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A Moment in Time

Shades of Rose  -- By Deb Stover
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No Place for A Lady

This title was originally released in 2001

The Wild West Was No Place For A Lady...

Irish maid Molly Riordan never thought she would thank her lucky stars when her mistress indulged in one night's indiscretion with a masked American at a costume ball. But now Lady Elizabeth Summersby has a child on the way-and a fiancé waiting in the wilds of the American West. For Molly, accompanying Lady Elizabeth on an unexpected adventure also means the chance to find her own father, who fled across the ocean years ago to make his fortune. But then a routine stagecoach stop in Colorado turns into a mishap of epic proportions when Lady Elizabeth is kidnapped-and the man who finds Molly believes she is his bride-to-be! ...until he made her feel like a woman.

Dirk Ballinger is accustomed to cleaning up the messes made by his no-good half-brother, and while marrying a woman Ray Lovejoy seduced may be a first, it's still Dirk's duty. There's the family honor to consider, and a child with Ballinger blood to raise. Yet Dirk's bride is far from the wilted English rose he expected. Instead, she's a fiery lass with an Irish lilt who insists she's not Elizabeth Summersby at all! Dirk can't decide if it matters, because soon his lovely wife is the only woman he wants... .

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toppicgif4 1/2 Stars! A Romantic Times "Top Pick"  

" With her trademark originality, Deb Stover delivers another winner. No Place For A Lady will hold readers spellbound with swift action, riveting drama, and of course a romance to sigh for."
~Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs "

...a completely enjoyable read filled with warm and loving characters, and enough sexual electricity to power California."
~Terrie Figueroa, Romance Reviews Today

" Put quite simply, this is an outstanding read, one that happened to
get this reviewer out of her reading slump. Brava, Ms. Stover.
Long live the western historical romance!"
~Maudeen Wachsmith,  www.whatimreading.com

" This is Deb Stover at her very best! This story has it all - action, adventure, mystery and most of all not one but several romances intertwined in this most amazing book. Oh and the love scenes just sizzle!"
~Kathy Boswell, The Best  Reviews

" This tale is one frolicking adventure after another. If you’re not laughing, you’re weeping. Ms. Stover has penned a remarkable journey that will leave its mark upon your heart."
~ Old Book Barn Gazette 

" From beginning to ending this story could not be a more perfect romance. It has love, compassion, depth, as I said PERFECT. Molly Riordan and Dirk Ballinger will have you cheering for more, as you experience their love as well as the six other characters' love as the complete tale unfolds. Dirk is one hero who will bring back the hope in your heart simply because he has the biggest heart in the world. Don't miss this extraordinary story. Ms. Stover once again brings in another FANTASTIC read!!!
5 Bells!!!"
~ Donita  Lawrence, Bell, Book, & Candle

" The high mountains and passes of Colorado are NO PLACE FOR A LADY in Deb Stover's latest achievement. Webs of deception and delightful conundrums result in a passionate romance with marvelous depth. The secondary plots weave a complexity that reflects and strengthens the main plot with powerful characterizations and startling details. Indeed, Stover is a writer of graceful imagination and intense passion, creating masterful work romance lovers will find enchanting. Sexy and irresistible, NO PLACE FOR A LADY comes very highly recommended." ~ Cindy  Penn,  WordWeaving

" A riveting, fast-paced historical romance from an author who knows how to dream up stories to touch the heart. Ms. Stover pits a hot tempered, enderaring heroine against an honorable, sexy hero and lets the sparks fly. She then surrounds them with lively characters, an exciting plot, lots of surprises, and hot passionate love scenes. This book is impossible to put down and the characters hard to forget. Do not pass this one up."
~ Rendezvous

" I got a Rocky Mountain High after reading Deb Stover’s NO PLACE FOR A LADY. It’s fresh, exciting and has more twists and turns and surprises than a rattlesnake. Expect not one but three romances. Oh boy! It’s a humdinger of a story you never want to end."
~ Suzanne Coleburn, Belles and Beaux of Romance



Chapter One 

London, 1888.

