Bitter Creek Series #12 & Mail Order Brides #4


The sensational fourth novel in Joan Johnston’s new Western historical romance series set in the world of Bitter Creek.


A rogue nobleman, a rescued lady, and revenge undone by romance all play a part in New York Times bestselling author Joan Johnston’s irresistible novel of best-laid plots, delicious deception, and unexpected passion.

Two years have passed since Josie Wentworth was bought from the Sioux for a gold watch and whisked back to England by Marcus Wharton, the Duke of Blackthorne. When Marcus breaks his promise to return Josie to America, she ends up as a maid in the home of his charming but neglected nephews. Once Josie’s long-lost family finds her, however, the suddenly wealthy heiress sets out to save the two boys from their indifferent uncle—and teach the duke a lesson in honor.

Learning that Marcus is seeking a rich American bride to save his estate, Josie plots to catch his eye—certain he’ll never recognize the beauty she’s become as the ragged captive he rescued. But Josie doesn’t wager on her marital charade taking a tender turn, as the nobleman she’s despised for years proves to be a very different man than she’s imagined. And there’s no denying his passionate caresses, as she falls deeper under the spell of a husband determined to claim her heart.

    • Format: Mass Market
    • Publisher: Dell (July 25, 2017)
    • ISBN-13: 978-0-399-17774-3
    • Price: $5.82


She was tied to a pole in the center of the Sioux village, naked from the waist up.  What was left of her bodice was bunched at her waist above a striped muslin skirt. She still wore a pair of dusty boots.  The top of one creamy shoulder was unblemished, but the rest of her back was so crisscrossed with bloody stripes that there was barely any flesh left.  The blond pigtail that ran a short distance down her nape was crusted with dried blood.  Her head had sunk forward, and he wondered if she was dead.

As he watched, she lifted her head and straightened her shoulders almost defiantly, emitting a harsh, wrenching sound that caused his insides to clench in sympathetic response to the excruciating pain she must be feeling.  He turned his gaze to the Indian holding the bullwhip being used to torment her.

The Sioux’s cheek had been laid bare almost to the bone, in a red slash very much like the ones on the girl’s back.  The Indian had paused briefly to note the two white men riding into camp with the reservation Sioux guide who’d brought them, but he was obviously impatient to return to his brutal work.

Marcus Wharton, the Duke of Blackthorne, turned to his guide and said, “Ask him why he’s whipping the girl.”

The Sioux with the bullwhip answered the question in a guttural tongue, gesturing first to his cheek and then to the girl’s back, his mouth twisted in a malicious smile.

“She strike him with whip when he attack her wagon,” the guide translated.  “Hurt face.  Knock him off pony.  He punish.  No one laugh at Three Crows again.”

Blackthorne shared a look of disgust and disbelief with his future brother-in-law, David Madison, the Earl of Seaton.  Seaton had joined him on his journey across the American West, a last desperate bid to enjoy his freedom, before he married the earl’s sister, Fanny, and settled down to his responsibilities as the eighth Duke of Blackthorne.

As he stared at the scene in front of him, Blackthorne suddenly realized that he’d had his fill of adventure.  He’d seen a great deal of cruelty in his twenty-five years, but nothing as savage as this.

To his horror, before he could say or do anything to rescue the poor girl, the Sioux called Three Crows sent the whip cracking toward her wounded back.  The tip caught the untouched flesh at her shoulder, creating a bloody gash where none had previously existed.

The horrible cry of agony that escaped her lips had not yet died before Blackthorne was off his horse.  He wrenched the whip from the Sioux’s grasp and threw it away.

Three Crows pulled a knife from a sheath at his waist and stabbed at Blackthorne’s belly.

Blackthorne twisted his body so the blade that would have gutted him merely ripped through his waistcoat.  He kept his eyes on his foe, avoiding another slash of the Indian’s knife as he retrieved his own knife from his boot.  He gripped the shaft so he could stab or slice, moving in a cautious circle along with the Sioux, as they took each other’s measure.

Three Crows was shorter than Blackthorne’s six-foot height, with a thick, muscular body and arms.  He stared with hate from eyes that were almost black, breathing hard through a flat nose and an open, thin-lipped mouth.  He said something in his guttural tongue that needed no translation.

The Sioux clearly intended not just to kill him, but to cut him into painful little pieces.

The crowd that had been oddly missing while the Sioux whipped his prisoner suddenly surrounded them.

Three Crows’ teeth were bared, his muscles taut, as he waited for Blackthorne to make his move.

He’d been told that this band of Sioux were renegades who’d fled the reservation, but who might be willing to include him in their buffalo hunt, if he traded a few trinkets with them.  He realized he should have tried that road first where the girl was concerned.  He and Seaton might find themselves in dire straits if he ended up wounding—or killing—this man.  Not to mention how devastated his grandmother would be if he ended up getting himself killed in a knife fight before he’d married and produced an heir.

