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Authors: Carolyn Davidson

Tags: #Historical Romance, #American Historical Romance, #Civil War, #Love Story, #Romance

Redemption

BOOK: Redemption
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Redemption
Number VI of
Devereaux
Carolyn Davidson
HQN Books (2014)
Rating:
*****
Tags:
Historical Romance, American Historical Romance, Civil War, Love Story, Romance
Historical Romancettt American Historical Romancettt Civil Warttt Love Storyttt Romancettt

Jake McPherson Needed a bride...

He was a Civil War veteran, wounded in body and soul. And when his wife died unexpectedly, he retreated from life, craving only solitude and his happy memories. But his young son needed a mother's love and guidance - even if Jake wanted no woman himself.
So who better to choose than the town's spinster schoolmarm?

Alicia Merriweather Wanted so much to love...

She had come to warn Jake his son was running wild. But she stayed because beneath his gruff exterior she saw Jake's pain and loneliness. Having borne the brunt of ridicule all her life, tall, plain Alicia understands both all too well.
But could Jake ever learn to share his home and his heart?

“Get your damn foot out of my door.”

This time it was a subdued roar, delivered from a twisted face of anger. “Do I have to call the sheriff to toss you out on your fanny?” He looked her up and down. “Though unless my eyes deceive me, it might take two husky men to do the job.”

Alicia felt the flush climb her cheeks. It was an insult, delivered honestly—but an insult, nevertheless. And as the town’s schoolteacher, she had until this moment been accorded the courtesy due to her position. She gritted her teeth. That her weight was, and always had been, a problem was neither here nor there. But this blatant intention to offend her had touched a sore spot, one she guarded closely.

“Two husky men?” Her brow jerked upward. “More like three,” she answered crisply, “unless the blacksmith is one of them.”

Acclaim for Carolyn Davidson’s recent titles

The Marriage Agreement

“Davidson uses her considerable skills

to fashion a plausible, first-class

marriage-of-convenience romance.”


Romantic Times BOOKclub

Colorado Courtship

“Davidson deftly mixes courtship

and a marriage of conveniece with the intrigue

of gold hunting, robbery and murder.”


Romantic Times BOOKclub

Texas Gold

“Davidson delivers a story

fraught with sexual tension.”


Romantic Times BOOKclub

A Marriage by Chance

“This deftly written novel about

loss and recovery is a skillful handling

of the traditional Western, with the

added elements of family conflict

and a moving love story.”


Romantic Times BOOKclub

The Tender Stranger

“Davidson wonderfully captures gentleness

in the midst of heart-wrenching challenges,

portraying the extraordinary possibilities

that exist within ordinary marital love.”


Publishers Weekly

CAROLYN DAVIDSON
Redemption
Also by Carolyn Davidson


Big Sky Rancher

Texas Lawman

One Starry Christmas

“Stormwalker’s Woman”

The Marriage Agreement

††
Colorado Courtship

Texas Gold

Tempting a Texan

The Texan

A Marriage by Chance


A Convenient Wife

The Seduction of Shay Devereaux

Maggie’s Beau

One Christmas Wish

“Wish Upon a Star”

*
Tanner Stakes His Claim

*
The Bachelor Tax

The Midwife

The Tender Stranger

The Wedding Promise

Runaway

The Forever Man

Loving Katherine

Gerrity’s Bride

This story is dedicated to all those
wonderful readers who took time to write me
after they’d read
The Wedding Promise
.
And to those who asked why I hadn’t given
Jake, a strong secondary character,
a book of his own. I agreed with them, and
found myself thinking often of Jake and
wondering what had happened to him. This
is it, ladies. Jake’s story, which in my humble
opinion is the best story I’ve ever written.

My dedication would not be complete
without mentioning my manager,
the wonderful Mr. Ed, who is my other half,
my inspiration and my love.

PROLOGUE

Green Rapids, Kansas—Summer 1877

T
HE GRAVE GAPED
, an obscene rectangle wherein lay a simple coffin. Lorena McPherson, wife of Jacob, mother of Jason, lay beneath the scattering of flowers the mourning family and townsfolk had dropped into the grave.

Whether to relieve the stark presence of death, or to send a final assurance of love to Lorena, the effect was the same. But since the flowers would soon be covered by six feet of dirt, they failed to offer any comfort to the man who watched.

