Read The Rancher and the Runaway Bride Part 1 Online

Authors: Susan Mallery

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction

The Rancher and the Runaway Bride Part 1

BOOK: The Rancher and the Runaway Bride Part 1
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36 Hours Serial

As a devastating summer storm hits Grand Springs, Colorado, the next thirty-six hours will change the town and its residents forever….

The Rancher and the Runaway Bride
Part 1

Grand Springs is about to have it’s most spectacular wedding—or it was, until the bride, Randi Howell, ran off. She took advantage of the power failure to sneak out of the lodge—only to overhear strange gunmen discussing a murder. Now she’s on the run from a furious groom and ruthless killers.

Fleeing halfway across the country to Texas, Randi arrives at Brady Jones’s ranch. It’s the perfect safe haven—big sky, horses and no questions. And since the handsome cowboy’s willing to take a chance on her, she’ll work hard and prove her worth while she’s there.

Brady has taken in enough misfits and strays to know trouble when he sees it, but something about the feisty girl with the raven curls is making him look the other way. He hopes he won’t regret giving her a chance….

The story continues in
The Rancher and the Runaway Bride
Parts 2 and 3.

Dear Reader,

In the town of Grand Springs, Colorado, a devastating summer storm sets off a string of events that changes the lives of the residents forever….

Welcome to Harlequin’s exciting new digital serial, 36 Hours! In this thirty-six part serial share the stories of the residents of Grand Springs, Colorado, in the wake of a deadly storm.

With the power knocked out and mudslides washing over the roads, the town is plunged into darkness and the residents are forced to face their biggest fears—and find love against all odds.

Each week features a new story written by a variety of bestselling authors like Susan Mallery and Sharon Sala. The stories are published in three segments, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the first segment of every three-part book is free, so you can get caught up in the mystery and drama of Grand Springs. And you can get to know a new set of characters every week. You can read just one, but as the lives and stories of each intertwine in surprising ways, you’ll want to read them all!

Join Harlequin E every week as we bring you excitement, mystery, fun and romance in 36 Hours!

Happy reading!

Malle Vallik

Director, Editorial Digital Initiatives

About the Author

New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women.
Publishers Weekly
calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and
Booklist
says, “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at
www.susanmallery.com
.

The Rancher and the Runaway Part 1

Susan Mallery

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Prologue

Brides were supposed to be beautiful and happy, Randi Howell told herself as she smoothed the front of her white satin wedding gown. Or at least reasonably attractive and content. Panic was not on the list of acceptable emotions. She didn’t want to think about what she must look like, but she had a bad feeling her eyes were wide and filled with a hunted expression. Gee, at least a “deer in the headlights” look would make the wedding photos interesting.

“It’s not so bad,” she said aloud, wishing her voice sounded more confident. “After all, I’m marrying Hal. He won’t be a horrible husband.”

Despite the nerves banging around in her stomach and the alternating urge to throw up or break out in a rash, she had to smile at that one. Hal would be annoyed if he knew she thought of him as “not so horrible.” Hardly praise every groom dreamed about.

Randi paced the length of the room. It was all of eight steps. The small meeting room, one of many at the far end of the Squaw Creek Lodge, had been converted into a temporary “bride’s room” for the wedding. Although the ballroom had been festooned with flowers, candles and beautifully set tables for the reception, the decorations didn’t extend this far back. The tiny room contained only an oval mirror in the corner, a florist’s box with her bouquet, a folding chair piled high with her street clothes and nothing else. At least the room was carpeted. The hallways weren’t. The only bright spot in an otherwise dismal situation was that she was alone.

Her mother had wanted to spend these last few minutes giving Randi instructions and reminding her how socially important the wedding would be, launching Randi into Grand Springs society. Randi grimaced at the thought, pleased she’d insisted on spending this time by herself. The only place she wanted to be launched was to another continent.

“Stop it!” she told herself firmly. “You’re getting married. Hundreds of women do this every day. Love is a difficult concept at best. How do you know you don’t love Hal?”

She stopped in midpace and slowly faced the mirror. The medieval-style gown clung to her from shoulders to hips, then flared out to the floor. The heavy satin swayed in counterpoint to her movements, creating grace from her tomboyish walk.

She raised her gaze higher, past the pearls her mother had given her to wear, to her face. Despite perfect makeup, she was pale, her skin nearly the color of ash.

The realization began slowly, a small kernel of knowledge that sprouted, then grew quickly, like one of those time-lapse images on television. It wasn’t that she didn’t
love
Hal, she wasn’t sure she even liked him.

She’d fallen into the engagement, as she’d fallen into everything else in her life. Because it was easy. Easier than making her own way.

“I don’t want this,” she whispered, suddenly sure she couldn’t marry Hal. But what was the alternative? How could she get out of this situation? One thing was certain. This time her daddy or her big brother Noah weren’t going to come to her rescue. This time she would have to take care of it herself.

