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Cowboy Discipline: A Western Anthology

By: Lee Savino, Maren Smith, Patty Devlin, Renee Rose, Vanessa Vale
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: ©2016 by Blushing Books® and the authors.
5 full novels / 33 chapters / 203,800 words
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Five full-length novels by USA Today Best-Selling Authors

Go west where the men are sexy, dominant and very capable of setting fire in the hearts and seats of their women.

The Lawman by Vanessa Vale

Ellen Oldsmere, becomes a mail order bride for a complete stranger in the Montana Territory, fleeing Minneapolis. Her new husband is all that she'd imagined: handsome, virile and sexually skilled. But he's also the town sheriff and would surely arrest her if he found out her secret. 

Ryder Graves is determined to find a bride of his choosing, wanting more than what is available in town. When Eleanor arrives, she meets all of his expectations, but 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?

 

The Outlaw’s Bride by Renee Rose

A spitfire rancher.  The dominant outlaw who takes her in hand. 

Stranded in the west, Mabelle's been managing her dead sister's ranch alone for three months. The last thing she needs is the Curly James Gang pushing her around. She fights back, and finds herself over an outlaw's knee.

She wants to hate the good-looking outlaw, but he seems to have her best interest at heart and even risks his life to protect her from the rest of the gang. Still, a quick-to-spank outlaw with a bounty on his head isn't the sort of man for her. Or is he?

 

Rocky Mountain Rose by Lee Savino

A cowboy with a broken heart. A dancing girl who’s sworn off men. Love blooms in the hardest hearts in the Wild West.

Feisty and independent, Rose is a dancing girl in the Wild West. When an evil brothel owner lays claim to her, it’s up to Lyle Wilder to rescue the jaded redhead. Lyle vows to protect Rose, even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming to safety. His firm discipline keeps his wild rose from danger, but can he convince her to let love grow?

 

Life After Rachel by Maren Smith

There weren't many folks who'd equate an Indian war party to a miracle, but Reverend John White did. He believed in miracles; it went with the job. But this particular miracle...well, it was a doozy and her name was Ane, the only surviving member of a doomed westward-bound wagon train.

In the span of a single day, the young Norwegian woman had lost her entire family, her husband, even her infant daughter. Having been in America for less than a month, she couldn’t even speak her rescuers’ language, but the Lord worked in mysterious ways and necessity had a way of making itself clear no matter what the obstacles.

So off Ane went, to a hardscrabble farm a few miles out of Redemption to care for the baby who needed her to survive and for the heart-broken man who, fight it though he tried, needed her even more.

 

Mail Order Switch by Patty Devlin

Liz will do anything to get away from her evil guardian, and she was prepared to disguise herself as a boy and look for work as a ranch hand. When Caroline, a stranger on the train next to her, sees through her "boy" disguise, and begs her to take her place as a mail-order bride, Liz doesn't hesitate long before saying yes. It's got to be easier than working on a ranch, and as a married woman with a new name, she'll be out of her guardian's clutches forever. 

Wade Malone has been looking forward to his new bride for months, but when "Caroline" finally arrives, things don't exactly add up. For one, "Caroline" was supposed to be twenty-five years old; the woman who came off the train doesn't look a day above sixteen. He has a strong aversion to liars, particularly in a wife. But he's also a man who keeps his promises and whoever the woman is at his side, he's made a commitment.

Chapter One from Mail Order Switch

By Patty Devlin

 

“Your hair is coming down.”

Liz dipped her head low against the seat in front of her and tried to stuff the long golden strand of hair back up under the ragged cowboy hat. She briefly glanced at the dark-haired woman next to her and hoped no one else had noticed the slip. She looked back out the window at the sun-scorched prairie grass rushing by the train. How in the world was she going to pull this off?

“There is no way you are going to fool anyone dressed like that,” the lady’s soft voice answered her thoughts.

“What?” Liz snapped as she turned to her seatmate again, silently taking in the troubled brown eyes and the worry lines above her thin brows. The lady wasn’t harsh, but she looked worried—worried about Liz? No, it couldn’t be that.

“I don’t know why you are dressed like a man, but there is no way you are going to pass it off. Even if your long silky hair didn’t keep falling down your angel face, those pink, heart-shaped lips and sooty lashes will give you away. Not to mention those curves. Those britches aren’t hiding anything.”

Liz dropped her face in her hands willing herself not to cry. The old hat that was too big anyway tipped forward letting the rebellious strand of hair fall loose at the back of her head once more. What was she going to do? She had nowhere to go. When this train got to Denver, she had to get off. That was all the money she’d had for a ticket. She had hoped as a man she would be able to get a job on a ranch. Granted she didn’t have experience, but she could learn couldn’t she?

“You want to talk about it?” The woman’s voice was kind.

Liz turned back to her, weighing the question. Liz had been sitting next to the woman for two days, ever since Liz had boarded the train in Chicago. The woman had been by the window then, but had let Liz sit there the next day.

“It’s just not safe to travel alone…” Liz just wouldn’t tell her the whole truth. She couldn’t tell anyone that she might have killed a man, even if it was self-defense.

“I’m Caroline.” The lady held out her hand and smiled, but the smile seemed forced. 

“Elizab-” Oh no! She shouldn’t have used her real name. What if there were people already looking for her?

“It’s okay, honest. Whatever you are running from— I’m not going to tell anyone. You look like you need a friend and I could surely use one right now.” Her hand came to rest on Liz’s arm and her large brown eyes softened. She was maybe in her mid-twenties, if Liz had to guess, not too much older than she was.

“Thank you.” She brought her hand up to rub the aching pressure from her forehead. “I had to get away. The day I turned eighteen my uncle, my guardian, tried to force himself on me.”

