Reckless Heart Excerpt

Book Three: The Harts of Texas Series

CHAPTER ONE

Molly Forrester tried not to fidget under the disapproving gaze of the employment agency owner, but it became more difficult when the older woman’s face frowned so menacingly. Sarah Montgomery, owner, representative and chief factotum of the Montgomery Employment Agency, reviewed the file before her. Her iron gray hair drawn into a no-nonsense style suited her brusque personality. She dropped her gaze to the thin folder she had opened and scanned her notes.

This is the third place that has fired you for daydreaming,” she said severely.

Molly swallowed hard and tried to think up a convincing answer that would get her one more chance. She needed a job. Clearing her throat, she smiled and nodded. “I admit I was… distracted, but only that one time.”

Mrs. Montgomery raised an eyebrow and flicked a glance at the younger woman. “It says you mixed up the orders repeatedly and your milkshakes were more milk than anything.”

I don’t think a fast-food restaurant is exactly my kind of place,” Molly said with dignity.

Miss Forrester, I’m beginning to wonder if anything is your kind of place. We placed you with Bennett, Strife and Harwell as receptionist.”

She referred to the pages that sat on the left of the folder. “You mixed up the telephone messages, hung up on an important client, and were found daydreaming when the phones were ringing off the wall.”

Molly nodded, trying to look repentant. She’d found the position tedious and boring.

When they fired you, we tried Markham’s department store. You mixed up the sales register so badly I think they’re still trying to straighten it out. You sent merchandise to the wrong address, and you ignored valued customers because you were daydreaming.”

Molly dropped her gaze. She didn’t need Mrs. Montgomery reciting the past. She knew her mind hadn’t been on any of the jobs she’d held.

She wanted to write.

But until she could make a living from writing, she needed a way to earn money to live on.

Growing up the daughter of Gerald Forrester, she had not expected to actually work beyond what she wanted to do—in this case write. Even her brief engagement to Mark Leggett had continued the idea she would be able to forge a career for herself writing books.

That expectation had shattered when she had discovered her father’s interference in her engagement. Though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Marc had been promised a sure-fire track to the top in her father’s business once he was married to Molly.

She hadn’t believed he was serious when she first found out. But when she confronted Marc he had easily confessed, thinking it no big deal. Even offering her a lot of freedom in their relationship—a hint of her going her way and he his with their marriage only a business arrangement.

She’d been devastated when she finally accepted the truth of the situation. Confronting her father hadn’t helped. He considered it a dynastic alliance. Like they were in mid-evil England or something.

She’d refused to cooperate, returning Marc’s ring, and letting her father know she was not going to be used as a pawn for his business ends.

He’d calmly told her not to expect any further financial support until she came to her senses. The first time she’d tried her credit card and been refused she’d known her father wasn’t bluffing.

Being the spoiled rich girl of a wealthy man, she’d not been trained for anything, except perhaps being the finest hostess in the state.

She’d moved out and stayed with her friend Bethany, trying to get a job to prove to herself, and to her father, she didn’t need to fall in with his wishes just to keep a roof over her head.

This was the third job in two months,” Mrs. Montgomery reiterated.

Molly nodded. A touch of panic shot up her spine. If she didn’t get something else right away she’d be out of money.

Bethany was already hinting she’d overstayed her welcome. The last thing she wanted to do was return home and admit her father had been right.

Can you cook?” Mrs. Montgomery asked.

Molly looked up. “Yes.” She wasn’t great by any means, but she could prepare simple meals. She’d loved hanging out in the kitchen and learning how to make basic dishes when she’d been a teenager.

I have a possible position.” For once Mrs. Montgomery permitted herself a small smile. “It might be a match made in heaven,” she murmured to herself. “Or the fastest dismissal in the agency’s records.”

For a cook?” Molly asked.

For a cook and housekeeper on a ranch outside town.”

I’ll take it!”

Mrs. Montgomery obviously disapproved of her enthusiasm. She fixed her disapproving gaze once more on Molly and shook her head slowly. “It’s the last thing I have for you, but it won’t be easy. Josh Hart’s impossible to work for.”

I’m sure I can manage.” Molly Forrester smoothed her palms over the plain blue skirt she’d worn for the interview. With the starched white blouse and red blazer, she hoped she looked the epitome of competency. She’d fussed with her curly light brown hair that morning, taming it into a semblance of order. Her makeup was discreet. She needed this job.

He’s had five housekeepers in the last seven months. Four weeks was the longest anyone stayed.” Sarah Montgomery’s dour comments were no doubt intended to dissuade Molly from pursuing the position. It had no effect.

I’m sure I can manage.” Molly refused to dwell on the possibility that the agency would not send her. Her credentials were scarce, she had very little work experience, and what she had wasn’t outstanding by any means. But she could make this assignment work. One way or another she planned to live life on her terms, not her father’s.

She’d succeed if the agency would give her the chance.

The older woman peered at Molly over the frames of her half-glasses. If Mrs. Montgomery’s intent was to intimidate, Molly thought, she came close to succeeding. But Molly refused to let the older woman know it.

Showing a calm confidence she was far from feeling, Molly returned her gaze. Anticipation simmered in her veins. She had to get the job. And she’d do it to the best of her ability.

