Renegade Widow

by Jules Radcliffe

Can Cord and Wilder tame this redhot redhead?
Belle baulks at a marriage of convenience when an accident robs her of her memory. Yes, Cord is rich and handsome, but how could she have agreed to marry a man she’s never met? And while his fiery nature sets her heart pounding, she’s infuriated by his arrogance. Not like his friend, Deputy Sheriff Wilder, whose gentle charm captivates her.
Taking a destitute widow to wife, a woman he’s never laid eyes, on suits Cord perfectly. He has a dark secret—he and Wilder are in love, and this marriage will protect both of them. But Cord finds himself intrigued by Belle’s sensual beauty even as he’s enraged by her stubborn refusal to obey him.
As for Wilder, try as he might, he can’t hate the woman he sees as his rival. The feisty Belle stirs him in a way no one but Cord ever has. He might even be in danger of falling in love with her.
Belle, desperate to leave the town of Maraña and the two men who raise uncomfortable ideas about wanting to settle down, takes a job at the local saloon. Cord and Wilder are horrified she's willing to risk her reputation. Her defiance threatens to turn their former peaceful existence on its head, because there’s only one way they can stop her. This scorching triangle is set to explode.
But when a gang of outlaws, a New York City crook, and a bounty hunter all converge on Maraña, it seems Belle’s misdeeds have caught up with her.
Is Belle innocent of wrongdoing, or is she a renegade?

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Excerpt:

A speck of light penetrated the blindfold. But no matter how he angled his head, Cord could see nothing. He tried his bound wrists, stretched out in front of him. Pointless. The knots were obstinately secure. His captor knew his business.
Nearby, horses shuffled, nickering softly to each other. He was bent at right angles over a blanket-covered hay bale, feet on the ground, arms stretched taut. Straw pricked the soles of his feet, and his spread legs were secured at the ankles. Under his cheek, the soft blanket was thick with a musty odor, but he could also smell hay, the musk of horses, dung.
Creak of a door. Heels clicking on floorboards. Footsteps he was meant to hear. Cord began to shiver, just as his captor had anticipated. Sternly, he told himself it was not for one of his blood to be afraid of any man. But he could not control his body’s reaction.
A soft laugh chilled Cord to his bones.

