Being a fugitive in the old west shouldn’t be this much fun.
The year is 1860. Robby Riverton is a rising star on the New York stage. But he witnesses a murder by a famous crime boss and is forced to go on the run–all the way to Santa Fe. When he still hasn’t ditched his pursuers, he disguises himself as a mail order bride he meets on the wagon train. Caught between gangsters that want to kill him, and the crazy, uncouth family of his “intended”, Robby’s only ally is a lazy sheriff who sees exactly who Robby is — and can’t resist him.
Trace Crabtree took the job as sheriff of Flat Bottom because there was never a thing going on. And then Robby Riverton showed up. Disguised as a woman. And betrothed to Trace’s brother. If that wasn’t complication enough, Trace had to find the man as appealing as blueberry pie. He urges Robby to stay undercover until the danger has passed. But a few weeks of having Robby-Rowena at the ranch, and the Crabtree family will never be the same again.
Cover Design: Dar Albert @ Wicked Smart Design
Length: 65,000 words approx.
TCO Exclusive Excerpt – Robby Meets Rowena
By Eli Easton
AUTHOR’S NOTE – In “Robby Riverton”, set in 1860, a young actor is forced to go on the run after witnessing a murder. He ends up disguising himself as a mail order bride to escape his pursuers. In this scene, Robby meets Rowena, the mail order bride whose identity he will steal to save his own life.
“Why do you keep watching behind us?” Miss Fairchild asked. “You got someone chasing you, Mr. Smith?”
Robby’s fellow passenger in Stoltz’s wagon was a young lady. She was statuesque, well-bred, and finely dressed. She had light-brown hair that flirted with the idea of being red and a starry sky’s worth of freckles on her nose and cheeks. Her current dress was a green brocade, though she had six trunks filled with gowns and parasols and hats and other folderol. They took up an annoying amount of space. She wore a lacy ecru shawl about her person, always, despite the heat. She sat at the back of the wagon where the tarp was open, enjoying the scenery.
Said scenery was nothing but endless green woods and flies, and Robby couldn’t be bothered. Besides, he was still nervous about being seen.
“As a matter of fact, I’m being chased by a Russian countess whose heart I broke,” Robby said dramatically. “She sent a regiment of Cossacks to drag me back to her side.”
Miss Fairchild stared at him blankly for a second then laughed. “Oh, you! My Aunt Fanny! But I can believe you’re leaving behind a broken heart. Or a dozen. You’re what my mama would call a bonny lad.”
“Ack, would she now, your sainted mother?” Robby switched to his best Irish brogue.
Miss Fairchild grinned with delight. “Lands, that’s good. Are you Irish?”
“Not even a wee little bit. Not a blessed hair on me head.”
She studied him, amused. “What are you, then? Your clothes, your hands… You’re no laborer. You don’t look stuffy enough to be a preacher or a teacher, and you’re too young and handsome to be a politician. Are you a poet, sir?”
Robby laid his finger alongside his nose and then pointed at her and winked. “Close, dear lady. I’m an actor.”
“Oooh, I’ve never met an actor before! Mama took me to poetry readings last summer and the gentleman who did them, Roe Farley? He was exceedingly handsome too. Do you know Roe Farley?”
“Can’t say as I’ve had the pleasure. And what about you? What adventure are you off to all on your lonesome, Miss Fairchild?”
He’d wondered about Miss Rowena Fairchild. At first, he’d assumed she was with Mr. Stoltz. But Stoltz paid her even less mind than he did Robby. Which was to say, he ignored them both, going off to take his meals elsewhere, sleeping out in a bedroll under the wagon, and spending his days driving the team.
Her chin lifted defiantly. “I’m going to meet my husband.”
Wasn’t it Miss Fairchild? Robby blinked in confusion. “Ah. And when did Mr. Fairchild go out West?”
She started to speak, hesitated. A mischievous gleam lit her eyes. “Can you keep a secret?” she whispered.
“I know not a single soul on this wagon train but you. And it’s awfully tight quarters for secrets.”
“That’s true. Besides, there’s only so long I can hide this if you and me are sharing this wagon all the way to Santa Fe.” Moving her shawl to the side, Miss Fairchild revealed a very definite mound at her waistline.
“Ah,” Robby said.
“I told Mr. Stoltz I was going to join my husband. But the truth is… Here. This will explain better than I can.” She drew out an envelope from her tasseled purse and leaned over.
