~ CLAIMING THE CATTLEMAN'S HEART ~

 

In the heat of the Outback – she’ll claim this single dad’s heart!

All rugged cattle station owner Daniel Renton wants is to build a relationship with his motherless daughter. But when a newcomer, Lily Halliday, comes breezing into town she’s like a breath of fresh air…


As Daniel and Lily get to know each other it’s clear a bond is forming – but Daniel has to guard his heart and resist. Lily needs to convince Daniel to trust her – because a life with him will be worth the wait…

 


 

 

HARLEQUIN ROMANCE

- NORTH AMERICA December 2006 -

 

MILLS AND BOON  ROMANCE

- UNITED KINGDOM  December 2006 -

 

MILLS AND BOON SWEET

- AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND December 2006 -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             
   

 

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Daniel Renton dived into the cool, glassy water of the Star River. His naked body slid down, down through the dark green silence till he reached the feathery grasses on the sandy river bottom. Then with a short, swift kick he arced up again and saw, high above, the cloudless blue of the sky and the tapering trail of smoky green gum leaves.

He broke the surface and struck out for the opposite bank, revelling in the cool, clean water rushing over his skin, between his bare thighs, between his fingers and toes, washing every inch of him. Cleansing.
Cleansing.

If only...

Daniel swam powerfully, almost savagely, as he had every day since he’d returned a fortnight ago to Ironbark, his Outback Queensland cattle property. But he always demanded more from the sleepy river than it could possibly give him.

Oh, the water rid him of the sweat and the dust and grime he’d acquired during a hot morning’s work repairing fences, but it couldn’t rid him of the rottenness that lived inside him. He doubted anything could free him from that.

He might be out of jail at last, but the emotional taint of his shameful months of captivity clung to him with a tenacity that no amount of bathing could banish.

Flipping onto his back, Daniel floated. The river was slow and he hardly drifted at all. It was always so wonderfully quiet here.

The birds had retreated into midday silence and the tree tops stood perfectly still. The river was as peaceful and silent as an empty church and Daniel tried to relax, deliberately blanking out the heartbreak and anger and pain that hunkered deep inside him. If only the darkness could float away.

He loosened the muscles in his shoulders, in his arms and legs. He closed his eyes.

“Hello! Excuse me!”

The voice, coming out of the silence, startled him. Splashing upright, Daniel trod water and looked back to the far bank. Against a backdrop of green and golden wattle, a figure in a floppy straw sunhat waved arms wildly, trying to catch his attention.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” a female voice called.

Daniel groaned. And glared at her. Who on earth could she be? Hardly anyone in the district knew he’d come home. Still treading water, he shaded his eyes. The young woman was standing at the very edge of the water, leaning as far out as she dared and peering at him. Beneath her big floppy sunhat, she wore a sleeveless white T top that left her midriff bare and blue floral shorts and sandals. A woven straw bag hung from her shoulder.

A tourist. Not a local.

He didn’t welcome any intrusion, but at least a stranger would be easier to deal with than someone who knew him. A local would be suspicious or curious and Daniel wasn’t ready to deal with either reaction.

“What are you doing on my property?” he growled.

“Car trouble, I’m afraid.”

Grrrreat. A city chick with car trouble. He released a deep, weary sigh.
A million years ago, he might have considered a young woman with a broken down vehicle a pleasant diversion. But his days of trying to impress women were long gone. These days he just wanted – no, he needed – to be left alone.

A year and a half on a prison farm tended to do that to a man. It robbed him of do-good urges. It had almost robbed Daniel of the will to get out of bed in the morning. What was the point in trying? Life was a bowl of –

“I’m sorry, but can you help me?”

She was leaning so far out over the water she looked as if she was about to dive in and swim to him.

“Hang on!” It was a bark rather than a reply. This was a cattle property, not a bloody service station. But he struck out, swimming towards her in an easy freestyle. When he neared the shallows he stopped and stood in hip deep water, his feet sinking into the weedy bottom.

The stranger on the riverbank was well disguised by her huge straw hat but he caught a glimpse of light coloured hair tied back or tucked up somehow. Apart from the snug fit of her blue floral shorts she had a schoolmarmish air about her. Serious and anxious.

And yet... he could feel her studying him with frank interest. Her mouth flowered into an open pink O as she took in details of his bare torso.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

She gulped and said a little breathlessly, “I – I’m afraid I’ve r-run out of fuel.”

Immediately a bright blush flooded her neck and cheeks.

“I know it was stupid of me and I’m so sorry to trouble you, but I don’t know what to do.” Her hands flapped in a gesture of helplessness. “I tried to ring the only person I know around here, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone home, even though they were expecting me. I managed to coast down the side of the mountain, but then my car conked out at the bottom. I saw your gate and your mail box and so I turned in here and your ute was on the track back there and I –”

“Whoa,” cried Daniel. “I get the picture. You want enough fuel to get you into town.”

