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By Debra Cowan
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneWest Texas, 1884
Catherine Donnelly had never been adept at handling men, and now she had to admit she was no better with boys. After more than a day spent searching in and around dusty Whirlwind, Texas, until well past dark, she'd finally located her oft-missing younger brother, Andrew, and marched him home.
Now Catherine sat alone at the small dining table in the front room of what had been her mother's house. A loud knock sounded on the door. After the harrowing span of time she had spent worrying over her twelve-year-old brother, she wasn't inclined to be charitable to whoever was calling so late.
Picking up the kerosene lamp from the small kitchen table, she opened her door to one of the tallest men she'd ever seen. The mild May night seemed to swirl around him. He wore a dark hat pulled low, and was dressed all in black except for his blue shirt, which looked nearly white in the filmy amber glow from the lamp. Moonlight sliced a sharp cheekbone and a whiskered jaw, making him quite possibly also the most intimidating man she'd ever seen.
Eyes that might be either blue or silver stared flatly at her. He braced a shoulder on her doorjamb, regarding her as if she were the one invading his territory. His dark, ragged hair and a tangible determination gave him the look of a man unused to niceties.
"Name's Lieutenant Jericho Blue." He held up an official-looking piece of paper. "I'm a Ranger and this is my Warrant of Authority issued by the Adjutant General's Department under authority from the government."
Apprehension skittered through her and her grip tightened on the lamp. The Sisters of Mercy had taught her too well for her to dismiss anyone out of hand. Still, she would dispense with him quickly. She smiled and asked as kindly as she could, "May I help you?"
He seemed to have trouble getting the paper back into his trouser pocket.
"Sir?" Out beyond him, at the edge of the lamplight, she saw a riderless horse, and another one beside it with a dark shape slung across its back. A body? The warnings about nearby outlaws she had heard only hours ago, as she had looked for Andrew, rushed back.
According to Sheriff Holt, the McDougal gang had ambushed a pair of lawmen yesterday. Catherine had been nearly ill with worry over the possibility that her brother might run into the outlaws. The sheriff had offered to look for the twelve-year-old with the posse he'd formed to track the gang. She'd accepted, but continued her own search, frantic that her brother might have gotten in the way of the brutal men and suffered a fate far worse than her denying him any more of her apple pie until he stopped sneaking out of their house at night.
The Ranger said huskily, "I'm on the trail of the McDougal gang."
"Our sheriff said they were nearby."
She had to lean closer to hear. His voice was grainy and flat, and his skin had a waxy sheen. He didn't look well. "Are you all right?"
Catherine had worked with enough patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York City to know when someone was ill. Something was definitely wrong with the man.
He stared over her shoulder into the house, as if searching for something. "Do you mind if I look around?"
"In the house?"
He gave a sharp nod.
She didn't want to advertise that she and Andrew lived alone. If one or more of the McDougal gang were hiding around her house, she certainly didn't want to be the one to find them. But neither did she want to let this strange man into her home.
"So, you don't mind then?" He straightened sluggishly and made to move inside.
A bit surprised, Catherine stepped back. A shotgun was out of sight behind the door, but she felt more confident about using a skillet if necessary. "All right."
He mumbled something and swayed, his eyes glazing.As if being pushed from behind, he toppled to the floor with a crash.
The wood shook beneath her and for a moment Catherine stared disbelieving at the long length of man stretched out at her feet. He had fallen over the threshold, half of him still outside.
In a flash, Andrew, his dark hair rumpled and his blue eyes drowsy, appeared beside her. He wore only the droopy cotton drawers she had seen when she'd checked on him an hour ago after marching him home. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure." Shaking off her shock, she knelt, holding the lamp high. He'd said his name was Jericho. "Help me turn him over."
Andrew was stocky and strong. With his help, she got the Ranger on his back. Blood smeared the weathered wood floor.
Her brother drew in a sharp breath and Catherine glanced up. He was pale, his eyes huge. "What's he doin' here?"
"Looking for the outlaws that Sheriff Holt told us about."
"Is he dead?"
"No. Not yet."
"He's mean-lookin'." Andrew stood frozen, staring warily at the stranger.
Catherine turned her attention back to Jericho. The man's black vest fell open to reveal the waistband of his trousers and a lean torso, but her gaze was drawn to the dark bandanna tied below his elbow. His shirt was torn and she could see a nickelsize hole in his forearm. Gunshot. "He's bleeding."
She reached for the chambray cloth, intending to roll back his sleeve.
"He's bleedin' there, too." Andrew's finger shook as he pointed to the man's leg. "Is he gonna die?"
"I don't know." She tempered her impatience. Her brother's sharp unease was undoubtedly due to witnessing the recent death of their mother.
Summoned by Mother's urgent letter, Catherine had spent two weeks traveling by train and stage from New York City to Whirlwind. By the time she arrived, Evelyn Donnelly was dead from consumption, and the brother Catherine had never known was fending for himself.
She shifted the lamp to get a good look at the Ranger's leg. A blood-soaked length of rope was tied high on his right thigh. Catherine had thought it was the leg strap for a gun belt, but he wasn't wearing one. An egg-size hole tore his denims. She spread open the fabric with gentle fingers. A low groan escaped the man.
"It's okay," she said, automatically soothing him while she continued to examine his leg. His blood-caked flesh gaped. Raw, ragged and still oozing, the wound was deep.
She glanced up at Andrew. "We need to get him all the way inside."
"Yes. There's no one else to help him."
Her brother swallowed hard.
"Andrew," she said sharply.
"You pull one arm and I'll pull the other."
With considerable effort, they dragged him across the wood floor, angling around the table to position him a few feet from the stove. Catherine knelt, checking the injury to his arm again. It would keep, but his leg needed immediate attention. His pants were torn on his outer thigh several inches above his knee, and she discovered two small holes in his leg there, where the bullets had entered. Blood still seeped from the open flesh where the slug had exited. Because his trousers were stuck to his skin, she couldn't tell if the wound was on the top part of his thigh or the inside.
Excerpted from Whirlwind Wedding by Debra Cowan Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is my second Debra Cowan book and I'm really enjoying her writing. This is book two in a series, but also would stand alone fine. I just love series books! When you find a good set of characters, it's hard to say good-bye.I like how Debra takes a traditional action packed romance and just adds a little twist the the plot. Her characters are all believable and likeable with a story line that keeps you on your toes.My only issue is like the other readers mentioned...where's the wedding?Looking forward to the next book!
Charming story! Loved this book! The main characters were so real. I really enjoyed how their relationship progressed. So far, I'm really enjoying this series. I did wonder why it was titled Whirlwind Wedding when there isn't a wedding in the book. I came across an interview with the author, who said she asked her publisher not to use that title, but she was overruled. Still, the lack of a wedding didn't ruin anything for me.
Started out good. Dragged in spots. Give it a -B minus . But the kicker is the title of the book.. Whirlwind Wedding-----it must have been a real whirlwind because there was no wedding in the entire book. In fact there wasn't even a hint of a proposal. A few I love you's. some great generic sex. A couple of you can depend on me honey---but no wedding. Apparently whoever gave the book the title hadn't read it.