Cover image for Shotgun wedding
Title:
Shotgun wedding
Author:
Osborne, Maggie.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ivy Books, 2003.
Physical Description:
360 pages ; 18 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780804119917
Format :
Book

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Orchard Park Library X Adult Mass Market Paperback Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

Annie Malloy is in a fix. She's gotten herself into the worst kind of trouble and there's really only one way out. It seems the town's handsome new sheriff, Jesse Harden, has taken a shine to her--and has offered her a way to end the scandal once and for all. Marriage, she hopes, even a hasty one to a virtual stranger, will put an end to the gossip and return her life to something like it was before. But Annie soon finds that the quiet life she once lived has been exchanged for one full of chance, desire, and the breathtaking possibility of true love. Jesse John Harden has always followed his instincts and has no doubt that he can turn this marriage of convenience into a true marriage of the heart. With each day that passes the bond between him and his pretty new wife grows stronger and the spark between them gets hotter. But Annie is hiding a secret that could destroy their delicate happiness. Now Jesse must convince Annie to let him stand beside her to face the past so they can have a chance at a happy future.


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER 1 Marry me." "Before I'd marry an outlaw, I'd throw myself in front of a runaway team and leave instructions that my remains be fed to the chickens." Ordinarily Annie Malloy would have smiled as she recalled the teasing marry-me exchange between herself and Bodie Miller. But not today. Today, the worst disaster that could happen to an unmarried woman had happened to her. She was pregnant. A cold shock of fear skittered down her spine and she gripped the windowsill to steady herself. Pregnant. The word reverberated in her mind like an executioner's sentence. At first she had desperately denied the possibility. Such a nightmare simply could not happen; she and Bodie had been careful. There had to be an innocent reason why the curse had not come at the expected time. But a tiny voice of reality whispered that she was indulging in wishful thinking since she was regular enough to set her calendar by the onset of her menses. At the start of the third week, disbelief had given way to an urgent bargaining session with God. Let this be a mistake and I'll never go to bed with a man again. If 'm not pregnant, I'll never again do anything wrong for the rest of my life; I promise. Please, God, help me now and I'll never ask for another thing. But apparently God was not in a bargaining mood. After weeks of fervent prayer, Annie was still pregnant. In fact, she had progressed from a few days pregnant to five weeks pregnant. Turning from her bedroom window, she pushed the heels of her palms against her eyes, pressing back tears before she glanced at the little clock on the mantelpiece. She had wasted twenty minutes frozen in worry and now she would have to rush. Avoiding any thought about what would eventually happen to her waistline, she peered into the mirror above her vanity and wished she had used these twenty minutes to do something with her hair. Long ago Annie had decided that Medusa must have had hair like hers, unruly red curls with a life of their own and determined to slither free of pins and combs. If she were truly the New Modern Woman that she strove so mightily to be, she would simply accept her rebellious hair as part of her whole and sail forth unperturbed that she always seemed to look as if she'd been interrupted in the midst of arranging her coiffure. But Annie didn't possess that degree of confidence and self-assurance. Especially not now. Pregnant. The shock and horror of applying the word to herself stopped her heart in her chest. When she could breathe again, she reminded herself that she was a New Modern Woman. And if she had to--oh God, please don't let it happen, please, please, please--she could do as others had done and manage alone. But please don't let that happen. Throughout the last week she had scanned all her back issues of the Modern Woman's Manifesto, rereading every article about bearing children out of wedlock. When she'd first read the articles, she remembered feeling enormous admiration for the women. A New Modern Woman did not need a husband. She could raise a child herself and happily. The New Modern Woman felt no shame about her sexuality or about bearing children with or without a Mrs. in front of her name. She walked proudly in the world wrapped in a cloak of independence and self-reliance. But the pregnant New Modern Woman lived in a big city in the East, Annie had finally noticed. None of the articles about unwed mothers were penned by a New Modern Woman living in a town as small and provincial as Marshall, Kansas. "Will you be late tonight, dear?" her mother inquired as Annie came down the staircase and headed toward the foyer mirror to adjust her hat. The day had been warm for