Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flash Sale -- Wild West Adventure with Heart!

Popping in to let you know about a special promotion! Starting tomorrow (10/1) Romancing the West (book 2 of Peacemakers: Old West) will be a featured Kindle Countdown!

1878--For Government Agent Seth Wright, thwarting the blackmailer threatening to expose Emily McBride’s secret identity proves as challenging as resisting the librarian’s charms. If you’re a fan of fast, amusing reads, sexy romance, and an intriguing mystery, this award-winning book is for you! “Pure charm!” (Heather Graham)

Bargain prices for a six day run--digital only. For the lowest price--.99--be sure to hop over to Amazon on 10/1 or 10/2! 

Scroll on for an excerpt and--bonus--cowboy candy.


With the meeting behind him and free time ahead, Seth surveyed the wide street bordered with cottonwood trees and adobe buildings.  In addition to a couple of respectable hotels, assorted general merchants, a schoolhouse, a library, and the newly erected National Bank, Phoenix boasted sixteen saloons, four dance halls, two monte banks, and one faro game.  Just now, the colorful side of this booming oasis appealed to him most.

Specifically, Fletcher’s pleasure palace.

He sauntered up the boardwalk, aiming on celebrating his new job by riding a feisty dove.  Best to see to his needs now.  Calico Queens would be sparse in Heaven, California, a town whose citizens, according to Paris, had been raised on prunes and proverbs.

“Just the man I’m looking for.”

Seth stopped short as a freckle-faced, half-pint blew across the street and blocked his path.  He touched the brim of his hat in greeting.  “Be more pleased to hear those words if you weren’t my best friend’s lovely wife.”

Paris Grant waved off his innocent flirtation with a snort.  “I’m not lovely.  I’m fat.”

“You’re with child and you’re glowing.”

“You mean sweating.”  She fanned her face with her hand.  “It’s hot as the devil’s kitchen.”

Seth guided her into the shade.  She looked flushed and anxious.  Couldn’t be good for the babe.  “It’s the middle of the afternoon, hon.  You should be wearing a bonnet or—”

“—carrying a parasol.  I know.  I forgot.  I was in a hurry.”

Impetuous as always.  “Where’s Josh?  Ain’t like him to let you walk around town alone.”

“He took Zach and Zoe for a buggy ride so I could take a nap.  Only I couldn’t rest because I’m agitated.”

“I can see that.”

“I knew you’d arrived and I wanted to talk to you.  You weren’t at the jailhouse so I figured I’d find you in one of the saloons.”

“Seeing that you often tread where you don’t belong, I’m relieved that you ran into me on the boardwalk.”  Imagine if she’d stormed Fletchers?  Although, if she caught him with his pants down, she’d probably declare them even.  Several months back, he’d walked in on her and Josh.  Don’t think about your friend’s woman in the all-together.

“I need to talk to you regarding an urgent matter.”

Damn.  “Why don’t we go back to your brother’s house and—”

“Why don’t we slip in here?”

Before he could protest, Paris nudged him inside a merchant’s store.  Café Poppy.  A fancy bakery of sorts.  He smelled something sweet.  Cookies?  Cake?  Almost as delectable as the tasty morsel rounding the counter.  She was new in town.  New to the region, given her sophisticated appearance.  Her bustled blue gown and fancy up-do were more suited to a cotillion than a café.  She reeked of elegant grace and cake batter.  Intrigued, Seth considered spending the afternoon here rather than Fletchers.  Then he noticed the wedding band.  Damn.

“Afternoon,” he said with a pleasant smile.  Hard not to smile at a rare beauty, hitched or otherwise.

“Thank you for frequenting Café Poppy.”  She bested his smile and escorted them to one of six tables.  “I’m the proprietor, Mrs. Kaila Dillingham.”

Her accent—British?—caught him off guard, as did her enthusiastic greeting.  He’d expected reserved, stuffy.  Instead, she was friendly.  Friendly and beautiful.  “Pleasure, ma’am.”
He wondered about her husband.  Were he the law in this town, he’d inquire outright.  Keeping the peace meant knowing a piece about those in your jurisdiction.  Given his new appointment, he supposed that included everyone west of the Mississip.

