As a young girl, Rose Langtry feared her gruff, handsome rancher neighbor. Coming back to Colorado after five years, she’s outraged to find Morgan LeMasters ready to hang her brother for rustling and theft. But when the resulting skirmish leaves her injured, Morgan’s tender care turns her unease to unexpected closeness . . . and admiration.
Stopping Frankie Langtry and his gang has long been Morgan’s priority, yet he can’t resist Rose’s pleas for mercy. As brave and spirited as she is soft-hearted, Rose needs support to keep her family farm from going under, and a marriage of convenience will provide it. Morgan hardly dares admit, even to himself, his longing for a deeper, truer union. But her brother’s grudge is bringing danger back to Whispering Pines, and it’ll take forgiveness, courage—and a bond built on faith—to create a family and a future together . . .
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|Series:||The Langtry Sisters , #1|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||955 KB|
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And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
— Revelation 6:5
"Throw your ropes over those trees." Morgan LeMasters pointed to the trees with limbs he deemed sturdy enough not to snap under dead weight. Morgan, and the four men riding with him, were somber, taking no delight in what was about to take place, but they were determined it had to be done. For the last month, they'd chased these men from Colorado, winding through New Mexico Territory, the Panhandle, and finally into Kansas. The band of thieves had splintered into two groups, and Morgan and his men had finally captured four members of the gang. Today was the reckoning.
Morgan's men pulled their ropes from their saddle horns and fashioned the hangman's noose. After they threw the ropes over the limbs, they led the captives to their fate. One of the men ducked and weaved in his saddle, evading the noose Hank Murphy tried to place over his head.
"I keep telling you, LeMasters, we didn't do nothing wrong. We bought these horses fair and square," Frank Langtry yelled.
Hank didn't utter a word. He grasped the outlaw's neck in his large hand to prevent him from squirming about, looped the rope over his head, and tightened the noose.
"LeMasters, you can't do this! You know my granny. What are you gonna say to her? I didn't steal your horses, or rustle any cattle. You gonna tell her you hung me for no reason? You'll kill her for certain."
Directing his big black horse, Faithful, beside Frank, Morgan looked him in the eye. "Yeah, I know you, Frank, and you've been nothing but trouble most of your miserable life. Show me a bill of sale and I'll take you back to Denver. You can sit in jail until the territorial judge decides what to do with you." Morgan knew there was no way Frank could produce a bill of sale. One of his men had recognized Frank from a distance rustling his cattle, and Frank shot him. Fortunately, he hadn't killed him, and Morgan had a trusted eyewitness this time.
Frank was right about one thing: Morgan knew he'd break Granny Langtry's heart when he'd have to tell her he'd hung her eldest grandson. She was a sweet old woman, with the kindest heart he'd ever seen. But he'd warned Granny about Frank's unlawful activities, and he hadn't minced words when he'd told her what he intended to do when he caught up with Frank. He should have killed Frank years ago and spared everyone a lot of years of heartache.
"They didn't give us a bill of sale. You know how it is," Frank said.
"No, I don't know how it is." Morgan recognized Frank for what he was, a no-account thief who had been lucky evading the law, until now. Even Granny Langtry admitted her grandson skirted the law. While they both agreed on Frank's shortcomings, Granny preferred that the Good Lord handle Frank's comeuppance, but there was no way Morgan was going to wait for that day to come. He'd had enough. Today he was judge, jury, and executioner.
While Morgan waited for the rope to go around the fourth man's neck, he looked out over the landscape. It was just past dawn and the sun peeking over the horizon created glorious rays of color in the morning sky. Too bad we have to hang men on such a beautiful morning. He turned to face his men and was about to give the nod, but was distracted by the sound of horses coming down the trail. He held up his hand for his men to wait.
"Stagecoach," Hank said.
Morgan looked around and shook his head. He was so tired, he hadn't even realized they were only about thirty feet off the stagecoach trail. He muttered a string of colorful words in irritation. A hanging was not something he enjoyed, but he couldn't abide cattle rustling or horse thieves. He figured he needed to make a statement with Frank Langtry, or he would have more of his ilk trying him in the future. When Langtry and his men chose this profession they knew what would happen when they were caught. It was the cowboy code, and Morgan didn't want an audience of greenhorns who wouldn't understand.
"You best let them see you so they don't get the wrong idea," Hank suggested. Morgan's name was well-known in the territory, and if the stagecoach driver didn't recognize him by sight, he was certain to have heard his name.
"Yeah." Morgan turned Faithful and rode back to the trail to face the oncoming stagecoach.
The driver slowed, and recognizing Morgan, he pulled the stagecoach to a halt. Once he set the brake, he jumped down and spared a quick glance to the gathering around the cottonwoods before he addressed Morgan. "You're some ways from home, Mr. LeMasters."
Morgan recognized the driver. "Hello, George." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, and said, "We've been tracking these horse thieving sons-of-guns from Colorado for a month. Sheriff Roper is on the trail of their compadres. I think they were headed to Purgatory Canyon. Roper heard that's their hideout when they aren't rustling."
