A year ago, Rosamond Dancy never dreamed she'd find herself in Morrow Creek. After being removed from her job as a Boston housemaid, sold into marriage and widowed in quick succession, she's now determined to take back the reins of her life.
But then the past she's determined to forget shows up on her doorstep in the form of Miles Callawayand everything changes in an instant. Could Miles be the one to convince this runaway to hang up her shoes and stay by his side forever?
"Love and redemption are the soul of this heart-tugging charmer." RT Book Reviews on The Honor-Bound Gambler
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
March 1885, Morrow Creek, Northern Arizona Territory
Miles Callaway was a man who didn't believe in second chances. He'd never needed to before. But on the day he arrived in the tiny territorial town of Morrow Creek, perched at the edge of a pine-dotted mountainside and bordered by its namesake sparkling creek, he decided to try for a second chance anyway.
After all, he'd traveled two thousand miles to find this oneto find the woman who'd slipped away from him back in Boston. Any woman who could inspire that kind of devotion was special.
On the other hand, so were the five hundred dollars he'd accepted for finding her.
That was more money than Miles had ever seen in one place in his whole lifetime. Even now, with most of those greenbacks stashed safely away in his battered valise, he felt conspicuouslike a miner who'd just pickaxed himself a gold nugget or twelve and was carrying around all that plunder stuffed in his britches pockets.
Around him on the town's main street, horse traffic kicked up dust. Passersby lingered on the raised-plank boardwalk to talk. Several calico-clad women meandered in and out of the businesses surrounding him, carrying parcels of goods. Miles spied a mercantile and a millinery as he walked pastalso, a newspaper office, a book depot and a telegraph station. Like most other small towns he'd passed through while headed west, Morrow Creek seemed both bustling and peaceable. Its church was as prominent as its saloon. Both appeared equally revered.
Stiff and vaguely achy from his long train journey, Miles shouldered his valise and then stretched his legs with brisker walking. Moving felt good. So did the cool springtime air on his face. Inhaling a lungful, he almost grinned. In Boston, the air felt as thick as scorched pea soup. It looked black with soot, and it burned all the way going down. Compared with that, the territorial air he drew in felt like a kiss from Mother Nature herself.
He could learn to like it here.
Especially if he found Rosamond McGrath.
Squinting ahead, Miles focused his attention on Jack Murphy's saloon. Even though it was scarcely past noontime, the place looked busy. That suited Miles just fine. He was secure in the information that had brought him to Morrow Creek, but some of the facts he'd garnered were months old now.
Before making his move, he needed to know more.
There was no better place for a man to get his bearings than the local saloon. He could clear away the railway dust with a pint of Levin's ale, swap yarns with the locals and wrangle the remaining details he needed. If he followed that with trips to the telegraph and post offices, passed by the jailhouse and made sure he tamped down his impatience long enough to approach Rosamond McGrath in a sensible fashion, Miles knew he could prevail.
He had to prevail. He'd already spent a year trying.
He'd sacrificed his job and his principles for this search. Because of it, Miles was a different man from the jovial stableman who'd left Arvid and Genevieve Bouchard's employ and journeyed westward from Beacon Hill, determined to find a woman who sometimes felt more like a ghost than the flesh-and-blood runaway housemaid she was.
Not that that description adequately described Rosamond McGrath. Or Miles's feelings for her. But for now, those feelings of his were beside the point. What mattered now was making a smart approach. He didn't want to spook Rose. He didn't want to send her scurrying away again, the way she'd done so mysteriously before. Miles was a man who persevered, no matter what. But that didn't mean he had to struggle uphill both ways.
He could make damn sure, this time, that he played his hand shrewdly. So, with his gaze fixed and his mind clear, Miles sent his boots clomping across the boardwalk and up into the lively two-story saloon, where piano music played and men like him congregated and sometimes shared more than they should.
Thank Providence for whiskey, Miles told himself as he shouldered his way inside the dim saloon, inhaling the earthy scents of spilled liquor and stale tobacco as he went. Thank heaven for all its useful, tongue-loosening qualities, too.
Setting his valise safely at his feet, Miles tugged his flat-brimmed hat over his face. He gave his bearded jawline a rueful rub. If he wanted to appear presentable, he needed to shave. But as it was, his dark facial hair and overgrown shoulder-length locks made him look less like a respectable, citified carriage driver and more like well, more like a man who didn't intend to take no for an answer on the questions he had.
So, bearded and determined and equipped with more money than any man ought to wisely bring into a place where drinking and gambling held the upper hand, Miles ordered an ale from the barman and got down to the business of locating Rose McGrath.
Rosamond McGrath Dancy was in the small fenced yard behind her house, playing with the children in her care, trying for the umpteenth time to learn the rules of baseball, when a surprising summons came from Bonita Yates, her friend and assistant.
"I'm sorry to interrupt all the frivolity, Mrs. Dancy." Bonita stood in the meager shade of a scrub-oak tree, speaking loudly to be heard over the boisterous children shouting their advice to Rosamond. "But you have a gentleman caller."
