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Authors: Ruth Langan

Snowbound Cinderella

BOOK: Snowbound Cinderella
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THE TEXAS TATTLER

All the news that’s barely fit to print!

Fortune Patriarch’s “Secret” Nuptials on Hold

D
espite a string of dead ends in the FBI investigation to recover his kidnapped grandson, Ryan Fortune, head of the Texas Fortune empire, has sworn that round-the-clock search efforts will continue. And if a national baby hunt isn’t enough to keep a mogul up nights, his soon-to-be ex-wife, Sophia, is playing pinch-’n’-spit in divorce negotiations—and holding out for the farm, or in the Fortunes’ case, the whole dang
ranch.

In the whirlwind of scandal, Ryan and Lily Redgrove have put off plans for their longawaited wedding. Between shelling out a multimillion dollar ransom, an astronomical divorce settlement and enough cash for a Texas-sized engagement solitaire, will our very own “poor little rich boy” have more than a few measly million left to pay for the wedding-to-end-all-weddings?

All the world’s a-flutter with the shocking news of superstar sexpot Ciara Wilde’s shocking disappearance—from her own Hollywood nuptials!
Tattler
roving reporters swear to a Ciara sighting at a remote cabin inhabited by dashing international TV newsman Jace Lockhart, Fortune in-law. Ciara may have resisted the casting couch, but can she keep from cozying up with Jace on the
cabin
couch…?

About the Author

RUTH LANGAN

is an award-winning and bestselling author of contemporary and historical romance. Her books have been finalists for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA
®
Award. Over the years, she has given dozens of print, radio and TV interviews, including
Good Morning America
and
CNN News,
and has been quoted in such diverse publications as the
Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan
and the
Detroit Free Press.
Married to her childhood sweetheart, she has raised five children and lives in Michigan, the state where she was born and raised. Ruth enjoys hearing from her readers. Letters can be sent via e-mail to [email protected] or via her Web site at www.ryanlangan.com.

RUTH LANGAN
Snowbound Cinderella

Meet the Fortunes of Texas

Jace Lockhart:
This veteran reporter was under doctor’s orders to relax, but the sexy stranger trapped in the isolated cabin with him was sending his blood pressure sky-high. And soon, warm embraces became more than a means for survival.

Ciara Wilde:
The gorgeous movie star wasn’t used to men loving her for herself. She wanted a man who saw beneath her silver-screen persona—and she was determined to find out if her romance with Jace was more than a snowbound affair.

Matthew and Claudia Fortune:
Wedded bliss turned to sorrow when their precious baby boy was kidnapped. Will the stress of waiting and wondering about the fate of their little Bryan take a toll on their marriage?

Eden Fortune:
This single mom didn’t plan to fall in love again, but that didn’t mean her four-year-old son couldn’t ask for a father….

For Nora, who keeps challenging me to fly
And for Tom, who never lets me fall

One

J
ace Lockhart maneuvered the Jeep up the steep mountain road. Every once in a while he cracked the window and sucked in frigid air to stay alert. He’d been awake for more than twenty-four hours now. First the flight from Bosnia to Paris to New York. Then the long lines for Customs at La Guardia. Then another flight to El Paso, where he’d waited yet again to rent a vehicle.

He opened the window, filling his lungs. Then, for good measure, he fiddled with the radio until he found Springsteen and cranked it up a notch. The motion of the windshield wipers seemed just a little too hypnotic. He didn’t need to fall asleep at the wheel. On top of that, the rain had turned to snow, and the winding roads were slick with ice, demanding complete concentration. He couldn’t afford to take his mind off the treacherous route for even a second.

Not that he minded. Anything was better than the dark thoughts that had been crowding his mind for the past months. All he’d been able to think about was Ireina. The way she’d looked, in the instant when the bomb had struck. And the sound of her screams, echoing through his mind, as she’d been torn from
his arms. And the shattered body he’d had to identify at the makeshift morgue.

Even in sleep there was no release. The sights, the sounds, the horror of it all stalked him nightly, leaving him dreading a return to his bed.

It had been Brad Thompson, the overseas director of news at the network, who had first broached the subject of a leave of absence. At first Jace had resisted, believing that hard work was the cure. He’d plunged himself into even more work than before. He accepted endless assignments that nobody else wanted to cover, in far-flung towns and villages in eastern Europe. He’d slept in run-down hostels and flea-bitten inns, chasing stories of hatred and bombing and terrorism, of neighbor attacking neighbor, village against village, until, eventually, he’d begun to think there was nothing good or decent left in the world. The news events he found himself covering had begun to seem like one big nightmare, playing over and over.

He’d eventually become convinced that what he needed was a complete change of scenery, if he was ever going to put the past behind him and get on with his life.

This offer seemed heaven-sent. When his sister, Mary Ellen, had suggested it, Jace had leapt at the chance. What he wanted, even more than to be surrounded by loving family, was solitude. Some time to heal the scars, both physically and emotionally. Then, and only then, would he be ready to be around people again.

