Born dirt-poor, Sassy Malone had only her wits and wiles to get her by in life. So when tragedy struck her soon-to-be-wed employer, the feisty lass seized her chance: Armed with a new identity, she passed herself off as a high-class lady and boarded the ship bound west for the untamed Washington Territory—and an arranged marriage to a wealthy rancher. Though the all-too-virile Hunter made it all too clear that she was not the blushing bride he'd imagined, Sassy saw the searing desire in his eyes. She also knew something else: The big, dark loner harbored a savage secret. And as passions ignited in his scorching embrace and days of rapturous loving flamed into nights of unending wedded bliss, Sassy vowed she'd uncover his dangerous past. For her future belonged to this rugged, raven-haired lover who'd captured her very heart and soul!
"Nobody does it like Georgina Gentry does." —Barbra Critiques
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Half Breed's Bride
By Georgina Gentry
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1993 Lynne Murphy
All rights reserved.
Seattle, Washington Territory
"Hell, I'm not sure if I even want a mail order bride!" Hunter confessed, looking from the letter in his hand to the half-dressed whores sitting around Lulu's office.
The fat madam leaned her elbows on her desk and waited. "If you're havin' second thoughts, handsome, any one of my girls would be happy to marry —"
"No thanks," Hunter snapped. "The type of wife I had in mind —"
"We know; we know." Lulu drawled as she pulled her purple satin wrapper around her huge bulk. "You're picky."
Hunter looked at the letter again, misgivings in his soul. What the hell was he letting himself in for? He leaned to hand the paper to the plump madam of Lulu's Lovelies. "Here, girls, I called you all in to get your opinion. Lulu, read it aloud and see what they think."
Lulu took it, rolling her eyes. "I'll swan! Honestly, Hunter, if you weren't one of my establishment's best customers ..." Her voice trailed off and she cleared her throat. "'To Whom It May Concern:'"
Blanche fiddled with the soiled lace on her corset cover. "That ain't too romantic, is it?"
The girls all tittered. Hunter paused in lighting a thin cheroot and frowned at her. "This is not about romance, Blanche; it's a business deal." He shook the match out, broke it in half. A man who spent as much time as he did around timber always thought about fires.
Lulu's double chin quivered as she began again in her thick southern accent. "'To Whom It May Concern: The bearer of this letter has been authorized to present it to a prospective bride whom he has deemed suitable. '"
The whores all giggled and Lulu rolled her eyes, the lamplight reflecting off the rings on her fat fingers. She reached for the pen on her desk. "Maybe I could make some changes. I told you before it won't attract —"
"It may attract the kind of wife I'm looking for." He crossed his long legs and shrugged his wide shoulders. "Hell! I want her to know up front what she's getting into."
Lulu sighed as if she knew it was useless to argue with such a stubborn man and turned her attention again to the letter. "'By suitable, I am in need of a wife of sturdy stock, good family, spotless personal reputation, and capable of bearing children.'"
Blanche giggled again. "Hunter, Lamby Pie, why don't you just ask her to bring her pedigree with her, the way you'd do if you was buyin' a mare?"
"In effect, that's just what I'm doing, buying breeding stock." He didn't laugh. Hunter seldom laughed. Life had been a serious, uphill fight to success and power. Now he had both. "If this mail-order bride is to be my wife and the mother of my sons, she has to have a spotless reputation. I won't be snickered at or have other men laughing behind my back."
Like they did my father, Hunter thought bitterly and absently ran his hand through his black, curly hair. Some things money couldn't buy. "Finish reading, Lulu, I haven't got all night. I've got to get this letter to Mercer before he sails."
"What about love?" Claire demanded.
"What about it? Overrated, if you ask me," Hunter scoffed, blowing smoke toward the ceiling. "That's what you girls sell here. I'm not into silly mooning and sappy poetry. This marriage is going to be a solid business deal, just as the letter states. For my part, I get a back-East blue blood to preside over my empire and produce sons for me. She gets money, security, and —"
"Does that mean you won't be comin' here no more?" Claire stuck out her lower lip.