“Oh no, that is dreadful. Where are you going to go? I mean what will you do?”

“I don’t know… I thought I could get work on a ranch—if I could act like a man. My uncle wa- is my only family. My parents passed away nigh on a year ago.”

“I’m sorry, but I think even if you cut your hair you still wouldn’t pass, even for a boy. You’re just too pretty.”

“Shh…”

“I’m sorry.” Caroline bit her lower lip and tried again. “Have you ever thought about being a mail-order-bride?”

“What? What is that?”

“Exactly what it sounds like.” She reached into her valise and pulled out a newspaper. “Here, read the one I’ve circled.”

 

Widower- looking for a woman to care for two small children.

Must know how to cook and clean. Marriage in name only. Apply in writing.

 

The ad was listed under a column for mail-order-brides, and there were probably ten more ads. She could do that! Well, maybe not that one; she didn’t know how to cook, or clean, or even care for children.

“That is what I’m doing. I’m on my way to Colfax to meet my man.” The dark-haired woman pursed her lips and the previous look of discomfort returned to present itself in the lines above her brow and the rigid way she held her shoulders.

“You must be so nervous! How do you know he isn’t a monster? Or very old and ugly?” Liz shuddered again reminded of the many times her father’s brother had let his hands wander. Uncle Rupert’s advances had become more and more disgusting as the time had gone on, the dirty rotten lecher.

“Well, you can’t be sure, but we have written letters to one another. I keep telling myself that is enough. But…”

“But- what?”

“But, I don’t want to do this now.” Caroline bit through her lower lip. It was no wonder; she had been worrying it with her teeth for quite a while. Liz watched as a spot of blood appeared, just before her tongue darted out to clear it away and then she sucked it in under her top lip.

“Well, what can you do then?”

“I have to go—he paid for my ticket. I can’t let him down.” She sat back with a heavy sigh.

“I wish I could help you.”

“It will be all right. I hope so, anyway.” Caroline put the newspaper back inside her bag and pulled out a couple envelopes.

As she started to read one of the letters Liz turned to watch the scenery glide by her window again. Was it too late? Could she possibly find one of those mail-order things? Maybe at her next stop she could find a newspaper. She only had a day and her train ride would run out. She would be in Denver. What was the next stop?

“Do you want to read his letters?” Caroline’s voice broke through her thoughts.

“Are you sure?” Liz sat back and took the letter held out to her when Caroline nodded.

Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your response. It gives me peace that you are also a widow, and your age is good too. Since my wife, Hannah, died only three months ago, you will understand my feelings in wanting this to remain a marriage in name only.

I have two children, Molly is four and Jonah is eight months. I need someone who can care for them and take up the role of a wife around the ranch. If it were not for my children I would not find this necessary. I hope you understand my position.

I am a hard-working man and very busy most of the time. I am honest and fair; my hands like to work for me.  I think that most folks would give me a good reference. I don’t think I am hard to look at, although I’m hesitant to boast and say I’m a good-looking fellow. I am thirty-five years old. I know some people fear the unknown in this type of situation, however, since this is not going to be a love match, it should hardly matter.

If you can tell me about yourself, that would be helpful. Is there anything important that I should know before you arrive? Do you like children?

Thank you again for your willingness to give of yourself.

Wade Malone

 

“Well, he sounds like a nice enough man,” Liz said and looked to Caroline, trying to reassure her.

“Yes, but I’m not sure I’m ready for this. I mean I loved my Jacob… It will be hard to be married to another. I should be comforted by the fact Wade says it will be in name only, but somewhere deep inside I want to have a husband who loves me, again.” Her warm brown eyes were swimming in a pool of tears she brushed away just before they spilled over. “I was drawn to the children, because Jake and I, we never… had our own.”

“Well, you can focus on them then.” Liz smiled softly, trying to cheer her new friend. “They will love you immediately.”

“I don’t think I can do it. I don’t know how I even got myself on this train. I never do anything spontaneous. I just want to go home. I should have listened to my mother.”

“Maybe I can go with you and help!” Liz gave Caroline an exaggerated wink and laughed. Even if delivered in jest she felt lighter than she had in a long time.

“Maybe you could go for me.”

“Oh sure.” Liz chuckled to herself as she watched a river come into view and ramble on alongside the train.

“No, really! You could pretend to be me and marry Wade. It would fix both of our problems.” Caroline’s voice rose in pitch. “He would never know the difference. I didn’t send a likeness. All he knows is my age and well, hmmm…” Caroline reached for Liz’s hat as the younger woman turned back toward her.

“No—” Liz swatted at Caroline’s hands. “—and quiet down! Everyone on the train is going to hear you. You told him you have dark brown hair and brown eyes and you are what mid-twenties? I’d never pass.”

“You have brown eyes, too! And I’m twenty-four, you can pass for that.” She was chewing on her poor lower lip again.

“No, I can’t pass for twenty-four. I barely look my own eighteen.”

“But you thought you could pass for a man?”

“That was different. I don’t have brown hair either.” Liz crossed her arms and sat back with a sigh. She sure wished that she could switch places with Caroline, but she knew it was impossible.

“Men think everyone’s hair is brown, trust me. I was married before. Elizabeth, please! You are like an answer to my prayers. I can’t go through with this, and you need a place to go. Just think about it.”

Liz didn’t respond, couldn’t respond. She needed to think— she had to think of a way to let this truly deranged woman down gently.

