Deanna Talcott.

Her Last Chance






You are not ready to believe.
I see it in your eyes.

Chase sought Mallorys gaze, intentionally holding hers. Just tell me. Get it over with, so I can go to bed.

She lowered her lashes demurely. There was something about her Chase couldnt identify, but it tugged at him, making him want to tell her it was okay, that she could tell him anything. That at least hed listen, even if he didnt believe her.

Your horse, Peggy Sue, is a special animal. Legend has it that her kind can only be tamed by a chaste and innocent maid.

Chase stared at her. Something akin to a red-hot poker finished him off in the chest. He couldnt breathe. Youre a virgin, he said flatly. Untasted, untouched, untempted.

She met his gaze again. Oh, no, Chase. Not untempted.

Dear Reader,

Grab a front-row seat on the roller-coaster ride of falling in love. This month, Silhouette Romance offers heart-spinning thrills, including the latest must-read from THE COLTONS saga, a new enchanting SOULMATES title and even a sexy Santa!

Become a fanif you arent hooked already!of THE COLTONS with the newest addition to the legendary family saga, Teresa Southwicks Sky Full of Promise (#1624), about a stone-hearted doctor in search of a temporary fianc?e. And single men dont stay so for long in Jodi ODonnells BRIDGEWATER BACHELORS series. The next rugged Texan loses his solo status in His Best Friends Bride (#1625).

Love is magical, and its especially true in our wonderful SOULMATES series, which brings couples together in extraordinary ways. In DeAnna Talcotts Her Last Chance (#1628), virgin heiress Mallory Chevalle travels thousands of miles in search of a mythical horseand finds her destiny in the arms of a stubborn, but irresistible rancher. And a case of amnesia reunites past loversbut the heroines painful secret could destroy her second chance at happiness, in Valerie Parvs The Baron & the Bodyguard, the latest exciting installment in THE CARRAMER LEGACY.

To get into the holiday spirit, enjoy Janet Tronstads Stranded with Santa (#1626), a fun-loving romp about a rodeo megastar who gets stormbound with a beautiful young widow. Then, discover how to melt a Scrooges heart in Moyra Tarlings Christmas Due Date (#1629)

I hope you enjoy these stories, and please keep in touch!


Mary-Theresa Hussey

Senior Editor

Her Last Chance
DeAnna Talcott

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Dedicated to the memory of Kay Landon, who prompted me to take this magical, mystical journey into the world of my imagination. She is the angel sitting on my shoulder.

Books by DeAnna Talcott

Silhouette Romance

The Cowboy and the Christmas Tree #1125

The Bachelor and the Bassinet #1189

To Wed Again? #1206

The Triplets Wedding Wish #1370

Marrying for a Mom #1543

The Nanny & Her Scrooge #1568

Her Last Chance #1628

DEANNA TALCOTT

grew up in rural Nebraska, where her love of reading was fostered in a one-room school.

It was there she first dreamed of writing the kinds of books that would touch peoples hearts. Her dream became a reality when The Bachelor and the Bassinet, a Silhouette Romance novel, won the National Readers Choice award for Best Traditional Romance. That same book also earned a slot as a Romantic Times nominee for Best Traditional Romance, and was named as one of Romantic Times Top Picks. DeAnnas third Silhouette Romance novel, To Wed Again?, also won WISRWAs Readers Choice award for Best Traditional Romance.

DeAnna claims a retired husband, three children, two dogs and a matching pair of alley cats make her life in mid-Michigan particularly interesting. When not writing, or talking about writing, she scrounges in flea markets to indulge #1 sons quest for vintage toys, relaxes at #2 sons Eastern Michigan football and baseball games, and insists, to her daughter, that two cats simply do not need to multiply!

Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea

When the world was young, an extraordinary horse was banished to an island that came to be known as Narwhal. The gentle white beast, with the spiral-like ivory horn growing from its forehead, multiplied and lived in harmony and happiness. People soon learned that the horn, if given freely by such a horse, would spill forth with goodness and healing powers. The horse, greatly revered, was christened the unicorn.

Although the unicorn could only be tamed by a chaste and innocent maiden, one day a greedy landowner, discontent with his lot, captured a unicorn and forced it into servitude. A plague soon descended upon the island, and the unicorn grew sickly. A peasant, recognizing the broken spirit of the once-proud animal, chose, at great personal risk, to free it.

The unicorn fled to the hills, tossing its head in the sunshine, a rainbow at its back as it danced over bubbling spring water. In shame, the cruel landowner who had lost all of his possessions and all of his friends because of his selfishness, moved far, far away. When he was gone, peace and well-being returned, bringing the people a wealth beyond measure.