"I hear that's a dangerous place. The sheriff best have eyes in the back of his head." George glanced again at the men with ropes around their necks. He didn't give a second thought to hanging horse thieves. They were facing away from the road, and he was curious about their identities. "Glad you caught up with them. They rustle on Whispering Pines land?"
"Yep, several times. We're ready to get this over with and get back home." Morgan wanted to hurry George along. He didn't want to get into a discussion over who he was hanging.
George had heard rumors about Frank Langtry rustling on Morgan's land, so he figured he was one of the men with a rope around his neck. "I think I have a problem with one of the wheels, something just don't seem quite right. When I saw you, I figured it'd be safe to stop. Can't be too careful out here with all the problems with the Indians, and I don't have a shotgun rider the rest of the way to Denver."
"Where is he?" Morgan asked.
"Had to leave him at the last stop. He caught a fever and was too sick to ride. I didn't have time to wait for backup." As he talked, he walked to the stagecoach door and spoke to the occupants. "You can stretch your legs if you want. I'll be a few minutes."
The door opened and a man jumped out. He turned to assist a young woman to the ground, and a second male passenger followed her from the coach.
The young woman glanced up at the imposing man on horseback. There was something familiar about the way he sat perfectly erect on that big black horse. She squinted against the glare of the rising sun in an effort to see his face under the wide brim of his Stetson. Unable to see him clearly, she looked past the big man and noticed the gathering of men on horseback. When she saw the ropes over the trees, her eyes snapped back to the man in front of her. "What is going on here?"
"Perfect," Morgan uttered to himself. Just as expected, the passengers from back East wouldn't understand cowboy justice. He took a long look at her. From the way she was dressed, in her fine blue traveling suit with a flowery hat to match, she was definitely an easterner. To make matters worse, she was holding a Bible, and he figured he was about to have a long sermon coming his way. "Ma'am, this is justice, don't concern yourself."
Morgan dismounted and walked to the front of the stagecoach, thinking to help George determine the problem with the wheel, and get him on his way a bit faster. He was worn-out, and he knew his men were exhausted. They'd ridden hard, sleeping on the ground and eating mostly hardtack for days, and he wasn't in the mood to deal with meddlesome travelers. The only thing he wanted to do was get this hanging over with, get back to Colorado to have a decent meal and a long, hot bath, and sleep for twenty-four hours.
The woman thought she recognized Morgan's voice, but when he dismounted, she realized by the confident way he moved that he was the same man who had frightened her like the Devil himself when she was a young girl. "You're Mr. LeMasters."
Morgan turned around and walked back to her. He nudged the brim of his Stetson with two fingers as his eyes roved over her face. She was a real beauty, with eyes as green as fresh spring grass. There was something familiar about her, but he couldn't place her. "Yes, ma'am, but I'm sorry I can't say that I recognize you."
"You wouldn't remember me, I'm sure." But she remembered everything about him. From the first time she saw him in the small church in Whispering Pines when she was seven years old, she had been terrified of him. Her big brother told her he was Satan, and she'd believed him. Not only was Morgan's size imposing, tall and well-muscled, but his complexion, hair, and eyes were very dark, which confirmed her child's mental imagery of Satan's appearance. Morgan's deep, commanding voice didn't help matters. Then, there was the fact that she didn't think she'd ever seen him smile. Her grandmother always said he smiled with his eyes. She'd never understood what her grandmother was talking about. He scared the dickens out of her, and whenever he came to their farm she managed to stay out of sight until he was long gone. Taking a good look at him now, she judged he hadn't changed much over the years. Well, that wasn't quite true. He was even more intimidating than she remembered. He looked even taller, was much more muscular, and he wore his dark hair longer, which seemed to enhance his ominous appearance. First impressions said his demeanor had not softened either. Inexplicably, she almost felt like that small, frightened girl again. But she wasn't a child, she reminded herself. She was a grown woman, and there was no reason to be afraid of him, no matter the authoritative air that surrounded him like a mantle. "I'm Granny Langtry's granddaughter, Rose."
Of all the people to be on that stagecoach, why did it have to be a Langtry? When the Langtrys' son and daughter-in-law died of cholera, they'd taken in their grandchildren: two boys and three girls. The Langtry boys were well-known for their run-ins with the law, but the only time he saw the girls was at church on Sunday mornings. Tom Langtry had been the town preacher, and everyone called him Preacher. Preacher's grandchildren were always seated in perfect soldier formation next to Granny in the front pew every Sunday morning, listening intently to his sermons.
Morgan visited the Langtry farm on occasion to buy baked goods from Granny, or to take them a side of beef every winter, but the girls ran in the opposite direction when they saw him riding in. Of course, he'd never lingered overlong at their farm; ranch work didn't allow much time to socialize. When Preacher died several years ago, Granny sent the girls to live with her wealthy brother back East for their formal education. The two boys remained with Granny, and Morgan was about to hang one of them.
