ALASKA BRIDE ON THE RUN

Alaska Bride on the RunHarrison was stacking kegs of ale against the back wall when she first entered his empty bar. When he advertises for a bartender, Harrison Rowlan doesn’t expect a woman in a torn wedding gown to apply! He couldn’t save his own wife, but he’s determined to protect this damsel in distress.

Willa Somerset desperately needs to find safety and the sleepy Alaskan town of Eagle’s Cliff seems like the perfect refuge. Only now she’s in danger of falling for her knight in cowboy boots and denim.

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“With an electric attraction at its center, this novel sizzles.” Love Western Romances

“…the perfect setting for Bridges’ sprightly tale that captures the atmosphere, characters, wildness and freedom of the Klondike.” RT Book Reviews


Excerpt from ALASKA BRIDE ON THE RUN

Copyright © Kate Bridges. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

District of Alaska, August 1899

When Harrison Rowlan placed the sign in the window of his new tavern, calling for a bartender, he didn’t expect a woman in a torn wedding gown to apply.

Harrison was stacking kegs of ale against the back wall when she first entered his empty bar. Warm morning sunshine streamed in from the windows. Humming to himself, he slid the heavy slosh of liquid off his shoulder and inhaled the earthy scent of the wood. His tavern and adjoining livery stables here in the town of Eagle’s Cliff weren’t officially open yet. He still had two days to go.

However, he was pleased to be making steady headway in obtaining supplies from the much larger Skagway harbor, twenty miles south, and had already hired six of his needed seven employees, including extra security for his stables. With the recent news of the gang of horse thieves pillaging the coast and valleys, armed guards were an unexpected necessity.

Harrison preferred to own a tavern rather than a rowdy saloon. His tavern would be a neighborhood place for local patrons to drop by for not only a pint of brew and solid meal, but where a person might meet up with a friend, exchange dated newspapers from home, pick up mail, or listen to the only entertainment available in town.

Footsteps thudded behind him. He turned around too fast and the rib muscles that were still healing from the knife wound he’d received earlier this summer twisted. He winced with the annoyance.

There she stood.

Staring at him from the other side of the long, freshly oiled wooden bar. She was covered in ivory satin, blond hair slipping out from a silken braid that trailed down one shoulder, cheeks taut and scuffed with dirt, with a piercing look of determination in those big brown eyes.

He inhaled deeply, stunned by her sudden presence. Even more so at her appearance. He wasn’t normally speechless, but then he’d never been surprised in this town by a pretty woman he didn’t know or recognize. He bristled as he contemplated any reason why she might be here, a runaway bride with one sleeve torn. Dirty, frightened and alone.

He couldn’t think of one.

His right hand instinctively dropped to the gun strapped to his thigh. Ready for anything. Wasn’t he always? Not that he feared this unarmed slender woman, a head shorter than himself and half the width of his shoulders, but the trouble she might be bringing with her. He’d had enough of that, running from the law the last two years before he’d finally cleared his name of the crimes he’d been mistakenly and maliciously accused of. His face had been plastered on Wanted Posters all over the district.

“This sign,” she said, holding the cardboard that he’d stuck into the front window ten days ago when he’d bought the place, “is why I’m here.”

He looked down at the words she clutched between grimy fingers—Bartender Wanted.

He assessed the situation with a quick look to the front windows and doors. The freshly painted outdoor sign hanging from the covered boardwalk tilted in the wind, declaring Eagle’s Cliff Tavern and Inn. There was no one out there. No one following her. At least, not right now. Judging by the streaks of dirt across her gown, and her ruffled hair, she’d been on the road for a couple of days.

“Miss? Or is it missus? You in some sort of trouble?”

“It’s miss…and…yes I am.” Her voice was soft and rich, and he tried to stop himself from enjoying the view. “I’d be mighty grateful if—” she glanced over her shoulder— “if you could take me to—to your kitchen and we might have a talk.”

It was one of those situations—and he’d known plenty in the last couple of years from being on the run himself—where he had to make a quick decision.

