Georgiana raised her chin a bit higher and narrowed her eyes as the stranger approached. He was almost as tall as his giant of a horse, lean, as if he'd worked hard and eaten little. He swept off his widebrimmed hat to reveal long, shaggy chestnut hair streaked with sun-bleached amber. He swept back his long coat behind a gun belt slung low on his hip.
High-heeled boots crunched gravel, and he stuck a thumb into his gun belt as he reached her. She felt a twinge of recognition, not for the man, but because of Jocelin's description of American frontier garb.
She opened her mouth to inquire if the man had come from her brother, but he was too quick for her. A dark-blue gaze inspected her as if she were a succulent dessert. Then he appeared to recognize her. His eyes crinkled, not in amusement, but in irritation.
"Well, if it ain't old George. I been looking all over creation for you. Your danged pa wouldn't tell me where you'd gone. Well, come on, girl. Time to pack up and swim."
Georgiana drew her brows together, straightened her shoulders, and said, "I beg your pardon?"
"I reckon you should."
His lips curled in a grin that was at once contemptuous and appreciative. Georgiana wasn't the daughter of a duke for nothing. Giving this barbarian a chilly nod, she turned on her heel and spoke to the Threshfield butler, who had come out of the house upon the arrival of the stranger.
"Randall, send this person on his way."
"Yes, my lady."
"Hold on a minute."
Georgiana paused in her progress around the wagon. "You appear to be looking for someone named George, sir. There is no one by that name at Threshfield."
A gloved hand settled on the revolver at the stranger's hip. Georgiana kept her features fixed in an expressionless mask that hid her uneasiness. This man spoke in a slow drawl like the one Jocelin had returned with from America, only the stranger's voice was as rough as his speech--low, throaty, and tinged with a knowing familiarity that bordered on an intrusive liberty.
"Look here, George, Jocelin sent me to fetch you, and I'm going to fetch you, so pack your duds and let's ride."
She had been certain she didn't know him. He was sun-brown, sweaty, and stubbled with two days' worth of beard. His shirt was open, and she could see his chest. His chest! No gentleman revealed his chest to a lady. But he'd called her George again, and that twinge of recognition returned. Once, years ago, a man had called her George. It had been that elegantly savage protegÚ of her brother's, the one whose presence turned her father's complexion vermilion.
Georgiana studied the blue eyes tinged with sapphire, the wide shoulders. Through the chestnut stubble she could discern the shallow indentation in the middle of his chin. She let out her breath in a gasp. "Dear me, it's Mr. Ross!"
"Course it's me."
"Mr. Ross," Georgiana repeated witlessly. Then she regained her composure. He was forcing her to discuss her private affairs before servants, but she wasn't going to let him into the house or talk to him alone. "I knew my brother would be concerned. I've written him a letter he's no doubt received by now, so you've come all this way for nothing. I'm sorry for it, but Jocelin does tend to be high-handed. I'm not going anywhere, especially with a mere acquaintance. Good day to you, Mr. Ross."
She turned her back to him. There was an unfamiliar sound of metal against leather, then a click. Georgiana stopped. One of the laborers swore. Darting a glance over her shoulder, she looked at the barrel of a long-nosed revolver. Her gaze lifted to the man's casual one. A snake's stare had more feeling in it.
"Now, don't get your petticoats in a twist. Jos said you'd be stubborn, and that I was to be patient, but I been clear across a continent and an ocean, and I got no use for spoiled, blue-blooded misses. Jos is laid up, and it's plain infernal meanness to worry him like you done. So I reckon I'll just have to take you back to Texas and let Jos see fer himself that you ain't hitched yourself to old Threshfield."
Excerpted from The Engagement by Suzanne Robinson. Copyright © 1996 by Suzanne Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Fanfare, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.