• Title: The Colton Ransom (Harlequin Romantic Suspense)
  • Author: Marie Ferrarella
  • Released: 2013-07-01
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 288
  • ISBN: 0373278306
  • ISBN13: 978-0373278305
  • ASIN: 0373278306
About the Author This USA TODAY bestselling and RITA ® Award-winning author has written more than two hundred books for Harlequin Books and Silhouette Books, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide. Visit her website at www.marieferrarella.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"You see all this, Cheyenne?" Gabriella Colton said to the three-month-old baby girl she was holding up in her arms.

Gabby moved slowly around in a complete circle, intentionally giving her niece a complete panoramic view of the outdoor area where she was standing. There was nothing but breathtaking scenery as far as the eye could see.

While almost her entire family—as well as most of the staff who worked to keep her father's Wyoming ranch, whimsically christened Dead River Ranch, running smoothly—were presently at the rodeo, Gabby had elected to remain behind and babysit her oldest sister's, Amanda's, daughter.

Staying home hadn't been a hardship for Gabby, really. She loved children, loved caring for Cheyenne, and she had no great love for rodeos the way the rest of her family did. Attending one would only bring back bad memories that were better left buried. Her first love, Kyle, had thrown her over to join the rodeo circuit as a bronco buster. She had believed him when he'd told her he loved her, discovering that he said the word love as frequently as he said "hi." At least he meant the latter, she thought ruefully.

But Gabby didn't want anything bringing her down on this absolutely gorgeous July afternoon, so she'd volunteered to remain at Dead River while everyone else had gone to see wranglers pitting themselves against four-footed competitors.

"Isn't it beautiful, darlin'? This is your grandpa's ranch, and someday, years from now, you'll have a part of it. It's a little quiet now, but that's because everyone's gone to the rodeo. But we don't mind the quiet, do we?" she asked the infant. Cheyenne stared up at her with huge eyes, as if her niece understood every word she said. Gabby liked to think that she did. "When it's quiet like this, we can appreciate how really beautiful this part of the country is."

As Gabby moved from the sprawling courtyard toward the stables, the tranquillity of the afternoon was suddenly shattered with the sound of absolutely heart-wrenching, plaintive wails.

"Uh-oh, looks like I spoke too soon about it being so quiet. Want to go investigate?" she asked the baby. Pretending to receive an affirmative answer, Gabby nodded and said, "That's what I thought. Okay, let's go see what this is all about."

Gabby had taken only a few more steps toward the distressed cries when the source of all that crying became all too apparent.

Trevor Garth, the tall, ruggedly handsome and incredibly silent head of her father's security, came walking out of the small petting zoo, which was being added to the ranch's landscape. As of yet, the zoo was still in the process of being constructed. It was something the ranch hands had begun to put together with the idea that it would be a place for Cheyenne and her little friends to play when she became older.

Trevor's ordinarily somber face sported a pronounced scowl, and it was a toss-up who looked more unhappy, he or the squalling infant in his arms.

When his job didn't force him to interact with someone on the ranch, the dark-haired ex-cop from Cheyenne kept mostly to himself, obviously preferring his own company to that of others. He'd been at Dead River for five years now and had, until just recently, been more or less of a stranger as far as Gabby and the others were concerned.

What had changed in this past month was his status. With one very short but eventful delivery, he'd gone from being a loner to a rather unhappy-looking, unwilling father. One glance at his pained expression right now told Gabby that the man did far better as a loner than a father.

The more the baby in his arms cried, the more at a loss and flustered Trevor seemed to grow.

Gabby had never been able to just look away if she encountered someone in obvious distress. It just wasn't in her to stand around, idle, without trying to remedy the situation. She just wasn't built that way.

"What do you say you and I go rescue Avery's dad?" she asked Cheyenne. The baby gurgled in response and Gabby laughed. "My sentiments exactly. He looks just like a fish out of water," she agreed. "But it would be cruel of us just to watch him flounder like that, wouldn't it?" she asked Cheyenne even as she made her way over to the far-from-happy man.

As a man who made it his business to be perpetually aware of his surroundings, Trevor caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and looked in that direction. He was surprised to see his boss's youngest daughter heading his way.

