Excerpt for Roundup the Brides! by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




ROUNDUP THE BRIDES!



BARBARA DAN

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Smashwords Edition

Roundup the Brides!

Copyright 2017 Barbara Griffin Dan

All rights reserved.

Digital ISBN: 9781370610631


Cover Design and Interior Layout: Laura Shinn Designs

http://laurashinn.yolasite.com


Gospel Hymn, God in the Valley, is public domain, dating back to the 1860s.

Freestyle translation of I Corinthians 13 by author, using a variety of biblical texts.

Registered with the Library of Congress

Wyoming, 1889

Women’s role in settling the West

Wyoming Cattle Ranches

Discovery of oil and other natural resources.

Conflict between Wyoming Stock Growers Assoc. and homesteaders


All rights reserved. Except for use in a review, reproduction or use of this work in whole or in part in any form by electronic, mechanical or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.


Roundup the Brides is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales, or actual events, is entirely coincidental. Thank you for respecting U.S. and International copyright laws and this author’s creative work.




DEDICATION


Again, my sincere thanks to Carolyn Turner, fellow quilter and one of my best friends ever!

For fun, she consented to be included, along with her late husband Byron as secondary characters in my historical western romance, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, published in 2015. Now, by popular demand, many of the same characters are back again, including Carolyn and Byron, in my rip-roarin’ romantic romp, ROUNDUP THE BRIDES.



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Book I of Happy Valley Series: HOME IS THERE THE HEART IS


It all began in 1873 when an adventurous young woman volunteered to help an Orphan Train full of homeless children find homes out West. When she reached Cheyenne, three orphans still needed homes, so she married up with a rancher, who helped her raise all three to adulthood.



Book II of Happy Valley Series: ROUNDUP THE BRIDES!


Back by popular demand, author Barbara Dan revisits Happy Valley, Wyoming in 1889 and treats readers to many of the same fascinating characters, all grown up now, as they face and overcome adversity through sheer ingenuity. (News Flash! They also fall in love!)



AUTHOR’S NOTE


Dear Reader, I imagine many of you are pet owners, as I certainly am!

Dogs have played an important role in my life since my grandfather gave me my first dog, a Scottie, when I was one month old. Since then, my family and I have owned, or perhaps more accurately, we have been owned by several breeds, including German Shorthaired Pointers, an English Setter I named after gossip columnist Louella Parsons, a beautiful Merle Collie named Fort, several German Shepherds, all named Bear, an English Spaniel, two princely Golden Retrievers, a Bearded Collie, and several lovable Labrador Retrievers. More recently, a Maltese-Bichon mix and a ShihTzu have joined the clan of Dan.

Each of them owns my heart for different reasons.

However, because ROUNDUP THE BRIDES touches on a very special category of dogs, I want to acknowledge the contributions made by cattle and sheep herding dogs throughout the Western United States.

Representing the Catahoula breed is the late, great Freckles, who owned the hearts of Al and Diane Rush of Springfield, Oregon.

Additional kudos to four other fantastic herding dogs: Mini-Aussi Shepherds, Trigger and Angel; Australian Shepherd, Dottie, and Bentley Blue Heeler, K. C., all lovingly raised by Michael and Tammy Dan of Caldwell, Idaho.


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RECENT REVIEWS of Barbara Dan’s NOVELS:


REVIEWS of HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS:

Book #1 of the Happy Valley series (Western historical novel):


AFFAIRE DE COEUR magazine, 4--1/2 Star Review:

“Meg Wolverton is a young Easterner who takes a job as a housekeeper for a rancher in rural Wyoming,1873. Along the way, she’s responsible for seeing orphaned children to their new parent. Three kids, Susie, Davey and Jimmy don’t get adopted, so when she arrives, her new boss, widower Sam Gallagher realizes he has a ready-made family and suggests they get married. Meg gets a crash course in being a housewife and mother on the frontier. Can this marriage of convenience complete with adopted children turn into a love match?


HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS is a heartwarming historical romance with a Christian message. Meg is readily reliant and has a strong relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, but after the death of his first wife and young daughter, Sam has closed his heart to the Lord. However, Meg’s warmth and love for the children and their developing relationship causes him to reconsider his anger toward God. The spiritual message is well done and not preachy. Faith in God is a part of the characters’ lives, not an editorial. Humorous and populated with interesting characters, along with a passionate relationship between the leads, this is a good Western historical romance novel.”

Danielle Hill, reviewer for Affaire de Coeur Magazine


Barbara Dan crafts a charming novel that blends history and romance.” Western Writers of America RoundUp Magazine


Amazon.com: 5-Star Reviews on Home Is Where the Heart Is:


Wonderful Heartwarming Story: This book’s characters are facing tough times, helping each other and becoming stronger in their faith. It really is a great story.”

—J.V.


I truly loved Home Is Where the Heart Is. I was so taken by it I simply did not want it to end! My Dad was raised in Western Nebraska near Hay Springs. He told me many stories from his childhood, and reading your novel brought many happy memories of him and his folks. His mom had a job teaching in a one-room school. It was his job to get up early and saddle his horse and ride to the school and get the fire going to heat the building. Home Is Where the Heart Is kindled many a story from the western rural life that he passed onto me. Thank you so much, Barbara Dan. Reading your book was such a special treat.”

S.B.K.


Barbara Dan is such an excellent descriptive writer, it was hard to put down. Home Is Where the Heart Is captures the atmosphere of Wyoming Territory, and the characters involved make the story interesting and exciting.”

H.M.


Home Is Where the Heart Is [is] a most delightful tribute to the women who helped establish the West. It brought it alive for me. Great work!”

F. K.


REVIEWS of PETTICOAT WARRIOR:


Barbara Dan’s Civil War historical romance is a fast paced, adventurous novel which will appeal to readers of all genres. Gabe and Sarah are a terrific pair who love to disagree almost as much as they adore being in love. The author’s references to the late 1800s are on-point, factual and quite interesting. This story is engaging from start to finish and contains a perfect blend of history and intrigue, which will warm the cockles of your heart and excite you all at once.”

Romantic Times, 4-1/2 Star Top RT Rating (January 2015 issue)


“Fast-paced romance with lot of fireworks and humor. Sarah and Gabe are a fascinating mix of hot-headedness and attraction. I laughed a lot as Sarah fought to maintain her independence as a feminist during the Civil War era.”

