Maggie Rutherford jilts her too-perfect society groom at the altar and flees New York for the American West, where she turns her travels into dime novels that she writes and illustrates under the pen name Lud Madison.
After the Civil War, veteran Ben Morgan marries his childhood sweetheart and takes her to homestead on the Great Plains. Losing her and their unborn child in an Indian attack, Ben detaches from emotion and becomes a roaming gambler. When he kills a cheating opponent in self-defense, the man’s gunslinger brother swears revenge upon Ben.
Ben hides on a cattle drive and brings in a herd to Abilene, where a waiting Maggie wants to find a rough and tumble cowboy to interview for her next story idea. Sparks fly as the dangerous drover and popular novelist wind up living in the same household, running a general store east of Abilene. But with Black Tex Lonnegan hot on his trail, will Ben run from his growing attraction to Maggie and the gunfighter’s promise of death–or will he make a stand for his life–and love?
Maggie coasted by a blur of faces and fought the dizziness with each step. A chill ran through her. Her pounding heart beat so rapidly she thought she might not be able to breathe.
They reached the altar, and Marcus handed her off to Richard. The groom took her hand and tucked it through his arm.
She looked at him. His blond hair fell perfectly into place. His moustache was neatly trimmed. His attire was made of the best silk and wool to be found. He stood tall and assured. He was absolutely perfect.
At least to the outside world.
Reverend White joined their hands and began his opening remarks. Her panic grew until she visibly trembled. Richard looked down at her with concern. She tried to focus on what was being said.
“What’s gotten into you, Maggie?” Richard whispered.
“I know you’re poor,” she blurted out under her breath.
A shocked look crossed his face. “What do you mean?”
“I know about your father’s gambling.”
Reverend White rose above their hushed tones, trying to cover their conversation. He gamely carried on about the joy of love and joining together as one.
“That has nothing to do with us.”
The malevolent look Richard gave her made her cringe. His hand tightened painfully on hers. Gone in an instant was the dull, mannered gentleman she had known most of her life. Suddenly, Richard loomed large and menacing next to her.
“Don’t breathe a word of this, Maggie. We will marry. You will be the dutiful wife with a large bank account that will save my family. End of discussion.”
His words undid her. Her panic blossomed. Her mind raced. She refused to be unhappy for the rest of her life. She was no puppet to dance on a man’s string. Marrying Richard DeForest would cause her to wither and die.
At that moment, she caught Reverend White’s words, “And if any man has a reason why these two should not be married, you shall speak now or forever hold your peace.”
She clawed at Richard’s hold on her. She loudly said, “No man, but this woman does.”
She turned to face her groom, the man she thought she’d known. “Richard, I can’t marry you.”
Maggie tossed her bouquet aside and bolted back up the aisle. She raced to the doors. Yanking one open, she hiked up her wedding gown. She galloped down the steps and reached the DeForest carriage parked in front, waiting to take the happy couple to their reception. The driver gave her a puzzled look and called out, “Where to, miss? Aren’t we waiting for Master Richard?”
“Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Be quick, sir!”
A wide smile appeared on his face. “With pleasure.” He helped her up the steps and closed the carriage door.
Maggie collapsed against the velvet seat, her breathing shallow. She swallowed hard, trying to calm her nerves. She shut her eyes and let her head fall back.
What on earth did I do?
Lauren Linwood became a teacher who wrote on the side to maintain her sanity in a sea of teenage hormones. Her romances use history as a backdrop to place her characters in extraordinary circumstances, where their intense desire and yearning for one another grow into the deep, tender, treasured gift of love.
Lauren, a native Texan, lives in a Dallas suburb with her family. An avid reader, moviegoer, and sports fan, she manages stress by alternating yoga with five mile walks. She is thinking about starting a support group for Pinterest and House Hunters addicts.