Desire, OK: The Founding Fathers

Burning Desire

(Desire, Oklahoma: The Founding Fathers 4)

Cowboys Historical Romantic Suspense Romance, with BDSM elements, light spanking, HEA

With her home burned to the ground and her family dead, Esmerelda Johnson headed to the Circle T ranch to find safety.

After riding all day and through the night, she found herself caught in a thunderstorm, which spooked her horse into throwing her and dragging her with him across the rough ground.

The men she’d seen in the distance appeared, one of them jumping from his own saddle and using nothing but brute force, forced Lucky to a halt.

Duke Faulkner held her close and rode back to the ranch to tend her injuries.

Finding it impossible to let anyone else care for her, he claimed her as his own.

Fighting his guilt for not being able to save his first wife, he found Esmerelda’s strength and bravery irresistible.

Shaken by the threat to her from the man who’d killed her family, Duke vowed to protect her—no matter the cost.

Excerpt

Esmerelda jolted upright and hurriedly covered her ankle with the hem of her muddy skirt. “It’ll be fine. I just need to rest it a bit.”

Duke wrapped a hand around her calf, trying to ignore its softness. “Let’s see if she can move it.”

“I don’t want to move it.” Esmerelda tried to pull away, but Duke held firm. “Let go.”

Dread at the pain he would be causing her filled him with a sense of helplessness that ignited his temper. “Look, Red. Either you can move it or I will. If you can move it, we know it’s a sprain and can wrap it. If you can’t, it’s broken, and Will is gonna have to set it. We gotta know one way or the other.”

Esmerelda lifted her chin, trying not to cry at the thought of them setting her ankle. “My name is Esmerelda.”

Only the tenderness in his eyes and the memory of the gentle way he’d held her gave her the courage to defy him.

Seeing him in the light, without his jacket and hat, she found herself scared to death of him.

The first thing she’d noticed about him had been his strength. He’d single-handedly caught a galloping horse and brought him to a stop using nothing more than brute strength.

Even while watching it, she hadn’t believed what she saw with her own eyes and had braced herself to be trampled by him or have him fall on her.

He’d done neither—holding on to Lucky’s bridle with a fierce determination that he would win or die trying.

The scar that ran down the side of his face should have detracted from his compelling handsome features but, instead, added a sense of danger and raw masculinity made even starker by his shaved head.

His lips thinned, and he adjusted his hold on her ankle, the little sparks of awareness travelling up her leg unnerving her. “I know what your name is. Now, are you gonna try to move your foot, or am I?”

Panicked to recognize the same determination to get his way, Esmerelda whipped out a hand. “Don’t touch it! I’ll do it.”

He nodded once, appearing relieved. “Then do it.”

The man at her side smiled encouragingly. “Real easy. No sense in making it worse. Duke and I just need to be sure.”

Duke. It suited him.

He smiled again. “By the way, my name’s Will, and that pretty lady holding on to you is Sarah.”

Duke made a noise in his throat that sent a chill down her spine. “We can make introductions later, Will. You ready, Red?”

Will sighed and smiled at Esmerelda, shaking his head. “Duke’s bedside manner stinks, but he’s a great cook, so nobody says anything.”

Duke’s gaze narrowed as he shot the other man an icy look. “We’re supposed to be helping her—not courting her.” He turned his gaze back to hers again, the anger in it confusing. “Go on, Red.”

Sucking in a breath, and aware of the tense silence and rapt attention of everyone gathered, she turned to smile her thanks at Sarah, who reached out to take her hand, before turning back to look at her swollen ankle.

Squeezing the other woman’s hand, she sucked in another breath and shifted her gaze to focus on the way Duke’s large, darker hand contrasted with her pale leg and slowly moved her ankle.

Flexing her foot proved more difficult than she would have thought, probably due to the swelling, but she did it.

Swallowing a moan of pain, she gently lowered it again, lifting her gaze again to meet Duke’s, smiling through the pain at the relief in his eyes. “I did it.”

Several shouts of excitement came from all around her, and she looked over to see a sea of grinning faces.

Duke squeezed her calf and gently lowered her foot again. “So you did.”

Will’s smile was followed by a sigh. “I can wrap that up, but we need to know where else you’re hurt.”

Not about to tell them about the raw flesh on her inner thighs and the cuts and bruises she felt on her bottom, Esmerelda shook her head, her gaze going to Sarah’s. “I’m fine. Please. Just sore.”

