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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“Nicho—” The stroke cut off the words, and with a choked sob, she reached for the buttons that held her work clothes up. She’d rather liked the idea of wearing britches. At the moment, though, having to be the one to shed the minimum protection they offered was utterly humiliating. With more sobs, she let the loose denim slip down her thighs.

“Bend over,” he said, taking her arm and forcing her forward towards the short pile of hay bales. She went over, hardly able to catch her breath, as hard as she was crying, even before he reached in and unbuttoned the two buttons holding the back of the union suit closed. Even with everything she knew was coming, the feel of his knuckles brushing against her skin as he made certain as much of her backside was exposed sent those little sparks through her. A hand settling on her back and him shifting to the side was all the warning she had before the strap cut down on her bare skin.

Crying out, Noella reached forward and attempted to pull her ass out of reach. Nicholas increased the pressure on her back, holding her in place for the next six strokes. Unable to pull forward, she tried to push back. Again, one had held her in place while the other wielded the heavy piece of harness. She felt it fall four more times, then a long pause, giving her the chance to suck in one deep breath before just the touch of the smooth strap pushed it out. But it remained just a touch, a threat that held her in place even as he stepped away. Noella heard his footsteps as he moved around but she remained as he’d placed her, letting the prickly straw absorb her tears and her sobs. It was Poe’s soft muzzle nudging her shoulder which prompted her to look up and then around.

Nicholas stood holding onto the stall door as he bent in half, taking several deep breaths. Through the water lens of tears, she watched as he stood, leaned back and looked up at the hole she’d fallen through before again bending in half. When he finally stood and let go, his eyes settled right on her. Only because the horse was still nibbling at her arm, did she remain standing in place as he approached.

“I won’t,” he ground out, taking her arm and jerking her into his arms. “Lose you too. If I gotta paint that back porch red every damn day, I won’t lose you.” His arms came around her, crushing her against his chest, but one hand slipped down and, taking a hand full of her battered ass, squeezed hard.

“Nicholas,” she yelled, coming up on her toes to try to avoid the pain. Pain she already knew that if it continued would set a different kind of fire burning in her.

“I won’t lose you,” he stated emphatically, before bending and putting his shoulder in her gut, lifting her like a sack of grain over his shoulder, and turning to leave the barn.

He carried her all the way to the front porch before setting her down and briskly commanding her to get in her town clothes and walking away. She hadn’t noticed until she tried to take a step that her pants were still around her ankles. Rather than pull them up and feel that against her ass, she slipped them over her feet and made to obey her husband. And the way she felt maybe for the last time.