Read an Excerpt
By Diana Palmer
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. ISBN: 155166920X
The ranch outside Houston was big and sprawling. It was surrounded by neat white fences, which concealed electrical ones, to keep in the purebred Santa Gertrudis cattle that Cord Romero owned. There was also a bull, a special bull, which had been spared from a corrida
- a bullfight - in Spain by Cord's father, Mejias Romero, one of the most famous bullfighters in Spain just before his untimely death in America. Once Cord grew up and had money of his own, Cord had traveled to his elderly cousin's ranch in Andalusia to get the bull and have it shipped to Texas. Cord called the old bull Hijito, little boy. The creature was still all muscle, although most of it was in his huge chest. He followed Cord around the ranch like a pet dog.
As Maggie Barton exited the cab with her suitcase, the big bull snorted and tossed his head on the other side of the fence. Maggie barely spared him a glance after she paid the driver. She'd come rushing home from Morocco in a tangle of missed planes, delays, cancellations and other obstacles that had caused her to be three days in transit. Cord, a professional mercenary and her foster brother, had been blinded. Most surprising, he'd asked for her through his friend, Eb Scott. Maggie couldn't get home fast enough. The delays had been agony.
Perhaps, finally, Cord had realized that he cared for her ...! With her heart pounding, she pressed the doorbell on the spacious frontporch with its green swing and glider and rocking chairs. There were pots of ferns and flowers everywhere.
Sharp, quick footsteps sounded on the bare wooden floors in the house and Maggie frowned as she pushed the long, wavy black hair away out of her worried green eyes. Those steps didn't sound like Cord's. He had an elegance of movement in his stride that was long and effortless, masculine but gliding. This was a short, staccato step, more like a woman's. Her heart stopped. Did he have a girlfriend she didn't know about? Had she misinterpreted Eb Scott's phone call? Her confidence nosedived.
The door opened and a slight blond woman with dark eyes looked up at her. "Yes?" she asked politely.
"I came to see Cord," Maggie blurted out. Jet lag was already setting in on her. She didn't even think to give her name.
"I'm sorry, he isn't seeing people just yet. He's been in an accident."
"I know that," Maggie said impatiently. She softened the words with a smile.
"Tell him it's Maggie. Please."
The other woman, who must have been all of nineteen, grimaced. "He'll kill me if I let you in! He said he didn't want to see anybody. I'm really sorry ..."
Jet lag and irritability combined to break the bonds of Maggie's temper. "Listen, I've just come over three thousand miles - oh, the hell with it! Cord?" she yelled past the girl, who grimaced again. "Cord!"
There was a pause, then a cold, short, "Let her in, June!" June stepped aside at once. Maggie was made uneasy by the harsh note in Cord's deep voice. She left her suitcase on the porch. June gave it a curious glance before she closed the door.
Cord was standing at the fireplace in the spacious living room. Just the sight of him fed Maggie's heart. He was tall and lean, powerfully built for all his slimness, a tiger of a man who feared nothing in this world. He made his living as a professional soldier, and he had few peers. He was handsome, with light olive skin and jet-black hair that had a slight wave. His eyes were large, deep-set, dark brown. His eyebrows were drawn into a scowl as Maggie walked in, and except for the red wounds around his eyes and cheeks, he actually looked normal. He looked as if he could see her. Ridiculous, of course. A bomb he'd tried to defuse had gone off right in his face. Eb said he was blind.
She stared at him. This man was the love of her life. There had never been anyone but him in her heart. She was amazed that he'd never noticed, in the eighteen years their lives had been connected. Even his brief, tragic marriage hadn't altered those feelings. Like him, she was widowed - but she didn't grieve for her husband the way he'd grieved for Patricia.
Her gaze fell helplessly to his wide, chiseled mouth. She remembered, oh, so well, the feel of it on hers in the darkness. It had been heaven to be held by him, kissed by him, after years of anguished longing. But very quickly, the pleasure had become pain. Cord hadn't known she was innocent, and he was too drunk to notice at the time. It was just after his wife committed suicide, the night their foster mother had died ...
"How are you?" Maggie blurted out, hesitating just beyond the doorway, suddenly tongue-tied.
His square jaw seemed to tighten, but he smiled coldly. "A bomb exploded in my face four days ago. How the hell do you think I am?" he drawled sarcastically.
He was anything but welcoming. So much for fantasies. He didn't need her. He didn't want her around. It was just like old times. And she'd come running. What a joke.
"It amazes me that even a bomb could faze you," she remarked with her old self-possession. She even smiled. "Mr. Cold Steel repels bullets, bombs, and especially, me!"
He didn't react. "Nice of you to stop by. And so promptly," he added.
She didn't understand the remark. He seemed to feel she'd procrastinated about visiting. "Eb Scott phoned and said you'd been hurt. He said ..." She hesitated, uncertain whether or not to tell him everything Eb had said to her. She went for broke, but she laughed to camouflage her raw emotions. "He said you wanted me to come nurse you. Funny, huh?"
He didn't laugh. "Hilarious."
She felt the familiar whip of his sarcasm with pain she didn't try to hide. After all, he couldn't see it. "That's our Eb," she agreed. "A real kidder. I guess you have - what was her name? - June to take care of you?" she added with forced lightness.
"That's right. I have June. She's been here since I got home." He emphasized the pronoun, for reasons of his own. He smiled deliberately. "June is all I need. She's sweet and kindhearted, and she really cares about me."
She forced a smile. "She's pretty, too."
He nodded. "Isn't she, though? Pretty, smart, and a good cook. And she's blond," he added in a cold, soft voice that made chills run down her spine.
She didn't have to puzzle out the remark. He was partial to blondes. His late wife, Patricia, had been a blonde. He'd loved Patricia ...
She rubbed her fingers over the strap of her shoulder bag and realized with a start how tired she was. Airport after airport, dragging her suitcase, agonizing over Cord's true state of health for three long days, just trying to get home to him - and he acted as if she'd pushed her way in. Perhaps she had. Eb should have told her the truth, that Cord still didn't want her in his life, even when he was injured.
She gave him a long, anguished look and moved one shoulder restlessly. "Well, that puts me in my place," she said pleasantly. "I'm sure not blond. Nice to see you're still on your feet. But I'm sorry about your eyes," she added.
"What about my eyes?" he asked curtly, scowling fiercely.
"Eb said you were blinded," she replied.
"Temporarily blinded," he corrected. "It's not a permanent condition. I can see fairly well now, and the ophthalmologist expects a complete recovery."
Her heart jumped. He could see? She realized then that he was watching her, not just staring into a void. It came as a shock. She hadn't been guarding her expressions. She felt uncomfortable, knowing he'd been able to glimpse the misery and worry on her face.
Excerpted from Desperado by Diana Palmer
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.