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The Texas Rancher, страница 1

 

The Texas Rancher
 

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The Texas Rancher


  'Her talent will not be wasted!"

  Josie was furious to hear her future

  being discussed. Especially by Kade

  Boston, her grandfather's arrogant

  neighbor.

  She had come all the way to Texas to repay her debt to her grandfather a debt of love. To her chagrin, she soon found herself in debt to Kade, as well.

  But Kade, as head of the school board, had denied her the teaching job she wanted. He had a nerve thinking he could make other plans for her!

  published every month

  The world of romance is yours in the eiher new and original r- Harlequin Romances and four new H.irlequin Present's

  wherever paperbacks are sold.

  PRINTED IN U.S.A

  1^

  "I've already made other a rra ngements.

  Josie's stunned look was replaced by one of fury. How dared he? Without so much as a "do you mind?" Kade had adjusted affairs to suit his purpose, making her feel like a puppet.

  "Do you always expect people to jump at your bidding?" she demanded furiously.

  The mocking light was still in his eyes as he replied softly, "Only when necessary, Miss West, and I think," he added in that maddening drawl, "you'll eventually see that my arrangement is suitable all around."

  Original hardcover edition published in 1978 by Mills & Boon Limited ISBN 0-373-02194-1 Harlequin edition published September 1978

  Copyright � 1978 by Jane Corrie. Philippine copyright 1978.'

  All rights reserved. Except for use In any review, the reproduction or utilizationof this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical orother means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher. All the characters in thisbook have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no

  relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are noteven distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and

  all the incidents are pure invention. The Harlequin trademark, consisting of the word HARLEQUIN and theportrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in the United States Patent

  Office and in the Canada Trade Marks Office.

  PRINTED IN U.S.A.

  CHAPTER ONE

  JOSIE WEST watched as the cheerful bus driver

  took her cases out of the hold at the back of the bus, and placing them on the dusty ground on the outskirts of the small township, airily waved aside

  the tip she had wanted to give him and gave her a grin. 'There's sure to be some form of transport to take you the rest of the way,' he assured her cheerfully, and with a final wave seated himself back in the driver's seat, started up, and in a cloud of dust

  was on his way back towards the main highway.

  Josie pocketed the tip, wishing the man had taken it, for he had earned it, coming as he had way off his regular route to put her down nearer to her destination. As for the transport he had so cheerfully assured her would be forthcoming, Josie had her doubts, and her eyes narrowed against the glare of the midday sun as she looked ahead of her to what she knew was the -main street of the sleepy township tucked away in the furthermost part of east Texas. Not only the main street, but the only street, and Josie's brow furrowed as she tried to recall earlier memories of the town she had been born in, twenty-two years ago, the last twelve having been spent in England, being brought up by an aunt of hers whom her'grandfather had sent

  her to stay with while receiving an education. Memories flooded back to her, not of the township she was now looking towards, but of the

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  thriving market garden her grandfather had run. Of the rows of greenhouses, and acres of planted land�of fruit trees, and flowering shrubs, of the games she used to play with Dan Muntrose's children, for he was her grandfather's manager of the large concern. She sighed; it was odd really how memories returned once she was back on familiar ground. The candy store at the end of the street

  was where she would rush at the end of the week to spend the money her grandfather had allotted her, depending on the week's behaviour, and how she would always try to beat Nat, Dan's oldest son, to

  the counter to be served first, although Nat was

  seven years older than her, and/nearly always won

  the race hands down.

  She wondered if Dan was still with her grandfather. Nat would presumably be married now, she

  mused, for twelve years was a long time. Her lips

  pressed together. Too long, she thought sadly, and

  so much to make up for... She shook her head

  impatiently, and stared down at her heavy cases.

  Her grandfather's home lay just beyond the town

  ship; too far for her to walk carrying her cases, and

  somehow she would have to get transport. She

  could, of course, ring through and ask her grandfather to send a car to collect her, but she did not want to do this�she wanted to walk in unan

  nounced, and tell him she was back to stay, and she

  would have been back before if only she had

  known what she knew now, and hope he would

  understand and not be bitter at what must have

  appeared to be hurtful neglect of his feelings in

  the past. The sound of horse's hoofs brought her out of

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  7

  her musings, and she glanced round at the rider moving towards her, obviously going into the town. Considering that she had spent most^ot her life in a small K-entish village, the sight of a man on horseback, wearing a wide stetson and leatherfringed jacket, gave her no surprise, for this was cattle country, and when she was a child it had been a familiar sight, and: awakened other memories of going to see rodeos with her grandfather; not that this man represented this kind of show; there were no dude ranches there. It was the real thing, and several flourishing ranches lay beyond

  the town. Cattle breeding was big business here. The man reined in beside her, giving her a

  quick appraisal from under the stetson worn low over the forehead that almost obscured his features, but Josie caught a glimpse of weatherbeaten

  skin, and could almost feel his eyes taking in her

  slight form dressed in a cool green linen trouser suit that highlighted her corn-coloured hair, now pulled back in a pony tail to keep it tidy and away from her heart-shaped face.

