Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sneak Peek at The Marshal Takes a Bride by Renee Ryan

The Marshal Takes a Bride

A True Hero Never Leaves a Damsel in Distress--He Marries Her!

U.S. Marshal Trey Scott is fixin' to walk down the aisle just as soon as his stubborn bride-to-be agrees to say "I do." Katherine Taylor's five-year-old sister and an orphanage full of children are depending on her. So why won't the pretty schoolteacher marry him to save her tarnished reputation? Granted, Trey isn't willing to abandon his quest to avenge his first wife's murder. His name alone will protect Katherine until he returns, but she thinks he should leave vengeance to a higher power. Will the sacrifice demanded by the woman he loves be too great to bear...or will it be Trey's ultimate redemption?

An Excerpt From... The Marshal Takes a Bride by Renee Ryan

Denver, Colorado, June 1880

Cornered and nearly out of ideas, U.S. marshal Trey Scott refused to consider retreat. Not while he had a five-year-old little girl counting on him to triumph against the misery that assailed her. What had started as a mere game to the others was a matter of tragic proportions to the child.
Trey would not let her down.

Shivering, Molly Taylor pressed her tiny body closer to him. "You gotta save me, Mr. Trey."
Those big round eyes and that trembling lower lip punched through the last remnants of his resolve to remain neutral in this standoff. He would stick by the kid throughout this battle of hers.

Softening his expression, Trey knuckled a long black braid off her shoulder. "I won't let them get you, kitten. Just stay close."

He scooted Molly behind him, mutiny twisting in his gut. No one would stand in his way as he protected the girl from her dreaded fate. The troubled child deserved some peace and joy in her life.

"Leave this child alone." He fixed an uncompromising glare on the leader—a woman of uncompromising valor—and ignored the half dozen or so others crowding closer.

The pale-eyed, persistent female held firm against him in their battle of wills. Apparently, this was no game to her, either.

Trey widened his stance and folded his arms across his chest, settling into the standoff as though he had all the time in the world. He wrestled against the knot of regret tangling inside his anger. At one time, he'd considered this woman beautiful, godly—even fair-minded.

He'd woefully miscalculated.

At least Molly had him on her side. A swift glimpse to his left revealed an opening in the hedge that ran along the perimeter of the yard. Mentally, he measured the dimensions and came up victorious. The hole was the perfect size for a forty-pound slip of a girl to glide through to freedom. He'd catch up with her before she made it halfway down Larimer Street and long before she hit the bedlam of horse-drawn taxis on Tabor Block in the business district.

Comfortable with his plan, Trey inched across the grass, tugging Molly along with him.

The boss matched him step for step.

Shooting the woman a warning glare, Trey then turned to Molly and cocked his head toward the thicket. "You know what to do," he whispered.

Tears wiggled just below long, sooty lashes. "What if they catch me?"

He lowered his voice. "I'll create a diversion."

"What's that?" Molly asked in a whisper loud enough to be heard two counties over.

"Never mind. When I say run, you run."

But the leader—wrapped in that deceptively feminine package—pulled around to the left, effectively closing off the escape. "Don't even think about it."

At the end of his temper, Trey swallowed back a bitter retort.

As though hearing his unspoken words, inflexible blue eyes cut through the distance between them.

"The game is over… Marshal," the woman said.

Although he had at least a hundred pounds on the stormy-eyed sprite, Trey had to stifle the shocking urge to withdraw. He'd stood up against cannons, gross injustice, crooked judges and vicious criminals, but nothing compared to the disapproval of Katherine Taylor—school-marm, official custodian of the Charity House trusts and Molly's overprotective sister.

With that inflexible look on her face, Trey knew he could no longer count on the fact that Miss Taylor would set aside her volatile feelings for him and be reasonable, for Molly's sake.

So be it.

He had to delay. Procrastinate. Postpone the inevitable.

But how?

The late afternoon heat pulled sweat onto his brow. He'd lost his hat long before the battle had begun. A light breeze lifted the hair off the back of his neck, the comforting sensation mocking his inability to think straight.

He circled his gaze around the perimeter of the yard, taking note of the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Too far away. Growing a little more apprehensive and a lot less confident, he focused on the brick, two-story mansions running shoulder to shoulder for several blocks off to his right. Too many questions. As a last resort, Trey shot a quick glance past the manicured lawn and blooming flowers to the large, fancy home behind him. Too risky.

