Victoria Torrez is on the run. Fleeing Santa Anna's army, which is invading Texas. But Victoria is a lady, of aristocratic descent. And this is no place for a lady. Jake Dumont is a rebel. A loner. And a crack shot. He's never stayed in one place for long. Never let anyone close enough to break through his guarded heart. Until now...
When Jake lays eyes on stunning Victoria, he's rocked to the core. Here is a woman who will lay her life on the line for what she believes. Finally he's found something worth fighting for. The lady has stolen his heart. But can a rebel gunslinger claim an aristocrat as his bride?
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August 31, 2008
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Excerpt from The Rebel and the Lady by Kathryn Albright
January, 1836--Southern Texas Territory
The ground shook.
Victoria Torrez jerked awake from a dreamless sleep and glanced about her room. Nothing was out of place. The full moon shining through her window cast shadows of bare branches on the plaster walls. What had woken her?
She swung her feet onto the tile floor and tiptoed to the window. Nothing moved in the blue moonlight. A heavy frost covered the ground near the hacienda, unusual for this time of year, but then it had been an unusually cold, dry winter. The bats that lived along the Rio Grande had long since flown south. Even the owl that hooted in the ancient oak tree was still.
Her senses heightened, she moved to the opposite window to search the courtyard.
It came to her then--a steady, rhythmic trembling like thunder in the wake of an approaching storm. Her heart took up the cadence as she held her breath and listened, trying to understand what was happening.
The iron latch on her door jiggled. "Victoria? Wake up!" her mother urged with a frantic edge to her voice as she stepped into the room.
Grabbing her robe from the back of a chair and stuffing her arms into the sleeves, Victoria secured the tie around her waist. "I'm awake. What is it?"
"El Presidente has come."
Victoria's stomach lurched. "No! Santa Anna? It cannot be!" Then soldiers marched across their land! How many must there be to make the ground tremble?
Mama joined her and together they peered outside.
Victoria's father stood on the far side of the ornate iron gate that closed off the courtyard. His back was to them, and although he'd dressed hastily with his shirt hanging loose rather than tucked into his pantalones, his stance was wide and proud. His breath rose, a warm vapor in the cold air, as he spoke to another man who held himself tall, chin up, his feathered hat tucked in his arm. The stranger wore a dark uniform with brass buttons that gleamed in the moonlight and a sword at his side. Not Santa Anna. She had seen a painting of El Presidente once when she visited Monterrey. Perhaps this was an emissary.
Behind him, she could barely make out the gray forms of more soldiers standing in rows. With the low mist creeping from the river, her eyes failed to see beyond the third line of men, but there must be more. From what she'd heard, the general's army was vast.
The two men spoke softly at first and Victoria could hear only the low tones, unable to differentiate the words. Then their voices rose to an angered pitch. Her heart thumped hard in her chest, worried that next they would come to blows or worse. A heavy silence hovered while each man weighed the other's intent. After a moment, the officer bowed stiffly and retreated. Her father turned away, an uncharacteristic slump to his shoulders.
This couldn't be happening! "Santa Anna was to come in the spring--and by boat," Victoria murmured, still unable to believe what was before her.
"We will not see Monterrey now," Mama said, her hands clasped and trembling around her beaded rosary.
Father had planned to take the family safely to his brother's house before the army came. Victoria had spoken against it. She did not want to leave the cattle and horses to be used by the Mexican army. She would not hand over anything to them so easily.
Heavy footsteps in the great hall startled them both. Mama stepped forward and wrapped the ends of her heavy shawl across her chest, a five-foot, one-inch formidable fortress. Searching for a quick weapon, Victoria grabbed the silver letter opener from her writing desk and hid it within the folds of her robe. She moved next to her mother. Steadying her breathing, she prayed fervently the intruder was simply their cook.
The door swung open.
"Esteban!" His name rushed from her lips as she recognized her childhood friend. His face was more angular now, more mature than when she'd last seen him in the summer. "What are you doing here?" The moment the words were uttered she realized he wore a soldier's uniform and carried a pistol in his hand. A sinking sensation settled in her chest. He'd joined the Mexican army.
Darting a quick look around the bedroom he strode toward them, the sharp planes of his face stern. "Se�ora Torrez, Victoria--you must get out of here."
"But this is my home," Victoria said, raising her chin. "I will fight for it."
His dark eyes flashed as he gripped her shoulders with his long fingers. "I have seen the army. There are too many coming."
"And you have made it one more." She shrugged out of his grasp, not caring that the anger in her voice was audible. How dare he do this! And now she realized the clothes he wore were not those of a common soldier. From the crown of the golden helmet protecting his head all the way to the bottom of his polished black leather boots, authority oozed from every inch of him.