Hit the trail into the Old West, where a tough lady rancher and a seemingly aimless wrangler attempt to avoid the matrimonial noose. When Belle Tanner hires Silas Harden to help her get her cattle to market, the last thing she’s looking for is romance. So why does she turn into jelly whenever he’s near? Silas wants nothing to do with women, but he can’t seem to resist the pull of love when it comes to Belle. Can they make it through this cattle drive without getting hitched? Or will they steer straight into a commitment neither one counted on?
About the Author
Mary Connealy writes romantic comedy with cowboys. She is a Carol Award winner, and a RITA®, Christy, and Inspirational Reader’s Choice finalist. She is the bestselling author of the Wild at Heart series, Trouble in Texas series, Kincaid Bride series, Lassoed in Texas trilogy, Montana Marriages trilogy, Sophie’s Daughters trilogy, and many other books. Mary is married to a Nebraska cattleman and has four grown daughters and a little bevy of spectacular grandchildren. Find Mary online at www.maryconnealy.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Husband Tree
By Mary Connealy
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Mary Connealy
All rights reserved.
Montana Territory, 1876
Belle Tanner pitched dirt right on Anthony's handsome, worthless face.
It was spitefulness that made her enjoy doing that. But she was sorely afraid Anthony Santoni's square jaw and curly, dark hair had tricked her into agreeing to marry him.
Which made her as big an idiot as Anthony.
Now he was dead and she was left to dig the grave. Why, oh why didn't she just skip marrying him and save herself all this shoveling?
She probably should have wrapped him in a blanket, but blankets were hard to come by in Montana ... unlike husbands.
She labored on with her filling, not bothering to look down again at the man who had shared her cabin and her bed for the last two years. She only hoped when she finished she didn't forget where she'd buried Anthony's no-account hide. She regretted not marking William's and Gerald's graves now for fear she'd dig in the same spot and uncover their bones. As she recalled, she'd planted William on the side nearest the house, thinking it had a nice view down the hill over their property. She wasn't so sure about Gerald, but she'd most likely picked right, for she'd dug the hole and hadn't hit bones. Unless critters had dug Gerald up and dragged him away.
Belle had to admit she didn't dig one inch deeper than was absolutely necessary. Maybe a little less than was necessary. This was rocky ground. It was quite a chore. Her husbands had made too many chores for her over the years. Digging their graves was the least of it.
She'd risked her own life to drag her first husband, William, out of the cattle pen. The pen any fool would know was too dangerous to go into—which Belle always did, not being a fool. Rudolph, their longhorn bull, was a mite cantankerous and given to using his eight-foot spread of horns to prove himself in charge of any situation.
Then Gerald had gotten himself thrown from his horse. His boot had slipped through the stirrup, and judging by his condition, Belle figured he'd been dragged for the better part of the three-hour ride home from the Golden Butte Saloon in Divide by a horse whose instincts told him to head for the barn.
Anthony's only good quality was he'd managed to get himself killed quick. They'd been married less than two years. For a while there, Belle feared he'd last through pure luck. But stupid outweighed luck. Stupid'll kill a man in the West. It wasn't a forgiving place. And Anthony was purely stupid, so he didn't last all that long.
Between William and Gerald—that is between being married to 'em—Belle had changed the brand to the T Bar. Known as the Tanner Ranch from then on, it never changed, regardless of whatever Belle's last name happened to be at the time. She'd also had a real smart lawyer in Helena draw up papers for Anthony to sign so the ranch would always belong to Belle, and if something happened to her instead of a worthless husband, Belle's wishes would be carried out.
She tamped the dirt down good and solid. About the fifth tamp, she admitted she was using more energy than was strictly necessary. She'd whacked it down especially tight over Anthony's pretty-boy face.
Three sides of the Husband Tree used up. She wasn't up to puttin' up with a live one or buryin' another dead one. The tree roots wouldn't appreciate it.
And neither would the children.
She said a quick prayer for Anthony, reflecting silently as she spoke, that knowing Anthony as she did, it was doubtful there were enough prayers in the world to save his warped soul. Never had it been necessary for God to perform a greater miracle, and Belle asked for just that, though she didn't hold out much hope.
She finished the service in one minute flat, not counting the digging and filling, which had taken considerably longer. It had been early in the day when she'd found Anthony dead beside the house. Planting him had interrupted chores, but there was no help for it. She couldn't leave him lying there. He was blocking the front door.
She nodded to the children, four of 'em, one from each husband, and a spare thanks to William. "We got chores."
"Why'd you marry him anyway, Ma?" Lindsay bounced the baby on her hip. They were a study, those two. Lindsay so blond, the baby so dark.
"Not a lick of sense, that's all." Belle had no desire to fancy this up. She'd been pure stupid to get married, and her girls needed to know that.
