Excerpt for The Rancher's Southern Belle by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A poignant Christian western…


A country torn in battle.

A Southern woman running from God.

And a Yankee captain who hopes to soon possess her heart.



Madelyn Clemmons loved her life in Atlanta. Balls, soirees, and helping her physician father to heal the ill and afflicted in their town. But the dratted War of Northern Aggression has torn her fair city—and her life—apart. Nothing will ever be the same. During the Reconstruction period, she and her father set course for San Francisco and a new life.

Raised as a rancher, Luke Guylenhall is now a captain in the Yankee army. He’s so thankful the War for Southern Aggression has finally ended. Such a toll on so many. So many lives lost. All he wants is to muster out and return home to his beloved ranch. Peace and quiet. Yes, he’s very much looking forward to that. No more conflict for him. He’s had more than enough to last a lifetime.

Clearly knowing he’s soon to die from gambling debts owed, Madelyn’s father—a devout Yankee hater—insists the captain wed his daughter when the two are found in a compromising position. How will two enemies forge a bond of friendship—let alone possibly let a spark of love flare between them?



Dedication



To My Husband Tom

Well, this book was basically finished a long time ago, but last year—and our endless health journeys that followed—totally derailed me.

Then, when I almost lost you, I was too emotionally torn. I didn’t dare try to voice on paper what I was feeling in my heart. What I was experiencing daily at the hospital. The thought of writing of near death was more than I could bear. I feared I would shatter.

So, I set the book aside. Until now. To a time when I can once again

embrace the future and all it means to us.


I loved you 48 years ago when we wed. I love you today, and I’ll love you even more tomorrow.





The Rancher’s Southern Belle





A Guylenhall Family Saga, Book 1

Luke’s Story



Leanne Burroughs



Highland Press Publishing

Florida




The Rancher’s Southern Belle

A Highland Press Publishing original

Copyright ©2017 Leanne Burroughs

Cover Design 2017 Leanne Burroughs


Published by Highland Press Publishing at Smashwords


Produced in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system—except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the Web—without permission in writing from the publisher.

For information, please contact:

Highland Press Publishing,

PO Box 2292, High Springs, FL 32655.

www.highlandpress.org

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names, save actual historical figures. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.

Print ISBN: 978-1-942606-20-8

Highland Press Publishing

http://highlandpress.org

Christian Western



St. Louis, 1866



~ Chapter 1 ~


Madelyn Clemmons wiped her mouth with her crème colored linen napkin, then placed it in her lap atop the white gloves she’d placed there after being seated at the table. Slumped in her chair in the hotel’s large restaurant—a distinct no no at home in Atlanta society, where one had to be prim and proper at all times and not lean back against chairs—Madelyn looked around the room and heaved a despairing sigh.

“Father, I really do not want to do this after all. I have changed my mind about going to San Francisco. Can we not return home to Atlanta?”

Her father tensed, his back ramrod straight. “And live where? With my sister again? Sherman destroyed our grand home on his March to the Sea during that blasted War of Northern Aggression. Do you know how embarrassed I was to take residence with your Aunt Agatha after we lost our house? I do not take handouts from anyone, and being forced to live there until I decided to move West was akin to the epitome of failure.”

He banged one clenched fist on the table, setting cups and saucers to rattling.

“Father!”

Ignoring her, he clipped off the end of a cigar and held it between his thumb and forefinger. With a lit wooden match, he toasted the clipped end until it began to smoke. Then he placed it between his lips and took short puffs while continuing to hold the match near the end and rotated the cigar. After blowing out the match before it burned his fingers, he gently blew against the end of the cigar to ascertain if it had been evenly lit. Seeing the end glow, he smiled and placed the tip back between his lips and puffed. He continued his conversation as if he hadn’t taken a break.

Madelyn coughed. She hated the smell of cigars.

He pushed his plate away. “I refuse to live through what those Unionists are calling Reconstruction. It’s naught but a vengeful imposition and I vow I will never welcome it or them to what was once our fair city. It is humiliating, a travesty, and merely their way to make all Southerners bend to their will. I shan’t do that!” His eyes narrowed. “You might be willing to put up with the likes of them, but I vow I am not. I want nothing to do with any of them. I would rather die first.”

Madelyn glanced around the full dining room. “Father, they are everywhere. Look around us. Union soldiers are eating here as we speak.”

Earlier she’d noticed a handsome soldier watching her. The man’s broad, masculine shoulders well filled the blue jacket of his uniform, and he was one of the handsomest men she’d ever seen. A shock of brown hair fell over his brow and he had a strong, clean shaven jaw. But he was a Yankee, and though not as outspoken as her father, she wanted naught to do with their ilk.

Yet as her eyes met his, blue if she wasn’t mistaken, a prickly sense of the unknown came over her. She tried to shake it off as her father threw his napkin down on the cloth covered table—it matched the crème napkins—and slammed his hand against it, drawing disapproving eyes from patrons around them.

She turned her attention back to him. “Father, lower your voice. You are causing a scene.”

“Do not tell me what to do, girl.” His brows converged in a frown. “The sight of those…those disgusting creatures sickens me. They would not know the first thing about manners if it slapped them in the face. Having to spend time in the same room as a blue belly leaves me without the proper words to tell you how much I detest them. The words I would choose would not be fit for a female’s delicate ears.”

Madelyn closed her eyes, fighting for control of her emotions. She’d heard this so many times since the war had ended and Union soldiers and Yankee carpetbaggers had converged on their town. “I know, Father. You have been quite vocal about it throughout the entire four years of the war.”

Laughter pealed from tables behind them, where people were clearly enjoying their meal, not arguing about a war that had already ended.

