A Fair Trade by Laylah Abrams

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  • Raised by his fur trapper father and uncles, Jack Briggs makes do with little more than a knife and flask.  Alone now, he searches for a place to call home.  And refined and beautiful Penelope Findley may be the person who can help him find it as he leads the Findleys' wagon to Oregon.
     
    Honor-bound by her marriage vows, Penelope snubs the handsome wagon leader whenever he shows an interest in her. When she is widowed following a river crossing accident, Jack tempts her with the means to remain independent: protection in a temporary marriage and payment in exchange for helping him obtain the free acreage allotted to married settlers in Oregon.
     
    What Penelope doesn’t realize is that Jack wants more than the land.  He wants her. But can he overlook her disreputable past?  And will she be able to give up the freedom he promised?

    Rating:  Sensual
    Page Count: 270
    Word Count: 64577
    978-1-5092-2084-7 Paperback
    978-1-5092-2085-4 Digital

    Excerpt

    The following evening, he didn’t see her at supper. As he roamed through camp, his gut quivered at the thought that she had fallen ill. He found her sitting alone beyond the wagons, sobbing quietly. She hunched down, embarrassed, when he approached. But he couldn’t just leave her there. Neither of them spoke at first.

    “I’m frightened,” she finally said, sniffling, red-eyed, and still beautiful.

    He had wondered when she would grow weary of her armor. He sat down beside her amid the dry, prickly grass. “Don’t be. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

    Her large eyes turned up to him. “Why?”

    “Well…” He smiled. “…because that’s what I was hired to do.”

    She cracked a weak smile herself, and then her eyes filled again. “But I haven’t even paid you. And I don’t see how I ever will.”

    “It doesn’t matter.”

    “Of course, it matters.” She wiped her tears away with the back of her hand, gracelessly, like a child.

    Before he even realized what he meant to do, Jack leaned forward, his face close to hers. He stopped himself and merely put his large hand over her tiny one, as soft and smooth as a flower petal, where it rested on the ground between them. They sat there for just a moment before the sound of someone moving nearby made her pull her hand away.

    She was more likely to accept his help after that. At least, she never made a point of returning the pieces of game and other food that he left on her bedroll. She never asked for help, though, and was sure never to find herself alone with him.

    “Come sit down,” he told her one evening as she walked by the fire.

    She eyed him warily.

    “I’m not gonna pounce on you, Your Highness,” he said. “Just warm yourself by the fire.”

    She shuffled over with the slightest of limps; she had been hiding it all day. As soon as she sat down—an arm’s length away from him—he reached for her right foot and pulled it onto his lap.

    “Oh!” she gasped.

    He inspected her boot. It must have been borrowed or salvaged from the leavings of another wagon train. It was too small for her, and most of it was worn nearly through. There was a hole where the ball of her foot would rest and another at the heel. Despite her struggles, he pulled off the boot. Her sock was also nearly threadbare. Just as he expected, there were calluses on her sole and small toe. He guessed the foot she was favoring was not much better off. He massaged her arch lightly.

    “You need new shoes. I’ll buy you moccasins at the next tradin’ post. If you don’t tell me when you need somethin’, I can’t help you.”

    He let go, and she glared at him as she replaced her boot. “I am thankful for your help, Mr. Briggs, but you have no right to put your hands on me. I do not belong to you.”

    And of course, she was right.

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A Fair Trade

A Fair Trade

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