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Duty or Desire

Duty or Desire

by Brenda Jackson

Hardcover

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Overview

New York Times Bestselling Author

What happens when a man of unshakable conviction

meets the woman who rocks his world?

Pete Higgins is an honorary Westmoreland, a man of his word—of course he’ll put duty to his orphaned niece first. Too bad the temporary nanny is tempting him with every look. Myra Hollister captivates him. But she’s keeping dangerous secrets, the kind that remind Pete of all he’s lost before and what he can’t afford to lose again…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780263081367
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2019
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.92(w) x 7.48(h) x 0.00(d)

About the Author

Brenda Jackson is a New York Times bestselling author of more than one hundred romance titles. Brenda lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and divides her time between family, writing and traveling. Email Brenda at authorbrendajackson@gmail.com or visit her on her website at brendajackson.net.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Five months later

"I hate that I'm leaving you like this, Pete, but my sister needs me."

Sheriff Peterson Higgins stared at the older woman standing across the kitchen. He'd known something was wrong the minute he walked through the door.

Well, he had news for Bonnie. He needed her, too. Pete suddenly felt like a class A bastard for thinking such a thing after she'd just tearfully explained that her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course he understood her wanting to go be with her only sister during this time. Even if her leaving would put him in a bind, the last thing he wanted was for Bonnie to feel guilty about going to her family. Somehow, he would find the right person to live-in and keep his fourteen-month-old niece while he worked.

Of course, that person couldn't really replace Bonnie.

Bonnie McCray had been his mother's best friend. When Renee Higgins had died, Pete had been sixteen and his younger brother Matthew twelve. Renee had asked Bonnie to always be there for her sons and Bonnie had kept that promise. And when Pete's father passed away three years later, Bonnie wouldn't hear of Pete not fulfilling his mother's dream of him completing college. Bonnie and her husband, Fred, agreed to look after Matt while Pete studied.

It had been hard going to college full-time and making sure the cattle ranch his father had loved remained productive. Luckily, his two best friends, Derringer and Riley Westmoreland, had a huge family of cousins and brothers who'd pitched in and helped out. They also made sure Pete hired the best people to help run things while he attended university.

After he completed college with a degree in criminology, he discovered ranching wasn't in his blood but a career in law enforcement was. He found out ranching wasn't in Matt's blood either when his brother went into the military immediately after high school.

Even so, Pete refused to sell the ranch that had been in the Higgins family for generations. Instead he leased part of the two hundred acres to sharecroppers, and for the other parts he hired a foreman and ranch hands. That freed Pete up to work for the sheriff's office, a job he'd secured after college thanks to Riley's oldest brother, Dillon Westmoreland.

Pete loved his career, and the ranch was making plenty of money, which he'd split with Matt before Matt's death.

A pain settled around Pete's heart when he remembered the phone call almost a year ago telling him Matt and Sherry had been killed in a car crash. Luckily, three-month-old Ciara hadn't been with them. It had been Matt and Sherry's "date night" and the baby had been at home with a sitter.

Sherry's parents, who lived in New Hampshire, had wanted full custody of Ciara and Pete had seen no reason not to give it to them. Matt had adored his in-laws, thought they were good people who treated him like a son instead of a son-in-law. Besides, Pete knew with his bachelor lifestyle, the last thing he could manage was taking care of a baby. When Sheriff Harper retired a few months before, Pete had been selected to replace him. That meant his plate was fuller than ever.

Things had been working out and he'd made a point to call and check on his niece every weekend. He enjoyed hearing about the development of her motor skills and how much she liked to eat.

But five months ago, out of the blue, Sherry's parents had shown up in Denver to say that health issues meant they needed him to serve as guardian for his niece. They assumed his bachelor days wouldn't last forever and they thought a much younger couple would have more energy to raise their granddaughter.

At thirty-six, marriage was the last thing on Pete's mind. However, he gladly gave his niece the love, attention and care he knew Matt would have wanted him to.

Now at fourteen months, Ciara Renee Higgins was ruling the Higgins household, and Pete was glad Bonnie had been there to help out as a fulltime nanny. Her husband had passed away a couple of years ago and with her only son living on the East Coast, Bonnie had welcomed the opportunity to take care of others again. As far as Pete was concerned, she'd been a godsend. He honestly didn't know what he'd have done without her and wondered what he would do now that she would be leaving.

"May I make a suggestion, Pete?"

For a minute he'd been so deep in thought he'd forgotten Bonnie was standing there, waiting for him to say something. "Yes."

Bonnie smiled as she placed a serving tray on the table with soup and a sandwich. His lunch. He made a habit of swinging by the ranch at noon each day to spend time with Ciara. Although Bonnie's job was to take care of Ciara, she always prepared lunch and dinner for him, as well. Where did she find the time to do such things? On the days when Bonnie returned to her own home, Pete took care of his niece by himself. Ciara required his full attention and would let him know when she felt she wasn't getting enough of it. It was only during her nap time was he able to grab a nap of his own.

