Promise Me Texas (A Whispering Mountain Novel)

BOOK: Promise Me Texas (A Whispering Mountain Novel)
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“YOU CAN COUNT ON JODI THOMAS TO GIVE YOU A SATISFYING AND MEMORABLE READ.”

—Catherine Anderson

Praise for the Whispering Mountain Novels

Wild Texas Rose

“Full of excitement, mystery, and a very feisty and extremely confident woman . . . The plot and characters are colorful and exciting and give the unexpected at every turn.”

—Fresh Fiction

“I loved this book.”

—Night Owl Reviews

Texas Blue

“Another winner . . . Tension rides high, mixed with humor and kisses more passionate than most full-on love scenes. Fans will be delighted.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“[A] brilliant novel. Each of the characters is independently engaging, complex, and lovable . . . Don’t miss this great romance, and don’t hesitate to catch up on the series’ other books, either—it’s impossible that you’ll be disappointed.”

—Night Owl Reviews

The Lone Texan

“A real page-turner.”

—The Romance Reader

“To say I enjoyed Jodi Thomas’s
The Lone Texan
would be an understatement. No one writes better Westerns than she.”

—TwoLips Reviews

“The Queen of Texas romance does it again. . . . Here’s a surefire hit for Western fans to savor.”


RT Book Reviews

Tall, Dark, and Texan

“A gripping, emotional read.”

—All About Romance

“Wonderfully written, romantic, and delightful.”

—The Romance Reader

“An enjoyable read from start to finish.”

—Reading Romance Books

“I loved these characters.”

—Ezine Articles

Further praise for the novels of

Jodi Thomas

“One of my favorites.”

—Debbie Macomber

“Packs a powerful emotional punch . . . [Thomas’s] latest Western historical romance highlights the author’s talent for creating genuinely real characters . . . Exceptional.”

—Booklist

“Jodi Thomas is a masterful storyteller. She grabs your attention on the first page, captures your heart, and then makes you sad when it is time to bid her wonderful characters farewell.”

—Catherine Anderson

“Fantastic . . . A keeper! . . . A beautiful story about unexpected love. An exceptional storyteller, Thomas has found the perfect venue for her talent, which is as big—and as awe-inspiring—as Texas. Her emotionally moving stories are the kind you want to go on forever.”

—RT Book Reviews

“Jodi Thomas’s Whispering Mountain Series is the perfect blend of rough and tumble cowboys, and women who command their respect and love. . . . I am ready to saddle up and take a ride!”

—Coffee Time Romance

“A fun read.”

—Fresh Fiction

Titles by Jodi Thomas

CAN’T STOP BELIEVING

CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

JUST DOWN THE ROAD

THE COMFORTS OF HOME

SOMEWHERE ALONG THE WAY

WELCOME TO HARMONY

REWRITING MONDAY

TWISTED CREEK

***

PROMISE ME TEXAS

WILD TEXAS ROSE

TEXAS BLUE

THE LONE TEXAN

TALL, DARK, AND TEXAN

TEXAS PRINCESS

TEXAS RAIN

THE TEXAN’S REWARD

A TEXAN’S LUCK

WHEN A TEXAN GAMBLES

THE TEXAN’S WAGER

TO WED IN TEXAS

TO KISS A TEXAN

THE TENDER TEXAN

PRAIRIE SONG

THE TEXAN AND THE LADY

TO TAME A TEXAN’S HEART

FOREVER IN TEXAS

TEXAS LOVE SONG

TWO TEXAS HEARTS

THE TEXAN’S TOUCH

TWILIGHT IN TEXAS

THE TEXAN’S DREAM

Specials

EASY ON THE HEART

HEART ON HIS SLEEVE

IN A HEARTBEAT

A HUSBAND FOR HOLLY

P
ROMISE
M
E
T
EXAS

Jodi Thomas

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

PROMISE ME TEXAS

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Jodi Koumalats.

