Authors: Carolyn Davidson
Roan dropped his hands from her shoulders and gaped. “Is that what you call it when a man uses a plain little old word like
instead of just callin’ you by name? Hasn’t anyone ever called you sweet names, Katherine?” he asked softly. “Haven’t there ever been any men hangin’ around, tryin’ to court you or just tryin’ to get your attention?”
Katherine spun back to face him, and her eyes were bleak. “Take a good look at me, Roan Devereaux! Do I look like the sort of woman men come to court? I’m sure not good-looking and I’m too plainspoken for most of the men hereabouts. What have I got to offer a man in his right mind?”
She was serious! By damn, she was! And here he’d been feeling like a randy, apple-cheeked boy around her!
In her second book for Harlequin Historicals,
Carolyn Davidson tells the heartwarming story of an isolated farm woman who meets a man who is determined to overcome her mistrust and draw her out, despite her reluctance. Don’t miss this wonderful follow-up to her first novel for Harlequin,
Claire Delacroix continues to delight audiences with her stories of romance, passion and magic. This month’s story
My Lady’s Champion,
is another captivating medieval tale of a noblewoman forced into marriage to save her ancestral home that will transport you to another time and place.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of Mary McBride or have just discovered her, we know you’ll be delighted by her new book,
the touching tale of a handsome Pinkerton detective and the steady, unassuming Pinkerton file clerk who poses as his wife. And be sure to keep an eye out for multipublished author Ruth Langan’s
the prequel to the contemporary stories in the Harlequin cross-line continuity series, BRIDE’S BAY.
Please address questions and book requests to:
Harlequin Reader Service
U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269
Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3
lives in South Carolina, on the outskirts of Charleston, with her husband, her number-one fan. Working in a new/used bookstore is an ideal job for her, allowing access to her favorite things: books and people.
is her fourth novel. Readers’ comments are more than welcome in her mailbox, P.O. Box 60626, North Charleston, SC 29419-0626
With grateful appreciation, this book is dedicated
to my agent, Pattie Steele-Perkins, who makes me
believe in myself.
And with a heart full of love to my granddaughters, in
the hope that each of them will one day find their own
special hero. To Erin, Rachel, Jennifer Beth, Sarah,
Cherylyn, Karen, Jennifer Lynn and Ashley; and
especially to Katherine, who was but a twinkle in
her daddy’s eye when this story was begun.
Grandma loves you all!
But most of all, to Mr. Ed, who loves me.
e’d been watching her for more than ten minutes, curiosity snagging him after the first glance. He’d meant to assure himself that he was indeed finally arriving at Charlie’s place, hoping to see the familiar figure somewhere about the corral or perhaps coming out of the pole barn. But the sight of the lone figure, kneeling in the garden patch, had caught his eye and he’d settled down to watch for a few minutes. Katherine. It had to be Katherine, he decided.
And as for Charlie, where the hell was he? With no sign of him about, he was probably out in a far pasture, checking on his mares. Roan Devereaux nodded his head at the thought and stretched out his leg to ease the cramp in his thigh, grunting his impatience with physical infirmities.
“Seen the time I could play statue for the best part of an afternoon,” he muttered, squinting against the sun, fast making its way toward the horizon. Lifting to one elbow, he disrupted the smooth line of his profile, the better to observe the woman who worked amid the hills of potatoes and the forest of tomato plants next to the cabin. She’d not glanced about or appeared to catch sight of him since he’d placed himself at the top of the hill just minutes ago.
The ride had been short, coming out from town. It was the days of travel before that had brought to mind the old injury he’d rather have ignored. His hand rubbed instinctively
at his thigh and he frowned, his eyes narrowing on the woman who knelt less than two hundred yards away.
Even now, she blended into the garden, half kneeling amid the potatoes she’d been gathering, dropping them into a burlap bag.
Reaching for his hat, he swatted it against his leg before jerking it into place against the dark swath of his hair. The wide brim cut the glare of the setting sun, and his squint eased into a more leisurely perusal of the small figure below his vantage point.
“She looks like a mud hen,” he decided with a rusty mutter. “Bustlin’ around in that garden like a brown mud hen, if I ever saw one.” Heaving a sigh, he contemplated his next move. “Guess I might as well go down and introduce myself.”
His brow furrowed, his hand moved to his thigh as he eased himself to his haunches, and then he froze in place. Rising from her crouch, she lifted her head in a gesture of wary alertness that surprised him. She brushed one hand distractedly against her skirt, then raised the other to shade her eyes as she gazed at him.
Even across the distance that separated them, he felt the piercing touch of her survey and met it with his own dark scrutiny. With a lifting of her chin, she dismissed him and walked the few yards to where a basket of late vegetables lay amid the tangle of tomato vines. Then, as if she considered his presence of no account, she turned, heading with measured, firm steps toward the small house.
