Winter Peace

(1 customer review)

When the choice is prison or marriage, it’s not really a choice.

Noella Paix wants to remain in Louisiana and practice her art. When circumstances turn bad, the only solution is to marry a man in Colorado whose previous wives all came to a deadly end. The pampered young woman’s desperation leads her to steal from Nicholas Winter, former Texas Ranger turned rancher, to escape, placing her in a different kind of trouble.

With a judge making her choose between a man who wants her but will likely kill her, a man who doesn’t want her but has shown he’ll protect her, and prison, Noella is running out of options.

Nicholas Winter just wants to be left alone. When a brazen young woman is placed in a desperate situation, in part, his making, Nick shoulders a responsibility he has no confidence he can handle. Will the dark-haired, creole beauty be his second chance, or will she break what’s left of his heart?

Publisher’s Note: This steamy western romance contains action, adventure, and a theme of power exchange.

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Sample Chapter

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, 1887

Nick Winter eased the door to his hotel room open and carefully peered in, his right hand hovering over the custom grip of his .32 Colt Frontier.

The skinny kid currently rifling through his belongings didn’t as much as look up when he stepped in, too intent on finding whatever he was searching for. Nick stood right behind him when the kid finally came up with the five dollar piece Nick had carelessly dropped in the bag when he left Pueblo on his way to Glenwood.

How typical someone tried robbing him while he stayed at the hotel. If not for the four feet of snow, he’d have made camp outside the town and come in only to finish his business and to pay respect to John Holiday. Had he but gotten up here only a week earlier, he might have been able to say his goodbyes. Having run into Marshal Earp in Colorado Springs and hearing the man was in grave, failing health was disheartening. Doc was a good man; he’d done more than most dentists had, to try and keep law and order in the western frontier. To die so young. But then dying young seemed commonplace left of the Mississippi. Usually for reasons like he was witnessing now.

The Colt slid smoothly from the holster and the hammer pulled back with barely a sound. Young men who thought to help themselves to what others worked so hard for usually ended up with holes or hanging rope. Leaning forward, he let the barrel of the revolver announce his presence.

Rather than freeze and put his hands up, the kid yipped, fell forward and rolled to face him. Large, scared, dark blue eyes stared up at him, and Nick sighed heavily. Damn, he couldn’t shoot a girl for robbing him. Easing the hammer down, he slid the gun back in its holster and reached for her arm. “Get up,” he ground out as he pulled her to her feet.

“I…” she started, only to suddenly kick him in the shin, grab his pocket watch and make for the door.

Any compassion he might have shown was covered over by an avalanche of pain and mad. She didn’t even make it three steps before he had her around the waist, kicking for all she was worth to get loose as he carried her to the bed, dropped her face down, and as he’d done for years as a Texas Ranger, managed to gather her wrists behind her back. At the same time, he pulled one piggin’ string from his belt.

He had her securely bound up without effort. “I don’t take to thievin’ or thieves,” Nick said, prying her fingers open and taking back the gold piece she managed to hold on to. His watch hit the floor when he grabbed her.

“I’m not a thief,” she yelled, looking back over her shoulder at him, her accent distinct.

“I take to liars even less than thieves,” Nick said, taking in her small form lying across the end of his bed as it wiggled backwards trying to get a foot on the ground. He had a few choices here. He could drag her down to the jail. He could locate her family and let them deal with her, or he could let her go.

Grabbing her at the hip, he flipped her to her back. “You from here?” She shook her head violently. “Well?” he asked and let her know he had no patience for anything today.

“Leadville,” she snapped out, and he knew it was a lie just by the way she said it.

“I don’t like liars,” Nick said and watched her look around the room. It was possible she had a partner, was part of a gang, was hoping someone would be coming to her rescue.

She licked her lips, looked around again, then back at him. “You got your money back, let me go.” Again, there was no mistaking that accent.

“You planning on robbing everyone in this place?” Nick asked. She wasn’t wrong, he did have his money back and he really didn’t want the trouble hauling her down to the jail would cause. He wanted to get back to Willow Springs before winter really set in.

