Read Charlene Sands Online

Authors: Winning Jennas Heart

Charlene Sands

“What am I doing here?”

Jenna’s cheeks grew rosy, a slow burn of color that Cash recognized as female chagrin. “There’s time for that,” she said, not meeting his eyes.

She rose then and braved a smile.

He saw deep, unbridled compassion in her eyes. “I want to know now. Tell me.”

“I was hoping you’d recall all on your own,” she admitted softly, clearly uncomfortable with his question. “I was hoping it would come back to you.”

He waited and lowered his arm, releasing her wrist, glad to have made the move but needing the relief resting his arm would ensure. Her eyes darted away, the tawny gold picking up sunlight as she looked through the window, biting her lip and seemingly gathering up a dose of courage.

“You came to Twin Oaks…to marry me.”

Winning Jenna’s Heart

Harlequin Historical #662

Praise for Charlene Sands’s previous works

Chase Wheeler’s Woman

“A humorous and well-written tale, this book belongs on your reading list!”

—Romance Reviews Today (romrevtoday.com)

Lily Gets Her Man

“Charlene Sands has written a terrific debut novel—this is an author on the road to success!”

—Romance Reviews Today (romrevtoday.com)

“A charming historical debut…”

—Affaire de Coeur

#659 THE NOTORIOUS MARRIAGE
Nicola Cornick

#660 SAVING SARAH
Gail Ranstrom

#661 BLISSFUL, TEXAS
Liz Ireland

C
HARLENE
S
ANDS
WINNING JENNA’S HEART

Available from Harlequin Historicals and CHARLENE SANDS

Lily Gets Her Man
#554
Chase Wheeler’s Woman
#610
The Law and Kate Malone
#646
Winning Jenna’s Heart
#662

Other works include:

Silhouette Desire

The Heart of a Cowboy
#1488
Expecting the Cowboy’s Baby
#1522

To Robin Rose,
my dear childhood and forever friend.
We’ll always remember #18,
high school football games and “Turtles Rule.”

And to Mary “Poquette” Hernandez,
my other forever friend.
Here’s to wonderful school memories, all of those great
family vacations and our Laughlin gambling runs.

Friendships like ours are both rare and enduring. May our memories never fade.

Special thanks to my editors, Patience Smith and Tracy Farrell. It’s always great working with you.

Chapter One

Twin Oaks Farm

Oklahoma Territory, 1869

“Y
ou’re playing with fire, sugar,” the injured man mumbled in a soft, low drawl.

Jenna Duncan snatched her hand away from his chest. Slowly, he eased his eyes open. Relief swamped her immediately, thanking heaven above he was still alive. She’d looked after the wounded man for days, praying for his recovery and hoping she knew enough about doctoring to keep him breathing. She’d found him way up on the road, past Turner’s Pond, slumped over, unconscious and bleeding. Nearly dead.

Dragging him to her homestead hadn’t been easy, one woman on her own, but she knew she couldn’t have left him there to die. He was strong; she’d give him that, surviving her tugging and pulling, hauling him over the terrain, bumps and all.
He’d groaned and grunted but hadn’t regained consciousness…until now.

She dared a glance at his bruised face. His eyes were on her, as intense and blue as a deep river at midnight. Lord above, his eyes were rich with color, even in his weakened condition. They were just as she’d remembered. If there’d been any doubt as to whom he was exactly, seeing those eyes just now, brilliant in hue, indigo with traces of turquoise, as exquisite as they were unusual, left her certain that she was tending Blue Montgomery.

She turned and rinsed the cloth she’d used to bathe his wounds in a bowl beside the bed. When she returned to wipe his face, he’d drifted off again. It was only then that she’d thought about his voice, the deep resonating sound of it, pained yet threatening. Jenna shook her head. The man was not himself, she thought plainly as she proceeded with his care.

With a tentative touch, Jenna continued rubbing his skin clean, washing away the remnants of blood. He’d been shot, the bullet going clear through his shoulder. She’d bandaged the wound, managed to keep the seeping down, but it would take weeks for his body to heal properly. So many patches of skin were discolored. It hurt to look at him, to see the pain and injury that he had suffered.

He was a stranger by all rights, yet not a stranger at all. Blue Montgomery had been due to arrive in town any day. They’d been writing each other
since the age of twelve, when they’d met during happier times in their lives, before the war and all the devastation. All throughout, Blue had written; sometimes she’d only received a letter once a year, but more recently he’d been writing regularly. And something amazing happened between the prose, between the words of solace and talk of such inane things—if the weather would hold or the river would flood again. Between all the small talk that made the pages of a letter nearly a living thing, to hold and cherish in her hands when things looked so dreary that Jenna could barely hold on. Yes, something wonderfully amazing had happened. They fell in love.

