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The McBride Brothers #3
Releasing April 26th, 2016
The heart always finds a home . . .
For British heiress Mary Ann Hardwicke, the Wild West is the perfect place to make her own life and escape the stifling privilege of an arranged marriage. Hard at work proving her independence, it's little wonder she has no time for handsome cowboy Luke McBride. No matter that he somehow understands the freedom she so badly needs—how could she trust such a wild spirit, much less find a way to love him?
Like the broncs he busts, Luke doesn’t see himself settling down in one place, let alone with one woman. So at first, Mary Ann is just an intriguing challenge. But her determination and bravery are sparking a longing to prove he can be the truly good man she deserves. Now as their enemies work to separate them, they will take a dangerous gamble on faith to claim an enduring love . . .
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Reaching her room, Mary Ann hurried inside and quickly turned the lock. For the first time in months she felt like she could actually breathe. Since she’d left England she’d been forced to ward off the advances of strange men. She’d even been forced to strike one man with her parasol, holding him at bay until a constable came to her aid. She counted on God to protect her, but she also felt like He wanted her to do her part. She’d purchased a pistol in one town for her own peace of mind. She knew how to use it and she wouldn’t hesitate if she had no alternative.
She found the men in this new country crude and overall quite distasteful. Other than her last fateful encounter with Edmund Stafford, she had never been pressed to protect her person from unwanted attention.
And look how that had ended; with her running away so she would not be forced into a loveless marriage. She should have called Edmund out instead of expecting her father to exact satisfaction. Her father would not even listen to the truth of what happened that night. His mind was made up and he was going to force her to marry Edmund. Perhaps after she left, Edmund had told her father the truth about that night, but she wasn’t inclined to wait and see. She made the decision rather quickly to leave England, and told herself once she arrived in Wyoming she would live the life she wanted.
Her uncle George, the proprietor of this hotel, had written in his letters how much he loved this country and she’d been excited to find out for herself. Uncle George had failed to mention that America was filled with ruffians. Upon her arrival to this very town, the first person she sees is that miscreant brawling in the middle of the street. The man was truly fearsome with his large black hat and pistol riding low on his hip. He must be a . . . what did they call them out here . . . oh yes, a pistolier. Granted, she’d been startled by his twinkling blue eyes when he stared directly at her, but make no mistake, that man was a scoundrel if she ever saw one. Just the memory of him fighting those men made her shiver. And the way those two women were putting their hands all over him! By displaying such a lack of breeding, one could only conclude they were surely not ladies. The rogue didn’t seem surprised by their behavior, she’d heard him promise to show those women a good time! Of all the nerve. If he lived in Promise, she prayed she wouldn’t encounter him often. Surely there were gentlemen in this town who understood proper comportment.
Aside from the ill-bred men in this country, she was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the West. She’d never seen anything as magnificent as the mountains in the distance, or the thousands of stars twinkling in the infinite night sky.
Standing with her back to the door, Mary Ann inspected her quarters. It was a very well-appointed room and much larger than she expected. The four-poster bed was covered with a pristine white quilt embroidered with lilies of the field. Spanning one wall was an ornately carved wardrobe, and a writing desk filled one corner. A round mahogany dining table with four deep blue velvet upholstered chairs, along with a lovely crystal chandelier above, were cleverly positioned by a window overlooking the street below. The massive stone fireplace covered the wall nearest the bed, and she imagined it would be warm and cozy with a fire blazing in the hearth on a chilly night. She’d heard about the frigid Wyoming winters, and this room would be perfect for cold winter nights. All of the wood was polished to a glossy finish and the room was spotless, not a speck of dust could be seen. The room was lovely, and even though it was only a quarter of the size of her bedroom at home, she knew she would be comfortable here.
Her uncle had written he’d built a hotel that any Englishman would be proud to own in the new country. She certainly couldn’t disagree. When she’d hurriedly made her decision to depart England, this was the only place she thought she could go to escape the long reach of her father and Edmund Stafford. But as members of the peerage, they had vast resources at their disposal. She had to face the fact that if they wanted to track her down, she would be found sooner or later. She hoped it was later.
