Read an Excerpt
Dorie McCabe stood at the back of the First Unity Church of God, out of sight of the invited guests, and held her breath for one moment, staring at Shane Graham up there at the altar ready to speak his vows. He was the most appealing man she'd ever laid eyes on. Handsome in his dark suit and string tie; she just couldn't allow Shane to make such a foolhardy mistake as marrying Marilee Barkley.
She reached for the gun she had holstered on her hip, then aimed it off center a bit--wouldn't serve her purpose actually shooting the groom, or the bride for that matter. She cleared her parched throat just as Reverend O'Malley opened his Bible. "Hold on," she called out. Heads turned in her direction. "Shane Graham, what in tarnation are you doing? You can't marry her."
As Shane's expression registered recognition, his eyebrows shot straight up. She had his full attention, as well as all others in attendance. Dorie couldn't miss their gasps of horror and surprise, but that didn't rightly matter. She had to do this. Shane Graham had no call marrying anyone.
Anyone, but her.
Biff Cummings, seated on the aisle nearest to her, made a move to approach. "Now, Isadora..."
She shook her head and waved the pistol in the direction of the town smithy. "Don't say it, Biff!"
He didn't. Beads of perspiration rimmed his brow when he lowered himself back down into his seat.
"Dorie?" Shane's voice, a slow, low rumble, struck her instantly and her darn silly heart sped up.
Dorie spoke from her heart and made her pronouncement loud and clear to conceal a bout of sudden and unexpected queasiness. Dorie McCabe had gumption, but she'd never broken up a wedding before. "You gotno call marrying her, Shane."
With calm assurance, Shane requested, "Put the gun down, Dorie. You're not going to shoot anyone."
Shane knew her best of all. That's what she admired most about him. He'd been the only one she could count on since her mama died some three years ago.And through those years Shane had gotten to know her pretty darn well.
She held the pistol steady, her hand never wavering. Guns were one thing Dorie knew about. Her mama had taught her at a young age how to protect herself. Living alone with just her younger brother, out on the homestead, a gal could find cause for protection. "I'll put it down as soon as you walk out of this church, Shane."
He pressed his lips together and peered at her for long moments the way he usually did when measuring his options. Then he turned to Marilee to whisper something in her ear. The bride-to-be shook her head adamantly, but Shane just kept on whispering, until finally, she stopped shaking her head and only stared at him, then nodded.
Dorie had a good heart under regular circumstances, but she didn't feel sorry for Marilee Barkley today. In truth, Dorie was doing the older gal a favor in busting up the wedding. Shane and Marilee didn't belong together. No sir. They were not a good match at all.
"I'll come out to speak to you, Dorie. But you have to put down the gun."
"You coming out?" she asked, just to be sure.
"I am," he said and she knew him to be a man of his word. Shane was the most decent honest man she'd ever met. That's why she had to stop this wedding. That's why she had to convince him he'd be making a buffalo-sized mistake in hitching up with prim and proper Miss Marilee Barkley. But more important, her brother Jeremiah's future was at stake. And Shane was the only one who could help her.
Dorie holstered her gun. "Well, what are you waiting for?" She turned her back on the ceremony that wouldn't happen today, a deep sigh of relief escaping once she hit the chilly fall air.
Patience wasn't one of Dorie's virtues. If something had to get done, she did it, quick-like and without regret. Heart racing and stomach churning, she waited for Shane near the steps. Dorie McCabe never held to the rules of society, never had much call to, but she'd never done anything quite like this before. She'd never marched into a church before God, a wagonload of people and the preacher, toting a gun and making demands.
"Dorie?" Shane stood on the top step of the church, the dark grass-green of his eyes appearing nearly black as he squinted into the sunlight. He took the rest of the steps in stride and approached her. "What's this all about?"
Dorie bolstered her resolve, her determination washing away the slim shades of fear she'd experienced for one brief moment. She was doing this for Jeremiah. "Shane Leopold Graham, you know what this is about. You can't marry Marilee Barkley."
Rigid lines around his eyes and mouth softened. "Apparently, I can, Dorie. I'm about to."
It was a plain and simple question, yet Shane appeared perplexed. He rubbed at the back of his neck.
"The usual reasons, I guess."
"Cause her daddy is rich and owns the land next to yours? "Cause you want that land for yourself one day?"
"Marilee's rich, Shane, and you need money for your ranch. You told me so half a dozen times how you'd like to get your hands on more land. You got a nice little spread, but you got debts and most of your cattle ain't fat enough to bring you a good price."
"No, Dorie, that's not the reason."
"Then, what is?"
He squinted into the sun, refusing to meet her eyes.
"I'm ready, that's all. I want a wife."
Dorie snorted. "Humph. Like a plump chicken wants to be my next supper, you want to marry Marilee."
"Dorie, I've got to go back inside to the wedding. People are waiting." He gestured toward the church.
"I'm sorry you don't much like it."
She stared into his eyes. "I don't."
