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When Erin Scott left Ty Wade, she'd vowed never to return. Because of him she'd wrecked her car, her career—and lost their baby. And now Ty wanted her back. Without her, jobs would be lost. The future of the Staghorn Ranch depended on her return. Erin cared deeply for the devoted staff of his ranch. But how could she face the man she most hated—the man with a heart of stone and a will as ...
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When Erin Scott left Ty Wade, she'd vowed never to return. Because of him she'd wrecked her car, her career—and lost their baby. And now Ty wanted her back. Without her, jobs would be lost. The future of the Staghorn Ranch depended on her return. Erin cared deeply for the devoted staff of his ranch. But how could she face the man she most hated—the man with a heart of stone and a will as tough as rawhide?
Mari Raymond's matchmaking aunt had pulled a fast one. She'd tricked oilman Ward Jessup into inviting her young niece to his ranch—and persuaded Mari to accept the invitation and help the elderly rancher write his memoirs. But Mari quickly discovered that Ward was anything but old and Ward found out that Mari was hardly a helpless young girl. And though they knew they'd been tricked, it didn't look as though either one of them was going to fight the power of Cupid's arrow .
He stopped at the clerk's desk, his expression enough to get her immediate attention. He looked rough and not in the mood for red tape—his face cold and hard, and very nearly homely.
"Yes, sir?" she asked politely.
"The sheriff's office said my brother was brought here. His name is Bruce Wade," he said, with barely controlled impatience, his voice deep and cutting, his silver eyes piercing and level.
"He was taken to surgery," the clerk said after a minute. "Dr. Lawson admitted him. Just a moment, please."
She picked up the phone, pressed a button and mumbled something.
Tyson Wade paced the small corridor restlessly, his shepherd's coat making him look even taller than he was, the creamy softness of his Stetson a direct contrast to a face that looked like leather and sharp rock. Things had been so normal just minutes before. He'd been working on the books, thinking about selling off some culls from among his purebred Santa Gertrudis breeding herd, when the phone had rung. And all of a sudden, his life had changed. Bruce had to be all right. Ty had waited too long to make peace with the younger brother he hardly knew, but surely there was still time. There had to be time!
A green-uniformed man walked into the waiting area, removing his mask and cap as he walked toward the taller man.
"Mr. Wade?" he asked politely.
Ty moved forward quickly. "How's mybrother?" he asked brusquely.
The doctor started to speak. Then he turned, drawing Ty down the white corridor and into a small unoccupied examination room.
"I'm sorry," the doctor said then, gently. "There was too much internal damage. We lost him."
Ty didn't flinch. He'd had years of practice at hiding pain, at keeping his deeper feelings under control. A man who looked like he did couldn't afford the luxury of letting them show. He just stood there, unmoving, studying the doctor's round face while he tried to cope with the knowledge that he'd never see his brother again; that he was totally alone now. He had no one. "Was it quick?" he asked finally.
The doctor nodded. "He was unconscious when he was admitted. He never came out of it."
"There was another car involved," Ty said, almost as an afterthought. "Was anyone else badly hurt?"
Dr. Lawson smiled with faint irony. "No. The other car was one of those old gas-guzzlers. It was hardly dented. Your brother was driving a small sports car, a convertible. When it rolled, he didn't have a chance."
Ty had tried to talk Bruce out of that car, but to no avail. Any kind of advice was unwelcome if it came from big brother. That was one of the by-products of their parents' divorce. Bruce had been raised by their mother, Ty by their father. And the difference in the upbringings was striking, even to outsiders.
The doctor had paused long enough to produce Bruce's personal effects. The soiled clothing was there, along with a handful of change, some keys, and a clip of hundred-dollar bills. Ty looked at them blankly before stuffing them back into the sack.
"What a hell of a waste," Ty said quietly. "He was twenty-eight."
"I'm sorry we couldn't save him," Dr. Lawson repeated softly, sincerely
Ty nodded, lost in bitter memories and regret. "He couldn't even save himself. Fast cars, fast women, alcohol They said he wasn't legally drunk." His silver-gray eyes met and held the doctor's in a level gaze.
Dr. Lawson nodded.
"He usually drank far too much," Ty said, staring at the sack. "I tried so damned hard to talk him out of that convertible." He sighed heavily. "I talked until I was blue."
"If you're a religious man, Mr. Wade, I can tell you that I still believe in acts of God. This was one."
Ty searched the other man's eyes. After a minute, he nodded. "Thanks."
