When her adoptive mother dies in a bank shootout, orphan Karina Vadislav is sent to live with Patrick Baker, her uncle in Dodge City, Kansas. After years of abuse, she flees, meeting Benjamin Sawyer, a gambler with a sordid past. He agrees to help her claim her inheritance in Topeka, posing as her husband to keep her safe.
But there are men who are out for Ben’s blood and will stop at nothing to see him dead. Coupled with Karina’s bloodthirsty uncle, neither of them is safe on the trail.
When bullets fly and truths are revealed, will Ben and Karina’s fragile love survive the ultimate betrayal?
“Our marriage is not a charade. According to the good state of Kansas, you are my wife in every way but…” He trailed off. “But what?” she asked, trying to keep her gaze averted. In an effort to keep her mind occupied on anything but the man undressing before her, she sat on the bed and bounced a few times, cringing at the loud squeaking springs. “Every way but one.” His voice was so soft, she barely heard him. When she glanced back up at him, his shirt dangled from his hands, and his wide expanse of chest greeted her. She sucked in her breath; there was no help for it. He was perfectly made, his chest hair thick, but not overly so. His muscles were corded, yet not bulging or non-existent.
She’d only seen one other man half-naked before, but Patrick didn’t even compare to the raw male beauty before her.
When Ben’s words finally sunk into her befuddled thoughts, she lifted her eyes to his. He might as well have reached across the room and caressed her. Karina had forgotten to breathe, forgotten to even exist as she stared, enraptured. Her voice came out in a whisper when she finally answered him.
“I am your wife. You have every right to—”
“Uh uh,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “Won’t be able to get this marriage annulled if we do anything foolish. It’d have to be a divorce.”
Having him remind her that he didn’t intend to keep her set her belly into even more upset. For the moment, she’d felt safe, secure, and able to make a new start with a man whose very vow was to keep her from harm. Smiling forlornly at her own foolishness, Karina realized he’d never spoken any vow. All he’d done was sign a piece of paper. Sure, by law they were husband and wife. But by their hearts, they were nothing more than strangers.
“Are you going to disrobe?” She couldn’t miss the teasing lilt of his voice. Closing her eyes, Karina bit her lip and tried hard to ignore him. She attacked the buttons of her boots with a vengeance, hoping the man would leave her alone for the rest of the evening.
“Well?” he asked when both boots were shed.
“No, Mr. Sawyer, I’m not,” she said stiffly, turning to blow out the candle on the nightstand. Once the room was shrouded in shadows, Ben chuckled in his corner of the room.
“Best get used to calling me Ben, love. People might begin to wonder why you’re so formal with me.”
Karina sighed as she pulled the covers over her. He was right. And he’d called her “love.” Good thing she’d blown out the candle. Otherwise, he’d be able to see for himself the effect his words had on her as she shivered from head to toe.
“You are right,” she conceded. “Goodnight. Benjamin.” It was a moment before he answered her, but when his voice came, it was low and husky. “Goodnight, Rina.”
If she slept at all, it would be a miracle.