A widow reluctant to love again…
A deputy determined to win her heart…
Two years ago, Noelle Prentiss lost her husband to an outlaw’s bullet. With two children to raise, a small farm to tend, and a job making quilts to sell at the mercantile, she’s doing her best to keep her property and life intact…until a man claiming to be the new deputy rides into her life captivating her children with his dog, his smile, and his easy-going charm.
When Coleman West agrees to stop by the Widow Prentiss’ home on his first day as a deputy in a small Kansas town, he has no way of knowing obeying the sheriff’s order will change his life. Spurned by love years before, he became a lawman, dedicated to and serve. Yet, he had no idea the widow and her children would call to his heart like no one before.
With Christmas looming, will the growing attraction between Noelle and the deputy the gift of a second chance?
Or could a stranger from the deputy’s past threaten the man who captures her heart?
She lifted it to her nose and breathed deeply. Daniel’s scent—sandalwood, she recalled—had long since faded away. Despite the wide chasm that had grown between them after he’d returned home from the war, she missed his voice, his laughter, his kisses...missed the boy she married.
Shaking away the memories, she put the shirt to one side. Perhaps one day she’d donate it to Harmony’s Ladies Guild bin for the less fortunate. It wouldn’t do for Mattie and Lucy to see a reminder of the man who gave them life but little love.
She supposed she should consider Jim Morely’s proposal for the children’s sake. He attended church regularly, would provide a good living as manager of Harmony’s Community Bank, and had a pleasant, but at times haughty, demeanor.
A long sigh escaped her. Yet for , she couldn’t imagine herself married to him. Privately, she thought he took himself and life too seriously.
Besides, if she were to consider marrying again it most definitely would be for love.
Unsettled by her thoughts, she put aside her quilting and crossed the room. Here it was, mid-November and already winter had blown in with the second of two snowstorms in a week.
A glance out the window at the approaching dusk had her gasping and reaching for her cape.
Ribbons of fear pirouetted up her spine seeing Mattie and Lucy trudge alongside a man on horseback. Her eyes scanned the lane leading to the yard looking for other riders. To the right of her modest white clapboard house stood the barn and beyond was the pasture where Daniel’s beloved Morgans would graze during the warm Kansas summers.
The horseman slowed his pace to match that of the children. He sat tall in the saddle as if he was born to it. His slouch hat was pulled low over his forehead, hiding his features. But even from this distance his fawn-colored duster failed to hide the Colt holstered at his hip.
The niggle of fear grew, and her heart kicked up like a runaway team. She prayed he wasn’t a gunslinger escaping from a gunfight in Abilene, an hour’s ride to the north. The area around the cow-town was now a peaceful, law-abiding community since Marshal “Wild Bill” Hickok had convinced the renegade cowhands he meant business, and the railroad hit towns further south.
Whatever he was, whatever he wanted, it probably wasn’t a social call. Especially when she caught sight of a rifle sheathed in the leather scabbard.
“Matthew! Lucy! Come here now!” She hoped her voice didn’t sound as wobbly as it did to her ears.
With their cheeks red from the stiff wind, and their blue eyes lit with a happy sparkle, Mattie, nine, and Lucy, five, tumbled toward her.
Unfortunately, the horseman continued toward her as well.
“Mama! Mr. Cold’s our new neighbor,” Mattie exclaimed, waving at the man to come closer. “C’mon, Mr. Cold. This here’s our mama.”
Lucy trudged beside a large dog of questionable breeding. Shepherd, maybe. Hound dog, perhaps. .
A lone strawberry-blonde curl peeked out from under Lucy’s hat, near her left eye. She brushed it back with a mittened hand. “And this is Star. Mr. Cold says she’s a good ’ dog. She likes kids and doesn’t bite.” Seemingly recognizing her name, Star started toward Noelle, a happy wiggle going through her, then nudged her skirts, looking for attention.
She smoothed her hand over the dog’s fur, tracing the marking that earned her the moniker. “Hello, Star. Welcome to Harmony.”
The man greeted her with a two-finger tap to the brim of his hat before he swung off his mount, landing in ankle-deep snow. With his feet planted wide, his physique appeared just as impressive on the ground as in the saddle. One flap of his coat swung away with the wind, revealing a woolen shirt, dark trousers stuffed into knee-high boots, and a brown tweed vest.
With a star pinned to it.
Despair warred with apprehension. Upholding the law had robbed her of a husband. Besides, how could a lawman be her neighbor when the only place close enough to her was Miss Lou’s boardinghouse at the edge of town about two miles away? And what sort of name was Cold?
As if he could read her thoughts, he introduced himself. Coleman. Coleman West, ma’am. But most folks call me Cole. I’ve taken a room over at the boardinghouse, so I guess that does make us neighbors. I hope I didn’t alarm you or the children. I’m just here doing my job.”
