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The McBride Brothers #2
Released Dec 29th, 2015
A trail of danger and dreams…
She may be an heiress, but Parker Promise Sinclair cares more about living an adventurous life than snaring a suitable husband. So it’s no surprise when she joins a Wyoming wagon trail—only to survive a massacre that leaves her with no memory, a target on her back—and her abiding faith tested by the only man who can possibly protect her.
His gunfighting skills and trail savvy have saved U.S. Marshal Jake McBride more times than he can count. And his instincts tell him the only way to keep Promise alive is to take her along on his high-stakes cattle drive. But she soon proves she can ride and shoot with the best of them—and Jake finds it increasingly difficult to keep himself from falling for her. Soon, with danger closing in, they'll have only one chance to face their doubts, their fears—and their growing love…
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Removing his Stetson, he placed it on the floorboard beside the quilts. He pulled the pistol that he’d found under the woman from his belt, and with a quick check of the cylinder, saw it was empty. The gun was in good condition; someone had taken the time to clean and oil it frequently. He placed the gun on the floor by his hat and kneeled beside the woman. He stared at her pale face, noticing that her long, dark lashes resting on her cheeks were a stark contrast to her deathly white skin. Some of her hair was beginning to dry, and he could see the color was a light golden blond. Even wet and covered in mud she was uncommonly beautiful. Her complexion was creamy smooth, her lips full and the palest pink. In his estimation she was nearly as beautiful as his brother’s new wife, and that was saying something.
He sat back on his heels, trying to muster the courage to do what needed doing. He wished she’d wake up so she could undress herself. Surprised at how uneasy he was, he told himself that he’d undressed his fair share of women over the years, so it wasn’t that he didn’t know where to start, but he still hesitated. None of those women had been unconscious, and they’d wanted to be undressed. If she woke up while he was taking her clothes off, she’d probably die of fright. He was as nervous as he was the first time he’d seen a naked woman. Hell’s bells! I was a U.S. Marshal for ten years and chased gunslingers all over this territory. I sure as hell can undress an unconscious woman. Just get on with it! As he leaned over and started to attack the tiny row of buttons at the neck of her dress, someone tapped on the wagon, causing him to jump up so fast he smacked his head on the wood frame.
“Dang it all!” he muttered, rubbing his head.
“Yo, boss, here’s the clothes,” Shorty said.
Jake leaned over to open the flap, and there stood Shorty, holding one of his shirts along with a pair of trousers.
Shorty pointed to the trousers. “I got these from the smallest man on the crew, but they ain’t going to fit without a rope to hold them up.” Then he added, “I’m boiling some water, so just whistle when you’re ready to get her wound cleaned.”
“Will do.” Crouching down beside her again, Jake reached for the first button. “I promise, honey, I’m not going to hurt you.” He was working as quickly as he could for fear she would wake up, and he kept talking just in case she did. He shivered at that thought. She was such a small woman that he lifted her with ease. He tried to keep his eyes from wandering as he got down to her chemise and bloomers, but the flimsy material was so wet it was transparent, and he dropped back on his heels again and took a deep breath. Lord, help me, he pleaded silently, and as much as he tried not to look, he couldn’t drag his eyes away. His next thought was he should just leave those things on her, but he decided that wouldn’t do. He didn’t want her catching a cold, yet if she came to and he had stripped her as naked as the day she was born . . . well, he didn’t even want to think about that. He grabbed his slicker to throw over her before he removed her underthings. He had no problem removing her bloomers with his hands under the slicker, but he didn’t have the same success with the laces on her chemise. He fumbled around, but he couldn’t find the secret of those ties without seeing what he was doing. His frustration mounting, and a few curse words later, he jerked the slicker aside, pulled his knife from its sheath, and slit the laces. Before he even allowed himself a peek—well, almost—his fingers latched on to the slicker and he threw it over her like she was a rattler ready to strike. He glanced at her face and was relieved to see she was still out cold. Only then did he let out a loud breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. He was drenched to the bone, but he was still sweating like a pig being chased by hungry men preparing for a pig roast. And he still had to get her into dry clothing. He made short work of getting her into his dry shirt, and he quickly buttoned it up to her throat. Grabbing the trousers, he held them up and determined Shorty was right; they were way too large, so he decided to leave them off. His shirt covered her to her knees anyway. Hopefully, he’d find some clothing for her when he returned to the wagon train.
Exhausted, he wiped the sweat from his brow with his wet shirtsleeve. When he went to hang her dress to dry, he was surprised at how heavy it was. He wondered how such a slight woman could stand up in a dress so heavy since the darn thing weighed as much as she did. Dismissing the thought, when he started to hang it from a nail he saw a label inside the neckline with a name stitched on it, which he couldn’t read, and beneath the name it said Paris, France. They sure made dresses heavy in Paris, France.
He leaned out of the wagon and gave a shrill whistle. Shorty came running with the water and some of his special salve. After cleaning and bandaging her wound, they tried to clean the blood from her thick mass of hair.
“I ain’t never seen so much hair in my life,” Shorty said.
“I don’t know how she holds her head up when it’s wet. It’s heavier than my holster,” Jake said.
“Is she hurt somewhere we can’t see?”
“I didn’t see anything else, but I have never seen anyone stay unconscious for so long. Have you?”
“Not this long.” Shorty absently stroked her silky hair.
“She sure is a pretty little thing. Dang those polecats for hurting a sweet little thing like her.”
“I found a man near her who could have been her husband. The two of them were younger than the rest of the folks.” He didn’t know which would be worse, having her wake up to find everyone she knew was dead, or not waking up at all. “Maybe we’ll find something that will tell me where they were headed.”
They looked at each other, both at a loss as to what to do next. Jake got to his feet. “I guess I’d best get back to bury those people.”
Shorty scrambled up behind him. He was so lacking in stature that he didn’t need to crouch down like Jake inside the wagon. “You ain’t plannin’ on leavin’ me alone with her, are you?”
Jake glanced down at the motionless woman. “I don’t think she’ll give you any trouble.”
Shorty let out a loud snort. “You know that ain’t what I’m sayin’! What if she . . . well . . . what if she . . . ,” he said, his voice quavering. “You know . . . goes to meet her Maker?”
Jake placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re the best hope she has, and I need to get back there before animals get to those folks. They deserve a decent burial, and I’m hoping the trail of those killers won’t be totally washed away. You know that in her condition I can’t take her all the way back to Dodge right now.”
“I’ve tended plenty of sick cowhands, but hellfire, I ain’t never tended a woman,” Shorty complained, raking a hand through his thinning white hair.
Jake didn’t have the time to reassure his cook, but he tried. “You’ve stopped the bleeding, and that’s about all we can do for her right now. I think it’s a good sign she doesn’t have a fever.”
Shorty nodded, wanting to hold on to that thread of hope. “Yeah, that’s good.”
Grabbing his slicker, Jake opened the canvas flap and jumped from the wagon, with Shorty right behind him.
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Scarlett Dunn lives in Kentucky surrounded by all manner of wildlife, and enjoys long "God walks" where most inspiration strikes. Possessing an adventurous spirit, and a love of history, particularly the pioneers of the West, she has a special place in her heart for all cowboys, past and present. Readers can visit her website: www.scarlettdunn.com.
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