Compromised Hearts

Compromised Hearts

by Hannah Howell

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Overview

In this dazzling novel from New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell, a beauty without means and a man without scruples strike a scandalous bargain that takes them into the heart of desire. . .

No gentleman would guarantee a lady's safety in exchange for her virtue. But that is precisely why Cloud Ryder would never call himself a gentleman. He wants Emily Brockinger the moment he sets eyes on her, and volunteers to guide her and her ward through lawless Colorado territory--if she'll share his bed. Yet to his surprise, the delicate Boston blueblood has a grit and fire that thrill him as no woman ever has. . .

Emily has no choice but to accept Cloud's terms, and no way to control her body's response to the virile, part-Cherokee drifter. The trail is strewn with obstacles, and the dangers only increase once they reach their destination. All his life, Cloud has shunned commitment, but now the only way to keep Emily safe is to open his heart--to the one woman with the passion and power to break it. . .

"The superbly talented Howell never disappoints." --Romantic Times

"The laughter mingles with the tears in any story from the talented pen of Hannah Howell. If you haven't read her before, start now!" --Affair de Coeur

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781420120165
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 11/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 80,977
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Hannah Howell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of acclaimed historical romances. Howell, twice awarded the Golden Leaf Award, has been a Romance Writers of America RITA Award Finalist, received RT Book Reviews' Career Achievement Award for Historical Storyteller of the Year, and has had her books on Amazon's Top 10 Romances of the Year list. She lives in West Newbury, Massachusetts with her family. Visit her website at hannahhowell.com.

Read an Excerpt

Compromised Hearts


By HANNAH HOWELL

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 1989 Hannah Howell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4201-2016-5


CHAPTER 1

Colorado Territory, 1870


"Godforsaken land," muttered Emily Cordelia Mason Brockinger as she picked herself up and dusted herself off.

She should be thankful, she supposed, that she had fallen forward, thus not endangering the child she carried on her back. She picked up her parasol, sighing over its battered appearance. Her bonnet probably looked just as disreputable. The plains did not treat such frills and furbelows gently, but despite their tattered condition she would continue to use them. They kept the sun off of her head and she did not feel quite proper going without them.

She had already walked for two days but had yet to see any sign of civilization. She could not believe that the territory could be quite so empty. Then again, the Indians could well have something to do with the emptiness.

A shudder rippled through her. The memory of the slaughter was still too clear. Those poor farmers had not deserved such a death. They had never harmed anyone. The Indians were extracting their revenge from the wrong people.

Emily's penchant for cleanliness had been all that had saved her. She had noticed a small creek, and had walked some distance from camp for a bath. It had not been far enough away, however, to spare her from hearing the sounds of the massacre. She wondered if the war whoops, shots, and screams would ever fade from her memory or cease to haunt her dreams.

Returning to the smoldering wagons had been the most difficult thing she'd ever done. The smell of death still tainted her nostrils. The Indians had spared neither man nor woman. The only survivor was a child.

It would always puzzle her. There seemed no reason for three-year-old Thornton Sears' survival. He had been walking amongst the dead. She could only assume that he had been hidden and had stayed so until the danger was past. His plump little body was unhurt, his thick brown curls still intact, and his green eyes unclouded by a horror he was probably too young to fully understand. He was alive and she prayed she could keep him that way.

The dirt on her hands from her fall began to sting her blisters. She really should not have lingered to bury the dead, although she doubted that the two days lost to that gruesome chore would make any difference in the end. During that time she had meticulously combed through the ruins, salvaging one extremely recalcitrant mule, a rickety cart, a few belongings of hers and Thornton's and a pitiful supply of food and water. She was carefully rationing what she had, but she feared that it was not enough.

"Go home now?"

"I'm trying, darling, but I fear it is a very long way."

Emily felt like weeping but refused to give in to that weakness. She wondered what madness had caused her to leave her Boston home, then grimaced as she recalled her reasons. At the time she had received her brother's request to come live with him, perhaps teach school in the budding town of Lockridge, she had thought it was the answer to all her prayers.

