Coming June 29, 2017

Book 2 of The Paradise Valley Ranch Series

Classic Romance

read an excerpt →

Beautiful, spirited, Texas born Ellie Burnett needs a husband. Fast. Her father, rancher Archibald Burnett, is dying and she’s determined to marry to protect the ranch and preserve her father’s legacy in Montana’s rugged Paradise Valley. The trouble is, she wants to wear the boots in the family and the man she has in mind, Irishman Thomas Sheenan would never stand for that.

Independent and taciturn Thomas Sheenan isn’t looking for a wife, having spent far too much of his life taking care of others. He’s come to Montana to carve out his own identity, and be his own man. The last thing he needs is a headstrong bride, but when Ellie approaches him with the offer of a lifetime, he can’t refuse.

Thomas didn’t anticipate falling for his new bride. He moved to Montana to stake his claim…he never planned on losing his heart.

Classic Romance

Coming June 29, 2017

Married in Montana

read an excerpt →

Beautiful, spirited, Texas born Ellie Burnett needs a husband. Fast. Her father, rancher Archibald Burnett, is dying and she’s determined to marry to protect the ranch and preserve her father’s legacy in Montana’s rugged Paradise Valley. The trouble is, she wants to wear the boots in the family and the man she has in mind, Irishman Thomas Sheenan would never stand for that.

Independent and taciturn Thomas Sheenan isn’t looking for a wife, having spent far too much of his life taking care of others. He’s come to Montana to carve out his own identity, and be his own man. The last thing he needs is a headstrong bride, but when Ellie approaches him with the offer of a lifetime, he can’t refuse.

Thomas didn’t anticipate falling for his new bride. He moved to Montana to stake his claim…he never planned on losing his heart.

Married in Montana

Book 2 of The Paradise Valley Ranch Series

Classic Romance

Themes & Archetypes

Cowboy, Rancher

Tule Publishing

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Married in Montana

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Chapter 1

Marietta, Montana – March 19, 1890

It was all very well to be popular and in demand, but this was ridiculous. The tiny shop for Johanna Design on Main Street was standing room only today. It seemed as if every woman in Marietta had come to Johanna’s for a fitting this afternoon, and every chair, stool, and sofa cushion was currently filled, and the chatter of a dozen women in such a small space made Ellie Burnett’s head pound.

Pressing two fingers to her throbbing temple, Ellie wished she could make a hasty exit, but she’d come to town expressly for the purpose of having the final fitting of her Easter dress, and as it was a ninety minute drive each way from her father’s ranch in Paradise Valley in good weather, she couldn’t just leave and return later. The road through the valley could be treacherous, particularly in sleet, snow or rain, with mountain run off flooding the Yellowstone River to flood, washing out the unpaved road. And while the sun was shining right now, Montana weather was mercurial, and the gusting winds could blow storm clouds through at any moment which was why Ellie couldn’t postpone the fitting for another day.

She was trapped, and frazzled because it was important she look smart for Easter, important she look fresh and appealing and desirable.

Marriageable.

Because she desperately needed a husband. As in, immediately. The way things were going she’d be dragging him to the altar moments after meeting.

Overly warm, she unbuttoned the lapel of her coat, and drew a deep breath to calm herself. Montana was full of single men. All she needed was one. A decent one that didn’t make her skin crawl.

She reached for another button but stopped when a very harried Johanna Douglas appeared from behind a brocade curtain, cheeks flushed, wisps of dark honey hair falling free from her chignon.

Ladies surged towards Johanna and the modiste dealt with each politely but firmly, even as she walked towards Ellie.

Ellie could see from Johanna’s tense expression that Johanna didn’t have good news for her. “It’s not ready,” Johanna said softly, taking Ellie’s arm. “I’m so sorry. If I could have sent word, I would have.”

“Nothing is ready?”

