The King?s Lady

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The King‟s Lady Lietha Wards Free Evaluation Edition from obooko.com Copyright 2009 Lietha Wards Published by the author. Distributed worldwide by obooko This edition is available free of charge exclusively to obooko members for evaluation purposes only. It may be amended and updated at any time by the author so please visit www.obooko.com to ensure you have the latest edition. This book must not be copied or printed unless the author has given written permission for personal printing. It must not be sold in digital or printed form nor offered free or for sale on any website other than www.obooko.com. For more free ebooks and to list your fiction or non-fiction book for free publication, please visit www.obooko.com The King‟s Lady Chapter one: California 1880 It was a damn hot day, thought Ellie not caring if she cursed to herself. The California sun was high in the sky and the ride from the ranch in the buckboard seemed twice as hot under the dust the horses kicked up while the sun gave them no mercy. Her light hazel eyes shifted over to Chance as the wagon approached the edge of town. A small smile pulled at her lips, he was chewing carelessly on a blade of straw watching the dusty road in front of them to avoid holes that might make his passenger uncomfortable. Hunkered over with his elbows on his knees and the reins in his hands gave her a nice look at his profile. He would be a handsome man someday, she thought to herself, taking after his brothers in every way. Though he was only sixteen, he was beginning to have the makings of a true cowboy. Chance King was darkly tanned, tall and lean, with a trace of the bulk of muscles that adorned his older brothers already beginning to develop on his lanky body from the many physically challenging hardships of working a ranch. Like his older brothers, he was already displaying the handsome features including the perfectly chiselled lips and masculine square jaw, although not as hard set as theirs yet, it still had the strong angled lines adorned with stubble. The only difference she could see besides the hair color was that Chance had the most adorable dimples on either side of his mouth that practically brought any woman to their knees when he smiled. That is, everyone except her. She was immune because she always thought of Chance as a little brother, but that still didn‟t mean that she didn‟t‟ adore him. Not only was that she in love with another King cowboy. Jace was the second oldest and a complete womanizer, but Ellie was absolutely, totally in love with him. Everyone in Cottonwood knew it, even Jace. Yet, he acted as though her affections were invisible, always treating her with respect, but at arms length. It was disappointing, because he had no problem accepting every other 1 Lietha Wards woman‟s affections. Ellie learned long ago not to pine over him, yet there were times that she couldn‟t contain her feelings and allowed herself to be jealous. Jace‟s gorgeous smile didn‟t have dimples, but truthfully, he didn‟t need them. Charming to the teeth and downright too handsome for his own good, women fell in love with him constantly so the man didn‟t need anything else that lent to his sex appeal. Ellie considered herself another victim to fall for it. Now Everett, the oldest was a different story. Even after all these years, she still didn‟t think she knew him that well. Of course she was sure he cared about her, but he never let his feelings known. As for the dimples, she never knew if he had them or not, because he never smiled. Although he was always polite, he seemed to view the world with complete indifference. Yet, the man gave off an air of complete raw masculine prowess that drew the opposite sex to him like a magnet. He was the type of male that walked into a room and all eyes were on him because of the untamed aura of power that he gave off. Unfortunately other cowboys trying to make a name for themselves would spot him as a potential to fame, and ended up losing their lives because of it. As far as she knew Everett never started a gunfight, but he was always willing to finish it. Their father was Ed King, Big Ed to some, and his sons Chance, Everett and Jace owned the biggest ranch in northern California called Red Oaks, with a spread of over fifteen thousand acres, ten thousand head of cattle, and several thousand horses, not including the wild herds of mustangs that roamed the land. It was rumoured that Ed‟s father followed the gold rush and struck it rich, purchasing the land. When the Gold rush died out Ed had the ranch to keep him going. However the Kings struggled at times like most ranchers and cattle prices rose and fell, but thanks