The Sioux’s dark eyes were focused intently on the knife in Blackthorne’s hand, but the Indian’s gaze wasn’t aimed at the very sharp blade, but on the intricately carved whalebone handle.

Blackthorne took a step back and opened his hand so the knife lay flat on his palm.

The Sioux’s eyes narrowed as he considered whether this was some ploy to distract him, so the Englishman could attack.

Blackthorne kept his gaze centered on Three Crows as he said to his Sioux guide, “Ask him if he’d like to have the knife.”

“Blackthorne, you can’t bargain with—”

He cut Seaton off and repeated in a steely voice, “Ask him if he’d like to have the knife.”

His opponent looked confused, and then disdainful, as he first listened, and then replied to the guide’s speech.

“Three Crows says he will take the knife when you are dead,” the guide interpreted.

“Tell him I’ll give him the knife in exchange for the girl.”  Blackthorne saw the Indian open his mouth to refuse and reached into his pocket to pull out his grandfather’s gold watch.  He let it dangle from the watch chain so the sunlight reflected off the shimmering surface.  “Along with this.”

“You can’t—”

“Be still, Seaton, and let the man think.”  He could see the Sioux was as covetous of the watch as he was of the knife.

Three Crows glanced toward the girl, whose body lay slack against the pole.  He abandoned his crouch and tucked his knife back into its sheath, then held out his hand.

Blackthorne dropped the watch into the Indian’s palm, then flipped the knife and offered it to him by the carved handle.

“The girl’s probably going to die anyway,” David hissed in his ear.  “Why would you give up your grandfather’s watch?  And that knife goes back to the first Duke of Blackthorne.  It’s priceless.  And irreplaceable.”

Without warning, Three Crows slashed out with the knife Blackthorne had given him.  He grabbed the Sioux’s swinging wrist with one hand and balled his other hand into a fist that connected with the Indian’s chin.  He let go as Three Crows fell in a heap.

Blackthorne felt his friend edging toward him and turned to eye the Indians gathered around them.  He reached down and took his knife from the Sioux’s hand, then walked to the pole and used it to cut the woman free.  As she fell into his arms, he let the knife drop to the ground.  A bargain was a bargain.  He’d promised the knife and his watch in exchange for the girl.  A Blackthorne’s word was as good as gold.

As her head dropped back over his arm, and he saw the damage to her face, he wished he hadn’t bargained with the Sioux.  He should have eviscerated him.

The girl’s features were unrecognizable.  Her eyes were so puffy and bruised, he couldn’t tell what color they were.  Her nose had been broken.  Her lips were split, and blood ran down her chin.  He was pleased to see dried blood under her ragged nails, proof that she’d fought back.

“Now that you have her, what do you plan to do with her?”

He turned to face his friend.  “Get her to a doctor.”

“The closest doctor is at Fort Laramie.  It’s the opposite direction from home.  Considering the telegram from your grandmother saying you’re needed there, I don’t think we can stay around for the weeks—or months—it’s going to take that girl to recover.”

“Then we’ll take her with us.”

“She’s likely got family around here somewhere.  We should try to find them instead of hauling her halfway across the world.”

“Her family could be anywhere.  For all we know they might be dead.”

“She needs help we can’t give her.”

“I’m not leaving her behind,” Blackthorne said, knowing his behavior was irrational but finding himself strangely unable to abandon the girl.  “I want to make certain she gets the best help possible.”

“Fine,” Seaton said. “Can we go now?  That Indian’s starting to wake up.  I don’t want to be here when he does.”

The girl moaned as Blackthorne shifted her in his arms.  He brushed a strand of bloody hair away from her battered face.  “It’s all right,” he murmured.  “I have you.  You’re safe now.”


Bitter Creek Series #11 & Mail Order Brides #3


The sensational third novel in Joan Johnston’s new Western historical romance series set in the world of Bitter Creek.


When Karl Norwood’s mail-order bride meets an untimely demise on the way to the Montana Territory, Hetty Wentworth steps in to take her place. Hetty has no idea how she’s going to pretend to be all the things she isn’t—including the mother of two kids. She only knows her deception is necessary if she’s going to save two orphans from the awful fate she suffered as a child.

Karl smells a rat when a much younger woman than he was expecting arrives with two children who look nothing like her. But his mail-order bride is so beautiful, he doesn’t object—until he realizes that his charming new wife has been lying . . . about everything. Can a woman forced to keep secrets and a man hindered by distrust ever hope to find happily ever after in each other’s arms?

    • Format: Mass Market
    • Publisher: Dell (January 7, 2014)
    • ISBN-13: 978-0-440-22380-1
    • Price: $7.99

Chapter 1


“Don’t you dare strike that child!” Henrietta Wentworth set her plate of hardtack and beans aside and rose from her seat on a fallen log beside the campfire.

