SALVATION BRIDE, coming Fall 2008
The hot dusty town of Salvation, Texas has more than its share of secrets in 1873 when Laura Ashton's stage rolls into town. Sheriff David Slade has no idea what baggage his mail-order bride is bringing into his life. Throw in the nightmares from his Civil War days and he's got more than courting to contend with. Laura's a woman ahead of her time, a woman trained in medicine. And she's got a will that could move mountains. Unfortunately, the only mountains in Salvation are in Sheriff Slade's memory. Can the determined doctor heal his pain, or will the dark secret in her past turn up to steal his Salvation Bride?
Salvation, Texas 1873
Sheriff David Slade snapped his watch closed and stuffed the timepiece back into his vest pocket. The stage, with the answer to his prayers, arrived in ten minutes. He wondered again at the idea of marrying a stranger. Other than a couple of letters exchanged in the past four months, what did he really know about Laura Ashton? She asserted to be from the Virginia, though she’d currently lived in Ohio. He hoped she hadn’t lied about that. He couldn’t cotton to marrying a Northern. More important though, would she be a good mother to three-year-old Ginny, who’d never known a mother’s love?
Blowing out a breath, he stepped onto the wooden walkway in front of the Emerald Hotel and nodded to the owner, Ben Johnson, and the blacksmith, Jorge Martinez.
“Ain’t your bride coming today?” Martinez asked as he whittled on a piece of wood.
David noted the twinkle in the man’s eyes. He knew the town whispered about his unconventional marriage plans, but what options did he have? The pickings for a wife in Salvation were slim. The only eligible females were Johnson’s fourteen-year-old daughter, a few widows and the gals employed by Miss Belle. Sally was too young, the widows weren’t to his liking, and the gals employed by the Red Door Saloon, though nice enough and good for a quick tumble to lessen a man’s needs, weren’t the type of women he wanted to raise his daughter.
Nope, none of the women in Salvation would do. Ginny needed a kind-hearted mother and he needed a…housekeeper. Yep, all he required was someone to care for Ginny and his house. He didn't want or need a wife.
Liar. This time around he wanted a real wife. But how to achieve that when my first attempt at martial bliss failed so horribly?
He turned to the men on the porch. “Yes, Miss Ashton arrives today.”
Johnson spit a trail of tobacco onto the porch. “You sure she’s from Virginia?”
“She said she was,” David answered. “I’ve got no reason to think she lied.”
“Why is she coming all this way to get hitched?” Johnson asked.
David bristled. It wasn’t Johnson’s business why Miss Ashton chose to come to Salvation or why she was marrying him. She claimed she had no desire to stay in the North after her uncle’s recent death. David, however, wondered if there was something more, something she wasn’t telling him—something she was running from.
That was all right by him. God knew he’d done enough running of his own, even if he hadn’t actually gone any place. There were a multitude of ways to run from something you didn’t want to face.
At least she had one good thing going for her. Too bad it was only five thousand dollars. The past few years, following the War Between the States, hadn’t been easy for Texas or its ranchers. He was barely surviving, what with the steep taxes and punishing attitude of the North. He wanted to give up his sheriff job and work full-time on the ranch, but for the past few years, he’d needed the income to put food on the table. Five thousand dollars would help, even if it didn’t pay off his debts in full.
Someone down the street hollered. The stage was coming, saving him from answering Johnson’s prying questions. David stepped off the porch and spied a large cloud of dust kicking its way up from the horizon.
The stage thundered into town and halted before the hotel. Chet McGuire jumped down from the driver’s seat and opened the door. “Salvation,” he announced.
The figure of a woman filled the black hole and David’s breath caught. Chet helped the woman descend the steps.
“We’ll have a few minutes here, so you can stretch your legs,” Chet said. “Are you fairing well, Ada?”
David took in the woman, who was well advanced into a pregnancy and at least thirty years old. He blew out his breath. This wasn’t Laura Ashton.
She smiled adorningly at the weathered stage driver. “Yes, dear, I am. I’ve had a most enjoyable companion these past few days.”
The woman turned to the stage and David followed her gaze. A young woman in a wrinkled traveling suit and carrying a small black bag appeared. Was this his future wife?
Chet reached up a hand to help the woman down. “Miss Ashton, I do thank you for watching after my wife.”
His heart quickened its pace. The tin-type she’d sent hadn’t done her justice. She was far prettier than the blurred image showed.
Her honey-gold hair was in a bun, topped with a frilly hat. His gaze traveled over her figure to her sensible boots then back up, admiring the rounded hips and swell of her bosom beneath her open jacket and white shirt before focusing on her face. She was an attractive woman, one he would have no trouble liking. Maybe he’d been a bit hasty in his thoughts of just needing a housekeeper, but after his troubled marriage with Angie, he knew the necessity to proceed with caution. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on his side.
An enchanting smile spread across Miss Ashton’s tired face. “Why, sir, the pleasure was all mine,” she said in a lilting voice with a trace of a drawl. “Mrs. McGuire has given me helpful information on how to survive in Texas, as well as the recipe for her honey biscuits you have raved so much about.”
Chet grinned. “No offense, ma’am, but I doubt you’ll make them as good as my Ada does.”
Mrs. McGuire slapped Chet on the arm, but the young woman only smiled wider. “I do believe, sir, you are correct there.” Her grey eyes slipped past the McGuires and settled on the sheriff star pinned to the breast pocket of David’s leather vest. Her smile wavered.
“Sheriff Slade?” she asked.
Both Chet and his wife turned to look, then exchanged a private glance. David stepped forward. “Yes, and you’re Miss Ashton?”
“Sir, I appear to have finally arrived. I do declare I thought I never would.”
She stuck out her hand and he shook it. Her warmth seeped through her gloves and sent heat up his arm.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
He soaked up her heart-shaped face with his gaze. Damn, she was a pretty thing. “Likewise, ma’am.”
Chet moved back to the stage. “I’ll have your baggage in just a minute, Miss Ashton. Ada, you best take a rest in the restaurant. We’ll be leaving as soon as the horses are changed.”
Laura slipped her arm through Mrs. McGuire’s. “Please join me in a glass of lemonade before you go. I have so enjoyed our time together. You must write and let me know how you and the baby are doing.”
Mrs. McGuire let out a sigh. “Oh, it is so good not to be bouncing around in the stage. Sheriff, you don’t mind if I take your fiancée away for a while, do you?”
David could tell there was a bond between the women, one forged in the confines of a stagecoach. Even though he desperately needed to talk to her, how could he not allow Laura time to say goodbye. She’d be surrounded by strangers soon enough.
He nodded, then watched as Laura allowed Mrs. McGuire to lean on her, gently putting an arm around the weary woman. God, how he needed the comfort of this woman, too.