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Texas Brides Collection, страница 1

 

Texas Brides Collection
 


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Texas Brides Collection


  Serena’s Strength © 2001 by DiAnn Mills

  The Reluctant Fugitive © 2001 by Darlene Mindrup

  Saving Grace © 2001 by Kathleen Y’Barbo

  An Inconvenient Gamble © 2013 by Michelle Ule

  Angel in Disguise © 2013 by Darlene Franklin

  Reuben’s Atonement © 2006 by Lynette Sowell

  The Peacemaker © 2006 by DiAnn Mills

  Outlaw Sheriff © 2006 by Kathleen Y’Barbo

  A Gamble on Love © 2006 by Tamela Hancock Murray

  Print ISBN 978-1-62029-463-5

  eBook Editions:

  Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-62416-088-2

  Kindle and MobiPocket Edition (.prc) 978-1-62416-087-5

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without written permission of the publisher.

  Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.

  Published by Barbour Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683, www.barbourbooks.com

  Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.

  Printed in Canada.

  Table of Contents

  Serena’s Strength

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  The Reluctant Fugitive

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Saving Grace

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  An Inconvenient Gamble

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Angel in Disguise

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Reuben’s Atonement

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Epilogue

  The Peacemaker

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Epilogue

  Outlaw Sheriff

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  A Gamble on Love

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  About the Authors

  SERENA’S

  STRENGTH

  by DiAnn Mills

  Dedication

  To Troy and Barbi Tagliarino.

  Good friends are special gifts from God.

  Chapter 1

  San Antonio, Texas, 1841

  Serena Talbot lifted her gaze to the open road and waded a wooden spoon through thick venison stew, now bubbling over an open fire. From a distance, she heard the deep throaty laughter of her pa.

  “Serena, your pa’s riding in,” her ma called from the cabin. “Looks like Mr. Wilkinson is with him, too. They’re gonna want a cool drink of water.”

  “Yes, ma’am. I’ll draw a bucket now.”

  Standing, she wiped the perspiration from her reddened face with her soiled apron. Texas heat in midsummer proved unbearable, but at least the cooking could be done outside.

  Serena caught sight of the two men and waved. Snatching up the water bucket and ladle, she headed toward the well.

  Ranger Chet Wilkinson. She’d just been thinking about him. In fact, he occupied quite a bit of her thoughts lately. His smile, well, it seemed to take her breath away. Good thing Pa didn’t know her fancies. He’d be lecturing her about the wild ways of Texas Rangers.

  If Ma married a ranger, then why couldn’t she dream about one? But Pa knew the dangers of his rugged life and the hardships it placed on families. He didn’t want his daughter to suffer through the anguish of loving a man who risked his life each time he rode out.

  “Hey, Little One,” her pa said, “you cookin’ up something good? We smelled it five miles back.”

  Serena grinned at the rugged, broad-shouldered man. “You want to guess?”

  “Nope, it’s venison stew, and I could eat it all myself.” He rode his red dun mare alongside the well and rested on his saddle horn. “I think I could drink up that whole bucket of water, too.”

  “I’ll bring it to the barn as soon as I draw it up,” she said and turned her attention to Chet. “Evenin’, Mr. Wilkinson. We’re pleased you’re joining us for supper.”

  Chet’s lopsided smile sent her pulse racing faster than Pa’s prize mare. Even in the late afternoon with shadows of evening stealing across the sky, she could see his pine green eyes peering out from under his weathered hat. Or maybe she simply envisioned them. Sometimes at night, when sleep evaded her, she wondered if those green pools ever searched her out as she did them.

  “I’d be much obliged, Miss Serena. I’m mighty hungry. Your pa hasn’t stopped riding since sunup.” A tousle of sun-colored hair fell across his forehead. Hard to believe his slight frame and boyish face followed the rough road of a Texas Ranger.

  “We have plenty cooked up, and Ma’s just made biscuits with fresh-churned butter.”

  “I’ll be hurrying along then,” Chet said with a nod. “Won’t take long to tend to the horses and wash up.”

  He’s too pretty for a Texas Ranger, she thought. After riding with Pa for over two years, he ought to be looking hard.

  Her pa reined his horse in the direction of the barn, and Chet followed. “Hurry on with the water, Little One,” Pa called over his shoulder.

  A moment later, she untied the rope around the bucket and dropped the ladle inside. The deep springs below their land—not far from the San Antonio River—hosted the clearest, coolest water around. At least that’s what Pa always said.

  “Serena, ask your pa if anyone else is expected for supper,” her ma said, steppin
g back inside the cabin.

  “Yes, ma’am. I’ll ask him now.”

  Serena noticed her ma had smoothed back her pecan-colored hair and changed her apron. Ma always fussed with her looks when Pa came home. Serena hoped someday to find a special love like her parents’. They’d been together since Pa rescued Ma from a renegade band of Comanches when she’d just turned sixteen years old.

