Laurie Grant.

The Duchess And The Desperado






I want you, Mr. Calhoun, she said, giving him the full force of her compelling gaze. Letter to Reader Title Page Dedication About the Author ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 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 Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Copyright

Welcome to the world of

Harlequin Historicals as we celebrate 10 years of bringing you the best in historical romance.

Thiw months books include:

THE TIGERS BRIDE by USA Today

Western from Mary McBride

THE COURTSHIP OF IZZY McCREE

Ruthe Langans 20th title for Harlequin Historicals

FIRE SONGa dramatic medieval novel

from Catherine Archer

Our thanks to this months

featured writers and to all the authors, editors and booksellers, past and present, who have worked so hard to make Harlequin Historicals what it is today.

I want you, Mr.

Calhoun, she said, giving him the full force of her compelling gaze.

His groin tightened as the words echoed in his head. I want you. Lord, what hed give to hear a woman like her saying such words with a more intimate meaning!

And youll be handsomely paid, I do assure youwith no backbreaking work.

No, no backbreaking work, he agreed. I could live real easy, bein your bodyguardand get killed with an easy bullet.

Her face paled. Yes, there is a risk, as you saw this afternoon. But I dont want to die, either. Perhaps all it will take to discourage this scoundrel is the presence of a strong, intelligent man prepared to defend me.

You dont know me, he told her, locking his gaze to hers. You dont know anythin about me, Duchess. Everythin Ive told you could be a lie!

Dear Reader,

Next month, Harlequin Historicals turns ten years old! But we have such a terrific lineup this month, we thought wed start celebrating early. To begin, award-winning author Laune Grant, who is known for her stirring Medievals and gritty Westerns, returns with a delightful new story, The Duchess and the Desperado. Here, a rancher turned fugitive inadvertently becomes a bodyguard to the very visible Duchess of Malvern when her life is threatened during a goodwill tour of the American West. Dont miss it!

In The Shadowed Heart by Nina Beaumont, set in eighteenth-century Europe, a beautiful young woman on a quest for vengeance unwittingly falls in love with the man she thinks may have harmed her sister.... Also out for revenge is Jesse Kincaid, of MONTANA MAVERICKS: RETURN TO WHITEHORN fame, when he kidnaps his enemys mail-order bride in Wild West Wife by popular Silhouette author Susan Mallery.

Rounding out the month is A Warriors Honor, the next Medieval in Margaret Moores popular WARRIOR SERIES. In this tale a knight is tricked by a fellow nobleman into abducting a beautiful lady, but, guided by honorand loveseeks to rescue her from his former friend.

Whatever your tastes in reading, youll be sure to find a romantic journey back to the past between the covers of a Harlequin Historical.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service U S.: 3010 Walden Ave., PO. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269 Canadian P.O. Box 609, Fort Ene, Ont. L2A 5X3

The Duchess And The Desperado

Laurie Grant

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Mary Jo Putney, for teaching me the joys of letters

patent, and, as always, to Michael.

LAURIE GRANT

combines a career as a trauma center emergency room nurse with that of historical romance author; she says living in two worlds keeps her sane. Passionately enthusiastic about the history of both England and Texas, she divides her travel time between these two spots. She is married to her own real-life hero, and has two teenage daughters, two dogs and a cat.

If you would like to write to Laurie, please use the following address: Laurie Grant, P.O. Box 307272, Gahana, OH 43230.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I would like to thank the Denver Historical Society for

their invaluable assistance regarding the home of Territorial Governor McCook and the hotels of the time.

Chapter One

Malvern Hall,

Herefordshire, England,

1872

I wish you wouldnt go, Sarah heard her sister, Kathryn, mutter as she watched Sarah selecting dresses from her wardrobe and directing the maids in their packing.

Sarah Challoner, Duchess of Malvern, looked over her shoulder at Kathryn and was touched. She thought her younger sibling looked wistful. She smiled. Going to miss me, are you, Kat?

Kathryn made a moue of disgust. Dont call me that. Thierry says it isnt dignified. She turned and gazed out the window that looked over the Malvern Hills in all their glory. And yes, I am going to miss you. It sounds as if youll be gone forever.

I cannot call you Kat anymore? Sarah said in mock dismay, struggling to hide her amusement. But you have been my little sister Kat since you were born ! Ah...yes, Tilly, I believe I will take the blue foulard, she said, pointing at a gown the maid held out for consideration.

But not any longer, if you please, said Kat with stiff dignity. I shall be out next year, and Thierry say a nickname is not at all comme il fuut, she added in an admirable French accent.

