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Texas Ranger Judd Dunn and Christabel Gaines find their marriage of convenience slowly evolving into a union of undeniable passion, but when a mysterious enemy enters their lives, forcing them into a dark web of murder and vengeance, their newfound love is endangered. 100,000 first printing.
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The prolific author of more than one hundred books, Diana Palmer got her start as a newspaper reporter. A New York Times bestselling author and voted one of the top ten romance writers in America, she has a gift for telling the most sensual tales with charm and humor. Diana lives with her family in Cornelia, Georgia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was a blistering hot day in south Texas, even for early September. Christabel Gaines was wearing a low-cut white top with faded blue jeans, a book bag slung casually over one shoulder. The top outlined her small, firm breasts and the jeans clung lovingly to every softly rounded line of her young body. The faint breeze caught her long blond hair in her pretty bow-shaped mouth, against her wide forehead and high cheekbones. She moved the strands away, her big, warm brown eyes amused at something one of the students with her was saying about a classmate. It was a long, dull Monday morning.
Debbie, a girl in her computer class, was suddenly staring past Christabel toward the parking lot. She whistled softly. "Well! I know what I want for Christmas," she said in a loud whisper.
Teresa, another classmate, was also staring. "Hubba, hubba," she said with a wicked grin, wiggling her eyebrows. "Anybody know who he is?"
Curious, Christabel turned around to see a tall, darkly handsome man walk gracefully across the lawn toward them.
He was wearing a cream-colored Stetson, jerked down over his eyes. His neat long-sleeved white cotton shirt was fastened with a turquoise bola tie. His long, powerful legs were encased in gray slacks, his feet in gray hand-tooled boots. On his shirt pocket, a silver star in a circle glittered in the sunlight. Across his lean hips, a brown leather holster and gunbelt were fastened. In the gunbelt was a .45 caliber Ruger Vaquero pistol. He usually carried an automatic pistol, a .45 Colt ACP, but it was having a new custom handle and the Texas Ranger star added. Today also happened to be match day at the Jacobsville Gun Club's Single Action Shooting Society, which he belonged to. The quick-draw-and-shoot group wore Western garb to meets. So it was convenient for him to wear the wheel gun to work just this once.
"What have you girls done?" one of the boys asked with mock surprise. "The Texas Rangers are after somebody!"
Christabel didn't say a word. She just stared with the others, but her dark eyes twinkled as she watched him stride toward her with that single-minded determination that made him so good at his job. He was the sexiest, most wonderful man in the world. She owed him everything she had, everything she was. Sometimes she wished with all her heart that she'd been born beautiful, and maybe then he'd notice her the way she wanted him to. She smiled secretly, wondering what the other girls would say if they knew her true relationship with that dynamo Texas Ranger.
Judd Dunn was thirty-four. He'd spent most of his life in law enforcement, and he was good at it. He'd been with Company D of the Texas Rangers for five years. He'd been up for promotion to lieutenant, but he'd turned it down because that was more of an administrative job and he liked field work better. He kept that long, lean body fit by working on the ranch, ownership of which he shared with Christabel.
He'd been made responsible for Christabel when she was only sixteen. The D bar G Ranch had been run-down, flat-busted, and ready to crash and burn. Judd had pulled it out of the red and made it show a profit. Over the years, he'd put his own money into enlarging the crossbreed beef cattle herd they oversaw. With his canny business sense, and Christabel's knowledge of computers, they'd been just beginning to show a small profit. It had allowed Christabel to work on her diploma in computer programming, and Judd even had an occasional spending spree. His last, a year ago, involved that cream-colored Stetson slanted over his dark brow. It was made of compressed beaver fur and it had cost him a paycheck. It did suit him, she had to admit. He looked rakishly handsome. Sadly, there hadn't been any spending sprees this year. There had been a drought and cattle prices had dropped. Times were hard again, just when they'd been looking up.
Any other man would have noticed with amusement the rapt stares of Christabel's two pretty companions. Judd paid them the same attention he'd have given pine straw. He had something on his mind, and nothing would divert him until he'd resolved it.
He walked right up to Christabel, towering over her, to the astonishment of her classmates.
"We've had an offer," he said, taking her by the upper arm as impersonally as he'd have an apprehended felon. "I need to talk to you."
"Judd, I'm only between classes," she protested.
"This won't take a minute," he muttered, narrowing his black eyes as he searched for a secluded spot. He found one under a big live oak tree. "Come on."
She was escorted forcibly to the tree while her companions watched with wide-eyed curiosity. Later, she knew, she was going to be the focus of some probing questions.
