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Eyes glued to the gas gauge, Madeline Tate guided the car onto the shoulder of the road. In desperation she pumped the accelerator as the needle slipped over the E. The sedan gave one last jerk, then died. She slapped her palm against the steering wheel and glared at the small beaded handbag on the front seat. All she had was an ATM card. She'd left her cell phone in her luggage.
Furious, she gathered all thirty yards of expensive taffeta, grappled for the door handle and almost fell on her head in her haste to get out. Wobbling on two-inch satin pumps, she stumbled toward the front of the car. She stared at the tire, envisioning the missing groom's head, then drew back her leg like a field-goal kicker and let it fly.
Jonathon Carter was the biggest ass west of the Mississippi.
And because of him, Madeline was lost.
Not to mention that she didn't know where in the world she was.
She kicked the tire again. Darn it! She should be lying on the beach in the Bahamas, not stuck somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Her ears perked. Strange sounds. Short, scuffling, scratchy noises filled the air. Definitely not the sounds she heard when she opened the windows in her Seattle apartment. Images of creepy, crawly varmints scurrying through the brush and weeds made her shudder.
Mr. Ass, her ex-fiance, had removed all their luggage from the hotel room before ditching her at the altar. She'd been so stupid, so blind! She should have known something was up when he'd suggested a quickie wedding in Vegas.
A gust of dry, dusty wind blew the three-foot-long veil in her face, and she swatted at the scratchy lace. At six in the morning, an orangey glow brushed across the horizon, casting shimmering color over the miles and miles of desolate countryside. Surely someone would drive by before too long. After all, it was Friday and people still had to go to work during the week.
A ranch house, maybe? She studied the fenced-in land alongside the road. Not a single cow, horse or other animal grazed. Aside from a few cactus and scrub brush the only vegetation was one gnarled oak off in the distance, which looked a few hundred years old.
The light appeared to be about a mile away. Under any other circumstance, an easy walk. But hiking across a cow pasture, wearing a wedding gown and two-inch heels, would be a little tricky. She picked at the lace sleeves, careful not to pull any threads. She'd paid a fortune for the designer label, and she was determined to return the cursed thing to Sofia's Wedding Boutique and demand at least part of her three thousand dollars back. She also planned to return the satin pumps, gloves, stockings, beaded purse and even the stupid garter cutting off the circulation in her left thigh. What a fool she'd been to spend so much money on wedding apparel for a Vegas wedding!
Hands full of material, she hiked the dress to her knees and skirted the bushy weeds and prickly thistles as she moved closer to the fence. She studied the barbed wire, resolved to find a way over, under or through it without tearing the gown. Wary of the barbs, she pressed down on the top wire. The rusted metal sagged easily.
Whoever owned the property needed to replace the fence twenty years ago.
Inching the voluminous folds of satin higher, she raised her right foot and carefully positioned it over the top rung of the fence. The heel on her left foot wobbled precariously as she fought for balance.
Just then a blast filled the air, startling her. She dropped the skirt of the gown, her arms windmilling frantically as she spun toward the road. Her right foot landed on something soft and mushy, causing her to slide backward into the fence.
She heard a tearing sound and froze. Not even daring to breathe, she glared at the two old-timers who stepped out of an ancient pickup that should have found its way to the junkyard a decade ago.
They took off their hats, scratched their balding gray heads and stared at her as if she'd dropped out of the sky.
Grinding her back teeth, she smiled. "Good morning, gentlemen." She wanted to curse the fools for laying on the horn and scaring her to death but under the circumstances thought it prudent to hold her tongue.
"Roy." The taller of the two men spoke. "You ever seen anything like this before?"
The shorter man slapped his hat on his head.
"Nope. Ain't never seen nothin' like this since World War II."
World War II? These guys were that old? She swallowed the scream of frustration clawing its way up her throat.
"Now that I think about it, remember the time we found that widowed gypsy woman out on Henry's property?"
"Gentlemen. Would it be too much to ask for a little help, please? You see, I'm stuck to the fence. And this is a very expensive dress. I'd like to get unstuck without tearing it further."
The old cronies stared at her with blank faces.
Great. "Maybe one of you could drive into town and get some help." She flung her left arm toward the rental car. "I ran out of—" She gasped. "Shoot!" The lace on the sleeve had caught against a barb. She didn't dare try to tug it off. Carefully, she reached across her body with her right arm and tried to wiggle the material loose. Just when she thought she was making progress, something nasty crawled up her leg and bit her hip.
"Yeow!" She slapped her thigh and jiggled her leg, causing the heel of her shoe to sink into the ground. Reaching back with her hand to gain her balance, she caught the other sleeve on the fence.
"Darnedest female I ever saw."
"Please, misters. I need some help here."
"Holy mother of God."
Startled, Madeline swung her head in the direction of the voice. Her veil slipped over her eyes, and she flung her head from side to side until she could see again. A Hispanic man made the sign of the cross over his chest.