S. Habegger, Amazon.com 5 Star Customer Review


Barbara Dan does her homework! The historical detail is impressive ad vividly colors the romantic story, which is full of surprising twists of fate. I felt the urgency of being so close to a Civil War battlefield. Sarah is there disguised as a male doctor desperately hoping to find her father, who’s been imprisoned by the Confederates while serving as a Union Army medic. Drs. Gabe and Sarah are complex characters, her women’s lib ideals in sharp contrast to his views of male superiority. From the southern woods, to a visit with Susan B. Anthony, to an elegant New York City mansion, Sarah is swept along on a journey she never expected to take.”

Laureltree Books, Amazon.com 5 Star Customer Review


REVIEWS of MacGREGOR’S BRIDE:

A high spirited romance about a strapping sea captain and his love-starved war bride during the War of 1812.”

Las Vegas Review Journal


Amazon.com 5-Star Reviews for MACGREGOR’S BRIDE:

“I absolutely adored MacGregor! He is not the typical “dark, forboding, mysterious” type that many novelists choose to portray [as] their male love interests. He is gorgeous, yes, but he is also happy, upbeat and absolutely lovable!!!! This story is very satisfying from beginning to end. If you like a story with a great ending, you will really like this one!!!!”

— “Romance Lass,” Jennifer


Wonderful writing . . . full of detail and research. The hero is a happy-go-lucky all-American hero. Usually I go for the dark tormented hero, but Bruce is so handsome and lovable that I fell in love with him instantly. The heroine, Lydia, is also great . . . I really can’t rave enough about Barbara Dan’s superb prose.

P. G. D.


One of my all-time favorite romances. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT! This is one great book. I’ve read it twice, and I never do that. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a must-have for all romance story lovers.”

David B. Yerkie, Spring Lake, MI


“An old-fashioned roller-coaster ride with a strong hero and heroine who come alive on the page. If you enjoy an adventure-filled story, this is for you.”

Romantic Times 4-Star Review


REVIEWS of SILENT ANGEL:

Silent Angel is a touching, compelling love story. A wonderful romance! Barbara Dan is a terrific storyteller.”

Bobbie Smith, NY Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author


Silent Angel is a delightful novel. [The way] Barbara Dan describes the lives of pioneers [is] the next best thing to being there. I love the way she develops her characters and storyline — it will make you laugh and cry. She keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Once I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down. She is truly an artist who paints with words.”

5-Star Customer Review (arlomore) at CreateSpace.com


“What a pleasant surprise! When I started reading, I couldn’t stop. My husband would say, ‘Are you coming to bed?’ I’d say, ‘In a minute.’ Even 2 or 3 hours after I finished reading Silent Angel, it was so real that I kept wondering about the twins growing up and weather in Montana. A most enjoyable read!”

Customer Review (jchapman)


REVIEWS of O’ROURKE’S BRIDE

(1864 Historical Romance):


“A fun, fast-moving read. Barbara Dan is a talent to watch!”

Bobbi Smith, NY Times bestselling author


“An enjoyable marriage of (in)convenience set amid a majestic mountain range . . . funny and entertaining, as the battle of the sexes heats up in more ways than one. Hot!”

Romantic Times


Amazon.com Customer Reviews: 5-Star Reviews:


Witty, Sexy, Irish West Romance! Barbara Dan treats romance fans with a brand new rip-roaring western romance with sexy passionate Irish characters that are very much like a mixture of two all-time favorite John Wayne movies, The Quiet Man and McClintock.”

Beverly Romance Books, St. Petersburg, FL


Great Characterization. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in a long time. It is set in a part of the country I know, so that was fun, but there is nothing trite or contrived about how this book unfolds. I especially enjoyed O’Rourke.”

Jane Jordan, Boise, Idaho


A Delightful Romp! You will not be bored with this book! [It’s] romantic, humorous, and hard to put down. You wonder what the beautiful, hot-tempered, impetuous Kate is going to do next? From start to finish, the book entertains, while giving you your money’s worth (and then some!) in the romance department. On a scale of milk toast to hot chili peppers, this book’s romantic heat leans more toward the peppers. A spicy romance with wit aplenty!

— “Tigger,” Wood Village, OR


Barbara Dan has written about cultures clashing: western vs. eastern vs. British cultures, all set in the bawdy, boisterous and booming times of Virginia City (NV), 1864. There is a good deal of passion and wit in this fun book.”

Love Western Romances Book Review Online


Barbara Dan’s Western romance, O’Rourke’s Bride, is set in Virginia City during the mining boom of the 1860s, [and] involves a sham marriage, lumbermen, miners and the theatre.”

ROUNDUP Magazine, Feb. 2007


REVIEW of THE OUTCAST:

THE LONG ROAD BACK


“. . . infused with local history . . . the strength of community . . . and [how] good neighbors can help and encourage each other. [Barbara Dan’s] book, The Outcast: The Long Road Back, [is] the fictionalized account of her grandfather’s arrival in Salem in 1913. . . [When] towering, 6-foot-8 Alex meets the love of his life, Emily, the two begin a relationship that sees Alex through his recovery [from alcoholism] . . . [and] helps him change his life. [The Outcast takes the reader on] a journey similar to [the author’s] grandfather’s more than a century ago. People back then [discovered] what they were best at and benefitted the whole community.”

The Keizer Times, July 13, 2012









PROLOGUE


During the Union Pacific Railroad’s

final approach into Cheyenne,

May 18, 1889


“I hate to interrupt, son, but would you kindly stop fidgeting around with that contraption? Damnation, Stuart! I want your undivided attention!”

At his wit’s end, Sir Oliver Braden, England’s most recent industrial tycoon to get out of the East Indian tea and spice market and invest heavily in the American West, hurled the business section of the Chicago Times at his son. “What the devil do you think you’re doing, anyway?”

“One more minute, Father, and I’ll be through. Now hold perfectly still.” Stuart squinted through the aperture on a small leather-bound box mounted on a tripod and pushed the button. While his father was spending the family fortune dabbling in the Chicago stock market, he had come across a perfectly fascinating gadget invented by a brainy fellow named George Eastman.

Finally the timer sounded, and Oliver was allowed to breathe again. “What possible use does that ridiculous box have?” he scoffed.

