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Six White Horses (Oklahoma) : Oklahoma
Every novel in this collection is your passport to a romantic tour of the United States through time-honored favorites by Americaís First Lady of romance fiction. Each of the fifty novels is set in a different state, researched by Janet and her husband, Bill. For the Daileys it was an odyssey of discovery. For you, itís the journey of a lifetime. Your tour of desire begins with this story set in Oklahoma. Pride had blinded her to the truth! Patty King knew it was foolish to cherish any feelings sheíd had for Lije Masters-now married to someone else. She didnít need the arrogant Morgan Kincaid to tell her. It was none of his business anyway. She resented Morgan but couldnít ignore him. He seemed to have appointed himself her personal counselor, watchdog and conscience. Sparks flew every time they met. It was a long time before she learned that Morganís concern was based on love. And by then, Patty was able to give a much more appreciative response!
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December 01, 1999
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Excerpt from Six White Horses (Oklahoma) by Janet Dailey
THE HORSE moved restlessly, his coat shimmering with blue black hues. Its midnight color was contrasted by white saddle and bridle stitched with black leather and inset with black roses. White stockings were wrapped around the horse's legs and its impatient, dancing hooves were painted a silvery gray.
An aging man stood at the black's head, nearly dressed in a Western
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suit of light blue that accented the youthfulness of his build. His peppered gray head was turned to the boyishly slim girl hurrying toward him.
"What kept you, gal?" he asked with sighing patience. "They're ready to start the Grand Entry."
"The zipper got stuck on my slacks," she explained quickly, and effortlessly vaulted into the saddle, taking the reins he handed her.
The white pantsuit she wore matched the leather trappings of the horse, black roses embroidered on the pant legs and the shoulders and back. Dark brown hair was caught at the nape of her neck and plaited into a single braid.
"Knock 'em dead, honey!" he called out to her as she reined the horse away.
"I will, gramps!" Her hand raised in a cheery salute as the powerful hindquarters of the horse muscled to leap into a canter.
Not until they neared the stands of the rodeo arena did Patty King slow the black horse's pace. Weaving through the congestion of horses and riders, mostly rodeo contestants, she smiled at the teasing remarks at her tardiness from those she knew. Butterflies beat their wings against the walls of her stomach as she halted the black horse behind a pair of golden palominos whose riders were carrying the flags.
The gates into the arena were closed. Already there was activity in the bucking chutes while the steady hum of the crowd in the stands indicated their impatience for the rodeo to begin. Patty laid a soothing hand on the black's neck, quieting him with a few softly spoken words.
"Hey, Princess!" a voice called out to her as a leanly built cowboy jumped from the rail and walked toward her, flamboyantly dressed in a brightly figured Western shirt with leather chaps and jangling spurs.
"Princess?" Patty laughed her surprise, brown eyes dancing at the youthfully handsome face that stopped beside her.
"You're too little to be a king, so you have to be a princess," he winked. Grabbing the oversized saddle horn of her trick saddle and sticking the toe of his boot in the stirrup, he pulled himself up to her level, balancing himself with his other hand placed on the cantle. "I need a kiss for luck, Princess."
"Jack Evans, the last time I gave you a kiss for luck, you were bucked off the first jump out of the chutes." Twin dimples appeared in her cheeks.
An expression of mock seriousness spread across the face that was so near to hers. "You couldn't have put your heart into it. We'll simply have to keep trying until you get it right."
There was a rueful shake of her dark brown head at the sheer hopelessness of arguing with this cocky cowboy. Patty King had known him too long to be taken in by his considerable charm. Not another word of protest was offered as his mouth covered hers in a light but lingering kiss.
"Much better," he grinned, and swung away from her onto the ground.
"If all that mushy stuff is over," a growling voice said from the arena gate, "we'll get this rodeo started."
A faint pink of embarrassment flowed into her cheeks as Patty glanced at the older, battered-looking cowboy at the gates, his left arm in a plaster cast.
