The Texas Ranger's Secret (Love Inspired Historical)

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9780373283446: The Texas Ranger's Secret (Love Inspired Historical)

RANGER FOR HIRE 

Willow McMurtry's writing career could end before it even begins—unless she learns the ways of a Texas Ranger. She can't write tales about Ranger life if she's constantly making mistakes, so she needs handsome Texan Gage Newcomb to teach her. Willow just can't tell him the true purpose behind her request. 

Gage agrees to teach Willow how to shoot, ride and lasso—but only to keep her close. An outlaw who's cost him dearly is still on the loose. And the hidden lawman trusts no one, especially not a feisty woman who might be working with his foe. But as the cowboy lessons progress, Willow may convince him to share all of his secrets—and his heart—with her.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

DeWanna Pace is a NY TIMES, USA TODAY bestselling author who lives in Texas with her cowboy husband and pets. This new Nana combines her faith with her love of humor and romance. As a former elementary school librarian, she feels blessed to have helped others discover the love of books and reading. Though her first novel is still under the bed growing baby spiders, it taught her the craft of writing. She has published two dozen novels and anthologies. Let her show you the ways a heart can love.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

May 1868

The thunderstorm rushed ahead of Willow McMurtry, as if warning all who lived in High Plains, Texas, that she would arrive and with her came trouble.

Seeking a new path because she couldn't stay on her last one, she prayed, Please don't let me mess up in this town, too.

Wind buffeted the curtain meant to keep out the dust stirred up beneath the churning hooves of the horses pulling the overland stage. Lightning bolts blinked in and out as the curtain flapped back and forth, offering popping whips of relief from the oppressive heat to the only passenger who had not yet reached her destination.

With glimpses of the passing prairie, she watched uprooted vegetation tumble toward the coach searching for a barrier to the wind's fury. But the team's pounding hooves and the coach's wheels crushed the wind-driven fodder or ricocheted it hither and yonder across the countryside.

"High Plains ahead!" yelled the driver, heralding the blessed fact that the long journey was near its end.

At least for now.

She would finally be inside somewhere, out of biting range of bugs and flies trying to hitch a ride.

"One-hour stop, coming up!"

The sense of stifling solitude gripped Willow even more profoundly, threatening to spill the unshed tears she'd held back when she'd said goodbye to the other passengers many miles ago. How she hated to be alone, and wanted so desperately to be among friends—a tribe of her own. A tribe made not just of family members, who were expected to include her, but friends who chose and enjoyed being in her company.

Willow called upon the light of hope living within her that this place so loved by her sisters might also prove the haven that would welcome her, rescue her from herself and become a home to her if she could not resolve her problem back in Georgia.

How much she wanted to be an asset to a community rather than an object of scorn. A blessing to someone, not a hindrance.

She took a lace kerchief from her reticule, then dabbed the perspiration dotting her face and neck, hoping to make herself look more presentable for when she arrived. Willow pinched her cheeks a little to add color, then brushed her fingers through wisps of hair that had gone astray from her upswept curls.

She put away her kerchief and lifted the emerald hat from her lap and did her best to nest it back in place at a jaunty angle. But her height in such a confined space gave little room to set it fashionably atop her head. The seat kept rocking and swaying to the point she finally just had to jab the hat pin in and hope for the best.

The plumed ostrich feather adorning the hat hung too far over her left eye, bent out of shape by the last woman who'd left the coach in Fort Worth. She'd accidentally stumbled over Willow's long legs and ended up plopping down on one edge of the hat. Her apology had sounded so sincere that Willow hadn't had the heart to complain. After all, she wasn't exactly graceful herself most of the time and hoped others would forgive her lack of coordination.

Sighing in frustration, she decided it certainly wouldn't be the first time she arrived somewhere looking disheveled. Daisy and Snow wouldn't be surprised at all, but Willow had wanted to make a good impression on her future brother-in-law and anyone else who came with her sisters to fetch her.

She did her utmost to adjust the hat but only ended up making the feather look more like quilt padding dangling from a fishing line and her head feel like a pincushion. Maybe she'd have time to dig into her baggage and take a brush to her mop of hair and just go hatless, but the mighty winds that swept the Texas prairie almost required a soul to wear some kind of bonnet or head covering. Unless she chose to braid her hair, as Daisy always did.

