Donovan's Bed
Welcome to Burr, Book 1

Digital Re-release
June 2017
ISBN-10: 0998949515
ISBN-13: 978-0998949512

Samhain Retro Historical
February 2012
ISBN: 978-1609289829

Original Release
Avon
February 2000
ISBN: 978-0380807741

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It’s Sarah Calhoun’s job to report the news, but when she prints a story about handsome Jack Donovan’s search for a wife, she never could have imagined that the town’s unwed females stalk him like he’s the last bachelor in Wyoming Territory! A scandal in her past disqualifies Sarah from being any man’s wife, so why then, even after reading the man’s list of ridiculous marital requirements, does she long for the job herself?

Jack came to the tiny town of Burr to escape his horrific past and create the life he’s always longed for. He knows exactly what he wants in a bride, and Sarah isn’t it. She’s pretty enough, but also bossy, independent and more dedicated to her newspaper than she could ever be to any man. But he can’t seem to get her out of his mind—or stop imagining her in his brand-new bed.

When a ghost from the past returns, the battle of the sexes turns into the battle to survive. Jack and Sarah must work together to defeat an enemy and win the true prize: love.

 

 

 

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AWARDS AND REVIEWS

RWA RITA Finalist
Winner 3rd place, Wisconsin Romance Writers Write Touch

"This is a western romance I can strongly recommend..." - Lesley Dunlap, The Romance Reader

 

Excerpt from Donovan's Bed

Chapter One

Burr, Wyoming Territory 1882

Everyone watched the bed come through town.

The three old men sitting outside the Four Aces saloon ceased their checker playing as the antique passed by in the back of Amos Carver’s ancient buckboard.

“Would ya look at that,” Mort rasped, pushing back his hat with gnarled fingers. “Big enough for a whole family.”

“Or for one hot-blooded woman,” Johnny said.

“Amen,” Gabriel whispered.

 The wagon continued down Main Street, sunlight gleaming along the bed’s carved headboard. All activity in Burr came to a standstill, as if the entire town were bewitched by the fantastic sight.

Marianne Westerly, the preacher’s daughter, gripped her mother’s arm as they stepped out of Pearson’s Mercantile. Her hushed comment carried the longing of a prayer. “Oh, Mama, look at the carvings.”

Nearby, Ellie Pearson stopped sweeping the wooden walkway outside her husband’s store to look with wondering eyes upon a bed splendid enough to birth a king. She caressed her ripening belly, where her unborn child slept. Her husband, Nate, stepped out beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders. Resignation underscored his tender smile as he watched the unattainable pass him by.

The Tremont sisters even forgot their rumor swapping with the mayor’s wife to stare in goggle-eyed amazement at the magnificent spectacle.

“Oh, my stars!” Emmaline Tremont exclaimed, then blushed when her sister elbowed her for staring.

From the window of the newspaper office, Sarah Ann Calhoun also took note of the extraordinary bed. The morning sun imbued the walnut finish with warmth, as if the wood itself still lived. Old Amos Carver, spitting and cursing at his mule from the driver’s perch of his decrepit wagon, seemed an insult to the bed’s majesty.

For a moment, half-forgotten dreams of white lace and baby cradles drifted through Sarah’s mind. Then she shook off the foolish notions. It’s just a bed. Just another of Jack Donovan’s foolish acquisitions. It meant nothing to her.

Nothing but an opportunity.

With a grin, she reached for her pad. Her duty as editor of the Burr Chronicle lay in reporting anything that might interest the town. And the town was very interested in Jack Donovan.

He had arrived in Burr almost a year ago and deposited a scandalous amount of money into the bank. Then he bought some fine grazing land and built up a ranch, filling his beautiful house with wonderful furnishings from back East. Rumors abounded about the source of his wealth. Some said he had discovered gold. Others said he was a notorious outlaw who had retired to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But since he came to church every Sunday and never had more than one drink at the saloon, the matrons of Burr chose to overlook his mysterious origins. In fact, many a young lady had set her cap for Jack Donovan.

But not Sarah.

She stepped outside the newspaper office, resolved to put an end to the speculation once and for all. Jack Donovan and his mysterious past would evade her no longer. There was something about him, a dangerous edge, that told her that he wasn’t exactly the law-abiding citizen he appeared to be. She was determined to uncover the truth. Once she discovered his secrets, she would finally make her father’s dream come true: the Burr Chronicle would become one of the biggest newspapers in Wyoming Territory.

And her own demons would be silenced forever.

She watched Amos and his wagon disappear over the rise. Around her, the town began to bustle once more. Conversations picked up where they’d left off. Horses whinnied, leather creaked, and wheels rumbled over hard-packed dirt. Down at the church, a group of men resumed hammering the dance floor they were building for the spring social on Saturday night.

