Discover romance across America with Janet Dailey’s classic series featuring a love story set in each of the fifty states. One of the most beloved romance authors of all time, whose novels have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, Dailey invites you to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for an unforgettable story of forbidden love in A Tradition of Pride.
Lara Alexander Cochran could never disgrace her proud Southern family by getting a divorce—even though her scoundrel of a husband started cheating almost before their honeymoon was over. But one thing is for certain: The beautiful betrayed belle is through with men forever!
Of course, Ransom MacQuade has other ideas. The strapping new manager of the sprawling Alexander plantation, Rans knew his journey from Texas was worth it the first time he set his piercing brown eyes on the boss’s shapely daughter. The stunning redhead may seem cold on the outside, but Rans can tell it’s a false front masking a deep pain in her heart.
And though Lara knows what the family expects of her, a passionate encounter with this powerful, caring stranger may just be too tempting to resist.
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A Tradition of Pride
The Americana Series: Mississippi
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
RANS MACQUADE PAUSED on the porch of the brick cottage. Overhead, the morning sun was bright in a cloudless sky. A cool northwest breeze rustled through the pines, carrying a chilling January nip to the air. He allowed his corded jacket of wheat tan to swing open, indifferent to the temperature.
The sweep of his narrowed brown eyes encountered the long, straight rows of pecan trees in the rolling field across the road from the cottage. They were wooden skeletons without their summer foliage, stretching in seemingly endless lines.
The firm line of his mouth curved upward at the corners in satisfaction, carving masculine dimples in his lean cheeks. All of this was virtually his. He was in complete charge with a free hand over the entire operation of Alexander land.
Nothing less would have induced him to leave Texas to move to southern Mississippi. Rans MacQuade had made that clear to Martin Alexander before he accepted the position. The man had given his word that Rans would be in total control and Rans welcomed the challenge of it. After nearly two full months, Rans was willing to concede that Martin Alexander was a man of his word.
A quick glance at his watch reminded him of the time. Smooth, effortless strides carried him down the steps to the pickup truck parked next to the cottage. The breeze rumpled the wayward thickness of his tobacco-brown hair. His fingers raked if carelessly into a semblance of order as he climbed into the cab of the forest-green and white truck.
It was only a short drive to the main house. Normally Rans would have walked, through the stand of pines between his cottage and the Alexander home, but after going over last year's production report in detail with Martin Alexander, he was driving to the cattle barns. It was more practical to leave from the main house.
The Alexander home was an imposing structure, although not the typically palatial Southern plantation. The Spanish influence was evident in its austere design and the liberal usage of lacy grillwork. The grandness of age was understated. Many times Rans had seen it in the early evening hours, the windows ablaze with welcoming light. It was first a home and second a house.
At the front door, Rans let the brass knocker fall three times. He was not yet that familiar with his employer to walk into his home unannounced. So he waited, a thumb hooked in his belt loop while he absently studied the white enameled door and the flanking windows that ran the length of it, protected by intricate iron scrollwork.
The door opened and his gaze shifted to meet a pair of jet dark eyes on the same level with his own. Considering Rans's height of six foot one, it was not an occurrence that happened often.
"Good morning, MacQuade." There was a flash of white teeth as the man smiled and opened the door wider. "You must be here to see Martin. Come on in."
"Good morning, Trevor." Rans returned the greeting diffidently as he stepped into the entrance hall. "Martin's expecting me."
"Yes, I know." Trevor Cochran smiled again. "He's on a long-distance telephone call right now. Why don't you go into the living room and make yourself comfortable? He shouldn't be long. Would you like some coffee, tea or anything while you're waiting?"
"No." A brief negative shake accompanied his reply.
"I'll let Martin know you're here." With a condescending nod, the tall, dark-haired man moved off in the direction of the study.
Rans's gaze lingered on the man's back before he turned toward the open double doors to the riving room. A muscle twitched briefly along his hard jaw and he recognized the cause of his impatience to be Trevor Cochran.
When Rans had arrived the last of November to take charge, he had been surprised and curious to discover that Martin Alexander had a young and intelligent son-in-law, Trevor Cochran. He was the husband of Martin's only child, the heir apparent of the vast Alexander holdings. Presumably Martin should have been grooming his son-in-law to take over the reins. Instead he had offered Rans a long-term contract giving him total charge of the farm.
Mentally Rans had braced himself for the hostility he had expected Martin's decision to bring. Yet Trevor Cochran hadn't seemed at all perturbed by the turn of events. Although Trevor had an active role in the company and lived with his wife in the same house with his father-in-law, he seemed satisfied that someone else was solely responsible for the operation.
Even while he recognized Trevor's lack of ambition, Rans couldn't understand it. He didn't know how anyone could be a part of an operation this size and not rush out to aggressively meet the challenge of running it smoothly and successfully.
There was another factor to be recognized, too. Despite Trevor Cochran's muscular physique, he was physically soft. He was neither able nor willing to meet the physical demands of the position. His prowess, Rans decided, was limited to the bedroom. With Trevor's dark, rather stunning good looks, it had probably been put to considerable use—and still was, if the rumors were accurate.