“He’s my son. I’ll hit him if I want.” Mrs. Lucille Templeton had grabbed her seven-year-old son, Griffin, by the arm as he tried to escape after “accidentally” dropping a plate of beans he was bringing her into her lap.

“Look at my dress!” Mrs. Templeton wailed, staring down at a green-velvet-trimmed traveling dress that was clearly ruined. She tightened her grip until the boy grimaced and said, “This fiendish brat spilled that plate on purpose. He deserves the whipping he’s going to get.”

Hetty balled her fists and took three steps to put herself toe-to-toe with Mrs. Templeton. “You will beat that child over my dead body. Let him go.”

“Hah!” Mrs. Templeton snorted. Nevertheless, she loosened her grip, and Griffin jerked free and fled. He disappeared behind the Conestoga wagon in which they’d all been traveling from Cheyenne, in the Wyoming Territory, to Butte, in the Montana Territory, where Mrs. Templeton was destined to become a mail-order bride.

The hodgepodge Templeton family included the widow Templeton, her nine-year-old daughter Grace, and her seven-year-old son Griffin. Hetty had trouble imagining how Mrs. Templeton had produced a daughter as kind as Grace, although she had no doubt how she’d spawned a hellion like Griffin.

Nevertheless, not one of the three Templetons looked like any of the others or seemed anywhere near their professed ages.

Mrs. Templeton, with her dyed blond hair, mud-brown eyes, and substantial figure, looked considerably older than twenty-eight.

Grace was plump, had flyaway red hair and green eyes, and was already sprouting small buds on her chest, which told Hetty she was more likely twelve or thirteen than the nine she professed to be.

Her brother, Griffin, was a skinny stripling with dark brown eyes and tangled black hair that made Hetty itch to take a brush to it. Hetty figured he’d last seen the age of seven three or four years ago.

No less odd was the short, slender, but very strong young Chinese man who was their guide, protector, and driver, Mr. Lin Bao, who said he’d come to America ten years ago to work on the transcontinental railroad. Hetty had learned that the Chinese put their family name first, so Mr. Lin’s first name was Bao, which he’d told her rhymed with cow. Mr. Lin now worked for the man who would become Mrs. Templeton’s husband, Mr. Karl Norwood.

“If I’d had my way, Miss High-and-Mighty,” Mrs. Templeton muttered as she lifted her skirts to dump beans from its folds, “we would have left you to rot in that wagon where we found you.”

Hetty had no doubt of that. She’d never met a lazier or more selfish person in her life than Lucille Templeton. It was appalling that she owed this woman her life.

Mrs. Templeton had forced Mr. Lin to stop near the apparently abandoned Conestoga wagon because she’d wanted to scavenge whatever remained inside. Someone had already looted the wagon. All she’d discovered was Hetty, dehydrated, weak from loss of blood, and with a wound that had become infected from the arrow deeply embedded in her shoulder.

If not for Mrs. Templeton’s avarice, Hetty would be dead.

Although, honestly, it was Mr. Lin’s doctoring that had kept her alive. He’d used mysterious medicines from the orient to bring Hetty back to life over the past seven weeks as they’d traveled north. Mrs. Templeton claimed to be a nurse, but she didn’t seem to know much about caring for anyone. Hetty shot a quick look at the young Chinaman, who was still sitting quietly beside the fire smoking a long, curved white clay pipe.

“If it had been up to you, Lucy,” a young female voice accused, “you would have left Hetty in that wagon to die.”

Hetty hadn’t seen Grace approaching from the opposite side of the campfire, but she’d seen the girl defend her brother from their mother’s slaps often enough to know that where Griffin was, Grace was never far behind.

“I’ll take care of this, Grace,” Hetty said, knowing that Mrs. Templeton was still angry enough to lash out at her daughter.

Her warning came too late. Mrs. Templeton reached out her arm like a lizard’s tongue, grabbed a handful of Grace’s tumbled red curls, and yanked hard. “You’re the one to blame for this. I never should have brought the two of you along.”

Grace shot a fearful look in Hetty’s direction.

Hetty couldn’t imagine having a mother who wished she’d left her children behind. A mother who felt free to slap faces and yank hair. A mother who considered her children a nuisance. No wonder Grace looked so scared.

Hetty’s heart went out to the girl. Hetty’s own wonderful, loving parents had been lost three years ago, in the Great Chicago Fire, when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had kicked over a lantern and burned down most of the city, including the Wentworth family mansion and her father’s bank.

Overnight, Hetty had gone from being the pampered daughter of wealthy parents to being an orphan stuck in the Chicago Institute for Orphaned Children. Her uncle Stephen had left Hetty and her three sisters and two brothers at the orphanage even after they’d begged him to rescue them from the cruelty of the headmistress, Miss Iris Birch.

