When Moss Tucker smells danger, he shoots it. When he needs shelter, he grabs it. And when he wants a woman’s touch, he buys it. But then he sees Amanda Boone’s sparkling azure eyes—an innocent beauty like her would never get involved with a law-breaking man like him.
Chestnut-haired Amanda tries to keep her gaze on the vast frontier that flashes past her train window—but it keeps straying to the buckskin-clad stranger. Every inch of him is virile and strong. She knows it’s wrong to even think of his muscular arms crushing her soft curves in a fierce embrace. Yet she vows that before the trip is over he will be the one to tame her savage desire with his wild and lawless love.
“Bittner’s characters spring to life . . . Extraordinary for the depth of emotion with which they are portrayed.” —Publishers Weekly
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Amanda's insides jumped as steam suddenly swooshed from the sides of the Union Pacific engine not far from where she stood. The large, boiling monster hissed and clanged its bell, and Amanda took a deep breath to calm herself. She was determined that her fright at being alone on this long journey would not get the better of her. After all, weren't the nuns back in New York praying for her?
She picked up the carpetbag that sat on the ground beside her and hurried to the passenger car. In her haste she ran headlong into what seemed like a wall, something broad and seemingly immovable. She let out a small, startled scream as her hat was knocked from her head and one of the handles on her carpetbag broke. Someone reached out and grabbed her gently before she could stumble backward.
"Say there, little lady, you're in a might of a hurry, aren't you?" came a deep and somewhat gruff voice. Yet, when she looked up, the gentle brown eyes of the huge man she had run into did not match his voice and size. She quickly looked away in embarrassment.
Amanda's face turned crimson, and all she could manage was to gasp and utter a string of "Oh, mys!" as she brushed herself off. "I dearly beg your pardon, sir!" she finally added in her soft, shy voice. "I was lost in thought."
The man picked up her hat and handed it to her, and it was only then that she had the courage to face him again. This time their eyes held for a moment, and a strange, inexplicable feeling crept through Amanda's veins, as though running into this man were some kind of omen. He stood a good six feet tall or better, towering over her own five-foot two-inch frame. His dark hair hung nearly to his shoulders, although in neat waves that looked far from untidy. His face was handsome but bearded, which fascinated her, and it struck her that the beard probably hid a face that would be more attractive without its shroud of hair. And although the man wore a black broadcloth suit and a new gray hat, she could only envision him in buckskins, like the pictures of mountain men she had seen in books.
"You'd be best to sit down before you do your thinkin', ma'am," he was telling her with a soft grin. "What if I'd been the train?" His smile was charming, but Amanda couldn't think of a thing to say in return. She only smiled and blushed more. She had seldom talked to any man — and especially not to strangers — in her entire twenty-two years of life. Her eyes began to tear with embarrassment, and she bent down to pick up her carpetbag by the one handle that was still good. She put her other arm around it to support it.
"Ma'am, I could fix that for you. I've got some rawhide on my saddle back there in the storage car."
"No!" she said quickly. "I — it's fine."
"But you can't carry it around like that all the time."
"I'll manage. Excuse me, please." She turned to get into the passenger car. How could she let this stranger fix her carpetbag? What if he found out what was inside it? He was a huge man and looked worldly and experienced. How did she know he wasn't some kind of outlaw? How could she know who to trust?
"Ma'am?" he called out.
She stopped but did not turn around.
"You all right?"
She simply nodded and quickly boarded the train. She found a seat at the front of the car and sat down wearily, setting her carpetbag beside her. She leaned forward and reached around to rub her back a little. She was tired of sitting on trains, but her trip was not even half over. At least now she had something to look forward to, which would keep her mind off of her aching body.
The Union Pacific would head ever westward, and the train personnel had already told her that the scenery would change to raw, rugged country with buffalo, prairie dogs, and coyotes, flat-topped mesas, and the spectacular Rocky Mountains. And then there would be the Nevada desert and Sierras. These were all things she had only read about in books until now, things she had wished she could see — and now she would. She remembered the man she had just run into. She knew at a glance, without really knowing him, that he was a part of that "big sky country," as some authors called it in stories and articles she had read about the West.
The thought of the tall stranger brought a flutter to her chest and a new flush to her cheeks. She felt like a clumsy fool and hoped she would not see him again.
"May I see your ticket, ma'am?" a porter asked, interrupting her thoughts.
"What? Oh, yes," she replied, scrambling through her handbag until she found it. The porter studied it.
"All the way to California? Now that's a mighty big trip for a little lady like you, ma'am. You traveling alone?"
"The Lord is with me," she replied, taking back the ticket after he marked it.
The porter grinned. "That may be so, ma'am. But where you're heading, you'd be better off having a gun-totin' bodyguard along. You watch yourself, ma'am."
