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Accused of ruining Mae Ballard and faced with a shotgun wedding, Jefferson Lind knows exactly who’s to blame. He’s been taking the fall for Jedediah’s sins as long as he can remember. Mae’s a shrieking shrew, and he hasn’t seen Jed, his identical twin, since they worked digging the Erie Canal together. If he’d been ordered to marry Mae’s sweet younger sister Rosie, instead, he sure wouldn’t complain.
Rosie’s the only member of her family who believes Jeff, and she’d go to any lengths to free him from her sister’s clutches. But when Jedediah turns up with violent thugs on his tail, things quickly grow more dangerous. Gamblers from Buffalo seize both sisters as hostages, prompting a daring impersonation. Can Jeff and Jed shed their troubled past and win the hearts of the women they love?
Page Count: 366
Word Count: 89315
She could feel him looking at her, all the way from the top of her head to her toes. And suddenly it felt just as it had early that morning in the yard, the attraction hot and raw between them, a physical presence in the room.
Rosie’s color climbed, and her hands, busy with her basket, began to tremble.
“I already told you I believe your version of things,” she said. “I’d like to help. Now sit down and let me do just that.”
Miraculously, he came and seated himself: big and male, damp from sweating in the morning sun, and so temptingly close to her hands.
“I’ll need hot water.” She forced herself to turn away to the kettle. “And we’ll have to bind those ribs. I guess you’d better go ahead and take off your shirt.”
She lifted a basin down from an open shelf and filled it with water. When she turned back, she nearly spilled the hot liquid all over the floor.
Oh, Lord! He’d shed his shirt like a good boy and sat there in all his battered splendor. The fact that he sported more scrapes and bruises than a drunken brawler detracted from nothing: he looked beautiful. Golden tan all over, he had what Rosie considered just the right amount of muscle, well-developed but with no bulk. His body tapered from those wonderful broad shoulders to lean, narrow hips, and his chest wore a tantalizing line of tawny hair that led straight down to forbidden country.
Keep your head, girl, she told herself fiercely. He’s hurting. And anyway, you don’t want to frighten him.
She poured into the basin some of the septic powder she’d brought. “Let’s get you cleaned up first, eh?”
Some of the scrapes were deep. Clearly he’d had a go at washing them off and done a poor job. The next few moments were painful to both of them. Rosie hated hurting anyone, except maybe Mae.
Her sympathetic agony, however, was offset by the sheer pleasure of touching him. By heaven, to have such a man beneath her hands! He smelled like sunshine, fresh air, and tangy male, and it went straight to her head.
She concentrated on separating herself from the feelings surging through her and failed completely when he suddenly raised his hand and touched her cheek.
“What happened to you?”
All sense had gone out of Rosie’s mind; she had to search it to remember.
“Oh, that was Mae.”
“Mae?” His tawny eyes narrowed between their swollen lids. “She hit you?”
Rosie smiled ruefully. “She did.”
“Nasty baggage. She left a bruise.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Lind.”
“I think you should call me Jeff, don’t you? Seeing as how you’re the one person in the world who believes I’m not a liar.”
“Jeff,” Rosie repeated, suddenly breathless.
“My misbegotten brother is Jed—Jedediah and Jefferson.” Humor tinged his voice. “I’m called after the great president.”
“Never been lucky, no, not me.” His eyes looked into hers, dodging nothing. “At least, I never was.”
“Things change, Jefferson. Now let’s get those ribs wrapped.” She couldn’t wait to get her arms all the way around him. “Take a deep breath. This might hurt.”
“I don’t mind,” he swore devoutly, “not one bit.”
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