U.S. Marshal August “Gus” Rose made his first appearance in my novella Maybe This Christmas. Gus had followed the only woman he’d ever loved to Mountain Home, Colorado, determined to make her his. She’d been difficult to find, but now that he has…
Unfortunately for Gus, Effie isn’t so interested in a man. In fact, she’s determined to never marry again–not ever. But Luke Finlay has his eye on Effie, and as soon as she’s done mourning and sets aside her widow’s weeds, he intends to declare himself.
What’s a rancher to do when serious competition (the U.S. Marshal) steps off the train and smack-dab between himself and the woman his heart has chosen?
Anyone who reads the back cover of Maybe This Christmas will know, somehow, Luke will win Effie’s heart.
So, what about Gus?
A Sweet Historical Western Holiday Romance Novel (Rated PG) of 40,000 words
Holidays In Mountain Home, Book 3
The books in this series are loosely connected and may be read in any order.
Sheriff August (Gus) Rose is a one-woman man. Too bad the only gal heâ€™s ever loved is marriedâ€¦ again. Even if he were ready to court someone newâ€”which heâ€™s notâ€”Noelle Finlay would be his last choice. After all, her brother stole Gusâ€™s bride-to-be last Christmas.
The holiday season evokes unwelcome memories and heâ€™s almost glad an unruly gang provides a distraction. But petty vandalism rapidly escalates to hanging crimesâ€”and the marauding bandits have targeted Noelle.
With his reputation as a lawman under fire and his tattered heart tangled up in Noelle, he discovers heâ€™s not only capable of loving herâ€¦ heâ€™ll willingly die to save her.
OPENING SCENE of The Marshal’s Surrender
A single choice held all the potential necessary to alter oneâ€™s life. Forever.
Noelle Finlayâ€™s parents had learned that lesson the hard way. Theyâ€™d lived with that knowledge for nineteen years…every day of her life. Everything had changed since the letter had arrived and sheâ€™d confronted her parents.
Her entire life had been a lie.
Reminders surfaced at least once a week, often daily.
A single choice.
Such as craving five more minutes in the warmth of her bed before rising. Like waiting for fresh coffee instead of making do with brew that had been on the stove since early morning milking.
Like the decision to cut through the Kennedy place, to shave five minutes. Dawn lit the winter sky but had yet to crest the mountain peaks.
She never rode across the neighborsâ€™ property. She was a good girl, always kept to the roads, always left on time. Always arrived at Pettingillâ€™s Tailor Shop at the appointed hour, often several minutes early. She prided herself on being in the right place at the right time.
Perhaps it wasnâ€™t a single choice that landed her in the snare of desperate trouble.
Perhaps a series of choices led to the danger at hand.
She urged Buttercup a little faster across the field, surprised to see movement in the Kennedysâ€™ yard.
Ellis and Jennifer Kennedy were supposed to be away, visiting married children and grandchildren for another two days. Had they returned early? Good. Just that morning, Pa had taken note of the impending storm. His creaky bones always forecast weather with surprising accuracy.
She urged the mount nearer the house. Sheâ€™d call out to the neighbors, welcome them home, and make sure they knew she was the trespasser. A welcome trespasser, given the Finlays had cared for Mr. and Mrs. Kennedyâ€™s animals while they were away. That quick stop at the house would cost her thirty seconds at the most.
On approach, fine hairs on her arms rose even as Buttercup raised her head, her ears forward. The mareâ€™s pace slowed.
“What is it, girl?â€ Fear tingled through Noelleâ€™s spine.
Her whole body flashed from overly warm beneath multiple layers of winter clothing to frigid, as if Buttercup had tossed her into the icy river.
Four of them.
And Hector Kennedy wasnâ€™t with them.
The rhythmic pounding of hooves upon frozen ground wasnâ€™t nearly muted enough by the several inches of powder that had fallen overnight.
Theyâ€™d seen her, as surely as sheâ€™d seen them.
Worse, her gaze snared with one manâ€™s, suntanned skin pinked by frigid air. Light hair hung lank beneath a dark stocking cap, his beard more red than blond. The slope of his forehead, the curve of his cheek, the exact blend of green and brown in the hazel of his eyesâ€¦all permanently seized by her artistâ€™s eye.
He held her captive with that iron-cold gazeâ€¦and a butcher knife to the throat of Kennedysâ€™ milk cow.
This was the milkerâ€”sheâ€™d done Mrs. Kennedyâ€™s chores when sheâ€™d been laid up last summer.
This wasnâ€™t a standard winterâ€™s butchering. No block and tackle. No preparation to bleed the animal.
