Deadly Gamble
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Deadly Gamble

4.2 35
by Linda Lael Miller

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She's got an uncanny knack for winning at slots, but her home-sweet-home is Bad-Ass Bert's Biker Saloon. She'd love to go deep undercover with an irresistibly hot cop, but he's got baggage as big as his biceps. She's survived a mysterious tragedy, but Mojo Sheepshanks hasn't quite figured out who she really is or how to get on with her life. And now the wisecracking


She's got an uncanny knack for winning at slots, but her home-sweet-home is Bad-Ass Bert's Biker Saloon. She'd love to go deep undercover with an irresistibly hot cop, but he's got baggage as big as his biceps. She's survived a mysterious tragedy, but Mojo Sheepshanks hasn't quite figured out who she really is or how to get on with her life. And now the wisecracking Mojo is seeing ghosts -- the real, ectoplasmic kind -- and turning up baffling clues to her real identity. Suddenly a wealthy man is claiming to be her long-lost uncle -- and she's being shadowed by an ex-con brother with a talent for killer mind games. As Mojo races to finally uncover the facts, she'll need all her savvy and strange new talent to keep someone from burying her -- and the truth --for keeps.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Linda Lael Miller creates vibrant characters and stories I defy you to forget."-#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber

"Miller has created unforgettable characters and woven a many-faceted yet coherent and lovingly told tale." –Booklist on McKettrick's Choice

"Miller's name is synonymous with the finest in western romance."

-RT Book Reviews

"Full of equal parts heart and heartache, Miller's newest western is sure to tug at the heartstrings from the first charming scene to the last."

-RT Book Reviews on Big Sky Summer

"Miller's down-home, easy-to-read style keeps the plot moving, and she includes...likable characters, picturesque descriptions and some very sweet pets."

-Publishers Weekly on Big Sky Country

"A delightful addition to Miller's Big Sky series. This author has a way with a phrase that is nigh-on poetic...this story [is] especially entertaining."

-RT Book Reviews on Big Sky Mountain

"A passionate love too long denied drives the action in this multifaceted, emotionally rich reunion story that overflows with breathtaking sexual chemistry."

-Library Journal on McKettricks of Texas: Tate

"Miller's prose is smart, and her tough Eastwoodian cowboy cuts a sharp, unexpectedly funny figure in a classroom full of rambunctious frontier kids."

-Publishers Weekly on The Man from Stone Creek

"Miller's return to Parable is a charming story of love in its many forms. The hero's struggles are handled in an informed and heartwarming way, and it's easy to empathize with the heroine's desire to start an independent, new life in this sweetly entertaining and alluring tale."
-RT Book Reviews on Big Sky River

"Miller's third Stone Creek novel gets as hot as the noontime desert. Miller's portrayal of Sarah as a strong, independent woman sets this novel apart from customary tales of the damsel in distress and the rescuing hero...Well-developed, personable characters and a handful of loose ends will leave readers anticipating future installments." —Publishers Weekly on The Rustler

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4.21(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.01(d)

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Cave Creek, Arizona

At first, the chill was a drowsy nibble at the distant and ragged edges of my awareness, raising goose-bumps on the parts of my flesh bared to that spring night. The sensation was vaguely disturbing, but not troublesome enough to stir me from the fitful shallows of sleep. I remember rolling onto my side, pulling the comforter up to my right earlobe and murmuring some insensible protest. That was when I heard Nick's voice. Or thought I heard it. Impossible, I told myself, nestling groggily into my polyester burrow. He's dead.

Just then, a hand came to rest on my hip, and the chill sprouted teeth and bit right through cotton nightshirt, skin and tissue to seize the marrow of my bones.

I choked out a hoarse cry, too raw and guttural to qualify as a scream, and shimmied off the mattress to land hard on both feet. In the space of an instant, my senses shifted from dial-up to broadband, and I pressed one hand to my chest, in case my heart tried to flail its way out of my chest. My brains pulsed, Cuisinart-style, then scrambled. I couldn't seem to drag a breath past my esophagus, though my lungs clawed for air like a pair of miners trapped beneath tons of rubble.

I felt that way once on a stair-climber at the gym after sucking in a pack and a half of nicotine in a bar the night before, and subsequently swore off exercise forever. Hell, somebody has to serve as the bad example.

