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Authors: Lissa's Cowboy

Jillian Hart

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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Lissa's Cowboy

By Jillian Hart

Copyright © 2011 by Jill Strickler

First Published 1999 as Lissa's Groom

by Zebra Books Kensington Publishing Corp.

Cover Art by Kimberly Killion, Hot Damn Designs

E-book formatted by Jessica Lewis

http://www.AuthorsLifeSaver.com

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to your online retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

An excerpt from A Candle in the Window

Also Available

About the Author

Chapter One

"When's my new pa comin'?"

"I thought he'd surely be here by now, Chad." Lissa Banks stepped out onto the log cabin's front porch and squinted through the towering pines. The sun was quickly slipping from its zenith, grazing fluffy white clouds on a determined descent toward the mountainous horizon.

It was well past noon. He ought to be here by now. There was no denying it, even considering every possible delay.

Her hopes felt like a rock rolling downhill, growing steadier by the minute.

She smoothed the escaped wisps from her braid and took a deep breath. Her future husband had sent a wire promising to arrive two full days ago, and the drive up from Billings to her home in Sweetwater County took less than half a week.

He was coming, wasn't he?

She felt a tug on her skirt and looked down at her son, not yet five, uncertainty wrinkling his brow.

Her child sighed. "Maybe he died, too."

"Oh, Chad." Lissa knelt and ran a hand across the worry lines wrinkling her son's face. He was too young for such concerns. "I'm sure he didn't die. Delays happen all the time. Why, you remember the letter he sent us. He said he's coming, and he will. Maybe he's lost. Mr. Murray is from St. Louis. He's used to a big city and buildings, not mountains and pines."

"Maybe the trees are scarin' him," Chad confided. "They're awful tall."

Lissa's heart thumped. "Yes, they are. Remember how Mr. Murray said in his letter he'd build you a tree house to play in? Won't that be something to look forward to?"

Worry eased from the dear little boy's face. "I guess. Mama, how's he gonna get a house up in a tree?"

She smoothed the errant curls back from his eyes. "You'll see. Come, help me put away the food. We can always make a sandwich for Mr. Murray when he arrives."

"I guess."

Lissa stood and watched her little boy march, head bowed, across the cabin. How could the man break his word? How could he disappoint a child?

"Oh, Winston." Chad thudded to a stop at the table, shaking his head. "Mama, she's doin' it again."

A gray, striped tabby uncurled herself from one of the chairs seated around the carefully set table and peered up at the boy.

"Just as long as she stays off the table." Lissa skirted the stove and reached up into the polished pine cupboards for her biggest crock.

"She's washin' me again, Mama," Chad announced.

Sure enough, the old mother tabby had hold of Chad's ears with both paws and was industriously licking the top of his head, blond curls and all.

"It tickles, Mama." He giggled, but he didn't pull away.

"She must have noticed what a dirty little boy you've become," Lissa teased as she carried the empty crock to the table.

"I shouldn't have played in the barn!" Another giggle came as the cat affectionately started licking his face.

Warmth settled back into Lissa's chest. She'd missed her son's laughter, the lightness of family banter, the deep comforting rumble of a man's voice in her kitchen. How she missed Michael.

She made quick work of putting away the prepared food. Had Mr. Murray been here on time, he would have been able to enjoy her pot roast and the fresh bread she'd made this morning to keep her mind off his arrival.

That she would marry a man she didn't know troubled her greatly, but she wanted to keep her ranch and this home Michael had built for her with his own hands. She could not hold onto her land alone. She needed a husband and his gunpower to keep the rustlers troubling the countryside from running her out of business.

"Mama, can I have a cookie?"

"Just one." Lissa covered the bread.

"Winston and me'll share." On his sturdy legs, Chad stretched to lift the lid from the jar on the table.

What would she do if Mr. Murray didn't come? What if—oh, it hurt too much to think about. She had no relatives, no one to help.

What about the wedding scheduled for tomorrow? Lissa felt her throat go dry. She pictured the kindly Reverend Burrow waiting patiently behind his pine pulpit to seal a marriage short one waylaid groom.

Please be on your way, Mr. Murray. Please be a man of your word.

Lissa knew hopes were only that. She'd waited far too long now. It was best to take action: Go to town. Check with the postmistress to see if her groom-to-be had written. Speak with the minister and cancel her wedding plans.

It was for the best

Disappointment kicked her as she wet a clean cloth and wiped down the table. A giggle from the floor before the hearth, where Chad and his kitty sat together, captured her attention—and reminded her of what was truly important.

Chad broke off a small bit of molasses cookie and held it out to the tabby, who took the treat with a dainty nibble. Then he broke off a piece for himself.

Such a sweet boy, he deserved this home, to grow up on the land his father wanted him to have one day. Somehow, she would find a way to keep Michael's long ago promise.

"Go find your hat, Chad." She laid the damp cloth down to dry. "We're going to town."

"'Yippee!" He jumped to his feet, chewing down the last bite of his cookie. "Do I getta drive Charlie?"

"We'll see. Now hurry along."

