Beauty and the Beastly Rancher (Silhouette Romance #1678)

Beauty and the Beastly Rancher (Silhouette Romance #1678)

by Judy Christenberry

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373196784
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 08/01/2003
Series: From The Circle K Series , #1678
Edition description: Original
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.22(w) x 6.72(h) x 0.54(d)

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Beauty & The Beastly Rancher


By Judy Christenberry

Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.

Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0373196784


Chapter One

Joe Crawford shoved back his straw cowboy hat and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. He'd been on the tractor for more than an hour, plowing the small pasture to prepare it for the alfalfa he intended to plant there.

The field wasn't large, but he hated to let anything go to waste. He could make enough to feed the herd for a month by taking the time to plant this last piece of land he owned. All it would take was a little sweat.

He might not attract the women like his brothers, or produce grandchildren, but he was a hard worker and made plenty of money for his efforts. He'd realized in high school that women weren't interested in him, so he'd turned his attention to studying, earning him a four-year scholarship to Oklahoma State University to study land management. Now, at thirty-five, he figured love had passed him by.

He turned the tractor and started back toward the other end of the field, toward the county road that flanked the land. His gaze drifted to the corner where the road turned south. There was an old fruit stand there, built many years ago. It was on Derek Pointer's old place or Joe would've torn it down. It was an eyesore.

But today it was occupied. Someone had set up shop, selling vegetables and fruit. He couldn't imagine who the widow Pointer had given permission to. Or maybe they were nesters, not asking.

His eyesight was good, so when he caught a glimpse of movement, he looked again and discovered whoever it was had a potential customer pull to a stop. He noted the two men who got out of a muscle car, not the usual type to be interested in produce.

He shrugged his shoulders. It took all kinds. He shoved the men from his mind. He'd almost reached the opposite end of the field when some movement drew his attention again. This time it was a small child, flying across the barren field between Joe's land and the produce shed.

Joe didn't know how he knew something was wrong, but he did. The child was trying to signal him with her skinny arms. Joe shoved the gear into Neutral and grabbed the hand brake. Then he vaulted from the tractor and met the child more than halfway.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Those men are hurting my mommy. Please help her."

He remembered the swagger he'd noticed when the men got out of the car. He didn't know who was selling the produce, but two against one wasn't fair.

"Stay here. I'll let you know when you can come." Then he raced to the produce stand, his vision blocked by the three-sided structure.

Anguished cries told him the woman was in distress. When he rounded the side of the stand, he saw her, lying on the dirt, one man at her head, holding her hands, and the other on top of her, pulling at her clothes. He didn't recognize either of them. They must have been from out of town.

Joe was a big man, the biggest of the Crawford men. His father had always told him not to take advantage of smaller men. But he knew his father hadn't meant times like this. He swung his mighty fist into the man at her head and he fell back, turning loose of her hands. Then Joe turned to find the other man charging him.

He didn't mind their resistance. It kept them from trying to hurt the woman. He planted his fist in the man's stomach with fierce pleasure. He turned to check on the other man, who had pulled himself together and was coming toward Joe. He never got there.

The woman, Anna Pointer he now realized, had grabbed a board lying on the ground and slung it across the back of the man's head. He silently fell to the ground.

"Nice job," Joe said with a grin, amused by the woman's action. He reached in his pocket for the cell phone he carried and dialed the sheriff's office.

"We've got an attempted rape where Highway 50 turns south, at the old produce stand. Two men attacking a woman. We'll hold them until you can get here."

He turned back to the woman and discovered her sinking to the ground as if her legs had become too weak to hold her. He reached for her. "Mrs. Pointer, are you all right?"

He kept some distance between them, letting his arms do all the work. "Did they hurt you?"

"Just - just bruises. Oh! My little girl -"

"She's okay. What's her name?"

"Julie."

He found an empty box for her to sit on. He started toward the side of the stand, but a movement and Mrs. Pointer's cry alerted him to the man he'd hit in the stomach. He tried to attack Joe, but the man was six inches shorter and didn't have a lot of muscle.

"No, you don't." He hit his jaw hard. Then he picked up a piece of rope lying on the ground. He twisted the man's hands behind his back and tied him up. Then he did the same for the other one.

"Maybe that will hold them for a few minutes," he said to the woman and resumed his attempt to bring the little girl to her mother. He expected the child to be where he'd left her, but she'd followed him and stood a few feet from the stand.

"Julie, your mom is fine. She wants to make sure you are, too. Come here."

Julie came closer, but she skirted around Joe, leaving plenty of distance between them. He wasn't surprised. Children didn't take to him much because of his size and his irregular features. He had dark brown hair with bushy eyebrows and a crooked nose, giving him a gruff look. His four brothers were handsome as sin. Women chased them constantly. Nobody chased Joe. He'd accepted his lot in life, but scaring little children still bothered him.

"Mommy!" Julie cried out as she flew into her mother's arms.

"Oh, baby, I was so worried about you. Are you all right?"

"Yes. Did those bad men hurt you?"

Tears were running down both their faces, and Joe looked away. He felt like he was invading their privacy.

The females were hugging each other when Joe heard a baby cry. He looked around, startled, and found another box serving as a bed for a baby wrapped in a light blanket. The woman went to the box and lifted the baby, bigger than Joe had first thought. He'd forgotten Derek's wife had been pregnant when he'd died in that car crash. It had caused a lot of gossip because he'd had a woman with him, who was not his wife.

"You came here with Julie and your baby? Don't you know how dangerous that can be?"

She lifted her head and glared at him. "I do now."

"You should've figured it out before you put the kids at risk."

"I just wanted to sell my excess produce. Pardon me for not realizing some men would think it a fine opportunity to rape me!"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Beauty & The Beastly Rancher by Judy Christenberry 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.
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