Title: Tender Touch
Author: Charlene Raddon
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Three nightmarish years of marriage had shattered Brianna Wight’s sheltered world. Faking her own murder, she flees St. Louis…harboring terrible secrets that could mean her death.
The tragic loss of his Indian wife left Columbus Nigh a wanderer; necessity made him a wilderness guide. But now he finds himself drawn to the enigmatic woman who’s hired him to lead her westward. Her gentle strength stirs his lonely heart…her tender beauty arouses his deepest passions.
But the perils of the Oregon Trail pale beside the murderous wrath of the man who tracks them across the harsh frontier. Brianna knows the only way to save herself and Columbus is to risk their tender love. Only then can she free herself from the horrors of the past—and embrace a rapturous future.
Brianna Wight’s heart pounded as she reluctantly followed her housekeeper’s son inside the dingy, cavernous livery stable. She felt as though she were entering the very bowels of hell.
Heat from the blacksmith’s shop blasted her delicate skin through her clothes and fluttered the veil covering her face as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The flames leaping from the forge and the murky silhouettes of men, dancing about the fire like so many devils, were all she could make out.
Harsh, angry voices flew at her out of the blackness, like hurtled knives. Instant terror stiffened her body, and she threw up an arm to shield her face.
“Wait your turn, stinkin’ squawman. Whaddya need yer horse shod for anyways? It’s only one o’ them Injun ponies. Get back to yer slut squaw an’ have her pick the lice from yer hair, why doncha?”
The voice that answered was soft, deep and—Brianna thought—deceptively calm, but the words were unclear.
“Why, you bastard!” the first voice yelled.
The sound of flesh and bone striking flesh and bone froze Brianna. Her heart stuttered. That sound was entirely too familiar, as was the pain that always followed. She tensed, waiting to feel the expected blow.
Instead, a man sailed toward her out of the smithy. Brianna screamed in the instant before he slammed into her. Together, they tumbled to the straw-littered floor in a tangle of arms, legs and skirts.
“You blasted squawman!” someone bellowed. “Look what ya done now. Get up, damn you! That’s a lady you’re laying on.”
Brianna fought for air and shoved frantically at the heavy man weighing down her already bruised and battered body. Pain from a hundred places threatened to rend her unconscious. Inside her head, a voice shouted,“It’s not Barret! Not Barret!” But the fear had her in its grip. She could not stop battling for her life, as she had been forced to do, so many times before.
Close to her ear, a low rumbling voice muttered, “Hell- fire! Give it up, woman. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
Hands like steel bands pinned her wrists to the hay-and horseshit-strewn dirt floor. His panted breath warmed her cheek, smelling of tobacco, and, oddly enough, apples. Brianna felt her breasts flatten against his hard chest, felt that same hard chest expand and deflate along with hers, as they each gasped for air. Something stirred inside her, something she had never felt when Barret held her this way, something that left her confused, as well as scared.
“All right,” the low voice rumbled. “I’m gonna get up now.”
The weight lifted from her body. He towered above her, ten feet tall and at least three across. As she lay there staring up at him through her veil, still fighting off the fear, he reached down to offer her a hand up. She could see better now, well enough to note that his palm was dirty and callused, the smallest of the long, slender fingers missing a joint.
“You all right?” he asked, not unkindly.
Before she could gather enough sense and wind to answer, Sean and his mother were there, bending over her. Brianna groaned as they hauled her to her feet. Every bone in her body ached. It was all she could do to stay upright while Mrs. O’Casey brushed the dirt and straw from her rumpled skirts. She refused to give way to the tears and pain and terror that threatened to engulf her. If she couldn’t even survive one day of freedom without knuckling under, how would she live long enough to start a new life?
The stranger, glowering now at something said behind him, turned away. Muttering what sounded like a vile curse in a foreign language, he launched himself at his antagonist. Brianna and the O’Caseys barely made it out of the way before both men came hurtling toward them again, locked in a death grip, grunting, cursing, and sweating. Sean shouted for the liveryman.
Big enough to pull a wagon to Oregon by himself, Moses Longmire shoved one brawler up against the wall. The other he restrained with only a gentle hand on the man’s heaving chest. To the latter, he said, “Calm down, Nigh. Ain’t nothing but a Kentucky farm boy, not worth bruising your knuckles on.”
Now that she was standing, Brianna saw that the man, Nigh, who had knocked her down, was tall—though ten feet was an exaggeration—and lean and lanky, all sinew and muscle without an ounce of fat to spare. His shoulders were broad, hips slim, legs muscular and slightly bowed from too many years on horseback. She blushed at the sight of his naked shoulder protruding from the neck of his buckskin hunting shirt where it had been half torn off him. As though aware of her reaction, he shrugged back into the thigh-length garment with easy grace.
Never had she seen a man like him. Half the whangs were missing from the fringed seams of his shirt, and there was enough grease and ground-in dirt on it to bury a horse. If not for the lightness of his long, shaggy hair and the darker stubble on his face, she would have taken him for a savage.
Charlene Raddon’s first serious attempt at writing fiction came in 1980 when a vivid dream drove her to drag out a typewriter and begin writing. She’s been writing ever since. Because of a love for romance novels and the Wild West, her primary genre is historical romance. At present, she has five books originally published in paperback by Kensington Books. More recently these were published as e-Books by Tirgearr Publishing. In May, 2016 Charlene self-published her ebooks with new covers. Charlene also designs book covers and other graphic materials for authors through her site, http://silversagebookcovers.com.
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