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Honey And The Hired Hand
By Joan Johnston
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe hairs prickled on the back of Honey Farrell's neck. She was being watched. Again. Surreptitiously she scanned the room looking for someone - anyone - she could blame for the disturbing sensation that had plagued her all evening. But everyone in the room was a friend or acquaintance. There was no one present who could account for the eerie feeling that troubled her.
Her glance caught on the couple across the room from her. How she envied them! Dallas Masterson was standing behind his wife, his hands tenderly circling Angel's once-again-tiny waist. Their three-month-old son was asleep upstairs. Honey felt her throat close with emotion as Dallas leaned down to whisper into his wife's ear. Angel laughed softly and a pink flush rose on her cheeks.
Honey saw before her a couple very much in love. In fact, she had come to the Mastersons' home this evening to help them celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Honey found it a bittersweet event. For, one year and one month ago, Honey's husband, Cale, had been killed saving Dallas Masterson's life.
Honey felt her smile crumbling. A watery sheen blurred her vision of the Texas Rangers and their wives chattering happily around her. Mumbling something incoherent, she shoved her wineglass into the hands of a startled friend.
"Honey, are you all right?"
"I just need some air." Honey bit down on her lower lip to still its quiver as she hastened from the living room.
The overhead light in the kitchen was blinding, and Honey felt exposed. Shying from the worried look of another Ranger's wife, who was putting a tray of canapes into the oven, Honey shoved her way out the back screen door.
"Honey?" the woman called after her. "Is something wrong?"
Honey forced herself to pause on the back porch. She turned back with a brittle smile and said, "I just need some air. I'll be fine."
The woman grinned. "I suppose it's all the speculation about you and Adam Philips. Has he proposed yet? We're expecting an announcement any day."
Honey gritted her teeth to hold the smile in place, hoping it didn't look as much like a grimace as it felt. "I - could we talk about this later? I really do need some air."
She waited until the other woman nodded before pulling the wooden door closed behind her, abruptly shutting out the noise and the painful, though well-intentioned, nosiness of her friends and neighbors.
The early summer evening was blessedly cool with a slight breeze that made the live oaks rustle overhead. Honey sank onto the back porch steps. She leaned forward and lifted the hair off her nape, shivering when the breeze caught a curl and teased it across her skin as gently as a man's hand.
She quickly dropped her hair and clutched her hands together between her knees. She felt bereft. And angry. How could you have left me alone like this, Cale? I'm trying to forget what it was like to be held in your arms. I'm trying to forget the feel of your mouth on mine. But seeing Angel in Dallas's arms tonight had been a vivid reminder of what she had lost. And it hurt. It was hard to accept Cale's untimely death and go on with her life. But she was trying.
At least she had learned from her mistake. She would never again love a man who sought out danger the way Cale had. She would never again put herself in the position of knowing that her husband welcomed the risks of a job that might mean his death. Next time she would choose a man who would be there when she needed him. Inevitably Cale had been gone on some assignment for the Texas Rangers whenever a crisis arose. Honey had become adept over the years at handling things on her own.
If her friends and neighbors got their wish, she wouldn't be on her own much longer. Only this time she had chosen more wisely. The man who had brought her to the party tonight, Adam Philips, was a country doctor. Adam would never die from an outlaw's bullet, the way Cale had. And Adam was reliable. Punctual almost to a fault. She would be able to count on him through thick and thin.
That was a definite plus in weighing the decision she had to make. For the good-natured gossip at the party about her and the young doctor was founded in fact. Adam Philips had proposed to her, and Honey was seriously considering his offer. Adam was a handsome, dependable man in a safe occupation. He liked her sons, and they liked - perhaps tolerated was a better word to describe how they felt about him. There was only one problem.
Honey didn't love Adam.
Excerpted from Honey And The Hired Hand by Joan Johnston Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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