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Winsor, Linda

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Along
Came Jones by Linda Windsor

 

Diana
Wells lost track of God in her hard-earned quest for success in the New York
advertising world. Now she's accused of embezzlement, fleeing for her life with
nowhere else to turn. When trail outfitter Shepherd Jones runs Diana's car off
the road, the ex -- U.S. Marshal isn't sure what to make of his comely stray.
Instinct says this duchess of disaster is on the run and needs help -- a girl
like her can't last long in the forsaken outpost of Buffalo Butte. But is Shep
willing to risk his life and his heart to offer her the same refuge God once
provided him?

 

SHE
WAS A FUGITIVE IN SEARCH OF A HERO...

Framed
for a crime she didn't commit, in flight from the law and a crime syndicate,
New Yorker Deanna Manetti is so lost in the Montana wilderness that not even God
can find her—or so she thinks, just when it can't get any worse, she's run off the
road by a wild mustang, rescued by a cowboy packing iron, and carried off on
horseback to the remote ghost town he calls a ranch. Deanna can't help but
wonder if God has abandoned her— or is He just giving her a place to lay low
until she can figure a way out of the mess she's m? The more Deanna gets to
know her handsome host, the more she suspects she's jumped out of the frying
pan and into the fire—a blaze that may consume her heart and soul. ... THEN,
ALONG CAME JONES.

Shep
Jones is mildly amused at this city slicker's attitude. She ought to be happy
he's willing to fix her fancy sports car without calling the insurance company.
Before he knows it, she's moved in 'til the work gets done, but instinct tells
the ex-U.S. Marshal he's not getting
all
of the story. She may be cute
as a bunny, but she's on the run like a fox, and Shep aims to find out what—
or
who
—she's running from. Can he turn away someone, as lost and wounded as he
was when he sought refuge in the wilderness? Or will he offer Deanna the same
grace God afforded him?

Love
and laughter blossom at Buffalo Butte until the past catches up with the
unlikely pair, placing their love, their faith... their very lives in jeopardy.

 

 

ALONG
CAME JONES published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc.

©
2003 by Windsor Enterprises, Inc.

Published
in association with the literary agency of Ethan Ellenberg Agency.

International
Standard Book Number: 1-59052-032-7

Cover
image by Getty Images Image of old town by Corbis/Buddy Mays Image of modern
city by PhotoSpin

Unless
otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from:
The Holy Bible,
New
King James Version (nkjv) © 1984 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Other Scripture
quotations are from: The
Holy Bible,
King James Version (kjv)

Multnomah
is
a trademark of Multnomah Publishers, Inc., and is registered in the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office. The colophon is a trademark of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.

Printed
in the United States of America

This
book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are
products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ALL
RIGHTS RESERVED No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written
permission.

For
information: Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Post Office Box 1720, Sisters, Oregon
97759

Library
of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Windsor, Linda.

Along
came Jones / by Linda Windsor, p. cm.

ISBN
1-59052-032-7 (pbk.) I. Title.

PS3573.I519
A46 2003

813*
.54-dc21 2002154296

 

To
my
husband, Jim, and my mom, whose help, encouragement, faith, and humble witness
are my earthly inspiration and a testament of God's unconditional love and
understanding.

One

"Easy,
ma'am! Are you all right?"

Someone
squeezed Deanna's shoulder, drawing her from the numb shock that suspended her
somewhere between awareness and unconsciousness.
What had happened?
The
question floated in her mind, calling her dazed senses into a defensive
formation until she knew if the warm hand thawing the ice encasing her
awareness belonged to a rescuer or a captor.

One
minute she was making good time down this road to nowhere, and the next—this.
Through the blur of confusion, she made out a ditch bank beyond the crinkled
hood of her car. A sharp pain reported in from the side of her head. Her car
had careened off the road, but why? Had she blacked out?

A
large face edged into her line of vision. Deanna squinted through the glare on
the dirt-spattered windshield to see a one-eyed horse staring back at her.
Wait, it was white splotched with a black patch obscuring the
missing
eye.
She closed her eyes, trying to separate whimsy from reality.

A
memory clip of a horse dashing across the road in front of her played for her.
She hadn't blacked out! The beast bolted across the road like a streak of fire
against the Big Sky landscape. Not the ordinary animal staring at her through
her windshield, but a magnificent red with a golden mane and tail—truly worthy
of any silver screen hero.

Or
were they
both
hallucinations? Had the same people who'd killed her boss
caught up with her as well? Of late, reality and nightmare were impossible to
separate. Deanna took a deep breath, fighting a wave of dizziness, and peeked
again through the windshield. Old One Eye was still there, but dare she trust
her senses yet? It had been three days since she'd had a decent meal. Maybe she
had blacked out and was still dreaming. Maybe...

"Ma'am,
where are you hurt?" The voice aggravated her aching head, invading her
surreal world.

