FORGED IN LOVE by Mary Connealy
SERIES: Wyoming Sunrise #1
GENRE: Inspirational Historical/Western Romance
PUBLISHER: Bethany House
RELEASE DATE: February 28, 2023
When sparks begin to fly, can a friendship cast in iron be shaped into something more?
Mariah Stover is left for dead and with no memory when the Deadeye Gang robs the stagecoach she’s riding in, killing both her father and brother. As she takes over her father’s blacksmith shop and tries to move forward, she soon finds herself in jeopardy and wondering–does someone know she witnessed the robbery and is still alive?
Handsome and polished Clint Roberts escaped to western Wyoming, leaving his painful memories behind. Hoping for a fresh start, he opens a diner where he creates fine dishes, but is met with harsh resistance from the townsfolk, who prefer to stick to their old ways.
Clint and Mariah are drawn together by the trials they face in town, and Clint is determined to protect Mariah at all costs when danger descends upon her home. As threats pursue them from every side, will they survive to build a life forged in love?
Pine Valley, Wyoming
Near the Wind River Mountains
A bullet slammed into the side of the stagecoach carrying Mariah Stover, her pa, and her older brother.
“Robbers!” The driver’s voice roared in the hot Wyoming summer as the crack of a whip lashed, driving the horses faster. “Everyone, fight or die!”
Mariah heard the man riding shotgun on top of the stage land on his belly and open fire from the roof.
Bullets peppered the coach.
Mariah sat between Pa and Theo, facing the horses. Pa, a Civil War veteran, snapped his Spencer repeating rifle into his hand and fired out the window in a steady, rolling blast.
Theo threw himself to the opposite seat, occupied by two men who looked terrified. He aimed, fired, and fired again with his Colt pistol. Pa’s rifle echoed the pistol in a steady volley of gunfire.
Mariah dug for the pistol in her satchel and checked the load. She looked out the window to her right. No one there.
Her pa and brother were tough men used to Western ways, who knew that civilization was often left behind at the town’s edge. You just had to hope the uncivilized wouldn’t follow you right into town.
You protected yourself, or you died. The stagecoach driver had it right.
Pa fired out his window while Theo used the window beside the two others. Both men looked more city than country, and if either of them had a weapon, he didn’t produce it. Instead, they just slid aside for Theo.
Mariah gripped a six-shooter. When Pa paused from firing his Spencer, the one he’d gotten in the war when he’d been a sharpshooter, Mariah shouted, “Lean forward while you reload.”
Pa did so without looking or speaking, focusing completely on his rifle and trusting her to be tough, competent, and ready.
Mariah watched out the window and saw four men riding ever closer, blasting away. One of them went down, likely from the gunfire of the man on the roof.
She aimed and fired, aimed and fired, and kept going, trying to get the most out of her flying lead.
They were miles from town. No way to get help before these gunmen finished their fight, died trying, or were driven off.
“Get back!” Pa hollered.
Mariah needed to reload anyway, so she gave way to Pa’s superior marksmanship.
A cry from overhead ended the gunfire from the shotgun rider. Mariah saw him plummet from the top of the stage. As the three remaining outlaws rode past him, two of them fired into his body.
Pa growled in disgust at the vicious killers. He opened fire again. Mariah had her gun ready to go when she saw someone coming up beside the window on her side. She whipped her head around in time to see the rider empty his pistol into the city boys until they were riddled with bullets.
Her hair came loose from its knot on the back of her head and blinded her for just a moment as she cried out in horror. Then she glared at the skinny blond man. An ugly scar cut across his left cheek and through both his upper and lower lips. She pressed her body against the door and leveled her gun just as she heard a snap from under the belly of the stagecoach—an axle giving way.
She opened fire on the gunman as the stage skidded sideways. Crimson bloomed on his left arm. He brought his gun up with a wicked smile that revealed one of his front teeth was missing right in line with the scar. Their eyes met. He aimed.