Her father straightened one of his slightly frayed white cuffs, set his cigar in the nearby ashtray he’d requested, and picked up his cup and sipped his tea.

Madelyn hoped to change the subject. The man she sat across from was so different from the man she’d grown up with her entire life. He’d always been gruff and quick to criticize—especially her—but as with everyone else in the South, the war had changed him.

“What are we going to do this evening, Father? May we walk through the town and take in some of the sights? Since you are bound and determined to head West in a few days, I would like to tour the city I have heard so much about.” Excitement surged through her. “Just think, Father. We’re in the Gateway to the West! It is so exhilarating. I guess it was just my nerves talking earlier.”

His eyes narrowed as he scanned the room again. “We’re not doing anything. From what I hear, these blasted Yankees have booked the entire hotel for some wedding reception. Had I known that before we checked in, I never would have walked through the front door.” His head snapped toward the hotel lobby. “I shall be over at the saloon in hopes they have a decent card game going. You will stay in your room.”

Her shoulders sank. “We cannot afford any losses, Father. You will not be working again until we reach San Francisco—and we need all our money.”

He shot her a glare. “Leave the money to me, missy. Have I not always done what I needed to in order to take care of you? Even if it meant crawling to my blamed sister Agatha?”

She offered a brief nod. There was no sense trying to talk to him in his present mood.

“If I had the money for the trains that run all the way to San Francisco—that Pacific Railroad,” he continued, not missing a beat, “—we would be on them right now. As it is, we shall have to join one of those accursed wagon trains. I just pray it is decent Confederate folk heading West like we are to escape Reconstruction, rather than blamed Yankees like we have encountered in this city.” A tic jerked in his cheek. “If I had realized they still held St. Louis, I never would have come this way. I would have taken a different route.”

Angry despair welled in her heart. “As much as you may wish to, you cannot avoid them the rest of your life, Father.” Her eyes shot to the Yankee captain despite herself. Broad muscles strained the seams of his Union jacket.

“Maybe not, but I can certainly try.” A thundercloud descended over his face. “And you put your eyeballs back in your head. I’ll not have you mooning over the likes of someone like him!” He pushed back his chair and rose as he tilted his head toward the captain. Straightening his gray suit jacket, he picked up and donned his large brimmed straw hat. He tipped his head toward the entrance to the crowded restaurant. “I am heading over to the saloon now. You go upstairs and be sure to lock your door. I have no idea how reputable this establishment is if they allow the likes of them to be here. I shall see you in the morning for breakfast.”

She inhaled and then released a deep breath. Another night alone, with her father off gambling and getting drunk. If only the war hadn’t happened. Father would still be a respectable physician and they’d still have their lovely home in Atlanta.

But General Sherman had taken that away from them when he burned everything in his path on his way to Savannah. It mattered not that it was General Hood who actually ordered the eighty-one rail cars filled with ammunition and other military supplies to be destroyed when he evacuated Atlanta. The damage was the same regardless of who started it. The resulting fire and explosions were heard for miles. When those eruptions reverberated through the city, she’d thought the Lord Himself had turned His face from Atlanta and the world itself may have been ending.

The smell of blood and death had filled the air.

A far cry from the euphoric feeling all held when President Jefferson Davis assigned General Hood to oversee Atlanta. The aggressive man had been considered by many, her father included, as Atlanta’s salvation. Only there had been no rescue for her beautiful city. She doubted the South would ever regain its former beauty. If it did, she wouldn’t be around to see it. The thought saddened her.

She glanced toward the handsome captain again only to find his eyes locked on her. Yes, the man was striking, but she really did hate Yankees. They’d stripped her of the life she had known. Although somehow that didn’t bother her as much as it did her father. He ate, slept, and drank anger. She almost didn’t know him anymore.

What a pity. He’d once been a fine, upstanding man. A great physician. Now, more likely than not, he was getting drunk. But their life was about to change. She could feel it. After all, weren’t they on their way to San Francisco? Once there, Father would start practicing again. And she’d be right at his side.

Helping people. That was the calling God had placed on her. At least it had been when she still believed in God. She’d prayed so hard for Atlanta to be spared, but it hadn’t happened. She guessed God no longer cared what happened to her. For one who’d had such a strong faith—her mother had instilled it in her—it had been a long time since she’d spoken to Him. He’d turned His back on all in Atlanta. Surely He wouldn’t listen to her now if she tried. She saw no need to bother.


Luke Guylenhall heaved a deep sigh and patted his stomach as he pushed back his chair. That had been a right delicious meal. And soon his younger brother was gettin’ hitched. Never once had he thought about the possibility young Sam wouldn’t be returning to the ranch after he mustered out of the army. But he’d met and fallen in love with a young woman when he’d been reassigned and stationed here in St. Louis after Quantrill’s Raid and subsequent massacre in Lawrence got folks all up in arms. No way was the government going to let St. Louis fall to the Confederates or let the likes of Quantrill and his men slaughter anyone in this town.

Hitched! Who would have thought that would happen before they headed for Kansas City? Now Sam was going to stay in St. Louis with Louisa. They made a great couple and she seemed like a true gem. Tiny, she didn’t even reach Sam’s shoulders. And his younger brother was the smallest of all the Guylenhall brothers.

But it sure would be lonely on the ranch once he mustered out himself and headed home.

He’d actually contemplated staying in the military. It suited him well, and he was quickly moving up the ranks. Being offered a job in the president’s newly formed Secret Service was sure tempting. He liked Washington. But the thought of having to track down crooks and counterfeiters didn’t really appeal to him.

That would be more in line with what his brother Matthew enjoyed. Then again, Matt was quite content returning to be sheriff in their hometown. He’d been pleased to receive the letter from his sister Kat telling him Matt was already back home.