With words.

Between two hearts.

Two lonely people sharing their most intimate yearnings.

Jenna had prayed and prayed for Blue’s recovery. Goodwill, Oklahoma had no doctor to call its own. It was a town that had no real preacher or schoolteacher, either. There was no goodwill left in Goodwill. The town was dying except for a few hangers-on, like Jenna at Twin Oaks and others who had crops to raise but not much else.

Blue Montgomery had come to her. It graced her heart to know that. He’d been a man of wealth once, but that didn’t matter now. He was here and together they’d planned on making Twin Oaks what it once was.

“Sleep now, Blue. Sleep,” she said softly enough to soothe, daring to stroke a dark wisp of hair from his forehead. “There’ll be time for us.”

Jenna sat in the hollow foyer on the third step of the wooden staircase, the only stair that wasn’t in desperate need of repair, and hugged Blue’s long coat to her chest. She’d managed to wash out most of the blood and grit that had soaked through the dark wool material.

Dread had taken her voice when she’d spotted him that day, out there in the cool morning air and she’d half-prayed it wasn’t Blue that she’d found. But hours later she’d managed him into her bed, with the help of Ben, her family’s onetime hired help and now Jenna’s most trusted friend. He and his wife Rosalinda tended the fields with a few others, helping Jenna keep Twin Oaks from failure.

Jenna had fumbled with the long coat, feeling something solid in the inside pocket. Stealing her hand inside, she’d pulled out a frayed leather-bound Bible. Blue Montgomery’s name was written on the front page.

It was then she suspected she’d rescued the man she’d met only one time before, when he was just a boy.

He’d been shot and badly beaten. He’d been penniless when she found him, robbed clean of all his possessions and left for dead.

Jenna’s heart had taken a tumble, but she’d had
no time for tears. She had to help him and she would continue to do so, until he was up and around. That he’d awakened once, if only for a short time, had to be a good sign, she mused.

Clinging to his coat, she sent up another prayer to the Lord. “Let him live. Please, let Blue live.”

“You say somethin’, Miss Jenna?” Ben appeared in the doorway, his gray irises marking his wide-eyed expression.

“I was praying,” she replied.

“That man gonna live?”

“That’s what I was praying for,” she said with a small smile. Blue had to live. Jenna couldn’t abide anything else. She couldn’t let him die and all of their dreams along with him. They’d shared so much in the span of years, written about their dire wants and needs. They were kindred souls, she believed, and should be together on this earth first before meeting up in the hereafter.

“Rosalinda and me’s been sending up that same prayer, for your sake, Miss Jenna. We was praying that man would come and put a big smile on your face again. Just like you used to.”

Jenna smiled wide for Ben. “I’m smiling now, aren’t I? I have faith in the Lord.”

“That’s good, Miss Jenna. Faith’s always a good thing.”

Jenna heard a groan, a low-pitched sound of pain and stood up instantly. “I’d better go check on him now, Ben. He needs me.”

He opened his eyes again, this time braced and ready for the pain that one act would cause. One eye opened easily enough, but the other felt as though it was weighed down with an iron bar. Still, he managed and for the first time took in the room he was lying in. Nothing looked familiar. Not the threadbare, soiled curtains that must have once been cheerful white or the rickety pine chest by the wall and certainly not the bit of ivory lace lying across that chest. He didn’t recognize the bed he was in, but instinct told him he’d woken up in plenty of unfamiliar beds in his time. Yet he held no such exact memory.

Squinting to block sunlight, he looked out the window, taking in the full measure of the place. He couldn’t see much, just flat land and out farther a pair of towering oaks, their low-lying branches arching toward one another, the leaves fluttering gently in the breeze and touching like a lover’s caress.

Nothing familiar.

He closed his eyes and immediately felt better.

A pleasing scent surrounded him. It had been the only pleasant sensation he’d had in days. The soft soothing aroma of something fresh and alive. Magnolia, perhaps? It wafted throughout the room airily, filling the area with its sweet fragrance.

Oh, if only he could lose himself in that scent.

And then a woman appeared. She sat right down beside him and the scent intensified.

“Blue,” she breathed out.

He knew instantly that her soft hands were the ones that had nursed his injuries. She’d had a gentle touch, just like her voice, tender and soothing.

“You’re finally awake. I hope you don’t mind me calling you Blue. We’d decided months ago to use our given names…in our letters.”

“Who’s Blue?” he rasped out, through teeth that fairly ached. He hadn’t as yet spoken and now the sound of his voice seemed strange, unfamiliar. “What…letters?”

“Why, you are, of course. Blue Montgomery. And I kept all your letters, Blue. Every one you ever sent me. Twenty-seven letters in all.”