She couldn’t possibly pull off such an act. She was too young, she didn’t look the same, she wasn’t a widow, and she couldn’t cook or clean. The poor man needed a wife who would be able to help him. Not her, she couldn’t help with anything—and she was a murd—

An announcement interrupted her thoughts. “Next stop, Hastings. We will be stopped for an hour. If you leave the train station please return to the train promptly as the train will not wait for you. I repeat: next stop Hastings.”

 Liz peered out the window, looking for some sign of the city mentioned. She saw rolling hills with tall brown grasses and towering pines, rocky hills and ledges, but no town in sight.

“I am not going on.” Caroline’s voice cut through her thoughts. “I’m buying a ticket and going home.”

Liz turned around fast to meet her new friend’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to do that? Maybe you should give yourself some more time.”

“No, I shouldn’t have come. I’ve wasted so much time.” Caroline looked weary; her shoulders had lost their stiff height. She’d stopped biting her lip. She even looked at peace with her decision.

They had just met but Liz was going to miss her. She had somehow felt safer having the woman next to her for the past two days, and now she felt as though they were friends. If only she could talk Caroline into going to the rancher and just taking her along. Maybe she could pretend to be her sister… they could come up with a tale that she had to bring her at the last minute.

“I will leave my ticket and letters with you in case you change your mind and want to go on to marry Wade.”

“No, Caroline. Won’t you change your mind? If you want to go, I’ll go with you.”

“No, I’m going home, but I will give you a dress and all the correspondence. You can marry Wade and tell him the truth later. It’s perfect. You need a place to go.”

“We have arrived at Hastings,” the conductor shouted. “If this is your destination please pick up your luggage. If you are travelling farther please return to the train on time. Again this is Hastings; our next stop is Fort Morgan, Colorado, in four hours and Denver in the morning.”

“Please, don’t leave yet.”

“Come with me. We’ll talk and you can change into one of my dresses.” Caroline reached for Liz’s hand, she grabbed her valise, and with a sway of her skirts between the seats, she dragged Liz toward the door.

It was a very different Caroline who boarded the train headed to Colfax, forty-five minutes later. Liz was as nervous as a lady of the night in a church, when the conductor passed by her seat before the train started moving again. She didn’t know why she was so jumpy, but she worried that everyone who looked at her would know she was trying to be somebody she wasn’t. She hadn’t been that anxious dressed as a man.

She laid her head against the glass. The grass was thinner here, and it seemed to slowly disappear as the train barreled on. The hills were getting steeper, and the ledges rockier. Was it a sign of the troubles that lay ahead for her?

Colfax was almost two more whole days on the train farther than Denver. At least Caroline had meals paid for in the dining car. Liz had been munching on apples and stale bread. In Chicago, she put the things she wanted from shops on her families’ accounts, so she had little need for coin. And she’d not had time or opportunity to get more money before she’d run. She’d been too afraid. So after buying her ticket and some food, she had very little left of the bit she’d taken from Rupert’s study. She saved the rest for when she arrived in Denver.

Now, if she could work this out, at least she wouldn’t have to worry about food, or where she would go. She reached in her bag to read the other two letters from Wade. She should try to figure out as much as she could about the man she was signing her life over to.

Dear Caroline,

I appreciate your openness about your husband; again that makes you the perfect candidate in my eyes. We have a lot in common, it seems. I hope that you won’t miss your mother too much; we don’t have many women folk nearby, nor many other neighbors for that matter. Town is half-a-day’s ride from our ranch. It is a rather lonely existence. I hope that you will be fine with that.

I am not worried about you knowing how to care for the children; to be honest, little Molly can almost take care of herself and the baby. I know that is not right, what I mean is she is a smart little girl and thinks she is Jonah’s mother. She will help you figure everything out. I know that they need a mama and I will be thankful to have this business settled.

Is there anything else you think you need to know about me? If not, then I will send money for your train fare after I hear from you again.

Thank you,

Wade Malone

Well, it was good that he didn’t have neighbors because then it would be harder for anyone to track her down if they came looking. And it was a positive note that it didn’t require much skill to care for the children. Now, if only she could figure out how to overcome the rest of the shortcomings.

Liz folded the letter neatly, slid it back inside the envelope, and got the last one out. She didn’t start reading it right away; this time she took a minute to think about him. His handwriting was neat, his spellings accurate. Although he couldn’t be accused of being unnecessarily wordy, he had written three letters to Caroline to help make this mail-order marriage successful. And although he made it sound more like a business proposition, he must have been very much in love with his first wife. That had to say something about the man. And he was willing to remarry simply for his children to have a mama. He had to be a good man. She should feel better about the situation, but it made her feel worse for trying to dupe him. She sighed as she focused on the smudged print in the last letter. Unfortunately, it was hardly informative.

 

Dear Caroline,

Here is the money for your ticket. Please wire me when you leave, so that I can plan to be there for you when you arrive. As I said before, the ranch is a half-day's ride from town. Have a safe trip. We anxiously await your arrival.

Wade

 

Liz put the letters away with a quiet resolve; she could do this. It was easier to pretend to be Caroline the widow than to be a man, right? She would just have to let this poor fellow down by telling him at some point, probably pretty soon, after her arrival that she was very proficient at burning water. Or that she had made her mother cry most every day that she had spent in the kitchen with her and Mrs. Humphrey as they tried to teach Liz the art of cooking.

Liz understood much of what it took to run a large household, from managing the housekeeping staff to menu and party planning. She could sew and embroider; her needlework was most impressive. And music — she could entertain their party guests delightfully with her gift of singing and the pianoforte. But actually cooking—she’d failed miserably, to the point where she’d been banned from the kitchen. And now, in the few words he chose to include in the advertisement, those are what he included as most important. How was she to let him down? Sooner rather than later, just get it out of the way… And if she was already married to him what could he possibly do to her?