Her face broke into an amazing smile. “Yes.” She beamed at him as if he’d offered to fly her straight to Sydney in a Lear jet. “If you could spare some fuel that would be wonderful.”

Her warm smile lingered as she stood there. “You’re – you’re – very – kind.”

Kind? A jaded half-laugh broke from him. It had been too long since anyone had called Daniel Renton kind – especially a young woman – and it had been even longer since a woman had stared at him with such obvious interest.

She continued to stand there, looking at him.

“We’ll both be embarrassed if you don’t turn your back while I get out of the water,” he said dryly.

“Turn my back? Oh. Oh... You’re naked. Sorry.”

However she didn’t sound especially sorry and she took her time turning, holding the brim of her hat close to her head with both hands.

“You’re safe enough now,” she called, and her voice was warm with the hint of yet another smile. “My hat makes great blinkers and I promise I won’t look till you say so.”

Mildly surprised that she’d stood her ground rather than making a nervous dash for the nearest patch of thick scrub, Daniel left the water quickly and hauled on his jeans without any attempt to dry himself.

“All clear,” he said gruffly.

She let go of the hat brim and turned back to him, pink and smiling again, or perhaps still pink and smiling and she watched with continued interest as he shook his head from side to side and flicked water droplets from his thick dark hair.

“I’m sorry. I’m being a nuisance.”

He shrugged. “I was just taking a break. But I don’t have a lot of time.”
Reaching down for his blue cotton shirt, he retrieved his watch from the front pocket and checked the time before slipping the watch onto his wrist. It was lunch time and his stomach was rumbling. “Where’s your car?”

“Out on the road.”

“Not in the middle of the road?”

“No. I’m silly, but not totally brainless. I managed to push it well off the bitumen. It’s under a tree. I guess it’s about five hundred metres from your front gate.”

“What sort of vehicle?”

“A Corolla.”

“So you need petrol?” He bit off a curse.

“Well... yes. I told you I’ve run out.”

Daniel grimaced.

“Is that a problem?”

“I only use diesel.”

“Oh.” Two neat white teeth worried her lower lip.

“I guess I’ll have to give you a lift into Gidgee Springs.” He knew he should have said this more graciously, but a trip into the nearest township would mean exposing himself to the questioning glances of prying locals.

“I don’t want to put you to that much bother,” she said, obviously sensing his reluctance. “If you have a telephone book I could ring a service station in Gidgee Springs. They should be able to send a can of petrol out here.”

“On a Sunday? You’ve got to be joking.” Daniel let out a hoot of laughter. “I’ll give you a lift, but you’ll have to wait. I’m going to grab a bite to eat first.”

“By all means. Yes, you must have your lunch.” She sounded prim and schoolmarmy again.

After pulling on elastic sided riding boots and shrugging into his shirt, he began to make his way through the scrub to the track where he’d left the ute, doing up shirt buttons as he went. The woman, ducking branches heavy with golden wattle, hurried to keep up.

“By the way, my name’s Lily,” she said to his back. “Lily Halliday.”

“Daniel,” he offered grouchily over his shoulder.

“Daniel Renton?”

“Yes.” He stopped, suddenly wary, and he sent her a swift, searching frown. “How did you know my name?”

Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. “It’s painted on your letter box. D. Renton. Ironbark station.”

Of course.

He sighed as he continued walking. He might have been released from prison but he was still constantly on edge and alert. Always defensive. He’d forgotten how to relax, how to trust. Simple details of freedom could catch him out. His name painted on his letter box. A trip into town for groceries. A stranger’s friendly smile. He wondered if he would ever again accept such ordinary everyday normality as his right.

They reached his rusty old ute, parked in the shade of an ancient camphor laurel tree. He stepped towards the passenger door, intending to open it for Lily, but she clearly didn’t expect anything so gentlemanly from him and she rushed forward.

“No need to wait on me.” Without further ceremony she yanked the door open and jumped into the passenger seat.

By the time Daniel ambled around to the driver’s door Lily had removed her hat. And as he settled behind the wheel, she slipped off the blue elastic band that tied back her hair and shook it free.

Her hair was heavy and silky, the pale colour of new hemp rope. It tumbled in waves over her shoulders like rippling water, and with a complete lack of self-consciousness, she began to sift strands of it through her fingers. Finally she lifted the full weight of it from the back of her neck, exposing damp little curls stuck to her warm, pink skin. Then she re-twisted her hair into a loose knot and slipped the band back into place.
During the entire process Daniel watched, transfixed.

Eventually, Lily glanced sideways and she realised he was staring at her. Their gazes met. And froze. They both held their breaths.

Something happened.

Something in Lily’s misty blue-grey eyes reached deep into the darkness inside Daniel and tugged. He felt an almost shocking sense of connection. It was completely unexpected. Unwilling.

Damn.

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From “Claiming the Cattleman's Heart"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
December 2006

ISBN: 978-0263849400

Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com

 

 

             
 

 

 

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