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He who loves his son chastises him oftenSirach 30:1, quoted often by Josiah Morgan when his four boys rebelled against his discipline
Pete Morgan sat in a bar in Riga, Latvia, tired, cold, and annoyed as he thought about the letter he'd received from his father, Josiah, in January. The missive was a parting shot, designed to make him feel guilty. Wasn't the pen supposedly mightier than the sword?
Josiah's words hadn't had the desired effectthey had simply reignited old feelings of resentment. Pete wouldn't admit to a saint that he'd been steaming since the two letters had been found in a kitchen drawer at the Morgan ranch, one addressed to him and one to his oldest brother, Jack. Pete had left the letter for Jack with a rodeo manager, knowing it would reach him eventually.
Now it was February, and the very memory of his father's words still set Pete's teeth on edge. He knew every word by heart.
Of all my sons, you were the most difficult. I saw in you an unfulfilled version of myself, a man who would never be able to settle. I write this letter knowing that you will never live at the Morgan ranch attempting to be part of the family. Like Jack, you hold long grudges. If by the time I pass on, you have not lived at the ranch for the full year, your million dollars will be split among the brothers who have fulfilled their family obligation.
It was a kick in the teeth, not because of the money but because his father lacked trust in him, basic faith that Pete cared about his own family. Wasn't it Pop's own fault no one cared to be at the ranch or have any contact with him? It had been many years since he and his father had spoken more than ten words to each other. To receive the letter out of the blue in January had sent Pete packing to the other side of the world, even though he'd been seriously considering retirement from espionage. The life was tough, the hours and the constant danger not conducive to trust, or building friendships, or anything remotely resembling comfort. Pete used to love his job, used to enjoy the unpredictability, until recently. His last assignment had chilled him, made him search his soul.
He'd always thought of himself as a savior, rescuing people from war-torn situations. It was important, critical even, to be able to go into foreign countries and extract those who needed help. This was his way of helping keep his country safe, and he got a lot of satisfaction out of it.
The best part was knowing he'd returned a father, a mother, children, to families desperate to be reunited.
Pete had an excellent record of success, but his last mission had been beyond his control. He tried not think about it, but the shadows lurked, ever ready to assail him. He had been meant to recover fifteen children from the basement of an abandoned orphanage. But he hadn't been able to save them. There'd been bombing after bombing; the screams still cursed his sleep. He'd done what he could, but then
Much as he might change the channel on a television set, he turned his mind from the memory of the parents who would never see their children again, shutting out the ghosts. He was haunted by his own family, and tonight he wondered if it was time to face his demons. Life was short, and it could be dark and lonely. His lips thinning, he thought about Josiah.
Jack's letterwhich he'd readhad been worse:
Jack, I tried to be a good father. I tried to save you from yourself. In the end, I realized you are too different from me. But I've always been proud of my firstborn son.
That was Pop, always playing the Morgan brothers off one another, which was how the trouble had begun so many years ago, driving a wedge between Jack and himself that still existed today.
His other two brothers, Gabriel and Dane, had made up with the old man. They'd married, had children. Collected their million dollars.
But now the stakes were higher. Pop no longer resided in France in the knight's templary he'd purchased. Pop had come home to live at the Morgan ranch to enjoy the new additions to his family, especially his grandchildren, which he'd netted with all his matchmaking and millions.
If Pop thought Pete had any intention of living under the same roof with him, he was mistaken. Pete would rather sit burning in the darkest corner of hell before that happened.
No woman, no family, no million dollars, would ever tie him to the ornery son of a gun who was his father. Pop had foretold the future ominouslyPete would never settle down. He did indeed hold long grudgeshe'd learned it from the master. His father, Josiah.
There was nothing more satisfying than being the blackest sheep in the family.
Priscilla Perkins looked at the older gentleman who'd seated himself in her tea-shop-and-etiquette studio in Fort Wylie, Texas. Long of limb, strong as an ox though showing some signs of aging, Josiah Morgan was a commanding presence. He wore a black felt cowboy hat. His hair streamed long and gray to his shoulders. The jeans and shirt he wore were clean and nice enough for a meal in the city.
"I'm glad to finally meet you in person," Priscilla said. "I've heard a lot of good things about you, Mr. Morgan." She noticed that Mr. Morgan didn't seem to feel at all out of place in the dainty surroundings. He took the tiny, floral-decorated china cup she handed him and drank the tea, his sharp gaze considering her.
"You were at my son Dane's wedding," Mr. Morgan said, "and I asked his bride, Suzy, who you were. I like to know everyone who is a friend of the family."
Josiah hadn't met many of the people at Suzy Winterstone's and Dane Morgan's wedding. They hadn't expected him to return from France for the wedding. He'd ridden in at the last second, a flamboyant mirage on the horizon, to witness his son's nuptials. His sudden appearance had given everyone in Union Junction quite a shock, not the least of all his son Pete.
Pete Morgan had disappeared before his brother's wedding, and Suzy had told Priscilla they'd probably never see Pete again. Which will teach me, Priscilla thought, to keep myself crush-free in the future when it comes to handsome, devil-may-care types. "I'm sure you're not here for etiquette lessons, Mr. Morgan, and I suspect you have no need of my party-planning services nor any of my specialty teas and cookies. So what can I do for you?"
His grin sent a tingle down her back. It was amazing how much Pete resembled his fathermaybe it was his confidence, maybe it was the rascal shining through. Priscilla suspected it would be a good idea to stay on her guard.
