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Authors: Carrigan Fox

Bonds of Matrimony

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Bonds of Matrimony
 
 
 
 

Carrigan Fox

PROLOGUE
Slaughter,
Texas

September 1908

 

Her grandmother once accused her of
being a damned idiot; and as Chastity Fairfax lay pinned to the dirt by a man
intent on choking the life out of her, it was clear that she had probably been right.
 
Perhaps if she hadn’t been so
determined to assert her independence, if she’d simply been an obedient
daughter, if she hadn’t spent every moment of every day wishing that she could
enjoy the same freedoms as her family’s own stable hand…perhaps if she’d been a
different kind of woman entirely, she wouldn’t have ended up in this
predicament, fighting for her own life.

She had once heard about a young man
who fell off his horse and cracked his skull on a rock.
 
He miraculously lived to tell about
that moment between life and death, where his mind re-played random moments of
his short life.
 
As she struggled
to steal a breath and remain conscious, Chastity found herself waiting for that
flashback.
 
But nothing came.
 

Had her life flashed before her eyes,
she would have remembered a simple and unsatisfying childhood, followed by
years of frustration with the limitations of a young woman’s life.
 
She would have remembered her parents,
whom she loved in spite of their narrow-minded concern over the opinions of
small-minded socialites.
 
She would
have remembered fleeing her home and embarking on an exhilarating journey.
 

And eventually, she would have
remembered sitting across the card table from a grinning Adonis, sharing a pint
and a cigar, laughing over the uselessness of women and secretly plotting her
revenge against the infuriatingly stunning chauvinist.
 
She wouldn’t have even minded
remembering the back-breaking work, the blisters, or the broken ribs that
plagued her on her brother’s ranch.

But as she stared into the loathsome
eyes—and the tobacco-speckled teeth—of a man who wouldn’t rest
until she was dead, Chastity Fairfax couldn’t remember a single damn thing.

CHAPTER 1

           
“You
have to look, Chase.
 
As a man, you
can’t
not
look,” he teased.

           
Taking
him up on his challenge, she boldly turned and watched the women.
 
One in particular, with fiery red hair
and breasts twice as large as her own, stepped forward and shook her rear end
for the audience, tossing a wink in her direction.
 
Chastity felt a blush creep up her cheeks, and James laughed
heartily.

           
He
paid for their drinks, and she again followed his lead by taking a hearty swig
from her mug.
 
The beer tasted not
entirely unpleasant.
 

           
“Good?”
he asked.

           
She
nodded, feigning more pleasure than she actually felt.

           
“By
the time you finish your pint, you won’t even notice the taste anymore,” he
said with a grin.
 

           
“I
think you’re enjoying this too much,” Chastity observed sourly.

           
“Perhaps,”
James admitted without apology.
 
“It’s kind of nice to see my cousin finally have her dreams come
true.
 
Was it everything you’d
hoped for?” he asked, lowering his voice to avoid being heard by nearby
patrons.

           
She
only answered by raising her glass in his direction before consum
ing
half of the
pint.
 
She then turned her
attention to the study the behaviors of the other gentlemen in the saloon.
 
And after a moment or two, her eyes
fell on the head of thick, dark blond curls of the American man she’d run into
earlier in the week.
 

           
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
 
Without waiting for a response, she asked, “Do you think
they will have dresses like this one in America?”

           
Their
grandmother realized her granddaughters had fallen behind and turned to call to
them.
 
“Ladies, hurry along.
 
This is hardly the time to dawdle.”

           
Rosalie
seemed to have woken from her reverie and resumed her rapid pace.
 
Chastity followed and collided with a
solid form that suddenly appeared before her.
 
Instinctively, his hands reached out and caught her arms,
helping her regain her balance.

           
“Pardon
me,” his deep voice apologized.
 
His voice was soothing, and his accent immediately gave him away as an
American.
 
It was only after his
apology that Chastity actually looked up at him.
 
His blond hair was long enough to reveal curls that any
woman would be jealous of.
 
But on
him, the curls couldn’t look any more masculine.
 
His deep brown eyes were framed with dark eye lashes and
gentle lines in the corners.
 
His
face was tanned from time working outdoors, no doubt.

           
She
had a moment to study him before he actually looked at her.
 
And at that moment, she realized the
reason for their collision.
 
He had
been admiring her sister, Rosalie, while Chastity had been hurrying after
her.
 

           
Embarrassed
and slightly insulted that he didn’t seem interested in studying her, Chastity
excused herself and stepped away from him.
 
