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Jessica Monroe is up to her neck in problems when her father dies leaving her with a house full of orphans, a widow and her twins, an ex-madam, and a horse farm to run. She wants her brother, Caleb, to come home from the war to help her. She should have been careful what she wished for because Caleb didn’t come back alone. He brought with him a band of raiders he’d been running with. Now they expect her to look the other way while they use the edge of her farm as a base to commit their crimes. Well, she won’t do it. While trying to help a neighbor fend off the raiders, she ends up bringing home a wounded stranger who appeared out of nowhere to help them. Just her luck handsome, Tyler Beaumont, is a marshal intent on bringing down her brother and his outlaw friends.
Look, Jessie!” Sixteen-year-old Drew Sullivan pointed off at the distant horizon. “Riders are coming.”
Jessica Monroe dropped the clean sheet into the basket. Tucking a wayward strand of blonde hair behind her ear, she held a hand up to shield her eyes from the setting sun as she watched them head her direction. Being the best horse trainer in the area, she knew most everyone’s horse, but she didn’t recognize these. It was too late in the day for callers. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. These approaching men could mean one thing—trouble.
Heaven knows, living on the Kansas-Missouri border, they’d seen more than their share of trouble over the past few years. She couldn’t tell from this distance, but she guessed there were at least five of them.
She clapped her hands, hoping to gain the attention of three-year-old Faith and six-year-old twins Megan and Molly, who were happily chasing each other around the yard.
Just beyond them she could see eleven-year-old Kajika and nine-year-old Willy picking vegetables in the garden. They stood, watching her.
“Take the others back up to the house, Drew. Go warn Stella. Help Harriet get the others upstairs out of sight,” she ordered, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
She groaned at the stubborn expression on his face. The boy had a protective streak that made him seem years older. Her father had brought him home after his parents and sister died from fever. Like all the others, Drew had become family. So, regardless of how much she protested otherwise, he stead-fastly believed it was his job to be the man of the house after her father died, especially since she didn’t have a husband. Drew had taken to heart all her father’s lessons about protect-ing those weaker than you.
“Please, just do it.” She tried to sound firm, but knew it came out more like a desperate plea.
It was obvious by the determined set of his jaw that he was struggling to decide whether to obey her or not. His brows furrowed. Despite his youth, he towered over her, so if he chose to argue with her, there would be little hope of winning.
Since her father had died, they’d all been struggling to ad-just to her new role as head of the family. Even though she’d taken care of most of the day-to-day things, they had still turned to her father as the final authority. He’d treated her as one of the older children, and so the others still saw her more as big sister than a mother figure. The younger ones weren’t so much of a problem, but even after three years, with the older boys, it was still a perception she was trying to overcome.
“Drew,” Jessie snapped. Her voice was sharper this time, but with anxiety. “Go!”
He gave the combination wave and whistle that was their family’s signal to stop what they were doing and come.
Being a military man, her father had instilled in all of them that there were times when you just had to obey.
The children froze, watching him. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the girls racing back to the house. Kajika and Willy came to see what she needed them to do.
She mentally thanked her father for being so insistent that they know the signals.
Now, if she could convince the boys to obey…
Kajika wasn’t as tall as Drew, but he considered himself a warrior. His late father had been Indian and he’d taught Kajika how to shoot and use a knife in ways that still made her shiver to think about. Like Drew, he saw himself as her protector. And Willy did whatever the other boys did.
“I want you boys to go back to the house and watch after the others.”
Kajika looked at her with that silent, assessing way of his before nodding. He turned, taking Willy with him back to the house.
Drew didn’t move.
“I mean it,” she said firmly, wishing she had the mother’s tone and look down as well as Stella.
He continued to stand there, watching the men ride closer to the yard.
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 247
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