He grinned. “You’re a spunky little thing, Katherine,” he said aloud. “Dismissin’ me out of hand and strollin’ away like you don’t give a good goldarn about whether I come or go.” Turning to his horse, tied to a tree just a few feet from the crown of the hill, he hoisted himself into the saddle. His leg protested and he frowned at the reminder, settling into the worn leather of his saddle, his boots gripping the stirrups even as his knees nudged the stallion into motion.
With the ease of a man familiar with his saddle, he allowed the horse to find his own way down the slope, and within moments they rode past the neat, even rows of the garden. The scent of ripe tomatoes and the musty smell of the overturned earth in the potato patch met his nostrils and he inhaled it with a sense of nostalgia. It’s been years, he thought. Years since he sneaked out to help in the kitchen garden and got swatted for his trouble when his mama caught him with dirty knees.
Saddle leather creaked and the horse snorted once, his ears flicking as he answered a nicker from the barn beyond the house. One hand easy on the reins, the other resting on his thigh, the man directed his mount, approaching the wide front porch that stretched the length of the unpainted house.
It was uncanny, she decided. The sense of unease haunting her had once more proved itself to be valid. She’d known someone was watching. But it wasn’t an evil gaze. Not like the spine-chilling surveillance of Evan Gardner, invading her privacy last winter.
This time…She considered the man who rode toward her house. He was far from harmless, she thought, noting the erect posture, the easy hand on his reins, his watchful eyes. But not a danger. Yet.
It had been a frightening few moments, turning her back on him as he rose to his feet there on the ridge, a tall figure in dark clothing. She’d counted the steps it took to gain the safety of the house, her arms aching from the weight of the basket she carried and the digging and toting she’d done all afternoon.
Now she watched from behind the white lace curtain as he drew back on the reins and settled deep in his saddle, his unsmiling face shadowed beneath the brim of his hat. Her fingers gripped the stock of her father’s shotgun, and she took a deep, shuddering breath as she wondered uneasily if she could fire it.
Oh, the ability was there. For hours—days—she’d hit cans and scattered rocks until she was as good a shot as the man who’d taught her. But that same man had warned her to be prepared to aim for vital parts if the time ever came for her to prove her skill.
“I will if I have to,” she muttered beneath her breath as she moved to the door and lifted the latch.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.” The hands were in plain sight, his own weapon sunk into the leather scabbard that fit behind his saddle.
Even that was not immensely reassuring, she decided. If she were any judge of men, he could have it pointed in her direction in jig time and the lazy ease in his greeting could turn just as quickly to a threat.
“What do you want?” she asked, putting dark, warning venom into the question.
The husky voice was a surprise. He’d expected a gentle, womanly tone. Perhaps even a waver or a breathless quiver in her words.
“Just to ask a few questions, ma’am.” He lifted one hand slowly, tipping the brim of his hat in a gesture of courtly awareness.
Her eyes followed the movement and her lips tightened. “Ask away, stranger,” she told him after a moment.
She was a sturdy little thing, this daughter of Charlie Cassidy, he thought, the low, throaty sound of her voice once more teasing his hearing. Or maybe Charlie’d taken a wife. The thought was unappealing, he decided, watching her closely. No, she had to be his daughter. She had something of the man about her. Perhaps that stubborn chin or the tilt of her head.
Her gun rose in silent menace as she allowed her index finger to slide into better position “Speak up, stranger,” she said abruptly, her impatience with his dithering at an end.
“Charlie around?” Even as he asked, he sensed the solitary presence of the woman here.
She shook her head in silent negation. “What do you want him for?”
He shifted in the saddle and felt the warning she offered as the weapon lifted a bit higher. Her arms must be getting weary. That old shotgun was a heavy one and she wasn’t much of a size to carry it, let alone hoist it into firing position and hold it steady.
“Charlie told me once, if I wanted a good piece of horseflesh, to look him up.” His hand stroked the neck of the stallion beneath him as if in apology, and a shiver of pleasure ran over the flesh of his animal. The long tail swished once, then, black and thick, it settled into immobility again.
“Charlie won’t be selling you any horses.”
His lifted brow disputed her statement. “He out of stock?” As if mocking his question, a horse nickered once more from the barn. His lips curled even as his eyes hardened. “Or are you doubting my word?”
“No.” She looked down, gripping the stock of her weapon, her index finger easing from the trigger.
She’d turned a bit pale, he thought, and leaning a bit, he looked at her more closely. “You all right?” he asked, looking past her at the half-open door that led into the house. “Is something wrong here?”
She shook her head. “No, nothing’s wrong here.” She raised her eyes once more to look at his face. Brown and dingy, her dress hung straight from the shoulders, caught up only by a leather thong, keeping it from the ground, forming it loosely about her waist.
Her hair was long, a heavy braid hanging to her waist, as thick as his wrist where it left the nape of her neck. Sort of a mahogany color, he decided, amused at his own fanciful description. She’d shed the shapeless hat that had successfully hidden her face from his view earlier, revealing strong
features. Her skin was tanned from exposure to the sun and her stubborn chin reminded him of Charlie’s.