He rubbed absently at his leg, as if to erase the
pain that had become his constant companion. The surgeon had said it should mend in time. But Jace suspected that the shadow of pain would linger for a lifetime. Like the scar that marred his right cheek. Like the memory of Ireina. Even the lightest touch, or the slightest thought, reminded him that both his scars and his memories were still tender. And if he probed too deeply, he’d expose a nerve.

He spotted the little country church by the side of the road. Lights from inside flooded through the stained-glass windows like a beacon in the storm. If the driving should become impossible, he decided, he’d return here and seek sanctuary.

He turned the wheel, swinging off the main road and onto a dirt lane that led to the cabin. The lane was overgrown with tall trees, their branches quickly becoming heavy with snow. The steeper the climb, the more treacherous the road became, until at last, after several twists and turns, it seemed impossible to go on. The car swerved and nearly went off the road before the tires gripped and the Jeep darted ahead, coming to a stop inches from the cabin.

Jace felt a sense of relief that he’d finally reached his destination. Another hour and even the main roads would be impassable.

He switched off the engine and sat a moment, staring at the darkened log cabin. It was little more than a blur against the curtain of falling snow. The original cabin had been one large room, with a small galley kitchen and a loft that served as a bedroom. That would have been more than enough for his needs. But
in recent years a master suite had been added, with a king-size bed and walk-in closet, as well as a bathroom containing both a shower and a hot tub. He intended to put it all to good use, especially the hot tub. It might be exactly what his injuries required to heal. If not, at least he would have the healing power of solitude.

With a sigh he forced himself into action, catching up his duffel bag and tossing the strap of his carryall over his shoulder before stepping out into the snowdrifts. He tramped up the wide wooden steps, grateful that the porch running the length of the cabin shielded him from the swirling snow—snow laced with ice that was beginning to sting like shrapnel. This simple spring storm had quickly become a full-blown blizzard.

He juggled the duffel and carryall while he fumbled with the key. When he’d managed to open the door, he stepped into the darkness and nudged the door shut with his hip.

“You move a muscle and you’re dead.” The woman’s voice sounded a little too breathy. But whether from fear or anger, Jace couldn’t determine. He froze as he felt the muzzle of the rifle jammed against his ribs. In the same instant, a blinding beam from a flashlight flooded his eyes.

His voice was low with fury. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’ll ask the questions, buster. And you’d better have some very good answers, or you’ll answer to this rifle.”

She took a step closer, and as his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized she was a wild-eyed, gorgeous blonde, wearing nothing more than sexy underwear. “Now who are you, and what are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?”

His words were tight, angry. “My name is Jace Lockhart. My sister Mary Ellen Fortune owns this cabin.”

His answer was greeted with stunned silence.

Jace took no more than a moment to figure the odds before he swung his duffel bag, knocking the rifle from the woman’s hands. As it clattered to the floor he tossed aside his carryall and in one quick motion wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides. The flashlight dropped from her fingers and the light flickered for a moment, then the cabin was plunged into darkness.

His voice was a rasp of fury against her temple. “Now
I’ll
ask the questions. And I’d better like your answers. Who the hell are you?”

“My name is… Ciara.”

The way she hesitated, he figured she was probably making this up as she went along. “Okay, Ciara, or whatever your name is. What are you doing in my family cabin?”

“I’m…” Her voice faltered and she had to swallow several times before she found the courage to speak. “I’m a friend of Eden Fortune.”

“Eden? My niece?”

“Yes. She told me the cabin would be empty. Isolated
and…private. She never said a word about you.”

His tone grew thoughtful. “She wouldn’t have known. Until now, I’ve been out of the country. And I swore my sister to secrecy about my return.”

Jace felt heat building inside him, and blamed it on the rifle. Having the business end of a gun pointed at the heart tended to make a man sweat. Still, it didn’t help to have a living, breathing, half-naked Barbie doll pressing against him. It had been the better part of a year since he’d held a woman, but his body, it seemed, hadn’t forgotten the proper responses.

He released her and in one fluid movement bent and retrieved the rifle and flashlight. When he switched on the beam he saw the way her eyes widened, and could read the fear in them.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to shoot you. Unless you decide to come at me with another weapon. Then you’ll just have to accept the consequences.”

“I don’t want any trouble.” She lifted a hand to shield her eyes. “I thought…I thought you were here because you’d found out that I was hidi—that I was here.” She cursed herself for her lapse. But he seemed too angry to notice.

“Then you can relax. The only reason I’m here is to be alone.” He slowly circled the room with the light until he located a lamp on a nearby end table. He stepped over his luggage and switched it on, flooding the cabin with lamplight.

Now he could see the rugged, oversize furniture
grouped around a magnificent stone fireplace that soared all the way to the high-beamed ceiling.

“That’s better.” He turned in time to see the young woman glance down at herself with dismay. When she looked up, he was boldly staring. He didn’t bother to look away.