  'Lost?' he queried in a soft southern drawl, and

  Josie's wide blue eyes showed her amusement at the question as she answered smilingly, 'Not really, I was just wondering how to get some form of

  transport.' The man pushed back his hat, and Josie saw that he was quite a lot younger than she had thought at first, in his early twenties, she guessed. His hair was longish and curled at the neck, and as his light blue eyes continued his scrutiny of her, he replied lightly, 'Guess it depends where you're heading.' There was such a look of admiration in his eyes

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  that Josie felt embarrassed. She had seen that look before on a man's face, and though it ought to have pleased her feminine vanity, her shy nature abhorred such attention. His eyes told her he was quite willing to be of any assistance to her, she had only to name her objective.

  'I'm heading for the Carella estate,' she told him. 'Joseph West is my grandfather. I expect you know him,' she added confidently. It was such a small place, the man was bound to know her grandfather.

  The change in the man's manner was almost startling; he pushed his hat back on his head with a jerk, and his voice was no longer soft but hard and uncompromising as he jabbed a thumb toward
s the main street. 'Sure I know him,' he drawled. 'Just follow the white line, lady; eventually you'll

  come to it.' With that terse direction, he spurred his horse into action and was soon galloping off, leaving an amazed Josie staring after him.

  After a moment or so, she gave a wry grin. She had been given the brush-off in no uncertain manner, and it was a new experience for her. To give her credit, it did not shatter her, and her small chin was held high as she gazed after the man who had so abruptly dismissed her. He was probably the owner of a cattle ranch, she thought, and cattle men hadn't much time for market gardeners.

  He had probably tried to get her grandfather to part with some land and had come unstuck. She grinned again, imagining the short shrift such a request would be given by her grandfather, who

  was never one to mince his words.

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  9

  Picking up her cases, she made her way towards the town, and went into the first store she came to. Apart from the horseman, she had not met one single soul. It was as if the place was deserted.

  The chimes of the bell attached to the door were dwindling to a halt by the time someone appeared the other side of the counter of the grocery store, and Josie began to wonder if the town had been hit by some holocaust that had wiped out the population. Then she recalled that the noon hour

  was not an ideal time to make an appearance on an extremely hot day, and that the Spanish custom of taking a siesta still lingered in this part of the

  world. As she watched the stout man in a white overall approach, she tried to recall whether she knew him or not, although she couldn't remember visiting this store when she was young, for all food would have been delivered to Carella. Even so, she searched for some recognition of the man now waiting to serve her, and came up with a complete blank. 'I'm sorry to trouble you,' she said, 'but is there any chance of hiring a taxi, or some form of transport to take me out to the Carella estate?' Her blue eyes took in the man's reaction to this request, and it wasn't unlike the man on horseback's reaction, except for, the curiosity that was only too apparent on his face, as he scratched his chin thoughtfully and remarked ponderously, 'Well, now, miss, that ain't exactly on the main route. Guess I do know of someone who might stretch a point and give you a lift out there, seeing he's short of the ready just now.' He gave Josie a searching

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  look. 'Sure that's the place you want?' he queried hopefully. Josie nodded abruptly, guessing the reason for the question. 'Mr West is my grandfather,' she replied, deciding to put the man out of his misery. 'I'd walk it, but I've my cases, you see.' She looked down at her cases, then back at the man. 'So if you would give me this man's address, or where I can contact him, I would be obliged to you.' The grocer appeared to be having some difficulty in digesting Josie's disclosure, but pulled himself together in time to answer her. 'No problem there,' he drawled laconically, 'Marny will be where he always is at this time�at the pool room.' At Josie's swift nod and stoop to collect her cases ready to go in search of the said Marny, he said

  hastily, 'Hang on�I'll see if I can raise him for

  you,' and turned to the telephone on the wall be

  hind him. ,

  Replacing her cases on the ground, Josie murmured her thanks and waited while the man dialled the number he wanted, and when connected, asked for the man in question. A few seconds later she heard him say, 'Got a lady here, Marny. Wants a lift out to Joe West's place.' After another short pause, he replaced the receiver and turned back to Josie. 'He's on his way,' he told her.

  Thanking him once again, Josie walked to the door to await the transport, conscious all the time of the grocer's keen interest in her. One thing was certain, the man had not known of her existence, and that meant that he had taken the business after she had been sent to England. A slight frown

  creased her forehead; in a town this size, everybody

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  11

  knew everybody's business, and Josie's grandfather had been a prominent citizen in the town, so it was slightly odd that this man had not heard of her. His surprise and ensuing curiosity had been quite genuine, and it hurt Josie more than she cared to think.

