Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BADLANDS BRIDE by Cheryl St.John

Here's an opportunity to get one of Cheryl St.John's books you may have missed! Harlequin is reissuing a classic: BADLANDS BRIDE

SPECIAL RELEASES
SEPTEMBER '08
ISBN: 9780373361892 (#34)

Reporter Hallie Wainwright's introduction to the Wild West included traveling with a bevy of mail-order brides and shooting bandits. But it was the intimate "hello" in the arms of Cooper DeWitt that truly sent her heart racing—and made it all the more difficult for her to tell the brawny plainsman the truth….

When she jumped from the stage, shining with true grit and spewing tall tales, Cooper thought he just might have struck gold. Raised with the Sioux, Cooper needed a wife who could brave the frontier and corral his restless heart. The problem was, his would-be bride had no intention of marrying him!


ORDER THIS SPECIAL RELEASE FROM eHARLEQUIN.com



READ AN EXCERPT
CHAPTER ONE

Ignoring the reflection of the businesses across the street behind her and the words The Daily meticulously painted in gold and black lettering on the glass, Hallie Claire Wainwright observed herself in the window of her father's newspaper office. She adjusted the jacket of her carefully chosen two-piece fitted dress and smoothed a hand over her dark hair, fashioned into an uncharacteristically neat bun.

"I think I've earned the responsibility of reporting on the boxing matches," she said to her reflection. The sporting event would make the front page every day for weeks, and Hallie could think of nothing more exciting than seeing her name beneath the headline.

"I'm sure I could get interviews with the participants," she said convincingly. "Perhaps they'll share insights with me they wouldn't give the men." Forest green curtains obscured the interior of the newspaper office, but she didn't need to see in to picture her oldest brother, Turner, setting type and her father in the office beyond.

"I've been doing the menial jobs without complaint. It's time you gave me a chance. I'll do my best." Hallie gave her likeness a last confident nod and opened the door.

The reassuring smells of ink, paper and grease, which she'd grown up with, boosted her confidence. Turner didn't glance up as she strode pass the Franklin press to her father's office. She rapped twice and opened the door.

Samuel Wainwright glanced up and immediately returned his attention to the papers on his desk top.

"Father, I—"

"No."

Her mouth dropped open. "How do you even know what I was going to say?"

"You have that stubborn look on your face."

"I want to cover the boxing matches." She placed her fists on her hips. "Evan—" her lip curled around the name of the new apprentice "—gets all the good stories."

Samuel shifted his smoking cigar stub from one side of his mouth to the other and leaned back in his creaky leather chair. "Now, Hallie," he cajoled. "Don't get in a huff. You know it wouldn't be acceptable—or safe—for you to take up with that rowdy crowd in the Piedmont district. Any female in Boston with half a brain in her head wouldn't set foot within a mile of the place."

She rolled her eyes. "That's all the brain you give any woman credit for having."

He harrumphed, then shuffled through a stack of papers, finding one he wanted and ignoring her while he checked the list in his other hand against the sheet.

"Hello, Precious," Turner said, entering.

Hallie winced inwardly.

He'd rolled his white shirtsleeves back, and his dark hair stood up on his head in finger-combed waves. He handled the office work, overseeing the typeset and presses. "I want to check this against your copy," he said to their father.

Samuel extended a paper, and the two men concurred. Used to being ignored, Hallie sat on the corner of the ink-stained oak desk and crossed her arms over her chest, unwilling to acknowledge her father's wisdom in this particular case. So what if he was right for once? Her father and brothers, Charles and Turner, always came up with some inane reason that she couldn't handle a story, and ninety-nine out of a hundred times the real reason—the infuriating reason—was that she was a female.

Turner reached for a strand of Hallie's hair that had fallen loose. "You're a sight."

She batted his hand away.

"What are you pouting about now?"

"I'm not pouting."

He laughed. "You're mad as a March hare. Still in a fix over Evan? He says he can't sleep nights for the ringing in his ears. For the last week at supper, you've managed to discredit everything about the man, including his parentage."

Hallie uncrossed her arms and shot a glance at her father. He wore a smile of bored amusement. "I keep hoping someone around here will notice that he's not any more capable than I am."

"And as we've told you a thousand times," Turner said, raising a superior brow, "Father needed Evan."

She tried her best to swallow her resentment. Her father did need help, and she'd worked so hard to prove herself. Samuel had hired the young man to assist Charles with the reporting, so he could devote himself to the book work and editing. It hurt immeasurably that none of them had considered her for the position. And it frustrated her beyond words that they refused to listen to her reasoning.