Mulling that over, he eased Paris into a padded chair.  Calico cushions to match the calico tablecloths and curtains.  Sure was a frilly place.  “Name’s Seth Wright.  This here is—”

“—a woman dying of thirst,” Paris finished.  “Could I bother you for a cup of tea, Mrs. Dillingham?  And maybe some of whatever smells so good?  Seth will have coffee,” she said before he could order.  God forbid he prolong the conversation.  “Thank you,” she added, dismissing the woman with a polite smile.
Apparently, the urgent matter was for his ears only.  The best he could do was hear her out and hope that this urgent matter concerned anything but Emily McBride.

“It’s about my friend Emily.”

Naturally.  He settled back and listened as Paris relayed the same story Athens had shared minutes before.  “I understand that you’re disappointed,” he interjected.  “But, honey, things don’t always go according to plan.  You’ll see Emily again.  The timing’s just off.”

She shook her head.  “It’s not that simple.  She’s in trouble.”

The hitch in her voice summoned a pain in his neck.  He massaged the telling ache with a frown.  “What kind of trouble?”

“I can’t say precisely.  It involves a secret and I made a promise.  Promises are sacred.”

A belief that had gotten her in a passel of trouble in the past.  “Why are you confiding in me and not Josh?”

“Josh wouldn’t do what has to be done because he won’t leave me when I’m in this condition.  He’d send you.  When I learned about this, you were still Sheriff and I didn’t want to impose so I sent Phineas Pinkerton.”

“The poet?”  Seth had seen the pretty boy recite his flowery prose in various theaters, including the Desert Moon, the opera house owned by Josh and Paris.  Didn’t care for the man’s delivery, though the poems were clever.

“In addition to a professional poet,” Paris informed him in a hushed voice, “he’s an intuitive detective.”

“A what?”

“Someone who solves crimes by reading or hearing a recounting of the case.”

“Does he have a background in law?  Practical experience in enforcement?”

“He doesn’t need it.  His deductive skills come naturally.”  She frowned.  “You look skeptical.”

“I am skeptical.”  That was putting it mildly.  “Paris, two of your brothers earn livings investigating and apprehending criminals. They’ve known Emily all their lives and when they’re not on the trail, they live in the same town as your friend.  Why not alert them?”  He thought back on Athens’s theory that Emily had made a bad investment.  He’d mentioned her trusting nature and now Paris cited criminal types.  Was it possible the preacher’s daughter fell prey to a flim flam man?

Paris shook her head so hard, her bun came loose.  “Rome and Boston can’t know about this.  None of my brothers can know.”

Naturally.  “What about the local authorities—”

“Loose-lipped ninnies.  Not an option.”

“Hence Pinkerton.”

“Hence my problem.  Yesterday, I received a telegram from Mr. Pinkerton.  He’s been offered a lucrative northeast tour.  Regrettably, he said, he cannot continue his journey to Heaven.  He’s heading back to New York!”

Tears sprang to her big brown eyes as she spewed the rest of her hushed tale.  “If I don’t send help, Emily will take action herself.  She’s that desperate to keep her secret and what does she know about thwarting blackmailers?  She’s resourceful, but still.  I’m beside myself with worry, Seth.  Emily’s had a powerful run of bad luck.  If you don’t go, something awful is going to happen.  I just know it!”

“Hold up.”  He pressed a clean bandana into her hands, hoping she’d stem the tears before they flowed.  Weepy woman gave him heartburn.  “Someone’s blackmailing Emily?”

“Don’t ask me why.  I can’t tell you.  I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone and promises are—”
“—sacred.  I know.”  He should’ve begged off Josh’s birthday celebration and taken an overdue holiday.  He should have known better than to get mixed up with the Garretts.  A pain in his neck, all of them, including, no, especially, Paris.  “How am I supposed to help Emily if I don’t know the problem?”  How was he supposed to deliver a proposal to a woman mixed up in some sort of scandal?  PMA was a government agency.  Low profile.  Athens expected to hook up with a preacher’s daughter, an angel.  A respectable mother for his children.

“You understand women more than any man I’ve ever met, Seth.  Use your imagination.”

He leaned forward, incredulous.  “Are you suggesting that I seduce your friend into revealing her secret?”

“I’m suggesting you earn her confidence.”  She blew her nose into his bandana. “Besides, you couldn’t woo Emily.  She’s in love with Rome.”

He’d yet to meet a woman he couldn’t woo, but that was beside the point.  “Maybe that’s just a girlish infatuation.  Maybe she’s meant for someone else.”

Paris pursed her lips, studied him for a spell then smiled.  “Maybe.”

He started to give her an earful then Mrs. Dillingham walked over with a loaded tray and stole away his breath.  Gorgeous.  Mr. Dillingham was one lucky son-of-a-bitch.

