Wild West Wife - Susan Mallery
The origin story for Whitehorn.
Mail order bride Haley Winthrop came to Big Sky Country with big dreams of a home and a husband, until she was kidnapped and had it taken all away.
Jesse Kincaid had vowed to bring down the man who'd had his father killed, and he was going to do it by kidnapping that man's bride-to-be. What he hadn't counted on was having that man abandon his bride to her fate...and on falling in love with her himself.
WARNING: plot spoilers to follow. This is only intended as a refresher for those who have read the book, or to add to the enjoyment for readers whose collection of the Montana Mavericks series is incomplete
Jesse Kincaid stops a wagon and kidnaps one of the passengers - Haley Winthrop, the bride-to-be of Lucas Stoner. Lucas Stoner ordered the death of his father and had it carried out while Jesse was driving cattle up from Texas, and now Jesse wants him brought to justice. The driver (who knows Jesse) is just confused.
Jesse steals Haley away to the woods, and finds her tough, spirited, and totally convinced that Lucas Stoner is just the gentleman she wants to marry. She's an orphan, and he represents a place where she will belong. She is unaware of his murderous nature, or his ambitions for a political office, which require a backstory-free bride. He plans on marrying Haley in name only, making up a good story for her, and then carrying on his affair with Daisy, a woman who used to be in love with Jesse's father, and now ALSO hopes to bring him down by working from the inside.
Jesse and Haley stay in the woods for a week, during which time Haley tries to run away twice, and Jesse ties her up once, but eventually an understanding is reached. Unfortunately, during that time Haley's reputation is compromised, and Jesse is faced with the reality that because of his actions, Stoner has lost interest in her. He cannot bring himself to tell Haley, though. And, having lost his previous wife Claire to the hardness of ranch life - he's not about to risk his heart - or her life - by marrying her either.
Jesse also thinks he might be falling for Haley, but he ignores it. Haley points out that the city had its hard parts too - cold winters, crime - but it falls on deaf ears.
Raids on ranches continue. Jesse and Haley witness the aftermath of a family of 4, brutally murdered. With Haley's help, Jesse figures out why - he'd dismissed the railroad as an interest because the ranches being burned were not in an east-west line. But Haley points out that a north/south line might be equally attractive, because there are cattle to be brought up from Texas...
Still trying to figure out how to resolve the mess he's made, Jesse moves Haley in with his friends Bart and Christine Baxter. Haley worked under a doctor, and Christine is pregnant. Eventually Bart tells Haley the truth about her status with her fiance accidentally, and she rides to town to give Lucas Stoner a piece of her mind. When she gets there, she finds letters in the land office that prove that he's corresponding with someone in Boston about acquiring the lands for the railroad. But before she can steal them, she is overtaken by Daisy.
Daisy saves her life by forcing her to hide, just before Stoner comes into the land office with a rancher whose property he's trying to steal. As Haley and Daisy watch, the man (Albert Cooper) agrees to give over his property, but Stoner murders him anyway. Daisy points Haley in the direction of Bart & Christine's ranch, and tells her to run away before Stoner figures out she's a witness.
Haley returns with knowledge of who Stoner has been corresponding with, and Jesse and Bart wire a private investigator in Boston to check into that source. But without those papers, they don't have the proof they need to get him arrested. The town Sheriff - Lindsay - is a good man, but a drunk who is firmly in Stoner's pocket. So far he's magically "missed" all of Jesse's trails while he was with Haley, but he's not gutsy enough to face Stoner outright. Haley is traumatized by what she's seen, but she makes a decision: she loves Jesse, and though he will not marry her (and why should he, when she's been so single-minded in her marriage ambition?) she wants to be with him. And then she wants to take Stoner down, by playing the role of his oh-so-happy-to-have-'escaped' mail-order bride. She and Jesse make love, and then she slips away to go find Stoner.
Stoner initially accepts her, and goes to tell Daisy that just because he's getting married, doesn't mean anything has changed between them. Daisy immediately figures out what's going on and sends Leland Prescott - the town doctor, and a man who is desperately in love with her despite what she's done - to go notify Jesse. Prescott obliges, but while he is on his errand, Haley goes into the land office and is intercepted by Stoner.
Stoner considers killing Haley, but decides instead to hold her as leverage against Jesse. He imprisons her at the burnt remains of the Kincaid ranch house, and leaves her to go raid the Baxters'. She lights a fire. Jesse and Bart are out looking for her, and they see the smoke. Seeing Haley passed out due to smoke inhalation forces Jesse to face his fears and confess that he loves her and wants to be with her. She regains consciousness, and warns them of Bart's house.
Jesse leaves Haley with Dr. Prescott, and then visits Sheriff Lindsay before following Bart to his ranch. The Sheriff is sober, and it seems the private investigator has come through with proof that Stoner's dealings are shady. Lindsay promises to round up his deputies, and join Jesse at the Baxters. Jesse then leaves, and arrives to find Bart's barn burning; he has to rescue Bart from it.
When he gets out, the three deputies have rounded up Stoner's cousins, but Stoner has Haley held hostage with a gun. Lindsay goes to interfere and gets shot, and Jesse takes the opportunity to save Haley. Stoner and Lindsay both die, but Daisy saves Prescott from wounds he received defending Haley.
At the end, Jesse Kincaid marries Haley, and gives her a pale pink cameo carving of his mother. One which his mother wore every day, and which he'd given to his first wife and reclaimed when she died. The two are married, and five years later both Christine and Haley have happy marriages and a number of children. As Jesse points out, they're creating a dynasty...and that's just as it should be.
Part of the Montana Mavericks Series.
- "She's carrying a child, Bart. Not dying of a wasting disease" - Haley, on whether or not it's safe to move a pregnant Christine
- "Christine keeps going on about how people actually have to buy eggs." - Haley on the western perception of life back east.