"I'm ready, Lefty," she said.
Grumbling silently, he nodded his acknowledgment. But her brown eyes had slid past him, caught by a pair of metallic blue. Self-consciously Patty stiffened with resentment at the mocking steel gaze. It belonged to the big, burly man just mounting the top rail of the arena fence.
Tall with powerful shoulders, there was not an ounce of spare flesh on his deceptively lean frame. Curling jet black hair was visible under his hat brim. Every feature cried out with the aggressive thrust of his masculinity. Beneath thick black brows, sooty lashes outlined the brilliant blue eyes. As Patty met their gaze, she glared her dislike of their owner, Morgan Kincaid.
The arena gate was swung open and the rodeo announcer was proclaiming the start of the rodeo. The Grand Entry parade was concluded with the presentation of colors and the playing of the National Anthem.
When the rest of the horses and riders in the Grand Entry left the arena, Patty followed, pulling her black horse to a stop just inside the gate. Irritation smoldered near the surface at the sight of Morgan Kincaid swinging down from the fence rail and walking toward the chutes.
He was the antithesis of what she liked in a man. He had none of the quiet courtesy that she admired. His very presence was abrasive, setting her teeth on edge as effectively as the whine of a dentist's drill. He was aggressively male with none of the rough edges smoothed to be handsome. Party's concentration was so intent on the wide powerful shoulders that she nearly missed her cue from the rodeo announcer.
"Our special attraction for this evening, ladies and gentlemen, is Miss Patricia King," he announced, "a native of New Mexico, a truly fine trick rider and Roman rider. Patty, give them an example of what they'll see later on this evening."
Reining the black horse in a full circle to the right, its signal for the flat-out run, Patty took him into the arena. She went once around in a hippodrome stand, falling away on the second circle to a side drag that left the crowd gasping before they broke into applause.
There was no opportunity to stay and watch the first rodeo event, which was saddle bronc riding. Patty had to return to the stable area to help her grandfather harness the six white horses she used for the Roman ride. By the time the black leather trappings were on each horse and Patty had changed into a black outfit with white roses, she was due in the arena for her performance. With her grandfather Everett King walking at the head of Liberty, the left horse in the front pair, Patty sat bareback astride Loyalty, the right horse of the last pair.
The arena lights caught the sparkles dusted over the hindquarters of the six white horses as they pranced into the arena to the tune of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." Patty's stomach was twisted in knots of nervous excitement. Rising to stand on the rosined back of Loyalty, she clucked comfortingly to the horses, taking an extra wrap on the six black reins, three in each hand. Oblivious to the announcer's words, she shifted her left foot to Landmark's back, easing the horses into a slow canter while she adjusted herself to the rhythm.
Two circles of the arena eased her attack of jitters. While Patty guided the three pairs of horses into a series of figure eights that required a flying change of lead, her grandfather supervised the setting of the hurdles. There was one jump on one side of the arena and a double jump on the opposite side.
Deftly checking Landmark's habit of rushing the jump, the horses cleared the barrier with faultless precision, one pair following the other and with Patty balancing a foot on each back of the last two horses. The double jump was trickier on the opposite side of the arena. As the last pair of horses was landing from the first obstacle, the first pair was taking the second.
When all the horses had cleared the last jump, it was once around the arena and a sliding stop in the center where they all took a bow with Patty standing triumphantly on their backs, a hand poised in the air in acknowledgment of the applause. A refusal at any of the jumps by any of the horses would have meant a nasty fall for Patty as well as for the horses.
Wheeling the horses toward the gate, she slipped astride Loyalty's back. A beaming smile split her face as she met the silently congratulatory expression of her grandfather. With the agility of a young man, Everett King caught Liberty's halter, slowing him to a walk through the gate and forcing the rest to do the same. A cowboy grabbed Lodestars head while another took her grandfather's place with Liberty.
