WESTERN WEDDINGS with the Novella SHOTGUN VOWS

Western WeddingsDesert Rose Golden Quill Finalist for Best Novella!

Love Western Romances Finalist for Best Western of the Year!

Milly Thornbottom has a crush on Mountie Weston Williams, and one stolen kiss changes their lives! After they’re marched straight to the altar, can her crush possibly develop into more?

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“…shining with the brilliance of emotional warmth.” Love Western Romances

“The flavor of the Old West, wild and nostalgic, permeates the novellas in this diverse trio by some of the genre’s favorite authors.” Library Journal


Excerpt from SHOTGUN VOWS

Copyright © Kate Bridges. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Dawson City, Yukon, May 1899

“I think he’s going to ask you to dance.”

“Hush,” said Milly Thornbottom to her good friend, Cora Vandenberg. Heat of embarrassment rushed up Milly’s neck. She smoothed the pleats of her ball gown in the bright evening sun that blasted through the community lodge for the annual Spring Fever Ball. “I dearly hope not.”

Her other friend, Rose Addison, whispered. “He’s attracted by your wicked hat, no doubt.”

Milly glanced across the crowded dance floor to the tall man in the red uniform who wouldn’t let go of her gaze. A cool evening breeze ruffled the tiny hairs at the back of her knotted bun, dark brunette hair she’d carefully pinned up for the biggest event of the year. She fiddled with a lose strand.

The lace trim on her sleeves swirled through the air. Beside her, Cora leaned against Rose. The two friends were such a contrast—Cora with her ruddy complexion and short golden curls, Rose with long black tresses.

“Can’t you two behave?”

In order to break away from the Mountie’s gaze, Milly adjusted the brim of her hat, a wine-colored burgundy that matched her dress.

She’d stitched the organza to the brim only last night at eleven o’clock because it had been so sinfully busy at the hat and tailor shop where she worked. She’d volunteered to stay extra late to help her dear older neighbor, whose vision was going. The grandmother had needed help to hem a dress she’d attempted to fix on her own. Milly had restrung the loose beads across the waist while she was it.

The customers had all dropped in at the last minute it seemed, women boisterously preparing for the coming week of celebrations.

The Yukon was celebrating its spring, the thawing of its rivers for passage, and the endless sunshine that would soon bake the north. Milly couldn’t wait.

Across the room, the door opened again and caused another breeze. More folks entered the lodge. The fluttering white sash on Milly’s hat tickled her back, where her neckline plunged in a fashionable swoop.

She wondered if the man in uniform was truly coming for her, and dared another glance his way.

They hadn’t spoken the entire winter.

Weston Williams. Recent recruit for the North-West Mounted Police. He maneuvered his muscled frame through the crowd, aiming his blue-eyed gaze on Milly. To her annoyance, he still made her pulse rush. Dark blond hair brushed his shoulders, a bit longer than the other Mounties’.

Although she and Weston had been quarantined for measles together last summer for two whole weeks in a group of strangers, they’d rarely shared an entire conversation. No matter how hard she’d tried.

He’d treated her as though she was far beneath him, a young child compared to his maturity. Ha. He wasn’t that much older.

The flecks of black in his blue eyes added to their depth and mystery. His lips seemed always on the verge of expression, yet never seemed to give away what he was thinking.

His red wool jacket tugged at the corners of his broad shoulders. Dark breeches spanned long legs, and tall leather boots added height to his already huge physique.

Did the Mounties dress to intimidate? She supposed the uniform and boots did that. Or perhaps the shoulder harness and gun.

Judging from the other men nodding at her, it seemed Weston was not the only one who’d noticed how much she’d changed from last year to this. Changed on the outside, she thought, but not on the inside. She was the same she’d always been, only he’d been too haughty to notice when it had really mattered to her.

Tonight, she appreciated the others in the room who had more manners and kinder things to say to her as a woman, not a child.

“Pardon me,” said a male voice behind her.

Milly twirled around. Her long skirts flashed across the plank floors, exposing the pointed black tips of her new boots. When the mercantile’s handsome son, James Yakov, nodded his dark head at her, she beamed. “James.”

“Your father said I might have this dance.”

“Absolutely,” she gushed. “I was hoping you’d ask.”

She’d stitched this dress for James. He’d once complimented her on a burgundy-colored blouse, and so she’d chosen burgundy linen for the gown tonight.

“You look pretty,” he told her, causing her pleasure to deepen.