A gentleman caller. Those unexpected words made Rosamond's grip on her baseball bat go slack. At home plate, she missed the next pitch, thrown by little Seamus O'Malley, Maureen's son.
Rosamond frowned. "You know I don't see gentleman callers. Fetch Seth. He'll know what to do to get rid of him."
At her mention of one of the two burly "protectors" Rosamond employed, Bonita shook her head. "Seth let him in."
"He did?" Rosamond darted a glance to the second of her protectors, Judah Foster, who'd been stationed here in the yard. His quizzical shrug only increased her sense of unease.
Everyone in her household knew better than to allow strangers inside the house. Especially if those strangers were men. Especially if those men wanted to see her. Most of her rules were designed to avoid exactly this situation.
Entirely alarmed now, Rosamond lowered the tip of her bat to the ground, her baseball lessons all but forgotten.
The children cried out in exasperated impatience. "Don't quit, Mrs. Dancy!" yelled wiry, bespectacled, blonde Agatha Jorgensen. "You almost hit the ball that time!"
Nearby, Grace Murphy nodded. "Agatha is correct, Rosamond. You have your batting stance mastered. Now all you need to do is work on your timing." As a notorious suffragette and advocate of equality, Grace had been the first to suggest entertaining the childrengirls and boys alikewith athletics. She'd also spent quite a while tutoring Rosamond in the finer points of the sport she so enjoyed herself. "If you keep practicing, you'll be joining my Morrow Creek ladies' baseball league in no time."
"I'd like that, Grace." Rosamond tossed her friend a shaky smile, gratefulnot for the first timefor her encouragement. It was partly due to Grace's determined intervention that Rosamond's unconventional household had been allowed into Morrow Creek in the first place. Reminded of that unconventionalityand all the misunderstandings it sometimes engenderedRosamond swerved her attention back to Bonita. "Why did Seth let him in? He knows better than that." Both of her security employees did. "I'll have a talk with Seth. After he sends away whoever"
"It's Gus Winston." Seth Durant strode in through the side yard, temporarily abandoning his post at her household's front door. With his broad shoulders, gunslinger's attitude and fierce demeanor, the elder of her two protectors was the approximate size of her front doorand usually barred intrusions just as capably. Until today. "I knew you'd want to see him before he heads off to San Francisco with Miss Abigail."
"Oh. Well, of course I want to see him!" All smiles now, Rosamond handed her bat to Tommy Scott, who was awaiting his turn. "Here, Tommy. You try batting next. The rest of you make lots of scores!"
"They're called runs, Mrs. Dancy!" shouted little Tobe Larkin, full of sass and exaggerated forbearance. He'd recently come to the territory from California with his widowed mother, Lucinda. Both were temporarily taking refuge with Rosamond. "When you're playing baseball, scores are called runs."
"Yes. Thank you, Tobe." Growing up in faraway Boston, Rosamond had never spent much time with other children. She'd worked in a factory, like her parents, until she'd been orphaned. After that, she'd been apprenticed as a housemaid in a fine Beacon Hill household. Her days had not been filled with games and childish pastimes. "I'll master this eventually."
"We know," the children chimed in cheerfully, having heard the same axiom from Rosamond endless times already. I'll master this eventually was something of a catchphrase for Rosamond. She hadn't realized she used it as often as she did until her friend Libby Jorgensen pointed it out to her with surprising admiration.
"You're so determined, Rosamond," Libby had told her that day, shortly after they'd moved into the house. "That's what makes you different from the rest of us. That's what made you able to get us here, all the way across the country, after Mr. Dancy"
Rosamond had cut off her friend curtly, unwilling to hear any more about the man she'd briefly and disastrously been wed to. Elijah Dancy might have unwittingly enabled Rosamond's new life by obligingly getting shot at a gambling table, but that didn't mean Rosamond felt a speck of gratitude for the man.
In fact, she had yet to meet the man she felt grateful for. No one who truly knew her would have blamed her for that fact.
But if any man were to come close, it would have been Gus Winston. The lanky, bandanna-wearing stableman had approached Rosamond's household with an open mind and endearing enthusiasm.
You have a gentleman caller, she remembered Bonita saying. She had to get busy. She couldn't keep Gus waiting all day.
Breathless with the aftereffects of her athletic endeavors, Rosamond patted her bedraggled, mostly upswept auburn hair. Vigorously, she brushed off her bodice and her bustled, lace-trimmed skirts. Playing baseball wasn't strictly among her duties as the lady of the household, but whenever one of the children asked her to join in, Rosamond simply couldn't resist. She loved hearing their raucous laughter and seeing their little faces smudged with dirt but wreathed with smiles, all the same.
You have a gentleman caller.
When would those words not stop her heart?
She'd escaped from Boston, Rosamond reminded herself firmly. She had nothing more to fear from the Bouchards or anyone else. She'd made a new life for herself in Morrow Creek.
A life that left hera supposed ladyhopelessly untidy.
Nonetheless, she faced Grace brightly. "How do I look?"
Her friend assessed her. "You look perfectly invigorated!"
