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Authors: Territorial Bride

Linda Castle

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Critical acclaim for Linda Castle’s previous titles

Temple’s Prize

“Delightful, funny…poignant and intriguing…a winner.”


Romantic Times

The Return of Chase Cordell

“A balance of marvelous characters and an outstanding plot.”


Rendezvous

Abbie’s Child

“Fresh and compelling, a wonderful read.”

—Author Patricia Potter

Fearless Hearts

“A very different love story guaranteed to tug on your heartstrings.”

—Author Marilyn Campbell

Any minute now she would start to cuss and bluster…

But to his shock and dismay, she only smiled and allowed those remarkably thick dark lashes to sweep over her chestnut eyes once again.

“As you say, Brooks,” she agreed demurely. “I do stick out like a sore thumb here in New York, part Irish and part Indian—a cat’s whisker from being a barbarian, wouldn’t you say?”

Missy—brave, blunt, wonderful Missy was still beneath the lonely veneer.

“No, I wouldn’t call you a barbarian and neither would anyone else within my hearing, I assure you—
Marisa.
” A sudden burst of possessiveness flared inside him. All he wanted to do was enjoy her company alone and keep other men from looking at her with hungry eyes.

Their gazes locked. Heat rose between them like fog on a warm April morning.

Breathe, you idiot,
a voice inside his head screamed…

Dear Reader,

This holiday season, we’ve selected books that are sure to warm your heart—all with heroes who redefine the phrase “the gift of giving.” Since Linda Castle’s first book,
Fearless Hearts,
appeared in our 1995 March Madness Promotion, she has been inundated with letters from fans asking for more.
Territorial Bride
is that long-awaited sequel. Now cowgirl Missy O’Bannion is all grown-up—and she’s bound and determined to become a
lady
to impress Eastern rogue Brooks James, who’s already shown her he can be a real cowboy. In this darling “opposites attract” romance, their love is tested on many levels, especially when Missy is seriously injured.

Rising talent Sharon Schulze returns this month with
The Shielded Heart,
a stirring tale set in eighteenth-century England about a warrior who learns to accept his special psychic gift as he teaches an enamel artisan about life and love. And award-winning Cheryl Reavis is back
with
another of her sensational Civil War stories.
Harrigan’s Bride
features a soldier who chivalrously marries the bedridden daughter of his late godmother. Don’t miss it!

Rounding out the month is
A Warrior’s Passion,
the ninth book in the medieval WARRIOR SERIES by the gifted Margaret Moore. Here, a young woman is forced into an unwanted betrothal before the man she truly loves—and whose child she carries—can claim her as his wife!

Whatever your tastes in reading, you’ll be sure to find a romantic journey back to the past between the covers of a Harlequin Historical® novel.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service

U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

Territorial Bride
Linda Castle

Books by Linda Castle

Harlequin Historicals

Fearless Hearts
#261

Abbie’s Child
#321

The Return of Chase Cordell
#348

Temple’s Prize
#394

Territorial Bride
#441

LINDA CASTLE

Linda Castle is the pseudonym of Linda L. Crockett. Although she is a native New Mexican, Linda can trace her heritage to Comanche on one branch and all the way to Scotland at the time of the Spanish Armada on another. Perhaps this blending of blood and culture is what enables her to step back in time and capture tales from bygone eras. She is fascinated with both the American West and the British Isles. A recent trip to Scotland, England and Wales produced amazing links, such as finding an out-of-the-way kilt maker in Edinburgh who had plaids for the Crocketts and the Caudills.

Linda currently makes her home in New Mexico with her husband, Bill, two youngest children, Brandon and Logan, and their beloved Great Danes, Rebel and Destiny. You can reach Linda at the following address: Linda Castle, #18 County Road 5795, Farmington, NM 87401.

This book is lovingly and respectfully dedicated to Chris Reeves, Karin David and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, who valiantly face each day and teach us the meaning of courage. May God bless you all.

