Alaska Bride On the Run (Harlequin Historical #999) [NOOK Book]

Overview


When he advertises for a bartender, Harrison Rowlan doesn't expect a woman in a torn wedding gown to apply! He couldn't save his own wife, but he's determined to protect this damsel in distress.

Willa Somerset desperately needs to find safety, and the sleepy Alaskan town of Eagle's Cliff seems like the perfect refuge. Only now she's in danger of falling for her knight in cowboy boots and denim.

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Alaska Bride On the Run (Harlequin Historical #999)

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Overview


When he advertises for a bartender, Harrison Rowlan doesn't expect a woman in a torn wedding gown to apply! He couldn't save his own wife, but he's determined to protect this damsel in distress.

Willa Somerset desperately needs to find safety, and the sleepy Alaskan town of Eagle's Cliff seems like the perfect refuge. Only now she's in danger of falling for her knight in cowboy boots and denim.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426860379
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 7/1/2010
  • Series: Harlequin Historical Series , #999
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 252,604
  • File size: 509 KB

Meet the Author




Growing up in the pretty farmland of Ontario, Canada, then later the Alberta prairies, Kate Bridges developed a love for wide-open spaces, country sunshine and the Rocky Mountains.

Prior to being a full-time writer of historical romance novels--Canadian and American Westerns--Kate worked for years as a pediatric intensive-care nurse; she often includes medical adventure in her stories. Later she studied architecture and interior design, landing a job as a researcher for a television design program. Booking guests from around the world and coming up with topics of interest to viewers, Kate now uses those research skills to pen her own novels.

An award-winning and USA Today bestselling author, Kate Bridges has been published since 2002. Her first Mountie novel, The Surgeon, was nominated for Best Western of the Year by Romantic Times magazine, and The Engagement was short-listed for Best Hero of the Year. Several of her novels received the magazine's Best Hero of the Month honor, and others were chosen as Top Picks! and Buried Treasure of the Year on reader Web sites. Frontier Christmas hit the USA Today bestseller list. Her books have been translated into nine languages and are sold worldwide. In Canada, her novels are being studied in over a dozen colleges in commercial-fiction writing courses.

In her spare time, Kate enjoys going to movies, studying comedy, recreational flying with her husband and exploring the great Canadian wild. She's currently writing a series set during the Klondike Gold Rush, and visited the Yukon and Alaska for research. She had fun panning for gold. For more information, please visit www.katebridges.com.
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Read an Excerpt


District of Alaska, August 1899

When Harrison Rowlan placed the sign in the window of his new tavern, calling for a bartender, he didn't expect a woman in a torn wedding gown to apply.

Harrison was stacking kegs of ale against the back wall when she first entered his empty bar. Warm morning sunshine streamed in from the windows. Humming to himself, he slid the heavy slosh of liquid off his shoulder and inhaled the earthy scent of the wood. His tavern and adjoining livery stables here in the town of Eagle's Cliff weren't officially open yet. He still had two days to go.

However, he was pleased to be making steady headway in obtaining supplies from the much larger Skagway harbor, twenty miles south, and had already hired six of the seven employees he needed, including extra security for his stables. With the recent news of the gang of horse thieves pillaging the coast and valleys, armed guards were an unexpected necessity.

Harrison preferred to own a tavern rather than a rowdy saloon. His tavern would be a neighborhood place for local patrons to drop by not only for a pint of brew and a solid meal, but also where a person might meet up with a friend, exchange dated newspapers from home, pick up mail, or listen to the only entertainment available in town.

Footsteps sounded behind him. He turned around too fast and the rib muscles that were still healing from the knife wound he'd received earlier this summer twisted. He winced with the annoyance.

There she stood.

Staring at him from the other side of the long, freshly oiled wooden bar. She was covered in ivory satin, blond hair slipping out from a silken braid that trailed down one shoulder, cheeks taut and scuffed with dirt, with a piercing look of determination in those big brown eyes.

He inhaled deeply, stunned by her sudden presence. Even more so at her appearance. He wasn't normally speechless, but then he'd never been surprised in this town by a pretty woman he didn't know or recognize. He bristled as he contemplated any reason why she might be here, a runaway bride with one sleeve torn. Dirty, frightened and alone.

He couldn't think of one.

His right hand instinctively dropped to the gun strapped to his thigh. Ready for anything. Wasn't he always? Not that he feared this unarmed slender woman, a head shorter than himself and half the width of his shoulders, but rather the trouble she might be bringing with her. He'd had enough of that, running from the law the past two years before he'd finally cleared his name of the crimes he'd been mistakenly and maliciously accused of. His face had been plastered on Wanted posters all over the district.

"This sign," she said, holding the cardboard that he'd stuck into the front window ten days ago when he'd bought the place, "is why I'm here."

He looked down at the words she clutched between grimy fingers—Bartender Wanted.