"Well, have you learnt your lesson?" Sarah plunked her little fists on her hips and arched her bright red eyebrows at Belle.
"It's a humbling thing just how well I've learned it, Sarah. There will never be another husband on this ranch. You have my word."
"The folks in town'll be out here tryin' to push themselves off onto you." Lindsay probably had a few faint memories of how Belle had ended up hitched to Gerald. The girl had made it clear long before Anthony died that when this one croaked, there'd better not be any more of 'em.
"I'll take the shovel, Ma. I need it to clear out the dam. Dirt's backed up on the canal you built to water the garden." Twelve-year-old Emma pulled her Stetson low over her eyes. She'd removed it for the funeral prayer, though Belle hadn't thought to require it.
Handing over the shovel, Emma grabbed it and headed downhill. The other girls turned from the grave and headed for the house. Fifteen-year-old Lindsay carried the baby, Elizabeth, born this spring not long after branding and not old enough yet to walk.
Thank You, dear Lord God, for letting Betsy be a girl. Thank You for all my girls. What would I have done with a boy child?
Eight-year-old Sarah fell in line next.
Belle watched them walk ahead of her. Each of them the image of her pa.
Lindsay and Emma had wispy, white blond hair, bright blue eyes, and skin that burned to a reddish tan from their long hours in the sun. Lindsay'd grown taller than Belle these days, and Emma now looked Belle straight in the eye. William had been a tall one, and as blond as most Swedes.
Sarah had a shock of unruly red curls, eyes as green as grass, and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose from her Irish pa, Gerald O'Rourke.
The baby, Elizabeth, whom they called Betsy, was a beautiful little girl. Belle almost had a moment of affection for Anthony Santoni. Betsy's cap of midnight black hair fell into soft, natural ringlet curls. The dark brown eyes were rimmed with abundant lashes, and her skin had seemed tanned from birth. The little girl was the image of Anthony.
Belle lifted her own straight brown hair, "the color of chocolate" her pa used to say, and thought of her odd light brown eyes—like it would have killed one of the little tykes to take after her just a smidgen. And she had no nationality to speak of either. Her family had been in the country a hundred years before the Revolution, and they'd all been busy for generations being Americans. Who had the time to study ancestors?
"We've been over this now, Ma!" Lindsay hollered to make sure Belle heard. "No more husbands, never."
"Don't waste time fussing at me, Linds. Those men have caused me a sight more trouble than they've caused you. I'm not gonna tell anyone in town Anthony is dead." They'd notice when he didn't show up at the Golden Butte to visit one of the girls. But missing him didn't mean they knew anything. Maybe they'd think he'd quit being a lying, cheating, lazy, no-account man and he was busy. Running the ranch.
It took all she had not to snort out loud at the very idea.
Belle didn't mention the Golden Butte to the girls. She never took them to town, and she didn't think they knew exactly what Betsy's low-down pa did while he was away from the ranch. Probably figured him for a drinker like Gerald.
The four girls were strung out before her, heading downhill. What a pretty bunch they were. Belle dreaded the trouble that could come to a pretty girl.
Pretty didn't matter anyway. Heaven knew that with her weathered skin and calloused hands and straight-as-a-string hair, she was nothing great to look at. The men who came a-runnin' every time she was widowed said pretty words about her appearance. But women were scarce in Montana. And a fertile mountain valley like the Tanner spread was even scarcer. The two-legged varmints would have been out here trying to turn her head with flattery if she looked like the north end of a southbound mule.
Growing up pretty—and who could judge a thing like that as there wasn't a mirror for a thousand miles—was only a nuisance in her way of thinking. With all the water rights sewed up for over twenty thousand acres, Belle didn't kid herself that her looks brought the men sniffin' around.
Lindsay reached the bottom of the hill.
Sarah sped up to catch her and snagged Betsy out of Lindsay's arms, then angled toward the house. "I'll watch the baby and get the noon meal on, Ma." Just as she went in the door, Sarah glanced back at Belle and said matter-of-factly, "Now that Anthony fell off the roof, can I toss a couple less taters into the pot?"
Belle nodded. "He ate about three."
"We gonna save money on food now that he's dead." Emma tucked the shovel under one arm while she walked, snagged her buckskin gloves from where she'd tucked them behind her belt buckle, and began tugging them on.
Sarah went into the house.
Without comment, Lindsay and Emma headed for the barn.
Belle smiled with pride at her girls. They did take after her in one important way. The girls knew how to work. Belle hadn't been able to marry any help, but she'd sure as shootin' given birth to it.
By the time Belle quit standing around feeling proud over her girls and relieved over Anthony, Emma already had her horse caught. She rode out to work the dam, the shovel they'd used to plant Anthony strapped onto her saddle. Lindsay had disappeared into the chicken coop to fetch eggs.