"You did a grand job, Patty," he winked at her as he laid a hand on the shining neck of Loyalty.
"You did the training. You deserve the credit," she refused in a sincere and breathless voice. "Thanks, grandpa."
His gnarled and weathered hand closed over hers affectionately, before a somber look stole over his face. "He's here, Patty."
For an instant she froze, unable to speak or breathe. A horrible, twisting pain stabbed at her chest. There was no need to ask whom he meant. Patty knew. With every tormented nerve end, she knew he meant Lije Masters.
"Where?" Her eyes fluttered closed, to try to shut out the pain as she uttered the question in a choked voice.
"In the fourth row on your left." A touching sympathy laced his words. "His wife is with him."
A sob rose in her throat and Patty caught it back with a quick gulp. Smile, she commanded herself sternly, smile and wave at him even if it kills you. Some of her panic was communicated to the white horse and he shifted nervously beneath her.
Touching the silky neck with a soothing caress, Patty deliberately let her gaze stray to the fourth row of the stand. A smile of false surprise was forced onto her mouth as she met the pair of gray eyes looking at her from a lean, tanned face. The air of remoteness vanished as he returned the smile, its effect still devastating to her heartbeat.
Her gaze flickered to the perfection of the blond woman beside him, envy squeezing nearly every ounce of breath from her lungs. That was Lije's wife, the perfect example of femininity. Not a tomboy turned into a cowgirl like Patty, she thought in self-deprecation. But she waved anyway.
"Magnificent performance as usual, Patty," Lije called to her.
"Thanks." The shrill edge of her voice was from pain.
There was a resounding slap on the rump of her horse as Everett King waved to the cowboys holding the front pair to take them to the stables. She and her grandfather were too close for Patty not to realize that his urgings were to end the conversation with the man she still loved and who had married another.
At the stables, Patty slipped from Loyalty's back and helped her grandfather, who had followed, to remove the leather trappings from the six white horses. Their travel trailer was parked a short distance away. A quick trip and Patty had changed out of her costume into faded blue Levi's and a knit top of olive green. She kept her movements swift and hurried, not allowing herself time to think in case she lost the grip on her shaky composure.
* * * *
The horses were cooled off when she returned to the stable area. The shouts and applause from the rodeo crowd could be heard in the distance along with the rodeo announcer's voice. The sounds had all become familiar to her. Rodeo was her life, thanks to Lije Masters.
"I'll finish up the horses, grandpa," Patty said softly.
His alert brown gaze was turned on her thoughtfully, seeing beyond the composed facade to the pain beneath. "You want to be alone, don't you, honey?"
"Is it so obvious?" she smiled ruefully.
"Only to me," he responded as he walked away.
Patty watched his lean figure disappear and sighed. It was strange that he was the only member of her family who had seen the way she felt. Both her parents had assumed her interest in rodeo came from her grandfather, who had actively competed in his younger years. But her motivation had always been Lije Masters. Since the day she could remember, he had been the reason for her existence, all through her teenage years into adulthood.
When he had started following the rodeo circuit to save his father's ranch and keep it after his father's death, Patty had been determined to follow. She didn't have the patience to wait in New Mexico for the day he would return. It was her grandfather, Everett King, who had suggested trick riding, since her parents couldn't afford to support her as a barrel racer.
Fate, unfortunately, had taken a hand. Her bookings hadn't included the San Antonio rodeo. Liberty had been off-color and Patty had been at her parents' ranch in New Mexico before going to the Houston rodeo. She thought she would never lose the bitter taste that had coated her mouth the day she had walked into the restaurant in New Mexico and had seen Lije Masters with his new wife. To this day, she knew she had carried the scene off beautifully, never letting him see how crushing his news had been.
A tear slipped from her lashes as she needlessly pushed the straw around in Liberty's stall, using the pitchfork more for support. There was little comfort for her broken heart in reminding herself that Lije had never once given her any indication that he looked on her as anything more than a friend and neighbor. Still she had lived in hope. She had adored him, worshiped him, loved him, living on the smallest crumb of his attention for days.
