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Authors: Karen Rose Smith

Marry in Haste...

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THE TEXAS TATTLER

All the news that's barely fit to print!

“Are You My Brother?”

D
apper millionaire groom Ryan Fortune received one wedding gift even more awe-inspiring than a diamond-studded Tiffany champagne bucket—the shocking appearance of his long-lost half brother, Australian rancher mogul Teddy Fortune. Recent Fortune scandal has been tabloid fodder worldwide. Teddy, seeing reports of Texans with his own crown-shaped birthmark, put two and two together and got
millions
…and a whole lot of new clan.

Here's the scoop on Teddy's eyebrow-raising past: Over fifty years ago when the now-mythic King Fortune was fighting overseas in World War II, his first wife died of pneumonia, leaving two-year-old son Teddy prey to King's evil father-in-law, who spirited his tiny grandson off to the remote outback.

Though King searched mercilessly for his firstborn son, he had vanished without a trace. Until…he upstaged the most lavish wedding of the new millennium! Gee, Teddy, you really shoulda called first….

Did we mention Teddy brought some of his children to Red Rock…single sexy heirs with accents! And rampant rumor has it that last night, new-to-the-States rancher Reed Fortune moseyed off to a Reno honky-tonk to observe the “local mating customs.”

Not only did he wake up in bed with “the American Dream”—he'd married her! What, pray tell, does an Aussie hunk do for a
second
date?

Meet the Fortunes of Texas

Reed Fortune:
The rugged rancher thought being jilted by his fiancée was disastrous enough, but when he woke up married to a beautiful stranger he knew he was in real trouble….

Mallory Prescott:
After the blue-blooded debutante had hightailed herself away from the altar—and a forced marriage—she found herself in the protective care of Reed Fortune…as his mistaken bride. It wasn't long before Mallory realized that he wanted to love her cowboy groom forever!

Brody Fortune:
His heart had turned to granite after his college sweetheart walked away from him. Would her unexpected return reveal the decade-long secret that had kept them apart?

MARRY IN HASTE…
K
AREN
R
OSE
S
MITH

About the Author

KAREN ROSE SMITH

spent free time on a relative's farm when she was growing up. She remembers a bull with a ring in its nose, a recalcitrant yearling and the wide expanse of pastures with horses grazing that drew her as a child and still beckons to her now that she is an adult. Pennsylvania is far from Texas, but she called up those memories and they swept her onto the Double Crown for this romance. Karen likes to hear from her readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 1545, Hanover, PA 17331.

To Steve and Kenny—with love.

Prologue

R
eed Fortune, his tan Stetson tilted low on his forehead, leaned close to Brazen Spirit's neck as he urged the black stallion into a dead run. The Texas range sped by in a blur. Air rushed at Reed's face as he felt the raw power of Spirit under him. Nothing he did this afternoon helped to ease the betrayal and anger he'd felt since receiving the letter from his fiancée Stephanie back home in Sydney, Australia—not unloading hay into one of the Double Crown's barns, nor working green colts, nor this mad dash across Texas range land.

He and the horse, one in speed and motion, left behind a trail of dust as they raced past mesquite and scattered live oaks. But the early June sun beat down on them relentlessly, and Reed knew he had to think about Spirit if not himself. The fine quarter horse had been a gift from his uncle when Reed had arrived two months ago. Actually Ryan Fortune, patriarch of the family, had told him to take his pick of the horses the Fortunes bred, raised and trained. Reed had taken one look at this restive three-year-old stallion and decided he'd found his mount for at least the duration of his stay.

Reining in Brazen Spirit lightly, Reed slowed him to a lope as he turned toward the fence line leading
back to the Double Crown. Then he caught sight of a horse and rider approaching. From the tilt of the rider's hat and his chestnut mount with the black mane, Reed knew it was his cousin Zane. Zane was an executive in the Fortunes' office complex in San Antonio and lived in the city. But often on weekends he and his wife Gwen and their children came to the Double Crown to relax and spend time with the Fortune family.

Reed brought Spirit to a walk to cool him down.

His cousin's usual smile was absent as he rode beside Reed and glanced at him with some concern. “Are you planning on entering Spirit in a race?”

Lifting his Stetson, Reed ran his shirtsleeve across his brow, then resettled his hat on his blond hair. “We were just letting off some steam.”

“I hear you've been doing that all afternoon. What's gotten you so riled up?”

Reed figured he might as well tell Zane because everyone would find out soon enough. “Stephanie married another bloke. The news came in the mail today.”

Zane pulled his horse up. “You've got to be kidding.”

Reed kept Spirit walking.

When Zane brought his horse up beside Reed's again, he asked, “She didn't warn you? No phone call? Nothing?”

