Lucas Garrett is the last able-bodied man left in a town full of lonely women since the Gold Rush lured all the others westward...and now he's just plain exhausted. So he turns to pretty, proper Priscilla Wentworth...and asks her to pose as his future bride. In return, he must help her find a husband of her own. But when he takes her in his arms, suddenly Priscilla must wonder if he is really the only man for her.
|Product dimensions:||4.18(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.96(d)|
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Late summer held the town of Maple Falls in a sweltering grip. Night air hung heavy and damp, ripe with the scent of hot earth and river water. It was the kind of night that beat thick and low in a man's blood, making him dream of rumpled sheets and sultry women, of flesh going slick beneath the stroke of his hand.
Lucas Garrett flopped onto his bed, blissfully, gratefully alone.
He gave a relieved groan, sprawling over the full width of his specially made extra-wide mattress.
Such luxury! No one to prod him awake just as he drifted off to a well-earned sleep. No soft voice to politely request a blanket when the night was clearly too damn hot for it. No knee, however shapely, to be suddenly drawn up a little too close to areas he'd rather be protected from stray extremities. No reason to wake up spitting out the hank of silky hair that had ended up in his unsuspecting mouth.
Just for a moment, he wondered if his sharp relief meant he was getting old. Surely not; he was only twenty-eight. Even Lucas Garrett needed some time to himself, an occasional night off. Heck, he loved women; everyone knew it. After a night or two alone, he'd undoubtedly be back in the saddle with his usual vigor.
He frowned when the prospect didn't provoke a single twinge of anticipation.
Maybe three nights.
Lovely, solitary sleep was just drifting over him when a brisk knock rattled his door on its hinges.
Husband! Father! was his automatic, instinctive response, bringing him up sharply until he remembered. There weren't any husbands and fathers in Maple Falls, not anymore, at least, none worth worrying about. He startedto relax.
But the bright, cheerful "Lucas?" that followed the knock had him wondering if an enraged father wouldn't be preferable after all.
"Lucas?, It's the third Thursday of the month. Wake up and let me in, darling."
Damn. Flora Fergus, whose anger at her absent husband translated into luscious-and extremely exhausting-enthusiasm. He hadn't actually forgotten that Flora claimed alternate Thursdays, though spending an hour gently chasing off Letty Monroe at sunset had distracted him from the date. And he'd tried to drop enough subtle hints when Flora had visited his store yesterday afternoon to make sure she'd skip their usual rendezvous tonight.
Unfortunately, Flora had never been a terribly subtle woman.
He briefly considered letting her in and just as quickly dismissed the thought. He could try to explain to her that he just wasn't interested, not tonight. But knowing Flora Fergus-and he did know her, intimately well-she'd promptly burst into abundant tears. If there was one thing in the entire world that terrified Lucas Garrett, it was a weeping woman. He'd have her in his arms to comfort her before the first tear finished rolling down her lovely plump cheek. And then he'd never get any sleep.
"Luuuu-cas," she called, cajoling and seductive. The doorknob jiggled loudly.
Lucas rolled over and pulled a limp pillow over his head, trying to blot out Flora's voice, telling himself there was absolutely no reason to feel guilty or obligated or any other damn thing.
A feather quill poked through the slack casing and scratched his cheek. The pillow effectively cut off his air, wrapping him in suffocating heat. Unfortunately, it didn't do nearly as good a job at muffling sound.
Hell! He yanked the pillow away, sat up, and groped around on the floor beside his bed. For once, without a woman there to insist on showing off her feminine skills by picking up after him, he'd been able to leave his clothes conveniently nearby.
He hopped into his pants and tugged on a shirt. The only doorway that led to his rooms over the store sat at the top of the outside staircase at the back of the building. Flora blocked that escape route, but these were desperate times. He tiptoed through the sparsely furnished parlor and poked his head through the front window, left wide open in the vain hope of catching a humid breeze from the river.
A big, blurry moon sweated yellow light over the town, revealing the broad, empty street below. He hesitated only long enough to hear the falling tones of Flora's disappointed sob. Lucas swung his leg over the windowsill and dropped the few feet onto the porch roof.
The corrugated iron bowed beneath him, a telltale metal twang ringing into the night. He stilled, certain he'd been given away, but from the back of the store drifted the sound of Flora's wail, now steadily theatrical. Thank God the other businesses nearby were empty; she'd have raised a crowd in no time.
Lucas bumped slowly over the heated metal and lowered himself over the edge of the roof. He swung there, waiting for his momentum to slow, and wondered how he'd ever explain this if someone came across him right then. The truththat he was fleeing from what every healthy young man in America dreamed of finding, a town full of willing, attractive, and downright eager women with no other men to turn tosounded preposterous even to him.
He let go, bending his knees as he hit the ground to take the force of the fall. A sharp stone bit into the side of his foot, and for an instant he regretted not taking the time to yank on a pair of boots. But the lock on his door was somewhat less than sturdy, and Flora definitely was not.
Jamming his hands into his pockets, Lucas automatically turned north, parallel to the river, and headed for sanctuary.