His only hope was to take the woman by surprise.

As covertly as possible, he inched toward the hedge, but an irreverent growl wafted on a cloud of threat. A quick look to his right and Trey's gaze connected with two more villains joining the foe's ranks. Shifting to face these newest threats, he snarled at the man he'd once called friend and the woman who co-owned the Charity House orphanage with him. "Marc and Laney Dupree, this is not your fight."

A grin slid between the two. "It is now," Marc said for them both.

As one, they glanced to Katherine, then separated, covering the gaps she'd left when she'd moved in front of the hedge.

Blowing out a hiss, Trey lowered his head to Molly's. "Don't worry, kitten. I have everything under control."

Various snorts and snickers cut through his words as more joined the enemy's ranks. Katherine spoke for the group. "Just hand her over, and no one will get hurt."

Wrapping all four feet of trembling little girl in his arms, Trey darted a quick glance to the house in front of him. "Not a chance."

"This is ridiculous. Surrender the child, now." Katherine spoke in a flat, no-nonsense tone that made him bristle.

Marc took two steps closer. "Enough, Trey. Hand her over."

Trey eyed his friend turned traitor. Clean-shaven, dressed in a fancy vest and matching tie, Marc Dupree didn't look much like the tough, hardened man Trey had once known, a man who had overcome poverty and… worse. In fact, with the sun winking off the dangling watch fob, Marc looked more like a dandy than a threatening opponent.

But Trey knew the man had hidden skills. Came from living with that wily, unpredictable wife of his, the same woman who was now conspiring openly with the enemy in this standoff.

"All right, Molly," Trey whispered in her ear. "We're going to make a run for it."

Another low whimper slipped from her lips. "But, Mr. Trey, I'm not fast."

He folded her deeper into his embrace. "Don't worry. I'll carry you."

She wrapped her spider-thin arms around his neck, nodding her head against his chest.

Shifting her to a more comfortable position, he studied the biggest threat to the child. Her sister.
Just looking at the woman made his throat ache. Underneath all that prim schoolteacher starch, Katherine Taylor was a lovely, courageous bundle of feminine charm and beauty. Even amidst this contest of wills, Trey found a part of him admiring her moral fortitude and persistence. She'd triumphed over a scandalous childhood and the unspeakable violence committed against her. She was, quite frankly, a woman worthy of his respect.

Then again…

With the wind snapping tendrils of black hair free from that hideously confining hairstyle, she looked a lot like an avenging angel sent to demand his reckoning.

It was always like this between them—volatile, unpredictable, confusing—more so over the past few months.

Alarm spread through him, the physical reaction shocking him. The corresponding ache in his gut warned him that he'd made a mistake challenging Miss Taylor on this matter.

Seeking compassion, Trey pivoted to his right. But another glare of disapproval angled back at him. Carrying thirty or so extra pounds and a rounded belly, Laney O'Connor Dupree was just as relentless as Katherine.

"No way out yet, Molly. The flanks are too formidable for a quick escape."

"Don't let them get me," Molly wailed.

"Don't you worry. I'm a United States marshal. They wouldn't dare take me on."

The scoffing and giggles coming from the crowd behind Katherine didn't seem to fill the little girl with confidence. "They don't sound very worried."

"They are. They just don't know it yet."

Balancing on the balls of his feet, Trey tucked Molly firmly in the crook of his arm. Leading with his shoulder, he charged through the front line. With the element of surprise on his side, he knocked his big, overdressed friend back a few yards.

Marc recovered quickly, and while Trey battled with his childhood friend, two pairs of persistent hands worked from behind to wrestle Molly free.

She kicked and squealed. "No, I don't want to go!"

Trey ground his teeth together and dug his heels into the ground.

"Relent…Marshal," said Katherine.

Trey pressed Molly tighter against his chest.

"You've taken this too far already," Marc said.

Trey dodged a flying elbow. He spun to his right but slipped, dropping to his knees. Next thing he knew, Molly was wrested out of his grip, and he was lying flat on his back.

The impossible had happened. Trey Scott, defender of justice, protector of women and children, had just suffered defeat. At the hands of a schoolmarm, a dandy and a pregnant woman.
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