After her tragic past, all Jeannie McMunn wanted was to create a haven for orphans. But someone was determined to run Jeannie and her foster children off Rancho Milagro. Mysterious fires and fence cutting plagued the "miracle ranch." And lovely widow Jeannie needed someone to watch over her....
Enter federal marshal Chance Salazar, a handsome cowboy with secrets in his green eyes. Chance was there to protect Jeannie¿under cover, of course. But Chance wanted flame-haired Jeannie under his covers!
The passion Jeannie and Chance found in each other's arms surprised them, but could the miracle of their love keep the inhabitants of Rancho Milagro safe from the threat that hovered in the shadows...?
Read an Excerpt
Cowboy Under Cover
By Marilyn Tracy
Chapter OneChance Salazar was chewing the fat with Doreen Gallegos across the scarred wooden countertop of the Carlsbad post office when a stranger walked in.
Doreen flicked a glance at the newcomer and leaned close enough to Chance that he could have drowned in her musky perfume, but she didn't lower her voice. "Mama will be at church bingo tonight, and you could come over. The kids'll be with Geo. We can talk."
Chance muttered something noncommittal, his eyes on the woman standing at the Wait Here sign. She was taller than most women, almost six feet, and her lush curves were only partially concealed by her obviously new blue jeans and chambray shirt. She'd pulled her curly, longish auburn hair into a rough ponytail, revealing her elegant neck and a host of Irish freckles. She reminded him of a roan Appaloosa filly he'd once coveted. And everything about her - from her new duds to her designer sunglasses - let him know she wasn't from anywhere near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Was she a tourist to see the caverns?
She held a manila envelope in one hand and a slender notepad in the other. She flipped the notebook open.
"What about it, Chance?" Doreen asked. "I made some sangria yesterday. Good burgundy, four lemons, two oranges, three limes and plenty of time to steep. And I want to talk to you about ... you know."
The woman tucked the envelope beneath her arm and wrote something in the notepad. A small smile played aroundher full lips.
"I made a whole gallon. And I got ice this morning. And Mama made tamales last night, so you wouldn't have to worry about finding something for dinner."
"Customer, Doreen," Chance said, stepping back from the counter and smiling at the woman. She didn't smile back. Unfriendly? Or was she not looking at him? Impossible to tell with her eyes covered.
"You wait right there, Chance," Doreen commanded, pointing at the wall. She didn't take her eyes off him until he leaned back and crossed his arms. Only then did she look at the woman and add with a note of impatience, "Can I help you?"
The woman started, as if surprised awake, then moved to the counter. She set the notebook to the side. "I need some information," she said. Her voice held no trace of a southwest twang. When Doreen didn't say anything, the woman smiled and handed across the thick envelope, "And stamps for this, please."
Doreen held up the envelope. "How you want it?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"How do you want it to go?" Doreen asked, filling in the words as if speaking to a second grader. "First class? Express? Overnight?" Doreen looked at the address. "Washington, D.C., that'd be twelve dollars for an overnight express, but no guarantees because it's already past ten. Overnights have to be in by nine if you want to be sure it gets there the next day, and even then, I can't make you no promises, because who knows what some idiot is going to do down the line somewhere, right? Two-day air is the safest bet and not so expensive. Still, if you want to go on the cheap, you can send it bulk. So, how you want it?"
"Two-day air will be fine," the woman said. In contrast to Doreen's staccato soprano, the newcomer sounded as if she were speaking in contralto slow motion. "And thanks."
"No problemo. What else?" Chance leaned forward and tilted his head a little to read what the stranger had been writing in her notepad. Fires. Spontaneous combustion? Lightning? What kind of animal destroys fences? Find out difference between ranch hand and cowboy? Where are the cattle? Chance - cowboy name? Hispanic name? Pass, Carlsbad style - Mama's playing church bingo. Recipe for sangria - four lemons, two oranges, three limes to one gallon burgundy. Let steep.
As if aware he was reading her notes, or perhaps simply preparing to leave, the woman pulled the notepad to her chest. "And, I need to know where to find a police station."
"Something wrong?" Doreen asked. The woman's shoulders stiffened slightly. Chance suspected she was unused to being questioned by strangers. If she planned on staying in New Mexico long, she'd have to get over that. People in these parts discussed others' business more often than they did their own. She pulled her sunglasses from her eyes. Even from his spot against the wall, viewing her profile only, Chance could see how blue her eyes were. Summer-sky blue. And wary.
Contrary to her generally hard facade, Doreen was, as Chance knew, a sensitive woman, and he wasn't surprised when she stepped back a pace, as if trouble were contagious. "The police station's across the street about three blocks up." She pointed west. The woman followed her finger and narrowed her eyes against the bright, if dusty, window. "And then, for big stuff, like drug runners and such, you want the federal marshal's office, and that's around the corner and east about three blocks and upstairs and you can tell Ted Peters that Doreen sent you. But, if you're having a problem out at Milagro, you're gonna want the sheriff."
When the woman didn't explain why she needed a peace officer, Doreen continued, "Police for city, sheriff for county, same as most everywhere, I guess. 'Cept the sheriff's elected. And he's across the plaza at the courthouse. Nando Gallegos. He's a cousin."
"How did you know -"
"That you're from Rancho Milagro?" Doreen grinned with the old gamine mischief that had gotten her in trouble so many times when Chance knew her in high school - and maybe a version of the same smile that landed her with three kids and two divorces before she was twenty-two, and a host of debts, worries and at least a handful of bad relationships since. She held up the woman's envelope and waggled it. "It's on the return."
The tension in the woman's shoulder's eased. "Of course," she said, and with her lack of west Texas drawl and her clear consonants, she sounded as if she'd stepped straight from a presidential tea. "Thank you for your help. And the sheriff's your cousin, you say?"
"Fernando. But everybody calls him Nando. Tell him I sent you over there. Doreen Gallegos. He'll help you out with whatever your problem is, okay?"
Chance withheld a derisive snort. Nando Gallegos was the biggest jerk this side of the Mississippi River.
The woman smiled, murmured a thank-you for the third time since she'd entered the post office, paid for her two-day overnight mail and left the small lobby, all without looking at the wall where Chance rested his shoulder. All without looking at him, in other words, he thought wryly. Chance saw her stop outside the threshold, slip her sunglasses on, and jot something down. He smiled. It was oddly pleasant to think his name was already in her little notepad.
"So?" Doreen asked. "What do you want, Chance?"
"Did she seem like she's in trouble, Doreen?" he asked, pushing off the wall and joining her at the counter.
Doreen sighed. "Men. They're all alike. A pretty new face, and the old one's forgotten just like that." She snapped her fingers.
Excerpted from Cowboy Under Cover by Marilyn Tracy
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.