The Texan's Contested Claim (A Piece Of Texas)

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9780373768448: The Texan's Contested Claim (A Piece Of Texas)
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The Texan's Contested Claim by Peggy Moreland released on Jan 01, 2008 is available now for purchase.

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



To Garrett Miller, timing was everything, both in business and in life.

And the timing on his trip to Austin, Texas, couldn't be more perfect.

His number one goal in making the trip was to reunite his stepmother with Ali Moran, the daughter she'd given up for adoption thirty years prior. If that failed, he intended to persuade—or coerce, if necessary—Ali to give him the missing portion of the deed she held, which would enable his stepmother and her new husband to fulfill the requirements to claim a ranch they had been given.

As fate would have it, he also needed to locate property for an expansion he was planning for his company. Since Austin was quickly establishing itself as the Silicon Valley of the Southwest, it seemed the natural choice and gave him the perfect excuse to make the trip.

The kick was, he had to accomplish it all without anyone discovering he was in Austin.

Scowling, he punched in the code for the electronic gate of Vista Bed and Breakfast, given to his secretary when she booked his reservation. If he'd known success would make him so damn popular with the media, he would've remained a geek for the rest of his life and never started Future Concepts. Who would've thought the public would care about a businessman's every move?

Or that success would make him a target for some crazy who wanted him dead?

He shoved the disturbing thought from his mind as he drove through the open gates. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he reminded himself, Garrett Miller was currently attending a technology seminar in Switzerland, a lie his public relations department had fed the media at his request. All Garrett had to do was keep his presence in Austin under wraps, and his stalker would follow the bait to Switzerland and hopefully fall right into the trap being set for him there.

Pulling up in front of the two-story home, he parked the rental car he'd picked up at the airport, then leaned across the seat to peer up at the house. He studied the structure a long moment, thinking of the woman inside, as well as his chances of gaining her cooperation. He'd given himself a month to find a way to convince her to reunite with his stepmother, though he doubted it would take anywhere near that long. Everyone had a price—or a weakness. It was just a matter of discovering Ali's.

He smiled smugly as he climbed from the car. He didn't doubt for a minute he'd succeed. Knowledge was power and, thanks to the P.I. he'd hired and the research he'd done on his own, he knew all there was to know about Ali Moran.

And she knew virtually nothing about him.

Perched high on a ladder, Ali stretched to snag the last ornament from the Christmas tree's uppermost branch. In spite of the cheery fire burning in the fireplace and her favorite Norah Jones CD playing on the stereo, she couldn't have worked up a smile if she had wanted to. January 1 was usually her favorite day of the year—sleeping late after celebrating the New Year with her friends, eating a huge bowl of black-eyed peas for good luck, making a list of resolutions she wouldn't keep. Best of all, January 1 marked the first day of her annual four-week vacation.

But there would be no vacation for Ali this year.

Grimacing, she tucked the ornament into the box and started down the ladder. It was her own fault, she told herself. She'd let greed get the best of her.

And who wouldn't? she asked herself in frustration. When a zillionaire calls you up and offers you four times the going rate to reserve your entire bedand-breakfast for a month, it's kind of hard to say no. Cooking and cleaning for one guest, rather than the five her B&B was designed to accommodate, and getting paid four times the money for her trouble? Only a fool would turn down a deal as sweet as that.

"So quit your whining," she lectured, as she stooped to place the box of ornaments in a storage crate. The money she would earn far outweighed whatever sacrifices were required of her, including giving up her vacation.

Grimacing, she slapped the crate's flaps into place. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it," she grumbled under her breath.

The doorbell rang and she straightened with a frown. Who on earth would drop by this early in the morning on New Year's Day? she wondered. Everyone she knew would still be in bed, after partying all night—which is exactly where she'd be, if she wasn't expecting a guest to arrive that afternoon.

At the thought of her guest, she caught her lower lip between her teeth. Surely he hadn't arrived early.

She'd specifically told him check-in time wasn't until three. But who else could it be? Unable to think of a soul who'd be up and about this early on New Year's Day, she started grabbing decorations and shoving them into boxes, mortified at the thought of inviting anyone into her home with it looking such a mess, much less Garrett Miller.

The bell sounded a second time, setting her teeth on edge. Dropping the evergreen swag she held, she marched for the front door, telling herself he could just deal, since he had chosen to ignore check-in time.

At the door, she paused to drag the elastic band from her hair and stole a peek through the peephole. She blinked, blinked again. If she hadn't already checked out her guest on the Internet, she might not have recognized the man standing on her porch as the owner of a world-renowned company like Future Concepts. Dressed in faded jeans, a worn leather jacket and aviator sunglasses, he looked too...well, normal.

The bell rang a third time, making her jump. She blew out a breath, then pasted on a cheerful smile and swung open the door.

"Hi," she said and extended her hand in greeting.

"You must be Garrett. I'm Ali, the innkeeper of Vista Bed and Breakfast."

He stared, the oddest expression coming over his face, but didn't make a move to take her hand.

She took a closer look at him. "You are Garrett Miller, aren't you?"

The question seemed to snap him from his trance-like state.