“Tea, coffee, and French macaroons,” she said, setting dainty cups, and a plate of cookies between them.  “Freshly baked.  Do enjoy.”  She spun away and greeted Doc Gentry as he lumbered into the café mumbling something about crumpets and jam. 

Seth watched her go.

Paris kicked him under the table.  “About you and Emily . . .”

He focused back on the half-pint.  “Swear to God, Paris, if this is some sort of elaborate matchmaking scheme—”

“Of all the . . . honestly!  You’re the one who brought it up.  I was just thinking that if you chased off the person who’s making her life miserable and she just happened to fall in love with you at the same time—and you with her—well, I was just thinking I’d be alright with that.  Better you than Mr. Bellamont.”
Never mind that she’d just insulted him, again.  “Who in the devil is Bellamont?”

“Claude Bellamont.  He proposed two weeks after Preacher McBride’s funeral.  Emily turned him down, thank goodness.  But what with her financial difficulties . . . Let’s just say she’s not herself these days.  I’d hate to see her marry someone for the wrong reasons.”

Seth’s head threatened to explode.

Paris reached across the table and grasped his hand.  “It’s not like you have anything better to do.  You’re in between jobs, right?”

“Right,” he was obliged to say.  He tasted his coffee.  Black and strong.  Good, but just about now a quart bottle of whiskey would be even better.

“Besides, you owe me.”

That coaxed a smile out of him.  “How do you figure?”

“You forced me to marry, Josh.”

No way, no how did he feel bad about initiating a shotgun wedding.  Besides, he’d never known two people more in love.  “Sweetheart, if I hadn’t hurried along the proceedings, your brothers would have.  Josh compromised your reputation.”

“All he did was—”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“Then hear this.  If you don’t go, I will.”

He wouldn’t put it past her.  “I’ll go.”  He was going anyway.  Only now his mission was twofold.

She blinked back more tears.  “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Stop fretting.  And stop doing fool things like disappearing on Josh.”

“Mercy!  What time is it?”  She wrapped the macaroons in a napkin and bolted to her feet, the tea untouched.  “I need to get back to the house before he discovers I’m missing and calls out the Rangers.”
Seth left money on the table, sorry he hadn’t gotten to taste one of those cookies.  Glanced over his shoulder at Mrs. Dillingham, sorry he wouldn’t be getting a taste of her.  Damn.  He really needed to visit Fletchers.

He led Paris out onto the boardwalk, groaning when she tugged him into the alley.  “What now?”

“I have an idea.”

“God, help me.”

“I’m thinking you should pretend that you’re Phineas Pinkerton,” she whispered. “Emily’s already expecting him.  Instead of staying at the local hotel, I suggested he rent a room in her house.  She’s taking in boarders to earn extra money because of, well, you know.  I’d feel better if you stuck close.  That is until you dupe her tormentor, because who knows what he’s capable of?  People won’t talk, because Mr. Pinkerton is, well, that is to say he favors . . .”  She cleared her throat.  “Let’s just say he’d be smitten with the likes of, well, you.”

“Forget it.”  That Paris even knew about such things amazed him.  Then again she was in the theater business.  She’d probably seen it all.  “Write to your friend and tell her there’s been a change of plans.”

“But . . . ”

“No.”  Yes, he’d just told Athens he could take on another man’s identity, but it this case—thankfully—it wasn’t necessary.

She blew out a dramatic breath.  “Fine.  But you better take care and not compromise her reputation, Seth.  She’s got enough to worry about.  Oh, and remember, if Emily comes up in conversation tonight—”

“—I’m to say nothing of my impending . . . trip.”  He tugged on his hat, frowned as she fiddled with her hair, twisting, untwisting.  He stilled her nervous actions.  “Emily’s secret, whatever it is, is safe with me.”


He looked into those doe-like eyes thinking she was slicker than a clay hill after a rainstorm.  He did, however, respect her motivation and loyalty to her friend.  “Sure.”

 * * *

Twenty-minutes later, Josh stormed Fletcher’s. “I need a favor.”  He didn’t care beans that Seth had one hand on a bottle of whisky and the other on a dove’s bodacious ass.  The matter, he’d said, stopping his friend midway up the stairs, was urgent.

Five minutes after that, Seth had issued a third promise.  To deliver Emily McBride to Arizona Territory by hook or crook and before his friend’s wife worried herself bed sick.  He’d done so without revealing his previous conversations on the matter with Athens or Paris.  He didn’t like withholding information from Josh, but a promise was a promise and the objective was the same.

