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Released: August 2, 2013
Genre: Historical Romance, Western
Series: Circle Eight #4
Published by Beth Williamson
“I always love to see a strong heroine and Ms. Lang can always deliver a great one!” ~Under the Covers
VAUGHN is the much anticipated story of Elizabeth. The bit of a rebel sister at the Circle Eight. And what opening it was when she finds a naked man on her doorstep while everyone is away from home!
Vaughn is on the run from some bad guys that he sort of took some money from. He’s a con artist, but with a heart. And Elizabeth basically saves his life. Then puts her life even more in danger when his troubles catch up to him.
I always love to see a strong heroine and Ms. Lang can always deliver a great one! Always ahead of her times and unapologetic for taking control of their lives and actions, Elizabeth is no different than that. She goes for what she wants and makes her own decisions.
Vaughn on the other hand I was a bit concerned about. Yeah, the con artist thing. But as we find out more about him I realized the whys he did what he did and that there was really never any bad intentions. He just had to survive.
I thought they were great together, they had just the right amount of chemistry and they would butt heads just enough to make this a very believable relationship, even with the setup they had. One thing I do have to mention was the “smell” references. I could’ve done without a few of those. Although in this case, they were written in a cute way.
The rest of the story was entertaining enough, although I did miss the rest of the family a bit. I was happy to see Benji and I can’t wait to read more about him in future books. I loved the twist at the end which hopefully sets up that brother’s story.
*ARC provided by author
Vaughn was lost in his thoughts for hours. They plodded along in silence, awkward and frustrating. The sun set without fanfare to their left, with the deepening darkness falling over the land like a cloak.
“There’s a field up yonder with trees behind it. Good place to stop for the night.” Tobias pointed off in the distance.
He squinted and saw nothing but shadows. Gibson must have traveled this route often enough to know where to stop. Tonight he would continue with his lessons for Ellie. She was smart enough to pick up what she needed to know quickly. He had no doubt she would be able to play the part of a haughty rich woman who was used to giving orders. It seemed to be her favorite pastime.
Tobias rode to the spot he chose and the rest followed. The sounds of the night surrounded them, a symphony of nature to greet them. It was a good sign. If the animals, insects, reptiles and birds were safe, they would sing to each other. If there was danger, silence was a warning. The oldest Gibson seemed satisfied with the spot and dismounted. Everyone followed his lead, which irked Vaughn for no reason other than he was used to being the leader.
“Jeb, get wood. Will, find water. I recall there’s a stream about fifty yards over yonder. Fill up the canteens, then take the horses and water ’em.” Tobias easily continued his command. “Miss Graham, we’d rightly appreciate some supper. There’s fixin’s in my saddlebags.”
“What about me?” Vaughn hated that he sounded peevish.
“Hell if I care. Sit there and look pretty. Maybe brush the dust off those fancy duds again.” Tobias wasn’t going to make things smooth. Resentment laced his words.
“I could have ridden off yesterday and left you to your own devices.”
“Why didn’t you?” Gibson stared at him hard.
“I couldn’t leave Ellie and I told Pops I would help get the deed back.” Soft words for such a hard promise to keep. A half-truth, deceiving no one.
“Pretty speech. I don’t know what you’re after, whatever the hell your name is, but I ain’t buying it.” Tobias reached up to help Elizabeth down. After some hesitation, she leaned into his touch. As the other man’s hands wrapped around her waist, Vaughn experienced a rush of jealousy, tangy and sharp. When Tobias started unsaddling her horse, it grew worse.
Vaughn told himself to help her mount and dismount her horse from now on. A good husband always took care of his wife. The problem was, he wasn’t used to being responsible for anyone other than himself. This pretend marriage farce might not be as easy as he thought.
Vaughn got down with a thump and unsaddled his own mount. The gelding sidestepped, then attempted to take a bite of his master’s ass. “I know I left you for a few days. It’s not my fault, Rebel. I promise not to lose track of you again.” The horse eyed him with what appeared to be suspicion, but kept his teeth to himself.
The younger Gibsons moved like a hive of bees, taking care of the fire, water and horses in record time. Vaughn stood by and watched, useless and unneeded.