Speaking of temptations, the little filly in the dark green dress sure fit that bill. He’d barely been able to keep his eyes off her since he sat down for supper. Surely she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. Delicate porcelain skin molded to high cheekbones and a straight, short nose.

Sure as shootin’ he should ask her if she’d like to stay and attend his brother’s wedding and reception. It’d be right nice to have someone who looked like that as his dance partner. Her coiffed, upswept brunette hair made him want to run his fingers through it and mess it up a bit. Remove all the pins and let it flow down her back. And her eyes! No doubt he could lose himself in them. Couldn’t rightly tell their color from where he sat, but he thought they might be chocolate brown.

He ran a fingertip over his lower lip.

Her loud-mouthed escort—her father he’d overheard her say—had left a few minutes earlier. Didn’t take much to overhear the man’s conversation since he spoke much too loudly. When he announced he was heading for the saloon, Luke thought the man might already be drunk. A Johnny Reb through and through from the way the man was talking. Well, Luke could put aside his dislike of Rebels for one night if it meant he could dance with that beautiful young filly. He bet she’d fit just right in his arms.

He made his move when she put on first one white glove and then the other, then gently eased her chair away from the table. He was there before she had a chance to rise. “Ma’am, pardon me for bein’ a mite forward, but I heard your father mention you would be alone for the night. Might I interest you in some entertainment?” As an immediate blush stole over her pale skin, he realized how his words must have sounded. “No ma’am, nothin’ improper,” he rushed to say. “My brother is gettin’ hitched tonight and there will be a reception afterward. With dancin’,” he quickly added, feeling like a tongue-tied young fool. “I would be delighted if you could join me.”

Surprise flitted across the young woman’s face as she looked up at him. Then a wistful yearning, but she shook her head as she rose, the top of her head only reaching his shoulders.

“Thank you, Captain. I would very much enjoy dancing, but I fear my father would be quite upset with me if I accepted. You are a…a…stranger after all.” A hint of disappointment filled her voice.

Her soft Southern drawl wafted over him.

Yankee is what she no doubt means. He’d heard her father’s diatribe. Everyone in the restaurant had.

Pity. Something inside Luke told him they would have hit it off right nice.


Hours later Luke stumbled up the hotel steps. He’d imbibed far too much, which he rarely ever did, but one’s brother only got married once. Fortunately, his men weren’t here to see him. He always tried to set a good example for the younger men in his command. And getting drunk sure wasn’t a good example. Ma would turn over in her grave if she could see him now. Pa’d probably just chuckle.

He stopped in the hallway a moment trying to remember his room number. Boy he really was drunk! Then he stumbled down the hall a few more steps and tried a doorknob. Locked. He tried the one on the other side of the hall. Locked.

He pursed his lips to the side as he thought. “Guess I didn’t go far enough,” he mumbled.

At the next set of doors—he didn’t think he’d gone any farther than this—he scrutinized them both, trying to remember which one might be his. Making a decision, he again tried a doorknob. When it opened, he smiled.

Finally!

Now he’d get a good night’s sleep and hope he didn’t wake up with a hangover. Thoughts of his mother wafted over him again as his head banged out a tympany. He missed her. God rest her soul, she’d been a decent Christian woman who didn’t cotton at all to those who over-imbibed.

He stumbled into the dark room and didn’t bother to light an oil lamp. Why inconvenience himself when he was going straight to bed?

He removed his jacket and laid it on the small round table after feeling for the edge in the dark. Then he sat and removed his tall black boots. He’d shined them with spit and polish so they’d gleam for Sam’s wedding. It was a shame Kat and Matthew hadn’t been able to come for the wedding, but he understood why they couldn’t make it on the spur of the moment. Kat would have made sure he hadn’t gotten drunk. She’d taken up Ma’s stance once she grew up. Thankfully, either Kat’s husband, Aaron, held the same feelings or he simply didn’t indulge to honor her. Whichever, Luke was well pleased with his little sister’s choice of husband.

Standing, he removed his britches and laid them across the table. Didn’t want a wrinkled uniform when he rode back to the Fort later this afternoon.

He stubbed his toe when he got to the bed frame quicker than he thought, but he bit back an oath. Easing around the side of the bed, he sat on the edge, then lay back and stretched out. He was too tired to even deal with getting himself under the covers.

A few hours’ shut-eye and he’d be good as new.




~ Chapter 2 ~



Pounding sounded at the door. “Come on, lazybones. Get up. I am hungry and want to head downstairs for breakfast.”

Luke tried to ignore the racket. He was comfortable in the soft bed, and he wasn’t the least bit hungry. He burrowed back against the warmth of the soft bedding, his arm resting against its pillow soft roundness.

Bang. Bang. Bang! “Wake up, I said.”

He cracked open an eyelid to see a riot of brunette hair just as a loud scream rent through the room, waking him quickly from his stupor.

He jumped off the bed just as a booted foot sounded against the door and it crashed open.

The man’s eyes widened in shock as he took in the scene in the room. Luke had no doubt his were just as wide.

The disheveled brunette bolted upright, her eyes wide with fear, and jumped out of the other side of the bed.

The young woman from last night! And the man brandishing a gun in front of him was the man who’d loudly spouted about hating Yankees.

What in Heaven’s name had happened? All he’d done was go to bed after leaving his brother’s party.

Alone.

He sure wasn’t alone now.


Her head turning between her very angry father and a very undressed Yankee captain, Madelyn wished she could fall right through a hole in the floor.

“Father, I don’t know how he got in here. I—”

“Cover yourself, woman,” her father yelled. “Have you no decency?”

