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Authors: McKennas Bride

Judith E French

BOOK: Judith E French
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He stopped abruptly, frowning as he brushed a thick lock of hair away from his face. Even standing still, he gave the impression that his muscles were coiled, ready to spring into action.

Dangerous … He was dangerous. Instinctively, she sensed the potential for violence beneath that tautly stretched deerskin vest and those tight trousers tucked into high black boots.

He tugged off worn leather gloves and jammed them into his belt. Blue-gray hauntingly familiar eyes reflected the last of the light as they gazed into hers.

“Don’t you know me, Caity …?”

——

By Judith E. French:

FORTUNE’S BRIDE

FORTUNE’S FLAME

FORTUNE’S MISTRESS

SHAWNEE MOON

SUNDANCER’S WOMAN

THIS FIERCE LOVING

McKENNA’S BRIDE
*

*
Published by Ballantine Books

A Ballantine Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright © 1997 by Judith E. French

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

http://www.randomhouse.com

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-97035

eISBN: 978-0-307-77932-8

v3.1

For my niece, Jennifer Lynn Donahue,
with all my love

In many ways doth the full heart reveal
The presence of the love it would conceal.

—S
AMUEL
T
AYLOR
C
OLERIDGE

Contents
Prologue
County Clare, Ireland
Autumn 1846

Caitlin McKenna crumpled the letter in her hands and stared over the edge of the sheer precipice at the storm-tossed Atlantic below. Seabirds wheeled above the cliff, adding their haunting cries to the crashing of waves against jagged rocks. A raw blast of wind ripped Caitlin’s linen cap away and tore loose her hairpins so that her auburn tresses tumbled gypsylike around her face and shoulders. Mist swirled around her, enveloping her in a cloak of opalescence, And a single tear trickled down her cheek.

“You’re alive.”

The rising gale tugged at the stained paper, but Caitlin held it in a death grip. She swallowed to relieve the aching lump in her throat and read Shane’s letter again. The message was short, almost abrupt. She had gone over it so many times that she could have recited the words without looking.

Shane was alive.

He wanted her to join him in America.

Caitlin pulled her woolen shawl tighter around her shoulders and tried to picture her husband’s face as she
had last seen him. His blond hair, twinkling blue-gray eyes, and warm smile formed in her mind’s eye. She could even picture his square, dimpled chin and the sensual lips that had captured hers so sweetly. Handsome as a fallen angel was Shane McKenna and put together as well as the good Lord could create an Irishman. And then to add to the package, the Almighty had given him a deep, husky voice that could charm the birds from the trees … as he’d charmed her.

“Seven years!” she cried angrily. “Seven long years without so much as a word.”

She’d been but seventeen when she’d defied her family and her church to elope with Shane McKenna on the eve of his departure for the American frontier. That was a lifetime ago … before the potato crops had withered and turned to blackened slime … before her parents had died and her sister’s husband Thomas had been bludgeoned to death by a starving mob.

“Damn your black Irish heart, Shane McKenna!”

From the first day she’d laid eyes on him—barefoot and raggedy as a tinker’s lad—setting rabbit snares in her father’s woods, Shane had stolen her heart. He was her secret friend, her darling, the only man she’d ever wanted.

He’d promised that he’d send for her as soon as he earned her passage money. He’d promised that he’d write to her. And he’d betrayed both vows.

“Lies, lies!” she shouted into the wind.

Shane. Shane. Surely no woman had ever loved as she loved him. And surely, no wife had been as loyal. She’d waited and prayed for a letter, watched for the sight of him strolling up her father’s lane whistling a merry tune.

But Shane had abandoned her, left her to face her family’s anger and disappointment alone, left her to pretend that she didn’t hear the sly whispers of her neighbors.

Now when she’d all but gotten over him, her husband had summoned her. He wanted her. The trouble was, she didn’t know if she still wanted him.

Chapter 1
City of Jefferson, Missouri
June 1847

“Caitlin McKenna!”

With an immense feeling of relief, Caitlin turned to look at the man shouting her name in a slurred, American accent. Her heart sank at the sight of the hard-eyed westerner astride a buckskin horse.

“I’m Caitlin McKenna,” she answered.

She’d been waiting for Shane at this landing since the steamboat had docked in late afternoon. Now all the passengers had departed and velvety dusk cloaked the river and settled over the town.

The cowboy swung down from his worn saddle in one fluid motion. “Caity?”

Confused, she stared at him. Had he called her Caity? Her heart thudded. Was it possible that this stranger with his face half hidden under a dark beard could be her Shane?

No, she must be mistaken. The man striding toward her was too tall, too wide at the shoulders. He swept off a broad-brimmed hat, and even in the fading twilight Caitlin could see that his hair was dark brown, not the color of wheat ripening in a County Clare meadow. Her
Shane was freckle-faced, fair, and smiling. She wanted to ask this man if Shane had sent him, but apprehension and deep uncertainty made her mute.