Stretching to get the kinks out, Stuart cracked a mischievous smile. “It’s more than just a box, Father. It’s a camera, and it takes photographs.”

“It’s a total waste of money,” his father groused. “Where’d you find such a thing anyway?

“At Mrs. Astor’s soirée on Park Avenue–while you were busy inspecting coal barges on Lake Erie.” He waggled his eyebrows, just to irritate his obsessively ambitious father. “Eastman himself was there, giving away samples as door prizes.”

“Ah, Stu,” Oliver groaned. His son’s laissez-faire attitude was such a disappointment. “You know it will never amount to a hill of beans.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Stuart shrugged. “If nothing else, it might be an amusing way to meet pretty women.”

Oliver frowned. Stuart might be blessed with his mother’s amiable disposition, but he showed not one iota of his sire’s keen drive for success. Indeed, this son of his heart seemed quite content to share his private parlor car on the Union Pacific Railroad, and tag along on this tour of the West. It troubled him deeply that his only son seemed perfectly content to be a rather amiable social animal. A bloody playboy, that’s what he was! Well, he had done his level best to impress upon Stuart the virtues of making money. And as God was his judge, he wasn’t about to quit now!

~*~

As fate would have it, an enormous cloud of dust enveloped the train as it pulled into the station. Though temporarily unable to verify the status of Wyoming’s capitol city with his own eyes, Sir Oliver saw no reason to doubt what he’d read in the Chicago newspapers. Cheyenne boasted a population of nine thousand, give or take a few–certainly a modest number of people, compared with London and the great cities of Europe. Still, by all reports, it was growing by leaps and bounds.

Now, the trick to making a killing on the stock market was to invest early in the game–before the money sharks arrived. Oliver was shrewd enough to diversify in the area’s more promising natural resources–gold, silver, coal, and precious minerals, for instance. And, of course, he was already heavily invested in the Northern Pacific Railroad, now providing coast-to-coast passenger service and delivery of manufactured goods.

Between the engine’s belching smoke and the prairie dust, visibility was almost non-existent. However, a few hearty souls seemed determined to debark despite the swirling dust.

Oliver preferred to spend his valuable time strategizing.

He never rushed into business dealings without having a well laid out strategy.

The steward seeing to the gentlemen’s needs in the private car advised them to stay put until the dust settled. “Just sit back, gen’lemen,” he drawled. “Between thet big herd of longhorn steers milling around in the lot across the tracks and thet wind, you might as well relax an’ enjoy another bourbon on the rocks.”

“You heard the man.” Stuart grinned at his father. “So, is this a Wyoming dust storm?” he asked the steward.

“No, suh! It only gets like a tornado right after a big herd o’ cattle rumbles into town. But don’t you worry none. Soon as them cows settle down in the feed lots, the air clears up right quick.”

Since the Bradens planned to use the private car throughout their journey, the Verde car would be moved onto a siding without delay, while the rest of the train headed West later in the evening. Until Oliver decided how he felt about hotel accommodations in Cheyenne, the Verde would remain their home away from home.

“A good thing Mother isn’t here.” Stuart squinted past his glass of bourbon at the tumbleweed bouncing off their parlor car windows. “Roughing it is definitely not her cup o’ tea, though I must admit, it suits me right down to the ground.”

“Better make up our beds for tonight, just in case,” Oliver told the steward.

After Stuart and his father finished their late afternoon ritual of bourbon on the rocks, they loaded their pearl-handled Colt revolvers, special-ordered from the Colt factory back East. Although both men enjoyed hosting the occasional weekend of hunting on the family estate in England, they had heard enough rumors about the lawless American West to ensure that they were prepared for any eventuality.

“Tell you what, Father,” Stuart said, strapping on his holster. “While you hob-nob with the Governor and charm all the locals, why don’t I rent a horse and explore the outlying areas for minerals and various other enterprises you might want to invest in?”

Pleased to see his son take such an interest, Oliver raised his glass in a salute. “An outstanding idea, son. With you doing the legwork, I can focus my energies on making the right business connections.”

Stuart clinked glasses with his father. “To our mutual success!” he declared with a twinkle in his eye and drank up.



Chapter One


Two weeks later


After chasing after every prospector with a registered claim within a forty mile radius of Casper, Wyoming, Stuart Braden decided he was done with “roughing it.” Camping out over the past week with a bedroll, fishing pole, and a few pots and pans, was definitely not his cup of tea. When he was on the move, he sounded remarkably like a second hand junk dealer clattering through the streets of London at dawn. True, he hadn’t seen a drop of rain in this wilderness, but it wasn’t so much the rugged terrain and blowing sand that got into every pore and made him itch that convinced him there had to be a better way to search for gold and precious minerals. Oh, no. It was much worse than that.

Every miner he’d met so far had the half-mad, hollow-eyed look of a hermit on the lam from the Law. Well, possibly a few were outlaws, but whatever inspired these loners to “strike it rich” in this wilderness, the vast majority looked like half-starved wolves, as they grimly went about the impossible task of digging a fortune out in these desolate hills. No doubt about it: The vast majority of these prospectors must have been born stubborn to the bone, or just plain stupid.

A few diehards had dragged a woman along for company– poor, disheveled, unwashed creatures. No spirit left in them at all.

Sadly, one woman was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. For the life of him, Stuart couldn’t imagine a worse place to bring a child into the world than a lean-to, a couple of filthy blankets hung over a tree branch, and to keep the tree upright, a small deer carcass covered with flies in the hot sun. To help this young couple out a bit, Stuart found himself emptying his saddle bags of all his canned peaches and beans. Poor souls! They looked so gaunt they might easily blow away in the wind.

Later in the day, thirsty, dusty, and famished beyond belief, Stuart spotted a watering hole off in the distance. Instead of finding water, he waded in a couple of feet–and got a boot full of a greasy, scummy, black substance from the bubbling spring. Figuring it served him right for agreeing to undergo this insane expedition, he laughed until his ribs ached. What a mess he’d gotten himself into!

Though parched, he figured he still had enough energy and good sense to hightail it back to Casper. He could certainly do with a quick wash-up at the bathhouse and a meal at the local greasy spoon café. Then he’d catch the next stagecoach back to Cheyenne and report back to his father.

With an apology to his horse, he spurred his mount away from the foul smelling, noxious pond. As a souvenir from his first sortie into the wilds, he packed away a quart-sized jar of pond scum in his saddle bag.