Lissa reached around to untie her apron. The cabin looked tidy and cozy. It was nothing fancy, snug and small. Michael had splurged with their meager savings, framing in glass windows so she could enjoy the sunshine during the long Montana winters.

Crisp white curtains framed the glass now, sparkling from a thorough cleaning. The floors, the sills, the furniture, even the black stove, all shone, polished to impress the man who would be her husband—the man who might not keep his word.

"Mama, I got my hat."

"And I have mine." She lifted her best starched-crisp sunbonnet from the peg by the back door. She fished her reticule from behind the dishtowels stacked neatly in the drawer. "Are you going to hitch up Charlie for me?"

"Mama, you know I'm not that big." Chad laughed as he dashed out through the leanto into the cheerful sunshine.

Lissa found a smile stretching her face. She shut the door tightly, locked it, and stepped past the gray tabby sunning herself in the dry grass near the garden.

"Mama, Charlie's eatin' me." Chad's happy voice echoed like sunshine through the hay-scented barn.

With the sun heating her back, Lissa stopped to watch. Life on this ranch was often hard, but it was more often wonderful. The sight of the small boy standing before the gigantic Clydesdale, the horse affectionately nibbling Chad's hat brim, made a bubble of happiness expand inside her.

Everything would work out—with or without Mr. Murray. She would think of something. Lissa fetched the heavy leather harness from its peg in the tack room and led the big bay workhorse out into the yard. Keeping one eye on Chad, who stroked his sticky hands down Charlie's fetlock, she hitched the gelding to the small wagon.

"Come here, cowboy." Lissa held out her hand.

Her little boy gave Charlie a final pat and dashed straight toward her, the felt brim of his hat flopping in the wind.

The mountain lion's growl shattered the peaceful Montana forest. Marshal Jack Emerson drew his horse around, heart pounding. That cat sounded mad, and too damn close for comfort. The mustang sidestepped, nervous, nostrils flaring wide to scent the air.

Jack patted the mare's neck, calming her, but his senses were on alert. Hair prickled along the back of his neck at another low, threatening growl. No doubt about it, that cat was too damn close for comfort. Mountain lions were territorial. Maybe she was only letting loose a warning, so Jack and his prisoner would simply move on.

Squinting against the harsh afternoon sun, he circled the skittish mustang back around, caught hold of the lead rope tied to his saddle, and made sure the second horse packing the bandit Dillon Plummer didn't bolt. The last thing Jack needed was to hunt down Plummer a second time.

"That cat's trouble, Emerson." Dillon's gravelly voice grated like chalk on a blackboard, and was as unwelcome.

"So, now you're an expert on mountain lions?"

"No, but any fool can hear the signs."

He heard the silence, all right. The larks had quieted. Now even the wind breezed to a halt. He heard no chirp of grasshoppers, no snap of insects, not the buzz of even one fly circling the horses.

Jack slid the rifle out of the holster. He might be tired of his job here in Montana—he'd seen nearly every inch of the territory—but moving on to Wyoming was a better way to leave his job than being eyeballed as cat food. If that mountain lion meant business, then so did he.

He hadn't been named the best marshal in his department for cowardice. When it came to a fight, Jack Emerson knew how to win, whether his enemy was man or beast. He thumbed back the hammer.

The rustle of leaves turned him around. He aimed, but already the great golden cat was airborne, front paws extended. Jack got off one shot before the mountain lion slammed into his shoulders. Sharp claws tore across his chest. Jack hit the ground on his back. He heard his mount's terrified whinny, heard Plummer's shout, saw the cat's sharp-teethed jaws. Jack wrapped his fingers around the walnut stock of the rifle and swung.

The blow dazed the animal, and a second knocked the predator from his chest. With a furious snarl, the cat turned, sprang. Jack's thumb grazed the trigger and the bullet fired.

The hundred pound cat slammed him to the ground again, razor sharp claws skidding across his left arm and chest. Jack looked up into lifeless eyes, felt the cat's body shudder. It was dead.

Rolling the animal off him, he tried to stand. Wheezing, blood dripping from beneath his shirt, he felt damn shaky. Pain lanced down his breastbone, tore across the bend of his arm.
Great. Just great.

Looking around, he saw nothing but trees, rocky earth, and wild animals. No rangeland, no civilization in sight. And where was his horse? Plummer was probably galloping away as fast as his mount would take him toward the state border.

Well, Jack had been in worse straits. At least he had his rifle. There was a town just a ways back. He remembered seeing the fork in the weed-grown trail he'd been following. Maybe he could get word to his boss, pick up a horse, and find a soft bed for the night. He took a step, winced at the pain in his ankle. Probably he'd cracked the bone again. It hadn't healed fully from his last run-in with an outlaw.

"Hold it right there, Marshal," came that gravelly voice, irritating and triumphant.

"Plummer?" Jack spun, cocked the rifle, but the gun flew from his hands. It hit the lee side of a boulder, a bullet hole through the stock. "That was my best rifle."

"It's my rifle now." A slow, dangerous sneer twisted across Plummer's scarred face. "I'm going to enjoy putting down the one lawman sly enough to bring me in. Say goodbye, Emerson."

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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