She resolved to be the world’s best Mama, and maybe she could find some other ways to make up for her shortcomings. She could learn to cook or clean, if she could find someone to teach her, and she wasn’t afraid of hard work.

But, it was all too soon that the conductor was calling out the stop for Colfax. Hadn’t he just called out the stop for Denver, the one she was supposed to get off at? Oh, why had she let Caroline talk her into this? She peered out the train window looking for Wade. She didn’t know what he looked like but she should be able to tell if there was a single man standing by the station with an “I’m waiting for my new wife” look on his face.

“Last call for Colfax. We’re not staying in the station. If you are getting off in Colfax you must exit. Mam, aren’t you getting off here?” The tall man in a dark blue uniform came over to her.

“Oh, yes, I do apologize. All this time and I must have dozed off.” Liz reached for the satchel Caroline had given her and slowly squeezed through the aisle to the door. As she stepped down to the boarding dock, she didn’t look around. She assumed Wade would find her, and she couldn’t have handled making eye contact just then anyway. She had to get herself together.

Liz made her way to the bench in front of the station and sat down to wait. Her hair was a mess, strands blowing free in the breeze. Caroline had helped her plait it in Hastings when she changed into one of her dresses, but some of it had come loose.

“Excuse me, Caroline? Caroline Lowe?”

Elizabeth looked up to meet the confused blue-eyed gaze of a dark-haired cowboy. “Um.” She cleared her throat. “Yes. Mr. Malone? I’m sorry, I must look a wretch.”

“No, it’s just—I pictured you different. I… uh looked for your trunk, but I couldn’t find it.”

“I lost it on the stage coach during the first stretch, well not me, the stage hands did, they’re supposed to send it on… if they find it” Amazing how lying just came natural to her.

“Oh, well I thought you might want to freshen up and have some lunch before we go to the preacher. Then we will start for the ranch. It’s a long ride.”

“I have another dress in my bag, thankfully.”

“Well then, we will be on our way.” He took her arm and led her down the wooden sidewalk.

Liz was afraid he would feel her heart banging against her chest. She could feel it in her ears and in her neck.

“You look fourteen, not twenty-four.” He glanced sideways at her as he walked beside her.

“I hear that all the time. I knew I should have sent a likeness.” She tried to laugh but it sounded fake even to her own ears, which were beginning to feel decidedly warm. At least he could have said she looked eighteen. “Well you said you weren’t much to look at!” she blurted and then heat crept up her cheeks as she realized what she had just implied.

That was just what he didn’t want, some simpering female falling in love with him. She could not think of him like that just because he was so well put together. Perhaps she should tell him the truth about her cooking and such sooner. It would be easier not to like him when he was mad at her.

“Is that what I said?” He let go of her arm to open the door of the Pioneer Hotel and took his hat off. She ignored the question and stepped inside.

“Well, hello. Miss Caroline, I presume?” A short and round elderly gentleman with ruddy cheeks stood at the desk and beckoned her to come forward. “I have a room ready for you to freshen yourself.”

“This is Mr. Mendenhall, Caroline.” Wade took her arm again and led her up the staircase behind the stocky gentleman.

“I’m sure you are fatigued and will need more than this after your trip. But Wade says you will be leaving right after the ceremony. In a town the size of Colfax, this is exciting. I mean, it’s the first time anything like this has ever happened in Colfax. Well, here you are anyway, fresh water in the pitcher and linens, too, and if you need anything else just ring the bell and I will send a maid right up.”

Mr. Mendenhall backed away with a nod and left Wade at her door. “How long do you think you’ll need? Will a half hour be long enough?” He was still holding his hat in his left hand, his right hand reached up to push his sandy shoulder-length hair back out of his face.

There was never going to be enough time. How was she supposed to go down there with him, stand before a preacher somewhere and lie? Would she have to put her hand on a Bible? Would God strike her dead?

“Do you need to lie down for an hour or something? If you need to we can push it. I know it has been a long trip. I just hate being away from the ranch any longer than necessary.”

And then he was nice to her, too. How could she lie to this man? "No, I –uh, I will be fine; I slept on the train. Just give me that half hour.” She backed into the room and closed the door. She needed to hurry and marry the man before she blew it and he found out the truth. Then it would be too late.

Liz was grateful that Caroline had given her some clothing, but she hadn’t been able to provide her a corset or shoes. The boots she had on under her dress were the cowboy boots she had worn with her man clothes. Thankfully they didn’t show under the skirt of her dress. Caroline was also a little bit bigger than Liz so her dress fit just a tad loose and long. When she pulled the mauve dress from her bag, however, she decided not to change after all. The dress was just too wrinkled from being rolled up and stuffed in the satchel.

So, after she washed her face and hands and said a quick prayer, she headed downstairs to find Wade. The sooner they got this over with, the sooner she could relax. She couldn’t focus on the lunch placed before her in the hotel dining room, nor the conversation Wade was trying to make. It seemed she barely remembered how she came to be in the little church building with the preacher only a few minutes later.

“Oh,” Liz gasped and tried to cover the paper when Wade looked over at her. “I- uh- just started to sign my maiden name.” She giggled nervously. She had begun to write Elizabeth instead Caroline and didn’t know what to do.

“That is what you are supposed to do,” the preacher supplied.

“Oh, good.” She hesitated for a moment and then finished. Maybe he wouldn’t look at it. He had already signed his name. “You may kiss your bride, Wade.” The preacher winked at him.

Liz stopped breathing. Would he do it? She looked at Wade as he dipped close and his lips came down to press against hers in a brief nothingness peck.

He reached for the paper. “Let’s go.”

