Read The Rancher Online

Authors: Lily Graison

Tags: #historical romance, #cowboy, #western romance, #frontier romance, #historical western romance, #cowboy romance, #pioneer romance, #wild west romance

The Rancher

BOOK: The Rancher
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The Rancher

 

Lily Graison

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011 Lily Graison

 

Smashwords Edition

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted, in any form or by any means mechanical, electronic,
photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written
consent of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form
of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and
without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser.

 

The right of Lily Graison to be identified as
the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

First eBook edition August 2012

 

First Edition

 

All characters in this publication are purely
fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is
purely coincidental.

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

Missoula, Montana Territory

 

 

 

As visions went, she was by far
the most alluring one he'd seen in years.

 

Holden turned up his glass,
swallowed what remained inside, and kept his gaze locked on the
woman making her way to the bar. The hem of her brown sateen skirt
swept the sawdust floor, the light from the lanterns catching in
the shiny material of her dress and drawing his eye to places no
decent man should look, but the soft curve of her breasts was too
tempting to glance away from.

 

He'd seen many beautiful women
in his thirty-two years but something about this woman left him
dazed. It was probably the amount of whiskey he'd drank, or the
fact the light was so dim inside the saloon, but she looked
ethereal, like some other-world being straight from one of those
fairytale books his daughter Alex had stacked in her room.

 

His gaze swept over her again.
Her dark hair was left loose, long curls bouncing free over her
shoulders and when she put her back to him, he traced the line of
her spine to her narrow waist, the gentle flair of her hips to her
rounded behind and he felt his throat go dry despite the amount of
alcohol he'd consumed.

 

He sat up straight in his seat
and tore his gaze from her to sweep over the room again.

 

His brother, Tristan, had told
him this was the best gaming house in all of Missoula and from what
he'd seen, Tristan had been right. It was clean, the whiskey was
good and the whores were pretty and smelled like a woman should,
but picking one to spend the evening with wasn't easy. The blondes
reminded him of his late wife, God rest her soul, and the brunettes
weren't as buxom as he liked. Of course, they all paled in
comparison to the beauty who caught the attention of those not too
drunk to notice.

 

He turned his gaze back to the
bar. She was still there, her face reflected in the mirror on the
wall. She wasn't a whore, that much he knew. She was too refined
looking, not to mention she'd entered from the street and was now
ordering a drink from the looks of it. A lady who drank in public.
That was new.

 

Picking up his empty glass, he
stood, waded through the crowd and approached the bar with one goal
in mind. He had to get a closer look at this woman to see if it was
the alcohol making her so breathtaking.

 

He stopped beside her, ordered
another drink, and glanced up at her in the mirror, then turned to
where she stood. She was staring down into her glass, the amber
liquid untouched. "As whiskey goes, its not bad," he said.

 

She turned her head to him and
he'd be damned if his heart didn't give a little kick in his chest.
Her eyes were the oddest shade of brown he'd ever seen. They
reminded him of the whiskey in her glass, a light, swirling amber.
The rest of her face was remarkable too. Her complexion was smooth,
her lips plump and pink. Small curls framed her face making her
look soft and feminine. Beautiful.

 

He blinked and nodded to her
glass. "Do you always order whiskey then just stare at it?"

 

She tilted her head a little to
one side. "Why are you talking to me?"

 

Holden opened his mouth to
answer but closed it with a snap. Beautiful and rude. He smiled and
leaned one arm on the bar. "To be honest, now that you ask, I've no
idea."

 

She stared at him for long
moments before smiling and looking back at her glass. "Honesty.
That's a rare attribute for a man."

 

He raised an eyebrow. "Depends
on the man, I suppose."

 

Her head turned, those whiskey
colored eyes giving him a look from head to toe. "Really? I didn't
think any man was capable of it."

 

Holden laughed. "Beautiful, rude
and bitter. A strange combination."

 

Amusement filled her eyes and
she turned her body to face him. "I'm also surly, mean-spirited and
suspicious."

 

"And you apparently don't care
what others think."

 

"What makes you say that?"

 

Holden thumbed up the front of
his hat. "I don't know of any lady who would walk into a saloon and
order a whiskey at the bar, then stick around to drink it." He
glanced down at her glass. "Or stare at it."

 

She shrugged one delicate
shoulder. "Who says I'm a lady?" She lifted her glass, slung back
her whiskey as if she'd been doing it for years and grinned at him
while setting the glass back down.

 

Holden swallowed his own liquor,
nodded to the bartender to refill their glasses and never took his
eyes off of her. "I'm Hol…"

 

"Don't!"

 

Holden shut his mouth, one
eyebrow raised as she yelled at him, her right arm raised as if to
ward off the words. Her cheeks pinkened before she straightened her
spine.

 

"No names, please."

 

He grinned. "Okay."

 

She sighed, her shoulders
relaxing. "I find it much easier to just talk to someone without
really knowing who they are."

 

"Mysterious, rude, bitter and
beautiful. Now I'm intrigued."

 

She flashed him a tiny smile.
"Stop trying to flatter me."

 

"Who says I am?"

 

She laughed, the sound a
tinkling vibration that coursed through his body and ended near his
toes. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed, and he knew before the
night was out he'd be so smitten with this woman he'd never get her
out of his head.