Pushing the draperies of green brocade aside, Rans gazed out the window at the expanse of well-kept lawn shaded by towering pines. Footsteps sounded on the tiled floor of the hallway, followed by a second, lighter pair. He released the draperies and turned expectantly.
"Sara." It was Trevor Cochran's voice, and Rans sighed impatiently at the delay in meeting with Martin Alexander. "Has my wife been down this morning? She wasn't at the breakfast table."
"Lara—Mrs. Cochran," the housekeeper corrected herself quickly, "had breakfast in her room about an hour ago."
"In her room." An eyebrow arched swiftly as Rans smiled with cynical amusement. He thought separate bedrooms had gone out with hooped skirts. However, it did explain the first gossip he had heard on his arrival—that Trevor Cochran spent more time with other women than he did with his wife.
"But she hasn't been down?" Trevor Cochran repeated from the hall. "Are you sure?"
"Were you looking for me, Trevor?" A second female voice drifted into the living room from the large hall. It was firm, very cool and composed, yet soft and faintly husky.
A fiery color, caught Rans's eye. Instantly his gaze focused on the large, ornate mirror in the living room. From his angle it reflected the scene in the hallway, showing the lower half of the staircase where Lara Alexander Cochran had paused.
She was strikingly beautiful. There was no other way to describe her. As Rans openly studied her reflection in the mirror, he felt the stirring of his pulse. She was wearing a tweed suit of ocher gold and brown, while revealing a shapely pair of legs. Despite its bulkiness, the material of her suit seemed to cling to the curve of her thighs and hips. The molding lines of the jacket suggested the slenderness of her waist and the jutting firmness of her breasts, which Rans knew would fill the cupping of his large hands.
If her disturbingly shapely female figure didn't attract a man's attention, then Rans knew the striking combination of shimmering red gold hair and green eyes would. To top it off, Lara Cochran had a face to complement everything else—a vision of perfection from the delicate wing of her brow down a classically straight nose to a mouth with a sensually full lower lip.
The housekeeper discreetly left the couple alone in the hallway, but Rans felt no such compunction to halt his hidden observation.
"Yes, I was looking for you," Trevor replied to her question. "I knocked at your door, but you didn't answer."
"Knocked at your door." Again is mouth twitched in dry amusement. This marriage was taking on the overtones of a Victorian novel.
"I was probably taking a bath and didn't hear you." Lara shrugged eloquently and descended the last few steps. "I was just on my way out. What did you want?"
Her marble features were completely devoid of expression as she tilted her head upward to gaze at her husband's face. Rans's eyes narrowed on her reflection.
The key word was "marble." The smooth, classic beauty of her face seemed to be carved out of that hard, white stone, with any imperfection polished away, leaving a hard veneer devoid of any animation. It was probably the reason Rans appreciated her loveliness without feeling a surge of lust in his loins. She was a cold work of art.
"I arranged my schedule at the office so that I could take today off," Trevor was saying, the handsome mouth curving, into a winning smile guaranteed to set a female heart fluttering. Yet Lara Cochran seemed unmoved by its derided charm. "It's been so long since we've had a day to ourselves that I thought we might drive to the gulf coast."
Glistening copper-colored lips curved, into a smile of insincere apology. "I'm on my way to Lumberton, Trevor."
"What's in Lumberton?" His smooth forehead was faintly drawn into a frown.
"Angie Connors," was the composed response. "Her husband flew down to Longleaf to do some quail hunting and she came along."
"Angie Connors," he thoughtfully repeated the name. "She's the brunette who was matron of honor at our wedding, wasn't she? The two of you went to college together."
"That's right." Lara Cochran turned away as she answered. By her actions, Rans MacQuade guessed that she was looking at herself in the oval hall mirror. "It's been over two years since we've had a chance to get together, and she'll be leaving the day after tomorrow."
Rans watched the long, slender fingers smooth the liquid-fire hair away from her face, although he could not remember ever seeing a strand out of place. And always she wore it pulled back in a coil or a bun to emphasize the classic beauty of her features. He had never seen it falling loose around her shoulders where the breeze could play with it or a man could run his fingers through the red gold tresses.
"I never did have a chance to get to know her. I'll come along with you." Trevor stated. "It's only right that I become better acquainted with your best friend."
"No." The refusal, was instant yet smoothly firm. "You would only be bored, Trevor. Besides, I'm sure daddy would much prefer that you are at the office today, regardless of whether you can arrange to be away or not."
Trevor's expression darkened. "Lara—" He seemed about to argue, the point, when a hallway door opened and closed out of range of Rans's limited view.
"Trevor, did you say Rans had arrived?"
At the sound of Martin Alexander's voice, Rans glanced away from the mirror, letting his gaze focus indifferently on the blackened hearth of the fireplace.
"He's in the living room. I'll get him," Trevor replied tightly.
"Good morning, dad." Lara Cochran's warm greeting to her father echoed above Trevor's quiet summons as he paused in the open doorway of the living room. Rans took his time moving toward the hall, lighting a cigarette as he walked.
