Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set (8 page)

BOOK: Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set
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She blinked again. Then she set off through the trees.

No question about it

The cowboy was a bit more complicated than she’d expected. He certainly had a disconcerting way of putting her off balance every now and then.

And he wasn’t dull company, that was for sure. Even if he might have been the last man she’d take to the ballet at Lincoln Center, he was the first one—the only one, in fact— she’d want to be with if she were marooned or shipwrecked or whatever it was they were.

He knew as much about this forsaken place as she knew about safety in
the subway

She smiled as she pictured him loping through the city streets.

He’d be as out of place there as she was here. But he’d look pretty good no matter where you plunked him down, with that square jaw and those terrific eyes and those broad shoulders and long legs

She felt herself blush.

‘What is wrong with you, Jessie?’ she said aloud as she stepped out of the trees at the bottom of the ridge.

The lake sparkled under the sun, its waters calm and deep, deep blue in the clear morning light. It looked altogether different with no wind to riffle its surface.

There was, of course, no sign of their plane.

There was nothing to show that they or anyone else had ever been here, except for the tiny yellow dinghy tied to a sapling at the shore.

The lake, even the mountains surrounding it, had a primal, lonely beauty.

Jessica knelt on a flat rock and scooped up a handful of fine-grained sand. She cupped her hands and scooped up some of the lake water, gasping at its chill kiss.

Chad had been right—the slight abrasiveness of the sand left her skin feeling clean and smooth.

She splashed some water on her face, then repeated the action with more
vigor, knowing that she was washing away whatever remained of her make-up and that its replacement lay at the bottom of the lake.

She sat back on her heels, shivering as a breeze played across the water and touched her damp skin.

She had a sudden, all too vivid picture of the little plane lying under all that cold, cold water.

For a few moments, she’d almost forgotten the reality of their situation. Thanks to Chad’s ingenuity, they’d had a relatively pleasant evening and morning, but even he couldn’t keep making magic

They had to find a way out of this place.

Not that she knew what place this was.

She hadn’t remembered to ask Chad if he’d managed to figure it out, she thought as she scrubbed at her teeth with the aspen twig.

How could she have forgotten something so important?

The answer to that one was easy. She hadn’t asked the question because she didn’t want to risk hearing the answer.

He’d already said he thought they were in the—what was it he’d called it?—the Wind River something or other, and that, if they were, it was five or six days to a road.

Jessica tossed aside the aspen twig and wiped her hands on her jeans.

He couldn’t have said that, she told herself firmly. No way. No place was five or six days from a road, not in the twenty first century, not in the good old USA.

She sighed and got to her feet.

First things first, her grandmother had always said, and it was good advice.

And the first thing she wanted right now was a cup of hot coffee, which meant it was time to stop daydreaming and gather some kindling.

There was a sudden glimmer on the lake.

fish jumped free of the water, its iridescent body knifing into the blue sky and then back into the darker lake.

A shadow skimmed across the lake and Jessica lifted her eyes upward. There was a bird soaring overhead, its broad, feather-fringed wings barely moving as it caught and rode the wind.

Lord, she thought suddenly, how beautiful this place was. Even the wild peaks rising all around her had a desolate beauty to them.

‘Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?’

She spun around in surprise. ‘How do you manage that? One second you aren’t there and the next second you are. I never hear you at all.’

Chad shrugged his shoulders. ‘Years of practice, I guess. When you spend a lot of time outdoors, you learn to move quietly.’

‘You could have a terrific career in Central Park after dark,’ she laughed. ‘Mugging people, I mean,’ she added in response to his puzzled expression. ‘You know how to walk silently outdoors, and so I mentioned Central Park,’ she said with deliberate care. ‘That’s in New York, in Manhattan, and it used to have a reputation for being a bad place at

‘I know precisely where Central Park is,’ he said quietly.
‘The Ramble and Sheep Meadow are safe enough at night, if you know what you’re doing. . Of course, when they do Shakespeare in the park or when a band plays during the summer, the place is full of people. Last t time I went to a concert there, it was Beethoven’s Seventh—it’s a symphony written in four parts for an orchestra...’

‘For heaven’s sake, I know what a symphony is. I’m not stupid
A crimson rush flooded her cheeks. ‘Oh God! I didn’t mean to sound so ... so

‘Condescending? Superior? Snobbish?’

‘All of those,’ she said quickly. ‘Really, I just thought you weren’t familiar with the city. I forget you said you’d been there on business.

‘No, I’m the one who should
apologize, Jessie. After all, I must seem pretty much a—what did you call me?— a cowboy, right? And that’s OK, you know. Cowboys are pretty decent guys.’

But he looked anything but apologetic, she thought, standing there with his hands on his hips. There was an edge to his voice that added to her embarrassment.

‘Oh, I’m sure of it,’ she said. ‘It’s just that I never think of someone like that ... I mean, someone like you

He smiled grimly. ‘I bet you don’t.’

‘Look, I simply meant that you don’t look like a man who’d be familiar with the ins and outs of New York, that’s all.

‘How come you city people are so quick to
categorize everybody? Especially when you all seem to run around in costumes.’

narrowed her eyes. ‘What does that mean?’ she asked carefully.

Chad shrugged his shoulders. ‘You know what I mean, Jessie. You do it, too.’

‘Jessica,’ she said. ‘That’s my name, if you don’t mind. And no, I don’t know what you mean. Why don’t you tell me?’

‘Look, I don’t want to quarrel with you.

