Grace Cavanaugh is as out of place on Dillon Becket's Texas ranch as he would be in London, where she's spent half her life. Since her father died without a penny to his name, she has no choice but to remain with the man he named her guardian. For now.
Dillon expects his new charge to be a child, not a fully grown woman, but he owed a debt to Grace's father so he grudgingly accepts the responsibility. She's of a marriageable age. All he has to do is find her a husband. Unfortunately Grace is no angel. No matter how beautiful she is, finding a man who can handle her won't be easy.
Her beauty captivates him; her spirit moves him. She finds an unexpected beauty in Texas, and in Dillon.
When the ranch they both call home is threatened, will love be enough to save them?
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About the Author
After publishing more than seventy books, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I just can’t make up my mind about what, exactly, I want to write. Since 1994 I’ve written romance in several different sub-genres. Historical; fairy tale; romantic suspense; paranormal; fantasy; contemporary. As so many authors do, I write what speaks to me in that moment. Who knows what will come next?
Whatever the genre, I believe the perfect romance should provide a tear and a couple of laughs, a chill or two, and by the time the story is over, the reader should be left with a smile and the feeling that all is right with the world in that moment.
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Read an Excerpt
No Angel's Grace
By Linda Winstead Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Linda Winstead Jones
All rights reserved.
New Orleans, 1872
"I still don't know why I had to tag along." Billy leaned back on the rough wooden bench and stretched out his long legs. The heels of his working boots snapped against the walkway as he brought them down with all the force of his massive weight.
"I told you." Dillon Becket paced nervously in front of his friend and employee, his own boots clicking with each step. "Kids like you. They sure as hell don't like me, and it's going to be a long trip from here to the Double B." Dillon turned his eyes to the older man. "What the hell am I going to do with a little girl?"
Dillon looked to Billy's pale blue eyes for answers. Any answers. But the gray-haired man continued to grin as he stretched long, muscular arms over his head. Billy's smiles came easily and often, and those smiles deepened the wrinkles that lined his pleasant face. "Well," he drawled, "Whatever you do, don't look at her like that. You're likely to scare the poor little thing right into the Mississippi."
They'd been in New Orleans almost a week, awaiting the arrival of the steamer from England. The timing couldn't have been any worse. Dillon was aware, every minute that passed, that he should be on the cattle drive. Its success was crucial to the survival of the Double B, and he had been forced to trust the herd to a hired trail boss. It went against his every instinct to trust such an important task to another man, but he'd had no choice. Colonel Cavanaugh's urgent request had brought Dillon to New Orleans for the repayment of an old debt. It was a request he couldn't refuse, no matter how much he wanted to do just that.
Billy stood to look toward the water. Though he was well over fifty he had the strength and build of a younger man, and he was nearly as broad as he was tall. Dillon couldn't remember a time when Billy hadn't been there. His father's employee, his father's friend. As much a part of the Double B as Dillon was. And never so much as in the past six months.
"That must be it," Billy said with a growl.
Dillon turned and watched the approaching ship with rapidly mounting anxiety. Christ. A kid. What the hell was he going to do with a kid? Surely the child would not travel alone. Maybe there would be a governess or a nanny on board, and maybe, just maybe, the woman could be persuaded to make the trip to Texas and to stay for a while. Hell, he couldn't afford to pay another salary, not now.
They watched silently as the ship docked and the passengers began to disembark.
"How old is she?" Billy asked, not for the first time since they'd left Texas. He was never satisfied with the answer.
"She was a baby when Colonel Cavanaugh joined the Confederate Army and sent her to live with relatives in England. An aunt. That was eleven years ago, so I'd guess she's maybe ... twelve or thirteen."
"He shoulda sent you a picture or somethin'," Billy grumbled as he studied the passengers who began to crowd the dock. There was only one child among them ... a ragged-looking little boy who clutched at his mother's skirts as he tried to find his land legs again.
"I expect he intended to be among the living when I arrived," Dillon snapped. "Christ, Billy, how am I supposed to know what was in the man's mind? I hadn't seen him in ..." Dillon's breath was damn near stolen away, and he forgot exactly what it was he had been about to say.
"Damn." He swore under his breath, and from the corner of his eye saw Billy's head turn to follow his gaze. A woman had stepped from the ship and was making her way cautiously down the gangplank.
She had black hair only partially covered by a close-fitting bonnet, and an emerald green feather danced in the wind above her head. Her matching green gown clung to her torso and flowed about her legs, and even though her skin was covered by a high collar and long, wide sleeves, Dillon thought she was the most enticing woman he had ever seen. She walked as though she were a queen, and when her feet were firmly on the ground, Dillon realized that his were not the only eyes that had been following the lovely lady.
She searched the crowd, standing on her toes and peering over and around heads as she looked for a familiar face. When her eyes lit on Dillon they lingered for just a moment. Dillon tipped his hat in a gentlemanly manner as he returned that gaze.
She raised her finely shaped eyebrows slightly and gave Dillon a cold look that was apparently meant to put him in his place. Somehow she was belittling and chastising him with that icy glare that touched him for such a short time.
