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These stories of classic romance are among my favorites—and I welcomed the chance to revise them for today's reader.
Six White Horses
Oklahoma ranch owner Morgan Kincaid may be tall, masterful and everything else women look for in a man. . .but that doesn't mean Patty King wants him. Riding in rodeos doesn't leave her any time ...
These stories of classic romance are among my favorites—and I welcomed the chance to revise them for today's reader.
Six White Horses
Oklahoma ranch owner Morgan Kincaid may be tall, masterful and everything else women look for in a man. . .but that doesn't mean Patty King wants him. Riding in rodeos doesn't leave her any time for romance, and besides, Patty's not the marrying kind. Just why Morgan is so damn sure he can change her mind, she doesn't know. Until their first kiss. . .
Pilot Reilly Smith isn't the kind to talk a lot, but his smoldering gaze says it all: Leah Talbot is the most beautiful woman he's ever taken up in the air. Then, when a storm strikes without warning and their chartered plane goes down in the mountains of Nevada, Reilly becomes a man with a mission: to bring Leah safely home. . .and into his life forever.
You'll find true romance and real-life heroes in these books!
Contents: Six White Horses and Reilly's Woman.
An old man stood at the black's head, neatly dressed in a Western suit that fit his lean build. His pepper-gray head was turned to the boyishly slim girl hurrying toward him.
"What kept you, gal?" he asked with a patient sigh. "They're ready to start the Grand Entry."
"The zipper got stuck on these fancy pants," she explained quickly, vaulting without effort into the saddle and taking the reins he handed her. The white outfit she wore matched the leather trappings of the horse, black roses embroidered on the pant legs and the shoulders and back. Her dark brown hair was caught at the nape of her neck and plaited into a single braid.
"Knock 'em dead, honey!" he called out to her as she reined the horse away.
"I will, Gramps!" Her hand raised in a cheery salute as the powerful hindquarters of the horse muscled to leap into a canter.
Not until they neared the rodeo stands did Patty King slow the black horse's pace. She wove through the congestion of horses and riders, mostly rodeo contestants. Patty smiled at the friendly teasing about her tardiness from those she knew, and tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach as she halted the black horse behind a pair of golden palominos whose riders were carrying the flags.
The gates into the arena were closed. Already there was a commotion in the bucking chutes and an excited hum coming from the crowd in the stands waiting for the rodeo to begin. Patty laid a soothing hand on the black's neck, quieting him with a few softly spoken words.
"Hey, Princess!" a voice called out to her. A lanky cowboy jumped from the rail and walked over, flamboyantly dressed in a bright Western shirt with leather chaps and jangling spurs. He stopped at her side.
"Princess?" Patty laughed, her brown eyes dancing at the sight of the young, handsome face that looked up at her.
"You're too little to be a king, so you have to be a princess." He winked. Grabbing the oversized saddle horn of her trick saddle and sticking the toe of his boot in the stirrup, he pulled himself up to her level, balancing himself with his other hand placed on the cantle. "I need a kiss for luck, Princess."
"Jack Evans, the last time I gave you a kiss for luck, you were bucked off the first jump out of the chutes." Twin dimples appeared in her cheeks.
An expression of mock seriousness spread across the face so near to hers. "You didn't put your heart into it that time. We'll just have to keep on tryin' until you get it right."
She gave a rueful shake of her head. Arguing with this cocky cowboy was hopeless. Besides, Patty King had known him too long to be taken in by his considerable charm. But she didn't protest when his mouth covered hers in a light but lingering kiss.
"Much better." Jack grinned and swung away from her onto the ground.
"If all that mushy stuff is over," a growling voice said from the arena gate, "we'll get this rodeo started."
A faint, embarrassed pink colored her cheeks as Patty glanced at the grizzled, battered-looking cowboy at the gates, his left arm in a plaster cast.
"I'm ready, Lefty," she said.
Grumbling softly, he nodded an acknowledgment. But her brown eyes had slid past him, caught by the mocking gaze of a big man just mounting the top rail of the arena fence. The look in his eyes made her stiffen with resentment.
He was tall with powerful shoulders, and not one ounce of spare flesh on his frame. Everything about him seemed to radiate a sensual masculinity, from the jet black hair that curled under the brim of his Stetson to his thick black brows. Sooty lashes outlined his metallic blue eyes. As Patty met his gaze, she glared her dislike of their owner, Morgan Kincaid.
