High-button dresses aren’t made for hot Texas springs—or the burning desire Haven Anderson has for Deputy Matthew Frank… After a lifetime of friendship, Matthew and Haven are finally engaged, but he doesn’t seem to share Haven’s emerging passion. Feeling rejected and uncertain about her future, Haven finds herself attracted to the handsome new saloon owner, Hank Porter.
Matthew holds Haven at arm’s length, despite the love smoldering inside him… Matthew’s father was run out of town years ago for nearly killing his mother, and Matthew fears the lack of control passion can cause. Having been taken in and raised by Haven’s family, he vows to always treat her with affection and respect. The season brings cattle drives and rowdy cowboys—and Haven can’t stay away from the saloon… As the doctor’s assistant, Haven tends Hank after a fight, and befriends a lively “upstairs girl,” Callie Lee, despite orders from the Cricket Bend Sheriff—her father—to have nothing to do with anyone at the saloon. Along with the cattle drive come the lawless McKenzie brothers, a rude bounty hunter, and rumors of a dangerous man, Walker, headed their way. Caught up in this whirlwind, Haven remains torn between her love for the romantically distant Matthew and the more earthy passion offered by Hank and his scandalous reputation. Should she follow her heart or the desire that puts everything she’s known at risk? Or even more importantly, will the people she loves still be standing in the aftermath of Haven’s Flame?”
Christmas Eve in Cricket Bend
The ranch and everyone who lived and worked on it bustled. Even those just visiting for the holiday–cousins and the like–had been put to work. Hands ran back and forth at Mrs. Shaw’s orders, at the moment focused on bringing chairs from the loft of the barn to add to the long table to seat the extra mouths attending the next day’s feast.
Luke Anderson stood on the porch of the main house, just watching.
“Christmas ain’t Christmas if she don’t lose her mind a little,” Quentin Shaw chuckled as he noticed his wife barking orders at a few of the younger hands. It appeared the poor fools had brought down the wrong chairs. “Shouldn’t you be in the middle of all that, Foreman?”
Luke smiled at his employer, seeing the tease in his words. “She told me to supervise them, then walked up and started doing it herself. I don’t mean to get in her way.”
“You’ll live longer that way,” Quentin replied. “Let me give you a piece of advice, Luke. When you get yourself a wife, and she gets in a mood like this, it’s best to just stay out of her way and simply say ‘Yes, dear’ for a while.”
“I’ll remember that.”
The only woman in the whole of the world that Luke would ever consider marrying chose that moment to step out onto the porch.
Lucy Shaw was as close to heaven as a woman could be, Luke figured. A tiny little thing with the kind of shape that drove men to do stupid things, she took his breath away. For the afternoon, her dark hair was pulled back in a tail, and she wore a green work dress with the sleeves rolled up. He’d never seen her look more beautiful.
Lucy approached her father. She nodded her head toward where Mrs. Shaw was throwing her hands in the air in a melodramatic fashion. “I suppose this would be a terrible time to tell Mama that Abigail just broke the big pitcher.”
“The glass one?” Quentin asked.
“Yep. This would be a terrible time,” he agreed.
Lucy turned her eyes to Luke and gave him a little smile. “Mr. Anderson.”
“Miss Shaw,” he answered with a polite nod.
“I wonder if you might be so good as to escort me to town.” Lucy looked at her father quickly as if to explain. “I’ve seen another just like it at Harper’s store. If I get to town and buy it, there’s a chance I can get home before Mama even notices anything is wrong.”
Quentin pulled his daughter to him and kissed the top of her head. “Smartest gal in these parts, my Lucy. Luke, go with her. Take the wagon.”
“Yes sir,” Luke jumped to it. “I’d be happy to.”
“If Mama asks—“ Lucy began.
“Don’t you worry about her,” Quentin replied. “Hell, she likely won’t even notice you’re gone.”
Luke readied the wagon, and Lucy joined him after she’d grabbed a shawl. They set out quickly, riding side by side. The December air was a bit chilly, but the sun still shone and it wasn’t unpleasant.
As soon as they were out of sight of the ranch, Luke stopped the wagon.
He bent to Lucy and planted his mouth on hers. The sweetness of Lucy’s kisses could keep a man up all the night through, and stolen moments such as these were precious, especially on days like Christmas Eve. When she kissed him back, she made it last, and he felt his skin prickle with everything he felt. Damn, but he was crazy about her.
“That was a good act you pulled.”
Lucy’s eyes grew wide. “It wasn’t an act. Abigail really did break the pitcher. And Mama really will have a fit.” She put on a teasing tone. “I’m not sure what you think my intentions are, Mr. Anderson.”
“Mr. Anderson,” Luke laughed at her feigned formality and kissed her again. The moments such as these kept him going, working his fingers to the bone, each and every day. He didn’t have much, but he reckoned he’d give every bit of it for the chance to be with Lucy even for a second.
