Wolf bride, p.1
(WOLF BRIDES SERIES, BOOK 1)
By T. S. JOYCE
Other Books in This Series
Red Snow Bride (Book 2) – Coming November 2014
Dawson Bride (Book 3) – Coming November 2014
Copyright © 2014 by T. S. Joyce
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, redistributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in any database or retrieval system, without prior written permission from the author.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The last day of the carriage ride to Colorado was just as exciting as the first day of our journey from Chicago. I grinned saucily at Ms. Birmingham who clutched tightly to her frilly, purple hat. The good Lord blessed that woman with the sourest disposition known to mankind, but in the days since our journey began, she hadn’t once managed to dampen my mood.
Her cherished plum colored hat, which boasted gads of silk ribbon and an array of dark plumage numerous enough to shield the perpetual frown underneath, gave me distraction from the endless wrenching of the carriage wheels on rugged road. There was no way the bird whose feathers decorated that hat had survived. Poor thing.
Ms. Birmingham was growing fidgety under my smile. My happy demeanor did that to people—made them uncomfortable—but I couldn’t help myself. At nineteen, the possibilities of my future stretched on and on, like the stars of a midnight sky.
Her disapproving gaze slipped to the immodest cut of my dress for the hundred and sixteenth time. I’d been counting. I wasn’t well versed on the area, because I hadn’t ever traveled outside of Chicago, far as I could remember, but I was pretty sure there were whores in Colorado Springs just the same as everywhere else. Why, far as I could tell, whores were the nation’s first ladies to settle here to keep the men happy.
Tipping my chin up primly, I slid the foot and a half to the window.
Besides, I was mending my ways. I was going to be a proper lady with a husband and a house and everything.
With a sigh, I rested my elbows against the wooden window frame as another jolt in the road nearly made my tailbone jump through my throat. For the price of an entire week’s wages, Jack Bronson found me an advertisement to get me out of Chicago. I could count, but reading was beyond me, and going out on a limb to hire that drunkard seemed like a sound enough investment at the time. He’d found me an advertisement in the paper about a man seeking a wife. It was a simple ad and I’d memorized it easily because I’d recited it in the months that finally led to my travels.
Man seeks wife. Good birthing hips, tidy, quiet. Will cook for three brothers.
Well, one out of four wasn’t bad. My hips were sound. I’d never been accused of being a petite little old thing. I wasn’t big, but my curves didn’t belong on a waif either. My reply had been equally short, but he seemed to like it fine enough, because one month later he wrote to me directly and told me to make arrangements for my travels with the money he’d sent along. Escaping had been tricky, but I was a wily creature and one not easily caged.
I bet Jeremiah Dawson was waiting right at this very moment for me in town. He wouldn’t be a handsome man, or why would he be putting out an advertisement for a wife? Probably had a pockmarked face and rotted teeth, but who was I to cast stones? I was an ex saloon girl after all. Even if we didn’t get along, he was just one man to please. I’d worked lots of them, and if ever there was such thing as a professional man-handler, well I held a certificate in that.
Perking up, I shoved my chest half way out the window. “I can see it,” I squealed to Ms. Birmingham, who’d apparently been dozing off because she jumped straight in the air and smushed the top of her hat onto the roof of the buggy.
Her mutterings were uncharitable, but I didn’t give two figs what she had to say because we were finally there and I was finally going to meet him. Jeremiah.
His momma did right to give an ugly man a named that rolled off of the tongue like that.
Over the matching chestnut backs of the four horses that seemed to pull us even faster with the prospect of town and a bucket of oats, a small wooden bridge was all that stood between our carriage and the first buildings of Main Street. I assumed it was Main Street, because every tiny railroad town we’d driven through on our travels had one. I slurped myself back into the carriage and tried in vain to fix my hair. A pointless effort because curly hair like mine wasn’t meant to be tamed. I gave up on the pins and finished braiding the length of it as we pulled to the front of a supply store. Animal hides hung from nails outside and the air smelled like a collision between man and forest.
“After you,” I said gallantly to Ms. Birmingham, who was all but falling over herself to escape the cabin of our transportation.
She groaned as she sank into the near foot of mud that coated the road under the carriage step. Mud didn’t bother me. In fact, I’d rolled in much filthier with a man for a coin. I hopped right down into the muck with a giggle. Ms. Birmingham squawked unattractively as little mud sprinkles flew out to grasp onto the hem of her slowly soaking dress. She tried to flee but her fine heeled shoe got caught in the glop, so I reached out to steady her. Even if she was obviously repulsed by my touch, she didn’t have much choice. It was me, or fall face first into a smelly pile of a horse’s meadow muffins.
“You have to slide your feet, ma’am,” I said helpfully. “Hey mister?” I yelled to the carriage driver who was apparently too busy watching the show to lend a hand. “You mind?”
I swear he chuckled but still he scaled the carriage and half dragged Ms. Birmingham onto the wooden deck in front of a row of stores. And then he retrieved her mud filled shoe. Our hero.