Robby hurried forward to take the missive, worried about her straining her belly. He joined her at the back of the wagon and, after checking again that there was nothing but a long chain of wagons behind them and no hint of the Bowery Boys, he took out the letter and attached contract and peered at it.
“A mail-order bride?” he said in surprise. “Well, that’s certainly adventurous. What do you know about this…” He scanned for a name. “This Mr. Clovis Crabtree?”
Miss Fairchild palmed her stomach and relaxed against the edge of the tarp. “He’s twenty-five, his family owns a wealthy ranch, and he’s clean, godly, and a hard worker. That’s what it said in the letter. We’re to be married just soon as I get to Flat Bottom. That’s a town north of Santa Fe.”
“And so ingeniously named. Does Mr. Clovis Crabtree know about your delicate circumstance?” Robby asked, seeing no reason to play coy.
Miss Fairchild blushed, but the way her eyes sparkled, it was more with pleasure than shame. “But that’s what’s so very clever of me! I have it all planned out. You see, I managed to hide this before I left since I wasn’t showing much.” She touched her belly which, to Robby’s eye, was showing more than a little, but maybe she’d always been round there. “No one back home’s the wiser. And at my biggest, I’ll be on this wagon train where no one knows me. By the time we reach Santa Fe, I’ll have had the baby. I hope so anyway.” She frowned slightly. “They say it’ll take three months to get there, and that’s about right.”
It sounded like a horrible ordeal to Robby, delivering a baby on a wagon train. But he figured it would help nothing to say so.
“And then, what I’ll do…” She looked delighted with herself. “I’ll say to Mr. Clovis Crabtree, I’ll say, ‘Why, sir, it’s a downright tragedy! A nice Christian lady on the wagon train died having this babe. And I couldn’t leave him to the wolves, now could I?’” Miss Fairchild batted her eyes innocently.
It was bold, Robby had to give her that. “What about the baby’s father?”
“The good Christian lady who had the babe on the wagon train. Wasn’t she traveling with her pious husband? Wouldn’t he want custody?”
“Oh shush!” Miss Fairchild gave a dismissive wave. “I’ll just say he was eaten by a bear. Anyhow, no man wants to raise a baby alone.” She appeared to think better of it though, as she amended brightly, “I have it! I’ll say the daddy was struck dumb with grief and couldn’t bear to touch the child.” She raised her arm dramatically across her brow.
Robby figured any man who didn’t suspect a tall tale when his young bride appeared with an infant was a fool indeed. But who was he to interfere? And anyway, there was every chance Miss Fairchild’s intended wasn’t particularly bright. After all, he lived in the New Mexico Territories. And what sort of man went in for a mail-order bride?
“I even managed to slip my chaperone, Aunt Edna,” Miss Fairchild continued. “I told her the wagon train left in the afternoon and snuck out while she snored away in the hotel. That’s why no one on this earth will ever be the wiser!”
“Do you plan to kill everyone on the wagon train, then?” Robby asked, just to be contrary.
She gave him a dirty look. “Don’t be silly! The West is a big place. Chances of me and Mr. Crabtree ever running into any of the folks I meet on the trail is no bigger than a mite on a flea.”
Miss Fairchild was likely correct. Though, by the line of worry on her brow, Robby had given her doubts. He could picture the well-mannered Miss Fairchild going around and slitting all their throats in their bedrolls just to make her “plan” even more clever. The thought amused him.
“Who’s the real father?” he asked, before he could think better of it.
Miss Fairchild got a sour expression. “A traveling salesman. He was selling Bibles. Can you believe it?”
“Doesn’t surprise me a whit.”
“Mamma and Poppa were out making calls and our maid, Drusilla, was sleeping away in the kitchen like most afternoons. When Joseph came knocking, he was so handsome, I let him in.”
Miss Fairchild did seem to have a weakness for “handsome,” Robby decided. But then, so did he.
“I know it was foolish, but he had such a silver tongue. The things he said to me!” She stared out the back dreamily.
“I know just what you mean.”
“And I did everything a sensible girl ought to to keep this from coming to pass,” she insisted hotly.
“Oh? What did you do?”
“Why, right after I dallied with that man, I ran up to my room and washed real good. And I commenced to jumping up and down for ages! It was a good hour at least. And then I went to bed, but I woke up twice in the night and fretted, so I got up and jumped around some more.”
“I can’t say as I ever heard of jumping as a means of contraception.”