Sarah’s shoes tapped a purposeful beat down the wooden boards as she went to fetch her horse. The time had come for Mr. Donovan’s reckoning. She would have the answers to her questions, and she would use that bed to get them.

***

“There she goes,” Johnny said, lifting his gaze from the checkerboard as Sarah strode past them toward the livery stable.

“Goin’ after Donovan again.” Gabriel spat into the spittoon beside his chair, then leisurely jumped one of Johnny’s checkers and scooped it from the board.

“I never saw a woman more determined to run a man to ground,” Mort commented.

“You remember the time she followed him down to the creek, and there he was, as nekkid as the day he was born?” Johnny hooted.

“And her stormin’ through town afterwards, soakin’ wet from head to toe. Tongues were flappin’ that day for sure,” Gabriel said with a grin. Johnny’s double jump made the grin fade. He scowled at the checkerboard. “Makes a body wonder how she got herself so wet,” he said absently.

“What about the time he was working in the barn out at his place and she cornered him in the hayloft?” Mort leaned back in his chair in preparation for a nap, but couldn’t resist a quick glance at the game board. “The boys who work for Donovan said she come runnin’ out of that barn like a cat with its tail on fire. And with straw in her hair, too. Musta looked awful funny, ’specially with it bein’ the middle of winter and all.”

“What about the time she found him in the barbershop?” Johnny asked. “How do you figure she got shaving cream all over her like that, anyway?”

“Heaven only knows,” Gabriel answered, snagging another of Johnny’s pieces.

They settled into silence, the occasional clack of captured checkers blending with the rowdy music and whooping laughter coming from the saloon behind them.

Then Sarah came galloping past, and the three men paused and gazed after her until she disappeared over the hill.

“So,” Gabriel said, turning back to the checkerboard. He scowled as Johnny made his next move. “You figure on a June wedding?”

Mort slid his hat low and closed his eyes for the intended nap. “Yup.”

“King me,” Johnny said with a smug smile.

***

When Sarah caught up with Amos’s wagon, he neither slowed nor looked back to see who followed him, though he gripped the stock of his shotgun with one hand. Sarah moved alongside the wagon, her bay keeping pace with Amos’s mule, Gertrude.

“Morning, Amos,” she said with a cheery smile.

“Mornin’.” His gaze never wavered from the road.

“I see you got yourself a job.”

“Yep.” Amos turned his head and shot a wad of brown spittle arcing into the dust. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and tugged his worn hat down over flyaway gray hair.

Sarah waited, but the old prospector said nothing more. “You’re working for Mr. Donovan?” she asked.

“Yep.”

She shook her head. She’d get more information out of Gertrude!

He swung his head around and looked at her with rheumy blue eyes. “Told me this would happen,” he grumbled.

“What? Who told you what would happen?”

“Donovan.” He spat another wad of tobacco juice into the road. “Told me you’d be along.”

“Did he?” Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “What else did he say?”

“Told me not to say a word if any busybody, newspaper-writin’ shrew started askin’ questions.”

With each word, her spine grew stiffer. “Did he indeed?” she asked through clenched teeth.

Amos chuckled, tobacco juice dribbling into his unkempt gray beard. “Yep. He’s payin’ me four bits to haul this here bed out to the ranch. He ain’t payin’ me nothin’ to answer a lot of fool questions.”

“I see.” Gripping the reins with one white-knuckled hand, Sarah reached for her reticule. “Well, I’ll pay you two bits to answer questions.”

Amos scowled.

“Think, Amos.” Sarah shook her purse. The jingle of coins brought a speculative gleam to the old man’s eyes. “I’ll pay you to talk to me. Just like a job.”

“Humph.” He squinted at her purse, then shook his head. “I’m not losin’ four bits just cause you’re nosy. If ya got questions, ya gotta talk to Donovan.”

“Like I haven’t tried,” Sarah muttered. Jack Donovan had managed to elude her inquiries for five long months. “All right, have it your way. But I’m riding with you to the Donovan spread.”

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug.

When Amos turned his attention back to the road, Sarah’s gaze slid to the bed.

Up close it was even more spectacular. Her imagination provided a clear picture of how it would look assembled, with a fancy coverlet spread across the mattress. She leaned closer to examine one of the bedposts. Cherubs carved from walnut clutched garlands of lifelike flowers that twined around the post. She imagined waking to a servant bearing hot coffee and biscuits. Slowly the servant’s nebulous features gave way to a lean-boned face with a pair of wicked, dark eyes...

Startled, Sarah pushed the mental picture from her mind. Jack Donovan had no business slipping so intimately into her private thoughts. Her interest in him was purely professional.