Sarah allowed herself to appear impressed. I see. Well, if Thierry has decreed it, Kathryn it is, then. Thierry says this, Thierry says that. She suspected her sister, who at seventeen was barely out of the schoolroom, had a bad case of hero worship for the dashing French count who was secretly Sarahs fianc?. It probably wouldnt be going too far to say she was infatuated with Thierry de Ch?tellerault.

Ah, well. Thats all right. She was just glad that Kathryn liked Thierry. It would be so awkward if her sister hated the man Sarah was going to marry. And it was perfectly normal for young girls to have these infatuations, after all. Sarah could remember a couple of her own-embarrassing, painful things they had been! Once she and Thierry returned from America as man and wife, though, KathrynKat, she insisted to herselfwould gradually learn to let go of her feelings and concentrate on finding her own special someone.

Sure you wouldnt like to change your mind and come with me? Sarah inquired of her sister, who still had her back to her. Wouldnt you love to see America?

No, came the uncompromising reply. I cant think I would enjoy racketing around the States in carriages and on trains, living out of suitcases for months on end! Besides, she said, lowering her voice so that the servants wouldnt hear, once Thierry joins you in Santa Fe and you get marned, I shouldnt like to be the gooseberry.

Gooseberry? Sarah repeated, mystified. Kathryn was forever picking up servants cant.

Kathryn whirled around, her face sullen. You know, the odd man out. Id be superfluous.

Sarah suddenly understood. She let go of the gown she was examining and rushed toward her sister. Nonsense, dear...

But of course I would, Kat cried. Her face was a study in disdain, her posture rigid, saying as clearly as if she shouted it that Sarah was not to embrace her. I cant think of anyone more useless on a honeymoon than ones younger sister.

Sarah stopped short and pushed her glasses back up on her nose. Perhaps she had been spending too much time with Thierry, and Kat was feeling left out. The girls wounded feelings were almost palpable.

But it isnt as though youd be alone with just us, darling, she said, low-voiced. Uncle Frederick is coming along, and Donald, and Celia.... Think of all the sights wed see, going from New York to California to Texas Just imagine, the Wild West! If only she could infuse Kat with some of her enthusiasm!

Kat turned her back to Sarah once again. Yes, but once you join Thierry, I cant imagine anything more boring than spending time with our uncle and your secretary and your dresser while youre off billing and cooing with him, Kat said, her voice thick, as if she were fighting tears. Im not going, and thats final. I just dont understand why you have to go, Sarah.

If I were a man no one would question it, Sarah observed. Why should I not get to take a Grand Tour just as if I were a man? Im duchess in my own right, after all, and I want to do it.

But men do their Grand Tour in Europe, her sister noted.

Now it was Sarahs turn to make a face. We went to Paris with Papa, did we not, and on to Italy? The Continent doesnt interest me. No, I want to see Americaespecially the vast open spaces of the West, Katah, Kathryn. It must be so exciting to live therenot like tidy old England, with its manicured lawns and ponds, and quaint little towns several hundred years old. I need to see that before I settle down as the duchessand as Thierrys wife, as wonderful as I know that will be, Sarah said. She willed Kat to face her, but Kat remained rigidly staring out the window. And besides, itll give me a little breathing room away from Her Majestys incessant demand that I marry the boring Duke of Trenton, whod be my equal in rank. Come, Kathryn, you must agree its delicious to imagine Victoria fuming when I return home married to the Count of Chatellerault instead?

Kathryn slowly turned to face her, her lips reluctantly curving upward. Yes...I can just imagine the queen wringing those plump hands. All right, I suppose you will go no matter what I say. But tell meare you going to wear your glasses when youre touring?

Sarah breathed a sigh of relief that her efforts to mollify Kat had finally succeeded enough that she had turned to teasing. Hmm...I suppose it depends if its just usUncle Frederick, Donald, Celia and I. You know how vain I am about being seen in my spectacles.

Kat smirked. I can just imagineyoull come back and well ask what the most impressive sight was and youll wave your hand and say I dont know. It was all just a blur.

Sarah didnt mind the sisterly taunt, for shed always admitted vanity to be her worst failing.

Ill see you at dinner, Sarah, Kat said, moving toward the door.

All right, but where are you going in such a hurry? Sarah asked, picking up the gown shed discarded only moments ago. It wasnt her favorite, but it would be good for traveling.

Oh, Thierry said hed take me riding while you were busy packing, Kat murmured over her shoulder, her hand already on the door. Since he wont be meeting you in New Mexico right away, hes rather at loose ends, too, you know.