It was misting rain outside, cold for Texas in November, but he hardly felt it. All that rushing around, he thought blankly, and for what? To get there too late. All his life, where Bruce was concerned, he'd been too late.
It seemed so unreal to think of Bruce as dead. He and Bruce had been a lot alike in looks, at least. Both were dark and light-eyed, except that Bruce's eyes had been more blue than gray. He'd been six years younger than Ty and shorter, more adventurous, more petted. Bruce had been spoiled with easy living and an abundance of attention from their mother. Ty had been raised by their rancher father, a cold, practical, no-nonsense man who looked upon women as a weakness and brought Ty up to feel the same way. Ironically, it was Erin who'd finally separated Bruce from Ty and the ranch.
Erin. His eyes closed briefly as he pictured her, laughing, running to him, her hair long and black and straight, her elfin face bright with joy, her green eyes twinkling, laughing, as her full, soft lips smiled up at him. He groaned.
He leaned his tall, elegant body against the Lincoln as he lit a cigarette. The flare of the match accentuated his high cheekbones, his aquiline nose, the jut of his chin. There was nothing in his face that a woman would find attractive, and he knew it. He had no illusions about his looks. Perhaps that was why he'd attacked Erin on sight, he reflected. She'd been a model when Bruce met her in nearby San Antonio and brought her home for a weekend visit. Young but already well-known, Erin was destined for greater things. That first day, she'd walked into the Wade house with her elfin face excited and friendly, and Ty had stood like stone in the long hallway and glared at her until the vividness of her expression had faded into uncertainty and, then, disappointment.
She'd been so beautiful. A living illusion. All his secret dreams of perfection rolled into one flawless, willowy body and exquisitely sculpted face. Then Bruce had put his arm around her and looked at her with unashamed worship, and Ty had felt himself growing cold inside. She'd been Bruce's from the very beginning, a prize he'd brought home to big brother, to fling in his arrogant face.
He took a long draw from the cigarette and stared at its amber tip in the misting rain. How long ago it all seemed! But all of it had taken place in just a year's time. The first meeting, the long weekends when Erin came to the ranch and slept in the guest room in order to observe "the proprieties." Conchita, the housekeeper, had taken to Erin immediately, fussing and bustling over her like a mother hen. And Erin had loved it. Her father was dead, her mother constantly flying off to somewhere in Europe. In many ways, Ty thought, her life had been as unloving and cold as his own.
He took another draw from his cigarette and blew out a thick cloud of smoke, his silvery eyes narrowing with memory as he stared sightlessly at the deserted parking lot. He'd antagonized Erin from the start, picking at her, deliberately making her as uncomfortable as possible. She'd taken that smoldering dislike at face value until one dark, cold night when Bruce had been called out on urgent business. Erin and Ty had been alone in the house, and he'd antagonized her one time too many.
He vividly remembered the look in her green eyes when, after she'd slapped him, he'd jerked her into his hard arms and kissed the breath out of her. Her lips had been like red berries, soft and slightly swollen, her eyes wide and soft and dazed. And to his astonishment, instead of slapping him again, she'd reached up to him, her mouth ardent and sweet, her body clinging like ivy to the strength of his.
It had been like a dream sequence. Her mouth, dark, soft wine under his hard lips; her body, welcoming. Soft cushions on the floor in front of the fireplace, her hushed, ragged breathing as he'd bared her breasts and touched them, her shocked cry as he'd touched her intimately and begun to undress her. But she hadn't stopped him; she hadn't even tried. He remembered her voice in his ear, whispering endearments, her hands tenderly caressing his nape as he'd moved her under him.
He ground his teeth together. He hadn't known, hadn't guessed, that she was a virgin. He'd never forget the tormented sound of her voice, the wide-eyed fear that had met his puzzled downward glance. He'd tried to stop, so shocked that he wasn't even thinking but she'd held him. No, she'd whispered, it was too late to stop now, the damage was already done. And he'd gone on. He'd been so careful then, so careful not to hurt her any more than he already had. But he'd given her no pleasure. He knew, even though she'd tried not to let him see her disappointment. And before he could try again, could even begin to show her any real tenderness, they'd heard Bruce's car coming up the long driveway. Then, with reality, had come all the doubts, all the hidden fears. And he'd laughed, taunting her with her easy surrender. Get out, he'd said coldly, or Bruce was going to get an earful. He'd watched her dragging her clothing around her, white-faced, shaking. He'd watched her leave the room with tears streaming from her eyes. Like a nightmare, the pain had only gotten worse. But he'd had too much pride to back down, to apologize, to explain what he'd felt and why he'd lied to her about his motives. And early the next morning, she'd left.
