His kingdom for a cowgirl
They go together like chutney and barbecue. High tea and hot sauce. You couldn't come up with a more unlikely twosome than Jensen Fortune Chesterfield and Amber Rogers. So when the paparazzi catch the Fortune heir in a lip-lock with the free-spirited rodeo rider, Horseback Hollow goes wild. What is really going on here?
Princes only fall for commoners in fairy tales, but who could blame Amber for crushing on Jensen? The sweet cowgirl can see the bighearted man beneath that buttoned-up Brit. Could it be that the simple life of the Hollow is exactly what Jensen needs? If only she can find a way to get him to see how she truly feels and rope this aristocrat for keeps!
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Jensen Fortune Chesterfield slipped out the back door of the small Texas ranch house in which he was staying, hoping to escape the chattering crowd and to find a little peace and quiet.
Inside, his family had gathered to celebrate Christmas on Boxing Day with their new Texas relatives. But he wasn't in the mood for all the holiday gaietyand hadn't been since his father died nearly four years ago.
After Sir Simon Chesterfield suffered a fatal heart attack during a polo match, Jensen had been plagued by a bah-humbug mood that began in December and lasted through the better part of January.
In some ways, he wished he'd stayed in England, but his mother wanted him to join her in Horseback Hollow, where his sister Amelia now lived with her husband, Quinn Drummond.
His mother was staying with her sister, while his younger siblings had rooms at a local bed-and-breakfast. Jensen was staying with Amelia and Quinn. The space was a bit tight, but the arrangement suited him. As he stood in the yard, he took in a deep breath and surveyed the grounds. If you removed the vehicles in the drive, the Drummond ranch would've made the perfect Western setting for a cowboy movie. He actually found it quite appealing, but then, he'd always been a fan of classic American Westerns, even the old black-and-white ones he occasionally caught on late-night cable when he couldn't sleep.
Despite his wealthy London upbringing, he liked being in the country. Plus, with him here and Amelia's due date fast approaching, he'd be able to watch over her while Quinn was out working the ranch.
Fortunately, her pregnancy had been uneventful as far as medical concerns. But, emotionally, she'd had a time of it early on, when the paparazzi had pounced on her, making her life miserable. And they'd been especially annoying lately. He wouldn't put it past them to try to infiltrate the family gathering today, which was one reason he was on guard.
He reached inside his pocket and withdrew his gold watch, a habit he'd picked up over the past four years. The treasured heirloom had once belonged to his father, and for some reason, he drew comfort from the weight and the feel of it in his hand.
As the back door squeaked open, Jensen glanced over his shoulder to see his mother stepping out and onto the porch. She was dressed impeccably in a simple forest-green dress and heels, her silver hair coiffed as though her personal stylist had accompanied her on the transatlantic trip to Dallas/Fort Worth and then the quick hop on a charter flight to Lubbock.
"Jensen," she called. "What are you doing outside when the chill is so frightful?"
"I wanted some fresh air." To prove the imaginary excuse, he took a deep breath, relishing the brisk winter breeze.
His mother, Lady Josephine, made her way toward himno doubt concerned about him distancing himself from the others. But he was in Horseback Hollow, wasn't he? And not out each evening at one of the many parties he'd attend if he was home in London.
Whether she believed it or not, he was actually trying his best to fit in with the numerous Horseback Hollow cousins who were gathered in the house, most of whom he'd only recently met.
His mother frownedthe first sign of distress he'd seen since her arrival in the provincial Western town.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No, not at all." Again he scanned the yard, taking in the barn, the new corral Quinn had built, the old-style windmill that creaked in the breeze. "On the contrary, I was just enjoying the scenery."
"I see," she said, yet her frown failed to lighten. "Are you disappointed about us celebrating together?"
His mother had always known she was adopted, but two years ago, she learned that she'd actually been a triplet. Her brother, James Marshall Fortune, had remained with his birth family. But the two baby girls, Josephine and Jeanne Marie, had been given up and raised in separate households.
"No, Mum. I'm not bothered. I was actually out here counting my blessings."
And if truth be told, that's exactly what he should be doing. He wasn't a loner by nature, but he hated the melancholy that seemed to hover over him during the family get-togethers, especially those associated with the holidays. That's why, at least in December, he preferred to stay in London, where the nightlife, parties and his many social obligations kept him busy and distracted.
She reached out and gave his arm an affectionate squeeze. "We truly have been blessed, haven't we?" Her blue eyes twinkled, and a wistful smile chased away her frown. "I had a lovely childhood, although it was a bit lonely with no siblings. I still can't believe I have a sister and brotherand so many nieces and nephews. Imagine, mea Yank!"
As if on cue, little Kylie Fortune Jones, Toby and Angie's youngest, popped her head out the door. "It's time to open presents. Are you coming to watch, Aunt Joseph iiine I mean, Aunt Lady?"