She drew back in alarm, her hand covering her racing heart, then quickly grabbed the chenille floral print spread off the bed. Wrapping it around her shoulders, she held it closed at her throat, effectively covering her white linen nightgown.

The captain tried to move toward the table, no doubt to get his clothes, but her father’s gun trained on him brought him up short.

Out in the hall, a crowd gathered at the broken, open door.

Mortification slid over her, more than likely reddening her cheeks.

“Father, put your gun away.” She lowered herself to the edge of the bed. “I do not know how he got in here, but I assure you nothing—”

“Get off that bed! Have you no shame? Your sainted mother must be turning over in her grave right now.”

Her father’s words had the desired effect as she rocketed off the bed.

“Father, please! Nothing happened last night! I swear it. I came to bed alone after you left.” She grabbed the chenille spread tighter between her fists.

“Sir, if you will just let me explain—”

Her father spun on him. “Oh you will do plenty of explaining all right. To the sheriff.”

“Your daughter is correct, sir. Absolutely nothin’ happened between us last night. She left the dinin’ room shortly after you did and I spent all night at my brother’s weddin’ party.”

He looked abashed as he added, “Apparently drinkin’ far too much.” He spun to face the young woman. “I do apologize for that.”

Rage filled her father’s face. “She left the dining room alone and you just happened to spend the night in her bed? Do you take me for a fool, Yankee?” Never once did he lower his pistol. It remained trained on the captain.

“Sir, if you will allow me to get my clothes.” The captain looked toward the small mahogany table that had only held an ivory lace doily and the book she’d been reading before retiring. Now her book couldn’t be seen.

A Yankee uniform haphazardly covered it!

The captain continued. “I could get dressed and we could take this discussion elsewhere, the lobby perhaps, allowin’ your daughter to dress as well—in privacy.” He glanced toward the door, his brow arching. She quickly glanced there, too, mortification overcoming her.

People weren’t only peering in from the hall. Many actually had the audacity to stand inside the open doorway.

“Father, please! Get these people out of here.” Carefully wrapped in the chenille blanket, she lowered herself to the stuffed emerald green armchair situated beside her bed.

The hotel manager shoved into the room just as her father turned to usher people out into the hall.

“What is going on here? This is a decent establishment. I do not allow rowdies in my hotel, sir.” He glanced at her father’s gun, then back toward the splintered door. “Who is gonna pay for the repair of this door?”

“I don’t give a fig about your blasted door. This man”—he motioned toward the captain with his gun—“violated my daughter last night!”

“I did no such thing!” and “Father, he did not!” echoed off the walls at the same time.


Luke wanted to strangle the man. Although he guessed to an onlooker the situation would certainly look something like that. But blasted, he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Well…clearly he had. He took a moment to look around the room. No, this wasn’t his, although he imagined most of the rooms looked similar. It was kind of a mirror image of his—things in slightly different places.

I came in the wrong room! And not turning on the light, I didn’t see anyone else on the bed. But the door had opened when he’d turned the handle.

He moved toward the angry man. “Sir, if you will just let me explain. I believe I know what happened.”

With the hotel manager between them, he quickly grabbed his uniform and backed up. Standing in front of perfect strangers in his drawers was the last thing he wanted to do.

“I care nothing about your door, but I can tell you exactly what we are going to do next,” the girl’s father yelled. “We are going to find whoever is the law in this city and have this man hanged.”

“Father!” and “What?” met his declaration.

Her father had moved toward the window and looked out—staring pensively at the saloon. A frown marred his face as he spun on his heel and assessed the captain. “No. Actually, I have changed my mind.” He swung his pistol between the Unionist and Madelyn as his eyes narrowed in thought. “Get dressed. We are going to find the closest minister. You are getting married.”


“Hitched? What? No!” Luke shouted at the same time the brunette did. “Sir, you cannot possibly mean—”

The man glared him down. “That is exactly what I mean. You, sir, compromised my daughter.”

“I did no such thing! I—”

“Did you spend the night in my daughter’s bed?”

Not wanting to look, he did just that. His eyes were drawn to the bed, then to the beautiful young woman whom he’d had his arm draped over not very long ago. She’d been soft beneath his hand. Her perfect hair from last night was gone. Instead, it hung halfway down her back and was mussed. He really had been drunk not to stir and realize there was another body in the bed with him.

She was beautiful. Vulnerability covered her face.

She was terrified.

“Well, yes, sir. Apparently I did, but I swear nothin’ happened atween us. I came in here last night thinkin’ it was my room. I didn’t turn on the light.” His eyes shot to the brunette again. “But all I did was go to sleep.”

“And how did you get in here if she did not open the door to you?”

“Well, that is a mystery, but—”

“I locked the door, Father. I swear I did.”

Tears rolled down her beautiful face. Luke wanted nothing but to gather her in his arms and comfort her. Wouldn’t that just go over well with her father!

“Lock’s broken,” the hotel manager spoke up. “Been meaning to fix it; haven’t gotten around to it.” He frowned as he looked between Luke and the girl. “Never actually needed it fixed afore.”


Madelyn thought she might die from embarrassment. While her father had tried to close the door once the manager entered, it refused to remain shut and perfect strangers continued to poke their heads in the room and stare at her and the captain.

Clearly she’d been judged and found lacking. But she really had locked the door last night. Well, at least she thought she had. After the difficult journey to St. Louis, she must have fallen into an exhaustive sleep as soon as her head hit the lumpy pillow. How else could she explain not realizing the bed had to have dipped when someone else got into it?

“Don’t make no never mind. I had a few too many drinks last night and should have known this was not my room. The young lady was in no way at fault, sir.”

During the discourse he’d somehow managed to get back into his light blue pants and white shirt. Now he slid his arms into his dark blue uniform jacket and started looping buttons through the button holes, then straightening the epaulettes.

