Seduced by An Angel
Velvet Lies Series
Genre: Western Historical Romance with paranormal elements (ghosts and a clairvoyant heroine)
Publisher: ePublishing Works
Date of Publication: Aug. 28, 2013
Kentucky belle Seraphina Jones craves a dashing stranger worth kissing. When she spies her handsome, half-naked hired hand at the riverbank, she thinks her dreams of romance have come true. But this Texican is wanted for murder.
Jesse Quaid can't let Sera's sweet kisses distract him from rendezvousing with Cass, a childhood friend, to clear his name of a crime he didn't commit. But then a case of mistaken identity turns Cass into Jesse's deadliest rival for Sera's heart.
Now, Sera must find a way to end the feud before the man she loves is lost forever.
Book 1: SCOUNDREL FOR HIRE
Book 2: HIS WICKED DREAM
Book 3: SEDUCED BY AN ANGEL
Book 4: DEVIL IN TEXAS (Available 2014)
Seduced by an Angel
Lincoln County, KY
"A preacher's wife has no business riding around on the back of a horse, especially one as high-strung as a thoroughbred," grumbled the mountain-sized man in the elegantly tailored, black broadcloth.
"I'll have you know, Michael Jones," retorted his spirited young companion, a petite southern belle with a heart-shaped face, "I shall not be rushed into marrying some fuddy-duddy preacher just because you would rather chase your new wife around the bedroom rather that act as a respectable guardian to me."
Michael's clean-shaven face turned crimson. "Seraphina, that is not only ludicrous, that's offens—"
"And secondly," Sera interrupted breezily, tossing her blue-black ringlets, "you're not footing the bill for my filly. My brother who loves me is."
Straining his ears to eavesdrop on this family dispute, Jesse Quaid stroked the nose of the frisky filly in question and murmured endearments to silence her whickering. The rangy, trail-weathered Texican considered himself a good judge of horseflesh, and he knew that Michael Jones had accurately assessed the yearling's temperament after watching her perform in the pre-auction parade around the racetrack at Sportsman's Hill.
On the other hand, Jesse had always possessed a knack for handling horses. He'd sneaked into Tempest's stall to acquaint himself with the coal-black mischief-maker so he could pose as the filly's trainer. Jesse was hoping this ploy would finally let him meet Seraphina Jones.
For nearly a month, Great Spirit had been sending him dreams of a dark-haired White Woman riding astride a flying raptor. Jesse's Cherokee grandmother had taught him to look for signs in his waking world when the Eagle Messenger of Great Spirit appeared in his sleeping world. Still, Jesse had never imagined that Sera was real.
Then, earlier that morning, Jesse had spied her from across the street as she and her chaperones had exited the Gables Hotel. Stunned to observe his dream in the flesh, Jesse had broken one of his cardinal rules of self-preservation: he'd risked being recognized in a crowd. Discreetly trailing Sera, he'd entered a restaurant to watch her eat breakfast with her sister-in-law. He'd strolled across the street as she'd window-shopped with her brother along Stanford's busy commercial district. He'd tracked her family's private carriage to the yearling auction at Sportsman's Hill.
All of this reconnoitering had taught Jesse a great deal about the Jones family, and more importantly, about the vivacious Sera. He knew that she considered herself a proponent of the Woman's Reform Movement, and that she was hoping to vote in a presidential election someday. He knew that she had a soft spot for a 16-year-old orphan, named Collie, who'd been failing to report for his chores on the Jones's property. He knew that she was excited to become an aunt to the baby that her sister-in-law, Eden, was due to birth in six months.
Jesse had observed that Sera freckled in the sun; that she was fond of flavored ices; that she favored gardenia perfume; and that she never removed her white matinee gloves, even if she was buttering cornbread at a restaurant.
This observation had been Jesse's first clue, explaining why Great Spirit had led him to Sera.
Jesse's second clue had been Sera's collapse in the milliner's stairwell. The incident had occurred shortly after lunch, in plain view of Stanford's commercial district—or rather, it would have, if her brother, Rafe, hadn't sheltered her so expertly with his body. Sera had emerged from the hat shop without her right glove. By the time Rafe had noticed that the glove was missing from her hand, Sera's fingers had already closed over the wrought iron banister.
