Lettie McBride knows that joining a wagon train heading West is her chance to begin anew, far from the devastating memories of the night that changed her forever. She doesn't believe she can escape the pain of innocence lost, or feel desire for any man...until she meets Luke Fontaine.
Haunted by his own secrets, Luke would never blame Lettie for what happened in the past. One glance at the pretty redhead is enough to fill the handsome, hard-driving pioneer with a savage hunger.
Against relentless snows, murderous desperadoes, and raiding Sioux, Luke and Lettie will face a heartrending choice: abandon a lawless land before it destroys them, or fight for their Wildest Dreams.
An emotional saga from the "QUEEN OF WESTERN HISTORICAL ROMANCE" that will captivate fans of Debra Holland, Jodi Thomas, Diana Palmer, and Linda Lael Miller.What readers are saying about Wildest Dreams:
"I laughed and cried and mourned the end of this wonderful adventure!"
"This is my idea of what love, marriage and family should be like."
"This book kept me thinking long after I had read the last page."
"I have not read a historical romance in years, and years. But, this one sucked me right in."
"If I were stranded on an island and could only take 5 books with me, this would be one."What reviewers are saying about Wildest Dreams:
"It's a rip-roaring soap opera that lets the reader follow a couple's life together over the course of 25 years."
"Anyone seeking an emotional, sweeping Western saga need look no further..."
"I was swept away into Luke and Lettie's story and loved every re-reading minute of it, and they and their story has stayed with me again long after I have finished."
"Books like this aren't being published in the romance genre anymore — and it's a damn cryin' shame."
"In my opinion this book was everything a good western romance should be."What everyone is saying about RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Awardwinning and USA Today bestselling Author Rosanne Bittner:
"Power, passion, tragedy, and triumph are Rosanne Bittner's hallmarks. Again and again, she brings readers to tears."
"The strong flavor of the Wild West combines with a beautiful love story, creating a true saga of the era."
"Ms. Bittner has a way of bringing the pages and characters to life which pulled me right in from page one and I hated having to put it down for even one second."
"If you like authentic American West romances with in depth characterizations Rosanne Bittner is your author."
"Rosanne Bittner has a way of weaving a story into your heart so that you can't help but love the characters and feel like you truly know them!"
"We are very lucky to be living during a time when the TRUEE QUEEN OF HISTORICAL ROMANCE...keeps delivering epic novels that are forever engraved in our hearts."
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About the Author
A native of Michigan, USA TODAY bestseller and award-winning novelist ROSANNE BITTNER is known as the "Queen of Western Historical Romance" for her epic love stories and family sagas. Her award-winning, well-researched books span 1800's America from coast to coast. The descriptive words used most often by Rosanne's devoted readers are "awesome," "realistic," and "unforgettable!" Rosanne and her husband live in southwest Michigan.
Read an Excerpt
By Rosanne Bittner
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 1994 Rosanne Bittner
All rights reserved.
Luke tightened the rawhide straps around the belly of one of the mules that carried his supplies. "Suck in that gut, you stubborn ass," he muttered. "I'm not going to hold up this wagon train because you spill my supplies all over the place."
The animal brayed loudly, and people turned to stare. "Shut up, damn it," he ordered the mule, yanking harder. It embarrassed him to have everyone witness his struggle with the obstinate animal.
He figured there were plenty of others amid this crowd headed west who were even less prepared for what lay ahead of them than he was. Including the children, there were about a hundred people camped here outside of Independence. He had counted eighteen wagons. He himself had decided against bothering with a wagon and oxen. His horse and four pack mules were enough. Some of his fellow travelers were herding cattle and extra horses as well, some had chickens with them, a few had pigs. Most of them were headed for California or Oregon, many fleeing the hideous War between the States and the ugly raiding that had been taking place between Kansas and Missouri. He had his own reasons for heading west, but they had nothing to do with the war.