Belle went into the barn, snagged her flat-topped black Stetson from a peg, and settled it onto her head. She shrugged into the fringed buckskin jacket she'd made from a mule-deer hide. Then she strapped on a six-gun in case she met any varmints on the trail, or worse yet, men come a-courtin'—those two being equal in her mind.
Rounding up one of her green-broke horses, Belle thought with pride of the well-trained cow ponies she'd been selling for good money the last few years. She let the young horse crow hop the kinks out with its usual good spirits, snagged her shotgun leaning on the fence, and shoved it into the sling on her saddle. Then she set out on the long ride to check her cattle. She had herds scattered near and far in her rugged mountain valley.
Lindsay headed into the barn to do the milking, carrying a bucket of eggs, just as Belle rode out of the corral. "I'm not forgettin' this time, Ma. And neither are you. You promised—no more husbands."
"A promise I intend to keep, daughter. Now quit with your scolding and get to work." Belle had known for some time now that both of her older daughters talked to her almost as if they were equals. She could still make them mind if it came right down to it. But mostly, she valued their opinions and listened when they talked, just as they listened to her. They made a good team, and it was possible her older girls already knew as much about ranching as Belle.
Lindsay held Belle's eyes for a long second. "I reckon you learned your lesson, all right. Anthony Santoni, worthless excuse for a man. What were you thinking to marry him?"
Belle shook her head. "He wasn't a worthless excuse for a man, Lindsay."
Lindsay's white blond brows arched. "He wasn't?"
"Nope, he was just a man. Same as any other man, leastways any I've known." Not strictly true. Seth worked hard at the general store. Red Dawson was a decent sort, what little she knew of him. Her pa hadn't been so bad; he was a hard worker, no denying it. But he'd done Belle wrong, and she lumped him in with the other men. "I thought I had to. It was never shall I get married. It was who shall I marry. Not anymore though. We all know well and good that a man just slows a woman down."
Lindsay gave Belle a firm nod and went on into the barn.
Smiling, enjoying being free of a husband—this time forever— Belle spurred her horse and smiled as the wind blew the pesky wisps that always escaped from her tightly braided hair.
Thank You, Lord, for making me a widow.
Belle hesitated briefly, pretty sure that God wouldn't exactly welcome such a prayer. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. And he'd takethed Anthony, praise be. Who was she to complain?
It was great to be a widow.
Now if she could just stay one!
* * *
New Mexico Territory
"Silas!" Lulamae Tool came to the door of the livery stable, caterwaulin' and waving her arms like she was being stung to death by bees. "Help me!" Her fearful eyes met his. "Help me please, Silas."
Silas Harden dropped his hand from the saddle horn of the buckskin he was about to mount and turned to the pretty girl with the scared eyes. "What's the matter?" He strode toward her. He'd talked with her a few times, and she was a dim critter. Who knew what little thing had made her kick up this ruckus?
She whirled and nearly ran back toward the livery. "My horse!" She glanced over her shoulder, oozing with gratitude. "Something's wrong with him, and Dutch isn't here."
With Dutch the hostler gone, it was up to Silas to save the day. He felt big and strong and in charge as he picked up his pace. He caught up with Lulamae as she dashed inside.
She grabbed his arm as if she were so upset she needed him to lean on, sweet little thing.
They rounded the row of stalls, and Lulamae skidded to a stop and jumped in front of him. She launched herself into his arms and kissed him.
Silas wasn't thinking straight, or he was caught up in his notion of a damsel in distress maybe, but all he did was enjoy the moment. The woman could kiss like a house afire. In fact, he threw in with the idea and kissed her back with plenty of enthusiasm.
A shotgun blasted.
"You've ruined my daughter!"
Silas turned toward the noise. Lulamae clung like a burr, and he dragged her with him as he whirled to face the gunfire.
Hank Tool charged inside. Lulamae's father'd been yelling before he'd even seen them. Behind him came the banker along with Dutch, who owned this livery.
Hank snapped more shells into his shotgun and aimed straight at Silas's heart.
Shrieking and crying, Lulamae said, "But you promised to marry me, Silas!" Lulamae dropped to the ground, crying and clinging to his ankles.
It didn't escape Silas's notice that now Hank had a clear shot right at his heart. Silas raised his hands skyward; his head was spinning too hard for any clear thought, with the crying and primed gun and Hank's steady, deadly threats.
Things came clear when he heard Hank Tool say, "March yourself right on over to the preacher. You're doing right by my girl."
Silas figured it out then. "Hank, I just walked in here to help Lulamae with her horse. She grabbed me. We've been in here less than a minute. Nothing happened."
"You're not gonna shame Lulamae and my family and live."
Then Silas figured out two more things: Hank knew exactly what Lulamae had done, and the look on Hank's face was determined and killing mean.
Well, Silas knew he was stupid, and no mistake. He'd gotten himself good and trapped, and now he could marry Lulamae or die, because whatever kind of lying, sneaking polecat Hank Tool was, his hand was steady on that trigger and his eyes meant business.
