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Authors: Maclain's Wife

Jillian Hart

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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MacLain's Wife

By

Jillian Hart

Copyright © 2011 by Jill Strickler

www.jillianhart.net

This book may not be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author.

Cover art by Kimberly Killion, Hot Damn Design

E-Book Formatted by Jessica Lewis

www.AuthorsLifeSaver.com

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

The Wedding Vow

Also Available

About the Author

Chapter 1

    "Pa, is today the day the stage is comin'?" Emily MacLain flipped twin ponytails behind her thin shoulders and ignored her steaming plate of pancakes.
    Ben set the tin of maple syrup on the table. His heart warmed as always at the sight of his daughter's happy anticipation. Her eyes sparkled. A broad grin lit her face. How Emily was looking forward to meeting her new mother. "Yes, today is the day."
    "
Finally
. It's taken
forever
to get here." Emily sighed with deliberate drama, then stabbed her fork directly into the pancake pile.
    "Miss Curtis only agreed to our proposal last month." Ben grabbed the blue enamel pot and grimaced. He'd over-boiled the coffee again.
    Looked like he wasn't the only one who would be happy with a woman in this house. Maybe, if he could cook worth a darn, he wouldn't have to get married. But he couldn't cook anything but pancakes, bacon and eggs–and those not very well. His stomach hardened at the sight of the fried eggs congealed at the bottom of the blackened frying pan.
    Yes, it was a good thing Pauline Curtis arrived today. He couldn't take one more meal of his own cooking.
    "I hope Miss Curtis is nice. And laughs a lot just like Adella's ma." Emily took a big sip of fresh milk. "And I hope she knows lots of songs and sings all the time."
    "I hope so, too."
Please, be all that Emily needs
. Ben hoped Pauline Curtis was a kind woman, not dour and sour. Little Emily deserved a mother who would love her, a mother who would stay.

    Polly Brown rolled her eyes at the skinny stick of a woman dressed in ruffles and frippery. Not that she usually spent time in the company of such people, but crammed in the confines of the stagecoach, she had little choice. She sneezed again at Pauline Curtis's sweet, high-scented perfume that hung in the air like fog. Even though she tried not to watch, her gaze kept straying back to the young woman who dabbed at huge, continuous tears with her expensive lace handkerchief.
    What on earth did a woman like that have to cry about?
    Polly knew darn well that she was being uncharitable. Heck, maybe she was even a little bit envious. After all, she wore only a pair of men's trousers and a cotton shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. Her boots were worn and scuffed. And her hair, well, there just wasn't much she could do with her shoulder-length brown locks.
    She wasn't a golden blonde or a striking ebony-haired beauty. Nor would she ever be. She was just plain Polly Brown, the daughter of an outlaw, who could outshoot nearly every man she'd ever met. She was not in the same class as delicate Pauline Curtis.
    "Roland said he wasn't ready to get married,"
    Pauline sniffled into her handkerchief. "And I loved him so."
    "Well, with the babe in your belly, you'll need a husband soon," the old matron beside her whispered. "Be grateful your father knows of a decent man who will take on a woman, sight unseen. He's desperate, he is. Says there's not a marriageable woman in the whole of Montana Territory. And him with a little daughter to care for."
    "I just wish Roland would marry me." Pauline burst into sobbing tears. "I don't want to be with a rough, uneducated sheriff."
    Polly pushed her hat over her eyes and sank back into the seat. All that heartbreak made it too noisy to take a nap. Good thing she made up her mind a long time ago never to bother with love and marriage. Look at all the tears it required.
    No, she was content with the choices she'd made, content that her only companion was a six-shooter strapped to her right thigh. If only she wasn't running for her life, everything would be perfect