The stagecoach tilted wickedly toward Mariah’s side and slammed into a boulder alongside the road. The gunman fell back to avoid the boulder. The stage hit so hard the door flung open, and Mariah fell out. She felt the weight of the stage smother her.
More guns fired. Pa’s Spencer fell silent, then Theo’s Colt stopped blasting.
A bullet hit her in the side. White fire blazed in her belly as the stagecoach settled hard on her.
The world went dark.
Mariah’s eyes flickered open from where she was caged by . . . by something. Voices sounded from outside. She tried to cry out for help, but the weight on her chest was so heavy she couldn’t draw a breath to manage it.
“They’re all dead—just like always.”
“What about the woman?” Whoever said that sounded on edge. “First woman we’ve ever killed. I don’t like it. And the Stovers. What were they doing on this stage?”
“Like it or not, she’s dead. Crushed under the stage, and I got a bullet in her just to be sure.”
Mariah stopped trying to call for help.
“I’ll get the strongbox.”
A bullet blast made her flinch, which hurt everywhere.
A third voice asked, “Is there a good haul?”
“No, only a couple hundred. When we stripped the bodies, we got a couple hundred more.”
“I thought this stage had a payroll on it for Fort Bridger?”
“We got bad information, or they pulled a switch, sent the money by another route.”
“Maybe they know there’s a leak. Maybe he needs to die. I don’t like talking outside our group.”
“He don’t know why I was asking. He don’t know nothin’.”
“He’ll put it together when he hears about this robbery.”
“The horses broke the traces and got away, too. We’re too close to town. We’ve gotta clear out. When those horses go storming into town, a rescue party will come a-running.”
“You sure everyone’s dead?”
“You helped kill them, same as me.”
“The Stovers were good folks. This is a bad business.”
The stage was pressed to Mariah’s face so that she saw the dark wood and nothing else. She couldn’t move her arms or legs, could barely draw a breath. Her head was pinned and aching. The pain was dizzying, and it came from every part of her.
Her belly was the worst, but her chest felt like it’d been smashed out of shape. Her vision blurred as she fought for each shallow breath. Her whole body was crushed.
Finally, she heard horses galloping back the way the stagecoach had come.
As much as those men terrified her, being left alone was almost worst. Tears slid from the corners of her eyes as she thought of Pa and Theo.
Thought how it felt like she was already in a coffin.
Clint Roberts was loitering outside his diner, hoping to catch Mariah’s attention, when he saw the stagecoach team charging into town. The stage he’d been watching for wasn’t behind it. The thundering hooves and wildly out of control speed told of panicked horses. He could think nothing but the worst. “Sheriff, get out here!”
Clint sprinted for his horse, penned up in the corral behind the blacksmith shop. He’d already lost one family. It would kill him to lose another one. The Stovers certainly didn’t count him as family, but he’d begun to count them.
He didn’t ride in from his homestead every day—it was an easy walk. But today he’d hoped Mariah and her family would be back, and he’d wanted an excuse to stop in, get his horse, and say hello.
The sheriff burst out of the jailhouse, saw the stage horses, and raced for his own mount tied to the hitching post. Willie Minton, the town deputy, was only a pace behind. Other men were coming, too. They all knew the stage was in trouble. And the trouble might be ugly.
Clint was galloping before he reached the edge of town. The stage had been late, so he hoped that meant they’d been close to town.
Mariah. Mariah . . . Please, God, let her be all right.
He’d been waiting until he felt established before he approached her, or, better to admit, before he approached her flinty-eyed father. Maybe even better to admit, he’d been waiting until his heart healed enough to risk sharing it with someone again. As he galloped up the trail, he was sick to think he’d left it too late.
Had he failed Mariah just as he’d failed his family?
Mariah wasn’t sure if she’d passed out or was just so dazed and under so much pressure from the stage that time meant little to her. She startled when she heard a voice.
“That’s John and Theo.” A voice she knew well.
“It’s got to be the Deadeye Gang.” Another familiar voice. Sheriff Joe Mast. A man she trusted. She tried to cry out, but she barely managed a wheeze. No one heard.
