The Fortune

July 3, 2017

Read an Excerpt

Book 9

When Francesca Chastain sets off on the six month journey from New York to Oregon with her family, she is running from the darkness of her past. The land of milk and honey offers a fresh start. The wagon master’s assistant, John Malloy, ruins her dress and sets her off balance with his smile, his flirting and his handsome visage. She doesn’t want to find herself in need of him, or worse, falling in love with him.

John Malloy has worked wagon trains for three years, saving every cent to start his horse ranch in the Wyoming Territory. This is his last trip and the feisty Frankie Chastain turns it into the most confusing, frustrating time of his life. Then she disappears.

Frankie’s past shadows her travels and threatens her future. Trapped in the wild, she has to rely on John to get back to her family. Neither one expects the intensity of their attraction or the fight for their lives.

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"Another great western from Beth Williamson. I loved it and look forward to more." -5 sweet peas, Mrs. Condit Reviews

"A fun, heart-warming read that leaves you longing for more installments from the Malloy family." -4 1/2 Stars, Night Owl Reviews

"...another engaging and interesting story to The Malloy Family line." -4 Stars, Slick from Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

"...brings fans another story of the older generation of the remarkable Malloy family, with a beautifully realized setting and a number of charming historic details." -3 Stars, RT Book Reviews


Growing up in New York, she hadn’t had occasion to bump into many cowboys or men that carried pistols on their hips for that matter. She knew what to do to protect herself on the streets of a city, but a cowboy left her at a loss. Her temper had flared, which was not an uncommon occurrence, and now she wasn’t sure how to even speak to him. The west was like a foreign land and Frankie was the foreigner.

To her shame, she decided to avoid him rather than determine how to speak to him. She snatched up her dress and walked away.

“Where are you going?” He was beside her in moments. “Don’t forget I’m covered with mud and it itches like hell.”

“I need to rinse the mud out of my dress and my hair, Monsieur.” Frankie didn’t turn her head. She didn’t want to look at him anymore. He was too distracting, made her think of things she ought not to. “Charlotte shall sit with you while Josephine fetches my mother.”

He snorted. “She’s a little spitfire. Gonna drive some man to drink in a few years.”

To her consternation, he kept walking beside her. She tried to walk faster but nearly tripped on her own skirts. Red-faced and frustrated, she righted herself, without help from the cowboy, and kept marching. The creek was just beyond the edge of the tree line.

By the time she stepped onto the grassy bank of the creek, she was breathing hard. John Malloy strolled up beside her, not even remotely winded.

She wanted to smack him.

“Nice creek. It’ll do.” To her shock, he took off his hat, stripped off his shirt, then tugged on his boots.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the heavenly saints. He was nearly naked. Naked!

Regardless of what she should or shouldn’t do, Frankie stared, mesmerized by Mr. Malloy’s body. Her eyes felt hot and tight as she drank in the expanse of man in front of her. Muscles stretched over bone, covered with honey-touched skin attesting to his time in the sun. Whorls of dark brown hair swirled around his wide chest, leading down to his belly. The hair grew thicker, darker and disappeared beneath the waistband of his trousers.

Frankie could hardly breathe for the heat suffusing her body. She was on fire, her pulse thundering at merely the sight of a half-naked man. When his boots landed on the grass, she glanced at his feet. The toes had funny hairs on them, sticking every which way. She had never paid attention to a man’s feet before. What was wrong with her? She didn’t know where to look or what to do. For the first time in her life, Frankie Chastain was speechless.

He grinned at her and stepped into the water. “Holy shit, that’s cold. Damn, must be a mountain run-off from somewhere. Damn good thing I’ve still got my trousers one or I’d shrink up like, er, never mind.”

Frankie swallowed the dry spit in her mouth, freeing her voice. “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting the mud offa me and my shirt. The cold water should help the swelling in my hand too.” He held up the shirt and sniffed, rearing back. “Damn. You ought to do the same if you smell like this too. Stinks like a horse took a shit on me.”

She hadn’t forgotten about the horses and the mud she’d landed in. She held her muddy dress up and sniffed, gagged, and dropped it to the ground.

“Sacre bleu, it smells horrible.”

“I’m guessing your hair does too.” John waded out further into the stream and sat down, submerging himself up to his armpits.

Frankie let loose an unladylike snort and reached for her hair. That was where the other smell had been coming from. Mud caked the back of her head while the chunk still hung encrusted with mud. She dropped to her knees and managed to pull the pins from her hair, while avoiding the mud that cascaded down in thick plops around her.

Washing her hair, while keeping the rest of her dry, was going to be a challenge. If only she were a man and could strip down and wade into the river, uncaring if her trousers got wet.

“If you get closer to the water, I can help.”

She lifted her head to find a very wet, and still half-naked, John Malloy in front of her. He must have been on his knees to be eye level with her. Water ran in rivulets down his chest, meandering through the hair, straight down to his trousers. That was a place she had no interest in exploring.

“How will you assist me?”

“I can rinse the shit out of your hair, unless you want to join me in the creek.” He raised one brow, a challenge in his gaze.

Frankie thought about jumping in the creek with him and taking him up on his challenge. To free herself from the societal rules that governed her and throw caution to the wind. For once, escape what was expected, what she had to do, and do what she wanted. John Malloy was dangerous, more than she initially thought.

“Much as I think you would like that, I cannot join you in the creek. What you see before you is my wardrobe. I can only hope this dress comes clean so that I may wear both of them again.” She had to be practical. Throwing away her reputation on the wagon train, and possibly her future, to frolic in a creek with a big stranger would be beyond foolish.

“What about your hair? Do you want help or not?”

Frankie stared into his blue eyes and thought of all the reasons she should say no, of the fact she could ask one of her sisters to help, and of the chastisement she would receive from her mother. A tiny voice inside her whispered of dark secrets and decisions she could not undo.

In the end, Frankie chose the practical path.

“Oui, I need your assistance, s’il vous plaît.”