He told himself that he hadn’t given his word to anyone in vain.  First order of business: clean up whatever mess Emily had made.  A preacher’s daughter.  A librarian.  A woman the Garretts described as a shy woman with a heart of gold.  How bad could it be?

Clean up the mess then deliver Athens’s proposal and escort Emily to Arizona Territory. If he was going to tame the west, he could sure as hell save one tarnished angel.

Romancing the West 
Peacemakers: Old West 

Leaving you with some cowboy candy. My inspiration for Seth Wright.
You're welcome. ;)

Stay tuned for more sale alerts and an update on Marry Poppins (the next book in my Impossible Dream series). Until then, wishing you much love and laughter!

Friday, September 18, 2015

ON SALE! Sassy, Spooky, Sexy Fun!

This past week my historical western, Lasso the Moon, was available at Amazon/Kindle for free for two days only. My sincere thanks to everyone who took advantage and I so hope you enjoy the read! If you are indeed a fan of the Peacemakers, be sure to check out book 2 and 3-- Romancing the West and Fall of Rome!

On the heels of that fab promo, I've learned that Belle Books/Imajinn is running a promotion on SCANDALOUS SPIRITS, a tale I wrote with my good friend--awesome author--Cynthia Valero. It's on sale for .99 for a limited time. Available in digital at Kindle, nook, and iTunes. Woot!

As an FYI, originally this work was published under a joint pen name--CB Scott. But recently this book and two others we wrote--Kindred Spirits and Knight of my Dreams were blessed with new cover designs and at that time we chose to also use our real names. We hope you'll indulge and enjoy are united magic!

For a glimpse into the hi-jinx, follows the prologue for Scandalous Spirits!


“I’m dying of boredom.”

“Keen trick, Izzy, considering you’ve been dead for the last seventy years.”
Cigarette holder poised between two slender fingers, Isadora Van Buren-Valentine-Mueller-Tadmucker-Carr slicked her bobbed hair behind one diamond-studded ear, blew out a lazy stream of smoke, then snipped, “Go chase yourself, Jimmy.”



Jonas Van Buren shook his head as his cantankerous younger siblings launched into yet another verbal tussle. In confounding hereafter limbo since 1928 and they were still at it. Some things never changed. “Lay off you two. Bickering won’t solve our plight. In fact, it’s what got us into this mess in the first place. Or have you forgotten?”

“If memory serves,” Isadora drawled, flicking her ashes into an etched blue crystal bowl, 
“Jimmy’s lousy driving got us into this mess. He’s the one who steered the Pierce-Arrow off the bridge and into the drink.”

“I was distracted,” James snapped in self-defense, plunking down the deck of cards he’d been fanning and shuffling on the table before them. But when he palmed up the snap-brim of his brown felt fedora, guilt plagued his handsome, boyish features.  

“I know you were, sweetie,” Isadora quickly amended, her cupie-bowed lips drawing into a contrite frown. “I’m sorry.” Suddenly morose, she added, “If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. I’m the one who talked you and Jonas into staying late at the speak-easy.”

“You didn’t talk us into anything, angel,” Jonas said, sorry he’d introduced the subject of their physical demise in the first place. “It was a collective decision, remember? All for one and one for all.”

James’ mouth slid into a lopsided grin upon hearing their childhood oath. “You said it!”

“And how!” Isadora exclaimed, her ruby red lips curving back into a smile.

Grateful for their easily restored humor, Jonas smiled as well. Smoothing the shawl collar of his double-breasted vest, he returned then to his usual post: the arched glass window of the secluded west tower of Laguna Vista, the infamous Van Buren Estate. Or as they’d come to refer to it as of late, the Van Buren Prison.

He braced his palms on either side of the sash and looked out over the unkempt grounds in disgust. Gnarled brambles and rampant sea grass thrived in place of sculptured hedges and exotic roses. The once immaculate lawn of the Spanish-style mansion was no longer green but brown, and littered with rocks and empty liquor bottles, or as Isadora so colorfully referred to them, dead soldiers.

The former summer home of their parents, the powerful and wealthy department store tycoon Jonathan Bernard Van Buren and his socialite wife Ella, Laguna Vista had been the high-society playground for some of America’s most popular celebrities, not to mention occasional politicians and assorted European dignitaries. 

Up until 1928 anyhow.

