Authors: Teresa Southwick
THE TEXAS TATTLER
All the news that's barely fit to print!
Fortune Empires To Merge
International Business Deal Unites Family
âWhat do you get when you combine Texas's and Australia's most successful ranching operations? A whole lotta honor, a whole lotta ego and a whole lot
money. Wall Street was reeling this week when word leaked that the mammoth Double Crown and Crown Peak ranches will merge, creating the single largest ranching outfit in history.
says “Fortune” is now
name in ranching.
The deal will skyrocket the Fortune power and wealth to astounding proportions, though it is still too early for solid predictions about the impact on the family's net worth. But one thing's for sureâ¦if these folks keep merging, marrying and mothering at this rate, they're going to give a whole new meaning to Fortune 500!
And on to “love news”â¦
's fashion guru couldn't help but notice the sudden, drastic change in Teddy Fortune's only daughter, Matilda. She has traded in her dusty overalls for utterly elegant duds. Could all this focus on her femininity have something to do with exec-to-swoon-for Dawson Prescott? A source
close to the famed family says that Dawson has tried to resist the tomboy-turned-tantalizer, but recent late-night “developments” (involving a boudoir, a shotgun and an ultimatum) might mean one more Fortune will soon bite the marriage dust!
Meet the Fortunes of Texas
From the moment Matilda met Dawson Prescott, he made her heart skip a beat. So the former tomboy transformed herself into a stunning, self-assured woman and hoped the new-and-improved Matilda could win his heart.
When he was found in a compromising position with Matilda, he dutifully married her. Would his new bride turn out to be the perfect wife he hadn't known he was looking for?
The secret agent didn't think of himself as the marrying kind. But when he was asked to protect an innocent beauty, he began to second-guess his bachelor statusâ¦.
At the tender age of ten, Teresa Southwick learned to deal with rejection when her four brothers found and “critiqued” one of her medieval stories. Then she could tattle to Mom, who unfortunately didn't send the blackguards to the gallows, or at the very least the dungeon, as Teresa had hoped. But it would be almost thirty years before she would again put pen to paperâor more accurately, fingers to keyboard.
A California girl born and raised, she spent many blissful hours sitting on the beach reading romance novels. Her fondness for happy endings began with Nancy Drew, and if she'd written those stories, Nancy and Ned would be living happily ever after. The good news is that her fascination with a wonderful love story was alive, well and flourishing in spite of her brothers.
She sold her first book in 1993, and in 1995, she achieved her longtime goal of writing for Silhouette Romance. The best part of writing, she believes, is that there are always more challenges around the corner. When she was asked to participate in THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS series, she jumped at the chance to write
The experience of working with such a talented and generous group of writers was both daunting and rewarding. The best part was sharing the news with her brothersâblackguards matured into heroesâwho never miss a chance these days to brag about their “famous” sister.
Teresa and her husband have two grown sons.
To THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS authors.
It's been a pleasure and a privilege working with
a talented, generous group of writers.
I'm grateful to be included in your ranks.
t was rumored that Griffin Fortune knew three hundred ways to kill with his bare hands. How could you say no to someone like that?
“You're absolutely sure you want me to watch out for your sister?” Dawson Prescott asked again.
He studied Griffin, sitting across the desk from him. Dawson wasn't afraid of him; he was a friend. In spite of Griff's dangerous reputation, Dawson liked him and his brothers. It was their sister, Matilda, who rubbed him the wrong way.
Griff brushed a hand over his dark brown hair. The short, military cut didn't move. “You heard me right,” he said. His Australian drawl did nothing to soften the words. If anything, his “down under” accent added intimidation. “I want you to watch over Mattie while I'm gone. We had this discussion already.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Dawson said. “I just didn't think you were serious.”
he wasn't serious would be more accurate. But Dawson suspected Griff never said anything he didn't mean.
“Dead serious,” he answered, confirming the suspicion. “If I could put off this job, I would.” He met Dawson's gaze squarely and a predatory glint crept into his brown eyes. “But I have to go.”
Dawson knew he would say no more about it than that.
Here in the plush carpeted, wood-accented office at Fortune TX, Ltd. where he worked as a financial analyst, it was hard for Dawson to imagine what the other man did when he disappeared. But Dawson had quickly come to like and respect him. Whatever it was that took the man out of town, Dawson instinctively knew Griffin Fortune was one of the good guys.
Dawson pushed his cushy leather chair away from the desk, leaned back, and linked his hands over his abdomen. “But again I have to askâwhy me? My baby-sitting skills leave something to be desired.”
“If she were a baby, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” Griff said, his Aussie drawl thickening with irony.
As much as he wanted to, Dawson couldn't argue with the fact that Matilda Fortune was no baby. Every time he heard her name, he instantly thought of her long, shapely legs encased in denimâfollowed quickly by a flash of those legs wrapped around his waist. He'd only ever seen her in work clothes with her shirt pulled out and hanging loose. If the rest of her was as good as those legs, and he ever got a look at the package, they would all be in trouble.