to Everett they were filthy rich and the ranch was just a plus. He managed to turn things around somehow and now the ranch prospered. The man had a knack with money. Ellie heard Ed say that his wife came from high society in Chicago, and took great pride in the arts. Apparently she was trained 2 The King‟s Lady classically in piano, violin, and could even sing opera. However, from what she remembered of her, she complained that she wasn‟t very good at singing but had the talent for teaching it saying her tone wasn‟t as rich as her parents wished. So instead, the woman made sure her sons developed the talents that she felt she lacked. Although Ellie heard her play classical music on that big „ol piano that Ed bought her and it just about made her weep. She didn‟t know what classical was until Bethany King played it, and then she understood why it was categorized under such a name. Ellie wished she‟d asked her to teach her how to play, but by the time she built up the nerve, Bethany had died. It was odd in these parts to have such talents and Ellie thought the boys would just waste theirs, because all of their time was spent running the ranch, but every now and then when she was over for dinner, they would use what their mother taught them. Her and Tyler‟s dinner visits have declined over the years because of the boys growing responsibilities besides their own, which sometimes required a wild release after a long bout of back breaking work. So of course when they weren‟t there they were raising a raucous somewhere else. They were womanizers and hard drinkers when the need took them. Ed didn‟t seem to mind as long as they did what they were told, got their work done and the ranch didn‟t suffer. She figured Ed wasn‟t too far from their behaviour when he was their age and that‟s why he understood them so well. They may have been rounders but, they were always gentlemen to the ladies…even those that weren’t ladies, thought Ellie, hearing gossip surrounding their prowess. Many times the boys would ride off to Redding. It was a day‟s ride away and it was much bigger than Cottonwood. Not only did boast several saloons and gambling houses, Ellie knew that it also sported one of the biggest cathouses in the north. She had heard rumours that the boys were frequent patrons and even young Chance spent time there. However her brother Tyler was no better, because he would sometimes go with them when he had the time. Ellie sighed turning her head back to the town. Her mama 3 Lietha Wards always said that all boys needed to live hard to get the play out of them so they would make good husbands and the King boys were just an extreme case. However, she didn‟t think the King boys would ever settle because they certainly weren‟t showing signs of slowing down. Ellie Purnell and her brother were their neighbours. Although their spread wasn‟t even close to what the King boys had, it was sufficient enough to keep them comfortable. With a mere five hundred head and only a thousand acres it was considerably less of a hardship than the King boys had to endure. Even though the Purnells and the Kings lands bordered one another, there was no animosity in grazing land. In fact, they had always considered one another family. Ed didn‟t have any daughters and always treated Ellie with such kindness, that she loved him almost as much as her own father. Usually during roundup Ed would invite Ellie to stay with them, because Tyler was out on the range for days at a time and she would be all alone. However, that was before Silvia. She was a childless widow that Tyler had hired as the cook and housekeeper. Ellie knew it was because her brother didn‟t want to keep imposing on the Kings since they had done so much in the past. So Silvia kept her company now. Though she still missed going to Red Oaks that time of year because the boys would usually come home at night and it was an opportunity to see Jace. Unlike Tyler, they had employees that could manage roundup. Then sometimes, though rare, they would use those talents their mother taught them. Jace would play the violin, Everett the piano, and Chance would sing. It was odd to see such rough and gruff boys play classical music, but it was memorable when they got together in such a way. Old man Ed King was friends with their parents, long since gone these past five years. Ed King may have been in his sixties but he could still break a wild mustang as well as his sons. It was no secret that he was hard on his sons during their upbringing either. Especially after Bethany died. He made them work twice as hard as the ranch hands and their rowdiness was a testament to that, for their wild reputations were unprecedented in Shasta County and no doubt most of 4 The King‟s