A feisty heroine meets a U.S. Marshal who mistakes her for a woman who betrayed him in the past

By Virginia Barlow

Author: Virginia Barlow
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 282
Genre: Historical Western Romance

When the train US Marshal Reese Calhan is riding on explodes, he is one of two survivors. Trouble is, the other survivor is the woman who betrayed him years ago. A woman he thought was dead. This time he will not fall prey to her wiles. He’ll see the vixen jailed for her crimes if it kills him.

Recovering from a recent jilting and now a train explosion, Shanna Johnston has no idea why the handsome stranger insists he knows her and calls her by another woman’s name. His heated looks and knowing kisses spark a fire in her she cannot ignore–even as her own mysterious past is closing in.

Shanna Marie Johnston would remember this day forever after, as the day her life exploded. Everything changed. As a rule, her life was bland. She got up, walked to work at Tanner’s Mercantile, walked home, did her chores, and went to bed. Once a year she took a train ride from Pine Bluffs to Omaha for a week to see Mama. That was as exciting as her life got, until today. The day started simple enough. She rose, dressed, and helped Mama get breakfast. She packed her traveling case with the few things she had and joined Mama at the table. While they ate, Shanna broached the subject of staying in Omaha instead of going back to Rock Creek. Shanna didn’t want to be alone anymore. She wanted a family. She wanted to belong. She wanted a sister or a brother, Christmas presents under the tree, Sunday dinners, picnics, walks by the river, and nights in front of the fire playing checkers. She wanted someone to love and to be loved in return. She wanted to be with Mama.

Mama smiled and shook her head. “It’s too dangerous, darling,” she said and rubbed a hand wearily through her thinning dark hair. “I do not dare have you here for more than a few days once a year. Someone might see you and recognize you. It’s safer for both of us if you go back to Rock Creek with Joseph and Sara. Thank God you don’t remember the terror, darling, but I do. I miss you dreadfully, but it’s better if you stick to the yearly visits.”

Shanna rubbed her sleeve against the little window of the Overland Express as it chugged its way toward Pine Bluffs. She peered through the cloudy glass hoping to see out. She wanted to look at something else besides the happy couple in front of her. Or the young family sitting two rows back. She pretended she didn’t notice the two brothers who sat shoulder to shoulder to her left, or the elderly couple whispering together in the far corner. Everyone had someone. Everyone but her. Shanna blinked back tears. She thought that this year she could stay in Omaha. She counted on it. She didn’t want to go back to Rock Creek and face Daniel Anderson. Not after he broke their engagement and humiliated her in front of the whole town. She didn’t want to face Delphine Otis, either. Delphine lived to torment her. She did a pretty good job of it, too. Shanna sighed. She would rather take on whatever terror frightened Mama, than face the people of Rock Creek.

 The little boy two rows back dropped his ball. It rolled toward Shanna and stopped by her feet. Smiling, Shanna bent to retrieve it. She looked into the little boy’s chocolate brown eyes and everything went black.

Shanna regained consciousness sometime later. She could smell dirt and smoke. There was no sound except the beating of her own heart in her ears. Nothing stirred. Nothing moved. She winced at a blinding pain in her head. God, she hurt. Where was she? Where was the smoke coming from? She blinked her eyes trying to see. Someone’s hands rolled her onto her back,

A smooth, husky voice murmured, “You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

Shanna threw an arm over her eyes to protect them from the sudden glare of the sun. Did she know a man with a husky drawl? She didn’t think so. She moved her arm to get a peek at him and winced. She caught sight of a bulky figure before the sun blinded her, and her eyes watered. Hastily, she covered them again. She didn’t want to move. She listened. Everything was quiet. Did the man go? She decided she didn’t care. She was hot as all get out, and sticky. Her head throbbed. Every part of her body ached. Shanna wrinkled her brow. Where the hell am I? She blinked and reached tentative fingers to the sore spot on her head. She wasn’t bleeding. A movement above her caught her eye. So, the man hadn’t gone away. She could hear him moving in the grass beside her. She heard a metallic click as the hammer of a gun was pulled back right above her. Shanna moved her arm and looked up. She gazed into the barrel of a pistol. It loomed in front of her face. It looked about ten feet long and six feet wide with a gaping black center. Her heart stopped. Funny how guns looked bigger than life when they were pointed at you. Shanna’s mouth went dry. Who the hell would want to shoot me? Cautiously, she moved her arm away from her face and gazed past the gun at the giant man holding it. She met the ice blue stare of a scruffy, blond-haired man. He knelt by her side frowning ferociously. He must be the owner of the smooth, husky drawl.