  Her eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun as she watched for the car. Twelve years was a long time�even longer, if no attempt had been made to communicate. Visits, of course, had been out of the question; Kent was a long way away from Texas. She gulped, and if the truth were known, she wouldn't be here now it certain facts hadn't come to light after her aunt's death a month ago.

  There had not been much affection between Josie and her aunt, and it had often puzzled Josie as to why she had agreed to take her in the first place, for it was plain she was not what might be termed as 'motherly' in any sense of the word. Children were meant to be seen and not heard, and this sentiment was certainly enforced on young Josie, who grew up under the illusion that she ought to be grateful for the home she had been given, not to mention food and clothing.

  Taking a handkerchief out of her jacket pocket, Josie wiped the perspiration off her forehead and hoped her grandfather had some form of air-conditioning. She wished she could remember more about the house she had stayed in before being sent to England. What she could remember with bitter clarity were her feelings at that tender age, at being sent away from the one person she had loved, her desolated feelings at the betrayal, for that was how she had viewed it at the time. Of her parents she

  li} THE TEXAN RANCHER

  had little recollection, but she must have loved them, and that love had been transferred with ferocious intensity to her 'Gramps', as she had called him, on their death in a railroad disaster. And there had been worse to come, as her bewildered tearswollen eyes had alighted on the grim countenance of the woman waiting to collect her at the airport

  on her arrival in England.

  Time had passed, and there had been no communication between her and her grandfather, and an unhappy child had had to accept the brusque, heartbreaking comment from her aunt, that her grandfather was much too busy to bother with her�he'd sent her away, hadn't he? because he couldn't be bothered with her, and she ought to be thanking her for taking her in, instead of whining

  for someone who didn't care any more.

  The years had dulled the sorrow, and her memories had dimmed to vague shadows. Her aunt's death, however, had brought a very different picture of the past. For one thing, it had been her

  grandfather who had supported her all those years

  with regular payments to her aunt, thus revealing

  to Josie the real truth behind her so-called 'kind

  ness' in taking her in, and for another, the pay

  ments had been of a more than generous nature. A

  conscience-stricken Josie had wondered how her

  aunt could have been so cruel as to keep her in

  ignorance of this fact all those years.

  Josie had also found letters from her grand

  father, sent to her aunt, .in which he constantly

  asked for news of her. News which apparently was

  never given, as were the replies to the missives he

  had sent to Josie, for the simple reason that Josie

  THE TEXAN RANCHER Ig

  had never received them, and her eyes had filled with tears as she sensed the bitterness behind his words when referring to her in later years.

  She had taken particular note of the fact that the payments had stopped on her twenty-first birthday with a lump sum to be given, directed the letter in her grandfather's spidery writing, to Josie on her coming of age. Money that Josie had never received, nor ever would, for her aunt had willed her money to an obscure religious group with even obscurer objectives.

  Had her aunt possessed a more tidy nature, or indeed had known that a stroll down to the local shops one morning would result in her death at

  the hands of a drunken driver losing control of his

 
; vehicle, she would no doubt have destroyed all trace of past payments. As it was, her habit of pushing all communications into the sideboard drawer and proceeding to forget them gave Josie an insight into the past, and a determination to make up for all those lost years, knowing that her grandfather must think she was very ungrateful for all his help, even though he didn't know that Josie had never benefited from it.

  If it hadn't been for a premium bond win of five hundred pounds, she wouldn't have been able to make the trip out to Texas, for although she was now qualified as a teacher, she had only just qualified, and had been trying to obtain a post when her aunt had met her death. Subsequent revelations had made her more than ever anxious to obtain work of some nature, if only to enable her to save for the trip out there. She had had no

  THE TEXAN RANCHER

  intention of asking her grandfather to foot the bill;

  he had paid enough as it was.

  A cloud of dust in the distance proclaimed the arrival of the transport Josie was waiting for, and collecting her cases, and smiling at the grocer who still stood watching her, she moved out of the doorway towards the car now drawing up beside her.

  Marny proved very uncommunicative, and Josie gathered his mind was still on the game that he had had to abandon, and apart from making sure that he had got the destination right, he said little else until they had arrived, when he asked tor two dollars for the trip.

  Josie had been gazing a little bewilderedly at the sprawling but definitely dilapidated house they had drawn up beside, and her eyes searched for familiar scenes remembered from her childhood. Where were the lawns that once fronted the house? and where were the greenhouses that had once stood directly behind the house? For there was nothing there now but a wilderness of what had once been well-cared-for plants.

  There was a hint of impatience in the man's voice as he repeated his request for the fare, and Josie shook herself out of her musings and fumbled in her purse for the money. It seemed a lot to pay for such a short journey, but nevertheless she paid it willingly, if only to get rid of the morose man bv her side.

  Without a 'thank you', or 'good afternoon' the man was on his way back to town by the time Josie had walked to the front door of the house.

 
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