Lady California. It was unfortunate, thought Ellie, for she would surely liked to have looked at one of them for marriage. Jace was in his twenties and very very handsome. He and Everett were similar in height and build, and they had that jet black hair that glistened so nicely in the California sun. Chance had dark brown hair with streaks of blond from the same sun. All the boys possessed those deep golden brown eyes that a girl could easily lose herself in. She sighed and turned her attention back to the town railroad station and suddenly gasped at the familiar puff of smoke from the C&I‟s train‟s smoke stack, “Oh no” Chance turned at her exclamation taking his attention from the pretty red-head that stood outside of the saloon. She winked and waved at him to offer him an invitation, and he might just take her up on it when he came back to town tonight with his brothers. “What is it?” He watched Ellie point her dainty little gloved hand toward the train station, “It‟s early. Poor Kate, she‟ll be waiting and no one will be there.” Chance slapped the reins on the horses‟ backs to urge them into a trot. Although in a few more seconds he‟d be there, he didn‟t like to distress Ellie or any other woman for that matter. He reined up at the station and set the brakes on the wagon before he hopped out. There were many people still coming and going on the platform as he took Ellie‟s hand and helped her down from the wagon. He didn‟t know what her cousin looked like, and she admitted that she hadn‟t seen her in ten years, but usually people don‟t change that much. Or do they? Ellie had said the woman was pretty enough for being eight at the time. She mentioned something about light brown hair and blue eyes too. Being tall allowed him to scan the crowd easier than Ellie and there were a few ladies there, but they were on the arm of some fella, except one, but he couldn‟t see her face because she had her back to them and was using one of them lacy umbrella like things—a parasol he thinks it‟s called. However, when Ellie made a beeline for a woman, it was obvious that was her. That‟s when he studied her more closely. 5 Lietha Wards Chance paused at the sight of her as the crowd parted. He may not have been able to see all of her, but what he could see, left no doubt that she was all woman. She stood alone beside two large trunks wearing an ivory top with a forest green twill bustle skirt, drawing eyes to her narrow waist and flared hips. The parasol hid the color of her hair. But when she finally turned around at the sound of Ellie‟s voice, Chance‟s jaw dropped. The woman was exquisite, especially when her face lit up at the sight of her cousin. Her light brown hair was now a blond. Golden wisps of hair escaped her little French bonnet, and when she saw Ellie, her smile was so lovely he could swear that she brightened more than the scorching California sun. Sweet Jesus He thought. There were pretty women in Cottonwood but none as ravishing as the woman that stood before him. When she moved forward to greet her cousin, she had the grace of a swan. Looking around, Chance noticed that he wasn‟t the only male to notice her. Several men stopped to stare at her. Feeling like a rooster in a hen house, he stepped closer to the two women and puffed himself up to his full six foot height. “Oh Kate, it‟s so wonderful to see you. Sorry it had to be under these circumstances. I hope you weren‟t waiting long? I‟m feeling rather guilty; the train is usually late and…” Ellie stopped talking finally realizing she hadn‟t given her cousin a moment to answer. She locked gazes with her and realized that she thought the same thing by the look in her eyes, then they both burst into laughter. Ellie hugged her, “I‟m sorry. You must be very tired.” “Oh Ellie, I‟m so glad to see you. It was such a long lonely ride.” She hugged her back clearly relieved to see a friendly face. Chance cleared his throat and brushed an unruly lock off of his forehead after he removed his hat trying to smooth out his appearance a bit. Ellie blushed feeling guilty about her rudeness and quickly introduced them. “He was so kind to help. Tyler‟s been busy with the 6 The King‟s Lady herd, but when Chance knew I needed someone with me to help with your trunks he offered like a true gentleman.” “Thank you Mr. King.” Kate offered with a friendly smile. “Please call me Chance, Miss Purnell.” He smiled bashfully. “If you wish.” She smiled up at him. “You can call me Kate then.” Ellie saw the young man blush clear to his neck through the open collar at his throat. Who couldn‟t blame him? Kate had grown into a beautiful woman. “Are these your two trunks Miss Kate?” When she nodded, he bent over and threw one easily over his shoulder doing his best to impress her with his strength. Ellie rolled her eyes and Kate laughed while she looped her arm through Kate‟s and followed Chance at a short distance. “Kate, you are beautiful. Look at poor Chance, I‟m thinking that poor lad will be offering marriage by the end of the week.” She said as she leaned over and whispered in her ear. Kate blushed. “Ellie please. He‟s a boy.” “More like a man trapped in a boy‟s body.