From that day forward, and for hundreds of years thereafter, a promise was made: any unicorn taken from the land, then returned to their origins, would dance with joy over the waters, blessing the people from the wellspring of life.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter One

Dagnabbit! Chase Wells winced and sagged heavily against the back wall of the barn. Then he simply surrendered to the pain and bent over double. He gave it a good minute before he straightened or even tried to flex his legwhen he did, he promptly clamped his jaws around a swear word.

In the back of his head, he could hear his mama scolding him.

Bite your tongue, Chase Benton Wells!

He gritted his teeth so hard, the enamel actually hurt.

Just as quickly, determination rose in him like a challenge. He wasnt one to give up, never had been, never would be. Hed spent his whole life working this ranch and hed taken his fair share of lumps. Hed fallen out of the bed of a pickup at seven, turned the tractor over when he was twelve, been gored by a bull at seventeen, and nearly drowned trying to spur his stallion across a swollen stream at twenty-three. One contrary four-year-old wasnt going to give him grief.

He intended to tame that rambunctious little mare, or die trying. She was, by far, the most ornery animal hed ever raised. Her mama, one of his prize Morgans, had taken a fancy to one of the wild mustangs that ran through the West and jumped the fence four years ago. When hed recovered her months later, she was in foal with the little varmint whod later come to be known as Peggy Sue. This mare, he observed ruefully, had apparently inherited her daddys bad temperament.

A small, lopsided grin unexpectedly dented his face, as he thought about their daily run-ins. Yesterday, Peggy Sue had left her calling card: a hoofprint on his belly, in nicely colored bruises. The day before that she bit him.

Using his shoulders, Chase pushed off the rough-sawn siding and tottered uncertainly on his one good leg. He yanked off his leather gloves and jammed them into his back pocket, before sinking his boot heel into the gritty dust of the barn floor and gingerly testing his weight. A groan immediately ripped through his lungs, and he shuttered his eyes against the unmerciful current of blue-black pain that exploded behind his eyelids.

He was getting too old for this, thats what. Thirty-four years old and hobbling around like a broken-down cowboy.

Behind him, Peggy Sue kicked the boards of her box stall. Take that!

Chase didnt even give her the satisfaction of looking over his shoulder; he just staggered out of the barn and into the blinding Wyoming sunshine.

He heard the hum of a car motor before he could actually focus on it. Squinting, he looked toward the house. Near the side porch of his sprawling log home, a snazzy little red convertible idled. Behind the wheel, with her blond hair floating over her shoulders, sat an angel.

He stared, smitten with disbelief.

Yup, that confirmed it. Hed died and gone to heaven. That little mare had kicked him into kingdom come.

He expected the angelic-looking woman to float out of the car, but she got out the traditional way, door and all. He started limping toward her, figuring he might as well go meet his fate. It was pretty obvious she didnt have her wings with her. Instead, she was wearing the softest, curviest white top, and sexiest little pair of jeans and sandals. She waved at him, and the bracelet on her wrist tossed off glittering sparks.

He tipped his head, offering up his best Wyoming welcome, and wondering what the heck a woman like that was doing out in the remote country of Horseshoe Falls. Sucking in a deep breath, he made a conscious effort to shake off the pain and find out.

Hi, she called. I hope Ive got the right place. You must be Chase Wells.

I am. He wiped his palm over his jeans, anticipating the introduction. He paused long enough to slide a lazy, assessing gaze over her. Right from the top of her wind-blown, tawny-streaked hair to the tips of her dainty feet and red-painted toenails.

His first impression was mind-blowing. The woman was as smooth as her flawless complexion, her moves as silky as her cultured accent. She was slender and willowy, and she carried herself with a confident air. With her chin tipped high, the mannerism wasnt quite enough to give her straight nose a snobbish tilt, but rather an implied awareness of her surroundings. Her eyes were incredibly bluelike matched sapphiresand her brows arched over them like a pair of exquisite frames.

Then she smiledand Chases pain ebbed and faded to a distant memory. His limp was reduced to a minor irritation. It struck him, oddly, how her mouth looked moist. Pink. Curving in just the right places, as if she knew how to make the most of a smileand probably a kiss.

In one insane moment, he wondered if she kissed booboosbecause he certainly had acquired a bunch of them.

Hello, she said, extending her hand. Ive had a terrible time. I took the wrong turn or something a few miles back. The pressure of her grasp was negligible. She dragged her long, slim fingers across his palm, the tips of her ovaled nails sliding between his thumb and forefinger as seductively as a caress. Im Mallory Chevalle.

