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A BOUQUET OF BRIDES COLLECTION
For Seven Bachelors, This Bouquet of Brides Means a Happily Ever After
BY DONNA SCHLACHTER
Lily Duncan—“Cactus Lil” to friend and foe alike—is as prickly as her name implies, and she likes it that way. Arizona in 1885 is a land as harsh as the moon, but Lil, born and raised near Cave Creek, feels at one with the sand, rocks, and giant saguaros. She loves living in the desert, and is happiest on her own on her small cattle ranch near Cave Creek, Arizona. Although she’s never been in love before, she pens romantic short stories for a magazine under her pen name of Daisy Duncan.
Peter Golding has never been west of the Mississippi, but a tender young woman named Daisy who writes of love and relationships intrigues him. Through reading her powerful descriptions of what love should be, Daisy’s stories have captured a part of his heart.
When Peter’s uncle sends him to find Miss Daisy Duncan and bring her back to New York City, Peter decides to take matters a step further and bring her back as his bride—surely then his uncle will be impressed with her. But when he arrives, he quickly realizes that Miss Lily Duncan is no shrinking violet waiting to be rescued. In fact, she has to rescue him several times.
Cactus Lil finds her heart torn between this stranger from the east and her desire for independence. If she surrenders to her feelings, will she be forced to do his bidding? When she finds a telegram from her editor telling Peter to bring her back or lose his job, she believes his attentions to be self-serving. Will Peter choose her or his job? And will she decide to surrender her heart or send him packing—again?
Double D Ranch
Near Cave Creek, Arizona Territory, 1885
Sally Jo sank to the ground beneath the pain of her wrenched ankle. “Drat. I simply cannot walk one more step in these infernal boots.”
Thomas Peabody, broad of shoulders and narrow of waist, knelt beside her, cupping her aching foot in hands more accustomed to roping steers or shooting the eye out of a gnat at a hundred yards. “Miss Sally, allow me to assist you.”
Sally Jo stared into his eyes. Why hadn’t she ever noticed they matched perfectly the color of the summer sky? “Why, Mr. Peabody, you’re most gallant.”
He straightened, reached a hand toward her, and pulled her to her feet. When she tried to put weight on her aching foot, a jab of pain like a hot poker shot through her, and she collapsed into his arms.
Right where she wanted to be.
He pulled her near, and she closed her eyes, offering her mouth to him. Greedily, as though drawing his very life essence from her, he covered her lips with his own. When she thought she would suffocate, she opened her eyes, and saw mirrored what her racing heart telegraphed to her own mind: this was love.
Lily Duncan surveyed the words written on the page as she chewed the end of her fountain pen. Ink blotches on her fingers attested to her hard work this morning. A clicking sound like a metronome tickled at the periphery of her hearing while she considered whether she needed to change the word telegraphed to something more ooshy-gooshy romantic.
She tipped her head to listen. What was that sound?
Lily tossed her pen on the desk and glanced at the silver clock resting on the leather-topped surface. Time was running out. She had less than two hours to finish this story and get it on the last mail stage of the day. That snooty editor, Mr. Hogan, in New York, was waiting for it.
Not that she knew for certain he was snooty. Truth was, she didn’t know anything about him.
She’d only met him through correspondence, so he could be any age, any degree of pretentiousness, any color for that matter.
But that didn’t stop her creating an image in her mind: middle-aged, a monocle, oiled hair parted down the middle and slicked back, muttonchop sideburns, and a beard, of course. A house on Fifth Avenue, a society wife, private carriage, servants, and twelve children. At least.
She sighed. Thinking about all the reasons why she didn’t like the man responsible for buying her stories to publish in his fancy eastern magazine wasn’t going to get the story written. Or mailed.
She pushed back from the desk. What she’d written would have to do. She couldn’t work with such a racket. She stepped to the window and listened. Not coming from the front. Must be out back. She crossed the bedroom-turned-office to the window facing the rear of the house.
This view was much more utilitarian than the rolling desert and giant saguaros surrounding the house on the other three sides. A small barn for her three horses, a hen house, corral, and privy filled her line of vision.
Yes, this is where the sound came from.
And she knew its exact origin.
Lily hefted the Colt .38 on her hip. She’d take care of that she-rattler right now. She strode to the back door and stepped into the late afternoon heat of the desert.
The musky smell of mesquite, heated by the sun, filled her nose as she paused on the doorstep. How she loved the desert. She couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Certainly not a place like New York City. No way. Give her cactus and rocks, cattle and dipping tanks, horses and leather any day. Unlike her heroines, she wouldn’t darken the doorway of a town bigger than Cave Creek. And she sure wouldn’t fall for the first man who looked at her twice.
Not that many men looked at her even once. She wasn’t ugly. At least, not ugly like a javelina, with its short bristly hide and snarling tusks. And not ugly like a turkey vulture, with its naked head and red eyes.
She preferred men’s dungarees to skirts. She wasn’t much practiced at cooking and cleaning. But she could outshoot, outride, and outsmart most men she knew.
Which was probably why most men didn’t take a second look at her.
Lily neared the woodpile. She’d been meaning to clean that mess up, sweep out the old tinder from the previous year. Even prop the wood up on a couple of timbers to discourage snakes and other varmints wanting to find a warm place to spend the night. But her best range cow had a difficult birth, and her horses needed shoeing, and the hole in the roof . . .
Too much work for one person. Not enough hours in the day to get everything done. What had she been thinking when she started writing?
An escape, that’s what. Something to while away the long evenings.
She pulled on a pair of leather gloves and tipped her head to one side. If she didn’t get that low-down, no-good rattler out soon, there’d be a passel of little ones slithering around.
She glanced toward the horizon. The sun dropped like a lead sinker as though intent on ensuring she missed her deadline to get that story mailed today.
And she sure didn’t need Mr. Persnickety Hogan upset that her latest installment of Love in the Wild Wild West wasn’t on time.
Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid author who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a local critique group, and teaches writing classes and courses. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
Links to Donna’s website, blog, books, etc.
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