“Don’t you want me to stay, Uncle George?” The reunion with her uncle hadn’t gone as well as Mary
Ann had expected. After she’d told him of her reasons for leaving London, he seemed concerned her father would come to America to find her. Perhaps her uncle thought he might face her father’s wrath and be held responsible for her decision to come to Wyoming.
George’s sister, Coreen, had married Hardwicke for his money. Coreen was a great beauty in her day, just like his niece, and Hardwicke had been persistent in wooing her. George’s family were on the same social level as Hardwicke, but their estate was not nearly as large. George knew when his sister married Hardwicke it wasn’t a love match, but his sister wanted the life his wealth could provide. When George inherited the Granville estate he chose a different path than his sister. He gave control of the estate to his younger brother and he left England. He yearned for a different life, one filled with adventure and knew he would find what he was looking for in America. He could sympathize with Mary Ann for desperately wanting to get away from the life she was destined to lead. She feared her life would mirror Coreen’s if she stayed in England.
“Of course I want you to stay, but you know your father. He’ll send someone to find you, and I would expect if they are not already on their way, they soon will be. I just don’t want you to be disappointed if he forces you to return.”
“I left Mother a note and told her I was leaving. I didn’t say where I was going.”
She looked so devastated that George tried to relieve her concerns. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that it would only be a matter of time before they discovered she’d left England. Hardwicke had a legion of detectives and barristers at his disposal. “Let’s not worry about it tonight. I certainly don’t mind if you stay forever. If your father’s agents appear on our doorstep, then we will deal with the situation when and if it happens. But if you decide you want to go home before then, I will escort you.” It troubled him that his beautiful young niece had traveled so far with no escort. Why, all manner of evil could have befallen her. Her guardian angel must have been keeping a close watch over her.
“I will not be going home. I have some funds, but I need to find a position, or a building where I can establish a business. Once I arrived in America, I discovered I could start a small shop. As a matter of fact, while I was waiting for you to return today I had time to look around your hotel and there is a perfect little spot I could utilize for a shop I have in mind.”
George couldn’t believe his ears. Mary Ann was nearly royalty in England, he wouldn’t hear of her looking for a position, or working for that matter. “My dear, that is impossible for someone of your position. If your father does show up here he will have me drawn and quartered if he finds you among the working class.”
“Uncle, I don’t need to remind you that this is a different country and I am determined to support myself. I am no longer dependent on Father and I have not come all this way to be a burden on you.”
“My dear, you have never been forced to earn a coin and I assure you I can certainly see to your needs. I do not consider you a burden.” Her desire to work was the last thing George expected out of a young woman who had been coddled her entire life.
“I want to work. I want to live life like everyone else. I’m sorry, but I cannot exist like Mother.” She’d given her future a lot of thought, and if her uncle wouldn’t assist in her effort, she would find another way.
They discussed this point for over an hour until George finally relented. If she was determined to do this, then he would help her in any way possible. He actually admired her resolve. “What kind of shop do you have in mind?”
“A small shop to carry products for women.”
“What kind of products?”
“On my journey here I noticed the farther west I came that there were fewer stores that sell items necessary for a woman’s toilette; powders, tinted rouges, perfumes, and such.
“You are so beautiful, surely you have no need of such potions.”
“Thank you, but I assure you all women will use such products if they are available. I will carry the finest perfumes, as well as undergarments from France. Such items are only found now in the larger towns.”
“You’ll not find the women here will buy such foolishness. I thought apothecaries mixed the powders for women. As far as undergarments, these are items that can be purchased at the mercantile.”
“I assure you it is not foolishness as all women enjoy looking their best. Apothecaries do mix various powders, but they are not equal to the products from Paris. The undergarments certainly are not what you will find in the local mercantile. They will be designed from the finest silks and satins.” She wasn’t comfortable discussing intimate apparel with her uncle, but he needed to know what she had in mind, and he seemed truly interested. “I am quite determined. If you do not have space to spare in the hotel I will find another spot.”
He quickly concluded his niece was not just a lovely woman, she also had a sharp mind. Far be it from him to know what interested the fairer sex. He would have to take her word for that. It seemed her mind was made up, and he wasn’t one to squash her dreams of independence. “What space did you see that you fancied?”