Her hope had been nurtured by the knowledge that Lije didn't believe in riding the rodeo circuit and leaving his wife at home, nor in bringing her with him to go through the agonies of watching him compete, always knowing he was running the risk of being hurt or crippled. Yet she had lived with that fear for three years. Patty had known, too, that Lije had intended to quit after another two successful years of rodeo.
Never in her wildest imagination had she believed that he would fall in love and marry someone else in the space of three short days. But he had. It had been a year and a half ago since that fatal day, but the pain was as intense as if it had only happened this morning.
It was her grandfather's shoulder that had been drenched with her tears. He was the one who had convinced her to continue the circuit when she wanted to curl up and die. She enjoyed the circuit, the constant training that was necessary to keep the horses in top form. It kept her from dwelling too much on the impossibilities of her dream, but it was still work. And it was not the way she had envisaged spending the rest of her life.
Patty had wanted a home and children. Lije's children to be sure, and a ranch that she could help him run. She was as capable as any ranch hand around. That had always seemed a plus factor in her favor, a reason why Lije would choose her above anyone else. How wrong she had been! His wife was a fashion model who had never been on a horse in her life, city-born and city-bred. She, Patty, could have given him so much more.
The salty taste of tears covered her lips and she realized with a start that she was crying. That was something she hadn't done in over a year. Hiccuping back the sobs, Patty wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. Liberty turned luminous brown eyes on her and nickered softly. It took all her willpower to resist the urge to fling her arms around the horse's neck and cry. Misery and self-pity dominated her senses and Patty didn't notice the darkening of the stall.
"There you are, Skinny." A low-pitched, faintly derogatory voice spoke from the doorway. "I thought I might find you in some dark hole, licking your wounds like a hurt animal."
After an initial start of surprise, cold anger held her motionless. Only one person called her Skinny.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Morgan Kincaid," Patty glared. "And I don't particularly care, so why don't you just get out of here?"
"I could have been mistaken," he drawled lazily. His tall, husky, broad-shouldered figure blocked out the light. "But it seemed to me that you turned white as your horses when you saw Lije in the stands."
Patty held his blue gaze for an instant, but its latent sharpness was too perceptive. "You were mistaken," she snapped, turning away to begin moving the pitchfork in the straw.
"I'm glad to hear that." The strong mouth moved into a smile. "Thinking the way I was that you were all tore up at seeing Lije again, I would have sworn that there were tears on your cheeks."
"That's absurd!" She kept her face averted. "It's only perspiration. I don't know where you got the idea that it would bother me to see Lije. He and I are good friends."
"Listen, Skinny." His voice was patiently indulgent. "Nearly everyone on the circuit knows that you thought you were in love with the guy"
"I can't control what people think." Any more than she could control the faint tremor in her statement.
"No, that's true," Morgan Kincaid agreed, a thumb hooked negligently in his belt as he watched her moving the straw around the horse's hooves.
Patty turned on him suddenly, unable to tolerate any more of his unsubtle cross-examination. "Shouldn't you be at the chutes making sure your precious rodeo stock is all right?"
"Sam is the chute boss. That's his job," he answered smoothly. "Aren't you curious why Lije came all this way to see a rodeo?"
"Why don't you tell me?" she responded in a tone seething with irritation.
"He wants to sell Blake Williams a young bulldogging horse he trained. It seems he needs the money."
"What's so unusual about that?" Patty shrugged impatiently. "Name me a rancher who doesn't need cash money?"
"It isn't for the ranch that he wants the money." There was a watchful stillness in the blue eyes. "His wife is going to have a baby."
Patty had already accepted that it was more than a probability that some day Lije and his wife would have children. But for the announcement to come now--without any warning--and from Morgan Kincaid, a man she loathed and despised, was more than her poise could conceal. Her brown eyes widened in shock as she uttered a gasping cry of pain. Morgan Kincaid's gaze glittered sharply over her.