Sarah nodded and smiled before lifting her gaze to the tall Indian beside her. “Blade, we need to take her to our house. I can help her take a bath, and she can wear one of my dresses.” She turned to Duke. “I can check out her injuries. Please. This is the most crowded place on the ranch. Men are coming and going all day. You can’t embarrass her that way. Once she has her bath, you can give her some laudanum.”

Esmerelda stared in fascination at the sight of the hard features of the tall Indian softening at the pleading look in Sarah’s. “Please. I promise I won’t lift her or hurt myself.”

Duke straightened. “No. I’ll carry her.” He stared at Blade as if daring him to refuse.

Esmerelda reached out to Duke, pleased when he immediately turned to her. “Thank you.”

She turned to Sarah. “And thank you. Being stripped out of my clothes in a room full of men is more than I can take.”

Duke smiled and glanced at Will. “I guess that’s settled. Stay here while we get your bath ready, and I’ll come get you.”

Desire, OK Founding Fathers Trilogy

Savage Desire

(Desire, Oklahoma
The Founding Fathers 3)

[Siren Ménage Everlasting: Erotic Western Ménage a Quatre Romance, M/F/M/M, HEA]

Raised in a bordello, Sarah Smith knew it was only a matter of time before she’d have to earn her keep on her back, the way her mother did, instead of doing the washing and cleaning. When one of the bordello’s meanest customers—an outlaw—noticed her, she knew her time had run out. She rushed to pack her things, only to discover that she’d accidentally stolen the outlaw’s gold. Running away, she finds herself on a train, headed for Desire, Oklahoma.

Met by the tall, dark Indian, she finds herself drawn to him, and before she knew it, found herself married to him—and his two brothers. She knew, though, that Willy would come after her—and his gold. Realizing the danger she’d brought to her new home, she runs away, determined to keep her new husbands safe. But Hawke, Blade, and Phoenix Royal aren’t intimidated by Willy, and will do anything to protect her.

Excerpt

Sarah woke slowly, wondering where she was. A strange lethargy made her feel as if she floated, and she thought back to the time she’d spent with Hawke, Blade and Phoenix in the spring.

Hearing the unmistakable sounds of low voices, she tried to turn toward them, but her body wouldn’t obey her.

She felt dizzy. Weak.

The only thing she seemed able to move was her right hand, and when she did, she encountered what felt like cool grass instead of warm water.

Pain in her side, shoulder and thigh slowly let itself be known, and grew stronger with every passing second.

God, it hurt, throbbing with every beat of her heart.

She never knew something could hurt this much.

She kept moving her hand, loving the feel of coolness against her heated skin.

She tried to open her eyes—the feeling that something was very wrong taking hold of her and not letting go.

A wave of terror washed over her at the mental image of Hawke and Blade running toward her.

An ear piercing scream of rage.

Shouts and gunshots.

Oh, God. Were they dead?

A sob escaped, and then another, the pain in her side and shoulder nothing compared to the agony in her heart.

“We’re here, love. We’re here.” Blade’s voice came to her as if from a great distance, low and gentle, but with a desperation she’d never heard in it before. “Don’t thrash around. Easy, love. You’ll open up those wounds again.”

Wounds?

Had she been shot?

A hand pressed against her forehead, so cool and wonderful against her heated skin. “She’s even warmer than before.”

Struggling to fight her way through the fog surrounding her, she hung onto Blade’s voice like a lifeline. “Blade?”

“Yes, love. It’s me. Hawke and Phoenix are here with you, too.”

The sound of water, followed by a cooler cloth being placed on her forehead drew another moan from her. “Are we dead?” She saw no other way of explaining the strange feeling that made her hurt while floating.

“No, little one. We’re not dead. Open your eyes for me, Sarah.”

The command in Hawke’s voice had her fighting to open them, the need to see him again giving her the strength she hadn’t known she possessed. “Can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Open your eyes right now, Sarah.” The underlying fear in his harsh tone made her stomach clench, and using every ounce of willpower she possessed, she forced her eyes open to find herself staring into Hawke’s dark ones.

Only inches from hers, his eyes, narrowed, swirling with an emotion her brain struggled to identify.

He smiled tenderly, but his body remained tight with tension. “That’s my girl. See? I knew you could do it.”

Sarah tried to reach for him, but she couldn’t quite drum up the energy. “You’re not dead.” The memory of the looks on their faces when they’d ridden out and the anger in their eyes came back in a rush.

He took the cloth from her forehead and she heard the sound of splashing water again. “No, little one. We’re all alright.”

