by DeAnn Smallwood
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: Sweet
Callie Collins, a proud woman in the late 1800’s is a liar and a darned good one, a master of the dubious art. She is also a dreamer. Her greatest hope is to reach a new life in South Pass City Wyoming, where she can open a bakery and live an independent life. To be successful, she will need her greatest gifts of deception to date. As a woman alone, she has to prove to Seth McCalister, the wagon master, that she has the wherewithal (a wagon and a set of oxen), the stamina to survive months of drought, dust, hardships and even risk of death, and a mythical fiancé who waits at the end of the line. McCallister is uneasy, but also mystified by the audacity and determination of the young woman. He allows her to join the train west. What he doesn’t realize is there is no fiancé. To make matters worse, Callie is in love with Seth McCallister, too. For the first time, the lies that have brought her so far in life threaten to keep her from her one, true love. McCallister is a man of strong character and Callie feels certain that once he realizes her deception, he’ll turn away, ashamed of his love and trust in her.
She left the empty dining room and, with shoulders squared, set out for the general store. The town hummed like a beehive of angry bees, streets crowded with wagons of every description, vendors set up on any available space offering any and all items needed for the trip west. If you wanted it, Independence had it. You just had to find the right stall or store.
Callie strolled past each vendor seeing-without-seeing the wares. There would be time to stock her wagon once she had one. She reached for the door to the general store only to have it shoved open from the inside, hitting her with such force she went tumbling backward down the steps. She landed on her rump in the dusty street, hat askew, petticoats up over the top of her fashionable buttoned shoes.
Before she realized what had happened, she was pulled up into strong arms, then flopped over a masculine forearm while a large hand administered rib shaking blows to her back.
“Breathe.” The order came harsh in her ear while he smacked her back again.
“I said breathe, lady.” The stranger shook her.
“Stop,” Callie gasped weakly, head wobbling from side-to-side. “Stop pounding my back and shaking me.” She forced the words out between squeaky intakes of air.
As sudden as the earthquake had started, it stopped. She remained in a tight vise against the man’s chest.
Then he spoke again, his voice full of anger. “What in the hell, begging your pardon, Ma’am, but just what were you doing on the other side of that door?”
Callie pulled her head back and attempted to focus. How dare he! He’d just pushed her down two steps, into a dirty street, showed her petticoats to passersby, knocked the breath out of her, pummeled her back to black and blue, and then berated her for standing in front of a door leading to a place of business.
“You . . .”
“Hush,” he barked. “I hollered to ‘Stand clear’ before throwing open the door. Are you deaf?”
No, she hadn’t heard. She’d been thinking, worrying, about that dratted wagon. Anyway, it certainly wasn’t her fault and as soon as she freed herself of a pair of strong arms and a man smelling of witch hazel and the clean scent of wood smoke, she’d tell him so.
“We were rolling out kegs and barrels. You could have been hurt. I’ve seen some dumb stunts, lady, but standing there with your head in the clouds when someone is trying to prevent an accident, is just, well, it’s just crazy.” With that, he released her and set her firmly on her feet. He brushed off the dust clinging to her dress.
Callie eyed him apprehensively and backed away only to feel the heel of her shoe teeter over the edge of the step. She flailed her arms and would have tumbled back down the steps again if, quick as a snake, he hadn’t reached out and grabbed her.
"Ma'am,' he growled, "you'd better get home to the safety of your kitchen and not venture out without your husband on your arm. You're a menace." And before Callie could put her tongue into action, he picked her up like a doll and firmly set her to one side while he stormed down the steps. He was part of the crowd before she could speak all the unladylike words that were on her lips.
Of all the egotistical males, she had just met the king. How dare he admonish her to home and hearth? How dare he knock her down, brush her off, and scold her in front of everyone? Men. If she ever needed proof she’d done the right thing in seeking independence, there it was. A tall, strong, pigheaded stranger who just happened to have the deepest pair of blue eyes she’d ever seen.
Find DeAnn Smallwood at the following links:
Amazon, Soul Mate Publishing, Facebook