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The Cowgirl In Question
By B.J. Daniels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMaybe if Forrest Danvers hadn't been half-drunk or spitting mad, he might have seen it coming.
But then he wasn't expecting any real trouble as he drove up Wild Horse Gulch in the late-night darkness.
The road cut through sheer rock cliffs, then opened to towering ponderosa pines before topping out on a sagebrush-studded bench that overlooked the Tongue River.
Forrest was a little uneasy, given his reason for being there in the first place. Nor did it help that the night was blacker than the inside of a boot and a storm was coming.
But he was feeling too good to go home yet. For the first time in his twenty-one years of miserable life, he felt he could be somebody. Somebody people respected. Not just another one of those no-count Danvers like his brother Cecil.
He parked his pickup on the bench above the river and rolled down his window, feeling closed in, anxious to hear the sound of the other vehicle coming up the narrow mountain road. She was late. As usual. Women.
The air had an edge to it, a kind of jittery current that set his nerves on end. He blamed the approaching thunderstorm and the lightning that flickered behind dark bruised clouds at the edge of the horizon.
It promised to be one hell of a storm. In this part of Montana, thunderstorms often swept across the vast open landscape, bringing wind that tore branches from the cottonwoods and rain as large and hard as stones that ran in torrents down the dry creek beds like rivers.
Beyond the closer smell of sagebrush and dust, he picked up the welcome scent of the coming rainstorm. It had been far too hot and dry this summer. The ground needed a good soaking and he needed to cool down in more ways than one.
It had been one hell of a night at the Mello Dee Lounge and Supper Club. At the memory, he flexed his right hand. It hurt like hell, the knuckles skinned and bloody. He smiled at the memory of his fist connecting with Rourke McCall's face.
Forrest could feel his left eye swelling shut. At least the cut over his right had stopped bleeding. That was something. And, he thought taking a shaky breath, his ribs hurt where he'd taken a punch, but Forrest had got in a few good licks himself.
Rourke McCall had just been itching for a fight. Forrest saw that now. Saw that he'd been a fool to oblige the crazy bastard. But what else could he have done? Just let Rourke cut in on the dance floor when Forrest was enjoying himself with Blaze Logan?
That was the problem with Rourke. He thought he owned Blaze, had ever since junior high. What a fool. Anyone with a pocketful of money could have Blaze - at least until the cash ran out.
Forrest rolled a cigarette, lit it and glanced at his watch before tossing the match to the floorboard. In that instant between light and darkness, he looked out and thought he saw someone silhouetted against the storm.
He stared into the darkness, unnerved until lightning lit the horizon and he could see that there was nothing out there but clumps of silver sage and sun-golden grasses bent to the breeze.
Just the booze playing tricks on him. He crushed out the last of his cigarette, wishing now he'd just gone home. Leaning back, he pulled his cowboy hat down over his face and closed his eyes. He was tired and sore and already feeling a little hungover. This had been a bad idea, but if she'd ever get here ...
The night air felt good coming in through his open window. He half listened for the sound of the vehicle coming up the creek road, half dozed.
He'd dropped off into a deep, alcohol-drenched sleep when he was startled awake. At first all he heard was the whine of a vehicle engine coming up the road and the low rumble of thunder. Lightning flickered across the horizon, then died, leaving the night even darker.
But as he listened, he realized that wasn't what had awakened him.
He sat up a little, trying to place the sound. Then he heard it again. The soft scrape of boot leather brushing against sagebrush.
He sat up straight, pushed back his hat and, rubbing his hand over his face to wake up, stared out his open side window into the blackness.
The air seemed to change around him an instant before he saw the barrel of the pistol. Just a glint of blued steel appearing out of the night right next to him and the open window.
He stared at the gun, more than a little startled to realize that he really wasn't alone, probably hadn't been for most of the time he'd been sitting there.
He frowned, uncomprehending. In the distance, the sound of the vehicle coming up the road grew closer and closer.
For just a split second, the gun, the gloved hand holding it and the face of the person were illuminated in a flash of lightning. Just long enough for Forrest Danvers to face his killer.
"No!" The deafening boom of the gunshot drowned out his cry. He felt the burning heat as the lead entered his chest. The second shot exploded from the barrel of the gun. He barely noticed it. In the flare of the gunshot, he studied the killer's face, wanting to hang on to every familiar feature until they met again in hell.
Excerpted from The Cowgirl In Question by B.J. Daniels Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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