Authors: Jodi Thomas
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #Ranchers, #Texas, #Forced Marriage, #Westerns, #Frontier and Pioneer Life, #Western Stories, #Ranch Life
With a swift movement, Tobin lifted her into his arms. “I’l get you through the mud and to the back porch.”
“Thank you, Mr. McMurray,” she whispered, leaning her cheek against his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his body through wet clothes.
A moment later they were back in the rain. His arms held her tightly as he ran for the house. Circling her arms around his neck, she did what she’d done when they’d been riding, she hung on tightly.
When they reached the porch, he set her down gently and put a blanket around her shoulders.
Liberty snuggled into it, laughing. “Thanks,” she said, looking up at him. “But you’re dripping wet also.”
She circled her arms once more around him, enclosing him within the blanket.
For a moment he stood stil , letting the heat from their bodies blend. Then he lowered his mouth to hers and his hands closed over the sides of her ribs and pul ed her hard against him.
Praise for the “Queen of Texas Romance” *
“Packs a powerful emotional punch... [Thomas’s] latest Western historical romance highlights the author’s talent for creating genuinely real characters... Exceptional.”
Midwest Book Review
“Strong... heartwarming... Few authors can bring the reality and romance of the wild Texas towns to life the way she can, evoking the people (good and bad), the land (beautiful and rugged), and the thril ing yet dangerous lives people led. Portraying likable, real characters and the places they live is Thomas’s true gift.”
“Bright, realistic dialogue and heart-pounding adventure,
The Texan’s Reward
is a denite page-turner. Don’t miss this terric story.
It’s Texas and Jodi Thomas at their best!”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Thomas has a down-home writing style that makes her latest Western a treat to read. She also includes a large cast of characters that keep the story moving along...a pleasant read... tender.”
“Thril ing...a story that readers wil want to read again and again.”
“Jodi Thomas is at her remarkable best in
Two Texas Hearts.”
“A warm and touching read ful of intrigue and suspense that wil keep the reader on the edge of her seat.”
“A great Western romance l ed with suspense and plenty of action.”
—Affaire de Coeur
“Jodi Thomas shows us hard-living men with grit and guts, and the determined young women who soften their hearts.”
, USA Today
bestsel ing author of
Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ
“Thoroughly entertaining romance.”
Titles by Jodi Thomas
texas princess texas rain the texan’s reward a texan’s luck when a texan gambles the texan’s wager to wed in texas to kiss a texan the tender texan prairie song the texan and the lady to tame a texan’s heart forever in texas texas love song two texas hearts the texan’s touch twilight in texas the texan’s dream
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Ofces: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England This is a work of ction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used ctitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author Copyright © 2007 by Jodi Koumalats. Excerpt from
by Jodi Thomas copyright © 2008 by Jodi Koumalats. Cover il ustration by Jim Grifn. Cover handlettering by Ron Zinn. Cover design by George Long.
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Whispering Mountain Ranch Texas Hil Country September 1855
Tobin McMurray walked out of the barn just
as rst light promised dawn. He rol ed his tired shoulders. The imaginary weight he had carried for three days remained. Sunrise wouldn’t change what he had to do; nothing would.
His sister, Sage, stepped onto the wide back porch of the family’s ranch house and stared at him. He knew she was waiting for an answer. He could see the hope in her brown eyes, along with tears she wouldn’t let fal . Almost nineteen, he thought, and she stil believed in miracles. At twenty-ve, Tobin wasn’t sure he ever had.
He moved toward the house knowing they only had one chance left to save Glory, and in order to do so he’d have to complete the journey he hated most in this world.
He hadn’t reached the porch when she asked, “Any change?”
Tobin didn’t want to see hope fade in those eyes that always reminded him of their mother. He’d made her leave the barn stal at midnight, but she didn’t look like she’d slept. “I can’t even get Glory to stand,” he said as he stepped beside his little sister and circled her shoulders with one arm. “I’l ride into town when it gets ful light, but if the medicine’s not at Elmo’s place, we’l have to put her down.”
Huge tears bubbled onto her cheeks. “Oh, Tobin, you can’t. Glory’s the rst horse I ever rode. She’s so smart, I swear she knew how green I was from the rst day she saw me. Remember how she used to bow down a little so I could reach the stirrup.”
He held Sage as she silently cried. “I know,” he whispered, “but I can’t stand to see her in so much pain.”
They moved into the kitchen and drank Martha’s strong morning coffee. The housekeeper made breakfast, but Tobin couldn’t eat. He’d dreaded this day since they’d found Glory lying in the dirt of the corral three mornings ago. Glory had been his mother’s horse until Autumn McMurray died giving birth to Sage. Tobin and his brothers had kept the mare gentle until Sage grew old enough to ride; then Glory had been Sage’s favorite. The McMurrays raised horses. Others were faster, stronger, but when Sage wanted to outrun her worries by gal oping over their land, she always saddled Glory.