“The jacket could be. In an hour, or two, probably two. But that is all I have for you to try on. Everything else is still in pins.” Johanna squeezed her arm. “I am so, so sorry. I know this isn’t a good time for you, either—“

“It’s fine.” Ellie forced a smile. Johanna Douglas was not only the best seamstress in Marietta, but Ellie’s closest friend, and there was no point in making her friend feel worse then she already did. But Ellie was disappointed. She’d come to town not just for the fitting, but with secret hopes of stealing Johanna away for tea. It was a difficult time at home, and Ellie needed a friend, and a sympathetic ear, but obviously tea was out of the question today when Johanna was so far behind. “I’ll try to come back Friday, if I can.”

“Friday noon, yes. Everything will be ready, I promise.” Johanna lifted her hand to stop a customer from interrupting. “I’ll walk you out,” she said, linking arms with Ellie and squeezing through the crowd as she they headed for the front door. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “How is your father?”

Ellie’s throat tightened. “I’m worried about him.”

“You’ve been worried for months.”

“Yes, but I see the writing on the wall now, and it’s terrifying.” Eyes burning, Ellie blinked. The weight in her chest made even talking difficult. It was impossible to imagine the future without her larger than life father. It had just been the two of them since she was five. “Thank you for keeping my secret. I’m grateful.”

“Why unleash the wolves?” Johanna said sympathetically. “Fortunately, you are strong. Stronger than any woman I know,” she added, giving her a swift, fierce hug.

Ellie blinked away the sting of tears and managed a mocking smile. “I have to be. Papa wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“There’s the Ellie Burnett backbone I know and love.” Johanna opened the door. “But I am sorry to have wasted your time today. I really thought your dress would be ready but customers keep dropping in. Easter has become so busy, and even though I’ve been working nonstop, its not enough. I need help.”

Ellie began tugging on her gloves. “I thought your mother was assisting you.”

“She can cut the fabric and do hems and seams, but with her eyes starting to fail, I can’t rely on her for the finer needlework.” She shot Ellie a teasing look. “I don’t suppose you’d like to—“

No!”

“I didn’t think so. But next year it will be different, I promise. Now that I know the Easter dress is a thing here, too, and not just in New York.”

Ellie snorted. “I can’t believe Marietta has its own Easter parade.”

“You don’t intend to parade down Main Street and over to the Graff in your new gown?”

“Of course not! That would be foolish. I’ll be seen at the Graff, enjoying the Easter dinner buffet with you, not traipsing down dirty Main Street in my finest.”

Johanna hesitated. “My brother has already invited Mother and I to be his guests for dinner. But I’m sure Sinclair would be happy to have you join his table, too. Should I ask him?”

“No,” Ellie said crossly, stepping outside onto the sidewalk. “It would be awkward for all, don’t you think?”

Johanna remained on the threshold. “Not necessarily. He’s happily married—“

“Yes, and he was my fiancé before he married her!” Ellie flushed, cheeks hot. “Alright, fine. He was never really mine, maybe mine for all of five minutes, but still, it stings.” And then she lifted a hand and walked away, heading for the hitching post.

She untied Oisin and lifting her skirts with one hand, climbed into her smart black buggy. She shot a glance up, taking in the clouds sailing overhead, and then set off, leaving Marietta at a brisk speed, eager to escape town and the uncomfortable memories stirred up by her conversation with Johanna.

Her brother, Sinclair, had been the perfect suitor, and he would have been the perfect husband, too, but by marrying his childhood sweetheart, and not just any sweetheart but the Copper King Patrick Frasier’s daughter McKenna, Sinclair had embarrassed Ellie, leaving her in the lurch.

It had been three months since then and Ellie still needed a husband, and there was nothing she hated more then being on the marriage mart, particularly when one didn’t just want a husband, but needed one, urgently. Those were not good conditions for a satisfying courtship.