“Wait, I still have to sign it.” The preacher chuckled.

Liz was going to die on the spot. She was never going to make it through this day. Would he notice it? She should never have come here.

“Just a minute, this is a mistake—Oh no… What is today’s date? I put the wrong date. You are going to have to initial this change, Wade, because today is the nineteenth of June, not the eighteenth… Yes eighteen-ninety-six. Can you believe it? I never thought I would live to see the turn of the century. Seventy-six years old.” The wiry old man shook his head. “Oh yes, I still have to sign that. Is there a problem, Wade?”

 

Excerpt from The Outlaw’s Bride

By Renee Rose

 

“It’s all right, Rose. It’s me, Lyle Wilder.”

Lyle? Why?

She must have spoken out loud, because her words were muffled against his hand.

“I’m going to let you go now,” Lyle said. “Don’t scream.” His hand lifted, and Rose scrambled backwards, fumbling for her gun. She’d managed to hang onto her gun in the commotion, and now she brought the Derringer up, pointing it at the man in shaking hands. In the darkness, she sensed, rather than saw his hands go into the air.

“You gonna shoot me, Rose?” Breathing hard, she registered the amusement in his voice. He always was a smug bastard.

Catching her breath, she rallied. “Where am I?” A pause, and then a match struck. Light outlined the perfect contours of Lyle’s face as her sister’s husband regarded her soberly. “In a hotel. This is my room.” Keeping her aim fixed on him, Rose darted a glance around the room, a shabby replica of any other boarding house’s room like the ones she and Mary lived in. 

Hands still in the air, Lyle slowly moved to a side table and lit the lamp. Rose backed into a corner, wondering if she dare kill the man her deceased sister had loved. Lyle watched her, a slight smile on his face. “You want to lower your gun?”

“No,” she said.

“Come on, Rose. This is how you repay the man who saved your life?”

“No. This is how I repay the man who destroyed it.” One second she was staring him down, then he moved, and the gun was aiming at nothing. Rose pulled the trigger, hearing the hammer click uselessly before Lyle’s long arms wrapped around her and locked her arms against his chest. She looked up into cold blue eyes.

“That’s a single shot Derringer, Rose. And you already shot a man tonight. You think I wouldn’t notice?” He was tall enough that she had to tilt her head back to look up at him—a rare thing since she was taller than most men.

Her lip curled. “I could only hope.”

“Careful,” he growled. “You are very, very close to making me lose my temper. You don’t want me to do that.” Her heart pounded, and she was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling, brushing his. She stared up into his sculpted features, taking in the lush lips and proud forehead, the dark hair brushing his collar. Pressed against him, she couldn’t help but notice the strength in his chest and arms, and the long, dark lashes around his brilliant eyes. It should be illegal for a man to be so beautiful. His scent, masculine and clean, rolled over her, and suddenly her limbs were weak, and her thoughts screamed, “Danger!” During the pause, his expression went from angry to curious. His blue gaze flickered down her face, and his lips parted. She couldn’t help it; inches from his mouth her tongue came out and slowly licked her own lips.

“Rose.” His face softened, and she remembered herself. She shoved at him, going nowhere but at least putting in an effort to fight.

“Get your hands off me.” She slapped his away.

“What the hell?” He released her, and she took a step backwards then immediately went on the offensive.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she snapped, hands on hips. With her height and fiery hair, she knew her angry pose would strike fear into most men’s hearts. Lyle wasn’t most men.

“Saving your life,” he said, glaring down at her with the same force.

“I didn’t need saving,” she snapped. “I’m fine.”

“Far from it, Rose.” Lyle’s blue eyes flashed. “You waltz into Doyle’s town after all these years then throw yourself into a brawl. You could’ve been killed.”

“I can take care of myself, Lyle Wilder.” She tossed her head, sending red hair flying around her shoulders. “I’ve been doing it for years.”

“Really. Dancing on tables for a living in front of a room full of drunken men.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Quite a show you’ve got, Rosie May.”

“Shut your mouth,” she spat.

His eyes flashed at her. “You better start showing some respect, young lady, or I have half a mind to teach it to you.” 

“No one asked you.” She started towards the door. “Take me back.”

“Not so fast.” Lyle pulled her towards him. She fought, but he was stronger and soon had her seated on the chaise, his hands on her shoulders. “Rose, stop. There are men out there looking for you. One of them is Otis Boone—fastest shot in this town, maybe the whole Territory.”

 “Get off!” She fought, her fingers turning into claws headed for his face. He weaved out of the way, then caught her wrists and used them to pull her body over his lap.

“Stop! Help!” she shrieked.

“Shut it, Rose.”

“Go to hell!”

“If you won’t shut up, I’ll make you,” he growled. She started to scream, and he stuffed his handkerchief into her mouth. Writhing on his lap, Rose kicked her legs then felt his hand come down hard over her skirts. “Stop fighting, Rose. I am trying to help you.”

She shouted through the gag, and he smacked her bottom again and again. Even through her dress and petticoat, she could feel the blows warming her bottom. It didn’t quite hurt, but it was a warning, and she took it as such, going still and letting the fight drain out of her. She’d save her fury for when she wasn’t pinned over her enemy’s lap.

“Now,” Lyle said and pulled her to stand between his legs. “Can you keep a civil tongue in your head?” Breathing hard through her nose, she nodded. Still gripping her wrists, he pulled out the handkerchief then used it to wipe her mouth. The kindness in his touch gave her pause. His hands slid down her arms.

“You’re bleeding,” he muttered. She felt panic, and her fingers tore at her dress to see the rust colored marks on her white dress. Lyle’s hands were at her buttons, undoing them with expert fingers.