“Thank you. I’ve-I’ve never seen you in a suit before. It makes you look quite dashing.”

He boldly took her hand and whirled her around the floor to a waltz, awkward at first, then synchronizing steps.

She glanced in her parents’ direction. Theodore and Abigail Thornbottom, owners of the rope and broom shop in Dawson City, were watching her carefully, even while shaking the hands of Reverend Murphy. Her thin father, in his tight plaid suit and white ponytail, squeezed the plump shoulder of her mother, whose own golden ball gown Milly had worked on in secret for a solid month, and then surprised her. It had been well worth her mother’s delight.

Tonight, her mother’s skin was flushed with pride, her eyes sparkling as she said goodbye to the minister. The man was leaving on a journey in the morning to visit the camps that dotted the riverbanks, for those in need of religious services that had been stymied by the impassable winter weather.

Milly reveled in the feel of James’s loose hold on her waist. She wished he’d press tighter so she could really feel his grip. She also wished her folks would let her make her own decisions regarding dance partners, but she was working on them.

Thank goodness they’d said yes to James.

It was spring and Milly, Cora and Rose would blissfully take their time deciding on men. Potential husbands, even. The thought made Milly’s stomach flutter. Like Cora and Rose, Milly was ready for courtship—for the year ahead, meeting all types of gentlemen she could thankfully choose from. Perhaps she didn’t have to look far. James was here.

He squeezed her waist. She lowered her lashes and held back a smile, not wanting to be too obvious. Then to her utter shock, he twirled her around right at the base of Weston William’s feet. She held her breath and didn’t dare look up.

Weston had been snubbed by James already, if he’d intended to ask for the dance first. However, it was Weston’s loss. He’d waited too long. Ever since last summer, to be frank.

When the waltz ended, she was panting with enthusiasm. “Thank you so much, James, I—”

“Her Pa said I was next.” A heavy-set older man interrupted them. Mr. Dirk Slayton. He’d apparently missed a patch of dark stubble on one cheek when he’d shaved this evening.

Queasiness rolled up her spine. Must her father direct every moment? In his late forties, Mr. Slayton was nearly as old as her folks. And as big as a giant.

She nodded goodbye to James—for the moment—and slipped her hand into the palm of this rich gold miner, one of the Klondike’s newest millionaires.

He waltzed her into the crowd. She held her face away from his sweaty neck.

It was said Mr. Slayton had more gold than he could carry. More than he could spend in a lifetime. But his problem was the same as everyone else’s who’d struck it rich, here in the middle of nowhere at the end of civilization.

Nothing to buy. No place to spend his massive fortune. The shops and tented stores couldn’t keep up with the demand for clothing, utensils, furniture, and everything else that most folks back home in Montana took for granted.

“Been a long cold winter,” said Mr. Slayton.

She nodded. Her hair tugged from its bun as he spun her around a little too freely. “Yes, sir.”

“Fella gets awful lonely.”

“Yes, sir.”

“A wife is what I need.”

“Yes…no…I see.”

Her temple throbbed. Her fingers, moist with perspiration, slipped against his grip. She dreaded what he might say next.

“And in case you’re wonderin’, my nuggets are the size of eggs.”

Good grief. How crass.

Milly’s gaze darted about for a means of escape. Cora and Rose were also on the dance floor, being whirled about by a shopkeeper, and another gold miner even older than Milly’s.

To her rescue, one of the youthful Baldwin brothers appeared. “Your parents suggested I come say hello.”

With great relief and giving the pleasant bartender her best show of welcome, she moved forward, intending to place her hand in his.

Instead, a familiar figure slid in.

Weston snatched her hand and placed his other firmly against her waist.

Firmly.

Her pulse leaped.

“She’s mine this time, Baldwin.”

Had Weston asked permission from her father?

She stared open-mouthed across the floor, searching for her parents, but Weston yanked her back to look at him.

She stared up at the cut of his dark blond eyebrows, the strong lines of his jaw and cheekbone. With a tingle racing through her stomach, Milly didn’t know how to stop him from entwining his fingers into hers.

“Have you asked permission?” she said.

“The only permission I need is yours.”

He paused for a moment to let her respond while her heart pounded against her ribs. Piano music filled the hall. Guitars strummed. Banjo pickers added flavor to the waltz.

She should object. She should say no.

He gave her precisely two seconds, then taking her silence for a yes, he pressed his warm palm against the plunging back of her dress and led her firmly across the floor. Firmly.

(…continued…)

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