Ms. Birmingham’s family was waiting in front of the supply store and loaded her bags into a flat bottom buggy before they even touched the ground. The clunk of my one small luggage was drowned out by the noise of the busy town. Why the driver put my bag down in front of the saloon next door, I hadn’t a guess but my inner compass pulled me to it like a bug to a candle jar.
No one was waiting for me.
Looking like a scantily dressed slug, with my mud trail following me, I pushed open the swinging doors to a raucous song the girls of the house were singing from atop the bar. I smiled privately. Say what you will about whores, but we sure knew how to have a good time.
The conversations were muffled around me but one perked me up right quick. “Them Dawson boys ain’t right and you know it. Something’s got to be done about that disappearin’ livestock,” a wiry older man with a handful of cards growled. Five other gentlemen around the table nodded in agreement under worn cowboy hats.
Huh? Was I marrying into a family of thieves? I shrugged. Still an ex whore. Still not casting stones.
“You here for a job, miss?” the dour-faced man behind the bar asked.
“Not at the moment. I’ll try my hand at marriage and then we’ll see,” I said with a wink.
“What can I do you for?”
“Would you happen to know where I can find Jeremiah Dawson?”
The girl’s song had ended and as they slid off the countertop, the conversations around me dipped into an uncomfortable silence.
“What do you want with Mr. Dawson?” the bartender asked.
“Why, to marry him.”
His look went cold and the blue in his eyes turned a little frostier. He jerked his head once toward the window. A man sat reading a paper in a buggy across the muddy channel.
I shuffled out of the saloon, trailing my slime behind me, and hoisted the bag to my hip. Fifteen sloshy strides later and I was standing by the buggy. The man graced me with a glance, then went back to reading, so I took the opportunity to ogle his beautiful face. He had short, dark brown hair that peeked out from beneath his cowboy hat, and a leather duster that protected him from the elements. His jaw was shaven clean and the planes of his face were sharp like glass.
He huffed an irritated sound. “Can I help you?” He slid a coffee colored glare in my direction and held me frozen fast.
He frowned. Well that was yes enough for me. I hobbled to the back of the wagon and hefted my bag into the back.
“Don’t tell me you’re the wife I advertised for.”
“The one and only.”
He hopped down from the buggy in one startlingly smooth movement and stood to his full height. This man didn’t belong in a dusty cattle town. He belonged with his feet in the ground growing roots to hold him in place, and his snow dusted mountain shoulders holding the weather at bay. Somewhere in his lineage, a giant had crashed into his family tree.
“Mother of pearl,” I breathed as I stretched my neck back to see his face. No doubt about it, I’d made the right choice in coming to Colorado Springs. This man could offer protection from all that was coming for me. He might even live through it. A tiny weight lifted.
He squinted down at me and cocked his head. “Can you really cook?”
“I can learn I suppose.”
“You a quiet woman?”
“Then why’d you answer the dadburned advertisement?” His deep voice was scary when he was mad.
“Would you have brought me here if I didn’t say I was all those things?”
He dragged opaque eyes across every inch of my dress and took his time about it. I fidgeted until he sighed. “Are you a whore, ma’am?”
I gave my most charming smile. “Not anymore. Quit last Thursday.”
He groaned and looked at the sky like that lone storm cloud would wash me into better wife material. “You ain’t the woman for me Miss…”
“Yeaton. Kristina Yeaton, but you can call me Kris,” I said, holding out my hand. I was undeterred. Any man worth his boots needed a little convincing with just about anything. It was a man’s way.
He stared at me until I dropped my empty hand back to my side. “Look, I can’t go back where I came from and you’ve already put up the money to get me here. Might as well try me out for a day,” I said, waggling my eyebrows.
He didn’t look amused. His frown did gave way to a smirk, however, as he looked at something over my shoulder. “Like I said, you ain’t for me, but my brother wouldn’t have any qualms about marrying a saloon girl.”
My shoulders sagged. “Your brother?” Here was where the other boot dropped. I thought I was getting this fine specimen of a man for my very own husband for a moment, and now what I was really getting was Quasimodo. Jeremiah Dawson, that brute of a man, had ruined everything. I’d been perfectly happy to marry an ogre until I saw him and got my hopes up clear to the sky. Damn him.
“Who’s your brother?” I sounded ungrateful even to myself.
He pointed behind me, and I wanted to kick his smirk straight into his throat.
A man stood with his back to us, talking to a storekeeper. He wore a dark gray vest over a sky blue cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal muscular forearms that rested comfortably on his waist. He wasn’t quite as big as Jeremiah but he was still a head taller than the man he was talking to, and much taller still than me. His hair was longer and dark under his hat and had an appealing wave to it. The vest over cowhide pants cut a mean line with a trim waist and wide shoulders. Okay, so his face was likely atrocious. It had to be.
“Luke,” Jeremiah said quietly from behind me.