Did he help this stranger or not?

Should he get involved, or worry about his own hide and the new life he was attempting to make for himself?

Looking down into her face, the way the angle of light hit her soft jawline and bounced over the curve of her lips, he told  himself her problems were not his.

Even if she looked more like an angel than a troublemaker. He damn well knew better.

But blazes, his chest tightened and his pulse rippled inside his skin at seeing the lovely lady. The least he could do would be to offer shelter for a moment, explain the route to the Skagway Deputy Marshal who was the nearest lawman, twenty miles south—a full day’s ride since the coastline was so treacherous—and point her to the women’s store on the boardwalk where she could buy proper clothing.

He stepped out from the bar, a head taller than her, and waved his hand toward the back hall. “This way.”

He led her through the doorway. His leather vest squeaked over the white cloth of his shirt as he twisted his shoulders. Denim jeans fit snugly on his thighs. When they reached the huge kitchen with its two walk-in fireplaces, the simmering pots of stew and the shelves of dishes, he turned, nearly bumping into her. He quickly stepped away, giving her distance.

“I need a job,” she panted.

First thing’s first. Her comfort. He slid the cardboard sign from her slender fingers, placed it on the counter and offered her a stool.

She hesitated, then looked about the room. He watched her gaze skim the hanging herbs, the dry sink in the corner which was no more than a cabinet with buckets for washing dishes, various shelves and sundries. Her eyes flickered on the closed back door. A route of escape, she was no doubt thinking. Slowly, she sank onto the stool. Ivory satin billowed about her feet.

“Nice train.”

Her eyes widened, then a smile darted across her lips. Of course, she must be aware of her unusual choice of clothing. He was trying to set her at ease, and the comment worked.

His gaze lowered to her wedding gown. The top part, the part with the neckline, plunged daringly to her cleavage. A golden necklace anchored itself between her breasts, beyond his vision. He rubbed his neck to distract himself.

The gown seemed a bit too large for her, but who was he to criticize fashion? Besides, here in Alaska where everything had to be shipped in due to the shortage of supplies, folks took and used what they could.

“Not the marrying kind?”

She straightened her spine. Her neckline gaped in response, revealing the top of a black lace corset. His pulse leaped involuntarily. He ordered his eyes to remain focused on her face.

“Not the anything kind. I’m my own person.”

“How does he feel about that?”

“Not taking it well.”

“Is he chasing you?”

She inhaled a rush of air. “I think he and his men assume I ran to the docks. In Skagway. That I left for the lower States on the first ship out.”

His men? What odd words. Not his friends? Not his groomsmen?

“Why would they think that?”

“Because I left them false clues. Told them I was running home.”

She looked toward the fires. Both stone fireplaces sputtered and popped with heat as cauldrons boiled within them. Pots also simmered on the stoves. The cooks had been in earlier and had started on the stews, then they’d left for the market.

Harrison kept the conversation on topic. “Where’s home?”

She didn’t answer right away. She breathed in the aromas of the kitchen. The tightness in her cheeks relaxed. Her firm bottom lip softened. “This place.”

“Nooo,” he said, planting his palm in the air. “Let’s just hold on here a minute.” He leaned against the counter jutting from the side wall, surrounded by stacks of dishes and glassware. His massive frame barely squeezed in. He crossed his cowboy boots and remained calm. No matter how attractive she was, it would be a bad business decision on his part to let her stay. Hell, it would also be a bad personal decision. “I don’t have a job for you.”

Her eyes flashed. “I’d make a fabulous bartender.”

“The position’s open for a man.”

“I could do it.”

He crossed his arms. “That might be. But the position’s open for a man.”

Her slender throat bobbed, caught in some emotion he didn’t wish to analyze. She looked down to her lap, where she was knotting her fingers together.

He hadn’t asked for her name yet. On purpose. The less he knew, the less likely he’d be suckered in by a woman.

“Why?” Her voice echoed softly off the uprooted herbs hanging from the ceiling. “Why’s it open only to a man?…”

(…continued…)

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