He finished buckling the strap. He hated mules, much preferred horses. But he had taken the advice of experienced scouts back in St. Louis that mules were much better suited to carrying heavy loads for long distances, and it was a long way to Montana. As far as he was concerned, California and Oregon were already too heavily settled. He was going to a place where a man could still claim big pieces of land, where there was still hardly any law. That way a man could do whatever was necessary to keep his land without answering to anyone but himself. This wagon train would get him as far as Wyoming. From then on, he would be on his own. The prospect was exhilarating. He was determined to show his father and his brother that he didn't need the inheritance money that had been denied him. To hell with them both! His father could believe what he wanted. He knew in his heart he was not a bastard. He had every right to the Fontaine money, and he swore that someday he would be a hundred times richer than his father, and he would do it all on his own.
The crack of a gunshot startled him out of his thoughts. Horses whinnied, and a woman began railing at her husband for being careless with a handgun. When Luke looked up, a couple of horses had bolted at the noise of the gunshot and were running toward him.
Then everything seemed to happen at once. "Nathan!" a young woman shouted frantically. Luke turned to see a towheaded little boy running toward him from another direction, a stuffed animal in his arms, a big grin on his chubby face. The boy obviously thought his mother was playing a game by chasing him, but his path was taking him on a collision course with the runaway horses.
Luke ran to the boy, lifting him with one strong arm a split second before the horses would have trampled him. He ducked aside, landing on the ground and covering the child. He felt a blow on his right calf from a horse's hoof and grimaced with pain, wondering why it had to be that particular spot. He still suffered enough pain there from his war wound. He didn't need a horse's kick to awaken the agony. He heard the shouts of "whoa," felt people gather near him. Someone grabbed the little boy right out of his arms.
A couple of men helped Luke to his feet, asked if he was all right. They held his arms as Luke limped over to a log to sit down. "I'll be fine," he insisted, rubbing at his leg. "Just got a little kick." He decided not to mention the war wound. In crowds like this there was usually a good mixture of Northerners and Southerners. Mentioning he'd fought for the Union army just might start a needless argument, and for the next four months or so, they all had to forget their differences and band together for the journey west.
"Sorry, mister," a man spoke up. "I accidentally spooked my horses."
"Don't worry about it," Luke answered. "I'm okay. All of you can get back to whatever you were doing."
The man who had misfired his gun apologized again, this time to a woman standing near Luke. "Thank God your boy wasn't hurt," he told her.
"It was partly my fault," the woman answered. "Nathan has just found his legs, and he is always running. He thinks it's a game. I think I shall have to put a rope on him and tie it to my own waist."
"Might be a good idea, ma'am." The man left to collect his horses, and Luke looked up at the woman who held the towheaded youngster he had just rescued. The boy still clung to his stuffed animal, which Luke could see was a homemade brown horse. Part of a feather from the stuffing stuck out of one of the seams. The child was still grinning, oblivious to the danger he'd been in. His mother chided him for running away from her.
"I don't know how to thank you, sir," she told Luke then. "Nathan could have been killed if not for your quick thinking. I do hope you're not badly hurt."
For the first time Luke truly noticed her and was surprised at how pretty she was. That thought had barely registered before it was eclipsed by the pain in his leg and his irritation at how the whole morning had gone for him.
"I don't think so," he answered, "but you ought to keep a better eye on the boy there. On a trip like we'll be taking, you'll have to hold a tighter rein on him, or you'll be running into this kind of problem every day." Luke watched her stiffen at the words, and the concern in her pretty eyes gave way to consternation.
"It isn't easy to watch an active two-year-old every second, Mr. —"
"Fontaine. Luke Fontaine."
"Hossy." The little boy held out his stuffed horse to Luke.
"That's his word for horse," the woman told Luke. "As you can see, there isn't a bashful or fearful bone in Nathan's body."
Luke could see the deep hurt and anger in her eyes, figured she was holding her temper in check for the boy's sake. He ignored the child's gesture, at the moment more interested in how a woman with such deep red hair and luscious green eyes could have given birth to a blond-headed, blue-eyed child like the one she was holding, but then that wasn't his business. Her husband must be the one with the blond hair. Luke wondered where he was. "You might try tying a rope around the kid like you mentioned earlier." He rubbed at his leg a moment longer, then stood up.
"Well, thank you for the sage advice," she told him coolly.
Luke studied her full lips, the porcelain look to her skin, her slender waist. He could not help noticing how nicely she filled out the bodice of her flowered cotton dress, a dress, he took note, that was suited to the journey ahead, but still had a more elegant look than what the other women were wearing. Her hair was nicely done up, in such a pile of curls that he was sure it must hang to her waist when she let it down. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I haven't had the best morning."