“I’m can’t really cook but I’ll do what I can.” Elizabeth sat down on the rock near the small blaze and poked through the saddlebags.
“It’s simple fare. Some cornpone and ham. It’s enough for one meal.” Tobias and Will set to stringing the horses on a rope near the trees. Jeb arranged the saddles to serve as pillows for their riders. Efficient and effective team. Vaughn had never felt more alone watching them work.
He sat beside Elizabeth, desperate to find his place in the odd group. It generally was no problem for him to fit in anywhere, except with this motley crew.
She looked at him, brows raised. “Can you cook?”
“Yes.” Eager to assist, he took the fixings for the cornpone and whipped them in the pan while she watched.
“Such skills for a fancy man.”
“I’m not fancy. I told you I grew up on a farm, worked my way, hell, scraped my way through life. If I couldn’t feed myself, I starved.” He set the pan on the lowest heat by the side of the fire, keeping his gaze on the cornpone and not on the woman beside him.
“We always had each other. Everyone was good at something, except sewing. None of us could master that until Matt married Hannah. She taught us all how to get by.” The orange firelight licked at her golden hued skin, kissed by the sun with a dusting of freckles across her nose. “I would rather do dishes and muck stalls than cook, though. Eva tried to teach me, truly she did. I think I just didn’t want to learn. I liked numbers instead.”
He could hardly imagine having such a large family, where they all helped each other. When he was on the work farm with Abraham, the boys and girls acted like a pack of rats. Biting, scratching and kicking at each other. Now he could see the evidence of what a real family was like. It was bewildering. He had to find something else to think about.
“When is your birthday?” He jiggled the pan, satisfied with the sizzle of the food.
“November fifteenth.” She frowned at him. “Why?”
“As husband and wife, we should know as much as we can about each other.”
“Oh. I thought it would be all made up.”
“Not all. There has to be some grain of truth in everything or people won’t believe you. Birthdays are easy, as are first names, nicknames. They sound natural. Convincing.” He jiggled the pan again. “Mine is January first.”
“A New Year’s baby. I wonder what went wrong then.” She pursed her lips and waited.
The smile came easy. He didn’t expect her teasing but he sure as hell welcomed it. “I was the practice one, I guess.”
At this, she almost smiled. Her lips twitched anyway. “Is your real name Vaughn Montgomery?”
“My first name is Vaughn, yes. I don’t know if my last name is Montgomery. It was the one I took because I liked it.” He didn’t want to go into why and he hoped she didn’t ask. Children on a work farm were nameless, faceless urchins, born in the shadows, usually to die in them. He and Abraham had each other, and that was all he knew.
She nodded. “I like it. It’s a strong name to choose.”
“So is Graham.”
“My father was a proud Scotsman. His father had come over when my papa was a little boy, to escape the oppression of the English. Texas was as rugged as land could be, and as different as Scotland could be. I think he wanted to forget his homeland.” She rubbed her nose. “I never met him but he made my father into the man he was. Strong is the right word.”
Vaughn was surprised by the insight but glad of it. Sharing information was how they overcame the awkwardness of two strangers pretending to be married. Although truth be told, many couples were strangers when they married.
“When we get to Houston, I want to let my family know I’m all right. Can we do that?” Her voice was barely audible over the night sounds.
“I’ll do my best to make it happen.” He would do no such thing but she didn’t need to know that. If her family was anything like her, they would tear after her and take her back before they could finish the job with Boyd. He had to finish what was started.
“Thank you.” She folded her hands and waited while the cornpone cooked.
“We met in Galveston, on the dock. You were waiting for your father to return on one of his ships. I was there to pick up cargo from the same ship.” He imagined the scene in his mind. “The wind blew your blue hat off and scattered some pins from your hair. As you scrambled after the hat, I stopped its escape and handed it to you. When I looked into your eyes, the color of the water behind you, I fell in love in an instant.”
He didn’t look at her, but her gaze pinned him nonetheless. “Tobias was nearby but not next to you. When he noted we were talking, as your bodyguard he tried to get rid of me but you wouldn’t allow it.”
“Tobias is very protective. He was doing what Papa told him to.” Elizabeth picked up the thread of the story. “I introduced you to Papa when he arrived. You knew his name and reputation as a merchant. I invited you to supper that night.”
