Pregnant, unwed and down on her luck, history teacher Emma Carlyle is facing the worst Christmas of her life. Needing some research for her master's thesis on legendary Wyoming lawman J.D. McNulty, she makes a Christmas Eve drive to South Pass City, where J.D. was buried. Heading home, she loses her way in a storm. After her car vanishes, she ends up in 1871, half-frozen, on the doorstep of a remote mountain cabin.***
When J.D. himself opens the door with a pistol in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other...well, let's just say that sparks start flying. These two lost souls are clearly meant for each other. But there's one problem. Emma has studied everything about J.D.--and she knows he has only a few weeks to live.
The woman on J.D.'s porch looked as if she'd just staggered out of a nightmare. She was wild-eyed and tarnally spooked, gripping a stick of kindling as if she wanted to bash in his face. The fact that she was dressed like some kind of Chinaman, in sagging black trousers and an enormous, puffy green silk coat, only added to J.D.'s befuddlement. What lunatic asylum had this female escaped from?
"Easy, now, lady." J.D. kept the Colt leveled at her collar bone, but mostly for show. "Put that stick down, and I'll take my itchy finger off this trigger."
Slowly and shakily she lowered her arm. He could see now that she was half-dead from cold and exhaustion. Her lips were the color of laundry bluing and her hair was plastered around her face in frozen strings. She was swaying on her feet like a drunkard.
J.D. cursed under his breath. He'd been looking forward to a peaceful night with his books, the old tomcat and a bottle of the finest rotgut whiskey in Glory Gulch. Maybe if he drank enough of the stuff, he might even forget it was Christmas Eve.
Muttering words unfit for a lady's ears, he eased off the hammer and laid the Colt on the bookshelf. "Well don't just stand there. Come on inside. And don't expect any apologies for my state of undress. I wasn't expecting company."
The kindling stick clattered to the porch as she dragged herself across the threshold. She was tall for a woman, with a body that appeared too stout for her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were staring at him as if she'd just seen Abraham Lincoln's ghost.
Her chilled lips worked in an effort to speak. "Where...am I?"
J.D. bolted the door behind her. "Glory Gulch, Wyoming. The upper edge of it, at least. Main part of town's further down the canyon."
"Glory Gulch?" Her eyes widened. "People are living here?"
"A few score, maybe, most of us down on our luck. Not like the old days before the gold played out." J.D. bit down hard on his cheroot as a new thought struck him. "Any other folks out there with you? Any of your family lost in the storm?" He didn't relish searching in a blizzard but if there were other travelers with the woman, he'd rather find them alive tonight than dead tomorrow.
Distrust flickered across her face, and he realized she'd misread him. "Oh, there'll be plenty of people looking for me by morning--police on snowmobiles, maybe even a helicopter or two. As long as they find me safe, there'll be no trouble for you."
J.D. shook his head. The woman was touched for sure. "You're talking gibberish, lady. Sit down and have a whiskey. Maybe it'll bring you around."
"Tell me one thing." She was staring up at him, her wild, scared doe's eyes searching his face. "Who are you? What's your name?"
"McNulty, for whatever it's worth to you. J.D. McNulty."
Her eyes widened for an instant. Then the pupils rolled back in her head and she swayed to one side. J.D. lunged, catching her as she went down in a dead faint.
She was heftier than he'd expected, and her belly, where it pressed his arm, felt as round and solid as a brood mare's. Only then did it dawn on J.D. that under her puffy coat, the lady had company. She was in a family way, and damned near ready to deliver.
A cold knot clenched in J.D.'s gut, jerking tight. Lord almighty, not that. Anything but that!