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Late July, 1887
Green Valley, Colorado
Tall, dark, and very, very dangerous.
That was Matilda St. Clair's first thought when she saw the black-clad stranger leaning in her boardinghouse doorway, his long fingers curled around a low-slung gunbelt.
He lifted one hand and tipped back his widebrimmed hat, allowing the latigo string to hold it as it slipped down his back. Cool green eyes and long blond hair added to the aura of danger that fitted him as snugly as his dark trousers.
Apprehension shivered down Mathe's spine and she tightened her grasp around the broom handle. She met his stoic gaze without flinching, though her heart slammed against her breast. "May I help you?"
"Are you Matilda St. Clair?" he asked.
His deep, tobacco-roughened voice caressed her like velvet across bare skin and Mattie blinked the disturbing sensation aside. She nodded curtly, "I'm Mrs. St. Clair."
His languid gaze roamed from her face down to her toes and back up. Though angered by his bold scrutiny, Mattie couldn't help but wish she'd worn something other than her faded black skirt and patched blouse. She smoothed back the damp tendrils from her forehead, then was annoyed at herself for that small. feminine vanity.
"My name's Clint Beaudry, and I'm looking for a room," he said with a slight Texas drawl.
"For how long?"
"A couple days" he shrugged negligently and his hair brushed across his shoulders "maybe a week."
Mattie coolly studied Beaudry's whipcord-lean body in turn, from his scuffed boots to his tanned, rugged features. Her gaze paused on the conchostudded belt aroundhis slim hips and the gleaming revolver in the holster tied down around a muscular thigh. Her mouth grew dry at his blatant virility and she damned her body's unwelcome reaction.
Clint Beaudry was definitely dangerous, in more ways than one.
Mattie swallowed back the rise of bitterness. "What business are you in, Mr. Beaudry?"
A comer of his mouth quirked upward, giving his features a boyishness at odds with his deadly weapon. "I'm in between jobs right now."
Mattie tightened her grip on the broom until her knuckles whitened. "You're a hired gun."
His expression hardened. "No, ma'am. My gun isn't for sale."
Mattie wanted to believe him, but the tied-down holster told her otherwise. "I won't have a killer staying under my roof."
His eyes narrowed and he spoke in the coldest voice she'd ever heard. "I'm not a killer." He glanced around. "Besides, from what I've seen, you can't afford to be picky."
Beaudry's arrogance sparked Mattie's temper, and she raised the broom as if wielding a sword. "How dare you come into my house and tell me how to run my own business. Get out!"
"I'll pay double your rates," he said, as if she hadn't even spoken.
Money would be of little concern to him. A man like him thrived on the power of the gun he carried-the power of life and death. She met his insolent gaze, which only made her angrier. Raising her chin defiantly, she said, "Not at any price."
He took a step toward her and her heart leapt at the intensity in his face and eyes. "Look, you need the money and I need a room. Simple as that, ma'am."
Simple? Nothing was simple with a man like him.
His piercing gaze didn't waver and Mattie had the terrifying feeling he could see straight to her soul. She averted her eyes, taking in her comfortably furnished front room, from the knickknacks and framed pictures to the needlepoint pillows on the sofa and chairs. For the past ten years, this had been their home, thanks to Ruth Hendricks and her generosity. Beaudry's money would allow her to make a few needed repairs around the place.
Mattie shook her head and dragged her attention back to the gunman. "You heard me, Mr. Beaudry, I said no and I meant it."
Something that looked suspiciously like admiration flared in his eyes, then a grim smile lifted his lips. "Whatever you say, ma'am."
He reached back to bring his weathered black hat onto his head. Touching the brim with two fingers, Clint Beaudry left.
"Who was that, Ma?"
Mattie whirled around to see her ten-year-old son standing in the doorway leading to the kitchen. "What have I told you about listening in on folks' private conversations, Andrew St. Clair?"
The boy slipped his hands into his overalls pockets. "I didn't mean to. I was just getting a cookie when I heard him."
Mattie's temper ebbed, and she walked over to her son. "I didn't mean to yell at you, sweetheart. That man made me a little nervous, then you startled me."
"I saw him sitting out in front of Billy's Saloon a little while ago." Andy's hazel eyes lit up. "Everyone was makin' a wide circle around him, like they was scared of him."
"Were scared of him," Mattie corrected as she brushed his long bangs off his forehead.
"Why do you think they were scared?"
"Because he's a dangerous man." She started sweeping, hying to banish the disturbing stranger from her mind. "Have you filled the woodbox in
"Yes, ma'am." Andy paused, then looked at Mattie questioningly. "Why didn't you want him staying here?"
"He carries a gun and uses it to hurt people."
Andy's eyes saucered. "Like one of them fast guns in a dime novel?"
Mat-he laid a hand on her son's shoulder and spoke firmly -You know what I dunk of those stories, Andy."
"I know, Ma, but they're fun to read."
Worry squeezed Mathe's heart as she gazed at her son, who looked exactly like her husband Jason, the man Mattie had foolishly fallen...