He was still in bare feet, but somehow he managed to seem in charge of the room. “If you will just let me leave now, I assure you we will never meet again.”

His voice was quiet, but she caught the subtle note of fury underneath.

He bent to reach for a boot.

“Not so fast, Yankee.” Her father was still waving the gun around. As angry as he was, she was surprised it hadn’t mistakenly—or maybe not mistakenly—discharged. “You are not going anywhere except to the sheriff or the minister.”

The captain straightened and brought himself to his full height—probably around 6’2” or 6’3” if she had to guess. “Sir, I am a captain in the—” His voice dropped low and dangerous, his blue eyes snapping with aggravation.

“You are a blamed Yankee. I know exactly what you are.” Her father looked like he was ready to explode. “And though I cannot stand the sight of you, you are going to marry my daughter. Or exit this room feet first. Take your pick.”

“Father, please. I have no intention of marrying this man.” Although if he hadn’t been a Unionist, she might have been quite pleased to be courted by someone like him. “He is a…”

“Yankee,” the captain finished for her.

Madelyn straightened to her full height just like he had, and lifted her chin as well. He quirked a brow, but made no comment.

It had no effect on her father. Clearly he was beyond reason. She’d seen him angry before—almost every day during the war—but never had he been this irascible.

He turned to her. “Get dressed. I shall give you ten minutes to be ready and down in the lobby, or I will come up and get you myself. And then we are going to find the nearest church. Surely some folks in this town worship our Lord.”

He kept his gun trained on the captain, but motioned him toward the door. “Get your boots and move.”

His shoulders rigid, his hands clenched, with a nod and without another word, the captain left the room.


Luke closed his eyes and counted to ten. This couldn’t be happening. He’d survived the entire War of the Rebellion—although certainly not without getting injured—only to wind up leg-shackled to a Reb? Albeit a very beautiful one that probably had a pedigree as long as his arm.

Tears streamed down her face, even as she shot daggers at him with her eyes. This was no shrinking miss, but was she strong enough to withstand life on the frontier? Life on a ranch wasn’t easy. Maybe now he needed to consider staying in the military instead of mustering out and returning to the ranch. Life at the Fort wouldn’t be too bad. It just wasn’t what he wanted.

Wait! Was he really considering going along with this sham? He glanced to the door and all the people eagerly clamoring around it. The filly’s pa was right. Whether done intentionally or not—and it certainly had been not—he had compromised her reputation.

But hadn’t he overheard them saying they were going to San Francisco? No one there would know what had happened.

But he’d know. He’d snuggled up next to her warm, soft body and had been quite comfortable doing so. And while they’d had a sheet and the bedspread between them, he’d most definitely felt her womanly curves.

It was his fault he’d drank too much. Hadn’t Ma warned him about the repercussions of drink his entire life? She’d preached to him and his brothers ever since they were big enough to know Pa often rode into town for a drink with some of the cowpunchers after a hard day ranching.

A wealthy Englishwoman, she’d fallen hard for the smooth-talking ranch hand. They’d married and done well between them, now owning a large spread just outside of Kansas City. But the life had been hard, and she’d died before the War of the Rebellion had broken out. As much as she’d loved her adopted country, she would have been heartbroken to know of the troubles between the states.

She’d instilled a sense of right in him. And as much as he didn’t want to do this, Luke knew it was the right thing to do. He’d been wrong, and now he’d have to pay the consequences.

Even though the little filly might make him regret this every day for the rest of his life.

Luke reached for his boots, his sword, waist sash, and hat, all haphazardly sprawled on the wooden floor. As he marched out the door in front of the gun still being brandished at him, he thought he just might feel like Robert E. Lee had when he surrendered at Appomattox.

With his military training, not to mention far too many brawls he’d engaged in growing up, Luke could disarm the man in a minute, although the elderly man didn’t know that. But Luke had no intention of doing so.

His pa had taught him the difference between right and wrong. And he had to do what was right—even if not convenient.

He’d gotten himself into this situation, and although it wasn’t the way he’d seen his life when he’d thought of the future, he’d play the cards God had dealt him and see if he’d come up with a winning hand.




~ Chapter 3 ~



Madelyn wanted to spit nails. How could her father be doing this? All they had to do was leave St. Louis and no one would know how she’d apparently snuggled up against the warmth of a hard, warm body.

A Yankee body!

Saints alive, her father hated anything to do with the Unionists and here he was forcing her to wed with one? It made no sense.

Walking past the general store and what appeared to be some sort of hardware store, she found herself too soon at the end of the street at the steps to a white clapboard church. Maybe she’d be lucky and the minister wouldn’t be here today.

When her father opened the door and motioned she and the captain in, she saw she’d run out of luck.

The man was seated in the front pew praying. He raised his head when they entered.

“Hello. How may I help you?” He rose and turned his head. “I was just in here praying, preparing for my sermon tomorrow morning.”

Her father shifted his gun between her and the captain. “These two are getting married. Need you to perform the ceremony. Now.”

The minister’s eyes widened. “Sir, this is God’s house. Put away that gun.”

Her father narrowed his eyes as he stared at the minister, then nodded and acquiesced. “Good enough. You will perform the ceremony?”

The man frowned. “Well…it does not appear the participants are particularly willing if you forced them in here with a gun.”

“Does not matter. They are getting married. Either you will do it or I will find someone else.” He glanced at all of them. “Short of that, I shall shoot the captain.”

The minister gasped.

“Father! What has gotten into you? You have never behaved like this before.” Madelyn smoothed a hand down the skirt of her royal blue dress, her hand shaking nervously.