‘I’m not quarrelling. I’m just asking you to explain what you
mean by that remark.’

‘Come on, lady,’ he said, his voice rough with impatience. ‘I got a good look at you yesterday. There you were, on your way out to the Old West, you thought, and so you wore your Old West outfit. That leather vest, those leather trousers, those
idiotic boots

‘I didn’t expect to end up in the middle of nowhere when I started out yesterday. My clothes would have been fine for Eagle Lake Lodge ... Besides, aren’t you the one who’s being snobbish now? People shouldn’t be judged by their clothing, should they?’

‘Fashion coordinator,’ he said. ‘Is that really what you do for a living?’

‘For heaven’s sakes, we’ve been over all this before. Yes, that’s what I do. I’m not ashamed of it, either. I may not be saving the world or
anything like that, but my job is an honest one.’

‘You don’t know how I laughed one time when I was in New York and everybody was into their Western glitter
phase; I guess you’d call it. All those urban cowboys parading around in jeans so tight they’d split if they ever had to do any real work in them, the women wearing silver and turquoise jewelry that was probably stamped "Made in Taiwan” on the
Doesn’t it bother you at all to be part of that, Jessie?’

‘My name is not Jessie,’ Jessica said quickly, ignoring the little voice deep within her that haul almost whispered agreement. ‘Dressing up makes people happy. What’s wrong with that?’

‘What’s wrong with it is that there are better things to spend money on, especially when all those city folks who want to look like they’re roughing it won’t be happy until they pave over every inch of grass on this planet.’

‘You’re a fine one to talk about
categorizing people,’ she said angrily. ‘You don’t know anything about what I want.’

‘Sure I do. You want to play at roughing it without getting your hands dirty.’

‘You know what your problem is, cowboy? We intimidate you, that’s what. We have creativity and drive and that makes you nervous. You don’t need either one to ride horses. All you need is a strong back
You let go of me,’ she hissed, twisting under the sudden bite of his hands. ‘Stop

His fingers dug into her shoulders as he pulled her towards him.

‘You think you’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you, Miss Howard? Cowboys are just dumb muscle, right? Only guys in three-piece suits who sit behind desks are worth knowing.’

His face was bent to hers. She could see a muscle twitch in his jaw. Suddenly, she was very aware of their isolation.

‘I didn’t say that’

‘You didn’t have to say it. Believe it or not, I’ve got enough brains to figure it out for myself.’

‘Look, I never said you didn’t have brains. It must be ... it must be interesting work, being a cowboy. And ... and I know there’s more to it than just riding horses,’ she added lamely, somehow knowing each word only made things worse and yet tunable to stop her stumbling speech. ‘After all, you’re a pilot, too. Well, sure. I mean, some ranches are big, right? Somebody has to know how to drive a car or fly a plane
I don’t mean that the way it sounds, of course. Everybody knows how to drive a car. I mean, it’s not that hard so that only one or two of you could do
No, no, that’s not what I mean at all. Cowboys are

‘They’re human,’ Chad said quietly. His hands fell from her arms and he shook his head. ‘That’s all anybody is.’

She wrapped her arms around herself and kneaded the places his fingers had grasped, wondering in some distant part of her mind if she’d be black and blue tomorrow.

At least, he’d calmed down.

‘Well, sure they are,’ she said quickly. ‘I know that. I have nothing against cowboys. I’m sure you do an important job

‘Jesus, Jessica Howard, you are incredible.’

He turned on his heel and walked away from her, heading up the rise with quick, long strides. Jessica watched him for a second and then she scrambled after him.

‘Look, I’m sorry. Really. I didn’t mean to knock your profession. I

He turned so suddenly that she almost collided with him. ‘My profession, Miss Howard,’ he said, enunci
ating each word with care, ‘is that of wildlife biologist.’


He smiled grimly. ‘Ruins the whole thing, doesn’t it, Jessie? Here you had me pegged for a dumb cowhand.’

‘No, I didn’t.

‘No?’ His smile became more wolfish. ‘Tell me, Miss Howard, would you have gone to such careful lengths to explain Central Park to me if you’d known I had a PhD in biology?’

‘A PhD in biology?’ she repeated dumbly.

‘And a pilot’s
license. That’s why your agency hired me. They wanted somebody who could not only ferry things in and out of Eagle Lake but who knew something about the flora and fauna of the Tetons.’ He laughed unpleasantly. ‘It’s amazing how impressed Easterners get when a guy knows the difference between a coyote and a squirrel.’

‘You mean—you mean all this time you’ve been letting me
Jessica took a deep breath. ‘How could you let me make a fool of myself that way?’

‘You didn’t need any help from me, Miss Howard. You did just fine, all by yourself from the minute we met.’

‘Oh, for God’s sake, spare me the lecture, will you?’

‘You’ve been glad to have a cowboy with you since we got here, haven’t you? Somebody who could save your
pretty neck. I’ll bet none of your urban cowboys could do that.’

‘No more than you could survive in a three-piece suit, sitting behind a desk,’ Jessica said icily.

‘At least herding cows has a purpose,’ Chad answered. ‘But you wouldn’t understand that.’

‘You said you were a biologist.’

a biologist. I was simply trying to make a point about value judgments, that’s all. I’m just tired of having the world run by citified snobs who run it for their benefit.’

She was looking at him as if he’d lost his mind.

Well, he thought, maybe he had. Only a lunatic would stand here in the middle of nowhere, arguing against a system he’d been bucking for years with a woman who wasn’t really responsible for it.

BOOK: Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set
4.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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