But I digress. Get used to it.

My eyes must have bugged out, cartoonlike. Nick—Nicklay on top of the covers, dressed in his snappy gray burial suit, with his hands cupping the back of his head. Except for a peculiar greenish glimmer emanating from his skin, he looked pretty much the way he had before he collided with a semi on the 101 North and was thrown through the windshield of his BMW. Along with Tiffany, Nick's lover du jour, who was scarred for life and for some insane reason blamed me for her Frankenstein face and deflated implants.

One of the many things I don't like about dead people is that a lot of them glow in the dark. Not that I'd seen any before my late ex-husband turned up that momentous night, a full two years after his funeral. Since then, unfortunately, I've become something of an authority.

"Hey," Nick said companionably, as though the situation were entirely normal, and not something out of an old segment of Unsolved Mysteries.

My stomach quivered. Like my heart, it was threatening to leap out of my throat and make a run for it.

"You're dead," I pointed out—quite reasonably, I thought, given the circumstances. I knew he'd croaked, but I wasn't sure he'd been notified. He looked so calm and matter-of-fact, as though turning up in his ex-wife's bed in the middle of the night was a perfectly ordinary thing to do.

Nick sighed, slipped his hands from behind his head and hoisted himself as far as his elbows. "Sort of," he admitted, with a rueful note.

I managed a step backward, ready to hot-foot it out of there, jerk open the outside door, and dash down the fire-escape style stairway to Bad-Ass Bert's Biker Saloon. Normally, I didn't seek out the company of Bert's clientele, especially when I was naked except for a slip of cotton jersey that barely covered my thighs, but given the situation, I was game for just about anything. Trouble was, once I'd retreated half a stride, I couldn't seem to move again.

"How can you be 'sort of' dead?" I asked.

"It's complicated," Nick replied. "In some ways, I'm more alive than you are." With that, he swung his legs over the side of the mattress and stood up, turning to face me across the expanse of tangled bedding. The glow surrounding his lean frame flickered a little, as if somebody had turned a celestial dimmer switch.

"Relax," he said. "It's okay."

Sure. No problem. Pay no attention to the walking, talking corpse.

"You're dead," I repeated stubbornly.

"Yeah," he agreed wryly. "I've noticed. So maybe we could get past that?"

"Don't come near me," I ordered. Pure bravado, of course. I'd read The Damn Fool's Guide to Self-Defense for Women and practiced all the moves on Bert, who was a genuine bad-ass, but if there was a chapter on phosphorescent assailants, I must have missed it.

Nick tilted his dark head to one side and looked pathetic, though still damnably handsome. Apparently, being deceased was neither messy nor strenuous; his suit was wrinkle-free, if slightly out of fashion, his hair sleek, and there was no sign of his hallmark five o'clock shadow. No tire marks, either, thank God, and no blood, guts or jutting bone fragments.

He must have read my mind. With a sad grin, he looked down at himself, before meeting my gaze again. "Hell of a patch job, though. You should have seen me before the mortician did his thing." He shuddered. "You haven't lived—so to speak—until you've seen yourself lying in pieces on a slab. Definitely not a pretty sight."

I winced. "Thanks for sharing," I said. At least we were on the same page with the dead-thing. I had a lot of questions, naturally, but I couldn't seem to articulate any of them. Shock does that to a person.

Another fetching grin. "You cried at my funeral," he reminded me, with pleased modesty.

I stiffened. My heartbeat had slowed somewhat, and I was managing a full breath every few seconds, but my knees felt about as substantial as foam on a mug of draft beer. When the last few bubbles popped, I'd be on the floor in a quivering heap.

"So what?" I asked. "We were married once. You were only thirty-two, and you didn't deserve to die like that, even if you were an asshole. Too bad about Tiffany, too. Did you know her boobs popped and she had to have three surgeries just to look human?"

He ignored the reference to girlfriend #62. At least she was post-divorce; the first thirty-seven could probably be slotted neatly between "I do" and "Go-to-hell-you-bastard-I'm-taking-back-my-maiden-name."

"Black isn't your color," he observed gently, starting around the end of the bed, heading in my general direction.

I backpedaled. "Stay away from me."