The captain spoke at the same time. “Sir, that will not be necessary. I am sure your daughter and I will both be agreeable to a ceremony.”

Madelyn ground out a sound of frustration and cut him a disapproving side glare. He ignored her. “Speak for yourself, sir. I wish nothing to do with—” Bitterness and despair etched her voice.

The minister cleared his throat. “Well, under the circumstances I guess I can perform the ceremony. I certainly do not wish to be responsible for a man being shot.”

Madelyn glowered at the man. “Did you not just hear me? I said I have no wish to wed with him.”

The lanky minister gave her a purposeful gaze and smoothed a shock of washed out brown hair from his eyes. He looked uncomfortable. “I heard you, miss,”—he swiveled his head to look toward her father—“but do you really wish to be responsible for this man’s death?”

Death?

Oh, bother. Would Father truly go through with his words? Shoot the captain? She cast him a sideways glance. Then Father would be arrested for murder. Either way, they’d never make it to San Francisco. Her dream of practicing at his side was over.

She heaved a sigh and shot a glower at the irksome captain. Then she returned her gaze back to the clergyman. “Go ahead.”

“Marriage is a solemn estate that should not be entered into inadvisably or lightly.” The clergyman stopped. “Yes, well, er…let me revise that. Your souls are now bound together, forever one,” he intoned.

She tried and failed to keep the bitterness from her voice. “Get this farce over with.”

Standing but a hand’s width apart, soon they both repeated the traditional vows. Hers were distasteful in her mouth. No doubt the captain felt the same despite his sudden moment of agreeability.

“I now pronounce you man and wife.” The minister blessed them, then clearly added as an afterthought, “And may the good Lord have mercy on you both.”

That was it! Her wedding ceremony. Within mere minutes she was married. To a man she didn’t even know. The ceremony shouldn’t have stung, but it did. She’d waited for and dreamed of this day her entire life.

And this is what she’d wound up with.

Heaven help her.

The captain took a step back. He removed his dark, wide-brimmed hat and swept her a bow.

He didn’t try to kiss her after the brief ceremony. Good thing too. Whether a traditional part of the ceremony or not, she probably would have punched him in the face if he’d tried.

She might be married to this lout, but she’d never be happy a day in her life. And she’d make certain his life was miserable too. Just as the Union had done to the Confederacy during the four years of the war—and seemed to be doing in its aftermath.

What was she going to do now?

Despite what she hoped was her firm resolve, her shoulders trembled.


Luke watched his new bride. She was angry as a cat doused with water. Certainly not the look of a woman in love like Sam’s wife had gazed at him yesterday during their moving wedding ceremony. The tiny woman had stood proudly at Sam’s side.

He glanced around the small church before he started to head out, then stepped to the table in front of the pulpit and drew a single red rose from the vase on the table. He turned back to Madelyn and handed it to her.

He’d surprised her.

Before she turned away, he’d seen something besides anger. Her eyes were stark with agony.

She was hurt, vulnerable. He couldn’t blame her. Her sheltered existence was being ripped away. This certainly hadn’t been a wedding any young woman would have dreamed of. Her father had robbed her of that. As had he by agreeing to go along with the farce.

He almost regretted agreeing.

Almost.

No, he certainly wasn’t going to have a happy life like he hoped Sam would have. He had a feeling this little filly had every intention of making his life a living hell. She sure was dreadful pretty though.

He didn’t know what made him do it, but reaching up his work-worn hand, he smoothed it over her cheek. The look on her face showed he’d caught her off guard, but she didn’t step away.

He certainly doubted they’d have a wedding night. Well, at least not one like he’d always envisioned. She’d probably lock him out of the room. No, her lock was broken. He heaved a sigh. He’d have to give her his room. Had to keep her safe. He’d promised that in his vows.

He’d manage somehow. He’d never forced his attentions on a woman before and he wasn’t about to start now just because he was married to her.

Married. Ha! That was a joke. They might be hitched legal like, but he doubted very much that it would ever be anything like his parents’ marriage. One full of love.

She had her back up now. He’d just have to wait and see what played out over time and hope their life didn’t have a whole heap of trouble in it.

Extending his arm to her, he willed her to take it. “How ‘bout we head back to the hotel? We never did get to eat anythin’ this mornin’.” He hoped she’d come along peaceable like and not kick up a row. The last thing he needed after what they’d gone through this morning was another disturbance.

When she didn’t move, he added, “You needn’t be afraid, ma’am. Nothin’ or no one will hurt you.”

Reluctantly placing her gloved hand atop his forearm, she stared up at him. “I assure you, captain, I am not afraid. Certainly not of you.” Bitterness laced her tone.

He couldn’t stop the smile that curved the corners of his lips. Yep, she was one little wildcat. One he wouldn’t mind taming.

He did notice she kept the flower he’d given her. He’d caught her actually smelling it a few times when she didn’t think he was watching.

So, she had a sentimental side.

They walked slowly back to the hotel, him slowing his stride to match hers, and she groaned when her father entered the saloon. The man had left the church as soon as the wedding ceremony was completed.

Luke’s heart sank as he watched her pained face. It was too early in the day. Only die-hard gamblers or town drunks, no doubt passed out after the previous night, would be in there now. He could only imagine what she was thinking.

Who was he to judge? If he’d passed out in a saloon or down in the hotel reception room instead of stumbling up to the wrong room, he wouldn’t be in this predicament. What would his brothers and sister think of him when he told them?

He steered her across the street and placed a hand at the small of her back as he moved her into the hotel’s lobby.

The desk clerk glared at him and called out, “I have added the broken door to your bill, sir.”

Luke started. “What? I didn’t break it.”

A superior look crossed the clerk’s face. “But you were responsible for it.”