mid-March, so despite the evening chill she had chosen a spring hat to improve her mood, as if anything could. Leaning to the glass, she inspected the circles under her eyes. "The Manifesto came today. There'll be a lot to discuss. I'll probably be late." Ellen Malloy glanced over her shoulder, then leaned to her daughter's ear. "Stop by the parlor and tell your father good night." "You know he doesn't approve of the New Modern Woman's Association." She bit her lip. Lately everything seemed to irritate and provoke a sharp response. "But I'll say good night," she added in a softer tone. "He doesn't forbid you from going." The statement made Annie smile. From the time she had first curled her hand around Harry Malloy's finger, she'd been her father's Buttercup. If he had ever denied her anything, she didn't remember what it might have been. "Mother, I'm twenty-five years old." "And far too independent, if you ask me," Ellen said tartly. "But your father sets the rules." "Which is fortunate for me," Annie said, winking at her mother in the mirror. Annie knew women her age who enjoyed no more freedoms than they had been permitted as adolescents. She, on the other hand, had a small allowance and the independence to spend it as she wished. She came and went as she pleased, a privilege she had used to deceive her parents. Her smile vanished. Her mother brushed a speck of lint off of Annie's shoulder. "I ran into Sheriff Jesse Harden down by the stables this morning. He asked to be remembered to you." "That's nice," she said, her mother's comment not registering. Her parents would be devastated when they learned what she had done. Hurting them was the worst of it, the part she dreaded most. "With a little encouragement . . ." That remark caught her attention. As little as a month ago, she would have answered with a rousing response, listing the reasons that she had chosen never to marry. Tonight she didn't have the energy. And everything had changed. Shaking her head, she turned her steps toward the parlor. "Papa?" Pausing in the doorway, she reached deep and summoned a smile. "I'm going to my meeting. I won't be home until late." The words stuck in her throat. She wasn't lying, not exactly, but she wasn't telling the whole truth, either. Annie always knew when they made butter at the creamery because the good creamy scent clung to her father like perfume. She inhaled the buttery fragrance when she bent over his chair to kiss the thinning spot on top of his head. Harry Malloy lowered his newspaper and raised an eyebrow in an expression that was partly a tease, partly disapproval. "Is it your book club tonight or the New Modern Woman's meeting?" Her father had become a bit portly over the years as befit a prosperous business owner and a man who was considering a run for mayor. Annie thought the weight added substance and dignity. "The New Modern Woman's meeting. This week we're going to discuss addressing our parents by their given names." For a moment she was not pregnant; her world was not shattered. For one instant all was as it always had been. She and her papa, bantering back and forth. He frowned. "Not in this house, Buttercup. You can be as modern as you like as long as your newfangled ideas don't inconvenience or annoy anyone. So, we'll stay with 'Mother' and 'Papa'." She had to trust that Bodie would make everything right. Of course he would. He had to. She'd die if her actions brought shame on her parents. She'd just die. "Then I guess I won't have much to say at this meeting," she said, holding her smile steady. When she glanced back from the doorway, her father was watching with pride, admiring her spring hat and tiered winter cape, noting the length of her blue serge walking skirt and the gleam of polish on her boots. Usually it amused her to know that he would already have examined her for hints of lip rouge and cheeks brighter than nature provided. No daughter of his, no matter how modern she might think herself, would ever leave Harry Malloy's house wearing paint. As far as Annie knew, her father didn't suspect that she occasionally added rouge after she left the house. Her mother was waiting in the foyer. A mother's examination was more thorough and of a different kind than a father's. "Are you feeling well?" Frowning, her mother peered into Annie's eyes, then tucked an errant tendril behind her ear. "You look tired and pale. I've heard you moving around when you should be sleeping." "I've been a little crampy lately," Annie admitted carefully, pulling on her gloves. And headachy and worried sick. "Cook says you hardly touch your breakfast anymore." Annie pressed her mother's hands, then edged toward the door. "Don't worry; I'm fine."Please, God, let it be true. Please give me a happy ending. Once outside, she turned at the end of the stepping-stones and looked back at the house, the second largest on the block. Ellen smiled through the glass window on the front door and Annie waved, regretting her mother's concern. Something would have to be decided tonight, she told herself, feeling a nervous tightening in her stomach. But first, she had to attend the New Modern Woman's meeting. The others