Hopefully his father hadn’t completely lost his sense of humor, because Stuart thought it was pretty damn amusing that he had so little to show for his efforts.

~*~

With his first decent meal in a week under his belt, Stuart felt much more optimistic about life, as he approached the Casper Stagecoach depot. For one thing, the ticket in his pocket had cost him only a silver dollar. That included taking his rented horse along, tied on a long rein attached to the back of the stagecoach.

Jolly good price, considering the American economy, he thought. Securing his camping gear on top, next to a large Wells Fargo crate, he picked up his saddle bags, which contained his camera and other valuables, including–ahem!–the “valuable” specimen of smelly pond scrum, which he hoped would amuse his father.

Eager to take his seat, Stuart nimbly leapt over a pile of manure and landed–due to sheer luck and his athletic acuity–on the boardwalk in front of the freight office.

His heart leapt in his throat, as a young woman chose that exact same moment to step across his path.

And what a sight she was to behold! In his wildest dreams he had always believed he was destined to meet such a creature. Blonde, cinnamon brown eyes, with a creamy complexion only faintly marred by a modest blush, as her startled gaze met his.

Quickly remembering his manners, Stuart bowed gallantly and extended his hand. “Ah, divine angel,” he rhapsodized. “Permit me to be of some assistance.”

This enchanting creature raised her eyebrows, looking faintly amused, as she exchanged quizzical looks with the plump matronly woman at her side.

Since both ladies were surrounded by an assortment of bandboxes, satchels, and other luggage, Stuart instantly sought to ingratiate himself with the older lady. Her mother, perhaps? Or an aunt?

“Perhaps I may be of help to you both.” He flashed his best dimpled smile. Naturally, Stuart never expected such a gorgeous young lady–rather well dressed, too!–to materialize in front of Casper’s rather tawdry stagecoach stop. Indeed, he was so smitten that all memory of the damage his rugged adventures had done to his own appearance over the past several days completely escaped his notice. All he knew was that in the twinkling of an eye, he had met The Incomparable One.

“Mrs. Bardow?”

Ah! The angel spoke.

But while Stuart was transfixed by her melodious voice, her companion shoved him aside and shouted, “Albert! Get yourself over here. Right now!”

“Coming!” a heavyset gentleman in dungarees hollered back. Sweating under the burden of the steamer trunk on his back, he stomped and shoved his way through a cluster of bachelors standing idly about, ogling the blonde beauty who would never, ever belong to them, because Stuart had already made up his mind that this was The One.

“You fellas take a hike,” the rancher told the onlookers. “There’s alfalfa planting to be done back at the ranch, and I’ll dock your pay if you don’t skedaddle. Right now!”

Clearly the rancher and his wife meant it when they said, “Right now!” After a lot of boot scuffing and “Aw, shucks, boss!” these lovesick cowboys mounted up and headed out of town.

Hoping to win points with Albert, Stuart helped lift the steamer trunk off the man’s beefy shoulders. Staggering a bit under the weight, he passed it up to the guard riding shotgun. “There you go, my good man,” he said with a winning smile.

Meanwhile two dangerous looking men packing iron pushed past the young woman and commandeered the best two inside seats.

“Hey!” Stuart protested. “Those seats belong to this young lady and–”

Before he could say another word, Albert reached inside, grabbed the two ruffians in a chokehold and dragged the pair out of the stagecoach.

The guard riding shotgun jumped down and cocked both barrels of his shotgun. “I’ll take care of these guys for you, Mr. Bardow,” he offered.

The driver walked up, flexing his leather-clad fists. “Neither of you guys bought a ticket. Now scram!”

“Okay, okay,” the two men apologized, backing away. “We just figured the schoolmarm might enjoy a little company.”

“I most certainly would not!” the lady in question indignantly declared.

It pleased Stuart that she wasn’t afraid to speak up for herself–rather vehemently, in fact. However, such a delicate creature would be no match for such low-life scum. It was a good thing he would be traveling with her. In the event any more unpleasant situations should arise, it would be his privilege to protect her honor.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Bardow,” said this same fair flower of the West, interrupting Stuart’s private musings. Opening her handbag, she pulled out a loaded six-shooter–Smith & Wesson, if he wasn’t mistaken. “I am an excellent shot.”

Stuart’s eyes goggled. Never had he seen such a nonchalant attitude about using a gun at the drop of a hat. Not that he wasn’t perfectly capable of defending the young lady’s right to a forward facing seat, or if she faced a real threat to her life. But it did seem a bit extreme for the guard to stick a shotgun in a man’s belly!

“We’re going to miss you, Miss Gallagher,” Mr. Bardow smiled. “Please give our best regards to your parents. They sure raised you right.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Bardow.” Her eyelashes fluttered, as she fought the sudden onset of tears. “I’m going to miss you, too, more than I can ever say. ” She gave the rancher’s ruddy cheek a quick buss. “Goodbye, kind sir.” Turning, she threw her arms around his wife and let the tears roll down her soft cheeks. “Thank you, my very dear Mrs. B., for everything.”

A lump formed in Stuart’s throat, as he watched this emotional parting of friends. How long would it be, he wondered, before he was reunited with his mother and sisters in England? His heart hurt, just thinking about the long miles that separated them. But, alas, that was the price one must pay for taking on family responsibilities. Ever since his father refused to heed his doctors and slow down, Stuart had become the Chosen One to help his father carry on the work he so dearly loved.

Even so, Stuart welcomed the chance to escape the constant pressure of always being at his father’s beck and call. Of course, this latest adventure had been something of a letdown. Likewise, he suspected his father welcomed not being under constant surveillance, too. Stuart did not look forward to having to explain his utter lack of success on this trip.

Perhaps the quart size jar of slimy mud would earn him some time off, while he furthered his acquaintance with Miss Gallagher. Ah, well. Only time would tell . . .

Stuart blinked, focusing on his beautiful traveling companion’s luggage, now properly stowed on top of the stagecoach. At last! They were about to depart, he realized with a smile.

But wait. Another delay: A couple of love-struck cowboys, bravely ignoring Mr. Bardow’s disapproving scowl, had returned to shake Miss Gallagher’s hand. Cheeky fellows!

How poised and gracious she is, and so very young, Stu marveled, watching the pair depart with broken hearts. And how fortunate, he fantasized, that she has me along to keep her safe.