"Now why should that bother you? You and Lije are only friends." His mocking statement held the fine edge of cutting steel. "You certainly don't look happy at the news. A stranger might think you were envious or jealous."
Her fingers tightened convulsively on the pitchfork handle. "You've said what you came here to tell me. Now get out!"
He didn't move as he stared at her thoughtfully through narrowed eyes. "The old wound opened up, did it? You still think you love the guy?"
"I never thought! I knew I loved Lije!" Unwillingly Patty raised her voice, no longer trying to pretend that she didn't care. She lifted the pitchfork to a threatening angle. "And if you don't get out of here, I'll run this through you!"
The sudden movement and the angry voices unsettled the white horse tied in the stall. There was a frantic whinnying as he pulled against the lead rope, twisting and turning his head, his hooves beating an in-place cadence on the stable floor.
"Easy, boy," Morgan Kincaid murmured soothingly, ignoring the pitchfork Patty had aimed at him to move to the horse's head. The animal continued bobbing nervously, eyes rolling, but Liberty responded to the reassuring voice and the gentle touch of the human hand. "That isn't any way for a lady to talk, is it, feller?"
That instant of regret that Patty had felt at upsetting the sensitive and spirited horse was overtaken by a wave of self-pity.
"I'm not a lady," she asserted with false vigor and pride. "I never have been a lady."
Letting her statement slide by without comment, Morgan Kincaid ducked under the horse's neck and stood on the opposite side of the horse a few feet from Patty. The quiet tone of his incoherent murmurs eased her own raw nerve ends as well as Liberty's. At last the horse snorted and began nuzzling the hay in the manger. With a large, tanned hand trailing along the horse's withers and over his back, Morgan wandered slowly toward Patty.
His almost complete indifference to her put her instantly on guard, the slightly lowered pitchfork raising a fraction of an inch. Cautiously she watched him turn to face her, her gaze centering on the movement of his right hand.
"You remind me of a bantam hen my mother used to have." His eyes insolently inspected her slender form.
His right hand touched the brim of his sweat-stained hat, lifting it off to reveal the thick black hair. Distracted by the unhurried movement of his right hand, Patty wasn't prepared for the lightning swiftness of his left as his fingers closed over the pitchfork handle and wrenched it easily from her grasp. She made one futile grab to recover it before she was intimidated by his height and breadth. The pitchfork was discarded with a lazy toss over the manger.
Her back was against the stall partition. "What do you mean, a bantam hen?" she demanded, fighting the sudden leap of fear her heart made.
His fingers spread themselves against the wall near her head as he leaned slightly forward, mockery in the vivid blue color of his eyes.
"Puny and proud." Tilting his head to the side, he studied her wary and angry expression. "It fits, though. Puny, proud Patricia,"
Staring at the massive chest and the strength etched in every rugged plane of his face, Patty felt puny and at a decided disadvantage. But the second part of his observation was just as accurate as her hand raised to slap that mocking expression from his mouth. Her wrist was halted by a steel vice midway to the target.
"I find you contemptible, do you know that?" When her hand failed, she lashed out with her tongue. "You are disgusting and loathsome!"
Long sooty lashes couldn't veil the sudden blazing look in his eyes. "You're too big to take over my knee," he declared grimly.
The forbidding line of his jaw moved closer. With a swiftness unexpected in a man of his size, Morgan Kincaid used his body weight to pin her against the stable wall. Seizing her chin between two fingers, he forced it up while his mouth closed hers in a hard, punishing kiss.
Patty struggled for as long as she could, fighting for the air he seemed determined to crush from her lungs. All her senses were drugged by his overpowering masculinity. In surrender, she lay passive in his arms, letting him do with her as he willed.
