–SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS
New York Times bestselling author
“Wit, style, and class. Maggie Osborne is a storyteller who consistently delivers all three.”
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Living on a rundown farm at the edge of a small Texas town, Della Ward is haunted by the bittersweet life she once lived with an adoring husband who died too soon. Once a laughing, carefree soul, Della is now a widow with only guilty memories for company. Until the day she sees a rugged stranger riding across the prairie toward her house. His presence awakens Della’s heart, but she can never imagine the ways this man will forever change her life.
Lawman James Cameron believes in settling debts and living by honor. It may have taken him ten years to arrive at Della’s door, but he’s finally here and is determined to tell her the truth about the day her husband died. But one look at the woman whose picture he has carried with him for years and he knows that the truth may destroy them both. For Cameron will have to face the past and force Della to do the same before either of them can have a future . . . or each other.
“Wit, style, and class. Maggie Osborne is a storyteller who consistently delivers all three.”
Della didn’t recognize the stranger riding through the twilight toward her house, but she understood who he was by a sharp, intuitive tingling across her scalp. She had been expecting this man, or someone like him, for ten years. Finally he’d come. Standing slowly, she stepped away from her porch chair, then smoothed down her apron and waited as she’d been waiting for so long.
The man rode like a soldier, tall and straight in the saddle, alert to his surroundings, tension bunched along his shoulders and tightening the slope of his sun- darkened jaw. The war hadn’t ended for men like this one.
Long before he reached the porch, Della felt his swift assessment of her, her small house and the deteriorating outbuildings. She would have bet the earth that hard won experience told him what a soldier would need to know. How many cows and chickens she owned, the number of rooms in her house, where a person could hide on her property. By now he’d be reasonably confident that she was alone and posed no danger. As if to confirm her conclusions, he reined in front of the porch steps and flexed his arms, relaxing the tight squared line of his shoulders.
A low voice with no particular accent. Neutral. Not warm or cold. He was a stranger with a rifle and pommel holsters riding up to a woman alone, yet he made no effort to put her at ease by smiling or immediately announcing his name and business.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, knowing in her bones why he was there, watching as he swung to the ground and tipped his hat. He was tall as she’d guessed, dark haired, and wearing a gun belt beneath his duster. Despite the weapons on his horse and at his waist, he didn’t frighten her. She doubted anything could frighten her anymore.
“I’ve come about your husband.”
Immediately after the war, she would have burst into tears and run down the steps, begging for whatever information he could give. But now she’d lived with guilt and regret and hopelessness for so long that she wasn’t sure if she still wanted to know what this man had come to tell her. She did, and she didn’t.
“Who are you?”
“The name’s Cameron,” he said, halting at the foot of the porch steps.
Della swallowed back an odd, shivery thrill that lay somewhere between alarm and attraction. The attraction was easy to explain. Cameron was a handsome, commanding figure of a man. She also understood the frisson of alarm curling like smoke in her stomach. This man didn’t give a damn about anything or anyone, she saw that in his cool eyes. Such men were dangerous, possessed of a capability for violence and ruthlessness that showed in the way they moved and carried themselves. Della guessed that other men would take care what they said to Mr. Cameron and how they said it. Certain women would be irresistibly challenged by the hard indifference flattening his gaze.
Suddenly conscious of frizzy unkempt hair and her faded dress and soiled apron, Della nodded once, then gestured toward the door. “I have coffee in the house.”
Inside, she passed him on the way to the stove. He’d stopped to look around. There wasn’t much to see; one fair-sized room that served as kitchen, parlor, laundry room, sewing room, whatever was needed. Her bedroom opened off the back, and above was a loft area that she used for storage. Once he had the layout in mind, he removed his hat and duster and placed them on the floor next to his chair. But he didn’t ask if she’d rather he removed his gun belt as most men would have.
“I made a raisin pie. Fresh baked this morning,” she offered, reaching for cups on the shelf above the stove.
“No thank you.”
“I guess you had supper in town.”