The door slammed shut, and they were off!

Stuart tipped the brim of his hat forward, hoping for a more dashing look. After all, he and the lady hadn’t been officially introduced. In England that might create insurmountable difficulties. Still, he reminded himself, this was America! And when in Rome–that is, America–one must do things the American way.

“I take it you’ve known the Bardows for quite some time?” he led off casually.

“Yes. ” She leaned out the window like the Queen of England, waving her handkerchief at all manner of storekeepers and pedestrians, all of whom waved back. “Goodbye, Mrs. Carstairs! Tell Tommy I’ll see him in the fall. Oh, Mrs. Jarvis! I hope Penny and Alvin will be over the mumps soon. . . Mr. Prentice, how are you, sir?”

This exchange of mutual cordialities lasted only as long as it took the stagecoach to reach the southbound road out of town. Truly remarkable, Stuart thought. Miss Gallagher seemed to know everyone in town!

Fortunately he had insisted that Miss Gallagher be given the seat looking forward, for her own special use. Indeed, he would not have it otherwise. And, yes! There was method to his madness, for how could he regret riding with his back to the horses, when it permitted him such an exquisite view of his traveling companion? No sacrifice was too great. Any degree of discomfort was worth the slight nausea caused by rattling along backwards.

Yes, he sighed happily. The lady was destined for far greater things than teaching unruly children of all ages in a poorly heated, one-room schoolhouse. No doubt a noble-minded endeavor, but hardly the future he envisioned for such a charmer, he thought, studying her through his eyelashes. Indeed, what female among his many acquaintances back home could compete with the pure magic in those blonde curls and twinkling brown eyes? Indeed, her hour-glass figure put to shame last year’s most charming debutantes, bar none. And her daintily crossed ankles were exquisite, though modestly laced into high button shoes with a shorter heel than was currently the fashion in London.

It was not long before he found himself thoroughly bewitched.

He had to know everything about her.

Her name.

Her favorite perfume.

Her favorite music.

Her likes and dislikes. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!!

~*~

While Stuart was secretly rhapsodizing over Miss Suzanne Gallagher’s physical attributes and outgoing personality, she was not as unaware as he supposed of the handsome young Englishman sitting across from her.

For one thing, she was thoroughly intrigued by his English accent.

Everyone she knew spoke in a hodge-podge of American dialects, nasal twangs, soft Southern drawls, and some with foreign accents. Wyoming had been settled by people from so many different places that a person could expect just about any form of speech. Not to mention those who resorted to cuss words!

If for no other reason, she felt it was incumbent upon her, as a teacher, to cultivate an ear for “proper English,” especially since she had never met a proper Englishman before! Oh, she had heard Irish, Welsh and Scottish accents, German, Czech, Swedish, Norwegian, and Spanish dialects, and a couple of Indian children imitating the soldiers at Bridger Fort. Yes, she decided, this was her lucky day.

“You’re English, are you not?” she asked, to open the conversation.

“Indeed, yes. Stuart Braden, at your service.” He nodded graciously. “Currently visiting Wyoming with my father, who is in Cheyenne on business.”

“I see.” She nodded. “So you are–what? Sightseeing? Just traveling about?”

“Yes, I find the countryside quite stimulating,” he said, cursing himself for allowing her beauty to rob him of his usual savoir-faire. “What about you? I gather from your chat with the locals that you have been teaching school?”

She blushed and gazed modestly at the gloves in her lap. “Yes, I enjoy it immensely.” She glanced out the window at the scenery rapidly passing by.

“It must have been a quaint experience,” he said. “I take it you lived with Mr. and Mrs. Barlow during the school year?

Her face lit up with eagerness. “Yes, living with them and their eleven children at the Bar-Bones Ranch was such a hoot!”

“Eleven?” Stuart bit his lips to keep from laughing out loud. “Sounds like a lively bunch.”

“Well, of course! You cannot imagine the fun we had, riding horses and doing trick roping.” She sat forward confidingly. “We had the best fun, Mr. Braden. Of course, in the winter it did get a bit crowded indoors when the older boys couldn’t sleep in the barn.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “At bedtime there was hardly elbow room!”

Stuart struggled with disbelief. Surely the lady played him for a fool. “I assume it was a one-room log cabin?”

“Oh, no. Quite large,” she smiled. “During the blizzards, Mr. Bardow asked everyone to sleep in the main room, as close to the fireplace as we could get. Even the dogs came inside to keep the children warm.”

“Sounds like a regular snuggle fest.” He cleared his throat, trying to imagine fourteen people squished together with their feet to the fire.

“It made it easier to keep one fire ablaze all night, you see. Especially when it was 40 degrees below zero outside.” She chuckled softly. Though laying it on a bit thick, she just couldn’t resist razzing a tenderfoot. “Oh, don’t frown so, Mr. Braden. I’ve read all about your English castles–”

The corners of his mouth twitched with mild amusement. “I would hardly compare the great hall in a medieval castle to living in a log cabin, Miss Gallagher.”

“Such snobs you English are!” She laughed merrily. “I assure you, the Bardows own one of the largest ranches along the North Platte River.”

“I’m impressed.” He nodded, tucking away a mental note to add the Bar-Bone Ranch to the list of possible investments his father might want to consider. “And where is ‘home’ when you’re not teaching school?”

“In a beautiful place called Happy Valley. At least that’s what we call it, because we have such happy memories of growing up there.” She clasped her hands to her heart with an ecstatic sigh. “Just thinking about everybody back home keeps me from getting homesick.” She stared at him earnestly. “Have you ever known a place like that, Mr. Braden? A place that cheered you up, no matter where you were?”

A faint tug of homesickness made Stuart pause. What an entrancing creature! “Why, no,” he had to admit. “Where is this magical place?”

“Oh, it’s not on any map, but it’s real, I can assure you,” she beamed. “It’s just, well, you know–home! A place where love grows and grows, until you’re so filled up with gratitude that it’s always a part of you!”

“Home,” he echoed, feeling empty as a brass drum.

She nodded earnestly. “It’s all the memories you carry with you wherever you go.”

Stuart captured her hands in his, overwhelmed with the same desperation a man feels when the ship beneath his feet is sinking fast. “Miss Gallagher,” he asked, slipping to one knee in front of her. “Do you think, if I went home with you for just a little while, that I might capture some of this Happy Valley enchantment you speak of?”

