Ana Leigh - [The Frasers 4 - Jed] - One Night with a Sweet Talking Man

BOOK: Ana Leigh - [The Frasers 4 - Jed] - One Night with a Sweet Talking Man
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One Night with a Sweet Talking Man
Ana Leigh

 

 

Jed had always found himself powerless to resist the lure of a pair of beautiful eyes.

“I can assure you the pleasure was all mine,” he replied. “Do you know your eyes deepen to purple when you’re alarmed, Miss Caroline?”

“And what color would you say they are now, Mr. Fraser?”

“I’d say an exquisite azure, like the sky in summer.”

Caroline Collins arched a curved brow. “Then if your theory holds true, Mr. Fraser, I guess that would indicate I’m no longer alarmed.” She turned around and walked away.

Jed’s appreciative gaze followed the sway of her hips as she struggled to stay afoot on the rocking train. The lady intrigued him. As complicated as they come, and sure as hell one beautiful female. Those eyes of hers would take a long time for a man to forget.

“You’d be wise to be alarmed, Miss Caroline,” he murmured softly.

Turn the page for praise of Ana Leigh’s romances

His Boots Under Her Bed

“Leave it to Leigh…. She’s taken one stubborn woman, one sexy man, and a hidden gold mine and set them down in the Wild West—a surefire formula for a hit.” (4 stars)


Romantic Times


His Boots Under Her Bed
is an emotional and fun book!…A plethora of additional secondary characters provides lots of laughter and genuine emotion to the story.”

—Romance Reviews Today

The Lawman Said “I Do”

“Winning…a very 21st-century light romance in a 19th-century setting.”


Publishers Weekly

“Quirky characters and witty dialogue fill the pages of this entertaining novel…. This will appeal to many audiences, from fans of the Old West, to readers who enjoy a good romance, to those who like books rich in humor.”


Booklist,
starred review

“This novel is filled with funny moments and moments of poignancy…. Leigh is a wonderful writer who tells a great story.”


Romantic Times

“An enchanting Americana tale that…fans will cherish.”

—The Best Reviews

The Frasers: Clay

“[Ana Leigh’s] strong characters and their biting repartee and tender emotions touch readers’ hearts, while the hardships of western travel are brilliantly portrayed in this tender, exciting western.”


Romantic Times
(4.5 stars)

“Delightful repartee and scenes of comic relief abound…. The pacing moves along nicely and allows the readers to laugh and cry as the plot progresses to an especially heartwarming ending that leaves one anticipating the sequel…. Pick up a copy…and join in an historical adventure of grand proportions.”

—Romance Reviews Today

“This intriguing western romance stars two fine protagonists [who] struggle not to fall in love while the reader chuckles at their failure…. A fine tale.”

—The Best Reviews

Also by Ana Leigh

His Boots Under Her Bed

The Lawman Said “I Do”

The Frasers: Clay

Pocket Star Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2008 by Anna Baier

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-6587-1
ISBN-10: 1-4165-6587-6

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

I dedicate this book to my son, Mike. One of
the real heroes in this world, and not just a
make-believe one.

C
HAPTER
1

S
AN
F
RANCISCO
1869

J
ed Fraser swung his long legs over the side of the bed and propped his throbbing head in his hands. Cheap whiskey always gave him a headache. After a long moment, he stood up to open the window in the room. The scent of rotting fish in a barrel below punched him in the nose; he slammed the window shut.

The blond woman in the bed sleepily opened her eyes. “Where you goin’, honey?” she asked when he began to dress.

“I have to walk off this headache. Go back to sleep, Millie.”

She rolled onto her side. “You comin’ back, Jeb?”

“It’s Jed, not Jeb. And no, I won’t be back.”

He laid some bills on the dresser, picked up his seabag, then paused at the doorway and looked back at her.

“Thank you. You were great, Millie.”

Surely no woman chose prostitution as a profession willingly. What had forced a sweet gal like Millie into it? And what would wanderers like him do if she hadn’t?

