For years, undercover cowboy cop Shane Holiday had tracked Lillian Smith's every move, watched her every curve until he made her the offer she couldn't refusemarriage.
Shane's looks had nothing to do with it, Lillian said. She needed a husband to adopt the baby she craved. Now, with a baby in her arms and a cowboy in her heart, she hoped her secret past was behind her .
It was only to be for a few weeks. Live together and pretend intimacy. But a "wife" and "son" tamed Shane, bringing the lone wolf from the Lone Star State to his knees. He'd married vowing vengeancebut would he become a husband and daddy for real?
About the Author
When native West Virginian Jule McBride was a preschooler, she kept her books inside her grandmother's carved oak cabinet, to which only she had the key. Everyday, at reading time, she'd unlock the cabinet--and the magical worlds contained in the books inside. Only later did she realize the characters she'd come to love weren't real, and that's when she knew she'd one day be a writer herself.
When asked why she usually writes comedy, Jule had this to say, "I've written romantic suspense novels and love them, but I probably love to write humor because laughter truly is the best medicine. Besides, ever since I can remember, funny things happen to me.
"Once, in first grade, I bundled up in my coat for recess--only to discover the hem hit my ankles, my arms were swallowed and my belt dragged the ground. Doing the logical thing, I fled home, convinced I was shrinking. (Mom's sleuthing--she was a great solver of conundrums--uncovered that I'd donned a sixth grader's identical coat.)
"Nevertheless to this day, I, like everybody, feel sometimes confused by life's little mysteries. Because of that, I love to create heroines who are in some kind of humorous jam when they meet their prince."
A lover of books, Jule graduated from West Virginia State College with honors, then from the University of Pittsburgh where she also taught English.
She's worked in libraries and as a book editor in New York City, but in 1993, her own dream to write finally came true with the publication of Wild Card Wedding. It received the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best First Series Romance, and ever since, the author has continued to pen heartwarming love stories that have repeatedly won awards and made appearances on romance bestseller lists.
Today, after publishing nearly 30 Harlequin titles, Jule writes full-time, and often finds the inspiration for her stories while on the road, traveling between Pennsylvania, where she makes her home, and her family's farm in West Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
She's sure got some body. And those legs
Seen through high-powered binoculars, Delilah Fon-tenont, a.k.a. Lillian Smith, had a stocking-clad pair to die for. They were like everything else about herher neck, her arms, her enticing feet. Long and slender, with tapering swanlike curves, they looked as soft as feathers, as long as miles, and as smooth as whipped cream. Yeah, Shane Holiday could almost hear those legs when she walked, whispering together like lovers. Whispering softly, only for Shane.
That's right. Talk to me, baby.
He wiggled his black Stetson farther down, flattening his sleek blue-black hair but keeping his favorite hat safe from the tidewater breeze. Then he wedged a muscular thigh against the starboard rail of the FBI boat anchored in the Hudson. Inching the binoculars upward, while keeping them trained on Lillian's penthouse window, Shane felt a slow burn in his gut, and he vaguely wondered if it was from the subject's creamy legs, his vengeful anger, or the heat wave baking the city. He felt around blindly with a lean tanned hand for his coffee cup.
"Damn" He winced as he sipped. "Cappuccino with no sugar?"
"Oh, Shane, don't tell me you're still missing the
doughnut shop and that creek water they call coffee in East Texas." Agent Finley Huff, otherwise known as Fin, turned his broad back to the breeze, moving with surprising ease given that he was fifty years old and fifty pounds overweight. His navy-and-red tie caught the wind, flapping over the shoulder of a white button-down shirt, and his wavy red hair blew wildly.
Shane shrugged. "How you Yankees survive stakeouts wearing suits instead of jeans, and on nothing more than steamed milk and juice-sweetened muffins is a mystery to me."
"Kind of like the mystery of how you Southern boys manage to drink coffee at all in this criminal heat?"
"All I know is real men need some sweets in the a.m."
Fin chuckled. "Lillian's legs might qualify. Besides, all the sugar in the world couldn't make you sweet, Shane."
Shane merely nodded, keeping his unwavering gaze fixed on Lillian. "The pictures of her on file sure never do the woman any justice," he murmured.
"Her legs belong on a Madison Avenue runway." Fin jokingly swished his hips to demonstrate.
"Or in irons," Shane returned dryly. "Her curves flow like the mighty Mississippi, but any man who's swept up in the current's going to drown."
"Too bad. It sure is a waste of a good woman." Fin sighed. "How's it feel to be this close to getting your justice?"
Shane took in the plush Southern-style decor of Lillian's apartmenta far cry from his empty log cabin back in Texasthen he lowered the binoculars just long enough to send Fin a slight smile. "Fine. At least if
you can believe I'm about to propose marriage to the woman."
"I'm beginning to think that no crime's so bad she deserves you for a husband." Fin sobered. "Look, Shane, you're awfully close to this case. Are you sure you can handle it? Sure you want to go undercover? I mean, with her what man wouldn't? But "
Shane shot Fin a glance of censure. "I bet her picture's on your office bulletin board, prominently pinned among the other most-wanteds."
