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Forced into marriage in name only to a ruthless Western rancher, Victoria Waverly, the daughter of ruined Southern aristocracy, finds forbidden passion with hired gunman Jake Roper.
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Linda Howard is the award-winning author of many New York Times bestsellers, including Drop Dead Gorgeous, Cover of Night, Killing Time, To Die For, Kiss Me While I Sleep, Cry No More, Dying to Please, Open Season, Mr. Perfect, All the Queen’s Men, Now You See Her, Kill and Tell, and Son of the Morning. She lives in Alabama with her husband and two golden retrievers.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From "Chapter One""
Major Frank McLain stepped into the sun and watched the buggy approach, his eyes narrowed with anticipation.
She was finally here.
Fierce, gloating satisfaction filled him. He'd never been good enough before, but now a damned Waverly would be his wife. Her mother was even a Creighton -- Margaret Creighton -- and the girl had the Creighton looks herself, all pale, calm elegance, and aristocratic bones.
Victoria Waverly. Before the war her family would have spit on him. Now she was marrying him because he had money and all they had were empty bellies and impeccable bloodlines. The war and the hunger it had created were the world's greatest equalizers. The Waverlys and the Creightons hadn't blinked twice at marrying their daughter to him in exchange for a more comfortable life.
He could barely wait. He'd wrenched this land from the Sarratts with blood and death and pure guts, and made it his; he now owned more land than any plantation owner in the South ever had, made his name one to be reckoned with in the territory, ran more cattle and employed more men than anyone else around, and still something had been lacking. He'd never gotten what he'd wanted more than anything else in his life, and that was a lady at his table, a true aristocrat to share his name. There had never been any hope of it before, but after the war he'd gone back to Augusta, back to the town where he'd grown up as poor and despised white trash. He'd searched there for the perfect woman of his dreams, and he'd found Victoria. His heart beat faster just thinking about her. He had waited four months for her to arrive, and now she was here. They would be married that night.
One of the men standing behind him shifted to get a better look."Who's that in the buggy with her?"
"Her little sister and her cousin, Emma Gann, came with her," McLain answered. He didn't mind that Victoria had brought some family with her. He kind of liked the idea of having them under his roof. Men from all over the territory would probably come to court them. White women were still a rarity, and true ladies were as precious as gold. He had a pleasant moment's thought of the alliances he could forge with advantageous marriages for the two young women. By God, he'd build an empire that would make the Sarratts look like two-bit dirt farmers. Twenty years had passed since he'd killed the last of them and taken the land, but he still hated the name. Duncan Sarratt had always looked at him as if he were trash, and that bitch Elena had acted as if he'd dirtied the air she had to breathe. But he'd gotten both of them, made them pay, and now he lived in the Sarratt house. No, goddamn it, it was his house, just as it was his land. There were no Sarratts anymore. He'd made sure of it.
The half dozen men standing behind him were, in a way, just as eager for the buggy to roll to a stop. Oh, there were some white whores in Santa Fe if they wanted to ride that far, but all of the women on the ranch or anywhere nearby were Mexican. The few white women in Santa Fe who weren't whores were the wives of soldiers, or the odd rancher's wife. These women coming in now were supposed to be good women, but only the Major's wife would be off-limits. Hell, they all knew him. If he wanted to plow his wife's sister, he'd do it and not think twice. So they watched the approaching buggy with hot eyes, wondering what the women would look like, not that it mattered.
Will Garnet spat on the ground."The Major is acting like a fool over this woman," he muttered."Ain't no split-tail born worth this much fuss."
The few men who heard him agreed, but didn't say anything. Only two men on the spread were immune to the Major's rage, and Garnet was one of them. He was in his early forties, with dark hair graying at the temples, and he had been with the Major from the first. He was the foreman and did pretty much as he wanted, with the Major's blessing. They all walked lightly around him, except the man standing a little away from their group, his posture relaxed and his eyes cold under the brim of his hat. Jake Roper had only been on the ranch a few months, but he, too, seemed immune to the Major's anger.