“Contra-what?” She looked at him like he was teasing her. “No, silly, it’s for stopping babies.”
“Guess this one was just determined to come.” She stroked her belly fondly, looking down at it with a smile.
“Well, I wish you the best, m’lady. And if I can assist you in any way, consider me your cohort.”
“Your co-conspirator, companion in arms, your fellow seaman on the good ship Deceit.” Robby gave her a cheeky salute. “If you ever need an eyewitness account, that is to say. To my eyes you are as slender as a reed.”
Miss Fairchild’s brown eyes grew sparkly. “Aw. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever offered to do for me! I admit, I was afraid coming on this trip all alone. But now that I’ve met you, Mr. Nick Smith, I know God’s looking out for me, despite the error of my ways.”
“Indeed,” Robby said uneasily. The false name had been a necessary evil. He hoped the Bowery Boys would finally lose his trail.
“Do you have a sweetheart, Mr. Smith?” Miss Fairchild lowered her eyelashes coyly.
There was no mistaking her meaning. Robby forced a smile. “I’m afraid my heart is not my own.”
Miss Fairchild’s disappointment was brief. “Oh well. Then we shall be the best of friends!”
“Given our close quarters, I think you shall be my sister in the end,” Robby said. He hoped Miss Fairchild had some cards in one of those trunks or at least liked to read aloud. It was going to be a very long three months.
As it turned out, all of Miss Fairchild’s machinations were for naught. She fell for Mr. Traymore, a bookish and sensitive young man a few wagons back. He was heading to Dodge City to start up a new bank. Smart girl, Miss Fairchild. When Stoltz’s wagon continued west, Rowena, her belly like a full moon, stood next to Traymore at the Dodge City stockyard, smiling and waving.
“Good-bye, Mr. Smith,” she called out to Robby. “Good-bye!”
She gave Robby her contract with the Crabtrees, along with a letter to deliver to her intended at the end of the trail. The letter was a poetic treatise on the undeniability of true love with fervent wishes for Mr. Clovis Crabtree’s own future happiness.
Robby hoped the ranchers in Santa Fe weren’t inclined to shoot the messenger.
Westerns are such fun. Throw in m/m using an actor on the run, mistaken identity, and a sexy future brother in law, and I’m so happy. I liked this one, it was a light and cute read. Robby is an up and coming actor on the New York stage when he witnesses a murder. He escapes out of town and befriends a young mail order bride on the wagon train to New Mexico. She falls in love with someone else along the way and decides to settle with him at one of the towns but asks Robbie to give her apologies to the man she was supposed to marry. At the same time, the men he witnessed committing murder are after him and he poses as the bride in order to evade them at the end of the line. But before he can make a clean getaway, he’s met by his future brother-in-law, Sheriff Trace Crabtree.
I’ll spoil you and tell you that Trace recognizes that Robby is a man pretty much right away. And thank goodness because I cringe at the thought of 200 pages of him not knowing, the internal confusion it would cause, etc. Instead they have immediate mutual attraction, but of course there are various reasons why they can’t do anything about it right away.
I liked Robby a lot. He forms a bond with Trace’s somewhat-odd family as they welcome him into their clan. He learns to handle Trace’s father who is well-meaning but is cranky about having things his way. Robby is encouraging and kind to his “groom” Clovis. His sisters-in-law are bolstered by his independence and the kids love him. Trace loves his family but he needs some distance from them, but as Robby spends more time with them all, and Trace’s father reveals a secret, Trace is able to let go of parts of his past that has haunted him.
I was nervous about some things though: How is Robby going to get out of this marriage? What will Trace’s family do if and when they find out he is not a she? How are two men in the Wild West going to be together?
This book has laughs, sexy times, and a little sad (for me, some things rang very true) and angst. Totally cute book.
3.5 pieces of eye candy
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has over 30 books published.
Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, bulldogs, cows, a cat, and lots of groundhogs.
In romance, Eli is best known for her Christmas stories because she’s a total Christmas sap. These include “Blame it on the Mistletoe”, “Unwrapping Hank” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles”. Her “Howl at the Moon” series of paranormal romances featuring the town of Mad Creek and its dog shifters has been popular with readers. And her series of Amish-themed romances, Men of Lancaster County, has won genre awards.
In 2018 Eli hopes to do more of the same, assuming they reschedule the apocalypse.
Her website is www.elieaston.com
You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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