Another hand touched her leg. “You’re the only one of us that got hurt. I’m sorry I didn’t shoot a second earlier. Willy and his men shot at you the same time we shot at them. I’m so sorry, honey.” The self-disgust in Phoenix’s voice had her turning her head to look at him, the effort taking the last of her strength.

“Willy?”

Phoenix’s jaw clenched. “He and his men are all dead. Pity. I had some serious plans for them.” His expression softened. “Honey, your momma’s here.”

Suddenly, she remembered seeing her mother and the evidence of her mistreatment. Another moan escaped, the pain in her side intensifying. “Why?”

Hawke rinsed the cloth again and ran it down her neck to her chest. “That sick bastard thought he could have both of you, and use each of you to intimidate the other. She’s safe now. She wouldn’t go to sleep until she saw that you were all right.”

“Am I?”

“You’re gonna be fine.” Blade slid a hand under her neck, lifting her head, and cursing when she moaned at the sharp pain in her shoulder. “I’m sorry, love. I want you to drink some more water. You in a lot of pain?”

“Pain. Fuzzy.”

Hawke rinsed the cloth out again. “That’s the laudanum. It’s wearing off. We’re gonna need to give you a little more. We need for you to sleep and stop moving around. Will and Doc Stanton sewed you up real good and we don’t want you ripping out their work.”

She didn’t care for the idea of being sewn up, but was thankful that she hadn’t known about it at the time. “Wanna leave.”

Phoenix touched his lips to a spot close to where pain radiated from her thigh. “Just sleep, honey. Eb’s coming out with the buckboard in the morning. We’ll go back to the cabin nice and slow so we don’t rip anything open. We’ll take care of everything.”

The darkness couldn’t be held at bay much longer, and she had to make sure they understood her before it took over again.

“No. Leave. Goin’ to Cal-calforna. Made a mess of everythin’. Don’t blame you for hatin’ me.”

The sudden silence that fell heavily around her spoke volumes.

The pain in her heart grew, a pain no amount of laudanum could take away.

A tear leaked from the corner of each eye, but she knew she didn’t have the energy to brush them away.

She didn’t even have the chance as darkness closed in on her once again.

Scandalous Desire

(Desire, Oklahoma
The Founding Fathers 2)

Erotic Western Ménage a Trois Romance M/F/M, public exhibition, bondage, spanking, HEA

Left with her uncle by her mother, Savannah Perry didn’t have an easy life. Overworked and emotionally scarred, she dreams of escape.

Meeting Wyatt Matlock and Hayes Hawkins, she falls under their spell, and in a night of passion, gives herself to them, never realizing that she’d been starving for love.

Ashamed and desperate for a new life, Savannah slips away from town and heads toward freedom. Before she can start a life somewhere else, though, she needs to make sure her friend is all right.

She heads to Desire, Oklahoma, a town her friend’s husbands have built, a town where people can live as they choose.

Wyatt and Hayes, though, aren’t about to let her get away. They follow her, protecting her, knowing they have to do whatever they can in order to keep her here with them forever.

Excerpt

“Same old Eb. Always bossing everyone around. You know, the ranch got much quieter after you left again.”

Lifting a brow, he smiled coolly. “How would you know? You left right after we did.”

Savannah got a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“How did you know that?”

“We told him.”

Too shocked to hide her gasp at the deep masculine voice that came from somewhere behind her, Savannah swallowed heavily, staring at a wide-eyed Maggie. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to turn around and face the men she dreamed about every night.

The sight of Wyatt Matlock and Hayes Hawkins, as always, stole her breath and made her insides flutter and grow warm.

Wyatt towered over her, his brown eyes appearing even darker and more watchful than usual. Steady on hers, they held a knowledge and intimacy that made her nipples tighten and her stomach clench.

The lines around his eyes, lines formed by years of squinting into the sun, seemed even more pronounced now than they did the last time she saw him, but it did nothing to detract from his good looks.

His features, always hard and masculine, seemed even harder now, the anger in his face and in his stance more intimidating than she remembered.

Sliding her gaze to Hayes, she swallowed again, fighting not to take several steps back.

Hard. Cold. Deadly.

Looking at him now, she had trouble believing he was the same man who crooned to her, holding her close and caressing her after taking her.

Standing an inch or two taller than Wyatt, Hayes eyed her coldly, his green eyes glittering like chips of ice. His hair appeared dark inside the store, but she knew that in the sun, it shone with a reddish tint, one that hinted at the temper that had been known to make even the most hardened criminals cautious.