 

They talked for close to an hour
about nothing specific, consumed more whiskey than he'd drank in
months, and when the crowd inside the saloon grew rowdy, their
voices raised to the point he couldn't hear what she was saying,
she raised up on her toes, her mouth next to his ear, and asked if
he'd like to take a walk with her. All thought of buying
companionship for the evening was forgotten.

 

Out on the wooden sidewalk, she
turned and stumbled, her laughter like music as he reached out his
arm to steady her. "I think you may have had too much to
drink."

 

"Are you saying I'm drunk?" She
leaned against him and grinned, taking hold of his arm and looping
hers through his before turning them and starting down the
sidewalk.

 

Holden inhaled a breath, her
rose scented skin infusing the air around him. "I'd never insult a
lady in such a way."

 

She laughed again, proving she
had more to drink than she was used to and looked up at him with
those alluring eyes. "I'm far from drunk, Sir, I can assure you. I
would have never left the saloon with you had I been."

 

He smiled. "So you would have
passed out on the floor instead?"

 

"Probably." She inhaled a deep
breath, raising her head. "Do you live here?"

 

"I thought you didn't want to
know anything about me?"

 

She gave him a sideways look. "I
don't. The less I know about you the better off I'll be, but it's
so warm for fall. I'm just trying to find out if it's always this
way in Montana."

 

It took an effort to mask his
disappointment in her not wanting to know who he really was but he
shrugged it off. "No. It'll start cooling down soon and once winter
sets in, you'll wish you were somewhere else."

 

"I doubt that."

 

She stopped in front of one of
the many hotel's in town and turned to face him. Her eyes were
drowsy looking, her lips glistening with moisture from where she'd
licked them and he'd never wanted to kiss anyone the way he did
her. "Is this where you're staying?"

 

"Yes."

 

He should have picked this
hotel, too. He'd chosen the more expensive one down the road and
almost wished he could check in here and go grab his things so he
could spend his last evening in town with her close by.

 

The past week had been hard, a
physical and mental drain on his body. Selling off his horses,
paying the wranglers and then watching them as they all grabbed a
woman in the saloon and headed upstairs planted a seed of longing
in him that he hadn't felt in ages. Being so far from home, he
could indulge in any manner of debauchery and once the idea was
there, he couldn't seem to let it go.

 

Alex, his ten year old daughter,
was too impressionable to go traipsing off to town to find his
comfort with one of the whores at the Diamond Back Saloon in Willow
Creek and the dull ache from years of denying his body the pleasure
of a woman was felt in every muscle and every nerve. He'd spent an
extra night in town just to see those aches eased. No one at home
would know, least of all Alex, and the moment he decided to pick
one of those pretty ladies at the saloon, in walks a woman who put
the others to shame.

 

She was still looking up at him,
her whiskey colored eyes sparkling in the moonlight and his entire
body jolted while looking at her. He wanted her. Wanted her unlike
anything he'd wanted in a long time but saying so would ruin the
entire evening.

 

They stood staring at one
another for long minutes, the crowd on the street and sidewalks
disappearing and when she smiled at him, the look in her eyes
telling him she was thinking the same thing he was, his heart
started racing.

 

"If I wasn't a lady, I'd be
tempted to ask you up to my room."

 

Holden's fingers clenched into
fists at his side. "If you weren't a lady, I'd take you up on
it."

 

She licked her lips and Holden's
gaze was drawn to her mouth while every nerve in his body jumped,
screamed, and demanded he forget his manners. To take advantage of
the situation, damn his conscience and take her to bed. Spend the
rest of the night between her thighs and make his way home come
morning with a memory he'd have a hard time forgetting.

 

The wind blew a strand of her
hair into her eyes and he pushed it away, tucking it behind her
ear. The moment he touched her, caught the faintest scent of roses
on her skin, his heart pounded so hard, he had trouble breathing
around it.

 

She stared up at him, an
invitation in her eyes. "I'm in room twelve. Give me ten
minutes."

 

Turning, she left him standing
on the sidewalk and entered the hotel, glancing back over her
shoulder to smile at him. He had one night in Missoula and even
though he'd never see this woman again, he'd carry the memory of
her with him always. The way she'd looked at him said she would
too. The invitation to her room was there and he wasn't stupid
enough to pass on it.

Chapter One

 

 

 

Good Lord above, the man was all
but naked!

 

Laurel blinked and nearly ran
the wagon into the fence as she stared at him. She managed to stop
the horses and even remembered to set the brake on the wagon,
reminding herself that she was a lady and averted her gaze.

 

Alexandra Avery fidgeted in the
seat beside of her and Laurel gave her a nod of her head, watching
as the girl stood and jumped from the wagon, running to whom she
assumed was her father. The man leaned down as the girl rushed out
an explanation and when he turned his head to look her way, and she
got a good look at his face, Laurel's heart skipped a beat as it
slammed against her ribcage. "Oh, sweet heavens, no."
It
couldn't be!

 

He stood to his full height, his
eyes widening a fraction as he looked at her, before he grinned so
devilishly, her breath caught. She knew in an instant she was in
trouble.

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