“Everyone’s dead. Most robbers wear masks when they hold up a stage, take everything of value, and ride off without killing anyone,” the sheriff went on, sounding furious and grief-stricken. “John and Theo were tough men. If they couldn’t hold off those men with Sculler on the roof fighting, no one can. The stage line should have outriders.”
“They did for a while, but no one’s struck around here for a year.” Mariah recognized Willie Minton’s voice. “We thought they’d moved on. Who ever heard of outlaws taking a year between robberies?”
“Where’s Mariah?” That first voice again. Clint Roberts, who owned the only diner in town. But he wouldn’t normally ride with the sheriff. “I know Mariah rode out with her father. They were going to a funeral down in Laramie.”
There were sounds of movement. Men striding all around.
“You don’t think they’d take her, do you?” the sheriff asked.
Mariah wheezed. It was the only noise she could make, and it sounded about like a gust of wind.
“They’ve never done such a thing before,” Deputy Minton said. “But have they ever killed a woman before?”
“Not too many women out here.” The sheriff strode off to Mariah’s left. “I’ve never heard of a woman being on a stage that got robbed by this bunch.”
“Have they ever found such a beautiful woman as Mariah?” Clint thought she was beautiful. Not many did, as she worked alongside her pa and brother in the blacksmith shop and tended toward trousers, bulky leather aprons, and soot.
“Look down here.” Clint’s voice sharpened. “That’s a corner of her skirt.”
Footsteps pounded toward her. She wheezed again. This time, with them close and paying attention, it was enough.
“She’s still alive,” Clint said. “Sheriff, hitch the horses to the stage so we can lift it. I’ll only need a few inches. Just enough to drag her out.”
He crouched low and looked under the stage while there were more sounds of activity. “Mariah, we’ll get this off you and get you to the doctor. Hang on.”
Hang on? She didn’t have much else to do.
She wanted to ask about Pa and Theo, but she knew enough and couldn’t get a word out anyway.
Clint drew her out, his hands under her arms. Once Mariah was clear of the stage, he shouted to the men riding with him, “I’ve got her.”
The stage dropped back to the ground with a crack.
He knelt beside her, checking for broken bones.
“You’re bleeding.” He was scared to death of what harm had been done.
“I hurt all over.”
“I’m taking you to town.” He slid his arms under her and lifted, knowing it hurt. Hating it.
The sheriff was at his side.
“I’ll get her to the doctor,” Clint said.
“Go on. We’ll be along when we’re able.” The sheriff gave Mariah a worried look and didn’t mention bringing in the bodies.
The bodies. Mariah’s family. Clint wanted to blame himself for that, too. He knew this trail was dangerous. The stagecoach robberies had seemed to stop, but he could have ridden along. He could have gone out to meet the stage. One more gun. The sound of an incoming rider. It might’ve been enough to save everyone.
With the sheriff’s help, Clint swung up onto his horse and kicked the little black mustang into a gallop. He didn’t have the will to go slowly, even if it spared Mariah pain. She would hurt whether he went slow or fast.
He looked down to apologize and realized she had fainted. Kicking the horse to go faster, he hoped it was only a faint.
Please, God. Please let her be all right.
Mary Connealy, Forged in Love
Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2023. Used by permission.
Mary Connealy writes “romantic comedies with cowboys” and is celebrated for her fun, zany, action–packed style. She has sold more than 1.5 million books. She is the author of the popular series BROTHERS IN ARMS, BRIDES OF HOPE MOUNTAIN, HIGH SIERRA SWEETHEARTS, KINCAID BRIDES, TROUBLE IN TEXAS, LASSOED IN TEXAS, SOPHIE’S DAUGHTERS, and many other books. Mary lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her very own romantic cowboy hero. Learn more at maryconnealy.com.
Bethany House is offering a print copy of Forged in Love by Mary Connealy to one of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read Forged in Love by Mary Connealy?