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Rebecca Montgomery never expected to leave London and go to the American West, but this was how her brother saves her an impending marriage of convenience. She also never expected her brother to marry her by proxy to a trusted friend before dying on the journey. She quickly discovers that the Montana territory is a far cry from England, and so are the expectations of a wife at Bridgewater Ranch, for she's married not just to Dashiell, but also to his friend and fellow Scot, Connor MacDonald.
Dashiell McPherson never expected to find himself wed to a woman he's never met, especially not a prim lady raised to believe her sexuality is something to be repressed rather than enjoyed. Can an inhibited woman accept not just one but two husbands? It will take ample Scottish brash, a fair amount of brawn and plenty of carnal persuasion to free Rebecca of her inhibitions and show her how treasured she is.
This fourth book in the bestselling Bridgewater series continues the saga of this polyandrous Western community where men are men, and their women are pleasured in ways that will have them - and readers - begging for more.
The journey had been long. If I were to pen a letter to a dear relative, it is what I would write. One never complained or shared discomfort, especially when the missive would not arrive for months. Based on the disaster and ensuring delay, a letter would have arrived in the Montana Territory faster than I. Ever since Chicago,I had ridden alone, no chaperone. It would have been best if I had one, but there was no one I knew who wished to venture into the wilds and unsettled land of the Indians. I didn't wish to venture there either, but the choice was not mine to make. And so I rode up on a borrowed horse to not be greeted by my husband, but a ranch hand. He'd directed me to the largest of houses dotted across the almost treeless landscape.
This time, when I slowed my horse, I was greeted not by one man, but many. I had no idea which belonged to me or—more accurately—which one to whom I belonged. Several had dark hair, some had fair, another had the coloring of ginger, yet all were large, well muscled and decidedly handsome. These were not the usual men who moved within my father's circles in the London elite. They were direct in their gazes, powerful in their stances and looked as if they lived life instead of watching it from the outer fringes. These men got their hands dirty instead of paying someone to do it for them. This made them formidable and quite daunting, as I had not been taught how to handle such dominance. One of these men was my husband? My gaze shifted from one to the next, but no one stepped forward as if expecting me. Perhaps I had travelled faster than a letter after all.
One man descended the steps from the porch and approached. "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon," I replied with a slight nod of my head.
Four women, with curious yet engaging smiles, joined the men on the porch.
"Welcome to Bridgewater. I'm Kane," the man said.
I nodded once again and clenched the reins in a tight grip, hopefully my only outward sign of nervousness. This was the moment, the moment I'd been anticipating for three months, and I was terribly nervous. I couldn't be shipped back to England, for I was legally bound to one of the men in this group. Surely, he wouldn't reject me and send me home in disgrace? Could he? I was to live here, in a land so foreign from my own, and in this moment, I couldn't decide which fate was worse.
"Mr. Kane, I am Rebecca Montgomery. I am here to meet Mr. McPherson."
At my pronouncement, two men stepped forward. Both were fair-haired and of similar appearance for it to be obvious they were related, although one was slightly taller, slightly broader, slightly more intimidating and he set my heart aflutter. It could have been because he stared at me in such a way that had me thinking he could see all the way to my soul. While the look was intense, I felt as if his interest was solely on me. If a gun went off, I doubted he would blink.
"Which McPherson are ye seeking, lass?" This was from the shorter of the two men, his voice was deep and clear and amused. His question had me tearing my gaze away from the other.
I swallowed, for it seemed my husband was one of these two.
"Mr. Dashiell McPherson."
"What would ye be wantin' with him?" the brawny one asked. The sound of his thick Scottish brogue had goose flesh rising on my arms and I wasn't even cold.
I looked in his pale eyes, ignoring everyone else, and licked my lips as I tilted my chin up a notch. "He is my husband."
Both men's brows went up at my words, clearly surprised by the statement.
"And how have you become wed?" Mr. Kane asked from my side. He, too, was curious, as were the women who were whispering to each other. Besides a surprised look or two, the men were more reserved in their emotions. Had a woman come claiming to be a bride before?
"It was seen to by my brother, Cecil Montgomery."
"Ah yes, Montgomery. A verra good officer," the shorter Mr. McPherson replied, stepping back. "While ye are quite fetching, I have claimed a wife already." A lovely woman with dark hair came down the steps to join him. Clearly, she was his wife and making that known. He wrapped his arm about her waist and kissed her on the forehead, but he gave me a wink.
"That leaves me, lass." I turned to look at the man who made my heart beat quickly. "I am Dashiell McPherson." While the married McPherson was quite attractive, it was the one before me now who had my breath quickening, my palms sweating beneath my gloves and butterflies taking flight in my belly. His hair was a dark blonde, cut short on the sides and longer on the top where it fell over his forehead. His piercing ice blue eyes held mine, and I felt like a bug pinned to a tray. "Perhaps ye can explain yerself, for I most certainly would have remembered a wedding night with ye."
I hadna expected to become a married man over lunch. This woman was no small slip of a thing. She sat as if she had a fence post for a spine. Her dress a dark green that set off her dark hair, and with her pale skin and lush curves, she was verra fetching. Bah, she was beautiful. It was her eyes though, even beneath the wide brim of her hat, that spoke words she didna. She was afraid, yet the resolute tilt of her chin belied her bravery to ride up and claim a groom. Her accent was of a well-educated, highborn Englishwoman.
At my more crudeness, her only outward reaction was a slight narrowing of her eyes.
"Where is your brother?" We all liked the man well enough to write and invite him to join us here at Bridgewater. He hadna been part of our commanding officer's deceitful and deadly acts, and had been able to return to England and his life without being stripped of rank or of character. We'd hoped he would join us and it appeared he was following through with that very intention, but we didna know he would bring a sister along.
