The Rancher Takes a BrideSylvia McDaniel
The Rancher Takes A Bride
Copyright © 2000 Sylvia McDaniel
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First Printing July 2000 by Kensington Publishing Corp
All Rights Returned to the Author
eBook conversion by Ink Lion Studios
Cover by Kathleen Baldwin
McDaniel, Sylvia (2012). The Rancher Takes A Bride.
Table of Contents
Preview The Burnett Brides Series:
A Scarlet Bride
My Sister's Boyfriend
Rose Severin made her living speaking to the dead. Or at least she pretended to, until she could fulfill her real dream of becoming a famous actress on the New York stage like her mother. But dreams couldn't put a roof over your head or ease the gnawing ache of hunger, and New York was more than a carriage ride from Fort Worth, Texas.
Rose peeked between the curtains separating the two rooms and watched her black manservant, Isaiah, settle tonight's customers. She'd drawn an interesting group. A fairly young woman, a matron, a swanky gentleman, and a cowboy whose burnished hair and rugged good looks certainly caught her attention.
Isaiah stepped behind the curtain and whispered, "Mrs. Florin, the lady who will be sitting next to you, lost her twelve-year-old daughter, Sally, in a carriage accident. She wants to contact Sally and make sure she's all right. The other lady, Miss North, wishes to speak with her brother who was killed in a bank holdup. He was a law-abiding man, just in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to the newspaper."
Isaiah frowned and shook his head. "The gentleman in the brown suit, Mr. Thompson, said very little. The other man, Mr. Burnett, is here because of his brother."
"Burnett. That name sounds familiar." Rose tried to remember where she had heard the name before.
"His mother came in earlier this afternoon. She's the lady who wanted to speak with her missing son. He disappeared during the war and she didn't know if he was dead or alive."
"Yes, I remember her." Rose glanced out the curtain. "What does he want?"
"He wouldn't say."
"I guess we'll find out," she said shaking her head and frowning at Isaiah.
"Are you ready?" Isaiah asked.
Rose brushed back a lock of her dark, wayward curls, checked the bodice of her loose-fitting blouse, and smoothed her skirt. Dressed more like a gypsy than a lady, she took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Madame Desirée is ready."
Isaiah ambled out of the kitchen and turned toward the group of people now gathered around the table. "Let me present Madame Desirée Severin, Voice of the Dead."
Rose swept through the curtain. Holding out her full skirt, she gave a little twirl then curtsied to her audience. "Good evening."
She pulled out a chair and took a seat between the cowboy and Mrs. Florin. She glanced around the table at the four customers who had come to speak with their departed loved ones.
Madame Desirée offered her clients a chance to ease their conscience, say the words they'd meant to say, resolve a disagreement, or for a brief moment feel close to the dead once again.
Whatever reason brought them to her, Rose tried her best to give them their money's worth, and if it eased their pain, then she'd more than fulfilled her job.
She lowered her head as if praying, then raised her eyebrows, gazing at each person sitting around the table.
"Alors, commencon." She paused dramatically, letting her customers absorb the French words and then repeated them in English. "Let us begin."
With a flick of her wrist, she snapped her fingers at Isaiah, her bracelets jingling. From the back of the room, he turned the knob of the lantern until the light slowly faded and a faint glimmer remained, casting the room in an eerie twilight.
The rough scratch of a match striking flint echoed in the darkness as she lit the mixture of cedar, thyme, rose petals, and vanilla. A cloud of smoky perfume drifted upwards, leaving a faint glow in the metal bowl.
"Close your eyes and hold the hand of your neighbor as I call upon the spirits to heed our summons," she commanded in a French accent that she'd practiced.
Isaiah plunged the room into darkness. Like an invisible bond, nervous tension flowed through the room, weaving a seductive spell over her clients.
A quick glance at the cowboy showed the corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. So, he thought this was entertaining, did he? She lifted his hand, rough-callused but warm and strong as he clasped her small hand in his.
He gazed back at her, his eyebrows questioning.
She'd dealt with men like him before. She lifted her chin and turned her gaze to her other customers.
"Many spirits are gathered in the room with us tonight," she whispered. She turned her face toward the heavens and called out loud, "Spirits, come to us. Let us speak with our dear departed ones again."
With practiced ease, Rose quietly slipped her foot out of her backless boot. Her bare foot touched the hardwood floor as she eased it under her chair, until she touched the cool metallic bell. Gripping the handle of the bell between her toes, Rose shook the bell. The clapper clattered against its side three times.
A lady sitting across from Rose jumped. Isaiah silently came in right on cue, stirring the air with a fan in the darkened room. Then the sound of chimes tinkled softly in the night air.
Releasing the cowboy's hand, she clasped her palm to her head, moaning. "Ah . . . ah, so young. So tragic." She swayed. "A little girl with blond ringlets is coming toward me, wearing a pink pinafore. She says her name is Sar . . . no, her name is Sally."
