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Authors: Dixie Browning

Beckett's Cinderella

BOOK: Beckett's Cinderella
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Praise for Dixie Browning:

“There is no one writing romance today who touches the heart and tickles the ribs like Dixie Browning. The people in her books are as warm and real as a sunbeam and just as lovely.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Nora Roberts

“Dixie Browning has given the romance industry years of love and laughter in her wonderful books.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Linda Howard

“Each of Dixie's books is a keeper guaranteed to warm the heart and delight the senses.”

—
New York Times
bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz

“A true pioneer in romantic fiction, the delightful Dixie Browning is a reader's most precious treasure, a constant source of outstanding entertainment.”

—Romantic Times

“Dixie's books never disappoint—they always lift your spirit!”

—
USA TODAY
bestselling author Mary Lynn Baxter

BECKETT'S FORTUNE

Where the price of family and honor is love…

Don't miss the continuation of this exciting new series from Silhouette Desire and Harlequin Historicals:

BECKETT'S BIRTHRIGHT
HARLEQUIN HISTORICALS 11/02

BECKETT'S CONVENIENT BRIDE
SILHOUETTE DESIRE 1/03

Dear Reader,

Dog days of summer got you down? Chill out and relax with six brand-new love stories from Silhouette Desire!

August's MAN OF THE MONTH is the first book in the exciting family-based saga BECKETT'S FORTUNE by Dixie Browning.
Beckett's Cinderella
features a hero honor-bound to repay a generations-old debt and a poor-but-proud heroine leery of love and money she can't believe is offered unconditionally.
His E-Mail Order Wife
by Kristi Gold, in which matchmaking relatives use the Internet to find a high-powered exec a bride, is the latest title in the powerful DYNASTIES: THE CONNELLYS series.

A daughter seeking revenge discovers love instead in
Falling for the Enemy
by Shawna Delacorte. Then, in
Millionaire Cop & Mom-To-Be
by Charlotte Hughes, a jilted, pregnant bride is rescued by her childhood sweetheart.

Passion flares between a family-minded rancher and a marriage-shy divorcée in Kathie DeNosky's
Cowboy Boss
. And a pretend marriage leads to undeniable passion in
Desperado Dad
by Linda Conrad.

So find some shade, grab a cold one…and read all six passionate, powerful and provocative new love stories from Silhouette Desire this month.

Enjoy!

Joan Marlow Golan

Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire

Beckett's Cinderella
DIXIE BROWNING

Books by Dixie Browning

Silhouette Desire

Shadow of Yesterday
#68

Image of Love
#91

The Hawk and the Honey
#111

Late Rising Moon
#121

Stormwatch
#169

The Tender Barbarian
#188

Matchmaker's Moon
#212

A Bird in Hand
#234

In the Palm of Her Hand
#264

A Winter Woman
#324

There Once Was a Lover
#337

Fate Takes a Holiday
#403

Along Came Jones
#427

Thin Ice
#474

Beginner's Luck
#517

Ships in the Nigh
t #541

Twice in a Blue Moon
#588

Just Say Yes
#637

Not a Marrying Man
#678

Gus and the Nice Lady
#691

Best Man for the Job
#720

Hazards of the Heart
#780

Kane's Way
#801

*
Keegan's Hunt
#820

*
Lucy and the Stone
#853

*
Two Hearts, Slightly Used
#890

†
Alex and the Angel
#949

†
The Beauty, the Beast and the Baby
#985

The Baby Notion
#1011

†
Stryker's Wife
#1033

Look What the Stork Brought
#1111

‡
The Passionate G-Man
#1141

‡
A Knight in Rusty Armor
#1195

Texas Millionaire
#1232

The Bride-in-Law
#1251

§
A Bride for Jackson Powers
#1273

§
The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom
#1331

More To Love
#1372

Rocky and the Senator's Daughter
#1399

The Millionaire's Pregnant Bride
#1420

**
Beckett's Fortune
#1453

Silhouette Yours Truly

Single Female (Reluctantly) Seeks…

Silhouette Special Edition

Finders Keepers
#50

Reach Out To Cherish
#110

Just Deserts
#181

Time and Tide
#205

By Any Other Name
#228

The Security Man
#314

Belonging
#414

Silhouette Romance

Unreasonable Summer
#12

Tumbled Wall
#38

Chance Tomorrow
#53

Wren of Paradise
#73

East of Today
#93

Winter Blossom
#113

Renegade Player
#142

Island on the Hill
#164

Logic of the Heart
#172

Loving Rescue
#191

A Secret Valentine
#203

Practical Dreamer
#221

Visible Heart
#275

Journey to Quiet Waters
#292

The Love Thing
#305

First Things Last
#323

Something for Herself
#381

Reluctant Dreamer
#460

A Matter of Timing
#527

The Homing Instinct
#747

Cinderella's Midnight Kiss
#1450

Silhouette Books

Silhouette Christmas Stories
1987

“Henry the Ninth”