The woman sighed. "No, neither have I." She struggled to hang on to her son, who was wiggling to get down again.
"Here, let me hold him for a minute," Luke said. "I'll walk you back to your own camp."
"That won't be necessary," she started to protest, but the husky boy was obviously more than she could handle when he had the desire to climb out of her arms. "Oh dear," she said, reluctantly handing him over.
Luke gathered the child into his arms, surprised at how easily he came to him when he had never met him before. "Well, Nathan, you've got to quit giving your mother such troubles."
"Hossy," Nathan said again, touching the horse's nose to Luke's. The gesture broke the strain between Luke and the boy's mother, and they both smiled.
"I am Lettie MacBride Dougan," she told Luke then.
Luke nodded, secretly touched when little Nathan put his head down on his shoulder. Over the last year he had given a lot of thought to what it might be like to have a son of his own. He'd certainly give him more love than he had ever known from his own father. "Glad to meet you, Mrs. Dougan."
She looked past him then at his mules. "You ... you're traveling alone?"
"Well, then, I insist, Mr. Fontaine, that you let me and my family thank you for saving Nathan by joining our campfire tonight for supper. This first day's journey is bound to be difficult. The least we can do is save you the trouble of having to fix your own supper tonight. That is our lead wagon over there," she said, pointing to a wagon with a pole, tied with a red cloth, sticking up above it. "We marked it that way so that if Nathan runs off, he could spot our lead wagon easily and find us again. Actually, we have three wagons. My father is both a farmer and a merchant. He is taking a load of supplies along to start his own store when we reach Denver."
"Denver? You aren't going all the way to California?"
"No. We and some of the others will stay with the train to the fork of the North and South Platte rivers. Then we'll follow the South Platte to Denver. Father feels there is a great deal of potential there for a businessman, much more than in California and Oregon, which are already so heavily settled."
"Could be," Luke answered. "And how does your husband feel?"
He noticed the woman's face redden as though for a moment she felt some kind of shame.
"Nathan's father is dead," she answered. "Killed in a border raid."
Luke watched her eyes, and what he saw there was not the look of a grieving widow. Something was amiss. "I'm sorry," he told her.
"Yes, well, that's part of the reason we're starting someplace new," she told him. "Father's store was burned, as was our home and farm. We're from up in the St. Joseph area."
Nathan reached out for his mother, and Luke handed him over. "I'm from St. Louis, headed for Montana," he told her.
"Montana! Oh, isn't it terribly wild and lawless there?"
Luke grinned. "A good place for a man to make his claim and set his own rules."
"Yes, I suppose." In spite of her initial irritation with the man for telling her how to handle her own son, Lettie could not help noticing how handsome he was. Never have I seen such beautiful blue eyes on a man before, she thought. Immediately she felt the crimson coming to her cheeks, along with another burst of shame. What right did she have to be attracted to any man, and what man would want her, if he knew the truth about her? "I had better get back to our wagons. My parents are in town getting more supplies, and my brother and sister are off wandering. When everyone is back I will explain what you did, and I know they will insist on cooking you a decent supper tonight. Please say you will come."
To be able to look at you again? Luke thought. "I'll be glad to join you."
"Good. Look for us when we make camp tonight, then, Mr. Fontaine."
Luke nodded, then reached out and gave little Nathan's chubby hand a squeeze. "See you tonight, then."
He turned and walked back to his mules, and Lettie noticed he limped badly. She thought again how handsome he was, but such thoughts only brought an ache to her heart, for in her situation, it was useless to allow special feelings for any man. There simply could never be another man in her life. She did not want one, and no decent man would ever want her.
She turned away. As she headed back to her own camp she kissed Nathan's cheek. Some people thought she should hate her son, but he was an innocent child, a child she had grown to love far more than she had thought possible in the beginning. No child should be blamed for a horror over which he had no control, a horror caused by a bloody, useless war. Nathan was never going to know the truth about his father, and leaving Missouri was the only way to make sure of it.
* * *
"Fontaine. What kind of a name is that? French?"