Hmm. That wasn't terribly helpful. "Bonita?"
"It's Gus," her assistant reminded her. "He won't mind if you're slightly less stringently ladylike than usual."
Bonita's teasing grin reminded Rosamond that to everyone here, she truly was ladylike. Despite the gossip and whispers that had initially greeted the arrival of her Morrow Creek Mutual Societyand the ladies thereinno one in town suspected Rosamond of anything untoward. Her neighbors approved of her.
Almost a year after her ignoble departure from Boston, Rosamond had created the haven she'd always longed for. In the unlikely refuge of Morrow Creek, she was finally secure.
Unless a particular and unwanted "gentleman caller" arrived, that is. If that happened, all her security would be shattered.
Rosamond couldn't bear to consider it. "I'll be back for the next round," she assured everyone. "Good luck!"
"It's the next inning!" Tobe called. "Inning!"
But Rosamond gaily waved off his assertion and headed for her private parlor, hauling in a deep breath as she went.
If nothing else, she was in charge here. She had friends, security, a family of rescued women and their children, and a useful occupation to occupy her mind. She'd done good work here.
As proof, Rosamond reminded herself, she was about to meet the first and most satisfied client of her mutual society.
The just-married Mr. Gus Winston, waiting in her parlor.
* * *
Within half an hour of his arrival at the saloon, Miles had the dispiriting realization that he'd become an expert at subterfuge. Wholly without meaning to, he'd become a man who knew how to pick a lock, when to trade cash for information and where to find answers that didn't send him off cockeyed on a wild, time-wasting goose chase. He'd learned how to suss out the truth and how to protect himself. He'd had to. The kind of people he'd dealt with were neither reputable nor trustworthy.
At this point, maybe he wasn't, either.
But the urgency of his search had demanded more from him. More, maybe, than he'd been willing to give at the outset. But he'd had no choice then. Now that Miles was so closenow that he knew Rosamond McGrath was within reachhe couldn't quit.
He'd always been able to handle himself, of course, Miles recalled as he studied his ale. He had the usual masculine willingness to fight, if the outcome of that fight mattered. In his time, he'd settled a few disputes with his fists. He had the musculature that came from hoisting horse-and-carriage equipment from dawn to dusk, the wits that came from growing up in the hardscrabble city tenements and a hardheadedness that owed itself, quite naturally, to his Callaway forebearers.
Each of them was as stubborn as a stuck mule and more than eager to boast about it. But they also had the charm of several fallen angels to sweeten their obstinacy. Miles's own father had possessed unholy amounts of charisma coupled with an unfortunate unwillingness to quit playing faro until his pockets were empty.
Too bad he could always finagle the faro dealer into letting him play a mite longer on credit, Miles remembered. Without that damnable charm of his, Silas Cal-laway might have been able to save and move out from the grimy tenements. That certainly would have pleased Miles's mother. But none of the Callaways had ever really expected to leave the rougher side of Bostonat least not unless it was in service to someone like the Bouchards.
In the end, Miles had been the only one who'd left.
He'd brought some of that infamous family charm with him, though, he reckoned as he signaled the barman for some food. He'd twisted the Callaway charisma into use not for gambling but for a greater cause.
For Rose. For finding her, just as he'd promised, and for
"You must be Callaway." A huge, friendly-faced man wearing homespun trousers and a loose buttoned shirt stepped up to the bar beside Miles. He ordered, then nodded at Miles. "The man with all the questions about Mrs. Dancy and her establishment."
Mrs. Dancy. Miles still couldn't get used to that.
He knew Rosamond had married. But how? Why?
Had she really, as Genevieve Bouchard had insisted, become smitten with Elijah Dancy and run away with him in the night?
He couldn't believe the woman he'd known would do that.
Even if she had, she would have written to someone. To him.
Knowing there had to be more to this situation, Miles nodded calmly at his interrogator. "I am. You know Mrs.
Another, more curt nod. "Yep. But I don't know you."
With new respect, Miles eyed the man. He had the burly build of a stevedore, the jovial demeanor of a gambler who always won big and the jaded gaze of someone who knew better than to trust an outsider.
"Miles Callaway." Miles offered his hand to the man. "I'm new in town. I couldn't help hearing about Mrs. Dancy's place. I don't mind saying, it's got me mighty intrigued."
The man laughed, then accepted Miles's handshake. "Daniel McCabe. I wouldn't get yourself all het up about Mrs. Dancy's society, if I were you. It sounds scandalous, but it's not."
With a genial nod for the barman, McCabe accepted what appeared to be a midday meal of beans, bacon and bread. All around them both, the business of the saloon continued apace, full of low conversations, clinking gambling chips and quickly dealt cards. More whiskey flowed. Clouds of cigarillo smoke drifted toward the ceiling, almost obscuring Jack Murphy's painted image of a cavorting water nymph behind the bar.
"The Morrow Creek Marriage Bureau?" Miles repeated the name he'd heard used. "Sounds scandalous to meand to every other man who doesn't want to get hitched in the next week."