Instantly, the man jerked his head to the side and I got my first view of his profile. Now if I’d had to service men this beautiful in Chicago, I’d have loved my job a lot more than I did. Dark stubble brushed his jaw and it matched animated eyebrows that probably betrayed every emotion he ever had. I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes from where I stood, but they were stunning. That much, any woman with working lady parts could see. If I looked hard enough, which I was, the outline of his shoulder muscles could be seen beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. Tall, dark boots held his pants close to fit legs, and his spurs jangled attractively as he turned.
Green. His eyes were bright green.
“I’ll pick them up when we come back through town,” he told the storekeeper before hoisting a sack of flour off the porch like it was a yard of rolled fabric. He sauntered easily toward us.
My mouth was hanging open wide enough to catch flies, so I closed it. He had to be mine. I wanted him more than I’d ever wanted anything in my entire nineteen years. My favorite food was bacon, and I’d gladly give up pig for the rest of my life if I could have him.
“Best if I tell him,” Jeremiah whispered in my ear.
“Tell me what?” Luke said from much too far away to be able to hear us over the street noise.
“It’s a surprise,” Jeremiah said shortly. “Load up.”
The towering men headed for the front seat of the buggy and I glanced around frantically. No help for it then. I scrambled into the back with my skirts flying nearly to my hips. I was pretty good at first impressions.
“What the hell?” Luke said, glaring at his brother. “You gonna help her or what?”
“Ain’t my job,” Jeremiah said with a grin. “Hup!” He slapped the backs of the two black horses in front with a snap of the reins.
Luke looked back at me once more with a slight frown, then shook his head like his brother had lost his mind.
My husband didn’t know he was caught yet.
I white knuckle gripped onto the railing of the buggy for dear life. I’d been perfectly content to endure the endless jouncing carriage ride into Colorado Springs, but at this point in my journey, I’d say my tailbone was thoroughly bruised. And though the skirts of my royal blue and black lacy dress were full, the material was quite thin and of little use cushioning my battered bum. I needed a distraction. “Can I ask a question?”
“No,” the men said in unison.
“Where is your other brother? The advertisement said three brothers.”
“How much farther?”
The sound of the creaking buggy and the locusts were the only noise.
I arched my eyebrow. “Why haven’t you two found wives yet? From where I’m sitting, women would sell their teeth to be tethered by the pelvis to you boys, so what gives?”
“See, this is why I advertised for a quiet wife,” Jeremiah muttered.
“Well it isn’t as if I am incapable of being quiet, it just isn’t in my nature, sir.”
Luke slid a green-eyed glance back at me. “Our brother, Gable, was in the war. Hasn’t made his way back home yet is all.”
A shallow sadness washed over me. I’d seen it a hundred times. Men came into the cathouse I worked, ripped up from the War Between the States and only ghosts of the people they once were. They would cry after I was with them and tell me horrible stories of things that had been done to them. Things they’d seen. Things they had done to others, like I was a priest and they were confessing their sins. Those kinds of admitted horrors weighed on my soul and visited my dreams from time to time.
“You sure he’s coming back?” I asked before I could swallow the words back down.
Luke’s back tensed. “Of course he’s coming back.”
Even if he did make it back home, it
“The war reached every place in this neck of the world, but folks around here don’t care so much about it. They have another war to worry over.”
I twisted in my less than comfortable seat to stare at his back. “What kind of war?”
“One with the Indians.”
I scanned the wild woods that edged the road and a chill crept across my skin. There weren’t many Indians in Chicago but I’d heard stories, horrible tales of scalping and frontier families murdered in their sleep. My voice sounded very small when I asked, “You have much of a problem with Indians?”
Luke’s voice harbored a smile when he spoke. “The natives don’t mess with us much. You don’t have to worry.”
For some reason, his confidence settled me, so I slumped back into the discomfort of the splinter adorned wood.
The drive was an hour and a half from town to the edge of the Dawson homestead. Cattle milled about a clearing, and through the trees were the jerky movements of deer on the alert at the sound of our approach. Oak and pine grew in bunches and the meadows were filled with wheat so tall, it waved like laundry in the wind. A girl could get swallowed right up in the vastness of this fairy land.
“There’s nothing like this place around Chicago,” I breathed.
“Course there isn’t,” Jeremiah snorted. “It’s a city. Cities kill places like this.”
I turned to find Luke’s glorious eyes resting on my bouncing bosoms. The dress really did leave little to the imagination up top. Clenching my hands, I stifled the instinct to cover my chest with my arms. Generally, I didn’t mind men looking. It was part of the job after all, but with Luke, a tiny piece of me, one I thought long buried, wanted to be a lady for him. I wanted him to see me differently than the howling, spitting men at the bawdyhouse did.
His eyes met mine for the briefest moment, and confusion swam in them before he turned away. From where I sat, I could’ve sworn Jeremiah was smiling, but I couldn’t be sure.