  She glanced down at her worn green dress. At least she’d brushed through her hair before Pa and Chet rode up.

  Toting the heavy bucket, Serena slowly made her way to the barn. She’d given up on adding a little meat to her bones. Ma called her frail; Pa called her skinny. In any event, she still looked twelve years old instead of nearly eighteen. She had height, but no outward appearances of a woman’s figure.

  By the time Serena made it to the open barn door, her shoulder and arm throbbed. No one would ever hear of it, though. She felt determined to do her share of the work.

  With a sigh, she stepped into the barn, and her ears perked at the sound of men’s voices.

  “We ridin’ out again in the morning, Cap’n?” Chet asked.

  “The following morning,” her pa replied. He seldom talked much, seemed to be always thinking on something.

  She heard the whish-whish of the grooming brushes gliding across the horses’ sleek coats. Just as she decided to make herself known, Chet’s voice caused her to linger a moment longer.

  “You know, that little girl of yours is going to be a beautiful woman one day. Why, she’s right pretty,” Chet said.

  A little girl, Serena fumed. Pa’s nickname coming from Chet’s lips didn’t sound at all endearing.

  “Well, I’d just as soon keep her around for a long spell. I ain’t in no hurry to have her married off.” Pa paused. “Leastways to no ranger…even one who carries a Bible in his saddlebag.”

  Pa, I’m a grown woman, she fumed. Chet had a reputation for being a Bibleprayin’ preacher man, another reason why he favored her attention. A man who loved the Lord and the Rangers ranked at the top of her list.

  “Yes, sir. I just meant for as young as Miss Serena is, she’s bound to be a pretty woman. But when I get ready to settle down, I want a round woman, real tall, too. Good and strong.”

  Silence. Serena sighed, realizing Pa had no intentions of telling Chet the truth about her age. Frustrated, she kicked the side of the barn to announce her arrival.

  Shortly thereafter, while inside the cabin and helping Ma finish supper, the matter still picked at her—like a whole patch of chiggers.

  “What’s wrong?” her ma asked, studying Serena with pale blue eyes. “You’ve been frettin’ over something since you came back from the barn.”

  “Oh, nothing,” Serena replied, pulling out tin mugs for the coffee.

  Her ma set a jar of apple butter on the rough-sawn table. “Serena, you can’t keep anything from me.”

  She gazed up into her ma’s flawless face. No hint of lines around her eyes or streaks of gray in her light brown hair. She looked young, too, but not as skinny as Serena. “Mr. Wilkinson thinks I’m a little girl.”

  Her ma glanced up, surprise clearly lacing her face. “And it bothers you?”

  Serena lifted her chin. “I’m a grown woman.”

  Her ma’s laughter rang about the kitchen. “That you are, and don’t you have a birthday coming up soon?” She gave Serena a hug, forcing a laugh from her.

  “Another month, and I’ll be eighteen. Ma, most girls, I mean women, my age are married with children of their own by now. Besides, any single men around here are afraid of Pa.”

  Ma crossed her arms over her chest. “Your pa does have a way of intimidating a body—especially if he thinks a man has his sights on you. Do you have someone in mind?” Her ma studied her curiously. “I haven’t heard you mention anyone.”

  Serena took a deep breath, but the door creaked open and Pa and Chet walked in. “I’ll go get the stew,” she offered and slipped out the door between the two men.

  When they all sat down to supper, Pa invited Chet to ask the blessing. Serena bowed her head and closed her eyes, eagerly anticipating Chet’s deep voice. No matter how hurt she felt, he did have a way of making prayers sound meaningful.

  “Thank You, Lord, for helping the cap’n and me get here safe. Thank You for this fine family and their hospitality. Mrs. Wilkinson and Serena have cooked up some good food, and we thank You for this and all of Your many blessings. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

  All during supper, Chet’s reference to Serena as a little girl bothered her. In fact, he’d succeeded in making her downright mad. As she ate, she conjured up a good plan to let him learn the truth.

  “Would you like more coffee?” Serena asked her pa.

  He handed her his mug, and she rose from the table to fill it. “Pa, you know my birthday is coming up soon.”

  “Yes, Little One,” he replied, leaning back against his chair. “And I plan to be right here with you when it happens.”

  “Thank you. I was hoping you wouldn’t be gone. Do you mind if I ask Moira to join us for supper then? She is my dearest friend.”

  “Fine with me as long as it’s all right with your ma.”

  Her ma nodded approvingly.

  “Birthdays were always special to me when I was growing up,” Chet said, reaching for the jar of apple butter.

  “And this one is more than special to me,” Serena said, swallowing the irritation of Chet’s earlier remarks and tasting the sweetness of revenge—or rather nursing her pride.