were gathered and waiting by the time she arrived at the back entrance to Morrison's Apothecary. "We wondered if you were coming," Helen Morrison said, looking up from the meeting table. Helen claimed the chair at the head of the table since it was her father who allowed them to use his back room for their meetings. "I apologize for being late." Annie slid into her usual chair. "Janie and I just got here ourselves," Ida Mae Blue said. Janie Henderson gave them a sweeping glance. "Frankly, we might as well dispense with tonight's topic. We all know that none of our parents will permit us to call them by their given names. No amount of discussion is going to change that." "I agree," Ida Mae said with a sigh. Apparently they all had a touch of spring fever. None of the women had been able to resist wearing a lightweight cape or mesh gloves or a light-colored purse. A longing for spring was not all they shared in common. Although they never spoke the word aloud, they were all spinsters beyond the age of twenty. Each lived with her parents. And each preferred to think of herself as modern and independent rather than passed over or on the shelf. Annie also suspected they all had secrets, just as she did. Like her, the others didn't always turn toward home when they left Morrison's meeting room. "Where do you go after these meetings?" Immediately she was horrified by the blurted question. "I don't always go straight home," she explained reluctantly, feeling a wave of heat color her cheeks. "I assume you don't, either." An uncomfortable silence opened and Annie became aware of the strong odor of chemicals emanating from the boxes on the shelves along the storeroom walls. Ordinarily, she was interested enough in the evening's topic that she didn't notice the odors. Given a choice, she decided she would rather have a father who smelled like fresh butter than like medications. "If you must know, every now and then I visit . . . someone." Ida Mae pulled her gloves through her hands. Relief dropped Annie's shoulders. "Thank heaven," she whispered. "I've felt so guilty and upset about using these meetings to cover up seeing . . ." She paused. "Someone." Janie looked around the table. "Well . . . I meet Miss Grogan at the schoolhouse after our meeting. She's teaching me to speak French." Her face turned red and her chin came up. "I don't care what anyone says; someday I'm going to go to Paris, France." "I visit my grandmother," Ida Mae admitted. "My mother would skin me alive if she knew. She hasn't spoken to Nana Blue in three years. That's her choice and that's fine, but I don't think it's right to forbid me to see my grandmother." "I don't believe what I'm hearing." Helen Morrison stared. "I wouldn't dream of using our meetings to deceive my parents." She focused on Annie. "Who do you see? A man?" Annie's heart sank. "Why would you guess that?" "You don't have any grandparents, and you've never expressed a desire to learn a foreign language." The true New Modern Woman would feel no qualms about admitting to seeing a man of her choosing. The New Modern Woman went her way without apology. For an instant Annie was tempted to tell them about Bodie Miller. She'd wanted to talk about him for so long. But it wasn't just that she was seeing a man; it was who that man was. And if she talked to anyone, it shouldn't be Helen Morrison, who wasn't known for keeping secrets. From the looks on Janie's and Ida Mae's faces, they had also remembered Helen's fondness for gossip. Janie gave Annie a long look, then leaned forward and changed the subject. "If we're not going to discuss how we address our parents, I think we should talk about ways to make extra money. I only have eight dollars saved toward a trip to Paris. At this rate, I'll never get there." Ida Mae tapped her fingernails on the tabletop. "And we should discuss setting up a New Modern Woman's table at the Summer Crafts Fair again this year. It's not too soon to think about it." From where she sat, Annie could see the storeroom clock. Bodie would be waiting for her at the old Miller homestead a quarter mile east of town. Most people assumed the cabin was vacant, and much of the time it was. Sometimes Bodie stayed a few days; sometimes he stayed a few weeks. It occurred to her now to wonder if someone in town kept the place clean and provisioned for him. She'd never thought to ask. Tapping her foot under the table, twisting her gloves in her lap, she listened to the others discuss selling embroidery work, raising chickens, or forming a scribe service. Listened to plans for the Summer Crafts Fair. All she could think was: The minutes are flowing by and I'm getting more pregnant with every tick of the clock. I need to get out of here. I need to see Bodie; I need to feel his arms around me, need to hear him say the right words. Finally, the meeting concluded and the women stood, pulling on gloves and buttoning cloaks. Thank heaven. Helen gave them a stern glance. "I shall have to ponder your deceits and decide if you have made an accomplice of me by using my father's storeroom to cover your deceptions. I will inform you of how I choose to proceed." Janie and Ida