“What an outrageous suggestion, Mr. Braden! And how dare you take such liberties!” The blonde, cinnamon brown-eyed fulfillment of all his fondest dreams delivered a solid kick to his shinbone, damn near crippling him for life. She jerked her hands free. “Do you have any idea how disillusioned I am with you, sir? I expected better of you, being an Englishman!” Furious, she turned up her pert little nose and stared out the stagecoach window. “I am completely and utterly disillusioned.”

Stuart didn’t know whether to laugh or to weep, though he allowed that her beauty would inspire any man to undue recklessness.

“You are a wicked, wicked man,” she added, refusing to look at him.

“I apologize, Miss Gallagher.” He winced painfully and gritted his teeth, as he resumed his seat. “I assure you, I meant no offense.”

“I cannot imagine what gave you the idea you could behave in such a lascivious manner!” she went on, fluttering her lace handkerchief. “Apparently one cannot hold Englishmen to the same high standard as American men.”

“What the devil are you talking about?” He was done with sweet innocent creatures, he decided, his nostrils dilated with fury.

“I was only trying to describe the joy of anticipation,” she sniffed, playing the martyr rather well for an amateur actress, he thought sardonically. “I love Happy Valley and the people who live there. Of course, you would probably look down your nose at us and call us a bunch of homesteaders!” She ran her eyes over his carelessly sprawled body with scorn. “I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. Braden: You don’t hold a candle to the men who live in Happy Valley! So there!” She jerked her chin at him, then furtively looked away with a tight little smirk.

“Is that a dare?” he asked, as foolhardy as she.

“No! Certainly not. Why, even I can rope a calf faster than you!”

“What a bizarre idea,” he laughed. “You, a mere female, dare to make such a claim?”

“No. I’m just saying you’re a hopeless tenderfoot, Mr. Braden,” she informed him.

~*~

Before this contest of words had time to die a thousand deaths, the stagecoach driver suddenly cracked his whip several times and began to shout and push his horses to their limits. The Cheyenne Express slid around a sharp curve in the road, weaving and bouncing and swaying, then righted itself as the road straightened.

Forgetting their quarrel, both inside passengers craned their necks out the window to see what peril had caused the driver’s erratic handling of the team.

In the road a quarter mile ahead, three horsemen, wearing neckerchiefs to shield their identities, rode toward the stage-coach, rifles cocked and at the ready.

Again the driver whipped up his horses. “Stand aside,” he bellowed to the outlaws. “We’re comin’ through.”

The Wells Fargo guard raised his shotgun. “Make way!” he yelled, and fired a barrel full of buckshot.

He’s either blind as a bat, or he fired too high on purpose, Stuart thought, crouched over his traveling companion to keep her out of the line of fire.

The outlaws fired several shots, quickly eliminating the driver and the guard. With no one to guide them, the horses bolted through the scrub oak and sagebrush.

Stuart glanced down and saw that Miss Gallagher was neither angry nor upset.

She was spitting mad.

“Stay down,” he growled, giving her a rather unsisterly shove to the floor. He drew his Colt .45 and cocked it. “I’ll take care of this.”

“I bet I’m a better shot,” the little twit said, hauling her Smith & Wesson revolver out of her sizable purse.

Such an attack on his manhood was not to be tolerated. “You stay put. I’m going up top,” he hollered. “Perhaps I can get the horses under control before we crash!” Climbing out on the coach roof, he dropped down into the driver’s box.

But before Stuart could grab the reins, the panicky team ran down an embankment into a creek. The stagecoach rolled over on its side, and the outlaws, enraged by the prospect of hauling the Wells Fargo gold shipment out of the water, gave chase, firing their six-shooters.

Stuart collided midair with a green sapling and hung suspended in the spindly branches, trying to catch his breath. He hurt all over, but with some expectation of survival, though his left shoulder hurt like the very devil.

Truthfully, he was in no shape to play Sir Galahad, at this point.

As for Miss Gallagher, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the lovely young spitfire since the stagecoach crashed. But if she had a lick of sense, she should go into hiding without delay.

The creek gurgled nearby, and the horses whinnied shrilly, in terrible pain. From his vantage point, Stuart could see that at least two horses had been seriously wounded and would have to be put down. If he was still conscious when the outlaws finished looting the stagecoach, he would see to it personally. He was pretty sure he had enough bullets . . .

~*~

Roused by the approach of outlaws muttering vile curses and stomping through the underbrush along the creek, snapping off tree branches, and tripping over stones, Miss Gallagher kept a firm grip on her Smith & Wesson. Summoning every ounce of strength, she used her shoulder to force the passenger door open.

The coach lay at an angle on its side, and with every heartbeat, as she climbed out, she summoned up her father’s advice, years ago at the family target range, to give her the necessary courage to act: “Take your time. You can do this, Susie girl. Never be in a hurry. See that big tree over there?”

Still a little wobbly, she got to her feet and looked around.

The sound of those vile, wicked outlaws sloshing their way through creek water suddenly gave her feet wings. In a flash she sought shelter behind a large oak tree.

Three against one, she thought shakily, then chided herself for overlooking the obvious: Oh, but I’m never really alone, she reminded herself

Instantly an inner peace settled over her.

“All right, Lord, give me courage,” she prayed silently.

Suddenly a tree branch creaked off to the right of where she stood.

Drat! Another distraction, she thought.

Already on pins and needles, she glanced around.

There sat the Englishman, arms and legs wrapped around the swaying trunk of a tall aspen. Grinning, he raised a cautionary finger to his lips.

No, wait just a minute. That is no finger, she decided.

It was his fancy-schmancy, pearl-handled Colt revolver.

Let’s hope it shoots straight, she thought grimly, and gave him an encouraging nod. Now, hopefully, it would be a fairer fight.

Three against three.

And one of them the Almighty! Imagine that!

~*~

Suzanne was still inwardly cheering about the way the Lord worked His miracles, when lo and behold! The outlaws, fighting a sudden swarm of mosquitoes, stumbled around a bend in the creek, cussing up a storm.

“Stop yer scratching, Jim!” the leader snarled, swatting the air.

“Can’t help it,” Jim said. “I’m goin’ blind. Can’t see!”