“Drive,” Lucy giggled. “If I don’t get that pitcher, poor Abigail’s hide will never hear the end of it.”
The ranch was only about a thirty minute drive from town. Cricket Bend wasn’t so much a town, at least not yet. For the time being, it was just Harper’s General Store and a livery next to a wobbly-looking saloon on a dusty street. With the war on, everyone had been stretched far for a long time, and the holiday was the first reason the citizens had found to celebrate in a long time.
On that Christmas Eve day, it seemed all the women in town were heading in and out of the general store, and all the men were doing the same to the saloon. Lucy turned to Luke as if to bid him adieu. He wasn’t stupid, he knew she figured he’d go to the Saloon while she ventured into the hen’s den of Harper’s.
“Looks like a battle,” Luke quipped.
“Might find yourself in need of a second.”
Lucy touched his hand lightly. It was an incredibly bold gesture, especially among people they both knew.
A shrill voice shot across the entirety of the store, and Lucy pulled her hand from Luke’s.
Through the throngs of women came Laura Harper herself. A schoolmate of Lucy’s, Laura had hitched herself to George Harper who had come to Cricket Bend and opened the now-bustling store. Though Laura generally held herself up high above such things, for the craziness of the day Laura wore a shop apron over her fine dress and her hair was mussed. She’d been working. Luke admired her a bit for it.
“Merry Christmas, Laura,” Lucy greeted as Laura swept through the women like they weren’t even there.
“Merry Christmas,” Luke said politely.
“Mr. Anderson,” Laura raised an eyebrow. “It’s a brave man who’d come in here today. Mind you don’t get yourself purchased and packed up by one of these ladies.”
“Oh Laura,” Lucy said. “You’re the exact person I was looking for. Do you still have that last glass pitcher I saw a few days ago?”
“You know, I think we do.”
“I must have it. Mama is in a state.”
Laura laughed. “Of course she is. We all are. It’s Christmas Eve.” Laura led them, like a snake, curving through the women carrying armloads of flour, sugar, fabric, gifts, books, and anything else they could carry, until they reached the back corner of the store where pieces of glassware were kept up high out of the reach of small children who frequented the store with their mothers. “We’re closing the store in just a few more hours, and you’d think we were never going to open again from the way everyone is scrambling. There,” Laura pointed high.
There was one glass pitcher left.
Luke stretched up and grabbed it. He heard Lucy give an audible sigh once it was in his hands.
“Thank you,” Lucy said breathlessly to Laura. “We must hurry back—“
“Now, hold on.” Laura grinned to herself. “I’ve been dying to get you alone. Benjamin Smithers came by for tea yesterday with his mother.”
“He asked about you.”
Lucy tried to hide the red flush that came to her cheeks. Though he tried to pretend otherwise, Luke listened closer as Laura talked on, as was her way. “He’s a very bold man, if I may say so. He pulled me aside and flat-out asked me if you were spoken for—“
“—or if I had any notion of someone you might have your cap set for.”
“Oh my stars.” Lucy sighed. “I certainly hope you didn’t answer his questions.”
“I did not!” Laura replied. “Mostly because I don’t know myself. I can’t imagine a better match. He’s good-looking and rich as a King. And he has his eye on you, of all people.”
“Thank you,” Lucy raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean,” Laura scoffed. “We’re none of us Princesses and Dukes around here. Is he coming out for Christmas dinner at the ranch?”
As if she realized something life-changing, Lucy froze. “He is.”
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but I believe he’s going to ask for your hand,” Laura whispered excitedly. The woman practically jumped up and down.
Lucy appeared ready to faint. Luke wasn’t sure he wouldn’t do the same. If Smithers, rich and fancy from Boston, swept Lucy up and took her away as his wife there’d be no point to going on.
Laura turned to her husband’s call. “I’ll put the pitcher on the ranch account.”
“Thank you,” Lucy sounded like she meant it, and Luke knew it wasn’t just for the pitcher. “Laura, I appreciate this more than you know.”
“Merry Christmas, you two,” Laura said, and then vanished into the cloud of skirts and commerce.
Luke and Lucy returned to the wagon. Luke gave her a hand and once she was settled into the seat passed the precious pitcher up to her. Lucy took her seat. It did not escape his notice that she was deep in her thoughts, gazing off like she often did. How he wished he could have heard what she was thinking about.
He drove the wagon out of town on the dirt road back to the ranch.
Smithers. Benjamin Smithers. Good-looking, sure, but the man carried himself with the same arrogance of all men who were born rich. Luke would have bet Benjamin wouldn’t know how to get himself dressed, let alone put in a day’s hard work. He and his Mother traveled with a valet and a lady’s maid, even out in Texas territory during a war.
Luke seethed. He worried.
They were halfway home when he couldn’t take it another moment and blurted, “Don’t marry him.”
If he’d expected her to be surprised, she wasn’t. Lucy waited a moment and weighed her words before she answered. “Then give me a reason not to.”