It was one thing to constantly defer to her brothers, but now an outsider had displaced her! "Perhaps if I put on a pair of trousers, the lot of you will notice I have a whole brain in this head."

Turner scowled. "If you put on a pair of trousers, the men around here will notice more than that. And I'll have to turn you over my knee and discipline the object of their attention."

Hallie resisted the urge to stick her tongue out. Just because they treated her like a child didn't mean she'd give in and behave like one.

"Did you turn in the piece on the quilting society?" Turner asked.

"Now that was an unequaled challenge," she replied, tracing a worn scar on the desk top with an index finger. "Think it'll make the headlines tomorrow?"

"Look," her father said, interrupting. "Remember those classifieds we ran a while back? Here's more of the same."

Turner bent over the desk and read aloud. "'Bride wanted.' Another one—'Wife wanted to cook, do laundry and care for children."'

"What kind of self-respecting woman would answer an ad like that?" Hallie asked, frowning her distaste.

"A woman who wants a husband," Turner replied, directing a pointed glance at his sister. "Unlike you."

She ignored the familiar taunt. "It's barbaric."

"But newsworthy," her father added. He caught his cigar between two fingers and squinted at her through curls of blue-gray smoke. "Some of the young ladies at Miss Abernathy's Conservatory answered the last ads. Why don't you do a story on them, Hallie?"

"Really?" she asked, jumping up.

"I haven't seen anything in the other papers," he continued. "Maybe, for a change, we can print a story before they get the idea."

The assignment filled Hallie with a new sense of importance. The Daily was always trying to get the jump on the bigger papers, and even though the other newspapers always managed to edge them out, the Wainwrights had increased circulation over the past year. Any newsworthy story that first appeared in The Daily was a feather in their journalistic cap.

"I'll work on it right away." She kissed her father on the cheek and smugly tilted her chin on her way past Turner.

Samuel and Turner exchanged conspiratory grins. "How long do you think that will keep her out of our hair?" Turner asked.

Samuel ran a hand over his balding pate. "Let's hope until Evan has a foot in the door. It's hard enough being a cub, without having to deal with Hallie when she's got her hackles up."

"Well, then, we'll just have to keep her busy."

"Isn't it just the most romantic thing you've ever heard?" The young woman with golden hair and ivory skin ignored the cake and tea on the tiny table and stared vacantly across the front of the lace-decorated establishment where the ladies of Boston came to socialize over afternoon tea.

Hallie thought traveling to God-only-knew-where to marry a man she'd never laid eyes on was the most asinine thing she'd ever heard, but she politely refrained from saying so.

"Where are the northern Dakotas, anyway?" Tess Cor-dell asked, coming out of her dreamy-eyed trance. "One of the girls said up by the North Pole."

"I don't think it's quite that far." Hallie tried to recall her geography lessons. "It's far to the west and up north. Quite remote, I'm sure."

Tess took an envelope from her reticule and carefully removed and unfolded a letter. "His name is Cooper DeWitt. He has a stage line and a freight company, so he must be very wealthy." Her pale blue eyes took on that dreamy quality again. "The only thing he requested in a wife was that she be able to read and write. I think that's good, don't you? He doesn't sound like a demanding sort of fellow."

"Or discriminating," Hallie added.

"Right," Tess agreed, the comment apparently sailing over her head. "He's not superficial like most young men who care only that a woman be from a good family."

Hallie heard the resentment in her voice. Obviously Tess was not from a well-to-do family, or she wouldn't have responded to an ad from a desperate frontier man. "Does he say how old he is?"

Tess frowned at the paper momentarily. "No." Her expression brightened. "But he does mention that he's never had a wife, so he must be young."

Or uglier than a buck-toothed mule, Hallie thought more realistically. What was this poor girl getting herself into? She almost wanted to offer her assistance if the girl needed someone to provide for her so badly she was willing to do this. But she held her tongue. Her family had told her often enough that her thinking was not that of a typical twenty-year-old woman. Tess was obviously delighted with her plan. "What else does he say?"

"Only that the country is beautiful and that I would have everything that I need."

"How romantic." Hallie made a few notes on her tablet. "Are you worried about being so far from anyone you know?"

"Well..." Tess chewed her lower lip. "I don't have family, but a couple of the other girls have accepted positions in the same community, so we'll be traveling together. I'm sure Mr. DeWitt will see that I can visit from time to time."