In a flash, the color had drained from her face. Her knees had buckled. Even from Jesse's hiding place, some ten yards away, he could see Sera's bright, curious eyes grow dull and sky-blue vacant.
"Sera!" Rafe cried, dropping her hatbox and squatting in the stairwell beside her. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Th-the milliner's assistant," Sera half-marveled, half-gasped. "She let a man put his hand on her bodice! Right in this stairwell, during some late, dark night! Oooh. Sloppy. After a kiss like that, Preacher Prescott would have that young woman cleansing her soul for the rest of her natural born—uh-oh. Now that vulgar young man is hiking Abigail's skirts up above her—" Sera choked, her eyes growing as round as terrapin shells. "Abby's not wearing any bloomers!"
During the course of this monologue, Rafe's expression had dissolved from worried, to amused, to comically distressed. He grabbed his kid sister's white-knuckled hand and gently but persistently began to pry her fingers from the banister.
"Sera," he crooned, "let go now. Let go, my angel. You're having one of your Episodes. Did you bring your Spirits of Hartshorn? Give me your reticule."
Sera collapsed on her buttocks in a heap of China-blue damask. She was knuckling her eyeballs. "Why'd you do that?" she groused, grimacing at the smelling salts that Rafe had uncapped. "I might have learned something!"
"That's precisely what I was afraid of."
Sera tossed her saucy curls. "And you pride yourself on being the Black Sheep of the family. Since when did you turn into the fluffy white, bleating kind?"
"Now, now. No hitting below the belt," Rafe drawled, returning the bottle of salts to her reticule.
"Did you used to kiss your sweethearts like that?" she asked wistfully.
"You've become a lousy liar."
"Ah. My nefarious plot to lull you into a false sense of security is working. Are you feeling better?"
The color had returned to her cheeks. She grinned, letting him help her to her feet. "You're so much more fun as a chaperone than Michael."
"Guilty as charged."
"Michael would've shoved a tongue depressor down my throat. Or worse, a sedative."
"Doctors can be such pills."
"He's half-convinced I'm possessed by demons," she confided unhappily.
"Nonsense." Rafe patted the hand that she'd placed on the impeccable sleeve of his pearl-gray, swallowtail coat. "Michael thinks you're sick. Doctors are inclined to think that way. It pays the bills."
"What do you think?" she ventured, biting her lip. Her expression was pleading as she gazed into her tawny-haired brother's shuttered face.
"I think you're an adorable imp," Rafe teased glibly.
Sera sighed, looking troubled. But she quickly hid the truth of her feelings behind a playful, well-rehearsed smile. "Well, you would be the perfect judge of that, Raphael Jones. I daresay the walls in the Louisville Theater are still stained tomato-red after you played Shakespeare's Juliet. Tell me. Did you draw upon that balcony scene to teach Silver how to spark? Or did she already know how to kiss before you married her?"
Rafe's golden tan slowly turned a shade of pink. "Those are not the sorts of questions that you should be asking about your sister-in-law."
Sera rolled her eyes. "Don't go turning all growly and Michael-like on me. I can't very well get married without learning something about kissing. Collie's too young to teach me. Eden's too private. Michael's too... well, Michael. And Aunt Claudia would rather fill a man full of buckshot than... Raphael Jones, I do declare. You're blushing!"
Recalling Rafe's embarrassment, Jesse chuckled to himself. He didn't normally seek out the company of wide-eyed innocents who were eager to be kissed. In truth, Jesse avoided female entanglements for the same reason that he had never put down roots in any civilized place. An outlaw couldn't be too careful.
Much to Jesse's irritation, however, his best friend of 11 years didn't worry about attracting attention. Cass liked to cut his wolf loose—so to speak—whenever he rode into a new town. As a result, the younger man had been arrested the night before on yet another public intoxication charge. Since Cass couldn't afford the $25 fine, he was expecting Jesse to break him out of jail after nightfall. Instead, Jesse had been seriously considered losing himself in the mountains, to teach the unrepentant Cass a lesson.