“The space to the right as you walk through the door. The alcove under the staircase is quite large and I can use a partition should the ladies prefer privacy while they are shopping.”
“Quite right. That is a space not utilized. While you are getting your shop underway, perhaps you would be interested to learn about managing the hotel. I am building a house on some land outside of town, and it is taking me away from my responsibilities at the hotel on a regular basis. You can register the guests when Eb is occupied with his other duties, and supervise the two ladies who handle the cleaning of the hotel. Mrs. Howe does the cooking in the restaurant. You may need to help her in the dining room when we are busy, nothing too demanding, maybe refill coffee cups, things of that sort.”
Mary Ann jumped up and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh thank you! I don’t know what I would do without you. I will pay you rent for the space.”
“Now, now, this is not something you need to concern yourself with. As I said, the space is not used at present. Let me know what you will need in the way of construction for shelving, painting, or whatever, and I will see to it. We will install a door to have a private entrance.”
Her uncle hadn’t mentioned the man who carried her luggage to her room. The man with the stunning blue eyes. “Uncle, you didn’t mention Mr. McBride. What is his position at the hotel?”
George gave her a puzzled look. “Mr. McBride?”
“Yes, he carried my luggage to my room.”
“I have no Mr. McBride employed here.”
“That is strange. I’m quite sure he said his name was Luke McBride. He’s a very tall man and quite the ruffian.”
George laughed. “Luke is not one of the employees. He is one of the owners of the McBride Cattle Company. He is the youngest of the three brothers. Fine men.” He furrowed his brow at her. “Ruffian, you say?”
“Indeed. He was brawling in the street when I arrived. I thought he was one of those pistoliers I’ve heard so much about.”
“Most men here carry guns and make no mistake, the McBride brothers know how to use them. But they are good men, certainly not gunslingers. I consider them friends, they’ve been very kind to me.”
She had tipped a man who didn’t even work for her uncle. “You say they have a ranch here?”
“They own one of the largest cattle ranches in Wyoming. And Luke carried your luggage?”
“Yes, I’m afraid I made a dreadful mistake. I thought he was in your employ and I tipped him.” She’d probably insulted one of her uncle’s friends.
“No worries, honey. I’m sure he took no offense. Luke is a good-natured man.”
She remembered when Mr. McBride was in the room she hadn’t been very friendly. He was such a large man that he made her nervous. “I will apologize, of course.”
“Don’t give it another thought. These men out here don’t consider such slights as serious transgressions.” He smiled at her. “Particularly if the transgressor is someone as lovely as you.”
She hoped her uncle was right and she hadn’t offended Mr. McBride. While she didn’t countenance his behavior, she wouldn’t want her uncle’s friends to think ill of him due to her mistake.
George stood and walked to the door. “You best get some rest, we will talk some more over breakfast and make plans for your shop. In the morning I’ll have Eb take your things to the third floor. Those are my living quarters for a few more months until my home is completed. You will find the space more accommodating than this room.”
Mary Ann hadn’t realized he lived on the premises. “The entire third floor is your personal living quarters?”
“Yes, you will have all the room you require. Your bedroom is much larger than this room,” George informed her.
“This room is quite lovely. Why are you building a home?”
“I’ve an interest in trying my hand at cattle ranching. So perhaps your arrival will be most opportune for me if you find you enjoy managing a hotel.”
“I am sure I will enjoy it very much and I will start tomorrow.” She was anxious to get started now that she had a plan for her future.
“There is no hurry, take some time to rest.” George had made the trip from England and it was a grueling journey.
Mary Ann didn’t need rest. She was invigorated knowing she would no longer be forced to attend parties gossiping with bored women, or be forced into a marriage she didn’t want. “I do not need to rest. Tomorrow is the beginning of my new life.”
Scarlett Dunn lives in Kentucky surrounded by all manner of wildlife, and enjoys long "God walks" where most inspiration strikes. Possessing an adventurous spirit, and a love of history, particularly the pioneers of the West, she has a special place in her heart for all cowboys, past and present. Readers can visit her website: www.scarlettdunn.com.