Spring Fancy
1994

“Grace and the Law”

World's Most Eligible Bachelors

‡
His Business, Her Baby

Harlequin Historicals—

Writing as Bronwyn Williams

White Witch
#3

Dandelion
#23

Stormwalker
#47

Gideon's Fall
#67

The Mariner's Bride
#99

The Paper Marriage
#524

Longshadow's Woman
#553

The Mail-Order Brides
#589

DIXIE BROWNING

is an award-winning painter and writer, mother and grandmother. Her father was a big-league baseball player, her grandfather a sea captain. In addition to her nearly eighty contemporary romances, Dixie and her sister, Mary Williams, have written more than a dozen historical romances under the name Bronwyn Williams. Contact Dixie at www.dixiebrowning.com, or at P.O. Box 1389, Buxton, NC 27920.

To the wonderful and caring staff
at Britthaven Nursing Home in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
You're the best!

One

J
ust before his descent into Norfolk International Airport, Lancelot Beckett opened his briefcase, took out a thin sheaf of paper and scanned a genealogical chart. In the beginning, all they'd had to go on was a name, an approximate birthplace and a rough time line. Now, after God knows how many generations, the job was finally going to get done.

“What the hell do I know about tracking down the descendents of an Oklahoma cowboy born roughly a hundred and fifty years ago?” he'd demanded the last time he'd stopped by his cousin Carson's restored shotgun-style house outside Charleston. “When it comes to tracking down pirates, I'm your man, but cowboys? Come on, Car, give me a break.”

“Hey, if you can't handle it, I'll take over once
I'm out of this.” Carson, a police detective, was pretty well immobilized for the time being in a fiberglass cast. Now and then, even the Beckett luck ran out. About two months earlier, his had. “Looks like something you can do on your way home anyhow, so it's not like you'd have to detour too far off the beaten track.”

“You know where I was when Mom tracked me down? I was in Dublin, for crying out loud,” Beckett had explained. They were both Becketts, but Lancelot had laid down the law regarding his name when he was eleven. Since then, he'd been called by his last name. Occasionally, tongue-in-cheek, he was referred to as “The Beckett.”

“I had to cancel a couple of appointments in London, not to mention a date. Besides, I'm not headed home anytime soon.”

What was the point? Officially, home was a two-room office with second-floor living quarters in Wilmington, Delaware. It served well enough as a mailing address and a place to put his feet up for a few days when he happened to be back in the States.

As it turned out, the place where the Chandler woman was thought to be hiding out was roughly halfway between Wilmington and his parents' home in Charleston.

Hiding out was probably the wrong term; relocated might be closer. Whatever her reasons for being in North Carolina instead of Texas, she'd been hard as the devil to track down. It had taken the combined efforts of Carson's police computers, a few unoffi
cial sources and a certified genealogist to locate the woman.

And with all that, it had been a random sighting—something totally off-the-wall—that had finally pinned her down. Grant's Produce and Free Ice Water, located on a peninsula between the North River and the Currituck Sound, somewhere near a place named Bertha, North Carolina. Hell, they didn't even have a street address for her, just a sign along the highway.

Beckett tried to deal with his impatience. He was used to being on the move while his partner stayed in the office handling the paperwork, but this particular job had to do with family matters. It couldn't be delegated. The buck had been passed as far as it would go.

He'd allowed himself a couple of hours after leaving the airport to find the place and another half hour to wind things up. After that, he could go back to Charleston and tell PawPaw the deed was done. Any debt his family owed one Eliza Chandler Edwards, direct descendant of old Elias Matthew Chandler of Crow Fly, in what had then been Oklahoma Territory, was finally settled.