The ranch is over an hour’s drive from here.”

Molly nodded. That’d suit her fine. She had no need to dash into town. A glimmer of excitement bubbled up inside her. Another chance. One she’d make sure she made work.

From the reports of the housekeepers who worked there, Josh Hart is bossy, arrogant, and quite demanding. Nothing pleases him.”

Molly took a deep breath. He sounded like her father, and Marc. She’d had years of experience dealing with men like that.

Would taking this job be exchanging one tyrant for another?

I’ve had experience dealing with similar situations,” she said calmly.

She knew office work didn’t suit her. Nor retail sales. Nor fast-food restaurants. Growing panicked, she crossed her fingers. She wanted this job.

The older woman studied her briefly, dropped her gaze back to the opened folder.

Very well. I’ll call and let him know you are recommended by us. He’ll have the final say, of course.”

Reaching beside her, she handed a thick envelope to Molly. “Directions to the Rafter C and the terms and conditions of employment. If you have any questions, call me. Good luck, Miss Forrester. You’ll need it.”

Chapter Two

Molly slowed her car to a stop near the large white ranch house. She’d been on Rafter C land for several minutes, the drive from the road to the house had been about a mile in length. On either side cattle grazed on open fields. She saw the house before she reached it situated as it was on a small knoll. The two-story white clapboard farm house had a porch on three sides, and dark green shutters on the upper story windows. Grass surrounded the house and a large elm tree shaded the left side.

She drove around to the back of the house, per the directions given in the packet Mrs. Montgomery had given her. The porch that wrapped around three sides of the house stopped short of the back. Instead there was a small wooden stoop at the top of three steps and a single door.

About a hundred yards from the house sat a huge barn, the gray paint surprising. Weren’t all barns painted red? The spanking-white trim sparkled in the mid-morning morning sun.

She arrived in plenty of time to get settled before preparing lunch. Anxious to prove to her new boss that she was capable of the job, she’d done her best to be prompt and dressed to blend in.

She opened the car door and stepped out, a bit self-conscious. Her jeans were worn and comfortable, as was her cotton T-shirt. Only the boots were new. She didn’t have a hat. Not that she planned to spend much time outside–her work was in the house. But a cowboy hat would have been the perfect touch.

Glancing around, Molly noticed several men in and around the barn. One worked with a horse in the large corral, another sat on a turned-up barrel, a tangle of leather straps in his hand that he seemed to be working on.

Two others paused in their tasks as they stopped to watch her. A tall man came from inside the barn at the sound of her car. She shielded her eyes against the sun’s glare with the palm of her hand and waited. Her heart thumped in her chest as she watched him approach.

She didn’t believe in time travel, but suddenly wondered if she were wrong. He looked like a Viking. Tall, several inches over six feet, broad, blond, he strode across the dusty yard as if a conqueror returning home. His stride swiftly ate up the distance. He slapped his hat against his thigh, dislodging a speck of hay while the sun’s rays burnished the thick blond hair like old Spanish doubloons. His eyes narrowed as he studied her, drawing closer every second.

Molly took a deep breath and dropped her hand, her eyes fixed on him.

Slowly a smile lit her face. Hero material was scarce. Yet right before her eyes stood the perfect specimen. Greedily her gaze traveled from his broad shoulders across his muscular chest to his slim waist, hips, muscular thighs. The jeans displayed his masculine attributes to perfection. The dusty boots completed the image.

She raised her eyes, anxious for a pen and paper to capture the sensations that jostled around inside, to capture for all time the decidedly feminine feelings that flooded her being, the unexpected delight she discovered in merely watching him.

When her gaze reached his face, his scowling expression jolted her back to awareness of where she was and why she was here.

Lost?” he asked, setting the hat on his head, tilted down to shadow his eyes.

She shook her head and smiled again. The spiraling sense of anticipation that tantalized her shimmered unexpectedly. The urge to step closer, feel his heat, align herself with him, was totally foreign. Yet she found herself hard-pressed to resist.

I’m Molly Forrester, your new housekeeper.”

His look became incredulous as he trailed his gaze down her slim figure, pausing briefly at the shiny new boots. He shook his head as his eyes drifted back to hers.

Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.

No.” Reaching into the car, she withdrew the employment packet and pulled Mrs. Montgomery’s letter from the stack. “Mrs. Montgomery said she’d be calling you. Didn’t you talk with her yet?”

Josh Hart took the letter, scanned it briefly then looked at Molly.

Mrs. Montgomery had called yesterday to inform him she’d found him yet another housekeeper, a Molly Forrester. But she’d neglected to mention the woman was young and pretty and totally unsuitable for the job.

For heaven’s sake, he could smell roses from where he stood.

His gaze traveled over her again. She had to be years younger than he. And far too feminine. She curved in all the right places, not that he cared. He’d sworn off women himself, but he didn’t need the distraction she’d cause the men.

She didn’t look capable of staying the course. Probably some fluffy-headed woman who thought living on a ranch was all fun and games. Or planned to flirt with the men disrupting everything.

Or was she looking to hook a rancher, like Jeannie?

What had the agency been thinking? Just because he’d had five housekeepers since Rachel left was no excuse to send this one. None of the others had been worth a damn. Yet each one of them offered more than this little slip of a woman could.