A gasp came from the darkness and one of the Women said in a weak voice, "My daughter's name was Sally, but her hair was dark, not blond." Her voice broke on a sob. "Is it Sally? Tell me more about her, please. Is she happy?"
Rose ignored the woman's comment about her daughter's hair. "Sally says to tell you she's with her grandmother."
Rose hesitated and then began to move her lips silently, as if she were speaking. "The two of them miss you and are awaiting your arrival on the other side."
The lady burst into tears. "Thank God, she's not alone. I've been so worried about her."
"Families often are reunited after death." Rose moaned and pulled her handkerchief to her lips.
"I feel the presence of a man who was gunned down. A law-abiding man killed in a holdup."
"My brother," the older woman sitting next to Rose proclaimed.
Rose massaged her temples, moaning. She held up her arms as if seeking help from the sky. "Is his name Robert?"
"Yes," the woman replied, stunned. "How did y
"He told me. He says you shouldn't feel guilty about his death. It was meant to happen. Your grandfather is with him."
"But grandfather is still alive," the woman said, puzzled.
Rose felt a moment of panic. Whoops, she'd guessed wrong again. The lady's age appeared to be in the mid-forties. Rose had been certain her grandparents were dead. She let out a moan. "I meant your great¬grandfather."
"Oh, we never knew him."
The cowboy beside her snickered just loudly enough to be heard. He was going to cause trouble, blast him.
"Oh, oh. The name Burnett comes to mind." She moaned. "Does anyone know someone named Tanner Burnett?"
"That's me," a husky, curt voice from her left replied.
It was the cowboy. Even in the dark, she couldn't help but remember six feet of rugged, tightly muscled man with honey-brown hair set against tanned skin and eyes that looked more dangerous than friendly.
"Are you certain the person you're seeking is dead?"
She could feel his gaze upon her, and the memory of his brown eyes gleaming with determination and purpose almost made her shiver.
"He's been missing for over ten years," he acknowl¬edged.
"I have a vision of him in battle. There's danger all around him."
His fist slammed against the table, causing sparks to fly from the bowl of incense and her patrons to jump in surprise.
"Lady, how far are you going to carry this farce? You can't see my brother."
"Monsieur!"she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in disgust. Gripping the bell with her toe, she rang it, signaling the end of the séance.
"The sound of the bell indicates that the spirits have gone," she said between gritted teeth. "You've broken the spell. The spirits have all departed because of your disbelief. Your doubt has scared them away!"
Isaiah lit a lantern, casting an ominous glow on the scene.
A chill ran down Rose's back as she stared into the coldest pair of dark-brown eyes she'd ever seen. She stood and turned her attention to her other clients. "I'm terribly sorry, but once the spell has been broken, the spirits will not return this night. Thanks to Monsieur, our evening has been cut short. That is the way sometimes. Please come back and we will attempt to contact your loved ones once again." She gave him a look that could have plunged daggers into his heart. "Without Monsieur Burnett."
He smiled a contemptuous sneer. "Lady, if you can speak to the dead, I can walk on water! All you're interested in is cheating people out of their money!"
"Monsieur!" She motioned for Isaiah to usher her other customers out the door. Business had been good, and she didn't need gossip being spread around town about this little scene. "The Trinity River is right up the street, if you'd like to test your faith."
"I don't need to test my faith. People like you do it all the time," he said.
"If you don't believe in speaking with spirits, why are you here?" she asked bluntly, hoping to get rid of him quickly.
"Everyone deserves at least one warning, and here's yours." He stood and moved around the table. "Don't be holding any more séances."
"This is a free country, is it not?" she said, using her best French intonation.
"Not for cheats."
"I am no cheat"
"Lose the French accent!"
"I cannot! It is where I was born, where I come from," she informed him.
"I'm sure you've been around, but I'd wager you've never seen Paris," he said calmly, his voice a slow drawl of insolence.
"Espéce de casse-couilles!" She said in French exactly what she was thinking. The man was certainly a pain.
"Cut the parlee-voo, lady. I don't believe a word of it."
"You should. I'm calling you, Mr. Burnett, every despicable word I know," she practically shouted at him, enraged at his intrusion in her cozy business.
"Call me anything you want, but I'm warning you. Shut down your séance parlor. You picked the wrong person to try to con, and you're not going to get away with it."
"And just who is this person I supposedly tried to con?" she asked.
"My mother, Eugenia Burnett."
"Ah ha!" Stepping in front of him, she stood within inches of this handsome yet foreboding man. The scent of masculinity drifted to her nose, a clean smell of virile male.
"And if your mother wishes to learn more about your brother? Is this not her choice?"
"My mother misses my brother, and I'll not have you taking advantage of her. This is the only time I'm going to tell you. Leave my mother alone, or I'm going to shut down your parlor."
"Monsieur! If you don't want your mother searching for your brother, then you must talk to her. Not I!" She took a step back, letting her gaze travel the length of his person. "Besides, I see no badge. You do not have the authority to threaten me, or shut me down."
