A haunted past, a marriage of convenience...a love for a lifetime?
After a tragic accident leaves Loyal Redfearn alone and pregnant, she writes to her deceased fiancee's ne'er-do-well brother, August O'Dell. Her hope is he'll save her beloved home. What she doesn't expect from him is a proposal so soon on the heels of his brother's death. Although they grew up together, she's never thought of August as the man she would marry, even as a means to save face with her family and friends.
Although returning to the township where August spent his troubled youth means facing the past, he sees an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the woman he's loved since boyhood. They agree the marriage is in name-only, but August works to earn Loyal's trust and waits for the day she'll see his hard work as proof that she didn't marry the wrong brother after all.
When evidence from a crime committed years ago points to August as the culprit, he and Loyal must face the reality that their newly forged family may be torn apart.
Loyal didn’t look away from the filly.
“What did he say when you told him you love me?” She’d heard.
For a moment, he couldn’t breathe. Her voice was calm, expression unreadable. “There aren’t many people who don’t know. I guess you were the only one.”
“I asked what he said.”
Her hand trembled faintly when she lifted it away from the foal’s coat. Brown eyes took him in. “Tell me.”
There was no way to know if she loved him in return, or if she was appalled by his admission.
“He told me about why he married your mother. How you brought them together.”
“I knew it wasn’t a love match.” She turned from the foal to Molly and scratched between the mare’s ears. “So many marriages aren’t. When did you know, August?”
Eighteen years ago, he’d dared her to hang upside down by her knees from an apple tree branch. She’d wrinkled her nose, hiked her skirt up and climbed the tree quicker than a cat. Sitting on the branch, she’d tipped backward, letting her hands dangle and long red braids stretch toward the ground. Her refusal to be afraid had impressed him. That day, he’d realized if he ever decided to get married, he wanted Loyal. But Jeremiah had already claimed her. He couldn’t tell her about that memory, so he lied.
“I think it was the night we delivered the foal. You were brave even though Molly was in danger and either of us could’ve been hurt. When I took your hand, it became clear. I love you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered.
August leaned against the corral rail. The filly stretched her neck, sniffing his elbow. He put his hand out, scratching her soft muzzle. Telling Loyal his feelings was harder than coming home had been. “Because I’d never ask you to stop loving Jeremiah for me.”
She faced him, her eyes wide and red-rimmed. “Oh, August. I’ll always love him. Nothing can change it. He gave me this gift.” She caressed her stomach. “He gave me a home. He brought us together.”
An ache that went deeper than the bruises on his back rocked him. He’d made a fool of himself, telling her father the truth while she was nearby. How had he thought he could compete for a woman’s love with the man she had on a pedestal?
He watched the horses, unable to look her in the eye. “It doesn’t mean anything is different. I’ll sleep in the barn until your father decides he can’t tolerate us anymore.”
“Why would you?” She touched his arm. “You’re my husband.”
“Not the one you wanted.” No stranger to rejection, he shouldn’t feel disappointed by her love for Jeremiah. He suddenly needed some space, some quiet time alone to think about what he’d said.
A love of reading inspired Allison Merritt to pursue her dream of becoming an author who writes historical, paranormal and fantasy romances, often combining the sub-genres. She lives in a small town in the Ozark Mountains with her husband and dogs. When she's not writing or reading, she hikes in national parks and conservation areas. Allison graduated from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri with a B.A. in mass communications that's gathering dust after it was determined that she's better at writing fluff than hard news.
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+AllisonMerritt