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"Marry me, Megan, and I'll take you away from this Montana wilderness." Albert Broadhurst, in designer slacks and shirt, stared at the rugged mountains on the west boundary of Silvertip and his lips twisted in disgust. "A ranch, for God's sake. Why isolate yourself in this lonely place?"
Megan O'Connor took a deep breath of the pine-scented air and fought to stay calm. "I love Silvertip Ranch. It's quiet and peaceful, and the children are finally happy."
"My Connecticut estate is private." He moved closer, invading her personal space. "Come on, Megs, and say yes. Together, we can make Stonewood a showplace that'll be the envy of our friends."
"I told you months ago I wasn't interested." She sighed, fed up with all the fortune hunters, like Albert, who thought if they waved a marriage proposal at her, she'd fall into their arms like a ripe peach.
With a self-important air, he drew a black, velvet-covered box from his suit coat pocket and opened it, displaying a two-carat diamond circled by smaller diamonds. "Look at this ring. Your father said you'd love it."
She stiffened at Broadhurst's challenging tone. "My father doesn't run my life. Goodbye, Albert."
Turning her back on him, she walked along the unpainted corral fence, past a watering trough, to the section she'd been raking when he'd arrived. If only he'd get the message.
Albert followed, complaining about the pebbled dirt.
Ignoring him, she was reaching for the rake to finish her chore, when a motion across the yard caught her attention.
A tall, rugged-looking cowboy rode out of the nearby pine grove and, for a moment, she faltered,caught by a thrill of feminine awareness. There was something in the easy way he rode–in his air of command.
With an effort, she pulled her attention away from him. Just another drifter, she told herself.
Her gaze dropped to his magnificent black Appaloosa stallion with a shower of white spots across its hindquarters–the kind of horse she dreamed of breeding one day.
"Ma'am." The stranger touched the wide brim of his fawn-colored hat politely, but remained in the saddle, crossing one powerful hand over the other on the saddle horn.
Now what? Mentally, she groaned, caught between the sudden appearance of the rider and Albert's refusal to leave.
"Come on, Megan. Say yes," Broadhurst insisted.
"I've turned you down four times," she snapped, running out of patience. "I won't marry you or any other man."
He grabbed her wrist, pulled her closer, and snarled, "Don't play hard to get."
"I saidno." She jerked her hand out of his grip and pushed him away. Stumbling backwards, he tripped over the rake, and with a wild cry, splashed into the horse trough.
He cursed and thrashed in the cold water, sending sheets of liquid over the side.
Cowhands, gathered on the other side of the corral, whooped and shouted suggestions, but she cautiously kept her attention on Albert.
He finally pried himself out of the coffin-shaped trough and looked around frantically. "My God, where's the ring? O'Connor will kill me."
Torn between laughter and disgust, Megan retrieved the box from the dirt at her feet, saw the ring safely nestled inside, closed the lid, and handed it to him. "Tell my father nice try, but give it up."
"You haven't heard the last of this." The would-be groom spun on one heel and marched toward the rental car, his wingtips squishing with each step.
Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Clark.