Shanna swallowed. “Who are you, mister, and why are you pointing your gun at me?” She gazed at him trying to remember who he was, or why he wanted to shoot her.

“You know why, Jenna,” the man answered. His eyes narrowed on her face. Shanna’s throat tightened. He stared at her for a long minute, and then he got to his feet. He searched the area around them on every side. The pistol moved with him. She let out a shaky breath when he moved his gun away from her. Her heart started to beat again. Shanna sat up, keeping her eyes on the stranger. He was wound as tight as a rattlesnake ready to strike. Dizziness forced her to drop her head for a minute. The man turned slowly in every direction. He surveyed the area carefully, his gun still cocked in his hand. Cautiously, Shanna slipped her hand into the pocket of Aunt Sara’s old dress and through the hole in the bottom. Her hand closed around the ivory handle of the knife she wore strapped to her thigh.

She frowned up at the man, hoping he didn’t see her hand moving inside her pocket. She had no idea where she was, or why this stranger had his gun pointed in her direction. There was no way in hell she was going down without a fight. He stared down at her. He pointed the gun at her head, again. It was still cocked. Shanna quit breathing.

“Where are they, Jenna?” the man asked.

“Where are who?” she answered slowly inching her knife forward.

“Your men. Where are your men?”

“What men?” She moved her knife to the opening in her pocket.

He waved his gun in her face. “You know what men. Answer the question.” The big man said the words between clenched teeth. He leaned toward her until the barrel of his gun touched her nose. He was angry if the muscle working back and forth in his jaw was any sign.

“I don’t have any men,” she answered without blinking. Her mind searched for any memory of him, or a woman named Jenna. She drew a blank.

He stood up and scanned the area around them, again. He took his revolver with him. “I know they’re here somewhere,” he said. His gaze swiveled back to her. He leaned forward, caught her wrist in one big hand, and squeezed. “You still have a knife strapped to your thigh?” he asked. His eyes narrowed on her face.

 “No,” Shanna lied. She barely had time to shove it back into the scabbard before he pulled her hand out and glared at her empty fingers. How the hell did he know about her knife? Her blade was the only defense she had.

 The big man stared at her for several minutes. “If I find out you’re lying to me, you’ll regret it,” he threatened.

Shanna held still for a few minutes. Who was he? How did he know she wore a knife on her thigh? She glanced at his pistol and swallowed. She decided to stay quiet until she figured out who he was and what he wanted.

 “How long have you been this far west?” he asked studying her face. “Why are you here?” He narrowed his gaze on her. “What could you possibly want in the middle of Wyoming territory?” he murmured. His sharp gaze swept over her again. “Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll tell the judge you cooperated. It’s the best offer you’re getting from me.”

Shanna didn’t answer. The man was out of his mind. He wasn’t making any sense. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead and took the opportunity to stare back at him. He was handsome with dirty blond hair, a coating of whiskers, and piercing blue eyes. He wore a dirty blue shirt stretched tight over his broad shoulders. One sleeve was missing, revealing a large, bronzed bicep. Her gaze caught on the bulging muscle. His skin looked as smooth and golden as melted caramel. She licked her lips. He sure is big. Shanna’s gaze traveled over his flat stomach and focused on the missing sleeve tied around his massive thigh. The giant man was injured. The sleeve around his thigh was bloody.

“I’m in the middle of Wyoming Territory because I live here. What I want is to go home. I don’t know why a judge would care where I am or what I’m doing.” Shanna locked gazes with him. “I think you hit your head, or you’ve gone loco in the sun. You’re not making any sense. Now, let me go.”

He glared at her. He didn’t believe her. She could see it in his expression. She got unsteadily to her feet. Every part of her ached. Shanna swayed. She put a hand to her head to stop the dizziness.

“Where are they? I won’t ask again, Jenna,” he said softly.

Shanna shivered. When he spoke soft, it scared her to death. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister. I do not know you, and I do not have any men. You’ve got the wrong girl. My name is Shanna, not Jenna. I haven’t done anything wrong.” She hoped she sounded stronger than she felt. As soon as her head quit spinning, she’d figure out what to do with him.

“I know you remember. Quit playing games, Jenna, and answer the question.” He let the hammer down slow on his gun and put it back in its holster. “Tell me what I want to know, and I won’t hurt you.” His voice was smooth as Tennessee whisky. It wrapped around her and settled in her stomach. His blue eyes gazed into hers, and Shanna nearly swooned on the spot. With his gun safely in its holster and no longer distracting her, she realized he was more than handsome. He was perfect.

Her mouth dried, and her palms started to sweat. She must have hit her head hard. She dropped her gaze and sucked in some air. She couldn’t remember what she was saying. This is crazy! Who the hell is this man? “I don’t remember you because I don’t know you.” It was the truth. She would have remembered a man like him.

