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"The Reluctant Hero," Lorraine Heath
Sheriff Matthew Knight is the perfect hero for Andrea Jackson's next dime novel-or so she thinks. His outlaw-busting exploits may be larger...
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"The Reluctant Hero," Lorraine Heath
Sheriff Matthew Knight is the perfect hero for Andrea Jackson's next dime novel-or so she thinks. His outlaw-busting exploits may be larger than life, but the man behind the badge is more complicated than she bargained for. What's a writer to do when she needs a story, and her scowling subject is reluctant to open up? Maybe the question should be what won't she do?
"The Great Cowboy Race," Georgina Gentry
Boston-bred heiress Henrietta never imagined she would race a horse one thousand miles across open land disguised as a boy. But then, she never believed her parents would arrange a marriage for her she would have to run away to escape. However, there's no escape from her toughest competition, expert rider and champion wrangler Comanche Jones. She needs that prize money-almost as much as she finds herself wanting him.
"Whispering by Moonlight," Teresa Bodwell
Stranded in a town called Hell Gate without a penny to her name, Isabelle Milton is relieved that circumstances haven't forced her into something truly desperate-not yet, anyway. She's run out of options when gorgeous Lucas Warring rides into town like the answer to a prayer. Willing to do anything if he takes her in, she finds herself hired on as a ranch hand during one of the coldest winters ever-and delighted to discover there are plenty of ways they can keep eachother warm.
The West has never been wilder.
If she hadn't been so desperate, Henrietta Jennings would never have run away.
The train pulled into the station with the conductor yelling, "Chadron! Chadron, Nebraska, this stop! Everyone off for Chadron!"
Henrietta grabbed her small valise and went down the aisle. She knew the father she'd never met owned a huge ranch outside town. In retrospect, why had she been stupid enough to think he'd take her in and rescue her from the society marriage her overbearing mother was determined would take place in July?
Henrietta got off the train and stared at the big crowds in the frontier town's streets. To the ticket agent, she asked, "What's going on?"
The old man pushed back his eyeshade and grinned with store-bought teeth. "Big cowboy race begins this afternoon, miss, from Chadron all the way to Chicago."
"Chicago? Why, that must be a thousand miles."
"Yep, but for fifteen hundred dollars, a new Montgomery Ward's saddle, and a fancy pistol as a prize, I'd almost get in the race myself."
She was intrigued, but she had personal problems to think about. "How-how do I get to the Rocking J. ranch?"
He pointed. "Due north about five miles, can't miss it. Old Henry Jenningsmust have fifty thousand acres."
She couldn't contain her curiosity. "You know him?"
The man nodded and seemed to notice her blue silk dress and expensive luggage. "You got business with Henry?"
She'd better not tell the man she was Henry's daughter as she wasn't sure whom she could trust. "Uh, just curious. What does he look like?"
The little man's false teeth clicked. "Tall, lean, tough as a longhorn steak. Blue eyes like ice and light-colored hair. He ain't a man to be messed with."
She must look like her father, but he sounded formidable. "He-he hospitable to visitors?"
She could see the curiosity in the man's eyes. "Oh, he ain't at the ranch. I put his private car on the line two days ago. He's gone to a big cattlemen's convention in Omaha. Won't be back for a week."
Uh oh. Now what was she going to do? If she waited around here for a whole week, her mother and Henrietta's fiancé might figure out where she'd gone and come after her. She was underage and short on money. Only desperation had caused her to take her fine gray Arabian, Lady Jane, and flee west to the father who had never even bothered to answer her letters in all these years.
She walked to the stock car to watch the unloading of her beloved mare. As the train pulled out, she stood indecisively with her one piece of luggage and horse, trying to decide what to do. Survival was not a subject that was taught at Miss Priddy's Female Academy in Boston.
However, she knew Lady Jane needed some grain and a good rest, so Henrietta led her horse to the livery stable. Now she leaned against the stall door and brushed wisps of yellow hair out of her eyes and considered what action to take. She might find out which Omaha hotel her father was staying in and wire him, but she was uncertain of his response. He might just alert her mother of Henrietta's whereabouts. No doubt the Pinkertons were already searching high and low, since her social-climbing mother, Matilda, was insisting Henrietta marry that rich, prominent Bostonian, Throckmorton P. Gutterstaff III. For all she knew, the detectives might be on their way to northwestern Nebraska at this very minute. Besides, she doubted she had enough money for a week's room and board while waiting to see if her father would help her.