That tragic year James accidentally drove the family’s luxury automobile off a bridge, ending his fast-lane life along with that of his sister’s and brother’s. Of course it had been foggy and he’d been speeding, but as Isadora had said, the fact that they ended up in the bottom of the bay swimming with the fishes, wasn't entirely their little brother’s fault. They’d all been blotto, hopped up on hooch compliments of Isadora’s favorite ginmill. And they’d been bickering. Not that that was unusual. The Van Buren siblings were famous for their caustic, though mostly harmless, tiffs. They loved each other dearly. They just didn’t happen to agree on everything. Strike that, Jonas thought with an amused grunt, they didn’t agree on a lot of things. Like who were the cat’s pajamas? The Yanks or the Dodgers?

The details revolving around the fatal crash and the moments thereafter remained a mystery to the three siblings. One moment they’d been arguing over who would take the World Series in ‘29. The next they were free-floating twenty feet over the murky water, looking on as a fleet of gumshoes fished the dented Pierce-Arrow out of the bay. Seeing their lifeless bodies being pulled from the car was a bit of a shock to say the least. How could they be dead when they felt so alive? And if they were dead, shouldn’t they be in heaven or hell or . . . something?

“Maybe we’re hallucinating,” James had offered. “That’s what we get for drinking coffin varnish.”

“Don’t be a sap,” Isadora snapped, watching as two meds hoisted her limp, slender form onto a gurney. Pointing a translucent finger at her raccoon-ring-eyed, lipstick-smeared face a short distance beyond, she said, “I’ve been corked on bootleg whiskey more times than I can count and I’ve never looked as bad as that.”

To which Jonas replied, “Says you.”

Then it occurred to them. They weren’t kickin’ in the physical sense, but spiritually . . .

Jonas recalled Isadora and James launching into a heated debate over the subtle differences between ghosts and spirits, then lapsing into a fit of snorting laughter while plotting the swell tricks they’d get over on their cousins. He even remembered tossing in a few choice pranks of his own. But his most vivid recollection was the heart-wrenching moment they’d sobered up, simultaneously realizing the impact their deaths would have on those they’d left behind. It crushed their fanciful mindset and landed them within the grieving walls of Laguna Vista in the blink of a snake’s eye.    

And here they’d been stuck ever since. A problem Jonas had spent the last seventy years trying to rectify. Ghostly limbo wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Unlike Isadora and James, he’d never reveled in the novelty of being a disembodied spirit. He’d merely tolerated their fate, as he seemed to have no choice. He longed to cross over, to join friends and family members in heaven, or at least to graduate to a higher non-physical plane. However, for reasons that eluded him, the powers-that-be turned a consistent deaf ear to his simple request. It was as if he was being punished, but for what? What?      

Isadora watched as Jonas’ shoulders sagged in familiar defeat. He was mulling over their fate again. She hated when he did that. It tended to depress him, and she hated anything sad. Sighing dramatically, since it was one of her better talents, she snuffed out her fag after one last drag then rose from the settee to join him. The high spiked heels of her patent leather pumps clicked on the polished marble floor, filling the same silence that had worked her into a lather moments before.

Izzy Van Buren-Valentine-Mueller-Tadmucker-Carr, scandalous heiress-cum-flapper extraordinaire, detested silence—oh, and anything sad.      

“You know,” she cooed, sidling in beside him, “haunting Laguna Vista was fun for the first sixty years or so, but these last ten years, well, sheesh. I had more fun at my own wake.”

“I know you’re bored, angel,” Jonas replied without cracking the smile she’d hoped for. “Believe me, if I could figure a way to spring us from this joint, I would.”

His brows cut down into a stern V, the reason as clear as moonshine to Izzy. It baffled him that they could permeate every wall within the seventeen-room mansion like kites through a cloud, but they couldn’t pass through the outer walls to gain freedom to the outside world. She grinned, recalling the time James had tried to escape by jumping out a window while she shimmed up the chimney. Of course, stick-in-the-mud Jonas had taken the mortal route by trying to walk out the front door. All three had hit invisible barriers.

“This is the longest Laguna Vista has remained vacant,” she thought aloud. “And for the death of me, I don’t understand why.”

“No doubt because of us,” Jonas replied, distracted by a late-seventies vehicle rolling to a stop just inside the front gate of the mansion. 

“Yeah, Izzy,” James taunted, coming up behind them. “You scared everyone away.”

“Did not!”

“Did so!”