Sarah smiled and bade her sister enjoy herself. It was good of Thierry to keep Kat occupied, but perhaps she should speak to her fianc? later this evening and warn him that her younger sister had conceived a tendre for him. She knew she could count on Thierry to let Kat down easily.

Chapter Two

Denver

Colorado Territory

July 1872

Oh, Celia, do look, Sarah breathed, gazing out the window as the train wheezed to a stop. She pointed at the distant Rocky Mountains, still snow tipped even though it was midsummer. The sight was enough to make Sarah forget the discomforts of the journey. Are they not magnificent? Even the Peak District has nothing to compare with them! She felt the headache that had plagued her all through the jolting, swaying ride slipping away.

Yes, your grace, her dresser muttered, though she only glanced momentarily at the magnificent mountain range that stood sentinel over Denver. Weve been seein them for the past two hours. She was nervously watching the motley throng on the station platform from the other side of their luxurious private railway car that had brought them all the way from St. Louis.

But we can see them so much more clearly now. Just one moment, Celia, and Ill be ready to disembark, Sarah said, folding her spectacles and putting them safely away in her reticule. Not for the world would she have appeared among strangers wearing them. Carry this, would you please, dear? she said, handing her servant the reticule. No doubt shed need her hands free for greeting those who came to welcome her.

The crowd gaped and pointed at the Duchess of Malvern and her entourage as they disembarked from the train at the Kansas Pacific Depot, but to Sarah, minus her spectacles, they were a buzzing blur.

Theyre so rude, the way they stare. Youd think theyd never seen a duchess before. her dresser muttered to no one in particular.

Sarah chuckled, saying, Im sure they havent, Celia. This is America, after all. They do not have duchesses here.

Nor manners, your grace, her dresser retorted as one gawker came even closer and, after blowing his nose noisily on a dirty handkerchief, pointed at the Paris creation on the duchesss head.

Oh, do stop grumbling, Celia, and take a breath of the fresh, bracing Western airthat should clear out the cobwebs! Indeed, her own headache was fast diminishing, and she felt almost human again.

I believe that is Pikes Peak in the distance, your grace, Donald Alconbury, her secretary, murmured in her ear, pointing at the high peak in the distance. Indeed, the air is very clear here, or we should not be able to see it.

Ah... beautiful... she murmured, though of course Donald had forgotten she could not distinguish it from the others without her spectacles.

I cant imagine where the welcoming committee must be, fretted Lord Halston. I telegraphed the time of your arrival, and I was promised no less than the mayor and the territorial governor on hand to welcome you to Denver. But perhaps they await us inside the depot, he said, motioning toward the large, two-stoned brick building behind them.

Then go and fetch them, uncle, Sarah said serenely, turning and heading for the rear of the train. I intend to see Trafalgar properly unloaded.

But, your grace, your groom will see to that, her dresser fussed. Come inside, do. Look, theres another of those noisy monsters pulling in, and itll blow soot all over your clothing!

The second trains whistle shrieked, splitting the air as it wheezed to a stop a little behind and on a track parallel to the one that had just brought the duchess and her party from St. Louis Just as Celia had predicted, the locomotives huge smokestack belched a cloud of smoke.

Sarah paid no heed to the down-drifting particles of soot, however. The train had almost immediately begun disgorging its human contents, and as she passed the open space between one car and another, her attention was caught by a particular passenger who was just stepping down from the other train onto the ground.

With just a few yards between them, she could see him well enough. He was tall and lean and wore a wide-brimmed hat, denim trousers, boots and duster coat. A saddle was slung over one shoulder; he carried a pair of saddlebags in the other hand. His hair was a shade of brown so dark it could pass for black except in bright sunlight, and he needed both a haircut and a shave. He might be handsome once properly groomedthough very different from Thierry, of coursebut at present he just looked dangerous, Sarah decided, watching as he narrowed his eyes in the direction of the station house, then started striding toward the rear of the train he had just left.

A sudden wind blew the side of his unbuttoned duster backward, exposing a pistol riding in a holster on his hip. The presence of the pistol confirmed the air of danger he carried with him. A desperado, thought Sarah, remembering the lurid covers of the cheap novels shed seen on sale not only in America but in London, too. Perhaps he was an outlaw! But no, surely outlaws did not travel on trains like normal, lawabiding folk. He was probably just an ordinary cowboy, she told herself. Standards of grooming were not the same here as at home. But she was not convinced.

As if aware that he was being watched, however, he paused and looked between the two cars, right at her. Sarah was close enough to see a pair of green eyes studying her from the top of her modish hat to the tips of her buttoned kid boots.

