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The Last Honest Outlaw
By Carol Finch
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDenver, Colorado 1878
Rozalie Matthews proudly extended the newspaper article that she had thoroughly researched and carefully proofread to her father, owner and editor of the Daily Chronicle. "Read this over and see what you think," she requested.
Charles glanced up from setting type and frowned curiously. "What is it?"
"After I finished writing the obituaries and society pages you assigned to me," she explained, wrinkling her nose distastefully, "I felt compelled to investigate the details of Albert Thompson's murder." She pointed to the third paragraph of her article. "I included the description of the accused man that three eyewitnesses described to me."
Without bothering to read the story, her father handed it back to her. "I don't want you involved with this sort of investigation, Roz. We have discussed this several times."
"But I feel this is my calling," Roz insisted, trying to control her frustration. "I believe that I'm at my best, journalistically speaking, when interviewing witnesses and -"
Her father flung up his hand to forestall her. "Your time and efforts would be better spent making arrangements for your wedding to Lieutenant Harper. He came by this morning to ask for your hand and I gave my permission."
Roz's temper hit its flash point in one second flat. "John Harper is barely more than an acquaintance! I don't even like the man all that much. I got the distinct impression that his true interest in me is my ability to open doors for him into society. He badgers me constantly for introductions to the most prominent members of the community and then he proceeds to butter them up."
When her father shrugged off her comments as inconsequential, another wave of frustration flooded through her. "How could you possibly think I want to spend the rest of my life with Harper when I only tolerate him as an escort to the parties you insist I attend so I can write my columns for the society page? The lieutenant cannot have my hand or anything else!" she declared adamantly.
His blond brows flattened over his pale green eyes. "Now you listen to me, daughter. You are twenty years old and it's high time you settled into a normal life."
"Normal for complacent, unassertive females, you mean," Roz muttered resentfully. "Surely you realize by now that I have greater aspirations than finding a husband. I want to launch my career as a journalist."
"You won't have any hope of a career if you don't wed the lieutenant," her father countered. "Your mother plans to marry you off to that pompous dandy that she handpicked for you. You'll be stuck back East permanently."
Roz reared back when her father's booming voice ricocheted off the office walls. Her gaze swung to her corner desk. "You read Mother's letter?" she said accusingly.
He scowled and busied his hands with arranging the type on the manual printing press.
"You know I have no interest in going back East," Roz reminded him. "I didn't want to be dragged to Philadelphia to live with my maternal grandparents six years ago when you and Mother decided that you got along better with a half a continent between you, either."
No matter how often Roz had begged to return to Denver - the only place that felt like home - her mother had denied her requests. Sophia Matthews had been determined that Roz make all the proper social connections and attend a private finishing school. Roz had been miserable and her life had seemed dull and meaningless. Not to mention how much she had missed her father when her parents separated.
At the moment, however, she was having trouble remembering how fond she was of him. Suddenly, he had become as demanding as her mother.
Roz had finally convinced her mother to allow her an extended stay with her father two years ago and she had no intention of returning to Pennsylvania. She refused to be sucked back into the restrictive confines placed on aristocratic women in Eastern society. Denver provided the freedom and opportunities she craved, and she was not giving that up.
Roz was ready to break free of the unreasonable decrees of her parents, who always seemed to be at cross-purposes where she was concerned. For years Roz had held herself personally responsible for her parents' separation. She had carried a burden of guilt until she had matured enough to realize that she had nothing to do with Charles and Sophia's differences of opinions and conflicts of interests.
She was tired of someone else making all her decisions for her, and her parents' rocky marriage was reason enough to avoid the pitfalls of wedlock. This was her life, after all. She was not going to live it according to the dictates of her parents who used her as a pawn to retaliate against each other - and left her floundering in the middle.
"That woman is making sure you return to the East by arranging your wedding," her father said, breaking into her thoughts. "She deprived me of the chance to watch you grow up. I want you here with me permanently. If you marry Lieutenant Harper, that scheming mother of yours can't uproot you and repot you in Philadelphia soil."
Roz positioned herself in front of her father, demanding his undivided attention. "Is that what this attempt to marry me off to John Harper boils down to, Papa?" she asked pointedly. "Do you want the exact opposite for me that Mother wants, just to irritate her?"
Her father clamped his mouth shut, refusing to reply.
"I've been caught in your tug-of-war for years.
Mother constantly tries to influence my opinion of you and you try to influence my opinion of her. I'm tired of being caught in the middle," Roz burst out in exasperation.
"And furthermore, I am not marrying anyone, just to please you or Mother," she told him in no uncertain terms. "All I want is a career in journalism. If you won't print my story then I will march myself over to one of the rival newspaper offices and apply for a job. I will also tell Judge Milner that you are being difficult and he will be here in a flash to take my side the way he usually does!"
Judge Milner was her father's longtime friend who, having no children of his own, had declared himself Roz's honorary uncle. She had confided her frustrations with her parents to him over the years, and the judge had been her champion on several occasions. No doubt he would come to her defense again.
Excerpted from The Last Honest Outlaw by Carol Finch Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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