Excerpt from
Betting the Rainbow
by Jodi Thomas copyright © 2013 by Jodi Koumalats.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62632-0

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley mass-market edition / November 2013

Cover art by Jim Griffin.

Cover handlettering by Ron Zinn. Cover design by George Long.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Contents

Praise

Titles by Jodi Thomas

Title Page

Copyright

 

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

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

EPILOGUE

 

Special Excerpt from BETTING THE RAINBOW

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

CHAPTER 1

January 1879

North Texas

T
HE MIDNIGHT TRAIN RATTLED THROUGH WINTER’S
darkness, ignoring the howling January wind. Sliding low on the dusty last passenger bench, Beth McMurray tried to control her breathing. Anger and fear blended in her blood, freezing any movement. Evil traveled with her tonight, an evil she’d been about to marry.

“One harebrained scheme too many.” She almost said her old housekeeper’s warning aloud. “One too many and you’ll be trapped, Bethie, and there will be no one to get you out of the trouble you go running toward.”

The old woman had been right.

Only now wasn’t the time for regrets: Beth had to think. She had to plan. But first, she needed to make herself as invisible as possible to the men at the other end of the passenger car. Her future depended on it. In her black slouch hat and weathered rain duster, she’d hoped to pass for a man sleeping his way to Dallas. If no one came too near, or looked too closely, she might get away with it.

Her plan had seemed simple when she’d read Lamont’s telegram asking her to sneak away from the ranch and meet him for a secret wedding in Dallas before they went to Whispering Mountain for a big wedding in the spring.

The getting away proved no problem. Everyone on the ranch was busy. Beth simply left a note saying she was meeting Lamont and friends in Dallas for a week. She explained that she was taking Brandy Blue, her favorite horse, so she and her fiancé, Senator Lamont LaCroix, and his friends could ride back home with her for a winter visit on a Texas ranch. At twenty-four, no one would question her or expect her to do anything improper.

One of the old Texas Rangers who’d retired on the ranch offered to ride along with her for a while.

Only, a harebrained idea worked its way into her mind as she packed. She thought it would be fun to ride northeast and meet Lamont’s train at the station stop before Dallas. Then, as they traveled together toward their secret wedding, they would have time to talk about their future.

But from the journey’s beginning, not all went smoothly. She hadn’t fooled the conductor when she’d boarded at the train’s last stop before reaching Dallas. He’d known she was a woman even in her trousers and slicker. When she’d handed him her ticket, she explained and he agreed to go along with her plan to surprise her bridegroom, who she said was on the train.

The train was moving by the time she found Lamont surrounded by army officers. Beth had decided to sit back and listen for a while. In a way, she got her wish; she learned a great deal about Lamont as the train traveled through the night. Only, it was all bad. She’d promised herself to a fool.

Four hours ago she’d expected to be planning her wedding tonight, but not now. As she stared at the tall man drinking at the other end of the car, Beth wondered why she’d ever thought of him as handsome. From a distance, he looked striking in his tailored black suit and gray wool coat. She could almost see him coffin-boxed and her wearing black instead of the white dress she’d carried with her to change into.

Lamont LaCroix, the man she’d fallen in love with when she was seventeen and wide-eyed, was holding court in the middle of a half dozen young army officers. Since sunset she’d learned more than she ever wanted to know about her fiancé. More than he’d told her in the twenty letters he’d written over the past seven years. She’d learned that he was worse than the carpetbaggers who’d invaded Texas after the war. The northern accent she’d barely noticed when they’d met now grated on her nerves.

At first, his letters had been friendly, as though keeping his young acquaintance up on Washington politics. As the years passed, he talked of his dreams of power and she encouraged him. Two years ago he spoke of needing her, of wanting her by his side. She hadn’t bothered to think of all he didn’t say. He’d fooled her completely, reeling her in.