Hallie noted the term accepted positions for later reference. "Are the other girls as excited as you?"

"Oh, yes!" Her pale eyes sparkled. "This is an adventure of a lifetime!"

"I want to speak with the others, too. Can you give me their names?" Hallie scribbled a list and thanked Tess for the interview.

Hallie met the other young women, then hurried home to write her article. The enormous, masculinely furnished house was quiet, as usual. She slipped into her father's study and seated herself in his oversize chair, arranging paper, pen and ink on the desk top. She loved the room, did her best thinking among the familiar heavy pieces with the Seth Thomas mantel clock chiming on the half hour.

Nearly three hours passed before Hallie noticed the time. Double-checking the information, wording and neat printing, she blotted the pages. Her father would undoubtedly cut it in half, but, pleased with her work, she delivered it to his office.

He read the pages while she waited. "This is just what we wanted, Precious," he commended her.

Gladdened at the acknowledgment, she ignored the patronizing nickname.

"Keep on this," he said.

"You mean...?"

"I mean follow up. Go with them when they shop for the trip, watch them pack, all that. We'll run a series on the brides, right up until you wave them off at the stage station."

Surprised and more than a little pleased, Hallie nodded. "All right." She patted the edge of the desk in satisfaction. "All right."

Hallie read her articles in print each day, delighting in the fact that her father hadn't cut more than a sentence or two. She was so delighted, she didn't allow the fact that her father's new apprentice was covering the boxing championships and making headlines nearly every other day upset her—too much.

The day before her subjects were due to leave, she stepped into the office early. On the other side of the partially open mahogany door her brothers' voices rose.

"I'll take this sentencing piece," Charles said. "I'll be at the courthouse this morning, anyway."

"Right," Samuel said. "Evan?"

"I still have the lawyer to interview and, of course, the matches tonight. I'll try not to take a punch myself this time."

Male laughter echoed.

"That's some shiner!" Charles said.

"Great coverage, son." Samuel added. "You'll do anything to get an unusual angle. That's the stuff good reporters are made of." The aromatic scent of his morning cigar reached Hallie's nostrils, and she paused, a hollow, jealous ache opening in her chest at her father's casual praise of Evan Hunter. "How many more matches?"

"Another week," Evan replied.

Hallie reached for the door.

"What're we gonna do with Hallie?" Turner's voice carried through the gap beside the door. "Her brides leave tomorrow."

Hallie stopped and listened.

"That turned out to be an excellent piece," Charles commented. "We've had good response."

"Plus we got the jump on the Journal," Samuel agreed.

"Who'd have thought that when you came up with something to keep her off Evan's back during the matches, we'd actually get a good piece of journalism?" She recognized Turner's voice.

They laughed again.

A heavy weight pressed upon Hallie's chest. Hurt and self-doubt squeezed a bitter lump of disappointment into her throat. Of all the patronizing, condescending, imperious—

They'd handed her the story like presenting a cookie to a toddler they didn't want underfoot! And now they gloated over their own superiority. Hallie had never felt so wretched...so cheated...so unimportant.

"Do we have any sources in the Dakotas?" Charles asked.

"Why?"

"The real story is on the other end of that stage line."

A moment of silence followed Charles's comment, wherein Hallie imagined them nodding piously at one another.

"Yes, when the men who sent for those gals set eyes on them," Samuel agreed. "No. We don't have anyone that far west."

"Too bad," Turner said.

"Too bad, indeed," Charles said. "We could have had a real follow-up story there."

"Let's just hope the Journal doesn't think of it." Samuel added.

Heartbroken, Hallie gathered her skirts and trod stealthily back out the front door. She walked the brick street without direction. It never entered her mind to go home. Her mother would only tell her as she always did that her father and brothers did such things for her own good. Clarisse Wainwright had been born and bred to be a genteel wife and a mother to Samuel's sons. The fact that Hallie had come along had been an inconvenience to all of them, or so Hallie saw it.

Hallie hadn't been born the proper gender to take a prominent place at the newspaper, as much as she wished to, as much as she knew the same amount of ink flowed through her veins as her brothers'. They'd patted her on the head and sent her on her way since she'd been old enough to toddle after them.

The truth lay on her crushed heart like lead. They would never see her as good enough, as equal, as valuable or necessary.




1 comment:

Penney said...

This sounds like a great books thanks for the info.
Penney