A pity Scotland Yard frowned on the practice of strangling one's employer. Molly Riordan couldn't count the number of times she'd struggled against that urge during her eleven years in Lady Elizabeth Summersby's service. 

Like today... 

Lady Elizabeth pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. " I'm ruined. How could this have happened to me?"  

Molly gave the sash at her mistress's expanding waistline an extra tug and censored the colorful description she desperately wanted to offer. She could just imagine the horrified expression on the woman's face at hearing her carnal act described in intricate detail. 

" The deed's done, my lady," she said quietly. " You'll be married soon." After all, Lady Elizabeth was only getting what she deserved for her imprudent behavior. 

" Don't remind me," Lady Elizabeth said with a delicate shudder. " Well, at least he's rich." She walked away just as Molly finished tying the sash, then turned sideways to view herself in the mirror. " I really didn't think the one time could--would..."  

" Oh, sometimes it takes only once." Molly gave a dramatic sigh. " You know about the new girl Cook hired, don't you?"  

Lady Elizabeth furrowed her usually flawless brow and shot Molly a scathing glare. " Are you suggesting I'm anything like that common--like her?"

No, young Annie might be foolish, but at least she has a heart. Molly chewed the inside of her cheek. She couldn't place her position at risk, no matter how sweet the truth might taste tripping off her tongue. 

" No, my lady." Molly forced a solemn expression--no easy task, considering her true feelings. " Young Annie claimed the bloke never even got it all the way in, and look what happened to--"  

" Enough!" Openly horrified, Lady Elizabeth glowered at Molly, then turned her attention back to her rather pale reflection in the mirror. She studied her profile again, patting her abdomen and tilting her head to the side in a thoughtful manner. 

Swallowing her grin, Molly placed the silver brush and comb set back on the dressing table and stepped nearer. What had Lady Elizabeth expected? She'd been easily persuaded to enter the rogue's carriage during the party. Of course, duty required that Molly remain nearby in the event her mistress had needed her for anything. And as compensation for her staunch allegiance, she'd overheard every sound from inside the carriage. She would never forget the way Lady Elizabeth had giggled and carried on while the big American had his way with her. 

" It's too big. It won't fit," Lady Elizabeth had cried. 

" Yeah, it's fair size, darlin', but we'll make it fit," the American had boasted while Molly remained secreted behind the carriage, stifling her laughter and shock. 

She resisted the urge to laugh aloud now as Lady Elizabeth's feeble complaints flashed through her mind anew. Whenever she resented her mistress's imperious air, Molly could summon her memories of that night and feel justice had been served, but only because Lady Elizabeth had been so willing. Had Molly detected any indication that the American was forcing Lady Elizabeth into the carriage, her reaction would have been far different, despite her personal dislike for the woman. 

No matter how much Lady Elizabeth deserved her fate, Molly couldn't prevent far more than a twinge of remorse. She hadn't been reared to think ill of people. Well, she'd been true to her upbringing toward everyone she'd ever known, except this one person. If Gram had known Lady Elizabeth, surely even she could forgive Molly this one trespass. 

If the old woman had lived a while longer, Molly could have completed her education. She'd be a governess now, rather than a lady's maid. Her training, her proper speech, her personal preferences all pointed in that direction, but again fate had intervened. 

Lady Elizabeth's voice intruded on Molly's memories. " The man didn't even have the decency to come back to marry me here."  

" 'Tis a great distance, and he sent enough funds for first class passage, my lady." Molly shrugged, wondering if the American actually realized what sort of wife he was acquiring for one night's dalliance. Somehow, that seemed unlikely. " Even your father seems satisfied that Mr. Ballinger is an honorable man."  

" Yes, I know. Since Father's lost his money--ah, but never mind that." The woman deftly changed the subject as if every servant in the place didn't already know about his lordship's financial ruin. " I'll never drink champagne again." Lady Elizabeth wrinkled her face in disgust. " A dreadfully dangerous potion. Oh, and the worst part of all..."  

" Aye, my lady?" Molly forced her expression to remain passive. 

" I...I can't remember what he looks like."  

Feigning shock, Molly covered her mouth again and opened her eyes as wide as possible. " You really don't remember?"  