Jake McPherson sat in his rolling chair, his only form of transportation since he had lost parts of both legs, courtesy of the war. A familiar figure in Green Rapids, Kansas, he was pitied beyond measure today. Beside him, his son, a boy of six—who would grow up motherless from this day forward—stood dry-eyed, with shoulders straight. The boy’s gaze was focused intently on the open grave.

Across the grave site, Jake’s brother, Cord McPherson and his wife and children watched, Rachel shedding tears but standing erect and strong beside her husband.

The sun shone brightly, and Jake thought with macabre humor that it should have, at the very least, been raining the proverbial cats and dogs. But the heavens had not even had the decency to lend their tears to the event.

He’d shared almost nine wonderful years with his Rena, had discovered a life worth living with her at his side. Now it was all for naught. Life would never be the same.

Two men picked up shovels and began the slow, methodical rhythm that would fill the grave, leaving it mounded and barren of grass. Rachel carried a basket of flowers to strew over the surface once the men were finished, an attempt to conceal the scars of a fresh grave site.

Jake hoped it would bring Rachel comfort, this final act of love for her dearest friend. He would not deny her any solace she might gain, but knew that nothing could ease the stark despair that gripped him. He was alone, again. It seemed he’d been a solitary man for most of his life.

Until Lorena…

CHAPTER ONE

Spring—1880

N
O
V
ISITORS
. N
O
P
EDDLERS
. No Admittance.

Clear enough, Alicia thought, even as her fist pounded loudly on the solid oak front door. For the third time, she delivered four resounding thumps, then caught her breath as the door opened far enough for her to see the man facing her.

One hand lifted and the index finger pointed to the hand-lettered sign.

“Can’t you read plain English?”

That the man was in a wheeled chair came as no surprise, but his total lack of courtesy took Alicia’s breath away. As did the sight of dark brows and a cynical frown that seemed intent on frightening her off his porch. “Can you
speak
English?” he asked, his tone only marginally less rude.

“Yes, of course I can,” she answered crisply, determined not to backtrack. Indeed, had she done so, she’d
have landed in a fine crop of tall weeds, just to the left of the rickety steps. She’d noticed them as she made her way up the sidewalk, before her attention was drawn to the porch stairs that sagged in the middle where a board was broken.

“You have a step in dire need of repair,” she pointed out. “You’re lucky I didn’t fall and break a leg.”

“At least you have one to break,” he growled, his lips drawn back over his teeth.

He’d actually
snarled
at her. There was no other word for it. Until this moment she’d never realized that a human voice could mimic that of an angry dog. Perhaps he had good reason, after all, she thought.

“No, I have two,” she said, correcting him mildly. “But since I need them both, I’m just as glad I didn’t have an accident making my way onto your porch.”

“You needn’t have bothered to come visiting,” he said harshly. “As the sign clearly states, I’m not receiving callers.” One large hand lifted to halt her words as she inhaled and prepared to explain the reason for her visit. “I
never
receive callers,” he reiterated. “Not today. Not any day in the foreseeable future.”

He pushed his chair backward and prepared to close the heavy door.

Alicia was quicker than he, and her sturdy, black, buttoned-above-the-ankle boot jammed into the space
before he could slam the solid chunk of wood in her face.

“Get your damn foot out of my door.” This time it was a subdued roar, delivered from a face twisted with anger. “Do I have to call the sheriff to toss you out on your fanny?” He looked her up and down. “Though unless my eyes deceive me, it might take two husky men to do the job.”

Alicia felt the flush climb her cheeks. It was an insult, delivered with scathing honesty—but an insult, nevertheless. And as the town’s schoolteacher, she had, until this moment, been accorded the courtesy due her position. She gritted her teeth. That her weight was, and had always been, a problem, was neither here nor there. But his blatant intention to offend her had touched a sore spot, one she guarded closely.

“Two husky men?” Her brow jerked upward. “More like three,” she answered crisply, “unless the blacksmith is one of them.”

Jake McPherson bowed his head, and Alicia wondered if it could possibly be a gleam of amusement she caught sight of, as one corner of his mouth twitched. Then he offered her his full attention, once more delivering a measuring look at her person.

“I don’t entertain,” he said, his mouth firm, his eyes dark as the coals she’d shoveled into the potbellied stove this morning. “I bid you good day…madam.” As
if he could move her foot by a glare, he stared down at it again.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to be given the privacy I’m entitled to,” he told her sharply. “I’ve wasted enough time on you already.”

“Not nearly enough,” she said firmly. “I think you’ll find you need to listen to what I have to tell you, Mr. McPherson.”