No
, she corrected. She’d fallen for his lies because she wanted them to be true. She’d wanted to be the important wife of a senator, to live in Washington, D.C., all winter and go to parties. Now, listening to him brag, Beth knew that she was an idiot. No man in Texas had ever measured up to this congressman and his letters. She’d wanted him to be real so desperately that she hadn’t even heeded her father’s warning. She’d jumped when she should have hesitated.

The rattle of the train couldn’t block out Lamont’s voice as he bragged that “the McMurray woman,” as he called her, would fatten his bank account and warm his bed. She heard him tell the men around him that it was all he could do to keep from bedding her when he’d met her all those years ago in Washington. She was ripe and ready, he’d laughed. It would have been easy enough, he’d claimed, but he realized she was a gold mine. If he handled her correctly, he’d control not only her body, but her mind as well as her wealth.

When one of the young men drinking with him suggested the senator keep her pregnant to ensure control, Lamont had bragged that he’d allow her one child, maybe two, and then see that there were no other pregnancies. “I want her by my side, not home raising brats. Wait till you see her. She may be dumb as a stump, but she’s built tall and beautiful with ginger-colored hair that hangs in curls past her waist. The perfect woman to stand with me all the way to the White House.”

Beth bit her bottom lip until she tasted blood. If she hadn’t caught an earlier train to meet her groom-to-be, she never would have seen him like this until it was too late. Now she saw the truth and mourned her dream. Lamont had lost his reelection, but with a McMurray on his arm, he thought he’d take the seat from Texas without any trouble.

“I’ve got two years to meet all the right people,” he said. “Then once I’m elected, I’ll never have to return to the state.”

She slowly raised her head just enough to see him. His words were starting to slur and he’d opened his coat, revealing extra pounds around his middle that hadn’t been there years ago. His brown hair and eyes made him handsome, but she saw flaws now. Frown lines marked his forehead, and silver at his temples showed the signs of aging. She knew he was more than fifteen years older than she was. It hadn’t mattered before tonight, but now she saw middle age weighting his shoulders. He wasn’t a young man, and by the time she bore and raised his children, she’d be nursing an old man.

Rain tapped on the windows and one of the lanterns blinked out, throwing the back of the car into shadow. Beth didn’t care. At the next stop, she’d rush off this train and vanish. No one would look for her. No one knew she was here except the conductor who’d punched her ticket. From the sound of the storm brewing outside, he’d have more to worry about than one passenger riding away on the horse she’d loaded onboard.

Part of her wished she were brave enough to confront Lamont. He’d lied to her. He’d stolen years of her life as she’d waited for him. Part of her wanted to run to the front of the car and knock his bloated head off. Then instead of being almost a bride, she’d be almost a widow, which sounded far better to her right now.

The rain pounded harder and lightning flashed, pulling Beth from her anger and making her think. It would not be wise to confront Lamont here. The train would arrive before dawn in Dallas. No one would be there to meet her. She’d be alone with Lamont.

The men up front were now telling stories of her family and how spoiled they’d heard the youngest daughter of Teagan McMurray was. Everyone commented that any man lucky enough to meet her bragged of her beauty and her wealth, but none said anything about her character.
Spoiled
,
temperamental
,
headstrong
were words tossed around about her.

“Great beauty does that to a woman,” Lamont shouted above the storm. “She’ll need a strong hand to keep her in line. With her in Washington, D.C., and all her family in Texas, I’ll have no problem. Women are like children; they need the hand of discipline lowered frequently. That’s one of the reasons I want to meet her in Dallas. We’ll get a few things straight from the beginning.”

The others laughed, but their laughter didn’t ring true. Beth wondered if they weren’t simply playing along with Lamont. If so, they were far more dangerous to him than to her. She studied them closely and noticed the way they glanced at one another when Lamont wasn’t looking. The army officers weren’t Lamont’s friends and the drunk didn’t even know it.

Beth waited for her chance to escape the car. Even if the next stop was for water or wood, she’d climb off and ride in the car with her horse before she’d spend another moment with the senator and the men who were baiting him.

