Authors: Sylvia McDaniel
Tags: #A Western Set Historical Romance Novel
The Marshal Takes A Bride
Table Of Contents
Copyright © 2001 Sylvia McDaniel
First Printing June 2001 by Kensington Publishing Corp
All Rights Returned to the Author
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Cover by Kathleen Baldwin
McDaniel, Sylvia (2012). The Marshal Takes A Bride.
Marshal Tucker Burnett was the last unattached male in a family that had experienced more weddings in the last year than he cared to remember. And he planned on retaining his single status. With a shudder he thought of his two strapping brothers who had succumbed to his mother’s matchmaking ways and was more determined than ever to hang on to his freedom
First it had been Travis, the oldest of the three, and then his long-lost brother Tanner had fallen under the spell of love and settled down.
Tucker shivered, more from the thought of marriage than the cold, as he leaned against the wall of the El Paso Hotel and waited for the stage, his hat pulled down low, shading his eyes, his arms crossed over his chest. He was a wandering man, no ties, no attachments, no ring binding him to forever.
Turning his attention to the present, he cast his gaze to the dusty empty street. His mother had sent him on what he was certain was a fool’s errand. For the last month, his mother, Eugenia had made him promise to meet the stage from Abilene, Texas, twice a week, awaiting some mysterious package.
Tucker feared what kind of package his mother was referring to and only hoped it wasn’t like the last surprise she had given him, a mail-order bride who had fallen in love with his older brother Tanner. Eugenia’s kind of surprises, he didn’t need.
After his mother’s last attempt at matchmaking, he had warned her to stay out of his business, and he had meant every stinking word. She had promised
that this package was for the much-anticipated newest family member, baby Burnett.
His brother Travis and his wife, Rose, were expecting their first child this spring, and his mother had turned her attention away from finding a mate for her remaining unmarried son, to the arrival of the first grandchild. And thank God she had. Unlike his brothers, he intended on keeping his freedom.
A sharp, cold north wind swirled about the street, picking up dust, stinging exposed skin with a painful reminder that spring was still weeks away. The stage turned the comer of Main Street and came rattling down the road, the horses eager to reach their destination. The wooden contraption pulled to a halt in front of Tucker, the dust settling back to earth. He pushed back his hat and uncrossed his ankles, putting both feet firmly on the ground. God, he hoped whatever his mother had ordered arrived today, so he could quit this silly errand.
Tucker watched as the driver climbed down from the box and dropped to the ground. He placed a small step in front of the door for the passengers to step on before their feet touched the ground. The driver swung open the door, and a small boy who looked to be around the age of two jumped from the stage to the step, laughing gaily. A feminine hand covered by an emerald glove held the toddler’s small fingers securely.
Tucker's gaze went from the child’s hand up the arm to the woman who wore green gloves. His eyes found hers and became lost in those pools of blue sky he had never forgotten. For a moment he thought the ground was going to fall out from beneath him as he stared across what seemed like the thousand miles that had separated them until just this moment.
Dr. Sarah Kincaid had returned home looking more beautiful than when he had left her almost three years ago, and it appeared she hadn’t come home alone.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he muttered beneath his breath. He swallowed at the sight of the woman he had chased around the schoolyard as a boy. The doctor who had kept him from dying in Tombstone. The good woman whose bed he had left in the middle of the night.
Dear God, she had returned. After three years would she still be angry?
He let his gaze travel over the blond hair that was carefully coiffed beneath a stylish hat that added a minimal amount of height to her already tall frame. The color matched her green traveling coat which hid the generous curves he knew so well.
Their eyes met and held for what seemed an eternity, and Tucker’s mind replayed the memory of Sarah’s bare shoulder being kissed by a sliver of moonlight, the sheets tangled about her waist and hips, her breasts peeking from beneath a blond curl.
That one night in her arms had been the biggest threat to his freedom he had ever experienced, and he had left before she tempted him into staying forever. He had left before he knew whether he had ruined a perfectly good friendship by having sex with the lady doctor.
And now here she was proudly standing before him on this cold February morning, shivering, a child gripping her hand.