He walked on. "Next stop is Rock Island," he announced to everyone on the train. "Then we'll head into Iowa and Nebraska. It's a long trip, but the Union Pacific is bound to please its customers! You people are traveling the nation's latest grand achievement, the transcontinental railroad. We've made a lot of trips already, and we'll get you to the land of golden sunsets without any trouble. You folks rest easy now. We'll be five or six hours getting to Rock Island."
He walked down the aisle and then back, stopping to look at Amanda again. "You have a nice trip now."
"Thank you," she replied, managing a pleasant smile. So far she had done a decent job of keeping her fears hidden. Amanda had grown up behind the sheltered walls of a Catholic home for orphaned girls, seeing few people other than her peers at the orphanage and the nuns who helped raise her. Of men she knew next to nothing, having known only two priests — whom she almost never saw except in church — and the general delivery men who came to the orphanage. And none of them were anything like the tall stranger she had just run into, nor the other types of men she had read and heard about who lived in the West.
It made little difference, as she had no interest in a relationship with any man. She was much too shy and inhibited, and she planned to become a nun, although she had not yet made a final decision. She had already taken most of the necessary steps. But then she got the opportunity to go to California to teach, and she felt she should see more of the real world before taking her final vows.
Amanda was well educated — as far as books go — and she could cook and sew. But she was ill prepared for life outside the walls of the orphanage, so her new job would give her the opportunity to see how other people lived. She was well past the age that most girls left the orphanage and, although it was frightening, she knew she must get out and be on her own. Going all the way to California by herself seemed a bit excessive, but she was needed there, and it was a chance to step out and take hold of life in a brand new land.
At the time the job had been offered to Amanda five months earlier, the transcontinental railroad had just been completed. It seemed everything pointed to her taking the job.
"Your services are needed immediately," the letter from Father Mitchel said. "Please make an effort to come to California as soon as possible. Teachers are sorely needed."
And so her decision was made and everything was prepared for her journey. But plans were delayed when Amanda became ill with pneumonia, and weeks of slow recuperation had forced her departure all the way into early October. She knew it was risky leaving so late in the year, as everyone claimed snow came early to the Rockies. But she could not allow Father Mitchel to go another winter without help, and she was afraid she would lose the job if she was further delayed. It was unlikely such an opportunity would ever come up again. She had spent many nights dreaming about what it would be like to go west and see things that her friends and the nuns in New York would never see. It would be an adventure — frightening, but an adventure nonetheless.
But the day Amanda boarded the train in New York, her mounting fears dampened her adventuresome spirit. For the first time she would not only be on her own, but she would be traveling nearly three thousand miles away from the orphanage and the kind nuns who had nurtured and protected her. She felt like a foolish child to be so afraid. The loneliness that gripped her as she peered through the window of the train as the sisters waved good-bye reminded her of the day, when she was five years old, that she realized that her parents would never come back to her. Her memory of her mother and father was vague now. Her whole life had been the orphanage and the sisters. She had smiled bravely to them from the train and they blew kisses to her; then they were gone and she was alone.
She brushed more dirt from her dress and put her dark green velvet hat back on her head, feeling with her fingers to be sure it was in place before she pinned it. She was proud of her lovely hat and the matching velvet cape she wore with it; both were gifts from the nuns for her journey. "You must dress warmly and take care of yourself, Amanda. Remember you've just gotten over your pneumonia," the nuns had cautioned.
She reached over and pulled up the broken handle of her carpetbag, thinking how nice it would be to have it fixed. But she didn't dare trust the tall stranger who had offered to repair it.
In the bottom of her bag she carried money which the nuns had given her for the trip and for clothes when she arrived in California. But more important was the crucifix that was hidden in the bottom of her bag: a crucifix embedded with rubies and diamonds, a gift from the orphanage to the mission school where Amanda was headed. The crucifix worried Amanda, but she was sure that because of her plain clothes and quiet, reserved manner, no one would suspect she would be carrying anything valuable. "The Lord will be with you, Amanda," the nuns had told her. "You've nothing to fear."
The engine hissed again, and a conductor was walking up and down the tracks outside hollering "All aboard!"
She listened quietly to the general conversation behind her.
"Have you ever seen the Rockies?" a man asked another passenger.
"No. But I'm sure looking forward to it," another man's voice replied. "I figure I'll even bag me some buffalo through the window while the train's rolling."
The men chuckled, but Amanda's stomach churned with anger. How cruel to shoot an animal for sport! She felt that the railroad should put a stop to such behavior. But the railroad actually boasted about it, trying to attract more business by offering easy targets to greenhorns from the East so they could call themselves "great hunters."
Her thoughts turned again to the stranger. She was sure he would be against such an act. He struck her as the type who would laugh at such ludicrous hunting. But then it annoyed her that she had even given the man another thought. Why was he on her mind?
"What about the Indians?" someone else asked, "I've heard the Sioux have been raiding in Wyoming, and they've even tried to stop trains."