"You may have heard that I'm a meddler," Josiah said with a wink.
"No," Priscilla said firmly. "What I've heard is that you are very generous to the town of Union Junction, and that you don't necessarily get along with your four sons."
He gave a bark of laughter, amused by her boldness. "True enough, all of it. They say the more money you give away, the more comes back to you. Certainly that's held true for me. Of course, I also suspect that you're fibbing just a little in the interest of good manners, girl. Even I've heard that I'm a selfish ol' pain in the patoot. The town grapevine doesn't discriminate in who hears what, you know." He glanced around the room, then back at her. "You're just too well mannered to hurt an old man's feelings."
She shifted uncomfortably. Her business had definitely been growing from love and not abundant financial backing. "You're keeping me in suspense. My guess is that you haven't come here to talk about money."
"My sons, actually," he said. "Or at least one of the four."
"I'm not good with schemes that involve other people."
"And yet I understand you were staying at the ranch with Suzy Winterstone and Cricket Jasper last month. Somehow during that time, my son Dane found himself in love."
"No one can explain the human heart," Priscilla said.
He smiled. "Sometimes a man needs a little help in falling for the woman of his dreams."
"I don't know what I contributed to the situation," Priscilla said. "Otherwise I'd be running a matchmaking service instead of what I do."
"So Dane fell in love with Suzy with no help at all from you ladies."
"No help except the million dollars you promised him and your little shove in the right direction." She looked at him innocently.
He grinned. "You're not going to help me, are you."
"Not if you're asking me to somehow finagle any of your sons into something they don't want to do."
Setting his cup down, he nodded. "You know, Miss Perkins, men don't always know what they want."
She didn't say anything because she sensed a note of regret in his voice.
After a moment he sighed. "Can I tell you something in confidence?"
"I'm not a well man and" he began, but she interrupted him immediately.
"Please, call me Josiah."
"Josiah, then," she said. "I will not be a party to whatever you're cooking up. As you said, you're something of a meddler, and I do not meddle."
"It worked out for Gabriel and Laura. And Dane and Suzy. They're all happy as clams, with kids and houses and living the fairy-tale dream." His eyes twinkled and a smile played on his lips. Josiah looked pleased about his sons' new family situations.
"What exactly do you want from me? Specifically, please." Priscilla had to admit to some admiration for the man's tenacity.
"I want all my boys to be happy," Josiah said. "And happiness is finding the right woman. I had the right woman once upon a time." He stared off for a moment, then returned his gaze to her. "She's living in France now, and I'm satisfied with that. Not every man is made for marriage, and my bride was always more concerned with money than anything else, I'm honest enough to say. But I'd like my sons to have better."
"Shouldn't they figure that out on their own?"
"Maybe, but what father wants his child to stumble?" Josiah asked, his face wreathed with quizzical thoughtfulness.
"According to gossip I've heard, you let your boys stumble plenty," Priscilla responded. "People say your boys practically raised themselves and you liked it that way."
"Sometimes a man regrets his actions," Josiah said.
"Sometimes a man never stops trying to earn forgiveness," Priscilla told him gently. "You know, you really are a nice man in your own way, but I have a life here. I have commitments, things I love. I don't have any business doing whatever it is you want from me. And you really have no right to ask anything of me, you know."
"Drat," he said. "I'd heard you might have had a tiny hankering for Pete. Scuttlebutt must have had it wrong."
"Now, Mr. Morgan"
"Josiah," he repeated.
"Josiah, it isn't good to listen to idle gossip. You of all people should know that."
He smiled again, searching her face with keen eyes, showing no remorse at all for putting her on the spot. The wily old rancher was everything people said he was, and yet, she somehow found him endearing.
"Well," he said after a moment, "it was worth a try."
"What was worth a try?"
He stood and put out a hand so that he could gently take her hand in his. "I was hoping it was you, but there are other women who might be interested in my renegade son, Pete. He's a good-looking manstrong, tall, tough. Ladies like that sort, don't they? The strong, silent type? And yet sophisticated and endearing, like Cary Grant. Yes, I'd say the best of John Wayne and Cary Grant." He grinned at her. "I'm just the proud pop, though. Maybe women aren't looking for good-looking, strong, independent rascals anymore."
She really didn't know what to say to such audacity. There was no doubt Pete was a sexy man. She'd been wildly attracted to him when she'd met him in January. He was indeed very handsome, and his devil-may-care attitude drew her in. Tall, longhaired, with eyes of glacial bluehis very face spelled danger. She shivered, remembering. He'd come across like a tough guy, but when he wanted to be charmingand he'd definitely been charminga woman knew she'd take off her dress pretty fast for him. He'd not made any moves on her, not really. In fact, he'd seemed bent on making Dane jealous over Suzy, and so Priscilla had felt safe.
But it was the gleam in Pete's eye when he looked at her sometimes that let her know his charms could be dangerousif he hadn't been treating her like a sister, for Suzy's sake. In other words, he was a wolf in sheep's clothing.
There was no way this would work. Josiah couldn't possibly understand. Families had their share of matchmaking enthusiasts, busybodies and downright meddlesome fussbudgets bent on having their own way. At least Josiah didn't hide his intentions. Wouldn't his scheming make Pete mad? Priscilla studied Josiah and wondered.
Was the old man really looking for forgivenessor was Josiah angling for more grandchildren?