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Authors: Darlene Panzera

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BOOK: Montana Hearts
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T
he duke strode into the sitting room first, stopping and gesturing toward the American.

“My dear, you must help me convince Mr. Leighton to join us next week. And see here, sir, we can even supply a fellow countrywoman to encourage you. Miss Sedgwick, may I present Mr. Rex Leighton.”

The duke was speaking, making introductions. The minuscule part of May's mind still capable of processing words and considering polite etiquette told her to curtsy or extend her hand, but she couldn't manage any of it.

A man she'd relegated to her dreams had crashed in and collided with her Thursday afternoon. Impossibly,
he
stood before her. The man she kept confined in her heart and mind. The same man, and yet so changed. He looked nothing like the poor shop clerk she'd pined for, impossibly yearned for year after year until she'd almost forgotten how to yearn for anything else. The eyes were the same mercurial brew of gold and azure, and all the angles of his face still aligned with irritating perfection, set off by a divot in the center of his chin. That gleaming dark hair she'd once sifted through her fingers shone like rich mahogany in the afternoon light.

But his gaze was remote, impassive, as if a pane of murky glass separated them. She was the one stuck on a curio cabinet shelf, and he was coolly examining her from the other side. His clothes were those of a prosperous gentleman, not the outdated and oft-mended single suit owned by Reginald Cross. Worst was the arrogant tilt of his chin. The Reg of her memories had only ever looked at her with admiration and pleasure, what she imagined in her silly youthful way was love. No one had ever made her feel as important with a single glance.

He wasn't the same man. Couldn't be. The duke called him Leighton, not Cross. A striking resemblance. Nothing more.

May reminded herself to breathe and stepped forward to be introduced to the polished gentleman who could not be the shop boy who'd broken her heart in New York City.

Mr. Leighton took two steps forward, and her momentary grasp on composure faltered.
Reg
. His scent, the firm line of his mouth, the large, elegant hand extended toward her—they belonged to Reginald Cross. Smarter, wealthier, older, and with an abundance of confidence his younger self lacked, but still a man she'd once known. The only man she'd ever loved.

Emily touched her arm, urging May to accept his offered hand. She obeyed and moved toward him, sliding her fingers against his until their palms met. Warm. How could a memory be so warm? But he wasn't a memory. He was real. Alive. He was in London, had been for goodness knew how long, and she was meeting him in her dearest friend's sitting room. By complete and utter chance.

“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Sedgwick.”

Same deep-toned voice. Same ability to raise shivers across her skin. Even when there was something silvery and practiced in his timbre, even while he still wore that placid mask.

“How do you . . .” The rest wouldn't come. May knew the words she was expected to say. Felt the gazes of Emily and her father. Sensed their discomfort at her odd behavior.

His hand tightened around hers and the glass between them shattered. He blinked, a quick fan of sable lashes, and then those unique eyes of his saw her. Not as a stranger to whom he was being introduced, but as the woman he'd held and kissed. The woman to whom he'd broken every promise he'd ever made. She detected his recognition in the tremor of his lush lower lip, felt it through the heat of his skin, read it in his blue-gold gaze that flitted from her mouth to her eyes and over each aspect of her face.

“May.” He breathed the word quietly, intimately, just for her to hear, as if a duke and his daughter weren't standing nearby.

Grief, too long repressed, welled up like floodwaters, fierce and fast and just as unstoppable.

May wrenched her hand from his with a burning friction of skin against skin. When she spun around, Emily's face whirled past, a blur of confusion and concern. Moving, walking away from him, felt good. Like victory. Like strength. Like she would finally get to choose the conclusion to their tale. She needed it to end and had never gotten the satisfaction of a proper parting. She would explain her rudeness to Emily later, but for now she needed to find the mettle to keep going, to leave him as he'd left her.

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Copyright

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Excerpt from
Montana Hearts: Sweet Talkin' Cowboy
copyright © 2015 by Darlene Panzera.

Excerpt from
You're Still the One
copyright © 2016 by Darcy Burke.

Excerpt from
The Debutante Is Mine
copyright © 2016 by Vivienne Lorret.

Excerpt from
One Dangerous Desire
copyright © 2016 by Christy Carlyle.

MONTANA HEA
RTS: TRUE COUNTRY HERO
. Copyright © 2016 by Darlene Panzera. All rights reserved under International and Pan-­American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the ­required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-­book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-­engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of Harper­Collins e-­books. For information, address Harper­Collins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007.

EPub Edition MAY 2016 ISBN: 9780062394729

Print Edition ISBN: 9780062394736

Avon, Avon Impulse, and the Avon Impulse logo are trademarks of Harper­Collins Publishers.

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BOOK: Montana Hearts
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