Don't you love bad boy heroes who are much better than they realize? Redemption for rogue Nate Batholomew (aka Barton) is THE MOST UNSUITABLE HUSBAND’s theme. The catalyst for Nate is his growing attraction, then love, for Sarah Kincaid. But Nate had the basics already in place--an innate need to protect the weak, loyalty to friends, and strength of will. Not bad qualities for a scalawag con man, right?
In a way, Sarah Kincaid also finds redemption because she not only finds love, but she discovers her selfhood. Not her physical identity, she knew that. Shy Sarah had always felt a shadowy copy of her dynamic older sister, Pearl. Sarah longed to blossom so people recognized her as an individual who made valuable contributions to her family and her community. But how? She is an admirable young woman, but feels almost invisible.
Since an infant, Sarah and her half-brother Storm have lived with their half-sister, Pearl. They share a father but each had a different mother. Sarah’s mother, Rochelle "Roxie," operated a saloon and left her with Pearl to protect the infant from a rougher life. When Sarah learns her mom is dying, she goes to St. Louis to nurse her in her last days, then disposes of her late mother’s gambling house. Sarah erroneously believes her mother owned all rights to the casino. Since a young woman can't travel unescorted and her chaperone deserted her, she is traveling home with a tiresome couple, the Welborns, who are friends of friends.
I recently changed the cover to one by Jimmy Thomas and Delle Jacobs at Romance Novel Covers. I love this cover and hope you do, too.
Here’s an excerpt of the first time Nate comes to Sarah’s aid. It’s a tad long, but I hope it tempts you to buy the book:
The paddleboat glided along the current toward Memphis. Compared to her train ride from Texas, the slower pace of the water vessel allowed Sarah time to speculate on the lives of people in the houses dotting the shoreline and fueled her active imagination. She pulled her new black shawl around her shoulders and wished for her thick cape against the cool night air. At least her black bombazine traveling suit had long sleeves to ward off the chill.
A light breeze carried a blend of odors from the big paddle wheeler and the Mississippi River it cruised. The almost tangible fishy scent of the water and the mud and weeds along the shore blended with the smells of the boat. Her tongue tasted the moisture in the air, but she didn't know if this meant a promise of rain or came from being on the water.
Living near the Pedernales River in Texas had not prepared her for navigating the great Mississippi River. The steady movement of the paddle wheeler plowing through the water lulled her. She lost track of how long she stood at the rail, and started when Mr. Welborn brushed against her.
"Enjoying the trip?" he asked.
She stepped away. He smelled of cigar smoke and whiskey. She liked neither. In spite of their travel together, she still felt uneasiness toward Mr. Welborn. "Yes. This is a lovely way to travel."
"It could be even nicer." He edged near. "You slip me into your stateroom tonight when I tap on your door and I'll make it plumb delightful." His arm brushed against her breast as he leaned forward.
She moved away again. "You insult me, sir, and your wife." Sarah looked around, hoping other passengers were near. Hatred rose like bile in her throat. Her instincts about him had proved correct.
He pressed forward. "Now, now, I know all about your mother. Been to Roxie's place a few times, had me some fun with her girls there."
Sarah stepped toward the nearest door, the one that led to the dining salon, but he grabbed her arm.
She tried to pull from his grasp. "My mother ran a business. I'm sorry she had to deal with men like you, but it has nothing to do with me."
"Don't play the outraged virgin, missy. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." He jerked her toward him.
"Why, you odious man. How would you like it if I told your wife about this?" She tried to pull free, but he held tight.
"She knows about your mother and wouldn't believe the likes of you. You cooperate with me, or I'll tell the captain you propositioned me." His foul breath fanned her face.
"Tell him whatever you wish. I wouldn't cooperate with you if I had to swim home." Sarah tried once more to pull away.
Timid she might be, but she was far from defenseless. Her brother, Storm, had taught her to protect herself against unwanted advances. She stamped hard on Mr. Welborn's foot and elbowed him in his considerable gut, kicked him in his other shin, and rushed away. He was lucky she didn't take time to disable him completely. She heard muttered curses as she stepped into the light of the large salon and pulled the door closed behind her.