“ she admitted then saw Kate‟s expression, “I‟m sorry, I shouldn‟t tease, but you did take me by surprise. You‟re absolutely gorgeous.” “You‟re no Sow either Ellie. Why, you‟re lovely. I always knew you‟d turn into a raving beauty. Did you manage to catch Jace‟s eye yet?” She grinned. Taking Kate‟s hand, Ellie laughed, “Now that‟s the cousin I remember. I however, was raised around ranch hands and the King brothers,” She inclined her head toward Chance who was hefting one of the trunks into the back of the wagon, “so my behaviour is a little more abrupt.” “You have no excuse to tease so boldly.” Then she sighed, “And no, Jace doesn‟t know I exist.” She grinned, “I was raised in New York, I have every excuse, but my father made sure that I was educated in propriety, especially after he caught us as children trying to run away and join the gold 7 Lietha Wards rush.” Ellie‟s eyes widened remembering her father‟s rage at his daughter and her companion, ages eight and nine at the time, heading down Fifth Avenue with their valises. He had chastised them both severely, but Ellie didn‟t realize at the time, the fear in his eyes at losing his precious Kate. She remembered that Kate lifted her little chin and told her father that if he didn‟t fill their heads with bedtime stories of the gold rush, they wouldn‟t have had the ideas in the first place. His anger seemed to vanish at that statement and he laughed, hugging and kissing them both. Then he extracted promises from both of them that they wouldn‟t attempt such a „fool brained‟ idea again. “Ah, yes…God rest his soul Kate. He loved you so much.” She shouldn‟t have brought it up because the tears began to well up in her eyes. She quickly changed the subject. Kate wasn‟t one to like someone pitying her. “Come dear cousin, we‟ll take you home and get you settled and I‟ll tell you everything that‟s happened in the last ten years with my life and you can do the same. It seems that our letters never do justice.” Ellie began to realize how much she missed Kate‟s companionship. Her father inherited the ranch when his brother died and they left New York to raise cattle a decade ago. If it hadn‟t been for the Kings they would have been lost, but Ed King took an instant liking to her father and helped him out when he could. “I agree.” She said watching as Chance hoisted the other trunk on his shoulder like he had the strength of an elephant. Ellie made sure she seated herself in between her cousin and Chance. Although he was polite and reserved, his eyes didn‟t lie. He stole looks as often as he could and it was obvious that she was shy, so Ellie didn‟t want to make her uncomfortable with the attention. She was thankful that Kate was too preoccupied with her surroundings to notice the looks she was getting. “What do you think of Cottonwood?” “Just like your letters. I‟m sure I‟ll like it here.” Kate admitted, “It‟s very quaint.” 8 The King‟s Lady “I‟m sure it is compared to New York, but you‟ll fit right in.” Ellie lifted an arm and waved to someone on the boardwalk outside the post office, “As you can see we all know each other. That‟s what I like about it.” “It certainly is a culture shift.” Kate said smiling, but she really didn‟t mind it at all. Having such a change would help heal her sorrow. Any reminders of her father at this point severely depressed her. She was thankful for Ellie‟s cheerfulness and the new surroundings just for that reason. “I need to stop at the general store and get supplies Ellie.” Chance said as he turned the buckboard around in the middle of the street toward the store on the farther edge of town. “I promised Mrs. Soter.” “Mrs. Soter, is the King‟s cook.” Ellie told Kate, “Although you would think she was more their mother by the way she dotes on the boys.” Chance grinned at the women, “She sure knows how to make fried chicken.” He leaned forward so he could see Kate past Ellie, flashing a devilish grin, “And the best cherry cobbler in the state of California.” He watched her return his smile and he turned away to hide his blush. “This won‟t take long.” He murmured as he set the brake and got out of the buckboard to go into the store. Ellie nudged Kate with her shoulder, “I told you. He‟s as red as a beet.” “He‟s too young. Even though he‟s as tall as a giraffe and has a sinful smile.” Kate