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Loving Katherine
Carolyn Davidson

lives in South Carolina, on the outskirts of Charleston, with her husband, her number-one fan. Working in a new/used bookstore is an ideal job for her, allowing access to her favorite things: books and people. Loving Katherine is her fourth novel. Readers’ comments are more than welcome in her mailbox, P.O. Box 60626, North Charleston, SC 29419-0626

With grateful appreciation, this book is dedicated

to my agent, Pattie Steele-Perkins, who makes me

believe in myself.

And with a heart full of love to my granddaughters, in

the hope that each of them will one day find their own

special hero. To Erin, Rachel, Jennifer Beth, Sarah,

Cherylyn, Karen, Jennifer Lynn and Ashley; and

especially to Katherine, who was but a twinkle in

her daddy’s eye when this story was begun.

Grandma loves you all!

But most of all, to Mr. Ed, who loves me.

Chapter One (#ulink_d7c7d0c3-07ba-559c-b7f3-40caf4754d05)

He’d been watching her for more than ten minutes, curiosity snagging him after the first glance. He’d meant to assure himself that he was indeed finally arriving at Charlie’s place, hoping to see the familiar figure somewhere about the corral or perhaps coming out of the pole barn. But the sight of the lone figure, kneeling in the garden patch, had caught his eye and he’d settled down to watch for a few minutes. Katherine. It had to be Katherine, he decided.

And as for Charlie, where the hell was he? With no sign of him about, he was probably out in a far pasture, checking on his mares. Roan Devereaux nodded his head at the thought and stretched out his leg to ease the cramp in his thigh, grunting his impatience with physical infirmities.

“Seen the time I could play statue for the best part of an afternoon,” he muttered, squinting against the sun, fast making its way toward the horizon. Lifting to one elbow, he disrupted the smooth line of his profile, the better to observe the woman who worked amid the hills of potatoes and the forest of tomato plants next to the cabin. She’d not glanced about or appeared to catch sight of him since he’d placed himself at the top of the hill just minutes ago.

The ride had been short, coming out from town. It was the days of travel before that had brought to mind the old injury he’d rather have ignored. His hand rubbed instinctively at his thigh and he frowned, his eyes narrowing on the woman who knelt less than two hundred yards away.

Even now, she blended into the garden, half kneeling amid the potatoes she’d been gathering, dropping them into a burlap bag.

Reaching for his hat, he swatted it against his leg before jerking it into place against the dark swath of his hair. The wide brim cut the glare of the setting sun, and his squint eased into a more leisurely perusal of the small figure below his vantage point.

“She looks like a mud hen,” he decided with a rusty mutter. “Bustlin’ around in that garden like a brown mud hen, if I ever saw one.” Heaving a sigh, he contemplated his next move. “Guess I might as well go down and introduce myself.”

His brow furrowed, his hand moved to his thigh as he eased himself to his haunches, and then he froze in place. Rising from her crouch, she lifted her head in a gesture of wary alertness that surprised him. She brushed one hand distractedly against her skirt, then raised the other to shade her eyes as she gazed at him.

Even across the distance that separated them, he felt the piercing touch of her survey and met it with his own dark scrutiny. With a lifting of her chin, she dismissed him and walked the few yards to where a basket of late vegetables lay amid the tangle of tomato vines. Then, as if she considered his presence of no account, she turned, heading with measured, firm steps toward the small house.

He grinned. “You’re a spunky little thing, Katherine,” he said aloud. “Dismissin’ me out of hand and strollin’ away like you don’t give a good goldarn about whether I come or go.” Turning to his horse, tied to a tree just a few feet from the crown of the hill, he hoisted himself into the saddle. His leg protested and he frowned at the reminder, settling into the worn leather of his saddle, his boots gripping the stirrups even as his knees nudged the stallion into motion.

With the ease of a man familiar with his saddle, he allowed the horse to find his own way down the slope, and within moments they rode past the neat, even rows of the garden. The scent of ripe tomatoes and the musty smell of the overturned earth in the potato patch met his nostrils and he inhaled it with a sense of nostalgia. It’s been years, he thought. Years since he sneaked out to help in the kitchen garden and got swatted for his trouble when his mama caught him with dirty knees.

Saddle leather creaked and the horse snorted once, his ears flicking as he answered a nicker from the barn beyond the house. One hand easy on the reins, the other resting on his thigh, the man directed his mount, approaching the wide front porch that stretched the length of the unpainted house.