He stopped, and once again that slight, familiar grin hitched up one corner of his mouth. "You looked for all the world like the classic grieving widow that day," he reiterated. "Divorce or no divorce, you weren't over me."

"The hell I wasn't," I shot back, and shoved a hand through my shoulder-length tangle of curly red hair. I did a quick mental review of The Damn Fool's Guide to Lucid Dreaming and wondered if I was experiencing some random version of the phenomenon. I pinched myself, blinked a couple of times and sighed.

Nick remained still there, which meant I was awake. The jury was still out on whether or not I was lucid.

"I'm sorry about the other women," he said sweetly.

"Too little, too late," I answered, stunned by the sharp, sudden pang of sorrow at the verbal reminder. It was like a rubber band snapping around my soul. "What are you doing here?"

He cocked one perfectly shaped eyebrow. In life, Nick had been a real estate developer, eating up the Arizona desert with tract houses, convenience stores and strip malls. I half expected his cell phone to ring. He was one of those people who go around with an earphone plugged into their heads, apparently talking to themselves. "I wondered when you'd get to that question," he said.

"Now you know."

Nick fiddled with his tie again. His mother chose that tie—red, with tiny silver stripes. I hated it, and I hated her. More on that later. "It's hard to get your attention," he said. Then, with a wistful look, he added, "Some things never change."

"Pul-eeze," I said. "We're not going to play the poor, misunderstood Nick game, okay?" I was so not in love with him, dead or alive, and I didn't want him hanging around. How do you get a restraining order against a ghost?

He held up a hand, palm out. "All right, all right," he said. "Let's not go there."

"Wise choice, Bucko. And you still haven't told me what you're doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night."

"It's a long story." He looked around the bedroom, with its linoleum floor, fading wallpaper and garage-sale furniture. "Still living over the biker bar," he observed. "When are you going to get a decent place?"

Thanks to Nick and his mother, Margery DeLuca, society scion and barracuda divorce lawyer, I'd gotten Fall in the settlement, except for a pile of credit card bills I was still paying off. I couldn't afford anything but what I had, and sometimes even that much was a stretch, but there didn't seem to be much point in going down that winding and treacherous road. "Did you come here to talk real estate? If so, kindly go haunt somebody else—your mother, for instance. I'm not in the market."

Nick looked hurt. That was my second cue to feel guilty.


He sighed once more, philosophically this time, like some holy martyr, angling for his own prayer card. No sale there, either. Nick DeLuca was a lot of things, but a saint wasn't one of them.

"Damn it," he said, looking down at himself again. "I'm fading."

Sure enough, the glow indicated low batteries, and I could see through his left shoulder and part of his mid-section.

"Wait," I said. The word scraped my throat.

Nick's brown eyes connected briefly with mine, then he vanished.

I blinked, hugging myself now, ready to collapse but afraid to go near the bed, where I could expect to make a soft landing. "Nick?" I whispered, gripping the dresser for support.

No answer.

He was really gone, except for a faint reverberation in the air.

If he'd been there in the first place.

I stood still for a long time, staring at the space where Nick had been standing, then groped my way out of the bedroom, along the dark hall and into the kitchen, flipping on the light switch with numb fingers as I passed it. I sank into a chair at the round oak table, laid my head down on my folded arms and sat out the rest of the night.

Atdawn, I made a pot of coffee, and as soon as I heard Bert's Harley roll up outside, I forced myself to go back into the haunted bedroom. There, I quickly pulled on a pair of jeans, stuffed my feet into the Sponge Bob slippers my foster sister, Greer, had given me for Christmas in one of her rare moments of whimsy, and finger-combed my hair. In the adjoining bathroom, I brushed my teeth and splashed my face with cold water. Gazing into the mirror over the cracked pedestal sink, I gave myself a brief lecture.

"Suck it up, Mojo Sheepshanks," I said. "You're probably not the first woman to wake up and find her dead husband in bed with her."

Despite the speech, I wasn't consoled. My face was so pale, my freckles looked three-dimensional, and my eyes, which vary from blue to green, depending on what I'm wearing, were colorless. I had the raccoon thing going, too—an effect that can usually only be achieved by cheap mascara and a crying jag.