Miss Birch, like Mrs. Templeton, seemed to find joy in brutality against those weaker than herself. Every infraction at the Institute had been punished with three–“You’re lucky it’s only three!” Miss Birch was fond of saying–vicious strokes of a birch rod.

Hetty forced her thoughts away from her five siblings, who were all lost . . . or dead . . . but certainly gone. She couldn’t do anything to help them. But she could help Grace.

“What I said about Griffin goes for Grace, too,” Hetty said. “Let her go.”

Mrs. Templeton twisted Grace’s hair until the girl whimpered and stood on tiptoes to avoid the pain. “This is my kid. I’ll do with her as I like.”

“Not while I’m here, you won’t.” Hetty obeyed a sudden impulse, and her balled fist struck Mrs. Templeton in the nose.

“Ow!” Mrs. Templeton released Grace and grabbed her bloodied nose. “You’ll pay for that!”

Instead of running like Griffin had, Grace stood and watched with anxious eyes. “Please, Lucy,” the girl pleaded. “I’m sorry. Griffin’s sorry.”

“Shut up, you ungrateful whelp!” Mrs. Templeton snarled.

That was another strange thing about the Templeton family. Hetty couldn’t imagine calling her own mother by her first name, yet both children called their mother Lucy. Nor could she imagine any mother calling her daughter an “ungrateful whelp.”

Hetty should have known better than to think Mrs. Templeton wouldn’t strike back. A moment later she felt nails claw their way across her face, narrowly missing her left eye. One of the scratches across her brow bled profusely, blurring Hetty’s vision on that side. She almost missed seeing Mrs. Templeton bend to pick up a heavy dead branch.

“Lucy, don’t!” Grace cried. And then, to Hetty, “Look out!”

Hetty bent backward as Mrs. Templeton swung the unwieldy weapon but lost her balance and fell into a clump of buffalo grass. Hetty made the mistake of trying to push herself upright with her injured shoulder and yelped in pain. Even after seven weeks, it wasn’t healed enough to support her. She was stuck on the ground, a sitting duck the next time Mrs. Templeton swiped at her with that heavy branch.

Mrs. Templeton must have realized Hetty’s predicament, because she uttered a shout of triumph. However, the ponderous weight of the branch as it continued its sweeping arc had dragged her sideways. Instead of letting go of the branch to regain her balance, she held on, and her momentum forced her several steps backward.

Hetty heard Mr. Lin yelling something behind her, but she was too busy trying to avoid being brained by the tree branch to pay attention. She heard Mrs. Templeton cry out and wondered if Grace had somehow intervened to save her.

Hetty looked up in time to see Mrs. Templeton’s arms flailing as she tripped backward over a large stone. She finally let go of the branch, which flew several feet upward before it began falling, falling, disappearing from sight before ever hitting the ground.

Hetty struggled to her feet, recognizing at last what Mr. Lin had been shouting. “Be careful!” she cried. “The cliff!”

She got one last look at Mrs. Templeton’s face in the firelight–a ghoulish mask of fury–before the woman fell backward out of sight.

Her shrill scream seemed to go on endlessly. Then it stopped.

Hetty dashed with Grace toward the edge of the hundred-foot rock cliff that had been visible in the daylight when they’d camped, but which had disappeared beyond the light of the campfire after dark. She felt sick with grief and regret. She’d only wanted to protect Grace and Griffin. Instead she’d made them orphans. She couldn’t do anything right! Mr. Lin should have let her die.

“Watch out!” Hetty gasped as she put a hand across Grace’s waist to keep the girl away from the edge. She could see nothing in the blackness below.

Grace kept repeating, “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.”

“What happened?” Griffin called out. “Did the witch hurt herself?”

Grace turned on her brother as he appeared in the light of the campfire and said, “The witch is dead.”

Hetty stared at the two children, dismayed at what they were saying about the woman who’d borne them. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked Grace. “Your mother has just died a ghastly death.”

“She wasn’t our mom!” Griffin retorted.


Bitter Creek Series #10 & Mail Order Brides #2


The sensational second novel in Joan Johnston’s new Western historical romance series set in the world of Bitter Creek.


After three months in a mail-order marriage, Hannah Wentworth McMurtry is a widow—pregnant, alone, and near death in the Wyoming wilderness. Though she is saved by a man with a face cut from stone, she still grieves the husband who died on their journey west. Hannah needs a husband, but does she dare marry another stranger?

Flint Creed has also lost someone he loved—when the woman he hoped to marry chose his younger brother instead. Now he must find a ranch wife of his own. But every female in the remote Wyoming Territory is too old, too young, or already married . . . until he discovers Hannah on the prairie. Flint doesn’t pretend to love her, but he doesn’t tell her he loves another woman, either. Hannah doesn’t pretend to love him, but she doesn’t tell him about the child she carries. Though danger surrounds them on the Wyoming frontier, the greatest threats of all are the secrets within—revelations that could destroy the new life Hannah and Flint have begun to cherish.

