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Overview

Will A False Marriage...

Desperately seeking to keep her future inheritance safe from her matchmaking stepfather, Delana Wyatt poses as Blu Cahill's wife just to get a ride out of town. But to her surprise, she loves playing house with the undercover Texas Ranger. His quiet strength and steely courage make her yearn to make their pretense a reality...even as his code of honor keeps them at a "respectable" distance...

...Lead to a True Love?

...

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Overview

Will A False Marriage...

Desperately seeking to keep her future inheritance safe from her matchmaking stepfather, Delana Wyatt poses as Blu Cahill's wife just to get a ride out of town. But to her surprise, she loves playing house with the undercover Texas Ranger. His quiet strength and steely courage make her yearn to make their pretense a reality...even as his code of honor keeps them at a "respectable" distance...

...Lead to a True Love?

Blu knows he never should have taken Delana along on his mission. Though having a wife does help him fit in with the ranchers while he infiltrates a ring of wire cutters, he can't justify the feelings he is having for his "missus." He has no business toying with a lady...and the sooner he makes Delana see that, the better. Because Blu doesn't know which will be tougher...keeping her out of the crossfire, or safe from his own burning desires.

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Editorial Reviews

Old Book Barn Gazette
This is romance at its best. If you're a reader who enjoys western romances spiced with passion and characters who touch your heart from the first page, you're in for an unforgettable read.
Rendezvous
Wildy romantic with a lady who has just the right tough of wanton. This is an excellent novel.
Romantic Times
Ms. Harte has written a sexually charged romance, brimming over with strong characters ...Blu and Delana's relationship steams up the pages!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821773673
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Series: Zebra Historical Romance Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 4.14 (w) x 7.06 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Read an Excerpt

One

Austin Texas, Summer 1886

"Psst."

Texas Ranger Sergeant Blu Cahill came to a halt at the alley's entrance, his senses going on full alert.

"Psst." The sound came again, more persistent this time.

He turned slightly, narrowing his gaze to probe the alley's deep shadows. Catching a whisper of movement, he stared harder. The shadows shifted, finally separating to reveal the form of a human, but male or female, he couldn't be certain.

"I'd. . . um. . . like to talk to you." The voice identified the person as female.

Blu narrowed his gaze even more, every muscle tense with anticipation. As a Ranger, he never let down his guard for a situation to turn dangerous. He wouldn't be the first man lured into an alley by a woman only to be knocked senseless and robbed by a male accomplice. Inching his right hand closer to the butt of the Colt revolver strapped to his thigh, he watched the woman move toward him.

She left the shadows and stepped into a golden shaft of late-morning sunlight. Dropping a large valise at her feet, she lifted her chin and met his gaze. Blu's breath lodged in his throat. She had the most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen, their color an incredible lavender and surrounded by thick, dark lashes. Forcing himself to breathe, he pulled his gaze away from those mesmerizing eyes to the rest of her pale oval face. He noted her prominent slanted cheekbones, slightly upturned nose, and full, sultry mouth before shifting his perusal upward to the wealth of glossy dark-brown hair piled atop her head. One thick curl had worked loose, hanging down to brush the side of her neck. The urge to finger that strandof hair took him by surprise. Summoning the willpower to keep his hands at his sides, he opened his mouth to speak, but found his vocal cords wouldn't cooperate.

Blu seldom had occasion to be in the company of a lady other than the type of "lady" who sold her favors, but none of those rare encounters had left him speechless. He swallowed, ran his tongue over his bone-dry lips, then finally managed to force out a croaking "Talk."

The young woman cleared her throat, then said, "My name is Delana Wyatt, and I have a proposition for you."

Blu's eyebrows lifted. "Really?" Shifting his weight to one leg, he placed his hands on his hips. "And what would that be, Miss Wyatt?"

"I. . . um. . ." She dropped her gaze, the soft pink of a blush creeping up her cheeks. "I need a man."

