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When Emma St. John received her brother's letter imploring her to escape her stepfather's vengeful scheme and to trust Dakota Barringer with her life, she was willing to chance it. But the handsome, brooding riverboat owner Emma found in Natchez a danger of another kind. For Emma soon found herself surrendering to an unrelenting desire.
Raised by the Sioux when his parents were killed, Dakota had been betrayed once before by a white woman. He wasn't about to trust another, especially one claiming that her stepfather, a powerful U.S. senator, had framed her as a murderess. But he couldn't let Emma's intoxicating effect on him. Now Dakota would risk his very life to protect the innocent beauty who had seduced him with her tender love.
Moonless and frigid, the December night sent chills down Emma's spine. Yet she didn't stop at the lighted inn nearby, nor did she break stride when she stumbled over a rut in the muddy road. Instead, she pulled her skirts higher. A carriage raced by, hell-bent in the same direction, spitting mud as it flew past
A frantic look over her shoulder did nothing to relieve the fear. He was closing on her, forcing her from her hiding place. She stopped for a moment while she quickly shook the mud off her cape, then she turned to the little girl.
"You all right, Clare?" Emma asked.
The little girl nodded but didn't say anything, her face screwed tight with concentration, her breaths ragged and hard.
The big Mississippi paddle wheeler, due to leave in ten minutes, let out two loud, booming whistles. To Emma's frayed nerves, the sound was heart-stopping.
The wind from the docks smelled of fish and tar. When it shifted, she could make out the aroma of fresh baked scones coming from the inn. Emma gripped the tiny hand she held in her own a little tighter, and prayed that Clare could keep up the pace.
"It's only a wee bit farther. We can make it," Emma told the little girl, her sister. Half sister, she reminded herself.
Clare's father was not her own. His demonically handsome face leering at her while he calmly explained what he meant for Emma to do in the bordello was something she'd never forget.
Clare was a tiny and very fragile seven-year old. She had loving green eyes and a long, slender nose coupled with delicate cheekbones. Emma knew that someday Clare would grow into a classic beauty.
One long blond lock of hair slipped loose from Clare's cap. The little girl pushed it away with her free hand, wrinkling her nose disgustedly.
Frost coated the road, and each hurried step caused the almost frozen mud to crunch beneath their feet. A horse and rider passed them, the man tipping his hat as he and his mount thundered by. Church bells rang out, the sound hollow and thin. It was almost six o'clock. She had five minutes to reach the boat.
A gust of wind caught her broadside and whisked the hood of her cape off the top of her head. She grabbed the soft fur and pulled the fabric back where it belonged. Distracted by the wind and her haste to reach the boat, Emma caught the toe of her shoe on a rock and balanced precariously for an instant.
She swore softly under her breath.
Had only one month passed?
No, three weeks ago her mother had died and two weeks ago she had learned the awful truth. Lawrence Stevenshad slowly poisoned her mother. He had given her a small dose of arsenic each day until finally her mother took to her bed. Several days later Emma had held her mother's hand while she breathed her last.
Emma would never have known about the murder if she hadn't overheard Stevens speaking in harsh whispers with a friend of his. There were other things said and promised, things Emma had not wanted to acknowledge.
Disbelief and denial had caused her to waste precious time. Seven days had come and gone since she'd had her last horrible encounter with her stepfather. It was an encounter that had left her with no doubts that everything she'd heard was the god-awful truth. Stevens had meant to sell her to a whorehouse. Still, she'd had a difficult time believing the extent of Lawrence Stevens's depravity. But when he'd installed her in Madame leBon's bordello, she realized too late that her life was in grave jeopardy.
And Clare, sweet, sweet Clare, had understood all she'd told her and perhaps more. With the eyes of a child, Clare had somehow sensed the evil that surrounded her father long before anyone else did.
Five long days and nights they'd spent on the run. Clare had not complained. No matter how exhausted or hungry she was, the little girl had pressed on, understanding the imminent danger that faced Emma. Clare had somehow known that Emma had to get as far away from Lawrence as possible.
This incredible romance is one I positively fell in love with and is good enough to read again and again.
I can’t remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book: Dakota’s Bridetook over my weekend, and even now, am wishing to go peruse it one more time…