The Cowboy's City Girl

BOOK: The Cowboy's City Girl
8.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Bride on the Ranch

Beatrice Doyle came to Montana to escape her father's marriage plans for her—not to lasso herself a cowboy. Yet she can't ignore the sparks that fly between her and Levi Harding while she's at his family's ranch, caring for his injured stepmother. But opening her heart would mean sacrificing her quest for independence...

After being rejected by the girl he hoped to marry, Levi vows never to love again. Nevertheless, he's drawn to big-city girl Beatrice. In her, the half–Native American rancher sees himself: someone a little bruised, a lot lonely. And when the two join forces to care for an orphaned girl, he yearns to heal their fractured hearts—and form the family they all long for.

Montana Cowboys: These brothers live and love by the code of the West

“Seems Dolly feels safe with us,” Beatrice murmured.

Levi grinned at her. “I kind of like knowing that.”

“Me, too.”

He held her gaze, searching for and finding a sense of belonging even if it was only because they shared a concern for this orphaned child.

He broke the eye contact first, knowing his thoughts had gone to dangerous territory. Beatrice was a city girl with secrets. She was here only to do a job, then she would leave. And he did not intend to open his heart to more pain.

But his eyes wanted to return to hers, to explore further, perhaps even to let her glimpse something in his own heart. Instead of listening to the demands of his heart, he focused his attention on her hand, resting on little Dolly's knee.

Without giving himself time to change his mind, he placed his hand on Dolly's other knee. So much for not listening to his heart.

The three of them sat together. No one speaking. No one moving.

He could get used to this feeling of contentment.

Linda Ford
lives on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, near enough to the Rocky Mountains that she can enjoy them on a daily basis. She and her husband raised fourteen children—four homemade, ten adopted. She currently shares her home and life with her husband, a grown son, a live-in paraplegic client and a continual (and welcome) stream of kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, and assorted friends and relatives.

Books by Linda Ford

Love Inspired Historical

Montana Cowboys

The Cowboy's Ready-Made Family
The Cowboy's Baby Bond
The Cowboy's City Girl

Christmas in Eden Valley

A Daddy for Christmas
A Baby for Christmas
A Home for Christmas

Journey West

Wagon Train Reunion

Montana Marriages

Big Sky Cowboy
Big Sky Daddy
Big Sky Homecoming

Cowboys of Eden Valley

The Cowboy's Surprise Bride
The Cowboy's Unexpected Family
The Cowboy's Convenient Proposal
Claiming the Cowboy's Heart
Winning Over the Wrangler
Falling for the Rancher Father

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!
Click
here
to Join Harlequin My Rewards
http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

LINDA FORD

The Cowboy's City Girl

I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

—Psalms
139:14

To my grandson, Christopher, on your graduation. I am proud of the young man you have become. This Irish blessing is my hope and prayer for you: May the dreams you hold the dearest be those which come true and the kindness you spread keep returning to you.

Chapter One

Summer
1899
Near Granite Creek, Montana

B
eatrice Doyle squealed as the buggy lurched to one side and ground to a halt. What had happened? She pulled her hat forward to protect her face from the slashing rain, looked down on both sides of the buggy and groaned. One wheel had fallen off the narrow track that would allow her to cross the tossing water of the river and get safely to her destination.

Clouds darkened the afternoon. Flashes of lightning crisscrossed the sky. Thunder followed in a constant roll and crash. She sat, staring straight ahead, the reins slack in her hand with no notion of how to get out of this predicament. Until two weeks ago she had lived a sheltered, protected life and had certainly never driven a buggy. She'd lived in the city, the only child of her parents, and she'd thought her life would continue on the same pleasant note. How could she have been so wrong?

Now here she was in Montana, a far cry from Chicago. Thankfully Uncle Elwood and Aunt Opal had welcomed her into their home. Beatrice had come west with the intention of learning skills that would enable her to become independent, and she was learning them at an incredibly brisk pace.

When the influenza epidemic hit the town, Uncle Elwood's responsibilities as the preacher had included ministering to the sick. Aunt Opal had helped and taken Beatrice with her.

“Though I've a long ways to go before I can hope to run a house or take care of children,” she muttered to the raging sky. Learning to do anything else of practical use seemed even more impossible.

When Uncle Elwood received news that Mrs. Harding was injured and needed help, Beatrice had begged to be allowed to take on the challenge.

“But I don't have time to take you there and you don't know how to drive the buggy,” he'd protested.

“You can show me. Besides, how many times have you said Old Sissy, your mare, knows what to do?”

Her uncle began to relent at that point and had finally given in to her arguments as to why this was a good idea.

“Well, Old Sissy,” Beatrice yelled. “What are you going to do?”

The horse stood with her head down. Seems she found the rain every bit as miserable as did Beatrice, whose clothes were clinging to her. With no help from that direction, Beatrice gathered her wet skirts about her and climbed down to look at the wheel. She determinedly ignored the ankle-deep water soaking through her impractical shoes and further wetting her skirts as she studied her problem.