She had thought that anything would be better than the life she led in her sister Carolynn's home. She didn't know which was worse — caring for Carolynn's three spoiled children or trying to elude Carolynn's husband. At times the man had seemed possessed of a score of hands, all trying tograb her. There had been no help from her sister. Caro thought her children were living saints, and she clearly hoped that her sister would take Caro's place under her husband, thus relieving Caro of one wifely duty she plainly found repulsive.

Used to a life that had never been ideal, Emily had suffered stoically. Born late to Charles and Mary Brockinger, she had had little sense of family. All her siblings had been full grown, while she was an infant. It hurt to remember it, but her parents had made it abundantly clear that she was an unwanted surprise. Only Harper, she thought with a soft smile, had loved her but he had left to find his own life when she was only ten.

She touched the pocket where Harper's letter rested. She had wasted no time in answering it. Although she had not seen Harper for eight years, his smile had always lingered in her mind as one of the few bright spots in her life. Without hesitation she had set out for Colorado.

She just wished Harper had sent some money. Carolynn had adamantly refused to let go of a single penny of her plentiful horde, so Emily had been forced to take the long, hard, dangerous route to Colorado. Until now she had not really minded that. Thirst, dust, hunger, heat, and all the hardships of travel across the country by wagon train had not deterred her. The savage deaths she had witnessed were another matter. She was no coward, but she was, after all, only a girl of nineteen who had never been outside of Boston.

Her feet hurt, her sensible shoes long since worn out from the rough terrain. Carrying Thornton was easier than letting him walk, safer than setting him on the already heavily laden mule, but her back and shoulders were now screaming out for relief. The stubborn mule added to her problems, for she often had to drag him along, and the rope had left its painful mark upon her tender palms.

Worse, she decided, was the fear she could not shake. It seeped through her veins like poison. She had little idea of where she was headed, only knowing that it was west, and that she was alone and unarmed in a territory filled with Indians. She could only keep walking, however, and hope that the Indians were far too busy to bother with one woman, one child and one very cantankerous mule.

She met the day's end with little emotion. All she could be glad of was that she and Thornton still lived.

As she set up a small campfire, her gaze settled upon Thornton who sat quietly playing with some pebbles. Protected by his extreme youth, he had accepted his family's loss quickly. He had only cried a little as the beginning, then switched his dependence and affection to her. Dishing out his share of the oatmeal, Emily prayed that she would not fail him. The responsibility weighed heavily upon her.

When they curled up beneath the cart to sleep, she was glad of the warmth of his sturdy little body. He was too small to be any real help but he made her feel less alone. Although she knew she ought to stay awake to keep watch, she soon fell asleep. Emily sadly admitted to herself, as she welcomed oblivion, that she had no defense against the Indians, so keeping watch seemed a fruitless exercise.


Cloud decided that nothing was more frustrating than trying to talk the major out of his plans. Newly arrived from a military school, the man had no concept of how to fight the Indians. Cloud could only hope that the man would learn his lessons without killing himself or too many of his men. He, however, had no intention of waiting around to watch.

"Off again?" drawled James Carlin as he leaned against the hitching post.

Cloud did not look up from saddling his roan stallion. "Don't think I'll be back this time."

"Not even for sweet Abigail? It's a hard man you are, Cloud Ryder."

Looking quickly in the direction of James's nod, Cloud grimaced. He had hoped to leave without a scene, but by the look on Abby's face he knew that was now impossible. Despite her skill in bed, he was as anxious to leave her as he was to escape the young major's inevitable folly. Abigail was far too possessive, expecting of him more than he had ever offered. It had been a mistake to get involved with her.

"Sweet Abigail is reason enough to leave — fast," he muttered. "She wants to lock me up tighter than an old maid's corset." He did not snare in James's soft laughter.

James studied Cloud briefly. The man's attraction for women was a puzzle to him. A scar cut Cloud's lean features, giving his carved face an intimidating fierceness that had caused many a man to back off. Although only one quarter Cherokee, Cloud often looked more savage then some full-blooded Indian. James could only wonder if the man's aloofness was what drew women.

"You didn't tell me you were leaving," Abigail said tightly as she reached Cloud's side.

"No? Must've slipped my mind," Cloud drawled as he turned to look at the well-formed brunette.

Abigail drew her breath in. She was sorely tempted to scratch out his eyes. Yet despite her anger, her blood ran hot as she looked at his tall, lean body. She hated him for that. He had toyed with her but, worse, she had lost the game.