    • Format: Mass Market
    • Publisher: Dell (January 1, 2013)
    • ISBN-13: 978-0-345-52746-2
    • ISBN-10: 0-345-52746-1
    • Price: $7.99
“Johnston follows Texas Bride with a romance set in the harsh territory of post–Civil War Wyoming. Shortly after 17-year-old Hannah McMurtry’s new husband dies from cholera, she and her sisters are attacked by Sioux warriors who injure Hannah’s twin, Hetty, and abduct 15-year-old Josie. Hannah, two months pregnant, walks for days to get help and is rescued by Flint Creed, a handsome rancher in love with his brother’s fiancée. Desperate for distraction, he asks Hannah to marry him, and she reluctantly agrees. Threats from a local rancher and the ever-present danger of life in the wilds of Wyoming add intensity to this fast-moving novel as Flint and Hannah navigate the trials of newlywed life while sending a Pinkerton detective to look for Hannah’s sisters. Johnston’s effortless storytelling blends romance with dramatic tension, historical accuracy, and a touch of humor.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Wyoming Bride is both gripping and touching, a smoothly written, well-paced Reconstruction Era romance offering scads of adventure and angst. Complicated, conflicted characters determined to forge lives – and find love – in an unforgiving land make for a remarkable read. Bless that Joan Johnston and her scheming ways!”–USA TODAY

Chapter One

Hannah had never been so scared in her life, but running wasn’t an option. If she didn’t go through with her part of the marriage bargain, Mr. McMurtry might not go through with his. Her husband had left her alone in their room at the Palmer House Hotel to ready herself for bed. It had taken less than no time to strip out of her gray wool dress and put on the white flannel nightgown that was all she’d brought with her. She paced the outlines of the elegant canopied bed without ever going near it.

The room was luxurious enough to remind Hannah of the life she and her sisters and brothers had lost three years ago, when their parents were killed in the Great Chicago Fire. The six Wentworth children had ended up in the Chicago Institute for Orphaned Children, at the mercy of the cruel headmistress, Miss Iris Birch.

Hannah caught herself staring longingly at the fire escape through the fourth-floor window. The view blurred as tears of anger—terrible anger—and regret—enormous regret—filled her eyes.

Hannah felt trapped. Trapped by a moment of generosity she rued with her entire being. Why, oh why, had she listened to her tormented sister Josie’s plea?

Two months ago, their eldest sister Miranda had left the orphanage in the middle of the night with ten-year-old Nick and four-year-old Harry to become a mail-order bride in faraway Texas. Hannah, her twin sister Hetty, and Josie had been left behind to await news of whether Miranda’s new husband might have room for all of them.

They’d waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for a letter from Miranda. Weeks had turned into months with no news that she’d even arrived safely. No news that she was now a wife. No news about whether there might be a place for the three who’d been left behind.

Hannah and Hetty had been prepared to wait until they turned eighteen in December and were forced to leave the orphanage, if it took that long, for Miranda to send word to come. Josie had not.

Hannah tried to remember exactly what tactic her youngest sister had employed to convince her to answer that advertisement in the Chicago Daily Herald seeking a bride willing to travel west to the Wyoming Territory.

“We should wait for Miranda to contact us,” Hannah remembered arguing.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Josie had replied. “You only have eight more months of beatings from Miss Birch to endure. I’ll be stuck here for two endless years. You know she’s been meaner than ever since Miranda stole away with Nick and Harry. I can’t stand two more years here. I can’t stand two more days!”

Hannah had taken one look at the desperation in Josie’s blue eyes, owlish behind wire-rimmed spectacles, and agreed to marry a man sight unseen.

At least she’d had the foresight to get a commitment from Mr. McMurtry that he would bring her two sisters along on the journey, which entailed three arduous months traveling by Conestoga wagon along the Oregon Trail. The trip could have been made in sixteen hours by rail, but as a child in Ireland, Mr. McMurtry had been on a train that derailed, killing the rest of his family. He refused to travel on another train.

They would all probably die of cholera or drown crossing a river or be scalped by Indians or trampled by a herd of buffalo long before they got to Cheyenne, where Mr. McMurtry planned to open a dry goods store.

Even if they made it all the way to Wyoming, she and Hetty and Josie were headed away from Miranda and Nick and Harry, with little chance of ever seeing them again. Agreeing to marry a total stranger headed into the wilderness was seeming more harebrained by the moment.

What on earth had possessed her to do something so very . . . unselfish?

Hannah was used to thinking of herself first. That had never been a problem when she was the spoiled and pampered daughter of wealthy parents. It had even served her well at the orphanage, where food and blankets were scarce. Before Miranda had left to become a mail-order bride, Hannah had been perfectly willing to let her eldest sister consider the needs of everyone else before her own.

