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A polished azure sky looked down on a day that vacillated between winter and spring--a day unable to make up its mind. Cool breezes lifted Angela Chamberlain's brand-new canary yellow skirt off the moisture-laden sidewalk. A blazing hot sun dried the puddles in the street left over from last night's deluge.
Unlike the day, Angela had no trouble making up her mind. Angela knew what she wanted out of life. She touched one finger to the sapphire earrings adorning her newly pierced ears.
She wanted adventure.
She had a terrible craving to see the world--to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, to walk the Great Wall of China. She yearned to fly in a hot-air balloon high above the earth, or ride in a gondola in Venice. She wanted to fall in love with a man who was as brave and smart as her father and as dangerous as Devil Blackmoor.
Angela's wish list had no end.
Instead of adventure and romance, in three short weeks she'd be enrolled in Miss Somebody's finishing school for young ladies, where knowing which fork to use was more important than riding with the wind on her favorite horse, Kangee. A place where changing one's clothes three times or more each day was common practice.
Two days ago she'd told her father she didn't want to go. And two days ago her father had told her she would learn to appreciate the schooling and that she was a very lucky young woman. He'd also promised her a trip to the continent for a graduation present.
A graduation present! she wanted to yell at him, but wisely kept her mouth shut. She wanted to travel now. Today. But more than anything, she didn't want to be confined tothe stuffy drawing rooms in the East. Just like her father, she needed freedom. But her father meant to take the choice from her.
To gossip and chatter with rich society women was not her destiny. To know which wine was served with fish would not make her happy. This was his dream for her. Sam Chamberlain needed to look to his own heart and remember the choices he had made twenty-five years ago.
Her destiny was out there somewhere, waiting for her to snap it up and hold the moment close to her heart. She knew what she wanted, and to prove her point, she'd bought a camera and had the machine sent over to the hotel. She meant to photograph all her adventures, every nook and cranny, every monument, every intriguing person.
Across the street and down two blocks, Devil Blackmoor had just taken the saddle off his horse. He brushed the stallion's back, all the while petting the animal's sleek coat and crooning into the horse's ear. Mesmerized, she watched his hands and the gentle way he stroked the horse.
She wished she had her camera.
Devil Blackmoor commanded her attention. He symbolized everything a father cautioned his daughter to be wary of. Despite the warning, Devil's strong jaw, his powerful shoulders and the confident way he held himself beckoned to every feminine nerve in Angela's body.
Angela clutched her hands to her chest, willing her gaze to shift to something or someone who wouldn't shatter her senses and set her blood boiling. Helpless to control her wayward heart, she kept looking back at Devil. She noticed everything about him, the way he moved, the way his denim jeans clung to his legs and the way they molded to his backside. Devil laughed at something the bouncer from the saloon said, and when he smiled, one edge of his mouth tilted crookedly. Angela's heart swooned and fluttered, and she thought she might never breathe again.
Beside the livery Mrs. Limpkin set several pies on the windowsill to cool. The smell of her apple pie dancing a jig on the same breeze that had lifted Angela's skirts earlier tantalized and teased Angela's stomach until it howled for a taste. Her mouth watered with anticipation, and a heady need to sink her teeth into all that life could offer her and more--much, much more--sent goose bumps straight to her toes.
"What ya doin' moonin' at Devil, Angela?" Fourteen-year-old Rusty Limpkin sidled up close to Angela and grinned. A mass of red freckles covered the boy's face. He smelled of the stables behind her and the horse manure he'd been shoveling all morning.
Trying not to inhale the pungent air beside her, Angela replied, "I'm not mooning at anyone." Angela turned on the boy, ready to defend her honor and unwilling to admit to the little scamp that she was indeed staring at Devil Blackmoor. No, she was doing more than staring at the dangerous man: she was fantasizing about Devil and herself.
Rusty poked her shoulder. "For a kiss, I'll introduce you to Devil." He puckered his lips.
A shiver of disgust rippled down her spine. She searched for a reply. "And I'll tell your ma I saw you walking down Holladay Street."
"Aw, that's nothin' to be afeard of. Do that all the time. There's only whores down there. But that Devil Blackmoor--that's a whole different story. I heard tell Miss Iva over at the Gold Nugget told one of her customers that Devil had pleasured her in seven different ways."
Indignant, Angela ignored the stench emanating from the boy and inhaled deeply so she could put force behind her words. "Hush your mouth before I tell your ma. You've got no business listening to gossip like that." Angela felt the rise of heat to her cheeks, her mind reeling with the information Rusty had spouted without a blink of an eye. She'd seen firsthand how Devil had stroked his horse, and she'd wondered how she would feel if he stroked her so gently.