“Arms up, Rose,” he ordered, and when she didn’t obey, he forced them up, pulling her dress over her head. She stood in her petticoats and corset, too stunned by this turn of events to curse him.

Lyle loomed over her, and her arms automatically came up to cross over her chest, hiding her body from him. Something about being alone and unclothed with a man tore through her defenses, and shock started to take over, numbing her. Her body was her weapon, and it frightened her to have the power stripped from it so easily.

Excerpt from Rocky Mountain Rose by Lee Savino

The saloon was packed wall to wall with unwashed bodies. At the long bar, men hooted and hollered after the serving women, offering little more than a pinch on the behind as a tip. Men crowded around the faro tables in the back, betting hard earned dollars to the slick-looking shyster behind the table.

Rose stood in the shadows on the top of the stairs, her hands on her hips, surveying the crowd. Rowdy though they were, she felt energy rush through her, as it did every night she danced as Rosie May, the belle of mining towns. When she arrived yesterday, men were waiting on the edge of town to catch sight of the crimson-haired beauty. Grizzled grey hairs and boys young as twelve, and every age in between, had all left their homes and come West to make their fortune, but after a few months in a mine, they’d give all their gold and silver for a glimpse of a lady. Tonight, she’d give them a glimpse, and more.

“Ready?” Her young escort, Sam, stood close by in his own black suit, complete with red cummerbund and high top hat. A boy of only sixteen, Rose took him under her wing when they left the traveling show together to form their own act. He now played the part of musician and master of ceremonies, and once his height came on and voice deepened, he would be a useful partner and bodyguard. For now, Rose had her trusty Nell, the pearl handled Derringer she hid in her sash. Looking over the boisterous crowd, Rose stroked her silken garments and felt the gun, its hard form comforting under her fingers.

Sam was already making his way downstairs to start the show. Once he sat himself at the piano, he glanced back, and Rose nodded to him, then backed into darkness to wait for her introduction.

His fingers flew over the honky-tonk keys in a stunning glissando.

“She’s here, boys! The belle of the West herself. The lovely Rosie May will dance tonight, the latest dance from Paris!”

A ripple went through the crowd; a few heads turned to look up at the top of the stairs where a woman’s gloved hand shook a black lace fan.

“There she is. I seen her!” someone cried, and the bar broke out in lewd comments as Rose let her leg slink out from behind the wall.

Whoops and hollers greeted the long, stocking-clad leg, then cries of disappointment when she slid it away. Then laughs and whistles rose as she turned and stuck her bustle out beyond the wall and shook it vigorously.

“Give her a cheer boys, don’t let her be shy!” Sam shouted, and someone took up the chant, “Rosie, Rosie.”

A fan, a hand, a slender arm encased in a black glove, then Rosie herself strode from her hiding place into full view on the landing. The men cheered.

“Hello, boys.” Rose put her hands on the railing, showing off her hourglass figure in the frothy white dress she wore. “Would you like to see me dance?”

A roar of approval, and she put a finger to her mouth, pretending to think. “I don’t know. I may need a drink first.”

A crush at the bar as men waved bills at the barkeep. Rose smiled down at them.

“Of course,” she called. “I may have it in me to give you a taste of what you’ll get tonight.” Hiking up her skirts and petticoat, she slid her leg through the railing, showing one black stocking, then the other, as men whistled and cheered.

Right below the landing, one of the men stood on the bar to hand up a glass of amber fluid. Rose smiled and blew a kiss at her benefactor, then held the glass high.

“A toast—to the one who will never leave you, or let you down. Who waits for your lips and always warms you at night. To whiskey!” She downed the shot, then rode the wave of laughter down the stairs, sliding down the banister and jumping onto a table set up for her next to the bar. A few men held up their hands to help steady her.

“Thank you, boys.” She smiled. Drawing off her gloves, she threw them into the crowd then called to Sam for music. She kicked her legs up to the lively tune, showing off black stockings and a hint of creamy thigh. As the men grew wilder, she leaned back to the stair railing and held on, teasing the crowd with flips of her skirt and shakes of her bustle.

A few more drinks and they might riot, but for now she had them eating out of her hand. Rose dipped and turned, a false smile plastered to her face, every once in awhile shaking out her long red hair for the room to admire. She was queen of the room, and all the men were her fawning subjects.

Then, in a fated moment, her gaze hit the corner and time stood still.

A man sat in the back, near the faro tables but ignoring them completely. His blue eyes pierced her, his gaze so intense she felt he could see everything about her—every curve, every breath, every pore. He had hair and brows dark as the devil’s, but the face of an angel, perfect and breathtaking.

She knew him.

A shock went through her, powerful as lightning. Her legs weakened, and she stumbled, nearly losing her balance.

A few of the men pressed against the bar put up their hands to help her.

“Rose, are you well?”

“Sorry, boys.” She shook it off. “Another whiskey!” she cried as she stole a glass from a man at the bar, upending it into her mouth. The shocked customer stood staring while his friends pounded him on the back.

Rose winked at him and then motioned to Sam. “Music, Maestro.”

The piano started again, and she launched into a bawdy tune, one she’d sung many times. The miners all knew it too, and she let their voices carry hers while her thoughts scrambled behind her pasted smile.

So her dead sister’s husband was watching. It’d been five years, but she remembered him. Of course, she’d never forget the man she hated above any other.

As the night wore on, she kept dancing, tossing back whiskeys as if they were water, and avoiding the gaze of the man in the corner as her mind raced. What did he want with her? Last he’d seen of her, she was a skinny child, too thin and ugly to catch a man’s eye. Unlike her sister Mary.