Fortunately for Cass, Great Spirit had conspired to keep Jesse in Stanford by presenting him with the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the Eagle Messenger from his dreams. Somehow, Jesse had to befriend Sera. He was hoping that posing as a horse trainer would lower her guard—and Michael's.
Jesse's beautiful Eagle Messenger stood only 20 yards away in the sun-beaten dust of the stable yard. She was arguing with her towering, 30-something chaperone, who outweighed Jesse by at least 25 pounds.
Jesse steeled himself to patience, the kind of patience that had caused Cass to dub him "Lynx." Jesse wasn't the kind of man who let physical size intimidate him, but he was sensitive to the fact that he was wanted by the law. Whatever he said or did to Michael Jones in the next few minutes could irrevocably change his life.
With the silent tenacity of his bob-tailed namesake, Jesse waited in the shadows of the stall for Sera to enter the stable. He didn't think that she or Michael could see him; they were standing directly outside the open door of the building, beyond which stretched a white picket fence, a pasture of blue-green grasses, a milling crowd of elegantly dressed bidders, and the ribbon-festooned stage of the empty auction block.
The purple parasol that Sera twirled so irritably in her gloved hands gave her and her brother a modicum of relief from the midday heat. Still, Sera must have been pretty fired up to ignore the sticky discomfort of her lavender-silk walking dress and God-only-knew how many pounds of underwear. Even Michael's chiseled features were ruddy and moist.
Observing them from his comparatively cool stall, Jesse kept his Stetson tipped and his face shadowed, a strategy born more from habit than need. Sera and Michael were dressed in a gentrified manner, which suggested that they weren't inclined to converse with a drifter, who sported a three-day old beard, faded cotton work shirt, patched linen duster, and scuffed riding boots. Indeed, the Jones siblings were unlikely to notice, much less remember Jesse, unless he gave them some cause for alarm.
That's why Jesse had concealed his cartridge belt and the low-riding holster of his .45 by fastening several buttons on his duster. To Jesse's mind, appearing as a hired hand, rather than a hired gun, gave him the advantage. He wasn't yet ready to reveal his purpose for meeting Sera.
Sera hiked her chin and glared at Michael. "Because I don't want to ride a Tennessee Walker," she told him tartly. "Nor do I wish to ride a Morgan. I want to ride Tempest."
"Sera, be reasonable," her chaperone chided. "Tempest was sired to be a long-distance racer. Even a Quarter Horse would be better suited for your personal—"
"Tempest," Sera insisted stubbornly.
The filly tossed her head, as if she was aware that she was the bone of contention between the noisy humans outside. Jesse hushed the filly, hard-pressed not to chuckle as Tempest put on airs. Sera was proving much like the horse she adored.
"Trouble, brother?" drawled a dashing gentleman in an impeccably tailored, fawn-colored coat.
"Rafe!" Relief flooded Sera's face. She rounded on her tawny-haired brother as he strolled across the stable yard toward his bickering siblings. Rafe looked only slightly younger than Michael. However, Rafe's gilded complexion and hair made him hard to recognize as a Jones sibling.
Sera grabbed his arm and dragged him into the fray with a well-practiced pout. "Michael won't let me have the pony I want!"
Rafe halted beside his sister. He arched a mocking eyebrow at his taller, brawnier brother. "Michael, for shame. It's Sera's birthday."
Michael's brow darkened. Jesse had already observed that bad blood existed between the brothers; he just wasn't sure what the feud was about.
"While you're gallivanting around Aspen, piddling away the financial resources of your sorely misguided wife," Michael growled, "I shall be left behind to mend Sera's broken heart after your foolish thoroughbred breaks its leg on the rugged terrain of Blue Thunder Mountain. Assuming, of course," Michael added tartly, "that Tempest, the budding widowmaker, doesn't throw Sera headlong over a cliff and break her neck first."
"Spoken like a physician," Rafe countered, feigning a yawn. "We'll take your Diagnosis of Doom under advisement, Dr. Jones."