For a split second, tenderness shone in his eyes, before it was quickly shuddered, and she saw a glimpse of the man he’d been that night. No matter how hard he appeared, he wanted her.

She knew it with a certainty she seldom felt about anything.

The knowledge scared her to death.

His hands clenched at his sides as though he had to restrain himself from reaching for her, but she knew that if they’d been alone, she would have already been pulled into his arms and nestled against his massive chest.

U.S. Marshals from head to toe, Wyatt and Hayes looked every inch the hard-nosed lawmen, men with reputations for being the best.

The coldest, the meanest of lawmen.

Men who went up against the worst outlaws and always came out on top.

Men who could track anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Men who made even the most seasoned gunslingers shake in their boots.

Men she hadn’t seen since the night she left Kansas City.

The night they’d taken her virginity.

It took every ounce of self-control she possessed to smile coolly and nod in their direction, while her insides twisted with nerves.

“Wyatt. Hayes.”

Unsettled by their anger, she ignored Eb’s low chuckle coming from somewhere behind her. Her breath caught when Wyatt stepped closer.

Standing directly in front of her, he effectively blocked the shopkeeper’s view and reached out to touch her cheek, leaving a trail of fire behind.

“Don’t take that cool tone with me. I know better. You’re trembling.”

Savannah’s face burned, and she tried to step back, but he caught her arm, preventing it.

His gaze moved over her face for several long seconds before he nodded once in satisfaction. “You should be embarrassed for running away like that. You were almost attacked twice, and it’s only because Hayes and I took care of those men before they could get to you that you arrived here unscathed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be allowed to be alone again.”

Glancing at Hayes, Savannah swallowed again, his intense scrutiny leaving her shaken.

“What are you talking about? You had no idea where I was. You couldn’t have tracked me.”

Lifting a brow, Wyatt grinned coldly.

“We’ve been following you ever since you left Kansas City.”

Savannah blinked, not even attempting to hide her surprise. “Why?”

Shaking his head, Wyatt smiled faintly. “You know the answer to that, Savannah.”

She couldn’t stop glancing at Hayes, unnerved by his cold silence. “What you want from me isn’t possible.”

Wyatt’s smile widened. “Of course it is. We want you with us. We’ll make it possible.”

Suddenly aware of Eb’s and Maggie’s attention, she forced a sarcastic smile. “If you wanted my company so badly, why didn’t you ride with me instead of trailing behind?” The thought of being watched made her uneasy.

Wyatt stepped closer and bent, keeping his voice low. “We wanted to know where you were headed.” Cupping her jaw, he slid his thumb over her bottom lip.

“We figured you were shaken by leaving-and other things-and that you needed some time alone.”

Hayes, with his hands on his hips, dangerously close to the guns he wore there, turned his head to glare at the shopkeeper, who’d moved closer in an obvious attempt to eavesdrop on their conversation.

“What do you want?”

The shopkeeper paled. “I couldn’t, uh, help but overhear. Uh, she called you Wyatt and Hayes. You, uh, wouldn’t happen to be the U.S. Marshals, Wyatt Matlock and Hayes Hawkins, would you?”

Every hard line of Hayes’s body tightened with threatening menace.

“Yeah. So?”

Shooting a smug look at Savannah, the shopkeeper came forward, pointing at her.

“I knew she was trouble. She’s a thief, isn’t she? And look how she dresses! What kind of woman, other than an outlaw, wears pants and a holster? I knew she was no good. I knew it. I told Emma that she looks like trouble. I been watchin’ her every time she comes in here, just to make sure she don’t steal nothin’. She must have really done something bad for you to be after her. Did she kill somebody?”

He eyed Eb nervously, but straightened to his full height as though proud that he’d done something that Eb would be thankful for.

Amused, Savannah lifted a brow, sharing a look with Maggie.

Wyatt, on the other hand, looked far from amused. His face turned to stone, devoid of all expression as he turned and faced the other man squarely, placing his body between the shopkeeper and Savannah.

A muscle worked in Hayes’s jaw, his eyes turning even colder.

“Miss Perry is no outlaw. She’s the daughter of a preacher and happens to be our woman.”

He took a step toward the shopkeeper, beating Wyatt by a split second.

“If I hear any talk about her, or if I hear about you treating her with anything but the utmost respect, I won’t be happy at all.”

Reaching out a fist, he grabbed the shopkeeper by the collar and lifted him several inches off the floor.

