|Your cart is currently empty|
As the most eligible bachelor in town, Ryder Graves is determined to not fall prey small town mothers eager to match him with their marriage- hungry daughters. He wants more than what is available in August Point. His needs demand a wife meeting certain criteria women in town do not possess, so he seeks the help of an expert--a madame with a skill for matchmaking. When Eleanor arrives from Minnesota, she meets all of his expectations. She's also headstrong and defiant, requiring a stern spanking or two to teach her that - as the lawman of August Point - it is his job to keep her safe. It comes down to a matter of right from wrong. But his wife is not all she seems. Will he still want her when he learns the truth, or will his passion for the law make her face the consequences of her actions?
In this follow-up to her best-selling"Montana Maidens" series, author Vanessa Vale offers more of what readers have come to love with more hot power exchange and sex on the windswept Western plains.
I was to be the first. First out of the ridiculous sanctuary of this bumpy, stuffy, uncomfortable stagecoach and into the keeping of a complete stranger. Until death do us part. We had endured the arduous ride from Ft. Mandan - Caroline, Emily and me - and had become close friends, a sisterhood of sorts in our mutual fears of the life-changing decisions to become mail order brides.
"Just think, if we hadn't gone to Mrs. Bidwell's office, we never would have met," Caroline said in her soft lilt. She matched her voice - petite and shy.
Emily grasped her hand. "I couldn't agree more." She turned and shared her somewhat reassuring smile with me. "Although now that we're almost to August Point, I fear for you, Eleanor."
My stomach leapt toward my throat, not from another rut in the hard packed ground, but from the thought that soon, only minutes from now, I'd meet my husband. All three of us had wed by proxy in Mrs. Bidwell's office in Minneapolis to men in the far off Montana territory - men who had written to the older woman whose business was to find single, eligible and willing women to move west and marry complete strangers.I had no doubt finding women--unmarried and of childbearing age - in a wild and untamed land was a veritable impossibility. My new husband might be desperate, but not such as I.
Fleeing town wasn't a simple fancy of mine. Being questioned for murder - even if I was innocent - had me seeking the easiest avenue of escape. It had been self-defense; Allen Simmons had been intent on raping me. Bashing him on the head with a rock had only been to stop his assault, not kill him. Of course, his rich, socialite family would paint their son the victim, not me. There was no question the police gave their name substantial clout. I had none. I was just a plain woman he'd met at church and decided to court. Then one day, he'd decided that courting wasn't enough. He'd wanted more, much more than I'd been willing to give. I had no recourse, no way to save myself other than to flee before they found me and pinned his death on me.
Remembering a posting for mail order brides I'd seen once in the wanted section of the newspaper, I'd taken bold and furtive steps to Mrs. Bidwell's office as my means of escape. I had no choice, no alternative but to leave Minneapolis, to run as far away from the Simmons family as I could get. With little means, I could only get so far on my own. Being a mail order bride offered me the distance and the safety of obscurity. I invented a new name, Eleanor Adams, instead of my real name, Ellen Oldsmere, to prevent being followed, and to keep my travels across the country hidden from anyone wishing to follow. In the small confines of Mrs. Bidwell's office, petrified of being found, I'd met Caroline and Emily straightaway. Quickly matched to eager men, we were wed by proxy and before the ink was dry on the licenses, we were on our way to the West and new lands, new lives and new husbands.
I'd found myself looking over my shoulder the entire journey, fearful of being followed. Even as the distance grew, I remained wary and guarded about being hauled back to Minneapolis in handcuffs. It wasn't until the stagecoach driver yelled out that August Point was five minutes away that reality set in. I wasn't just escaping the Simmons family; I was meeting my husband.
"Fear for me?" I hadn't told the others of my illicit reasons for becoming a mail order bride; it was something of which I could never speak. "You are in a similar predicament, Emily, meeting a perfect stranger." The woman was lush and curvy with thick dark hair and equally dark eyes. She was quite beautiful, and if her new husband based Mrs. Bidwell's efforts on visage alone, the man would find her matchmaking skills exceptional. "I have both of you to send me off to see the man to whom I am matched. You have Caroline, and of course Caroline will be quite alone."
I was to disembark at August Point, Emily at the next stop on the line in Lewistown and Caroline a little further in Apex. We only knew our husband's names and destination.
Mine was engraved upon my mind. Ryder Graves. August Point.
I turned my gaze from the faces of my concerned friends and glanced out the open flap which let in the fresh air and an equally fair amount of dust. The land was verdant and green, the tall grass blowing in soft waves against the summer breeze. The sky was blue, dotted with fluffy clouds - nothing unusual for a beautiful day. What was unusual was that the sky went on forever. The vastness of it was impressive, so big, so...open. Urban life did not lend itself to any form of scenery. The few times I ventured into the country, trees abounded and blocked any kind of view. Here, only a few trees were to be seen and they hugged the banks of a river or creek, wise in their placement besides the constant nourishment.
Was I as smart as a rogue tree? My ridiculous comparison had me shaking my head, returning to reality. Was I venturing into an unknown that was worse than my options in Minneapolis? Could being married to a stranger in a strange land be worse than a Minneapolis brothel? Unfortunately, the answer was a definite yes.
What was Mr. Ryder Graves like? Was he handsome? Kind? Successful? For all I knew of the man, he was a lush with seven children. Perhaps he would beat me. Perhaps he smelled.
"August Point!" the driver shouted, his voice irascible and abrupt. He didn't care about our fates, only the end of the line where he'd rest, get fresh horses, and then make a return trip.
The pounding of the horses' hooves matched the frantic beating of my heart. My palms became damp and sweat dotted my brow. What had I chosen for myself? Panic set in, making it difficult to breathe. There was no escape. There was literally nowhere to go but into my destiny.