Now Hannah was the eldest, at least, of the three who’d been left behind. Now it was her turn to sacrifice. Although marrying a perfect stranger seemed a pretty big leap from giving up food or blankets.

She was lucky the groom hadn’t turned out to be seventy-two and bald. In fact, he was only middle-aged. Was thirty-six middle-aged? To a girl of seventeen, it seemed ancient.

Her brand-new husband had a thick Irish brogue and an entire head of the curliest red hair she’d ever see on man or woman. His nose was a once-broken beak, but it gave character to an otherwise plain face. His eyes twinkled, like two dark blue stars caught in a spiderweb of wrinkles caused by years of smiling broadly—or too many hours spent working in the sun. Oh, yes, she felt very lucky.

And very, very sad.

Her tall, rail-thin groom was not the man of her dreams. He wasn’t even close.

Hannah was trying to decide how difficult it would be to open the window and retreat down the fire escape when she heard a firm—but quiet—knock at the door.

She scurried away from the window as though her presence there might reveal her desperate hope of avoiding the wedding night before her. There was no escape. She was DOOMED. She’d been well and truly caught in the trap Josie’s agonized eyes had set for her.

Her husband had arrived to make her his wife.

Hannah’s heart was jumping like a speckle-legged frog in a dry lake. Even knowing who must be at the door, she called out, “Who is it?” Her voice was hoarse and breathy. Fear had constricted her throat. She cleared it and said, “Who’s there?”

“It’s Mr. McMurtry,” a quiet—but firm—Irish voice replied. “May I come in?”

Hannah realized her husband expected to find her in bed. She stared at the gold brocade spread that still covered the sheets. She needed to pull it back and get into bed. But she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t!

To hell with being unselfish. She hated what she was being forced to do. She should have let Hetty do it. After all, Hetty was only two minutes younger! Hannah should have insisted they wait until Miranda contacted them. She should have told Josie No! in no uncertain terms. She should have run when she had the chance.

But she was married now, like it or not. And her husband was at the door.

Hannah curled her hands into angry fists and fought the tears that blurred her eyes and burned her nose. She hoped the coming journey was as dangerous as it was touted to be. Maybe her husband would die and leave her a widow and—

She brought herself up short and looked guiltily toward the door, behind which stood the man she was wishing dead. Wishing for freedom was one thing. Wishing another person dead to earn that freedom was something else entirely. That wasn’t how she’d been raised by her parents. Hannah was ashamed of having harbored such an unworthy thought.

No one had forced her to marry Mr. McMurtry. She’d volunteered to do it. She had to GROW UP. She had to put away childish hopes and dreams. This was her life, like it or not.

Hannah stared at the bed. She tried to imagine herself in Mr. McMurtry’s arms. She tried to imagine kissing his thin lips. She tried to imagine coupling with him. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t!

She groaned like a dying animal.

“Are you all right in there?”

Once again, Josie’s agonized gaze appeared in her mind’s eye. Hannah choked back a sob of resignation, then yanked down the covers and scrambled into bed, bracing her back against the headboard before pulling the covers up to her chin.

“Come in,” she croaked.

“Mrs. McMurtry? Are you there?”

Hannah cleared her throat and said, “You can come in, Mr. McMurtry.”

The door slowly opened. Mr. McMurtry stepped inside and closed the door behind him, but he didn’t move farther into the room.

Too late, Hannah realized she’d left the lamp lit, and that Mr. McMurtry would have to remove his wide-brimmed hat, string tie, chambray shirt, jeans, belt, socks, and hobnail boots—and perhaps even his unmentionables—with her watching. Unless she took the coward’s way out and ducked her head beneath the covers . . . or he had the foresight to put out the lamp.

Her new husband swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed, and said, “I had a cup of coffee downstairs.”

“Coffee will keep you awake.” Again, too late, Hannah realized there was a good reason why Mr. McMurtry might not want to go right to sleep.

Neither of them said anything for an awkward moment.

Then he said. “I’d better . . .”

Hannah watched as Mr. McMurtry blushed. His throat turned rosy, and then the blood filled his face, turning a hundred freckles into red blots on his cheeks.

He stammered, “I’ve dreamed about this . . . My whole life I . . . You are so beautiful.”

Hannah found herself staring back into her husband’s very blue eyes with astonishment. She’d known she was pretty, but this was the first time a grown man had remarked on the beauty of her blond curls and wide-spaced, sky-blue eyes, her full lips and peaches-and-cream complexion. It was surprisingly gratifying to hear such words from her husband.

Despite Mr. McMurtry’s speech, he remained backed up to the door.

Why, he’s scared, too! Hannah realized.

Her fear returned and multiplied. The situation was already mortifying in the extreme, but if he was inexperienced, who was going to tell her what to do?

“I’m really tired,” she blurted. Hannah dropped the sheet and put her hands to her cheeks as they flamed with embarrassment. “I don’t believe I said that.”

