Adeline Buckley escapes her abusive father only to find herself in a brothel, on a stagecoach to the untamed west and married to a stranger, all in that order. Plotting another escape becomes harder, the more she gets to know her new husband.
Jackson Pruitt didn’t expect a secretive mail order bride to show up the same week cattle rustlers absconded with a large part of his herd. The bigger surprise was the loveliness of the woman. Why would a beauty like her need to travel so far to marry?
Jackson and Adeline learn that secrets and marriage do not go hand-in-hand when both of their pasts comes knocking and both have to come to grips with the reality, that sometimes trust comes only after you lose it all.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, as Jackson waited for her to speak first. He figured she'd have a lot of questions. But her first question was unexpected.
"Am I your prisoner?" Adeline asked him, barely above a whisper, with her eyes downcast.
"Why would you think that?"
She leaned and pointed to his hip. "You're armed. Are you a lawman?"
Why would she think herself a prisoner? Jackson decided it was best to answer her question instead of asking her some in return. "Most men in Texas are armed for protection. My brother, Heath, is the sheriff at Four Winds. Although I'm a deputy, I'm mostly a rancher. You are not my prisoner, you're..."
"Oh, thank goodness," she interrupted him. "Is this your home?" Her gaze scanned the room. "Am I to tutor your children?"
Jackson didn't reply. He tried to remember what Heath told him he'd written in the ad. If the rascal had listed him as a widower with children to get sympathy, he'd skin him. What if the reason Adeline had agreed to marry him was because she felt bad about the children? He cleared his throat. "There are no children here right now."
"Oh," she said her brows drawn. "Well then, sir, why am I here?"
"This is your home now, Adeline," Jackson told her, watching her closely for a reaction. "We were married earlier this afternoon. You are my wife."
The color drained from her face and she froze, her spoon halfway to her mouth. He feared she'd faint again so he jumped up and went to her. The action startled the woman, who yelped and leaned away from him, only to topple over. Both she and the chair landed on their sides on the floor.
When Jackson tried to help her up, she scrambled to her feet and moved away from his reach.
"Married?" The shock in her voice made him wonder if the woman was mad. Surely she remembered signing the documents before the judge?
"Yes, Adeline, the judge explained it all to you before you signed the papers at the hotel. Do you not remember?"
"I..." her widened eyes met his and he fought the urge to reach out to reassure her. "I thought it was a dream."