If she pushed while Old Sissy pulled, they just might get the buggy back to level ground. Beatrice leaned her weight into the wheel and yelled at the horse to go.

Beatrice's foot slipped and she barely managed to catch herself before she fell downward in the water. As it was she stepped off the rocky road bed and into cold, dark water that licked at her knees and left her no closer to achieving her goal.

Lightning streaked across the sky, momentarily blinding her. A bone-shaking crash of thunder followed almost directly on its heels and the air filled with a sulfur smell.

She had no desire to spend the rest of the afternoon in the middle of a river with rain pouring down on her head. “I have to get out of here.” She grunted and again leaned into the wheel.

A hand caught her shoulder and jerked her back. “Lady, leave it be.”

She struggled against the grasp of the water and the weight of her sodden clothing to turn and face the owner of the voice. She grabbed at the wheel to keep her balance and blinked at the man before her. She recognized the tall, dark and handsome cowboy, whom she'd seen previously in town. Her first thought on that occasion was that he seemed so sure of himself and where he belonged in the world.

Not that she didn't know exactly what her role in life was. Her father had made it abundantly clear, making her glad to leave home and head west. “With no son, it's your duty to help the family by marrying well,” he'd said.

“You're Levi Harding.” His father, Big Sam, ran the biggest ranch in this part of Montana. “I'm on my way to your place. I understand your mother needs help.”

He blinked, another flash of lightning bringing his features into sharp detail. The thunder followed almost immediately.

“Lady, did no one tell you about the dangers of lightning and water?” Rain dripped from the brim of his sodden cowboy hat, providing a damp curtain in front of his face, but not so much she couldn't see the frown on his lips.

“Of course they did.” But she couldn't think what she'd been told.

“You're a perfect lightning rod.”

“You mean...?” Her voice trailed off. She couldn't take in the danger to herself.

He swept her off her feet and plowed his way through the water to solid ground. She should protest his boldness, but instead she clung to his shoulders and wished the rain would quit.

He set her on her feet. “Stay here.” Levi turned back to the river, reached the horse and grabbed its reins, pulling and calling. A bright flash of lightning made Old Sissy rear in fear and revealed the sharp features of the man, his arms upraised like some kind of modern-day Moses.

Beatrice's heart lurched. How bold and strong he was. How many times had she wished for such a man to save her from her father's plans? Reality squelched her eagerness. Yes, it might be looked upon as a romantic rescue except for a few small details. Like the pouring rain, her soaked clothes and the cold that had reached the marrow of her bones. And the hard, unyielding lump in her heart that warned her to never again trust a man to be what she wanted and needed.

Shiver after shiver raced through her and her teeth rattled.

Within a few moments, the buggy stood on solid ground again.

He held out his hand to assist her to the seat. When she was as comfortable as her dampened state allowed, he tied his horse to the back and climbed up beside her. “I'll get you safely to the ranch.”

“Thank you.” This was not quite what she had in mind when she'd fled Chicago with Father's words echoing in her ears and her mind set on making her own way in life.

“You'll not receive another nickel until you obey me,” he'd said without an ounce of sympathy, and Mother had stood resolutely at his side.

She had no doubt he meant every word. All her life she'd known she was a disappointment to her parents for being born a girl instead of a boy. But not until recently did she realize the depth of their disappointment.

It had begun when she fell in love with Henry St. James, a handsome, blond man who worked as a clerk in her father's office. Because of his lowly station in her father's business, Henry had insisted on meeting her in secret, but she fully expected he would eventually confront her father with a declaration of his love for her.

How wrong she'd been. When her father discovered Henry's interest in her, he had paid him to vanish. Henry hadn't even cared enough to object or offer her an explanation. She began to suspect his interest all along had only been the hopes of financial improvement.

After that Father had presented three suitable young men to her. “Any of these men can become my son and heir.”

She'd wept in secret to think her father was selling her like something in the stockyards.

She refused to marry any of them. “I will marry for love,” she had declared. Though she had no intention of ever marrying. How could she ever trust another man? Henry had vowed to defend her. Look how that had gone.

Father had said she was simply being immature and selfish. But she had refused to be coerced, which caused her father to buy her a one-way ticket to Granite Creek, Montana, with the warning that she could return home when she came to her senses.

The misery of being cold and wet matched the misery of her spirit.

She lifted her head, ignoring the water dripping from her hat brim to her nose. She was not going back home to be married off by her father. She would use every opportunity to learn the necessary skills she would need in order to get a job so she could take care of herself. Mrs. Harding's need was an answer to Beatrice's prayer for a chance to prove herself.

Never mind that Levi had rescued her and she'd felt safe in his arms. She would never again allow herself to trust in a man's good intentions. No. She'd learned her lesson on what value she held.

Levi had said nothing since they began the journey together. What sort of man was he? One who sat straight and focused on the trail ahead. Out of the corner of her eye she studied his profile. Strong, bold, angular. She'd seen him once before in town. Tall and dark. Aunt Opal said his mother had been a full-blooded Lakota Indian. The woman she was going to help was his stepmother.