The soft snores coming from the bed indicated she had already returned to sleep.

Outside he walked briskly to the dock, where he took a deep breath of sea air as his gaze swept the endless expanse of water. The sea had always lured him, and no matter what the port, the activity around the dock never failed to stimulate him.

And surely there was none more galvanizing than the thriving port of San Francisco, where East met West.

Heavy crates and barrels hoisted on pulleys swung through the air and were lowered onto a ship preparing to return to the Orient. The grunts and shouts of the American longshoremen loading the cargo clamored with the singsong chatter of the Chinese coolies who scurried up the gangplank carrying crates of cackling chickens or fresh vegetables and fruit.

Jed’s eyes gleamed with pride as he gazed at the clipper ship nearby in dry dock. A maintenance crew was busy scraping the barnacles off the hull in preparation for a fresh coat of paint. Three-hundred-and-sixty-feet long from bow to stern, with a shiny black hull and bright-red mast and sails, the vessel was the best looking—and fastest—ship in the harbor.

The
Redheaded Belle
was Jed’s true mistress. From the instant he had stepped on her deck twenty-four months earlier, he’d felt cushioned in the arms of a lover.

As first mate, his services wouldn’t be needed for the thirty days the ship was in dry dock, so he intended to visit his brothers and sister and their families in the nearby Napa Valley. Each time he made port in San Francisco, one or the other had either a new addition to his family or would have one soon.

Clay’s marriage had come as no surprise, since Jed’s older brother had always talked about settling down as soon as the war ended. But he would never have guessed that those two lotharios, Colt and Garth, would follow so soon in Clay’s footsteps.

Well, marriage certainly wasn’t for Jed—he had found the only mistress he could ever cherish.

“Good-bye, Belle,” he murmured with a lingering glance at the ship. “See you in a month.”

 

Since he had two hours before the departure of his train, Jed went to the public bath, where he shaved and then climbed into a tub of hot water. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and smoked a cigarillo until the water cooled. After donning clean clothing, he entered the dining room of the nearby hotel.

As the waiter led him to a table, a voice called out, “Mr. Fraser!”

Recognizing the authoritative voice of Nathan Collins, Jed turned with pleasure.

Though the years had aged the man, Nathan Collins was still as imposing as he had been to Jed when he was a young seaman a decade ago.

Collins had been the captain of the
Virginia Lady,
one of several ships that had risked running the Yankee blockade of southern ports to carry much-needed supplies to the Confederacy during the late war.

Jed respected Nathan Collins more than any man except his own father. The captain had been a mentor to him and had taught him seafaring skills that had proven to Jed that it took more than merely the love of the sea to survive on it.

The two men shook hands. “Have you eaten, Mr. Fraser?” Nathan asked.

“No, sir.”

“Then you must join us.”

“I don’t wish to intrude on your breakfast, sir.”

“Nonsense, it’s a pleasure to see you. Do you remember my daughter, Caroline?”

“Of course,” Jed said with a polite nod to the lovely woman seated at the table. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Caroline.”

He’d forgotten the captain even had a daughter. Caroline Collins had been just a young girl when her father had sent his wife and daughter from Virginia to live with his brother in California just before the war broke out.

She dipped her head to acknowledge his greeting, but her expression was unwelcoming. Apparently she was displeased with her father’s invitation to him.

Oblivious, the captain went on to say, “And this handsome young chap is my grandson, Garrett Collins. Garrett, I’d like to introduce you to Jedemiah Fraser. Mr. Fraser served on the
Virginia Lady
during the War Between the States.”

The young boy stood up. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fraser.”

The lad couldn’t have been much more than seven or eight but stood tall and held his head with a confidence that Jed found appealing in one so young. After his proper greeting, the boy broke into a wide grin as he plopped into his chair.

As soon as Jed sat down, a waiter hurried over to them with platters of scrambled eggs and strips of bacon.