He smiled, his full lips pouty, and took a step closer to her. His hand reached out, the tip of his finger gently tracing her chin, his rough skin sliding against hers. His touch left her oddly unsettled. She tried to swallow the lump that filled her throat.
Now was not the time for her long-denied body to suddenly take notice of a man. She needed this town, needed this job.
She didn't need a gun-toting, overprotective mama's boy, who looked like sin in a nicely bundled package.
"I'll shut you down in a heartbeat," he said, low enough only to reach her ears. "My little brother, Tucker, is the marshal."
Picking up his hat, he strolled out the door, his gun slung low around his hips, his pants snug against his backside.
Rose watched him walk through the door and wanted to scream. Though they had gotten off to a slow start, business was just beginning to increase and the thought of having to pick up and start over again left her furious.
No damn cowboy with a connection to the local law was going to run her out of town.
Until yesterday, Travis Burnett had thought his mother didn't believe in ghosts, was as sensible as they came. So why had Eugenia suddenly started visiting a séance parlor?
Travis let the door slam behind him as he entered the house he'd lived in all his life. His father had built this home after he'd made a small fortune trading Texas cattle. Longhorn cattle.
Walking down the short hall, he found his mother in his office going over the books, adding up sums of figures. He sat down in an elbow chair across from her, stretching out his long legs in front of him, his spurs jingling as he crossed his ankles.
Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, Eugenia was steel wrapped in a soft overcoat. A gentle matron with an iron will, stubborn enough to have lived with his father for forty years. Yet since his brother's disappearance more than ten years ago and the death of his father, she'd seemed fragile, in need of protecting. The laughter that had once shone from his mother's brown eyes had overnight dimmed with sadness, and at times she seemed lost, in need of direction.
"What are you doing home so early on a Saturday night?" she asked, not looking up from her paperwork. "Not enough excitement going on in town?"
"I just spent the evening at a séance."
He watched as her head jerked up from the ledger she was working on, her eyes trained on his. She raised her brows questioningly.
"Miss Severin's parlor?"
She gazed at him, her face an innocent mask. "She's certainly a pretty little thing."
He leaned forward, surprised by her comment. "Mother, how did you get involved with this woman? Why are you going to séances?"
"Oh, several of the ladies from my sewing circle were talking about her, and we decided to just drop in and see what a séance was. You know Katie McLaughlin lost her husband recently, and the poor dear is—"
"Well, the poor dear is terribly lonely and misses her husband something fierce. They obviously were very much in love and had a wonderful marriage."
"Look, I'm sorry about Mrs. McLaughlin, but d
o you know this séance woman had the gall to tell me she saw Tanner tonight?"
She crossed her arms, a stubborn set to her jaw. "Well, dear, let's hope she had a vision of him."
"Son, it's impolite to swear in front of a woman, especially your mother. Desirée can read palms and tarot cards, and she sometimes has visions of people who are alive."
"You're upset I'm swearing, not that you gave money to a woman who takes advantage of people who are grieving and lonely?"
"Every penny I spent was worth meeting this young woman if she can help me locate your brother. Desirée is delightful, a very caring person who obviously understands how you feel when you've lost a loved one."
He stared at his mother in disbelief. His brother had been a strong, vital force whom they all missed, but ten years had passed with not a word of his whereabouts. The last time they'd seen him was right before he ran away to join the Confederate army. Travis thought his mother had accepted Tanner's death, but obviously he'd been mistaken.
She tilted her head and gazed at him. "I thought you were supposed to see Cecilia tonight?"
"Don't change the subject. I know you don't like her."
"She's more timid than a church mouse and twice as dull. You marry her and you'll be bored within a week." Eugenia slammed the ledger shut. "Name one woman you've courted seriously in the last year who isn't either afraid of you or only interested in hitching up with the Bar None?"
He grinned at his mother. "Uh, Sister Bertrice doesn't seem to be interested in me."
"Travis!" Eugenia shook her head. "It's not healthy for a man to work as hard as you do. You need to get away from the ranch more, socialize, and get to know people. How else are you going to find a wife?"
Travis took a deep breath and refused to let his mother's words goad him into a confrontation he knew he could never win. So instead, he gave her the same response he'd given her for the last two years. They both knew it was a way of avoiding a subject they didn't agree on. "I'm busy with the ranch right now."
For a moment she just stared at him. She sighed. "You must admit, Miss Severin is a stunning creature."
Stunning didn't begin to describe her. More like a curvaceous stick of seductive dynamite. One wrong move and he'd go up in flames.
The memory of her glossy brown curls, framing a face that was almost ethereal, left him wondering what she looked like underneath that red dress that dipped low, revealing the curve of her breast. Travis reminded himself that it wouldn't matter if she were prettier than Molly Riley's highest-priced whore. She was still a cheat and a liar, even if her emerald eyes teased of hidden promises and enticing pleasures.