The baggage was carried off the ship by sailors who cursed loudly and ignored the passengers who were searching for their bags and trunks. The sailors' brash voices, their colorful curses, were almost indecipherable, their accent was so heavy. The accent was not one of refinement, but was as harsh as their words.
Dillon watched and waited, and still there was no sign of the little girl.
"Maybe it's the wrong boat," Billy offered as Dillon continued to search for the Cavanaugh girl.
Dillon shook his head. "It's the right one. Hell, I hope nothing happened to her on the crossing."
The dock gradually cleared as the passengers collected their baggage and departed, all of them apparently glad to have solid ground beneath their feet after the long voyage. They smiled and laughed and left in groups small and large.
The coldly enchanting woman who had caught Dillon's eye waited alone, surrounded by a mountain of luggage. He couldn't keep his eyes off of her, though she was doing a fine job of completely ignoring him and every other man in the vicinity—her nose in the air, a distant gaze in her eyes.
Dillon took a few steps toward the ship and the lady. As much as he disliked the idea of boarding the ship—just the thought of the swaying deck made him queasy—he needed to speak to the captain. Perhaps the Cavanaugh girl had missed the ship. Perhaps it was the wrong ship after all. That would muck up his plans for certain. He had three tickets to Galveston, and that ship was sailing the following afternoon.
He stopped close to the dark-haired woman in the green dress. Damn, but she was gorgeous. He looked for a flaw, but found none. Her skin was milky pale and he saw not a mole, not a freckle. And her hair, up close, looked like black silk.
"Ma'am." Dillon removed his hat and held it against his chest. "Do you need any assistance?" She didn't look worried, all alone there amid her trunks, but he knew she had to be. Who was supposed to collect her? And what fool would leave a woman like this one unattended?
She gave him the same look she had earlier, a condescending glare obviously meant to put him off. Standing this close to her, he could see that her eyes were the color of bluebonnets.
"No, thank you," she said primly. "My father will be along shortly."
"I do hate to see a young lady—"
She sighed—a deep and unnecessarily loud lament—cutting off his offer of help. "If you don't leave me alone, I shall be forced to call a constable."
Dillon jammed his hat back on his head. "A constable? Honey, I don't know where you're from, but in Texas we consider it a crime to leave such a pretty girl stranded. I'd be happy to—"
She lifted her hands from her sides, holding her palms toward him and displaying long, slender fingers. Her bluebonnet eyes took in his hat, his buckskin jacket, his heavy denim trousers, and, finally, his boots.
"Excuse me, sir, but I don't intend to stand here and carry on a conversation with a ... a Westerner who's so obviously out of place. Are you lost? Perhaps it is you who needs assistance."
"Look," Dillon began. He'd just been trying to be helpful, and maybe he'd been thinking of delaying his necessary venture onto the ship. This woman was irritating the hell out of him, with that patronizing air and her clearly disgusted perusal. A few moments ago he had envied the man who would collect the beautiful lady. Now he pitied him. He had plenty of problems of his own, but at least they didn't involve her. "Sorry to have bothered you." He tipped his hat and turned toward the ship.
Someone of authority, a dignified man in a formal uniform, was disembarking, and that meant that perhaps Dillon wouldn't have to venture onto the ship after all. The man left the ship with an air of authority, and smiled broadly at someone over Dillon's shoulder.
"Miss Cavanaugh," he boomed. "Your father has not arrived yet to meet you? I'd be more than happy to arrange transportation for you."
Dillon turned around very slowly. There was only one passenger remaining on the dock. Only one. Impossible. The lady in the green silk dress smiled at the officer, but it was a smile as empty of emotion as her eyes.
"How very kind you are, Captain Harper." Her eyes flickered to Dillon and back to the captain. "It probably would not be wise for me to linger here."
Dillon stared at her as the captain passed him and presented himself to the lady in green. Not possible. With denial planted firmly in his brain, Dillon walked toward her.
"Miss Cavanaugh." Dillon's words were soft as he stood near the woman and Captain Harper.
"Captain, this man has been harassing me," she snapped, refusing to look at Dillon.
The captain turned to challenge Dillon, but hesitated when Billy appeared at his side, his massive arms crossed over his chest, a scowl on his usually passive face.
"Miss Grace Cavanaugh?" Dillon asked, something cold gripping at his chest. Say no, he prayed. Please say no.
She lifted her chin, and her eyes met his with a flash of blue fire. "Yes," she said, the biting edge in her voice as defiant as her eyes. And then she sighed, and an odd acceptance stole over her face.
"Your father was Colonel Hudson Cavanaugh?"
The color drained from her face. "Was?"
Dillon realized his mistake immediately. Somehow she'd never received the news her father's lawyer had sent.
"I'm sorry, Miss Cavanaugh. Your father passed away over a month ago." Dillon took his hat from his head again and clutched it in front of his heart. He had expected her to know. He had expected her to be a child. "He ... he asked me to look after you."