Mae gave Annie dark looks before they waved good-bye. Helen waited on the storeroom steps to see which direction Annie took. "Shall I walk you home?" she asked sweetly. "I wouldn't think of inconveniencing you," Annie said firmly. Angry, she headed toward home, turned a corner, then looked back to see if Helen was bold enough to follow. That would have been a disaster. She had to see Bodie tonight. In fact, no one observing her would think her direction odd, as she walked as far as the old Miller homestead several times a week. She did this partly to diffuse curiosity but mostly to check the tin box hidden in the willows where she and Bodie left messages for each other. When she felt safe, she pressed her lips together and walked briskly toward the edge of town, her nervousness increasing with every step. How would she tell him? What would he say? She wet her lips as she left town behind and followed a rutted lane that wound down an embankment and out of sight through a copse of willows and old cottonwoods. In summer, leaves and brush hid the cabin from the county road. Even now the low cabin would have been easy to overlook if not for the light shining from the windows and the smell of wood smoke that grew stronger as she approached the door. Usually meeting Bodie infused Annie with a sense of empowerment. She came here with a spring of eagerness in her step, feeling proud that she had made an independent decision and acted upon it. She had claimed her sexuality and had spit in the eye of convention. She had made of herself a whole New Modern Woman. But tonight she arrived in fear and uncertainty, praying that Bodie would forget everything she had ever said about New Modern Women and offer the conventional solution of marriage and save her. Trembling, Annie drew a deep breath and smoothed her skirts. This was Bodie. He hadn't actually said the words, but surely he wouldn't take her to bed if he didn't love her. Or was she putting her feelings on him? Swallowing hard, she lifted a shaking hand and rapped once on the door. "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes," he said, filling the doorway. "As pretty as a picture." Everything about Bodie Miller was big, his tall frame, his shoulders, his hands, his smile. Annie had planned to greet him as she usually did, with a kiss and some light conversation before she eased into the matter at hand. But the solid bigness of him undid her. She burst into tears and collapsed against his chest. "Annie?" His hands waved like he didn't know what to do; then he pulled her inside and shut the door. "Annie? You're cold and shaking. What's wrong, sweetheart?" He leaned down, trying to see her face. "Annie? Come over by the fire." "I'm sorry." She accepted the handkerchief he pushed into her hand. "I've been so weepy lately. I just . . . It's been so awful. I thought tonight would never come, I've needed you so much. Oh, Bodie." The tears wouldn't stop. This wasn't at all what she had planned. "Sit here while I get you something. I have coffee, or whiskey if you'd rather." As a New Modern Woman, she had sampled whiskey, but she didn't like the taste. Moreover, she worried that her parents would be awake when she got home and would smell liquor on her breath. She didn't want coffee, either, but the cup would give her something to do with her hands. After bringing her coffee and forgetting that she liked cream, Bodie knelt in front of her. "Now what's this all about?" The firelight made his hair shine like a cap of gold. That's what Annie had noticed first when she met him at last year's Summer Crafts Fair, that shock of white-gold hair. Then she'd seen eyes as blue as berries twinkling back at her from a boyish face and her heart had done a somersault in her chest. "I don't know how to tell you." Usually by this time she would have removed her hat and cape and be sitting in his lap. And later . . . From the corner of her eye she glimpsed the bed next to a log wall. The quilt was turned back and the pillows plumped, waiting for them. They had been so careful. That's what she didn't understand. How could this have happened? "Move closer to the fire; you're still shaking." He peered at the tears swimming in her eyes. "Now, tell me why you're so upset." "I'm pregnant." His eyes widened and his mouth rounded. She watched his shoulders tighten, and his fingers gripped the arms of her chair. "Pregnant?" he asked after a minute. "Are you sure?" She pressed the handkerchief against her eyes so she wouldn't have to watch him work out his response. "I'm sure." "Maybe I'll have some of that whiskey." She wanted him to take her in his arms and tell her that he was glad, that they would be married immediately. But she understood he needed time to grasp the enormity of their situation. While she waited for him to return from the sideboard, she removed her hat, gloves, and cloak and dropped them beside the chair. A sip of coffee would have eased the dryness in her mouth, but she didn't think she could get the cup to her mouth without spilling. She set the coffee on the floor. When she looked up, he had taken the rocking chair and was leaning forward, cradling a glass