Read Never Marry a Cowboy Online

Authors: Lorraine Heath

Never Marry a Cowboy

LORRAINE HEATH
Never Marry a Cowboy

 

With each book I write, I'm amazed at the willingness of others to share their time, expertise, and support:

Mary Jo Putney held my hand beginning with
A Rogue in Texas,
patiently explaining the intricacies of the English nobility while I wrote three books that revolved around English heroes.

Peggy Moreland helped me place critical aspects of Kit's story into perspective.

My cousin, Karen Peterson, gladly researched her neighboring city of Galveston, saving me valuable time and effort.

Fay Robinson has served as mentor, sounding board, and confidante throughout my writing career. For this story, she trusted me with her rare copy of an 1837 medical book on consumption.

Ladies, I also want to thank you for sharing with me the gift of your friendship.

Contents

Prologue

He had made a pact with the devil and bargained…

Chapter 1

Christian Montgomery had no desire to be a hero, but…

Chapter 2

The morning after he'd finished off a bottle of whiskey…

Chapter 3

Ashton had read tales of King Arthur, but none of…

Chapter 4

“I hope you'll forgive me for barging in, but I…

Chapter 5

Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Ashton gingerly touched…

Chapter 6

“Oh, I'm not at all surprised she won the marshal's…

Chapter 7

Kit loosened his cravat and wondered what in God's name…

Chapter 8

Kit found nothing as comforting as the feel of a…

Chapter 9

“Oh, Kit, it's beautiful.”

Chapter 10

As a gray haze eased into the room, Kit felt…

Chapter 11

Kit couldn't recall taking an afternoon nap since he was…

Chapter 12

What harm can come of it?

Chapter 13

With the late afternoon sun easing into the house, Kit…

Chapter 14

Kit awoke, the unmerciful predawn light threatening him with another…

Chapter 15

Clutching Kit's arm, Ashton strolled along the shell-paved path known…

Chapter 16

Kit had succeeded in giving Ashton what she had so…

Chapter 17

As he walked along Fortune's dusty street, Christopher Montgomery thought…

Chapter 18

Ashton had a shadowy memory of the stagecoach tumbling end…

Chapter 19

Christopher walked out of Fortune's telegraph office not at all…

Chapter 20

Kit scrounged through the wreckage of the overturned stagecoach. Finding…

Chapter 21

Kit knocked briskly on the door to the room where…

Chapter 22

Unable to sleep, Ashton slipped on the wrap Kit had…

Chapter 23

“I don't know who I am,” Christopher said quietly.

Chapter 24

“I need a bloody drink,” Gray said, a tremble in…

Chapter 25

“By God, I cannot…believe how…wrong I was!”

Chapter 26

Ignoring the elderly couple sitting across from her, Ashton stared…

Chapter 27

Sitting on the sofa, Ashton nestled against his side, her…

Epilogue

Kit bowed his head, his throat tightening and his chest…

England
1865

H
e had made a pact with the devil and bargained away not only his soul, but his heart.

Gripping the intricately carved poster of the canopied bed, he grimly accepted the bittersweet luxury of gazing upon his love's delicate features as she slept. Like gossamer wings, her silken blond hair was spread across the massive pillow. She would soon be in death what she had been in life: an angel.

“My lord, I did not hear you come in,” the physician said as he moved away from the bedside table.

“I entered quietly,” he murmured. “I did not wish to disturb her.”

“Your wife called for you earlier. She knows the end is near.”

“How near?” he asked.

“That is difficult to say, my lord. Several more days at least, perhaps a week or more if she is fortunate.”

He snapped his head around, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice. “You have a sadistic understanding of
fortunate
.”

The physician's face turned red. “I meant no offense, my lord, but life is precious, every moment to be treasured.”

“She is not yet twenty-five. Is there nothing you can do for her?” he asked, his frustration and anger growing at the incompetence surrounding him.

“Nothing but ease the pain.”

“Then I damn you to hell.”

The physician blanched. “You hardly seem yourself—”

“How should I seem? Clarisse hovers at death's door, and you expect me to accept her suffering docilely when I know heaven awaits her?”

“Humility may well be the better part of valor. Surely this illness is a test of your faith as well as hers.”

He glared at the man. “Do not attempt to placate me with philosophy when you have no cures.”

The physician tilted up his chin. “Very well, my lord. If you will excuse me, I must attend to other patients, but I have left the pain medication on the table beside the bed. Only a pinch of powder in a glass of water. More than that, and you risk killing her.”

“Heaven forbid that her torment should end too soon.”

“It would be a sin to take her life. That is God's decision, not ours.”

“Then I rail against God.”

“My lord, you speak blasphemy! I would expect
those words from your brother, not you.”

“Ah, yes, my twin. There are those who cannot tell us apart.”

The physician snorted. “Your facial features may be identical, but your actions separate you.”

“So I've heard.”

“Christopher,” a soft voice called.

He waved the physician aside. “Be off with you and tend your other patients. I shall see to her needs.”