Chase branded the name on his fuzzy brain and, quickly assessing her stunning attributes and the intriguing inflection of her voice, realized there was something vaguely familiar about her.

You have a lovely home, she continued, letting her gaze drift past his shoulders to the vista of mountains to the west, then to the lush valley behind the barns, the corrals and the house. Its more like a resort than a ranch.

Were comfortable. Chase squinted, wondering why any woman who wore diamond studs rather than turquoise in her ears was looking for the Bar C.

She laughed, an engaging little sound that seemed to bubble right up from the depths of her soul. I honestly dont know how you get any work done. Id be saddling up every day for a ride.

Working ranches dont offer up a lot of time for pleasure riding.

Thats a shame, especially when you raise such fine Morgans.

You know about our stock?

Of course. I was pretty impressed with how some of your mares placed at the stock show in California.

Chase nodded, putting two and two together. His partner, Bob Llewelyn, made the rounds this time of year, training and showing in all the big Morgan shows. Bob was an affable guy, he made friends with everyone. And you came all the way out here to check us out?

No She apologetically lifted a shoulder. Your partner sent me.

Chase couldnt beat back his surprise.

I told him I was looking for stock for my familys stables, and he promised Id find just what I wanted. Umhe mentioned, too, that youve even got some stock thats part mustang. That youve worked with some of the free-roaming mustangs that have been captured and relocated.

Chase frowned and glanced back at the barn, annoyed that he hadnt taken time to close the door. It wouldnt do for her to come across that lame-brained Peggy Sue. Yeah. I have. But whatre you interested in for your stables? Specifically.

She looked like she was about to say something, then stopped. Why dont you show me what youve got?

Something about her answer sounded a little hollow and didnt ring true. Experience told him buyers always knew what they wanted. They either needed broodmares or a good show horse. They wanted a stud to improve their stock or a pleasure horse for their kids. He glanced at her suspiciously, not quite believing she drove hundreds of miles just to browse through the merchandise.

She paused, the hint of a frown clouding her features, darkening her eyes. You were expecting me, werent you?

Chase inclined his head, vaguely wondering if he should have checked the answering machine again. At that precise moment something near his heart started vibrating. If he hadnt known better, hed have thought this Mallory woman had created the stir.

He pulled the snap on his chest pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Excuse me, he apologized, taking a step back and slightly turning his back.

Chase? his partner, Bob Llewelyn, inquired.

Yeah?

Sorry, buddy. I forgot to tell you Mallory Chevalle is headed your way. Put her up for a few days, will you? Show her around, give her a good time. Her daddys that shipping magnate, Hewitt Chevalle? The realization hit Chase like a ton of bricks. From his peripheral vision, Chase narrowed a gaze at the woman who had politely turned away from eavesdropping on his call. Mallorys interested in buying some stock for the familys estate in Narwhal.

Wellthanks for the warning.

No problem.

Shes here now.

Oh. The word was small, precise and cautious. The house isnt a mess, is it?

What do you think? Chase snapped. Its a ranch house, not a guest house.

Bob coughed, letting a second of strained silence slip away. Didnt mean to inconvenience you, he said finally, but I figured we could use at least one client who wouldnt quibble over the price.

Chase snorted. Ive got forty Morgans that need my attention. I havent got time to serve up a little luxury, like brunch at eleven and tennis at four. Sorry.

Well, you know, Bob went on, the thing about Mallory is, she likes cowboy boots and leather jackets just fine. Put her to work. She wont be in the way.

Put her to work, he repeated. Is that before or after the beluga caviar, Brie cheese and vintage wine?

Bob guffawed. Chase, you got it wrong. This is one woman that doesnt need to be waited on. She wont be any trouble at all.

Right.

Hey, Im telling you. Moneys no object, not to the Chevalles of Narwhal. Theyre loaded, but youd never know it. And Mallory might be an heiress, and a hands-off woman, but shes a real fine gal to spend some time with.

Ill file that away for future reference, Chase said unpleasantly.

Do that. Keep her happy, Chase. Itll be in the best interests of the Bar C.

Knowing he had no other choice but to give in, Chase ended the call. Although Mallory had discreetly turned her back, Chase regretfully wondered how much of the conversation shed heard.

She swiveled, her sandaled foot pivoting on the gravel. With her head down, she glanced up at him demurely, the corners of her almond-shaped eyes lifting slightly in amusement. He didnt tell you, did he?

My partner has a little trouble with some organizational skills. Like being on time, forwarding messages or paying the taxes when theyre due. It plumb slipped his mind to warn me that you were coming to look at stock, MissumChevalle.

