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Call Of The West
By Myrna Temte
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHope DuMaine was going to drive him nuts.
Gulping a stiff whiskey ditch, Jake McBride jerked his gaze away from the dance floor and forced himself to watch the sun dip behind the mountains. The bride and groom had left on their honeymoon. Half of the wedding guests had gone home. Jake's official duties as the best man finally were over.
If he had an ounce of sense, he'd get off his duff, go in the house or out to the barn and get away from Hope for a while. But he didn't move. He obviously didn't have a lick of sense left.
No, he just sat here like an idiot, an elbow braced on one of fifty round tables he'd rented for the outdoor reception. Why? Because it was too late to save himself. Hope DuMaine couldn't drive him nuts.
He'd already arrived.
Jake's younger brothers, Zack and Cal, plunked themselves down beside him. Cal hummed along with the country-and-western band playing in the gazebo. Zack stretched his legs out and turned toward the dancers. In a heartbeat his brothers were doing exactly what Jake had been doing - watching their cousin, Marsh McBride, waltz Hope around the dance floor.
"I've been lookin' at her all day, but I still don't believe it," Zack said with a bemused smile.
"No kiddin'." His smile equally bemused, Cal let out an appreciative sigh, then took a healthy swig from his drink. "Emma said Hope was beautiful under all that wild paint and hair dye, but I never dreamed she'd clean up that good."
"Jake didn't either." Zack grinned and elbowed Cal in the arm. "Hell, Jake, you should've let her catch you."
Jake shrugged as if their teasing didn't bother him one bit. A reasonable man might expect that, at thirty-eight and thirty-four, his brothers would ease up on the sibling rivalry, but no such luck. In the past two months they - along with the rest of his big, nosy family - had harassed him so much about Hope's blatant crush on him, ignoring them had become as automatic as breathing.
Good thing he'd had so much practice at hiding his reactions.
Truth was, every time Marsh whirled Hope back into sight, Jake damn near swallowed his tongue. And he wasn't the only guy doing it. Not by a long shot.
Audacious, flamboyant and unpredictable as a horse on locoweed, Hope DuMaine was something else.
A member of one of Hollywood's most notable families, she was internationally famous. But not for acting. Oh, no, not her. Leave it to Hope to be even more unconventional than the rest of her relatives.
She'd published her first racy tattletale novel at the age of nineteen. Rocketing straight to the top of the bestseller lists, she'd set the film and publishing industries on their respective ears. Ten years later she was still doing it.
Literary critics despised her. The tabloids and talk-show hosts loved her. The public raced to buy each new book so they could play the which-movie-star-inspired-which-character game. Though Jake wouldn't admit it on a bet, he'd read her last one and found himself sucked right into the game along with everybody else. Hope told an entertaining story, he'd give her that much.
But then, there was her appearance to consider. Her hair color changed on an almost daily basis, and he wasn't talking your usual brown, black or blond. He was talking primary colors - fire-engine red, royal blue, grass green. Her long, talon-like fingernails were always painted to match her hair. And her clothes ... He shuddered just thinking about them.
Earlier that afternoon Jake's cousin, Dillon McBride, had married Hope's famous cousin, Blair DuMaine. Hope had arrived at the Flying M Ranch twelve weeks ago. She'd been living in the guesthouse, helping with the wedding plans, working on her latest novel and chasing Jake like a buckle bunny after her favorite rodeo cowboy.
The woman could give lessons in perseverance to a badger.
Jake had no idea what she liked so much about him and didn't care. She wasn't his type. Other than a glance to check out what color her hair was that day and what bizarre outfit she'd chosen, Jake had done his best to ignore her, too.
Until today ...
Blair and Dillon's wedding pictures undoubtedly would make every entertainment magazine and TV show in the country. Jake figured Hope must've felt obligated as the maid of honor to pass up her regular "fashion statement" for Blair's sake. The results were nothing short of amazing. Funny thing about it, all she'd done to achieve a near-magical transformation was to look sort of normal. For a change.
But it really went beyond normal. Far beyond it.
Aw, man, today Hope was downright gorgeous - a combination of elegant lady and hot sex. Her purple strapless gown faithfully outlined her figure, telling a man with one glance she was one-hundred-and-ten-percent female. Her smooth skin and short, shiny auburn curls made his hands itch to touch them.
Her vitality and the sheer delight she took in her cousin's happiness made Hope's smile sparkle brighter than the glittering baubles she wore around her neck. Her slender, kissable, tempt-a-man-to-nibble neck ... Aw, damn, but he had it bad.
Marsh leaned down and said something close to Hope's ear. She tipped back her head and uttered a soft laugh that carried easily on the warm evening breeze. Jake's gut tightened and he found himself fighting an urge to curl his fingers into fists and sock Marsh in that perfect nose he was so proud of.
"Think Marsh is tellin' the truth about just being pals with Hope?" Zack asked.
Cal shrugged. "He'd better be. Poor Sandy's been in love with him forever, and I don't know how much more of this she'll tolerate. Has he even danced with her yet?"
"Nope. And if he keeps on flirtin' with Hope like that, he'll be sorry." Zack turned his chair sideways, crossed one booted ankle over the other and braced his forearm on the table. "Jake, you'd better get out there and cut in. Save that poor fool from himself."
"Marsh's a big boy." Jake gulped half his drink. "Let him figure out his own love life."
"Since when did this family ever let anybody do that?" Cal demanded with a disbelieving snort of laughter. "Think about it, Jake. The rest of us are all married. You're the only one free to get Hope out of the way so Sandy can move in and get her brand on Marsh before he does something real stupid. Again."
"That's right," Zack agreed.
Marsh smoothly twirled Hope as the song ended. The non-dancers applauded. Hope laughed and dropped into a graceful curtsey. Jake had never seen anything quite so appealing, but he forced himself to look away before his brothers caught him staring at her like a starving dog watching his master eat the last bite of a juicy steak.
"Besides," Zack continued, "why don't you admit you kind of like having Hope flirt with you? Hell, she's young, rich and beautiful. If I was single, I'd be flattered as all get-out -"
"Forget it," Jake grumbled.
"Why?" Cal asked. "She's funny, she seems real nice, and she's gotta be darn smart to write all those books."
"Looks like a good breeder, too," Zack said.
"Wouldn't hurt the family gene pool to add another pretty gal -"
"Jeez, Zack." Jake tossed back the rest of his drink and banged his glass down on the table. "Stop talking about her like she's a damn heifer."
Excerpted from Call Of The West by Myrna Temte Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.