"They're just tryin' to hang on to what's theirs," came a deep and familiar voice. It was the stranger! She was sure of it without even turning around to look. She had not seen him board.
"Oh, but it isn't theirs!" an arrogant sounding voice spoke up. "Why should we let savages squat on valuable land? White settlement is a fact they simply have to face, sir. I couldn't care less if the red man was totally eradicated. It's time to rid this country of its riffraff and get on with progress. Out in Council Bluffs, where I reside, we've chased out most of the Indians."
"How? By shootin' them in the back and rapin' and killin' the women and babies?" came the reply. People gasped and Amanda turned to look. The tall stranger was standing, and he towered over the man who had made the haughty remark about eliminating the Indians in Council Bluffs. He looked menacing and angry, not at all like the smiling and courteous man who had kept her from falling.
"I beg your pardon!" the seated man remarked, turning red in the face. The man had an air of prosperity about him.
"Well, you won't get no apologies from me, mister," the tall stranger replied. "Men who root out the Indians without a thought to whether they'll live or die, and men who shoot buffalo out of train windows aren't men at all in my book. And if you was to face an Indian buck and fight him like a man, he'd have your hide stretched out to dry in two minutes flat and be wearin' your scalp from his weapons belt."
Amanda grinned and turned back around. The wealthy man was infuriated.
"You have no call to speak to me that way!" he fumed.
"I've got as much right to speak to you that way as you've got to be braggin' about riddin' Council Bluffs of Indians, mister. You want to do somethin' about it, you come on outside and we'll see how much of a brave Indian fighter you really are."
The wealthy man smiled contemptuously. "I'll not stoop to groveling in the dirt with the likes of you!" he replied.
The stranger chuckled. "That's what I figured. Maybe some other time then."
People whispered as the stranger moved up the aisle, and Amanda felt her heart pound when he took a seat directly across the aisle facing her so that she could not help but see him plainly. She quickly turned to look out the window, not wanting him to know she had been watching him.
"And have you ever fought Indians, mister?" one man asked him.
The locomotive hissed, belched, and lurched forward. The tall stranger sighed and leaned back, putting his feet up on the seat opposite him. He wore knee-high black leather boots with the pants tucked into them.
"I've gone around with a few," he replied, sounding tired.
"And how about the law?" the pompous man asked with a sneer. "Have you gone around with them, too?"
A faint grin passed over the stranger's lips, which Amanda caught out of the corner of her eye. He did not reply, but merely settled down into his seat and pulled the Stetson down over his eyes.
Once his eyes were covered, Amanda dared to glance at him again. The brief view she had had of him earlier told her he must be in his late thirties — and he was not a man to be pushed around. It was more and more obvious he'd had experience in the vast and mysterious West she was about to enter. But what sort of man was he? Was he a lawman? An outlaw? And what had he been doing in Chicago? Again it struck her that he ought to be wearing buckskins and possibly a gun belt, or carrying a rifle, or both. It annoyed her that she should think and wonder about him at all. Not only was she afraid of men in general, but this man apparently came from a world totally alien to the world she knew.
She absentmindedly pulled a small mirror from her handbag and held it up, tugging little curls farther down her forehead. She studied herself briefly. She was not beautiful — not in the way that wealthy, fashionable women are beautiful. But she did have a simple beauty: a clear complexion and soft green eyes. She never wore make-up — that was considered sinful — and her long, thick, dark brown hair was pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, with only a few strands left to curl about her face. She adjusted her hat again and settled back into her seat as the train began to move a little faster.
The stranger across the aisle shifted. She dared to glance over at him. His hands were resting on his stomach. They were big hands. Had they killed? Could they be gentle? Her excursion into this new and different world brought forward a myriad of questions to her inexperienced mind. She felt a sudden desire to know more about the stranger and his world.
He shifted again, looking uncomfortable. He pushed his hat back and stood up to pull down a pillow from the overhead rack.
"What kind of Indians did you fight, mister?" a curious passenger asked. The stranger did not reply immediately. He sat back down and fixed the pillow behind his head.
"Mostly Sioux," he finally grunted. "A couple of Apache."
"Did you kill them?" the other man asked.
The stranger was adjusting his hat again. He glanced over at Amanda, and it was obvious he just then realized she had been sitting there. His eyes immediately softened, and he smiled.
"So, we meet again. You all right, ma'am?"
She blushed and looked at her lap.
"I'm just fine."
"I'd still like to fix that bag for you."
The remark was so sincere, she hated to be rude.
"I — I'll think about it."
"Good." He frowned. "You alone?" he asked, after looking around. His voice showed his amazement.
She twisted her hands nervously. "The Lord is with me," she answered. He did not reply, and she couldn't help but look over at him. He was studying her with concern, and she felt a warmth flow through her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lawless Love"
Copyright © 1985 Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion 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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