His brown eyes gleaming with excitement, Garrett asked, “Did you really sail on Granddad’s ship during that war, Mr. Fraser?”

“Yes, I did, Garrett.”

“And what a time we had slipping past those Yankee ships,” Nathan said. “Tell me, Jedemiah, what have you been doing these past four years?” Nathan asked as he spread strawberry jam on his toast.

“I went back to Fraser Keep for a short time, then I applied for my officer’s papers and shipped out on a freighter. On a trip to China I transferred to a clipper ship, and for the past two years I’ve been first mate on the
Redheaded Belle.
We carry cargo and mail between here and the Orient.”

“Who’s the captain?”

“Benjamin Beningham, sir.”

“Beningham! A good man,” Nathan said.

“Wow, you’ve been to China!” Garrett exclaimed. “That sure sounds exciting. I wish I could go there.”

“I’m sure you could convince your grandfather to take you someday.”

Garrett propped his head in his hand and began to tap his fork against the side of his plate. “I know my mother wouldn’t go. She doesn’t like to sail.”

The lad’s sigh sounded pitifully despondent, so Jed said, “Well then, we’ll have to try and convince her to the contrary, won’t we, Garrett?”

“Don’t bother, Mr. Fraser,” Caroline said. “It won’t do you any good.”

“Are you that sure his mother would be so hard to convince, Miss Caroline?”

“I’m certain of it. I
am
his mother, Mr. Fraser.”

His mother! Jed was thoroughly confused. He’d noticed she wasn’t wearing a ring and had assumed she was unmarried.

She turned to her son. “Garrett, why are you squirming?”

“I have to pee,” he said.

“Need I remind you we have a guest? Excuse yourself properly.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Fraser, but I have to pee,” the boy said.

Jed grinned and winked at him.

Caroline’s mouth curved in an effort to suppress a grin, but her eyes failed to disguise her amusement.

“Garrett, I meant that is
not
the proper way to ask to be excused.”

“Good Lord, Caroline!” Nathan declared. “If the boy has to pee, he has to pee.”

Caroline sighed. “Father, you’re not helping. Will you please accompany Garrett?”

The captain shoved back his chair. “Let’s go, rascal—we’re both in trouble now.”

But Garrett was already halfway out of the room, with his grandfather in pursuit.

Chuckling, Jed turned his attention to Caroline. “Kids. You never know what will come out of their mouths.”

He found her grin enchanting. “So I’ve discovered. Garrett says the first thing that pops into his head. He’s very like his grandfather.”

“And is that so bad, Miss Caroline?”

“Not at all; it’s one of the endearing qualities I love about him the most. However, some people are offended by his candidness, so my apologies if that was the case.”

“None needed; the boy is the most refreshing person I’ve met in a long time. But I owe you an apology, Miss Caroline. I didn’t realize you were Garrett’s mother. Since your father introduced the boy as Garrett Collins, I presumed he was your nephew.”

“Weren’t you aware my father only has one child, Mr. Fraser?”

Jed tried to conceal his astonishment. If he interpreted her meaning correctly, she was implying she had never married. This whole conversation was not to his liking; he was beginning to feel like a dolt.

To his relief Garrett and the captain returned to the table, and within minutes the boy again began to restlessly tap his fork against his plate.

“It’s difficult to imagine your dislike for sailing, Miss Caroline, considering your father is the finest seaman I’ve ever served under.”

“No doubt he is, Mr. Fraser, but after what my mother and I endured, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope on the way to California, I vowed to never set foot on a ship again. It was the longest and most miserable ordeal I’ve ever experienced.”

“That can be an arduous voyage. But that had to be at least nine years ago; now there are steam ships and clipper ships that practically soar over the waves. You’d find them considerably faster and more comfortable.”

“I’m happy for you, Mr. Fraser, but I still never intend to step foot on a ship again.”

She turned to her son and snapped, “Garrett, if you’re finished eating, kindly sit up straight and put aside your fork. The implement is
not
a musical instrument.”

