After a spectacularly failed romance left her devastated, all Isis Garrett wants is to start her library in this West Texas town. The last thing she wants is another man, not even the handsome preacher who offers his church for her books.
Pres MacKay is starting a new life as a preacher. He can’t hide his attraction to the sweetly rounded new librarian even as she pushes him away. Can he discover the way into her closed heart and prove to her he’s one of the good guys?
Pres isn’t about to give up on Isis, though. The question is can she forget the pain of the past and see a future with him?
"Well, Preacher, see any filly you like?"
Prescott MacKay studied the ladies as they alighted from the train. Unselfishly, he hoped his buddies would find suitable brides, and quickly. The thing he wanted most on this earth was a woman of his own, but as the preacher, he had to make sure the other guys found their wives first.
"Not really," he responded, not quite truthfully, to Mayor Jim Benson. Many of the ladies were pretty, a couple could be called plain, one looked a little long in the tooth. Tall, short, thin, plump, the women came in all sizes and shapes. Someone for every fella's taste. He wondered if one of them was to his taste. He might be a preacher, but he was still a man. A great, hungry, lonely, randy man.
"That one." Benson pointed to a severely dressed, severely visaged lady. "Doesn't look like she's happy to be here."
The woman stood to the side, away from the other chattering mail-order brides, her lips pursed, gimlet-eyed gaze sweeping the town. The way her brows drew together said she didn't find much favor in Joshua, California. Frown notwithstanding, she was still pretty. Round cheeks, a determined pointed chin, fair skin, dark eyes, rich brown hair barely covered by a ridiculously small hat, there was something about her that called to Pres. Her gaze rolled over him, on to Jim, past them, assessing everything. Assessed and found wanting?
He was curious. If she traveled all this way to find a husband, why would she scowl like that? Wouldn't she want to put on her best face? Her gaze came back to him. Or was it aimed at his friend? Even from across the busy, dusty street, he could see her lips part slightly and her eyes widen. The sudden heated tightening of his belly shocked him. She didn't look like the kind of woman to inspire lustful thoughts, and as a preacher he tried to keep a lid on them. Didn't feel it was right to respond to all his manly urges, at least not in public.
In his life before becoming a preacher, in his bounty hunting days, he wouldn't have bothered with a proper looking woman. He'd needed the easy, no commitments, no responsibility, no-morning-after type of woman back then. It was all different for him now. Now he wanted the morning-after woman, the family, the promise of forever.
They traded gazes for a long moment, sights and sounds melting hazily into the background. His heart thudded heavily, almost painfully. What the hell, uh heck. At the same time, her breasts rose and fell in a deep breath. And a nicely rounded bosom it was. It didn't escape his notice she was a bit on the plump side all the way around, but that didn't keep him from salivating at the promise of all that softness under his work-roughened hands. His lips quirked, and he brushed his forefinger across his lower lip anticipating the pleasures he could share with the woman.
He snapped out of his unseemly sensual daze. Good God, he was a preacher. Yes, he was a rancher, but he did double duty as a servant of God and couldn't allow the other cowboys to think of him as just another skirt-chasing skunk. No matter how much skirt chasing he might want to do down deep in the recesses of his heart. Those days had ended three years ago when he gave up gun slinging. Shooting an innocent boy had just about destroyed him.
To Isis Garrett, there wasn't very much about the town she liked. In the mid-day heat, the air stifled her lungs making it hard to breathe, and the sun baked everything beneath a faded blue sky. The town was more dreary looking than she'd been led to believe. Trees clustered around the church and cemetery making them look cool and refreshing compared to the barrenness of the storefronts on the main street. And those storefronts needed scraping and painting, except for what looked like a saloon. Naturally, it was the most well-kept building in this western town.
The streets seemed muted compared to the cacophony of Cairo, Egypt. She'd become accustomed to the braying of donkeys, the bleating of camels, shrill shouts of the vendors hawking every kind of local food and merchandise. Heat and dust, the scents of fresh breads and grilled meats, the memories all came back in a rush to her homesick heart. What have I done? She'd left the home she was familiar with for the strangeness of this place. Outside the town it would be as silent as the Egyptian desert. She already knew that from the long trek across the country on the train.
As usual, she felt on the outside of things. The other brides chirped and giggled, swished their skirts flirtatiously, and simpered at the cowboys surrounding them. She held herself aloof, watchful, assessing, doubtful she would like it here and doubting she would stay.
Unlike the other women, she hadn't traveled all this way to find a husband. That was the last thing she wanted. She'd been with a man, had thoroughly enjoyed making love with him, but had been shocked and betrayed when she'd found out he was married. So she'd taken her broken heart and fled to the United States. Consequently, she mistrusted the male race and vowed her future would depend on her own devices. She intended to devote her life to improving the culture and intelligence of the people in whatever town she deemed worthy of her.