Wrong, all wrong.
He didnâ€™t live hereâ€”didnâ€™t belong here. Wasnâ€™t a hired hand. Dark eyes tracked her approach, never leaving her face.
Sheâ€™d recognize him, this stranger, anywhere.
Bile burned the back of her throat and her pulse pounded double-time.
And just like that, she knewâ€”just knew.
This must be the gang causing trouble on the north side of the valley. Never this close to home.
She swung Buttercup away from the house, tapped her heels into the mareâ€™s flanks, and urged her faster.
But not quick enough to miss the manâ€™s rapid draw of knife across bovine neck and an arc of blood splatter the snow.
Panic jumbled her thoughts, collided and frantic.
Heading straight home, her first instinct, would be a bad idea. Yes, Pa and her brothers were awake. But no one was prepared. Few would be armed.
Just in case the bandits didnâ€™t know who she wasâ€”yetâ€”or where she lived, she would not lead them to her family.
She must alert Gus.
Heâ€™d protect her. Heâ€™d protect everyone.
Bitter-cold wind tore the scarf from her head. Her ears stung with frost as she leaned lower over Buttercupâ€™s neck and urged the mare faster. Hooves slipped on snow and ice.
Long seconds passed.
Shouting from behind.
Buttercup regained her footing and galloped toward town.
Noelle pushed the horse to run.
Wind zipped past. Her heart pounded. She risked a glance back, relieved to see the bandits hadnâ€™t followed.
At last, she drew near town. She navigated Main Street as fast as the treacherous roads allowed. Her pulse roared in her ears and the shakes had taken hold.
Smoke curled from the stovepipe above the sheriffâ€™s office. Thank God. Already thereâ€”she wouldnâ€™t have to push on and rouse Gus at home.
She swung from the saddle, and slipped on the icy boardwalk, nearly going down hard. She caught her footing and pushed through the doorway.
Sheriff August Rose met her at the threshold. He caught her by the upper arms.
An immediate sense of security stole through her, near this man whoâ€™d made them all feel safe. But she still couldnâ€™t catch her breath.
She had his full attention. Gray eyes the color of a winterâ€™s stormy sky searched her face. He waited for her to speak.
â€œKennedysâ€™. Took a shortcutâ€”â€ she gasped, her gorge rising at the recollection of the ringleaderâ€™s hazel gaze, devoid of humanity. â€œThe Ruffian Gangâ€”â€
Gus released her, grabbed his coat and shoved his arms into the sleeves.
Dual holsters rode low on his hips. Two Colts.
He buttoned the greatcoat as she disclosed the rest. â€œFour of â€˜em. They killed the milk-cow. Timothy milked that cow not two hours ago.â€
Her younger brother had been alone at Kennedysâ€™ place for morning chores. Fear spiked, taking her pulse along with it.
â€œRound up the deputies.â€ He pulled on protective gloves.
â€œYes.â€ Her knees wobbled like a newborn foal. â€œTheyâ€™re armed. A butcher knife. Rifles.â€
He nodded, grabbed a rifle from the rack behind his desk, and jerked the door open. Snow flurries drifted in, swirling, caught in the current.
The thought of Gus facing fourâ€”at least fourâ€”aloneâ€¦
Her fateful decision had brought Gus, U.S. Marshal turned Sheriff, into the fray.
Lawman or not, culpability rested on her.
What if she lost him? â€œBe careful.â€
He nodded, grim. He pushed his battered Stetson low upon his ears.
She followed him out, grabbed Buttercupâ€™s dangling reins and mounted.
He ran for the shed where he sheltered his horse. Times like these, he apparently left his mount ready to ride. He swung into the saddle, and with the ease of a skilled rider, headed south at a run.
Copyright Â© 2016 Kristin Holt, LC
The Holidays in Mountain Home Series
Coming in One Week…
~ On Christmas Eve or before~
My Christmas Gift to subscribers of my newsletter. This novella-length romance will not be available anywhere else!
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Read about This Noelle.
Colored Pencils, Crayons, & 19th Century Law Enforcement New Release: THE MARSHAL’S SURRENDER (entire opening scene!) Weather as a Fictional Character: The Marshal’s Surrender U.S. Marshals: In the Beginning Book Description: The Marshal’s Surrender Stetson’s Boss of the Plains vs the Bowler–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts Opening Scene in Whole: Maybe This Christmas Opening Scene in Whole: The Drifter’s Proposal Opening Scene: in Whole: Courting Miss Cartwright
Copyright Â© 2016 Kristin Holt LC