And the sooner she got her questions answered, the sooner she could forget about Jack Donovan.

***

“What do you mean, he’s not here?” Sarah demanded, frustration roiling within her.

Standing on the front porch of Donovan’s sprawling white ranch house, Matt Gomez, the foreman, gave her an apologetic smile. Men swarmed around them, unloading the pieces of the bed. As they traipsed up and down the stairs, she noticed more than one stifled grin, and Matt himself had a twinkle of humor in his brown eyes.

“I’m sorry you rode out here for nothin’, Miss Calhoun. Heck, if Donovan had known you were comin’ I’m sure he woulda put off his trip to Laramie.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” Sarah watched as her sarcasm wiped the good humor from the foreman’s expression. “No doubt he heard I was coming and took off, the sneaky poltroon!”

“Sneaky what?” Matt thumbed back his hat. “Now, Miss Calhoun, there’s no need for name callin’ here. And just what the heck is a poltroon, anyway?”

“A coward, Mr. Gomez.” She smiled when he stiffened. “What else would you call a man who runs from a woman?”

“Smart,” Amos snickered, helping one of the hands with the headboard. Masculine chuckles echoed his words.

“Donovan ain’t a man to run from nothin’,” Matt said, clearly offended.

“Well, apparently, Mr. Gomez, he is running from me.”

The men grew very quiet. Sarah smiled triumphantly, certain she had the upper hand. Why, they even looked a little afraid of her.

“Good afternoon, Miss Calhoun.”

Her stomach erupted into nervous flurries as she slowly turned. Jack Donovan stood a few feet behind her, legs spread, his saddlebags slung over his shoulder. His dark pants were covered in trail dust, as was his white shirt and black leather vest. While not the tallest man there, he still topped Sarah by several inches. He wasn’t as broad in the shoulders as some of the other men, nor as big in the chest or as beefy in the arms. His build was one of lean, whipcord strength that gave the impression of speed and agility. But he didn’t need bulk to intimidate people. Most folks took one look at his black-as-hell gaze and cleared a path.

At the moment, he wore his hat low over his eyes, but Sarah had only to glance at the firm set of his jaw to know that he was annoyed.

Then again, he was always annoyed with her.

“I didn’t know you were back, Donovan,” Matt said.

“Well, I am. Don’t you men have work to do?” He jerked his head toward the wagon. The hands leaped into action, moving the furniture with none of the easy banter of before.

“Well, Mr. Donovan, trust you to spoil a good time.” Sarah glanced at the silent, bustling men, then turned her attention back to Donovan. Propping her hands on her hips, she asked, “Are you going to talk to me today, or are you going to hide until I’m gone?”

He stared at her for a long moment, and Sarah found herself wishing that his hat brim didn’t hide so much of his expression. Then he strode past her and up the steps, where he shrugged off his saddlebags and placed them on the porch.

“Mr. Donovan, I’m talking to you.”

“I’m aware of that, Miss Calhoun.” He removed his hat and slapped it against his thigh to get rid of the dust, then pinned her with a heated look. Her pulse skipped. But it must be irritation that had put that smolder in his eyes, not some other emotion.

“Come inside if you want to talk,” he said, baring his teeth in a smile that made the dimple crease his left cheek, yet gave her the impression of a wolf about to pounce. “Unless you’re nervous about being alone with me.”

“Certainly not.” She took a deep breath to fortify herself, then walked up the steps and into the wolf’s lair.

He followed her inside. She could smell him, a distinctively masculine scent intermingled with that of horses and sweat and leather. He stayed close behind her, and everything female in her responded to the threat of his proximity, as if he were a predator and she, his prey. She could almost feel the heat of his body against her back, and her flesh prickled with awareness. Should he decide to pounce...

Ruthlessly, she repressed the shameful emotions. She was here to work, not to conjure improper fantasies about Jack Donovan.

She took a moment to calm herself by admiring a set of silver candlestick holders, and Donovan ignored her while he hung his hat on the wall. Then he grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the kitchen.

“Come on,” he ordered.

“Mr. Donovan!” She tried to pull free, but he didn’t let go until they reached the kitchen water pump. Then he simply released her and turned his back on her. “Mr. Donovan,” she said again. “You...what are you doing?”

Donovan draped his vest over the back of a chair and started to unbutton his shirt. “I’m washing up, Miss Calhoun. And if you want to talk to me, you have about five minutes to do it.”

“But you...you’re....Mr. Donovan, I must insist that you put your clothes back on right now!”

He arched his brows at her and stripped off his shirt. “I didn’t realize you were so shy. Not after that day you followed me to the creek.”

“And you pulled me in!”

