“Don’t mean to pry, and if it’s none of my business, just say so. This man who’d
be looking for you, is he your husband?” Duel shot her a cursory glance while he
wrested both ears from Marley Rose’s steel grip. They were the latest part of
his anatomy to capture the child’s fascination.
Jessie’s chin quivered an instant before she forced her head high. “No. The ones
who come want justice.”
For the second time since he’d met her he wanted to pull her against him and
hold her safe. His throat clogged with a thick huskiness. “The only justice
they’ll find if they come is a piece of hot lead.”
His boots crunched on the hard ground when he stood. Jessie seemed oblivious to
him as he strode to retrieve the child’s bottle from the bedroll. The battered
woman was once again lost somewhere inside herself. Lost and so alone.
“I’m taking Marley Rose home to Tranquility.” He tugged the nipple off the
bottle. It released with a plop, and the smell of curdled milk reached his nose.
Marley giggled excitedly, riding piggyback to the creek to rinse out the
container. Jessie had moved to the campfire when he returned. The forlorn look
etched shadows across her bruised face as she stared into the flames.
“You’re welcome to join us if you’ve a mind. Lord knows I need help with this
young’un.” Something wet ran down his back. He could hazard a pretty good guess
what it was. This baby business was no bed of roses.
Luckily, he managed to fill the bottle after missing the opening only a few
times. Pulling the rubber nipple over the top proved the biggest challenge. It
appeared to have shrunk when he took it off, because he didn’t see any way in
hell of getting it to fit.
“Let me.” Jessie had crept up beside him again. The ghostly way she moved gave
him the willies. Their hands touched when she took the two items, making her
jerk back in alarm. Sheer terror contorted her features into a mask.
“You all right?” What could a man say to ease the torment of a woman who’d
suffered what she had? It would take more comforting words than he knew.
She didn’t reply, just ran her tongue cautiously across her bottom lip. Then,
before he could blink, she melded nipple and bottle together, once again proving
herself to be capable and efficient, important things in raising a child.
“Much obliged.” Duel accepted the fully assembled bottle.
Her light fingertips brushed his bare skin when she lifted Marley Rose from her
perch. He reasoned it was the heat of the sun’s rays that caused the beads of
perspiration dotting his forehead. Had to be. He ducked his head, hoping she
couldn’t read his thoughts. He must have lost every lick of sense he had. The
last thing on earth he needed was a woman. And the way she recoiled from him
clearly expressed her view of men.
Relieved of the babe, he dove into his saddlebags for the extra shirt he
carried. Pulling it on, he could hardly button it fast enough. Covering his
upper body made him feel a whole lot better. Not much he could do about his wet
buckskins, though. The wind would have to dry them.
His growling stomach reminded him of the rabbits he’d killed. That blasted goat
had taken too much time. Better get a move on or the sun would be overhead
before he knew it.
“I could sure use your help, ma’am. That is, if you want to come along.” Now
that Duel was fully clothed, he could glance at her directly.
Jessie had found a seat on the large rock he’d propped against during the night.
She cradled Marley in her arms as if she was a precious treasure. The girl’s
noisy sucking on the fresh goat milk blended with the animal’s protesting bleats
The woman’s attention appeared to rest solely on Marley Rose. She caressed the
dark curls. “What would you want in return?” Given what she’d gone through, her
suspicion was expected, right down to the stony grit in her tone.
“Only your kindness with the babe, nothing more.” When she swung her head in his
direction, he matched her intent gaze with honesty. “Make you a deal. I swear on
the McClain family Bible I’ll never lay a hand on you. I offer you safekeeping.
When we get to Tranquility, I’ll see you get any place you want to go.”
“You promise?” Jessie’s voice broke.
Duel didn’t make deals lightly. “The word of a McClain has stood the test of
war, famine, flood, and pestilence. I come from a long line of promise-makers.
Heck, my grandfather once parted the Colorado River with his cane because he
gave his word.”
That brought a hint of a smile to Jessie’s lips. “You’ve got yourself a deal,
At that, Marley Rose raised her head and grinned as if to say she was relieved
to have someone along with good horse sense.
Duel McClain has lost everything he's ever loved: his wife, his son, his
sense of self. But when a strange twist of fate—and a poker game he'll never
forget—leaves an innocent little girl in his care, Duel vows to defend his new
family to his very last breath. If only he knew a single thing about taking care
Just as Duel swears his life can't get any more complicated, a beautiful
woman stumbles into the light of his campfire, desperate for help. Jessie Foltry
is hungry, tired, and running for her life. She agrees to help Duel care for the
child in exchange for his protection, even as she fights to guard her broken
heart. But Duel will do whatever it takes to make Jessie see that the Texas
plains have more than one kind of knight, and perhaps their salvation is closer
than either of them could have dreamed...
At a young age, Linda Broday discovered a love for
storytelling, history, and anything pertaining to the Old West. Cowboys
fascinate her. There’s something about Stetsons, boots, and tall rugged cowboys
that get her fired up. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Linda
has won many awards, including the prestigious National Readers’ Choice Award
and the Texas Gold Award. She resides in the Texas Panhandle and is inspired