The Ranger And The Widow Woman

BOOK: The Ranger And The Widow Woman
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“I don’t think you realize the trouble you could get yourself into. With me...or any man,”
Charlie whispered.
 
Any man could never make her feel like this, Violet knew. Just the idea of feeling his lips against hers made her head reel. But as for trouble, she’d grown up with it, lived with it, and was still trying to get out of it.
 
“Trouble is my middle name, Ranger Pardee. But it isn’t your problem,” Violet said, hating the sound of her breathy voice and the thrill she was feeling at being so close to him.
 
She was right. It
wasn’t
his problem. And he knew he should load her up right now, this very minute, and haul her into town. But he also knew he couldn’t.
 
“I’m a Texas Ranger. My job is dealing with trouble, before or after it happens. And—” suddenly he had her in his arms again “—it looks like right now, my job is you.”
Dear Reader,
 
August is jam-packed with exciting promotions and top-notch authors in Silhouette Romance! Leading off the month is RITA Award-winning author Marie Ferrarella with
Suddenly...Marriage!,
a lighthearted VIRGIN BRIDES story set in sultry New Orleans. A man and woman, both determined to remain single, exchange vows in a mock ceremony during Mardi Gras, only to learn their bogus marriage is for real....
 
With over five million books in print, Valerie Parv returns to the Romance lineup with
Baby Wishes and Bachelor Kisses
. In this delightful BUNDLES OF JOY tale, a confirmed bachelor winds up sole guardian of his orphaned niece and must rely on the baby-charming heroine for daddy lessons—
and
lessons in love. Stella Bagwell continues her wildly successful TWINS ON THE DOORSTEP series with
The Ranger and the Widow Woman
. When a Texas Ranger discovers a stranded mother and son, he welcomes them into his home. But the pretty widow harbors secrets this lawman-in-love needs to uncover.
 
Carla Cassidy kicks off our second MEN! promotion with
Will You Give My Mommy a Baby?
A 911 call from a five-year-old boy lands a single mom and a true-blue, red-blooded hero in a sticky situation that quickly sets off sparks.
USA Today
bestselling author Sharon De Vita concludes her LULLABIES AND LOVE miniseries with
Baby and the Officer.
A crazy-about-kids cop discovers he’s a dad, but when he goes head-to-head with his son’s beautiful adoptive mother, he realizes he’s fallen head over heels. And Martha Shields rounds out the month with
And Cowboy Makes Three,
the second title in her COWBOYS TO THE RESCUE series. A woman who wants a baby and a cowboy who needs an heir agree to marry but discover the honeymoon is just the beginning....
 
Don’t miss these exciting stories by Romance’s unforgettable storytellers!
 
Enjoy,
Joan Marlow Golan
Senior Editor Silhouette Books
Please address questions and book requests to:
Silhouette Reader Service
U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269
Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3
STELLA Bagwell
THE RANGER AND THE WIDOW WOMAN
Books by Stella Bagwell
 
Silhouette Romance
 
Golden Glory
#469
Moonlight Bandit
#485
A Mist on the Mountain
#510
Madeline’s Song
#543
The Outsider
#560
The New Kid in Town
#587
Cactus Rose
#621
Hillbilly Heart
#634
Teach Me
#657
The White Night
#674
No Horsing Around
#699
That Southern Touch
#723
Gentle as a Lamb
#748
A Practical Man
#789
Precious Pretender
#812
Done to Perfection
#836
Rodeo Rider
#878
*Their First Thanksgiving
#903
*The Best Christmas Ever
#909
*New Year’s Baby
#915
Hero in Disguise
#954
Corporate Cowgirl
#991
Daniel’s Daddy
#1020
A Cowboy for Christmas
#1052
Daddy Lessons
#1085
Wanted: Wife
#1140

The Sheriff’s Son
#1218

The Rancher’s Bride
#1224

The Tycoon’s Tots
#1228

The Rancher’s Blessed Event
#1296

The Ranger and the Widow Woman
#1314
 
Silhouette Special Edition
Found: One Runaway Bride
#1049
 
*Heartland Holidays Trilogy
†Twins on the Doorstep
STELLA BAGWELL
 
sold her first book to Silhouette in November 1985. Now, more than thirty novels later, she is still thrilled to see her books in print and can’t imagine having any other job than that of writing about two people falling in love.
 