Henrietta took her luggage and pushed her way through the crowds to the Blaine Hotel where she got the last available room. In the lobby, there was talk of nothing else but the Great Cowboy Race with men standing around betting on their favorites. An idea began to form. Henrietta was an expert rider, and Arabians were known for their endurance. Was there even the slightest possibility that she could pass herself off as a boy and enter the race?
What an absolutely crazy idea, she scolded herself. Yet she didn't have any better ones at the moment. For a girl, she was tall and lean and had a husky voice. By entering the race as a boy, her mother's detectives would be baffled in their search, and Henrietta would be safely away from here. Then, too, if she won, fifteen hundred dollars was a lot of money and would take her even farther out of her mother's reach. In her desperation, anything was worth the chance.
Henrietta went to the general store and bought herself a Stetson, some western clothes, and a pair of boots. She returned to her room, put the outfit on, and studied herself critically in the mirror. With her blond hair up under her hat and the oversized clothes, she might be able to pass herself off as a boy. It was worth the gamble.
She lay down and slept for most of the day. Late in the afternoon, she left the hotel and went to get her horse. Once she reached the stable, she looked at her reflection in a horse trough and had second thoughts about her hair. If her hat came off, the masquerade was over. There was only one thing to do, and no sacrifice was too much to escape marrying that stuffy toad. Henrietta took a pair of horse shears and hacked off her long locks.
Then she put on her hat and led Lady Jane down to enter the race.
As she approached the table to sign in, she noted the big cowboy already there. He stood well over six feet tall, with the broadest shoulders she'd ever seen. A shock of black hair hung across his dark forehead as he pushed his Stetson back. Was he part Indian? She'd never met a real live savage before.
Comanche Jones laid down his hard-earned money on the table and signed in. "Twenty-five dollars?"
The grizzled old man nodded. "Worth it, too. Big prize, fifteen hundred dollars, a saddle, and a fancy Colt pistol presented by Buffalo Bill hisself at the end of the race in Chicago."
"My horse is good enough to win," Comanche drawled as he laboriously signed his name.
"Everyone thinks his horse is the best," the other man said. "You sound like a Texan."
"I'm proud to say I am." Comanche nodded and stepped away from the table to roll a cigarette. There were hundreds of people including newspaper reporters on the dusty streets. The race was supposed to start in less than an hour. He looked around at the competition critically and didn't see many horses as good as his own bay stallion, Hombre. Now, that fancy gray Arabian that young boy was leading looked pretty good. Comanche watched the boy tie his horse to the hitching rail, come to the table, lay down his money, and sign in. Then the boy glanced over to where Comanche leaned against a post.
The boy was tall and lean with delicate features that lacked a tan and eyes as blue as a Texas sky. City slicker, Comanche thought with disgust. Worse yet, the fine gray mare carried an English saddle. "We don't see many city folk out West," he said with a grin.
The boy only frowned at him.
Snob, Comanche thought with a frown and tossed away his cigarette.
Men were shouting up and down the street for the contestants to mount up. Comanche patted Hombre's nose and led him over to the starting line in front of the Blaine Hotel. The snooty boy had swung up on the gray Arabian and now rode to the line. It looked like there would be ten riders. Up on the balcony of the hotel, several dignitaries came out and waved for silence. The gathered crowd quieted.
"All right, folks, this is a big day for our fair city of Chadron!" the fat little man shouted. "As mayor, I welcome you to the Great Cowboy Race. A thousand miles clear to Chicago where Buffalo Bill hisself will be waitin' by the Thousand Mile Marker tree to award the prizes."
The crowd cheered.
"Now, you know you're allowed two horses if you want, and you got to treat them good because the Humane Society will be inspectin'. Also, there'll be newsmen along the route and at the check-in stops. Good luck to all of you! The fire chief will shoot off the pistol that starts the race!"
More cheering. Comanche swung into his worn old saddle. All the riders were mounting up now, and people were clearing out of the street. Silence fell over the crowd except for the snorting horses. The mayor up on the balcony shouted, "Is everyone ready?"