"Not that I'm not glad to see you," she pointed out when he released her abruptly, away from prying ears, "but I only have five minutes...!"
"Then don't waste them talking," he cut her off abruptly. His voice was deep, dark velvet, even when he didn't mean it to be. It sent delicious shivers down Christabel's spine.
"Okay," she conceded with a sigh. She held out her hand, palm-up.
He noted the signet ring-his signet ring-that she always wore on her ring finger. Although she'd had it resized, it was still too big for her slender hand. But she insisted on wearing it.
She followed his gaze and flexed her hand. "Nobody knows," she said. "I don't gossip."
"That would be the day," he agreed, and for just an instant, affectionate humor made those deep-set black eyes twinkle.
"So, what's the problem?"
"It's not a problem, exactly," he said, resting his right hand lazily on the butt of the pistol. The Texas Ranger emblem was carved into the maple wood handle. The new grip for his automatic would have the same wood and custom emblem. The holster and gunbelt that held it were hand-tooled tan leather. "We've had an offer from a film crew. They've been surveying the land around here, with a representative from the state film commission, looking for a likely spot to site a fictitious ranch. They like ours."
"A film crew." She bit her full lower lip. "Judd, I don't like a lot of people around," she began.
"I know that. But we want to buy another purebred herd sire, don't we," he continued, "and if we get the right kind, he's going to be expensive. They've offered us thirty-five thousand dollars for the use of the ranch for a few weeks' filming. That would put us over the top. We could even enlarge our electric fencing and replace the tractor."
She whistled. That amount of money seemed like a fortune. It was always something on a ranch, equipment breakdown or cowboys who wanted more money, or the electric pump went and there was no water. In between, the vet had to be called out to look at sick cattle, there were ear tags and butane for branding, and fencing materials. She wondered what it would be like to be rich and have anything she wanted. The ranch that had belonged jointly to his uncle and her father was still a long way from being prosperous.
"Stop daydreaming," he said curtly. "I need an answer. I've got a case waiting."
Her eyes widened. "A case? Which case?"
His eyes narrowed. "Not now."
"It's the homicide, isn't it?" she asked excitedly. "The young woman in Victoria who was found with her throat cut, lying in a ditch with only a blouse on. You've got a lead!"
"I'm not telling you anything."
She moved closer. "Listen, I bought fresh apples this morning. I've got stick cinnamon. Brown sugar." She leaned closer. "Real butter. Pastry flour."
"Stop it," he groaned.
"Can't you just see those apples, bubbling away in that crust, until it gets to be a nice, soft, beautiful, flaky."
"All right!" he ground out, glancing around quickly to make sure nobody was close enough to hear. "She was the wife of a local rancher," he told her. "Her husband's story checks out and she didn't have an enemy in the world. We think it was random."
"No suspects at all?"
"Not yet. Not much trace evidence, either, except for one hair and a few fibers of highly colored cloth that didn't match the blouse she was wearing," he said. He glared at her. "And that's all you're getting, apple pie or no apple pie!"
"Okay," she said, giving in with good grace. She searched his lean, handsome face. "You want us to let the movie company move in," she added with keen perception.
He nodded. "We're going to be short about a thousand dollars after we pay estimated taxes next week," he told her quietly. "We're going to have to buy more feed. The flooding wiped out most of our hay and corn crops, not to mention the alfalfa. I got the silo fixed, but not in time to help us out any this season. We're also going to need more vitamin and mineral supplements to mix with the feed."
"And we'll have to buy supplemental feed or sell off stock we need," she said, drawing in a long, wistful breath. "Wouldn't it be lovely if we had millions, you know, like that television show they used to have that was set up around Dallas? We could buy combines and new tractors and hay balers."
He pursed his lips and smiled at her enthusiasm. His dark eyes slid over her pretty figure, lingering involuntarily on her breasts. They looked like little apples under that clinging fabric and he got an unexpected and rather shocking ache from looking at them. He dragged his eyes back up to meet hers. "Wouldn't you like some new jeans instead?" he asked, nodding toward the holes in hers.
She shrugged. "Nobody around here wears nice stuff. Well, Debbie does," she amended, glancing back toward her classmate, who was dressed in a designer skirt set. "But her folks have millions."
"What's she doing in a vocational school?" he wanted to know.
She lifted her face. "Trying to land Henry Tesler's son!"
He grinned. "He's a student, I gather."
She shook her head. "He teaches algebra."
"One of those," he agreed with twinkling eyes.
"He's real brainy." She nodded. "Real rich, too. Henry's dad owns racehorses, but Henry doesn't like animals, so he teaches." She checked the wide, unfeminine watch on her wrist. "Oh, my gosh, I'll miss my class! I have to go!"