“Rob, lemme go fetch the horses,” the other outlaw begged.

“We got horses right here,” said the ringleader, pointing at the team of lame horses, one of them lying on its side.

“Those nags? Are you kiddin’ me?”

“Okay, okay. Let’s offload the gold shipment and take what we can,” the ringleader said. “We’ll bury the rest and come back for it later.”

Straining together, the three outlaws managed to free the Wells Fargo crate and drag it halfway up the hill. Suddenly the ringleader pulled out his revolver and shot Jim in the back, then pivoted and shot his other partner in the head. “Sorry, fellas,” he shrugged, holstering his weapon. “Got no use for whiners.”

Her jaw hanging, Suzanne glanced over at Stuart, who was scowling at the outlaw.

Stealing was one thing. Cold-blooded murder was another.

They did not hesitate. Simultaneously they took aim and fired.

The outlaw gurgled out a few last words, cursing the unfairness of life, then fell over dead.

As soon as the dust settled, Suzanne helped Stuart down from the tree and supported him over to a large rock, where he immediately went into a graceful swoon. Alarmed, she ran her hands over his body and discovered a wound in his left shoulder. Poking around, since he was unconscious anyway, she decided it was best not to meddle. Once they got to Cheyenne, she would have her cousin Daniel see to it.

His eyes rolled back in his head. “Ah, sweet angel, I’m not long for this world.”

“What can I do to make you more comfortable?” she asked, anxiously.

“Water,” he rasped.

Cradling his head in her arms, she took her canteen from her bag with shaky hands and held it to his lips. Gazing into his face, she couldn’t help noticing how spectacularly blue his eyes were, and what a fine, manly specimen he was. Her heart was truly moved, to think that such a handsome man might die so young.

“Last dying wish,” he whispered.

“Anything!” she said, running her fingers through his long chestnut brown hair.

His eyelashes fluttered closed. “Let me suckle at your breast.”

“What!” She stared down at him in disbelief.

“Dying,” he gently reminded her.

“Absolutely not!” She pushed him away and, scrambling to her feet, glared down at him. “You, sir, are no gentleman.”

“You broke . . . promise.”

For a long moment she considered his words. “Oh, very well. Never let it be said that I, Suzanne Gallagher, didn’t keep my word.”

With stalwart resolution, she set aside her pride and knelt beside him again.

He squinted up at her. “May God reward you for your kindness, miss.”

Oh, what does it matter? she thought, expecting him to expire any moment, and clutched him tightly to her bosom,.

Stuart lifted a quavering hand and weakly inserted his index finger between two buttons on her prim little bodice. “So soft.” He went into what she feared was a dying spasm.

“Oh, sir!” she cried. “Do you need more water?”

“Only you, dear lady, to speed me through those pearly gates.”

Using her bonnet to fan her Englishman back to life, Suzanne saw the corners of his mouth twitch with a mischievous smile.

No longer amused, she firmly tied her scarf around his shoulder to stop the bleeding. “You’re not going to die, so you can stop the shenanigans,” she told him in no uncertain manner.

He cracked one eyelid. “I have your word that I’ll live?”

“Unless I have to shoot you myself, to defend my honor,” she warned.

Stuart made a miraculous recovery, based on his reassessment of the lady’s sterling character. “Oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he wisecracked, sitting up. “My deepest apologies, ma’am.”

Being a good Christian woman, she helped him to his feet. “I hope you heed my warning,” she warned, dusting him off. “Now let’s find out if anyone else is alive.”

Gingerly supporting each other, for they were both extremely sore, they headed upstream to assess the situation. All three outlaws were dead.

They returned to see what could be salvaged from the stagecoach. While Suzanne was thus occupied, Stuart took it upon himself to put the two most seriously injured horses out of their misery. Two others were only slightly lame, so he set them free to graze on prairie grass and creek water. Hopefully they’d be well on the road to recovery by the time the stage-coach officials arrived on scene.

Expanding his search, he found the bodies of the stage-coach driver and the guard near the main road. After covering their bodies with branches to keep predators away, he came across his rented horse, calmly grazing on buttercups and tall grass. The long lead rein on his horse trailed behind him; apparently it had snapped during the outlaws’ attack on the stagecoach.

“Maybe we should name him ‘Unflappable,’” he told his beautiful companion, showing off his discovery to her. Giving the horse an affectionate pat, he tied him to a tree. “We may need him to help us get back to civilization.”

Together they continued to assess the situation. Their luggage littered much of the countryside, but they found most of it. He was especially glad to recover his saddlebags. The jar of mud was still intact, though upside down. His Kodak camera hanging about his neck by its strap, he proceeded to document the grisly scene.

“Who knows?” he told Miss Suzanne, gesturing at the outlaws. “There may be a reward for the capture of our–ahem!–friends.”

She stared at him, aghast. “How can you even suggest such a thing? They are outlaws, not friends. They would have killed us, if they could.”

“So– Down with all criminals, right?” He arched his brow inquiringly.

She shuddered. “I am not personally acquainted with any law breakers. Are you?”

“Not to my knowledge,” he said, still tidying things up. He covered the outlaws’ booty on the hillside with debris from the damaged stagecoach. “Hopefully the gold shipment will still be here when the Wells Fargo company officials arrive.”

To make recovery of bodies and property easier, he photographed the dead men and landmarks out by the main road. Then, while she was busy gathering up her scattered belongings, he took several quick snapshots of her, as a memento of their first adventure together.

“I hope you don’t mind abandoning some of your luggage,” he said casually. “It’s easily replaced anyway.”

“Perhaps I should take a change of clothing?” she hypothesized, nibbling on a hangnail.

“Oh, very well,” he said grudgingly. “I suppose a lady must always look her best.”

“I could not agree more.” After sorting through her belongings several times, Suzanne selected two dresses and a large assortment of ladies’ undergarments, and crammed them into his saddlebags!

Then, commanding him not to look, she went hopping about, first on one foot, and then the other, while she removed her torn stockings. Of course, Stuart was fascinated out of his mind by all these feminine gyrations, though he did try not to look too obviously!

Finally she was ready to depart, and he was able to breathe again.

Glancing around one last time, in case they’d left anything crucial behind, he helped her mount, then swung into the saddle behind her. “A strange day from start to finish, would you not agree, Miss Gallagher?” he remarked enigmatically.