The lack of resistance eased the bruising pressure of his mouth as it became mobile and warmly persuasive against hers. There was a vague stirring deep inside Patty to respond with instinctive reaction of a female to a male. She had no need to fight back the traitorous weakness of her flesh as Morgan raised his mouth from hers.
"I can better understand a couple of things now," he drawled lazily, his face not more than an inch from hers, the warm moistness of his breath fanning her lashes. "I know why Jack thought you needed more practice and why Lije sought his satisfaction elsewhere rather than take what you blatantly used to offer him. If I'd been in Lije's place, I would have taught you how to make love and taken your gift."
There was an underlying hint of portent that sent a shudder of inescapability tingling down Patty's spine. "If you had been in Lije's place, I never would have offered anything," she taunted huskily.
The cruel line of his mouth curved into a smile. "What are you going to do now that you've saved all your kisses for a man who belongs to someone else? Give them out as good-luck kisses?"
"Lije belongs to no one but himself." She deliberately ignored the last jeering question.
"Does that mean you're considering trying to break up his happy home?"
Lije didn't love her. He never had. To try to come between him and his beautiful wife would only succeed in making her look like an even bigger fool.
"I meant nothing of the kind," Patty denied in bitter defeat. She hunched her shoulders together, trying to twist free of his firm hold. "Will you let me go?"
"If I do, will you hit me or run into a corner to hide and try to remember Lije's kisses?"
"He was infinitely better at kissing than you!" She trembled violently with her dislike as he laughed at her statement. The throaty sound was more infuriating than any mocking words. "What's the matter? Don't you think I know?" she demanded angrily. "He kissed me lots of times. They were always warm, gentle kisses, not coarse and animalistic like yours!" Her fingers touched her sore and tender mouth, still throbbing from his rough kiss while the skin around it was red and scraped by his shaven beard. "Your kisses hurt!"
"Love hurts." His narrowed blue gaze glittered down at her. "Or haven't you learned that?"
"I can't imagine you knowing anything about love," Patty retorted with contemptuous sarcasm.
"Hell!" Morgan chuckled in amusement, releasing her arms and stepping away. "I'm only thirty-five. I couldn't possibly know as much as you do! Why, you must be all of--what, twenty-two?"
If looks could kill, they would have been carving the date of his death on the gravestone as Patty glared her hatred of him.
"Yes, I am twenty-two," she asserted vigorously, "which hardly makes me an immature teenager, ignorant of the facts of life!"
"You may know about them, but you aren't on speaking terms." The grooves near his mouth deepened with mockery.
"I don't doubt that your bestial existence has given you intimate knowledge," Patty lashed back.
"Don't knock it if you haven't tried it, Skinny," Morgan winked.
In that fleeting second, she realized that he was deliberately provoking her temper for his own amusement, laughing at how quickly she rose to the bait.
"I have work to do, and I'm wasting my breath arguing with you." She spun away and stalked through the stall door toward the tack room.
"Need any help?" Morgan asked from the tack doorway.
Patty shook out Liberty's blanket, black with a white rose on the hip. "Never from you," she answered sarcastically.
"Suit yourself." There was an indifferent shrug of his broad shoulders as he turned away, then paused. "Are you going to Kelly's tonight?" he asked, referring to a local bar.
"No, I am not."
"Good. I've just won a hundred dollars."
"What are you talking about?" Patty frowned, giving Morgan her undivided attention.
"I bet gramps a hundred dollars that you wouldn't show up tonight because Lije and his wife were going to be there," he responded in a complacent drawl.
"Gramps? You mean--my grandpa?"
"Who else? I tried to tell him you'd be too grief-stricken over meeting Lije again to go, but he kept insisting you were made of sterner stuff--smiling on the outside and crying on the inside type of thing. I don't believe he understands women as well as he thinks he does," Morgan concluded wryly. "Females enjoy being miserable."
Patty's mouth opened and closed. No words came to mind that were sufficiently sarcastic to give vent to her wrath. She was still searching for them as he walked away, heading toward the pens where the rodeo stock was held.