"Is that right?" he replied, using a thumb to push the brim of his hat off his forehead. Unaccountably, the notion of this young woman taking up the life of a prostitute irritated him, turning his voice gruff. "Well, I havta tell you, missy, if this is yer way of joining the ladies of the line, I think you'd better rethink your plan. There are better ways of attracting clients."

Her head snapped up. "I'm not trying to become a. . . a. . . one of those women," she replied in a quavering voice, her entire face turning a dull red. "That's not why I'm looking for a man. I need to find one who'll help me get out of Austin."

When he made no reply, she pulled herself up to her full height, which only brought the top of her head even with his chin. "I. . . um. . . don't have the money to pay you right now. But I promise I'll see that you're compensated for your time."

Blu studied her for several moments, wondering why she seemed so anxious to get out of town. He didn't like the answers that came to mind. Finally, he said, "You running from the law?"

She shook her head, a flicker of what looked like pain flashing in her beautiful eyes.

"I'd never expect to be paid for helping someone in need, Miss Wyatt. That is, if you truly are. So you'd better start talking."

She took a deep breath, giving Blu a glimpse of small, firm breasts pressed against the bodice of her dress. "It's a long story."

"I ain't going anywhere," he replied, jerking his gaze from her bosom.

She glanced around, switching the small leather satchel she held from one hand to the other. Leaning closer, she lowered her voice to a whisper. "Could we go somewhere more private?"

Blu knew he should make up some excuse, then just walk away and not look back. But Delana Wyatt intrigued him too much to do that. "I was just headin' back to my hotel room." He nodded toward the brick building on the other side of the alley. "Care to join me?"

"I. . ." She swallowed hard, then stared up at him for a long moment. Apparently finding nothing in his expression to scare her off, she said, "Is there a rear entrance?"

For a second, Blu considered lying to see how she'd react. But he squashed the idea just as quickly. He recognized the look on her face, and he couldn't bring himself to add to her anxiety. "Yeah, there's a door in the back."

"Then, I'll join you, Mr. . ."

"Cahill. Blu Cahill," he replied, bending to pick up her valise. He tugged his hat brim back into place, took the satchel from her hand, then indicated she should precede him down the alley.

As he followed her to the hotel's rear entrance, he remained silent, wishing he didn't carry around the burden of wanting to help those in need. He scrunched his face into a scowl. How do they always manage to find me? It's like I've got a goddamn sign that reads, "Easy Mark for the Helpless," hanging around my neck. Though he knew the reason behind his willingness to be a champion of the unfortunate stemmed from his own past, he kept wishing the urge to help eventually would disappear. But it never did.

By the time he opened the door to his room and waved Delana toward the only chair, he'd managed to force his thoughts back to the present. Closing and locking the door behind him, he dropped her valise on the floor, set her satchel on top of it, then turned to face her.

"Now," he said, removing his hat and tossing it onto the table beside her chair, "what's this about?" He leaned a shoulder against the door frame, staring at her from beneath partially lowered eyelids.

Delana plucked at the fabric of her skirt. "I need to get out of town before Henry Lawton, my stepfather, forces me to marry the man he's selected to be my husband."

"You look like you're of age, so how can he force you to get married?"

"Because I'm totally dependent on him. I live in his house, he pays for the food I eat, the clothes I wear. If I refuse, he could toss me out into the street with nothing."

"You think he'd actually do that?" When she nodded, he said, "Have you met the man he's chosen?"

"We haven't been formally introduced, but I know who he is. Cyrus Townsend. He. . ." She squeezed her eyes closed for a second. "He must be close to seventy years old."

A knot formed in Blu's gut. "How do you know he's your stepfather's choice?"

"I overheard a conversation he had with Cyrus." She lifted a shaking hand to brush a wisp of hair off her temple. "Henry gave him instructions on how to court me, telling him what I like to do, what I like to read. Everything Cyrus needs to know to, as Henry put it, sweep me off my feet." She frowned, shifting restlessly on the chair, then lifted her chin. "But I have no intention of marrying Cyrus Townsend, or any other man."

