~ The Rancher's Adopted Family ~

 

 

Tall, rangy and stop-and-stare gorgeous in his battered jeans and faded shirt, cattleman Seth Reardon sets Amy Ross's nerves rattling. She's come all the way to Serenity Ranch in the pouring rain to tell him he is the father of little Bella—her best friend's baby.

The bleak, lonely shadows in Seth's eyes mean he's a jigsaw puzzle Amy can't solve. Can he be the father Bella needs? And could this be the family Amy's dreamed of?

As the storm rages, secrets begin to unravel….

 



 


 

 

MILLS AND BOON  ROMANCE

- UNITED KINGDOM  March 2010 -

 

HARLEQUIN ROMANCE

- NORTH AMERICA March  2010 -

 

MILLS AND BOON SWEET

- AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND April 2010 -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             
   

 

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                               Chapter One

Amy stood at the open window of the shabby hotel room in Far North Queensland, and watched a utility truck emerge out of the heat haze to the north. She felt an anxious flutter tremble from her stomach to her chest. The driver was almost certainly Seth Reardon.

Her hair was damp against the back of her neck and her cotton clothing stuck to her skin, but as the ute rattled down the street and came to a halt directly opposite the pub, she wasn’t sure if her discomfort was caused by the tropical heat or her nervousness.

The driver’s door opened and with an excessive lack of haste, a man unfurled from the cabin.

His build was tall and lean, a perfect match for his faded jeans and well worn riding boots. He wore a milk-blue cotton shirt, with long sleeves rolled to his elbows to reveal sun darkened skin on his forearms. His hair was very black.

From this angle, Amy couldn’t see his face, but he crossed the empty street with a slow and easy stride that commanded attention.

Without warning, he looked up.

And saw her.

Gulp.

She swung away from the window, her heart thumping strangely. She’d gained a fleeting impression of masculine strength, of a grim mouth and a proud and resolute jaw, and eyes that were a breathtaking vivid blue.

‘Oh, Bella,’ Amy whispered, sending a glance back to the two year old playing with a toy pig on the bed. ‘This man is your daddy.’

It was too late to change her mind, but suddenly, for the first time since she’d left Melbourne, Amy wondered if she’d done the right thing to come all this way.

Rachel had been so cagey about Bella’s father. She’d always confided in Amy – always – and yet she hadn’t breathed a word about Seth Reardon until Bella’s second birthday.

Rachel had finally made the big confession after the birthday party, a very casual gathering in her backyard – a few playgroup mums and toddlers, with colourful cupcakes, jelly oranges and chocolate frogs.

Afterwards, Amy had helped to wash coffee cups and once Bella had been tucked into bed, she and Rachel had opened a bottle of wine and made spaghetti. They’d eaten on the back patio and talked long into the night.

When Amy brought up the subject of Bella’s father, Rachel had groaned. ‘Do you always have to act like my conscience?’

‘But Bella’s two years old now,’ Amy protested. ‘And she’s such a gorgeous little thing. I can’t help thinking there’s a guy out there who’s missing out on so much by not knowing her.’

To Amy’s surprise, Rachel had actually agreed.

‘You’re right,’ she said, and after almost three years of silence, the confession had tumbled out.

Rachel had met this absolutely amazing guy when she’d been working on a cattle property on Cape York, in Far North Queensland.

‘I suppose I was totally overawed by him,’ she admitted. ‘He was the most attractive man I’ve ever met.’

‘You mean…’ Amy whispered, ‘he was The One?’

Rachel’s face was white, her voice edgy. ‘Yes, I’m afraid he was – but that’s what scared me, Ames. That’s why I never kept in touch with him. If I’d told him about Bella, he would have wanted me to live up there with him.’

‘But if you love each other you’d live happily ever after,’ Amy declared. It had seemed incredibly simple and romantic to her.

But Rachel’s mask slipped to reveal raw fear. ‘I couldn’t live there,’ she said. ‘He’s the boss of a massive cattle station. It occupies his whole life, and it’s so hot and wild and remote. I’d be mad with loneliness and I’d drive the poor man insane.’

A glass of wine later Rachel had said more calmly, ‘You’re right, Amy. God help me, you’re always right. I really must make contact with Seth again. I do want to take Bella to meet him. I just need to find the right time.’

But she’d never found the right time…

Which was why Amy was here now, in the Tamundra pub, almost three thousand kilometres north of Melbourne.

 

When Seth Reardon heard footsteps on the bare timber stairs, he stood in the empty hotel dining room, facing the doorway, shoulders squared, hands lightly fisted at his sides.

He wasn’t looking forward to meeting this friend of Rachel Tyler’s, and he frowned, sensing something odd as he listened to Amy’s Ross’s approach.