The cowboy stopped abruptly, frowning as he brushed a thick lock of hair away from his face. Even standing still, he gave the impression that his muscles were coiled, ready to spring into action.

Dangerous … He was dangerous. Instinctively, she sensed the potential for violence beneath that tautly stretched deerskin vest and those tight trousers tucked into high black boots.

He tugged off worn leather gloves and jammed them into his belt. Blue-gray, hauntingly familiar eyes reflected the last of the light as they gazed into hers. “Don’t you know me, Caity?”

The wind kicked up a swirling cloud of dust. Caitlin stared at him. This rough stranger’s eyes were almost Shane’s, but the voice—the voice was not right. There was no lilt of Ireland in this man’s speech. Something was wrong. He was wrong. All wrong.

The captain of the riverboat had warned her of desperadoes on the Missouri frontier. This ruffian could certainly be one. A scarred rifle butt protruded from a sheath on his saddle, and he wore a huge knife strapped to his beaded Indian belt.

Was it possible that she wouldn’t know her own husband?

His eyes were definitely paler than Shane’s, and his lean features were as weathered as Connemara limestone. His nose showed the mark of being broken and healed, and the bronze skin and craggy cheekbones made him look more savage native than the sweet lad she’d wed so long ago.

This scoundrel towered over her. Her Shane had
lacked three inches of this man’s height, and surely, her Shane had never possessed such fierce eyes.

Then the cowboy laughed, and there was no doubt in her mind that this was her husband.

“Mother of God, girl, I know it’s been seven years, but I can’t have changed that much!”

He moved toward her, but she stepped back out of his reach as the earth seemed to sway beneath her feet. “Eight, if you’re counting,” she corrected him. “Eight years now since we’ve laid eyes on each other.” She took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure. “You … you look bigger.”

He chuckled, a warm, husky sound. “I’ve put on inches and pounds, it’s true.”

“Your hair …”

“It’s darkened. I was but nineteen when we parted.”

“Aye. You were. And I was younger.” She knew she should greet him properly—say how glad she was to see him—but the words lodged in her throat.

“You’re as pretty as ever, Caity, but you took your sweet time in getting here.” There was a hint of resentment in his deep voice.

“I came as soon as you sent for me,” she reminded him.

His mouth tightened into a thin slash. She noticed a faded scar that sliced one cheekbone and vanished into his full beard. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said in that slow, almost lazy drawl that sent shivers racing up her spine. “It’s time we set this marriage straight.”

She nodded. “So I thought. I want—” She broke off at the sound of a childish whimper. Quickly, she moved to her heaped baggage and lifted a black-haired toddler from her makeshift cradle between the trunks.

“Shhh, Deny, ’tis all right,” Caitlin murmured as she
smoothed the little girl’s damp curls. “It’s your Uncle Shane come to meet us.” Derry stared wide-eyed at him, then shyly burrowed her face into Caitlin’s neck.

His eyes narrowed. “You didn’t come alone.”

“No, I didn’t.” Caitlin tried to ignore the bite of frost in his tone. “This is Maureen’s babe, Derry. You remember my sister Maureen? Things at home are so bad … so very bad.”

His expression hardened. “Your sister’s babe,” he said disbelievingly.

A wave of indignation swept over her. Hadn’t he heard of the thousands wandering the roads of Ireland in search of food? Was he ignorant of the hundreds dying of starvation and the pestilence born of it?

She stiffened. “Derry is family. Maureen asked me to bring her to America, and I couldn’t—”

“Your niece or your child?”

Derry began to whimper as she clutched tightly at Caitlin’s neck. “Mama … Mama.”

Caitlin felt her cheeks go hot. By all that was holy! Shane was accusing her of adultery! Disbelief flared into white-hot anger. “Derry is Maureen’s firstborn child,” she said in short, clipped syllables. “Conceived in marriage and christened at Saint Anne’s.”

“Damn it, woman!” he swore softly. “Do you take me for a fool? I’ve been no saint myself, but we’ll have not a tinker’s damn of a chance to make this marriage work if you can’t be honest with me.”

“Despite what I just said, you believe that Derry’s mine?”

In all the years since Shane had left County Clare, Caitlin had guarded her absent husband’s honor by never once being alone with a man other than her own father. She’d ignored the pleas of friends and family to obtain an
annulment or to attempt to have Shane declared legally dead. His accusation was so unfair and so insulting that it took every ounce of her will to keep from slapping his face.

“She has the look of a Shaughnessy about her,” Shane said.

“And so she should!” Caitlin flung back. “Her father was Thomas Shaughnessy, God rest his soul.”

“Thomas, the middle son.”

“I am her aunt,” Caitlin insisted.

He shrugged. “Out of the mouths of babes …”

BOOK: Judith E French
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