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The Black Sheep Heir
By Crystal Green
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSomeone had been sleeping in her bed.
Lacey Vedae stepped over the threshold of her deserted cabin - the one located on her property in the thick of the snow-frosted woods - and shut the door. The sudden lack of chilled air caused her to shiver, more from a sense of foreboding than anything else.
A fire danced and snapped in the grate, sending waves of shifting light over the simple oak furnishings: two bony chairs, a square table, the rumpled bed ...
What in the world was going on?
She removed her fuzzy pink earmuffs, hardly believing someone had broken into this dilapidated structure in the middle of nowhere.
None of her possessions had been filched or vandalized, not that there had been much to tamper with in the first place.
Shoot. If those darn teenagers from town had come back to use her property as a love shack again she'd - Lacey grabbed one of those iron thing-a-ma-jigs from the fireplace, just to bolster her confidence.
The door burst open behind her, swirling a blast of whistling, flake-laced wind into the room. A voice, the tone chipped with a low, flat-plains drawl, iced her more than the weather ever could.
"Who the hell are you?" it asked.
A mix of shock and anger spiraled through Lacey, and she brandished her fireplace tool while turning to meet the intruder. "I'm the woman who's going to call the sheriff if you don't keep your distance."
The figure slammed the door shut, the altered light changing his mysterious silhouette into that of an actual human being. Half abominable snowman with drifts of light snow powdering his heavy jacket, pants and boots. Half cowboy dream with the smooth motion of a wide-brimmed hat being swept off his head in apparent respect. The gesture revealed shoulder-length blond hair and a grim, if not downright sheepish, almost-smile.
"Damn," he said, beating the felt head wear against a thigh. Melting bits of ice flew to the planked floor with every thump.
"Damn what?" Lacey asked, jabbing her weapon in his general direction to make sure he didn't come any closer. "Damn, you've been caught in my cabin?"
He stepped nearer, sending her a few stumbles backward. Dang. It wouldn't do to run away like a fluttery chicken. She'd faced her share of bullies during her life in Kane's Crossing, and she wasn't about to lose her courage now - especially since she'd worked so hard to win it back over the years.
She'd learned to overcompensate in the control department. Learned that, every time she asserted herself, the past grew more distant and less threatening.
Lacey sauntered forward, wearing her most ornery glare. The ready-to-rumble demeanor, as her step-brother Rick liked to call it.
Yeah, definitely in control.
"Well?" she asked, making it clear she expected a straight answer.
Something quick and explosive shot across his gaze. Something bluer than the shade of his eyes, warmer than the sputtering fire. She almost wished she could interpret the visual pause as interest, as a "Damn, I'm not sorry I got caught in this cabin. I'm saying, "Damn, you are a mighty hot little number.""
Excellent, Lacey, she thought. No wonder most of the town thinks you still need to be institutionalized.
She blinked, erasing those negative thoughts. Think positive, think sunshine, think ...
The stranger cleared his throat, startling her. "I didn't mean any trouble, ma'am."
Ma'am? Didn't he know she was too young for a "Ma'am"? Jeez. Twenty-seven years old and she was already eliciting matronly respect.
"Don't ma'am me," she said, narrowing her eyes and clutching her makeshift weapon.
He lifted a brow, barely sparing a glance at her war-like stance, his mouth slanting to an angle that belied his exasperation. "How about addressing you as 'missy," then?"
"You're pretty cocky for a guy who's about to get thrown in jail for trespassing. Sheriff Reno doesn't take kindly to that sort of crime."
He shrugged, tossing his hat onto the table as if he owned the place. "Cocky never did me any harm."
Oh, what a voice. If she wasn't so suspicious of him right now, that calloused tone might've already talked her into a million things - all of them bad, too.
"Whether or not you meant trouble by commandeering my property, you need to scoot out of here." She peered around, again noting the canned goods piled on a counter near the stove, a spurt of woolen shirts peeking out of an extra-large leather duffel bag on the floor next to the bed. "Seems as if you've already gotten cozy."
As he ambled closer to the fire, he spread his hands toward the heat. His hesitation in answering gave Lacey the welcome opportunity for a second lingering once-over.
Simply put, he was gorgeous. As still and breath-stealing as a cold night settling over dusk-burnished badlands, with blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones and a full mouth. Sharp-edged, rough-and-tumbled. Lacey's heart hopped away from her.
Hold on to it, girl.
"So ..." she said. "You're not going to tell me how many moons you've camped out here?" She paused for him to answer.
Silence, of course.
He slipped off his jacket, revealing a homespun beige shirt that emphasized broad shoulders and a wide, muscled back, crisscrossed by a pair of sturdy suspenders. As he draped the clothing over a chair, Lacey drew in a breath, her pulse beating faster at the sight of his long legs encased by rugged tan pants that covered most of his boots.
How had a man like this ended up in her own backyard?
Excerpted from The Black Sheep Heir by Crystal Green Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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