Duncan's Bride(6)

By: Linda Howard



He almost smiled; his lips twitched, and he dipped his head to acknowledge the accuracy of her assessment. He tasted the Scotch, savoring the smoky bite of it. "What's for dinner?"

"Conversation."

"A true case of eating our words." "And spaghetti." He gave the Scotch a pained look and set the glass down; he didn't think it would go well with pasta. Madelyn gave him an angelic look that deepened the amused expression in his eyes. "So what are we conversing about?"

"The fact that I'll be looking for a new job, at the very least," she said as she went into the kitchen. He followed her, and without hesitation began helping her carry the food to the table.

"So it's time, is it?" he asked shrewdly. "What made you decide?" She shrugged. "Several things. Basically, as you said, it's time."

"You said, 'at the very least.' And at the most?" Trust Robert to see the implication of every little word. She smiled as she poured wine into their glasses.

"I'm flying to Montana this Saturday."

His eyes flickered just a little, signaling his intense interest. "What's in Montana?" "Not what. Who." "Who, then?"

"A man named Reese Duncan. There's a possibility of matrimony." There were times when a look from Robert's pale green eyes could slice like a razor, and now was one of those times. "That sounds like a weather report," he said in an even tone. "Care to give me a percentage? Forty percent chance of matrimony? Fifty?"

"I don't know. I won't know until I meet the man." He had been forking the pasta onto his plate, but now he carefully laid the utensils down and took a deep breath. Madelyn watched him with interest. It was one of the very few times when she could say she had seen Robert actually surprised.

He said, very carefully, "Do you mean you haven't met him yet?"

"No. We've corresponded, but we've never actually met. And we might not like each other in person. There's only a very small chance of matrimony, actually. In weather terms, no accumulation expected."

"But it's possible."

"Yes. I wanted you to know."

"How did you get to know him?"

"I don't know him. I know a little about him, but not much."

"So how did you start corresponding?"

"He advertised for a wife."

He looked stunned, really stunned. Madelyn took pity on him and ladled the thick, spicy sauce over his pasta before it grew cold, since it looked as if he had totally forgotten about it.

"You answered a personal ad?" he finally asked in a strained voice. She nodded and turned her attention to her own plate. "Yes."

"Good God, do you know how risky that is?" he roared, half rising from his chair.

"Yes, I know." She reached over to pat his hand. "Please sit down and eat. You wouldn't panic if I'd told you I'd met someone at a singles bar in Manhattan, and that's a lot riskier than meeting a rancher from Montana."

"From a health viewpoint, yes, but there are other things to consider. What if this man is abusive? What if he has a criminal record, or is a con man? Just how much do you know about him?"

"He's your age, thirty-four. He owns a ranch in central Montana, and he's divorced, no children. I've been writing to a box number in Billings."

From the sharp look in Robert's eyes, Madelyn knew that he had made a mental note of everything she'd told him and wouldn't forget a single detail. She also knew that he would have Reese Duncan thoroughly investigated; she thought of protesting, but decided that it wouldn't make any difference. By the time Robert had his report, she would already have met Mr. Duncan and formed her own opinion. She could even see why Robert felt alarmed and protective, though she didn't agree that there was any need for it. Mr. Duncan's blunt correspondence had reassured her that this was a man who dealt in the unvarnished truth and didn't give a damn how it looked or sounded. It was relaxing not to have to gauge the sincerity of a come-on line.

"Can I talk you out of going?" Robert asked. "Or at least into delaying your meeting?"

"No." She smiled, her gray eyes aglow with anticipation. "I'm so curious I can hardly stand it." He sighed. Madelyn was as curious as a cat, in her own lazy way. She didn't scurry around poking her nose into every new detail that came her way, but she would eventually get around to investigating any subject or situation that intrigued her. He could see where an ad for a wife would have been irresistible to her; once she had read it, it would have been a foregone conclusion that she had to meet the man for herself. If there was no way he could talk her out of going, he could make certain she wouldn't be in danger. Before she got on that plane, he would know if this Reese Duncan had any sort of criminal record, even so much as a parking ticket. If there was any indication that Madelyn wouldn't be perfectly safe, he would keep her off the flight if he had to sit on her.

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