"No, we won't!" Sera butted in.
Michael ignored her. "The child is my responsibility—"
"I am not a child!"
"—And until she marries or turns 25, I am her legally appointed guardian—"
"Gabriel wouldn't have had to live with a guardian until he turned 25," Sera grumbled.
Rafe reacted as if he hadn't heard her. "You've turned into your father," he taunted his brother.
"Gabriel would have had the good sense to run away," Sera insisted more loudly.
Rafe rattled on: "The only difference between you and Jedidiah," he told Michael, "is that you carry a medical bag rather than a Bible to beat unfortunates with."
Sera stomped her foot. "Tempest and I are going to run away to a Hallam Street mansion, where we can drink sparkling champagne, and waltz until 4 a.m., and hire a British butler to serve us breakfast in bed!"
"So you're planning to move to Aspen and live with Rafe, is that it?" Michael asked Sera dryly.
Rafe's neck reddened. He shot his brother a withering glare.
"You don't want me either?" Sera demanded in wounded tones, retreating a step from Rafe.
He recovered his composure with a speed and an aplomb that would have made wily, sweet-talking Cass look like a bumpkin.
"Sera, my angel, you must never think that. As soon as Silver and I finish the renovations for the nursery—and Max finishes erecting his new theater, of course—I shall speak to Silver about your visit—"
Sera snapped her parasol closed to hear how neatly he'd foiled her plan. "You are both beastly brothers, and you have both ruined my birthday!"
"Sera," Rafe cajoled.
"Go away!" She jabbed her umbrella at each of them in turn. "Gabriel is the only brother who ever loved me! He brought me rainbows for my birthday. Did you know? I woke up to rainbows in my hotel room this morning!"
Rafe and Michael exchanged uncomfortable looks as Sera turned on the heels of her lavender kid boots and fled into the stable. Before Jesse could announce himself, much less exit Tempest's stall, Sera was tearing off her gloves, flinging open the door, and throwing her arms around the filly's neck.
The yearling whickered in sympathy while Sera's slender length trembled with suppressed sobs. Jesse fidgeted. He'd always been as worthless as a four-card flush when a woman started bawling.
A moment or so later, however, Sera must have sensed him doing his uncomfortable best to shrink into the darkest corner of the stall. Slowly, inevitably, she raised her tear-streaked cheeks from Tempest's mane. Eyes as blue as a robin's eggs blinked up at him through the slanting shafts of the Kentucky afternoon.
"Are you Tempest's jockey?" she whispered.
"No, ma'am," he said kindly, repressing a smile. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a jockey who stood six feet tall. "Just a trainer."
Sera sniffled, her forehead furrowing. Her glistening eyes raked him from hat to spurs before finally locking stares with him once more. "You're from Texas?"
"I lived there a spell."
He let his dimples peek. He'd always considered them his most appealing quality. Compared with Cass, whose fallen angel's smile fairly made women swoon, Jesse knew he was homely. But he possessed straight teeth, a full head of black hair, and eyes as green as a Chinaman's jade. As long as Cass wasn't in the same room, flirting and showboating, Jesse could hold his own with the women.
"What gave me away?" he drawled.
She dashed away a tear. The tiniest hint of humor tugged the corners of her mouth. "The way you dragged out 'ma'am' as if it had three syllables." She blushed a charming shade of rose. "Michael tells me a lady shouldn't speak so directly to a man. But you did ask. And I meant no offense, Texican."
"None taken, ma'am."
He was rewarded with a genuine—albeit watery—smile. Her whole face lit up when she smiled, making her porcelain skin glow from within.
"I haven't been having the best birthday," she confided, stroking Tempest's neck with a childlike yearning. "Rafe and Michael—they're my brothers—are arguing again. I wish they would stop. I told them both that all I really wanted for my birthday is for them to get along, but Rafe insisted on buying me a pony, which hurt Michael's pride, I think. Michael is watching every penny so he and Eden can have their baby..."
When he was silent, she glanced up shyly from beneath wet, spikey lashes. "Do you have brothers?"
"None that are bloodkin."