Spotting the slow moving wagon in front of her, Ellie cracked her whip above her stallion’s ears, spurring Oisin faster so they could pass, and they did, most impressively, despite the strong wind whistling through the valley from Yellowstone. The wind was as much a part of Paradise Valley as the mountains and the river and strangers always remarked on the gusts, but she loved them. They made her feel unfettered and free—

From beneath the carriage came a low shuddering crack and then the carriage lurched. Ellie threw out her hands to brace herself as the buggy suddenly tipped over but there was no way to stop from being flung out. From a moment she was flying through the air and then in the next, she slammed into the ground. The impact knocked the wind for her and she lay stunned and shaken, struggling to catch her breath.

What had just happened?

Blinking she looked towards her gleaming carriage, now sideways in the dirt. Oisin remained in place, appearing as confused as she felt.

Drawing another slow breath, Ellie wiggled her toes and then gingerly moved her arms and legs. Nothing seemed to be broken. Thank God. Who would take care of Papa if she ended up in a plaster?

Still trying to gather herself, she heard the jingle of a horse and the creak of a wagon slowing near her buggy. Pride kicked in. The last thing she wanted was to be found in a heap, in a ditch. She struggled to rise but her ankle buckled and she fell back onto her rear end, wincing.

“That was stupid,” a deep rough male voice said curtly. “You’re lucky you’re not dead.”

She couldn’t see his face, not with the sun in her eyes and the brim of his hat shading his features, but she heard the accent. A lilting Irish brogue. He hadn’t been born in Montana, or anywhere else in America. It didn’t help that the stranger dwarfed her—his shoulders were immense—forcing her to tip her head back to look into his face.

“Thank you for your courtesy. No need to assist me to my feet,” she retorted, biting down to muffle the groan of pain as she staggered up once more, this time determined to stick. The world swam a bit, nausea rushing through her as she tried to put weight on her right foot. But she wasn’t going to let him know how much her ankle pained her.

He practically growled as he took her elbow, steadying her. “You’re hurt.” From someone else the tone would be one of concern. From him, it was an accusation.

She could feel the heat and pressure of his hand even through her coat and she didn’t like it. “I’m fine.” She tried to shake him off. “Let me see to my horse.”

“He’s in better shape than you,” he answered flatly, releasing his hold.

“How do you know?”

“I checked on him first.”

“A true gallant,” she muttered, brushing off her dirty skirt and then her scraped hands. She was lucky it hadn’t snowed or rained in the past week, otherwise she’d be covered in mud.

“He shouldn’t be punished for your recklessness,” he said, moving towards her buggy.

She glared at the Irish man’s departing back. His leather coat clung to the broad planes of his shoulders and back, while his black hair hung in long waves to his shoulders. “I’m not reckless.”

“Then you lack skill, because you can’t drive. You’re a danger to all.”

Outraged, she limped towards her horse. “You don’t know the first thing about me,” she said, moving around her stallion, stroking Oisin’s flank and then his belly, and finally his shoulder. Thankfully Oisin had come through unscathed.

The Irish man watched her as she completed her inspection. “I know enough to have kept my distance,” he said as she gave the stallion a last pat on the shoulder.

Ellie shot him a sharp glance. “What does that mean?”

“I understood you were quite intelligent. I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out,” he said, taking off his hat to drag a hand through thick black hair, pushing the thick locks back from his brow.

Without the hat he looked different. Without the hat he looked…familiar. Her gaze met his and held. It was him. The fireman from the night of her doomed engagement party last December.

She gulped a breath, cheeks hot, a frisson of awareness racing through her. She’d only seen him that one night, briefly, and then not since. She’d wondered where he’d gone, and why he didn’t attend any of the events in Marietta, and yet here he was, on the side of the road, on the way to Emigrant.

She swallowed hard as she scanned his face. No wonder he’d made such an impression. Even in the afternoon sunlight, his eyes were dark, nearly as black as his hair, and his face was all hard, masculine edges and angles–high cheekbones, strong jaw, straight nose, firm lips.

