Sarah knew exactly what she wanted. Tom West would help rescue her daughter, their daughter, from the hands of the Sioux, or die trying. It was, she swore, the least he could do to atone for fourteen years of deceit!
Tom West blamed himself. He'd had to let Sarah believe him dead--even though she'd been his only love. But this reunion was born of danger, not desire, as this firebrand of a woman was quick to remind him.
Could they bridge the chasm of mistrust yawning between them to save their child--and their love?
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April 30, 2007
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Excerpt from High Plains Bride by Jenna Kernan
"Turn around, you son of a bitch."
Thomas West heard the emphasizing click of the pistol cocking. The woman's voice was not familiar. He lowered the razor pressed to his throat and lifted the towel, wiping off the remaining suds with measured strokes as he hoped that she would not plant a bullet in his kidney.
He turned to the woman, trying to place her. Full green skirts and a deerskin jacket revealed little about her age or shape. The wide-brimmed hat cast her face in deep shadow, showing only the stubborn set of her chin and the thin, grim line of her pressed lips.
She looked prepared to kill him. In his mind he'd given no woman cause. Though one had given cause. "Sarah?"
The corner of her mouth quirked, and she lifted her chin to reveal familiar gray eyes. His breath caught. Time had stolen the round face, replacing soft features with high cheekbones and a pointed chin. Faint lines engraved the fine skin at her eyes--her beauty no longer pliant, but etched in granite.
"Mrs. West now," she said, rubbing his nose in it.
He gritted his teeth, refusing to acknowledge her marriage. Fourteen years, and the pain was as fresh as the day he had first heard the news.
"You promised to come back," she said, keeping the gun level.
"And you promised to wait."
A flicker of emotion changed her expression from steel to sorrow. She blinked, and the muzzle dipped. Recovering quickly, she focused and aimed. Thomas braced for the bullet.
"I need your help," she said.
"Funny way to ask, creeping up on a man and pointing a gun at his guts."
"Just wanted to ensure your attention."
He swabbed the towel over his cheek again, removing the sweat with the remaining soap. "You have it."
She released the hammer. "The Indians took my daughter. You're going to help me get her back."
He scowled. "You want help? You'd best ask the girl's father." A vicious smile widened her full lips. "You are her father, Thomas."
The razor slipped from his hand, clattering off the planking. He scraped against the rough cedar shingles as he sat with a thud on the wooden porch. Somehow Sarah had shot him without ever pulling the trigger.
His ears rang with the thunder rolling through his brain, as her words echoed like a rifle shot through a box canyon. Her father--you are--father. The faithless woman who could not wait for his return had borne him a child. The possibility of it sank its teeth into the marrow of his bones. But Samuel had told him...Sarah's words butted against his brother's as he tried to understand what was happening.
Memories flashed through his mind. The air had been scented with pine when Sarah crawled through his bedroom window that last night before he headed for the goldfields. She came to him and loved him and promised to wait forever.
A few months later she had wed.
He sat motionless as Sarah squatted before him, the smile gone as she stared at him with fierce intensity.
"You hear me?"
Thomas nodded. She holstered her pistol and strode across the porch to the water barrel, returning with a dipperful. She held the offering to his lips. He swallowed the warm water as he gazed at the face that had not left him for so much as a day in fourteen long years.
Had she tracked him all the way from Illinois?
Water dribbled down his chin, soaking the front of his shirt. She righted the dipper and flung the dregs out into the yard. He watched the water arc and fall, changing the dry dirt into droplets of mud. For the first time, he noted a freckled gelding, saddled and packed for the trail, resting a hind hoof as it stood beneath the old cedar.
Thomas met Sarah's gaze, searching the face he had once hoped to see every morning for the rest of his life, back in the days when he believed women could be faithful. Before Sarah tore his heart from his chest and threw it in the dirt like the water dregs.