She couldn't wait to see her sisters. Daisy's impending wedding had come as a surprise and provided a most convenient excuse for quick departure from Atlanta.

When Willow told her boss that Daisy needed her to help take care of the children while the couple honeymooned, he had eagerly agreed that her absence just might prove the perfect solution to the trouble she'd caused.

Willow had left, unsure if she would ever return to her job at the paper but knowing this leave might be the only way to improve her chances of being asked back.

Not only that, she felt that she really had to be there for Daisy and Snow. Willow only hoped she hadn't arrived too late to attend the wedding and be of some help. Daisy would never say a word, of course, but her middle sister rarely held anything back from Willow. Now she and Snow would be spending two months together without the buffer of their older sister.

The thought made Willow pray once more that she somehow arrived on time.

"Whoa, you beastly beauties! Hold up there, now," shouted the driver as his last pull on the reins brought the team to a halt.

Willow pitched forward into the seat across from hers. She dug in the heels of her kid boots and grabbed the side of the coach in an effort to reseat herself, only to slide bottom-first to the floor. Her hat shifted. The feather dipped low to tickle her nose, which set off a round of sneezing made worse by the billowing dust as the stagecoach settled.

She stretched out her arms to see if she could leverage herself enough to climb the walls and regain her seat, but to no avail. She'd just have to sit there like a folded accordion and scoot out the door once the driver opened it.

"Safe and delivered," yelled the coachman. "Only half past noon."

Half past noon? They'd been due in more than two and a half hours ago. One of the wheels had hit a rut and taken quite a while to be repaired. Her sisters would be madder than two snakes with no rattles thinking she'd missed the stage that would get her here in time for the ceremony.

Willow knew Daisy had been meeting several stages the past two months. Her sister had a right to be angry with her for not showing up. When Daisy invited her and Snow for a visit in March, Snow had gone on alone. Willow had promised to come later, wanting to arrive with a wonderful announcement of her own—a job at the respected newspaper in Atlanta.

Why hadn't she just gone to High Plains when she first promised?

Because I wanted to prove to everybody how capable I am, she berated herself as she struggled again to dislodge her body. Now look at me. I can't even untangle my legs.

At twenty-two, she was beginning to believe she'd never find a place where she could be proud of herself and find what she could do well.

She should have never risked taking the position as printer's helper at the Weekly Chronicle, knowing she'd promised Daisy the visit.

If only her boss hadn't mentioned his love of anything Texas that first day of work, she might have kept her mouth shut.

But no, she couldn't wait to share some of her late grandfather's tales of his legendary days riding with Captain Jack Hays, one of the bravest captains in the Texas Corps of Rangers.

That was just the start of her troubles. If only she'd been aware of what she'd stirred up at the time. Then again, she never recognized the exact moment she set herself up for failure. Did anyone?

What was taking the driver so long? She didn't have that much baggage. Surely he would let her out first before changing the team.

Her legs cramped but she didn't want to seem impatient with the man. After all, he wasn't aware that she'd jammed herself between the seats. She'd just have to sit here and keep her mind on something until he opened the coach door and rescued her.

Willow's thoughts returned to the days that followed her boss's unusual interest in learning more of Texas. She'd told him of how her grandfather had read to her and her siblings the eight-page newspaper serials called story papers and that she'd preferred the frontier tales of derring-do about adventurous heroes.

She spouted a wealth of the jargon, giving him lots of details regarding the lifestyle and ways of the men who worked the ranging companies, feeling proud she recalled so much after all these years.

Biven Wittenburg Harrington III decided to take a risk and develop a limited series of story papers based on a fictional Texas Ranger and see how well the readers responded. Literacy was up and her boss-editor-publisher said he believed readers yearned for something to take their minds off the hard news of Reconstruction.

When he turned to her, Willow first realized she might be headed for more trouble than she knew how to handle.

He asked her to write the fictional stories under the name Will Ketchum, based on her grandfather's tales. She should have listened to her initial hesitation, but she was being offered the biggest blessing of a would-be writer's lifetime. A chance to reach readers.

Willow asked herself if she was ready for her dream. Was she capable of meeting such a challenge? The only way she would find out was to put aside her hesitation and do her best.

But her best proved as frustrating as pinning her hat back on today. Critics railed her efforts as pure fiction with no foundation in truth. Though the stories were never presented as anything but fable, the "no foundation in truth" complaint hurt her feelings. She had besmirched her grandfather's memory and failed her boss's expectations.