of whiskey between his big hands. "I can't say I don't have mixed feelings about this because I do. But I also know what's expected when a respectable woman gets in a family way." Her head snapped up and she stared expectantly, willing him to say the words. "I guess we have to get married." The air ran out of her body, leaving her limp and trembling. "Oh, Bodie." Jumping up, she ran to him and fell into his lap, covering his face with kisses. He set aside the whiskey and caught her hands. "Did you think I wouldn't stand by you?" "I knew you would." But there had been a tiny fear, barely acknowledged, that maybe he wouldn't. Maybe asking her to marry him had never been more than the tease she'd always believed it was. Annie buried her face in his collar, breathing the male scent of him. He didn't smell buttery like her father. Bodie smelled of pomade and bay rum. At the end of their evenings together he usually smelled like whiskey and man-sweat, scents she ordinarily found exciting. Tonight, however, the smell of his whiskey seemed exceptionally strong and unpleasant. Recently, and oddly, she seemed to be acutely aware of odors that ordinarily she didn't even notice. He stroked her back, patting her awkwardly. "Have you told your parents?" "I haven't told anyone but you. But we should tell my parents soon." "You want me there," he said, not sounding happy about it. Annie sat up so she could see his face. "We can't delay the wedding, Bodie. It should happen quickly." She had never imagined herself discussing a wedding, since she had decided long ago that she would never surrender herself to marriage. She had watched her mother swallow opinions and bow to her father's wishes. She had heard her father berate her mother for bungling household accounts as if she were a dim-witted child. Everything she said or did was directed toward pleasing Annie's father. And Annie's parents had a good marriage. Bodie nodded, his arms around her, his gaze on the fire. "I guess I should think about the questions your father will ask. Like where we'll live, things like that." Annie doubted those questions would arise immediately. First, there would be a terrible scene about the pregnancy; awful things would be said, which she hoped could be forgiven in time. She wet her lips and tried to swallow. There would be plenty of time to fret about telling her parents. Right now, there were things they had to decide. "I'd like a house of our own," she said, feeling shy about stating opinions she hadn't quite known she held. "It doesn't have to be as large as Papa's, of course, but it would be nice if it had a yard." He kissed her nose. "You've had more time to plan than I have." He stood her on her feet and went to the sideboard to refill his whiskey glass. "We'll have a house, but we'll have to choose the location carefully. It can't be in town. I need a place away from nosy neighbors, where no one will notice when I come and go." Her smile faltered and a silent alarm sounded in her head. "Bodie . . . you can't continue to be an outlaw." "Why not? That's what I do. I rob banks and trains." Raising a hand, she touched her forehead, then tried again. "But everything's different now. You need an honest job." She tried to make the demand sound more like a logical assumption. "You'll be a husband and a father. It's time to," she almost said "grow up" but amended it to, "settle down. It's time for a legitimate profession." "Sweetheart, we've talked about this. You can't expect me to change my life. I like what I do and I'm good at it. You won't want for a thing, married to me." "Bodie, please. We're going to have a baby. We can't live a dishonest life." "I had a job at my uncle's carriage factory in Kansas City. I hated it." He took a long swallow of whiskey, watching her over the rim of the glass. "The hours were long; the pay was small; the place stank of lacquer and axle grease." "You don't have to work in a factory," she said, trying not to sound desperate. "I'm sure my father would make a place for you at the creamery." Bodie's mouth twisted in distaste. "I'm no butter maker or egg sorter. No thank you. I like my present job." For a long moment, Annie held his gaze, finding no yield in his blue eyes. Slowly, she sat down and clasped her hands in her lap. The first time he had raised the subject of marriage, months ago, she had suspected it was in the nature of a compliment that he'd spoken to others before her, a comment he didn't intend to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, she'd carefully examined her feelings. As much as she believed she loved Bodie, she didn't want to be a wife. A wife had to give up too much of herself. But if she ever changed her mind, she certainly didn't want to be the wife of an outlaw. She couldn't possibly live on stolen money, didn't want to worry every time he left the house that he might get shot or arrested. She didn't want to be frightened by a late-night knock at the door or by a posse in her yard. Now she saw another reason. She didn't want to live isolated from family and friends. "There must be a way to work this out," she said, looking up. Surely they could find an