They talked of the tricks they’d played on people and the women they’d slept with. Two of the men even got in a playful fight when they both claimed to have slept with the same socialite in the capital. None of the soldiers drank as much as Lamont did, and all fell silent when he shared something he’d gotten away with in Washington. They were digging his political grave, and Lamont was handing them the shovels.

Finally, the train began to slow. She saw the single lantern swinging beside the water tank. Salvation awaited.

With her head low, Beth slipped from the car and melted into the rain on the dark side of the train. She had to feel her way back to the first freight car. Her horse was the only animal inside the car. Much as she wanted to pull Brandy Blue off the train and ride open land, it was too dangerous in the mud and storm. In a few hours they’d be at a proper platform in Dallas and she’d have a road to follow at daylight.

Rain soaked all the way to her skin by the time she slipped into Brandy Blue’s makeshift stall. She stood beside him, patting his neck, whispering to keep him calm. He was restless, but she couldn’t help telling him how much better company he was than what she’d left behind. She’d grown up around horses at Whispering Mountain Ranch. She couldn’t remember not being able to ride. The McMurray horses were the best in the state and like family to all the clan.

Beth checked her saddlebags, thankful she’d worn trousers. Pulling her gun belt and Colt from the leather, she strapped them around her waist. Another lesson her papa had insisted on. When a McMurray travels alone, he or she always travels armed. If anyone did see her ride away at the platform, they’d think she was a man.

She’d be out of Dallas and heading home by full light.

Pulling a small towel from her bag, she wiped her face, thinking of all the names Lamont had called her over the last few hours.
Headstrong, beautiful, spoiled, simple.
She grinned. He’d left out one.
Determined.
She wasn’t a girl anymore, but a strong woman. Her papa had raised his daughters to be independent. It was time she took charge of her life and stopped waiting for a husband.

Nothing would keep her in the same town with him. She’d wait until Lamont and the army officers left the station, and then she’d saddle up and ride. As long as she headed south, she knew she’d be going home. She wanted no one seeing her in the same town with her almost-husband. In fact, she never planned to see him again for as long as she lived. As soon as she got home, she’d burn his letters and marry the first man who asked her before the ashes were cold. Any man, anywhere, would be better than the braggart she’d seen in the passenger car.

Beth set her mind. If no one asked her again, she’d never marry. Being alone had to be better than being with the wrong person. Her papa had made sure she had her own money, so she didn’t need Lamont.

She patted Brandy Blue. “Let’s go home, boy. I need to ride the hills of Whispering Mountain and forget what a fool I’ve been.” Smiling, she wondered if her wish and the horse’s weren’t the same, as he didn’t like the train, or the night, or the storm.

Between the drafty slats, she saw men climbing onto the back of the train as it pulled away from the circle of lantern light. Not passengers, she thought; invaders. They moved like rats in the dark, slipping in between the cars and crawling up ladders to the roof.

One broad-shouldered man in a long, black leather coat tried to pull another off the step, but the first jerked away and climbed aboard. They seemed to be arguing about something, but she couldn’t hear their words. A moment later the man in black reluctantly followed. The flash of a red bandanna tied around his throat seemed somehow out of place in the night.

Holding her breath, Beth realized that they had to be robbers. They’d probably stop the train miles from anywhere and rob, or maybe kill, everyone. She’d seen an army guard loading something in the mail car that looked like a strongbox. It must be a huge payroll, or gold, to be worth the risk of a midnight robbery. The officers with Lamont could be part of the guard, but they’d been drinking, thinking themselves safe tonight.

Beth pulled her senses about her like a cloak. Her survival depended on her being totally aware of everything and everyone around her. She’d grown up on a ranch when Texas was wild. She had to be ready to run or to fight. Without taking her eyes off the entrance to the car, she checked the gun belt around her waist.

She had to warn the others on the train.

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