Having made this grim but accurate assessment, I turned from the mirror, traversed the kitchen again and opened the door. I stood for a moment on the landing, looking down on the gravel parking lot. Bert, a brawny guy with a shaved head and both arms tattooed with road maps, bent over the sidecar attached to his bike, unbuckling Russell's helmet.

Russell was his basset hound, and the mutt gave a happy yip when he spotted me.

Bert Wenchal—Bert being short for Bertrand—turned and favored me with a broad smile. For all that he could have been an attraction in one of those road-side freak shows advertised on billboards—See the Amazing Human Map, 5 Miles Ahead—Bert had perfect teeth, never mind that they were the size of piano keys, and baby blue eyes.

"Hey, Mojo," he called, setting the dog's head gear on the seat of the Harley. Russell leaped out of the sidecar and trundled toward me as I descended the wooden stairs. Most days Russell sat on a stool at the end of the bar, and scored too many pepperoni sticks from the customers.

I bent to ruffle the dog's floppy ears. "You're too fat," I told him affectionately.

He tried to lick my face.

Bert's keys jingled as he shoved one into the lock on the service door. The bar wouldn't open until ten, but he liked to come in early, put the coffee on to brew, fire up the hot dog roaster, rake the peanut shells, cigarette butts and spit-lumps out of the sawdust on the floor and balance the till. As landlords went, Bert was unconventional, but the rent was right and he had a great dog, so we got along okay.

"You look like hell this morning," he told me brightly, washing his hands at the sink behind the bar. Bert was proud of his saloon, especially the bar. It was nothing but splintery boards, nailed across the top of six huge wooden barrels, bought at a junk sale in Tombstone, but according to Bert, the thing was a true historical artifact. Allegedly, in its heyday, the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had bellied up to it.

"Thanks," I said bleakly. Russell climbed onto the old mounting block next to his bar stool, then made the leap to the vinyl seat. I perched on the next one over.

Bert started the coffee. Despite his size and the fact that Route 66 coursed in a green line up his left arm, presumably across his chest, and down his right, complete with side roads, highway numbers and place names beside little red circles, he was a sensitive guy.

"Something happen to Lillian?" he asked.

My eyes burned, and my throat tightened. I ran a hand down Russell's broad back for a distraction. Lillian Travers was the closest thing I had to a mother, and she would have been my first choice to confide in, but she'd suffered a devastating stroke six months before. Now, she sat staring into space in a Phoenix nursing home, and I made the forty-five minute trip to visit her three times a week.

Sometimes Lillian seemed to know me, sometimes she didn't. Except for isolated, garbled words, she never spoke.

Bert paused in his coffee-making, waiting.

I finally shook my head. "She's the same," I got out.

"Then what?" Bert persisted, but gently. With the coffee-maker chortling and belching out fragrant steam, he flipped on the hot dog machine, opened the fridge tucked behind the bar and took out a package of frankfurters. I watched as he laid them carefully, one by one, on the gleaming steel bars rolling behind the glass.

"Something really weird happened last night," I said, with understandable difficulty and no little reluctance. Russell laid his muzzle on my left forearm, mesmerized by the spinning wieners.

Bert arched his eyebrows, tossed the frankfurter package into the trash and washed his hands again. Time to rake the sawdust. I took comfort in Bert's unvarying rituals, maybe because I had so few of my own. Most of the time, I felt as insubstantial as Nick's ghost; I'd been living a lie for so long, I couldn't recall the truth, if I'd ever known it in the first place. "Like what?" he prompted.

I turned on the bar stool as he reached for the rake leaning against the weathered board wall. "Like I saw my dead ex-husband last night," I stumbled. There was no graceful way to say it.

Bert paused, rake in hand and gave a low whistle. "Dude," he said.

Since some people would have tested my forehead for a fever, I was mildly encouraged. "Maybe I'm going crazy." That was the thought that had kept me awake, too agitated to engage in my usual insomnia cure, which was to sit at my computer and work my way through one of the piles of medical billings that paid my bills. That and the fear that Nick would get a recharge and show up again if I lay down on the bed.