“Remember my instructions regarding the pain medication. Only a pinch—”

He jerked up a hand. “I will do as you instructed.”

He did not move until the physician had walked from the room and closed the oaken door. With a heavy heart, he stepped quietly to the head of the bed and smiled tenderly at the woman he had loved longer than he could remember.

“Christopher.” Her voice seemed to come from such a great distance, as though she'd already begun her journey toward heaven.

He knelt and took her frail hand in his, cursing the pain that caused hers to tremble. “I am here, my love.”

“I feared you would not come.”

He brushed a soft kiss across her fingers. “I would not leave you to suffer alone. If only I could take this disease upon myself and spare you—”

Her hand clutched his weakly. “No, I would not wish this affliction upon my worst enemy.”

“Are you in pain now?”

She nodded slightly, but her lovely blue eyes re
vealed the true extent of her agony. “It never ceases. Sometimes,” she whispered, her breathing labored, “I wish for death, I wish the physician would leave the medication within my reach. I know it is a sin—”

He cradled her cheek and touched his thumb to her lips. “It is not a sin to wish.”

Tears filled her eyes. “I wish I had given you a son, an heir to Ravenleigh.”

“I never desired anything beyond your love.”

She gripped his hand, breathing heavily, and he required no words to know that she suffered greatly.

“I'll ready your medication.” He stood and turned to the table. With a steady hand and a throat tightening to the point of suffocation, he poured the cool water from the earthen pitcher into a glass. Following the physician's instructions, he added a pinch of powder—before adding more. Stirring briskly, he watched the liquid swirl like the sea during a tempest, like the storm of impotent anger raging through him. How could a disease eat from within and not be seen from without?

Gingerly, he sat on the edge of the bed, hating the thought of causing her the least discomfort. Gratitude softened the lines of her face as he gently lifted her head and brought the glass to her lips.

She took a sip and grimaced. “It is so bitter.”

“But it will ease your suffering.”

“Not completely,” she admitted before finishing off the brew. She lay back. “I have missed your embrace.”

He set the glass aside. “I do not wish to cause you further harm.”

“I am beyond the stage where a bit more pain is noticeable. I need your comfort.”

He slid beneath the covers. He lifted his arm, and she came to him as he had so often dreamed. Her head nestled within the crook of his shoulder, her small body pressed against his larger one, her delicate hand curled on his chest.

She sighed wistfully. “Oh, how I have longed to again know your warmth and the steady rhythm of your heart.”

“I was a fool not to come sooner.”

He felt the slight shake of her head. “I am torn between having you near and knowing that you must endure the sight of my sickly appearance.”

He slipped a finger beneath her chin and angled her head until he held her gaze. “Through my eyes, you are as beautiful now as you were the first time I saw you, dressed in a gown of blue.”

She smiled softly. “It was green. I wore blue when I met Christian.”

He kissed her forehead. “Ah, yes. I remember now. He described you in such vivid detail I suppose his memory became mine.”

“It is often like that with the two of you, isn't it? You always know each other's thoughts and feelings.”

“It is a strange blessing, and at times, a curse.”

She furrowed her brow. “I overheard the servants talking. They said your father is sending Christian to Texas.”

“It seems his rakehell reputation does not sit well with Father.”

“It is hardly his fault that women adore him. Incredibly handsome features and irresistible charm are
lethal to a woman's good sense. As you proved with me. Still I worry about him.”

“Do not concern yourself, my love. He wants to leave. Besides, Harry and Gray are going as well. I have no doubt that they will create enough trouble to keep themselves happy.”

Her eyelashes fluttered. “I grow so…weary.”

Fighting back the tears, he swallowed hard and drew her more closely against him. “Then sleep well, my love.”

“I love you, Christopher.”

“And I love you, more than I could ever tell you.”

He held her near until she went limp and her final breath was but a whisper against his throat. The unbearable ache in his chest almost had him reaching for the last of the pain medication.

Carefully, he eased away from her. With tenderness, he arranged the blankets and folded her arms across her chest. Then he did what he'd never done before. Lightly, he touched his lips to hers. “God must have been in desperate need of angels, my love. He has surely acquired the finest.”

He straightened and strode across the room, knowing his brother would want to see Clarisse before the warmth left her completely. He opened the door and stepped into the magnificent hallway.

Sitting on a bench, his brother snapped his head around and slowly came to his feet. “Has our vigil ended?”

He nodded. “She went peacefully, your name upon her lips.”

He watched as Christopher's face crumpled and tears filled his eyes. “I know you think me an awful coward, but I loved my wife too much to watch her die.”

“I loved Clarisse too much to allow her to die alone.” He held up a hand to stay whatever protest his brother might make. “It matters not which is the greater love, Christopher. You are the one who held her heart.”

Christopher took a step toward him. “I shall talk to Father. I know he feared Clarisse was a temptation you would be unable to resist, but now no reason exists for you to travel to Texas.”

“Do not bother yourself on my account. It matters not where my body is,
I
shall be in hell.”

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