From the cradle, Lizzy Kemble had the powerful sense that she didn't belong in her family's notorious Texas empire. Her desire for land-grabbing Cole Knight, embittered son of the neighboring rancher, proved her right. Her daddy had done everything possible to turn her into a proper Kemble—all the way to leaving his vast Golden Spurs Ranch in her hands after he fell victim to a stroke.
But when her father's death turns out to be murder, Lizzy knows someone is willing to kill to claim the Kemble wealth…and she's next on the hit list. With the Golden Spurs at risk, she';s fighting back…but who is the enemy? The enigmatic Cole? Her cutthroat family? Caught in a high-stakes game of win, lose or die, Lizzy is forced to gamble her ranch, her heart, her very life for the truth behind the Golden Spurs.
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The Girl With The Golden Spurs
By Ann Major
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe devil had dealt from the bottom of the deck one time too many.
An eye for an eye, the Bible said. Or at least Cole Knight had heard somewhere the good book said something like that. To tell the truth, he wasn't much of a Biblical scholar. But he loved God, he loved the hot, thorny land under his boots that by all rights should have been his, and he loved his family - in that order. He was willing to die for them, too.
Maybe that was overstating the case. In fact, Cole Knight wasn't much of anything. Wasn't likely to be, either. Not if Caesar Kemble and his bunch had their way.
But where was it written you couldn't kill a man on the same day you buried your good for nothin' father and set things right? Especially if that man was the cause of your old man's ruin? And yours, too?
Hell, it was about time somebody stood up and demanded justice. The Knights had as much right - more right - as the Kembles to be here.
Cole Knight belonged here. Trouble was, he didn't own a single acre. The Kembles had stripped him to the bone.
The feud between the Kembles and the Knights went back for more than a hundred and forty years. It had all begun when the first Caesar Kemble, the original founder of the Golden Spurs Ranch, had died without a will, and his son Johnny Kemble had cheated his adopted sister, Carolina Knight, out of most of her share. The Knights were direct descendants of Carolina Knight, whose biological father, Horatio Knight, had been a partner of the original Caesar Kemble. When Horatio and his wife had been killed in an Indian raid, Caesar had adopted their orphaned daughter.
As if being cheated hadn't been bad enough, four more generations of Kembles had continued to cheat and collude and steal even more land from the Knights. Not that the Knights were saints. Still, the Knights'vast holdings, which had once been even bigger than the Kembles', had shrunk to a miserable fifty thousand acres. Then worst of all, not long ago, Cole's father had lost those last fifty thousand acres in a card game.
Thus, Black Oaks had faded into oblivion while the Golden Spurs had become an international agribusiness corporation with interests in the Thoroughbred horse industry, the oil and gas industry, cattle ranching, recreational game hunting and farming. The Golden Spurs developed cattle breeds, improved horse breeds and participated in vital environmental research. The Kembles owned hundreds of thousands of acres and mineral rights to vast oil and gas reserves and were Texas royalty, while the Knights were dirt.
Cole had already been to the barn to saddle Dr. Pepper. No sooner had Sally McCallie, the last hypocritical mourner, waddled out of the dilapidated ranch house than Cole was out of his sticky, black wool suit and into his jeans and boots. A few seconds later his long, lean body was stomping down the back stairs into the sweltering, late July heat and the rickety screen door was banging shut behind him.
There was finality in that summertime sound. Thrusting his rifle into his worn scabbard, he seized the reins and threw himself onto Dr. Pepper. His daddy was dead, his bloated face as gray and nasty under the waxy makeup as wet ash, and Cole's own unhappy boyhood was over.
It was just as well. Not that he had much to show for it. He'd had to quit college after his older brother, Shanghai, who'd been putting him through school, had unearthed some incriminating original bank documents and journals, which proved Carolina had been swindled. When Shanghai had threatened to sue the Kembles, Caesar had run him off or so people had thought. His disappearance was something of a mystery. Shanghai had left in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye. Without Shanghai's help and with an ailing father to support, Cole hadn't had money to pay tuition much less the time to spend on school.
Twenty-four and broke, Cole was the last of the line and going nowhere. At least that's what the locals thought. Like a lot of young men, he seethed with ambition and the desire to set things right. He wanted the ranch back, not just the fifty thousand acres, but the rest of it, and there was nothing he wouldn't do to get it.
Too bad he took after his old man, local folk said. Too bad his brother Shanghai, who'd shown such promise as a rancher, had turned out to be as sorry as the rest of the Knights when he'd abandoned his dying father.
Cole felt almost good riding toward the immense Golden Spurs Ranch. Finally he was doing something about the crimes of the past and present that had made his soul fester. Partly he felt better because he couldn't get on a horse without relaxing a little. Cowboying had been born in him. It was as natural to him as breathing, eating and chasing pretty girls.