acceptable compromise. "The men I ride with--they both have wives and families." "And their wives don't mind that they're married to outlaws? Living on stolen money that someone else worked for?" He shrugged, but the boyish expression faded and his eyes narrowed at the sharpness of her tone. "Their wives seem happy enough when I've been around them. Seems like you should be, too." This raised another issue. Their friends would be outlaws. The thought appalled her. "Bodie, do you at least foresee a time when you'll retire from . . . stealing and take up another profession?" He grinned and tossed back the whiskey. "Sure. If I get shot or caught." When she didn't smile, he cleared his throat. "Annie, you have to take me as I am." "I thought robbing banks and trains was just something you did occasionally, like a prank almost." That's what she'd told herself. He was the same age as she, twenty-five. She'd been able to sell herself the idea that being an outlaw was an adventure for him, nothing really serious, a youthful holdover from boyhood. Since discovering that she was pregnant, she'd tried to persuade herself that once he knew about the baby, he'd be willing to settle down and adopt an honest vocation. Instead, irritation flickered in his eyes. "If what I do is such a moral problem, then why have you kept coming here? You can sleep with an outlaw, but you're too all-fired high-and-mighty to marry one?" His bluntness shocked her and made her cringe. This was a side of him that she didn't know. "I was amazed that I agreed to see you at all. You made me feel daring and modern." Discovering that he was an outlaw had added an additional thrill of excitement, which she no longer understood. "It seems stupid now, but I didn't think about how this might end." "I'm willing to do right. But I'm not willing to change my whole life just because you say so." There was a warning in his tone, but she didn't acknowledge it. "How can we teach our children to be honest if their daddy steals other people's money? What would happen to me and the baby if you went to prison?" Annoyance flickered in his gaze, and it occurred to Annie that if they were married he very likely would not tolerate this conversation or her tone of criticism and censure. Another alarm rang in her mind. "I imagine my parents would help out, and your parents likely would, too." "Does that sound responsible to you? It's not our parents' duty to take care of your family." Sudden anger flashed in his berry-blue eyes. "Look, I didn't ask for this." "Neither did I." Despair thinned her voice. Everything was turning sour. After blinking back tears, she came at the problem from a different direction. "What does your family think about you being an outlaw?" "That's neither here nor there." "Are your parents still alive?" No Millers had lived in Marshall since Bodie's grandfather had abandoned the old homestead. "Where do they live? Do you have brothers or sisters?" "My parents are alive, and I have two sisters. We won't be seeing them, so it doesn't matter." "So they don't approve of what you're doing." They wouldn't have any contact with his family, and their relationship with her family would be difficult at best. Annie's heart sank to her toes. "Where do you live when you aren't here?" His mouth smiled, but his eyes were harder than she had seen them. "You're starting to sound like a deputy. I think it's wise, now and in the future, if there are things you don't know." Like where he went and what he did. Like which bank he robbed and where it was located. They both glanced toward the bed, aware that time was passing and the evening wouldn't end as it usually did. Abruptly Annie stood and held her hands to the fire, watching her fingers shake. If she married Bodie Miller, she would have to compromise everything she believed in. She would have to accept an isolated life. She couldn't keep old friends, couldn't make new ones, because she'd worry herself half to death about saying something careless that would betray the secret of Bodie's livelihood. Her only social contacts would come from Bodie's friends, other outlaws and their wives. Would that make her an outlaw, too? She wouldn't know where Bodie went when he rode out of the yard or when or if he would come home again. She could easily spend years of her life alone while he was in prison. Certainly she would worry about that. Tears swam in her eyes. "I can't live that life. Bodie, I just can't." She didn't know he'd come up behind her until his big hands closed on her shoulders. "You don't have a choice, Annie." She thought about the New Modern Women raising children alone back east. "I do have a choice." The life he offered would be solitary and lonely, filled with anxiety and the knowledge that everything they owned came from stolen money. He turned her to face an angry expression. "I don't want any child of mine to be raised as a bastard. Have you thought about this, Annie? You'll be ruined. Right now you have friends; you're respected in the community. If you don't marry me, you'll be shunned. There won't be a house in town where you'll be welcome." Silent tears ran down her cheeks. She couldn't