His mother laughed. "Aunt Josephine will do just fine, love. And we'll be right there."
The title of lady had been honorific, but many of the local Texans were excited to have "royalty" in their midst and tended to make more out of it than Jensen or the rest of the family liked. The press and paparazzi did too, often referring to him and his siblings as sirs, lords or ladies, when neither of their parents' titles had been inherited.
"Isn't Kylie precious?" Josephine said. "I love having young children around again, especially at Christmas."
His mother had always begun her holiday preparationsthe shopping, as well as overseeing the decorating and bakingon the first of December. In fact, she'd gone above and beyond to make the holidays happy for all of them.
"I'm glad you can spend this time with your sister," he said.
"So am I."
Still, he found it impossible to explain to an outsider. His mum, who'd grown up on a country estate in England with all the things money could buy, was staying with her newfound sister Jeanne Marie and her husband in a modest ranch houseand clearly delighted with the arrangement. You'd think she was in a five-star hotel with a full staff to cater to her every need.
To be honest, Jensen was a bit surprised by her swift acclimationculturally speaking. But she was clearly happy. And for that reason, he was happy for her, too.
"Amelia was asking about you," she said.
At that, Jensen's brotherly instincts kicked into full throttle. "Is everything okay?"
"She's fineother than the usual discomforts to be expected during the ninth month. She asked me to find you because it's nearly time to open the gifts."
Relieved, he nodded. "I'll be right in."
He expected his mum to reenter the small, two-story house that was busting at the seams with family, leaving him a moment or two longer to relish the quiet.
Instead, she lingered and said, "I wish your father were here."
Jensen's grip on the pocket watch tightened. Sir Simon had been a loving husband and father, and they all missed him terribly.
She sighed, then added, "He would have been a wonderful grandfather."
Jensen slipped his arm around her and pulled her close to give them both comfort. "You'll be a smashing grandmum, too."
Her eyes glistened. For a moment he feared she would cry and dampen his spirits even worse, but when a smile stretched across her face, he realized grief hadn't made her teary.
"I can hardly wait to hold that baby," she said.
"I'll just be happy when it gets hereand happier if we can keep the bloody photo hounds at bay. They've been sniffing around for a storyor rather, hoping to make up one." Fortunately, Jensen had become adept at avoiding them.
"I do wish you'd come into the house, son. This is the best Christmas I've had since Well, in years. And I want you to share it with me."
She'd been devastated when his father died and she'd lost her soul mate and the love of her life.
Jensen slipped the gold watch back into his pocket and took her by the arm. "Then let's go inside."
They entered the house through the service porch and headed into the kitchen, where they found his sister making another batch of eggnog. With her long, dark brown hair and doe-like brown eyes, Amelia had always seemed a bit lithe and fragile to himbut more so now that she was due to give birth within the next month or so.
She turned and, upon seeing them, smiled. "Oh, good. Now we're all here."
Well, not all of them. Her once slender waist was as big as the globe in the library back home, reminding Jensen that soon there'd be one more Fortune to add to the worldalbeit with the Drummond surname.
"Can I help you with that?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you. I'll tell everyone they can begin passing out their presents now."
Jensen took the bowl and made his way to the living room, which was filled to the brim with relatives, every chair taken, others forced to stand or to find room to sit on the faded rag rug. But apparently, he was the only one who'd found himself on edge.
Jeanne Marie Fortune Jones, who resembled his mother in looks, but not in style, was just as bright eyed and happy as his mum to have the family together. Her husband, Deke, stood by her side, somewhat stoic but with the hint of a grin tugging at his lips.
Their children were all here. Stacey Fortune Jones, along with her fiancé, Colton Foster, kept a close eye on her daughter Piper, who was toddling around the Christmas tree and trying to keep up with her older cousins.
Liam and his fiancée Julia Tierney were posed next to Quinn's upright piano. Jensen suspected someone would suggest they sing a round of Christmas carols before the day was over.
Jude, with his fiancée Gabi Mendoza, stood near the children, all of whom appeared to be on sugar highs. Yet the happy couple held hands and looked on at the festivities as if they couldn't imagine being anywhere else but here.
Even Christopher, who'd been absent from several Horseback Hollow social gatherings last year, was here, along with his fiancée Kinsley Aaron. Apparently, he was back in the family saddle after his rejection of ranch life created discord with his father earlier in the year.
Jensen blew out a sigh. So many engaged couples. Would they all be this happy next year, after their vows were spoken? He hoped so, but he tended to be skeptical about things like that.
Of course, Toby and his wife, Angie, who watched their newly adopted children tear into their gifts, certainly appeared to be as happy as ever.
Rounding out the family gathering were Jensen's brother Charles and his sister Lucie, who were staying in nearby Vicker's Corners at the closest B and B they could find. The two were smiling, but they looked a little uncomfortable among the exuberant American relatives. Jensen wasn't uncomfortable, though. He, better than any of the British Fortunes, probably understood the Texas way of life. He was merely awed by it all.
