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Mark of the Sire

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 95,631
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After an innocent encounter, Lon’s reputation was all it took to slander Catherine’s good name. To escape the vicious gossip, she leaves home to assist her uncle's family in settling into a new home on a ranch. Unfortunately, she finds herself a victim of her uncle’s self-righteous censure and constant lectures on proper behavior only to discover what she’d run from had followed - and worse.

A deadly encounter with the past, legends come back to life, enemies old and new, family estranged, and family thought dead all collided in the violence she had condemned him for. Will Catherine run away again or stay and admit her love for Lon? Will she prove herself a woman strong enough for the wilds of Colorado and willing to fight for her man?

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To Catherine’s way of thinking, Lars was the one who needed a dry, warm place to retreat. His feet and legs were soaking wet from freeing the wagon from mud bogs, one of the elements working against them. Never would she consider herself a ‘little bit of a thing.’ At five foot seven inches, she was tall for a woman and self-conscious of her height. She towered over most women as well as stood eye to eye with most men. Compared to Lars, she was little. Most anyone was. She would have scoffed at the idea of being pampered after spending the better part of her twenty-three years caring for her younger siblings and father. She was tired of being pampered. To her, the concept was no more than an excuse to keep women helpless and dependent.
Lars eyed the cloud bank darkening the sky and bringing on an early twilight. “I’m afraid we won’t even make it to Brivers before those clouds drop either rain or a late season snow. I shouldn’t have brought you along.”
“I didn’t give you much of a chance to refuse,” she answered candidly. She had run out and crawled up on the wagon without invitation as soon as she heard Lars was going to town. One more day of being cooped up in her uncle’s house and she was sure she would have gone mad.
“Your uncle will worry.”
“He knows where I am and with who. He has no reason,” she said stiffly. She hadn’t asked permission or informed Uncle Charles of her decision. Likely he was angry. She, however, had reached the point of not caring what her uncle felt.
“Yah, but it’s turned cold, and it may snow.”
A slow smile crossed over her face. “It snows in Chicago, Lars.”
“As cold as here?” he asked in curiosity. He had never been further than Denver, and Chicago seemed another world to him.
“Yes, and I promise I won’t melt at the first flake of snow. I’m fine, really.”
“It’s a harsh land for women, miss. Do you ever wish you hadn’t come?”
Her smile faded. “Not because of the land. It’s beautiful.” Many times during the winter she had wished she had not come, though it had nothing to do with the land.
“Even now?” he asked in a teasing voice.
“Even now,” she answered with a laugh. “Although I will admit, I don’t think I have ever seen so much mud. Will it be this wet for long?”
“Oh no, soon it will be all wildflowers and green grass.”
“That’s what I’ve heard. I’m looking forward to it.” She would stay long enough to see the wildflowers before she left the suffocating atmosphere of her uncle’s house to return home.
“It is a sight, miss. One my Sally never tires of. She enjoyed your visits, and she’s looking forward to you coming again. She can’t travel much, and…I mean…well…er-er…she looks forward to your company.”
Catherine was aware of the dressing down Lar had received when making a comment concerning the reason of his wife’s confinement that caused his stammering and sudden embarrassment. The terse reprimand hadn’t come from her. He had been told in no uncertain terms by Charles Lincoln how improper it was to speak of such things in the company of a lady, especially an unmarried one. There was no reason for Lars to know the biggest cause of her decision to leave soon was the result of her constant clashes with her uncle over what was and was not proper for a lady to discuss, see, do, hear, or feel.
Despite her uncle’s curt dressing down, Catherine let him know she was not disturbed by speaking of pregnancy. “Are you hoping for a boy?” she asked, smiling again.
“Yah, miss,” he said with a grin to tell how proud he was soon to be a papa.
“Does Sally want a girl?” she asked.
“Well, now, she says she doesn’t care, but she sure makes some fancy little duds. We don’t really care, just so it’s healthy and all. There will be more than one.”
“Grandchildren for Mama?” she asked, relaxing as well and speaking freely for the first time in months.
“Yah, miss. It always mourned Mama she didn’t have more than me, and I wasn’t much more than trouble.”
“Most little boys are. I suppose you had your share of fights and dragging home strays.”
“I did take a stray home once. Mama and Pa took him right to heart.” His voice lost its lilt of merriment as he spoke. “They wanted more children so bad and seeing the way his pa treated him made them sick to heart. It isn’t right the way the laws are, miss. There wasn’t a thing they could do to keep him from being beat.”
“Oh, Lars, that’s terrible.”
“Yah, miss. Mama missed him after he ran off, and she always worried for him, but not anything like she did before, when he was still with his pa.”
“Do you ever hear from him?”
“Some,” he answered shortly and quickly changed the subject. “I can see the lights now. We’ll have you safe and warm in no time.”
The abrupt silence left Catherine to wonder what had happened to the little, beaten boy. She was much too polite to pursue a subject Lars so obviously wanted to drop, no matter how curious she was.

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