He was here for a business meeting and he’d expected to meet her alone, but he could hear another set of footsteps – eager, small footsteps.

Without warning, a tiny girl burst, like a small torpedo, through the doorway.

‘Hello, man!’

Arms outstretched, the child greeted Seth with a huge grin, as if a reclusive cattleman, whom she’d never met, was the one person in the world she most wanted to see.

Seth’s stomach dropped as she headed straight for his knees, blue eyes dancing, dark curls bouncing. He knew next to nothing about children, would rather face an angry scrub bull than a small, toddling female.

To his relief, an anxious young woman, the same woman he’d glimpsed in the window upstairs – Amy Ross, he presumed – came hurrying behind the child.

‘Bella!’ She reached for the little girl’s hand and halted her headlong dash to embrace Seth’s legs.

‘I’m sorry,’ she huffed, slightly out of breath and blushing brightly. ‘I’m afraid Bella’s very friendly.’

‘So I see.’

Seth’s dryly drawled response was the result of habit rather than displeasure. Now that the child was safely perched on her mother’s hip, he could see that the two of them formed a charming picture.

The child’s dark, curly hair, dimples, and blue eyes were in startling contrast with her mother’s brown eyes and straight, honey brown hair. Amy Ross’s complexion was warmer than her daughter’s, with the slightest hint of a golden tan.

But in spite of the differences in their appearances, the close bond between the two of them was clear, and Seth was suddenly lassoed by unexpected emotion. He’d been stoically resigned to his life as a loner, but now he felt strangely left out, excluded from a very special unit.

He thought he’d thrown off his urges to be a family man.

‘Perhaps we should start again,’ Amy Ross said, and she held out her hand with a smile as appealing as her daughter’s. ‘I’m Amy and you must be Seth. How do you do?’

He accepted her greeting with a stiff nod, and as they shook hands, he was super-conscious of the soft warmth of her skin.

‘You didn’t mention that you were bringing your daughter,’ he said with an asperity he immediately regretted.

Amy’s eyes widened. ‘I hope you don’t mind. I’m afraid I couldn’t leave Bella behind. She’s usually well behaved.’

Seth made no comment and the little girl continued to regard him with enormous delight, which he found quite extraordinary.

He swallowed to clear the tightening in his throat. He was mad with himself for allowing a total stranger – a woman, no less – to convince him to drop everything and race into town. 

Admittedly, Amy Ross’s phone call had delivered alarming news that Seth couldn’t afford to ignore. He’d been shocked to hear about Rachel Tyler’s death. He hadn’t heard from Rachel since she’d worked on Serenity, and he’d tried to put her clear out of his mind.

Her death was a tragedy.

And already, there’d been too much tragedy.

Amy hooked the straps of her shoulder bag more securely and held Bella’s hand. But the child immediately began to squirm.

‘Man, up!’ she demanded, running to Seth’s side and tugging at his denim jeans with determined little hands.

‘Bella, no.’ Grimacing with embarrassment, Amy pulled picture books from her shoulder bag. ‘Come and sit here quietly and look at these books while I talk to Mr. Reardon. Come on now, be a good girl.’

Seth tried to be patient while Bella was persuaded to sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor with books and a handful of toys. He and Amy sat at one of the dining tables.

‘Hey, diddle, diddle,’ the child announced gleefully.

He stifled a sigh of irritation. ‘Does your daughter usually accompany you to business meetings, Mrs. Ross?’

‘Cat an’ fiddle,’ chanted Bella.

Flushing, Amy nervously lifted her hair from the back of her neck. Clearly, the heat and the tropical humidity were bothering her. Her hair was damp against her skin, and her neck was flushed and shiny with perspiration.

‘I’m not married,’ she said.

It was only then, as Seth watched her elegant hands securing a twist in her honey hair, that he noticed she wasn’t wearing rings.

So she was a single mother. He supposed he should be more tolerant. He’d heard all the news reports about the excessive costs of day care.

‘I don’t usually have Bella with me while I’m working,’ she said. ‘But I had to travel such a long way this time, and I didn’t want to leave her.’

He bit back a question about the child’s father, but he couldn’t help wondering where the guy was and why he hadn’t been able or willing to help out.

‘You’ve come quite a distance,’ he said.

‘Don’t I know it? It’s so hot and muggy here.’ She lifted the limp collar of her cotton shirt away from her skin. ‘The tourist agency told me it’s as far from Melbourne to Tamundra as it is from London to Moscow.’

Seth nodded. ‘And you’ve chosen the very worst time of the year to make such a long journey.’

 

 

 



From “The Cattleman's Adopted Family"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
March 2010
ISBN: 13-978-0-263-21310-2
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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