He studied her in silence for a moment, then said, "How come you've got such a low opinion of marriage?"

She swallowed, dropping her gaze to where she held her hands clenched in her lap. "My mother was the only child of a sickly mother and an extremely strict father. After my grandmother's death, my grandfather became even more controlling. Mama finally rebelled by running away with a man her father had forbidden her to see. When she became pregnant with me, they went to Grandfather and asked for his blessing, but he refused. He sent my father away with threats of what would happen if he ever returned, but he allowed my mother to move back into his house. Back under his control."

She glanced up at him, her lavender eyes shiny with tears, her lips trembling. Blu had the sudden urge to go to her, to take her in his arms, to offer the comfort of his embrace. But he forced himself to stay put.

She sniffled, gave her cheeks a quick swipe with the back of one hand, then said, "Life wasn't pleasant for my mother or me while I was growing up. I had just turned sixteen when Grandfather suffered a fatal stroke. Mama met Henry Lawton shortly after the funeral." Her mouth curved in a tremulous smile. "She became a different person under Henry's fawning attention, falling in love with him almost immediately. When they married a month later, Mama thought she'd finally have the life she always wanted." She made a sound in her throat, something between a shaky laugh and a snort. "He certainly had Mama fooled. She thought he loved her, too. When she found out he'd married her to get his hands on Grandfather's estate, it broke her heart, and worse, crushed her spirit. Not long after that her health started to fail." She drew a shaky breath, clenching her fingers so tightly her knuckles turned white. "She died two years later."

Blu's chest tightened at the pain she'd suffered. But he remained silent, waiting for her to continue.

"Anyway," she said, unclenching her hands and smoothing the fabric of her skirt. "After witnessing what both my grandfather and Henry Lawton did to my mother, I decided I never want to end up like her." Stiffening her spine, she lifted her chin and met his gaze. "I want to be free to make my own choices. To live my life as I see fit, and not have someone constantly telling me what I can and cannot do."

Blu heard the bitterness in her voice, saw the determination come into her beautiful eyes, and the way she hardened her delicate jaw.

He stared at her for several seconds, then said, "I happen to share your views on marriage, Miss Wyatt." Dropping his voice, he added, "Though our reasons aren't the same." Pulling himself a second time from memories he didn't want to unearth, he said, "Does your stepfather know how you feel?"

"Henry knows I never encouraged the men who came to call on me." Her full mouth turned down in a frown. "Now that I think about it, maybe he did something to make sure they didn't come back. Maybe he'd already begun his plan to handpick my husband and wanted to chase off the competition." Her eyes suddenly went wide. "I just realized why he told Cyrus so much about me. Henry asked me about marriage once, specifically, what I considered to be the most important factor when choosing a husband. I told him I would marry only if the man and I were head over heels in love."

"Given your feelings about marriage, I'm guessing you don't believe that can happen." When she shook her head, he said, "Then why'd you feed him that line about only marrying for love?"

"I had to say something," she replied with a sigh. "Something that sounded believable."

After another long pause while he digested everything she'd told him, he said, "So if it's independence you want, why bother trying to find someone to get you out of town? Why not just get on a train and leave?"

"My stepfather is an extremely influential businessman in town. He knows nearly everyone, and if I left by stage or train, he'd certainly know about it before I was a mile out of town."

"How do you know I'm not an acquaintance of your stepfather?"

"Henry's office is in his home, so I see the men he deals with every day. And since my mother's death, I've served as his hostess for the many social functions he gives, so I'm familiar with both his business associates and personal friends." She fixed her gaze on his face for several seconds, then said, "No, I'm sure my stepfather doesn't know you. Am I wrong?"

"No, I've never met the man," Blu replied, glad he hadn't, since he felt certain he'd find nothing to like about Henry Lawton.

"Don't you have any lady friends who'd help you?"