Luke wasn’t going to cause a scene in the lobby. Madelyn was with him. “Fine. Keep it on my bill. I will pay it when I check out.” Without another word he moved his wife toward the restaurant. Would he ever get used to thinking that?

Seating her at one of the tables near a window overlooking the main street, the clamor of utensils clattering against plates as people enjoyed their meals were the only sounds to break the silence between them. He tried to ignore people’s stares. Had any of them actually witnessed the debacle upstairs or had they just heard about it from rapidly-spreading gossip?

Didn’t take long for news like that to travel quickly.

He motioned for one of the waitresses. “What are your specials today?”

After they ordered and the waitress departed, he and his wife sat staring at each other, shafts of light from the sun gently wafting over their table. Finally she glanced away and looked out the window.

“We have to talk, Madelyn. We cannot go on just starin’ at each other—or out windows. I cain’t change the past, but we can do somethin’ about our future.” He cleared his throat. “My name’s Luke. Captain Luke Guylenhall at your service.”

She faced him. “Yes, I heard you tell the minister.”

She pulled at the fingers of each white glove and laid them across her lap, then finally spoke. “I do not know what came over Father this morning. He has never behaved such as you saw him today.”

Bemusement cut through his senses. “I doubt he has ever found his daughter in bed with a man before.” At least I hope the man hasn’t!

She blushed prettily. Her eyes kept returning to the clasped hands she held rigidly on her lap.

“No, of course not. Surely that must be it.” She raised her eyes to meet his. “I regret this happened though, sir.”

He loved listening to her soft Southern drawl. Her voice sounded as smooth as honey. It suited her. Sir came out as suh.

“If we wait a few days until after Father departs for San Francisco, you can apply for a divorce. It should not take long to rectify this abominable situation.”

That shocked him. “Why would I do that?”

His question seemed to surprise her. “Because you did not wish to wed with me, of course.”

She seemed a sturdy girl, hopefully not one given to vapors like many Easterners were prone to. Yes, despite the circumstances, surely he’d chosen wisely. He’d not be setting her aside.

“No. Not any more than you wished to wed with me. But the fact is, we are hitched. You have courage, ma’am. From what I have seen, a great deal of it. I admire that.”

When she glanced away, he laid his fingers on her cheek and turned her to face him. “Whether or not we were forced into the ceremony, I pledged my words before God. And I do not break my vows to Him...” He let his words trail to silence.

She nearly choked. “You mean you plan to stay married to me?”

He nodded. “I do.”

That was the second time that day he’d said those words.

For some inexplicable reason, he realized he meant them.


“You do not even know me!” Fear made her voice sharp. Trembling with emotion, she lowered her voice when she realized people were watching them.

“You are right. But we have a lifetime ahead of us to get to know one another.” He reached out to brush his fingers lightly over her hand.

A shock of awareness went through her, but she didn’t pull her hand away. Why wouldn’t the stubborn man agree to what was certainly the most sensible course of action? She was learning quickly about him though. He did what he felt was right, not what was easiest or most expedient. In truth, he seemed the most honorable of men. Blue belly or not.

“Tell me about yourself.” His voice fell in deep, rich tones around her ears.

She lifted and dropped a shoulder in a sheepish shrug. The last thing she wanted to do was face the memories of the devastation of war. Would it ever cease to hurt to think of all the suffering the South had endured?

She chose instead to tell him about life before the war. “Not much to tell. I was born and raised in Atlanta. I guess to what you would call a life of privilege. Father was a brilliant physician. Everyone loved him—contrary to what you saw last night and this morning.”

She drew the tip of her tongue lightly across her lips and saw his eyes follow the motion. “He was mild-mannered, soft-spoken. The exact opposite of what he has become because of the war. He lived and breathed medicine.”

“So now you have told me about your father. What about you? What does Miss Mad…Mrs. Madelyn Guylenhall like to do?”

She started at the name. If he really meant to not set her aside, she guessed she’d have to get used to it.

“She likes to be at her father’s side practicing medicine.” She lowered her eyes and spoke softly as a knot formed in her stomach. “That will never happen again. It is what I hoped we would once again do when we reached San Francisco.”

She looked up in time to see his eyes widen.

“You are a healer?”

“I am not exactly certain what a ‘healer’ is. I am certainly not a physician since not many women are allowed in medical school, but yes, I treated many patients alongside my father. Often if he was not present and someone ill came to our house, I treated them the same way I had seen him do so many times.”

He didn’t make fun of her like she thought he would. Most men guffawed at the idea of a woman practicing medicine—or at least assisting. Instead he looked pensive.

“Do you garden…or sew?”

She chuckled. Couldn’t help herself. “We had an elderly man to do most of the work around our house, but when Father wasn’t around Old Bob tried to teach me the difference between the newly growing plants and the weeds surrounding them. I am not sure he really ever succeeded, but I did try to learn. As to sewing, every proper bred lady learns to turn a needle. But probably not in the sense you mean.”

He didn’t look pleased with her answer like she thought he would be. Instead, he said, “Old Bob.” His brows furrowed. “Your father owned slaves?”

Ah, so that was the problem. “No. Old Bob and his wife Aggie were not slaves. They were free blacks. Well, actually they were slaves. Father bought them from one of the nearby plantations and gave them their freedom in return for them working for us. I do not remember a time when they did not live with us—albeit they did not live in our house. They had their own small home out back. They and their children could have left anytime they wanted to, but I am glad they did not. They were part of our family.”

“What did you do for fun?”

“My life revolved around society, the parties and balls given by Atlanta’s elite. I spent most days getting ready for and attending the formal dinners, fancy balls, soirees, and assorted musicales.”