"It's not gossip. No sirree..." Rusty hitched his pants up. "I heard he's got hisself one of those harems and there's a hundred women or more inside. Heard tell when he's home, in Con-stan-ti-nople, he sees ten or more of them women each night. Besides, I'm not afeard of you. You're no bigger than a mite."
At a loss for words, Angela glared at the boy. "Go saddle my horse, Rusty." She shooed the boy away. But thoughts of harems rolled around in her head, and she wondered just what Devil did with those women each night.
"You gonna follow him out of town?" Rusty asked her as he brought Kangee out of the stable.
"It's none of your business what I do. I can ride anywhere I want. Now go on with you."
Rusty gave her a cockeyed glance and darted into the stable. Angela looked back to where Devil had been. He was gone. She wanted to find him. What she'd do if she encountered him went beyond her, but she felt sure she'd think of something.
Kissing him came to mind first; thoughts of touching his face with her fingers sent a hot shiver down her spine; and imagining sliding her hands through his long black hair to find out if his gorgeous black locks were as soft and silky as they looked followed. With those ideas foremost in her head, she blushed from head to toe.
Totally disconcerted, and with a huff of indignation at her wayward mind, Angela mounted the stallion and headed out of town. Kangee, the name she'd given her horse, meant raven in the Sioux language. He was black as a raven's wing, and right now he pranced nervously, frightened by all the strange sights and sounds of the city.
He wanted to run but she held him back. He sidestepped once, twice and then a third time. They were almost to the edge of town, long, endless miles stretching out in front of her, with only a homestead here and there to remind her she'd just left civilization behind. They passed the last house.
"Easy, boy, we're almost there. Then you can run with the wind." Angela stroked Kangee's neck.
A horseless carriage sputtered and rumbled along beside her. Suddenly the machine backfired, sounding like a shotgun blast next to Kangee's ear. He reared, his forelegs pawing the air. The vehicle popped loudly and then roared to life, raising a cloud of dust in the process.
Along with the vehicle, Kangee shot forward, leaving Angela in a desperate battle to control her powerful mount. She let him have his head and they raced down the road and into the countryside beyond.
Wind sifted through her hair, her long braid uncoiling from its ribbon, wisps of hair dancing around her face. She let out a wild yell, reveling in the ride. From birth she'd been trained to ride like a man--to think like one, too. Her father and her brothers had taught her skills few white women knew. One-quarter Sioux, she'd always known that life for her would be challenging and sometimes hard.
One with her mount, Angela veered to the south on Kangee, taking a well-used trail through scrub brush and pine, a trail that led downward to a winding creek.
She let her hat fall back, her hair flying with the wind. With Kangee's hooves beating a powerful staccato on the earth, she felt alive and free.
They flew past Devil. She heard the loud, anxious whinny of his horse.
Thunder pounded behind her and she heard "Son of a bitch" reverberating down the trail. Thrills shot down her spine.
She looked back as Devil Blackmoor bore down upon her. His horse gained ground, its tail streaming back. He was almost upon her. Captivated by the straight set of Devil's shoulders, the rigid set of his jaw and the steel in his dark eyes, she nudged Kangee to ride faster--then faster still. Rising to a challenge and needing to win were intricate parts of her character.
The hammering of the stallion's hooves grew louder and ever closer. She imagined the hot breath of his horse on her arm, felt Devil's leg brush across her own, knew a moment of fear.
"Hold on!" he cried out to her. "Don't be afraid."
Her pride wounded, she veered to the right. He had anticipated the move, seemed to know what she would do next. In the following instant, she found his hands encircling her waist; then he swooped her from the back of her mount onto his. In a matter of seconds his horse slowed and came to a complete stop.
She had wanted to know how it would feel to be held by him, but not this way. Giddy with unknown sensations deep in her belly, torn with indecision and battered pride, she reacted to him with her temper instead of common sense.
"Devil take you. Get your grimy paws off me." Then to her mortification, she landed a solid punch to his jaw. His head jerked back. For a long, tense moment she stared at him, stunned at her own brashness, yet unable to control her seething emotions. She wanted him to kiss her, yearned to feel his lips against hers and to feel the power and warmth of his embrace. Instead she'd hit him.
"Ungrateful little..." was all he could get out before once more he seemed to notice her fist held high in the air and directed straight at him for the second time. He caught her hand before the impact.