“I don’t need to listen to anything anyone has to say,” he answered. Then, as he would have forced the door closed, never mind the presence of her shoe, he halted, his hand touching the knob. “How the hell do you know my name?”

“It happens to be the same as your son’s. McPherson,” she said. “I’m Jason’s teacher. I really need to talk to you,” she added, and then awaited his cooperation.

“I doubt that. I don’t
really need
to talk to anyone, lady.” He looked beyond her to where two women stood at the end of his sidewalk, just beyond the gate that sagged on one hinge. “Did you bring a whole contingent of cackling hens with you? Or did they just happen by for the show?” he asked.

“I didn’t intend to perform for you, sir,” Alicia told him, wishing fervently that she were anywhere else in the world right now. Back in her tiny bedroom or even in the cold schoolhouse, where her desk awaited her
attention and the floor still needed sweeping due to the broken glass that littered it. Not to mention that the blackboard had not yet been wiped clean of today’s arithmetic problems.

“I doubt you could do any tricks I haven’t seen at one time or another, anyway,” he said. “Now, take your damn foot out of my door and leave my house off your list of places to visit. Mind the step when you leave. I can’t come to your rescue if you fall.”

“If I write you a letter, will you read it?” she asked, desperate to be heard by this man, in any way available.

His look in her direction bordered on crude, his words derisive. “I don’t accept love letters from strange women.”

If he was trying to be offensive and rude, he was certainly succeeding, she thought glumly. If the man thought he was going to get the best of her, he had another think coming. She hadn’t gathered her courage in both hands to be turned away at his front door. Besides, there was some indefinable look in his eyes that compelled her to continue this discussion. Her response was quick and to the point.


Love letters?
I doubt you’d ever get one,” she snipped. She watched him frown and look surprised at the same time, then she leaned forward and shoved the door, causing his chair to roll backward toward
the wall, where it tilted precariously for a moment before it settled back down.

With a quick movement, she slid through the opening and glanced back out to the sidewalk in front of the house. One of the spectators had her hand over her mouth, the other was leaning forward as if to look beyond Alicia’s sturdy figure. She’d managed to draw enough attention to herself to last a long time, she thought resignedly.

There was nothing for it but to face the man in his lair, and hope he didn’t have a gun handy. If looks could kill, she’d be six feet deep in the churchyard tomorrow. Fortunately, she’d faced down more angry opponents in her life than Jake McPherson. She’d survive this encounter. One way or another, she’d speak her piece before she left this house. Some way, she vowed silently, she’d make him smile before she was done.

He trembled with anger, his hands gripping the tires of his chair. Unless she was mistaken, his first inclination was to run her over where she stood. Perhaps he was having second thoughts, she decided. Having gotten a good look at her, he might have recognized that she was not a woman to be trifled with.

Taller than most women, she stood eight inches over five feet. Blessed by her family background with an ample backside and a bosom to equal it, she was a
match for any average man. Any
average
man, she thought, beginning to rue her actions. She blushed anew as she recognized her brazen behavior, aware that she had crossed the boundary lines of good conduct.

“I apologize, Mr. McPherson,” she said quietly. “I’ve been rude. If this matter weren’t so important, I wouldn’t have come calling without first requesting an appointment.”


Rude
doesn’t begin to describe you, ma’am,” he told her. “You’ve forced your way into my house, attacked my person and now you refuse to leave.”

From the rear of the house, a door slammed and Jake’s head turned in that direction. “You’ll have to excuse me. My son has come in, and he’ll need help with fixing supper.”

“Jason fixes the meals?” she asked. The boy was only nine years old. Certainly old enough for chores, but far too young to be entrusted with cooking on a stove he could barely reach with safety.

“As well as you’d expect,” Jake answered, “our housekeeper quit.”

Alicia tried in vain to hide her smile. “I heard from one of the ladies in the general store that you have a difficult time keeping any hired help.”

“That’s none of your damn business,” he told her. “Now, just leave, if you please. That’s about as polite as I’m going to be today. You’d better open that door
and walk across that threshold right now, or I’ll send Jason after the sheriff.”

“Oh, I think perhaps the sheriff would be eager to see your son, Mr. McPherson,” she said quietly. “However, I doubt that Jason is interested in showing his face anywhere near a lawman right now.”

Jake’s hands moved up to grip the armrests and then, as if he sought a distraction, he smoothed the lap robe that concealed his lower limbs. What there was left of them. One was longer than the other, Alicia noticed, for the small quilt outlined Jake’s right knee and draped from it. The other leg was even more damaged, it seemed, missing above the knee.