He assessed the situation with a quick look to the front windows and doors. The freshly painted outdoor sign hanging from the covered boardwalk tilted in the wind, declaring Eagle's Cliff Tavern and Inn. There was no one out there. No one following her. At least, not right now. Judging by the streaks of dirt across her gown, and her ruffled hair, she'd been on the road for a couple of days.

"Miss? Or is it missus? You in some sort of trouble?"

"It's miss… and… yes, I am." Her voice was soft and rich, and he tried to stop himself from enjoying the view. "I'd be mighty grateful if—" she glanced over her shoulder "—if you could take me to…to your kitchen and we might have a talk."

It was one of those situations—and he'd known plenty in the past couple of years from being on the run himself—where he had to make a quick decision.

Did he help this stranger or not?

Should he get involved, or worry about his own hide and the new life he was attempting to make for himself?

Looking down into her face, the way the angle of light hit her soft jawline and bounced over the curve of her lips, he told himself her problems were not his.

Even if she looked more like an angel than a troublemaker. He damn well knew better.

But blazes, his chest tightened and his pulse rippled inside his skin at seeing the lovely lady. The least he could do would be to offer shelter for a moment, explain the route to the Skagway deputy marshal, who was the nearest lawman, twenty miles south—a full day's ride since the coastline was so treacherous—and point her to the women's store on the boardwalk, where she could buy proper clothing.

He stepped out from the bar, a head taller than her, and waved his hand toward the back hall. "This way."

He led her through the doorway. His leather vest squeaked over the white cloth of his shirt as he twisted his shoulders. Denim jeans fit snugly on his thighs.

When they reached the huge kitchen with its two walk-in fireplaces, the simmering pots of stew and the shelves of dishes, he turned, nearly bumping into her. He quickly stepped away, giving her distance.

"I need a job," she panted.

First thing's first. Her comfort. He slid the cardboard sign from her slender fingers, placed it on the counter and offered her a stool.

She hesitated, then looked about the room. He watched her gaze skim the hanging herbs, the dry sink in the corner, which was no more than a cabinet with buckets for washing dishes, various shelves and sundries. Her eyes flickered on the closed back door. A route of escape, she was no doubt thinking. Slowly, she sank onto the stool. Ivory satin billowed about her feet.

"Nice train."

Her eyes widened, then a smile darted across her lips. Of course, she must be aware of her unusual choice of clothing. He was trying to set her at ease, and the comment worked.

His gaze lowered to her wedding gown. The top part, the part with the neckline, plunged daringly to her cleavage. A golden necklace anchored itself between her breasts, beyond his vision. He rubbed his neck to distract himself.

The gown seemed a bit too large for her, but who was he to criticize fashion? Besides, here in Alaska, where everything had to be shipped in due to the shortage of supplies, folks took and used what they could.

"Not the marrying kind?"

She straightened her spine. Her neckline gaped in response, revealing the top of a black lace corset. His pulse leaped involuntarily. He ordered his eyes to remain focused on her face.

"Not the anything kind. I'm my own person."

"How does he feel about that?"

"Not taking it well."

"Is he chasing you?"

She inhaled a rush of air. "I think he and his men assume I ran to the docks. In Skagway. That I left for the lower States on the first ship out."

His men? What odd words. Not his friends? Not his groomsmen?

"Why would they think that?"

"Because I left them false clues. Told them I was running home."

She looked toward the fires. Both stone fireplaces sputtered and popped with heat as cauldrons boiled within them. Pots also simmered on the stoves. The cooks had been in earlier and had started on the stews, then they'd left for the market.

Harrison kept the conversation on topic. "Where's home?"

She didn't answer right away. She breathed in the aromas of the kitchen. The tightness in her cheeks relaxed. Her firm bottom lip softened. "This place."

"Nooo," he said, planting his palm in the air. "Let's just hold on here a minute." He leaned against the counter that jutted from the side wall, surrounded by stacks of dishes and glassware. His massive frame barely squeezed in. He crossed his cowboy boots and remained calm. No matter how attractive she was, it would be a bad business decision on his part to let her stay. Hell, it would also be a bad personal decision. "I don't have a job for you."

Her eyes flashed. "I'd make a fabulous bartender."

"The position's open for a man."

"I could do it."

He crossed his arms. "That might be. But the position's open for a man."

Her slender throat bobbed, caught in some emotion he didn't wish to analyze. She looked down to her lap, where she was knotting her fingers together.

He hadn't asked for her name yet. On purpose. The less he knew, the less likely he'd be suckered in by a woman.

"Why?" Her voice echoed softly off the uprooted herbs hanging from the ceiling. "Why's it open only to a man? In Skagway, a woman runs one of the casinos. Another owns a tavern. Maybe in the lower States, the position of bartender might be unusual. But not in Alaska. Women do all kinds of things here."

She was right. Women owned jewelry shops, worked as apothecaries, printers, barbers, and he even knew of a female blacksmith. But it didn't mean he was looking for a woman.