The weird thing was that in the looks department she was nothing to write home about. Ordinary braided blond hair, average gray eyes, and pale skin all added up to a woman as plain as her name: Matilda. Who thought that up? Dawson only knew that she pushed some of his buttonsâall of them wrong. But it was unlikely that anything personal would ever happen with her. Ever since they had laid eyes on each other,
sparks had flown between themâand not the good kind.
“Correct me if I'm wrong,” he said, “but isn't she twenty-one? Why does she need looking after?”
“She's been sheltered. She trusts everyone and has never met a stranger. My four brothers and I have always watched out for her. But she's changed since she got to Texas. What do you people put in the water?”
Dawson blinked. “Excuse me?”
“There's something going around and it's called Matrimony. Seems to be catching. Soon my brother Brody and Jillian will be tying the knot. But it all started with my brother Reed when he married your sister.”
Dawson and his half sister Mallory hadn't grown up together. Different mothers. But his gut told him his sister's match with Griff's brother was a good one. “I've never seen her happier.”
“Reed, too.” One corner of Griff's mouth lifted as he sat up straighter in the chair. “On top of that, Mattie's been acting strange ever since she found out that Jillian is going to have a baby. I overheard her tell Jillian that she wants one of her own soon. I wouldn't put it past her to run off with one of the ranch hands at the Double Crown.”
Dawson couldn't remember ever hearing Griff string together that many sentences. Obviously the guy was really concerned. With a sister of his own, Dawson could understand the protective instinct. But he was a financial analyst for crying out loud. Granted, he worked for the family company, Fortune TX, Ltd. But surely they wouldn't expect him to nursemaid Matilda Fortune, the troublemaker cousin from Australia.
The assignment was definitely above and beyond the call of duty. He worked on spreadsheetsâ¦ Bad choice of words. Instantly he thought of Matilda's long legs and tangled bed sheets. Damn, this was a bad idea. He'd agreed reluctantly, and only because he'd never actually expected Griff to take him up on it. Now he wished he'd never said yes.
The question was how he could gracefully get out of this.
he thought ruefully.
“She doesn't like me much, Griff. Surely you've noticed. If looks could kill, I'd be a chalk outline on the floor. Wouldn't it be better if you found someone else for guard duty?”
“There are three things that make you an ideal candidate for this assignment.” Dawson didn't miss the harnessed strength in the other man's wrist and forearm as he held up three fingers. “OneâReed is on his honeymoon, and Brody is too preoccupied with his own upcoming wedding and becoming a father in a couple of months to do the job justice. Twoâyou're practically a Fortune, being my cousin Zane's friend and all. Threeâyou're right. She hates your guts.” He grinned. “That makes you perfect for the job, mate.”
“I've got number four.”
“What's that?” he asked.
“She's just a kid.”
He was eleven years her senior, a fact he'd pointed out at his first meeting with the Australian she-devil. Not that he was old. She'd figured that out all by herself. They'd accompanied Reed and Mallory to the rodeo. All Dawson had said was that he hadn't expected Reed's sister to be so young. That had instantly gotten Matilda's back up, and she'd fired off her own verbal shot.
Even if Dawson were attracted to herâat least the “her” that was separate from those dynamite legsâthe disparity in their ages was something he would never get past. After his parents had split up, his father had married a much younger womanâa fact that had angered and embittered his mother. She'd had her nose rubbed in the fact that she was no longer young and had no weapons to fight for her man. Dawson had vowed that he would never use a woman and toss her aside like yesterday's meat loaf. Furthermore, he would never make the same mistakes his father had.
He wasn't like his father. He would never be like him.
Griff nodded. “By process of elimination as well as default, you're the ideal candidate.”
Dawson knew he had no choice, and the thought rankled. He wasn't a man who liked being backed into a corner. “How long are you going to be gone?”
Griff shrugged. “There's no way to know for sure. I'll do my best to get back before Brody and Jillian's wedding.”
That was just over three weeks away, the weekend before Thanksgiving. Dawson figured he could handle Matilda Fortune that long.
He nodded slowly. “I'll make sure she doesn't run off with a cowboy.”
“Good. One favor, Dawson.”
“I'm already doing you a favor.”
“Then do yourself one. Don't let Mattie know what you're up to.”
“She wouldn't like it?”
Griff laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “That's an understatement. She doesn't like being treated like a kid. She's a grown woman, she says.”
“Yeah, that message got through loud and clear,” Dawson commented.
“Then if you know what's good for you, don't let on that I asked you to keep an eye on her.”
“I'll do my best,” he promised.
Satisfied, Griff held out his hand. “I owe you, mate.”
And then some,
Dawson thought, hoping he wouldn't live to regret this. It was the first of November and the promise he'd made just about guaranteed that he could kiss off having only good days for three-quarters of the month.
