She's running for her life. He's trying to slow down. Can Alayna help Riddick raise his family or will her secrets get them all killed?
Trying to escape a controlling outlaw and regain her freedom, Alayna Kimbal answers a mail-order bride request. Shouldering the new responsibilities of being a wife and mother, she hopes her new husband never learns about her dangerous past or her present lies.
US Marshal Jerome Riddick recently inherited three children after the murder of his best friend. Struggling to care for the children and do his job, he decides to take a bride…only to find out she has been keeping a huge secret from him. A secret that could get them all killed.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1877
Deputy US Marshal Jerome Riddick snapped the reins, hoping the horses would move faster. They didn't. He should've been heading south out of Santa Fe and picking up the outlaw's trail again. Juan Sanchez had led him on a wild goose chase over the past week. Losing him after he and his men crossed the Rio Grande just northwest of town had been a huge setback. Now, instead of going after Sanchez, he was headed home with three young children. What had possessed him to agree to such a thing? Because of his work, he was seldom home—how was he going to take care of them and do his job?READ MORE
The baby behind him let out a loud wail, which seemed to go on forever. How long could such tiny lungs hold out without air? His body tightened, every nerve on edge as the cry's volume and pitch rose. The oldest boy, Carl, seemed capable of taking care of the baby, but Riddick was more concerned that the middle child was doing his best to keep everyone riled up. He had to figure out something fast, because he was hanging on to his sanity by the tips of his fingernails.
Riddick growled low in his throat. “How many times do I have to tell you my name is Riddick? Use it, boy.”
With the baby in his arms, Carl used only his legs to climb over the rickety wagon seat to sit beside him. “I'll call you by your name when you learn mine.”
Riddick shook his head and snapped the reins again. The three of them were more difficult to control, not to mention mouthier, than most of the outlaws he'd arrested. “What do you want…Carl?”
“We're all out of milk for Jenny, and she won't drink the water.” Carl bounced his sister in his arms, trying to calm her down, but it was a losing battle. She opened her bow-shaped mouth and let out a wail that could raise the dead. “She's hungry—an' I can tell you now, it won't get any better until she eats.”
The wagon topped the hill. Spread out before them was the growing town of Santa Fe. He was home. Even with the screaming infant beside him, his tensed muscles loosened the closer he got to the house.
“Don't worry, kid. We're almost home.” He remembered the warning he'd been given about Jake. When the boy got quiet, he was up to something. “What's your brother doing back there?”
Carl looked behind him then turned around and faced the front. “He's goin' through the bags to see if there's something that might hold Jenny over until you get her some milk.”
No sooner had he said that then Jake's small fist thrust between them, a biscuit clenched in his hand. “Here, Carl! Let her try this. Momma sometimes fed her bits of hers.”
Carl took the crumbly piece of bread, and holding it in one hand, tore off a tiny piece and stuck it in his sister's mouth. The baby immediately quieted, sucking noisily on the food. The moment she swallowed, he would stick another piece in her mouth before she started crying again.
“Huh. It worked. She seems to like it too,” Riddick said, watching the baby's lips move in and out as she made chewing motions with her toothless jaws.
On the outskirts of town, he turned the wagon onto a narrow path angling up into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Large spots of speckled sunshine advanced in front of them, weaving over the rutted dirt as the wind blew through the branches of the aspens and oaks above them.
He'd missed the sounds of the forest. The scratching of tiny nails over the forest floor as wood rats and grouse and many other small animals scurried about for food, as well as the flapping of wings, along with the variety of calls, as birds flew from tree to tree overhead. The further away they drove from town, the higher they climbed and the cooler the air turned, caressing their exposed skin, which was now burned from three days in the brilliant New Mexico sun.
A heavy crash echoed around them. Carl and his little brother jumped, their wide-eyed gazes looking cautiously around for the cause. The sound came again, but further away as the animal responsible for the noise moved further into the trees.
“Ummm, what was that?” Carl asked.
“Could've been anything. Bear, elk, mountain lion. Lots of animals live in these mountains. My guess, it was a bear pushing over a tree.”
“You're pullin' our legs!” Jake chimed in, his voice a bit higher than normal.
Riddick shook his head. “Nope. 'Fraid not. You're used to city living. Only animals you've probably seen are cats, dogs, cows, and horses. How old are you boys?”
“I'm almost nine and Jake's six. Jenny's not even one year old yet,” Carl answered.
“Well, this here is wild country, with lots of animals that would love nothing more than little boy for dinner. You two are old enough to understand that, right?” He waited until they both nodded.
“Just before Father left for California, he and Mother took us to the zoological park in Philadelphia,” Carl said. “They had hundreds of animals there, not just dogs, cats, horses, and cows—”
“They had huge cats with wild hair, striped horses called zebras, and giant elephants with long trunks hanging off their faces. They could even pick stuff up with it!” Jake interrupted. He stood up in the wagon, clutching the back of the seat to balance himself as it tipped from left to right maneuvering through and sometimes over the rutted road. He stared into the forest to their left. “Do you have elephants here too?”
Riddick chuckled at the boy's enthusiasm. “No. No elephants, but I've seen a few grizzly bears that were about as big. You'll need to watch out for mountain lions as well. They'll be on top of you before you even realize they're there.”
Jake didn't say anything else, just slowly lowered himself into the wagon bed and curled up, holding his legs to his chest with his arms wrapped around his knees. Riddick bit back a smile. That would cure the kid from wandering off while he was here. Not that he'd lied. He hadn't. He had stretched the truth a mite though. Most grizzlies and lions stayed higher up in the mountains, but Jake didn't need to know that.
He pulled up in front of his house, the adobe walls a natural tan. A long porch ran across the front, a new and welcome addition he'd built before leaving to chase after Sanchez. There were two large windows on either side of the turquoise-colored door, and colorful flowers grew in large clay pots on either side of the porch. He'd planted a garden between the house and the tall pine trees, but from the looks of it, the weeds had taken over.
“We're home.” He loosely wrapped the reins around the brake and climbed off the wagon. Pressing his hands on either side of his lower back, he stretched, easing the tension from his backside. He was used to sitting on the back of a horse, not a wagon. Just as he reached for the baby so Carl could jump down, Jake let out a loud whoop and hurled himself over the other side of the wagon and took off around to the back of the house.
“Jake!” Carl hollered and thrust Jenny into Riddick's outstretched arms. “Jake, you get back here!” He, too, jumped off the wagon and ran after his brother. At the abrupt motion of leaving the warmth and comfort of her brother's arms to Riddick's stiff embrace, Jenny's little body jerked, her small arms flailing in the air as she shrieked her displeasure.
He stared down at her, for the first time really seeing the little girl's face. He took a deep breath. She looked just like her mother.COLLAPSE
Jo Ann Hakola on Amazon wrote:
Absolutely fantastic western historical! Alayna and Jerome marry so she can care for his orphaned niece and nephews. He is a US Marshal and she escaped his most wanted man. They learn trust, caring and love as they find her former captor. Excellent read!
Zena on GoodReads wrote:
She can take care of herself...
This is a very good western romance. A fast read with lots of excitement. I highly recommend this one.
This was a very enjoyable Mail Order Bride story.
The story is beautifully written, and I found it very gripping and also easy to read.