Courting Miss Emma: A Sweet Western Romance
Book 2 Hangman’s Daughters series
Severn House Publishing, November 2023
Texas 1868. Emma Taggart has finally found a place to belong – setting up Heaven’s Door orphanage with her sister Maura was a new beginning for her – and one she will do anything to protect.
When guarded ex-army man Stone Landry buys the neighbouring land and moves in – camels and all – Emma’s world changes forever. He is an infuriating man who instantly gets under her skin – in ways she never dreamed possible, and despite herself, Emma starts to wonder if, just maybe, he is man enough to take on a Hangman’s daughter . . .
But their newfound connection is quickly tested by violent night raids, kidnappings, and underhand tricks by powerful rancher Zeke Parker, who is intent on running them out of town and taking the land he deems to be his. Can Emma find enough courage to trust in Stone and help him give her the life she’s always dreamed of?
The scowling rider lifted the tow-headed boy down into her arms. “I found him wandering on my property.” A heartbeat later, he swung his gaze to her. “Lady, you ought to keep your eye on these kids. It’s dangerous to let them run willy-nilly about the countryside, especially with these floods.”
Lady. Emma Taggart ground her teeth. It was the tone in which he said it that burrowed under her skin. Almost as if it was something distasteful. She wished she could tell him in no uncertain terms where he could go but that wouldn’t be wise. He made it sound like they’d thrown open the doors and told the children to run wherever they desired.
Blowing a piece of hair out of her mouth, she counted to ten before she spoke. “Mister, we have sixteen little ones. Have you ever tried to keep track of that many every second of every day? We do our best.” She narrowed her eyes. “By the way, who are you?”
Well at least the frown eased, and he didn’t look like he was going to bite her head off, but he did release a long-suffering sigh that got under her skin.
“Stone Landry’s the name. I bought the land adjacent to yours on the east. Seems we’re neighbors.” His mouth remained in a tight line.
“Emma Taggart.” She thrust a hand up to him, daring him to spurn her offer of friendship. Though not ready to roll out the welcome mat yet, she was bent on forcing him to acknowledge the gesture. Her voice was stiff. “Thank you for bringing Amos home.”
He gripped her palm for a brief second. “I hope living next to you isn’t going to turn out to be a mistake. I’ll be putting a fence up but until I get that done, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep the children off my land.”
Behind her, Amos was regaling his buddies with his exciting adventure. “They’s these big, tall animals over there that reach way up to the sky and a little baby one.”
“What were they, Amos?” one asked.
“I don’t know but they’s awfully funny looking with big humps on their backs. I ain’t never seen such before.”
This was just well and dandy. Now all the kids would want to traipse over there to look at whatever animal this was. But she swept that aside for now and focused on this new neighbor who’d just made her job harder.
“Mr Landry, if you hurt any of these children, it’ll be the last thing you ever do.” There, that made Emma feel pretty good. Her chest heaved. “And furthermore—”
“What’s going on here?” her uncle interrupted from her side. “Are you threatening my niece?”
“Of course not. We’re having a civil conversation.” Stone Landry had taken a defensive tone. Good. The stiff-necked man needed taken down a peg.
Emma’s gaze bored into Landry’s. She smiled sweetly. “Uncle Max, this is our new neighbor. Amos wandered onto his property and Mr Landry brought him home.”
Uncle Max had been very protective of her since a group of the good folks in San Antonio held her down and whacked off her hair last year.
Her uncle narrowed his eyes from beneath the brim of his hat. “We’re obliged to you for bringing Amos home. We searched high and low for the boy.” He paused to glance at the children before swinging back around. “That’s a nice piece of land you got, Landry. We tried to buy it.”
“Never thought I’d share a boundary with an orphanage. Should’ve been more careful.”
“Do you have something against children?” Emma asked quietly.
“No, ma’am. Not exactly, Miss Taggart.” Landry glanced at the excited kids gathered around Amos. “Accidents tend to happen when they’re…unsupervised.”
The veiled accusation sent anger washing over her anew. Emma glared. The nerve of him. “Spit it out. Don’t hold back on my account.”
Uncle Max clutched her arm. “Let’s not make the situation worse, Emma. Military men have trouble getting along out in the real world. I take it you ain’t been out of the army long, Landry.”
“I mustered out two months ago. I was drawn to this area when I started looking for place to put down roots.” Landry smiled and showed Max none of the stiff disapproval he’d shown her. In fact, his tone was very amiable.
It was clear that he had a problem only with her. The rat! What did he have against women?
The animated children around Amos grew louder, all clamoring to see the animal Amos was describing.
“What are you keeping over there on your land?” Emma asked, her eyes narrowed. “We have a right to know of any danger.” When he didn’t speak, she added, “Surely you understand that.”
Max prodded. “What you do on your land is your business, Landry, but we do have a right to be aware of potential problems with our kids.”
“I have a couple of camels that the army turned loose after having no more use for them.” Landry leaned an arm on the pommel. “I rescued and fed them. Now I guess they’re mine. I understand that kids are curious, but if I find them on my property again you won’t like the results.”
Camels? Dear Lord. Emma groaned and put her head in her hands. It would be impossible to keep the curious children off Landry’s land.
Dealing with a man who lived up to his name of Stone would take every ounce of strength she possessed.
She’d not back down. Ever. Stone Landry would see a “lady” with grit.
Having faced years of bigotry for being the hangman’s daughter had given her tenacity and a fearlessness that served her well in all situations.
If a fight was what Landry wanted, a fight he’d get.