Miles from home Jaclyn Macgregor was left for dead. Right square in Collingsworth country. She was a Louisiana spitfire--and her tenacity was all that kept her alive. Targeted by the most powerful mavens of Texas society, Jaclyn encountered the one man who had all the resources to play their games.
Bart Collingsworth had an oil-rich empire to command, but he'd never met a girl like Jaclyn, let alone brought one back to the ol' homestead. As much as she resisted his help, cowboy honor was an inescapable fact of life in Texas. One too many girls had disappeared recently--victims of too much money and too much influence--and Bart wouldn't let this one slip through his fingers. And he'd do just about anything to make Jaclyn a permanent part of his world....
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October 08, 2007
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Excerpt from Texas Gun Smoke by Joanna Wayne
A light rain started to fall, making the road that wound its way to Jack's Bluff Ranch dangerously slick. Not a safe night out for man nor beast. Most days Bart fell into the former category. He slowed his pickup truck and turned up the volume on his radio, singing along with George Strait, though one of them was a bit off-key.
Bart stretched, then shed the necktie he'd loosened much earlier. He hadn't wanted to drive into Houston tonight, especially in this monkey suit. But his mother had refused to take no for an answer. Not that he didn't agree with her that philanthropy was important or that her work in spearheading the drive to raise funding for the new children's wing at the hospital was a worthy task; but sipping champagne and making small talk with a gaggle of rich social-ites wasn't his scene.
It still amazed him that his mother could waltz from ranch life at Jack's Bluff to Houston society functions so effortlessly. The only dance Bart knew was the two-step, and that was the way he liked it.
His mom had opted to stay in town and spend the night with his brother Langston and his new family, leaving Bart to make the hour-plus drive home alone. Normally he wouldn't have minded, but tonight he could have used the company just to stay awake and alert. It had been a long day. Ranching was not a nine-to-five job.
He caught sight of a pair of bucks at the edge of the road in front of him. He slowed even more. You never knew when a deer would take a notion to run right in front of you. He'd totaled a pickup like that last year. Worse part was it had killed the doe.
The rain picked up. He turned on the defroster to clear the windshield. The visibility improved only slightly, but he'd be home in less than ten minutes.
He tried to stifle a yawn, then jerked to attention. What the hell? Two cars were speeding toward him, driving so close they were all but swapping paint.
A second later he saw sparks fly as the outside car sideswiped the other and sent it rocking and bouncing along the shoulder before the driver managed to get all four wheels back on the highway. If this was some teenage game of chicken, they were taking things way too far. Somebody was likely to get killed. Maybe him.
He slowed and took the shoulder as the cars collided again. This time the smaller one went flying off the road. It slid down an incline and then rolled over, coming to a rocking upside-down stop a few yards ahead of Bart. The lunatic driving the attacking car sped past him.
Bart screeched to a stop, grabbed a flashlight and jumped from his truck. He took off running toward the wrecked car. Its wheels were still spinning when he got to it.
He aimed a beam of illumination inside the car. There was only one occupant--a woman who was draped over the steering wheel, upside down but still held in place by her seat belt. Blood trickled across her left temple and matted in her blond hair. She lifted her head, shaded her eyes from the light and shrank away from him.
The door was jammed, and he had to work with it for a few seconds to pry it open. "Are you okay?"
She didn't answer, but her face was a pasty white and her eyes were wide with fear.
"Take it easy. You're safe now."
"You tried to kill me."
"Not me, but someone did." He leaned in closer so that he could see the head wound. The cut didn't look particularly deep, but a nice little goose egg was forming. "What hurts?"
She stared at him, looking dazed and still fearful as she touched her fingertips to the blood. "I must have hit my head."
"Probably against the side window when you went into the roll. For some reason, your air bag didn't deploy."
"The light had gone off. I was going to get it checked."
A little late for that now. He pulled her against him while he loosened the seat belt. He lifted her out of the car and stood her on the ground. She was lighter than a newborn calf and short, probably no more than five-two or -three. Thin, almost waiflike. But movie-star pretty.
She swayed, and he put an arm around her shoulder for support. "My truck's over there." He pointed to where it was parked on the opposite side of the road. "Let's get you in it and out of the rain while we wait for an ambulance."
"No!" Fear pummeled her voice. "No ambulance. I'll be okay. I just..." She swayed again and might have lost her balance completely if he hadn't been supporting her. "I just need a minute for my head to clear. And I need my handbag."
"Right." He found it with its strap tangled in the brake and accelerator pedals. He worked it loose and handed it to her. She clasped it tightly in both hands as rain dripped from her hair and rolled down her face. He pulled the silk handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped the water and blood away.
"Who are you?" she whispered, her voice shaky.
"Bart Collingsworth. And don't worry. I'm just a Good Samaritan who happened to be passing by."
He took her hand and led her across the street. Once she was safely settled in the passenger seat, he closed the door, calling 911 as he rounded the truck to the driver's side. Like it or not, he was calling for an ambulance and law enforcement. He was still giving the operator the information when he climbed behind the wheel.
"I know you said you don't want an ambulance," he said once he'd broken the connection. "But there's a small hospital in Colts Run Cross--not much more than a clinic with a few beds, but they'll call in a doctor to check you out. Better to be safe than sorry."
"I've already had more than enough of Colts Run Cross."
"I take it you're not from around here."
She stared out the front window into the darkness and rain. "Is anybody?"
"A few lucky souls. I live on a ranch a few miles down the road. Jack's Bluff. You just passed it."
She trembled and clasped her hands in front of her, nervously twisting the wedding band on her left hand. "I didn't notice."
"Guess not, with that lunatic trying to run you off the road. What was that about?"
"I haven't a clue."
"Then you don't know the driver of the other car?"
"But you must have had some kind of altercation for him to react so violently." "He just came out of nowhere, sped up behind me and forced me off the road."
Either she was lying or this made no sense at all. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She looked incredibly fragile, like a porcelain doll that had been left out in the rain.
"Are you sure you're okay?"