His powerful hands released her arms, and she rushed down
the street after her sister and grandmother.
      

He was now playing cards at
one of the tables.
 
He was talking
to his partners, and they all laughed loudly whenever he paused.
 
Unable to contain herself, she pushed
away from the bar and headed toward their table.

           
“Chase,”
James called.
 

           
But
she did not respond.
 
Instead, she
boldly walked to his table and pulled up a chair.
 
“Got room for another man?” she asked gruffly, half afraid
that she was overdoing it with attempting to keep her voice a bit deeper.

           
The
men barely spared Chastity a glance before giving her a hearty welcome and dealing
her in.
 

           
“So
what’d she say then, Webb?” a dark-haired man asked.
 
He sat to her left and held his cards in his hands, which he
rested on his robust belly.

           
The
blond man grinned and continued his story.
 
“She said, ‘Colton, you positively make my body hum,’” he
imitated with a high voice.
 
His
accent wasn’t merely American.
 
It
was a slow drawl, one that Chase’s grandmother had told her was more often used
in the Southern states, like Marcus’s beloved Texas.
 

           
The
men seemed to be hanging on his every word.
 
And judging by the leers on a couple of faces, Chastity was
vaguely aware that she had just intruded on a story that a lady probably
shouldn’t be hearing.
 

           
“So
I told her that we should do somethin’ ‘bout that irritating hum.
 
And she said, ‘The rooms upstairs are
full, and I just have to have you now.’”

           
The
pot-bellied man beside her shook his head and laughed.
 
“You damned Americans get all the luck,
don’t you?
 
No woman has ever said
that to me, whore or not.”

           
“I
think it must be his goldy locks,” a red-haired man next to Webb joked, tugging
the back of his hair and laughing.
 
“Aren’t they pretty?”

           
They
were extraordinary, but Chastity didn’t trust herself to say so.
 
So she simply laughed with the other
men.
 
Over Webb’s shoulder, James
stood observing his cousin’s masculine behavior.
 
“So what’d you do?” she asked gruffly, shuffling her feet
under the table to relieve some of her anxiety.

           
Webb
glanced up at her and grinned.
 
Her
stomach turned two full somersaults in response.
 
She lifted her mug to her mouth to hide any incriminating
flushes in her cheeks.
 
“She led me
outside, and I took her up against the back of the building.”

           
Took
her up against the back of the building?
 
Chastity didn’t completely understand, but she followed the lead of the
other men and tried to imitate their lewd, approving laughter.
 
James looked on and grinned at his
cousin, and she suddenly understood exactly what Colton Webb did to the woman
against the back of the building.
 
She
found herself reaching for her pint again.

           
Having
made their bets and taken their cards, they needed to reveal their hands.
 
Chastity had been so focused on the
conversation, she had hardly noticed that everyone had folded except for her
and Webb.

           
He
lay his cards on the table in front of them.
 
“Two aces,” he announced proudly.
 
He reached for a glass of golden liquid, but stopped when she
dropped her three sevens.

           
For
the first time since she’d run into him on the street, he met her eyes.
 
He acknowledged his defeat with a nod
and then ordered another beer for her from a passing waitress.
 
He smiled a dazzling white smile at the
woman and called her darlin’ with that drawl of his.
 
Chastity had truly never met a man as attractive as he
was.
 
She had never felt her
insides respond to anyone like they responded to him.
 
Suddenly, her entire body felt like it was on fire, and she
felt as though she needed to get as far away from this man as she could.

           
But
she couldn’t leave now.
 
He was
talking to her.
 
What did he just
say?
 
He was shuffling the cards
and looking at her expectantly, waiting for a response.
 

           
Before
the pause became too unbearably awkward, James stepped up to the table and
pulled up a chair.
 
“His name is
Chase Cochrane.
 
I’m his cousin,
James.
 
You gentlemen have room for
one more?” he asked.

           
The
red-haired man stood up from the table.
 
“Take my place,” he said, smacking James between the shoulders.
 
“It’s not healthy for a man’s ego to
spend too much time listening to this man’s stories.”
 
He smacked Webb between the shoulders, too.
 
“So long, men.”

           
“So
long, Red.”

           
“Say,
Webb, will we find you at our table again tomorrow night?” he asked warmly.

           
“’Fraid
not, Red.
 
I’m settin’ sail
tomorrow.
 
I got what I came for,
and I head back to America in the mornin’,” Webb answered.

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