Left widowed following a Utah mining disaster, Dulcina Crass faces running a saloon on her own when her previous contribution was solely as the singer. She struggles to learn the necessary tasks but her heart isn’t in being a saloon keeper. All she ever wanted was to be a famous singer. Will asking Gabriel Magnus, a neighbor from her New Mexico hometown, bring the help she needs or a new kind of trouble?
Gabriel Magnus isn’t fulfilled by his role as ranch hand on the family’s New Mexico sheep ranch. What he wants is the chance to prove his boot making skills are good enough to start his own business. When he receives a letter from recent widow Dulcina offering a partnership in the Last Chance Saloon, he recognizes the chance to come to the rescue of the vivacious girl he wanted to court a decade earlier. Upon his arrival, he presents her with a demand–her answer could decide both of their fates.
“Ceremony?” Her eyes shot wide. “You intend us to be married today?”
“I do, and I’ll not marry a woman wearing mourning black.” The drab color did nothing to highlight her natural beauty. “You look fit to join the circle of viudas in the Questa marketplace.”
Lips pinched, she glanced around the immediate area. “But, Gabriel, I have been in mourning for Stuart since the mine disaster.”
He bristled at the mention of that man’s name but kept his expression calm. “A status that ends now. Stuart is gone, never to return in this lifetime.” When he spotted her lower lip quiver, he braced himself. The way their life would be structured moving forward had to be laid out. “Today will be the first day of our marriage, yours and mine, and he will not come between us. I will proclaim my vows next to a woman who looks to the future, not one who still clutches the past.” He stepped back to gather his luggage then carried it to where she stood. “Please show me to the saloon, where I assume you also live.”
“Oh.” She dropped her gaze and pulled at the strings on her reticule. “I thought you’d book a room in the hotel while we get reacquainted.”
If she thought she was the one making decisions, she’d been on her own too long. Maybe her late husband allowed that behavior. She might as well learn that he would not. He narrowed his eyes. “We will get reacquainted while living under the same roof.” The words “and in the same bed” remained unspoken. He didn’t think she was ready to hear his opinion of how the arrangement would play out.
“But Wildcat Ridge has no minister. Poor Reverend Bainum was lost in—”
“I know.” His voice snapped sharper than he intended. He held up a hand. “The mine collapse. The town can only be saved if you stop looking at what you lost and focus on what can be gained.” Realizing other people paid too close attention to their conversation, he clasped her hand and guided her to a nearby bench. “I am sorry, Dulcina. I do understand you have been through a loss. But that tragedy is not my experience. I see new opportunities, and I aim to grab them.” He smiled. “The best one is you.”
Her eyes shot wide. “I’d planned for us to take a day trip to Curdy’s Crossing on Saturday after the horse-related business is concluded. The church there is run by Minister Stone, and other widows have had him perform their wedding ceremonies. I thought we could marry after services on Sunday.” She ducked her head. “The marriage that is supposed to be only a formality.”