A Cowboy and a Gentleman [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Ann Major
eBook Category: Romance/Young Adult
eBook Description: It's been eight years since rugged cowboy Anthony Duke shared one very special night with sassy Zoe Ryan. That night changed his life--or did it? Zoe doesn't think so. She still believes that Anthony later cheated on her. But despite marrying Anthony's rich uncle on the rebound, inheriting millions upon his death and skipping town to escape the scandal, Zoe can't stop thinking about the man who crushed her heart. Now widowed and vulnerable, Anthony's not sure he'll ever be able to love anyone besides his little boy, Noah. But when Anthony bumps into Zoe on vacation in Greece, he knows his meddlesome mother has duped him. Maybe this match made in Texas has got some staying power, after all.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Special Releases
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2006
8 Reader Ratings:
Nine years later
Anthony Duke felt so cold and alone that he shivered as the truck he drove hurtled through the high, wrought-iron gates of Memory Lane Cemetery.
"Slow down, son," his mother commanded.
"Hell." His boot tapped the brake.
Maybe he felt alone, but he wasn't. Henrietta Duke, his short, stout mother, who had an iron will, sat beside him, her gnarled fingers repeatedly rubbing circles around her kneecap. Noah, his hyper, eight-year-old son, was slumped in the back seat over one of his electronic games that made nerve-racking, beeping noises as he tapped the plastic keys.
Not that the illusion of solitude was strange to Anthony. He'd lived with it for years—when he'd been with Rene and Noah, as well as when he was out in some desolate pasture working cattle or in one of his breeding barns where he worked to improve deer stock to sell to other ranchers.
Something warm and bright had gone out of his life a helluva long time before Rene had died.
"Daddy! Do little boys ever get new mommies?"
Anthony hissed in a breath.
That same question again.
The lines around his mouth deepened. Rene had been dead a year. His ranch hands, his mother, and even his son were constantly pressuring to set him up with someone.
The cab of the pickup went deathly still. Was it that cemeteries seemed quieter than the rest of the world? Or was it just his guilty conscience? He had no right coming here.
"Do they get new mommies?"
Anthony's chest tightened. "We already had this conversation. No."
"What if you got married again? Would she be my new mommy?"
Anthony's fingers gripped the steering wheel as he headed toward Rene's grave. "We're here for your mother's birthday. You can't replace her. I'm not getting married again. Not in this lifetime. End of conversation."
But it wasn't. His mother, who was tuned in to him like radar, had her eye on him. Noah's questions and Anthony's answers lingered in the silence as Noah pressed his nose to the glass window to look at the orderly rows of tombstones.
"Why do people have to leave these junky artificial flowers and wreaths? Don't they know that they fade almost as soon as they put them out under fierce south Texas sun?" his mother whispered.
"Because real flowers die."
Anthony wished he hadn't said anything. When she turned to regard him, Anthony kept his eyes glued to the black asphalt. Still, he was aware of her fingers making those incessant circles on her knee.
"Well, except for the fake flowers, this place is one of the prettiest in the county," she exclaimed. "Look at the trees! Except for the ebony and live oak, they've almost all lost their leaves," his mother continued.
Anthony gritted his teeth.
"The grass is mostly brown, but there's still quite a few patches of green," she continued, her fingers skimming her knee even faster.
"Do you think I'm blind? I can see trees and grass."
The fingers froze on her kneecap. "Edgy aren't we? You've been spending way too much time alone."
"My life is none of your business."
"What life? And don't tell me my son and my grandson are none of my business."
Anthony slowed down as they neared the big gray tombstone that spelled out Duke.
"D-U-K-E! There she is!" Noah cried.
Anthony shut the engine and opened his door, but the wind howled and slammed the heavy black door back in his face.
Guilt rushed through him. Who was he trying to fool with these visits to Rene's grave? He had no right to pretend grief for his perfect wife.
Well, he'd pretended for eight long years, hadn't he? He and Rene had fooled everybody…except themselves. And except maybe his mother and Zoe's aunt Patty.
It was the first of February, yet this far south the afternoon was warm. The winter ice storm that gripped most of the United States had not reached south Texas. The temperature was in the eighties. He was wearing a white cotton shirt and a pair of old jeans. In another month, no telling how hot it would be. Or how cold.
"Looks like we've got the place to ourselves." Henrietta unsnapped her seat belt.
"Not many people make social calls to cemeteries," Anthony said.
"Shh," whispered Henrietta.
"Why is this necessary? There's nobody here."
"Mommy's here," Noah said quietly.
She's gone. Handle it. People die. Thousands, millions die, violently, peacefully or slowly and too young as Rene had. But the world keeps on turning. Time keeps passing.
People betray you in worse ways—they kill you and leave you alive.
Keeping his thoughts to himself, Anthony whirled around just as Noah stuffed his game into his sling pouch. The will to speak his mind died when he saw his son's grubby, little-boy hands with the black moons beneath the fingernails clutching a withered bunch of purple wine cups. How solemn his face had been as he'd knelt and picked them one by one, selecting the very best blossoms from the field in front of the house.
"How Rene loved flowers," Henrietta said.
"When do bluebonnets bloom, Dad?"
"March." Anthony bit out the word because bluebonnets always reminded him of someone he preferred never to think about.
"'Member how she liked bluebonnets, Dad?"
A vision of a girl in blue gingham, not Rene, never Rene, sitting in a field of bluebonnets rose in Anthony's mind. He fought against the image, tried to dutifully replace it with Rene—fought and failed—as always.
Copyright © 2002 by Ann Major