Where did he come from? She looked around and spotted a saddled horse grazing across the road.
She stamped her foot. "Will someone please call the sheriff?"
The sound of another truck engine met her ears, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this idiot would be normal. Loaded down with hay bales, the truck pulled to a stop behind the rental car. Two rangy cowhands got out, spitting tobacco at the ground.
"Well, lookie here," the one with the pockmarked face said. "If it ain't the fairy godmother." Both men guffawed at the joke. Madeline narrowed her eyes. Just what she needed, a couple of wet-behind-the-ears country bumpkins.
The younger cowboy greeted the older men.
Roy? Roger? Oh, great. She was caught in some western version of the Twilight Zone. The sun rose higher in the sky, and even though it was early June, the day promised to be a scorcher. "Excuse me if I don't find my predicament amusing. Will someone please get me off this fence? It's heating up out here, and I'm not wearing any sunscreen."
"Sunscreen? What's she talking about?" Roy, or maybe it was Roger, asked the others.
The one with the pockmarked face pointed at the front of her gown. "Probably worried about gettin' them melons sunburned."
Madeline glanced at the bodice of her gown and felt her face flame. Good grief! Another inch and her cleavage wouldn't be cleavage anymore.
The roar of another vehicle filled the air. If this jerk didn't have more common sense than the dimwits standing around gaping at her, she'd give up on saving the dress and rip it off the barbed wire.
The approaching truck, towing an empty horse trailer, slowed to a stop right in the middle of the road. Wonderful. This guy was as dense as the others. The driver's-side door opened. First came the black Stetson. Then a set of broad, muscular shoulders. Minus the hat, he was a good six inches taller than her own five foot nine. She couldn't tell his age, but assumed it fell somewhere between the wet-behind-theears country bumpkins and the two old fuddy-duddies.
When he came around the front end of the silver Ford, her breath left her lungs in a violent whoosh. One look at his muscular thighs and she felt sorry for his horse. He headed straight for her, passing the group of snickering fools, his lean-hipped swagger shouting, Don't mess with me from a mile away.
The brim of the Stetson hid most of his face, but the determined line of his mouth and the strong chin looked forbidding. As he approached, she noticed his hair was pitch-black like the hat and his nose had a bump in the middle. She wondered how he'd broken it. He certainly didn't seem like the type to walk into walls.
He stopped two feet away and stared.
She saw her reflection in the mirrored sunglasses and cringed at her tattered appearance. Good Lord. She resembled a fugitive on the run from a state mental hospital. She opened her mouth to speak, but he removed the glasses and she gasped. He had the bluest eyes. A deep, clear, true blue. His captivating eyes, framed by black lashes and eyebrows, sparked with irritation. The cowboy's face was nothing short of compelling. When he cleared his throat, she jumped.
"Name's Jake Montgomery. Mind telling me what you're doing on my property?"
Stunned by the sound of the deep husky voice, she stared into his mesmerizing blue eyes. "Ah." She swallowed hard. "I'm sorry.
What did you say?"
His brows dipped dangerously low, and her fingers twitched with the urge to smooth them back in place. His bold gaze left her face, traveled at leisure down her neck, then stopped at the bodice of the gown. Her body temperature shot up several degrees. After a long moment his gaze moved back to her face. "You don't look much like a cattle rustler."
"I'm not a cow stealer. I'm stuck."
He grabbed her right wrist and her pulse accelerated. Not even the scratchy lace could cover the sensuous rub of his calloused fingertips against her flesh.
He yanked his hand back.
"I don't want to tear the dress."
The cowboy glanced around him. "Where's the groom?"
"There is no groom. If you could be a bit more careful—"
"He left you alone out here?" The pure outrage in the cowboy's voice sent her heart fluttering like butterfly wings.
"No, he ditched me at the altar in Las Vegas."
Those sexy black eyebrows dipped again. "If he cut out on you in Vegas, what the hell are you doing here?"
"Ah. Exactly where is 'here'?"
"You're just south of the Idaho border. Ten miles outside Ridge City."
"I ran out of gas. I noticed a light coming from there—" she motioned sideways with her head "—I assumed I could make it over the fence and walk to that house for help."
He shook his head. "Of all the blasted, reckless things to do, lady."
"Look, buster. Do you think I'm stupid or what? I know what a fool I've been. Now, are you going to help me off this fence, or just stand there and do nothing like the rest of those useless ignoramuses behind you?"
He glanced over his shoulder, and she thought she saw his lips quirk. The rat. How dare he laugh at her!
"I don't see how I can untangle you and save the dress."
"Please. You have to try. Help me get my arms free and I'll work on the skirt."
He touched her wrist again. This time she thought she was ready. Not. She swallowed a sigh of pleasure at his gentle, almost soothing touch against the red marks on her skin. An image of those hands on a more sensitive part of her body popped into her mind, and she jumped.
