MARRIAGE BARGAIN, the second book in my Paradise Pines Series, was released March 21, 2013
Marriage Bargain is set on the dusty trail of a wagon train traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the California gold rush area at Placerville, California, in 1849. Betrayal and embarrassment drives Darrah Benjamin to run away from home to take a tutoring job in San Francisco. Darrah finds her journey a pathway to love and forgiveness when an arranged marriage to the wagon scout becomes much more than a convenience. Chase challenges her determination to keep their marriage in name only with his promise — she’ll give him her heart and invite him to her bed before they arrive at their destination. Darrah has an immediate attraction to the rogue, but holds her emotions tight because she doesn’t want her heart broken again.
Charles Danforth, a scout known as Chase, leads a wagon train of emigrants west through plains plundered by murderers. As an undercover agent of President Polk, he has sworn to stop the massacres. Darrah’s inadvertent comment gives him the clue he needs to achieve his assignment. His Sioux blood brother helps Chase end the killings, but almost ruins Chase’s chance of winning Darrah’s heart when he takes matters in his own hands to demonstrate the depth of love Chase has for his wife.
Footsteps crunched on the rocks a few minutes later. He spun around and froze on the spot. The drowned rat? At least he thought the young woman walking toward him was the drowned rat. Her appearance was a far cry from the woman he’d saved during the storm. Unable to pull his gaze away from the gentle sway of her hips and the firm round breasts pressing against her crisp white bodice, he shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. Light filtered through the branches giving her an ethereal appearance, and touching on pouting lips begging to be kissed. All logical reason vanished. His reaction staggered him as his mounting desire for the woman coursed through him. She was everything he’d remembered and more. She was a liar.
He dropped the last of his gear alongside Cappy’s wagon as she stopped in front of him. “What’s your game, lady?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Cut the act, Rose. You know very well we’ve met before. Or maybe you were such a good actress I actually believed you were in trouble during the thunderstorm.”
Her eyes grew wide as saucers. Her hand pressed against her bosom as she gasped. “You can’t be the man who rescued me.”
Cappy cleared his throat. “What’s going on here? Who is Rose?”
“I didn’t tell you a lie, Captain. My name is Darrah Rose Benjamin. It’s true your friend pulled me off my runaway horse. I was cold, wet, and tired. He suggested I remove my clothes before he kissed me, and then he had the nerve to invite me under his fur.” She glared at him. “Under the circumstances I chose not to tell him my full name.”
“What’s she talking about?” Cappy’s voice cracked with anger. “I raised you better.”
Chase shrugged. “It didn’t happen exactly as she says, Cappy. I may have misjudged the lady. She was such a fetching little thing I couldn’t resist kissing her. Besides, she needed thawing out.”
“Wipe that damned grin off your face, boy. You get into town and find a Justice of the Peace. There’s goin’ to be a wedding tomorrow.”
“Hold on a minute.” Darrah grabbed Cappy’s arm. “If this man is the scout you want me to marry, I won’t do it. He obviously doesn’t trust me or believe in bathing.” She stalked toward the clearing where she’d tethered her horses.
Watching her march across camp, Chase wished he’d handled the situation better. Cappy’s glare shot daggers at him. He’d been a fool for stomping on her pride. Damn, but she’s far too high-strung and beautiful for her own good.
“Why’d you hurt her feelings and how will you fix the mess you made?” Cappy asked.
He set his attention on the old man. “Me?”
“You’re the one who acted an ass.”
“Wait one damned minute. I told you this was a foolhardy idea in the first place. I only agreed I would talk to the girl, nothing else.” His gaze slid over the gentle sway of her hips. He remembered the soft touch of her lips and the seductive way she looked with her hair in ringlets around her shoulders when she dried her hair by the fire.
“You can’t let her walk out of our lives.”
Chase took off his hat and raked his fingers through the tangled mess. “You’re a stubborn old man. It’s not so simple. I was close to being drunk the night of the storm. When lightning struck the ground in front of her horse, I thought I was hallucinating. Her screams brought me to my senses so I went after her. While I had her on the horse with me, she wriggled that little bottom of hers against my crotch until I was nearly out of my mind. Once I got her settled in camp, I went after her horses. It gave me a chance to cool off. She looked so damned desirable dripping wet I couldn’t think straight. When she stole away from camp early the next morning, I figured I was done with her.”
“You didn’t cool off enough, boy.”
“Dammit, Cappy, I’m not proud of my actions.”
“Talk to her. What if she hooks up with someone else? If she attempts the trek on her own as she’s threatened, she could die. I couldn’t bear the weight of another death.”
He didn’t have room in his life for a woman and he sure as hell didn’t have time to babysit. At this point he wasn’t ready to tip his hand and let her know his true identity.