Hunter Maxwell has suffered from the savagery of outlaws and the faithlessness of a woman. And he will trust nofemale—nor will he rest until the raiders who destroyed his family pay for their crimes.
A woman in need and a man in painmust stand as one to fight for something cherished,something lost. And in the brisk chill of autumn,ravaged hearts will be reborn.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:April 5, 1944
Place of Birth:Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education:B. A., University of California, 1966
Read an Excerpt
"I hear you need a ramrod who can handle a gun."
The voice out of the darkness startled Elyssa Sutton. She hoped her face didn′t show the lightning stroke of fear that went through her.
The stranger had come out of nowhere, without warning, soundless as a shadow.
She looked toward the man who stood at the edge of the ranch house porch. He was a dark silhouette just beyond the golden lantern light pouring through the windows. Beneath the brim of his hat, his eyes were like clear black crystal, as emotionless as his expression.
A winter storm would look warm by comparison to this man′s eyes, Elyssa thought uneasily, biting her lower lip.
On the heels of that thought came another.
Yet he′s compelling, in a dangerous kind of way. Al most handsome.
Next to him other men would seem like boys.
Elyssa frowned. She had never particularly noticed men. They were simply wastrel sons of titled Britons, or sailors, or soldiers, or cowhands or wranglers or cooks.
In the months since Elyssa had returned to America against her uncle′s wishes, she had encountered more than a few renegade white men. The Ladder S was a remote ranch in the Ruby Mountains. It drew prospectors, Spanish treasure hunters, wagon trains of hopeful settlers on the way to Oregon-and the renegades who preyed on all of them.
The Culpeppers were the worst of a bad lot of raiders.
lf anyone can stand up to the Culpepper gang, this man might, Elyssa thought wryly. Question is, who gets rid of the ramrod after he gets rid of the Culpeppers?
"Miss Sutton?" the stranger asked, his voice deep.
When he spoke, he stepped into the lantern light, as though he sensed her unease at not being able to see him clearly.
"I′m thinking," she said.
Elyssa let the silence grow while she openly studied the stranger. She wondered if she dared accept the challenge he presented.
The thought made Elyssa′s mouth go dry. She licked her lips and took a deep breath. Then she concentrated on the man who had appeared out of darkness, instead of wondering at her own reckless impulse to meet this man on his own dangerous ground.
A thick, straight, dark mane of hair came down to the stranger′s collar. His face looked tanned, with vague squint lines around the eyes and a neat, dark moustache above a well-formed mouth.
His black pants and jacket were clean, tailor-made, and had seen hard use. It was the same for his pale grey shirt, which was clean and rather worn. The shirt fit well to the masculine wedge of wide shoulders and narrow waist. A faded black bandanna was tied loosely around his throat.
Behind the stranger a horse stamped and blew softly through its nostrils. Without looking away from Elyssa, the man reached back and stroked the animal′s neck with long, soothing motions of his gloved hand.
His left hand. His right hand-which had no glove- stayed where it had been, near the six-gun he was wearing at his side. Like his clothes, the stranger′s gun was both worn and clean.
And like the man himself, the weapon had an aura of harsh use about it.
Yet for all the stranger′s hard eyes and dark presence, Elyssa noted that he handled his horse gently. She approved of that. Too many men in the West treated animals as though they felt no pain from spur or lash.
Like Mickey. If I didn′t need every hand, I′d send that swaggering fool packing, even though Mac thought the world of him. But I do need every hand.
Now more than ever.
The stranger′s horse shifted, bringing the saddle within reach of lantern light. There was a rifle in a scab bard, and what looked like a shotgun in another scabbard on the far side of the saddle.
There was no silver on the guns or saddle, no fancy trimmings, nothing that would catch and reflect sunlight, revealing the man′s presence.
What looked like a Confederate officer′s greatcoat was tied behind the saddle on top of a bedroll. Whatever rank the stranger might have held had been stripped away from the greatcoat as ruthlessly as the saddle had been purged of shiny decorations.
The horse itself was a big, rangy, powerful blood-bay stallion that would have cost three years′ wages for the average cowhand.
But then, the stranger obviously was no average cowhand. He was waiting for her response with the indrawn stillness of a predator at a water hole.
Such stillness was unnerving, especially for someone whose spirit was as impulsive as Elyssa′s.
"Do you have a name?" she asked abruptly.
"Hunter," Elyssa repeated slowly, as though testing the sound on her tongue. ′Is that your name or your profession?"
"Does it matter?"
She closed her lips against the retort that was on the edge of her tongue. She had been told often enough that she was like her dead mother, impulsive and intelligent in equal and sometimes conflicting parts.
This man′s deep stillness brought out in Elyssa a reckless desire to pry beneath his composed surface to the heat and seething life of him.
But life had taught Elyssa that recklessness could be very costly.
Warily Elyssa measured the cool reserve in Hunter′s eyes. A deeply feminine part of her wondered where he had been and what had happened to take from his soul all but ice and distance . . . and an echo of pain that cut her like a razor.
Why should I care about this man′s past? Elyssa asked herself fiercely. He evaded whichever Culpepper was on guard out in the pass, and that′s more than Mac with all his hunting skills managed to do.
That′s all I should care about. Hunter′s skill.
Yet it wasn′t all Elyssa was concerned about, and she was too intelligent not to know it. This man drew her as no other ever had.
Nervously she licked her lips and took another deep breath.
I should tell him to leave.
"Do you want the job?" Elyssa asked, before common sense could make her change her mind.
Black eyebrows rose in twin, oddly elegant arcs.
"That fast?" Hunter asked. "No questions about my qualifications? "
"You have the only qualifications that matter."
"Guns?′ Hunter asked sardonically.
"Brains," she retorted.
Hunter simply looked at her, waiting silently for a better explanation.
"I didn′t hear shots,′ Elyssa said, ′so you got past whichever Culpepper was sitting at the opening to the valley or in the pass itself, all set to empty saddles.′
Hunter shrugged, neither confirming nor denying Elyssa′s words.
"How did you sneak by the dogs?" she asked.
As she spoke, she looked around for the black-and white border collies that usually were the first warning of any strangers near the ranch house.
′I came in downwind of them," Hunter said.
′You were lucky.′
′Was I? The wind has been blowing down out of the canyon behind the house for days.′
Silently Elyssa conceded that Hunter was right. The autumn wind had been usually steady. For the past week it had flowed down the many canyons of the Ruby Mountains in a cool rush that smelled of pinon and rocky heights.
Then she realised that Hunter was watching her as closely as she was watching him.
"What makes you think I′m not a member of the Culpepper gang?′ he asked calmly.
The corners of Hunter′s eyes tilted slightly, heightening the faint lines.
Elyssa had a feeling that was as close as this man came to a smile, so she smiled in return.Autumn Lover. Copyright © by Elizabeth Lowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.