It was uncanny, she decided. The sense of unease haunting her had once more proved itself to be valid. She’d known someone was watching. But it wasn’t an evil gaze. Not like the spine-chilling surveillance of Evan Gardner, invading her privacy last winter.

This time…She considered the man who rode toward her house. He was far from harmless, she thought, noting the erect posture, the easy hand on his reins, his watchful eyes. But not a danger. Yet.

It had been a frightening few moments, turning her back on him as he rose to his feet there on the ridge, a tall figure in dark clothing. She’d counted the steps it took to gain the safety of the house, her arms aching from the weight of the basket she carried and the digging and toting she’d done all afternoon.

Now she watched from behind the white lace curtain as he drew back on the reins and settled deep in his saddle, his unsmiling face shadowed beneath the brim of his hat. Her fingers gripped the stock of her father’s shotgun, and she took a deep, shuddering breath as she wondered uneasily if she could fire it.

Oh, the ability was there. For hours—days—she’d hit cans and scattered rocks until she was as good a shot as the man who’d taught her. But that same man had warned her to be prepared to aim for vital parts if the time ever came for her to prove her skill.

“I will if I have to,” she muttered beneath her breath as she moved to the door and lifted the latch.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” The hands were in plain sight, his own weapon sunk into the leather scabbard that fit behind his saddle.

Even that was not immensely reassuring, she decided. If she were any judge of men, he could have it pointed in her direction in jig time and the lazy ease in his greeting could turn just as quickly to a threat.

“What do you want?” she asked, putting dark, warning venom into the question.

The husky voice was a surprise. He’d expected a gentle, womanly tone. Perhaps even a waver or a breathless quiver in her words.

“Just to ask a few questions, ma’am.” He lifted one hand slowly, tipping the brim of his hat in a gesture of courtly awareness.

Her eyes followed the movement and her lips tightened. “Ask away, stranger,” she told him after a moment.

She was a sturdy little thing, this daughter of Charlie Cassidy, he thought, the low, throaty sound of her voice once more teasing his hearing. Or maybe Charlie’d taken a wife. The thought was unappealing, he decided, watching her closely. No, she had to be his daughter. She had something of the man about her. Perhaps that stubborn chin or the tilt of her head.

Her gun rose in silent menace as she allowed her index finger to slide into better position “Speak up, stranger,” she said abruptly, her impatience with his dithering at an end.

“Charlie around?” Even as he asked, he sensed the solitary presence of the woman here.

She shook her head in silent negation. “What do you want him for?”

He shifted in the saddle and felt the warning she offered as the weapon lifted a bit higher. Her arms must be getting weary. That old shotgun was a heavy one and she wasn’t much of a size to carry it, let alone hoist it into firing position and hold it steady.

“Charlie told me once, if I wanted a good piece of horseflesh, to look him up.” His hand stroked the neck of the stallion beneath him as if in apology, and a shiver of pleasure ran over the flesh of his animal. The long tail swished once, then, black and thick, it settled into immobility again.

“Charlie won’t be selling you any horses.”

His lifted brow disputed her statement. “He out of stock?” As if mocking his question, a horse nickered once more from the barn. His lips curled even as his eyes hardened. “Or are you doubting my word?”

“No.” She looked down, gripping the stock of her weapon, her index finger easing from the trigger.

She’d turned a bit pale, he thought, and leaning a bit, he looked at her more closely. “You all right?” he asked, looking past her at the half-open door that led into the house. “Is something wrong here?”

She shook her head. “No, nothing’s wrong here.” She raised her eyes once more to look at his face. Brown and dingy, her dress hung straight from the shoulders, caught up only by a leather thong, keeping it from the ground, forming it loosely about her waist.

Her hair was long, a heavy braid hanging to her waist, as thick as his wrist where it left the nape of her neck. Sort of a mahogany color, he decided, amused at his own fanciful description. She’d shed the shapeless hat that had successfully hidden her face from his view earlier, revealing strong features. Her skin was tanned from exposure to the sun and her stubborn chin reminded him of Charlie’s.

It jutted forward now as she faced him without a sign of fear. “The only thing wrong here is the unwelcome company, stranger. I told you Charlie isn’t here. Now move on out.” A movement of her gun barrel provided urging. Then it dipped just a bit and she frowned as she brought it back into line with his leg.
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