Title: The Marshal’s Mail-Order Bride
Author: Heidi Vanlandingham
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Trying to escape a controlling outlaw and regain her freedom, Alayna Kimbal answers a mail-order bride request. Shouldering the new responsibilities of being a wife and mother, she hopes her new husband never learns about her dangerous past or her present lies.
US Marshal Jerome Riddick recently inherited three children after the murder of his best friend. Struggling to care for the children and do his job, he decides to take a bride…only to find out she has been keeping a huge secret from him. A secret that could get them all killed.
She turned to look at her new husband, who now stood beside her, his slight frown directed at the horse as it tore up another plant with his floppy lips, chewing happily. The plants were all gone in the area where the horse stood, so he must have been there for some time. His gaze then settled on the house. He moved around her and reached the porch in several long strides. Without touching the three stairs, he leaped onto the wide wooden planks and threw open the front door.
A second later, she heard the loud wail of a baby. Hurrying after him, she stepped inside. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light and she watched a young boy scowl as he reached into a small box next to the far wall and pulled out a baby. Thoroughly displeased at being jolted awake by the slamming of the door, the baby voiced her irritation in an even louder wail. Riddick winced.
Alayna heard Riddick peppering the boy with questions, but her attention remained focused on the baby bouncing in her brother's arms. “Did you find your brother?”
The boy nodded, bouncing the little girl harder with no change in her tantrum. “Yeah, but he refused to come with me, so I just came back. Asta went home as soon as I got here.”
Riddick pulled his hat off his head in a choppy motion as he turned on his heels and went to stand at the window in what was evidently the kitchen. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. The stove was three times the size of the one she'd cooked on back home, and there was even a sink with a faucet where Riddick stood. She walked across the dark red Saltillo tiles, moving to stand between the two rooms, her hand resting on the back of the rocking chair. To her left, a beautiful, hand-carved table with two long benches on either side separated the kitchen from the living space.
Riddick's mumbled growls pulled her attention back. “Is something wrong?” she asked, not really expecting a response. She'd never gotten one from anyone before unless she'd been with Carlos.
He sighed. Shoving his hat back on his head, he turned and met her gaze. “You'll figure it out soon enough. Jake is a bit of a terror and likes to cause problems.” He walked toward the open doorway, his gaze settling on the boy's expectant face. “I'll bring him back, Carl. Can you show Alayna around and help get her settled in?” The boy nodded, and without another word, Riddick left.
The silence in the small space was overwhelming as she stood staring into the boy's dark green eyes. Ignoring the nervous jitters settling in her stomach, she pasted a smile on her face and hoped the slight trembling wasn't as noticeable as it felt. “Hello. My name is Alayna.”
His mouth twisted to one side of his face as he studied her. “I'm Carl, and this is my little sister, Jenny. Her name's really Jennifer, but Jake couldn't say it very well so Mama shortened it.”
She held out her arms. “Would you mind if I held her? As much as you've been bouncing her, I'm sure your arms feel like they're about to fall off.”
“They sure do, but...” He hesitated, his gaze moving to his sister.
She hadn't held a baby since her brother so long ago. Her fingers itched, wanting to touch the little girl's silky blonde hair. Alayna would give anything to feel the baby's face nuzzle against her neck like her brother had done before he died. His sweet scent would be forever etched into her memories.
Carl slowly tilted his sister back and held her out while her little arms and legs thrashed about wildly. Alayna curled her hand around the back of the baby's neck, her fingers supporting her jerky head. Her other hand slipped underneath and supported her rear-end. She smiled at the infant's wide blue-green eyes, her little face a bright angry red.
Drawing the baby to her shoulder, Alayna gently bounced her up and down, patting her back as she paced the room, softly humming in the little girl's ear. The song was a lullaby her mother used to sing to her baby brother. Her heart swelled, a mixture of happy and sad memories flooding her mind as she remembered her parent's grief, and her father burying her brother's body in a tiny grave beside his father-in-law.
Little Jenny's arms curled around Alayna’s neck as the baby's warm breath caressed the sensitive skin. She smiled, tears filling her eyes. She held her a few more minutes, her heart filling with love for the little girl. She, too, knew loss, and hoped the children would allow her to help in their healing.
“How'd you do that?”
She wiped the tears from her cheek and turned around. Carl's eyes filled with awe. “I'm usually the only one who can get Jenny settled down. She'd always go to sleep when Mama held her. Never for Jake though. He's too wild.”
“Jake must be your brother?”
The boy moved closer to the baby's bed and pulled out a pretty pink blanket. “He is. My younger brother. He let the horses out of the barn then ran into the forest. Not the first time he's done it, and probably won't be the last.”
She gently laid Jenny in the bed and watched her brother tuck the blanket around his sister's tiny body. She could see his love with every gentle touch.
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Heidi Vanlandingham writes sweet, action-packed stories that take place in the Wild West, war-torn Europe, and otherworldly magical realms. Her love of history finds its way into each book, and her characters are lovable, strong, and diverse. Heidi’s stories transport the reader to a different place and time for understanding, compassion, and most of all, love.
Growing up in Oklahoma and living one year in Belgium gave Heidi a unique perspective regarding different cultures. She still lives in Oklahoma with her husband and youngest son. Her oldest son is in the autism spectrum and is working toward his own dreams. Heidi’s favorite things in life are laughter, paranormal romance books, music, and long road trips.
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