“Dry up, you two.” Jonas snapped his fingers to gain their attention then motioned
them to peer out the window. “Looks like we didn’t scare everyone away.” Gazing past the bug-splattered windshield of the four-wheeled junker, he pinpointed the willowy broad sitting in the driver’s seat. The one with the pert-nose, freckled-face, and long blond hair swept up in a playful, bobby-soxer ponytail. He let loose a soft, appreciative whistle. “Lordy, that blond’s a looker.”

“She’s sweet and all,” James agreed, leering from his third-story vantage point, “but fix your blinkers on the tomato sitting next to her. The one in the short skirt.” He snapped his suspenders and hooted. “Now that’s a choice bit of calico!”

“She’s also a choice bit of jailbait,” Izzy noted. “I’m with Jonas. The blond is definitely more interesting. Look at how she’s giving this place the once over. She’s moving in. I can feel it! Oh, I do hope she turns Laguna Vista back into a disco. I so loved the music.” She broke into the ‘Hustle’ with an imaginary partner while belting out the chorus of ‘I Will Survive.’

James rolled his eyes before training them on the blond. “Nah, she looks more like the bed-and-breakfast type to me. What do you think, Jonas?”

Jonas peered closer, noticing for the first time the logo emblazoned across the long dented door of the ancient hippie-mobile. Society of Parapsychological Sleuths. An uneasy feeling wound through his gut, the same daunting feeling that tied him in knots whenever he’d had dealings with the IRS. Rocking back on his oxfords, he palmed his hand over his slicked-back hair and sighed. “I think we’re in big trouble.”    

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Romantic Adventure -- FREE for Two Days Only!

Popping in with a super cool sales alert! Does FREE count as a sale? Because that's what I'm talking here. A chance to read LASSO THE MOON, book one of Peacemakers: Old West, for FREE today and tomorrow only via Kindle!

Already read it? Gift it to a friend. For Free! Or share the love and laughter by sharing the news with fellow readers!  As always, I thank you for your amazing support.

Enjoy an Excerpt!