Matilda Fortune listened to the
of her boots on the foyer tile as she made her way to the Double Crown Ranch's great room. She stopped when her heels sank into the thick carpet. The large open hearth held a cheery fire. On the other wall, French doors opened to one of the house's two courtyards. Large leather couches and comfortable chairs in groupings that invited intimate conversation were arranged in several places in the large room.
Since her arrival from Australia several months ago, she found it was her uncle Ryan and aunt Lily's custom to spend the evening in the great room. Tonight was no exception. They were sitting side by side on one of the leather sofas, having after-dinner drinks with their other houseguest, Willa Simms. She was Ryan's goddaughter. Willa's father and Ryan had been best friends in Vietnam, a bond that remained strong until her dad died of cancer. She was still very close to Uncle Ryanâlike one of his children.
Through an archway to her right she could see the dining room and the living room beyond. A huge
painted armoire, and Western-style pieces including antler lamps and Native American prints, gave the room warmth and personality. She liked the house in spite of its intimidating size and the fact that she always felt as if she brought the outdoors inside as soon as she walked in.
Mattie moved farther into the room until she faced her aunt and uncle. “I didn't see Griff's car outside. Does anyone know where my brother is?”
She knew the answer even as the words came out of her mouth. If Griff's car were here, she would have known his whereabouts. He was joined at the hip with her. Her shadow. Her keeper. If his car was gone, he must be on one of his mysterious trips.
“He left on business, dear,” her aunt said, confirming Mattie's guess. “He wasn't sure when he would be back, but asked me to tell you not to worry.”
“From his mouth to God's ear.” Mattie whispered her usual fervent prayer.
Telling her not to worry was like asking the wind not to blow. Griff would never confide details to anyone in the family about what he did when he was away. He said the less they knew, the better. How could they not worry when someone they loved said
But she smiled at her aunt and uncle, not wanting to upset them or let anyone know her feelings. There was nothing they could do or say to ease her mind.
Mattie studied her aunt and uncle, thighs brushing while holding hands. As always, she was struck by what a handsome couple they were. She knew they were both in their early fifties, but neither looked it. Lily's eyes were the color of a moonless night, and her shiny black bob, along with the beautiful bone
structure in her face, revealed her Spanish and Indian heritage. She was still a lovely woman and must have been a stunner as a young girl.
Uncle Ryan was definitely his wife's equal. With his dark eyes and hair showing a bit of gray at the temples, and a still-muscular physique, he must have made female hearts flutter in his younger days. And at least one female heart still fluttered, Mattie thought as she saw the glow in his wife's eyes as she looked up at him. The two were obviously in love, obviously soul mates.
Like her own parents.
Mattie sighed. Would she ever find someone who would love her like that? A man she could respect and care about and raise a family with? A soul mate of her own?
It was her most cherished dream. Unfortunately, her brothers frightened away anyone who showed even the slightest interest in her. That made it darn near impossible to make her fairy tale come true. If Prince Charming didn't have the guts to face down the Fortune brothers, then she didn't particularly want to set up housekeeping in his castle. No wimp for her!
When her aunt and uncle had visited Australia and invited her to their ranch in Texas, she'd thought it was the opportunity she'd been waiting for. She'd taken them up on the offer and fallen in love with the state, the air, the wide-open spaces. The
that all the wide-open spaces would hold.
Since horses were her life, where better to find the man of her dreams than a Texas ranch? So many cowboys, so little time. The bad news was that Griff never left her side. The steely-eyed looks he gave any man
who even glanced in her direction were enough to make monks out of them.
But Griff was gone. What was that American saying?
Make hay while the sun shines.
How appropriate on a ranch! And she finally understood the meaning. She would worry terribly about Griff, but with him away, it was definitely hay-making time.
Tonight the Double Crown cowboys held their weekly poker game. She'd almost forgotten, having dismissed the earlier casual reminder because she knew there was no way Griff would let her go. Or worse, he would accompany herâand then no one would have any fun. This was her first chance to join in. Maybe she could finally get one of them to notice her.
“I'm sorry we couldn't hold dinner for you, dear,” her aunt said.
“No worries,” Mattie answered.
“I just love your accent,” Willa chimed in. “It's so cute.”
“Thanks.” Mattie smiled at her, then looked back at her aunt and uncle. “I'm sorry to be so late. I just couldn't tear myself away.”
“Your brothers say you have a way with animals, Mattie,” Willa said. “They say when they have a problem horse, you're the one they go to. That's such a gift. I'm a little afraid of an animal big enough to stomp me into roadkill without a second thought.”
“You traveled all over the world with your father, Willa,” Uncle Ryan said. “There was never time or opportunity to learn about horses.”
“I'd be happy to work with you and show you some tricks,” Mattie said. “Then you would be more comfortable around them. There's no reason to be afraid
of horses. I can find just the right animalâone with a nature as sweet as yours.”