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Cowboy At The Crossroads
By Linda Warren
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat should she say to him?
Rebecca Talbert knew she had to say something, but when she looked at Cordell Prescott words eluded her. He sat on the sofa in a dark suit with his elbows on his knees and his hands clutching a glass of punch. That expression of loss and sadness twisted her stomach into a hard knot.
She hated funerals, especially when the person was so young and had died so needlessly. Anette Prescott's death from alcohol poisoning had left not only a grieving widower, but a motherless four-year-old girl. Becca had never met Anette; in fact, this was the first time she'd actually met Cord. She knew Clay and Colton, his brothers; they were business associates of her father. Her parents were in Europe and she'd attended the funeral in their place. But she would have come, anyway, because she and Colton were close friends. There'd been a time she'd thought their relationship would develop into more, but the passion just wasn't there. And she wanted that passion, the kind of deep, lasting love her parents shared. Based on her relationships to date, she had a feeling she was going to grow old looking for it.
Becca took a sip of her punch and glanced around. They were in the large family room of the Prescott ranch house, a room that was attractivelyrustic with wood beams on the ceiling, a stone fireplace and hardwood floors. Colton had told her the ranch-style two-story house had been built by his great-grandfather in the 1800s and there'd been Prescotts here ever since. Cord was the rancher in the family; he'd continued to run Triple Creek, while his brothers had opted for another way of life in the city.
As the grandfather clock chimed, Becca realized she had to leave, and soon. She was on duty at the hospital in an hour, and it was a thirty-minute drive back to Houston. She set her glass on a table. It was now or never. She had to offer her condolences to Cord, then make her way out to where the cars were parked. A few family and friends had returned to the ranch after the funeral, and Colton had insisted she come, although Becca felt a bit out of place.
She took a deep breath and walked over to the sofa. When she sat beside Cord, he didn't move or acknowledge her presence.
"I'm so sorry about your wife," she said. It sounded lame even to her own ears. He'd probably heard those words a hundred times today.
He still hadn't responded, so she started to get up. She didn't want to cause him any more stress than necessary.
Then his voice came. "I just wish I understood. Why? Why did this happen? Anette never drank that much. I just don't understand it. And Nicki ..." As he said his daughter's name, his voice cracked.
Becca did what she would have done with anyone who was in that much pain. She put her arms around him. He murmured something she didn't hear, and to her surprise, his arms locked tightly around her. She knew he had had a drink and she didn't know what he'd done with it. Nor did she care. She only wanted to comfort him.
As his arms tightened, she became aware of his strength and the tangy masculine scent that filled her nostrils. He was different from his brothers - in appearance, in manner, in aspiration. Clay and Colton had blond curly hair and blue eyes. Cord's hair was a darker blond with a slight curl and his eyes were brown. He also had a stylish mustache. Colton said that Cord took after their father with his love of the land. His brothers were businessmen and had never returned to the ranch after leaving for college, whereas Cord didn't want any other life. His manner, too, revealed a directness, a simple honesty that was quite removed from his brothers' more polished charm.
Becca didn't know how long they sat there with Cord holding on to her like a lifeline. She didn't mind. He needed to hold someone and he probably wasn't even aware of who she was. How could Anette Prescott do this to him? she found herself wondering. Cord seemed so family-oriented, and he obviously worshiped his little girl. From what Colton had told her, she knew Anette had been in a state of depression. She'd always wanted a child and had gone through several fertility procedures before she conceived Nicki. But once the baby was born, she sank into postpartum depression. Since it had continued for at least four years, it had obviously turned into a psychiatric disorder, maybe hormonal in cause, maybe not. She apparently functioned reasonably well, so it wasn't clinical, but she should have had some form of therapy. She could've gotten treatment, done something besides drink herself to death. Becca knew her opinion was tempered because of her medical training and because of the man trembling in her arms. But like Cord, she didn't understand.
"Mr. Prescott." A woman's voice interrupted them. "I can't find Nicki. I've looked everywhere."
Cord drew away and got to his feet. He stood at least six foot two, much taller than his brothers. "Don't worry, I'll find her," he said in a tired voice. "She's been hiding a lot since her mother ..." He stopped, unable to finish the sentence.
Becca also stood, her heart aching for this man. "I'm sure she'll feel better when she sees you," she said softly.
He blinked distractedly at her. "Thank you, Becca," he murmured, walking away.
He knows who I am. It was silly, but she couldn't shake the warm feeling that gave her.
She hurried over to Colton. "I've got to get back to Houston," she told him.
"I know, and I appreciate your coming." Frowning, Colton ran one hand through his blond hair; until recently he'd worn it shoulder-length and she guessed he wasn't used to this newly short style. "I saw you talking to Cord. Did he say anything?"
"Just that he doesn't understand why this happened."
"Yeah, none of us do." He shrugged. "Cord keeps everything inside. Doesn't let his feelings out. We're worried about him."
"Cord will be fine." Blanche, Colton's mother, spoke up. Becca had never met Blanche before today. She'd heard Colton talk about her for years, and it was quite an experience meeting her in the flesh. In her sixties, she dressed as if she were much younger. She wore a tight-fitting black dress that ended four inches above her knees. The plunging neckline showed off her ample breasts and the diamonds around her neck. Her bleached blond hair was styled in a stiff pageboy, but no amount of artifice could hide the aging on her face.
"Anette was never right for him, anyway," Blanche was saying. "She hated the ranch and the cows and horses. I never figured she'd take the easy way out, though. I wonder who she thought was gonna take care of that kid upstairs. It certainly isn't gonna be me."
As Blanche walked off, hips swaying, Colton remarked with raised eyebrows, "Charming, isn't she?"
Becca didn't say anything. She could only stare after the woman in stunned silence. Blanche was crude and unbelievably hard-hearted. Still, Becca didn't know why she was surprised; she knew the story of Blanche Duffy and Claybourne Prescott. Blanche had married Claybourne when she was eighteen. He'd been sixty. It wasn't a love match - she'd wanted security and he'd wanted a son. His first wife and eldest daughter had died in a car accident. His second daughter, Edith, was still alive and in her seventies. She lived on the ranch, and Colton had mentioned that the relationship between Blanche and Edith was strained. Having met both ladies, Becca had no problem imagining the situation. Edith was a quiet, demure person, and Becca was sure that Blanche made her life a living hell. The Prescott family was an eccentric group, to say the least.
She kissed Colton's cheek. "Talk to you later."
"I'll call when I get back to Houston," he said. Becca wished again that there was a spark between them. But they were just friends. Not for the first time, she wondered how Colton felt about her - whether he hoped for more than the easy companionship they now shared. They never discussed their relationship, but since Colton had opened a branch office of his computer company in Houston, they spent a lot of evenings and weekends together. Colton was almost forty, and if he harbored feelings for her, they had to talk about it. Why was she thinking about this today? she asked herself as she went into the foyer to get her purse. She and Colton had a good friendship and they were both adult enough to accept that. She glanced at her watch - three-ten. She'd better get moving.
Excerpted from Cowboy At The Crossroads by Linda Warren Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.