She traveled West to marry the man she loves…instead found the man of her dreams.
In 1873, New York City heiress Courtney Danning shuns privilege and position to follow her heart to the fledgling community of Santa Fe. Widowed the same day she’s wed, Courtney soon discovers her husband wasn’t the only man awaiting her arrival. The stranger’s indifference makes New Mexico’s summer even hotter, but what she keeps hidden might be the key to the life she’s always dreamed about.
He was hired to guard her…but forgot to guard his heart.
Ex-gunfighter Beau Hamilton's past and present are shrouded in mystery. From the moment Leif Danning hires him to watch over his pampered daughter, Beau fights his attraction. To win her love, he must find the courage to expose all, knowing the truth might become his worst nightmare.
A range war threatens…
Struggling against their unbidden love, Beau and Courtney must protect themselves from everything trying to tear them apart. When the woman he’s sworn to protect finds herself in the middle of a range war, will he send her back East and lose her forever, or will he do whatever it takes to defend her…even if it costs him his life?
Courtney whacked the carpet with vengeance. She wielded the rug beater like a whip, taking another swing and another. She didn't realize her teeth were clenched until a sharp pain blasted through her jaw.
Whack! God, her shoulders hurt, and she grimaced with the next swat. The dingy gold carpet danced over the clothesline. Very little dust floated off of it anymore, but she kept on swinging the cane as she concentrated with piercing hatred on her mission.
"You can't keep on beating a dead horse," Beau told her from the back corner of the adobe."
"Can't I?" She heaved another mighty swing.
"I just rode in from town."
"Good for you."
Beau frowned. "What's eatin' you?"
She didn't answer.
He hesitated before moving closer to her. No telling what a woman bent on destruction was capable of doing. He'd best go on about his business and say what he came to tell her before she turned that wheezing beater on him.
"I figured out what Stover's planning. I recognized some new faces in town, hired guns mostly."
She halted her next blow, the cane poised in mid-air. "Hired guns?"
Beau nodded grimly. "Stover's planning to run you off your land, and he's hired the worse lot of renegades to back him. They'd as easily rip your heart out as they would fight mano a mano."
That determined look she got when she set her mind to something glazed her eyes. "There aren't enough of us to fight him."
"Being prepared is the best defense." A hint of a smile crossed his face when his eyes landed on the cane. He realized now what had prodded her temper. She'd been thinking about Stover and his wrongdoings going unpunished. "You plan on using that against Stover?"
"What?" She glanced at the cane gripped fiercely in both hands. Her eyebrows arched and she set her lips askew.
"I think you're gonna need more than a cane to beat Stover at his own game." Beau whipped out his six-guns, concealing a grin when she jumped with fright. "I'm teaching you how to shoot."
* * *
Beau planted himself behind Courtney once again. His arms lined hers as she positioned one of his Colts between her hands, the barrel pointed at a can on the fence post.
"This time, keep your hands steady and your eyes open," he directed in a tight voice.
Courtney was hard pressed to keep from laughing. Aware that she was the direct cause of his waning patience, she decided she liked frustrating him. Perhaps it wasn't fair to toy with his genuine concern for her safety. But she had Beau all to herself for now, and if she continued to mess up, he'd have to stay awhile longer.
His breath on the back of her neck gave her a chill each time he moved behind her and bent his knees in order to see the target at her level. She wondered if he noticed the goosebumps on her exposed forearms.
Grinning, Courtney squeezed the trigger. The gun barked, rocketing her hands skyward.
"Dammit!" Beau exploded. "I told you to keep your hands steady. Were your eyes open?"
Glancing back over her shoulder, she gave him a tentative smile. Meekly, she answered, "I don't know."
"Jesus! How the hell are you going to defend this ranch against Stover's bunch?" he blustered, then expelled a long breath of hard-fought patience. "All right," he said, his tone more subdued. "We've been at this for an hour. Let's get a rifle in your grip."
While he explained how to load the weapon, Courtney observed him closely. Frustration carved gullies on his handsome face. The discoloration was gone and only a few minor scars were left as a reminder of what Stover's men had done to him. She almost felt badly for Beau. He was trying his best to teach her, and she was making it more difficult than it actually was.
He bent his head forward, and his hair rested carelessly about his neck, caressing his shirt collar and catching on the stubbles at his jaw. Unconsciously, he pulled the strands away. Courtney smiled fondly. But the second he looked at her again, she quickly put on her sweetest face. She really shouldn't do this to him.
"Press the butt against your shoulder or you'll break it."
"The butt?" she asked innocently.
"Your shoulder!" he snapped.
"Don't get testy."
"Don't get…" he repeated, then clamped his teeth against the retort she knew clawed to get out.
Doing as he instructed, Courtney turned her back to him, grinning again. "Like this?"
He positioned the rifle against her shoulder. "Now, do you think you can squeeze back gently this time?"
"I'll try," she said sweetly.
The rifle exploded, forcing Courtney back into Beau. Taking him unaware, he lost his balance, and they toppled together to the dirt.
"Goddammit, woman!" Sitting, he pushed her to sit between his outstretched legs. "I said gently." Gripping her elbow, he helped her stand as he got to his feet. "You don't yank on the trigger like it was an udder."
Pretending to react to his harsh words, Courtney revealed her impertinent side. "I didn't yank on it. Maybe you don't know how to teach me to shoot. Ever think of that?"
"Damn me if I ever volunteer to teach anyone to do anything ever again," he mumbled.
Courtney snapped her shoulders back indignantly. "Well, damn you for being so short-tempered and impatient."
Beau shoved her shoulder to turn her attention back to the target. "Try it again. And this time—"
"I know. Squeeeeze gently." She bit the inside of her lip to stop a grin as she gently applied pressure as if holding an egg between her fingers. "I did it! I hit the fence post," she said excitedly.
"It's about time." Beau scratched his head, obviously confounded by her clumsiness with a weapon. "Lady, I think you gave me a few white hairs."