From Patricia Potter, award-winning author of The Marshal and the Heiress, comes a thrilling tale of danger and romance as a Scottish peer and a woman with a mission meet in the unlikeliest place--a cattle drive.
Andrew Cameron, Earl of Kinloch, came to America to forge a new life free of emotional ties. But when he saved a Texas rancher from an ambush, he found
himself deeply entangled--and suddenly employed as a cattle drover. Scrawny, scruffy young Gabe Lewis joined the drive too, sparking Drew's compassion. The boy couldn't do much right, but Drew had never met anyone with more determination. Then, under the grime and baggy clothes, Drew accidentally
uncovered beautiful Gabrielle Parker, acting the role of her life--to unmask her father's killer.
Now Drew and Gabrielle are locked in a passionate dance of secrets and seduction as wild as the frontier they ride....
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"One of the romance genre's finest talents."
"Charming humor, page-turning intrigue and characters so real they step out of the pages. A winner."
--Iris Johansen, New York Times bestselling author of Lion's Bride and The Ugly Duckling
"Patricia Potter has a special gift for giving an audience a first-class romantic story line."
--Affaire de Coeur
Drew watched as Kirby studied the boy. It shocked him that Kirby was actually considering hiring the lad.
"By the looks of that horse, I'd agree," Drew said helpfully, figuring Kirby needed only the slightest push.
Gabe Lewis scowled at him for a second. Baffled, Drew wondered why his help wasn't welcome.
Kirby finally spoke. "Pepper, our cook, was complaining yesterday about his rheumatism. Maybe we could use someone to help him out. You up to being a louse, boy?"
"A louse?" the boy repeated.
"A cook's helper," Kirby explained. "A swamper. Cleans up dishes, hunts cow chips, grinds coffee. You ever done any cooking?"
"Of course," the boy said airily. Drew sensed bravado, and another lie, but Kirby didn't seem to notice. From the moment the boy had mentioned he was desperate, the rancher had softened perceptibly. It surprised Drew. There was nothing soft about Kirby Kingsley.
But it was obvious that Kirby had made up his mind to hire Gabe Lewis--for reasons Drew didn't even begin to understand. The lad could barely sit a horse, admitted he'd never been on a cattle drive, and clearly had lied about his culinary ability. He probably lied about his age, as well; his face showed not even the faintest sign of stubble. Moreover, he didn't look strong enough to control a team of four mules.
Drew considered Gabe Lewis's assortment of clothing. Odds and ends--and far too many of them-- hung on a small frame, all dirty, much too large, and thoroughly impractical for the sweltering Texas spring. Was the lad trying to conceal a too- thin body or did he fear someone would take what little he had if he didn't keep it all close to his person?
"My cook has to agree," Kirby told the boy. "If he does, I'll pay you twenty dollars and found."
The boy nodded.
"You can't cut it, you're gone," Kirby added.
Lewis nodded again.
"You don't have much to say, do you?" Kirby asked.
"Didn't know that was important." It was an impertinent reply, one Drew might have made himself in his younger days.
Kirby turned to Drew. "Get the kid some food. I'll talk to Pepper."
"I need to take care of my horse," the boy said. "Give him some oats if you got any."
Kirby shook his head. "Don't bother. He'll be mixed in with ours. Not that he looks like he'll last long. "
"No," the boy said flatly.
Kirby, who had begun to walk away, stopped. "What did you say?"
"I'll take care of my own horse," the boy said stubbornly. "He's mine."
"If Pepper agrees to take you on, you'll ride on the hoodlum wagon," Kirby said. "You don't need a horse. Besides, all the hands put their horses in the remuda for common use. This one, though"--Kirby shook his head--"he won't be any good to us. Might as well put him down."
The lad's eyes widened in alarm. "No. I'll take care of him. He goes with me."
"Then you can look for another job."
Drew couldn't help but admire the boy's pluck. His need for the job was obvious, yet he wasn't going to give up the sorriest beast Drew had seen in a long time.
"Maybe the horse has some potential," Drew said softly.
Kirby didn't hide his disbelief. "That nag?"
"He's been mistreated, starved," the boy said. "It ain't his fault."
"How long you had him?" Kirby asked.