said eyeing the lanky form wander through the door of the store. “Yes, but he obviously doesn‟t think so.” Ellie giggled. Then she saw her cousin‟s expression of worry, “Oh, Kate I‟m sorry, I‟m only teasing again. Forgive me. I forget that you are use to a more delicate upbringing than I am, even if we got in so much trouble when we were kids.” She nudged her shoulder with her own, “Don‟t worry about Chance, he has no problems with women. They practically chase him 9 Lietha Wards down the middle of town. He isn‟t serious. He just isn‟t used to seeing someone like you. So don‟t worry about hurting him if he has a crush on you. He is young, and he‟s in love with a different woman every five days.” Then she lowered her voice as two men walked by them and tipped their hats in the women‟s direction, “And if you think is smile is sinful, wait until you meet his brothers. They can melt butter. Chance hasn‟t finished growing yet, but they have, thank God, because if they got any better looking they‟d be outlawed.” Kate laughed, thinking that Ellie was blowing things out of proportion. Cottonwood was a small town so she was sure the selection of eligible bachelors looked good to anyone. As for the comment about her own looks, she knew that Ellie was still as kind as she remembered and that her cousin was just trying to make her feel better after what she had been through. “I‟m not so pretty Ellie, but thank you.” Ellie could‟ve fallen out of her seat at that statement. Did she honestly think that? Since they had left the station, every man within eyesight hadn‟t been able to take their eyes off of her, and tipped their hats in her direction when they rambled by in the buckboard. Did she not notice the attention? Ellie thought maybe it was because of the grief over the recent loss of her father that she wasn‟t able to focus on anything else at that moment. She was about to argue with her when two familiar black mustangs came trotting down the middle of main street with the other two King brothers sitting confidently at ease in their saddles. “Oh, here‟s Chance‟s brothers.” She waved at them catching their attention. “Wait until you meet them, then you‟ll see I‟m not exaggerating.” She said as the boys shifted course and headed toward the wagon. Kate almost blushed at that statement. Although Ellie didn‟t know what she was thinking, it was obvious her statement might have been challenged before. As the men drew nearer, Kate realized that her cousin wasn‟t exaggerating in the least and the blush did come. She was ashamed of herself for not believing Ellie. Before they could notice the rising heat she felt to her cheeks she suddenly felt the urge to brush 10 The King‟s Lady something off her shoe and hide her crimson cheeks with her parasol as they reined up beside the buckboard. Chance came out of the store with a sack of flour over one shoulder and a sack of sugar over the other. Obviously he didn‟t need to do both of the forty pound sacks at once, but he was on a mission to impress the new neighbour. It was in vain however, when he noticed that her attentions were on the two tall muscular men riding down the middle of the street on Red Oaks‟ mustangs. His older brothers. Sighing and cursing them for showing up at that exact moment, he tossed the sacks in the back of the buckboard and walked around to his brothers just as they reined up beside Kate on the other side of the wagon. Ellie gave Jace and Everett a gracious smile and introduced Kate. However, it would have been better if her parasol didn‟t suddenly block their view of her. She pulled it low over her head and bent down absently brushing some unseen thing off her boot. It was then and there that Ellie realized that Kate wasn‟t teasing her as evidenced by the crimson entering her cheeks. She honestly believed that she wasn‟t attractive and she was incredibly shy. How could she possibly think such a thing? “Miss Kate,” Said Everett and Jace in unison tipping their hats and waiting patiently for her to acknowledge them. Knowing she would seem rude if she didn‟t return the greeting, Kate sat up and moved her parasol out of their way to respond to the brothers. Red cheeks or not, she couldn‟t seem rude to the two that Ellie thought dearly of despite her embarrassment. Slowly she lowered her parasol and guided her eyes to the men. Ellie felt a stab of jealousy over the incredulous looks on both their faces. This was a woman who thought she wasn‟t pretty, but the King boys near fell out of their saddles. These were the boys that had had their share of women from one state line to the other. They were hardened over years of hard work, hard drinking, and hard womanizing, yet in all the years she known them, they‟d never let their 