The arena gate swung open and the rodeo announcer proclaimed the start of the rodeo in a booming, echoing voice. The Grand Entry parade got started, swiftly proceeding to the presentation of colors and the playing of the National Anthem.
When the rest of the horses and riders in the Grand Entry left the arena, Patty followed, pulling her black horse to a stop just inside the gate. Her smoldering sense of irritation flared up at the sight of Morgan Kincaid swinging down from the rail fence and walking toward the chutes.
He was the antithesis of what she liked in a man. He had none of the quiet courtesy she admired-in fact, his manner was abrasive, setting her teeth on edge as effectively as the whine of a dentist's drill. He was too aggressively male to be handsome, with none of the rough edges smoothed. Patty scowled at his back, but couldn't help noticing the sheer breadth of his shoulders. She nearly missed her cue from the rodeo announcer.
"Our special attraction for this evening, ladies and gentlemen, is Miss Patricia King," he boomed out, "a native of New Mexico, a truly fine trick rider and Roman rider. Patty, give them an example of what they'll see later on this evening."
Reining the black horse in a full circle to the right, its signal for the flat-out run, Patty took him into the arena. She went once around in a hippodrome stand, falling away on the second circle to a side drag that left the crowd gasping before they broke into applause.
She rode out. There was no opportunity to stay and watch the first rodeo event, which was saddle bronc riding. Patty had to return to the stable area to help her grandfather harness the six white horses she used for the Roman ride. By the time the black leather trappings were on each horse and Patty had changed into a black outfit with white roses, she was due in the arena for her performance.
With her grandfather Everett King walking at the head of Liberty, the left horse in the front pair, Patty sat bareback astride Loyalty, the right horse of the last pair.
The arena lights caught the sparkles dusted over the hindquarters of the six white horses as they pranced into the arena to the tune of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." Patty's stomach was twisted into knots of nervous excitement.
Rising to stand on the rosined back of Loyalty, she clucked comfortingly to the horses, taking an extra wrap on the six black reins, three in each hand. Oblivious to the announcer's words, she shifted her left foot to Landmark's back, easing the horses into a slow canter while she adjusted herself to the rhythm.
Circling the arena twice eased her attack of jitters. While Patty guided the three pairs of horses into a series of figure eights that required a flying change of lead, her grandfather supervised the setting of the hurdles. There was one jump on one side of the arena and a double jump on the opposite side.
Deftly checking Landmark's habit of rushing the jump, Patty kept her balance as the horses cleared the barrier with faultless precision, one pair following the other, her feet placed on the backs of the last two horses. The double jump was trickier on the opposite side of the arena. As the last pair of horses was landing from the first obstacle, the first pair was making the second.
When all the horses had cleared the last jump, it was once around the arena to a sliding stop in the center where they all took a bow with Patty standing triumphantly on their backs, a hand in the air to acknowledge the applause. A refusal at any of the jumps would've meant a nasty fall for Patty as well as for the horses.
Wheeling the horses toward the gate, she slipped astride Loyalty's back. A beaming smile split her face as she met the congratulatory look in her grandfather's eyes. With the agility of a much younger man, Everett King caught Liberty's halter, slowing him to a walk through the gate and forcing the rest to do the same. A cowboy grabbed Lodestar's head while another took her grandfather's place with Liberty.
"You did a great job, Patty." He winked at her as he laid a hand on Loyalty's shining neck.
"You did the training. You get the credit," she replied in a breathless voice. "Thanks, Grandpa."
His gnarled hand closed affectionately over hers before a somber look stole over his face. "He's here, Patty."
For an instant she froze, unable to speak or breathe. A twisting pain stabbed at her chest. There was no need to ask who he was, Patty knew. She knew her grandfather was talking about Lije Masters.
"Where?" Her voice was choked. Her eyes fluttered closed for the briefest of seconds, to try to shut out the pain.
"In the fourth row on your left." A touching sympathy laced his words. "His wife is with him."
A sob rose in her throat and Patty forced it back with a quick gulp. Smile, she told herself sternly, smile and wave at him even if it kills you. Some of her panic was communicated to the white horse and it shifted nervously beneath her.
Touching the silky neck with a soothing caress, Patty deliberately let her gaze stray to the fourth row of the stand, forcing a smile of false surprise onto her mouth when she saw him. Lije's gray eyes studied her from a lean, tanned face as he returned her smile. Its effect on her heartbeat ... devastating.