She pinched the bridge of her nose, then exhaled with a sigh. "Most of the women I know are married and think I should be, too, so they'd have no sympathy for my situation. I considered trying to find a woman I don't know and ask for her help. But since I haven't met the wives of all my stepfather's acquaintances, I was afraid I'd unwittingly approach one of them. I wasn't willing to take that risk."

Blu nodded but didn't respond.

The silence in the room stretched on for a minute or two; then finally, she said, "Will you. . ." Her words came out in a shaky croak. She cleared her throat, then began again. "Will you help me get out of town?"

"You got some place to go?"

Delana shook her head. "I don't have any other family, and I don't care where I go. I just want to get out of Austin."

Blu lifted a hand and rubbed the backs of his knuckles along the side of his jaw. "Give me a minute to think this through." Pushing away from the door frame, he moved to the second-floor room's narrow window and looked down at the street. He watched wagons rolling past the hotel, and people walking down the boardwalk, but was not really seeing any of the street scene below. Instead, his thoughts were filled with the woman sitting just a few feet away and the story she'd told him.

When Delana hailed him in the alley, he'd been thinking about his meeting the previous afternoon with the state adjutant general, the commander of the Texas Rangers, a meeting in which he'd been given his latest assignment. As a nine-year veteran of the force and an experienced Ranger detective, he'd been selected for a special secret mission to stop a ring of wire cutters -- the latest round in the fence-cutting wars plaguing the state. After leaving his commander's office, he'd spent the evening forming a plan for going undercover in a county where previous Ranger detectives had failed. He finally decided posing as a footloose, out-of-work cowhand would be the best approach. So the last thing he needed was the albatross of a woman-in-need. But after hearing what Delana Wyatt had to say, he had to rethink his plan.

For several minutes, he went back over everything she'd told him, then contemplated his options. Finally, he stepped away from the window and turned to face her. "Something still bothers me about your story."

She looked up at him with wide eyes. "What?"

"Why's your stepfather trying so hard to marry you off? What's in it for him?"

"I told you, I'm totally dependent on him. If I marry and move out of his house, he'll no longer have to pay for my maid, the food I eat, or my clothes."

Blu thought about her response, then shook his head. "Nope, I'm not buying that. What it costs him to support you isn't reason enough to put so much effort into finding a husband for you. And even if it was, why would he pick Cyrus Townsend, a man old enough to be your grandfather?" He paused to let his words sink in, then said, "What's his real reason for wanting to marry you off, Miss Wyatt?"

She opened her mouth, then closed it with a snap. After inhaling a deep breath and releasing it slowly, she said, "When my grandfather died, he didn't leave his entire estate to my mother. At the reading of his will, I learned he'd set up a trust fund for me not long after I was born. The fund transfers to me when I turn twenty-one. Three months from now."

"That's how you meant to pay me?"

She nodded. "After I collect the money, I plan to go somewhere, buy a house, and" -- she shot a quick glance in his direction -- "that is, provided there's enough in the trust fund to pay for a house."

His gaze narrowed. "You don't know what it's worth?"

"I. . . uh. . . well, no. I don't know the exact amount."

Blu studied her silently for a moment, then said, "If the trust fund is payable to you, how would Henry Lawton get his hands on it? If anyone had a right to claim anything of yours, it would be your hus--" He scowled. "Damn, now I see what he's up to. Lawton needs you to marry a man he can control. Someone he can keep under his thumb."

"Yes," she replied. "Henry likes to manipulate people, so I'm sure he tried to find someone who will dance to his tune."

"But why would he want your trust fund when he already has control of the larger share of your grandfather's estate?"

She rubbed her temples with her fingertips. "Though I don't know for sure, I wouldn't be surprised if he's lost everything Grandfather left my mother. I do know he's made some bad investments during the past year, and he's probably deep in debt. That's why he wants my inheritance."

"If there isn't much in your trust fund, it won't go very far."

"Um. . . yes, that's true. But even a small amount would get his creditors off his back for a while."

Blu mulled over her statement, then said, "If he's desperate for money, I reckon he'd settle for whatever he can get."

"Does that mean you'll help me?"

