Duty or desire, p.1

Duty or Desire, page 1

 

Duty or Desire
 


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Duty or Desire


  How did keeping things professional get so complicated?

  What happens when a man of unshakable conviction meets the woman who rocks his world?

  Pete Higgins is an honorary Westmoreland, a man of his word—of course he’ll put duty to his orphaned niece first. Too bad the temporary nanny is tempting him with every look. Myra Hollister captivates him. But she’s keeping dangerous secrets, the kind that remind Pete of all he’s lost before and what he can’t afford to lose again...

  New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Jackson

  “There’s another matter I want to discuss with you.”

  “Oh?” she said, switching her gaze from his to smile down at Ciara. “And what matter is that, Sheriff?”

  “Our relationship.” When he realized how that sounded, he quickly said, “Our working relationship. I think I need to define it.”

  He saw the way her brows scrunched up. “Why?”

  Pete drew in a deep breath and then said, “We will be living under the same roof. I’m a single man and you’re a single woman.”

  “And?”

  “People might talk, Miss Hollister.”

  She looked even more confused. “Why would they? Why would anyone have anything to say about you hiring a temporary nanny until Miss Bonnie returns?”

  He shifted in his seat. “Like I said. I’m single and so are you.”

  “So is Miss Bonnie.”

  “I’ve never had a young, single and beautiful woman living under my roof before.”

  She was more temptation than he’d bargained for.

  * * *

  Duty or Desire is part of

  The Westmoreland Legacy series

  by New York Times bestselling author

  Brenda Jackson!

  Selected praise for New York Times and

  USA TODAY bestselling author Brenda Jackson

  “Brenda Jackson writes romance that sizzles and characters you fall in love with.”

  —New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Lori Foster

  “Jackson’s trademark ability to weave multiple characters and side stories together makes shocking truths all the more exciting.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “There is no getting away from the sex appeal and charm of Jackson’s Westmoreland family.”

  —RT Book Reviews on Feeling the Heat

  “What is it with these Westmoreland men? Each is sexier and more charming than the one before.... Hot, sexy, smart and romantic, this story has it all.”

  —RT Book Reviews on The Proposal

  “Jackson has a talent for creating the sexiest men and pairing them off against feisty females. This story has everything a hot romance should have.”

  —RT Book Reviews on Hot Westmoreland Nights

  “Is there anything more irresistible than a man so in love with a woman that he’s willing to give her what she believes is her heart’s desire? The Westmoreland clan will claim even more fans with this entry.”

  —RT Book Reviews on What a Westmoreland Wants

  Brenda Jackson

  Duty or Desire

  Brenda Jackson is a New York Times bestselling author of more than one hundred romance titles. Brenda lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and divides her time between family, writing and traveling.

  Email Brenda at [email protected] or visit her on her website at brendajackson.net.

  Books by Brenda Jackson

  Harlequin Desire

  The Westmorelands

  The Real Thing

  The Secret Affair

  Breaking Bailey’s Rules

  Bane

  The Westmoreland Legacy

  The Rancher Returns

  His Secret Son

  An Honorable Seduction

  His to Claim

  Duty or Desire

  Visit her Author Profile page at Harlequin.com for more titles!

  You can also find Brenda Jackson on Facebook, along with other Harlequin Desire authors, at Facebook.com/harlequindesireauthors!

  Acknowledgments

  To the man who will forever be the love of my life and the wind beneath my wings, Gerald Jackson, Sr.

  To all my readers who love the Westmorelands and their friends.

  To my sons, Gerald Jr. and Brandon. Please continue to make me and your dad proud. I love you guys.

  To my family and friends who continue to support me in all that I do.

  Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

  —Matthew 7:7

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Epilogue

  Excerpt from Tempting the Texan by Maureen Child

  Prologue

  The doorbell sounded and Bane Westmoreland wondered who the latecomer could be. All his family and friends who’d been invited to celebrate his and his wife Crystal’s housewarming party were accounted for.

  Upon opening the door he found an older couple, in their late sixties, standing there with a baby in their arms.

  Bane was certain he did not know the couple. “Yes, may I help you?”

  The man spoke. “We hate to impose but we were told Peterson Higgins was here tonight. We are the Glosters, his deceased brother’s in-laws.”

  Bane nodded. “Yes, Pete is here. Please come in.”

  The man shook his head. “We prefer not to, but we would appreciate it if you could tell Peterson we’re here. We would like to speak with him. We will wait out here.”

  Bane nodded again. “Okay, just a minute.” He circled around the room before finally finding Pete in a group in the family room.

  “Excuse me, guys, but I need to borrow Pete for a minute,” Bane said to the others. Once he got Pete aside, he told him about the older couple waiting outside. Pete placed his cup of punch aside and quickly moved toward the front door.

  When Pete returned about half an hour later, he was carrying a baby in one hand and a diaper bag in the other. Everyone’s attention was drawn to him when the baby released a huge wail.

  It seemed all the mothers in the room hurried toward him.

