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Schulze, Dallas

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Gunfighter's Bride by Dallas Schulze

 

THE SUNLIGHT SPILLED INTO THE CHURCH
BEHIND HIM CREATING A BRILLIANT GOLD PATH UP THE AISLE, A PATH HE STRODE LIKE
AN AVENGING ANGEL DESCENDING FROM HEAVEN ABOVE....

Lila Adams stood before the minister, a vision shrouded in a veil
of white lace, a bride, about to pledge her troth to a man she didn't love.
Then he, the devil in dusty clothes, marched into her wedding and burned all
the bridges she'd so carefully crossed. "You want to know who I am?"
he asked, in a voice as cool and hard as his eyes. "I'm the father of the
child she's carrying."

It was too late to turn back. Suddenly Bishop McKenzie was her
husband: the tall, terse Westerner who seized her at the altar with righteous
wrath. She tried to deny shameful memories of abandon in his arms, even as she
refused to let him leave her--or touch her--again. But she hadn't reckoned on
the stranger she married, or the passions that had already betrayed her in his
dangerous, seductive arms....

 

 

“I DON’T WANT YOU TO KISS ME AGAIN, THE WAY YOU DID LAST NIGHT,”
SHE SAID TIGHTLY.

He trailed his hand down her neck and set the pad of his thumb
over the pulse at the base of her throat.

“Are you afraid of me?” he asked softly.

“Certainly not!” Though it had been pride that dictated her quick
answer, it was also the truth. She was frightened by the ease with which he
could make her lose control, but she wasn’t afraid of him. Somewhere inside,
she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. And despite her protestations to the contrary,
she knew he wouldn’t force her to do anything she didn’t want to do. That was
the problem. He could make her
want
to do things she shouldn’t.

“Then why is your pulse beating so fast?” He was so close that she
could feel his breath against her forehead. Lila stared into his eyes,
mesmerized by their clarity. “Maybe the problem isn’t that you don’t want me to
kiss you. Maybe it’s that you do,” he whispered.

 

 

Published by Dell Publishing a division of

Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

1540 Broadway

New York, New York 10036

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware
that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to
the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment
for this “stripped book.”

Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Schulze

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

The trademark Dell® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office.

ISBN: 0-440-21466-1

Printed in the United States of America

Published simultaneously in Canada

January 1996

CHAPTER 1

Happy is the bride the sun shines on.

Lila watched dust motes floating through a beam of sunlight that
had found its way through one of the high windows of the church. The thin swath
of light fell directly in front of the minister, creating a tiny golden path on
the polished wooden floor. If she slid her foot forward just a few inches, the
sunbeam would fall across the toe of her satin slipper. Maybe that’s all it
would take to make the promise in the old saying true. Maybe if the sun was literally
shining
on
her, she’d be happy, the way a bride was supposed to be.

A half smile trembled on her mouth. It was too bad things couldn’t
be that simple. When she was a child, a sunny day had been enough to make her
happy. But she wasn’t a child anymore and it would take considerably more than
a little sunshine to put her world right. Like being able to turn back the
clock.

Just three months ago, she’d been in this same church for another
wedding. Her brother, Douglas, had been getting married, and Lila had watched
the ceremony through eyes stinging with tears of joy. She’d been so happy for
him, so pleased that he’d found someone to love. And she’d dreamed of her own
wedding, seen herself in a veil of white lace, her family and friends filling
the church behind her, her hand resting on a strong male arm.

Everything was just the way she’d imagined it. Her veil was made
of bobbin lace so fine it seemed as if it must have been woven by faerie
fingers rather than human hands. The fine white lace lay over the deep auburn
of her hair like snow on fire. The small church she’d attended all her life was
filled with family and friends, people she’d known since childhood. And the arm
beneath her fingers was definitely male and solid as a rock. Yes, she had
everything she’d dreamed of three months ago. The irony of that memory was so
powerful that it was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud. She’d
forgotten to wish for the one thing that would have given the picture real
meaning.

She’d forgotten to wish for love.

“Marriage is a lifelong commitment,” Reverend Carpenter was
saying. “A man and a woman are joined together by God, bound by the vows of
matrimony. Vows that will last the rest of their lives, making them one in the
eyes of the Lord.”

The words struck Lila with the force of blows.
A lifelong
commitment.
That was what she was making. The rest of her life would be
inextricably linked to Logan Sinclair, bound by the vows they were about to
exchange. Panic swept through her.

Suddenly light-headed, she swayed. Reverend Carpenter’s speech
stumbled to a halt as Logan’s arm came around her waist, steadying her. He
lowered his head, his brown eyes dark with concern.

“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.

Was she all right? Lila felt a hysterical bubble of laughter rise
in her throat. He, of all people, knew the answer to that question. But she
knew what he was asking. She swallowed hard and forced her mouth to curve in a
thin parody of a smile.

“I’m fine,” she told him, the lie nearly choking her. “I just felt
a little dizzy for a moment. I... didn’t eat much breakfast.”