Besides her clothing, she'd brought two trunks full of books—novels and school books, two precious copies of the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and a medical text. And from the looks of things, the six Bibles she carried would be very valuable. Mortified she'd given herself to a man without a conscience, she intended to spend the rest of her life making up for that mistake.
One man stared at her from across the street. She had to squint through the haze of dust motes to see that far. His clothes looked rough—dark pants, dark shirt unbuttoned partly down his chest. A sand-colored Stetson rode tall and wide on his head which only seemed to add to his considerable height. His features were well shaded by his hat, but his commanding stance intimidated her. The gun and holster slung low on his hips did a lot to intimidate her, too.
Well, it didn't matter. She'd probably have nothing to do with a man like that. She was here to start a library, and that was all. No husband hunting, no men friends. A little stab of anguish speared through her belly as she realized she might never have children and a family, never feel the warmth and security of a man's arms around her. She'd never be lost again in the carnality of a hard male body pressing down on her, pressing his engorged penis inside her. Her lips opened on a sudden sigh she immediately squelched as she fidgeted and slapped at the dust clinging to her skirts. In her limited experience, men were rotters and liars.
"Ma'am, do you need some help with them trunks a' yours?"
Snapping out of her thoughts, she realized a boy of about twelve years had approached her. "Yes, young man, thank you. But they're too heavy for you to lift by yourself. They're full of books."
"Books?" He sounded wary. "You a school teacher?"
She smiled. He really was adorable with his big shock of fair hair and freckles dotting his nose and cheeks. "No, I'm going to open a library."
"It's a place with a lot of books for you to borrow, then return them for other people to read. Do you know how to read?"
"Not much," he replied, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other.
"Would you like to practice on some of my books?"
He didn't seem willing to commit himself. That was okay. She wouldn't push anyone. The people who wanted to read would come, and others would follow in time.
"Where are you gonna put your books?"
"I don't know yet. For now, they can go to the hotel until I find a place."
"Maybe Preacher MacKay can help find a place. He knows how to read."
"Probably so," she responded. This Preacher MacKay would be a decent sort of man, not at all like the man still staring at her from across the street. She'd sneaked glances his way, a bit disconcerted he was still looking at her. He certainly wasn't racing over here to help her though. "Where is he? Maybe he can help us now. We still need to get these trunks stowed away somewhere."
The boy turned around, issued an ear-piercing whistle, and waved his hat in the air. Oh, good Lord, the staring cowboy waved back. He couldn't possibly be… The cowboy said something to the well-dressed man next to him, hitched up his gun belt, and jumped off the boardwalk to smoothly stride across the street right toward her. The closer he got, the larger he seemed. His easy leap up to stand before her put him too close. And too tall.
She gulped, then was furious with herself for reacting to him. But who wouldn't? This close, she could now see him clearly. Tanned face, skin stretched over high cheekbones, knife-blade nose, firm chin all combined to set her heart to skittering alarmingly. A sudden rage almost overwhelmed her at the heat radiating across her skin and the heavily thudding pulse low in her belly. She didn't want to react to his immense height and breadth of shoulders combined with that utterly masculine face and the beguiling thick mop of russet colored hair spilling from under his Stetson. But when he swept the hat off, her senses went into a tailspin. She tamped down on her envy of his rich hair color compared to her dreary brown. Damn him, she thought ungenerously.
"Prescott MacKay, ma'am." His lips quirked politely enough, blue eyes sparkling like sunshine on ocean waves.
"Mac—?" She glanced at the boy. "He's the preacher?" she asked, dismayed at this turn of events.
"Yes'm. Preacher MacKay," the boy confirmed.
"Do you need help with your trunks, ma'am?"
"She's a li—br—" The boy obviously couldn't say the word. "She said they're full of books."
The man frowned a minute, then he smiled and said, "A librarian? That's great. Just what this town needs is some book learning. Welcome, Miss—" He paused, an eyebrow lifted inquisitively, his hat poised in front of his chest.
"Miss Garrett," she responded primly, although she didn't feel prim at all. His smile, with its even white teeth, stunned her. The temptation to throw herself into his big, strong, manly arms terrified her. Good Lord, a man who looked like him, a minister and enthusiastic about books could be extremely dangerous to her peace of mind.
"I have just the place for you to set up your library, Miss Garrett."
"You didn't know I was coming. How do you have a place ready?"
"We have a very nice church building in Joshua." He indicated the edge of town with a wave of his hand. "And there's a spot inside the doors with plenty of room to set up some shelves and a table as a desk."