She had a fantastic body, displayed in the most provocative manner possible. He looked her down, then up, from those long, long legs, to the lavender lace thong. His throat went dry and he forced his gaze upward. Her waist was so small he was certain his hands could easily span it. The bra was nothing more than two tiny bits of lavender lace, revealing more than they covered. And what they revealed was a body that would make any man’s pulse go haywire. Then there was the face. Lovely enough to grace magazine covers. Full, pouty lips, at the moment turned down into a frown. High cheekbones that a model would kill for. A small perfect nose, and arched brows over eyes that were more green than blue. Her hair was a riot of soft blond waves that fell to her shoulders.

For one wild moment he wondered whether he was imagining this whole thing. This woman was too beautiful to be real. And this whole situation had the feeling of some fantasy gone awry. Maybe he really was losing it, and his imagination had taken over his senses.

To her credit she didn’t flinch or try to cover herself. With her hands on her hips she returned the stare. “Seen enough?” The words came from between
clenched teeth. Had she been a cat, he thought, she’d have been hissing and spitting.

“You didn’t leave much for the imagination.” He nearly grinned before he caught himself. “But you might want to put on some clothes before you catch a chill.”

She turned away and stormed into the bedroom. Over her shoulder she called, “While I’m doing that, you can return your luggage to your car. Since I was here first, you’ll just have to leave and find yourself a lodge somewhere nearby.”

He walked to the window and stared morosely at the snowdrifts that were already up to the porch. “Sorry I can’t oblige you. I’m afraid we’re stuck with each other. At least for tonight.”

She came running, tying the sash of her robe as she did. Her frown was more pronounced. “What do you mean?”

“See for yourself.” He pointed. “Looks like we’re in the middle of a spring blizzard. Nobody’s going anywhere until it blows over.”

Like a child, she pressed her face to the window and peered out into the darkness. What she saw had her closing her eyes against the spurt of anger and frustration. Then, unwilling to believe what she’d seen, she walked to the front door and yanked it open. Snow blew in on a rush of bitter wind, nearly snatching the door from her grasp.

Ciara sighed with disgust. The last thing she wanted was to share this cabin for even one night with
this stranger. With anyone. She wanted—needed desperately—to be alone.

With a shiver she leaned into the door, forcing it closed. For several seconds she stayed where she was, her forehead against the door, listening to the howling wind outside. Then, taking a deep breath she turned and crossed the room, determined to make the best of this intolerable situation.

“I’m sorry about— I don’t think I could have shot you.”

“Now there’s a comforting thought.”

She flushed. “I just thought I’d be alone up here.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Jace shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it carelessly over the back of the sofa. Then he crossed to the fireplace, piled several logs on the grate and added kindling, watching until a thin flame began licking along the bark. Next he rummaged through his duffel until he located the sack of groceries. “I’m going to make some coffee. Want some?”

“Thanks.” He moved so quickly that she found herself trapped between him and the counter in the kitchen area.

He felt the press of her body, but he didn’t show it. He kept his gaze deliberately averted. But in his mind’s eye he could still see the way she’d looked without the robe. It wasn’t something a man could easily forget.

“How long have you been here?” He measured coffee into the filter, then poured water and plugged in the coffeemaker.

“Since this morning.” Ciara brushed past him, annoyed by the little rush of heat as her body skimmed his. It was a body that was difficult to ignore. He had the taut, firm look of an athlete, with muscled arms and shoulders straining the sleeves of a charcoal sweater. She was a tall woman, yet he was taller easily by a head. Well over six feet. Thick auburn hair, with touches of gray at the temples, was badly in need of a trim. It fell in disarray over his collar.

Still tingling from the contact, she put as much distance as possible between them, settling herself on the sofa in front of the fire. “I got here before noon.”

“I didn’t see a car.” He searched through the cupboards until he located two mugs.

“Eden told me there was a small shed in back. I parked there.”

He nodded. “Something new, I guess. But then, I haven’t been here in years.”

“Where’ve you been?”

“Out of the country. Do you take cream or sugar?”

“Just a pinch of sugar.” She watched as he moved efficiently around the kitchen, stashing eggs in the refrigerator, bread in the bread bin. He was obviously a man accustomed to being on his own and taking care of his own needs.

He filled two mugs with steaming coffee and carried them to the sofa. He handed one to her before settling himself beside her and stretching out his long legs toward the warmth of the fire. Until now, he hadn’t known how cold he was. Or how utterly
weary. The long hours of traveling were beginning to take their toll.

She sipped. Sighed. “Umm. This coffee is fantastic.”

He tasted, then nodded his agreement. “I found it at a little store not far from the airport. I couldn’t believe they’d have fresh-ground coffee at such a place.”

“I guess you have been out of the country awhile.” She chuckled. “Everybody, including gas stations, is selling designer coffee.” She glanced over. “Where exactly have you been?”

BOOK: Snowbound Cinderella
4.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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