The man laughed.

Shanna turned away from the husky sound of his voice. It warmed her through. The last time a handsome man paid attention to her, she jumped in with her whole heart and both feet. She almost drowned. Best get some distance between her and the stranger before she did something she regretted. She needed to head for home as soon as she figured out where the heck she was. Shanna turned around. Her eyes widened when she spotted the mess. A train lay on its side not fifty feet away. Debris and twisted metal were everywhere. It looked like an explosion split the train in two and scattered pieces of it all over the countryside. Black smoke billowed from a roaring fire licking away at the cars. Now she knew why she hurt so badly. She remembered everything, her mother, the train ride, the little boy and his ball, and the explosion. Shanna choked back a sob. The last thing she remembered was handing the ball back to the little, brown-eyed boy. She thought of the other passengers.

“Did anybody else make it?” Shanna whispered.

 “No.” His words were clipped. He stared at her. “I don’t know how you sleep at night after the things you’ve done. Most people couldn’t.”

Shanna looked over at him. “I sleep fine,” she lied. She would if her life wasn’t so complicated.

“You’re going to prison if it’s the last thing I do on God’s green earth,” he promised.

Shanna stared at him in disbelief. The man was several bullets shy of a loaded barrel. Then she frowned. It occurred to her this delusional man might have a reason for being so aggressive. He might be connected to Mama. Was he part of Mama’s secret?

“Do you know Mary Johnston, from Omaha, Nebraska?” She watched him intently, searching for recognition. Was he the reason Mama sent her back to Rock Creek instead of letting her stay in Omaha? Was Mama’s secret the reason he pulled a gun on her?

The man’s gaze narrowed. He looked at Shanna suspiciously. “Who the hell is Mary Johnston?” His hand dropped to the butt of his gun, pulling it from the holster. He scanned the area around them again.

Shanna shrugged. It was worth a shot. The man looked as surprised by the name as she was when she opened her eyes with his pistol pointing at her. He probably didn’t know who his own mother was, let alone hers. She looked toward the train once more, and suddenly it dawned on her. She was stranded out on the prairie, alone. Well, except for the giant cowboy with the delusional mind and smoky voice. Granted, he was handsome as all get out, but he was also too gun happy. It took the edge off his good looks. Shanna kicked at a clump of sagebrush and then looked at the sky. It was late afternoon and high time to skedaddle. Nobody would be coming to look for her, so she’d best get a move on. Uncle Joseph and Aunt Sara would throw a party if she didn’t show up. They didn’t like taking her in any more than she liked being there. And Daniel Anderson? Daniel would make some mean comment, and then he and Delphine would laugh. Delphine. Shanna frowned. Delphine Otis would gloat over her demise. She’d think she won, too. The thought stopped Shanna for a second or two. She didn’t know why she cared. Delphine Otis could take a wild train ride to Hades.

      Then she thought of Rose. Rose would worry. Shanna smiled. Rose Tanner was her best friend and the only good thing about Rock Creek. If Shanna didn’t make it home, Rose would scare up a search party and come looking for her, one way or another. Shanna turned toward the wreckage. She had a long way to go before she got back to Rock Creek, and on foot, it would be infinitely longer.

“Who is Mary Johnston and how does she tie in with you and your men?” the man asked again.

“She doesn’t. Forget I asked,” Shanna said, walking away. She had too much to do and a long way to get there.



“A Fallacious Seduction is a fantastic historical western romance I couldn’t put down…Virginia Barlow writes with honesty and shares what life was life for many women on the frontier. The descriptive narration paints a raw picture of the wild west which swept me away. The plot moves at a good pace with plenty of conflicts, misunderstandings and colorful characters. There’s a lot going on in this story but at the heart of it is Shanna and Reese. The romance between these two is classic enemies-to-lovers but with a fun western twist. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the ending. If you’re looking for a feisty heroine in the wild west frontier, pick up A Fallacious Seduction. Fans of Cynthia Wright will love this tale. Highly recommend! “-N.N. Light’s Book Heaven

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Virginia Barlow has a zest for life. She has accomplished many goals including raising a large family. She has been a bookkeeper, a hostess, an EMT-I, a lieutenant in the local fire department, a manager and an author. She likes to knit, crochet, quilt and sew. She is funny, talented and very creative. Virginia looks at life through rose colored glasses and owns it. She is happiest when is at her computer immersed in her current novel. She loves to sip coffee or wine while she contemplates whether to kill off characters in her book or not. Virginia is a good friend and has an endless supply of love for friends and family.

Website: https://www.virginia-barlow.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Virgini3514212

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