“Just a short letter and an apology. No explanation. Dammit, Zane. She didn't even give me a chance to fight for her! If she'd told me something was wrong, I wouldn't have left. If she'd told me something was wrong, I would have gone back. But she didn't give
me the chance
or
the right.” He swore again, long and hard, his voice as gritty as the Texas dust.

They rode in silence for a stretch until Zane asked, “
Are
you going to go back?”

Reed had planned to stay at the Double Crown until the end of the summer, not only to get to know his long-lost family but to get a good grasp of the horse operation here. Once back home, he'd like to convince his father to expand and modernize their horse-breeding business on the Crown Peak Ranch near Sydney. While he was in the United States, he also wanted to do some traveling. He'd planned to leave tomorrow to go hiking in Big Bend National Park. But now—

Answering Zane's question, he decided, “Stephanie's married. Going back home isn't going to change that.” He'd known four or five months was a long time to be separated from her. But they'd discussed it before he'd left and agreed they had the rest of their lives together.

He'd have to tell his family about the breakup. None of his siblings had been very enthusiastic about Stephanie, and he'd thought it was because he'd be the first of the six of them to break away and marry. Stephanie would have made the perfect wife. Living with her parents and helping on their ranch, she had no desire for a career and just wanted to be a wife and mother. Usually quiet, she never argued with him and never did the unexpected. Until now.

As he and Zane walked their horses over the rolling plain and crested a hill, the barns and sheds and training arena of the Double Crown came into view. But before they made the gentle descent, Zane stopped
again. “I think you ought to change your plans. Instead of leaving for Big Bend tomorrow, why don't you go someplace a little livelier.”

“Such as?” Reed asked, knowing from the look on Zane's face that he probably had something particular in mind.

“A friend I went to college with opened a country-western bar in Reno. It's a great place. Dawson and I went up there a few times in my bachelor days.”

Dawson Prescott was a financial analyst for Fortune TX, Ltd., and a good friend of Zane's. “Reno, Nevada?” Reed asked.

His cousin grinned. “Yep. Casinos, shows, women. What more could a single guy want? Why go to Big Bend when you can find a desert like that when you go back to Australia? You can fly the company jet. I'm sure Dad won't mind if you take it up to Reno for a few days or even a week.”

Reno. Bright lights, music, women. Maybe Zane was right. Maybe it was time to forget responsibility for a few days and just have some fun. Maybe if he drank enough tequila and danced with enough women he'd forget about a future that had slipped through his fingers.

He'd forget about a fiancée who had chosen someone else.

One

M
allory Prescott pushed open the heavy wooden door, thinking that she'd been a good girl all her life. Where had it had brought her?

To the Golden Spur Saloon in Reno, Nevada.

This should have been the night before her wedding, but thank goodness it wasn't. Running away from what amounted to an arranged marriage to a ruthless man might not have been the most courageous thing she'd ever done, but it was certainly the wisest. Her stepfather had introduced her to and promoted her engagement to Winston Bentley IV, a wealthy San Francisco land developer. From the first moment she'd met him, Winston had been charming, a perfect gentleman and everything Mallory should want in a man. But his kisses had never turned her on and finally, three days ago, she'd questioned her decision to marry him.

Why should she marry a man to earn her parents' approval? And after the phone conversation she'd overheard…

Put it out of your mind,
she told herself.
Rebel and have some fun.

As she stepped into the Golden Spur, she felt as if she'd stepped back in time. There was a wooden bar with an old-fashioned mirror behind it. Lariats, spurs
and other Old West memorabilia hung on the wall around it. It was almost nine on a Friday night and the place was packed. The bar stools were full, and couples crowded the dance floor. The woman singing with the country-western band belted out a Reba McEntire tune.

Mallory's half brother had recommended this place if she ever wanted to take a trip to let loose instead of feeling trapped by her engagement. Dawson knew the proprietor and had told her to just mention his name and Matt Conroy would make her feel right at home. Right now she didn't have a home—only her car, a small nest egg and the hope that Dawson would welcome her to San Antonio, Texas, and help her start a new life there. On her way to Reno she'd tried to call him, but she'd gotten his machine. She knew he often took business trips for Fortune TX, Ltd., where he worked. Hopefully she'd reach him in the morning.

But for now….

Her long brown hair, which hung straight to midway down her back, slid across her shoulder as she walked to the bar with her white sundress swirling around her legs. It took only a brief conversation with the bartender to learn Matt Conroy had left early tonight and she was on her own.

On her own. What an exciting thought!

As she looked around the saloon again, she realized that not only was it packed, but every table was filled. She saw one vacant chair at a table where a blond cowboy sat. His jeans-clad legs were long. He was lean, with broad shoulders and a rugged face—a strong jaw and high cheekbones. His skin was tanned,
his thick blond hair brushing the collar of his snap-button shirt.