Chapter One

New Mexico Territory, 1889

M
issy sighed and watched Clell run his fingers around the inside of his high, stiffly starched white collar. His Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed hard, and he gave her a why-am-I-being-tortured-like-this? grimace. It was plain as the nose on his face that he was as uncomfortable in his fancy duds as Missy was in her maid of honor dress. Still, they had all agreed to get gussied up for this occasion. And when she thought about it, she had to smile. All the fuss and wearing of stiff lace, starched petticoats and pinching corsets was worth it, because Trace and Bellami were getting married.

The surgeon had cautioned them to wait until Trace was fully recovered from his surgery. Then Donovan and Patricia James, Bellami’s parents, had insisted the wedding wait until the winter weather cleared. They had arrived only a week past, with Bellami’s eldest brother, Rod, her cousin Ellen and an assortment of distant relatives in tow. After so many obstacles, Bell and Trace were finally going to be wed.

The spinster who had played the organ for every wedding in the Territory for the last twenty years suddenly changed tempo. The ancient instrument droned and wheezed, announcing that the time was growing short and all should find a seat.

“Are you ready?” A resonant voice rippled over Missy like a warm summer breeze.

When she turned and looked up at the hardened visage of Brooks James, her middle tightened even more. Ranch life and the thick mustache he now sported had transformed his easy-on-the-eyes appearance into the lean, uncompromising visage of a true cowboy. His pale blue eyes gazed out at her from skin bronzed by more than a year in the Territorial sun and wind. Now he had the determined never-give-an-inch look of a work-hardened Western man and the elegant manners of an Eastern dude.

A deadly combination,
Missy thought to herself.

She would be hard-pressed to pick him out of a crowd of Circle B ranch hands without taking a second look. He had learned to rope and ride with the best of them. When he walked, his body spoke of strength and economy of motion. He had succeeded in doing what she’d been sure he could not. But a funny thing had happened to her along the way: instead of becoming accustomed to Brooks over the long months, she had found herself growing awkward around him. At one time she had needled and picked at him, but as he settled in and learned to handle himself on the ranch, the situation between them had flip-flopped like a fish stranded out of water.

Brooks had slowly begun to get the upper hand at every confrontation. Now he openly teased her with a wicked twinkle in his eye. And every time it happened, she got all tongued-tied and fluttery. Her only defense was her
sharp O’Bannion tongue, but even that weapon had failed her under the heat of that cool blue gaze.

“Missy?” he asked again. “Are you ready?”

“Yes—I am ready.”

“You seem a little jumpy.”

“Only like a torn turkey before Thanksgivin’,” Missy admitted in a whisper. She tugged at the snug waist of her dress, trying to give herself enough room to take a deep breath. Bellami and Trace both had said she looked fine in the form-fitting, peacock blue sateen, but with Brooks’s critical gaze skimming over her, Missy now doubted the truth of their words.

Damnation.
She wished she could’ve worn chaps and boots. At least then she could be herself and would be able to inhale normally instead of taking panting little breaths.

This had been a dunderheaded notion. She wasn’t a lady. Putting fancy duds on her skinny form wasn’t going to change her. It was like putting a candelabra in an outhouse: it didn’t change what was on the inside one little bit.

A deep, throaty chuckle drew her attention back to Brooks. He was staring at her, grinning like a fox who had found a way into the henhouse.

“It is customary for the bride to be nervous, not the maid of honor,” he advised her in an easy tone. It could have been friendly teasing, or it could be that he was mocking her. “I didn’t think the princess of the O’Bannion clan ever had a moment of fear about anything. Could it be you are only human like the rest of us, Missy?” His eyes glittered with the challenge of his words, while a devilish half smile peeked from under his cookie-duster mustache.

Now there was no doubt. He was poking fun at her—again.
Sure as God made little green apples, he’d keep on doing it until she flew off the handle and said or did something she’d regret, and she couldn’t allow herself the luxury smack-dab in the middle of Trace’s wedding.

Consarn him,
she thought sourly.

What was it about this Easterner that got under her skin? She knew enough to walk away from a coiled rattler or a porcupine, so why couldn’t she just turn her back on him? He was as prickly as a porky, and the way her belly knotted and her pulse was racing, he must be as deadly as any sidewinder—deadly to her, anyway.