"How can you be so cool after what we've shared?" She found it surprisingly easy to bring tears to her eyes.

"Honey, you were no blushing virgin and I sure as hell didn't teach you the tricks you knew." he said cruelly. "Don't play the offended maid. The role doesn't suit you."

"You bastard," she hissed. "You've made it plain to the whole fort that you spent your nights with me. Now that they all know you've used me for your whore, and you're just going to up and leave me?"

"Yup." He took her slap without flinching, but caught her wrist when she prepared to strike him a second time. "I wouldn't if I were you."

The chill in his voice made her shiver. With what few scraps of dignity she could muster, she left him. Cloud turned back to his preparations for leaving.

"One of these days you're going to be shot by one of the women you treat so coldly."

"No doubt. Don't waste any of your sympathy on Abigail. She knows more tricks than a rich man's mistress. She'll recover and probably trap some poor fool into marrying her. I made her no promises. I break none by leaving her. She played the game well, but she's a sore loser."

For a moment James said nothing, but then he asked, "Am I wrong in thinking you really won't come back?"

"Said so, didn't I?"

"Said it before too, but you always came back."

"Not this time. Atter the war I meant to settle. I thought I'd had enough of drifting and fighting. I was wrong. I was still itchy. Well, the itch is gone."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Why? A man's got to settle sometime."

"Just can't see it with you. You got too much restlessness in you."

Cloud shrugged. "Maybe. Still, it ain't being satisfied with roaming and fighting."

"What do you intend to do?"

"Go back to my land and finally do something with it. Wolfe must be damned tired of keeping an eye on it. He's got his own piece to look after."

"Where is your land? You've described it but never said exactly where it is."

"The San Luis Valley. If I leave now I can make it over the mountains before the snow blocks the pass. Come spring I'll start making my spread something more than a patch of grass. Maybe I'll even have a house by the time the Ryder clan gathers." He mounted his horse and held his hand out to James. "Take care. Don't go with that fool if you can help it. He'll get you killed for sure. Damn fool's got his head in the mud."

"It'll take more than that young shavetail's ignorance to kill me." James clasped Cloud's hand. "Take care yourself. Hope you find what you're searching for."

"Never know. Look me up if you get down San Luis Valley way."

He rode out of the fort without a backward glance. It was the end of yet another chapter in his life. He was tired of killing and destruction. Finally he was ready to stay in one place and put down roots. Maybe he would also find some peace.

That made him laugh, a harsh noise that grated on his ears. James was right. He was searching for something, but he could not say what. No matter what he did, who he met or how many miles he covered, there lingered an emptiness within him. There was a strange hunger in him that no amount of food or water could satisfy.

Cursing softly, he turned his mount southwest. It was a long way to his ranch-to-be, and he refused to spend the time worrying over something so intangible. There were enough natural and very tangible things to concern him. Distraction was something that could easily proved fatal.


When he first saw the woman as he crested a knoll, he thought her a figment of his imagination. A woman strolling through the plains with a fashionable bonnet on her head and a parasol in hand? It was a sight too ludicrous to be real, yet he could not deny the evidence of his eyes.

Riding a little closer yet staying out of her direct line of sight, he realized that the strange hump on her back was a child. Shaking his head in disbelief, he began to follow her.

As he watched her fall and pick herself up a third time, he began to laugh softly even while he admired her persistence. She was so plainly out of her element that it was funny. So was the sight of her strolling through hostile Indian territory as if she were taking a promenade in the park. The only thing that kept him from laughing was the grim reality of danger all around.

"The silly bitch can be seen for miles, Savannah," he muttered to his horse. "Maybe it's true that God watches out for fools, drunkards, and children. Got us two of the three just ahead. Where's her man?"

Fascinated, he followed her as she cursed the land she stumbled over and threatened the mule with prolonged and painful retribution. Try as he would, Cloud could not figure out how she had arrived in the middle of nowhere with her child strapped to her back like some papoose. Her clothes, although tattered and dusty, still retained their fashionable air, telling him that she was no die-hard pioneer woman.

He settled himself on a knoll overlooking her campsite when she paused for the night. His reluctance either to show himself or leave her puzzled him, but he did not fight it. It had been a long time since he had been so thoroughly entertained.