He chuckled.

She glanced sharply in his direction. “Are you laughing at me?”

“No, Mrs. McMurtry,” he said. “I was laughing at myself.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

He continued, “I’ve just married the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and I’m standing rooted to the floor a half a room away from her.” His smile turned lopsided as he admitted, “You see, I’ve never undressed a woman before . . . or undressed before a woman.”

Hannah swallowed hard and whispered, “Never? Not even a . . .” She couldn’t say the word prostitute or soiled dove or even lady of the night. Ladies did not speak of such things.

He shook his head. “I’m Catholic. Fornication is a sin.”

“Oh.” Hannah couldn’t breathe. It felt like all the air had been sucked from the room. He was thirty-six, and he’d never been with a woman? This was going to be a disaster.


Bitter Creek Series #9 & Mail Order Brides #1



Texas Bride
Miranda Wentworth never imagined becoming a mail-order bride. Now marriage to a stranger is her only hope of finding a home where she and her two younger brothers can escape the brutality of the Chicago orphanage where they live. With any luck, she can even start a family of her own, once the three of them are settled at Jacob Creed’s Texas ranch. But Miranda has one gigantic concern: Her husband-to-be knows nothing about the brothers she’s bringing along. What if he calls off the deal when he discovers the trick she’s played on him?

Jake Creed is hanging on to his Texas ranch by his fingernails. His nemesis, Alexander Blackthorne, is determined to ruin him. Jake will never give up, but he’s in desperate trouble. His wife died six months ago in childbirth, along with their stillborn son, and his two-year-old daughter needs a mother. The advertisement Jake wrote never mentioned his daughter—or the fact that he has no intention of consummating his marriage. He’s determined never to subject another wife to the burden of pregnancy. But Jake doesn’t count on finding his bride so desirable. He doesn’t count on aching with need when she joins him in bed. And he never suspected his bride would have plans of her own to seduce him.

    • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group, April 2012
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0-345-52744-8
    • ISBN-13: 978-0-345-52744-5


Miranda was afraid to reach for the tickets. She seldom took anything for herself before offering it first to one of her siblings. Her life the past three years had been full of sacrifices. But none of her siblings were old enough to marry. She would have to do this herself.

It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. She’d be going on a grand adventure to a place she knew about only from stories in the Daily Herald. A place full of wild broncs and longhorned cattle. A place full of cowboys. . .and Indians. It all sounded so exotic. And exciting. She’d have a husband and maybe, one day soon, children of her own, two things she’d seen as very far in the future after she’d become a destitute orphan. And with a new life outside the Institute, there was at least a chance she could rescue her siblings.

Miranda didn’t let herself dwell on the possibility that her husband might turn out to be as cruel as Miss Birch. No one could be as cruel as Miss Birch.

Speak of the devil and she appeared.

“What is this!” a piercing voice demanded.

Miranda quickly slid the vellum and tickets back across the table to Josephine, who slipped them back into the pocket in her night shift. As the headmistress descended on them like a whirling dervish, Miranda whispered to her siblings, “I’ll take care of Miss Birch. Go!”

Her younger brothers and sisters grabbed their blankets and scampered for the door in the dark shadows at the opposite end of the dining room, leaving Miranda behind to face their nemesis.

Miss Birch was wearing a tufted robe over her nightgown and had her long black hair, of which she was so proud, pinned up under a nightcap. The headmistress was short and stout, with large eyes so dark brown they were almost black and cheeks that became florid when she was angry, as she was now.

“I presume that bunch who ran off was the passel of brats you brought with you to the orphanage,” Miss Birch said. “I’ve warned you before about leaving the dormitory after lights out, Miss Wentworth.”

Miranda lowered her eyes in submission, knowing that was the best way to conciliate the headmistress. “Yes, Miss Birch. I was saying good-bye to my brothers and sisters, since I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

“You think the fact you’re leaving tomorrow means you can flaunt my rules tonight?”

“No, Miss Birch. I–“

A slender wooden rod whipped through the air and hit Miranda’s right shoulder without warning. Whop. She gasped at the pain and bit her lip to keep from crying out. She didn’t want her siblings to hear her and try coming to her rescue. There was no defying Miss Birch.

Miranda kept her hands at her sides, aware that if she tried to protect herself, Miss Birch would only hit harder.

“I’ll be glad–whop–to see–whop–you go!”

The pain was excruciating. Miranda felt tears of pain well in her eyes, but she didn’t make a sound, not even a whimper. She refused to give Miss Birch the satisfaction.

She could hear the heavyset woman breathing hard from the effort of whipping her. She raised her gaze, staring into the black eyes that stared hatefully back at her, and said with all the calm and dignity she could muster, “Are you done now? May I leave?”