Color spread across her cheeks, and she stammered as she battled to maintain her composure. "I ... I don't ... I don't believe you. My father wouldn't have ..." The color drained from her face again as it apparently occurred to her that this was exactly what her father would have done.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Cavanaugh," the captain offered, and then he backed away, leaving the three of them alone.
Dillon introduced himself and Billy, not certain if Grace heard him or not. Her eyes were glazed, and she remained pale ... as white as the untouched snow atop a mountain peak. Her hands were clutched almost demurely, and Dillon was certain that he saw a slight tremble there. He reached out to comfort her, to lay his hand on her arm, and that was when the color flew back into her face.
"Don't touch me, Becket."
At least she remembered his name.
Grace looked the two of them over, suspicion replacing the shock that had clouded her eyes. "What proof do I have that you're telling the truth?"
Dillon drew a letter from his pocket. "This is the message the colonel sent to me just before he died. He asked me to take care of you. I've spent some time with his attorney this week. We can go by his office, if you like."
Yes, Dillon had a few questions of his own for the attorney. Why hadn't he said anything about Colonel Cavanaugh's daughter being a grown woman? Dillon went over every conversation in his head, and he could recall no reference at all that had been made concerning Grace Cavanaugh's age. In the brief conversations he'd had with the lawyer, she'd been referred to as the colonel's daughter. And that was all.
Grace took the letter from his hand and read it slowly. She read it once, and then again. Finally she appeared to be satisfied.
"So he knew he was dying when he finally asked me to come home." It was a statement, not a question, and no response was required or even looked for. Dillon could see her mind at work as she gathered her wits and faced the man before her. No tears. No wails of regret. Just steely acceptance.
"It was quite noble of you to agree to my father's request, but it's not necessary. I'm twenty-two years old, and have no need for a guardian. If you would be so kind as to escort me to the house, and perhaps to introduce me to Father's solicitor ..."
Dillon's pained look stopped her before he even opened his mouth. When he did finally speak, he had her full and undivided attention. "Miss Cavanaugh, the house has been sold, and unless you have some funds of your own ..." His words died slowly and painfully.
"Are you telling me that ... that my father ... that there's no ... that I'm ..."
Dillon could think of no other way to say it but straight out. "Your father was in hock up to his eyeballs when he died. The house and everything in it were sold to pay his debts. There's nothing left. I'm sorry."
She had no idea how very sorry he was.
Grace closed her eyes, and Dillon watched as she pulled herself together. "What do we do now, Becket?" she asked sharply, her eyes flying open.
"I have a ranch in Texas. We set sail tomorrow afternoon for Galveston. When we get back to the Double B we'll think this through."
Dillon placed his hat back on his head and impatiently thumbed it so it sat far back. A husband, he thought to himself as he looked her over. It was, of course, much too early to broach the subject with Grace. She had just learned of her father's death and her precarious financial situation. But that was what they would have to do. Find her a suitable husband.
"A ranch," she repeated in a dead voice. "In Texas. I have read about Texas." She sounded decidedly less than enthusiastic about the prospect of going there.
"Are all these trunks yours?" Dillon asked, as distressed at the prospect of traveling with such a mountain of luggage as Grace seemed to be at the idea of venturing into Texas.
Grace looked around her, at the trunks of all shapes and sizes, and she picked up a small carpetbag that had been resting at her feet, clasping the handle with both hands. "Of course."
Dillon groaned, but Billy smiled and stepped closer to Grace, and he gave her his most winning smile. "Don't worry none, Miss Grace. You'll like the Double B. You can go riding all you want, and Olivia will sure be happy to keep you company."
Grace gave Billy a glare as cold as the one she had given Dillon earlier, and that almost made Dillon smile himself. Billy wasn't accustomed to such a reaction to his Texas charm.
"I've never ridden a horse in my life, and I have no idea, nor do I have any desire to know, who Olivia is."
Billy seemed unruffled by her response.
"But don't concern yourself," she continued. "I won't be in Texas for very long."
These had been, surely, the longest twenty-four hours of his life.
Dillon closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the hard wooden seat. It was comfortable enough. And perhaps if Grace believed him to be asleep she would leave him alone. He'd never known a woman who could complain more—more often or more loudly. She'd argued with the attorney, complained about the small hotel where they'd spent the night in New Orleans. Hell, she'd had her own room, and it had been relatively clean. She'd complained across the water to Galveston, even as he battled down the nausea that had assaulted him with just as much vengeance as Grace Cavanaugh had.
She'd practically seethed when they'd had to wait for the train. It hadn't satisfied her at all when he'd explained to her that the train was always late.
And now ... Maybe he could pretend to sleep for a couple of days.
"Becket." Grace tapped him lightly on the knee, and he opened one eye slowly. She was sitting across from him, her knees close to his, and she was leaning forward slightly as she peered into his face. He sat up and pushed his hat back on his head.
"What is it, Grace?" he asked tiredly.
"Is this the best you could do? Don't they have private cars, or at the very least individual compartments? This is ... it's ..." Grace looked surreptitiously around the crowded car. "It's quite disgusting."
Excerpted from No Angel's Grace by Linda Winstead Jones. Copyright © 1997 Linda Winstead Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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