Her chin tipped up even further. "He is dead." Her words were clear and did nae hold a hint of mourning.
Montgomery was dead? She was much younger than her brother, perhaps by fifteen years or more, and hadna been mentioned during our time in Mohamir. She would have been a child then. Perhaps from a second marriage for one of his parents and tucked safely away in the nursery? "Ah lass, ye came all this way on your own?"
The verra idea set my teeth on edge.
"Not the entire journey." She shook her head. "He died in Chicago."
"He fell from his horse. It was nothing, at first," she explained. "He laughed it off as he was not one to be injured upon a horse. A day later, he became feverish and unwell. The signs of some internal damage were obvious and he knew of his demise."
She looked down at her gloved hands holding the reins, and then lifted her gaze to mine.
"We were not close, but he felt some protectiveness toward me, for he'd taken me from England with him. Once he knew he was dying, he didn't wish to leave me alone without some kind of security, therefore in the short time he had remaining, he wed me to you. A proxy marriage."
"And you consented?"
"My...my choices were limited," she replied.
Limited, or none at all?
"Did you have a chaperone for the remainder of the journey?"
She looked as if I'd questioned whether the sun set in the west. "Of course I had a chaperone. Mrs. Tisdale—a woman from Chicago—escorted me the length of the journey until we descended the stage in town. She would have joined me for the final leg to Bridgewater Ranch, but she didn't wish to remain in such a barren environment and was on the stage east at dawn this morning."
Observing the vast expanse of land that was part of Bridgewater as far as the eye could see, the woman's reasoning was valid. It was barren. It was one of the reasons the location was chosen by my regimental friends who settled the land originally—it's remoteness. That was fine for the group of us wishing to remain hidden, but it wasna for everyone. "She was told there would not be another stage for nearly a week and had no intention of missing it."
I could see the woman all but running after the stage to take her away from here. City folk didna last long in the Montana Territory. As for Miss Montgomery—no, it seemed she was Mrs. McPherson now—time would only tell if she'd be able to live in such a foreign land. Her voice had the clipped accent of a well-educated English lady. The way she kept her voice even and almost demure validated that guess. Society life in London was as different to Montana as was chalk and cheese.
"Ye didna wish to return with her?"
She sniffed. "I am not as skittish as Mrs. Tisdale."
Skittish, yes, but also verra brave.
Reaching into the folds of her skirt, she pulled out a folded piece of paper and held it out. "Here."
I stepped closer and took it from her small hand. She was so prim and formal that she carefully kept her fingers from brushing mine even though they were safely covered by kid gloves.
I unfolded the paper and read it. It was indeed a marriage license and it looked official. Folded with it was another, smaller piece of paper.
It was not my intention to die from a fall from a horse! Being in a foreign land and leaving Rebecca alone, I can think of no other way to protect her than by joining her to you. Returning to England is not a consideration, and it is my belief you will treat her well and with honor. While I long to see the vast Montana Territory for which you wrote, it allows me peace in my final moments to know you will protect her with your life. My sister, willful and sheltered, requires a marriage based on Mohamiran tradition and values found at Bridgewater. I have faith you will see this done.
I was married.
When I refolded the letter, I glanced at her. Her expression was controlled and very reserved and very English. I'd think she'd be stiff from riding the distance from town. I'd even think her to be wary of so many new faces, but she offered none of her emotions. It was a decidedly British trait, especially of women who were to be an adornment to a spouse and nothing more. If I asked her to her well being, she would, most likely, only provide a passing comment that deflected attention away from her. It was a sign to the type of upbringing she'd had and completely nae the kind of woman I would have sought out for a bride.
She would learn that hiding her emotions was nae required, nor wanted. "Unless ye plan to flee now that ye've seen me, let me help ye down."
As she rode sidesaddle, she took my hand long enough to shift her leg over the pommel as I stepped forward and gripped her waist to lower her to her feet. She was lush beneath my hands, her waist narrow by means of a very stiff corset, but I could feel her full hips against my fingers. While she was nay heavy, she wasna a waif either. In fact, she was a perfect handful for a man of my size—and Connor's.
I was verra tall, taller than average, but once standing, she only came up to my chin. She tilted her head back to look up at me over the brim of her hat. I felt her try to step back out of my grasp, but I held her a moment longer than necessary. In that time, I wondered what she'd feel like without the confining stays—if she'd be as wonderfully curvy and lush as I imagined.
Kane led her horse to stand beside the others at one of the hitching rails. We'd come from various parts of the ranch for the noonday meal and would disburse again once we'd eaten.
"There has been a mistake on the paper," I said.
Her eyes widened and she licked her lips. "No, no mistake." Her voice was a little less sure than before.
I held up my hand. "I dinna doubt the validity of this document, nor your brother's intentions behind it in his letter to me. I will honor both. I will honor you."
While her shoulders didna droop, I could sense relief in her. Relief nae that we would remain wed, but perhaps more that she was nae being rejected. Thousands of miles was a long way to travel to be spurned.
"The error is that it is solely my name as groom. Connor," I called.
While I kept my eyes on Rebecca, I heard footsteps on the wooden stairs, then across the hard packed ground. Rebecca's eyes shifted from me to Connor, who now stood beside me.
"May I introduce the former Miss Rebecca Montgomery, our bride?"
"Our...our?" She frowned, the first sign of emotion she shared. "I do not understand."
"You are nae just married to me." I tilted my head in Connor's direction. "You are also married to Connor."
Her mouth fell open so I could see a straight line of white teeth as she glanced between the two of us. When Connor nodded his agreement, I saw the color drain from her face and she fainted dead away, right into his arms.