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Coming back to this small bit of Texas brought too many unhappy memories. The tiny frame house she and her mother had lived in was on property that abutted the Logan ranch. Just driving past the place where she'd spent her childhood had sent a cold chill down Gwen's spine. Memories of her two stepfathers interspersed between her mother's boyfriends, the smell of liquor in the house all of the time, her mother passed out on the couch, had assailed her. Her mother hadn't been a bad woman, just a weak one. Something Gwen had vowed never to be.
And then there was Jess Logan. Since grade school, she and Jess had harbored a mutual dislike. It was, she knew, more her doing than his. Even at that young age, her reaction to him had been defensive. He'd stirred emotions within her that made her uneasy, and the distrust of men she'd learned from watching her mother had fed that uneasiness. As a result, she'd rejected his initial offer of friendship and from then on both had avoided each other whenever possible. Still, the uneasy effect he had on her had been constantly there, deep inside, a nagging something she'd worked hard to kill. When she'd moved to Lubbock following her mother's death, she'd figured he was one thorn that was out of her life for good.
"I don't know why I agreed to come," she grumbled. But that wasn't true. She'd come because Morning Hawk, Jess's great-grandmother, had summoned her. There were those who thought the old woman was a few bales short of a full load. Others were intimidated by her. And they all had good reason. Morning Hawk could be enigmatic and cantankerous, but Gwen owed her. It was a debt that dated back to Gwen's early teens ... and was the only time, until today, that Gwen had ever had any contact with Morning Hawk.
Parking in front of the ranch house, she saw the elderly, pure-blooded Apache, small, bent and looking withered with age, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. As Gwen left the car and mounted the short flight of steps, Morning Hawk rose to greet her.
"I have a quest for you," the woman said without any preamble.
Gwen felt as if she'd stepped back in time about a hundred years. "A quest?"
Morning Hawk motioned for Gwen to follow her into the house. It was a large, well-maintained home, furnished comfortably. More upscale than most ranch houses, but then the Logans could afford it. Oil had been struck on their land several years earlier. But in spite of the enormous added income the find had produced, it was still a working ranch. Jess's father had died years earlier. His two brothers had followed in their father's footsteps and become Texas Rangers. Jess had been the one who had stayed home to run the ranch for his mother. Gwen hoped he was out on the range and would stay there until she was gone.
"Come along." Morning Hawk took her by the arm and guided her down a hallway. Stopping in front of a closed door, Morning Hawk knocked sharply, then opened the door and, with Gwen still in tow, entered.
Seated at the desk in the study punching buttons on a computer keyboard was Jess Logan. Half-Apache, his Native American heritage was strong in his rugged features. His muscular build and callused hands gave evidence that a great deal of his time was spent in manual labor. Gwen had to fight down the urge to turn and run. Silently she cursed herself. In spite of all the effort she'd put into trying to rid herself of this effect he had on her, it was as strong as ever.
Jess frowned at his great-grandmother. "You said you had someone coming this morning it was important I meet with."
His tone told Gwen she didn't fall into that category.
Well, he wasn't on her list of people she wanted to see either.
"Remember your manners," Morning Hawk admonished. She motioned for the two of them to be seated as she seated herself.
"I don't believe there is anything Miss Murphy and I have to discuss." Jess headed to the door, adding over his shoulder, "I've got work to do."
"Jess Logan, you will sit down," Morning Hawk commanded. "And listen to what I have to say."
Outwardly, Gwen kept her expression blank. Inwardly, she couldn't help but smile at the way this order from such a tiny old shriveled woman stopped the mountain of a cowboy in his tracks.
"All right, I'll give you five minutes," he grumbled, taking his seat behind the desk.
Her curiosity overcoming her discomfort in Jess's presence, Gwen seated herself without protest. Morning Hawk knew of the animosity between Gwen and her grandson. Everyone did. They just didn't know why it existed. Even Jess, Gwen knew, had been stunned by the intensity with which she'd rejected his offer of friendship. But Gwen wasn't willing to reveal to anyone how much she feared the very womanly sensations his presence evoked. She didn't even like admitting them to herself. In the end, people, Jess included, had decided that it was one of those chemistry things - like oil and water or opposite poles of a magnet that repelled each other. So why would the elderly Apache insist on having the two of them in the same room together?
Morning Hawk turned her full attention to Gwen. "I understand you run a very personalized investigative service. You are hired by people who aren't certain they can trust the man or woman they are dating and want to know the whole truth about them?"
Her intonation made her words a question and Gwen elaborated on the service she provided. "In today's world, people move around a great deal. That makes it easy for a person to change their past to suit their present needs. And then there's the Internet. Someone from New York might meet a person from Alaska online and begin a long-distance romance, but how does either one know the other is telling the truth? They don't. So one or the other hires me to find out."
Morning Hawk nodded approvingly as if to say what she had just been told was what she had wanted to hear. "So in a way you are a matchmaker."
"More of a match breaker, usually," Gwen corrected. "You would be amazed by the lies people will tell to deceive others."
"No. No, I would not. And that brings me to the reason I arranged this meeting." Morning Hawk turned her attention to Jess. "It is time you took a wife."
Jess shook his head. "I knew you were up to something when you started humming as soon as Mom and Grandma left for California to visit Uncle Crow. I'll get married when I'm good and ready. And right now, I'm just not ready to take that step."
"You're twenty-nine, that's old enough to be good and ready," Morning Hawk returned.
Jess frowned. "Why this sudden interest in my marital status? Both of my brothers were older than I am now when they got married."
Excerpted from The Rancher's Hand-Picked Bride by Elizabeth August Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.