He stole Mary from her and left Rose at the mercy of evil men. She blamed Doyle, her sister’s boss, and her own father. But she blamed Lyle Wilder most of all: first for stealing her sister, and second for Mary’s death.

She strutted and sang and held on to the banister of the stairs to keep the rowdy men from pulling her off.

Damn the man. Why did he come to haunt her? She was a tall, bold woman of eighteen. Full grown and able to take care of herself.

With that thought, she whirled to start a new dance and saw a man in the center of the room punch another full in the face. It would’ve been a quick fight, if the falling man’s partner hadn’t jumped to his feet, pointing his pistol at the attacker. A shot rang out, but it went wide as the attacking man rushed the shooter and dealt a glancing blow to the pistol arm. A jarring noise came from the piano, but Rose kept her eyes on the gun as it dropped between the two men and became the center of a scuffle. A shout, and Rose’s head snapped around, looking for Sam.

Her friend slumped over the piano, and for a moment, Rose didn’t understand. Then someone screamed, a horrible sound.

Rose was halfway across the room, pushing to Sam’s side, before she realized she was the one shrieking. The boy’s white shirt bore a spreading stain, the same color as his cummerbund. Spit bubbled in the side of his mouth, and he convulsed once but the light was already fading from his eyes.

With a cry, Rose whirled and threw herself in the fray. Fumbling in her skirts, she brought out her tiny pistol just in time to reach the epicenter of the fight and face the shooter. With both hands on the gun, she fired, even as strong arms grabbed her around her waist.

The shooter fell, surprise on his face. Rose crowed in triumph, then all the air went from her lungs as someone hauled her over their shoulder.

The room spun wildly, and Rose’s world filled with angry faces. Clawing at her attacker’s back, she tried to break free, but a hand clapped on her bottom, hard enough to give her pause.

Then the two of them were outside in an alleyway, the door to the saloon swinging shut and cutting them off from all light and sound.

She started to scream, but the man stooped and bounced her higher onto his shoulder.

“Quiet, Rose,” he ordered, clamping a steely arm around her legs to hold her. Even carrying her full weight, the man broke into a jog down the long alley, the movement jarring her midriff so she had to fight to get air into her lungs.

A shout behind them, and Rose peered through her hair to see the door to the saloon burst open, letting light and the roar of their pursuers out into the night. Her captor veered around a corner, heading down another dark alleyway. By the time she caught her breath, Rose’s kidnapper was climbing the back stairs to another building, then darting down a hall, opening a door, and carrying her inside.

In the inky darkness, the man set Rose down. The moon in the window gave the only light, and Rose could make out the tall, powerful form of her kidnapper, but nothing of his face.

Again, she drew in breath to scream, and a hand clamped over her mouth.

“It’s all right, Rose. It’s me, Lyle Wilder.”

Lyle? Why?

She must have spoken out loud, because her words were muffled against his hand.

“I’m going to let you go now,” Lyle said. “Don’t scream.”

His hand lifted, and Rose scrambled backwards, fumbling for her gun. She’d managed to hang onto her Nelly in the commotion, and now she brought the Derringer up, pointing it at the man in shaking hands.

In the darkness, she sensed, rather than saw his hands go into the air.

“You gonna shoot me, Rose?”

Breathing hard, she registered the amusement in his voice. He always was a smug bastard.

Catching her breath, she rallied. “Where am I?”

A pause, and then a match struck. Light outlined the perfect contours of Lyle’s face as her sister’s husband regarded her soberly.

“In a hotel. This is my room.”

Keeping her aim fixed on him, Rose darted a glance around the room, a shabby replica of any other boarding house’s room like the ones she and Mary lived in.

Hands still in the air, Lyle slowly moved to a side table and lit the lamp. Rose backed into a corner, wondering if she dare kill the man her deceased sister had loved.

Lyle watched her, a slight smile on his face. “You want to lower your gun?”

“No,” she said.

“Come on, Rose. This is how you repay the man who saved your life?”

“No. This is how I repay the man who destroyed it.”

One second she was staring him down, then he moved, and the gun was aiming at nothing. Rose pulled the trigger, hearing the hammer click uselessly before Lyle’s long arms wrapped around her and locked her arms against his chest.

She looked up into cold blue eyes.

“That’s a single shot Derringer, Rose. And you already shot a man tonight. You think I wouldn’t notice?” He was tall enough that she had to tilt her head back to look up at him—a rare thing since she was taller than most men.

Her lip curled. “I could only hope.”

“Careful,” he growled. “You are very, very close to making me lose my temper. You don’t want me to do that.”

Her heart pounded, and she was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling, brushing his. She stared up into his sculpted features, taking in the lush lips and proud forehead, the dark hair brushing his collar. Pressed against him, she couldn’t help but notice the strength in his chest and arms, and the long, dark lashes around his brilliant eyes. It should be illegal for a man to be so beautiful.

His scent, masculine and clean, rolled over her, and suddenly her limbs were weak, and her thoughts screamed, “Danger!”

During the pause, his expression went from angry to curious. His blue gaze flickered down her face, and his lips parted. She couldn’t help it, inches from his mouth, her tongue came out and slowly licked her own lips.

“Rose.” His face softened, and she remembered herself. She shoved at him, going nowhere but at least putting in an effort to fight.

“Get your hands off me.” She slapped his away.

“What the hell?” He released her, and she took a step backwards then immediately went on the offensive.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she snapped, hands on hips. With her height and fiery hair, she knew her angry pose would strike fear into most men’s hearts.

Lyle wasn’t most men. “Saving your life,” he said, glaring down at her with the same force.

“I didn’t need saving,” she snapped. “I’m fine.”