She nodded, sighing wistfully. "I guess brothers aren't the worst thing that can happen to a girl. Gabriel was a decent sort."
She chewed her bottom lip for a moment, as if trying to think of something else to keep their conversation going.
"I've never been to Texas," she confessed, "but Rafe wrote to me about it. He tried to be a cowboy there, but he wasn't much good with scorpions or tarantulas."
Jesse cleared his throat. He didn't dare laugh, not with the wealthy Aspenite arguing with his brother only 20 yards away.
Sera's forehead puckered again. Her expression turned deeply melancholy as she gripped Tempest's harness and kissed the filly's nose.
"I love her already, you know," she whispered, mostly to the filly. "We were destined to meet. Like the kid sister I never had. She needs me. And if she doesn't want to race, she shouldn't have to race. She's not fast enough, anyway. But the other bidders don't know that yet. They'll buy her, hoping she'll win them a fortune. When she doesn't, the beatings will begin. They'll whip her, and whip her, and whip..."
Sera shuddered. A tear spilled down her cheek.
Raising those unnaturally bright, blue eyes, she locked her stare with his. "I can't let that happen," she said in a husky, hurting voice. "Don't you see? I have to save her, Jesse."
Every hair on his head stood on end.
She guessed my name?
Chills scuttled up and down his spine.
How did she guess my name?
"Sera?" Rafe called, stepping into the stable. "Are you coming? The second half of the auction's about to begin."
She staggered a bit, as if Rafe's voice had broken her concentration. She blinked down at her gloveless hands. She looked confused.
Jesse recognized the signs of an interrupted trance state. His grandmother, Hiawassee, had been training as a Medicine Woman long before she'd left the Cherokee nation to marry a White man.
Instinctively, he offered Sera his arm to keep her from teetering and falling off her spiky heels.
But Michael, being a White man's doctor, saw signs of faintness in Sera's condition, not a rude awakening. "Dammit, Rafe. You got her over-agitated. She's having one of her Episodes."
Outpacing his brother, Michael tugged a small bottle from his coat pocket. As he screwed off the lid, the stench of Spirits of Hartshorn invaded Jesse's senses. He grimaced, imagining how those smelling salts would burn Sera's sensitive nose and eyes. He squeezed past her in the stall, protecting her with his body.
"Step aside," Michael barked. "I'm a doctor."
"She's all right, doc," Jesse said, striving for a jovial tone.
Michael ignored him. "Sera, where your gloves? Put them on."
Michael's command confirmed Jesse's suspicion that Sera's Episodes were triggered by touch and that she hadn't learned to control her clairvoyance—which Cherokee Shamans had dubbed the gift of half-sight.
Sera's brow furrowed. She appeared to be searching for her gloves. She glanced at the oats bag and then at the horse blanket that had been thrown across the wall of the stall. She didn't look entirely lucid, so Jesse stooped, shaking straw from the daintily-sewn, white kid before handing her gloves back to her.
Michael looked far from pleased by the solicitous attention that his sister was receiving from a stable hand. Although there wasn't enough space for a single other human in the stall, Michael stepped forward, hell-bent on pushing inside, anyway.
Rafe caught his brother's arm. "Give her room to breathe, for pity's sake."
"I think I'm better qualified to judge Sera's medical condition—"
"What the hell are you folks doing in that stall?" a booming voice challenged from the stable's doorway.
Jesse started, realizing that a small crowd of groomsmen and handlers were descending upon the building to lead the horses to the auction block.
Sera emitted a tiny gasp, snapping out of her daze. She ran to Michael's arms for protection, but her panicked gaze flew to Rafe. A sweaty, cigar-puffing man was stumping along the corridor of stalls, ignoring the curious horses that nickered or turned their heads to follow him.
Cigar Man shoved his way past Jesse. Squatting in Tempest's straw, he inspected her legs for sabotage. He must not have found any problems, though, because when he straightened, his grunt held a grudging note of satisfaction.
"You folks shouldn't be here," Cigar Man snapped as he untied the filly's lead rope. "The auction has started. The stable is off limits to bidders. Get along with you, now."