A half-breed. She didn't know what to think. She'd seen the way her father treated the natives they'd encountered in Chicago with ruthless disdain. Yet the way Levi sat so straight and almost regal, she couldn't imagine her father doing the same to him.

Besides, he'd been willing to rescue a silly maiden standing in the river even at risk to his own safety.

She turned to him. “Thank you for rescuing me.”

His smile was fleeting but had lasted long enough for her to appreciate the way his features softened.

“No problem. I could hardly stand by and hope you wouldn't get hurt.”

“I suppose not.” Though she'd met men who cared little about her personal needs and lots about lining their own pockets.

The buggy hit a rough spot and she jostled, tipping toward the side.

She was off balance and might have fallen off except Levi grabbed her arm and pulled her back upright. That was twice he'd saved her life. She didn't know what to make of it.

Just happenstance. As he said, he could hardly stand by and watch her get hurt.

It was no cause for her to think it meant anything. She knew better.

* * *

Levi had wanted to get one of his new sisters-in-law to help his stepmother. Or even his brother Johnny's new sister-in-law, Celia, but Maisie had refused, saying since she'd been helping care for the sick, she might be contagious and didn't want the rest of the family exposed to the illness that had ravaged the town of Granite Creek and the surrounding area.

Preacher Gage had said he would send someone to help her.

Levi had been tracking the latest trail of the men creating havoc at the ranch when the rain erased any signs he might have followed. Near as he could tell, there were three riders, but who they were or why they seemed to take delight in making mischief around the ranch, he could not say. So far nothing had been seriously damaged nor was anything missing, but everything they did had the potential to be more serious. Gates had been left open, but he discovered it in time so the horses did not escape. A pile of oats had been left where the milk cow could get into it and founder, and again, only his vigilance had prevented it. The woodpile had been upset so he'd stacked it again before the rain came. The list went on and on. It frustrated him to no end that he hadn't been able to catch the culprits and put a stop to it. Especially with Pa and the hired hands away.

Levi had been left in charge and he meant to fulfill the responsibility.

But losing the trail just as he reached the river had proven to be fortuitous. He saw in the water a young woman he didn't recognize attempting to get her buggy unstuck while lightning flashed about her. His thoughts had turned to Helen. His heart had slammed into his ribs so hard he had grunted.

Thankfully, he had not witnessed Helen drowning, but he'd imagined it many times. It was not something he wished to see repeated with this woman, though she was more likely to be struck with lightning than to drown.

Before he could even give the thought consideration, he'd gone into the water and carried her to safety. As soon as he lifted her into his arms, he recognized her as the city girl, Miss Doyle, visiting her aunt Opal and uncle Elwood Gage. What was the preacher thinking to send her to help Maisie? From what he'd heard, she was more used to having servants than being one.

No doubt, the preacher had his reasons. For instance, the fact that so many were ill with the influenza and more were falling sick all the time. Levi would just have to make the best of it and be grateful for whatever help she offered.

A suspicion edged into his thoughts. Perhaps no one else was willing to work in a house where a half-breed lived. Did Miss Doyle know about his heritage? Or had Preacher Gage neglected to mention it? Maisie often reassured him that he was just as white as native, yet he knew many didn't see it that way.

Like Helen. He and she had been friends for a couple of years. He'd fancied himself in love with her. At sixteen he had begun to pressure her to promise to marry him when they both turned seventeen. Her reply had shocked him clear through.

“We can be friends,” she'd said. “But Levi, I could never marry you. Do you know what people would say? Why, there would be homes where I wouldn't be invited because I'd married a half-breed.”

“How is that different than being my friend?”

“People don't have to know we're friends. We can enjoy each other's company out here far from town.”

He had stalked away. He did not want a secret friendship any more than he wanted to be looked upon with shame and regret.

Helen had drowned two weeks later, swimming alone. He couldn't help thinking if he'd been there he might have been able to pull her to safety when she banged her head on a rock. Her loss had been devastating, but little did anyone know he'd felt the loss well before she drowned.

A year ago, at eighteen, he'd met Fern Dafoe and had been attracted to her. He reasoned she would accept him because she was a half-breed like himself. But his interest in her had been short-lived. She had wanted him to join her father and her brothers in their nomadic way of life, a life that brought them perilously close to getting arrested on more than one occasion. After he'd told her that he didn't want to leave the ranch and he didn't want to join up with her wild family, she'd been angry and accused him of being too white.

BOOK: The Cowboy's City Girl
8.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

White Desert by Loren D. Estleman
Larkin's Letters by Jax Jillian
Four Seconds to Lose by K. A. Tucker
Death Among the Mangroves by Stephen Morrill
Butcher by Gary C. King
The End of The Road by Sue Henry
Antsy Floats by Neal Shusterman
Charisma by Jo Bannister
BELLA MAFIA by Lynda La Plante