The riders cheered and waved their hats. With a great show of ceremony, the fire chief fired a pistol in the air, and the riders took off. Some of them galloped away to the cheers of the crowd; some of them trotted. Comanche put Hombre into a slow walk. With a thousand miles ahead of him, he didn't see any point in working his horse into a lather on a hot June afternoon.
The boy riding the gray Arabian also urged his horse into a slow walk, and soon only the two of them were left behind, the other eight galloping into an early lead. The boy looked neither right nor left, just stared grimly ahead as he rode. Comanche glanced over at the other rider and grinned. "Looks like we're the only two with sense enough to think of our horses."
His competitor barely nodded to him and smiled, then kept riding. The boy had light, sun-streaked hair curling under his hat and eyes the color of Texas bluebonnets, Comanche thought, compared to his own dark features, courtesy of his part-Indian mother.
They rode the first twenty miles in silence, the other riders strung out ahead of them, riding faster. At the first marker, there were two barrels of water set up for horses and men. Comanche reined in and dismounted, then let Hombre bury his muzzle deep in the water while he got himself a dipperful from the other barrel. "Hot day, ain't it?" he asked sociably as the boy on the gray Arabian pulled up and dismounted.
"Yes." The boy nodded and let his horse drink, then took the dipper Comanche offered.
"We don't see many fine-blooded horses like yours in the West," Comanche said.
No answer. The boy continued to drink his water.
"I'm Comanche Jones from Texas. Who might you be?"
The boy kept his hat pulled low. "Uh, Henry J.-J. Smith."
"You know, Henry, we might could help each other if we teamed up; reckon some of the others will do that."
"Don't need any help," the boy growled, put the dipper back in the barrel, and remounted.
"Well, damn your hide, you won't get it then. Anyways, you sound like a damned Yankee dude." To Comanche, that was the biggest insult he could think of, but the other only frowned and rode away.
Comanche shrugged and mounted up. Okay, he wouldn't cut the dude any slack; he'd beat him just like he would the other riders. Comanche had come to Nebraska bringing a herd of fine horses from the Durango Triple D ranch to the Rocking J. empire. The other cowboys had gotten on the train and gone back to Texas, but Comanche had hung around to look over the country. Northwestern Nebraska was might nigh as pretty as Texas, but of course a poor cowboy couldn't afford to buy any land here, especially with that Henry Jennings owning most of the county. Then Comanche had heard about the Great Cowboy Race. Fifteen hundred dollars was a lot of money, pert near two years' wages for an ordinary cowpoke. It would buy that ranch he longed for.
* * *
It was sundown when the riders rode into the town of Long Pine, where crowds waited to cheer the incoming riders as they checked in. "Welcome!" the town officials greeted the riders. "We got a picnic dinner planned for you, beans and corn bread and beer."
That sounded good to Comanche, and he dismounted with a grin. "You got a livery stable for the horses?"
A little man with a goatee nodded. "And a good hotel for you to stay in."
The free food would be welcome, and maybe he and some of the others could pool their money and rent one room. He looked up at the sky. It might rain a real toad-choker later tonight. The dude, Henry J. Smith, reined in and dismounted, checked in, then looked about uncertainly. Comanche had decided he wasn't going to do anything to help the snooty boy.
All the weary riders led their horses to the livery stable, rubbed their mounts down, fed them, and walked back to the bandstand in the center of town. It was a hot night, but the townspeople had set up lanterns, and the local volunteer firemen's little band played "Bicycle Built For Two" over and over. Maybe it was the only song they knew.
The riders got in line to fill up on the free grub. The city slicker boy took a plate uncertainly. He looked as lost as a goose in a gourd patch or a church deacon in a whore house. Comanche watched the boy as he, himself, chowed down on the beans. "Eat up, kid. Never pass up free food."
The boy was holding the corn bread as if he didn't know what to do with it.
"It's corn bread." Comanche shook his head at the city boy's ignorance. "It's good crumbled in a glass of buttermilk, but not quite as good as a tortilla for soaking up your pinto beans. Here, have a mug of beer."
The boy accepted the big mug of beer and looked as helpless as a lost calf.
Comanche sighed. "Kid, I don't think you'll make it to the end of this race."
"Got to. Need the money."