Vaughn smiled at her, caught up in the fairy tale that never happened. “We were inseparable after that. I proposed to you within a month. Your father didn’t want to give me his permission but you stood your ground. We were married in the spring when the trees flowered and the warm spring air blew. It’s been a short time, but I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without you by my side.”
She met his gaze, her eyes wide in the deepening twilight. He could almost smell the flowers in the air, feel her hand in hers, the preacher’s words dancing on his ears. The ground beneath him shifted and he tumbled forward. He leaned toward her, wanting, needing, aching to kiss her. She closed her eyes as he drew near. The first touch was soft as a butterfly wing, then he kissed her again, sipping at her essence. His body tightened to the point of pain. God how he ached for Ellie.
“Ahem. I didn’t know kissin’ was on the supper menu.” Tobias’s sharp comment cut through the haze of sensuality that surrounded them.
Elizabeth drew back with a squeak. Her cheeks flushed even as her lips glistened in the firelight from the kisses. Vaughn wanted to pound his chest and howl. He’d marked her. She was his.
“If we’re to be married, we need to be able to kiss each other.” Vaughn spoke with a casualness he didn’t even remotely feel.
“So you were practicin’.” Tobias snorted. “I’d rather get a supper that ain’t burned.”
Vaughn snatched the pan off the fire, burning his hand, but relieved to see it was done but not overly so. “The cornpone is ready. Hand me a plate, please, so we can fry up the ham too.”
With a grunt of disbelief, Tobias pulled a tin plate from the saddlebags in front of him. Vaughn ignored the other man and his brothers who watched with their normal wide-eyed expressions. He slid the hot cornpone onto the plate, then replaced it with slabs of ham. The scents of the food seemed to ease the tension somewhat.
Everyone sat and the food was distributed. Tobias chose to sit on the other side of Elizabeth, as though he challenged Vaughn for her attention. She ate without speaking, then stood and gathered the dishes.
“Jeb, show me where the creek is please.” She waited while the young Gibson scrambled to his feet and led the way into the darkness.
“She ain’t really your wife.”
“She isn’t anything to you.”
“Fair enough. I ain’t a hero or nothin’ but I won’t let you hurt her.” Tobias’s eyes glittered with the threat.
“I don’t plan on hurting her. I believe you’ve already reserved that chore for yourself.” Vaughn was satisfied to see his verbal punch hit its mark.
Tobias bristled. “I did what I did because you took what didn’t belong to you. You tricked me and stole from my family.”
“And you kidnapped an innocent woman, burned her home and barn, and potentially killed her grandmother. Which crime do you think is the one she feels the most?” Vaughn felt unaccountably jealous of Tobias’s interest in Elizabeth. She belonged to neither of them but a little voice inside him cried out she belonged to him. He’d touched her, kissed her, tasted her, joined with her.
She was his.
She was the least feminine woman he’d ever met.
About Emma Lang
Beth Williamson, who also writes as Emma Lang, is an award-winning, bestselling author of both historical and contemporary romances. Her books range from sensual to scorching hot. She is a Career Achievement Award Nominee in Erotic Romance by Romantic Times Magazine, in both 2009 and 2010.
Beth has always been a dreamer, never able to escape her imagination. It led her to the craft of writing romance novels. She’s passionate about purple, books, and her family. She has a weakness for shoes and purses, as well as bookstores. Her path in life has taken several right turns, but she’s been with the man of her dreams for more than 20 years.
Beth works full-time and writes romance novels evening, weekends, early mornings and whenever there is a break in the madness. She is compassionate, funny, a bit reserved at times, tenacious and a little quirky. Her cowboys and western romances speak of a bygone era, bringing her readers to an age where men were honest, hard and packing heat. For a change of pace, she also dives into some smokin’ hot contemporaries, bringing you heat, romance and snappy dialogue.
Life might be chaotic, as life usually is, but Beth always keeps a smile on her face, a song in her heart, and a cowboy on her mind. 😉
Beth loves to hear from readers so get to e-mail her firstname.lastname@example.org
BETH’S WEBSITE: http://www.bethwilliamson.com/
BETH’S TWITTER: https://twitter.com/authorbethw
BETH ON GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/38231.Beth_Williamson
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