"Sorry," he said and took her hand. "It's just that you look very much like...someone I know."

A tingle of awareness skittered up her arm as his fingers closed around hers. Surprised by the sensation—and not at all sure she liked it—she broke the connection.

"You know what they say," she said, with a careless shrug. "Everyone has a twin."

He got that odd look on his face again and she inwardly groaned, thinking it was going to be a very long month.

"Come on in," she said and opened the door wider.

"You'll have to pardon the mess," she warned, thinking it best to prepare him for the disaster that awaited them in the den. "You caught me in the middle of clearing away my Christmas decorations."

He stepped past her, trailing the seductive scent of sandalwood in his wake. "I hope my arriving early isn't an inconvenience. I had my pilot fly me in earlier than I'd originally planned."

He had his own pilot? Which probably meant he had his own plane, too. Unable to imagine that kind of wealth or the freedom it offered, she swallowed an envious sigh. "No problem." She glanced out the door toward the rental car parked in her driveway. "Do you need help with your luggage?"

He pulled off his sunglasses, looking around as he tucked them into the inside pocket of his jacket. "I'll get it later, if that's all right."

When he met her gaze again, sans the sunglasses, she felt that same tingle of awareness she'd experienced when he'd clasped her hand, only this time he hadn't touched her.

"Oh, wow," she breathed, finding it all but impossible to look away.

"Excuse me?"

"Your eyes," she said. "I didn't notice until you took off your glasses. They're brown. That rich, dark, melted chocolate kind of brown. And when the light hits them just right—" she opened and closed the door, varying the amount of light striking his face "—these little gold flecks flash like tiny explosions of light."

He reached inside his jacket. "I can put them back on, if it bothers you."

Realizing she was making a fool of herself, she offered him a sheepish smile. "Sorry," she said, as she closed the door. "I tend to get carried away about lighting. It's one of the curses of being a photographer. This way," she said, and motioned for him to follow her. "I'll give you a quick tour of the downstairs, then take you up to your room. "Formal living room and dining room," she said, gesturing left and right as she moved down the hall.

"You're welcome to use both, but most of my guests prefer the coziness of the den and breakfast room at the rear of the house. There's a beautiful view of Town Lake through the windows there."

She paused to point to a closed door at the end of a short hall. "That's the entrance to my private living quarters. It's the only portion of the house that's off-limits to guests."

He stopped beside her. "I noticed on your Web site that you cater to businessmen." He angled his head to peer at her. "I believe the blurb read something like, 'the Vista, where all the needs of the corporate traveler are met.'"

The emphasis he placed on "all," as well as his suggestive tone, put Ali's back up. "If you're thinking the Vista is a front for a call girl service," she informed him tersely, "you're wrong."

"I didn't say it was," he returned mildly.

"Well, just so you understand, I provide my clients with nothing more than comfortable accommodations, home-cooked meals and workspace should they need it."

"Which is all I expect," he assured her. "I was merely curious why a woman who lives alone would prefer men as guests."

She narrowed her eyes. "I never said I lived alone."

"You didn't have to. Your repeated use of 'my'and 'I' made it obvious."

When she continued to eye him suspiciously, he dropped his hands to his hips, and the corners of his mouth into a frown.

"Look," he said, clearly irritated with her. "If you're worried about your safety, don't be. You're perfectly safe with me. I'm not interested in you or your body. And just so you understand," he said, tossing her own words back at her, "if and when I'm in the mood for female companionship, I sure as hell don't need someone to arrange it for me."

She wasn't sure whether to be relieved or insulted, but one thing was certain—she'd angered her guest...something a person in her business couldn't afford to do.

"I'm sorry," she said, and meant it. "I'm usually not this defensive."

"And I'm not usually mistaken for a predator," he snapped back at her.

She squinched up her nose. "Can we hit Rewind?" she asked hopefully. "It seems we've gotten off to a bad start."

"If it makes you feel better thinking our relationship will improve by starting over—" he tossed up a hand

"—then by all means consider the tape rewound."

To prove her willingness to play nice, she forced a smile. "Thanks. And to answer your question about my preference for business travelers, this is my home, as well as a bed-and-breakfast, and I discovered early on that businessmen are less disruptive to my daily life than tourists. Since they generally book only on weekdays, that's an advantage, too, as it leaves my weekends free for my other job."

He lifted a brow. "Other job?"

"Photography. I'm an aspiring photojournalist."

"A woman of many talents."

"You might want to withhold judgment until you see my work," she warned, then smiled again and motioned him to follow her. "Come on, let's finish the tour."

She started down the hall again toward the kitchen. "In the mornings, you'll find juice and coffee on the buffet in the breakfast room. I normally serve breakfast at seven on weekdays and eight on weekends, but since you're my only guest, you can choose a different time, if you like."

"Your current schedule is fine."

"The den is through here," she said, and led the way through an arched doorway. She stopped, her shoulders sagging at the amount of work awaiting her. "Welcome to the after-Christmas nightmare," she said wearily.

"Damn," he murmured, staring, then glanced her way. "Do you decorate every room in the house?"

"Pretty much. My friends accuse me of trying to make up for my dismal childhood Christmases."

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