“Mom is gonna kill me,” she muttered as she glanced around the room, trying to figure out what she was going to say to the older woman.

What if her mother tried to talk her into getting married, anyway? After all, everything was paid for, the guests were waiting. She had about three minutes of freedom left.

“I need more time,” Randi said. “I have to think and figure out what I want. Dear Lord, this would be a really great time for a miracle.”

She waited about two heartbeats, then figured God was busy. She was going to have to make her own miracle.

She grabbed her purse and considered writing a note. No time, she thought, hearing the organ music start another song. She’d been over the music list so many times, she had it memorized. The wedding march would begin next.

After slipping off her shoes so she could walk quietly down the linoleum floors, she left the bride’s room and headed for the rear entrance of the ski lodge. At least it was June and she wouldn’t have to worry about freezing. In the winter, she couldn’t have gone outside in just a wedding gown.

The back door of the lodge was in sight when she heard voices heading her way.

“Drat.” She glanced around, looking for a place to hide. There were meeting rooms on both sides of the hall. The first door she tried was locked, but the second gave way. She stepped inside and waited.

Barely breathing, she pressed her ear to the door. The voices got louder as two people walked by. From a snippet she caught of their conversation, she realized they were kitchen employees taking a break.

Randi breathed a sigh of relief. Now to escape.

But before she could open the door, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickled. She heard voices again, but these weren’t coming from outside. They came from directly behind her. She wasn’t alone.

Maybe it was the stress from the wedding, or her concentration on the people in the corridor, but when she’d first entered the windowless conference room she hadn’t noticed the lights were on. A quick glance over her shoulder showed a couple of jackets tossed on a long conference table. There was an alcove to the left. She could hear the clink of glass, then noticed the smell of coffee.

Great. There was a meeting going on. She had to get out of here before someone saw her. Bad enough to be running away from her own wedding. Worse to be caught in the act.

“Jo will take care of the old broad,” a strange male voice said. “That’s her specialty.”

Randi paused for a second. The statement didn’t make sense. Then she realized the man must be talking about a nurse. For a while she’d thought about that as a career. After all, her brother was a doctor. Then she bit back a moan. The men having a meeting might be doctors, too. Oh, Lord, she probably knew them.

Get out! she ordered herself.

She swung the door open wide and took a step toward the now-empty hallway and freedom. As she shifted her weight forward, her stocking-clad foot came down on a carpet tack.

Life was not fair, she thought as she yelped involuntarily.

“What the hell?” another man said.

He rounded the corner as Randi hopped in place, trying to balance on one leg while holding her purse and shoes and rubbing the injured foot.

She froze. The man approaching her was not a doctor. She’d never seen him before. But what really got her attention was the deadly looking gun he held in his right hand. The barrel was pointed directly at her.

She raised her gaze to his face. Above a close-clipped beard, dark eyes told an ugly story. This guy was going to kill her.

She waited for her life to pass before her eyes. Or did that only happen while drowning? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t do anything but stand there, braced for the explosion that would end her life.

Instead, the lights went out.

The darkness was so complete, Randi thought she’d died. Then she realized the men were cursing and there hadn’t been a gunshot.

God had provided a miracle, after all.

“Thank you,” she said aloud as she bolted for the hallway.

Muffled curses followed her. There was a crash, and she assumed one of the men had run into the table.

Randi hit the wall a couple of times herself. In the distance, she saw an eerie red glow. The battery-powered emergency exit sign. She raced forward, slammed down on the bar to open the door and stepped out into the wet, storm-darkened evening.

Not bothering to look back, she headed for the highway. The ground was wet and rough beneath her bare feet; the rain drenched her in minutes. Without lights to guide her, she stumbled on the wet, muddy ground but kept on going. Fear provided an extra burst of speed.

When she reached the highway, she didn’t see any headlights and nearly stamped her foot in frustration. Then a low rumble filled the night and an eighteen-wheeler rounded the curve in the road.

Randi stepped directly in the truck’s path and waved her arms. The driver slowed.

Two minutes later she sat high in the seat, wet and mud-spattered, explaining that she was running away and needed a ride out of town. She didn’t mention the mysterious men with their guns, not sure what to say about them. Why on earth would anyone want to kill her simply for interrupting a meeting?

She tried to get her breathing under control. Terror and the damp made her shiver. What had just happened?

“Where you headin’?” the trucker asked, distracting her.

He was a burly man in his fifties. His kindly smile was comforting. And if not for the tight wad of tobacco between his lip and gum, she would think him perfect grandfather material. “Just about anywhere.”

“I’m going to Phoenix.”

“I’ve never been there. I think I might like it.”

The trucker stared at her oddly. Randi figured she deserved it. After all, she
was
a runaway bride complete with a wedding gown, flowers in her hair and lacy but torn stockings.

BOOK: The Rancher and the Runaway Bride Part 1
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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