    Gunfire popped outside the stage. Polly snapped open her eyes and sat up. Across the aisle, proper Miss Pauline Curtis let out a shriek.
    "Road agents! Indians!"
    What use was a female who got scared at every little thing? Polly had been handling ruthless robbers and rampaging Indians for as long as she could remember. All it required was a six-shooter and a little bit of attitude.
    "We never should have come," Pauline whined.
    Really. Maybe Miss Curtis didn't have everything after all. She could use a bit of backbone and some common sense.
    Polly always kept her gun loaded, so all she had to do was unsnap her holster and wrap her hand around the comforting walnut handle. "Keep quiet," she advised the others.
    "Nana, she's got a gun!" Privileged Pauline gasped in horror, her eyes widening as if she'd seen a two-headed serpent.
    Polly kicked open the stage door and cocked her revolver. She saw three saddled horses tied to a low pine bough. None of the horses were breathing hard nor sweating, so they had not been ridden hard. She heard men's voices up ahead and climbed out of the coach, keeping careful watch.
    "It's just a fellow talking with the driver." She released the hammer but kept the gun in hand in case there was some trouble. Maybe the man just needed a ride to the next town, but maybe he wanted something else.
    "Women carrying guns. What's next?" Pauline sniffed as she climbed out of the cramped stage, lifting her nose as she passed.
    Polly bowed her chin. Fine, she wasn't a high society lady, not even a pretty, normal kind of woman. How could she be? Her ma had died when she was just a child. And Pa had been busy with his work. He was a rough man and hadn't known anything about little girls–and hadn't wanted to.
    Well, if she had been raised right and could wear pretty dresses, she would not be mean like Miss Pauline Curtis.
    "Roland! It's you!" In a flurry of ribbons and ruffles, Polly watched Miss Curtis grab up her skirts and run toward the newcomer. They entwined in a tangle of arms and apologies and what sounded like wet kisses.
    It just went to show how little sense a woman like that had. Men were nothing but trouble. Polly had learned long ago that men only wanted two things. One involved getting what they wanted–money, revenge, prestige–with their revolvers. And the other involved getting what they wanted with, well, a body part she was too embarrassed to think about.
    "Praise be!" The old nana tossed her thanks toward the heavens. "Forget Sheriff MacLain. Pauline will have her prince."
    Personally, Polly would be thankful if the stage could get a move on. She had Bad Bart Dixon tailing her with a loaded gun and a grudge. A real big grudge. The problem with Dixon was simple–he was the one man she couldn't outshoot, and he was a gunfighter who wouldn't take no for an answer.
    Yes, it would be just fine with her if Pauline's prince would hurry up with whatever it was he wanted.
    "Roland has asked me to marry him instead of going to that awful old sheriff." Pauline burst into sight. "He brought horses so we can start heading home right away."
    "How wonderful. After all, Roland is a banker's son." The old nana embraced her charge with great enthusiasm. "Let's hurry."
    Polly holstered her revolver. It didn't look like she was going to need it. Now the stage was empty. It might be a lonely ride, but at least she wouldn't have to keep breathing in Pauline's nose-stinging perfume.
    "What about my baggage?" the pampered princess whined.
    "Leave it." Roland, a strong-shouldered man wearing a bowler hat and the nicest black suit Polly had ever seen, strode back into view. "The driver is angry because I've made him late. And I didn't bring a pack-horse to carry your trunks. I'll buy you anything you want once we reach a civilized town."
    "Oh, Roland." Pauline threw herself into his strong arms once again.
    Polly strode back to the stage, shaking her head. If Pauline knew what was good for her, she'd give that slick-looking Roland a kick in the shins and make her own way in the world.
    "Hey, you." Pauline's sharp voice sliced through the air thick with chalk-dry Montana dust. "You, gun-toting girl."
    Polly spun around, spine stiff, half in and half out of the coach.
    "You might as well have my things. Looks like you could use them. And a bath."
    Pauline flounced off. Polly bit her lip. A bath? She was dusty, not dirty. And there was nothing wrong with her perfectly good trousers and shirt.
    But as she dropped into her seat and the stagecoach lumbered into motion, her heart felt heavy. It wasn't just Pauline's words, but her attitude as well.
    What Polly wouldn't give to be a fine young woman with her hair all twisted up in a knot and those frilly little curls falling all around her face. And a real dress that flounced when she walked.
    Then no one would make fun of her when she rode into town. Or look down at her and say what a pity it was when women tried to be like men.
    She just didn't know any other way. How could she? She never had a woman around to show her womanly ways. She'd never had anyone to help her. She was alone. Alone, making her way in a world not always kind to females.
    As the morning sun rose higher in the sky, Polly started thinking about the things Pauline Curtis had left behind. There was a satchel stashed under the seat, forgotten in the hurry to be with broad-shouldered Roland. Should she look inside it?
    Half of it was curiosity over what a proper sort of woman carried in a satchel. The other part was the knowledge that maybe it was something she wanted. After all, Pauline said she could have her things.
    Heck, taking a peek wouldn't hurt. She knelt down and tugged the satchel out by one strap. She pulled open the unsnapped top and peered inside, then withdrew two pairs of white gloves, both spotless and brand-new looking. Another lace handkerchief. And a folded piece of paper. Now
that
was interesting.
    Polly smoothed the parchment and studied the letters written there. She had some schooling, not much, but enough to recognize a few of the words. Why, it looked as if Miss Pauline Curtis was going to work for a sheriff in Indian Trails, the next stage stop. She was going to cook and clean for them. And a little girl was mentioned.
   
Hmm
. Polly considered that piece of information. The sheriff of Indian Trails wouldn't know his housekeeper wasn't coming. And there was no way that sheriff knew what Pauline Curtis looked like.
   
Hmm
. Polly leaned back in the seat. She found more beautiful things in the satchel. Pretty-smelling soap. A silver mirror and brush set. A bonnet the color of a Montana summer sky. Why, it was an awfully pretty bonnet. All blue, her favorite color.
    In a snap she tossed off her Stetson. The bonnet fit right on her head, despite the lump of her ponytail. A blue feather plumed over her left ear and tickled just a little. She caught hold of the velvet ribbons and tied them in a big bow beneath her chin.
    Why, she'd never worn a woman's garment in her whole life. She probably didn't look very good in it. Pa had always been honest in his comments about her appearance over the years. She knew she was no beauty.
    But curiosity got the best of her and she grabbed that engraved, silver-framed hand mirror. A woman she didn't recognize gazed back at her in the beveled surface. She saw her own blue eyes, and yes, that was her face, but she looked completely different. Almost fancy, the way a real lady did.
    She thought of the clothes up in those three trunks. Pauline Curds had been just about her size. And those trunks were now hers. Suddenly she knew what she would do with all those frilly garments that were probably stuffed inside.
    Even Bad Bart Dixon wouldn't recognize her dressed up in a city woman's finery.

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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