"Rafe," Sera whispered desperately, tugging on her gloves as they followed the procession of horse flesh into the stableyard.
"We'll rendezvous at the lemonade pavilion," he soothed, flashing a confident smile.
Michael frowned. "Now hold on a—"
"What I purchase for my sister on her birthday is none of your concern," Rafe told his brother curtly. He gave Jesse a nod before turning on his heel and cutting across the stable yard.
Michael scowled after him.
Jesse watched Rafe's golden head dissolve in the river of bonnets and bowlers that were bobbing toward the auction block.
"Yes, yes, Michael, I shouldn't have taken off my gloves," Sera was meanwhile apologizing. She rolled her eyes as he bent his dark head over her wrist and took her pulse. "I'm perfectly healthy," she insisted when he felt her forehead with the back of his hand.
"So are you," she retorted. "The day is hot. Don't you dare open that hideous bottle again, or I swear I shall cook you nothing but turnips for a month!"
Michael's lips quirked, belying the worry in his midnight-blue eyes. "Fortunately, I now have a wife to take pity on me in the kitchen."
Sera sniffed. "Not after I tell Eden how you tried to keep me from Rafe's birthday present."
Jesse cleared his throat, readjusting his hat brim to hide his amusement. "I reckon a filly as spirited as Tempest would be a handful for any new owner," he said diplomatically. "But thoroughbreds are smart. They can be retrained. Otherwise, they'd just get fat and lazy when their racing days are through.
"So if the lady has set her heart on taking Tempest home," he drawled, encouraged by Sera's enthusiastic bounce, "I'd be happy to turn that filly into a proper saddle horse, Doc."
Sera rewarded him with a smile that was pure sunshine.
Michael wasn't as easily influenced. He raked cool, appraising eyes along Jesse's rough-rider attire, his gaze focusing narrowly on the bulges beneath the linen duster. Fortunately, Jesse had won his coat in a poker game from a cattleman who'd been a good 20 pounds heavier than he. The fabric draped Jesse's cartridge belt and holster like a tent.
"And might I know whom I have the pleasure of addressing?" Michael countered coolly.
Jesse stuck out his hand. "The name's Jesse, Doc. Jesse Quaid."
Michael hesitated to take Jesse's hand, but the reason why wasn't immediately clear. Michael could have been averse to Jesse's interference in a family matter. Or he could have been reluctant to do business with a man whom he considered beneath his financial station.
Michael did finally overcome his hesitation, though. He shook Jesse's hand, which cued Jesse that today, at least, he looked White enough to pass inspection.
"Michael Jones," Michael introduced himself tersely. "I believe you've already met my sister, Miss Seraphina Jones."
Jesse tipped his hat. "A pleasure, ma'am."
Sera beamed at him as if he was some kind of hero, and he felt his insides warm. He wasn't accustomed to being favored so openly by respectable females—especially in front of their White menfolk.
"Mr. Quaid is Tempest's trainer," Sera told her brother enthusiastically. "He would be the perfect person to make Tempest safe for pleasure riding. Then you wouldn't have to worry about me riding her on Blue Thunder Mountain or anywhere else! Please, oh please, Michael. Hire Mr. Quaid for my birthday!"
"Sera, it could take weeks, maybe months, to retrain a thoroughbred—"
"Rafe will buy Tempest for me, Michael. And I do intend to ride her, with or without your permission. So the sooner you hire Mr. Quaid, the better."
Michael's expression suggested that he was torn between spanking her and pleasing her.
"The truth is," he told Jesse, "we don't live in Stanford. We live in Whitley County, about five miles east of Ywahoo Falls—although you may be better acquainted with the Sundowner Logging Company, which runs a sawmill about 12 miles north of our town, Blue Thunder."
Sera lives close to sacred Cherokee burial grounds?
A fresh set of chills gusted down Jesse's spine.
"Don't you fret, Doc," he drawled. "I'm used to traveling wherever the work leads. I'd be right pleased to spend as much time as it takes to train Tempest in Blue Thunder. The fact is, I've grown rather fond of that filly."