She wondered for the twentieth time how he could just open his mouth and rile her up like an old range bull with a thorn in his rump. It didn’t make a lick of sense. All she had to do was use the brains God gave her and ignore the grinning varmint, but somehow it never worked out that way.

“Well, Missy?” Brooks leaned a little nearer.

One thick brow rose over his crystalline eyes. She caught a whiff of bay rum clinging to hard-cut jaws that had been scraped bare less than an hour ago.

“Are you—
afraid?
” Brooks gazed at her with his seductive eyes. “Are you?”

“No, I am
not
afraid,” she snapped. Several heads turned to stare in her direction because of the volume of her reply. “My—my dress is just tight as a narrow cinch, th-that’s all.” She lowered her voice to a respectable whisper. “And with all these folks squeezed in here there’s barely a breath of air left.” She forced herself to ignore the amusement etched in every line of his face. “So why don’t you quit jawing so much and using up what little air there is left?”

He laughed.

Damn him to hell and back. He had the gall to stand
there and laugh. And then he raised a long-fingered, brown and roughened hand as if to touch her.

The thought sent her belly dropping to her feet like a stone.

“Rest easy, little lady. If you swoon, I promise I’ll do my best to catch you before you hit the floor in front of all these people.” Mercifully, his fingers stopped just short of touching her cheek.

Her face grew hotter and all the shallow little breaths she was taking seemed to be hanging at the back of her throat. It took all her control to keep from yelling at him, or slapping his face, but she managed to keep her voice low and controlled and her hands clenched at her thighs.

“I appreciate the offer, Brooks, but you’ll never see the day when I can’t stand on my own two feet around you.” Her long, unbound hair tickled her backside through the silky material of her dress as she emphasized her speech with a little nod of her head.

Brooks did not laugh this time, but she felt his amusement sluice over her in a scalding wave. Her heart beat a tiny bit faster inside the sateen bodice of her dress.

Damn him. Double damn him!

He could affect her with just a look, or God forbid, the hint of a casual touch. And then, as if he had read her tortured thoughts, he reached out and took hold of her elbow with his bare fingertips. A myriad of peculiar and uncontrollable emotions ripped through her middle when his fingers tightened around her arm. She promised herself that she would not react, but she stiffened in spite of herself.

“Don’t make a bigger fuss, Missy. Everyone is watching.” His low warning rumbled over her while his gaze slid around the interior of the crowded Catholic mission, the closest house of God they could find.

Missy followed his line of vision. Just as he had said, the tiny adobe building was full to overflowing, and while not everyone was staring at her, more than enough curious eyes were looking her way.

She died a little inside, knowing that her confrontation with Brooks had been the object of their attention.

“Come on, Missy, I won’t bite you—” he leaned close enough to whisper in her ear, tightening that possessive hold on her arm “—but I might nibble a bit around the edges.” His breath fanned her earlobe. For one terrifying moment she was afraid he would nip her flesh.

Was she afraid he would—or that he wouldn’t?

“It is time we took our places, Brooks,” she managed to croak. “Stop all this foolishness.”

Brooks grinned widely, flashing a glimpse of straight teeth, then he deftly maneuvered her and the wide ruffles of peacock blue sateen up through the narrow aisle. Missy marveled that he got them where they needed to be without tripping either one of them.

She shook herself and blinked. Without quite knowing how time was moving so fast and disjointedly, she realized she was now standing opposite Brooks in front of the slat-thin minister with the too-large Adam’s apple.

Missy allowed herself one backward glance. Now every single person seated in the small chapel
was
watching her as she stood at the front of the church, twisting her fingers and plucking at the too-tight, unforgiving waist of her dress.

She whirled back around, staring at the shiny worn knees of the minister’s trousers. She felt like a complete jackass—and she blamed Brooks for it and for making her feel things that confused and befuddled her.