Meet the Author

The daughter of a town marshal, Linda Lael Miller is the author of more than 100 historical and contemporary novels. Now living in Spokane, Washington, the “First Lady of the West” hit a career high when all three of her 2011 Creed Cowboy books debuted at #1 on the New York Times list. In 2007, the Romance Writers of America presented her their Lifetime Achievement Award. She personally funds her Linda Lael Miller Scholarships for Women. Visit her at

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
At five years old, Mary Joseph ¿Mojo¿ Mayhugh watched in horror as her sixteen year old half brother Geoff murdered her parents. The family¿s neighbor Lillian kidnapped the child and raised her as her own while her sibling was convicted for the homicides. However a couple of decades later, Lillian lives in Sunset Villa nursing home where she seems to be wasting away while Mojo resides above Bad-Ass Bert¿s Biker Saloon in Mojo Creek, Arizona not remembering anything before the abduction. She is now twenty eight years old and her love life is either too hot or too cold and her employment record stinks. Now her late former husband Nick decides to haunt her and she is seeing ghosts though some are still alive as her maternal Uncle Clive Larimer claims chance enabled him to find her after twenty three years and Geoff is out of prison stalking her. She is attracted to undercover cop Tucker Darroch, which irritates Nick. Finally, Lillian¿s stepdaughter Greer hires Mojo to learn if her husband is cheating. Mojo believes she has found her calling as she ponders what Nick and the other ghosts, her politician uncle, and convict Geoff want of her, what to do about her past as a Mayhugh and her future perhaps with Tucker, and finally what about that allegedly cheating spouse all that while someone wants the truth to remain buried. --- DEADLY GAMBLE is a fun zany contemporary tale that has elements from several sub-genres that mix delightfully well together into a wonderful cohesive novel. Mojo keeps the story line focused as she finds her past and present crashing on her head making her future not look too bright while the support cast enhances understanding of the pressures that converge on the beleaguered, bewildered and benign heroine. The story line is action-packed, filled with Lind Lael Miller¿s trademark amusing asides and barbs. Fans of paranormal romantic suspense will want to read Ms. Miller¿s marvelous madcap mayhem. --- Harriet Klausner
saraaax3 More than 1 year ago
THRILLING! I never wanted to put it down finished it in less than a day!!It was that good.
JulieTrujillo More than 1 year ago
As an avid Janet Evanovich reader, I fell quickly for this new character, Mojo Sheepshanks. I really liked the way the author laced humor throughout the story. This is a great read and I will deffinately be reading more of Linda Lael Millers book shortly!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My husband bought this book for me for Christmas, I've never read any of her books before. A very enjoyable read. It held my attention throughout, quite amusing with just a touch of romance. The ending had both happiness and sadness with a twist that I shed a few tears. I can't wait for her next book due out in March 2008.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really wasn't expecting much from this book because I had only skimmed the back of the cover but was truly suprised at how much I liked it. The characters are all really interesting and there really was never a dull moment. The only reason why I didn't give this book an 'Outstanding' is because it left me with so many qustions! It leaves you hanging where Greers concerned and I know there is another book coming so I hope it answers all of my unanswered questions!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don¿t care much for the first person style although in this one Mojo was very amusing with what she was thinking. But I would have liked to see things from someone else¿s POV. In this case it would have been great to know what Tucker was thinking. I also have a lot of questions: When did Tucker and Mojo meet, what was their relationship like, when did she find out he was a cop, why did they break up, how long had he been divorced, was he still involved with his ex? It looks like there is another book planned and I suppose some of these questions will be answered in that one. But, while the plot was interesting and the appearance of the ex-husband and dead cat were hysterical, I just didn¿t like this one enough to get started with a series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Needs a third book but first two were great
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breshay1 More than 1 year ago
Absolutely Love Mojo Sheepshanks! Could not put this book down, it was that good!
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Stone62 More than 1 year ago
This is another great read of hers. Love nearly all of her books. I will be paying more books by Linda Lael Miller. I read it in two days. Thank you Linda!!!!
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AVID-JT More than 1 year ago
Deadly Gamble is Outstanding. This witty book unfolds constant action and adventure, and more twists and turns than a mountain road. It's filled with people you love, people you hate, cats, dogs, ex-husbands, and ex-wives, death threats, great friends, murder, and a lot of lies. As you travel through the story you'll keep finding yourself laughing your butt off when you're not crying or scared witless for Mojo. I guarantee you will absolutely love this sassy story.
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Hope Burchell More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put this book down. Love the characters and you easily. get sucked right in!
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