 Territory of Arizona, 1877
 He’d kill Mason Burke if he weren’t already dead. Damn his will and that damned stipulation. Joshua Grant threw back a shot of rotgut, marveling at the dead man’s tenacity. Six feet under, and his uncle had still managed to get in the last word.         “Can I get ya’ anything else, Sheriff Grant?”  
         “Yeah, a wife.” Josh glanced up from the bullet-nicked bar to the scrunched-up face of its owner. “Never mind. Hit me with another shot. On second thought, make it a double.” His future as a wedded theater owner flashed before his eyes. “Hell. Just slide me the bottle and be done with it.
“Sure ‘nuff, Sheriff.”
“Stop calling me that.” He snatched up the quart bottle of whiskey Jimmy Hell slid his way. “I told you. I turned in my badge yesterday.”
The proprietor of Hell’s Drinkin’ Hole indicated the rowdy clientele with a flick of his tattered bar rag. “So that’s what this party’s for?” Smirking, the hairy-knuckled wiseass braced his beefy forearms on the splintered ledge of his bar and leaned forward. “Funny, but I can’t recall your reason for leaving town exactly.”
Josh leaned forward as well. “That’s because I never said exactly.” He straightened with a smile and let the taunt settle. Maybe it was the liquor or maybe he was just plain out of his head, but he almost felt giddy when Jimmy narrowed his eyes. Josh had been spoiling for a fight for days. Since Mason wasn’t available, he’d settle on the nearest pair of fists. Even if those fists were the size of Christmas hams.
Only Jimmy Hell’s attention shifted to the swinging doors. “What the . . . ?” His bushy brows cut into a stern V. “Here comes trouble. Good thing you’re here, Sheriff. I can’t afford another brawl this week. I’m down to six good tables and I’m lucky if I got ten chairs with all their legs.”
“Thanks for the warning.” Josh tore the cork out of the bottle with his teeth. Spitting it clean over the barkeep’s shoulder, he muttered, “I’ll be mindful of where I sit. And stop calling me Sheriff. I’m not the law anymore.” That said, he tipped the bottle to his lips and turned to see what form of trouble had stumbled into the saloon. Just for curiosity’s sake. He’d figured on spying Rosco Timbers or Newt Gibbons, two of Yuma’s more cantankerous yahoos, seeing that the mean-spirited Riley brothers were already in attendance. So he near about choked on his half-swallowed drink when he spotted the fresh-faced half-pint standing in the doorway, a bulging carpetbag in hand.
From a distance it was right hard to tell if the kid wearing baggy denim trousers, a faded-blue, knee-length shirt, and a dirt-brown fedora was a boy or a girl. A heartbeat later the half-pint stepped forward and tripped over Moe Wiggin’s king-sized boot. The hat went flying and ebony, waist-length hair spilled out.
One mystery solved.
Moe scooped up the fedora and plopped it back on the young woman’s head. She smiled at the old coot as she elbowed her way through the redeye-guzzling, cheroot-smoking crowd.
Josh knew everyone in and around Yuma. He didn’t recognize her. Cute as a baby coon, and his gut warned twice as bothersome.
The kid navigated her unwieldy bag through the maze of occupied tables and chairs, offering apologies as she bumped arms and legs along the way. Intrigued, Josh trained his gaze on the determined runt as she cut a deliberate path through the boodle of pokes and doves, suggesting she knew exactly where she was headed.
“If you got any four-legged chairs in the vicinity of the piano, Jimmy, I suggest you clear ‘em out.” Josh grabbed his quart bottle and trailed the girl. Maybe he’d get his fight after all. Unfortunately, his progress was hindered by a slew of well-wishers. Assorted doves kissed him for old-times sake. Friends and acquaintances slapped his back or pumped his arm in enthusiastic handshakes. They all wished him good luck. The law-abiding men of Yuma had insisted on throwing him this going-away party. Which was fine, dandy, and thoughtful, except he wasn’t all that pleased to be going.
That had been Mason’s idea.
“Damn him,” he muttered again for good measure. Miserable, and not near drunk enough, Josh tossed back a healthy swig of whiskey before vying for a spot behind Moe Wiggins, who stood on his one good leg outside a two-man-deep crowd. “What’s going on?”
Moe squinted at the kid who was in an animated discussion with the saloon’s pianist. “Ain’t sure. All I know is that Fingers was in the middle of Buffalo Gals and that girl elbowed her way in and put a stop to it.”
Moe squinted harder, as though it might somehow improve his hearing. “Can’t hear what she’s sayin’.”
Neither could Josh. His party had grown from loud to deafening. Jimmy Hell was right about one thing. Trouble was brewing. He could see that even in his bleary-eyed state.
“Whatever she’s up to,” Moe said, “it ain’t good.”  
“It ain’t my concern.” But, for the life of him, he couldn’t tear his gaze from the petite female. A cute little bunny trapped by a pack of wolves, the sharpest teeth belonging to Burgess and Billy Riley.
Moe drained his beer, sleeved a dribble of brew from his pointy chin. “You’ve never been one to let a boilin’ pot overflow.”
“I’m no longer the law in these parts.” Josh figured if he repeated it enough times, he’d get used to the idea. Still and all, he couldn’t bring himself to ignore the baby-faced tomboy. The need to protect was a right hard habit to break. 
Unable to resist, he moved closer to the action.
“You don’t understand, sir.” She dropped her bag near the rickety piano and shook a cramp from her hand. “This is an emergency. I’m in desperate need of your instrument. If you would only accommodate me—”
“Accommodate ya’?” Fingers raised an amused eyebrow above the rim of his wired spectacles. “Ain’t never heard it called that before, honey.”
His drunken entourage snickered.