The wretched man actually smiled. “It seemed to be the best way to get rid of you.” He hooked the shirt over a chair and turned to the pump. Giving the handle a couple of strong plunges, he bent over and stuck his head beneath the spurting water.

Sarah stared at his muscled back, the smooth expanse mottled by a scar or two that hinted at hard living. Her gaze slid to his tight backside straining against the seat of his pants, and back up to his sinewy arms. She swallowed hard. The scandalous cravings she had fought so hard to suppress surged to life again. Damn him.

He stood up, raking back his wet hair with both hands. With the inky locks slicked back like that, the angular planes of his cheekbones seemed more pronounced, and his eyelashes looked ridiculously long, almost like a child’s. But it was no child that studied her with that hungry obsidian gaze—it was a man who had seen too much and felt too deeply. There was danger there, but vulnerability, too. And that paradox was why she couldn’t seem to stay away from Jack Donovan.

That, and her own prurient impulses.

“Like what you see?” he asked with a knowing smile that made her breath catch and her heart pound. Oh, he was dangerous. And oh, how tempted she was. But she had sworn long ago to control her disgraceful, passionate nature, and no brazen rogue with secrets in his fathomless eyes was going to change that.

“Mr. Donovan, I am trying to conduct business,” she said primly. A drop of water dripped from his hair to his shoulder and wound its way down his lightly-furred chest. When she realized that she was staring, she jerked her gaze to his. “Business,” she repeated. “About the bed...”

“Want to try it out?”

Her mouth fell open. “I...are you out of your mind?”

“Nope.” He gave her a wicked grin. The boyish dimple in his cheek contrasted sharply with very adult twist of his lips.

“Mr. Donovan, you are becoming distracted from the issue,” she forged on, smoothing her skirts with shaking hands. What would it be like to smooth that bare, firm flesh? She squelched the wanton thought. “If I could just have your attention for a few minutes...”

He grabbed her wrist and tugged. Sarah yelped as she stumbled forward, grabbing at his muscular arms, but he caught her with his hands on her ribs, his thumbs just beneath her breasts. Before she could blink, he pulled her close against his warm, damp body and dipped his head close to her ear.

“Forget about business,” he murmured, his breath whispering over her sensitive flesh. She shivered despite herself.

“Mr. Donovan.” It was getting difficult to think clearly, to breathe properly. “If I could just have your attention...”

“I’d say you have it.” He smoothed a hand over her hip, then patted her bottom. “Let’s go to bed.”

“No!” Ignoring her sizzling nerve endings, she shoved him in the chest with both hands. He let her go. “Jack Donovan, you are contemptible!”

“And you, Sarah Calhoun, are wet.”

Sarah looked down at the front of her blouse. Her eyes widened in horror as she realized that the thin white lawn had become almost transparent from contact with his damp chest. Her nipples stood proudly and unmistakably erect. She quickly crossed her arms over her breasts.

He laughed. She scowled at him, then grabbed his leather vest off the chair and shrugged into it.

“I’ll get to the bottom of all your secrets, Jack Donovan,” she warned. Cheeks flushed but head held high, she turned and stalked from the kitchen.

***

Donovan watched her go. His gaze followed the honey-blond braid trailing down her back, and came to rest with appreciation on her trim backside as she stomped from the room. The woman might be a pest, but she had curves in all the right places.

He shook his head. The attraction between them burned fierce and hot whenever they met, and doing outrageous things to her was the only way he could think of to keep her at a distance. Despite her high-necked collars and arrow-straight spine, or maybe because of them, he always felt the urge to lay her out on the nearest flat surface and satisfy the hunger that gnawed at him every time she came near him.

Maybe it was the way she pursed those kissable lips in disapproval, or the way her eyes got so big and round when she was shocked. And he sure as hell liked that pink flush that spread from her cheeks and down her neck when she was flustered. One of these days he’d follow that blush to see just how far it went. He wanted to unbutton that starched blouse, unfasten the serviceable, drab-colored skirts, and loosen her braid while he made her ache for him the way he did for her. He’d never wanted a woman so badly in his life.

But he couldn’t have her.

Sarah was too caught up in the Burr Chronicle to make room for hearth and home. Now that the ranch was in working order, it was time he found himself a wife. But he needed a woman who would be content to cook and keep house and raise children. He knew instinctively that Sarah would be a wildcat in bed, and he certainly enjoyed getting both her temper and her body all fired up, but he had no desire to compete with the newspaper for her attention. Besides, the woman was too darned smart. She’d figure him out in a heartbeat, and that was the last thing he wanted. Not to mention that a newspaperwoman would always be shoving her nose in other people’s business and bringing attention to herself—and him. Close scrutiny was not something he could afford to risk.

Nope, the one woman he couldn’t marry was Sarah Calhoun.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Debra Mullins
All rights reserved


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