Unable to turn around with the taut rope biting into his skin, Frank yelled out, "Rose? Is that you?"
Hearing what she thought was her brother's voice, Rose stepped around Morgan and looked past the men blocking her view. She hurried to the men sitting on horses with ropes around their necks. Her gaze skipped from one face to the next, and when her eyes landed on her eldest brother, she gasped. She couldn't believe it was her brother at the end of that rope. "Frankie? What in heaven's name is going on here?"
"LeMasters said we stole his horses and cattle, but he's got the wrong men. He won't listen to me and he's going to hang us."
Rose whirled around and rushed back to Morgan. "You can't hang my brother!"
Morgan remembered the youngest Langtry girl was the one with the pretty blond hair, but he'd forgotten her name was Rose. Surely, this couldn't be that same little slip of a girl who always shied away from him as though he carried the plague. He thought her name suited her; she was as pretty and delicate as a rose. "I'm sorry you arrived when you did, ma'am, but I'm afraid your brother and his friends rustled my cattle and stole my horses. You know what that means. I have every right to hang them."
"But he said he didn't do it!"
Morgan took a deep breath to try to keep himself calm. He didn't expect Frank's sister to freely admit her brother was a lying, thieving, miserable excuse of a man. "Did you really expect him to admit his wrongdoing?" He hoped she had more character than her brother.
"What do you mean?" She gaped at him in disbelief. "Of course I believe my brother when he says he didn't do it. Frankie wouldn't lie to me." Old memories surfaced in her mind. Frankie had always told her Morgan LeMasters hated him. If Frank was right, Morgan wouldn't listen to the truth.
Morgan had a feeling this little gal didn't know what mischief her brother had wrought over the last few years. Maybe Granny didn't share what was happening in Whispering Pines with her granddaughters. "I haven't seen you at your grandparents' place for years. How long has it been since you've seen your brothers?"
"My grandmother sent me and my two sisters East to be educated. I haven't seen Frankie in almost five years. But I can't see what that has to do with this situation." Did he think she didn't know her own brother because she'd been away for a few years?
"Well, your brother hasn't exactly been a saint over the last five years. This time we just caught up with him."
She lifted her chin and stared him in the eye. "What is your proof you have the right men?"
She was a feisty little thing, he'd give her that. "Well, for one thing, you can look for yourself and see my brand on those horses that they've run nearly to death. I expect you remember my brand. I have an eyewitness this time, and your brother tried to kill him."
She had already taken note of the LeMasters brand on Frankie's horse. But Frankie said he didn't steal the horses, and she couldn't imagine her big brother trying to shoot someone. She had no reason to doubt him. She spread her arms wide and asked, "Where are these cattle you say they stole? I see no cattle."
People didn't generally question his word, and Morgan didn't feel the need to explain himself to anyone. He prided himself on his integrity, and it rankled him that she would doubt his word. He held his temper, thinking he should grant her some quarter since he was about to hang her brother. "They're probably scattered to Hades and back by now." He didn't need to be reminded how much money Frank Langtry had cost him over the years. But the way he saw it, you couldn't place a price on justice, and he was bound and determined justice would be served to Frank Langtry today.
"Why don't you take these men to jail so they can have a proper trial and defend themselves?"
"That's not the way it works out here. I'm sure you know a man can hang a horse thief when he catches him. We were riding with the law and we're deputized. The sheriff and his posse went after Frank's accomplices when they split up. Did you know your brother has his own outlaw gang now?"
One of the male passengers stepped forward. "Sir, it would seem that since this is the young woman's brother ..." He stopped in midsentence when Morgan turned his ominous glare on him. The passenger immediately scurried back to the stagecoach and climbed inside.
Rose saw the determination in Morgan's eyes, and she didn't think anything she said would change his mind, but she had to do something. She couldn't stand idly by and see her brother hang. "Where is this eyewitness?"
Morgan noticed her lips trembling. She was putting on a brave face, and he admired her for not backing down. The woman had grit. Frank could learn a lot from his sister. "Joseph was shot by your brother. He never ventures far from Whispering Pines." Out of concern for Joseph's safety, Morgan told him not to leave the ranch. With the Sioux uprising over the dispute concerning the Black Hills, soldiers were combing the territories, forcing the Indians onto reservations, and Morgan tried to protect Joseph from that fate.
"Joseph?" Rose questioned, hoping he wasn't referring to the elderly Sioux who worked for him. He'd always been very kind to her, and taught her many of the native customs when she was young.
"Joseph Longbow," Morgan said.
"Was he seriously injured?" Rose asked.
"No. Thankfully, your brother is not a very good shot."
Rose was relieved to hear Joseph was not seriously harmed. She took a deep breath, determined to make her point. "These men still have a right to face their accusers."
Morgan glanced at his foreman. "Murph." If she wouldn't take his word about her brother's misdeeds, perhaps she would be persuaded by more than one account.
Excerpted from "Whispering Pines"
Copyright © 2017 Barbara Scarlett Dunn.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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