"I'll tell the film company they can come on down," he said.
She turned to sprint back after her classmates, who were wandering toward the side entrance of the main building. She stopped and looked over her shoulder apprehensively. "When are they coming?"
"Two weeks from Saturday, to take some still photos and discuss the modifications they'll need to make to set up their cameras."
She groaned. "Well, tell them they can't rev up their engines near the barn! Bessie's in foal!"
"I'll tell them everything."
She studied him with admiration. "You do look really sexy, you know," she said. "My classmate Debbie wants you for Christmas," she added mischievously.
He glowered at her.
Her eyes sparkled. "It's only three months away. Tell you what, if you buy me a see-through red nightie with lace, I'll wear it for you," she teased.
He refused to let himself picture her that way. "I'm 14 years older than you," he pointed out.
She wiggled her ring finger at him.
He took four long steps and towered over her. "If you dare tell anybody...!" he threatened darkly.
"I don't gossip," she reminded him. "But there's no legal or moral reason in the world why you can't look at me in flimsy lingerie," she pointed out, "whether or not people know we're married."
"I told you five years ago, and I'm telling you now," he said firmly, "nothing of that sort is ever going to happen between you and me. In two months you'll be twenty-one. You'll sign a paper, and so will I, and we'll be business partners-nothing more."
She searched his black eyes with the familiar excitement almost choking her. "Tell me you've never wondered what I look like without my clothes," she whispered. "I dare you!"
He gave her a look that would have fried bread. It was a look that was famous in south Texas. He could back down lawbreakers with it. In fact, he'd backed her own father down with it, just before he went for him with both big fists.
She glowered up at him with a wistful sigh. "What a waste," she murmured thoughtfully. "You know more about women than I'll ever know about men. I'll bet you're just sensational in bed."
His lips became a thin line. The look was taking on heat-seeking attributes.
"All right," she conceded finally. "I'll find some nice young boy to teach me what to do with all these inconvenient aches I get from time to time, and I'll tell you every sordid detail, I swear I will."
"One," he said.
She lifted both eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
Her hand tightened on the book bag. "Listen here, I can't be intimidated by a man who's known me since I wore frilly dresses and patent leather shoes."
"...and furthermore, I don't care if you are a..."
She turned on her heel without finishing the sentence and made a beeline for the side entrance. The next number would result in something undignified. She remembered too many past countdowns, to her own detriment. He really was single-minded!
"I'm only humoring you to make you feel in control!" she called back to him. "Don't think I'm running!"
He hid a smile until he was back at the black SUV he drove.
The same week, Jack Clark, a man who worked for them, was caught red-handed with an expensive pair of boots he'd charged to their account. Christabel had found it on the bill and called Judd down to show it to him. They'd fired the man outright. She didn't tell Judd that the man had made blatant advances toward her, or that she'd had to threaten him with Judd to make him stop.
A few days after he was fired, their brand-new young Salers bull was found dead in a pasture. To Christabel, it seemed uncannily like foul play. The bull had been healthy, and she refused to believe Judd's assertion that it was bloat-causing weeds that had killed him and left four other bulls in the same pasture alive. After all, Jack Clark had vowed revenge. But Judd brushed off her suspicions, and even told Maude he thought she was trying to get attention, because he'd ignored her while he was dickering with the film people. That had made her furious. She'd told their foreman, Nick Bates, what she thought, though, and told him to keep an eye on the cattle. Sometimes Judd treated her like a child. It hadn't bothered her so much before, but lately it was disturbing.
Judd turned up early Saturday morning two weeks later in his big black sport utility vehicle, accompanied by a second burgundy SUV which was full of odd people. There was a representative from the Texas film commission and a director whom Christabel recognized immediately. She hadn't realized it was going to be a famous one. There was also an assistant director, and four other men who were introduced as part of the crew, including a photographer and a sound man.
She learned that the star of the film was an A-list actor, a handsome young man who'd sadly never been on a horse.
"That's going to limit our scenes with your livestock," the director told Judd with a chuckle. "Of course, Tippy Moore has never been around livestock, either. You might have seen her on magazine covers. They call her the Georgia Firefly. This will be her first motion picture, but she was a hit at the audition. A real natural."
Judd pursed his lips and his black eyes lit up. "I've seen her on the cover of the sports magazine's swimsuit issue," he confessed. "Every red-blooded man in America knows who she is."
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Mira. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1551667088 Ships promptly from Texas. Seller Inventory # Z1551667088ZN
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