“Momma,” the child said, tugging on her hand, eager to scamper down the step and escape the confines of the carriage.
“Just a moment, son.” She stepped down from the coach, her eyes never wavering from Tucker’s. She walked toward him and he met her hallway.
“Tucker Burnett,” she acknowledged, her voice stiff and formal as if the night they made love had never happened.
“Hello, Sarah. How have you been?” He swallowed, his palms suddenly perspiring.
“Just fine,” she politely responded, the warm, friendly smile he remembered absent from her full, sweet lips. “I’ve come to visit my grandfather.”
They stared at one another, their conversation stilted and awkward. Tucker resisted the urge to put her back on that stage, shut the door and tell the driver to continue right on out of town. He knew the thought was irrational, yet somehow he didn’t care.
That one night with the doctor had made him forget his dreams and act irrationally.
He nodded. “If you’d like, I’d be happy to carry your bags to your grandfather’s hotel.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. Lucas and I will manage,” she said, her voice polite and cool.
“Lucas?” he questioned.
“My son,” she replied, pulling the boy around beside her.
“I didn’t know you had married,” he said, staring at the child, who twisted behind his mother, more interested in what was going on down the street.
She was married and had a child; he was safe.
“Mrs. Walter Scott James,” she said as she pulled the active boy forward. “Lucas, meet Mr. Burnett.”
The boy was dressed in a blue double-breasted overcoat, and Tucker hoped his mother had never dolled him up in such a fashion. The resemblance between Sarah and her son was obvious with the boy’s blond curls and fair skin. He couldn’t help but wonder about the child’s father. Who was he, and when had she met him?
Tucker bent down to Lucas and tipped his hat. “Marshal Tucker Burnett.” He gripped the boy’s hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you. How old are you?”
The boy glanced up at Tucker, then pulled his hand away and buried his face in his mother’s skirts. She patted him on the back reassuringly.
“He’s, tired and so am I,” she said, her voice brusque.
“More reason for me to carry your bags to the hotel.” He stood glancing around at the trunks the driver was unloading, wondering which ones were hers.
“Fine,” she said, her gloved fingers pushing a strand of blond hair out of her face. He noticed how her gaze kept drifting to the badge pinned to his chest.
“Marshal Burnett? That’s a far cry from what you were doing the last time I saw you,” she said, a slight edge to her voice.
He saw a flash of anger in her eyes and felt a twinge of anxiety. Dear God, could she still be mad after all these years?
The two good friends had become lovers for just one long, lonely night, and somehow he was afraid he had damaged their friendship forever.
While she lay sleeping, he had dressed and snuck out the back door, leaving her to wake up alone. Yet he had left dozens of women in the same manner he had left the good doctor. So why should she be any different?
“Not long after you patched me up in Tombstone, I decided it was time for a career change,” he told her, the memory of the lonely days he had spent contemplating his life after he left her returning with a poignant pang.
“You’re smarter than you look,” she said, and turned her attention to the unloading of several bags.
He cringed at her remark, though veiled. He had known when he left that morning nearly three years ago that she would be angry. But a man could hope that time and distance would have cooled her fury. After all, she had managed to hog-tie some poor man into family and commitment.
Once the bags were gathered around her, she glanced back at him. “I’m ready if you’d like to take me to my grandfather. I haven’t seen his new hotel.”
“Let me check with the driver, and then we’ll walk. This is his hotel, but the main entrance is down the street a ways.” He stepped over to the driver and asked the young man, “Any packages for Eugenia Burnett?”
“No packages,” the driver said.
“Thanks,” Tucker murmured. He hoped to God that this wasn’t the package his mother had been referring to—that Sarah wasn’t the surprise she was waiting for. Maybe she was just pretending to be all wrapped up in this new grandchild. Maybe she was still up to her matchmaking ways.
“Come on.” He took Sarah by the arm, and she gently but firmly pulled away. Still, she continued to walk beside him. “Is your grandfather expecting you? I hadn’t heard him say anything about you coming home.”
“No. He doesn’t know. I didn’t want to worry him, and I didn’t know when exactly I’d be able to get away. I had to find someone to tend to my patients while I was gone.”