11 Lietha Wards steely expressions falter, except at the sight of Kate. That‟s not to say they weren‟t gentlemen, because they were always gracious to any women. It was the chance that either boy would give their affections with a genuine warmth that escaped them. Of course Ellie knew she was a soft spot for the boys because she had been practically raised with them, but never had she witnessed looks like this. Everett especially. The man never allowed any type of emotion to grace his handsome face. It looked like it was chiselled in stone most times except for the small glint of warmth he gave his family and sometimes her. Ellie thought he would always be so much more handsome like Jace if he actually smiled every now and then. On the other hand, Jace was a charmer, and could probably sooth the howling wind with his honeyed voice, but Everett always kept to himself. “How do you do?” She said sweetly and shyly looking at them from under her thick lashes. Instantly she took everything back of what she thought about the King boys. From what she read in Ellie‟s letters, and her recent information of the men‟s looks, her descriptions didn‟t do the men justice and melting butter with their smiles was an understatement. They could melt cold steel. Handsome didn‟t quite cover it. Jaw dropping was a more suitable term. The one named Everett in particular. She didn‟t know exactly what drew her gaze to him, but he had a powerful silent magnetism about him. He was dressed in black pants, blue-grey shirt and a tan vest. His black hat was pulled lower over his brow than his brother‟s but she could see that he stared back at her with his mocha colored eyes. Suddenly, his horse shifted and swung sideways closing the gap between them, and her eyes were drawn to his gun belt and then down his hard thick thighs as they clenched the saddle at that movement causing the muscles under the fabric to bulge and define. She felt her face heat up at that observation and quickly guided her eyes along the horse. That wasn‟t the only gun he had, a rifle was strapped to the side of his saddle. Who needed so 12 The King‟s Lady much gunfire? Was it true about the east being more uncivilized than the west? Her eyes went back up to his hard tanned features just to see he was still staring at her with those deep warm honey brown eyes. For the first time in her life she felt a reaction toward a man‟s attention. It felt as if someone lit a fire in her belly under his gaze. She resisted averting her eyes from his with all the force she could muster. She liked the feeling that was stirring in her. Normally she would never meet a man‟s gaze so brazenly. It wasn‟t proper to stare so openly at someone in such a way, especially when she knew her emotions were clearly visible in her eyes. But he didn‟t look away either. He held her gaze unwavering, then, a slow smile tugged at his lips breaking the composure he held. As his smile drew across his strong tanned masculine face, the heat in her belly increased. She could have sworn on the bible that his eyes darkened under those thick black lashes a fraction in that same instance. She had a pet cat years ago named Chester, who had that same look right before he pounced on a mouse. Oh my, she thought. The weather could have shifted, dropped below freezing, and snowed at that moment, but she wouldn‟t have noticed. What she did notice was the sudden pounding of her heart, the quickening of her breaths along with the burning swarming in her belly. Chance called his name, and he broke the hold by shifting his attention to other side of the buckboard. Then her eyes guided back to Jace. This was the man that Ellie had a bit of affection for. She could see why. He too handsome for his own good with that rakish grin as leaned forward on the pummel of his saddle with a warm glint in his eyes. “You‟ll be staying at Ellie‟s Miss Kittie?” He emphasized the pet name he gave her and arrogantly pleased that she gave him a ravishing grin over it. “Kate.” Said Ellie while scolding, “You know her name. Don‟t you go and start flirting with her Jace. She‟s too sweet for you” 13 Lietha Wards Kate saw Jace‟s eyes lit on Ellie and his smile widened, “Why Miss Purnell, I reckon you‟re jealous.” There was no mistaking the rare blush that rose in Ellie‟s cheeks and it just gave him the ammunition he needed. “You have no need to be, why you are still the prettiest little thing in Shasta County to me. Look at you in that dress I swear you never looked prettier.” He took off his hat and held it to his heart like he was aching with love for her. Kate couldn‟t help herself and actually started to laugh at the mocking display of affection. The man was a complete Rogue Sitting there so spectacularly