Mallory. Just call me Mallory.

He nodded tightly. Narwhal, he said thoughtfully. Is that somewhere up near Monaco, or that neck of the woods?

Close. At least its on that side of the ocean, Mallory said, fighting the urge to grin at Chase Wellss discomfort. American men were so peculiar when it came to Europeans and Old World money. They simply did not know how to handle it, how to behave or what to say. So, instead, they always swaggered a little and slipped into a dont mean nuthin to me demeanor. A perverse thought went winging through her head, and Mallory gave in to it. Did I hear you say something about tennis? We really should play a set. Id love to see you in your whites on the court later this afternoon.

Chase stared at her. Not one muscle in his handsome face twitchedand he did have a handsome face. A shock of Cherokee-black hair swept back from his wide forehead and feathered away from his temples. It was cropped in neat arcs over his ears, with a scruffy little fringe riding his shirt collar. He had a thick jaw, blunt chin and a mouth that just managed to wander a little higher on the right side. Beneath a slash of dark lashes, his eyes were gunmetal gray.

Tennis? I thought you came out here to look at horses.

Mallory swallowed a giggle and carefully arranged her face for the rugged cowboy, feigning innocence. Oh, I did. But tennis is such a great stress reliever, dont you think?

He sucked in a deep breath, pumping his brawny chest up another intoxicating notch. Mallory could barely tear her gaze away. Considering her words, he hung his thumb over his pewter belt buckle while the toe of his boot swiped at a rock on the drive. The thing is, maam, this heres Wyoming. We dont play them silly little games out here. And the only thing I got thats white is my underwear.

Mallory laughed, even as a touch of pink stained her cheeks. Then we should get along just fine. Because I havent had a racket in my hand for five years, and I never do brunch. The days half gone by then, and I like to get up early.

Chase hesitated, then his mouth curled and the corners of his eyes slightly crinkled.

Mallory innocently lifted her shoulder. Bob said you could put me up for a week or so. Until we settle on the horses.

Chase didnt reply. He just looked at her, his eyelids narrowed, his brow furrowed.

I can sleep anywhere. Really.

Mmm. He didnt sound convinced, he just kept looking at her, in that disturbing cowboy way, as if something else was going on in his head.

If youve got an extra pillow and a blanket, I can sleep on your sofa.

He barely inclined his head.

I promise not to be any trouble.

Persistent little thing, arent you? he said finally. Maam, you dont understand. This isnt a bed-and-breakfast. It isnt a resort. He rocked back on his heel, and for a flickering instant Mallory was certain she saw him grimace. Its a business. I sell horses, I dont offer a weekend getaway at a dude ranch.

Perfect. Because I dont want one, she said. I want the perfect horse. I want something special and unique. For my father. And, from what Bob tells me, you have it. Ill pay well for what I want, and I guarantee Ill make this worth your while. Mallory didnt intend to sound haughty or pretentious. But she wanted the mare Bob told her aboutand she felt driven to bring it home to Narwhal, where it belonged. Her fathers health was failing quickly and time was of the essence. A week, she bargained. One week out of your life for a business dealthats not so difficult, is it? If I dont see what Im looking for Ill be on my way. On the other hand

Yes?

Narwhal has a wonderful summer camp for children. One of my favorite charities is to donate horses for their riding program. Maybe youll have something they could use. If I dont find one thing, maybe Ill find the other.

Chase, his features tightening, looked away and made that fascinating whistling sound cowboys make, by crimping his lips and blowing air between his teeth.

I dont want to intrude. I could sleep in the bunkhouse, she offered. Then she glanced over the assortment of barns and outbuildings. You do have a bunkhouse, dont you? They always have them in the movies.

He turned back, arching a disbelieving brow at her. Yes, and I can see it now. You, and Lewt, and the rest of the boys, hanging out and playing poker and drinking beer till midnight. He drew a hand over his face, scowling down at her. Listen, Mallory, I think its nice that you want a good-looking little pony to take home as a souvenir. For your daddy, or your projects or whatever. But I do more than sell horses. I look for a good fit. With my animals, I make a solid match with the buyer. Ive got a reputation to protectand that means I dont sell to just anybody.

Mallory stiffened, drawing back. Her pride suffered, but self-control was necessary. She had to see that animal, she had to bring it home to her father. I understand, she replied coolly. But Im not just anybody. Im Mallory Leatrice Chevalle of Narwhal, accomplished equestrienne. She paused for emphasis. Thats horsewoman, to you. In Wyoming language. The muscle along Chases jaw thumped, giving Mallory indescribable satisfaction. Im equal to any mount you offer me. And I know my horses.





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