“You might want to pass that along.”

Untamed Desire

(Desire, Oklahoma
The Founding Fathers 1)

Desire, Oklahoma: The Founding Fathers… and the courageous women who dare to love them.

Here is how it all begins…

When Eb and Jeremiah Tyler left their father’s ranch five years ago, Maggie Simms thought she’d never see them again. But now they’re back. But different.

In the years they’ve been gone, they’ve become strangers–hard, cold men she barely recognizes. Dangerous men. But her heart knows them. And knows she’d never survive watching them walk away again, even though they see her as nothing more than the woman they’d helped raise, one who understands ranch life.

Knowing she could never let them suspect that she loves them both, she dreams of marrying one of them and living happily ever after on their father’s ranch. But she’s stunned to learn they have plans of their own–plans to share her. To take her away from the only home she’d ever known. To a ranch in Oklahoma, called the Circle T. In a town they call Desire.

Excerpt

Margaret Simms used the back of her hand to wipe away yet another tear that leaked from the corner of her eye. She watched in a kind of stupor as several of the men from the Shenandoah helped lower the pine box into the damp earth, having a hard time believing the scene playing out before her was real. She’d expected it for some time, had thought herself prepared for it.

She wasn’t. How did someone ever prepare for something like this?

Her only real family was dead.

To make it even worse, her father’s death made the always lingering ache for Eb and Jeremiah Tyler almost unbearable. She wanted them here. She wanted them to take her in their arms and tell her that everything would be all right.

They’d always made everything all right for her.

Anger crept in, slicing through the numbness. She didn’t need them and never would again.

Swallowing another sob, she stiffened when an arm came around her shoulders, only to slump again when a voice sounded low in her ear.

“Your father was a good foreman-and a good friend. He’ll be missed, Maggie. I know you must be afraid, but you’re not alone, honey.”

Maggie looked up over her shoulder into the eyes of her father’s dearest friend, a man who’d always been like a second father to her, Ace Tyler. She couldn’t help but worry that the lines on his face appeared much more pronounced today, and his own eyes were wet with unshed tears. Forcing a faint smile, she leaned into him. “How do you always know what I’m thinking?”

Ace Tyler had been her father’s friend since before she was born. Her parents had lived in town when her father first started working at the Shenandoah, but her father had come to live at the ranch when her mother died, shortly after her birth. Since then, the housekeeper, Esmeralda, had pretty much taken over raising her.

Mr. Tyler squeezed her shoulder again. “I’ve known you since you were a baby. We all had a hand in raising you. Eb and Jeremiah always knew what you were thinking, too. Remember?”

“They’re gone.” She couldn’t talk about them today. It hurt too much. She needed them there beside her as much as she needed her next breath.

But they were gone, and had been for a long time.

Pushing back the anger that rose again, she forced a smile, not wanting to upset the older man.

“And now Daddy’s gone. Thank God I still have you and Esmeralda.”

“There are other people that love you, and you know it.”

Maggie shrugged, her gaze sliding involuntarily to one of the ranch hands who stood beside the grave, holding a shovel and staring at her hungrily. “Fred doesn’t love me.”

Mr. Tyler’s gaze followed hers. “No, he doesn’t, and I’m glad you’re smart enough to know that. I don’t like that look in his eye. He wants you, and he’s not doing anything to hide it anymore. He tells everyone on the place he loves you, but I don’t think Fred loves anything but himself. Seems the young man has plans to marry you. He’ll soon find out just how wrong he is about that.”

Irritated, she turned away. “He already has. I’ve already told him that we can be nothing more than friends.”

In fact, Fred’s advances had started making her feel uncomfortable, so she’d already told him to stay the hell away from her.

Twice.

But Mr. Tyler didn’t need to know that. She didn’t want Fred to lose his job because of her, and she was confident she could handle him.

“Your daddy threatened to shoot him if he came near you again. Your daddy’s not even in the ground and Fred’s sniffin’ around you. I won’t have it, Maggie.”

Maggie sighed, knowing that only his boss’s presence kept Fred from approaching her. “He just came over to tell me he was sorry about Daddy.”

Ace nodded. “I’m sure that’s what he said, but he’s lookin’ for more.” Pushing her hair back from her face, he smiled gently. “Honey, your daddy’s been sick quite awhile now, and you’ve been a godsend to him. But now it’s time for you to live your life. Time for you to get married and have babies you can teach to do all the things that, according to the Reverend Perry, you’re not supposed to do.”