I darted a glance at the other two women trying to wear a brave face; their own turns soon followed and I didn't want them to become upset. We all leaned forward to look out the window and to get our first glimpse of the town, and my husband. No doubt our three heads poking out was a sight to see!
The town that came into view was small - tiny, really � with only a long row of clapboard buildings with a church steeple in the distance. Houses dotted the horizon. Several people were going about their day, shopping and working, but only one stood in front of the stopped stage.
Oh my. I swallowed my nervousness as best I could. This had to be Mr. Graves. Who else would be waiting?
"That's...him?" Caroline whispered, eyes wide. "He's so, um, big!"
�"He's not sixty, Eleanor. That was one of your worries," Emily replied, speaking in quiet tones.
Most definitely not. Thirty, perhaps. I started at his dusty, work worn boots and worked my way up his very male body. His legs were long and lean, thigh muscles thick and taut beneath snug pants. Narrow waist. A white shirt with the sleeves rolled up showed tanned, corded forearms sprinkled with sandy colored hair. Big hands. Oh my.
His shoulders were so wide; this man would loom over me like a veritable giant! His face was hidden in shadow beneath a wide brimmed hat, but I could see a square jaw, darkened by a new growth of whiskers. His hair curled from beneath the hat to touch the collar of his shirt. Just looking at the man had my heart beating fast once again, and this time not in nervousness. Many of my wonderings over the hard packed miles about my new husband were instantly wiped away, like a wet cloth across a school slate. He didn't have a paunch, nor jowls. He wasn't shorter than I. He appeared to have his hair and most likely his teeth as well. He wasn't elderly, and no children were clinging to him.
What he was was very handsome. Bigger than men in Minneapolis, clearly hard working, weather worn and he somehow met every visceral need my body desired in a husband. Nothing like Allen Simmons. My body responded to the mere sight of him with familiar stirrings I felt and encouraged alone in bed when my fingers played with the secret spot between my thighs. I was attracted to him in a way I'd never felt with a man before - and I hadn't even seen his eyes!
Before the three of us could ogle further, he stepped up and opened the stage door, the remainder of the kicked up dust settling at his feet. He removed his hat. Leaning his head in, he took in the three of us in turn. "Miss Adams?"
Oh my. His eyes were the lightest shade of blue, like ice on a Minnesota pond. His hair was a light brown with hints of gold, as if burnished by the sun. I wondered if it would feel as silky soft as it looked.
My mouth was so dry at the sight of him I couldn't speak at first, even forgot what my new name was. Eleanor. I was Eleanor now. I shifted forward on the hard wood seat just as Caroline and Emily each grabbed one of my arms and pushed me forward. I stumbled a bit awkwardly and blurted, "Yes." I cleared my throat. "Mr. Graves, I presume?"
He grinned, showing straight white teeth as he looked me over, just as I had him. I couldn't be making an exceptional first impression; I was travel weary and dusty. My hair was twisted up only as securely as the pins that bound it. The jarring of the stage for hours on end had sent tendrils escaping and falling down over my shoulders. I felt weary and I knew I looked just so.
"Yes, ma'am. Let me help you down. McCallister is stopping only long enough to get your bags before continuing on. He turned to my companions. “Ladies," he said the last as he nodded to Emily and Caroline in greeting. Clearly he was familiar with the stagecoach driver to call him by his given name.
I took his proffered hand, mine so small and dainty in his large one. I could feel callouses on his palm, yet his skin was warm and his hold gentle. I looked up into his eyes and my breath caught in my throat. He was...virile. Something dark flared in his eyes and it had my nipples hardening beneath my corset. I wished I could peer into his mind at this moment to know his thoughts. Were they as carnal as mine?
I alighted the stage to bright sunshine and fresh air. Mr. Graves was so much taller that I had to tilt my head back to hold his gaze. Without the protection of his hat, his face was open to my gaze. He had a striking brow, making his fair eyes even more intense. His nose had a slight crook in the bridge, as if it had once been broken. The slight imperfection only added to his ruggedly handsome features. His mouth was full and the smile he shared with me was warm and, dare I say, friendly?
"Eleanor!" Caroline called out from behind me.
My eyes widened as I realized how quickly I'd forgotten about the two other women. "Oh, I must say goodbye to my friends."
Mr. Graves released his hold on my hand and I turned back to the stage. Mr. McCallister handed my bag to Mr. Graves - it was all of the meager possessions I had from my hasty departure - -and remounted the front to continue on to the next stop.
"Will I see you again?" I asked them, worried that I would be completely alone for the long term.
Both women nodded their heads, blonde and dark tresses stirring. "Of course! We're nearby, in Montana Territory standards. Once settled, we’ll send word to each other. All right?" Emily looked at both Caroline and me, resolute. She was the stalwart one of the three of us, sure in her thoughts.
"Yes," I replied, trying to be as positive as she.
"Of course," Caroline murmured, wiping a tear from her eye. I feared for her more than Emily in her new life, sensitive and quiet as she was.
Emily leaned forward. "I hope my husband is as appealing as yours." Her eyes gleamed with amusement and a hint of envy as she glanced briefly over my shoulder to look at Mr. Graves. "I have a good feeling about him, Eleanor," she whispered.
I had a feeling about him, too, and it felt akin to lust.
Mr. McCallister flicked the reins and the stage lurched forward. Mr. Graves stepped up and slammed the door shut, preventing the ladies from toppling out, even as he pulled me back from the path of the large wheels. My traveling companions waved from the window and I was soon left alone with my husband - my very large, very handsome husband. I slowly turned to face him. This time I noticed something I had missed before � an important detail that took me by surprise now that I stood facing with it. My eyes widened and I felt the frantic beat of my heart. Pinned to my new husband’s broad chest was a tin star. I was married to the town sheriff.