"Good morning, pet." Martin Alexander returned his daughter's greeting with definite affection. "I missed you at breakfast this morning."
"I indulged myself and had it in bed." The laughing words were uttered as Rans stepped into the hall. Yet her green eyes were aloof when they swung to him. "Good morning, Mr. MacQuade."
"Mrs. Cochran." Briefly he inclined his head to acknowledge her greeting before turning to his employer. "Hello, Martin."
"Since you two are obviously running off to closet yourselves in the study and talk business—" Lara removed a set of car keys from her brown purse "—I might as well make my exit now. I've already told Sara I won't be home for lunch."
"Take care," her father smiled. "And give Angie my hello."
"I'll walk you to the car darling." Trevor slipped his hand under her elbow.
With almost practiced ease, she slipped free of his touch. "That isn't necessary," Lara answered coolly. "We can say our goodbyes here."
Through the smoke from his cigarette, Rans noted the tightening of Trevor's jaw. As if aware of his audience, Trevor smiled automatically and graciously accepted her wish.
"Very well." His dark head bent to kiss her. At the very last second, Lara moved her head slightly so that his mouth brushed the smoothness of her cheek instead of her lips.
"I'll see you at dinner." She smiled at her husband without warmth or emotion and moved to the front door with unaffected grace.
One corner of Rans's mouth lifted sardonically as he turned to follow Martin to the study. His sympathy was directed to Trevor. He had married a cold witch with red hair. Why was it, Rans wondered idly to himself, that the truly beautiful women always seemed to be frigid? And poor Martin, imagine having that hollow shell of a woman as a daughter. Perhaps being her father blinded him to all but her exquisite loveliness.
LARA WAS TEN MILES south of the farm and Hattiesburg before the inner tension began to ease and she could relax. The highway was a tree-lined avenue of pines. The peaceful scenery, released her mind from its self-imprisonment and let it wander.
Sunlight flashed on the diamond solitaire of her wedding ring. A small sigh of relief escaped her lips that Trevor had been unable to force his company on her today—not that he often tried anymore.
Her fingers tightened around the steering wheel as she remembered Trevor's announcement that he was free to spend the day with her, as if she was supposed to be so grateful that she should have fallen to her knees. If the prospect wasn't so revolting, it would have been laughable.
The thought brought back the image of the cynical look that had been in Ransom MacQuade's eyes. Lara knew what he had been thinking—that she was a cold, unfeeling bitch, pampered and spoiled by her father. Men always stick together.
A shiver of apprehension danced down her spine—the same sensation she had experienced the first time she had met him. Her father had brought him to dinner one evening a day or two after Ransom MacQuade had taken over the management of Alexander land.
Compared to her husband, Ransom MacQuade was not a handsome man. His features were too boldly chiseled. Yet his virility and vitality made him compellingly attractive, forces equally as potent as Trevor's considerable charm and looks.
His hair was not jet black like Trevor's, but in varying shades of brown, like tobacco. His eyes were the same brown, seemingly lazy in their regard yet never missing anything. Although the same height as Trevor, Ransom MacQuade was the larger of the two. Lara had seen the rippling of his muscles beneath his shirt and knew there wasn't an ounce of spare flesh on him.
After nearly two months, she still, hadn't decided what there was about him that she didn't trust, that made her feel so apprehensive whenever he was around. Maybe it was simply because he was a man.
Her father certainly thought highly of him, although her father tended to think highly of most people. He was a born optimist. Not that Lara questioned Ransom MacQuade's credentials. When her father had requested her opinion of him after their first meeting, she hadn't cast any doubts on his ability nor did she endorse her father's choice.
"I think his decisiveness borders on arrogance," she had replied.
It had drawn a chauvinistic laugh from her father. Then he had expounded on MacQuade's qualifications, his extensive breeding experience with Santa Gertrudis cattle, the mainstay of the Alexander farm, coupled with an excellent knowledge of pecan orchards. So in the face of her father's hearty approval, Lara had not voiced any more intuitive comments that warned her against Ransom MacQuade.
The car slowed. Lara glanced around her in surprise. She was on a county road that turned into the lane leading to Longleaf Plantation. She had been so lost in thought she hadn't even been aware of where she was. One part of her mind must have been, since she had made all the right turns to get here. With a shake of her head, she tried to banish all the unwanted thoughts and concentrate on seeing Angie again.
Tall pine trees towered over the landscape to shade the vast lawn. The evergreens were of the longleaf variety that had given the private hunting lodge its name. The sun glistened on the mirror smooth surface of a small lake. A graveled driveway curved lazily through the sylvan setting, ending at the rustic elegance of the rough-hewn cypress buildings of Longleaf.
A full smile spread across Lara's face at the sight of the petite brunette leaning against the porch railing, dressed in a bulky blue sweater that looked several sizes too large and slim-fitting wool slacks. At the honk of the car's horn, Angie Connors raced down the steps, waving excitedly and reaching the car as it stopped in front of the main lodge.
Excerpted from A Tradition of Pride by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1981 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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