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<p>Blue Parker saw her coming a mile away, trotting- along on that big-boned Appaloosa she'd come home with last year. A mean-tempered horse if there ever was one. But then, Jessica Blair was pretty feisty, too. Oh, not always. Sometimes she was the sweetest lady, a kindhearted angel. She had a way of bringing out a man's protective instincts, turning a
man's heart clear inside out.</p>
<p>Blue's heart had been lost the very first time she'd smiled at him, flashing her lovely white teeth in a warm grin. Two years ago it'd been, the day he'd come to work for her father, signing on as an extra hand for the fall roundup. He'd stayed on after the roundup, and he'd come to know Jessie well, working alongside her. He'd come to love her--come .to hate her at times, too, the times when she'd close up to him and everyone else. Or when she'd fight with her father and take it out on anyone close at hand.
She could be cruel then, though Blue doubted it
was ever intentional. Her bitterness sometimes made her lash out, that was all. Jessica B had not had an easy life. He sure wanted MAO it easier for her, but when he'd gotten the nerve to ask her hand in marriage, she'd thought he was joking.</p>
<p>She was drawing closer, and she spotted Blue and waved. He held his breath, hoping she would stop. He'd seen her so seldom lately. Eves,. ,gyre her father had died she'd stopped working on the range . . . until last week, when they had arrived. Blue had never seen her so mad. She'd teed out of the house and nearly killed her horse ring him so hard.</p>
<p>Jessie stopped, leaning forward in the saddle,
resting her arms on the horn. Shegave Blue a half-grin. "Jeb spotted some mavericks by the creek Pouth of here Yesterday. How about giving me a land with them, Blue?"</p>
<p>She knew what his answer would be, and as he nodded, his face lighting up with pleasure, her grin widened. She was feeling reckless today. She had passed several other hands but hadn't asked them for help, wanting to find Blue instead.</p>
<p>Full of daring, she challenged, "I'll race you there, and you'll owe me a kiss if I win."</p>
<p>You're on, gal!</p>
<p> The creek was only a few miles away. Of
course Jessie won. Even if Blue's sorrel had
been as good as Blackstar, Blue wouldn't have
let him win</p>.
<p>Jessie had given the race her all, letting out
some of the tension coiled inside her in an ever-
tightening knot. Winded, she dismounted and ell into the high grass along the creek bed, laughing. Blue was there a moment later to forfeit his kiss, a forfeit that couldn't have made him gladder.</p>
<p>This is what Jessie had wanted all along, this and more she told herself rebelliously. Blue's kissing was nice. But then, she'd known it would be because he'd kissed her once before, in the spring, and she'd liked it. It had been her first kiss. Other men wanted to kiss her, she knew that, but she was the bow's daughter, and they were afraid of both her quick temper and his anger. So none of them dared. But Blue had dared. She hadn't minded at all.</p>
<p>He was a fine-looking man, Blue Parker, with his golden hair and brown eyes, deeply expressive told her how much he liked her. Most men looked at her the way Blue did, even though her femininity was hidden beneath the male attire her father had insisted she wear.</p>
<p>Her father, Her mood plummeted with thoughts of him.
Just months ago she had been despondent over how alone she was in the world. Yet now she wasn't alone anymore, and she hated that even worse. Whatever had possessed her father to write the letter that had brought them to the ranch? She had seen the letter, and she knew her father's handwriting well enough. But why had he done it?</p>
<p>The inconceivability of Thomas Blair asking for help from the person he hated above all others! Hadn't Jessie known that hatred for the last ten years? Hadn't she learned to hate, too, because of his hating?</p>
<p>But her father had written that letter. And then he had died, and the letter had been delivered as his will directed. They had come then, and put an end to Jessie's newfound freedom. And she couldn't do anything about it, for her father had arranged it.</p>
<p>It was wholly unjust Jessie didn't need a guardian. After all, her father had made certain she could take care of herself. She had learned to hunt, to ride-to shoot better than most men! She knew all the aspects of ranching and could, in fact, run the ranch just as well as her father had run it.</p>
<p>Blue was sitting a little way off, knowing she needed to think. She was remembering the first eight years of her life, before her father took her out of boarding school and brought her to his ranch. He'd forced her to understand the truth about her mother, but she had still loved him even so. Perhaps she had never stopped loving him, even when she hated him. Hadn't she grieved horribly when he died? Hadn't she wanted to kill the man who shot him? But, still, there had been the realization that his death meant her freedom. It was not the way she had hoped to win it, but she had, nonetheless, the :hence to be what she really was-not what Thomas Blair had. made her into. Now freedom was being denied her again.</p>
<p>She had to admit to herself that, suddenly, what she had always wanted was taking second place to her desire to shock them, to show them what Thomas had made of her. She wanted her to feel bad, to feel guilty, to believe Jessica wild and immoral. To that end, Jessie had hidden all the beautiful dresses she had only just brought home, all the perfume and ribbons and jewelry she had finally been able to buy for herself. An she had sought out Blue, wanting him to make love to her so that she would find out and be shocked.</p>
<p>Thinking about it brought her mind back b Blue. He had crept closer, and as she turned b him he kissed her again, urgently this time Her blue cotton shirt seemed to open all by itself while they kissed, and she was startled to fee his hand touching her breasts. Should she stop him?</p>
<p>The sound of a man clearing his throat saves Jessie from having to stop Blue. She was grateful but she realized how this would look to the hired hand who had come upon them. She prayed it was only Jeb, who would understand