handsome on his stallion, while openly flirting with the both of them in such a comical display and what made it so funny, is that he was that exact type to get away with it and not hurt any feelings. It felt so good to laugh after so many weeks of misery so she didn‟t try to stop and in the process she dropped her parasol on the ground. Although Everett was talking with Chance, and before anyone else could oblige her, he was off his horse immediately retrieving it for her as if he was standing next to her at the time. As he handed it over he drawled deeply. “Miss Katie.” Their fingers grazed one another when he passed it back to her and in that instant everything stopped around her. Her breath caught in her throat. In that moment, she stopped laughing and locked gazes with his and an unmistakable warmth of attraction passed between them. Then she knew, it wasn‟t just her that felt it. Also, it was what he said that leant to that idea. Katie? God, how sinfully delicious could he make that sound? “Thank you.” She said shyly taking her parasol and breaking the trance. “My pleasure.” He drawled, while staring at her longer than was appropriate before he turned and swung back up on his horse. He may have been talking with his little brother but his attention was on the gorgeous young lady sitting next to Ellie. Several times he caught himself not listening to Chance because of the distraction. The woman 14 The King‟s Lady was exquisite. A blond blue eyed angel that could melt the hearts and make a man change religion just by looking at them. Yet, there was a hint of sadness to her that made him want to protect her, but that wasn‟t what caused his attraction. There was something deep and feral about her that entered her sapphire gaze when she stared at him. It was then and there he realized the deep seated passion she was capable of. On the outside she looked to be the trophy winner of propriety, but he was certain as soon as the limits were removed, and maybe her clothes, he smiled inwardly, that she could be everything he wanted in a woman. To his surprise he felt a stirring in his groin just at the thought of it. It was then that Kate realized how different the two older brothers were. Ellie was right on the nose about everything she wrote to her concerning the King boys. Everett was more quiet and less expressive, unlike Jace, who was an outrageous flirt and however so, it worked magnificently for him. Although Everett had something about him that told her the quiet didn‟t mean he was easily pushed around. His posture, his firm set jaw, and the confidence he displayed, told her this was a man who knew himself, and knew he was a force to be reckoned with. Out of the three brothers, it was obvious that he was the alpha male of the pack. When she drew her gaze back to Everett she could feel her heart start to gallop. He still had his heated gaze on her even though he was carrying on a conversation with Chance, who seemed oblivious to the whole exchange. In fact, as she looked at everyone else with subtle glances, no one seemed obvious to the current that passed between them except Everett and her. Ellie was talking to Jace and she knew for a fact that her cousin‟s attention didn‟t waver from him in the least. In the end it was Everett who broke the hold when he spoke to Jace, “Let‟s get. Pa needs those calves rounded up before night fall for branding tomorrow. Chance, you hurry back to the ranch when you‟re done dropping off the women,” He paused before adding the last bit with a drop in tone, “No tarrying.” His eyes went unmistakably to Kate who couldn‟t hide her blush if her life depended on it. 15 Lietha Wards “Yessir” Chance gave him a mock salute before climbing back in next to Ellie and Kate. Causing Ellie to laugh. “Miss Katie.” Everett tipped his hat once more before nudging his horse to a trot followed closely by Jace who flashed another devilish grin at her causing Ellie to narrow her glare on him. He winked at her shamelessly before following his brother. “See what I mean.” Ellie leaned over to Kate and practically whispered it in her ear. “Oh yes” Her eyes followed the proud tall back of the man dressed in black, “I do.” He called her Katie, instead of Kate and she didn‟t correct him, because she liked it. Certainly he knew her name, but referred to her differently. He hand went to her belly to try and quell the fluttering there. “I‟m sorry Kate, I should have corrected Everett on your name.” “No that‟s okay. I like it.” She said almost too quickly. Not only that, from the looks he was giving her, she was sure he knew her name. “I hate being the youngest.” Complained Chance as he climbed back in the buckboard, “Always being told what to do.” Ellie put a gloved hand