She watched as Miss Birch resisted the urge to hit her again. Three cracks of the rod. That was Miss Birch’s limit, no matter how bad the infraction. Miranda knew her punishment was over, which was why there had been a taunt in her calm, dignified voice.

Then Miss Birch hit her again. WHOP. Hard enough to make Miranda moan with pain. Hard enough to make the tears in her eyes spill onto her cheeks.

Now I’m done,” the headmistress said with malicious satisfaction. “Go back to the dormitory, Miss Wentworth, and stay there until it’s time for you to leave.”

Miranda had turned to go when Miss Birch said, “Too bad you won’t be here when those brats get their punishment.”

“You’ve already punished me!” Miranda protested. “There’s no need to punish anyone else.”

“They were here, weren’t they? Where they didn’t belong? Oh, they’ll be punished, all right. Each and every one of them!”

“The baby–“

“That brat is no baby! He’s four years old.”

Only four years old!” Miranda retorted, fear for her youngest brother, whom she would no longer be able to protect, making her bold. “How can you be so mean?”

“Mean?” Miss Birch pressed her lips flat. “I enforce discipline, Miss Wentworth. Without discipline, where would we be? Those children must learn to obey the rules. They must learn there are consequences when they break them.”

“If you must punish someone, beat me instead.”

Miss Birch raised her eyebrows as she tapped the rod against her open palm. “Let me see. Three strokes times five offenses. How many is that, Miss Wentworth?”

“Fifteen,” Miranda replied past a throat tight with fear.

“I’m tempted, Miss Wentworth. Oh, how I am tempted.”

“Who would know?” Miranda said in a voice that was almost a whisper. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Miss Birch laughed. “You’re a fool, Miss Wentworth. I could give you fifteen strokes of the rod tonight and punish the rest of them tomorrow after you’re gone.”

Miranda knew very well that Miss Birch would find reasons to punish her siblings, even if there weren’t any. But the tickets secured in Josie’s pocket gave her courage. “Do it,” she urged. “I trust you will be too tired after the effort to bother my siblings, at least for tomorrow.”

“Very well, Miss Wentworth. Turn around and bare your back.”

Miranda’s eyes went wide. “You can’t mean–“

“Bare your back,” Miss Birch demanded. “Or I’ll have every one of those brats back in here tonight to get three strokes of the rod.”

“Yes, Miss Birch.” Miranda turned and slid her shift off already aching shoulders, securing the folds of cloth against her small breasts.

She focused her terrified mind on the faceless man at the end of her coming journey. The man who would be her husband. The man who would be the salvation of her siblings. The man who would plant the seeds for a family of her own. The man she would somehow learn to love. The man who might someday learn to love her.

Miranda braced herself and waited for the cane to strike.

NIGHT OWL REVIEWS:Reviewer Top Pick (Score: 5)

“Miranda lost her parents when their house burned down. Her and her five siblings were sent to an orphanage where they were at the mercy of nasty headmistress Miss Birch, who liked to find any reason she could to beat them. When Miranda turned 18 and couldn’t stay there any longer, her and her siblings came up with a plan for Miranda to be a mail-order bride so she could keep the family together. When Miranda met Jake, she had smuggled her two brothers along with her. It quickly became obvious that it wouldn’t be so easy to send for her sisters.

A whole host of characters keeps the story detailed and the interest high. Times were difficult for everyone involved, but as they muddled through, love and kindness prevailed. What a great historical read with an uber-sweet romance. Everyone fought their feelings, but learned to get along and work together for the greater good of the family. They all learned to deal with the fear and tough times and let the love reveal itself as the story developed. This is my first Joan Johnston book and she writes with sincerity and realism. I’m very impressed and I only wish I would have read her books sooner. I very highly recommend Texas Bride. You’ll be sorry if you miss it!”

“This is the first book I’ve read by Joan Johnston and it made me anxious to read her backlist, so I did some research to find out how the books are connected. You’ll want to visit her site for the details but the MAIL-ORDER BRIDE series will introduce a Blackthorne, so it’s a prequel to the BITTER CREEK novels. Also, those who’ve read the SISTERS OF THE LONE STAR series will recognize Cricket Creed, Jake’s mother. Not having read the previous books and not wanting to spoil this one, all I can say from my research is that I believe that TEXAS BRIDE will delight current fans with familiar characters, as well as create new exuberant devotees out of those of us who are just getting started. I know I had a tough time letting go at the end—I wanted more hours, more story and more answers about what’s next. Hooked me completely!

TEXAS BRIDE is charming, full of characters young and old that you’ll bond with immediately, leaving you impatient for what promises to be a tempting series for historical western fans. Fair warning; this novel leaves you craving for book two, WYOMING BRIDE, grinning with anticipation after reading the excerpt included. Great concept for a series that’s sure to please western historical readers who adore the pioneer spirit!”

By Romance Junkies Reviewer: Dorine Linnen