Just as she wondered about the color of his eyes, he raised his head and their gazes met. Blue. His eyes were an unusual light blue rimmed with black, intense in their scrutiny. As her breath caught, her heart gave an unexpected lurch. Suddenly a smile slipped across his lips and he motioned to the chair beside him. Her pulse raced, and she was glad she had taken the time to check in at the motel down the street to change before coming here…because her fun was going to start right now.

When she reached the chair, he stood and held it for her. “Last seat in the house,” he said with a grin.

She immediately recognized his distinctive drawl as Australian. “No one is sitting here?” she asked.

“I'm here alone, if that's what you're asking.” He extended his hand to her. “The name's Reed.”

His hand was large and warm and callused, and she felt terrifically feminine gazing up at him. He had to be at least six-feet-two.

“Mallory,” she said softly, deciding she liked the feel of his skin on hers, the appreciation in his eyes, the scent of a musky cologne.

He nodded to the chair he was holding. “Better take it before someone else steals it.”

She laughed and sat. He lowered himself into his chair and his knee brushed hers. It wasn't much contact, but it sent a tingle through her whole body. What was wrong with her?

“You looked a little lost. Haven't been here before?” he asked.

“No. I just arrived. How about you?”

“I got to Reno yesterday and spent some time here last night. It wasn't quite as busy. What can I get you to drink?” He motioned to a waitress.

It seemed as if she'd found a gentleman, the way he'd held her chair and introduced himself and now wanted to order for her. Winston had been a gentleman, too. Or so she'd thought. She almost cringed, thinking about how close she'd come to marrying him. She sighed, and to the cowboy's question answered, “I should be having a champagne toast right about now.”

Reed cocked his head and studied her. When the waitress stopped at their table, he said, “Bring us your finest bottle of champagne.”

“Oh, no,” Mallory protested. “Champagne goes straight to my head.”

He chuckled. “That might not be such a bad thing.”

Those blue eyes were so knowing that her comment about a toast had maybe told him too much. But what could a glass of champagne hurt? Her motel was right down the street, and she could leave here anytime she wanted. “All right, champagne it is.”

After the waitress had gone, Mallory could feel Reed's gaze as it drifted from her bangs, over her face, to the thin white straps of her sundress and its embroidered bodice. When Winston had looked at her, she'd felt…like a possession. When this man looked at her, she felt altogether a woman.

But it was a scary as well as an exciting feeling, so she asked him, “You're from Australia?”

“How could you tell?”

His tone was wry and that slip of a smile on his lips once more made her stomach somersault.

A flush crept into her cheeks.

“Sorry,” he said with amusement in his tone. “I'm used to teasing my younger sister. I was born and raised near Sydney. What about you?”

“San Francisco. But I'm on my way to San Antonio, Texas.”

His brows arched. “Via Reno?”

“I needed a…vacation first. Some time to think.”

“I know what you mean.” His expression became solemn and she believed he did indeed know what she meant.

The champagne arrived and as Reed pulled the bottle from the ice bucket, he grimaced at the tawdry gold label. “I'm not sure how many bubbles it will have, but we'll give it a fair go.”

She laughed and, as he popped the cork and the champagne fizzed out of the bottle, she felt happier, lighter and more free than she'd felt in months. Also excited. This handsome Aussie had an unsettling effect on her she hadn't experienced in her twenty-four years. It intrigued her and made her feel a little reckless. She'd never been reckless in her life.

Reed poured two glasses of champagne and handed one to her. When she took it, he held up his glass and clicked it against hers. He seemed to consider his words, and his expression was serious for a moment. But then he smiled. “To Reno and vacations and fun.”

Fun took on a whole new meaning when she looked into his eyes. “To all of the above,” she agreed, took one sip and then another.

Time seemed to fly by as he asked her about San Francisco, and she told him how she loved the Bay and the fog and everything about the city. He described Sydney and the Opera House and the multi-cultural life there. After he mentioned that his parents owned a ranch, one glass of champagne became two and then three.

At a lull in their conversation, the band played a ballad and Reed nodded to the dance floor. “Would you like to dance?”

It would be a safe way to feel Reed's arms around her, to get a little closer to him without being forward or too reckless. But as he guided her to the dance floor and the heat of his hand made an arousing impression through the cotton of her dress, she knew she was fooling herself if she thought this was going to be safe. He took her into his arms easily, holding her hand close to his chest. The top button of his shirt was open and she could see blond hairs there, tawny like his hair. He was so male and tall and terrifically sexy, she felt light-headed.

Guessing Reed was about thirty-five and probably very experienced, a question sprang from her heart before she could stop it. “You said you were here last night. Did you dance with many women then?”