“Far from it, Rose.” Lyle’s blue eyes flashed. “You waltz into Doyle’s town after all these years then throw yourself into a brawl. You could’ve been killed.”

“I can take care of myself, Lyle Wilder.” She tossed her head, sending red hair flying around her shoulders. “I’ve been doing it for years.”

“Really. Dancing on tables for a living in front of a room full of drunken men.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Quite a show you’ve got, Rosie May.”

“Shut your mouth,” she spat.

His eyes flashed at her. “You better start showing some respect, young lady, or I have half a mind to teach it to you.”

“No one asked you.” She started towards the door. “Take me back.”

“Not so fast.” Lyle pulled her towards him. She fought, but he was stronger and soon had her seated on the chaise, his hands on her shoulders. “Rose, stop. There are men out there looking for you. One of them is Otis Boone—fastest shot in this town, maybe the whole Territory.”

“Get off!” She fought, her fingers turning into claws headed for his face. He weaved out of the way, then caught her wrists and used them to pull her body over his lap.

“Stop! Help!” she shrieked.

“Shut it, Rose.”

“Go to hell!”

“If you won’t shut up, I’ll make you,” he growled. She started to scream, and he stuffed his handkerchief into her mouth. Writhing on his lap, Rose kicked her legs then felt his hand come down hard over her skirts.

“Stop fighting, Rose. I am trying to help you.”

She shouted through the gag, and he smacked her bottom again and again. Even through her dress and petticoat, she could feel the blows warming her bottom. It didn’t quite hurt, but it was a warning, and she took it as such, going still and letting the fight drain out of her. She’d save her fury for when she wasn’t pinned over her enemy’s lap.

“Now,” Lyle said and pulled her to stand between his legs. “Can you keep a civil tongue in your head?”

Breathing hard through her nose, she nodded. Still gripping her wrists, he pulled out the handkerchief then used it to wipe her mouth. The kindness in his touch gave her pause.

His hands slid down her arms. “You’re bleeding,” he muttered.

She felt panic, and her fingers tore at her dress to see the rust colored marks on her white dress. Lyle’s hands were at her buttons, undoing them with expert fingers.

“Arms up, Rose,” he ordered, and when she didn’t obey, he forced them up, pulling her dress over her head.

She stood in her petticoats and corset, too stunned by this turn of events to curse him.

Lyle loomed over her, and her arms automatically came up to cross over her chest, hiding her body from him. Something about being alone and unclothed with a man tore through her defenses, and shock started to take over, numbing her. Her body was her weapon, and it frightened her to have the power stripped from it so easily.

“Let me see, Rose.” Lyle tugged at her, and when she shook her head, tightening her arms further, he sat on the chaise so his head was lower than hers.

“Please, darlin’. I just want to see if you’re hurt.”

His soft words hit her like a blow, but she couldn’t fight anymore. She let him peel away her arms, her breath catching at his gentle hands. His fingers roved over her, checking her clothes, but they were unsullied.

“You’re all right, darlin’. Wasn’t your blood.”

Her body turned to stone. “Sam,” she whispered.

One look at her stricken expression, and Lyle leaned forward. “He’s gone, Rose. I’m sorry.”

 

Excerpt from Life After Rachel by Maren Smith

 

PROLOGUE

 

“Don’t you leave me, Rachel! Rach! Honey, don’t you dare leave me!” A big man, Daniel knelt in the middle of their bed, his beautiful wife of three years held tightly in his arms as he begged. He begged her, he begged God. Neither seemed to be listening.

“I can’t lose you,” he sobbed, his massive shoulders shaking. “Please, baby, breathe. Come on, breathe!”

He rocked her, his chin wobbling and big tears rolling unabashedly down his unshaven face. And Rachel did, in fact, breathe. Her whole body convulsed with the effort it took to suck that ragged gasp into her failing lungs. Her face was ashen, her eyes fixed and glazing as she stared unseeing up at the ceiling, those beautiful sky-blue orbs growing more unfocussed with every shaky gasp. Even the long blonde wisps of her hair looked limp and dull as straw dangling over his arm.

For the millionth time, Daniel reached for the bowl of cool water propped against his hip, nearly lost in the tussle of bedclothes surrounding them. He squeezed awkwardly to wring the excess drops from the cloth, getting more on his pants and the surrounding mattress than back in the bowl before tenderly bathing the cold, clammy sweat from her face. It was the only comfort he could give her, and Rachel, his sweet Rachel, was already beyond the mortal ability to feel it.

Across the room, lying in a makeshift bed fashioned from their lowermost bureau drawer, the baby that had left her like this was wailing for a nourishment his mother was beyond the ability to provide. Daniel refused to spare his son so much as a glance, not when, in his arms, Rachel began to spasm.

“No,” he wept. “No, no, no!”

He pulled her fiercely close, willing with all his useless strength for the convulsions to stop. But when they did, the raggedness of her breathing changed as well. No longer fast and hard, each gasp came with longer and longer pauses in between. Her whole body worked to draw in the next breath. His own chest ached with the effort, but there was nothing he could do. Rachel wound down in his arms like an old waistcoat watch.

“Please, baby,” he moaned, and shuddered along with her. “Please, don’t go.”

Finally, she stopped. With her head pressed to his heart, she grew limp and still, and very, very quiet.

Some pains stabbed too deeply for tears to express. In that instant, as the softest sigh fled from her lips, the deep well of Daniel’s tears grew abruptly dry. Everything inside of him that had up until that moment been alive—it all went still as well. Pulling his dead wife close, Daniel stroked her hair and silently died alongside her.

For three years, she had been the center of his life. Now, he knew, he’d never live again.

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