A murmur of restrained voices, like a cooling breeze over dried leaves, moved through the chapel. Missy turned
to see what had caused the stir, grateful that something, anything, had distracted the group’s interest from her. Then she saw Trace, and all of her thoughts were for him alone.

He looked happy, healthy and more handsome than she’d ever imagined. His dark hair reflected the flames of the candles on the altar; his face was flushed with excitement.

The organ groaned and wheezed again. Then, with a reverberating sound that tickled the bottoms of her feet, the “Wedding March” began. Missy followed Trace’s gaze to the side door.

Moving with all the grace of an angel fallen to earth, Bellami appeared in her flowing ivory gown. A heavy lace veil trailed behind her on the red, Spanish-tiled floor.

Throughout the long preparations for the wedding, Trace had made only one request: that Bellami wear nothing over her face. The operation had removed the bone sliver from his brain, but it had been Bellami’s love that had truly restored his sight and his life. He had told Missy that he wanted to look upon the face of the woman he loved, now and forever.

Bellami shifted the bouquet of wild lavender and oxeye daisies to her empty hand while she stretched up to deposit an affectionate kiss on Brooks’s lean cheek, then she offered a reassuring smile to Missy. The gesture made the hot dry lump in Missy’s throat grow larger.

“Let us all bow our heads for a moment of prayer…” the minister intoned “…and ask God’s blessing on this young couple as they embark on the road of life.”

Brooks watched Missy’s eyes flutter shut. He half listened to the prayer while he continued to observe her from the corner of his eye. Looking at her now, a feminine vision in sateen, it was hard to believe she was the same
razor-tongued shrew that had pestered him for the last year—except that he had the emotional bruises to prove it. The little vixen had drawn blood, in a manner of speaking, a time or two. She was feisty and headstrong, the exact opposite of the women he’d formerly pursued.

A murmured amen brought Brooks’s head up. He focused on his twin. Bellami was lovely, as all brides are, but even more so because she held her head up proudly and did not care who gazed upon her face. She no longer hid herself from the pity people might feel for her. Trace’s love had been the spark needed for her to grow and change. For the first time in her life she seemed unaware of the scar.

The scar.
It had altered her life and saddled Brooks with guilt for years. But then it had brought Bellami James to the Territory to find her destiny, and in a peculiar sort of way it had done the same thing for him. Bellami’s scar and Violet Ashland’s fickle heart had been the catalyst for Brooks to leave the city and the pointless pursuits he had once thought of as manly.

After Bellami left, Brooks had surrounded himself with a flock of beautiful ladies, but none had ever held his attention for more than a couple of weeks until he’d met Violet Ashland. The petite blonde had captured his interest in a way that no other woman had before…

A nervous cough pulled his attention to the ravenhaired girl standing opposite him. Missy was a wildcat one minute and a siren the next. She could make him madder than any woman he knew, yet in the whole year he’d known her she had never shown the slightest interest in snaring him for his fortune—or any other reason, he thought with a smile.

Not like Violet.

He frowned and wondered where that thought had come
from. It was probably the magic of the candles and the organ music and the lethargy of a Territorial afternoon. A man would have to be made of iron not to be influenced by the romantic promise of this moment. The trappings of matrimony had resurrected memories that had long been buried, reminding him of his own proposal of marriage.

But that had been another man, in another life. Now his days were filled with work and with fending off Missy’s verbal arrows. Yes, he thought idly, Missy O’Bannion could strip the hide off a man with one look, but under all that bluff and bluster she was honest and true.

The kind of woman to cross rivers and climb mountains with.

Brooks blinked in amusement at his thoughts. He was beginning to sound, or at least to think, like Clell. The idea that he had learned some wisdom from the irascible cowboy pleased him, and he caught himself grinning.

By accident he and Missy looked at each other in the same moment. Their gazes caught and held. Her dark eyes reflected the candlelight like a deep, shimmering stream in the first rays of morning.

Funny that he’d never noticed how wide and luminous her eyes were until now, Brooks mused.

“Dearly beloved…” the tall, lanky preacher’s baritone voice filled the chapel. “In the sight of God and this company…”

BOOK: Linda Castle
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