"Hopefully, I won't be gone any more than two months, and I know of someone who could replace me."

He doubted anyone would be able to replace Bonnie. "Who?"

"A woman I met a couple of months ago at church. She recently moved to the area and she and I have become good friends."

He nodded as he walked over to the table to sit down and eat. "Where is she from?"

"Charleston."

He chuckled. "Good grief. Don't tell me we have another Southerner invading these parts. Bella is enough."

Bella was married to his friend Jason Westmoreland. Everyone thought of her as a real Southern belle. From the time she'd arrived in Denver it had been obvious that she was a woman of refinement. It didn't take long for word to spread that she was the daughter of a wealthy business tycoon in Savannah, Georgia. Although Bella had adjusted well, at times she still looked out of place amidst the bunch of roughnecks in these parts.

Bonnie placed a small salad near his sandwich. "Yes, another Southerner." She then poured iced tea into his glass.

He looked up. "Thanks. And what makes you think she will be good with Ciara?"

"Because she taught prekindergarten for a few years and before that, she worked with younger babies in a nursery at a hospital in Charleston. She's had us over for tea several times. I always take Ciara with me and the two of them hit it off. You of all people know how Ciara can be."

Yes, he knew. If his niece liked you, then she liked you. If she didn't, she didn't. And she normally didn't take well to strangers. "What makes you think she would be interested in keeping Ciara until you return?"

"Because I asked her," Bonnie said with excitement in her voice. "I didn't want to leave you with no one at all, and then not with just anyone."

He appreciated that. "When can I meet her, to see if she'll be a good fit?"

"I invited her to lunch."

Pete paused from biting into his sandwich. "Today?"

Bonnie smiled. "Yes, today. The sooner you can meet her, the better. I would worry sick the entire time I'm in Dallas if you and Ciara weren't taken care of properly."

At that moment the doorbell sounded. "That's probably her," Bonnie said, smiling, as she swiftly left the kitchen.

Pete began eating his sandwich, curious about the woman Bonnie was recommending. He figured she would be around Bonnie's age, which meant she could probably cook. Having home-cooked Southern dishes once in a while was a nice thought.

"Pete, I'd like you to meet Myra Hollister. Myra, this is Sheriff Peterson Higgins."

Placing his glass down on the table, Pete stood and turned to offer his hand to the woman, then froze. Standing in the middle of his kitchen beside Bonnie was the most gorgeous woman he'd seen in a while. A long while. And she was young, probably no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. She had a petite figure and was no more than five-three. She appeared even shorter than that when standing across from his six-three height.

She had skin the color of rich mocha and features so striking he felt like he'd been struck in all parts of his body. Perfect hazel eyes stared back at him and a smile curved a pair of delectable lips. Fluffy dark brown bangs swept across her forehead and a mass of curly hair fell past her shoulders. When he finally moved his gaze from her face it was to check out the legs beneath her dress. They were as gorgeous as the rest of her.

He couldn't ignore the spike of heat that caught him low in the gut. The power of her femininity surrounded him, actually made his heart skip a couple of beats. He wanted to groan in protest.

"It's nice meeting you, Sheriff Higgins. I've heard a lot of wonderful things about you," the woman said, offering him her hand. Her Southern accent was just as perceptible as Bella's.

"Thanks," Pete replied, fighting back a curse. The moment their hands had touched, a hard hum of lust had rushed through his veins.

Bonnie wanted him to hire this woman as a live-in nanny? She had to be kidding. There was no way he could do that, even on a temporary basis. This was the first woman he'd been attracted to since Ellen.

That placed him in one hell of a dilemma.

Myra Hollister tried hiding her excitement at possibly being hired as Ciara's nanny. She adored the precious little girl she'd gotten to know. And when Bonnie mentioned her need for a replacement, Myra had been glad to help. It would certainly solve some of her own problems for a while.

First off, she would get a salary, which meant she wouldn't have to touch her savings. And since her lease ended next month, moving in here was great, too. Hopefully without her own address, her brother wouldn't be able to find her. The latter was the most important thing and would definitely buy her the time she needed before returning to Charleston for a face-off with Baron.

"How old are you?"

Sheriff Higgins's question reeled her concentration back in. "I'm twenty-four but will be turning twenty-five on Christmas Day."

Myra studied his very handsome features, which she'd noticed the moment she'd walked in. She figured he was either thirty-five or thirty-six, which would put him at Baron's age. She'd encountered good-looking older men before. Her brother's friends were all eye candy and, like him, they were all womanizers who thought women were good for only one thing. Long ago she figured it must be an age thing. Even Baron thought that way and he'd been married to Cleo almost four years. She loved her sister-in-law and regretted how Baron and his mother, Charlene, were treating her. Myra was convinced Cleo would have left Baron long ago, but he swore he would fight her for custody of the kids if she left him.