"Just a week, Mr. Kingsley, but he's got grit. We rode all the way from Pickens."
Kirby looked from the horse to Gabe Lewis . . . and back to the horse. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders in surrender. "What the hell. But you're responsible for him. If he can't keep up, I'll leave you both."
"He will. He's already getting stronger." The lad paused. "What's the hoodlum wagon?"
"Damn, don't you know anything?" Kirby's irritation was plain. "It's the wagon that carries bedrolls, extra saddles, tools. A chuck wagon for a drive this size needs every inch for food and supplies."
The lad looked fascinated but said nothing.
Kingsley swore, frowned at Drew, and turned his attention back to the corral.
Drew smiled at the boy, who didn't smile back. He did, however, slide down from the horse- - somewhat painfully.
"I'm Drew Cameron," he said.
The boy looked at him suspiciously. "You talk funny."
"I'm from Scotland," Drew explained. "The other hands call me Scotty."
The boy didn't look satisfied but didn't ask any more questions, either. Silent, he followed as Drew led him to the barn.
Drew stopped beside an empty stall, and watched as the lad led his horse in and began to unbuckle the saddle. Drew poured oats into a feed bucket. The horse looked at him with soft, grateful eyes, and he understood the boy's attachment. Hell, he'd had a horse he'd . . . loved. Too much. Bile filled his throat as he remembered....
"I can take care of him alone," the boy said rudely.
"You got a name for this animal?"
"Billy, if it's any of your business."
"That's a bloody odd name for a horse."
"It ain't your horse."
"No," Drew conceded.
The boy removed the bit from Billy's mouth and took off the halter. Then he returned to the unbuckled saddle and slid it off the horse's back. He struggled with it, and Drew saw immediately that Gabe Lewis was not adept at handling tack. There was no deftness that comes with practice.
Drew's gaze went to the boy's hands. Gloves covered them. New gloves. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the rest of his clothes were fairly new, too, though effort had been extended to hide that fact. The dirt, while plentiful, was too uniform for it to have been accumulated naturally, and the denim trousers were still stiff, not pliant.
"Don't you know it ain't polite to stare?"
The lad's angry question brought Drew's gaze up quickly. "Sorry," he said, making an effort to be less obvious--though he continued his inspection.
Something else didn't ring true. The lad's speech was odd. The way he said "ain't," as if it were an unfamiliar word. Drew had an ear for sounds. It was a natural talent that had been invaluable in gaming; he could always detect nuances in an opponent's voice: desperation, bluffing, fear. He thought he detected all those things in Gabe Lewis's youthful intonations.
Putting aside desperation and bluffing, both of which could be explained by poverty and need, why would the lad be afraid? Did he have something to hide? Could he be a runaway, or worse?
Drew hadn't forgotten the ambush nor the possibility that someone might try again. And he remembered the ambusher's words. That little guy. He very much doubted this slip of a lad could be involved in anything as savage as the ambush, but he had seen danger and dynamite come in much smaller packages.
He immediately dismissed the idea as absurd. Doubtless, the last few months in Scotland, during which he'd worried constantly that he would lose the sister he had just found, had made him overly cautious and far too suspicious. A man he'd never suspected--a trainer of horses--had proved to be a murderer and kidnapper. The experience had been a bitter reminder that people and things were often not what they seemed.
Draping an arm over the top of the stall, he asked, "Where are you from?"
Lewis continued brushing his horse. "Places."
An answer Drew himself had given frequently. He nodded. The boy's business was his own until proved otherwise.
"The bunkhouse is the next building. Take any cot that doesn't look occupied," Drew said, knowing there were several empty ones.
"When do we leave?"
Drew heard an anxious note in the boy's voice. "In two days."
"What do you do?" Lewis put down the brush and turned to look at him, meeting his gaze fully for once. His eyes were almost too blue to be real and they were filled now with cold anger.
Drew shrugged. "Just a cowhand. And if I want to stay that way, I'd better get back to work."
Drew turned and walked away. He could feel those blue eyes boring holes into his back. His spine tingled with the enmity he'd felt and wondered what he'd said, or done, to cause it.
What the bloody hell, anyway. The lad was none of his business.
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