After researching further, she discovered Grandfather had taken creative license and jumbled parts of the facts. She even learned that a few of the stories he'd told hadn't happened until after he'd retired from life as a Ranger and moved to Grandmother's hometown in Florida. The criticism about lacking believability proved justified.

She understood now where she'd inherited some of her traits.

Surprisingly, when she went to Biven about what she'd discovered, he assured her that he expected the more conservative critics to berate any fiction he included in the paper, but it was clear from other readers' letters that they wanted equal parts fact and fiction in the serial. He'd decided on a delay in future stories about Ketchum until she could improve that balance.

Exhaling a huge sigh, Willow hoped High Plains would provide the solutions needed to set things right with his expectations...or at least offer a hideout from anyone learning she had authored the tales that had stirred up so much gossip.

She probably wouldn't have to worry about either if they found her all shriveled up between the coach seats.

"About ready to get out of there, miss?"

No, I enjoy my knees poking me in the chin, she thought, but called upon the only gracious bone left in her body when she hollered instead, "Yes, please. I need help down, if you don't mind."

The coach door swung wide and the driver's darkly stained leather glove thrust inside, offering a hand. "Problem?"

"I'm kind of stuck." Willow inched her slender frame toward him, finally managing to scoot sideways enough to twist her legs without shifting her crinoline petticoats too high. Use his language, she reminded herself. "Thank you, partner. I'm much obliged."

"Better hurry—you'll want to get inside somewhere," he warned. "Looks like it's fixing to drop buckets out here."

"How 'bout I help? You take care of getting her bags down," offered a deeply masculine voice. "Then we'll both change out the team."

What had they been doing? Discussing the weather?

A hand twice as big as the driver's reached in and latched on to Willow's forearm, giving a mighty jerk that unfolded her.

"Thank y—" Her breath escaped as momentum carried Willow out, one of her boots skidding off the first step down, the other meeting only air.

Out she tumbled, tripping on the step, only to land face-first into the broad chest of a massive-sized man and knock him flat on his back.

He roared with laughter and batted away the feather sprawled on his face. "Welcome to High Plains, lady. Glad to meetcha."

"Oh, do pardon me, partner." Her lashes blinked rapidly, trying to widen her dust-filled eyes enough to see clearly.

"Bear. The name's Bear. Blacksmith and liveryman." Amusement shone in his brown eyes as he waited for her to stand. "And I figure that was most of my doing. My wife says I don't know my own strength sometimes."

The bald man stood and handed Willow her hat, an apologetic expression slanting his lips to one side. "Guess I'm gonna have to buy ya a new one, miss. That bird looks plenty plucked."

She accepted her hat and shook her head. "No need, Mr., uh..." She realized she didn't know if the name he'd given was his first or last. "Bear. The hat was already ruined before I got out of the coach." She launched into a brief explanation.

"Anybody else in there?" He looked past her.

"No, I'm the only one left," she informed, wondering if he'd deliberately cut her explanation short.

"Well, then is there anything else I can do for ya since I handled ya too rough?"

Willow glanced around the immediate vicinity, taking note of the people milling on the sidewalks, a couple of vendors hawking their wares, a wagon parked in front of what she thought she remembered was a mercantile. She hadn't been here since she was fourteen years old, when her niece was born. She'd not really paid that much attention to the town at the time. Boys were too much her focus back then. Willow supposed that was where she'd gotten her imaginings of what Will Ketchum might look and sound like. Texas males had a swagger about them and an interesting accent.

"Can you tell me if Daisy Trumbo or Snow Mc-Murtry have been here today asking for me?" she finally inquired. "I'm their sister, and they were supposed to meet my stage."

Bear walked to the back of the coach and took the baggage the driver lifted down, then set the mail sacks closer to his quarters. "So you're the one," he said. "Come to think of it, you kind of look like them, and they said you'd probably arrive without a bonnet."

Did she have to be so predictable? And what did he mean when he said, "So you're the one"? "Then they've been here and gone?"

"Told me they still had too much to do for the wedding tomorrow to stick around for a late stage. Some never arrived at all and several you've missed, according to Tadpole. Oh, sorry, that's what I call your niece, Ollie. She's my fishing partner. Guess you can understand the sense of their thinking."

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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