“No,” she said, sounding rather disappointed. “Only two other guests, and one has absolutely nothing to his name,” she grumbled out. Again, her accent was distinct. She wasn’t local.

“And how you know that?” She only shrugged and gave him another pleading look. Nick clenched his jaw to keep from saying anything else as he reached out and pulled her to her feet. “I catch you sniffing around this hotel again and I’ll have you behind bars faster than you can spit,” he said, jerking free the small two-strand rope he normally used to tie-down calves for branding and tossing the three foot length on the bed.

She rubbed at her wrists a moment then shouted, “You won’t,” before she shoved him back and fled, grabbing the five dollar piece that fell from his hand when he tripped backwards. Had she not doubled back for the watch on the floor, she might have gotten away.

Nick had her face down on the bed, his knee in her back, and this time when he grabbed that piggin’ string, he didn’t use it to tie her hands. Folding it half and wrapping the ends around his fist a few times, he brought the looped end down on her wiggling ass good and hard.

The scream following the impact said she could feel it even through the denims she wore. But he’d known that when he took up the rope. Raising his arm, he brought it down a second time, then a third and a fourth until her screaming was choked with sobs. Twice more, and he pushed off her just as pounding footfalls sounded in the hall. “Now you can leave,” Nick said, pulling her limp body back off the bed for a second time. He kept his hold, though, until he reached the doorway. Pushing her forward, he took one step out to see who had come to her aid. The weathered old man stopped and stood staring, but the woman next to him, young but well old enough to be this girl’s mother, rushed forward and collected the sobbing girl against her.

“What has happened here?” a second old man stepped up, pushing past the first. “What are you wearing?”

The entire group gave Nick a bad taste in his mouth. “Nothing a good spanking didn’t fix,” he said and watched both women turn and look up at him. He didn’t wait to explain or to hear how she might explain. He simply went back inside his room, shut the door and started repacking his belongings, being sure this time he left nothing of monetary value in any of them.


“Did you know him?”

Nick looked up from the grave of the man most knew only as Doc Holiday. “I had the honor,” he said before turning to look at the woman.

The woman, dressed in black, sniffed and dabbed her eyes. “Me too,” she said, then turned and smiled sadly. “Kate Horony,” she introduced and Nick smiled back with sympathy.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Kate,” Nick said and wondered why this woman had become known as Big Nose Kate. She wasn’t exactly a beauty rare but there wasn’t anything over-sized about her nose.

They both resumed looking at the grave, marked only by a little wooden cross. The wind picked up, though, and the sound of wailing reached his ears. “That’s probably the Widow Buck,” Kate told him, looking up the hill to Linwood Cemetery.

“Mourning her husband?” he asked, fisting his hands in the pockets of his coat to avoid rubbing his hand over his chest.

“Her daughter,” Kate told him. “Seems she sold the poor girl into marriage and it was such a bad one, to escape it, the girl threw herself in front of the train.” Kate only shrugged. “Man already got his next wife lined up. Hope someone advises her a bullet is fast and painless.”

Nick might disagree, but instead he inclined his head, set his hat back on it, pulled his coat around himself and started back for the hotel. But the wailing stopped him, drew him back. Heading up the hill where the main cemetery rested, he spied the woman sitting in snow up to her shoulders, leaning against a gravestone sobbing her heart out.

Everything in his gut told him to just walk away. People died all the time. People grieved all the time. He should know. He couldn’t imagine anyone could grieve more than someone with a guilty conscience. Maybe that was why he felt compelled to make his way to the woman. They were kindred. Grief complicated by guilt.

“Ma’am,” Nick called out.

“He murdered my baby,” she wailed and set her hand over the name carved in the stone.

“Ma’am,” Nick called and reached down to lift the woman from the snow. “Ma’am, who murdered your daughter?” Maybe he wasn’t a ranger anymore but that didn’t mean he’d let a murderer walk away.

“Don’t let him kill anyone else,” she pleaded. As Nick dragged her to her feet, he glanced at the headstone, the name there Rose E. Stanwell. The dates marked her as just twenty years when she died. “All she wanted to do was live, and he killed her. I killed her.”