“Benjamin Smithers is a fine suitor. While I’ll admit I don’t love him, he’d make a good husband and father. I certainly couldn’t ask for more than what he could give his wife.” She spoke the facts with no emotion in her voice.
“You don’t want to go to Boston.” Luke gestured in disbelief. “You belong out here.”
Lucy tucked a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. “I don’t have any great desire to see Boston, but I will admit that being a rich woman with maids and servants is appealing. Imagine just sending someone off to fetch the pitcher, instead of doing it myself.”
“You’re teasing me.”
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But look at Matilda and Philip. She married him because she loved him, even though he doesn’t have a penny to his name. Now look at them. I’ve never seen two people so unhappy. And I feel so badly for that sweet little baby boy of theirs…”
The mention of Matilda Frank made Luke stop the wagon right in the road. He didn’t let go of the reins, but let his hands fall to his knees. The Franks were a young couple, no older than Luke and Lucy, but the whole town was talking about them lately. Matilda didn’t come to town as much since they’d married, and when she did she kept her eyes on the dirt and it didn’t take a fool to see the faded bruises.
“That would never happen to us,” Luke spoke quietly.
Lucy melted a little, putting her hand on his. “I know that. But it seems that Benjamin is going to ask me to marry him. Luke, if you want me to decline his incredibly generous proposal, I’m going to need a better reason than a few secret kisses behind the barn.”
In a man’s life, there came moments that changed the course of the road he traveled on. Looking at her face right then, Luke knew he’d reached one of those. What he did next would decide the rest of his life. He couldn’t mess it up.
“Lucy,” Luke shook his head. “You know how I feel about you.”
She pointed her dark eyes right at him. “I know how I think you feel about me.”
“You want the words?”
“I want the words.”
He set down the reins and turned in the seat to her, swallowing hard. “I’ve been crazy about you since the first day I came to work for your father. It gets harder and harder by the day not to pick you up and carry you out of here. You’re all I think about. I’m not a rich man, and I can’t give you servants and a lady’s maid, but if you want the words, then here they are—I love you, Lucy. I love you with all I got.”
“And?” Her hopeful eyes waited.
“And…,” Gulping, he took her hands in his and said the words he’d been trying to work up the courage to say for months. “I’d be honored if you’d be my wife.”
“You don’t look sure about that.”
“I reckon your father’s fist will have a thing or two to say about it. I haven’t asked him yet.”
Lucy squeezed his hands. “He likes you.”
“As a Foreman. As a son in law, he might think different.”
“The ranchers have been talking about you,” she spoke quieter. “They want Cricket Bend to become a real town, with a Sherriff and Mayor and everything. They’ve said more than once that you’d make a fine Sherriff if it came to that, on account of how hard you work and that you’re honest.”
“Sherriff?” He’d wanted to become a Sherriff, but had figured there’d be years of hard toil as a Deputy before that ever became an option. “They said all that?”
“They talk about all sorts of things, and assume I’m either not listening or too dumb to know what things mean. When this war is done, which they think will be soon, this town is poised to be something on account of all the ranches and the location with the hills. And you could be it’s Sherriff.”
“And you could be the Sherriff’s wife.”
“I would like that.”
“Are you saying yes to marrying me?”
“I’m saying yes.”
He put his hands on her cheeks and nearly knocked her off her seat with the force of his kiss. Lucy laughed a moment before she responded, throwing her arms around Luke in response.
“We best get back,” she remembered and pulled back. “The pitcher!”
“Right,” Luke took hold of the reins again and got the horses moving. “Your Mama might have already whipped Abigail for her heinous crime. Should we tell everyone right away? Might be kind to spare Smithers the embarrassment.”
“We’ll tell Papa first,” Lucy practically squealed as she clung to Luke’s arm as the wagon moved forward.
“Are you happy, Lucy?”
“I’m very happy, Luke. Very happy. The happiest woman in the world.”
The End….. or The Beginning.
(Haven’s Flame, the first book in the FIRES OF CRICKET BEND TRILOGY, is out now and tells the love story of Haven Anderson – daughter of Luke and Lucy.)
Meet Marie Piper!
Marie Piper is a Michigan native! She earned her B.A. in English Literature from Michigan State University, and now lives in Chicago. She loves travel, coffee, and surrounding herself with her book hoard. Marie has published several short pieces in erotica collections from House of Erotica, Coming Together, LoveSlave, Torquere Press, NineStar Press, and recently celebrated the release of Haven’s Flame, the first novel in her steamy Western Historical Romance series, FIRES OF CRICKET BEND. The second book in the series – title forthcoming – will be released in March 2016.
Want to purchase Marie’s novels?
Haven’s Flame (Fires of Cricket Bend #1)
Sarah & Jude (Jan 4, 2016)
Bunkhouse Boys (Mar 28, 2016)
Holiday Want Ads Anthology
Coming Together: Strange Shifters
Dark Desires (Love Slave Anthology #4)
Schooled (Love Slave Anthology #3)
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