door closed behind him and his dog. It was that way anyplace in town that he saw her. In fact, it was like that at his huge ranch near Comanche Wells, west of Jacobsville, Texas. He never told Winnie that she couldn’t have Keely over for lunch or an occasional horseback ride. But he ignored her, just the same.

“It’s funny, you know,” Winnie had remarked one day when they were out riding. “I mean, Boone never makes any comment about you, but he does make a point of pretending he doesn’t see you. I wonder why.” She looked at Keely then, with her dark eyes mischievous in their frame of blond hair. “You wouldn’t know, I guess?”

Keely only smiled. “I haven’t got a clue,” she said. It was the truth.

“It’s only you, too,” her friend continued thoughtfully. “He’s very polite to our brother Clark’s occasional date—even to that waitress that Clark brought home one night for dinner, and you know what a snob Boone can be. But he pretends you don’t exist.”

“I may remind him of somebody he doesn’t like,” Keely replied.

“There was that girl he was engaged to,” Winnie said out of the blue.

Keely’s heart jumped. “Yes, I remember when he was engaged,” she replied. It had been when she was fourteen, almost fifteen years old, just before he came back from overseas. Keely’s young heart had been broken.

“It was just before you came back here to live with your mom,” Winnie continued as if she’d read Keely’s mind. “In fact, it was just about the time she started drinking so much more…” She hesitated. Keely’s mother was an alcoholic and it was a sensitive subject to her friend. “Anyway, Boone was mustering out of the Army at the time. His fiancée rushed to Germany where he’d been taken when he was airlifted out of combat, wounded, and then…poof. She was gone, Boone came home, and he never mentioned her name again. None of us could find out what happened.”

“Somebody said she was European royalty,” Keely ventured shyly.

“She was distantly related to some man who was knighted in England,” came the sarcastic reply. “Anyway, she ran out on Boone and he was bitter for a long time. So three weeks ago the phone rings and he gets a call from her. She’s been living with her father, who owns a private detective agency in San Antonio. She told Boone she’d made a terrible mistake and wanted to make up.”

Keely’s heart fell. A rival who had a history with Boone. It made her miserable just to think about it, despite the fact that she would never get close enough to Boone to give the other woman any competition. “Boone doesn’t forgive people,” she said, thinking aloud.