  “Whose baby?” Bane’s cousin Gemma was the first to ask, taking the baby from a flustered-looking Pete.

  “This is my nine-month-old niece, Ciara,” he said, noticing how quickly the baby girl quieted once Gemma held her. “As most of you know, my brother, Matthew, and his wife, Sherry, were killed in that car crash six months ago. This is their daughter. Sherry’s parents were given custody of Ciara when Matt and Sherry died. But they just gave me full custody of her, citing health issues that prevent them from taking proper care of her. That means I’m now Ciara’s legal guardian.”

  Pete looked around the room at the group he considered family and asked the one question none of them could answer.

  “I’m a bachelor, for heaven’s sake! What on earth am I going to do with a baby?”

  One

  Five months later

  “I hate that I’m leaving you like this, Pete, but my sister needs me.”

  Sheriff Peterson Higgins stared at the older woman standing across the kitchen. He’d known something was wrong the mi
nute he walked through the door.

  Well, he had news for Bonnie. He needed her, too.

  Pete suddenly felt like a class A bastard for thinking such a thing after she’d just tearfully explained that her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course he understood her wanting to go be with her only sister during this time. Even if her leaving would put him in a bind, the last thing he wanted was for Bonnie to feel guilty about going to her family. Somehow, he would find the right person to live-in and keep his fourteen-month-old niece while he worked.

  Of course, that person couldn’t really replace Bonnie.

  Bonnie McCray had been his mother’s best friend. When Renee Higgins had died, Pete had been sixteen and his younger brother Matthew twelve. Renee had asked Bonnie to always be there for her sons and Bonnie had kept that promise. And when Pete’s father passed away three years later, Bonnie wouldn’t hear of Pete not fulfilling his mother’s dream of him completing college. Bonnie and her husband, Fred, agreed to look after Matt while Pete studied.

  It had been hard going to college full-time and making sure the cattle ranch his father had loved remained productive. Luckily, his two best friends, Derringer and Riley Westmoreland, had a huge family of cousins and brothers who’d pitched in and helped out. They also made sure Pete hired the best people to help run things while he attended university.

  After he completed college with a degree in criminology, he discovered ranching wasn’t in his blood but a career in law enforcement was. He found out ranching wasn’t in Matt’s blood either when his brother went into the military immediately after high school.

  Even so, Pete refused to sell the ranch that had been in the Higgins family for generations. Instead he leased part of the two hundred acres to sharecroppers, and for the other parts he hired a foreman and ranch hands. That freed Pete up to work for the sheriff’s office, a job he’d secured after college thanks to Riley’s oldest brother, Dillon Westmoreland.

  Pete loved his career, and the ranch was making plenty of money, which he’d split with Matt before Matt’s death.

  A pain settled around Pete’s heart when he remembered the phone call almost a year ago telling him Matt and Sherry had been killed in a car crash. Luckily, three-month-old Ciara hadn’t been with them. It had been Matt and Sherry’s “date night” and the baby had been at home with a sitter.

  Sherry’s parents, who lived in New Hampshire, had wanted full custody of Ciara and Pete had seen no reason not to give it to them. Matt had adored his in-laws, thought they were good people who treated him like a son instead of a son-in-law. Besides, Pete knew with his bachelor lifestyle, the last thing he could manage was taking care of a baby. When Sheriff Harper retired a few months before, Pete had been selected to replace him. That meant his plate was fuller than ever.

  Things had been working out and he’d made a point to call and check on his niece every weekend. He enjoyed hearing about the development of her motor skills and how much she liked to eat.

  But five months ago, out of the blue, Sherry’s parents had shown up in Denver to say that health issues meant they needed him to serve as guardian for his niece. They assumed his bachelor days wouldn’t last forever and they thought a much younger couple would have more energy to raise their granddaughter.

  At thirty-six, marriage was the last thing on Pete’s mind. However, he gladly gave his niece the love, attention and care he knew Matt would have wanted him to.

  Now at fourteen months, Ciara Renee Higgins was ruling the Higgins household, and Pete was glad Bonnie had been there to help out as a full-time nanny. Her husband had passed away a couple of years ago and with her only son living on the East Coast, Bonnie had welcomed the opportunity to take care of others again. As far as Pete was concerned, she’d been a godsend. He honestly didn’t know what he’d have done without her and wondered what he would do now that she would be leaving.

  “May I make a suggestion, Pete?”

  For a minute he’d been so deep in thought he’d forgotten Bonnie was standing there, waiting for him to say something. “Yes.”

  Bonnie smiled as she placed a serving tray on the table with soup and a sandwich. His lunch. He made a habit of swinging by the ranch at noon each day to spend time with Ciara. Although Bonnie’s job was to take care of Ciara, she always prepared lunch and dinner for him, as well. Where did she find the time to do such things? On the days when Bonnie returned to her own home, Pete took care of his niece by himself. Ciara required his full attention and would let him know when she felt she wasn’t getting enough of it. It was only during her nap time was he able to grab a nap of his own.