“And what job is that?” She’d seen the star but wanted to hear his story. While she held the belief most people were honest, she wasn’t naïve. Especially since she was a widow alone with two young children.
He pulled back on his duster, revealing the star she’d already noticed. “Sheriff Brody asked me to make the rounds through town to introduce myself. I’m the new deputy sheriff.”
“And you expect me to accept that fact on your say-so?”
The determined set to his mouth was unmistakable. “Ma’am, there are three facts you should know about me. I’ve already given you my name and my profession.”
“And the third?” She raised her chin a degree, challenging him.
“I don’t lie.”
Noelle swallowed around the knot of unexpected tears that clogged her throat. He appeared older than her twenty-six years, perhaps because of his heavy facial hair, spidery lines near his eyes, and his confident manner. He was the third deputy hired since Daniel’s passing. The other two left Harmony for positions further West, one to Cheyenne, the other to Oregon City.
She hoped he didn’t have a wife or family at the boardinghouse waiting for him to return each night. Heaven knows, she’d spent more nights than she could count awake until she heard Daniel’s heavy tread on the .
That is, when he decided to come home at all.
Realizing her children were waiting for her to acknowledge Deputy West, Noelle pushed aside her maudlin thoughts. “Mrs. Prentiss,” she replied in kind, putting out her hand. “And these are my children, Mattie and Lucy.”
With his buckskin glove clasped around her bare hand, a tingling warmth spread up her arm, through her chest, and curled around her heart. Brown eyes flecked with bits of gold reminding her of oak leaves in the fall, widened briefly. Was he affected by the contact as well?
He winked at Mattie and Lucy before let go of her hand. “We’re already old friends, Mrs. Prentiss. And I see you’ve my best girl.” His hand ran the length of the dog’s neck to her rump.
Star jumped up, placing her snowy front paws on Coleman West’s chest.
Warmed by his hearty laugh, and those of her children, Noelle’s pulse slowly returned to its normal rhythm until her daughter slipped her hand inside the lawman’s.
“I want Mr. Cold to eat supper with us, Mama.”
Mattie enthusiastically joined in the request. “That’d be great, Mr. Cole. You can sit next to me.”
“No, I want him to sit next to me,” insisted Lucy.
Noelle’s stomach flipped with a nervous flutter. Lucy should have asked her first. But since the invitation was extended, she couldn’t very well reel it back in. Extending kindness to strangers was one of the reasons she enjoyed living in Harmony, and it was the neighborly thing to do. Besides, it was widely known that Miss Lou only served breakfast to her boarders; they were on their own for the midday and evening meal. “I was just about to lay supper on the table. I’ll be happy to offer you something to eat, then you can be on your way.”
A grin tugged at the corner of his and he nodded. “I’ve never passed up a home-cooked meal. I’m obliged, ma’am.”
“Lucy, I need your help,” she said. With a fond smile, she picked up her daughter’s mittened hand, and tilted her head toward the barn. “Mattie will show you to the barn, Deputy. There’s water and there. A blanket, too.”
“Me and Gus sure appreciate your kindness, ma’am,” he said, tugging on the horse’s reins.
Noelle acknowledged his gratitude with a quick nod, stepped into the house and closed the door. The sooner she got supper on the table the sooner they could and the deputy could leave.
As Lucy prattled on about Deputy West and Star, Noelle opened the cupboard doors and pulled plates, cups, and bowls Daniel had purchased the day after he arrived home from the war. She her bottom lip. She’d invited her quilting friends and other women to share a meal in her home since her husband’s passing. But no man—not even Jim Morely—had broken bread with her and the children at her
But here she was about to share supper with a stranger whose warm brown eyes, charming grin and mere presence had her remembering feelings she thought she’d left buried in the cemetery behind the church.
Jo-Ann Roberts is fascinated by America’s Old West and always felt she was destined to travel on a wagon train following the Oregon Trail. A firm believer in HEA with a healthy dose of realism, her romances take readers back to a simpler time and place where families and friends help one another find love and happiness.
She writes sweet historical and western romances. Her books have been published both independently and through a publishing house since 2019. Born in Massachusetts, she went to college in Boston where she met her husband, Papa Bob. Next year they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They have two wonderful children, a darling daughter-in-law, and a grandson in his 3rd year of college. In 2018, they retired to North Carolina.
She also enjoys baking, quilting and eating way too much chocolate.
After 38 years in public education in Connecticut and Maryland, she now North Carolina home. She is the 2018 Winner (Historical Category) of NEORWA’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest. Her debut romance, Lessie-Brides of New Hope Book One, is a 2020 RONE Award Nominee. Grace-Book Three in the Brides of New Hope was a 2022 RONE Finalist.
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