She lives in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma with her husband of twenty-six years. She has one son and daughter-in-law.
Chapter One
C
harlie Pardee was hot, tired and hungry. The last thing he wanted to do was stop on the side of a blistering highway and play mechanic. The temperature was ninety-five degrees in the shade, if a shade could be found within a twenty-mile radius. But the lady standing helplessly by the fender of the dark blue sedan had the prettiest legs he’d seen in a long time, and Charlie was not a man who could ignore a lady in distress, even though every part of his brain was begging him to.
He parked on the opposite shoulder from the ailing car. Once he was on the ground and out of his pickup truck, he lifted his straw cowboy hat and swiped long fingers through the sandy brown hair plastered to his damp forehead. It wasn’t a day for anyone, man or woman, to be stranded in a New Mexican desert.
Plopping the bent straw back on his head, he sauntered across the lonely highway. “Having trouble, ma’am?”
The woman’s dark eyes studied Charlie’s tall, muscular form as if she couldn’t quite decide whether he was an angel sent to save her or a demon she should be running from.
“I...uh...think my car is overheated.”
Steam was billowing out from under the hood, and she had to think on the matter. He’d come up on a real nitwit this time, Charlie decided.
“It surely appears that way,” he said drily.
He moved closer to the woman and the small sedan. Her wary gaze not daring to leave him, she inched backwards, her hand fumbling for the door handle.
Charlie couldn’t imagine how she thought getting back into a broken down car was going to save her from his clutches. But at least she had enough common sense to be on her guard. That was more than he could say for most women.
He gestured toward the car. “If you’ll pop the hood, I’ll take a look. I’m not a mechanic, but I might be able to tell you what’s wrong. Have you been having trouble with the car before?”
She shook her head, then seeming to decide she had no choice but to trust him, she opened the car door and leaned in to pull the latch.
With the hood released, Charlie pushed it up the rest of the way and propped it there. The woman, who couldn’t have been more than twenty-four or -five, appeared at the front of the car to stand a few steps away from him.
From the corner of his eye, Charlie caught another glimpse of her bare, slender legs. She was wearing navy blue boxer shorts and a lime green T-shirt. Leather thongs were on her feet. Her pale, smooth skin told him she wasn’t a sun worshiper. The pearly pink color of her toenails assured him she was proud of her femininity, but she didn’t like to flaunt it. She wasn’t a glamor girl by any means, but she certainly had the makings for one.
“I haven’t had any trouble with the car before now,” she said in a soft drawl that was a bit Texan, but mostly Georgian. “All of a sudden a bell started dinging and a light on the dash said Check Engine. What does that mean?”
“It means you’re in trouble,” Charlie said flatly.
Her dark, winged brows shot upward as though she was certain she’d heard him wrong. “I beg your pardon?”
Charlie had seen a lot of pretty women in his twentynine years, and being the normal red-blooded male he was, he usually gave them a look whenever one passed his way. This woman, however, was leaving him with the idiotic urge to stare.
“The car,” he explained with an annoyed frown, then forced his eyes to the steaming engine. “‘Check Engine’ means it’s a pretty sick puppy.”
“Oh.” A heavy sigh passed her pink lips. “I certainly hope that isn’t the case. I’m not prepared to have major repairs done to the car.”
Quickly identifying the problem, Charlie picked up a piece of broken fan belt and held it up for her to view. “The belt that runs the cooling system has broken. If you’re lucky, and the engine didn’t get too hot, it will only be a minor repair job.”
Raking her tumbled hair off her face, she glanced up at the tall man with eyes as blue as the sky overhead. “How close is the nearest town to the west?”
It never ceased to amaze him how people would start across desolate land without so much as a road map, but he resisted the urge to lecture her. “About twenty-five miles or more.”