  “How old you gonna be?” he asked, spooning a healthy dollop between the layers of a biscuit. “Oh, let me guess. I have a fifteen-year-old sister, so give me a moment to think on it.” He peered at her with a mischievous look in his eyes.

  “You might be surprised,” Pa said between mouthfuls of stew.

  Ma glanced curiously at Serena then picked up the basket of biscuits. “Have another, Chet. Might help your accuracy. Although I’ve been told never to question a woman’s age.”

  Serena cringed and her pulse quickened. Ma knew she pined over him. Hopefully, she wouldn’t tell Pa.

  Chet thanked her ma and gathered up two biscuits, adding a generous slab of butter to each. He popped one into his mouth and chewed slowly as if considering her reply.

  “Hmm. Since this one means a lot to you, I’m guessing…say thirteen.”

  Pa coughed and reached for his coffee. “Ah, Ranger Boy, you might want to rethink your answer.”

  He grinned, the same earth-shattering smile that always melted her heart. “Tell me, Miss Serena, how old will you be?”

  She allowed herself the privilege of hesitation before staring into his handsome face. “Eighteen.”

  Chet’s mouth flew agape, and he dropped his knife. “Why, why excuse me. I thought…”

  “Surprised?” Serena asked sweetly.

  His face looked as if he’d worked all day in the sun without his hat.

  From the corner of her eye, she saw Pa’s wry smile. Good, Pa isn’t mad at me.

  “Would you like to come to my birthday, Mr. Wilkinson? You’d probably like Moira. She’s a bit bigger than me, but the same age. Funny thing about Moira, she works hard as a man—strong, too.”

  This time, Chet choked. He sputtered and reached for his empty tin of coffee.

  “Oh my, let me get you some water,” Serena said and scooted to the water bucket.

  For the first time she regretted embarrassing Chet. He looked miserable, and his face had reddened even more with the choking episode. There wasn’t as much joy in seeing him squirm as she originally thought. Perhaps she should ease out of the topic and let him regain his composure. For a moment she considered apologizing, but she didn’t want to own up to overhearing Chet and Pa.

  “Pa, I know what I’d like,” she said, handing Chet the water and avoiding his reddened stare.

  Her pa raised a brow. “The palomino mare of Dugan Niall’s?”

  “You mean it?” Her vo
ice quivered in anticipation.

  A smile widened his dark bearded face. “Did you have something else in mind?”

  She slid onto the bench beside her ma, feeling her delight nearly burst. “I was going to ask for your old rifle, but…no, Mr. Niall’s horse is the finest gift anyone could ever want. Oh, Pa, thank you.”

  He pushed his plate back and rested his elbows on the table. “What do you say, Little One? Want to go pick up that palomino in the morning?”

  Serena did not hesitate. “Yes, sir, and I’ll fix you the best breakfast before we go.”

  He eyed Chet. “Why don’t you come with us?”

  He’d slowly begun to recover. “Dugan does have a good-looking stallion for sale. Yes, Cap’n, I’d like to ride along.”

  Pa pushed his chair back from the table, its legs scraping the floor. “Now, Serena, you owe Chet here an apology. No need to explain why. He’s our guest.”

  Chapter 2

  Chet felt hotter than if he’d been branded across his face with the letter S for stupid. The truth burned clear to the pit of his stomach—and worse yet, he deserved it. All of his big talk in the barn about James’s pretty “little girl” blared across his mind. No wonder Serena wanted to get even; she’d heard every word. Eighteen years old. Bewildered, he looked up into her angelic face. He’d landed in a heap of trouble with one skinny girl, rather woman.

  Oh, Lord, I need a muzzle over my mouth.

  Serena rose beside her ma from the bench and folded her hands at her waist. She brushed thick, black hair from her face. He inwardly grumbled why she didn’t wear it up. Maybe then he’d have guessed her right age.

  Eyes the color of nearly ripe blueberries gazed coldly into his. He saw a tint of anger, a mirror of pride masked behind softened features and pink cheeks. Yes, she did look young…and furious.

  Lifting her chin and wearing a sweet rosebud smile, Serena addressed him. “Mr. Wilkinson, I’m sorry for humiliating you. I don’t have an excuse except I heard you talking to Pa when I brought in the water. Will you forgive me?” She tilted her head like his little sister used to do when she needed understanding. “I know I didn’t behave like a Christian woman.”

  The word woman poured thick as honey from her lips, and the sound of it sent little prickles up and down his arms.

  He gulped and took a swallow of water. “Miss Serena, I most assuredly forgive you, but I believe the fault is mine. You can be sure I will address you in the future according to your…your rightful age.” He stuttered through the last of his speech as the proper words escaped him—something that seldom happened.

 
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