let herself think about what he was saying. "Damn it, why are you being difficult? You should be grateful to have a man willing to marry you in this circumstance." "I am. It's just . . ." They had never spoken about love. He'd joshed about marriage, but neither of them had said the word love. "I told you all along that I couldn't marry an outlaw." "I won't let anyone tell me what to do or how to live," he said slowly. "Don't try to change me." She stiffened and pulled back. "I'm not trying to manipulate you into doing what I want." "That's exactly what you're doing." His hands fell to his sides. "And it's not going to work. I don't believe for a minute that you'd choose a life of shame and disgrace, or that you'd make a bastard out of your child rather than marry me. So let's not waste any more time on foolishness." "It's my life, too. And I won't live with an outlaw for a husband." The words hung between them, stark and final. Until Annie heard herself speak she hadn't realized that she'd committed to a decision. He stared down at her. "When I was sixteen my daddy told me never to sleep with a woman I wasn't willing to marry, because I might have to. Didn't it ever occur to you that you might get pregnant?" Of course she had thought about it, but not often. She'd praised herself for knowing how and when conception occurred and had believed that knowledge was armor against disaster. And if the worst happened, she had naively told herself that she was a New Modern Woman and she could handle whatever life threw in her path. The bewildering thing was that she'd come here with a prayer on her lips, praying that he would be willing to marry her. But it was she who was unwilling to marry him. "You're not going to stop robbing trains and banks, are you?" she whispered. "No, I'm not. That's final, Annie." She shook her head and moved backward a step. "I can't live an outlaw's life. I won't do that to myself or to my child. I'm sorry. I wish to heaven that I could accept your life, but I just can't do it." Bodie clenched his teeth and visibly summoned patience. "Now, you know you don't mean that." A wave of dizziness passed across her vision and she feared she might faint. "I do mean it." "Annie, that's crazy," he said, narrowing his eyes. "I have to go." He caught her arm, but she shook him off and retrieved her cape, gloves, and hat. The cabin seemed stifling. The air was hot, suffocating. Annie pulled on her hat without looking into the mirror that Bodie had bought for her. She didn't care that she'd buttoned her cape incorrectly. Pushing past him, she rushed to the door and threw it open, gulping deep breaths of cold air as she hurried up the path toward the county road. He caught up to her, pulling on his coat. "Damn it." She wiped her gloves across her eyes, willing the tears to stop before she reached the lights at the edge of town. Then, stopping abruptly, she covered her face with her gloves. "Oh, God." When she peeked into the future, she felt sick inside, afraid and overwhelmed. "I don't want to face this alone." "You don't have to." Frustration rolled off him in waves. "I'm willing to--" "Stop." Shaking her head, she stepped away from him. "You're not willing to do what's necessary!" "Neither are you, unless you get your own way." "That's it then," she said, staring at him in the shadowy light. How did she say good-bye to a man she would have married if not for the impasse they'd reached? Should they embrace? Shake hands like polite strangers? Annie wet her lips and lifted her head. To hide the pain, she held her expression as steady as she could. "It'll be easier if we don't see each other again." The words sounded frozen, so brittle they could crack and break in the chill night air. "You're behaving like an idiot. I don't like that." Bodie scowled ahead at the silhouettes of trees and houses. "Meet me tomorrow. We'll talk some more." She couldn't think. Her mind had stopped when she understood she couldn't marry him. That thought froze like a plug that blocked any other thoughts. "There's nothing more to say." All she wanted was to crawl into bed, curl into a tight ball, and sob into her pillow. She hoped Mary had put a warm brick at the bottom of her sheets. Right now she didn't think she would ever be warm again. Bodie caught her wrist and this time she couldn't jerk away. "Think about how selfish and foolish you're being." His eyes turned narrow and hard. There was nothing boyish about him now. "Then come here tomorrow, and we'll figure out the next step." "No," she said in a low, despairing tone. The image she held of herself was that of an honest and honorable person. Keeping secrets, deceiving her parents, and having an affair had been harder on her than she had admitted until now when she was faced with living dishonestly for the rest of her days. Accepting Bodie's life would compromise everything she had always believed in. Blinded by tears, she lifted her skirts and ran home. She was ruined. Utterly, irredeemably ruined. Excerpted from Shotgun Wedding by Maggie Osborne All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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