He picked up her hand and turned it over in his, lightly running his fingers over the tips of hers. “Do you know how to cook?”

She gulped. “I am afraid not. Aggie did all the cooking and cleaning around the house. Although she did let me help in the kitchen sometimes when Father wasn’t around. I fear you have gotten the short end of this bargain, Captain.”

“Tell me more.”

“That is about it. My life in a nutshell. Does not sound half as exciting as I thought it was living it.” And other than Aggie and Old Bob, there was no love in the house once Mother died. Madelyn fought the tears that stung the back of her throat.

Oh, to have had a father that loved her.

They paused when the waitress brought their food. When she left, Luke reached for Madelyn’s hand and bowed his head. “Thank you, Lord, for the food on this table and the people that labored over it.”

The man prayed…in public? Where everyone about could see him? Surely he would never cease to amaze her.

He continued their conversation as he met her eyes, almost as if aware of her thoughts. “You always mention your father. How did your mother feel about all this? How did she feel about owning slaves?”

She jerked her hand free, then picked up a roll to butter it. “I already told you Old Bob and Aggie were not slaves. Father paid them a small stipend each month.” She stopped and thought. “I am sure it was not much, although I never looked at his ledgers. But they had everything they needed—a home over their heads, food in their bellies.” She looked out the window. “My love.”

She whipped back to face him. “Does that surprise you, Captain? That I should love a colored person? Well I did. Mother died when I was very young—I barely remember her—and it was Aggie that raised me. I have always thought…”

When she didn’t continue, Luke prodded, “What? You always thought what?”

“That Mother had Father buy Old Bob and Aggie because she knew she was going to die soon. I think she wanted the security of knowing someone would be there to take care of me. Father was always too busy with his practice. It was only when I grew older and started hanging around his office all the time that he and I grew somewhat closer. That is when he started teaching me medicine. Let me help with his office records.”

“So you can read?”

She sat up straight. “Of course I can! I can read, write and cipher.” She raised her chin. “What about you, Captain? Can you read and write?”

He didn’t seem offended at her question, but matched her words with a warm smile. “I can, and cipher too.”

“I do not mean to offend, but how did you learn? I often thought of people west of the Mississippi as a bit…”

“Backward?”


A blush covered her cheeks. He’d never point that out to her, though. It would probably embarrass her. But oh, how she looked when she did that—warm, soft, inviting. If she only knew how he felt being around her.

She was one of the strongest people he’d ever met. She just didn’t know it yet. At first he’d thought she was just a fragile flower that’d need close tending the rest of her life, but he’d discounted that quickly. She had backbone. Determination. Even though with all the changes in her life she had to be feeling intimidated and insecure. He couldn’t wait to watch her blossom into the wife he hoped she’d become.

She finally answered, “Well, yes. Since you put it that way, I guess that is the word I was looking for.”

It was all he could do to not reach out and touch her. Giving up, he reached across to take her hand in his again, ran his thumb lightly over her soft skin.

“Unlike you”—he brought himself back to the present—“I had a mother who was with me daily. Looked after me. She came from England and was well educated. Far more than my father. Before we had a school in town, she taught me and my sister and brothers how to read and write. As we grew older and the area grew, she made certain we went to the one room schoolhouse in town—even though Pa announced he couldn’t see much sense in such things.

“In fact, she taught him to read too. He wanted nothin’ to do with it, but when she told him she was only doin’ it so he wouldn’t be swindled in any of his business dealin’s with other men, he reluctantly agreed. She told him one day he’d own the best cattle ranch around and he believed her. Purt near turned out true, too. While not the biggest, our cattle ranch is one of the largest in the area.”

“Where do your parents live?”

“Lived. Ma died right before the Southern War of Rebellion broke out.”

She bristled at his terminology and started to say something, but he stopped her with his fingers on her lips. Feelings about the war were still too raw—for both of them. “Now don’t go gettin’ all riled up, Little Reb. We is married now and it is only normal we are gonna say things about the war. We have to learn to get along and not react to each thing we hear.”

Not to give in, she said, “I am not little.”

He broke out in a loud guffaw. “Well, I guess compared to some women you are not, but compared to me you are.” He reached out and took her hand in his again. “Now, back to what you asked me. Ma passed away before the war broke out. As to Pa, I received a letter from my sister, her name is Kat, two weeks ago tellin’ me he passed away recently.”

He stopped talking. She could almost see him processing the news. Without thinking, she placed her free hand atop his. “I am sorry to hear that. Does your sister live on the ranch?”

He shook his head. “No. Well, in a way she does. She and her husband have their own spread just a few miles away. The land originally was part of the ranch. Pa gave it to her and Aaron as a weddin’ present.”

He held her gaze. “With Pa bein’ gone, I had actually planned to muster out of the army and go back to run the ranch, but now…”

He let the words hang.

“But now what?”

“I do not think you could survive livin’ on a ranch. I might decide to stay in the army, live at the Fort.”

Irrational fury flooded through her and she pulled her hand away. “How dare you decide where you think I can or cannot live? If you can live on a ranch, so can I!” Maybe.

“You have no idea what you are talkin’ about. Livin’ on a ranch is hard work.”

The waitress brought their food, and Madelyn waited until she was gone before she retorted. “And so is living in a city entrenched in a war. Do not treat me like a witless child, Captain. I assure you I am not.”

A smirk crossed his face. “Then do not act like one.”

“You, sir, are no gentleman! Tell me, what do you want to do? And make sure your answer is honest.”

He lifted a brow, probably not used to being talked back to by a woman, but he didn’t say anything about it. What he said instead was, “I want to go back to my ranch. If there was a program for protecting the president, I would try to get a job with them. I enjoyed that when I did it, but no such unit exists.”


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