It was not until the child was settled and asleep that she let her weariness show. Even from a distance, Cloud could tell how hard she fought giving in to tears.

He tensed slightly when she knelt before the fire and removed her bodice, using a little of the precious water to clean off the dust that clung to her. When she removed her camisole, he shifted restlessly, his eyes fixed hungrily upon the full pale breasts as she washed. By the time she had finished her bathing, he was aching. Then, as if to further taunt her unseen audience, she undid her hair.

"My God," he breathed, "the Indians would kill each other for a scalp like that."

By the light of the fire and the moon, her hair shone white. It fell in long thick waves to her slim hips. Cloud wanted to bury himself in it; his palms itched to run through its heavy length as her brush was doing. He did not think he had ever seen anything so beautiful nor so desirable despite the wide range of women he had known.

After she had lain down with the child he sat watching her for a while longer. He needed time to quell his desire before he got any closer to the woman.

Deeming himself once more in control, he decided to go down to her campsite. There was little point in setting up one of his own when hers was so close. He also wanted to dampen the fire, which might draw attention to the woman.

The mule eyed him warily as he tied Savannah to a bush, but it made no noise. After securing his pack horse and relieving the animal of its burden, he turned his attention to the sleeping pair under the cart. He was curious to see if the woman's face was as lovely as the rest of her.

Pausing only to douse the fire, he sat down near the cart. The woman and the child slepton, unaware of him. Cloud shook his head. They were both babes in the wood, defenseless and ignorant.

Studying her face, he realized that she was very young. In fact, she hardly looked old enough to have borne the child tucked up against her. Cloud decided the boy must take after his father, for he lacked his mother's delicacy of looks and her fairness of coloring.

Her skin cried out to be touched, its light honey-colored expanse looking as soft and smooth as silk. Faintly arched brows, several shades darker than her brilliant hair, furrowed occasionally as her dreams grew more troubled. The lashes that lay in thick arcs on her cheeks were also dark and naturally curly. A full ripe mouth was slightly parted as she slept, partially revealing straight white teeth. Her nose was the only less than perfect feature in her small oval face. It ran small and straight to the tip then suddenly turned up ever so slightly, disrupting an otherwise classical perfection.

She had left off her bodice, having rinsed it in the water that she then gave the mule, and hung it on the bush to dry. His eyes fixed upon the smooth swell of her breasts above the lacy camisole and he nearly groaned. The desire had been controlled but not vanquished.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Compromised Hearts by HANNAH HOWELL. Copyright © 1989 Hannah Howell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Compromised Hearts 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an electrifying little read. Enjoyed both characters and loved the family the hero had. Wished his brothers had their own stories. They would make good heroes. Very sweet the in depth love she held for her rogue cowboy. Have reread several times - and I only have few on my reread list.This is a must buy!!!
4theloveofdolls More than 1 year ago
This is a great book and inspired me to read more of Hannah Howell. It is a keeper.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sooooo hope that Clowd's brothers and James get their story!!! Love those characters also!!!! Last but not least is Giorsal and Harper. They all need their story!!!!!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this years ago and loved it Happy to find it again
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is a must read by one of my favorite authors; the incomparable Hannah Howell I love an unapologetic Bad Boy, and Cloud Ryder is just bad enough to be oh so good! I've already read this book twice in the few days since I bought it; it's just that good; no, make that great!
Phyl12 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this love story
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I really enjoyed this book so much that I didnt want to put it down and didnt!! Would highly recommend this book...
kronan1 More than 1 year ago
This starts out on a rather shaky premise. A young girl stranded after an Indian raid with a 3 year old whose parents have also been killed is told by her rescuer that he will save her and take her to civilization but only if she agrees to have sex with him--starting now. Whats a girl to do? Since her only other option is death she of course says yes. That not withstanding she finds passion immediately with Mr Horny. Frankly I would have expected a little resentment at least the first few times. ----- The writing in this book is so good I found myself liking it despite myself. The characters are great and the plot interesting. I'd read it again though the forced sex in the beginning is a bit murky its to good to pass up.
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santurcer63 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this one
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Love, Love, Love this one -- I could not put it down -- Have read it several times ... it's like a good movie you just want to watch over and over ... you wont be dissapointed
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