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Authors: Leigh Greenwood

The Reluctant Bride

BOOK: The Reluctant Bride
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R
OCKED BY A
K
ISS

 

He put his fingertips under Tanzy’s chin and lifted her head until he could look into her eyes. “No one’s ever said anything that nice to me. Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me for telling the truth.”

“I don’t know that you have. I’m thanking you for believing in me.”

He leaned down to kiss her. He’d intended to kiss her cheek, her forehead, even the end of her nose, but somehow found himself kissing her lips. The shock was so great he couldn’t move. Then once he could, he didn’t want to.

He’d never known something as simple as a kiss could reach out and yank him off his feet so quickly. He’d never realized a woman’s belief in him could make him want to cling to her, to put his arms around her and pull her to him so she could never get away.

He suddenly realized his arms
had
encircled Tanzy’s waist, that he
had
pulled her to him. She hadn’t broken the kiss, she hadn’t tried to pull away. He couldn’t tell whether time stood still or his brain stopped functioning, but the kiss seemed to go on forever.

Other books by Leigh Greenwood:

THE INDEPENDENT BRIDE

SEDUCTIVE WAGER

SWEET TEMPTATION

WICKED WYOMING NIGHTS

WYOMING WILDFTRE

The
Night Riders
series:

TEXAS HOMECOMING

TEXAS BRIDE

BORN TO LOVE

The Cowboys
series:

JAKE

WARD

BUCK

DREW

SEAN

CHET

MATT

PETE

LUKE

The
Seven Brides
series:

ROSE

FERN

IRIS

LAUREL

DAISY

VIOLET

LILY

The
Reluctant
Bride

 

L
EIGH
G
REENWOOD

To my readers, who keep me doing what I love most.

Copyright © 2005, 2011 Leigh Greenwood

The
Reluctant
Bride

 

Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

About the Author

Chapter One

 

Colorado Territory, 1872

Tanzy Gallant watched with relief and awe as the towering mountains drew nearer. They meant the end of what seemed like an endless journey. It had taken her weeks to travel from St. Louis to Boulder Gap, a small town hugging the base of the Rocky Mountains. She’d traveled by train, stagecoach, and wagon, all of it as uncomfortable as it was exciting to a young woman who less than a year earlier had never been ten miles from her home in the Kentucky mountains.

Everything was new to her. In the beginning it had been the cities with their high buildings, traffic-choked roads, and men and women in clothes fancy beyond her imagination. Then, to a girl used only to tumbling mountain streams, the Mississippi, a river two miles wide. Next was the endlessness of the prairie. It seemed to go on forever with nothing to fill it except miles and miles of waving grass.

The Rocky Mountains were nothing like the tree-covered mountains and stream-filled, moss-and-fern-carpeted hollows of home. There was no slow progression from hills to mountains. These mountains thrust up out of the earth like a wall, towering thousands of feet into the sky. Their slate-gray flanks rose majestically to snow-covered caps that glistened brilliantly in the Colorado sun.

“It takes your breath away,” said her fellow passenger, Dorrie Spaugh.

“Yes, it does,” Tanzy replied. She had enjoyed talking with this pretty stranger. She’d grown up in a quiet hollow knowing fewer than a hundred people, all of them interrelated.

She’d fled her mountain home to escape being married to a cousin she disliked. She had hoped to find a better life in St. Louis, one in which she could find respect and the independence to make her own choices. Instead she’d discovered it was impossible to find work except in dance halls, on river boats, or in even less respectable gambling establishments. After six months of fighting to protect her virtue, she’d taken the advice of her friend Angela and become a mail-order bride.

“Do you have family in Boulder Gap?” Dorrie asked.

“No.”

She hadn’t told anyone she was traveling to meet her potential husband, a man she’d corresponded with only by mail. She was a member of a once-proud family that traced its roots back to Cavalier stock from the English Civil War, but a generation-long feud had claimed the lives of everyone she held dear.

“You have a friend to meet you?”

“Yes.” That wasn’t stretching the truth too much. Russ Tibbolt would be her husband once they’d had a short period of time to become acquainted. “Do you live in Boulder Gap?” Tanzy asked.

“No. I live at Fort Lookout. My husband is a junior officer there. I don’t get into Boulder Gap very often. Colonel McGregor, the commander of the fort, considers it too rough for ladies.”

“What’s it like?” Russ hadn’t said anything about the town in his letters, had given her only a description of his ranch.

“My husband says the town is populated mostly by rough men, miners and cowhands. Some settlers. There aren’t many nice women around, if you know what I mean.”

Tanzy knew exactly what she meant. She’d come to St. Louis believing honest men and women would treat her with respect unless she proved unworthy. She’d quickly learned that the barriers separating
respectable
ladies from other women were high, virtually impenetrable, and directly connected to social position. A woman who worked had questionable status. A woman who worked in a gambling hall had no status at all.

The sound of a pistol shot broke the calm. “What’s that?” Tanzy asked. “Why is the stagecoach slowing down?”

“Probably bandits,” Dorrie said.

“What do they want?”

“Our money and jewelry. Sometimes they rummage through luggage to see what they can find.”

“Is that all?”

Dorrie laughed. “I expect you’ve heard bandits murder and rape their victims. If they harmed a woman, every man in the Territory would be on their trail within the hour. Men out here have great respect for a good woman.”

That would certainly be different from the men she knew. Her father and brothers had had more respect for their hunting dogs than for her and her mother. The men she met in St. Louis had no respect for any woman outside their own social class.

Tanzy’s curiosity increased as the stagecoach slowed and she got a look at the man riding alongside. A mask covered his face, his clothes were rough and dirty, he hadn’t shaved recently, and he swore viciously at the driver, threatening to put a bullet through his head if he didn’t slow the stagecoach more quickly.

There’s only one,” Tanzy said. “Why doesn’t the driver shoot back?” She thought western men were supposed to be full of spunk, even reckless.

There’s always at least two,” Dorrie said, “one to do the stealing, one to hold a gun on the driver.”

Tanzy’s appearance should be proof she wasn’t hiding any valuable jewelry. She wore a modest, unadorned brown dress of coarse cotton that buttoned under her chin and at her wrists. A plain, dark bonnet covered most of her black curls. Her small cloth purse contained little beyond a few coins and Russ’s letters. The rest of her worldly belongings were packed in two small trunks and a valise. When the stagecoach came to a halt, the bandit leaned from the saddle and yanked the door open.

“Everybody out!” he shouted. “Come on, come on,” he said impatiently when Dorrie showed no inclination to leave the coach.

“You have to let the steps down,” she told him. “You can’t expect me to jump.”

Tanzy doubted he cared how she got down as long as he got what he wanted, but he dismounted and lowered the steps. He even helped Dorrie down.

“You, too,” he said when Tanzy couldn’t make her feet move.

She knew immediately he could tell the difference between Dorrie and her. He didn’t bother to help her down the steps. So much for respect for
all
women.

“Don’t want to hurt nobody,” the bandit said. “I just want your money and your valuables.”

“I don’t wear any jewelry when I travel by stagecoach,” Dorrie said.

“A fancy lady like you don’t go about without her rings,” the bandit said.

Dorrie took off her gloves to show the man her bare fingers. “You won’t find anything of value in my luggage, either.”

BOOK: The Reluctant Bride
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