On deck, Nate stepped from the shadows. When Welborn turned to follow Sarah, Nate stepped in front of him.
"Far too nice a night to go inside, don't you agree?"
"Get out of my way. I'll fix that brassy little chit. I'll call her out to the captain in front of everyone." Welborn put out a hand to shove Nate's arm.
Nate stood firm. "I think not." At Welborn's surprised glare, he added, "Not unless you want to swim the rest of the way with a grappling hook tied to your neck."
"Say, who do you think you are?" Welborn's weasel-like eyes widened and he stepped back.
Nate advanced a step. "I'm no one. No one at all. But I'll be watching that young woman. If anything happens to her, you will be blamed. And I will personally see that you regret it--and that your wife knows what I just saw and heard. I can assure you, she will believe me." He leaned forward, towering over the portly older man. "Treat Miss Kincaid with respect and courtesy or join the fish. You understand?"
"Y--yes." Welborn nodded, his eyes wide with fear. "No need to get upset."
"See you remember." Nate turned and entered the salon.
Now what possessed him to defend the woman in possession of the inheritance rightfully due him? From what he'd seen, she could take care of herself. He credited disdain for Welborn and his type for his actions against the man.
He saw Miss Pure-And-Simple Sarah Kincaid across the room standing next to Mrs. Welborn. She twisted a handkerchief in her hands and looked the prim wallflower. Bright spots of color still decorated her cheeks, but otherwise her pale skin against black clothing emphasized the impact of her encounter with Welborn. She looked ready to pass out now the crisis had passed.
Deliberately controlling his pace to an amble, he stopped a couple of feet from where she stood. He ignored her and spoke to her companion. "Isn't there a musicale tonight?"
"What? Oh, yes," Mrs. Welborn said. "It will begin in a few moments."
Too much rode on this to take any chances. He feared using his true last name. Sarah, as he had come to think of her, might connect the last name with Cal and find it more than a coincidence. In fact, he figured he'd better come up with a name he'd never used. He smiled, hoping inspiration would strike. As always, deception came easy.
"I'm Nathaniel Barton. Perhaps you and your sister will allow me to find seats for you."
The woman preened at his timeworn flattery. "This is our traveling companion, Miss Kincaid. I'm Mrs. Welborn."
"Let's take these seats right over here, ladies." As he stepped behind them, he put a hand at the waist of each woman. Sarah wore a money belt, just as he'd thought. Her jacket almost hid the tell-tale bulge above her small waistline.
Mrs. Welborn fluttered her eyelashes at him. "Oh, we must save a seat for my husband. He stepped out on deck for a bit of air."
Nate watched Sarah's face harden into a mask. Her fingers worked harder at the black-bordered white linen square. She would reduce her handkerchief to shreds before evening's end if she continued twisting it.
He maneuvered the ladies so Sarah sat between him and Mrs. Welborn with the empty seat on the other side of Mrs. Welborn. "How are you finding the journey, Miss Kincaid?"
She looked straight ahead rather than at him, but answered, "It's been...eventful."
She turned her face to his. The full impact of her large lavender-blue eyes hit him. Good Lord. If she'd smiled at the same time, he would have melted like a pool of wax at her feet. On second thought, part of him was growing, not melting. He adjusted his posture to conceal the front of his britches.
Welborn's face when he saw Nate sitting with the two women was worth the price of several boat tickets. The man almost stumbled, but regained his composure and pasted a false smile on his lips.
"Well, well, I see I'm back in time for the show."
"Clyde, this is Mr. Barton. Mr. Barton, my husband."
Nate pushed down a laugh and smiled his brightest. This was the most fun he'd had in a month. Damned if he wasn't enjoying himself.
Nate spoke to Mrs. Welborn, "Mr. Welborn and I met earlier in the evening. You folks going far?"
Mrs. Welborn said, "We're going to Houston, Texas, to visit our daughter and her family."
The lights dimmed and the musicians launched into the evening's program. He flashed a warning glare to Welborn before he nodded at Mrs. Welborn. "I wish you a safe journey."
Smashwords still shows the old cover, but if you wish to use Smashwords, this is the link:
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