Jed frowned at the unnecessarily sharp reprimand. Something else seemed to be annoying her; had he said something to anger her?

He picked up his coffee cup and gazed at her thoughtfully as he sipped from it. Was she embarrassed at bearing a child out of wedlock? After so many years that seemed unlikely, but perhaps that’s why she appeared uncomfortable and silent throughout the meal. Ordinarily he’d be willing to cut her some slack, but now her skin had deepened in a blush and she looked ready to explode.

“Captain Collins, what are
you
doing in San Francisco? Don’t tell me you’re in port, too?” he asked to ease the conversation.

“You might say I’m in dry dock, Jedemiah. I sold the
Virginia Lady
years ago, and I’m a forester now. We have a sawmill and produce lumber for building ships.”

“It’s hard to imagine you as a landlubber, Captain Collins, but you didn’t abandon the sea completely.”

“I’ve abandoned it enough for you to stop addressing me as ‘Captain,’ Jed.”

“That will be difficult to do, sir. But since we no longer share a deck together, I’d be honored to do so, Captain. Ah, sir.”

Nathan broke into laughter. “So how long will you be in port, Jed?”

“The ship’s in dry dock for a month. I intend to visit my brothers and their families. They live nearby.”

Caroline’s head snapped up. “Your family lives in California?”

“Yes, not too far from here.”

“Your whole family?” She sounded more alarmed than curious.

“No. Will and his family remained in Virginia. The rest of my brothers came here. Actually, Colt married and lives in New Mexico, but now with the railroad completed, he and his family will be able to come to California more often.”

“Did you lose Fraser Keep to carpetbaggers when the war ended?” Nathan asked.

“No, sir. Thanks to Will and Emmaline’s efforts, they managed to hold on to it during the war, and now the plantation’s begun to thrive again.”

“What of your sister Melissa?” Caroline asked. “Does she live here, too?”

“Oh, yes. And deliriously happy, I’m pleased to say. Immediately after the war ended, Lissy eloped to California with a Yankee soldier named Stephen Berg. She and Steve have three children now.”

“I’m happy for her,” Caroline said. “She was always so friendly and sweet; I’m glad she got the happiness she deserved.”

He looked at her, surprised by her unexpected warmth. “That’s very kind of you, Miss Caroline. I’ll be sure to tell her the next time I see her.”

Caroline picked up her gloves and handbag. “Father, if you’ll excuse us, Garrett and I will leave. I still have a few items to purchase, and I’m sure you and Mr. Fraser have a great deal more to talk over. We’ll meet you at the station in thirty minutes. Don’t lose track of the time.”

“I won’t, my dear. Garrett can remain with us, if you prefer.”

“No, I rather he come with me,” she said quickly.

Jed got up and pulled out her chair. “It was a pleasure seeing you again, Miss Caroline.”

“The same to you, Mr. Fraser,” she said coolly.

He offered Garrett his hand. “I enjoyed your company, young man.”

“Thank you, sir,” Garrett said and grinned when Jed winked at him.

Jed’s gaze followed Caroline as she departed.
Despite how hard you’re trying to appear conventional, Miss Caroline Collins, I suspect the jaunty set of that bright-red hat perched on those blond curls means there’s another side to you.

A strange woman, he reflected. Lovely face, trim figure, intelligent…Why did she seem so ill at ease?

“We have time for one more cup of coffee and a cigar, then I must be on my way,” Nathan said.

“Are you taking the northbound train, sir?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a coincidence; I’m taking it, too.”

“Delightful! We’ll be able to visit together for almost another forty miles. I’m sure Caroline will be just as pleased when I tell her.”

Jed arched a brow. “Yes, sir, I’m sure she will be.”

 

The train whistle was blowing its final departure warning by the time Jed and Nathan arrived at the station. Jed could see that Caroline’s displeasure increased when she saw that he accompanied her father.

BOOK: Ana Leigh - [The Frasers 4 - Jed] - One Night with a Sweet Talking Man
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