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Clay Martin was legendary for succeeding in all of his missions. But when the world-weary lawman returned to Mission Creek, he entered into an undercover operation that could be his ultimate undoing. For, over cocktails at the Lone Star Country Club, filthy rich Ford Carson had made the Texas Ranger an offer he couldn't refuse: marry Ford's willful daughter Fiona and receive a spread of his very own. However, the battle-scarred Clay soon learned that his pampered bride wasn't looking to be tamed--she was looking ...
Clay Martin was legendary for succeeding in all of his missions. But when the world-weary lawman returned to Mission Creek, he entered into an undercover operation that could be his ultimate undoing. For, over cocktails at the Lone Star Country Club, filthy rich Ford Carson had made the Texas Ranger an offer he couldn't refuse: marry Ford's willful daughter Fiona and receive a spread of his very own. However, the battle-scarred Clay soon learned that his pampered bride wasn't looking to be tamed--she was looking for lessons in lovemaking! Could this disarming woman be foolish enough to have set her sights on Clay's splintered heart?
Most of the dramas played out at the Lone Star Country Club, a two-thousand acre spread situated on land donated by the Carsons and the Wainwrights, two of the area's earliest families to settle here. Oddly enough, the donation of the land might well have been the families' last friendly venture, since the Carsons and the Wainwrights had been locked in a feud that stretched as far back as most folks' memories.
The recent marriage of Matt Carson and Rose Wainwright hadn't ended the feud or lessened the hatred, but it had served as a momentary distraction from a six-month-old mystery - or scandal depending on the results of paternity tests a certain golfing foursome was undergoing. Or at least three of them were. The fourth, Luke Callaghan, absent from that particular morning's round of golf, was currently in a military hospital in Central America, recovering from injuries he'd received while trying to rescue his former military commander from terrorists, and was unaware that he'd been targeted for a paternity test.
A baby left on the ninth tee of the golf course for the father to find was shocking news even for a Peyton Place like Mission Creek. The note attached to the infant, with the only decipherable words being "this is your baby girl," had everyone in town laying bets as to which one of the golfing foursome had sired the abandoned child and clucking their tongues over the unidentified mother's lack of maternal instincts. Murder? Corruption? An abandoned baby? This wasn't the Mission Creek Clay Martin remembered from his youth, and it certainly wasn't the peaceful environment he'd sought when, disillusioned with life, he'd ended his military career early, accepted a job as a Texas Ranger and made the long trek back to Texas. But changed or not, Mission Creek was home, and Clay was determined to do his part in bringing law and order back to the town.
At the moment, though, he was officially off duty and nursing a beer at the bar in the Lone Star Country Club's Men's Grill. The building itself was a temporary structure built to replace the original Men's Grill destroyed by a bomb several months prior. In spite of its stopgap status, the bar still managed to reflect the discriminating tastes of the club's wealthy members.
Unfortunately Clay wasn't one of them. By all rights, he knew he could be arrested for trespassing. Only card-carrying, dues-paying members were allowed admittance to the prestigious country club's facilities, and Clay didn't have the pedigree or the portfolio to even apply - two small details he didn't see changing any time in the foreseeable future.
The rich get richer, while the poor keep digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, he thought with more than a little resentment. That was one thing about Mission Creek that hadn't changed over the years.
The sharp clack of pool balls being hit carried from an adjoining room, followed by a loud whoop, grabbing Clay's attention. The Billiard Room, he thought with a huff of disgust as his gaze settled on the stained-glass sign hanging above the arched opening. Why the hell couldn't they call it what it was, instead of slapping a fancy, five-dollar name on it? It was a pool hall, the same as hundreds of other smoke-filled rooms he'd frequented around the world, where men hung out, drinking beer and shooting eight-ball with their buddies.
But those other pool halls hadn't been outfitted with leather chairs, heavy brass light fixtures and etched glass, he reminded himself as he gave the room a cursory glance.
With a woeful shake of his head, he drained his beer, then lifted a finger, signaling the bartender to bring him another. Within seconds a pilsner of foaming beer was sitting in front of him. Clay chuckled as the bartender moved away.
Member or not, it seemed when a Texas Ranger asked for something, he got it. Fast.
With the exception of the money this particular Texas Ranger needed to hold on to his family's ranch.
His amusement faded at the reminder of his current financial woes. Curling his fingers around the glass, he scowled at the golden liquid, wondering how in hell he was going to come up with the money he needed to turn his family's ranch into a profitable business. Not on a Ranger's salary, that was for sure.
If he'd been smart, he told himself, he'd have socked away more of the money he'd earned while serving in the Special Forces branch of the army. But, no, he'd foolishly squandered his pay trying to impress Celine Simone, a wealthy heiress, whom he'd even more foolishly made the mistake of falling in love with.
"Women," he muttered under his breath. "Nothin' but trouble."
"I'll drink to that." Clay glanced over to find Ford Carson sliding onto the stool next to his, his glass lifted in a silent toast of agreement. Clay tapped his glass against Ford's. "You got women trouble, Mr. Carson?"
Frowning, Ford plucked the skewered olive from his drink and tossed it aside. "Daughter trouble, to be exact."
Clay didn't have to ask which of Carson's twin daughters was causing him problems. Fiona's escapades were known all over town. "And what has Fiona done this time?"
Ford's face, already florid, flushed an unhealthier red. "The damn girl went out and bought herself a brand-spanking-new Mercedes. Didn't even ask my permission. Just sashayed over to the dealership, signed a check on my account and drove the blamed car right off the lot!" Dragging a hand through his thick shock of white hair, he shook his head wearily. "I tell you that girl is going to be the death of me. I don't know what the hell to do with her anymore."
Ordinarily Clay would have let the comment pass without comment, but the thought of anyone frittering away tens of thousands of dollars when he was so desperately in need of money infuriated the hell out of him. "If she were my daughter, I'd cut off her access to my bank accounts, then march her butt right back down to that dealership and make her return the car."
Excerpted from An Arranged Marriage by Peggy Moreland Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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