"I told you this marriage is a business deal, plain and simple." He shrugged. "I don't suppose a prim lady wants a man botherin' her any more than necessary to produce children; at least, that's what I've heard. Finish reading, Lulu; it's getting late."
Lulu read, describing Hunter's house with a real piano and how he would be waiting on the dock when the ship arrived, and ended with a description of him: "'I am tall, dark, and not bad looking. I will be dressed in black with a black western hat. Expecting a mutually rewarding life together. Sincerely, James Hunter.'"
Blanche studied her long nails. "If a guy sent me a letter like that, I'd throw it away."
"No, you wouldn't," Claire challenged. "Not if it were Hunter, no matter what it said."
The whores all laughed and even Lulu smiled.
Hunter frowned, reached to take the letter from her fat fingers. "I should have known I couldn't count on you girls to be serious." Life was totally serious to Hunter. He stood up. "Lulu, what do I owe —"
"Never mind, never mind." She waved his thanks away and leaned back in her chair. It creaked under her weight. "A little out of my line, but I was happy to help. God knows you and all that crew of yours do enough business in my establishment." The girls giggled again.
Hunter, looking at Lulu with her heavy layer of white face-powder and scarlet rouge, wondered if she had ever been pretty in her younger days.
"I'll swan! I just have to warn you, Hunter, I can't imagine what kind of girl would consider such a cold marriage proposal as that," Lulu drawled.
"The kind of no-nonsense, mature woman I'm looking for — prim, highly respectable — who'll appreciate my honesty as I'll appreciate hers." He took a final puff of his cigar, tossed it into the spittoon, then tucked the letter in the pocket of his fine, black broadcloth coat.
"But, Hunter," Lulu reminded him as she reached for a cookie from the plate on her desk, "you didn't really tell her much about yourself —"
"I told her all that's important," he snapped. "A marriage is a business contract and should be handled as such. I don't want some silly female with dreamy ideas about romance. Much obliged, Lulu. Good night, girls."
"Aw," Blanche pouted, "don't go. I thought maybe after a little rest, you'd —"
"Sorry, girls, I've got to get this letter to Mercer; his ship leaves at dawn." Turning, he took his black Western hat off the rack and went out into the rainy, cool night.
Lulu stared after the darkly handsome man whose eyes were the bright color of an azure sky. He was a strange one, all right, dressed in fine clothes cut to hang well on his big frame. He hadn't told the prospective bride about his background and Lulu had not dared suggest it. In fact, he might be furious if he knew how much she knew about him. Hunter was a very private, lonely man who kept everyone at arm's length. Such a contrast to his suave brother, Lulu thought. Not many people except Swede even knew he had a brother, and Hunter didn't know she knew.
Lulu pulled her purple satin robe around her bulk. "It's gettin' late, girls. Get yourselves fixed up. Customers will be comin' in soon."
"It ain't as if we have any competition," Blanche complained. "Except for a few squaws over at the Illahee and a few respectable wives from that last little bunch of mail-order brides, there ain't any women in Seattle."
Lulu began to clear off her desk. She put away the pen, paper, and ink and shook her head, thinking. Stubborn son-of-a-bitch. Ask for help with a letter, then won't take it. Independent as some damned Yankee. Aloud, she said, "We're about to get some competition if Asa Mercer succeeds in bringin' in that whole ship-load of brides; and he may, what with the war almost over and his friendship with President Lincoln."
Blanche pouted and pulled up her stockings. "What kind of girl do you think will accept that letter?"
"Maybe no one," Claire yawned and pushed back a dark curl as she paused in the doorway leading to the hall, "but he ain't gonna marry you, Blanche, or none of us. Hunter wants a lady."