The genealogist had done a great job in record time, running into a snag only at the point where Miss Chandler had married one James G. Edwards, born July 1, 1962, died September 7, 2001. It had been police research—in particular, the Financial Crimes Unit—that had dug up the fact that the lady and her husband had been involved a couple of years ago in
a high-stakes investment scam. Edwards had gone down alone for that one—literally. Shot by one of his victims while out jogging, but before he died he had cleared his wife of any involvement. She'd never been linked directly to any illegal activities. Once cleared, she had hung around Dallas only long enough to liquidate her assets before dropping out of sight.

Beckett didn't know if she was guilty as sin or totally innocent. Didn't much care. He was doing this for PawPaw's sake, not hers.

In the end, it had been pure luck. Luck in the form of a reporter with an excellent visual memory who spent summer vacations on North Carolina's Outer Banks and who had happened to stop at a certain roadside stand on his drive south.

He'd called Carson from Nags Head. “Hey, man, weren't you checking out this Edwards woman a few weeks ago? The one that was mixed up in that scam out in Texas where all these old geezers got ripped off?”

And just like that, they'd had her. She'd holed up in the middle of nowhere with a gentleman named Frederick Grant, a great-uncle on her mother's side. Check and double-check. If it hadn't been for that one lucky break, it might've taken months. Beckett would've been tempted to pass the buck to the next generation, the way the men in his family had evidently been doing ever since the great-grandfather for whom he'd been named had cheated a business partner named Chandler out of his rightful share of Beckett money. Or so the story went.

At this point there was no next generation. Carson wasn't currently involved with anyone, and Beckett had taken one shot at it, missed by a mile, and been too gun-shy to try again.

Although he preferred to think of it as too busy.

“Money, the root of all evils,” Beckett had mused when he'd checked in with his cousin Carson just before leaving Charleston that morning.

“Ain't that the truth? Wonder which side of the law old Lance would've been on if he'd lived in today's society.”

“Hard to say. Mom dug up some old records, but they got soaked, pretty much ruined, during Hurricane Hugo.” He'd politely suggested to his mother that a bank deposit box might be a better place to store valuable papers than a hot, leaky attic.

She'd responded, “It's not like they were family photographs. Besides, how was I to know they'd get wet and clump together? Now stop whining and taste this soup. I know butter's not supposed to be good for you, but I can hardly make Mama's crab bisque with margarine.”

“Mom, I'm nearly forty years old, for cripes' sake. While I might occasionally comment on certain difficulties, I never whine. Hmm, a little more salt—maybe a tad more sherry?”

“That's what I thought, too. I know you don't, darling. Just look at you, you're turning grayer every time I see you.”

According to his father, Beckett's mother's hair had turned white before she was even out of her teens.
All the girls in her high-school class had wanted gray hair. “It's one thing to turn gray when you're young enough to pass it off as a fashion statement. It's another thing when you're so old nobody gives it a second thought,” she'd said more than once.

For the past fifteen or so years, her hair had been every shade of blond and red imaginable. At nearly sixty, she scarcely looked more than forty—forty-five, at the most.

“Honey, it's up to you how to handle it,” she said as he helped himself to another spoonful of her famous soup, which contained shrimp as well as crab, plus enough cream and butter to clog every artery between Moncks Corner and Edisto Island. “PawPaw tried his best to find these people, but then he got sick.”

Right. Beckett's grandfather, called PawPaw by family and friends alike, was as charming an old rascal as ever lived, but at the age of one hundred plus, he was still putting things off. Cheating the devil, he called it. When it came to buck passing, the Beckett men took a back seat to none.

Which is why some four generations after the “crime” had been committed, Beckett was trying to get the job done once and for all.

“What's the latest on the new tropical depression? You heard anything this morning?” Carson had asked.

“Pretty much stalled, last I heard. I hope to God it doesn't strengthen—I've got half a dozen ships in the North Atlantic using the new tracking device. They
all start dodging hurricanes, I'm going to be pretty busy trying to find out if any of them are being hijacked.”

“Yeah, well…take a break. Go play fairy godfather for a change.”

“Easy for you to say.”

When his mother had called to say that PawPaw had had another stroke, Beckett had been in the middle of negotiations with an Irish chemical tanker company that had been hijacked often enough for the owners to feel compelled to contact his firm, Beckett Marine Risk Management, Inc. “Just a teeny-weeny stroke this time, but he really would like to see you and Carson.” She'd gone on to say she didn't know how long he could hang on, but seeing his two grandsons would mean the world to him.

Beckett came home. And, as Carson was still out of commission, it was Beckett who'd gotten stuck with the assignment.