About that time, his mother approached the serving bowl for a refill of eggnog, which was unusual for a woman who watched her calorie intake. But apparently she was celebrating and throwing caution to the wind.
"It's so good to see you happy, son."
What was she talking about? Had he been smiling?
She slipped an affectionate arm around him. "Have I told you how delighted I am to have so many of my family together?"
The smile, which he must have been wearing, deepened. "Several times in the past hour."
She lifted her free hand and fluttered her fingers in a little wave at her sister, Jeanne Marie, who wore a new pair of her signature stretch-denim jeans and an oversize Christmas-themed jumper.
Again, Jensen was reminded of the sisters' differences. They'd grown up worlds apartone on an English estate and the other on a small working cattle ranchsomething that could be seen easily in their style of dress. Still, they shared many similarities, including a love that knew no bounds.
"This is what it's all about," his mum said. "Family!'' Jensen suspected she was talking about more than just a holiday reunion. She'd made no secret of her wish to see him and his siblings settle down. Hopefully, Amelia's baby would take her mind off matchmaking.
But then again, it seemed that everyone else in the room had marriage on their mind. His four engaged cousins had planned a huge wedding for Valentine's Day.
Jensen looked across the room, where Quinn stood next to Amelia, his arm wrapped around her. When she grimaced, Quinn immediately picked up on her discomfort, his expression growing as serious as a first-year pupil meeting his housemaster at Eton.
Amelia smiled, whispered something to her husband and placed his hand over her baby bump. His eyes grew wide and then he smiled, too.
Hopefully Amelia would breeze through labor with no snags or problems. But what if something went wrong during birth? What if.?
Jensen tried to shake his troublesome thoughts. What he really ought to worry about was the press infiltrating the couple's privacy. They'd resorted to all kinds of trickery to learn whether the baby was a girl or boy. But Amelia and Quinn had chosen to be surprised at birth, which none of the reporters believed.
A rap sounded at the door just as laughter burst out at something Toby's precocious daughter had said to her red-haired brother.
Jensen heard another noise, although no one else seemed to take note of it. Had someone knocked?
* * *
Amber Rogers stood on the Drummonds' front porch and rapped on the door again. She'd driven to the Rocking U Ranch to deliver a gift for Amelia, Quinn's new wife. It was a handmade baby blanket, although the sections Amber had quilted weren't as neatly stitched as Gram's.
But it was the thought that counted, right?
There were a whole slew of cars parked outside and a god-awful commotion going on inside the house, but apparently no one had heard her knock. So she rang the bell.
Moments later, a tall and sophisticated stranger swung open the door. He was wearing a well-tailored suit and tiesomething so out of place and unexpected on a small Texas ranch that it caught her off guard and made her think about the back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey she'd been watching with Gram.
Surely Lady Josephine hadn't brought along her butler and the entire Chesterfield Estate staff.
But then she realized exactly where she'd seen the drop-dead gorgeous guy beforeon the front page of a tabloid down at the Superetteand she swallowed.
Before she could think better of it, she blurted out,
"Oh, it's you."
"I beg your pardon?" he said in a rich British accent.
Amber cringed inwardly. Obviously they'd never met, and she'd just implied that they had. Why did she always have to stick her foot in her mouth?
She opened her lips to apologize, but she merely stammered instead, her cheeks warming.
Dang. She could be such a goof at times.
"What do you want?" he askedand not very nicely.
This wasn't going at all well.
She lifted the wrapped gift. "I'm sorry. I brought this for Amelia um Mrs. Drummond or should I call her Lady Amelia?"
Amber hadn't meant to sound so uncertain, but Sir Jensen's good looks, royal appearance and hoity-toity attitude had nearly knocked her out of her cowboy boots.
His eyes narrowed. "Do you know Mrs. Drummond?"
"Not really. I just" Before she could explain that she'd only recently moved back home to Horseback Hollow, and that she was Quinn Drummond's neighbor, the stuffy Brit snatched her package right out of her hands.
"I'll see that she gets it," he said. Then he shut the door right in her face.
Of all the nerve. He'd just dismissed her! She had half a notion to lean on the bell until someone else came to the door, someone who knew her. But she merely stood there, gaping, dumbfounded by the man's rudeness.
Three seconds laterand yes, seconds because she'd counted them off as an attempt to hold her temperthe door swung open again. This time, Jeanne Marie peered out and broke into a smile. "Hi, sweetie. Come on in."
Amber hesitated. "I'm not so sure I should." Nor did she want to. Her mother had been longtime friends with Jeanne Marie, but even the woman's warm welcome couldn't lessen the insult of the snobby man's bad manners. What a jerk.
"Don't pay any mind to Jensen. He's just an over-protective big brother."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love the chesterfield fortunes as i do all the others, looking forward to all the others.