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The Sweetest Gift
Janet Mills
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When JADE MACKENZIE ventures through Wyoming Territory on her way to adventure and fortune in the Black Hills, the last person she wants to see is LANDON BURDETT, the man she holds responsible for her father’s death eight years earlier. After her traveling companion abandons her at Landon’s ranch, however, Jade discovers qualities about the man that conflict with her feelings of resentment toward him. How can she care so much about someone who has caused her such grief?

The accidental drowning of Jade’s father still haunts Landon, and he’s held strong feelings for the girl ever since that terrible day. His memories of Jade as a darling tomboy are shattered when she arrives at his ranch fully grown...and utterly beautiful. An unexpected kiss ignites a shared passion neither of them wishes to acknowledge. Will old hurts continue to keep them apart, or can they reconcile the past?

Wyoming Territory, Spring 1876

Dewdrops glistened like sharply cut jewels as the first welcoming rays of sunlight fell in thin slices across the forest floor. Meadowlarks fluttering through the dark canopy overhead trilled a joyful reveille. In the streambed, water flowed like liquid velvet over polished stones.

Jade Mackenzie crouched at the stream's edge. A wide rock behind her afforded ample privacy while she washed, her fingertips numbing as they dangled in the clear water. She filled her lungs with fresh pine-scented air and shivered at the promise of sunshine.

Tipping back her head, she gazed at a bird preening on a wet branch above her. The creature startled into flight, and the resulting icy shower robbed Jade of breath and the ability to scream. She dropped to her bottom, hugging her woolen shirt to her body. Spitting water and a breathless string of unladylike oaths, she scrambled to her feet, sluicing the wetness from brown-corded trousers that had been soothingly warm only moments ago. She picked up her Arlen and Thurber pepperbox laying on the ground just a few feet away.

A shot rent the crisp morning air. Jade jumped like a jerked puppet. She stared in shocked bewilderment at the unfired gun in her hand. Then the sound of a man's voice, unfamiliar and raised in anger, sent her diving for cover behind the rock.

"And keep yer hand away from that gun!"

Jade released the little pistol and put both hands behind her head. Blood pounded in her ears. She lay still as a corpse, face down, her nose pressed into the damp, spongy earth.

"Now give me yer money."

Before she could instruct her vocal chords to perform, she heard Ethan respond, "I don't have much." Fresh panic followed a whimper of relief when Jade realized she was in no imminent danger, but her companion had to be right in the midst of it.

She peeked over the crest of the rock. Two armed men wearing ragged clothing and dark, unkempt beards stood near the campfire. Jade's sharp intake of breath went unheard as Ethan pulled out a wad of crumpled bills and tossed the money on the ground.

"That all ya got?" one of the outlaws demanded.

"That's it."

"This ain't hardly worth the effort," the shorter of the two grumbled, collecting the meager bounty and stuffing it into his pocket. "But the stuff on that mule oughta fetch a pretty penny in the Hills, and we could sell the horse."

Jade's worried gaze found Dot. Her Appaloosa mare munched contentedly on a clump of grass at the edge of the clearing. Their pack mule Wiley stood nearby. They'd had to put down Ethan's horse a few days earlier when the animal broke its leg.

It dawned on Jade that the two men believed Ethan was traveling alone. Neither of them seemed to notice the second bedroll near the fire, tied up neatly and looking inconspicuous. No one even glanced her way as Jade slowly began to creep around the perimeter of the campsite to gain a position behind the two outlaws, the pepperbox clutched tightly in her right fist.

A rain shower in the night had softened the pine needles and twigs beneath Jade's booted feet. No telltale snap heralded her approach. It was almost too easy, like the games she'd played with Ethan and his brothers when they were all children. She could only hope that all the years of practice would serve her well now as she crept forward on quaking legs.

Ethan's brown eyes widened in alarm as he caught sight of Jade narrowing the distance between her and the two armed men. He gave a slight shake of his head, warning her to stop. She nodded in acknowledgment but continued her advance. They'd never make it to the Black Hills to claim their portion of the riches waiting there if these two crooks got away with the last of their money, not to mention Jade's faithful horse.

"What'll we do with him?" the shorter man asked his partner, gesturing at Ethan with his revolver.

"Don't matter to me. Shoot him if ya want."

“Janet Mills delivers a powerful story of trust, loyalty and doing what's right. Jade is always the heroine, always living up to her moral code, and we cheer her on throughout the book of misadventures. She is a woman of courage and loyalty above and beyond the call of duty. The Sweetest Gift is a sensual book that keeps you turning those pages to see what happens next. The kind of love story that stays with you long after the book is finished, this is a real must read for western fans. I enjoyed it immensely. Jade Mackenzie is a true woman of the west!” -Rita Hestand, Ivy Quill Reviews


"Janet Mills has crafted a poignant character driven story that tugs at the heartstrings. The descriptions of life in the mid West following the Civil War add a richness to the story without being a mere backdrop or overwhelming. This sensuous tale will delight lovers of historical westerns." -Lea Moyer, Affaire de Coeur


"Well researched and sensually romantic, this book was a delight to read! Especially clever was the way the author incorporated history into the story. A trip to a mining camp, an encounter with Sioux warriors, and a Fourth of July picnic, all come alive for the reader, thanks to the author's descriptions. This reviewer's favorite glimpse of history was the memorable cameo appearance made by Calamity Jane. Open up The Sweetest Gift and bring this romantic past into the present." Joyce with Love Romances


"THE SWEETEST GIFT was so great that once I started reading it I could not put it down. I quickly fell in love with little Will who had a heart of gold and faced such big challenges for a little boy. Jade and Landon were both such strong characters that they just fit so well together. Janet Mills is an incredibly gifted writer who I will definitely be looking out for in the future." 4.5 Blue Ribbons! -Dina Smith, Romance Junkies


"THE SWEETEST GIFT is a beautifully written tale dated around Custer's last stand. Janet Mills has taken the era and painted it so expertly, you could almost feel the breeze blowing through the grasses, see the sparkling water as it flowed on down through the river. THE SWEETEST GIFT is a tale about accountability to those whom you care for the most... Ms. Mills has aptly demonstrated her skill as a writer with flair." 4 Slippers!
-Emilie Spargo for Romantic Interludes/Novelspot

Fiction Books :: Historical Books

ISBN: 1593740034
ISBN(13-digit): 9781593740030
Copyright: 2009
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Binding: Perfect
No. of Pages: 320
Paper Weight (lb): 13.4

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