Disappointment twitched the corner of her mouth. Company didn’t come her way very often, and she didn’t want him to leave immediately. Also, she wanted to delay his news by plying him with food and small talk. That was dumb. Mr. Cameron impressed her as a man who engaged in small talk about as often as she did. She placed a coffee cup before him and took the facing chair, surprised to discover him studying her as if he knew her, like he was looking for changes since he’d seen her last.
“Have we met?” Or was he just a rude bastard? She remembered Clarence’s friends as possessing refined manners. But the war changed people. Look at her. She didn’t put much stock in manners anymore either.
“I came through here years ago. You were working at the Silver Garter.”
She almost dropped her coffee cup. “Wait.” Yes, there was something familiar about him. But why on earth would she remember this man out of the hundreds who had passed through the Garter? But something about him . . . And then she remembered. “It was cold that night. You stood beside the stove. You said, ‘I didn’t expect to find someone like you working in a saloon.’ ”
“And you said, ‘You don’t know me, so don’t judge me.’ ”
How odd that both of them remembered so brief an exchange. Heat flooded Della’s cheeks and she turned her face toward the window above the sink. She hated to be reminded of that year, hated that she was face-to-face with someone who had seen her wearing a skimpy costume and a feather in her hair.
Holding his long-ago image in her mind, she slid a look across the table. He’d filled out, and deeper lines etched his forehead and the corners of his eyes. He was more of a presence now, harder, edgier. In place of the fire and fury she’d seen in him all those years ago, she now saw a weariness that extended beyond a need for rest. The shivery mix of attraction and warning swirled in her throat, then settled in the pit of her stomach.
“Wait a minute.” Comprehension came suddenly, followed by anger. She gripped the edge of the table. “You came here years ago looking for me, didn’t you?” Cameron didn’t answer and his expression didn’t change. “So why didn’t you tell me about Clarence back then?”
“I should have.” He blew on his coffee before he tasted it.
Clarence would have given a dozen reasons, would have talked for twenty minutes to reach the same statement. And it wasn’t acceptable. Pushing to her feet, she went to the window and stared outside, waiting for the storm in her chest to subside.
This was the wettest July that North Texas had enjoyed in years. Consequently, the prairie and low hills were green and thick with grass. On a hot evening like this, Della might have braved the mosquitos and walked down to the cottonwoods and dangled bare feet in the creek. Or maybe she would have donned the shapeless man’s hat she wore and weeded her kitchen garden until it got too dark to see. Maybe she would have considered the heavy clouds blotting the sunset and stayed inside.
“Yes, you should have,” she said finally. Anger was a waste of energy. He was here now and that’s what mattered. “I always knew there had to be more than the letter Clarence’s father received,” she said in a quieter tone. “Something more than an official notification. There had to be a message for me.”
The shadow of the barn stretched toward the house, reaching for the road. Not once had she imagined that news about Clarence would come in the evening. She had always pictured a messenger arriving in the morning. And she’d pictured him wearing a dress uniform, a foolish notion considering how long ago the war had ended.
Turning from the window, she returned to the table. “I’m sorry.” Della wasn’t sure if she’d snapped at him, but she’d wanted to. “I just wish you’d told me about Clarence when you were here before.” He kept his gaze fixed on the front door. If his jaw hadn’t tightened, she could have believed that he wasn’t listening. The subject was closed. Drawing a breath, she pushed aside her irritation and stepped into a conversation she had imagined a hundred times. “Did you know my husband well, Mr. Cameron?”
“I was with him when he died.”
“And Clarence gave you a message for me?”
Reaching into his jacket, he withdrew a packet carefully wrapped in oilcloth. It occurred to her that he had carried whatever was inside for almost ten years. She didn’t know what to make of that. In a way it was touching, endearing even. But it was also puzzling, frustrating, and she felt a fresh burst of anger. He’d had no right to withhold this information. Swinging between resentment and dread, she watched him open the oilcloth and slide the thin packet across the table.
Her mouth went dry and she pressed her hands together. “It’s a letter. From Clarence?” She sounded like an idiot. Of course the letter was from Clarence.
“Mrs. Ward? I’ll just step outside.”