"Hold still." He moved closer, accidentally stepping on the gown, causing the bodice to slip farther. She gasped and his head jerked up so suddenly his Stetson caught on the lace veil.
The buffoons guffawed as her rescuer battled the veil. When he got untangled, he gawked at the front of her dress. "Jeez, lady, cover yourself up." He stepped sideways, shielding her from the other men.
She glanced down at the pearl-and-lace bodice of her off-the-shoulder gown and groaned. One deep breath and the dress would be around her waist. Anger, frustration and embarrassment warred inside her. "I need help, you idiot!"
He grimaced. As if he'd been asked to put his fingers in a meat slicer, his hands moved in slow motion toward the front of the dress.
"Just pull it up," she pleaded.
He grabbed the delicate pearl border, the backs of his fingers skimming her flesh, leaving a trail of heat behind. What was happening to her? She didn't even know this man, yet his touch affected her in a way that not even her ex-fiance's touch had.
"You'll have to pull harder than that." She should have kept her mouth shut.
The blunt edges of his fingertips slid farther inside the gown, and her lungs stopped functioning. He grabbed a fistful of material and he yanked. Hard enough that her heels came off the ground a good inch.
Lewd remarks filled the air, but her knight in shining armor silenced the two young hayseeds with a dark look and went to work on the sleeves.
His big clumsy fingers were patient and persistent as they freed her arms. She wanted to hug the brute for being so gentle. She couldn't have done a better job herself.
"Thank you so much. If you could show me where the skirt is caught I can—"
"Roy, I'll be with you in a sec." He sank down on his boot heels and reached up under the second wire, searching for the offending barb.
"You ain't got a sec, Montgomery."
Disgusted, the cowboy stood and faced the group. "What the hell is so important it can't wait until I'm finished?"
The man called Roy opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He raised his arm and pointed beyond the fence.
Madeline glanced over her shoulder and felt the blood drain from her face. She opened her mouth to scream, but just like Roy, nothing came out.
Her rescuer followed her gaze. "Christ!" He reached down and yanked a wicked-looking knife from a leather holder at his waist. "Lady, you're about to be carved up for breakfast."
She wasn't sure if it was the knife coming at her waist or the bull charging the fence from a hundred feet away that jump-started her vocal cords.
Her scream cut off abruptly at the sound of ripping material. "My beautiful gown!" Her eyes darted between the bull and the knife hacking away at the dress as the ground shook beneath her heels.
The cowboy swore when the blade got tangled in the material. The bull was charging at full speed now, and she wasn't sure her legs would hold her up much longer. The animal drew close enough for her to see his angry red eyes and smell his rank odor.
Just as the beast bellowed, the knife broke through the material and the cowboy flung her away from the fence. Inches from the barbed wire, the bull skidded to a stop, kicking up a cloud of dust. Madeline stared in alarm at the animal's flaring nostrils and the drool hanging from his massive mouth. The beast dropped his heavy head and backed up.
She could have died if it hadn't been for the quick thinking of the man next to her. She threw herself at him and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she mumbled against his skin. Legs shaking, stomach quaking, she breathed in the scents of soap, leather and man. She rubbed her cheek against his neck, enjoying the scratchy feel of beard stubble.
"Daddy, is she a real princess?"
The fingers clutching Madeline's waist bit into her.
Posted July 18, 2013
## I enjoyed this book for the most part. The writing style was superb and the chatacters were well developed. I adored the heroine. She was strong and so fun-loving. There were two things I didn't like: the continual mention of the dead wife (a huge turn-off for me) and the frequency of which the heroine threw herself at the hero. Rejection much? After being sent away half a dozen times, I think I'd take a hint. However, there was still plenty to love about this book. I will definitely read again.
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Posted May 5, 2004
Seattle ad agency employee Madeleine Tate is irate that her fiancé Jonathon Carter deserted her at the altar in Vegas. Dressed in her wedding gown, Madeline flees into the desert only to run out of gas in the Nevada desert near the Idaho border. She heads to a nearby ranch only to see Cyclone the bull destroy her dress though she got off without a scratch.......................... Rancher Jake Montgomery observes how kind Madeline is to his five year old daughter Annie Jane even coaxing smile out of the sad child. When Madeline mentions she needs a place to stay for three weeks before heading back to work, Jake offers her a deal to stay at his ranch but baby-sit Annie. Madeline accepts and rather quickly falls in love with the Montgomery pair. Little Annie and Jake reciprocate, but the older Montgomery believes that his beloved would rather be Sleepless in Seattle than cherished in Nevada.............................. Though the jilted bride theme may seem trite, fans will appreciate the well written contemporary romance because the two adult protagonists and the child are a delightful cast. Jake is worried about Annie especially once Madeline, a new light in his kid¿s life, leaves; that deep concern comes across as much as his own desire for Madeline to stay. It is that subtly that makes for a wonderful family drama................................... Harriet Klausner
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