So now here he was, chasing an elusive lady who had recently been spotted selling produce and God knows what else at a roadside stand in the northeast corner of North Carolina.

“PawPaw, you owe me big-time for this.” Beckett loved his grandfather. Hadn't seen much of him recently, but he intended to rectify that if the old guy would just pull through this latest setback. Family, he was belatedly coming to realize, was one part anchor, one part compass. In rough weather, he'd hate to be caught at sea without either one.

So, maybe in a year or so, he thought as he crossed
the state line between North Carolina and Virginia, he might consider relocating. He'd incorporated in Delaware because of its favorable laws, but that didn't mean he had to stay there. After a while, a man got tired of zigzagging across too many time zones.

Pulling up at a stoplight, he yawned, rubbed his bristly jaw and wished he had a street address. He'd called ahead to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle in case the chase involved more than the five-lane highway that ran from Virginia to North Carolina's Outer Banks. Having experienced back roads of all descriptions from Zaire to Kuala Lumpur, he knew better than to take anything for granted. So far it looked like a pretty straight shot, but he'd learned to be prepared for almost anything.

 

“We're out of prunes,” came a wavering lament from the back of the house.

“Look in the pantry,” Liza called. “They've changed the name—they're called dried plums now, but they're still the same thing.” She smiled as she snapped her cash box shut and tied a calico apron over her T-shirt and tan linen pants. Uncle Fred—her great-uncle, really—was still sharp as a tack at the age of eighty-six, but he didn't like it when things changed.

And things inevitably changed. In her case it had been a change for the better, she thought, looking around at the shabby-comfortable old room with its mail-order furniture and hand-crocheted antimacassars. A wobbly smoking stand, complete with humi
dor and pipe rack—although her uncle no longer smoked on orders from his physician—was now weighted down with all the farming and sports magazines he'd collected and never discarded. There was an air-conditioning unit in one of the windows, an ugly thing that blocked the view of the vacant lot on the other side, where someone evidently planned to build something. But until they could afford central air—which would be after the kitchen floor was replaced and the house reroofed—it served well enough. Both bedrooms had electric fans on the dressers, which made the humid August heat almost bearable.

Liza hadn't changed a thing when she'd moved in, other than to scrub the walls, floors and windows, wash all the linens and replace a few dry-rotted curtains when they'd fallen apart in her hands. Discount stores were marvelous places, she'd quickly discovered.

Shortly after she'd arrived, Liza had broken down and cried for the first time in months. She'd been cleaning the dead bugs from a closet shelf and had found a shoe box full of old letters and Christmas cards, including those she'd sent to Uncle Fred. Liza and her mother had always done the cards together, with Liza choosing them and her mother addressing the envelopes. Liza had continued to send Uncle Fred a card each year after her mother had died, never knowing whether or not they'd been received.

Dear, lonely Uncle Fred. She had taken a monumental chance, not even calling ahead to ask if she
could come for a visit. She hadn't know anything about him, not really—just that he was her only living relative except for a cousin she hadn't seen in several years. She'd driven all the way across the country for a few days' visit, hoping—praying—she could stay until she could get her feet on the ground and plan her next step.

What was that old song about people who needed people?

They'd both been needy, not that either of them had ever expressed it in words.
We're out of prunes.
That was one of Uncle Fred's ways of letting her know he needed her.
Danged eyeglasses keep moving from where I put 'em.
That was another.

Life in this particular slow lane might lack a few of the amenities she'd once taken for granted, but she would willingly trade all the hot tubs and country clubs in the world for the quiet predictability she'd found here.

Not to mention the ability to see where every penny came from and where and how it was spent. She might once have been negligent—criminally negligent, some would say—but after the lessons she'd been forced to learn, she'd become a fanatic about documenting every cent they took in. Her books, such as they were, balanced to the penny.

When she'd arrived in May of last year, Uncle Fred had been barely hanging on, relying on friends and neighbors to supply him with surplus produce. People would stop by occasionally to buy a few vegetables, leaving the money in a bowl on the counter. They
made their own change, and she seriously doubted if it ever occurred to him to count and see if he was being cheated. What would he have done about it? Threaten them with his cane?

Gradually, as her visit stretched out over weeks and then months, she had instigated small changes. By the end of the year, it was taken for granted that she would stay. No words were necessary. He'd needed her and she'd needed him—needed even more desperately to be needed, although her self-esteem had been so badly damaged she hadn't realized it at the time.

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