His hand resting on the hood, Charlie covertly studied her. She was a little thing, the top of her head barely reaching the middle of his upper arm. Her hair was a dark cloud of waves around her head and shoulders. Her ivory complexion was satin smooth and gleamed with perspiration. But it was her pale green eyes that struck him the most. The color of a tropic sea, they were incredibly beautiful. Yet they were also full of secrets and suspicions.
Ten years of being a lawman allowed Charlie to see things a normal person would never notice. And he couldn’t help wondering what had brought this woman out to the desert.
“Twenty-five miles,” she repeated uncertainly. “If the car could—”
“Mommy? Mommy?”
Thinking she’d been traveling alone, Charlie was surprised to see a young boy around four or five hanging his head out the back window of the vehicle. His short, curly hair was dark like his mother’s, but the resemblance stopped there.
The woman quickly moved to her son. “It’s all right, Sam,” she gently assured him. “I’m right here.”
The child scrubbed the last crumbs of sleep from his eyes, then, leaning further out the window, he glanced curiously around him. “What’s the matter, Mommy? Why are we stopped?”
She smoothed her hand alongside his cheek. “Something is wrong with the car, honey. We have to wait a little while before we can go again.”
“Uh...ma’am,” Charlie felt compelled to interrupt. “No ‘little while’ will fix anything. You can’t drive this car two feet until a mechanic puts a new belt on it. He might be able to do the job here. But I’m betting it will have to be towed to the nearest garage.”
Charlie watched her press small fingers against both temples. There was no wedding ring on her left hand or even a pale band where one had been in the past. A single mother. A divorcee or widow. She could be any of the three, he decided.
“I see. What you’re telling me is that my son and I are well and truly stranded.”
“You were...until I got here.”
She didn’t know what that was supposed to mean and she wasn’t about to ask. “Then what do you propose I do?”
Charlie had been on his way home to his parents’ ranch north of Hondo. But what the hell, he figured, he’d been forced to put his homecoming off several times in the past six months. An hour or two more wouldn’t kill him. Besides, he couldn’t leave her and the kid here to the mercy of the searing heat and whatever nut case might happen to be driving by. “You can ride in with me. Or I have a cellular phone in my truck you can use to call for a wrecker service to come get you.”
Leaving her car and climbing into a vehicle with a stranger was not a choice Violet O’Dell wanted to make. Even if the stranger was the sexiest thing she’d seen in a long time.
“I’d really rather not leave my car,” she told him. “I’ll be glad to pay you for the use of your telephone. But I don’t have the slightest idea who to call.”
Charlie had been away from the area too long to know a reliable mechanic to call, but he knew someone who would. “I’ll get somebody out here.”
He crossed the highway to his white truck and opened the door on the shoulder side. To his surprise, the woman ordered her son to stay in the car, then walked across the highway to join him.
Glancing at her strained features, Charlie punched in a number, then put the telephone to his ear.
While he waited for the connection to go through, she asked, “Are you from around these parts?”
“My parents live on a ranch about thirty miles from here.” The dispatcher on the other end of the line answered, and Charlie turned his attention away from the woman. “Yes,” he spoke into the mouthpiece. “Is Sheriff Pardee in? This is his son, Charlie.”
The woman gasped softly, and her eyes widened as she stared at him. “Sheriff? I don’t need—what are you doing?” she suddenly demanded. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
Frowning, he shook his head at her just as the dispatcher informed him the sheriff was out of the office at the moment. “Can Randall come to the phone?” he asked the woman.
As he waited to speak to the undersheriff, he said to Violet, “I didn’t say you had done anything wrong, Miss—uh, did you tell me your name?”
Her lips pursed with disapproval, she glanced at him sharply. “I didn’t. But it’s Violet—O’Dell.”
He thrust his hand toward her. “Hello, Violet. I’m Charles Pardee. Call me Charlie. Everyone else does.”
She didn’t want to touch him. Not that there was one repulsive thing about the man. On the contrary, he was the most appealing male she’d encountered in a long time. His slightly square jaws, strong, dented chin and striking blue eyes made his looks more than nice. But for some inexplicable reason she was scared to touch him, afraid she might feel a sizzle of attraction for this stranger.