Nick thought the woman’s inability to stand was just grief until the red in the snow caught his eye. “Oh, for the love of…” he swore, lifting the woman up and making his way as quickly as he could to the nearest building. “Fetch a doctor,” he yelled, pushing into the small shop and pushing things off the counter so he could put the woman down. Already, a few others were scrambling to either get out of the way or be helpful. Nick snatched the rag from the clerk and tightly wrapped the woman’s bleeding wrist.

“Promise you’ll stop him,” the woman said, reaching up with the other hand, which Nick was trying to get wrapped. She set her hand over his heart. “Save her.”

Another breath and her hand fell away and her face went slack. “Ma’am?” Nick called, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her.

“I think she’s gone, Mister,” the clerk said. “You’re too late, Doc,” the clerk said, and Nick turned to see a tall, gaunt man walk into the store. He only shook his head, muttered the name ‘Stanwell’ then turned and left.

Nick really didn’t recall the walk from the shop to the hotel, but given he’d no place to be today, he opted to sit in the dining room and have a drink, not something he did often at all. His operation in the San Juan Mountains was too time consuming to be sitting for a leisurely drink. Most days he had enough time to get three hours of sleep, throw food down his neck as he saddled up and that was it. He worked from before dawn to long after dark. Any moment that might come up was spent fighting against the D&RG railroad who kept trying to take more of his land from him.

His musing ended abruptly when he saw the doctor enter the dining area along with the deputy. They both headed straight to a second table where two older gentlemen sat. “Mr. Stanwell, I regret to inform you of the passing of your mother-in-law, Elisabeth Brooks.”

Nick watched as the two men looked at each other and then the one, distinctly younger, raised his glass to the deputy, “Good riddance to her. I hope this means you’ll no longer be coming out to my home and disturbing me with her wild accusations?”

“No matter, my boy,” the older of the men said. “The judge will put a stop to that, regardless. He’s due today.”

“No, I won’t be coming out, at least not until your newest bride is being laid in the ground,” the deputy muttered, put his hat on his head and turned and stormed off.

The doctor stood a while more, like he might have something to say, then catching Nick’s eye, he turned and followed the deputy out. Their departure crossed over with the appearance of four others.

Nick noted right off they were the folks from yesterday, and he couldn’t help but stare at the young woman who now walked demurely behind the other people. She’d been a bit nondescript in her baggy clothing yesterday, but today she was dressed at the height of fashion. The gem colored silk gown clung to her breasts and clearly pinned waist, then her natural form was lost by the straight line of the front of the gown and the ridiculous bustle in the back. He almost laughed. Had she been wearing that when she was caught stealing from him, she might not have felt the piggin’ string on her ass.

The group approached the table and Nick heard the one man say, “Remember your place and address them as sir.” If it was the girl who sniffed, or the mother he didn’t know, both appeared to have been crying. “Mr. Stanwell, Mr. Stanwell,” the man in the lead addressed those at the table, who didn’t bother to stand as the ladies approached. “May I present Mr. and Mrs. Ashter and their daughter, Miss Noella Paix.”

“Lift your head up, girl, let me see your face,” the younger Stanwell snapped, and like she was a horse being inspected, the man who made the introductions forced the girl’s head up and, holding her by the chin, turned it from side to side.

“Smile, show him your teeth.”

They all might have seen only a smile, but Nick saw that mark of rebellion as clear as day. A life spent reading both people and animals who found themselves backed into a corner, ready to fight their way free, Nick knew scared and desperate when he saw it. He also didn’t miss the mark on her check when the way she was grabbed wiped off the face powder.

“Quite lovely, and she’s not spread her legs yet for some miner or mill worker?” the older of the Stanwells asked. Both women gasped. Nick set his glass on the table and prepared to stand. It wasn’t his business. He’d already interfered once when he shouldn’t have.

“Confirmed by the doctor just as you like,” the salesman said with pride.

“Ah, hell and damnation,” Nick muttered and dropped a dime on the table before starting out the room, annoyed even more when he had to turn sideways for the two men entering who took up the entire threshold.

“Well, if it isn’t his honor, my very fine uncle, Tobias Hooper.” Nick heard the greeting as he stepped into the lobby, and as he turned and headed for the stairs, the greetings continued.

