Title: A Wylder Undertaking
Author: Laura Strickland
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
When town undertaker Gus Wright accepts delivery of a client's fancy casket, he certainly doesn't expect to find a beautiful young woman hidden inside. And when she throws herself on his mercy, his gentlemanly nature kicks in. He offers assistance despite his suspicion there's trouble brewing.
On the run from a heist, Phoebe Corbet has a fortune in jewels following her, along with just a few pesky problems. If she can use Gus Wright as a refuge until her accomplice turns up, she'll do so. If she finds herself seduced by his unassuming manners and gentle kindliness, who could blame a girl? The tricky part will be convincing him there's a reason destiny has thrown them together.
They must have sent the wrong casket—that was it. There’d been a mix-up during loading, and they’d shipped one that was, well, occupied. By a young woman, of all things.
He backed off a half step, his gaze consuming the casket’s contents. As corpses went, well—
This one sure was beautiful.
She lay on the padded interior of the casket—which was, indeed, covered with satin—like a princess in a bower. To be sure, she looked like nothing so much as the heroine of one of those tales Gus heard when young, back in Scotland—the one, maybe, who could be wakened with a kiss.
Or no, the other one, who had skin like snow.
Pity and dismay gripped him in equal measures, that a lass so young and lovely should be lying dead, and without a mark upon her that he could see. He wondered madly if she’d been preserved, perhaps with the chemical called formaldehyde that they used back East.
Corruption had not yet set in. Her face, a perfect oval, appeared very pale for being framed by coal-black hair, a mass of waves upon the satin. Her lashes, just as black, lay in perfect twin fans, as if drawn on. Her lips looked deep pink against such stark pallor.
In contrast to her beauty, the clothes she wore might have been those of a lad. A rough cotton shirt, plain brown vest, and a pair of britches concealed her from his eyes.
Britches, of all things. What woman ever went to her grave dressed in britches?
Gus narrowed his eyes and whispered under his breath, “Jesus.” What was he to do now? Run and try to catch the conductor before the train left, tell him there’d been a terrible mistake?
Remove the corpse and tote the casket on out to Mr. Randolph’s place?
Kiss the princess, and try to wake her?
Ah, he might have his peculiarities, but a propensity for kissing corpses didn’t number among them. Not even corpses as beautiful as this one.
He supposed that, under the circumstances, he needed to lift her out of the casket and place her, temporarily at least, in one of his rough-hewn coffins. He’d send a message back with the train and make sure Mr. Randolph got his wife’s casket.
Very carefully, he slid his hands beneath the corpse’s hips and shoulders, and lifted. She wasn’t all that heavy after all.
He swept her higher, and she opened her eyes.
Gus leaped back, dumping the corpse unceremoniously back onto her satin bed. He was used to the movements of the dead. They tended to make all kinds of twitches and grimaces as their muscles tightened. Once or twice, yes, he’d seen them open their eyes.
Why this felt so different, he couldn’t immediately say.
He crept back to the casket—one step, two. He looked at the corpse, and she looked back at him.
Her eyes were blue. Not an ordinary light blue, like his. Hers held the same deep hue he might behold in the sky, just before the stars came out.
Heavenly. Definitely the loveliest pair of eyes he’d ever seen. On a corpse or elsewhere.
She blinked at him, the black lashes sweeping up and down. Her lips parted.
“Who are you?”
By Jiminy, it appeared she wasn’t dead.
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Multi-award-winning author Laura Strickland delights in time traveling to the past and searching out settings for her books, be they Historical Romance, Steampunk or something in between. Her first Scottish Historical hero, Devil Black, battled his way onto the publishing scene in 2013, and the author never looked back. Nor has she tapped the limits of her imagination. Venturing beyond Historical and Contemporary Romance, she created a new world with her ground-breaking Buffalo Steampunk Adventure series set in her native city, in Western New York. Married and the parent of one grown daughter, Laura has also been privileged to mother a number of very special rescue dogs, and is intensely interested in animal welfare. These days while she's writing, you can always find her latest rescue, Lacy, nearby. Her love of dogs, and her lifelong interest in Celtic history, magic and music, are all reflected in her writing. Laura's mantra is Lore, Legend, Love, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
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Laura Strickland Author @LauraSt05038951