Chapter Two


With not a cloud in the clear sky, it seemed sensible to follow the stagecoach route. Even a tenderfoot from jolly old England could figure that much out.

But as they proceeded jauntily on their way, Stuart began to question if they were actually on the well-beaten path to Cheyenne, or quite the reverse. The terrain looked all the same to him, but when they crossed another deeply rutted road, going east and west, serious doubts began to settle in.

He pulled back on the horse’s reins. “Do we turn here?” he asked the blonde beauty drowsing in his arms.

“You can’t get lost,” she mumbled. “Just follow the road.”

So he did.

Eventually he saw a windmill off in the distance, and a dilapidated old barn. Needing water for the horse, he followed a cow path for a mile or two and came to a creek. Still a long way from civilization, he decided to hop down and refill his canteen.

While he waited for the horse to drink his full, he scanned the horizon. Didn’t seem like there was a living soul for miles around. So while the horse continued to drink, he left “Susie” draped over the horse’s neck, fast asleep, and darted behind the barn to relieve himself.

Minutes later, he heard a blood-curdling scream.

This was quickly followed by a burst of gunfire.

Four shots in all. In rapid fire succession.

His heart pounding, Stuart charged around the side of the barn to investigate. Braced for battle, he found Miss Gallagher, now thoroughly awake, dangling a large rattlesnake on the end of a stick. Walking a few feet away from the horse, which stoically continued to guzzle water, she flung the snake into a clump of blackberry bushes.

Clearly his assistance was not required. Having always believed it was his duty to protect members of the fairer sex, this reversal in traditional behavior might easily have delivered a crippling blow to his male ego, were it not for the rather perfunctory manner in which this modern Eve had dispatched the serpent.

“I say, good show!” he exclaimed, applauding her heroic actions.

The warm breeze ruffling her golden tresses, she ran her sparkling brown eyes up and down his disheveled person. He stood there, breathing hard. Smiling. Every cell in his body pulsing with admiration at this great act of heroism on her part.

“By Jove! What an amazing woman you are!” he exclaimed, advancing.

Given a few more seconds to gather his thoughts, he might have composed a sonnet in her honor. He never got the chance.

Blushing at his compliment, she handed him the horse’s bridle. “Mr. Braden,” she said, “if you will kindly keep ‘Unflappable” from wandering off, I need to answer a rather urgent call of nature.”

It took him a moment to realize what she was saying. “Oh. Yes, certainly,” he stammered like a school boy.

“Thank you.” Gathering up her skirts, she made a mad dash into the barn.

Stuart sighed, watching her go. What gorgeous legs, he marveled. She even runs like an athlete!

But then he noticed Unflappable’s expanding belly. The horse was sucking up water so fast he soon would be foundering. “Come along, old fellow,” he said. “We need you to get us to Cheyenne before your stomach bursts.”

~*~

They finally made it to Cheyenne in late afternoon, but only because a kind-hearted farmer, seeing their slow progress, pulled over to the side of the road and offered them a ride in his buckboard.

“Unflappable’s giddyap just got up and went,” Stuart explained.

Farmer Putnam nodded, in perfect agreement. “Son, it’s a wonder you made it this far.”

And so Stuart and Suzanne–it turned out ‘Mr. P.’ knew her family well– accepted the inevitable and bade farewell to Unflappable. The last they saw of the poor horse, he was munching grass along a meandering tributary of the Chug-water Creek.

Transferring their modest belongings to the farmer’s buckboard, Suzanne and Stuart rattled along, sharing their exciting adventures with the farmer to pass the time of day. They mentioned the stagecoach getting held up in the middle of nowhere, and breaking down, but neither one had much to say about the gold shipment, or the bandits who lay dead beside the creek.

“Mr. Braden got shot, you see,” Suzanne explained to Mr. P, “so getting him to a doctor is our main priority. That, and contacting the sheriff.”

“As well it should be,” Farmer Putnam nodded. Pulling up in front of the Emporium, he helped Suzanne down from the wagon. “Say hello to Daniel and the family for me, Miss Susie.”

“Thank you so much for rescuing us, Mr. Putnam.” Going up on tiptoe, she gave him a quick buss on his cheek.

“Give my best to your Mama, now.” The farmer looked her sternly in the eye. “You get yourself home right away, y’hear?”

“Thank you. I intend to.” She smiled radiantly. “Well, I guess we had better head over to my cousin’s office now.”

The farmer nodded. “Good girl. And don’t forget your belongings!”

Stuart appeared at the rear of the wagon, saddlebags slung over his right shoulder, both arms full of female fripperies and what-nots. “A real pleasure meeting you, sir.” Shifting his belongings, he shook their rescuer’s hand. “Can’t thank you enough, sir.” He glanced at Suzanne. “I suppose we’d best be going.”

“Here, let me help you.” Suzanne graciously relieved Stuart of her purse and the Smith & Wesson inside. “Thanks again, Mr. Putnam. You and Mrs. P. be sure to come see us, next time you’re in Happy Valley.”

“Maybe late this summer, when the harvest’s in.” Putnam doffed his straw hat and with a friendly wave went inside the Emporium.

Suzanne inspected her bedraggled companion with a dubious look. “Ready?” she asked.

“Lead on, Lady MacDuff,” he joked.

“Hah! Just as long as you don’t call me Lady Macbeth.” Taking his arm, she steered him up the street to her cousin’s medical office, next door to old Dr. Mead’s place. The freshly painted shingle outside read, “Dr. Daniel Wright, M.D.”

~*~

“That’s where my parents fell in love,” Suzanne informed him, pointing to the fifth step leading upstairs to Dr. Mead’s office. “The exact spot.”

Stuart laughed. “Is that meant as a warning? Are you saying that love is contagious?”

With a noncommittal shrug, she pressed her finger against the buzzer next to her cousin’s office door. “All I know is they fell madly in love, while walking up those stairs.”

Bracing a hodge-podge of her belongings under his chin, Stuart raised one eyebrow and gave the rickety old staircase a careful once-over. “Sounds like a bunch of poppycock to me,” he said, just to jerk her chain. (Of course, he’d been badly smitten with that very same disease, ever since he bumped into her at the stagecoach depot in Casper. Still, he did so love getting her all excited.)

“They’ve been madly in love ever since,” she affirmed, pressing the buzzer again. “Sixteen years ago, if you must know.”


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