"No lady can give him the fun we do." Blanche grinned and winked. "He'll be back; you wait and see. The lady might get the ring and that big house, but as long as he keeps comin' in here a couple of times a week and slippin' big money in my stocking top —"
"I'd like him to slip a big something in more than my stocking," Sal said wistfully. "He never chooses me."
"Ya'll give him time." Lulu made a soothing gesture. "After all, we ain't been open but a few months. I reckon that big stud'll get around to all of you." Lulu knew why the lumber king craved respectability. Lulu knew more about Hunter than he would want anyone to know. When she'd met his older brother in New Orleans, he'd snickered about Hunter.
Lulu looked in the mirror on her office wall. Another gray hair among her blond locks and, despite the thick powder and rouge, her wrinkles showed. Once she had been young, thin, and pretty, but that was a long time and a lot of men ago. "At least the girl who comes to marry Hunter won't expect romance, just marriage."
Blanche giggled again as they left the office to greet the first customers of the evening. "Maybe he'll change his mind and pick one of us."
Lulu smiled wryly. "Don't ya'll hold your breath 'til that happens. Hunter's pride would never let him marry a slut." Knowing what she did, Lulu was sure of it.
Outside on the muddy street, Hunter turned his coat collar up against the damp wind and pulled his hat down over his blue eyes. He could feel the marks of Blanche's nails on his broad back and still taste Claire's hot kisses. Lulu's Lovelies had seen a lot of him and the other loggers in the few months the place had been open.
Hunter felt for the letter in his pocket. Just what the hell was he getting himself into? It isn't too late to throw it away and forget it, he reminded himself with a frown.
Slowly he lit a cigar and blew out the match, broke it in half, and tossed it. Hunter, you damned fool. He stared at the glowing tip of his smoke. What kind of man would propose marriage to a stranger? Well, weren't these mail-order brides going to be carefully screened? With so many men dead in the Civil War, word was that a lot of respectable women had been left widowed or orphaned and were desperate enough to go thousands of miles to marry men they'd never met.
Hunter wasn't getting any younger; he had passed twenty-five. What good was being one of the richest men in the Territory if he had no children to inherit it? He thought about his father and shivered, wondering if that terrible thing ran in the blood, could be inherited? He'd never discussed that with anyone; Hunter wasn't sure he wanted to know. Maybe he shouldn't want children, but he did. For that reason alone, he could stand to bed some cold little aristocrat once a year. No doubt she'd be relieved if he took his virile appetites down to Lulu's, because ladies weren't supposed to like making love.
Was that what had driven his father into the arms of a beautiful Indian whore?
Hell. He didn't want to think about that because it reminded him of his nightmares. No one knew about the nightmares; he'd never discussed them even with Swede. If he married, what would his wife think when he woke up shaking, drenched in sweat? He took one last drag on his cheroot and stared at the glowing tip as he tossed it in a puddle. Then he started briskly for Asa Mercer's place before he changed his mind and listened to his own misgivings.
Asa Mercer was the president of the new university, which had no students. Hunter allowed himself a rare smile. In lieu of teaching, Mercer was taking donations to bring back a ship-load of brides from back East. Hunter decided that he would double the three hundred dollars the others were giving Mercer so he would get the choicest lady on board. In a few months, Mercer would return with a hand-picked bride for Hunter, and maybe the lady need never know his own shadowy secrets. All Hunter had to do until then was build his wealth, pick out a name for his son, and wait for the future mother to be delivered.
Sassy Malone hugged her burly father once more and looked into the five little, freckled faces so much like her own. "Aye, don't be so sad. We'll meet again someday." In her heart, she wasn't sure it was true; and, judging from her brothers' and sisters' expressions, none of them thought so either.
"Aye," Mike agreed in his thick Irish accent, "sure we will. Now you children don't be makin' Sassy feel bad. 'Tis hard enough for her to go."