on his forearm, “Don‟t take it so hard Chance, you get to keep us company.” This brought a smile to his face. “True.” Two hours later Chance set Kate‟s trunks into the room that Ellie made up for her. Tyler was out on the ranch somewhere, but she told Kate that he‟d be home for supper. As Everett commanded Chance stayed long enough to say goodbye before he quickly drove the team back to his own home. Kate thanked him causing him to give her an ear-splitting grin and blush before he left. She turned to Ellie, “Do they always jump when Everett says?” “Yes. He‟s the eldest. To people who don‟t know him, he seems quite menacing, but his brothers respect him so they listen.” “I didn‟t think he was menacing.” Kate added absently. “He seemed very pleasant.” And very appealing, she wanted to say 16 The King‟s Lady remembering his warm gaze on her. Pleasant was the last word that anyone even Ellie would use to describe Everett. She studied Kate for a moment while she watched the departing buckboard wanting to ask her if she was interested in him. In a sense she was relieved if she was. That meant she wouldn‟t be after Jace‟s affections, not that she herself had a hope in hell and she‟d been after him for years. Still, it somehow made her feel a little better. However, Everett was interested in marriage as much as Jace was which was not at all. Heck, Chance would marry either one of them before the older boys would. She sighed outwardly, poor Kate, she had been through so much these past weeks and Ellie was dwelling on losing a man that she never had. What kind of a friend, or relative was she? Kate was uprooted out of the city, transported to the unfamiliar lands of California after losing her father to a brief illness. Tyler and her were the only family she had left and Tyler didn‟t hesitate to agree to take her in after their uncle wrote them telling of his illness and his worries of Kate. Kate brought her eyes to her cousin, “You were right about Jace Ellie, he is handsome. I think he likes you.” Ellie shook her head and waved a dismissing hand, “He likes women in general. I‟ve been hoping that he‟d settle down after a few years and start looking at me like I look at him, but I‟m already nineteen and still waiting.” She shrugged, “Typical King male.” She added. Kate gave her a reassuring smile, “Well I‟ve realized just recently that you can‟t change our fate Ellie. If that man is meant for you it‟ll happen.” “Thank you for the encouragement, but I think he‟s interested in you.” Kate gave her a look of blatant disbelief. For a moment Ellie forgot that Kate didn‟t think she was that pretty. “Hell, he‟s interested in anything with a skirt.” She quickly added causing Kate to relax and smile. “Those curse words should not come out of a pretty mouth like 17 Lietha Wards yours Miss Ellie.” Came a stern older feminine voice from the doorway. Kate swung around stifling a giggle to see a stout chubby cheeked woman in her late fifties. She was holding a silver tray with several steaming cups of tea. “Sorry Silvia. It‟s the repercussions for being raised around a ranch.” Kate tried unsuccessfully to apologize with a deceitful grin on her face. “That‟s a ridiculous excuse. Your mother, God rest her soul, didn‟t pass until you were fourteen, so she was around long enough to instil some proper etiquette in you.” She walked over to a doorway, then turned and looked at the other woman “You must be Kate. My you are a pretty little thing.” She said causing her to blush but didn‟t pause in talking, “We‟re delighted to have you. I‟m the cook, but as you can see I have more duties trying to keep this young lady, a lady. Come drink some tea to take the edge off of your long journey.” She went into the room. Ellie smiled sideways at Kate and nodded her head in the direction of the drawing room. “She‟ll come looking for us in a moment if we don‟t show up.” Said Ellie as she held out her hand. Kate laughed and took her hand following Silvia through the door. They had spent the better part of the afternoon sharing stories, and Kate couldn‟t have wished for a better friend than her cousin. She was in tears with the humorous stories they shared when they lived in New York but it was not in sadness. She‟d been laughing so hard she cried. “I see Kate, that you still manage to weep at the drop of a hat.” Came a deep drawl from the doorway. “Tyler” she jumped up and ran into his tight embrace. He was always more of a big brother than a cousin to her, just as she thought of Ellie as a sister. She was glad she stayed in touch with them despite the distance because she needed family around her now. He definitely was Ellie‟s brother. Emerald green eyes and 18

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