“What?” Blinking, she raised her head, abruptly aware that she hadn’t moved or spoken for several minutes. “No. That’s not necessary.” Mr. Cameron would have read the letter, of course. It wasn’t in an envelope, wasn’t sealed.
“If the stain is what’s upsetting you, it is blood, but it’s mine, not your husband’s.”
Maggie Osborne is the author of The Bride of Willow Creek, I Do, I Do, I Do, and Silver Lining, as well as more than forty contemporary and historical romance novels written as Maggie Osborne and Margaret St. George. She has won numerous awards from Romantic Times, Affaire de Coeur, BookraK, the Colorado Romance Writers, and Coeur du Bois, among others. Osborne won the RITA for long historical from the Romance Writers of America in 1998.
Maggie lives in a resort town in the Colorado mountains with her husband, one mule, two horses, one cat, and one dog, all of whom are a lot of aggravation, but she loves them anyway.
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Della Ward has lived an isolated existence since her husband was killed in the Civil War. Living in a remote western farm she spends her days regretting the last letter she wrote to her husband. James Cameron is haunted by his past as well. He has spent the last ten years struggling with the decision to go to Della Ward and give her a letter and photo that her husband had on his position when he died. James struggles with the death of Della's husband, but he will have to tell her the truth if he is ever going to move on with his life. He owes Della that much, at least. Prairie Moon is a very tender and sad love story. Della and James both have an incredible amount of baggage. I like that Ms. Osborne doesn't reveal everything at once to the reader but rather dished it out a little at a time to keep the reader interested in what is going on. Once the reader does discover what both of these characters have gone through, especially Della, their heart will break for them. There were a few things about the book that kept me from giving it a higher grade. James keeps a very big secret from Della for most of the book and the reader knows that eventually Della is going to find out James motivation for coming to her. James allows Della to make untrue assumptions about how her husband died and he doesn't correct her. When the truth does finally come to light Della reacts just the way James had feared. That bothered me about her. After everything she had learned about James and all the time she spent with him she should have handled it better. Eventually these two do get their happy ending, but boy did they have a long journey of heartbreak to get there.
Though she has lived a rough and scandalous life, Della Ward has been drilled in the ways of proper society. Despite this, she is drawn to gunslinger Cameron, who appears on her doorstep one day with a last message from her late husband. The beautiful, young widow has been haunted by her husband's death for years, and by the mistake of giving up her child to her in laws to raise. When Cameron convinces her to go and just see her daughter, even if only from a distance, they set out on a perilous cross country journey that will bring them closer to giving in to the temptation of one another, even though a terrible secret and haunting grief stand between them. ***** A memorable and unique story is told in this novel. Two scarred and troubled individuals find exactly what they need in one another's arms, only to be almost wrenched apart by the truth. The pain they share will touch your heart, and their passion will ignite your blood. ***** REVIEWER: Amanda Killgore.
Ten years has passed since the Civil War ended yet Della Ward lives one day at a time filled with guilt and remorse. A child bride Della regrets her last hateful letter she sent her spouse Clarence just before he died in battle. Della has no friends in the Two Creeks, Texas area and for the most part never speaks with or has anyone talk to her. It only took him a decade to work up the courage, but Lawman James Cameron comes to see Della. James is the bravest person in the west as he does not fear death ever since the Civil War, but is frightened of telling Della his secret about her husband¿s last moments alive. As he remains on her property helping her, they begin to fall in love. However, Della carries so much shame and James is loaded with his own culpability so that unless a miracle healing occurs, he will eventually head off into the sunset. Known for her award winning humorous romance novels, Maggie Osborne takes a serious turn with her powerful Reconstruction Era romance, PRAIRIE MOON. The story line is totally angst as two severely wounded people share a tenuous thread through Clarence. Readers will shed tears as a mature Della looks back at her spoiled behavior with deep sorrow for leaving her husband to conclude that she just did not care beyond her own selfish needs. James feels almost as bad though he knows he can justify his actions. This is another triumph for the magnificent Maggie. Harriet Klausner