A big lump came up in her throat that she thought would choke her, but she tried to keep tears from overflowing her brown eyes. "By the saints, 'tis a grand adventure I'll be having accompanying Miss Merriweather; and I'll keep sending money, just like always." Sassy prayed her father would never learn how she had been earning her money before she found a respectable position as a lady's personal maid a few months ago. She had only done what she had to do, yet Mike Malone was a proud, old-fashioned man. The family had been desperate, but Papa would have starved before he'd have taken money earned that way.
Papa's weather-beaten face reddened as he looked at his scarred arm. "I'm only glad your mother didn't live to see what a pretty pass I've brought to her children. It is a shameful thing indeed that the whole family becomes the responsibility of a mere slip of a girl."
"Now, Papa, I'm almost nineteen and didn't mind helping out after you were hurt on that construction site. Now that you're well, there must be someone who'll hire the Irish."
"Nobody's hiring the Irish," little Megan piped up. "They chase us home when we leave the neighborhood, calling us 'shanty Micks.'"
"We're as good as anybody, we Malones. All you children remember that," Sassy snapped, stroking Megan's dark red hair.
"Aye," Mike agreed, "your mother was a lady; a real highborn lady." His rough face saddened. "She gave up a lot to run away to America with me." He slipped Maureen's ring from his little finger, his own from his left hand. "Sassy, here's the Claddagh rings we gave each other the night we wed. I want you to have them."
"But, Papa, the rings mean so much to you —"
"She'd want you to have them, me darlin' girl." His callused hand pressed the two gold rings into her palm, closed her fingers over them. She felt his hand tremble as if he couldn't bear to think of his dear, dead Maureen. He cleared his throat. "Remember the saying that goes with a Claddagh ring: 'Let love and friendship reign.' May they bring you love and luck."
She leaned to kiss his weathered face one more time. "If they bring me a man like you, Papa, I'll be more than blessed."
He made an awkward, dismissing gesture. "Get along with you now before you miss your train back to New York. Maybe you and your Miss Merriweather will both meet very eligible gentlemen."
Little Ian said proudly, "There's no one good enough for our Sassy!"
The others set up a chorus of agreement, and Sassy had to fight to hold tears back as she kissed them all, thinking she might never see them again. "I — I'll write and I'll send money when I can." Sassy put the rings on a small chain around her neck, then reached to rumple the reddish hair of Paddy, the youngest brother, named for Papa's brother, Patrick. Patrick's family was supposed to have immigrated just before the war started, but they'd lost track of him and his family's whereabouts. One more tragedy for Mike.
"Oh, daughter," Mike's face furrowed, "are you sure now you know what you're about? The papers have been full of talk about this Asa Mercer. Some say Washington is a wild place full of savages and trees as big around as a house. Some say the girls will be used for ..." He glanced at the big-eyed children, then his honest face reddened and he didn't finish.
Sassy closed her eyes momentarily. If Mike had known how she had disgraced the Malone name, he wouldn't have touched the money she had sent home this past year. Only a short time ago, she had fled both New York and Brett James and found honest work in Philadelphia as a lady's personal maid. "Papa, I told you Miss Merriweather has exhausted her money and is determined to go. If I don't go with her, I won't have a job. You know how hard work is to come by with the war ended and things slowing down, especially for the Irish."
He nodded and sighed. "Aye, I know, but me heart won't accept it."
Besides, Brett James was looking for her, Sassy thought. And when he found her, no doubt he'd kill her.
Little Megan said, "Maybe we can come to Washington, too, someday."
Excerpted from Half Breed's Bride by Georgina Gentry. Copyright © 1993 Lynne Murphy. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The herione is a fickle mess and the leading man is far too good to be with her. If you like simpering misses and a convulted love story then by all means waste your time but if you're like me (who finds a fickle leading woman obnoxious) then don't then waste your money or time on this silly book.
It was a good read kept me interested.
The story was good. To many typos that made it confuesing and trouble some to read. Who okays the typiest? Or, the proof reader...........