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Cowboy's Million-Dollar Secret
By Emilie Rose
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne cowboy.
One final request.
Fifteen million dollars.
Leanna Jensen smiled and congratulated herself on finding a way to tie all three into a neat package. "You won't regret giving me the job, Ms. Lander."
"Call me Brooke. If you'll follow me into the kitchen I'll introduce you to my brother-in-law." Leanna's new boss led the way across the expansive common room, calling over her shoulder, "I forgot to mention when we spoke on the phone that Patrick will be managing the dude ranch while my husband and I are away."
Leanna's steps faltered. She hadn't expected to meet the star player of her adolescent daydreams so soon. Would he measure up to her high expectations or disappoint her like every other man? "Patrick is here? Now?"
"In the flesh." The deep voice drew her gaze to the cowboy already occupying the spacious dude ranch dine-in kitchen. Slumped over a glass of iced tea at the end of the long pine table, he slowly straightened. His twinkling dark eyes and charismatic grin stole her breath.
Brooke motioned her forward. "Patrick, this is Leanna Jensen. She'll be filling in for me as hostess for the next month. Leanna, Patrick."
Pressing a hand over her leaping heart, Leanna moved farther into the room. Her feet practically floated above the floor. She'd waited nine years to meet the son Carolyn Lander had described in her letters to her lover.
At thirty-six, the man unfolding inch by muscular inch in front of her was ten times more potent than the lean and lanky sixteen-year-old he'd been in the last photo Arch had received.
"I-it's n-nice to meet you." She never stuttered or stammered, but Patrick in the flesh was much more manly than she'd imagined. Taller. Broader.
Sexier. She pushed that unwelcome thought aside.
Her gaze raced over his features like a runaway roller coaster. Patrick's dark, smoldering looks were the complete opposite of his biological father's, but his classically honed features and sensuously full mouth were the same ones Arch Golden had parlayed into a fortune on the big screen. He'd left that fortune to Patrick, the son he'd never met, but had worried about up until his last breath.
The ache in her heart over losing Arch momentarily overshadowed the thrill of finally meeting his son. Perhaps once she and Patrick became friends they could curl up by a campfire and exchange stories - his exciting tales of life on a ranch, rescuing animals and fighting wildfires and hers about the incredible man who'd fathered him. She especially wanted to make sure Patrick knew that his father - his real father - had loved him even though the two had never met.
She hadn't been as lucky.
Squaring her shoulders, Leanna met the gaze of the man she'd driven over a thousand miles to meet, and eagerly reached for the hand he extended. She'd read so much about him in his mother's letters that meeting him was almost like meeting an old friend, and yet an old friend wouldn't make her fingers tremble.
As if he knew the unsettling effect his good looks had on her, Patrick's grin deepened, crinkling the laugh lines around his dark eyes and deepening the grooves bracketing his mouth. His warm, slightly rough grasp seemed to reach right down inside her and squeeze her already nervous stomach tighter.
Dear heavens, he was handsome. Her mouth dried and her knees wobbled.
"Hey, there. So we're gonna play house?" He waggled his dark brows and gave her a slow wink.
Her stomach bottomed out. A tiny drop of doubt threatened to rain on her parade. Was Patrick a charmer and a flirt? Surely the man she'd waited so long to meet wasn't the very type she'd spent most of her life avoiding?
"I'm going to be keeping house, not playing." Nervousness made her voice come out sterner than she'd intended. She sounded like a schoolmarm. Embarrassed, she tugged her hand free. Witty, be witty. She'd learned social repartee at her mother's knee. What was her problem?
He rolled his wide shoulders in a shrug. "'All work and no play ...'"
"Is a good way to get ahead." Rats. That sounded worse than before, but her insides jangled like loose change in a jogger's pocket. She fought the urge to wring her hands, shoving her fists into her pants pockets instead. Her palm continued to tingle.
The wattage in his lady-killer grin dimmed. Leaning a hip against the table, he crossed his scuffed and dusty boots. "I can tell you're going to be a load of fun."
His sarcasm stung, like tearing a scab off a nearly healed wound. It wasn't the first time she'd heard that from a man.
He folded his arms and turned a long-suffering look toward his sister-in-law. "You and Caleb did this on purpose, didn't you?"
Brooke's eyes widened. "I don't know what you mean."
"Sure you do. You and big brother hired a strait-laced baby-sitter to keep me in line while you're off on your book tour." And he wasn't pleased.
Hurt that he'd pigeon-holed her so easily and that he obviously wasn't as thrilled to meet her as she was to meet him, Leanna clenched her teeth. "I'm a hostess, not a baby-sitter."
He shoved a lock of hair off his brow, yanked his black hat from the hook beside the back door, and parked it on his head in one smooth, choreographed move. "Right."
With his hat pulled low on his forehead, Patrick Lander looked like the real deal as far as cowboys went. She'd bet the muscles straining the shoulders of his plaid shirt and the thighs of his faded jeans hadn't come from a personal trainer, and his tanned skin looked genuine, not the result of some expensive cream. There wasn't any Hollywood in him.
Yet. She chewed her lip.
Would a multimillion-dollar inheritance change him? She certainly hoped not, because thanks to her mom, she'd already had a parade of Hollywood phonies and live-for-the-minute men in her life. What she needed now was a man she could trust, a friend to replace the one she'd lost. She hoped to find one in Arch's son.
He turned for the door, but she wasn't ready to let him go. She had a zillion questions to ask. None of which she actually could ask without giving too much away too soon. But she had to think of something to keep him from walking out. "Do you need someone to watch your every move?"
Excerpted from Cowboy's Million-Dollar Secret by Emilie Rose Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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