Great, he thought darkly, just what he needed. Little Miss Sunshine to add her voice to the cacophony coming out of his daughter's rosebud mouth.

It wasn't that he actually disliked Gabby Colton. To be honest, he didn't know her well enough to dislike her. Granted, the vibrant redhead was more than a little attractive, but she was also naively optimistic. His opinion was based on the fact that she wholeheartedly wanted to build a center for troubled kids smack-dab in the middle of the ranch, using an empty barn as her starting point.

As if one act of kindness would somehow instantly transform hardened, cynical street kids into reformed angels.

Ain't gonna happen, he thought sarcastically.

She was still heading toward him. Damn. The last thing he needed was to have the boss's daughter clucking over his so-called daughter, making insipid comments and giving him worse-than-useless advice. He had a feeling that she probably knew even less than he did about child rearing. She seemed like the type that was just interested in spoiling a kid rotten, then later was shocked when that kid turned out to be a self-centered brat.

Oh, hell, what did he know? He supposed that it wasn't quite fair for him to assume something like that. She had to know more than he did.

When she finally reached him, Trevor tipped his black Stetson at her, murmured "Ms. Gabby" politely enough and continued walking.

It took Gabby a moment to summon her courage—there was something really intimidating about the tall, muscular former lawenforcement officer. But his wailing daughter made her forget about her own discomfort, leaving her no choice.

"Trevor, wait," Gabby called out, hurrying to catch up to him. The man had one hell of a lengthy stride, especially when he walked quickly.

It irked Trevor that because he was an employee at the ranch, he had to stop the moment he heard her calling to him. But he was mindful of his position, so he stopped, using up the last of his patience in an effort not to snap out "Yes, ma'am" at the twenty-four-year-old.

"She's really crying up a storm, isn't she?" Gabby said as she caught up to him.

Nothing he found more irritating than someone stating the obvious.

"Certainly sounds that way," Trevor replied, managing to take the edge out of his voice at the last possible moment.

"Do you know why she's crying?" she asked him.

"If I knew why, Ms. Gabby, I'd know how to get her to stop," he answered, measuring out each word carefully and counting the seconds until the young woman left him alone.

"Most likely she's crying because she's cranky and needs a nap."

Avery wasn't the only one. "You think that's it?" he asked out loud. Trevor felt completely wiped out. Being on all-night stakeouts had been far easier than what he'd been going through each night lately. Becoming a father literally overnight and putting up with the exhausting demands of a wailing infant these past two weeks had all but completely drained him to the point that most of the time now, he felt punchy. His last decent night's sleep had occurred before she'd been thrust into his arms—literally and figuratively.

"I'm fairly certain," Gabby replied. And then she grinned broadly as an idea hit her. "I tell you what, you hold Cheyenne here and I'll take your daughter and put her down for a nap. Might perk her right up," she predicted. "How's that?" she asked, her grin widening to the point that he thought he was going to fall in.

He inclined his head, ready to agree to anything that would give him even a few minutes' respite. "I'd be in your debt, ma'am."

She rolled her eyes at the salutation he used. "Oh, please. Having you call me 'Ms. Gabby' is bad enough. Please don't call me 'ma'am.' It makes me feel absolutely ancient."

Trevor laughed shortly at the assessment. "Well, if it's one thing you're not, it's ancient," he told her. To him, especially since he had ten years on her, Gabriella Colton was barely older than a child.

Gabby, however, took his response to be on the flirtatious side. Consequently, a slight blush crept up her cheeks. Dusting them with a pink hue.

Clearing her throat, she tried to draw attention away from the momentary infusion of color. "Okay, give me Avery, and you hold Cheyenne for a few minutes."

The shift took a little maneuvering to accomplish since there was nowhere to put either infant down to achieve the swap smoothly.

As he handed over his daughter and took hold of Gabby's tranquil niece, Trevor felt his knuckles brush against something soft.

By the expression on the young woman's face—first startled, then embarrassed—he realized that he'd unwittingly brushed his knuckles against her breasts. That had not been his intention.

"Sorry," Trevor mumbled awkwardly.

Gabby murmured a perfunctory "It's okay," deliberately avoiding making any eye contact. She drew his daughter against her, focusing on the infant's wails of distress. "It's...

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