Comanche snorted. "No worse than the rest of us, and some of these hombres will do anything to win."
Henry continued to just pick at the food.
"Well, if you ain't gonna drink that beer, pass it this way," Comanche ordered. "Shame to waste good beer." He took it out of the boy's delicate hand and downed it.
Henrietta had never felt so out of place as she did now in the midst of these Westerners. She kept her head low and ate some of the strange food. She watched the big, rugged cowboy. What was his name? Oh, yes, Comanche Jones. He might be in his mid-twenties, and he drawled when he talked. She couldn't decide if his skin was dark because he had Indian blood or simply tanned from being outdoors. He wore a Stetson and a denim shirt open at the neck. His sleeves were rolled up in the June heat, and when he moved, his hard muscles rippled. This was the man to beat; she was certain.
The riders were all walking away from the bandstand. She looked toward Comanche.
"I reckon they're goin' to the saloon"-he nodded-"to celebrate."
He shrugged. "It don't make no never mind. Cowboys don't need much reason to drink. There's probably women there, too." He started walking away.
Oh, my. "W-wait for me." She didn't know what else to do, so she followed after them, although she was having a difficult time keeping up with Comanche's long strides.
"Kid, can't you walk any faster? I ain't got all night." Looking at the pretty boy, Comanche felt an emotion that made him as uneasy as a rattlesnake on a hot griddle. The kid was sticking to him like an orphaned calf. Comanche was feeling protective toward the young city slicker and maybe something a little more. That made Comanche as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
They went into the saloon. The place was full and noisy, the locals looking for any excuse to celebrate and the participants in the cowboy race being as good an excuse as any. Comanche pushed through the crowds and bellied up to the bar. The dude hesitated by the swinging doors. "Come here, kid, and I'll buy you a drink."
The boy came forward and leaned on the bar like the other men were doing, but he looked as ill at ease as a baby chick in a coyote's mouth.
The other riders were already there, shaking hands all around, accepting free drinks and introducing themselves to each other. "I'm Comanche Jones," Comanche said, "and this here is Henry J. Smith. I reckon you've all howdied but you ain't shook."
"How do you do?" Henry stuck out his hand very hesitantly.
The others looked at the kid and hooted. "Ain't this the dude who's riding that silly English saddle?"
The kid looked uneasy. "I-I got a good horse," he said.
The old gunfighter named Doc Middleton laughed. "You might as well drop out, boy. You ain't got a chance against real western cowboys."
"Oh, don't hooray the kid," Comanche said. "He's game enough to try."
A big bartender in a dirty apron wiped the bar in front of the pair. "What'll it be, gents?"
The dude said, "Sherry, please."
Excerpted from My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys by GEORGINA GENTRY TERESA BODWELL LORRAINE HEATH Copyright © 2006 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2008
¿The Great Cowboy Race¿ by Georgina Gentry. In 1893 desperate Bostonian Henrietta Jennings travels to Chadron, Nebraska to obtain the help of a father she never met however, she learns that tough old Henry is not at his ranch, but instead in Omaha. In dire straits hiding from her mother who demands she marry a prominent Brahmin, she darns the disguise of a boy and enters a horse race to Chicago thinking that Pinkerton would seek a female easterner. Though the trail proves dangerous she adapts except for her desire for her toughest opponent, Comanche Jones. --- ¿Whispering by Moonlight¿ by Teresa Bodwell. In 1862 Isabelle Milton finds herself broke working part-time in a saloon that does not need her help in Hell Gate, Washington Territory. Lucas Warring enters the saloon looking for his wastrel brother Matt, but learns his sibling has run off with miners. The saloonkeeper and his wife, the Havermans, persuade Lucas to take Isabelle to his ranch as a cook. As the northwest suffers from a frozen winter, they fall in love while learning how to stay warm. --- ¿The Reluctant Hero¿ by Lorraine Heath. In 1884 Gallant, Texas, dime novelist Andrea Jackson chooses Sheriff Matthew Knight as her next hero. However, he refuses to talk about his escapades to The Lone Star Lily author. Desperate, Andrea decides to seduce the scowl off his face, and the words from his brain, but he persists in saying he is no hero as he has a debt to pay off. --- These are three great western romances starring brave somewhat desperate females and strong men who melt when their ladies turn up the heat. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.