Elizabeth McKinnie will no longer accept men ruling her life. After the Civil War devastated her family home and having no way to survive, Elizabeth accepts one of the mail-order bride proposals presented to her and her sisters. She chooses a man who promises to treat her as an equal. Her sister convinces her to switch suitors, proclaiming the weather in Texas would be more suitable for Elizabeth’s weak lungs. Agreeing, she heads west to meet the mysterious cattle baron she knows little about.
Susan rolled Elizabeth’s head from Jeb’s shoulder and patted her cheeks. “Wake up, dear.” She smacked her harder. “Wake up.”
Adrenaline pumped through Jeb. If there was one thing he couldn’t witness, it was a woman in trouble. It did things to him he didn’t like.
Charles pounded on the wall behind him and the horses slowed.
“Elizabeth?” He turned to her and found her lips blue and her eyes rolled back in her head. His muscles tightened, his gut twisted.
The stagecoach rolled to a stop and the man on the end opened the door and everyone spilled out of the carriage. Jeb lifted Elizabeth and handed her off to the man that had been at her other side.
By the time Jeb reached the ground, Susan was on her knees at Elizabeth’s side, and everyone stood around, looking down at her gasping for air.
He found himself matching her breath for breath. “Anyone know what’s wrong?”
“No, she was fine the entire way here. Until you boarded the stagecoach,” Susan said with clipped speech.
Charles put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “I doubt it’s him, dear.”
She shot a sideways glance of disapproval at Jeb.
“What else? Anything else change at the stop? Perhaps she ate something that she had a problem with?”
“Dress.” Susan looked up at him. “Her dress. She changed it. Maybe the corset is too tight. We could—”
He didn’t waste any time. If there was one thing he’d learned raising cattle, time meant everything. The faster you worked, the better the outcome. He slid his knife from its holder, rolled Elizabeth onto her side, slid the knife carefully under the neck of the material, and sliced down. Then he cut the string and yanked the corset loose.
After a second, she gasped for air and coughed. He rolled her over and saw the color in her lips and face returning.
“You’ll be fine now.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his knuckles and found her skin softer than any horse mane he’d ever touched.
Jeb watched as Elizabeth’s green eyes blinked and focused on him. “What happened?”
Susan huffed behind him. “You are an animal.”
Jeb looked up at her. “What are you talking about? I saved her life. That stupid-looking, impractical dress nearly choked her to death.”
“My dress?” Elizabeth said in only a whisper. She blinked, then her eyebrows pulled tight toward the center. “What did you do to my dress?” She shrieked and shot up but swooned again. With a hand to her head, she took a moment, then reached around her back. “Oh, my dear lord, what have you done!”
Charles cleared his throat. “I think he did what he thought was best to save your life.”
Susan glowered at her husband, and he shut his mouth. The man was controlled by a woman. That was never going to happen to Jeb. Ever.