" Oh, I remember...some things." Lady Elizabeth's face flushed crimson. " It was a costume ball, if you remember, Molly. Everyone was masked."  

" Aye, 'tis true enough." Molly vividly remembered the tall American, with his sleek black hair and tan leather mask surrounding eyes as green as any she'd ever seen--like emeralds. " I don't recall seeing him without his mask either, now that I think of it, my lady."  

" He took it off later, but it was dark." Lady Elizabeth reddened even more. " Oh, do tell me, Molly. Does the...the child show yet?"  

Lady Elizabeth's anxious query made Molly grin again. Taking a deep breath to bring her wicked thoughts under control, Molly walked over to stand directly behind her mistress, making a great show of inspecting her ladyship's profile in the mirror. " Aye, my lady, I fear it does, but only a trifle."  

" Oh, I am truly ruined. Does it really?"  

At Molly's solemn nod, Lady Elizabeth gasped--a truly priceless moment. Guilt prodded Molly, but she forcibly quelled it. All the years of verbal abuse she'd taken from this selfish young woman were almost worth the sheer agony she saw flashing through Lady Elizabeth's eyes now. Almost. No, she refused to feel guilty now. 

" You'll be married soon," Molly said simply. " What does it matter that the babe will come a few months early?"  

" Months, not weeks." Lady Elizabeth turned to stare at her own reflection. " How will I ever explain it?"  

" No one here need ever know about the date of the baby's birth, my lady," Molly said quietly, more concerned with the stigma to the child than Lady Elizabeth. 

" But the Americans will know." Lady Elizabeth rolled her eyes and sighed again. 

Molly couldn't resist watching her employer's panic-stricken expression in the mirror. As always, Lady Elizabeth's hair was neatly pinned at the nape, while a few tendrils artfully brushed her cheekbones. If one didn't know better, one might believe Lady Elizabeth had conspired for her brown eyes and hair to match. She was beautiful...and she knew it. If only Molly could be as beautiful. 

Since shortly after her fourteenth birthday, she had served as Lady Elizabeth's personal maid. Eleven years--each and every one of them pure torture. 

'Tis wrong to take pleasure in another's misfortune. Her dear departed grandmother's words haunted Molly, layering guilt upon unwanted guilt. 

Molly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror over the bride's shoulder, jarring her back to the present. The contrast between Lady Elizabeth's soft coloring and Molly's raven dark hair and bright blue eyes was startling in such close proximity. She stared for several moments, wondering if she could be beautiful, too. 

Stunned by her discovery, Molly smiled, unable to draw her gaze from the mirror before it was too late. 

" What are you smirking at, Molly?" Lady Elizabeth asked sharply. " Do you find this tragedy amusing?"  

" No, my lady," Molly lied, lowering her guilty gaze in an attempt to conceal her true feelings. 

" I'd advise you to remember where we're going, Molly Riordan, if you know what's good for you." Lady Elizabeth turned slowly and lifted her chin a notch to glower at her maid, who stood a few inches taller than her mistress. " America," she whispered with a shudder. " We'll probably be scalped before we even reach Mr. Ballinger's ranch. Imagine, me living on a...a cattle ranch. With cows, Molly. Cows."  

Which you'll bear a remarkable resemblance to in no time at all. Molly's lips twitched. 

Still, their impending journey sounded thrilling to Molly, and the thought of seeing America made her toes literally curl in anticipation. This promised to be quite an adventure. Especially watching her ladyship adjust to being a rancher's wife in the wilds of Colorado. 

Of course, Molly had her own selfish reason for wanting to go. Was her da still there? The last letter she'd received had arrived shortly before her grandmother's death. Since entering Lady Elizabeth's service, Molly had received no word at all from Niall Riordan. She didn't even know if he was still alive. But soon she'd have the chance to search for him herself. 

Colorado. Just the name of their destination made Molly's blood thrum through her body. She couldn't wait. Was this how Da had felt before embarking on his journey to America? Finally, something exciting was going to happen to Molly Riordan. 

And, no doubt, to Lady Elizabeth Summersby.