"You see, Michael?" Sera gushed. "Mr. Quaid is a Godsend. You must hire him quickly before some other bidder snatches him away."
Michael's jaw twitched. His business sense was clearly vying with his affection for his sister, who didn't know the first thing about negotiation and had all but dashed any advantage that Michael would normally have had, haggling over wages.
But Jesse didn't give a damn about the wages. And he didn't need room or board. He could camp in the hills and live off the land—which was his preference, anyway, since he sometimes encountered his own Wanted Poster whenever he rode into an unknown town.
No, the only thing that Jesse needed was to rid himself of the price on his head. And if that meant following Great Spirit's Eagle Messenger to Blue Thunder to clear his name of murder, then so be it.
"My sister drives a hard bargain, Mr. Quaid," Michael said dryly. He fished in his vest pocket and pulled out a white, embossed calling card. "If my brother secures the filly at the auction—"
"You mean when," Sera interjected with glee.
Michael's reluctant amusement threatened his Poker face.
"—Then we shall be leaving Stanford on the six o'clock train. You may meet me in the lobby of the Gables Hotel, about four o'clock this afternoon, to discuss your employment."
The six o'clock train? Jesse steeled himself against a show of alarm. Did that mean Michael would expect him to leave for Blue Thunder tonight with the Jones family?
How the hell am I supposed to break Cass out of jail between now and six p.m., in broad daylight?
"Much obliged," Jesse rallied, accepting the card.
Michael inclined his head. Sera turned to wave a jubilant goodbye as her brother escorted her toward the auction block.
Jesse drew a long, steadying breath. He brushed his thumb over the bold, black lettering of the calling card. A lot was riding on his business arrangement with Michael, not the least of which would be his ability to pass himself off as a law-abiding waddie, who drifted from town to town, seeking employment from ranchers.
Fortunately, Stanford was the furthest east that Jesse had ever ridden. When he'd conceived the idea of training Tempest, he'd been assuming that his reputation as a livestock rustler hadn't preceded him to Stanford. Now he had to hope that his Wanted Poster wasn't hanging in Blue Thunder.
And speaking of lawless behavior...
Cass's fondness for getting drunk and shooting up the town was going to be a problem in Blue Thunder, just as it had been in Fort Worth, Wichita, Dodge City, and now Stanford. But what was Jesse supposed to do? Leave Cass in Stanford's jail? Let some bounty hunter catch up with him?
Even if Cass hadn't saved Jesse's life eight times over the last 11 years, Jesse couldn't turn his back on the hothead. Cass was more like a kid brother than a friend.
Distracted by the commotion at the top of the bidding platform, Jesse watched the auctioneer's gavel come crashing down. He heard the booming, "Sold!" and Sera's delighted squeal as Rafe stepped forward to claim the ticket that would let his sister take Tempest home.
Jesse squinted at the sun. He reckoned the time to be shortly after 3 p.m.
Muttering an oath, he turned on his heel and hurried across the yard to the public livery, where he'd stabled Kavi.
At 4 p.m., he would have to provide Michael with a legitimate excuse for not leaving Stanford until the morning. Failing that, he would have to break Cass out of jail before 6 p.m.
Hoisting himself into Kavi's saddle, Jesse turned the mare toward town and spurred her into a canter.
With any luck, he would find the solution to both predicaments at Stanford's apothecary shop.
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About the Author:
Adrienne deWolfe is a #1 Bestselling Author and a recipient of 48 writing awards, including the Best Historical Romance of the Year. She consistently delights readers with sexy, action-packed, western-style romances, including her Wild Texas Nights series and her Velvet Lies series. In addition, she is the author of the bestselling non-fiction ebook series, The Secrets to Getting Your Romance Novel Published.
Fascinated by all things mystical, Adrienne writes a weekly blog about dragons, magic, and the paranormal at http://MagicMayhemBlog.com to help her research her upcoming YA Epic Fantasy series.
She also writes a weekly blog with fiction writing tips and advice about the business of writing at http://WritingNovelsThatSell.com. She enjoys mentoring aspiring authors and offers professional story critiques and book coaching services.
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