His jaw was tantalizingly close to her cheek. “I didn't dance with
any
women then.”

As she gazed into his blue eyes, she didn't know why, but she believed him. “What did you do?”

“I listened to the music and drank tequila.”

She wondered if he'd had tequila tonight before she arrived. What would he taste like if she kissed him?

Her breath hitched as his arms urged her a little
closer. He was so strong and sturdy. While they danced through one song, her breasts grazing his chest, his thighs powerfully guiding her legs, his heat and scent and maleness surrounding her, the night took on a dreamlike quality. There were other couples all around them, but the world existed for just the two of them. They didn't even part when the music stopped…and then started again. It seemed very natural when Reed rubbed his jaw along her temple…when his lips brushed her cheek near her ear…when he lifted her mouth to his. His kiss was shockingly sensual, and the sensations it created inside her were brand new, seductive and arousing. She'd
never
felt this way with Winston. This Australian cowboy tasted like champagne and mystery and something she'd wanted all her life but never found.

Reed restrained desire that was fast getting out of control. When Mallory had stepped inside the Golden Spur, he'd wondered if the tequila had gone to his head. She'd looked like a beautiful angel in that white dress. When she'd responded to his smile by coming to his table, his bruised ego had felt much better.

Not only his ego had felt better. As he'd gotten a whiff of perfume or shampoo or whatever it was that smelled like flowers, watched her silky hair slide over her creamy shoulders, and recognized the intelligence sparkling in her hazel eyes, he'd wanted her. Their fingers had brushed as they'd talked; their eyes meeting again and again. His knee had grazed hers more than once, and he'd asked himself—Did he want her so much because Stephanie had rejected him? Was that why he'd invited Mallory to his table? Did fun mean pleasure?

He'd never treated women as objects and he wasn't about to start now, certainly not because he was angry or bitter or frustrated. But those feelings had left as soon as Mallory had sat at his table, and now….

All he wanted to do was to carry her off to his motel room. As she responded to his kiss, she linked her hands behind his neck, pressed into him, and fervently met his tongue. She was arousing him as much as he hoped he was arousing her. This wasn't his style. He didn't meet women in bars and take them back to his room. Yet a woman's kiss had never aroused him in just this way, making him hungry with a need that could rage out of control. He'd always controlled desire and passion and how much he'd given and how much he'd taken. But kissing this woman named Mallory was an extraordinary experience.

Before he did something indecent on the dance floor, he broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers. “How about more champagne?”

Her expression was bemused when she leaned away slightly and lifted her chin. “All right. I
am
thirsty.”

Curving his arm around her waist, he led her back to their table. This time when he poured the champagne, she clinked her glass against his. “To leaving the past behind.”

Looking into her beautiful hazel eyes, he smiled and echoed, “To leaving the past behind.”

 

When Mallory awakened, there was warmth all around her. The sheet grazed her shoulder and something tickled her nose….

The moment she became conscious that she was naked and lying beside a sexy male, her cheek pressed against his chest, she sat bolt upright, leaving at least a foot between her and the man in the king-size bed.

Then she remembered. The bar… dancing…Reed… She didn't even know his last name!

Appalled and ashamed at behavior that was so unlike her, she put her fingers to her temples, realizing she had a terrible headache. Not only that, but she couldn't remember anything past dancing and drinking glass after glass of champagne. When she yanked the sheet up to her neck, she saw her dress, bra, panties and sandals scattered alongside the bed, and she groaned. What
had
she done?

Her quick bounce to the headboard must have awakened Reed. Rising up on one elbow, he slowly smiled at her. “G'day.”

The sight of his tousled hair and rugged face, his broad shoulders and his bare chest, let alone his barely covered— “Good day?” she asked, her voice rising on the last word. “I don't think so.” She scrambled out of bed, taking the sheet with her to cover herself, then realized she'd left him naked.

Her cheeks flamed with the horror of what she'd done last night—or what
he'd
done, or what
they'd
done together. Suddenly the past month of indecision about Winston, the phone conversation she'd overheard that told her he was a dangerous man, the frantic drive out of San Francisco, leaving her engagement ring and a note to explain to her mother, all caught up to her.

“How dare you do this to me?” she erupted.

“Do what?” Reed looked just-awakened, rumpled
and terribly sexy. “Wish you a good morning Aussie-style?”

With her gaze firmly planted on his face, she answered, “Take advantage of me like this. How could you?” Tears threatened. She blinked them away as she reached to the floor, retrieved her panties, then tried to pull them on from behind the sheet.

Sitting up now, all signs of sleep and amusement gone from his face, Reed's deep voice was firm. “I did
not
take advantage of you.”

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