She felt a surge of pity for the man who displayed such bravado, and yet recognized that he would not appreciate her softening toward him. “I really need to talk to you,” she said after a long moment.

“Jason!” It was a bellow that would have done credit to a bull, she thought, as his voice reverberated from the bare walls and floors of the hallway. “Come here,” Jake called, no trace of patience marring his sharp tones.

“I’m fixin’ supper, Pa.” Thin and reedy, the boy’s voice held apprehension in its depths, and Alicia knew, without a doubt, that he was aware of her presence.

“Shall I come get you?” Jake asked, his voice a harsh whisper now, a sound that was more awe-inspiring than
the bellow had been. It had the desired effect, for the narrow-shouldered lad who pushed open the kitchen door and stepped into the hallway did so with haste.

“Are you in trouble?” Jake asked, leaning forward in his chair as he turned it to face his son, using swift movements of both hands.

“I dunno,” Jason said, his jaw set, his dark eyes flashing defiance.

“Do you know this lady?” Jake asked.

The boy nodded, tossing a look of appraisal at Alicia before he studied the floor at his feet. “She’s my teacher,” he said sullenly.

“Why is she here?”

Jason’s head came up abruptly and his eyes widened in surprise. “Ain’t she told you already?”

Jake shook his head. “I’m waiting for you to tell me.”

“Let her do the talkin’,” the boy said, and Alicia thought that, for one so young, he wore an immense chip on his shoulder. He spoke almost as an adult, uttering more words in these few moments than he’d delivered in her classroom all week. The boy was bright, there was no doubt about that, for when he deigned to turn in an assignment, it was far superior to the other two boys of his age. Not only was he bright, she thought grimly, he also was in trouble—of that she was dead certain.

Jake looked at Alicia again. “You’ve got one minute
to talk,” he said gruffly. “If the boy’s done some mischief, you’ll have to take care of it. That’s your job, lady. You have him seven hours a day. If you can’t control him, it’s not my fault.”

“But his behavior
is
your problem, Mr. McPherson,” she returned bluntly. “And he is definitely a behavior problem.”

Jake cast Jason a long look. “Back in the kitchen with you,” he told him. “And close the door.”

Without an argument, Jason did as he was told, but his parting glance in Alicia’s direction was filled with defiance and, she thought, a touch of fear. She’d never attempted to instill fright in a child, and she didn’t plan on starting with this one, but he must learn respect.

“He needs some sort of guidance,” she began, unable to speak the words that would condemn the child, that would make his life any more difficult than it already was. Having Jake McPherson as a father was problem enough. Motherless, and part of an unstable household, the boy didn’t stand a chance of making anything of himself. Unless Jake took hold and changed his style of fathering.

“He gets guidance.” Jake looked at her from dark, angry eyes. “He doesn’t need any Goody Two-shoes coming around trying to reform him. He’s a boy, and boys get in trouble once in a while.” He settled back in his chair and his chin jutted forward. “What’s he done?”

Alicia felt like crying. For no earthly reason whatever, she felt tears burn against her eyelids and she turned aside, lest they be visible to the man before her. Not that he’d be able to make them out in the dim hallway, where tall, narrow panes of fly-specked glass on either side of the front door provided the barest minimum of light.

Beyond the wide parlor doors only gloom existed, apparently, for the curtains appeared to be closed tightly. At any rate, the man would have to peer intently at her to notice whether or not her eyes were shiny with tears.

This house…this man…the boy in the kitchen—all merited her concern, and that rush of emotion that threatened to melt her reserve held her stock-still where she stood.

H
E WAS A MAN ISOLATED
by his own choice. He admitted it freely to himself, and knew that the people who lived in Green Rapids were fully aware of his desire for solitude. Seldom in the past had anyone crossed his threshold, only the train of servants he’d hired intermittently, and then watched depart.

Housekeepers were hard to come by, a fact Jake was only too aware of. A decent cook would come in handy. As it was, his only household help was a widow lady who picked up their laundry once a week, then delivered it back to them a day or so later.

Beyond that, he and Jason were on their own, except for the occasional visit from his brother’s family. That the boy needed a woman’s touch was true. That he was likely to be the beneficiary of such a luxury was out of the question, unless some miraculous creature turned up on their doorstep and waved a magic wand over the household.

BOOK: Redemption
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