Deanna
groaned. She hurt, and pain had no business in this hallucination... if indeed
that's what it was. And hallucinations didn't talk either. She turned her head
in the direction of an alarmed masculine voice. Like shaken snow in a glass
dome, her senses began to settle. She wasn't alone with a one-eyed horse. There
was a man as well—or a man and a half. Gradually the images of her faceless
companion merged into one against the blue sky beyond him.

Straight
from one of those backwoods horror films was a character as unsettling in
appearance as her circumstances— scruffy beard, dusty leather and denim, even
his horse was patched. Whatever happened to those clean-cut, pistol-wielding
heroes in the Westerns she'd watched with her dad as a child in Brooklyn? That
was what she needed now, not some backwoods nature freak in a beat-up
Stetson—or someone even worse. She noted the lethal-looking knife sheathed on
his thigh. Serial killer came to mind.

Get
a grip, girl. You've watched one too many horror films.

"Ma'am?"
Although he seemed to be a polite serial killer. The concern etched on his
shaded forehead by two arched brows seemed genuine. But were those
rusty-looking stains on his worn jeans and shirt blood?

Deanna's
voice squeaked through the noose of anxiety constricting her throat. "I...
I'm fine."

This
was not what she'd come west to find. But then, nothing in the seemingly green
pastures of Montana's Big Sky country had been what a city born marketing exec
once dreamed of from her office. Certainly not the smooth-talking weasel in an
Armani suit and flawlessly shaped Stetson who'd lured her like a sheep to the
slaughter from Manhattan to his Great Falls business with promises of
advancement mixed with romantic innuendo. But if C. R. Majors had been a
weasel, what kind of homegrown varmint had she stumbled across now?

"Can
you move?"

Deanna
shook her head. She wasn't moving anywhere with him. She glanced beyond the man
to where his ink-blotched horse nuzzled him from behind. Hanging from a sling
on its saddle was a gun, a high-powered looking thing that... She closed her
eyes to still the alarm unsettling the tentative balance in her stomach. Was he
one of those gun-hoarding militia fanatics with six wives and three dozen
children? Where was the ATF when a gal needed it?

At
the touch of his fingers over her eyelids, Deanna bolted toward the passenger
side of her small car, but her seat belt cut off her startled gasp.

"Hey,
take it easy. I'm not gonna hurt you. I thought you'd passed out on me."

"Not
a chance." Deanna summoned what reserve she had left and settled in the
driver's seat, loosening the nylon garrote. "I'm okay, just a little
stunned. You wouldn't have a cell phone, would you?"

He
grinned, nodding toward his horse. "Nope, Patch here didn't come equipped
with one."

Duh.
Why would a guy whose transportation was a horse have a cell phone? At least he
had all his teeth. And on closer look, his eyes twinkled beneath the dusty
brown bush of his brow. The effect was disarming. Serial killers didn't have
twinkling eyes, did they? Criminals leaned toward those wild,
elevator-doesn't-go-all-the-way-to-the-top eyes. And their hair didn't lie in
rakish curls around their collars.

"I'd
feel a whole lot better," he said, taking advantage of her confusion and
tilting her face toward him for further study, "if you'd just step out of
the car. I'd like to see you stand on your own. Think you can get out? Or do
you want me to unload my guns first?"

"Like
in more-than-that-one-hanging-on-the-saddle guns?" she quipped before she
could catch herself. The same wry wit and ready tongue that had propelled her
up the corporate ladder could be a curse on occasion.

To
Deanna's embarrassment, the cowboy-extremist-serial killer, or just plain
ordinary Joe, roared with laughter. Her blood rushed warm and ebbed cold at the
same time as he drew a pistol from beneath his vest and ejected the cartridge.
With a patronizing smirk surrounded by a week's worth of stubble, he laid it on
the hood of her car. White teeth flashing as he untied the leather thong of his
hunting knife, he put her in mind of a young Clint Eastwood— before a bath,
shave, and a much needed curbing of his swagger.

Galled
into action, Deanna swung her legs around to get out. Bloodstains or not, she
hadn't gotten where she was—or rather, where she'd been until three days ago—by
cowering. He might strangle her, or heaven knew what, but she was not going to
be laughed at. Just short of her feet reaching the ground, she was jerked back
into her seat by the belt she'd forgotten in her addled state.

"It
helps to unfasten this," her rescuer drawled, reaching in and releasing
the restraint with annoying amusement.

Deanna
endured his ministration, her abdominal muscles contracting in further retreat
as the back of his work-roughened fingers pricked warm against the thin silk of
her blouse. As he helped her out of the vehicle, whatever bravado she'd
accumulated in her once bright career had abandoned her like everything else
she once depended upon.

Even
if this man had been clad in a police uniform, she had every right to be
rattled. She'd just been run off the road by a runaway horse and wrecked her
car in a ditch. The crumpled, blue hood of the import looked as if it had taken
a giant bite out of the dirt bank that had stopped it. The fact that she still
owed money on the indulgence rolled her stomach.

