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Montana Courage -- Caroline Fyfee

 

 

 

Available November 7th
Montana Promise
McCutcheon Family Series Book Ten
Pre-order your copy today!

Montana Territory, 1887

Luke McCutcheon and his twelve-year-old son set out to attend a family friend's wedding, hoping for some rest and relaxation. After arriving in the tiny mountain settlement of Priest's Crossing, Luke becomes the prime suspect of a horrific murder and Francis, the loyal ranch hand from the Heart of the Mountains, rides to his rescue when he hears the news. Revealing the truth and standing up to a whole town isn't easy and could get the young cowboy killed, but Francis would do anything to clear the McCutcheon name.

As Francis sets out to expose the real killer, he butts heads with Ashley Adair, the town's pretty schoolteacher. Ashley thinks Francis is as bad as the man she believes to be a murderer, but soon she begins to see the true Francis, and Luke too. As much as she wants to trust Francis, others in town scheme with deadly intent to keep them apart. Will the truth be revealed before it's too late?

MONTANA PROMISE continues the award-winning McCutcheon Family saga in a heartfelt western historical romance by USA Today Bestselling author Caroline Fyffe.

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excerpt

Chapter One

The woman stared at the body splayed across the floor of her tiny cabin. The man’s empty eyes gazed unseeing at the wooden beams above. Blood trickled from the gash on the side of his head, creating a dark crimson halo on the pine floorboards. Rings of sweat marred his plaid work shirt, and dust covered his boots. Until a moment ago, Benson had been her husband of one year.

Heat scorched her face. A burning chunk of coal had replaced her heart. Benson never returned before noon! At least, not until today. She fisted her hands, and her nails bit into her palms. The man beside her still clutched the fire iron. “Look what you’ve done!”

“I had no choice,” the man gritted through a clenched jaw. “He saw us. Through the window. You couldn’t explain your way out of this. I did the only thing I could.” He gestured to the gun in Benson’s holster. “He would’ve killed me. Maybe you too.”

Blanche clutched the base of her throat. That was fact. As kind and patient as Benson had been, he had a temper too. She’d seen signs when their marriage had begun to sour. He’d warned her enough times what would happen if she ever looked elsewhere. Benson wasn’t a saint.

Her gaze darted to the window, and her throat tightened. Morning shadows from the mountains covered the aspens and pines nestled near the cabin. Still, the day would be here within minutes.

With a shaky hand, she fingered her hair and tried to swallow with her dust-dry throat. She hadn’t believed a marriage to a freighter would be so horribly boring. Living out here on the outskirts of town, away from everyone, had been suffocating to say the least. She glanced sideways at her cohort, thinking she should be thankful he’d had the guts to actually take action when he did. She couldn’t have. Blanche slowly returned to the middle of the room.

“What should we do with the body?” she asked softly, as if an animal skulked about that might hear her words and scamper to town to alert the people. “And what will I say when folks start asking questions? You know his sister can’t go two days without her dear darling brother coming for a visit.”

The man nudged Benson’s shoulder with the toe of his boot, not minding the blood. “I’ll put him in the river. He’ll wash away fast enough.”

“And if he doesn’t? This time of year the river is low. Too many rocks and branches. We can’t take that chance.” She gripped the folds of her skirt. “We’ll have to think of something else.”

“I’ll dig a grave where no one will find him. That’s our best choice.”

That decision was risky. Keeping the body anywhere might be a mistake. The newness of this relationship had already worn off. Their affair was over. After what they’d done, she couldn’t stomach another encounter. But what if he wouldn’t go away quietly? Would he blackmail her? Turn her in? Say she was the one who killed Benson? She discreetly eyed Mr. Romantic, thinking he’d do just that to spite her. She needed to be extremely careful.

He was looking at her. Waiting for a response.

She pulled back her shoulders. “You’re right. I’ll say Benson never returned from his last job. After a while, people will come to believe something must have happened on his way home. We’ll roll him up in a blanket, and then tonight you can take the body south, maybe all the way into Wyoming.”

He smirked. “You have this all figured out, don’t you? Won’t people wonder when I don’t show up for work?”

His sarcastic tone set off alarm bells. She swallowed. Placing a hand on his arm, she tried to smile. “Thank you for taking action. I think you saved our lives.” His color was still high. She’d never noticed before how his lips twitched when he was nervous. She’d need to be shrewd. Her word against his. She gasped and whirled to the window.

“What?”

“His pack animals! If Benson is here, that means his animals must be outside in the corral.” She paced to the wall, her breath coming fast. “It’s already morning. We can’t get rid of three mules, a horse, all his gear, and Benson’s body without leaving evidence behind. Someone will see us.”

Shaking overtook her hands, and then her arms. Surely they’d both hang for what they’d done. “If this is a nightmare,” she moaned through a tight mouth, “please, please wake me up.” Another look at Benson made her stomach squeeze painfully. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Her companion reached to pull her into an embrace.

She stepped away. They had too much to think through. No time existed for his one-track mind.

“We have to do something. Before any more time is wasted, I’ll dump his body in the river. That’s our only chance.”

He was so stupid! She tried not to watch as he wiped an unsteady hand across his mouth. The face she’d thought so handsome before sharpened. What had inspired her to start carrying on with him in the first place?

“You can’t. His mules are here. And his horse. No one will believe he came home and then just disappeared.”

“Then you say he got kicked in the head and fell down the bank. Before you could help, he’d slipped into the water.”

She flung her hand toward the corral. “By those mules? They’re as docile as lambs. Besides, he was an expert. And the river is a quarter mile away. No, no, that won’t work.” Her eyes kept straying back to Benson’s surprised face, his expression mocking. He would exact his revenge on her cheating even in his death.

Outside, the whinny of a horse brought her around. Fear ricocheted through her body. Was that one of Benson’s animals or someone else? She ran to the window. “Someone’s coming!”

“Do I have time to hide the body?”

“No. He’s already dismounted by the leaning pine and will be at the door in a moment.”

“Who is it?” he whispered.

“Don’t know. He’s tall, whiskered. Looks untidy. I don’t recognize him or his horse.”

“A drifter?”

“Yes. I believe so.” Did she dare? She placed her hand on his chest. “Do you think you should get rid of him too?”

He roughly gripped Blanche’s shoulder. “I’m not killing anyone else! You’ll have to yourself if that’s what you want.”

The scowl on his face sent a chill up her spine.

A small smirk replaced his glower. “He’s probably looking for something to eat or directions. Out this far, can’t be any other reason. We’ll pin this whole mess on him.”

The pressure on her shoulder increased threateningly.

“You hear that, Blanche?” His brows bunched in a frown. “No matter what, he doesn’t come in. Then, when he’s gone, you’ll have the perfect alibi. There’ll be tracks and all. I’ll have to rough you up a bit, but that can’t be helped.”

“What?” Her mouth fell open as a strong knock sounded. After one last glance at Benson, she cracked open the door and slipped out.