Lone Star Lovers, Book 4
Texas Heroes, Book 26
A plucky crusader falls for a noble man she wants to save—until she learns that he’s actually the villain determined to destroy her town!
Franny Morgan is a small-town café owner with an insatiable need to rescue lost souls the way she couldn’t hang onto her two sisters after their parents died. Now she’s involved in a letter-writing campaign to save the small dusty town where she winds up.
Nathan Russell is a down-on-his-luck carpenter who shows up on her doorstep, willing to trade work on her rundown building for food and a roof—not because the wealthy investor needs either but because he’s determined to fulfill the obligations his brother abandoned, and the first step is to meet the blue-haired crackpot who won’t stop writing him demand letters. Finding that the crackpot is actually a curvy blonde fairy with a heart as big as the world would be a very pleasant surprise, if not for the fact that he’s lying to her with every breath.
Falling for each other is a very bad idea, and being together is an impossible dream…until fate steps in and forces their hands.
Read an Excerpt from Texas Deception
The screen door squeaked as it opened, and they both turned.
A dark-haired man stood in the doorway, his broad shoulders filling the frame.
Franny couldn’t help staring. His face, harsh planes and strong angles, wasn’t so much handsome as noble. Even clad in worn jeans, he carried himself with pride. There was a sense about him that he’d known better times.
But not recently. He looked tired…soul-weary, somehow. Between his dark brows, two lines dug deep grooves. Life hadn’t gone easy on him, she could see.
“Are you here to eat?” she asked. “I’m afraid we’re not open for dinner, only breakfast and lunch.”
He was silent, his gaze flickering around the room, finally settling on her.
“Are you all right?” she prodded.
He seemed ill at ease. “I was wondering if you could use a spare hand.”
“Oh, my—” Franny and Carl traded astonished glances. The answer to a prayer, she thought.
Carl wasn’t so eager. “You got any experience?”
The man’s brows snapped together. “I know my way around a construction site.”
“That don’t mean—”
Franny interrupted. “What Carl’s trying to say is that our particular concern at the moment is, as you can see—” she pointed to the receptacles around her which brimmed with rainwater. “—the roof.” Realizing Carl was right if not diplomatic, though, she pressed on. “Have you had any roofing experience?”
“Yes.” Nothing more. Just yes, as if his word were enough.
“I’m afraid I can’t afford to pay much.”
“I don’t need much,” he answered.
Franny disagreed. He needed feeding. Looked as though he needed a friend. “Would you like something to eat? I have some leftovers. Or a piece of pie?”
When he didn’t respond, she rushed to dispel any worries. “It’s not—I won’t charge you.”
The stranger bristled. “I don’t want handouts.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought—”
“What she means,” Carl interrupted, “is that Franny here never met a lost soul she didn’t want to adopt. You a lost soul, boy?”
“Not the last time I looked.” Nathan Russell III had to work to keep the astonishment out of his face. This was the letter writer, Franny Morgan?
He had come to find the blue haired crackpot who’d written all those letters on that old-fashioned stationery in a delicate, feminine hand. He’d expected someone old enough to be his grandmother, nothing like the woman who stood before him.
Golden-haired with startling blue eyes, Franny Morgan couldn’t be much more than thirty, too wholesome to be real, her face bright with color as thick dark eyelashes swept down to shadow her cheeks.
“Offer to climb that roof, boy, and look it over. Be a free meal, for sure—best one you ever had.” The old man grinned. “Franny thinks I don’t know she’s scared for me to get on that ladder. Thinks I’m too old.” He shrugged. “Probably am, but up to now, no one better showed.” He snorted in derision. “Sure thing that worthless landlord ain’t going to bother.”
Nate flinched inwardly. The worthless landlord had been his brother, Garner. He glanced around at the pots and bowls on the floor, more debris of his brother’s mistakes. His mistakes. Untangling the frayed ends of Garner’s life would be his penance. He would start here, with this roof. The job would provide him with a closer, covert examination of the properties that were all that was left to Garner’s widow. “I could take a look at it for you. A piece of pie sounds fine.”
“I’d do it, but even if I knew anything about roofs, I’m just a little afraid of heights.” She said it as though confessing to a sin.
“Heights don’t bother me.”
“Oh, if you wouldn’t mind, that would be a godsend.” Her smile was wide and lovely, dazzling and so different from that of the nipped, tucked and tanned women of his acquaintance. Strands of honey-blond hair escaped from her ponytail; flour dusted one cheek.
She smelled of cinnamon and flowers.
Nate shook his head to clear it. He hadn’t known women like her still existed. The dark-haired toddler in her arms had a death-grip on the pale pink fabric of her dress. She’d make hot chocolate and cookies for that child in winter, tell stories every night. Squeeze fresh lemonade to take on picnics in summer.
“I’m Franny Morgan, and this is Carl Thompson.” She held out a slim hand.
He took it, surprised by the firm clasp, the slight calluses. Her nails were short and unpainted.
His women tended more toward scarlet claws.
“Nate…Garner.” With an unexpected twinge over his subterfuge, he let her go. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, shaking the old man’s hand.
“Where are you from, Nate?” she asked.
“Here and there.”
The old man frowned, but Franny leaped into the breach. “Well, just have a seat anywhere. I’ll be back in a jiff. Would you like coffee with your pie? Iced tea?”
“Iced tea. Don’t you want me to look at the roof first?”
She laughed and the sound was like water singing in a brook. “Let me feed you first. Here—you can hold Stevie.” She thrust the toddler into his arms.
“But—” Nate clutched the solemn child. They stared at each other, the child looking as bewildered as he felt.
“Want me to take her, young fella?” The wizened man spoke between bites. “You seem none too familiar with the breed.” He chuckled, and Nate had to smile back.
“I’ve never held a baby.”
“You hang around Franny long enough, you’ll be holding cats, lost puppies and ever’ other darn thing she can find to take care of.” He shook his head. “That girl—they could run the entire city of Fort Worth off the energy she puts out in a day.”
The little girl reached up and grabbed Nate’s nose. He recoiled from the pinprick of tiny nails but tightened his grip so she wouldn’t fall.
“Stevie’s enamored of you, I see.” Franny was back with a huge slab of pie that had Nate’s mouth watering. She set down the plate and glass of tea. Then she smiled at the child and opened her arms. The little girl leaped with a suddenness that took his breath. Franny cuddled the child. “Sorry about the nails. It’s obviously time for a trim.”
“No problem,” he said. “Your daughter is…cute.” He didn’t really know what else to say about kids.
Franny’s vivid blue eyes darkened. “She’s not my daughter.”
A bell rang. “Excuse me, please.” Child on her hip, she whirled and headed for the stairs.
Feeling like some kind of heel, though he had no idea why, Nate looked over at the old man, who kept eating. No help from that quarter.
From this vantage point, Nate surveyed the sad state of what had once been a proud old house, this one-story wing now converted into a café. Despite the cleanliness of the place, a lot of work was needed.
Resisting the urge to turn and walk away, he sat down to try the pie. When the first bite hit his tongue, Nate couldn’t hold back his sigh.
Carl glanced up and grinned. “Girl sure can cook, can’t she?”
Nate nodded, busy chewing. He’d climb Mount Everest for another piece of this.