When rancher and single father Cam McBride finds a letter tucked in a strip of cloth tied to a tumbleweed, he is captivated by the mysterious author. Finding a second tumbleweed letter further pulls him under the lonely writer's spell. He needs a mother for his little boy and a wife to warm his bed. Could this mysterious woman fill his needs?
Sophie Flannigan is alone, scared, and on the run from a rogue Pinkerton agent. She spends her days as a scrub lady at Madame Dora's brothel and her nights writing notes to the four winds. Her life holds little hope until a small boy lays claim to her and his handsome father proposes an advantageous arrangement.
Can these three benefit from a marriage of convenience, or will a determined Pinkerton agent destroy their fragile, newly formed bond?
Fingers touched her arm. “My name is Cam McBride, ma’am. I’ll gladly buy you a new dress or pay for a bolt of calico. Blue like what you're wearing now.” His deep voice raised gooseflesh on her arms.
She could not, would not look at him. He was so tall and broad shouldered, he was downright intimidating. “That really won’t be necessary, Mr. McBride. Good day.”
“Will you at least accept my apology?”
Sophie nodded and made a beeline for the door. For some reason, she wanted to get away from this man.
“Ma’am?” Footsteps echoed behind her. “Your name?” His hand wrapped around her wrist, feather light, yet firm.
Her stomach fluttered and her mouth went dry.
The child leaned forward in his father’s arms and grabbed her collar. “Mine.”
Saints preserve me, this child will tear apart my clothes yet. “Sophie…Sophie Flannigan.”
“Won’t you look at me when you talk?”
She shook her head and tried to move away.
“Where do you live?” His grasp on her tightened.
Goodness, but his voice was spellbinding. Something about it made her body react in strange ways that disturbed her. “I live where I work. Madam Dora’s brothel.”
His hand fell away, and she hurried out.
Behind her, a child wailed, “Mine. Mine, Daddy…mine.”
Jethro Rhinehardt leaned against the pillar when she stepped out onto the porch. Although she couldn’t see the man’s face, she recognized his build and mud-splattered canvas duster. If she hurried, she might sneak past without his noticing her. She’d have made it, too, if a nail poking out of the porch hadn’t snagged the twine on the bottom of one of her shoes and ripped it, causing her to stumble.
“Well, well, little Miss Scrub Lady.” He turned and side-stepped, blocking her path. For a heavy man, he slithered quickly, just like the snake he was.
Sophie tried going around him, and he stepped to the left, stopping her again. “Can’t you say good morning? Or are you too high and mighty?” He spit tobacco juice on the porch, and it splattered against her skirt.
“Good morning, Jethro. Now please let me by. I have errands to run for Dora. I can’t afford to lose my job.” She stepped to her right this time.
Once more he slid in front of her. To her surprise, he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her so they were eyeball to eyeball. Tobacco juice stained his scruffy beard that reeked of something foul. Her stomach lurched and she fought to swallow the bile. She still clutched the folds of material over her petticoat, determined this man would not see her undergarments.
“How’s about a kiss for ol’ Jethro? Or do I have to pay first?”
Her slap cracked in the morning air. “I’ll not be spoken to like that.”
Jethro’s eyes darkened and his jaw clenched. First the bear of a man shook her and then he had the audacity to slide his paw over her rump.
In response, she fought like a barn cat—hissing, kicking and scratching. She scratched his eye and tore a pocket off his shirt. “Get your filthy hands off me, you heathen.”
Men—miscreants, really—circled them. A few called out obscene suggestions for Jethro. There were hoots and hollers. A few men laughed and pounded Jethro on the back.
She fisted her hand and punched him in the nose. Blood splattered onto her bodice.
“How about you unhand the lady and put her down before she kills you?”
Jethro shook her again.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said put the lady down.”
Sophie’s head whipped around to locate the man who’d spoken in her defense. Cam’s face was a dark mask of fury. He slowly set his son on the porch and laid his purchases at the child’s feet, his gaze never once leaving Jethro’s face. When he straightened and stepped toward the dirty man, her captor set her down.
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