  “Hopefully, I won’t be gone any more than two months, and I know of someone who could replace me.”

  He doubted anyone would be able to replace Bonnie. “Who?”

  “A woman I met a couple of months ago at church. She recently moved to the area and she and I have become good friends.”

  He nodded as he walked over to the table to sit down and eat. “Where is she from?”

  “Charleston.”

  He chuckled. “Good grief. Don’t tell me we have another Southerner invading these parts. Bella is enough.”

  Bella was married to his friend Jason Westmoreland. Everyone thought of her as a real Southern belle. From the time she’d arrived in Denver it had been obvious that she was a woman of refinement. It didn’t take long for word to spread that she was the daughter of a wealthy business tycoon in Savannah, Georgia. Although Bella had adjusted well, at times she still looked out of place amidst the bunch of roughnecks in these parts.

  Bonnie placed a small salad near his sandwich. “Yes, another Southerner.” She then poured iced tea into his glass.

  He looked up. “Thanks. And what makes you think she will be good with Ciara?”

  “Because she taught prekindergarten for a few years and before that, she worked with younger babies in a nursery at a hospital in Charleston. She’s had us over for tea several times. I always take Ciara with me and the two of them hit it off. You of all people know how Ciara can be.”

  Yes, he knew. If his niece liked you, then she liked you. If she didn’t, she didn’t. And she normally didn’t take well to strangers. “What makes you think she would be interested in keeping Ciara until you return?”

  “Because I asked her,” Bonnie said with excitement in her voice. “I didn’t want to leave you with no one at all, and then not with just anyone.”

  He appreciated that. “When can I meet her, to see if she’ll be a good fit?”

  “I invited her to lunch.”

  Pete paused from biting into his sandwich. “Today?”

  Bonnie smiled. “Yes, today. The sooner you can meet her, the better. I would worry sick the entire time I’m in Dallas if you and Ciara weren’t taken care of properly.”

  At that moment the doorbell sounded. “That’s probably her,” Bonnie said, smiling, as she swiftly left the kitchen.

  Pete began eating his sandwich, curious about the woman Bonnie was recommending. He figured she would be around Bonnie’s age, which meant she could probably cook. Having home-cooked Southern dishes once in a while was a nice thought.

  “Pete, I’d like you to meet Myra Hollister. Myra, this is Sheriff Peterson Higgins.”

  Placing his glass down on the table, Pete stood and turned to offer his hand to the woman, then froze. Standing in the middle of his kitchen beside Bonnie was the most gorgeous woman he’d seen in a while. A long while. And she was young, probably no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. She had a petite figure and was no more than five-three. She appeared even shorter than that when standing across from his six-three height.

  She had skin the color of rich mocha and features so striking he felt like he’d been struck in all parts of his body. Perfect hazel eyes stared back at him and a smile curved a pair of delectable lips. Fluffy dark brown bangs swept across
her forehead and a mass of curly hair fell past her shoulders. When he finally moved his gaze from her face it was to check out the legs beneath her dress. They were as gorgeous as the rest of her.

  He couldn’t ignore the spike of heat that caught him low in the gut. The power of her femininity surrounded him, actually made his heart skip a couple of beats. He wanted to groan in protest.

  “It’s nice meeting you, Sheriff Higgins. I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about you,” the woman said, offering him her hand. Her Southern accent was just as perceptible as Bella’s.

  “Thanks,” Pete replied, fighting back a curse. The moment their hands had touched, a hard hum of lust had rushed through his veins.

  Bonnie wanted him to hire this woman as a live-in nanny? She had to be kidding. There was no way he could do that, even on a temporary basis. This was the first woman he’d been attracted to since Ellen.

  That placed him in one hell of a dilemma.

  * * *

  Myra Hollister tried hiding her excitement at possibly being hired as Ciara’s nanny. She adored the precious little girl she’d gotten to know. And when Bonnie mentioned her need for a replacement, Myra had been glad to help. It would certainly solve some of her own problems for a while.

  First off, she would get a salary, which meant she wouldn’t have to touch her savings. And since her lease ended next month, moving in here was great, too. Hopefully without her own address, her brother wouldn’t be able to find her. The latter was the most important thing and would definitely buy her the time she needed before returning to Charleston for a face-off with Baron.

  “How old are you?”

  Sheriff Higgins’s question reeled her concentration back in. “I’m twenty-four but will be turning twenty-five on Christmas Day.”

  Myra studied his very handsome features, which she’d noticed the moment she’d walked in. She figured he was either thirty-five or thirty-six, which would put him at Baron’s age. She’d encountered good-looking older men before. Her brother’s friends were all eye candy and, like him, they were all womanizers who thought women were good for only one thing. Long ago she figured it must be an age thing. Even Baron thought that way and he’d been married to Cleo almost four years. She loved her sister-in-law and regretted how Baron and his mother, Charlene, were treating her. Myra was convinced Cleo would have left Baron long ago, but he swore he would fight her for custody of the kids if she left him.

 
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