Pushing thoughts of Baron from her mind, Myra placed her concentration back on the man standing in front of her. He had chestnut-colored skin, broad shoulders and long legs that looked good in his pants. He also had a gorgeous pair of dark brown eyes that seemed to be staring at her in disapproval. Why? Although this was what she considered an informal interview, she had dressed appropriately. She was wearing one of her church dresses with heels.

And why had he asked about her age? Hadn't Miss Bonnie given him a rundown of her credentials and experience? What was the issue? She could tell by the frown on his face that there was one.

Automatically, she slid her hands to the back of her hair and fluffed it away from her neck, something she did whenever she was nervous. And she shouldn't be feeling nervous, not when she was qualified for the job. If truth be told, probably overqualified.

"You're a lot younger than I thought you would be," he finally said, after staring her down. "Sorry, but I don't think you'll work out."

Myra blinked. He didn't think she would work out?

She was being dismissed because of her age? Maybe now was the time to remind him that there were such things as discrimination laws, but then she figured that would only make the situation worse. She glanced over at Miss Bonnie, who was giving the sheriff a shocked stare.

Deciding to reassure him, because she truly needed the job, she said, "I don't consider myself too young to care for your niece, Sheriff Higgins. I've worked at a day care and also in the nursery at the hospital. And once I finish my thesis, I'll have my PhD in child psychology."

If Myra thought that information would impress him, then she was wrong. He remained expressionless when he said, "All that's nice, but I regret you wasted your time coming here today."

Although she didn't understand what was going on, all she could do was take the man at his word. Besides, he might think of her as young, but she was strong. Only a strong woman could have put up with her brother's foolishness for the past six months and not have broken. Fighting back the anger she felt, she said, as politely as she could, "I regret wasting my time coming here today, as well. Good day, Sheriff." Giving Miss Bonnie an appreciative smile, she added, "I can see my way to the door." Then Myra turned and walked out of the kitchen.

"Would you like to tell me what that was about, Peterson?"

It wasn't the tone of Bonnie's voice alone that let Pete know she was upset with him. She never called him Peterson. "I stated it already and there's nothing more to tell. I thought the woman you were recommending was an older woman, closer to your age. She's way too young," he said, before sitting back down to the table to resume eating his lunch.

"Too young? For heaven's sake, she's nearly twenty-five. Women her age are having babies every day. How can you think she's too young when you've gotten Charity Maples to babysit for you a few times and she's only seventeen?"

He shrugged. "The key word is babysit. I don't need a young nanny working for me. Have you forgotten I need a live-in nanny?"

"At the moment what I think you need is your head examined. Myra Hollister is more than qualified to be a nanny, and what's the problem with her living here while taking care of Ciara?"

He didn't say anything and then he wished he had come up with something. If he had, Bonnie might not have slung out her next accusation. "You're afraid, aren't you? You're afraid that a young beautiful woman will remind you to live again."

He glanced over at her, which wasn't hard to do since she'd come to stand by the table. "I don't know what you're talking about. I am living."

"No, you're not — you're breathing. I, more than anyone, know that a part of you stopped living the day Ellen died. It's been twelve years, Pete."

Every muscle in Pete's body tensed. He, of all people, knew just how many years it had been. A man would not forget the day his fiancée died when she was thrown from the horse she'd been riding. Pete doubted he would ever forget that day for as long as he lived.

A man had come into the dress shop where she worked a month earlier and tried flirting with her. She'd told him she wasn't interested and was engaged to be married. He had begun stalking her and Ellen hadn't told Pete anything. Then the man had intentionally thrown a firecracker to spook her horse. At least he'd been arrested and was still serving time for Ellen's death.

"I know how long it's been, Bonnie. What's your point? You act as if I don't date."

"Yes, you date, though rarely."

She was right. However, his excuse was a good one. He was too busy. Besides, some women saw a man in a uniform as a trophy to win and he didn't intend to be a prize in any contest. He sighed as he shifted his gaze from Bonnie to the window.

Bonnie moved around the table to stand by him, intentionally blocking his view. She stood there, a force to be reckoned with, her hands on her hips, giving him that infamous Bonnie McCray glare.

"You've just dismissed your best prospect for a nanny. I didn't even know about that thesis for her PhD. That makes her more than qualified."

He drew in a deep breath. "What do you even know about her?"

"She's living in Denver temporarily, trying to deal with grief. Her parents died a few months ago while vacationing in Morocco. The tour helicopter crashed."

"That's tragic," he said, shaking his head, feeling bad for the woman. Losing both parents at the same time had to be hard on a person. He recalled years ago when the same thing had happened to his best friends, Derringer and Riley Westmoreland. The cousins had lost both sets of parents the same day in an airplane accident. He recalled how devastating that had been.

"Yes, it was tragic," Bonnie was saying. "Her family owns a huge corporation in Charleston, but she's not in the family business or anything."

"How did she decide on Denver?" he asked, "Someone she knows from college owns a house here and she's leasing it for six months."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Duty Or Desire"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Brenda Streater Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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