They had all been hired as cowpunchers or wranglers, but it was a fact that some of them had been hired more for their handiness with a sidearm than for their bulldogging ability. A man who had made his fortune the way McLain had needed to keep an eye out for his enemies. Not only that, but a spread as big as his was vulnerable to rustling and lightning raids by the Comanche. So McLain had built his own private army of gunmen, and Jake Roper was the fastest. Even the other gunhands tended to steer clear of him. Garnet might have a mean streak in him a mile wide, but Roper was ice clear through. Garnet might backstab a man, but Roper would squash out a life with as little thought as if he'd stepped on a bug.
Roper himself had little interest in the women. The Major was making a fool out of himself but it didn't bother Roper. He gave his boss a sidelong glance, but all his contempt was hidden behind his cold eyes. This fancy, high-nosed Southern lady wasn't so special, not if she was marrying McLain. He had a good idea what she was in for. But she'd chosen to come here; she could damn well make the best of it.
When the buggy reached the front of the house, it stopped and McLain stepped forward. He lifted his arms to help one of the women down."Victoria!"
She stood, but instead of allowing McLain to lift her from the buggy, she placed a gloved hand on his forearm and stepped down."Major," she said calmly, and lifted back the veil from her bonnet.
Roper's first impression of her face was that it looked like it belonged to a bloodless porcelain doll, very correct and passionless. Yep, a lady, all right, all the way down to her lace drawers -- and God forbid any man should see them. Her hair was light brown, what he could see of it, and her voice had been low. That was a blessing; shrill, screeching women disgusted him.
The next woman to alight, also with a gentle hand on McLain's forearm, was a bit on the plain side, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. But Roper thought she had a sweet smile. He eyed her consideringly. He figured this was the cousin.
The next one didn't wait for assistance, but jumped to the ground with a small gurgle of delight. She tugged her bonnet off, and whirled it by its strings."Oh, everything's beautiful," she breathed, looking around with wide eyes.
Standing beside Roper, Garnet stiffened and swore under his breath. She was a young girl rather than a woman, but she was stunningly beautiful. Her hair was a golden blond mass, and she had big, dark blue eyes. Roper figured a girl like that was going to cause a lot of trouble among the men on the ranch. The little sister was just too pretty to leave her alone.
Both of them stepped forward, faces blank. The Major was beaming like an idiot as he turned toward them."Victoria, my dear, these are my two right hands, Will Garnet is my foreman and Jake Roper makes sure we're all safe here. Boys, say howdy to my intended, Miss Victoria Waverly."
Victoria's eyes showed nothing as she gracefully held out a slim gloved hand to the foreman."Mr. Garnet," she murmured.
"Ma'am." His hand enclosed hers, and he looked her up and down in a way that made her draw back nervously. She met his gaze and was made even more uneasy by his eyes, which were flat and expressionless, like a snake's.
She withdrew her fingers as quickly as possible, resisting an urge to wipe them on her skirt. Instead, she turned to the other man,"Mr. Roper."
She looked up at him and froze. His hat was pulled down low over his eyes, but she could still see them glittering coldly at her. He slowly, deliberately lowered his gaze to her breasts and stared at them for what seemed an eternity to her, before raising his eyes to meet hers again with contempt.
Roper ignored her outstretched hand and merely lifted the brim of his hat. Victoria dropped her arm and turned away, her discomfort intensified. If Garnet's manner was offensive, this man was frightening. His face was still, yet he had looked at her with such obvious disrespect that it shook her. No one, not even the Yankee soldiers, had ever looked at her like that.
It took all her self-control to appear calm as she turned to the man she had come three-quarters of the way across the continent to marry."If you don't m...
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Book Description Pocket, 1990. Soft cover. Condition: New. Pocket Reissue Historical Romance PAPERBACK 1990. (A) or NEW condition. No creasing on spine or covers. No store stamps or writing. Some tanning. Seller Inventory # 2433
Book Description Pocket, 1990. Paperback. Condition: New. NEW and UNREAD paperback with light shelf wear. FREE Delivery Confirmation and mailed inside a plastic sleeve for extra mailing protection. Free Delivery Confirmation is included with each item. Mailed inside a plastic sleeve for protection. Seller Inventory # m02183
Book Description Pocket, 1990. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0671660802
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # STR-0671660802