“You needn’t worry,” she hurried on. “I’m very good.”
Fingers’s other eyebrow shot up. “You don’t say?”
She smiled and nodded. “I promise you, you’ll enjoy it.”
Josh bit back a groan. How naïve could one girl be not to realize how a whole passel of men were twisting her innocent words?
“Listen,” Fingers said, mopping his brow as though the temperature had shot up from eighty to a hundred. “I’m in the middle of a slew of requests. Give me a few minutes and
“A few minutes? It’s been days!”  
“That long?” Fingers traded a smirk with the leering audience. “Well, now. I reckon I could take a short break.” He pinned her with a smarmy look. “Just how good are ya’, honey?”
“My brothers think I’m excellent.”
The pianist hooted. “Your brothers?”
Owl-eyed and eager for details, the snickering mob leaned forward. Josh swayed right along with them.  
The girl blinked at Fingers. A few seconds later a blush crept up her neck, making a beeline for her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have . . . it’s just that I’m . . .” She waved off her words and glanced toward an empty table. “I’ll wait over there until you’ve finished your requests.”
Relieved, Josh reached back to massage a crick from his neck. At least the kid had sense enough to vamoose before things turned ugly.
Burgess Riley clamped his burly hand over her wrist and whirled her back around. “What’s your hurry, sweet thing? If Fingers there ain’t willin’ to accommodate ya’, I sure as hell am.”
“Me, too!” chimed his brother.
Her face lit up like a noonday sky. “You have a piano, too?”
The crowd guffawed.
Josh rolled his eyes. The twinge in his neck pinched.     
“No piano. But don’t worry. We’ll make our own music.” Burgess forced her hand over the crotch of his filthy trousers. “Let’s put them talented fingers to good use. What do ya’ say, wildcat?”
Josh chucked his whiskey bottle and pushed forward. Here comes the fight.
The kid acted faster, kneeing Burgess square in the crotch.
For the love of . . . Josh grimaced as the man’s wounded howl sliced through him and every other man in the gurdy. 
Wide-eyed, the raven-haired ball-buster turned to run and slammed into Billy’s scrawny chest.
Flashing a gap-toothed grin, he snatched her up. “Gotcha!”
She hauled back that same deadly leg and kicked him in the shin. Billy dropped her and yowled. Hopping up and down on one foot, he spewed obscenities raunchy enough to make a hash slinger blush.
Looking only slightly embarrassed, the girl backed into a wobbly-legged Burgess.
Grabbing her by the forearms, the yahoo hauled her backside hard against his injured region and snarled. “You’ve messed with the wrong man, sweet thing.”
Josh moved faster this time. When the girl wrenched left he threw a right, ramming his knuckles into Burgess’s mouth. The man flew backward, the kid with him.
Quick as lightning, Josh snatched her up and into his arms. The fedora tumbled to the floor, allowing him a full view of her heart-shaped face. The patrons’ slurred heckles faded to a drone as he studied the petite minx up close and intimate like. Her smooth complexion, almighty pale in contrast to her dark hair, suggested she spent more time indoors than out. A surprise, given her tomboy appearance. Even more surprising was the jolt of lust he felt when he gazed into her walnut-brown eyes, eyes that sparkled with an intoxicating mixture of innocence and desire. She quirked a shy smile and a queer lump lodged in his throat. “What the hell?”
His gruff tone snapped her out of her moony-eyed daze. Blushing now, the girl struggled like a roped stallion to gain her freedom. “Let me go, you big ape!”
The crowd’s whoops and hollers intensified as another skirmish heated up between the Riley boys and a couple of do-gooders. Josh was too busy protecting his gingambobs from Miss Musicmaker’s deadly knee and—Christ almighty—elbows to pay much mind.  
“Watch out!”
At Moe’s warning, Josh dipped the feisty minx just as an empty bottle whizzed past her pretty head. At the same time a chair sailed through the air, shattering the front pane. An out-and-out brawl erupted. Thanks to Mason, Josh had a lifetime of bar brawls ahead of him. From what he’d heard, the patrons of the Desert Moon opera house were a rowdy bunch.
At least his new life wouldn’t be dull.
He glanced down at the pissed off half-pint. “Let’s get you out of here, sweetheart.”
“I’m not your sweetheart.”
“Whose sweetheart are you?”
“No one’s.” Scowling, she reached behind her and tried prying his hands from her waist. “I . . . I mean someone’s. Some big fellow. An ox of a man who’s going to beat you to a pulp if you don’t let me go.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” He hiked her higher in his arms and caught a whiff of her glossy hair. Lilacs. The sweet, flowery scent blindsided him, stealing him back to his childhood. A time he preferred to forget. Squashing the bittersweet memories before they reached full bloom, Josh focused on the swinging doors.  
Three men crashed into a nearby table, fists flying. Cursing, he hastened his steps, the girl’s best interests at heart. Damn if the menace didn’t struggle harder as he hauled her out of harm’s way.
“I’m warning you, mister!”
“Warn away.”
She elbowed him in the gut.
A second later she kicked him in the shin.
“You’re making it difficult for me to behave in a valiant fashion here, kid.”
She slapped at his hands. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
Josh laughed for the first time in over a week.  
Two feet from the doors, she twisted in his arms, reared back and socked him.
“Son of a—” He bit off the curse and worked his offended jaw. “What’d you do that for?”
“I’m sorry. But I did warn you.”
“So you did. Now I’m warning you. Stop fussing. We’re leaving.”
            “I warned you.” Grinning, he hauled her up and over his shoulder like a sack of grain and whisked her from the saloon.
The rowdy mob cheered.