He must have approved of what he saw, for a slow smile spread over his beard-shadowed, lean face and warmed the green of his eyes. He let the band of leather that connected the two saddlebags slide back on his forearm, which enabled him to touch the brim of his hat in a manner of greeting. Then he resumed walking and was lost to her sight.

Sarah felt heat rising up past the pleated edge of her cloak. Shed been looking at himstaring, in factand the cowboy had caught her at it and stared right back! Why, his grin had been cheekier than a Cockney beggars!

Shed been stared at before, especially since coming to the United States, but somehow his bold, direct gaze had affected her differently. For the life of her, though, she could not say why she found his look energizing rather than merely annoying.

In any case, Sarah reminded herself sternly, she must not waste time gaping at the locals. She needed to ensure the safety of her mare. Walking down to the front of the car that she knew held Trafalgar, she was in time to see the door slide back and her groom emerge, bending to extend the wooden ramp down onto the ground.

Ben! How did she weather the journey? Sarah called out.

Well enough, your grace, though she didnt fancy that other train pulling in next to this one, Ben Huddleston, her wiry old groom, informed her. Been tossin and plungin about these last few minutes, she has.

Sarah could hear the thudding of hooves as Trafalgar protested against the boxcars walls. Well, bring her out. Shell settle down once she gets out of confinement, Im certain.

Ben doffed the tweed cap he was never without. Yes, your grace. He disappeared back into the depths of the boxcar, and Sarah could hear the groom speaking soothingly to the high-spirited thoroughbred, and the mares snorting, stamping retort.

Sarah smiled. Trafalgar had always been a fractious traveler, and the grooms advice had been to leave the hunter at home in Herefordshire. The sea voyage alone will shatter her nerves, Duchess, not to mention all the roamin around that barbarous country. Why not breed her, your grace? By the time you come home, the foal could be weaned and youll be back chasm the fox on your mare again.

Are you more worried about the mares nerves or yours, Ben? she had teased him. I wouldnt think it fair to impose on Trafalgar the very thing Im trying to escape myself, she had added lightly, and laughed as the implication of her last remark had brought a blush to Bens cheeks. Well, its true. My uncle is pressuring me to marry and so is the queen, but having just reached my majority, I cant imagine why I should settle down meekly and marry whoever the queen thinks suitable for me! I want my favorite mare with me, and so she shall come. Shell do fine, youll see.

What the Duchess of Malvern wanted, she got, and the tall bay thoroughbred had been brought along. If anyones nerves had been shattered in the course of the ocean voyage and the roamin around the United States of America, it had been Bens, not Trafalgars.

As she waited for her mare, Sarah glanced down the track, but she could no longer see the dangerous-looking American. Too bad, she thought wryly. He had probably never seen such a fine horse as Trafalgar in his life, and she had imagined his eyes widening as he glimpsed her with her handsome hunter. She had been sure he would be impressed.

Cest la guerre, as Thierry would have said. Why did she feel any need to impress such a man, anyway? She was the Duchess of Malvern, and she had the world at her feet. Once she was reunited with her dashing Thierry, she would indeed have everything!

Then, plunging, whinnying and trying to rear, Trafalgar was led down the wooden ramp by Ben, who had blindfolded the horse. Even so, he had his hands full making sure the mare neither careened off the side of the ramp nor did him an injury, and Sarah rushed forward, heedless of the grooms protestations that shed get her traveling costume dirty.

I dont know why you bother blindfolding her, Ben, she chided as she whipped the dark cloth from underneath the bays halter and took the lead rope from her groom. Shes not a whit easier to handleeasy there, girl! Easy... See, youre out of that nasty boxcar and onto solid ground, and Ill see that you rest in a big loose stall tonight with plenty of grain to eat.... It never mattered what she said, only that she kept talking to the skittish thoroughbred.

But this time, even her soothing voice didnt seem to be working its usual magic

Just then a shot rang out from somewhere in the milling throng on the station platform, a shot that whistled right over Sarahs head and embedded itself in the wood of the boxcar. The mare went wild with terror, rearing and nearly yanking Sarahs arm out of its socket. The screams and shouts of the crowd blended with the frightened whinnying of the thoroughbred as it plunged and kicked. Then, as Sarah struggled to keep hold of the lead rope, another shot rang out, kicking up the dust right in front of the toe of her right boot. The surprise of the second shot made Sarah loosen her grip on the ropeonly for a second, but it was enough. Trafalgar gave a mighty toss of her head, yanking the rope out of Sarahs hand, wheeled and went galloping down the tracks, with Ben in hot pursuit.





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