Maggie smiled as she knew Mr. Tyler meant her to and looked again toward her father’s grave, the lump in her throat growing.

The ache for Eb and Jeremiah grew, when she’d been sure it couldn’t possibly get any bigger.

Smiling through her tears, she looked up at the older man, desperate to change the subject. “I tried to get Daddy to marry again, but he always said you were two peas in a pod. You both lost your wives young, and yet neither one of you ever remarried.”

Mr. Tyler’s hold tightened briefly on her shoulder as he turned her and started toward the buckboard. He walked stiffly, as he usually did when his old bones protested the cold and the damp. “We both knew that there’d be only one love in our lives. Anyone else woulda just been second best. That’s no way to treat a lady.”

Leading her back to where the others had gathered, he didn’t say anything, just held her arm to steady her over the rough ground of the cemetery. He helped her into the buckboard, placing a blanket over her skirts before starting the ride back to his ranch.

Other than the men who’d taken Esmeralda back already, the ranch hands who’d come to the funeral rode on either side of them, their boots polished and most of the dust beaten from their cowboy hats.

A few had been left behind to bury her father once she was out of sight, and Fred didn’t look happy to be one of them. There was no doubt in her mind that Mr. Tyler had done it on purpose.

She looked around again in vain for her best friend, Savannah Perry. The only thing that would have kept Savannah away today was Reverend Perry’s refusal to let her come.

Stan Perry was the minister in Kansas City and didn’t care for his niece’s friendship with Maggie. He had a hair-trigger temper that went off with very little provocation, something he kept carefully hidden.

But Maggie knew.

And worried.

He hated Maggie and everyone who worked at the Tyler ranch. A greedy man, his jealousy ate at him until nothing remained but bitterness. He’d hidden his hatred from Eb and Jeremiah, but once they left, he hadn’t bothered to hide it from her, warning Savannah to avoid Maggie right in front of her.

“You stay away from that heathen, Savannah. You hear me? The Tylers own her as much as they own all those cows and horses. She runs wild over there with all those men. She even rides and hunts like a man. It ain’t seemly, I tell you. It just ain’t seemly.”

He turned to Maggie, lifting his chin and looking down at her, not bothering to hide his distaste. “Stay away from her, Margaret. I don’t want her turning out like you or her mother.”

Savannah’s mother had moved in with her brother when the father of her unborn child was killed in a gunfight in Savannah, Georgia, before they’d had the chance to get married. Maggie had long ago lost count of how many men she’d been through since then. Two years ago, while riding in a carriage with one of her beaus, the carriage tipped, killing her.

Savannah had lived alone with her uncle ever since.

Mr. Tyler, in his usual headstrong way, had arranged for another minister from the next town to handle her father’s service. It would give Mr. Perry another reason to hate her, but she no longer cared what he thought.

Her only concern was Savannah.

Mr. Tyler snapped the reins and glanced over at her, his jaw tight. “Your friend would have come if she could. Her uncle’s not right in the head, and he’s getting worse. Now that your daddy’s gone, I’m responsible for you, which’ll make him hate you even more. I don’t want you around the Reverend Perry unless others are around. I don’t trust him.”

Staring straight ahead, she nodded, firming her lips. “Savannah usually meets me in town anyway. I’m worried about her.” The secret she’d unwillingly kept could no longer be contained. Looking around to make sure the others weren’t close enough to hear, she kept her voice low. “I’m afraid he hits her, but she won’t admit it.”

Mr. Tyler’s face hardened. “Suspected as much. He’s been warned already, but I’ll keep a closer watch.”

Maggie breathed a sigh of relief, trusting that Mr. Tyler would indeed watch out for her friend. “Last week I saw bruises on her arm. She moved slow, like she hurt, but I can’t get her to talk about it.”

He nodded once. “I’ll take care of it. You just stay away from him.”

They rode in silence for about a mile, both obviously lost in their own thoughts. The ranch hands didn’t speak much at all, although several looked her way with sympathetic smiles. She’d known most of them her entire life and smiled back, grateful for their presence.

When the wind kicked up, Maggie tugged her shawl more closely around her. She wore the warmest one she owned, but still it didn’t hold off the damp chill in the air, a chill that seemed to go all the way to her bones.

She’d been cold ever since she’d seen her father lying on the stable floor holding his chest. Now, nothing she did seemed to warm her up.

If only Eb and Jeremiah were here, they would make her warm and get rid of this lonely emptiness inside her.

“I sent for Eb and Jeremiah.”