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Hands worked at the back of his head, and the cloth was stripped from his eyes. He blinked. He had been in the dark so long even the dim light of the stable half blinded him. A man’s groin filled his vision, and he took in a mighty bulge framed by long-fingered hands. Thumbs curled over a gun belt slung low over lean hips. Another shiver took him. Another kind of fear.
El Salvaje.
He was young, perhaps five and twenty, but El Salvaje had a fearsome reputation gained from a decade on the frontier. A ruthless opponent, swift and deadly accurate with a six shooter. A fearless lawman who counted no cost.
And, as Cord knew all too well, seasoned in cruelty.
Mexican bandits had bestowed the nickname out of both dread and respect, and its English translation—’the wild one’—failed to capture the essence of its meaning. But though he was known far and wide as El Salvaje, the man was a gringo, with fair skin tanned by a life spent outdoors, golden hair falling in ordered waves past mighty shoulders.
A hand wound into Cord’s hair and pulled. Looking up at his captor as a suppliant, Cord was blinded by a flash on the silver star mounted on the broad chest. A chest he had long envied. Admired. Only this morning, the man had been chopping wood in his own yard, shirtless. Unaware of Cord’s scrutiny, he plied his ax with practised ease and, when his task was done, poured a bucket over himself to wash off the sweat and dust. Water had cascaded down that magnificent chest, running in rivulets over ridges of muscle, peaking his nipples with its cold caress.
Another sharp tug on his hair—a command. Obediently, Cord met his captor’s pale eyes. Hard as diamonds, cold as ice. They bored through Cord until he feared their owner could see his very thoughts.
“Cordero Aldana de Rivera.” El Salvaje’s voice was a provocative growl. “I’ve waited a long time to catch you red-handed.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” snarled Cord, determined to show a brave face. “Those cattle had no brands. They belong to no one.”
“All unmarked cattle belong to Señor Lopez. You know this. You know the price a cattle thief must pay.”
“I am no thief, I stole nothing,” said Cord hotly. “Just because Lopez says a thing does not make it true. Those cattle are not his, any more than the sun or the sky.”
El Salvaje gave a low laugh. “When Señor Lopez says a thing, it’s invariably true, boy. That’s a lesson you’d do well to learn.”
“You are the deputy sheriff of Maraña, not Lopez’s lackey. Or perhaps you are content to lick his boots.”
Even as he spoke, Cord braced himself. The crack across his face rocked him in his bonds. His cheek stung, his ears rang, but the blow was playful. A mere promise of things to come. Had the lawman hit him with his full strength, Cord’s jaw would have been broken.
The hand was in his hair again, yanking his head up. A long finger traced the involuntary tear that trickled from Cord’s eye.
“I should make an example of you. But you’re far too pretty to hang.” El Salvaje came close and warm breath enveloped Cord’s face. He trembled. “So what am I going to do with you, Cordero Aldana?”
“You could untie me and let me go,” said Cord boldly. “And give me my clothes back. No doubt you have enjoyed staring at my ass,” he added with a sneer.
“Have I?” drawled the lawman. “You should be more careful where you choose to swim, boy. Can’t hardly outrun justice without your boots. Alas, you’ll be in nothing but your skin a while yet. Your belongings are by the river where you left them.”
Cord bit his lip. “Am I to go mother-naked through the town to fetch them? You will at least give me a blanket to cover myself.”
El Salvaje laughed, a sound that made Cord’s whole body quiver.
“So I’m to just let you go? Ain’t that a sublime impertinence. But then, you always did have a mouth full of sass.”
Unable to see any other way out, Cord buried his pride. “I—I shall give the cattle to Lopez,” he said through stiff lips. “I will not take any more that I see roaming. This I swear.”
“As gratified as I am to see you so penitent, Señor Lopez ain’t going to take too kindly to you getting off scot-free.” The lawman’s hands curled around his thick belt, his forefingers casually pointing down. “You got to make it worth my while.”
Straining his neck, Cord met those implacable eyes once more. Laughter was in them, but also something else. Something hot and demanding that stole Cord’s breath and stoked the heat simmering in his belly. His eyes dropped to the strong legs, clad snugly in black wool. To the growing mound between them. The lawman rubbed it in obscene suggestion, teasing it to swell even larger. With his other hand, he tilted Cord’s chin up, trailing a thumb across Cord’s parted lips.
“No!” Cord, recoiled as far as his bonds would allow. “No, I will never do that. Not even if you hang me for it.”
“No?” El Salvaje clicked his tongue. “Can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear that.”
The lawman undid his gun belt, sliding off his holster and laying it aside. Strolling behind Cord, he made a loop with the belt. Shivering, Cord waited. Fingers tangled in the hair at his nape, hauling his head back.
He licked dry lips. “Wait,” he rasped. “I—I can be reasonable.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

I've been writing fiction since childhood, but it wasn't until I discovered queer romance (once upon a time, I didn't know it was a thing!) that I really found my voice. As an aficionado of all thing retro, it made sense to use historical settings. I have no particular favourite era or culture, and while I research extensively, I'm the first to admit I get things wrong. My focus is on writing characters who are believable within their setting.

On a more personal note, I love vintage items, from advertising posters and pulp fiction covers to Art Deco furniture to Victorian sex toys. I live happily with an unconventional family near the beach in Australia.

I've teamed up with historical romance author Stephanie Lake to send out a quarterly newsletter with news and updates on what we’re doing, exclusive reads, plus competitions and giveaways. To sign up, visit my website julesradcliffe.com


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