Silas shook his head.
Hank leveled his shotgun. Dutch and the banker bought into the game with their sidearms.
"Looks like we're having ourselves a wedding." Silas marched forward.
Lulamae sprang to her feet and latched onto Silas's arm and gave him such a smug, satisfied smile, it was all Silas could do not to shake her off. Not such a sweet little thing after all. And Silas would be switched if he'd marry the little sneak. But right now he didn't have a notion of a way out as they headed for the church.
"Put your hands down, you coyote. You're only adding to the shame you've caused my daughter by walking through town, letting all and sundry know you aren't marrying her willingly."
"I think the shotgun is enough of a clue, Hank." But Silas lowered his hands even as he knew that was the last order he planned to obey from Hank Tool.
Dutch ran for the preacher, and by the time they got to the church, both men were standing out front, frowning at Silas. The version of the story Dutch had told had put the holy man firmly on the Tools' side.
Excerpted from The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy. Copyright © 2010 Mary Connealy. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Belle Tanner has been married more times than she cares to remember. So when her latest husband Anthony passes away, she swears off men forever. Unfortunately, she can't do this year's cattle drive with only the help of her hard-working daughters. She needs to find some men to aid them. When she goes into town, she meets Silas Harden, who instantly convinces her he is the help she is looking for. Still wary about all men, Belle tries to keep her distance. And yet Silas is not like the others... In book one, MONTANA ROSE (reviewed here), I felt Belle was a fascinating character, as she was so incredibly tough-willed and strong-hearted. I could not wait to read more about her curious life. It was nice to see glimpses from Cassie and Red Dawson, and following along with Wade Sawyer was also a pleasure. I enjoyed reading about ranch life - Connealy writes with such vivid detail that it is easy to imagine yourself there. No one else can write a story quite like Mary Connealy. She has a knack for writing harsh and frightening scenes side by side with tender, humorous ones. Look for the third book in the Montana Marriages series, THE WILDFLOWER BRIDE, due out in May 2010!
It is quite a fact that I have yet to come across a book by Mary Connealy that I did not like. I loved the Lassoed in Texas series and I am enamored with the Montana Marriages series. It is baffling to me how each and every story can grip you further. The catty whit is so amusing and the characters are lovely. The issues dealing with real world problems are incredibly woven in a western historical standpoint and cause a reader to truly think. The growing love between protagonists is breathe taking and palpable. Belle Tanner is not your average western woman, but a woman not to be challenged. She has had her fill of husbands, as is shown by the occupied dirt surrounding three sides of the Husband Tree. The last thing that she wants is another husband nor a romance that leads that general direction. Silas is man with two near misses when it comes to marriage and not looking for another chance. When time has run out and a cattle drive has to be made by Belle and her four daughters, the drifter Silas is her only hope. What God brings together, let no man put apart. As a mother of a new baby reading and watching Belle's days with her girls especially her infant is amazing. I cannot imagine nursing while riding on horseback, much less changing a diaper in mid gallop without missing a beat. I am thrilled and enchanted to the bone by the tale devised by Mary's imagination and I cannot wait for the third installment in the series The Wildflower Bride. In this book you get a taste for what might be in for Wade Sawyer and Abby Lind. *sigh* Anticipation.
I thought the characters were well developed and the amount of thrills was perfectly balanced with the amount of romance. Overall I would suggest it to any number of people! Well done!
Another outstanding storyline of Belle and Silas, along with Belle's girls. Great cast of characters including characters from book 1. Belle, her girls and Silas very enjoyable read with lol moments. HEA ending to a wonderful story. Next stop, book 3, Wade's story. Happy Reading! *****vrnb*****
There is nothing about this book I didn't love. It had me laughing out loud, and also concerned because of the dangers they had to face. But, most of all, I felt the love these two had for each other grow into something we all search for ourselves. I hope the series continues with their daughters.
Best of the Series! Belle comes across as a real person. Very often when an author decides to put a women in charge they out man every man they come across. Belle is tough because she has had to be---but she is happy to have help in shouldering the load. I think that made her more believable. Also she questions herself on whether she is ding a good job as a mother. Every mother knows that feeling. She has doubts about Silas--understandable given her marriage history.
Wonderful read. Odd but I found name of tree funny. Almost the best book I ever read. I like this series of hers. Interesting. Surprising turns .Laugh out loud humor.This series is a loan out with a "I want my book back c
Love this book. Yea read the whole book in one night. Wanted to find out how it ended. Cant wait to read Wildflower. I will buy more books from this author.
I have read this book several times, loving the whole series, but this book in particular with its quirky humor, strong female lead, adorable and tough supporting characters. I strongly recommend this book to all mothers, daughters, and women in general. It is a must read. Love it!