He stepped closer and moved a strand of hair off her face, his finger slightly brushing her cheek. This was the man she'd known... Shane Graham, who'd look upon her with a soft gleam in his eyes. He was the only man who could help her with her brother, Jeremiah. The letter in her pocket she'd received just yesterday seemed to burn straight through her dress, reminding her what she stood to lose if she didn't bust up this wedding. "I know and I'm sorry for that," he said with genuine regret.
Darn him anyway, he had a way of getting under her skin with just a word or a look or a touch. Sweet tingles traveled the length of her spine from that slight caress. All the more reason she couldn't let him marry Marilee.
He turned to leave and panic seized her. She glanced at a stand of pine trees just a few yards away, where Jeremiah was waiting with the horses, hidden from view.
"You've been courting me for three years!" she called out.
She saw Shane's shoulders lift, heard his sigh when he turned to her with a shake of his head. "Dorie, I haven't been courting you. I come around to help out at your place. I help Jeremiah with his chores and--"
"You brought me flowers once."
He smiled softly. "When you took sick."
"You come for supper."
"You feed me sometimes, Dorie. I appreciate it and enjoy the company."
Dorie's voice became barely a whisper. "Shane, you kissed me. Did you forget that?"
Shane took a sharp breath. Hell no, he hadn't forgotten. It happened about a year ago, a stupid, unthinking move that he now regretted. But he hadn't forgotten. Dorie McCabe, for all her wild, unladylike ways, wasn't coy enough to hide her blossoming passion. She was too genuine a young woman even to know how to act demurely.
That kiss had nearly knocked him to his knees, but it had also knocked some sense into him. He hadn't meant to kiss her--it had just happened one evening after she'd cooked dinner for him. He'd been working all day out at her place, helping Jeremiah make repairs to the windmill.
The kiss, a soft quick brush of lips was meant as a thank-you of sorts, for the meal. But it hadn't ended there, as it should have, and Shane accepted the blame for allowing the kiss to escalate into something more.
He still scoffed at the notion. He'd been looking out for Dorie since she'd been orphaned at the age of fifteen. Shane had done the neighborly thing by coming around from time to time to help out. He'd worried over Dorie, a young girl living all alone on a small farm, trying to keep food on the table while caring for her younger brother. But he certainly hadn't courted her.
"Shouldn't have kissed you that day, Dorie." Dorie's expression faltered, her mouth trembling.
"You didn't like it then?"
"Oh, I liked it--" he blurted out and then felt immediate remorse in his admission. No sense giving Dorie false hope. Shane had to marry Marilee Barkley today. Old man Barkley had nearly blackmailed him into it. With Marilee carrying some drifter's child, she needed a husband real fast. Barkley approached him with the deal--if he agreed to give Marilee and the baby his name the wealthy rancher wouldn't call in his loans. Shane didn't much like his tactics and told him so with a six-shooter and a scowl, but Barkley hadn't backed down. He'd been desperate to save his daughter's reputation. And Shane, being the closest neighbor and a man who owed a great deal of money, was the obvious choice.
For years, Shane had struggled to earn enough to buy a parcel of land. He'd started with just a few head of cattle, doing odd jobs, hiring himself out to other ranches, anything, in order to build up his herd. And once he'd had a sizable herd, he'd worked damn hard to keep the ranch going, competing with bigger ranches for business, fighting to keep his cattle free of disease and well fed on abundant grazing land Barkley allowed him to use.
And now old man Barkley had threatened to rip all of that away without blinking an eye.
Shane had given it a great deal of thought, and had come to the conclusion that marrying Marilee wouldn't be a bad thing. He'd known Marilee for some time. She'd been under her father's watchful eye, had withstood his overbearing ways; the minute she'd gotten free from his tight control, she'd gone and done something foolish with a hired hand. Shane didn't put blame on her, but rather on a menacing father who'd tried to run the girl's life.
Now it was too late to reclaim his words to Dorie. He had liked kissing her, but he shouldn't have said it because now her face beamed with joy. "I liked it, too, Shane. I would go to bed at night and think and think about it. I was hoping you'd kiss me again, but you never did."
"Dorie," he began, "I had no right kissing you. I'm getting married. You and me...we're friends."
"Friends?" she repeated with a frown pulling at her lips. Hell, he was sorry to disappoint her, but he'd had no notion Dorie would react this way to his marriage.
Mr. Barkley stuck his head out of the church door. The blaze of Nevada sun put a shine on his balding head making it look like the full round of the moon. "Shane, this is utter nonsense! You gonna marry my daughter today or not? I'm giving you one minute to get yourself back in here."
Shane whirled around. "I'm marrying Marilee, Mr. Barkley. Just give me a little more time."
"One minute is all you have, boy!" He slammed the church door shut.
"Dorie, I've got to get back. This isn't fair to Marilee. It's her wedding day." He took hold of both of her hands and squeezed gently. Dorie was lovely in her own way, even though her coppery hair reminded him of wildfire in a windstorm and her clothes were worn and overly large for her petite body. "One day, you'll get married. One day, you'll know the love of a fine man."