Her gaze flickered to the perfection of the blond woman beside him, envy squeezing nearly all the breath from Patty's lungs. Lije's wife was a flawless example of femininity. Not a tomboy turned into a cowgirl like her, Patty thought miserably. But she waved at them anyway.
"Magnificent performance as usual, Patty," Lije called.
"Thanks." The shrill edge to her voice was painful to her pride.
She heard a resounding slap on the rump of her horse as Everett King waved to the cowboys holding the front pair to take them to the stables. She and her grandfather were too close for Patty not to realize that he was silently asking her to end the conversation with the man she still loved, who had married another.
At the stables, Patty slipped from Loyalty's back and helped her grandfather remove the leather trappings from the six white horses. Their travel trailer was parked a short distance away, where Patty changed quickly out of her costume into faded blue jeans and a knit top of olive green, not allowing herself time to think in case she lost her grip on her shaky composure.
The horses were cooled off when she returned to the stable area. Shouts and applause from the rodeo crowd could be heard in the distance along with the announcer's booming commentary. It was all so familiar to her-rodeo was her life, thanks to Lije Masters.
"I'll finish up the horses, Grandpa," Patty said softly.
His alert brown eyes regarded her thoughtfully, seeing past her calm facade to the pain beneath. "You want to be alone, don't you, honey?"
"Is it that obvious?" She smiled ruefully.
"Only to me," he responded as he walked away.
Patty watched his lean figure disappear and sighed. It was strange that he was the only member of her family who instinctively understood how she felt. Both her parents assumed that her interest in rodeo came from her grandfather, who had actively competed as a young man. But her motivation had always been Lije Masters. As long as she could remember, she had loved him and only him.
When Lije had started following the rodeo circuit to save his father's ranch and keep it after his father's death, Patty had been determined to follow. She didn't have the patience to wait in New Mexico for the day he would return. It was her grandfather, Everett King, who had suggested trick riding, since she couldn't exactly support herself as a barrel racer.
Fate, unfortunately, had played a few tricks of its own that Patty never expected. Her bookings hadn't included the San Antonio rodeo. Liberty had been ailing and Patty had been at her parents' ranch in New Mexico before going to the Houston rodeo. She would never forget the bitterness of walking into that restaurant in New Mexico ... and suddenly seeing Lije Masters with his new wife.
Nice of you to tell me, Lije. But to this day, she knew she had carried the scene off beautifully, never letting him see how crushing his news had been.
A tear slipped from her lashes as she pushed the straw around in Liberty's stall. She was using the pitchfork more for support than anything. Reminding herself that Lije had never given her any indication that he looked on her as more than a friend or a neighbor was cold comfort.
Still, she had lived in hope of more. She had adored him, worshiped him, loved him, content with the smallest crumb of his attention. You're an idiot, she told herself fiercely.
Her hope had been sustained by knowing that Lije didn't believe in riding the rodeo circuit and leaving a wife at home. He'd said that he would never expect someone who loved him to experience the agony of watching him compete when every rider ran the risk of being badly hurt or crippled.
Yet Patty had lived with that fear for three years, biding her time, knowing that Lije intended to quit after another two successful years of rodeo.
Never in her wildest imagination had she believed that he would fall in love and marry someone else after only a few days of knowing her. But he had. A year and a half had passed since Patty had found out, but the pain was as intense as if it had only happened this morning.
Her grandfather's shoulder had been drenched with her tears. He had been the one who'd convinced her to continue the circuit when she wanted to curl up and die. Maybe he'd known that the constant training necessary to keep the horses in top form would keep Patty from dwelling too much on her shattered dream.
She did like the work, but it was just that-work. Riding in rodeos and fending off amorous cowboys who'd had one too many Lone Star beers wasn't all she wanted out of life.
Patty had wanted a home and children-Lije's children-and a ranch that she could help him run. She was as capable as any ranch hand around. That had always seemed a factor in her favor, a reason she was sure that Lije was bound to choose her eventually and no one else.
Lije's wife was a model who had never been on a horse in her life, city-born and city-bred, the exact opposite of Patty in every way.
The salty taste of tears covered her lips and she realized with a start that she was crying, something she hadn't done in a year. Swallowing her sobs, Patty wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.
Liberty turned luminous brown eyes on her and nickered softly. It took all her willpower to resist the urge to fling her arms around the horse's neck and cry.
Excerpted from Happily Ever After by JANET DAILEY Copyright © 2005 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 20, 2008
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