He stared at her for a few more seconds, then exhaled heavily. "Yeah, I'll get you out of town, but you have to do something for me in return." Her brow furrowed, she eyed him warily. "What?"

"I'm supposed to leave town today and head northwest, up to Brownwood in Brown County. I can't give you the details, but I'm going up there on a job. I'll be working as a rancher, and I need you to pose as my wife."

"Your. . ." Her throat worked with a swallow. "Your wife?"

"I thought about asking you to pretend to be my sister, but I. . . uh. . . think having you pose as my wife makes more sense." Blu refused to acknowledge why he hadn't even seriously considered having them pose as siblings, his mind jumping immediately to the idea of making her his pretend bride. Though he still agreed with his original conclusion -- a married couple arriving in Brown County would draw less attention and therefore raise fewer suspicions -- he wouldn't allow himself to dig any deeper into the reasons behind his decision.

"What kind of job requires you to pretend you're married?"

"The less you know, the better. All I'll say is that I need to fit in, need to look like one of the locals."

"You'll be playing a role to cover your real reason for being there?"

"Yeah."

"Are you a Pinkerton?"

"No, and I can't tell you any more."

She stared at him, her lavender eyes doing funny things to his insides -- things he didn't want to think about. He watched her draw another deep breath, his heart rate accelerating. Though he recalled the outline of her breasts in vivid detail, he kept his eyes focused above her neck.

Finally, she said, "How long will I have to pretend to be your wife?"

He shrugged. "Can't say for sure. A few weeks. A few months. Just depends on how fast I finish my job." Before she could respond, he said, "You should also know, work like this always has some risk of danger. And in this case, that might extend to you. I'll protect you in every way I can, but it's only right you know about the risk, in case you want to change your mind."

He saw her shoulders quiver -- from fear or some other emotion, he couldn't tell. He wanted to assure her that he meant her no harm, but he held back the words. Keeping her wary, even afraid of him, would be better -- for both of them.

At last she said, "No, Mr. Cahill, I don't want to change my mind. I will agree to your terms. You get me out of Austin and I'll pose as your wife for as long as this job of yours lasts." She rose, moved closer to him, then stuck out her right hand. "Do we have a deal?"

Blu's gaze narrowed on her small hand, noting the slight tremble. Though he didn't think touching her would be a good idea, he had no choice. As he carefully wrapped his much larger hand around hers, a ripple of blistering need washed over him. By sheer determination, he kept his facial expression bland, his muscles relaxed, while giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

"Deal," he replied, studying her face. Other than her slightly widened eyes and the flare of her nostrils, he saw nothing to indicate whether she'd experienced the same intense reaction to their first physical contact. He released her hand, then turned away, idly rubbing his still tingling palm on his trousers.

"I need to buy supplies and a wagon," he said. "You can stay here until I have everything ready for our trip."

"How long will you be gone?"

"Not more than a couple hours." He pivoted to face her again. "Is that a problem? Do you think your stepfather is already looking for you?"

She shook her head. "He thinks I'm with Madame Bouvier, my dressmaker, and he knows how long that takes." Her sudden smile and the sparkle in her eyes made Blu's breath catch. "He always fussed about how much my dresses cost, until a few months ago when he decided to go with me. With Madame Bouvier's cooperation, I took steps to make sure his first visit also became his last. I made the process of ordering several new dresses an extremely lengthy and complicated production, mulling over each minute facet of the process, as if it were the most important decision I'd ever have to make." She chuckled, the sound sending a strange warmth through Blu's veins. He needed all his powers of concentration to keep his mind focused on what she was saying.

"I insisted on looking at every pattern Madame Bouvier had in her shop, examining every bolt of fabric and every piece of trim, until he couldn't take any more and stormed out." She smiled again, this one making her face glow. "He still grumbles about the cost of my clothes, but he's never offered to accompany me again." Her smile slowly faded. "Anyway, my absence shouldn't be noticed until morning. He's having supper at his club tonight and won't get home until late."