He didn’t recall any letters. And she’d called him Blue. Blue Montgomery, she’d said. Mentally, he shook his head, the name not sparking even the smallest kindling of recollection.

He stared at the woman, hoping for some shred of memory to return. Her clothes weren’t comely, looking worse for wear, but that wasn’t near enough to mar her appearance—the undeniable quality to her delicate features. She smiled and two dimples appeared, lighting up her face almost as much as the striking hue of her amber eyes. The ovals were such an extraordinary tawny color, gleaming bright and shiny. Long hair in a dozen shades of gold, streaked by the sun no doubt and
pushed back off her face made the picture complete. Whoever she was, she was memorable. Yet he didn’t know her.

“I’m Blue Montgomery?” he asked, dubiously.

She nodded.

“And who are you?”

She placed a cool cloth to his head and kept it there. Amazingly, he felt better, just from her touch.

“Why, I’m Jenna Duncan. Don’t you remember me?”

Lord, if he’d known her, he doubted he’d ever forget her. She held a stately poise, although he’d already surmised she wasn’t a woman born of refinement. And her gentle as a summer breeze touch and tentative smiles left a man to wonder and to hope. He’d only seen her for a brief moment, yet he’d supposed all these things about her, and he didn’t believe for a second he’d been wrong.

“I’m afraid not.”

“Oh,” she said, drawing in her lower lip.

“But I’m not remembering much right now. Everything’s all muddied up. Where am I?”

Jenna brought the cool cloth down along his jaw and rested it against his neck. She sat so close now and her flowery scent grew increasingly stronger. “Twin Oaks in Oklahoma, not overly far from the Texas border—the right side of the border,” she said with a smile.

He tried to concentrate on what she’d said,
where he was, who he was, yet nothing she’d said meant anything to him. Not one thing.

“You’ve had a terrible…accident,” she whispered, as though saying it aloud would cause him great pain. “Do you recall anything?”

“No. Was I shot? Feels like I was.” A pain pierced through his shoulder just then and his gut told him all he needed to know.

“Yes, you were shot. Robbed and beaten,” she said quietly, as though it pained her. “Oh, if I hadn’t gone out that morning, there’s no telling what might have become of you.”

“Someone wanted me dead?” He knew the answer already. No man who felt what he was feeling could label his injuries as an accident. It was deliberate. Someone had tried to kill him. That much he surmised. But who and why were the real questions. Who would want him dead? And more importantly, why? What kind of man was he, to have been beaten and shot? Right now, he had all questions and not one answer. Hell, even his name didn’t seem to fit.

“I don’t know. I found you out past Turner’s Pond and dragged you back here. That was six days ago.”

Six days ago? He’d been here at the place Jenna called Twin Oaks for six solid days? She’d been tending him for all that time, keeping him alive. He wondered who else lived on this farm. Or was
she alone? Had this woman been his sole nursemaid?

“I don’t remember. I don’t recall anything. I don’t…know you,” he said reluctantly, realizing this was not what the woman would want to hear. She certainly thought she knew him, but still, as much as he tried, he couldn’t bring any memories to light.

He watched her inhale, the breath filling up her lungs. “I don’t know for sure since I’m not a doctor, but I suppose the injuries to your head caused your lapse.”

The reference to his head reminded him of the pain there, the constant throb that knifed through as though a randy stallion had kicked him to hell and back. And the lapse she referred to was more a complete and total memory loss. He only knew what she’d told him, which wasn’t much. “What am I doing here?”

Her cheeks grew rosy, a slow burn of color that he recognized as female chagrin. “There’s time for that,” she said, not meeting his eyes.

She rose then and braved a smile.

He lifted his arm and caught her wrist before she could turn away. Agony shot through him from a move any well man would give no mind. He winced and saw deep, unbridled compassion in her eyes. It was all the more reason for him to halt her departure. “I want to know now. Tell me.”

“I was hoping you’d recall all on your own,”
she admitted softly, clearly uncomfortable with his question. “I was hoping it would come back to you.”

He waited and lowered his arm, releasing her wrist, glad to have made the move, but needing the relief resting his arm would ensure. Her eyes darted, the tawny gold picking up sunlight as she looked through the window, biting her lip and seemingly gathering up a dose of courage. “Oh, Blue.”

Still he waited and met her eyes with patience.

“You came to Twin Oaks…to marry me.”

Other books

El Extraño by Col Buchanan
walker saga 07 - earth by eve, jaymin
The Best Man by Hill, Grace Livingston
Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry
Sunburst (Starbright Series) by Higginson, Rachel
Araminta Station by Vance, Jack
Night Watch by Linda Fairstein