Bruce had hated him for that. He'd guessed what had happened, and he'd followed Erin to wring the truth from her. A day later he'd moved out, to live with a friend in San Antonio. Erin had gone on to a career in New York; her face had haunted him from the covers of slick magazines for several weeks.
That night haunted him, too. It had been all of heaven to have her. And then, all at once, he'd realized that she might see his lack of control for what it was; that she might realize he was vulnerable with her and take advantage of it. God forgive him, he'd even thought she might have planned it that way. And she was so beautiful; too beautiful to care about an ugly man, a man so inexperienced at making love. His father's lectures returned with a vengeance, and he'd convinced himself in a space of seconds that he'd been had. She was Bruce's, not his. He could never have her. So it was just as well that he'd let her go out of his life .
Bruce had gotten even, just before he'd left the house for good. He'd told Ty that Erin had hated what Ty had done to her, that his "fumbling attempts at lovemaking" had sickened her. Then he'd walked out triumphantly, leaving Ty so sick and humiliated that he'd finished off a bottle of tequila and spent two days in a stupor.
Erin had come back to the ranch two months later, and it had been Ty she'd wanted to talk to, not Bruce. He'd been coming out of the stables leading a brood mare, and she'd driven up in a little sports car, much like the one Bruce would die in almost six months later .
* * *
"I have to talk to you," she said in her soft, clear voice. Her eyes were soft, too; full of secrets.
"What do we have to talk about?" Ty replied, his own tone uncompromising, careless.
"If you'll just listen " she said, looking at him with an odd kind of pleading in her green eyes.
Against his will, he was drawn to her as she poised there in a green print dress that clung lovingly to every soft line of her high-breasted body, the wind whipping her long black hair around her like a shawl. He forced himself to speak coldly, mockingly.
"Aren't you a vision, baby doll?" His eyes traveled pointedly over her body. "How many men have you had since you left here?"
She flinched. "No no one," she faltered, as if she hadn't expected the attack. "There hasn't been anyone except you."
He threw back his head and laughed, his eyes as cold as silver in a face like stone. "That's a good one. Just don't set your sights on Bruce," he warned softly. "Maybe my plan backfired, but I can still stop him from marrying you. I don't want someone like you in my family. My God, you've got a mother who makes a professional streetwalker look like a virgin, and your father was little more than a con man who died in prison! It'd make me sick to have to introduce you into our circle of friends."
Her face paled, her eyes lost their softness. "I can't help what my people were," she said quietly. "But you've got to listen to me! That night "
"What about it?" he demanded, his voice faintly bored. "I'd planned to seduce you and then tell Bruce, but you left without forcing my hand. So, no harm done." To avoid looking at her, he bent his head to light a cigarette. Then he glanced up, his eyes narrowed and ugly. "You were just a one-night stand, honey. And one night was enough."
That brought her to tears, and he felt a pain like a knife going into his gut despite the fact that he was justified in that lie. She'd told it all to Bruce, hadn't she? "What a sacrifice it must have been for you," she whispered in anguish. "I must have been a terrible disappointment."
"I'll amen that," he told her. "You were a total failure, weren't you? Why did you come down here, anyway? Bruce doesn't come here anymore, and don't pretend you don't know it."
"I'm not looking for Bruce," she burst out. "Oh, Ty, I haven't seen him since I left here! It's you I came to see. There's something I've got to tell you !"
"I've got livestock to look after," he said indifferently, dismissing her. "Get out of here. Go model a gown or something."
Her eyes grew dull then; something died in them. She looked at him for a long, quiet moment, almost said something else; then, as if defeated, turned away.
"Just a minute," he called after her.
She'd turned, an expression of hope on her face. "Yes?"
Posted November 26, 2008
The stories included in this book were a good visit back to Diana Palmer's better writing style. It was nice to see characters that had love on their minds. Her past few books were more about a man thinking he was better and the woman was unworthy. Both of these stories brought me back to a kinder, gentler Diana Palmer. The second story, Unlikely Lover, was a warmer, more romantic story than the sometimes blunt Rawhide & Lace, but still I was kept interested. Both stories filled the need for romance and passion-building that's neccessary to any good romance. For those looking for a good rainy day read, this Diana Palmer book would fill the bill and for those wanting to see a better Diana Palmer book, this can bring you a dose of the way it was.
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