"But when you don't show up at the breakfast table, won't he think something's happened to you?"

"He might," she replied with a shrug. "But I also took steps to prevent that. I sent a letter to my attorney outlining my plans, along with a note I asked him to deliver to my stepfather tomorrow morning. I told Henry I know what he's up to, that I won't have any part in his plans, and that I won't return until I'm. . ." Her eyes went round for a moment. She blinked once, then snapped her mouth closed.

Blu frowned. "You won't return until you're. . . what?"

"I. . . uh. . . won't return until. . ." She sucked in a quick breath, then finished her statement in a rush. "Until I'm damn good and ready."

Blu blinked, her sudden display of humor taking him by surprise. In spite of his efforts to halt his amusement, a chuckle rumbled in his chest. "Well put, Miss Wyatt," he said, moving to the table and picking up his hat. "Very well put."

After settling his hat on his head, he started toward the door. "I'd best see about getting those supplies. Since we're going to be setting up a house as a married couple, guess I'd better pick up some things to make us look the part. Any suggestions?"

"Most women have a trunk filled with items they've made or received as gifts."

Blu nodded. "Good point. I'll see what I can find."

He glanced down at her custom-made dress and the toes of her high-heeled kid walking boots peeking beneath the hem. "Are all the clothes you brought as fancy as what yer wearing?" She glanced down at her dress and frowned. "I didn't bring anything fancy, just simple day dresses like this one."

He grunted. "Well, it's too fancy for where we're going. You can save what you brought for Sunday best. I'll see if I can find a couple of ready-made dresses. Then, once we get to Brownwood, we'll go to a store where you can pick out a pair of serviceable shoes and a few more dresses." He gave her a crooked smile. "Hope you won't mind wearing ready-made clothes, but that's what the wife of a rancher who's just starting out will be expected to wear."

She fingered the fabric of her dress, then lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I'll need to fit in, too. So of course I won't mind."

He tugged the brim of his hat lower. "Is there anything else I can get you before we leave town?"

She shifted her gaze to where her luggage sat near the door. "I think I have everything I--" Another flush crept up her neck and cheeks. "Well, there is one thing. I just realized I. . . um. . . forgot to pack a nightgown."

"A nightgown," Blu said in a strained voice. He rubbed the side of his jaw. Hell, he hadn't considered the possibility that he'd have to buy a lady's nightgown. Realizing her request could have been for something a whole lot more embarrassing, he cleared his throat, then said, "Yeah, okay. I'll see what I can do."

As he reached for the doorknob, he kept his gaze averted from hers. "Lock the door after I leave and don't open it for anyone but me." Not giving her a chance to reply, he made a hurried exit.

Copyright © 2002 by Arlene S. Hodapp

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2014

    A

    Shows a nice progression as they fall in love. Blu is an awesome hunky Texas ranger hero with honor. Good romance and chemistry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2005

    great! wonderful!

    romance reader should definitely read this book.....great book.....you will wish the story never ends!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2002

    entertaining often amusing Texas Ranger romance

    In 1886 Austin, a desperate Delana Wyatt quietly asks for help from Texas Ranger Sergeant Blu Cahill. She explains that she needs a safe escort so that she can leave town before her stepfather Henry Lawton marries her off to geriatric Cyrus Townsend. Though he wonders if he wears a sandwich sign advertising ¿Easy Mark for the Helpless¿, Blu decides he can use the feisty female when he goes undercover while accomplishing her goal. They pose as a married couple and journey to Brownwood where Blu plans to learn who is rustling cattle by cutting wire. As they live in close proximity they fall in love over her stove, but not only is he on assignment and pledged to also protect her, but he has a past that he must let go of if he is to attain a future with his beloved. This is an entertaining often amusing Texas Ranger romance. The lead couple is an adorable pair though the intrepid heroine acts more like an anachronism with her independent nature and her willingness to escape her planned future via a stranger. Fans of western romance will hunger for more Holly Hart historicals like this tale and her Apache novels. Harriet Klausner

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