Tobin had a true gift with horses, but he couldn’t stop an animal from aging and he seriously doubted any medicine his brother Travis sent from Austin would help. Glory had been sickly last winter, and Tobin had seen it in the mare’s eyes again this fal , felt it when he stroked her neck...her spirit was fading, and as his Apache grandfather would say, “It was time for her to run across new land.”
But the medicine Travis said he mailed was one last thing to try, and Tobin would attempt even the impossible to keep his little sister from crying. She’d already shed enough tears.
By the time the sun crested Whispering Mountain, Tobin rode the back way through the hil s toward town. Normal y, if he’d been riding anywhere else, he would have stayed on the dirt and grass, making it easier on the animal, but this trail was different from any other. Since his father rst learned of the path crisscrossing through the hil s behind his ranch, Andrew McMurray had taught his sons to ride on the rocks, leaving no trace.
Tobin smiled. He’d been six when his father was kil ed ghting for Texas’s independence, but he could stil hear his words. “Protect each other. Trust no outsiders. Hold the ranch. Never let your guard down. Never!” So, today, even in a hurry, he fol owed orders from a man almost twenty years dead. He covered his tracks and left no sign along the secret entrance to their huge ranch.
At the top of the last hil , before he started descending, he hesitated and turned back for one nal look. For as long as he could remember, he’d hated the thought of leaving his land. Even the short trips he sometimes took to deliver horses were painful. This is where his heart lay. He planned to live and die right here. Whispering Mountain was where he belonged. He’d learned that hard lesson when he’d defended the ranch with his life.
Tobin turned his mount and moved on. He told himself he’d long ago lost the fear of people who weren’t family. He just didn’t like them, didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He’d deal with the folks he had to, like Elmo at the trading post, but no stranger would ever get close. If he had his way, Tobin would burn the bridge again at the main entrance as they did when Andrew died... only he’d never rebuild it.
As Tobin emerged from the trees that grew at the bottom of the last hil , he looked up in surprise. In the months since he’d ridden to the smal settlement around Elmo Anderson’s trading post, the community had doubled in size. Elmo’s store looked shabby next to al the new wood frames going up. Sage said a stage station was being built and a church, but she forgot to mention the other half-dozen buildings in various phases of completion.
He rode on, hearing the bustle of a growing population even before he could make out faces. Men swarmed like ants over skeletons of wood, while the tapping of hammers played a tuneless melody.
As he slowed his horse and moved in between the lumber piled up along the road, Tobin noticed not al the changes were good. One man had pitched his tent beside his halfnished building and planted a sign that promised a free rst drink to al comers. As Tobin passed, he heard a woman’s loud laugh and guessed liquor wasn’t the only thing sold in the tent.
Mrs. Dickerson, the schoolteacher, had a smal sign in front of her place saying she took in respectable female boarders. A few other signs wanted carpentry help. The town was denitely growing but not necessarily improving.
Tying his horse to the back of Elmo’s Trading Post, he entered the old store that had served the area for almost twentyve years. Barrel-chested Elmo greeted him with a nod and motioned for Tobin to step into the area he cal ed his post ofce. In reality, it wasn’t much more than a desk behind a waist-high counter with thin bars separating the space from the rest of Elmo’s cluttered stockpile of goods. Atop the desk in the makeshift post ofce were huge boxes marked Incoming, Outgoing North, and Outgoing South. No mail went east or west from here. If someone wanted to send a letter to New York or California, the letter rst went south to Austin.
Looking over the counter toward the trading post, Tobin studied the people. The early morning crowd surprised him. There had to be ten or twelve strangers mil ing around and several more crowded in the corner where Elmo kept a pot of coffee boiling.
Tobin forced himself not to back against the far wal . People didn’t mean trouble, he reminded himself as he had a thousand times since he was six. They were just going about their business same as him. He turned back to the mail.
The incoming box was packed. Tobin began to shufe through the letters and boxes, having no idea what size post Travis would have shipped from Austin.
Elmo leaned his head around the corner. “You need any help, McMurray? I’m busier than a two-headed snake in a rat’s nest.”
“No, I’l nd it,” Tobin answered.
Elmo raised an eyebrow. “Martha didn’t happen to send a list with you, did she, boy?”
At six feet, Tobin hadn’t considered himself a boy in years, but he was the youngest of the McMurray brothers so he guessed the store owner thought of him as younger.
“She didn’t.” Tobin saw no need to explain further. He’d learned that the more he answered, the more the older man talked.
Elmo disappeared as he cal ed back. “You might check that crate over by the door, McMurray.”