Anna Martin has never lived her life in accordance with what others might think. Now, hiding behind the trunk of a tree, she’s beginning to truly regret that fact. Listening to her reputation being ripped apart is making her suspect that her Ma’s warnings are most likely coming true. After all, what man would ever consider courting-let alone wedding-a woman who never stops to consider what consequences her actions might have?
Richard Andrews has just returned to Crooked Creek after being gone for three years. The day he’d left, he’d heard Anna screeching that she hated being a girl. He’d also seen her spirit as her Pa had picked her up, turned her across his knee and given her a spanking. Richard has secretly loved Anna for years, and has returned to claim the feisty little copper-haired girl who has grown into a beautiful woman. He loves her spirit and her determination, and knows both will serve her well. Without her by his side, the dream he is working so hard to fulfill would be worthless. He wants the angel he knows she is-as well as the wanton lover he can detect in her flashing eyes. By the time they reached a marriage agreement, she’d know that she was loved and could always count on him to keep her in line-even if that means turning his passionate pioneer over his knee on a regular basis. Now all he has to do is convince her to trust him; convince her to become his wife.
Can Anna push aside her pride and actually turn to another for help? She remembers Mr. Andrews very well from when she was just fifteen years old. She’d been devastated when he’d simply ridden away that day. Why was he back, and what did he mean when he asked her to trust him? All she really knew was that, the moment he took her hand, her heart was lost…
She began her stroll, not admitting to herself that she’d purposefully chosen a path around the wagons in order to avoid James seeing her. Humming, she walked down the road, the sun beating on her back, a cool breeze on her face. As she neared the outskirts of the town, she could see some buildings, and people walking on the wooden sidewalks just a short distance ahead. Her excitement grew and she smiled at a woman who was sweeping the porch in front of a small house on the edge of the town. The woman waved and called out a greeting. Anna returned it, her voice happy and carefree.
Anna didn’t realize how far she had traveled into the town until she felt someone grab her. Screaming, she kicked out with her feet as she was lifted completely off the ground. Her heart pounded and she screamed for Richard at the top of her lungs, straining against the incredibly tight hold. She was hauled around and saw that her husband was the one holding her. Her voice cut off in mid-scream.
“Damn it, Richard, you scared me to death! Hell’s bells, don’t you ever do that again!” She held a palm against her pounding heart and breathed a huge sigh of relief—one that didn’t relax her as she saw his face. She immediately began to struggle again; she had seen him disappointed, she had seen him upset, but never had she seen him so angry.
“Just what in the hell were you thinking, Annabelle Rose!” he thundered. “I told you to stay at the wagon. What are you doing in the middle of town?”
Middle of town? I had only meant to go to the very edge and no further. Annabelle swallowed hard and watched as several men, including Mr. Morgan, stepped out of the storefront to witness what the ruckus was all about. Seeing Richard’s men, she lowered her eyes, her face flaming.
“Answer me young lady,” Richard ordered, still holding her arms tightly.
Anna winced. “I just wanted to see a little. I just meant to walk to the edge. I swear I didn’t mean to come this far. Please don’t be mad at me.” Grabbing for anything that might make the look of fury in his eyes lessen, she continued. “Don’t worry, I did the clothes first—well, mostly.”
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Image courtesy of Maggie Ryan
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