“Hey, Randall,” he suddenly spoke into the phone. “How’s it going? This is Charlie.”
With his hand still offered to hers, Violet had little choice but to put her palm alongside his. His long, lean fingers quickly enveloped hers, and she swallowed hard as warmth filled her cheeks.
To Violet’s relief, however, he seemed to consider the encounter as nothing more than a brief handshake. As soon as he dropped his hold on her, he turned his full attention to the person on the other end of the line.
“Yeah, I’m back home for a little vacation. They got sick of looking at me back in Forth Worth. Is my dad around? No, it’s nothing about a case. I’m out here on Highway 380 about twenty-five miles east of Picacho. There’s a lady here with a broken fan belt. I didn’t know who would be the best mechanic to call. Can you send one with a tow truck out here?”
He looked over at Violet, then grunted with sardonic amusement. Violet’s spine stiffened.
“Okay, bud, I’ll warn her. And thanks, Randall.”
“Warn me?”
“Randall says you ought to know I can’t be trusted.”
The expression on his face held little humor, if any. Yet surely he had to be teasing. It was difficult to tell what this stranger was all about.
“Who was that you were speaking to?” she asked him.
“The undersheriff of this county,” he said matter-of-factly. “He works for my dad, Roy Pardee, the Sheriff.”
She stared at him with something akin to horror. “Look, Mr....uh, Charlie Pardee. I don’t want the law out here! I want someone to fix my car!”
She was getting more agitated with each passing second and Charlie’s weariness changed to skepticism. “You have something against the law?”
Scarlet color splashed across her cheeks. “No. Why? Are you going to tell me you’re some sort of lawman, too?” she asked incredulously.
For an answer he pulled a square of leather from his jeans pocket then flopped it open for her inspection. Violet stepped closer, and her face paled considerably as she read the name inscribed on the badge. Charles Pardee, Texas Ranger.
Dear Lord, how had she managed to run smack into a lawman? A
Texas
lawman at that! Now just calm down, Violet, she silently scolded herself. No one knows you’re gone yet. And this man just happened to be going down the same road. That was all there was to this whole thing.
“What...are you doing out here?” she asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.
Her eyes scanned his faded jeans and cowboy boots, the plain white T-shirt covering his broad shoulders. Didn’t Texas Rangers wear a badge on their chest and a gun belt on their hips? This guy looked as though he’d just stepped out of a cattle pen.
Charlie didn’t know why he was taking the time to explain anything to this woman. He was hot enough to melt. He wanted to go home, put up his feet, drink a cold beer and try to forget the past year of his life. “We Rangers do stray out of the state from time to time,” he said sardonically.
She nervously fingered the tiny heart-shaped locket dangling against the hollow of her throat. “Then I guess I should be thankful you happened to stray this way. This highway doesn’t appear to be heavily traveled.”
“The traffic usually depends on what’s going on in Ruidoso. A big futurity at the Downs or a festival of some sort always brings a string of traffic to this highway.” His blue eyes continued to rake a shrewd path over her face. “You headed very far?”
She hesitated, then nodded. “I’m just passing through New Mexico.”
“Mommy! Can I get out of the car now?”
“Excuse me,” she told Charlie, then crossed the highway to her son.
Through the open windows of his pickup cab, Charlie watched her open the back door of the sedan and lift her son out to the ground. He was dressed in shorts and sandals and a muscle shirt with some sort of action hero printed on the front. For a dark-headed child at this time of summer, he was pale. Charlie wondered if the little guy was sickly or if Violet O’Dell was overprotective and kept her son housed up most of the time. Either way, he hated the idea of a youngster, especially a boy, not being able to enjoy the outdoors.
BOOK: The Ranger And The Widow Woman
2.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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