Luke lit the thin cigar Henry MacBride had given him. Both men sat near the campfire, and all around them other campfires were lit and families settled in for supper and sleep. Lettie and her mother, Katie, and her fourteen-year-old sister, Louise, cleaned up dishes, pots, and pans. It was obvious to Luke that the family had money because of their dress and mannerism, and they had a Negro woman along with them to help with the work. She was a very large woman, her hair almost completely gray. She seemed to get along well with the family, hummed softly while she worked.
Beside Henry sat Lettie's nineteen-year-old brother, James. "My father is a descendant of some of the first French trappers who traded in furs," Luke answered MacBride. "His father and grandfather roamed the Rockies and places even farther west before most people ever gave a thought to settling out there. They became wealthy traders, then merchants. My father inherited all of it, owns a big mercantile emporium in St. Louis, even some warehouses and several riverboats for carrying supplies."
Henry arched his eyebrows, which were as red as his hair. It was obvious Lettie had inherited features from both parents. It was her father who had the green eyes that on her were so exotically beautiful, but she had her mother's lustrous, darker red hair and milky smooth skin. James was the image of his father in every way, but Louise was the opposite of her sister, with bright red hair and brown eyes. Henry spoke with a heavy accent. "Came over here because of the potato famine," he had already explained. "Didn't have much choice, seeing as how everybody was starving to death in Ireland. I miss my homeland, though. Me and Katie both."
"Well, it sounds like you've walked away from a pretty good thing," Henry was telling him now. The man took a couple of puffs on his own cigar. "Wouldn't you stand to inherit some of that wealth? What takes you to a place as wild and dangerous as Montana?"
Lettie kept her ears open as she dried a dish. She wanted to know the answer herself. She could not seem to shake off her attraction to Luke Fontaine, and for some reason, Nathan took to him as though he had known the man since birth. Even now he played near Luke, kept trying to give him his "hossy," which he normally never let anyone else hold.
There was a loneliness about Luke Fontaine that stirred something in her she had never felt before, certainly not for any man. She told herself she must be careful of those feelings, for they could lead nowhere.
"I decided I wanted to make it on my own," Luke answered her father.
Lettie detected a deep hurt, even anger, in the way he spoke the words.
"There are a few things my father and I don't see eye to eye on," he continued. "I figured I was better off getting out." He puffed his own cigar and glanced at her. Lettie quickly turned away, embarrassed he had caught her staring. "Besides, I guess I'm just not the kind to walk in someone else's footsteps and do the expected. That's for my older brother. He'll take everything over someday. Me, I enjoy the adventure."
Henry chuckled. "Sounds like a typical young man. You shouldn't turn your back on what's rightfully yours, though, Luke. There will come a time when you'll wish you had that inheritance. I'd think it could be a big help to you if you're going to be building something for yourself in Montana. Me, I wish I had had something to fall back on when we lost everything back in Ireland. Of course, that was before Lettie was born. We've been in this country a long time now. Trouble is, disaster came to greet us again."
Luke watched smoke curl up from the end of his cigar. "Your daughter said something about a raid earlier today. I gather you are victims of the border wars. Lettie said her husband was killed in a raid." He noticed the man exchange a warning look with his daughter.
Lettie suddenly put down her dishcloth. She came over to pick up little Nathan. "It's time for bed, Son." She glanced at Luke. "Thank you again for what you did today. If there is anything you need, please don't hesitate to tell us."
Luke looked her over, wishing she wasn't so damn pretty. He regretted barking at her earlier that day about not watching her son properly. It had to be difficult raising a son with no father. He warned himself not to care about her. Where he was headed was no place for a woman and a child.
"Fact is," he answered, "the wagon master has already asked me to do some of the hunting for the others, seeing as how I don't have anyone to look after. Maybe when I'm doing that your brother can take care of my mules. I'll see that the family gets some extra meat for it."
"Well, we'd sure appreciate it!" Henry told him.
"Yes. Thank you."
Luke nodded to Lettie, and for a moment their gaze lingered before she turned and quickly left. She climbed into the family's lead wagon. Luke looked after her, wondering about the change he had sensed as soon as he had mentioned the raid.
Excerpted from Wildest Dreams by Rosanne Bittner. Copyright © 1994 Rosanne Bittner. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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