She was aware of the barely audible buzz of concern and curiosity
rising from the guests. In another moment, Douglas would be out of his seat and
coming forward to see what the delay was, his green eyes, so like her own, dark
with worry. And if that happened, Lila was afraid she’d throw herself into her
brother’s arms, confessing the whole wretched truth and begging him to make
everything right, the way he’d always been able to do when she was a child. But
she wasn’t a child anymore and there wasn’t anything Douglas could do to make
things right this time.

“Please continue with the ceremony,” she told the minister,
forcing another smile.

Please continue before I change my mind.

Reverend Carpenter cleared his throat, his thin mouth compressed
with irritation. He prided himself on his skill as an orator and he did not
appreciate being interrupted in the midst of what he considered one of his
better efforts. He cleared his throat again and cast Lila a disapproving look
before continuing his one-sided discussion of the responsibilities of holy
matrimony.

Lila tried to listen to what he was saying. After all, she was
marrying Logan and she had every intention of being a good wife to him. She
would do everything in her power to make sure that he never had cause to regret
this day. She owed him that and more. Stealing a sideways look at his face, she
felt a pang of regret for what she was doing to him. He deserved better than
this. But she had no choice. She was doing the only thing she could.

She’d make it up to him, she promised herself. Focusing her eyes
firmly on the minister’s face, she tried to listen to what he was saying.

“Marriage is not about joy, though joy may be found within its
bonds. But joy cannot be the solitary goal of a marriage. Nay, it
must
not be a goal at all,” the reverend intoned solemnly.

Well, they could meet that requirement,
Lila thought with a touch of hysterical humor. Joy was certainly not one of
their primary goals in making this marriage.

“Marriage is about duty.” The minister’s voice boomed out sternly.
“A man’s duty to provide for his family. A wife’s duty—”

But before he could tell the assemblage just what a wife’s duty
might be, there was another interruption.

The sharp thud of boot heels hitting the wooden slats of the
entryway was clearly audible. An instant later, the tall double doors were
thrust open with force enough to knock them back against the walls on either
side and sunlight spilled into the church. Heads craned as the guests gaped at
the figure in the doorway. The bride and groom turned toward the disturbance
and Lila’s fingers suddenly dug deep into Logan’s arm, her knees going weak
under her.

Reverend Carpenter’s speech came to an abrupt halt, and, for an
instant, the church was quiet as a tomb. The silence stretched for the space of
several seconds, giving Lila a chance to contemplate the magnitude of the
disaster standing in the doorway. She wanted desperately to turn and run, to
find a place to hide. But she could only stand there, clinging to Logan, her
head swimming with shock.

“A late arrival, I see,” the reverend said, recovering his
equilibrium and anxious to assert his authority. “If you’ll find a seat, sir.”

But no one really believed that the man now walking up the aisle
was simply a late arrival. The sunlight spilled into the church behind him,
creating a brilliant golden path up the aisle, a path he strode like an
avenging angel descending from heaven above. Lila wished that was exactly what
was happening. Better an angel to smite her for her sins than the devil in
dusty clothes walking toward her now.

There was a buzz of whispers as some of the guests recognized him
and whispered to those who didn’t. A man like Bishop McKenzie was not easily
forgotten.

Booted and spurred and covered with dust, he looked as out of
place in the tidy little Pennsylvania church as a wolf at a teaparty. The
guests watched, breathless with curiosity as he strode up the aisle, looking
neither right nor left. The air fairly crackled with the tension of a drama in
the making.

Douglas Adams rose as Bishop neared the front of the church,
stepping into the aisle to face the other man. A quick rush of whispers
reminded those who might have forgotten that Bishop McKenzie had saved Douglas’s
life a few months ago, as well as that of his soon-to-be bride, Susan. As the
story went, Douglas and Susan had been facing sure death at the hands of the
ruffians who’d held up the stage in which they were riding. With the driver
already dead, there had been nothing to stop the thieves from killing Douglas
and doing something unspeakable to Susan when Bishop had suddenly appeared from
out of nowhere. Some said he’d dispatched half a dozen of the murderers with an
equal number of bullets, but there were those who claimed the cowards had
simply fled upon finding themselves confronting an armed man.

Whatever the truth was, there was no doubt that a friendship had
developed between the two men. It was an unlikely combination—Douglas Adams of
the Philadelphia Adamses and Bishop McKenzie of nowhere in particular. But
Douglas had invited Bishop to come East for his wedding and to stay with the
family for as long as he liked, and Bishop had accepted the invitation. For the
few days he’d been in Beaton, the tall westerner had been the source of
considerable speculation. The word “gunfighter” had been mentioned, and there
was something in the cool steadiness of his gaze that had given weight to the
speculation. More than one female heart had beat faster at the sight of those
broad shoulders and ice-blue eyes. There might even have been one or two
foolish enough to set their caps for him if he hadn’t left abruptly the day
after the wedding. Everyone had assumed they’d seen the last of him.

But here he was, striding through the church and creating ripples
of questions and speculation with every step.

“Bishop.” Douglas’s greeting held both question and confusion. “We
weren’t expecting you.”

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