Women were scarce in Alaska, he guessed maybe only ten to fifteen percent of the population. The stamina it took to cross the ocean, then the mountains to the Klondike by foot if they were in search of gold, meant only the toughest and most independent arrived.

He took out a bowl from underneath the counter, walked to the pot of stew and ladled out a steaming heap of beef and potatoes. Moving closer, he placed the hearty meal in front of her, along with warm biscuits.

Her eyes misted in gratitude. She picked up the spoon. "Thank you."

It wasn't often he got a chance to watch a beautiful woman eat. She cracked the biscuit and dipped the spoon into the stew with grace, head held high, despite the mussed-up hair and the smudge of dirt across her chin.

Whoever had let her go would want her back. He would.

"Did you notice, on your escape between Skag-way and here," he said, hauling fresh logs to the fireplace to give her privacy to eat, "that Alaska is filled with men? When this place opens, it'll be packed with fishermen, explorers, lumberjacks. Gold miners who cuss so loud and hard your eardrums rattle. A rough place. No place for a woman."

"Well, I did grow up with eight boys on a ranch."

Hmm. Nice try to get him to care. He refused to dig deeper into her personal life.

"Aren't any of your employees ladies?"

He poked at the red embers. "The cook is. But I hired her as a team with her husband. And two of the barmaids who double as singers and piano players. But they're both used to working around men. The bartender's got to be a man. Able to stop fights. Able to keep the tabs straight. Knows what a working man likes to drink."

"Mead. Bourbon. Scotch. How about those kegs of beer and ale you were unloading in the bar? Stout, bitters, milds, porters. You name it, I've poured it."

"You've worked in a bar before?"

The sparkle in her brown eyes dampened. "Not exactly. But I grew up with eight male cousins and one demanding uncle. They're the main reason, I suppose, that I got stuck in this mess." She looked down at her gown. "Everyone always telling me how to run my life. I served them a lot of meals and a lot of drinks."

"The answer's no."

She dabbed her lips on a napkin. Then stood up, tidied her dishes and brought them to the dry sink by the window. When she turned around again, her gaze shifted to a ball of twine and a pair of scissors.

She lunged for the weapon.

He reached for his gun, but there was no need to panic.

In a combination of disbelief and amusement, he watched her use the scissors to hack off her torn sleeve. Then she went for the other one to match. Next, she attacked her train. In a maneuver he found mesmerizing, she bent over and slit her dress just above the floor, wiggling till she got it fairly even, exposing the tips of shiny black boots, buckled up real high around her ankles. The kind of boots he'd always found seductive.

She returned the scissors and threw the scraps of fabric into the crackling fire. Her eyes spotted a pile of empty burlap sacks in the corner, ones the cooks had emptied of various vegetables bought off the incoming ships. She searched for the cleanest one and then draped it over her shoulders as a makeshift shawl.

Her eyes sought his for permission.

He shrugged. "You can have it."

Mighty resourceful of her. And what a change. The burlap shawl covered much of her upper body, and cut the ivory color in half so it wouldn't be so glaring and noticeable from a distance. Now sleeveless, the gown looked more like a pretty summer dress.

"I'll go." She moved toward the door. "Quietly. I'll slip out this back way and I won't bother you another minute. But first, I'd appreciate an honest answer to one question."

He quirked an eyebrow and strode to the door to open it, eager for her to leave.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
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  • Posted February 6, 2012

    Just OK.

    Long and winding road to the inevitable conclusion. The kind of book I would pass on to a friend-- but not suggest they buy it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a strong late nineteenth century Alaska Territory romance

    In 1899 in Eagle's Cliff, District of Alaska, Harrison Rowlan prepares to open a neighborhood tavern in which locals can drop by for a pint and a bite. He does not want a bar where patrons drop to the floor either from too much to drink or a brawl. He places an ad for a bartender in the window of his new establishment. Willa Banks wearing a torn wedding gown applies for the position. She persuades Harrison a lady will bring in the type of customer he desires. He hires her on a temporary basis that quickly turns permanent.

    An orphan Willa thinks back to her uncle and cousins who took for granted her hard work on the ranch and ignored her plea for some land. She read of opportunity for even women in Alaska and left. In Skagway, she made friends with Keenan Crawford the butcher, but fled when her groom tried to rape her; she muses he can stuff his sausage elsewhere. As Willa and Harrison fall in love, cattle rustlers and Crawford intrude.

    This is a strong late nineteenth century Alaska Territory romance that enables the audience to feel they are in the Panhandle region (think of Call of the Wild by London). The lead couple is a caring pair, but it is the towns that have sprung up since the Gold Rush that make for a vivid atmospheric historical. Nobody does 1880s and 1890s Alaska-Canada better than Kate Bridges consistently does as affirmed by returning lead characters (see Alaska Renegade and Wanted in a Alaska)

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2014

    Good

    Really enjoyed this sweet story. I enjoy this author and her characters.

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