For the past three years, Cole had wanted one thing - to get even with Caesar Kemble for cheating his daddy out of what was left of their ranch and for running his brother off. Those acres weren't just land to Cole. They'd been part of him. He'd dreamed of ranching them with his brother someday.
Not that his daddy had given much of a damn that the last of the land that had once been part of their legendary ranch had been lost.
"Leave it be, boy," his daddy had said after Cole had found out the ranch was gone. "It was my ranch, not yours. Maybe Caesar and me was both drunk as a pair of coons in a horse trough filled with whiskey, but Kemble won Black Oaks fair and square with that royal flush."
"The hell he did, Daddy. The hell he did. You were drunk because he got you drunk. Caesar Kemble knew exactly what he was doing. What kind of fool plays poker drunk?"
"I'm not like you, boy. I play poker for fun." But his old man's explanation didn't mollify Cole.
"Black Oaks wasn't just yours. You didn't have the right to gamble it away. It was mine and Shanghai's."
"Well, it's gone just the same, boy. You can't rewrite history. You're a loser, born to a loser, brother of a loser. History is always written by the winners."
"I swear - if it's the last thing I ever do, I'll get Black Oaks back - all of it."
"You'll get yourself killed if you mess with Caesar Kemble. That's what you'll do. My father was a hothead like you and he went over to have it out with the Kembles and vanished into thin air. Don't get yourself murdered, boy, or run off, like Shanghai did."
"As if you care -"
His easygoing daddy hadn't cared much about anything other than partying and getting drunk.
With his Stetson low over his dark brow and longish black hair, Cole followed a well-worn dirt pathway through sandy pastures choked by huisache, ebony and mesquite. Dr. Pepper trotted for at least a mile before Cole's heart quickened when he saw the billowing dust from the herd rising above a stand of low trees like yellow smoke to dirty the sky.
The vaqueros and Kemble's sons, who worked for the Golden Spurs, had been gathering the herd for several days in the dense thickets that had once belonged to the Knights. Rich as he was, Caesar, who like Cole, loved cowboying more than he loved anything - including cheating at cards - would be out there with his men and sons. Cole hoped to catch him alone in some deep and thorny thicket and have it out with him once and for all.
Yes, sirree, that's just what he hoped until he saw Lizzy Kemble through the dense brush. Somehow the sight of the slim, uncertain girl on the tall black gelding struggling to keep up with the vaqueros and her younger, more able brothers, cousins and sister stopped him cold.
Excerpted from The Girl With The Golden Spurs by Ann Major Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For longer than anyone alive can recall - the Knights and Kembles have been at odds. As far as the Knights are concerned, the Kembles are thieves, having stolen their land. Yet, Cole Knight is the thief, stealing young Lizzie Kemble's heart at an early age, then breaking it by marrying her sister, Mia. Now that Mia is dead and Lizzie back home to run the family business after her father's unexpected death, Cole is a major figure in her life, but is he protector or killer? Both will have to face their long buried emotions and secrets that have haunted their families to get to the truth and to have a future. ........................ *** Like Joan Johnston's books, the plot draws readers in using classic family feuds crossed by romance and murder. Much is familiar, but nonetheless, classics are called that because they are always welcome and good. If a book can be called both sweet and racy, then this fits the bill. ***
For one-hundred and forty years the Knights and Kembles have feuded. However, now there is no doubt that the Kembles have won as they cheated the Knights out their last acres and formed the Golden Spurs International Agra business. Cole Knight lives for revenge especially since his brother Shanghai found proof of the illegal actions of the Texas royal family (the Bush crowd are spread out), but vanished before he could use his evidence........................ Eleven years later widower Cole had married Mia Kemble, but she died in a plane crash. His marriage failed to satiate his thirst for revenge. Mia¿s sister leaves New York to care for her infant niece. There she runs into Cole, who she loved as a teen, but he chose her older sister. As they begin to fall in love, someone uses blackmail and murder, threatening to expose Lizzy¿s matriarchy to one and all. Only Cole can keep her and his daughter safe, but does he really want to protect a Kemble even if he loves her while she wonders if she should trust a Knight with her heart and her life?........................... This enjoyable contemporary romance is filled with characters who have doubts about the direction their lives are going. Lizzy is an intriguing lead who happens to be her daddy¿s favorite although she is the one who seems more in place in New York than on a Texas ranch. However, the tale evolves around Cole, who must choose between the woman he loves and his need for vengeance. Though the suspense adds salsa, THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN SPUR belongs to the dynamic duo........................... Harriet Klausner