Fin rolled his eyes. "Right. If I pinned up a fugitive with legs like hers, Mary Ann would have my hide." Mary Ann was Fin's wife. "And anyway, since we're trapping Lillian this way, the case isn't really official yet. I can bring in a few agents to back you up without getting into trouble. Otherwise, you're on your own."
Shane barely heard. Wives he thought distractedly. The idea of marriageeven contemplating a false one for the sake of making an arrestthoroughly unsettled Shane. He just wasn't the marrying kind. Only for Lillian Smith and the FBI would he make an exception. As he continued sizing her up, he took another sip of coffee, licking in annoyance at the frothy steamed-milk mustache. Shane definitely liked his coffee weaker, blacker and with a lot more sugar. A soft grunt of disgust over the fancy coffee died on his lips. She was definitely gorgeous.
As if reading his mind, Fin fanned himself. "She's so hot, this heat wave pales by comparison."
She could make a man blister. And she was definitely a Lillian. Not a Lily or a Lil, both names of which made Shane think of naive girls who had hearts as wide open as lily pads, skin as pale, and nothing to hide.
Lillian Smith gave Shane pause. A lot of pause. Just looking at her made him feel he was smoking a sweet hand-rolled cigar after eating a rich cream dessert. She made him ache, then melted him, and in addition to the hard evidence he sought, Shane sometimes just wanted more personal proof that her moist soft skin smelled of fragrant oils in thick summer heat. Or that her voice was husky with the intrigue of a past she didn't even know they shared.
To say she'd gotten to him was an understatement. It was unprofessional, too. But she reminded him of the Southern bayous where she'd spent her youth and where he'd spent part of his. Now Shane's heart pulled, and still eyeing her, he tried to tell himself it was only because he wanted to arrest her and get the hell out of New York City. He missed shelling crawfish on the front porch while humming to birds and cicadas, and the soothing classical music he loved.
He was a hard man, an ex-detective, but somehow, Lillian Smith managed to make him feel as homesick as a snot-nosed kid. Shane damned her for it, too, since his quest to find her had landed him up North for two lousy years. He'd kill to be back in his log cabin in East Texas, which was on a puddle-sized pond thick with frogs. Or else down in Louisiana, on Bayou Teche with his Aunt Dixie Lynn, where the long hot nights were quiet and fireflies blinked from the briar bushes and sugar cane.
In New York City, Shane couldn't even hear himself think. Except about her.
Over the years, he'd mulled over her more than he should have. She was tall, statuesque and classy. Twenty-five, which meant she was too young for him. But then,
she possessed a high-born manner of money and privilege that made her seem ageless. Generations of Louisiana blue blood had given her a haughty lift of the chin, erect carriage, and a controlled composure that always reminded Shane he was no more than the son of a dirt-poor Texas farmer. Every time she walked across the penthousefloating on those dreamy legsShane felt restless.
No, he and Lillian hadn't said so much as howdy-doat least, not yetbut she was already under his skin, making him itch to pull her down. Which was why he was going to propose marriage today. Not that he'd get anywhere near an altar, since he'd arrest her first.
His gaze swept from the knot of her blond French twist to the feathery bangs on the high forehead of her oval face. Blond strands spiked into black eyebrows, enhancing dark eyes that held innocence Shane knew better than to trust. Her natural hair color, like her eyes, was dark. Stripped of blond dye, it would be the color of twilight fracturing through a cut-crystal jar of molasses. Suddenly feeling strangely unbalanced, Shane braced his thigh harder against the boat's rail, biting back a sigh of frustration at his own lack of control.
He half wished she'd close the curtains over her terrace doors. But like all Liberty Terrace's wealthy tenants, she seemed to think facing the Hudson River afforded her privacy. Most tenants didn't even lock their doors, but instead relied on internal security. As if they were in the boondocks, instead of Manhattan. Every curtain in the high-rise was wide open.
So was Lillian's white silk blouse.
Not even Shane's thigh against the rail could steady him as she tucked the loose tails into a short, half-zipped
navy skirt. Her slip had lace cups she amply filled, a strand of pearls fell into her deep cleavage, and even though Shane had seen women wearing less, that hardly eased his tension. He was a lawman, but man became the operative part of the term whenever Lillian was around. Shane wasn't proud of it.
"Amazing," Fin murmured. "Can you believe we get paid for watching her dress for work?"
"Like they say, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it." Wincing at the trace of huskiness in his voice and feeling determined to deny it, Shane stared abruptly from Lillian to lower Manhattan's skyline. The morning haze was burning off the river, and on the island hard sunlight was glinting off steel and glass; high-rise buildings shot like silver rockets into the cerulean sky, and nearer, in the water, tour boatsMiss Liberty and the Circle Linechugged toward Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Shane lifted the binoculars again. "Besides, you're getting paid, Fin," he said, picking up the conversation. "I'm the one with the personal vendetta, so I'm a volunteer. After this, I go to a real job."
