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Lover Under Cover
By Charlotte Douglas
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"NOBODY PROMISED YOU a rose garden," Kate Purvis muttered beneath her breath. "If you want one, you'll have to plant it yourself."
The scent of roses would be a pleasant change from the smell of antiseptic and disinfectants that clung to her clothes and hair, even once she'd left the hospital. Gardening, her friend and boss Abby Maitland McDermott had told her, was good therapy, a refreshing break from her high-pressure medical practice, but, Abby had added with a wink and a knowing nod, the right man might do Kate even more good than a horticultural hobby.
Once burned, twice shy, Kate had opted for the roses, thorns and all. She tugged on her gardening gloves, picked up the spade, and slammed it into the earth with the bottom of her heel. The resulting jolt almost knocked her backward.
Wiping sweat from her brow in Austin's late July heat, she positioned the gardening tool to try again. Visions of white roses climbing among the gingerbread columns and balustrades of the Victorian porch fueled her determination. This time she jumped on the spade with both feet, but the earth refused to give beneath her weight.
"Looks like you could use a hand - or at least a tougher foot."
She turned at the sound of the deep, drawling voice, and dreams of roses evaporated at the sight of the stunningly attractive man standing on her front walk with a huge black dog at his side.
He was a cowboy.
An honest-to-God cowboy.
Kate had been in Austin almost three years since moving from Atlanta, but in her obstetrical practice she'd treated only women. When she'd met her patients' husbands, they'd mostly been men who worked in offices downtown. In the sheltered grind of work and home, she had yet to come face-to-face with a legendary Texas cowpoke.
Not only was the man who'd just spoken a cowboy, he was the most gorgeous specimen of masculine perfection she'd ever seen. Almost six feet tall, he had the lean, muscled look of someone who'd toted a few barges and lifted a few bales in his day. Broad, well-formed shoulders and impressive biceps filled his immaculately clean chambray shirt, rolled back at the cuffs to reveal powerful forearms. Tight jeans encased muscled thighs that could probably grip a horse with ease. A battered Stetson was clasped lightly in his right hand. His face was tanned, his brown hair sun-streaked, and his warm gray eyes the dusky color of a summer dawn. He emanated the confident aura of a man who knew where he wanted to go and how to get there. And who dared anyone to get in his way.
Striding toward her with the gait of someone more accustomed to horseback than sidewalks, he tossed his hat aside and took the spade from her. The huge black dog followed like a dark shadow.
"Looks like you've hit a tree root," the cowboy drawled. "You'll break your foot trying to dig it out in those flimsy shoes."
Suddenly aware of her own scruffy appearance, Kate glanced with dismay at her attire. Cutoff shorts, a faded sleeveless blouse tied at the waist, and raggedy tennis shoes, all perfect for working in the yard, but the worst possible apparel for meeting the most handsome man she'd ever seen. She pushed a strand of hair that had fallen free of her ponytail off her face - and felt the moist streak of dirt smeared on her cheek by her glove.
The cowboy, meanwhile, had set the spade over the spot where she'd been digging and jammed the sole of his well-worn boot against it. The blade sliced cleanly into the earth as if the ground were butter. With a practiced hand, he shifted to the other side of the spot and chopped the root there as well. With a few hefts of the spade, he removed roots and dirt from the hole.
"That oughta do it." The exertion hadn't left him the least bit winded, nor had he broken a sweat.
Flustered, Kate accepted the gardening tool he returned to her.
A wide smile softened the rough-hewn planes of his classically handsome face and revealed perfect teeth, gleaming white against his tan. "You don't talk much, do you?"
"I, uh, no. But thank you," Kate managed to stammer, still befuddled enough by the attractive stranger's sudden and unexpected assistance to have almost forgotten her manners.
"My pleasure, ma'am."
He even talks like a cowboy, Kate thought.
He pointed to the plant container she'd placed beside the hole. "Roses?"
She nodded toward the bush with its dark-green leaves and tight buds. She'd already deadheaded the spent blossoms. "Icebergs."
He arched his right eyebrow. "Interesting choice."
His comment was probably intended without innuendo, but it hit home nonetheless, and Kate made a conscious effort not to squirm. Other men had called her cold, but after what she'd suffered from Steven, she had earned the right to be downright chilly when it came to the opposite sex.
Besides, this man was too damned appealing, something she didn't want to deal with. Her life was just fine the way it was, without a handsome man stirring up her senses. She appreciated his help, but now she was ready to send him on his way.
"I like white roses," she said in defense of her Icebergs. "You have a better suggestion?" She doubted the cowboy knew anything about flowers and her challenge would be his cue to leave.
He moved back from the edge of the porch and studied the area. "I've had a lot of luck with Don Juan ramblers myself. Plenty of blossoms, lots of deep red color, and like their famous namesake, they like the heat. They'd do well here."
Kate stared at him. A cowboy who knew roses? And Don Juans, no less. Now that was an interesting choice. The thought of the infamous lover made her flush with unwanted images of the cowboy sweeping her off her feet, into his arms, and carrying her away. No, she really didn't need this distraction, but after he'd helped her, she couldn't be rude and simply tell him to move along.
Excerpted from Lover Under Cover by Charlotte Douglas Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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