Cautiously, she looked over Blue's shoulder then felt heat rushing to her face. He was stranger, the man on the beautiful palomino horse. The man was looking down at them wit] outrageous amusement in every line of his chic Bled dark face. He was young and, damn, the handsomest man she had ever seen. She was un reasonably mortified. Oh, why wouldn't he stop staring?</p>
<p>Blue started to get up, terribly embarrassed but Jessie grabbed on to his shirt, giving him furious look. He had nearly revealed her state of undress to the intruder. Blue's color heightened and he grinned sheepishly. Jessie continued to glare at him while she pulled her whir together. Done, she pushed at him to get up, any they both scrambled to their feet, Blue turning to face the man while Jessie hid behind him.</p>
<p>I'm sorry to interrupt," the man said in a deep voice that clearly indicated he wasn't sorry at all but found the situation highly entertaining. "I could sure use a little help, so I stopped to talk to you.</p>"
<p>"What kind of help?" Blue asked.</p>
<p>"I'm looking for the Rocky Valley and a Mrs. Ewing. They told me in Cheyenne I would find the ranch after a day's ride north, but I had no luck yesterday or today. Could you tell me if I'm heading in the right direction?"</p>
<p>" -- are trespassing, mister," Jessie finished for Blue after pinching him into silence. She stepped out from behind him, her embarrassment gone as anger took hold. "And you're a long way from the Rocky Valley."</p>
<p>Chase Summers eyed the girl standing before him so belligerently. He was taken aback by her sudden hostility. After the situation he'd found her in, he hadn't expected her to be quite so young. She looked fourteen or fifteen, just a kid, young enough to get away with wearing pants. An older girl wouldn't dare dress that way. And the man looked to be in his early twenties, too old to be taking advantage of a child.</p>
<p>But it was none of Chase's business. His expression didn't change, not even when the girl's blue-green eyes shot daggers at him. Damn pretty she was, and those unusual eyes were stunning.</p>
<p>"But-" Blue began, but she jumped behind him once more, pinching him again.</p>
<p>"I didn't know I was trespassing," Chase offered "If you'll just point me in the right direction; I'll move on."</p>
<p>"Just keep riding north, mister," Jessie answered and warned sharply, "and don't come back this way. We don't like strangers crossing our land."</p>
<p>"I'll remember that," Chase replied. Then he nodded thanks and crossed the creek, riding on.</p>
<p>Jessie stared after him, glaring at his back for some time before she sensed Blue staring at her in the same way. His expression was a mix of confusion and anger, and she quickly looked away. Reaching down for her gun belt; she strapped it on, refusing to look at him., "just a minute, gal." Blue caught her arm when she picked up her hat and started for her horse. `What the hell was that all about?"</p>
<p>She tried to shrug it off, "I don't like strangers."</p>
<p>"What's that got to do with lying?" he demanded.</p>
<p>Jessie jerked her arm out of his grasp and faced him, her eyes flashing with all the fury pent up inside her. Blue nearly forgot his anger then, for she was something to behold, her eyes lit up with blue-green fire, breasts heaving, her long braid flung over her shoulder, the braid end touching her narrow hip. Her right hand rested on her gun, and although he doubted she would really shoot him, the threat was there, and he didn't try to grab her again.</p>
<p>"Jessie, I don't understand. If you'll just tell me what's made you so angry?"</p>
<p>"Everything" she snapped. ''You! Him!"</p>
<p>"I know what I did, but"</p>
<p>"What you did you'd better never try again, Blue Parker"
He frowned. She didn't mean that. He wasn't about to give her up, anyway. But it would be a good idea to get her mind on something else for a while.</p>
<p>"Well, what'd he do? Why'd you lie to him?"</p>
<p>"You heard who he was looking for."</p>
<p>"You think I can't guess why he's looking for her?"</p>
<p>Blue followed her drift. "You don't know anything for sure."
Jessie drew herself up. "Don't I? He was too good-looking. He's got to be one of her lovers, and I'll be damned if I'll let him come to my ranch and carry on with her under my roof!"</p>
<p>"And just what're you gonna do when he finds out you lied to him and comes back?"</p>
<p>Jessie was too mad to give it any thought. "Who's to say he'll be back? He's probably from the city, like she is. He probably couldn't find his way out of a hole in the ground," she added contemptuously. "Didn't you see how packed his saddlebags were? He's the type who can't survive without store-bought goods. If he reaches Fort Laramie or gets back to Cheyenne, he won't be eager to venture out on the range again, where the nearest store is days away. He'll go back where he came from and wait for her to come to him-which can't happen soon enough for me."</p>
<p>Blue shook his head "You sure do hate her."</p>
<p>"Yes, I hate her!"</p>
<p>"It ain't natural, Jessie," he said softly. "She's your mother."</p>
<p>"She's noted" Jessie stepped back as if he had struck her.</p> <p>"She's noted My mother wouldn't have deserted me. She wouldn't have let Thomas Blair turn me into the son he wanted. My mother died here. That woman is nothing but a whore. She never gave a damn about me." </p>`
<p>"Maybe you're just hurting, Jessie," he said kindly.</p>
<p>Jessie wanted to cry. Hurting? How many times had she cried herself to sleep because there was no one there to soften the pain of her life, a life she hated. Hadn't it all been because of her mother? Every single thing her father did was to spite the whore, as he'd called her mother. He had denied Jessie boarding school because her mother had wanted her to be educated. He had denied her anything feminine because her mother had wanted her to be a lady. He had made her what she was because he knew her mother would hate her. Irrationally, he had gone into debt to build a house fit for a queen, done it solely because it was what her mother would have loved and could never have.</p>
"I passed the point of being hurt long ago, Blue," Jessie said in a quiet voice. "I haven't needed her for a long time, and I certainly don't need her now."
Before her tears spilled, Jessie ran to her Brave the Wild Wind. Copyright © by Johanna Lindsey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.