"That's what I like about you, Shane," Fin returned with a another soft chuckle. "You're so selfless."
"That's me. Candystriper for the FBI."
"A candystriper? Does that mean you'll be tending to Lillian's ills?"
She was buttoning her blouse; Shane's voice turned dry. "She looks healthy enough to me."
"You can say that again."
Shane could concentrate better without Fin's running commentary. Especially now, when Fin started tapping
his foot and humming "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." At least it wasn't the wedding march. Again.
"Fin, if I didn't know you were happily married and packing a lethal weapon, I'd worry about you. Some mornings, I think you'd rather be in a chorus line on Broadway."
Fin mock-growled, "Want to see me do the cancan?"
Shane shrugged. "Go ahead. Dance if makes you feel more manly."
Instead, Fin started humming. This time it was the wedding march, and Shane decided it was no use trying to tamp down his aggravation. On stakeouts, he was just too accustomed to being a lone wolf. A natural-born tracker and watcher, he'd been the only detective in Texas who ran solo. In spite of his good looksan ex-cop's lean hard body and weathered face, razor-straight raven hair and blue-silver eyeshe had an talent for passing unnoticed.
Which was why he could sneak up on people like Lillian.
No, she'd never guess he'd pursued her for seven years. Or that he already knew everything about her, down to the general layout of her home and of the office where she worked for Wall Street financier Jefferson Lawrence.
Fin sighed. "I wish you'd found a chink in her armor."
Silk though it is Her life was like her stockings smooth and seamless. She was punctual, responsible. A hard worker and night-school graduate. Most Friday nights, she baby-sat, free of charge, simply because
she liked kids. But there was more to Lillian than met the eye.
"Shane, if I were you, I'm afraid I'd wind up under the covers, not just undercover."
A wry smile flickered over Shane's lips. "A man can never go too far in the interest of law and order."
"Right. Sleeping with her would be a public service."
"A n all-American duty."
"Well, soldier, if you get the urge to raise your flagor was that your terrible swift sword?" Fin paused, humming a few bars of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." "Just don't forget we've got you under surveillance."
"Fin" Shane sighed, putting the joking aside. "Give me a little more credit. I'm a professional."
Not that Shane didn't occasionally walk the razor's edge. Still, he figured it was too late in the game for any woman to tame him, much less claim his aching heart. Maybe he'd even lost his heart forever, way back on a little East Texas farm years ago. Now, no half-dressed sultry blond siren whose every move probably spelled trouble was going to help him find it again.
Fin quit humming the wedding march. "Ready to tie the knot?"
Shane grunted softly. "Don't you mean the noose around her neck?"
Fin chuckled appreciatively at the word play. "Some neck," he commented.
And it wasa sweet-looking column of peaches and cream that any man would long to taste. Shane sighed again. In the end, it was just dumb luck he'd found her. Two years ago, he'd gotten a lead she was
in New York. Turning in his detective's badge in East Texas, he'd moved to Manhattan, becoming chief of security at the Big Apple Babies adoption agency, a job his brother, Doc, helped him secure. Shane didn't mind the work. It was lower-risk than what he'd had on the force, with regular hours. On his own time, he'd kept tracking Lillian.
But the trail turned cold.
Until now. Recently, just as if she was a regular citizen, Delilah Fontenont, a.k.a. Lillian Smith, had walked right into Shane's arms. Literally. He'd bumped into her when she'd come to Big Apple Babies, hoping to adopt an available newborn boy. The shock of that first fleeting touch had stunned Shane; the rich scent of her, so hard to name, hadn't left him since. While Ethel Crumble, her caseworker, hadn't found out about Lillian's past, Ethel had decided to deny the adoption application this afternoon, even though Lillian had already met the baby. After lengthy consideration, Ethel felt Lillian needed a husband in order to adopt.
Combining their professional skills, Fin and Shane had scoured Lillian's psychological profile. She was superficially reserved, but a risk-taker at heart, and she'd wanted a child for a long time, probably badly enough to consider marrying a stranger to get one. Regarding men, she responded to old-fashioned chivalry and Southern charm. It wasn't exactly Shane's style, but he was prepared to wing it. By tonight, he hoped to be living in Lillian's apartment, researching every aspect of her life. Undercover, there was nothing he'd leave untouched.
Maybe not even Lillian. He pushed aside the unwanted thought, reminding himself he was here merely
to solve a crime that had haunted him for seven years the death of his Aunt Dixie Lynn's husband, Silas. The man had been like a father to Shane, and he'd been killed on the night of Lillian's ill-fated marriage to a mobster named Sam Ramsey.
No one really knew what happened that night except Lillian. She was the key that could unlock the past. But Shane knew enough: both his Uncle Silas and Lillian's husband had died the night of her wedding, and Lillian had fled the scene with three million dollars belonging to the Mob. She'd been living under an assumed name ever since.
And Shane had finally found her. Not about to spook her into running again, he meant to find out everything he could before she was officially brought in for questioning. She'd eventually be arrested, if only for falsifying her identification papers.
"Glad it's almost over?" Fin asked again softly.
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