Just looking at him made her chest grow tight. Her heart did a funny little beat. “We’ve never met,” she murmured, because that was also true. She’d seen him on the fire wagon when all hell was breaking loose, but they hadn’t spoken.

“Never have been introduced, no, but you’re Archibald Burnett’s daughter.”

It was impossible to ignore the coolness in his voice. “Do you not like my father?”

“I don’t know a single man in this valley who doesn’t respect him.”

So this was about her. Interesting. She lifted her chin a fraction, expression challenging “You’ve formed an opinion about me, then.”

“I have.”

“Unflattering it seems.”

“There’s no point to this. You’re already defensive.”

Her face prickled with heat. She ground her teeth together, forcing a smile. “I’m not allowed to know why you’re so critical? Unless this is about how I handle a horse? Perhaps you’re one of those old fashioned men who don’t approve of women driving fast.”

“Indeed. I prefer a woman to be a lady.”

“And how am I not a lady?”

“You’re too obvious.”

“I beg your pardon?” she demanded tautly.

“You’re husband hunting, Miss Burnett.”

Her face burned. “Most young women hope to marry.”

His big shoulders shifted. “With you being more…determined…then most.”

She lifted a quelling brow but he merely shrugged. “You’d be more successful, Miss Burnett, if you started behaving more like a lady.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“No? Stop acting as if you wore the trousers.”

Ellie went hot and then cold. For a moment she couldn’t think of a single thing to say, and then her shock gave way to rage. She drew a quick breath, fingers curling into a fist. If he were shorter, she’d slap him, as it was, she’d never reach his face. “What I do, and how I do it, is none of your concern, Mister….?”

“Sheenan.”

“So, please continue on, Mr. Sheenan, as neither your assistance or opinions are required. Good day.”

He didn’t go. He stood off to the side watching her.

She was determined to ignore him and so she focused on Oisin, her beloved black stallion given to her for her twenty-first birthday last summer. Oisin wasn’t just her favorite horse, he was one of her best friends and while he was unscathed, her carriage wasn’t so lucky, the axle snapped in two.

The broken axle meant the carriage couldn’t be moved, but she could unharness Oisin and ride him bareback home. It wouldn’t be the first time, and no matter what this Sheenan thought of her, she was an excellent horsewoman. Her father, Archibald Burnett of Fort Worth, Texas, one of the original cowboys on the Bozeman Cattle Drive, wouldn’t have it any other way. A single father, he’d made sure she could ride and rope as well as any man, determined his daughter would survive life in Montana’s rugged Paradise Valley.

Aware that Mr. Sheenan was waiting for her to fall apart, she set to work unbuckling the leather harness. She crooned to Oisin as she worked, and gradually her hands stopped trembling, her nerves replaced by indignation as she peeled away the belly band and breastplate, leaving just the driving bit in place.

Mr. Sheenan was not a gentleman. He should have aided her, not simply stood back and watched. Sinclair would have helped her—

She broke off, jaw grinding tight, the ache in her ankle increasing by the second.

She couldn’t focus on the pain, though, and she didn’t want to think about Sinclair Douglas, either, or the fact that she had to have had the shortest engagement in Marietta’s history.

Taking the driving bridle lines in hand, she drew Oisin parallel to the buggy and used the buggy’s high step to seat herself. Oisin didn’t even twitch a muscle or flick his tail as she adjusted her swollen ankles and then settled her gown’s full skirts, giving them an elegant flick.

It was then, and only then, that she looked over at Mr. Sheenan. The late afternoon sun’s bright rays gilded him with light, preventing her from seeing his expression, but she certainly hoped he could see hers because she felt beyond insulted. She was livid. “As I said there was no need to trouble yourself, Mr. Sheenan. And for your information, trousers do not make a man. Next time you meet a lady in distress, try some chivalry. Goodbye.”

end of excerpt

Married in Montana is currently available for pre-order in digital format only:

Tule Publishing

June 29, 2017

Married in Montana

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