“My boy, your mother would be proud of you. Looks like you’ve still very fine taste in ladies. If she is a lady?”

“Of course, Uncle, I…” the rest was lost as Nick mounted the first step and, taking them two at a time, made his way back to his room. As soon as the train came in and he had those two bulls and half a dozen sheep loaded, he was getting the hell out of Glenwood.


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1 review for Winter Peace

  1. Redrabbitt


    As a fan of historical westerns and this author, Ms. Marie Hall, I found Winter Peace to be another great story! I liked the Noella, but not so much for Nicolas’ Nick’ Winter. They are two people, caught in a conundrum and forced into a marriage—or prison for her.

    The story begins in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where Nick Winter travels to purchases two bulls and some sheep for his ranch back near Willow Springs. He will come into his room to catch someone going through his belongings. That, someone, wasn’t a boy, as first thought, but a young woman—and he will punish her with a spanking.

    Noella Paix is a pawn for her stepfather—an arranged marriage to Guy Stanwell, a man who has been married multiple times, and each previous wife’s life ends in a tragic death. Noella needs to escape but has no means to do so. She would rather die now than marry this monster.

    The story’s plot will have Nick kissing Noella and making a comment to lead everyone to believe that they had been together. Her reputation in tatters, her stepfather furious, and Stanwell not wanting damaged goods. Noella will be beaten and arrested, and to be imprisoned at Yuma, Arizona prison by none other than Judge Hooper. Nick got her into this mess; now, he is responsible for getting her out—and will take her to the church and marry her. The last thing he wants is a wife—again. He is haunted by his past and allows it to control his feelings on marriage and wives. Noella is innocently naïve but complacent about accepting this marriage and goes with Nick.

    “This isn’t the time or place for you to learn about what goes on between a man and woman. And, little girl, I knew right away you ain’t so much as had a bridle on, let alone a saddle with a bit in your mouth. We might get to spurs eventually, but not for our first ride.”

    “Difference between a whore and a wife was a whore could be paid to do anything, and wives could only be expected to tolerate a few things.”

    “What kind of woman are you? You’re the kind who’s passionate and full of life. And I think more than that, but you’ve spent your life hogtied and hobbled. Time to let you be unbridled for awhile.”

    The train journey home will come with good, bad, and ugly situations. Nick will learn his wife is very talented at art, and it is something that others quickly show an appreciation for—but what good will that do him as a rancher. An attempted train robbery places Noella’s life in jeopardy (caused by her disobedience) and leads to a very harsh discipline scene. But even when they arrive back at Willow Springs, Nick isn’t prepared for a wife, really doesn’t want one, and leaves her in town—by herself, at the mercy of others.

    Nick is a man caught in the past—having married young and losing his wife, Catherine—which wasn’t a happy marriage at all. He assumes that Noella is a pampered princess, used to having servants and being waited on. He also bases all marriages on what he has experienced and swore he would never marry again—having Noella as his wife leaves him unsure. The ranch is rough; the house isn’t more than a shack and no place to bring her. But leaving her in town for weeks doesn’t sit well with her or the people she has befriended. Nick is a man of excuses—but excuses only satisfy the one giving them. Noella feels lost, used, and confused. If it weren’t for Summer and Autumn, she would be floundering. Summer is teaching her basic skills.

    Nick: “I don’t know what you want from me, little girl.”
    Noella” “I want you to let me be your wife.”

    The story has two people brought together under duress. I wouldn’t say I like the character of Nick; he is self-centered, great with animals, but not with his wife, and I thought he was overly harsh and cruel with his discipline. He never allows Noella to have her say; he doesn’t listen to her, he believes it is his word, his law, and his verdict carried out. I didn’t feel the chemistry that I usually do with these characters. Yes, sexually, they both were good at giving and taking—but life is much more than between the sheets—it is all the other times you breathe. Maybe, by the epilogue, Nick slightly redeems himself some as a husband—but Noella is by far a more humble, forgiving, and compassionate person and what will make or break this union.

    “How was it so unsettling to have him near? How was it that he could make her feel such pleasures, but she could still be left so unsatisfied?”

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