"This
is all I need," she muttered through clenched teeth to hold back an
overwhelming rise of despair. Instead, it struck her across the back of the
knees, buckling them beneath her weight.

"Whoa
there!"

Before
she knew it, her companion swept her off her feet and eased her back against
the car seat with surprising gentleness. He examined her head. "Looks like
you took a nasty bump."

"So
much for the air bag." As far as Deanna could tell, it was still neatly
packed in the steering wheel. "If there really is one in—"

"Just
relax," her rescuer said as she drew away from his tender touch. "I'm
unarmed and harmless."

The
muscles in his sun-bronzed forearm contradicted his claim, but Deanna ached too
much to protest his tender attention to her aching head. Instead, she leaned
against the leather headrest while the man wiped her brow with a red bandana he
pulled from his hat.

"Just
a little cut on that lump there," he murmured, all business as he tied it
over the lump swelling just within her hairline. The bandana was damp from
having served as a sweatband, yet she was surprised to feel nothing of her
initial revulsion.

She'd
reached her limit. Nothing else could faze her, not after what she'd been
through. Dare she hope that her luck, if she could call it that, was changing?

"It's
bleeding a little." He backed away to inspect his handiwork. "You got
a name, ma'am?"

Okay,
she might hope, but she wouldn't trust.

"Manetti,"
Deanna ventured. "Deanna Manetti." At least she still knew who she
was, much as she'd like to forget it.

"Can
you tell me what happened, Miss Manetti?"

The
questions were getting harder already. Her head throbbed worse, now that the
man had pointed out the swelling. She felt as though she were about to lose her
brunch, a mini-candy bar devoured hours earlier.

"A
horse raced out in front of me and ran me off the road. A red horse."
Fourteen years since she got her driver's license in New York City and not once
had she had an accident. Instead, she'd traveled across the United States to
have a run-in with a horse. She almost laughed at the absurdity, but her throat
merely squeaked.

"How
about some water? I have some in my canteen."

Of
course a cowboy would have a canteen, she mused, daring to nod in cautious
assent. If he even was a cowboy. She was so tired and hungry that she'd grown
slaphappy.

Her
companion approached the spotted horse, removed a canteen from its saddle, and
returned to her with long booted strides. In a wink, he uncapped it and handed
it to her.

Deanna
didn't go for the idea of drinking after anyone, but under the dire
circumstance, the water was like nectar from the gods.. . and cold too! Upon
closer examination, she discovered the container was insulated. Thermoses had
gone west, if not cell phones.

"Best
swish that about in your mouth and spit it out. Then swallow the next
sip."

"You
a dentist too?" Her paltry attempt at humor made her wince. She didn't
understand the reasoning behind his odd request, but he was in his
element—dirt, rocks, smelly horses, and leather. She was out of hers—diesel
smut, skyscrapers, swerving taxis, and tailored executive fashion.

"No,
but I've been up all night with a horse that took too much sand. Gives 'em a
bellyache."

Uncertain
as to whether or not he was pulling her leg, Deanna followed his instructions.
When
in Rome...
She swished and spit as delicately as possible. To her horror,
it landed on his dusty boots.

"I'm
sorry!"

"S'okay
It takes practice." He scuffed them in the dirt, more intent on her than
her poor aim.

Never
in her life had she expectorated in front of anyone. Along with the rule about
not drinking after others, her mother had drilled that lesson into her head as
well. Toothbrush time at the bathroom sink summed up Deanna's entire experience
with spittle aim.

What
she wouldn't give to go back to those days, but they were gone. Her parents had
died in a traffic accident shortly after her high school graduation. Deanna
sold their modest apartment in the city when she made the big move to Montana.
After all, she'd had no reason to stay, no relatives to speak of, and no one
special in her life.

"What
brings you to Buffalo Butte, Miss Manetti?"

Ambition
was
on the tip of her tongue.
Romance
flashed through her mind. That was why
she'd left the city and come west. C. R. embodied both, but all he'd led her to
was disaster. And now she was in no-woman's land.

"Where
did you say I was?"

"Actually
Buffalo Butte's the nearest town. You're on Hopewell, my ranch," he said.
"You've been on it for the last four miles, since you ran out of paved
road."

"I
made a wrong turn." It was true. She never should have turned west on the
interstate from New York, and she certainly didn't know where she'd turned in
these Montana hills. She was lost. Worse, she was glad of it. If she didn't
know where she was, no one else did either.

"Where
were you headed?"

"Do
you ever run out of questions?"

"Got
a whole hat full," her rescuer shot back with a grin. It was one of those
wide, lazy grins his kind had invented.

"Have
you a name in it as well?"

He
shoved the dusty brim off his face in a cordial manner. "Shepard Jones,
but most folks call me Shep."

Shepard.
Heaven knew she needed one about now.

"I
was just sightseeing," she lied, before adding an element of truth to
salve her guilt. "Guess I made a wrong turn. I didn't know this was
private property." And technically, she had been seeing sights, all
unfamiliar.

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