It jutted forward now as she faced him without a sign of fear. “The only thing wrong here is the unwelcome company, stranger. I told you Charlie isn’t here. Now move on out.” A movement of her gun barrel provided urging. Then it dipped just a bit and she frowned as she brought it back into line with his leg.
His bad leg. The leg that had been cut and sewn every which way already and sure as shootin’ couldn’t withstand another assault. He shook his head at the thought, his mouth twisting derisively as he considered her.
“Can I at least get down off my horse long enough to get a drink of water?” He leaned one hand against the horn of his saddle, shifting against the leather and easing his right foot from the stirrup.
“Canteen empty?” she asked, nodding at the leather-covered flask that hung from his saddle.
His eyes met hers with a level look that was no answer at all. Even as he swung his leg over the back of his mount, his narrowed gaze clung to her. And it wasn’t until he stood before her, dark and unyielding, that she realized her query had gone unanswered.
Her mouth tightened in annoyance and she tipped her head in the direction of the well just across the yard from where he stood. From her vantage point on the porch she watched as he turned away, his eyes almost reluctantly leaving the shapeless mass of fabric that enclosed her.
With stiff movements that spoke of sore muscles, he reached to pull the bucket from the depths of the well, his back wide beneath the worn cotton of his shirt. Deliberately opening his flask, he turned it up to allow a few drops of liquid to fall, and then, with a deft hand, he tipped the bucket to fill it.
“Who are you?” she asked, her eyes intent on his every movement.
“Roan Devereaux.” He lifted the dipper hanging from a length of binder twine and scooped it into the bucket, then drank thirstily while he soaked in her silence. With a twist of his wrist, he dropped the wooden pail back to the depths of the well and turned to face her.
The look of stunned surprise on her face had not had time to fade and he allowed a small smile of satisfaction to ride the corners of his mouth.
Her shotgun was pointed at the wide boards of the porch she stood on. As he watched, she straightened her shoulders a bit more, lifting her head, enabling him to see the fine color staining her cheeks.
“I owe you, Roan Devereaux,” she said quietly. “My father spoke of you more than once after he came home from the war.”
His nod accepted her words. “Is he ill?” His survey of the place revealed the signs of neglect that told him Charlie’s hand hadn’t been felt here for a while. Yet, there were horses on the place.
“He…no, he’s not ill. My father was healthy till the day he died.” She waved a hand at a small rise that began just to the north of the house, where a nondescript picket fence enclosed a plot of ground. “He’s buried there.”
“What happened?” Abrupt and harsh, his voice demanded details and the woman shrugged, turning back to the door.
“I’ll offer you supper before you leave, Mr. Devereaux.”
She’d turned her back on him, and without a by-your-leave stalked into the house, carrying the heavy shotgun by its barrel. His lips firmed as he tended his horse, loosening the cinch and leading the animal to the trough next to the well.
Waiting till the stallion had drunk his fill, he looked around once more. The bars of the corral delineated the enclosure where Charlie’s horses ran. Several tossed their heads now, all fillies by the looks of them, eager to kick their
heels. The barn was good-sized, probably triple that of the house, he estimated. Charlie’d always taken good care of his animals. His daughter looked like she needed some tending, though, Roan thought with a grim-lipped smile. Plain as a gray mourning dove, she was. No wonder she didn’t have a man about. With that forbidding look she wore, it would take a needy specimen to try for her affections.
“I’ve dished you up some stew, Mr. Devereaux.” She spoke from the open doorway, and he tipped the brim of his hat, leading the stallion toward the hitching post at the side of the porch.
“I’ll be right in, ma’am,” he offered, rolling up his sleeves as he headed back to the trough to wash up.
She was at the stove when he ducked to walk in the door. There was room to spare, but his height had given him the habit of allowing a bit of space over his crown. She waved her hand at the towel hanging on a peg by the wooden countertop.
“You can dry off with that,” she said, turning to him with coffeepot in hand. A heavy china mug sat on the table, hugging the full bowl of steaming food she had served him. With spare movements, she filled the mug almost to the brim and then glanced at him, her manner hesitant.
He met her eyes. They were blue, darker than he’d thought, widely spaced beneath a fine forehead. Her gaze was penetrating, assessing, and he waited for her judgment.
“Want some milk, too?” she asked finally, nodding at her own brimming glass.
“Coffee’s fine,” he allowed, aware that she’d deemed him safe.
Nodding, she turned back to the stove, the pot clattering against the metal as she slid it to the back corner to keep it warm.
“Sit down.” The words held a measure of courteous warmth, as if she had finally remembered he was a guest in
her home. Her own place held a bowl of the stew, and between them reposed a plate of sliced bread, side by side with a round of butter, moisture gleaming from its smooth yellow form.