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Her nose to the tour bus window, Paris waited impatiently for her first glimpse of Forked Creek, a restored ghost town and home to Martha May Brown's famous house of ill repute. She'd thought about little else ever since she first discovered Martha May's journal, now tucked safely into her compact travel bag.
"Hoo-eee! We are so not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!" came a boisterous cry from the back of the bus.
Paris smiled in agreement. It had become the theme of the group's road trip from the Pacific Northwest into the Nevada desert.
She'd read that the ghost town was time-locked in its horse-and-buggy stage, which meant the modern-day roads necessary for emergency vehicles and tour buses ran discreetly behind the town, out of sight. When the bus finally rolled to a stop, Paris let the fifteen other women surge off ahead of her, leaving Paris free to approach the brothel once owned by her great-great-grandmother on her own.
The house looked pretty much the way she had envisioned, with its huge front porch and faded shingled exterior, sprawling three and a half stories high. She shaded her eyes against the Nevada sunshine as Hayley, the unofficial leader of the group, galloped up the front steps and banged loudly on the door. As the others followed, an attractive blonde in period costume stepped onto the porch.
"Welcome, ladies. My name is Valerie and I'll be your hostess during your visit to Forked Creek. Your rooms have been assigned and keys are ready for pickup inside. Are there any questions?"
"When do we get our costumes?"
Valerie smiled. "Everyone loves the costumes. Each of you has an extensive period wardrobe in your room, and you are strongly encouraged to remain 'in character' for your stay. Most visitors choose to do so, as it heightens the experience here."
There were nods and murmurs of assent from the group.
No problem, Paris thought. Having spent nearly thirty years molding herself into what she thought other people expected from her, the opportunity to be another person felt excitingly freeing.
As she collected her room key from Valerie, she said, "I can't wait to explore the town."
"There's plenty of time before dinner. Are you the librarian?"
Paris nodded. "How did you know?"
"A gal gets good at sizing people up quickly in this business. You're here doing historical research?"
"Yes." That was her cover, her reason for going off by herself every day.
"Feel free to ask as many questions as you like. I'm here to help," Val said.
"I'll be sure and take you up on that." Paris lifted her compact travel bag and made her way to her room on the second floor, conscious as she gripped the polished banister that this was the very house, the very town she'd been reading about ever since she found Martha May's journal last fall in her grandparents' attic.
The tag on her key ring read PANSY'S ROOM and as she walked down the hall she saw that each room was named after a woman. Martha May's working girls, she guessed, immortalized in this small way.
Pansy's was a corner room with windows on two sides; an armoire took up most of the far wall. The bed had an old iron frame and Paris mischievously wondered if Pansy used to handcuff her gentleman customers to it. A dressing screen occupied one corner near a washstand and basin. Framed needlepoint pictures dotted the walls, which were papered in large pink cabbage roses. Perhaps Pansy had filled her daytime hours with needlework.
What had Martha May's life been like here with no family, and no societal respectability? Had her great-great-grandmother been happy, or simply resigned to her life? She'd sounded happy in her journal entries, but she had also been on the cusp of change. Much like Paris. If things had turned out different, Paris would be a married woman today.
From the wardrobe she pulled out a nineteenth-century-style gown and held it against herself to view the effect in the cheval mirror, still hardly believing she was really here. Then, dress in hand, she crossed to the open window and leaned out. An ancient tree hugged the side of the house, and its leafy green foliage brushed her arm as she drank in the sight of the huge mountains guarding the town.
Somewhere out there a mine was located, not far from the hot springs, mentioned in the journal, and she could hardly wait to hit the trail of clues laid out in the book. Was it too far-fetched to hope that whatever treasure Martha May had hidden, more than a hundred years ago on her way out of town, was still waiting for her to uncover it?
Eager to explore, she went downstairs. On Main Street, she was amazed at how Forked Creek appeared untouched by time. What a labor of love the restoration must have been. She ran her hand along a scarred hitching post and envisioned her great-great-grandmother standing in this exact same spot, where raised wooden sidewalks fronted the line of shops with their freshly painted signs and horse-drawn wagons clip-clopped past at a leisurely pace.
Paris heard a shout from the far end of the street and saw a crowd had gathered near the livery. She strolled down to join the onlookers outside a split-rail fence, then squeezed forward for a better view of the cowboy who stood inside the corral, a rope in his hand. At the other end of the rope, an extremely skittish-looking mare eyed him warily.
While most eyes were drawn to the horse, Paris's gaze was riveted on the man and the way all six-plus denim-clad feet of him exuded power and control. Nut brown leather chaps gloved his long, muscular legs and slapped together as he walked toward the horse. Did any garment better enhance a man's masculinity, the way they emphasized the exposed denim-V of his crotch?
Not that he required special clothing to prove that he was every inch a virile male. From fathomless dark eyes beneath winged brows, a square jaw peppered with a day's growth of whiskers, and capable broad shoulders tapering to lean hips, everything about him proclaimed him pure alpha male.
Paris sighed as she leaned against the fence and watched him. When he removed his leather gloves and tucked them into his back pocket, her sigh deepened, for he had fabulous hands, big and strong. And judging by the way he handled the horse he certainly knew how to use them. She couldn't pull her gaze from those large, tanned, masculine hands stroking the horse's silky neck.
What would those hands feel like caressing her -- sliding slowly up over her hips and waist to finally cup her breasts, as his dark smoldering eyes gazed into hers with desire?
Her nipples tightened. He'd slowly unbutton her blouse, drawing out the anticipation one button at a time, finally unveiling her lacy bra. Beads of perspiration dewed her hairline, and her breathing grew shallow.
The horse tossed her head and rolled her eyes at the cowboy, letting him know he wasn't going to have his way with her. Not yet. Undaunted, the cowboy continued his soothing caress, and Paris shivered as his gaze met hers.
Paris flushed, unable to look away. It was almost as if he could read her thoughts, know her desire. The possibility aroused her further, making the blood pound in her veins. After a long breathless moment, he turned his attention back to the horse.
The crowd cheered as he reeled the mare close and flung a saddle on her back. The horse pranced a little, as if she had won the contest, and Paris wondered if the cowboy always singled out someone in the audience to play to.
Suddenly feeling in need of a cold drink, Paris headed back down Main Street.
The saloon doors swung open on silent hinges and her footsteps rang against the wooden floor as she crossed the room. She leaned against the gleaming mahogany bar and hooked her foot on the brass railing, examining the gleaming liquor bottles lining the shelves behind the bar. Close at hand were heavy brass beer taps.
"What'll you have?" asked the burly bartender.
"Just a club soda."
A deep masculine voice drawled from the doorway, "Tearoom's at the other end of town."
Paris slowly turned toward the speaker silhouetted in the doorway. His face was shadowed beneath a black Stetson, and a faded denim jacket clung to his wide shoulders. As he started toward her, brown leather chaps shifted on his hips, emphasizing the triangle of denim sheathing his masculine attributes.
He advanced with a jangle of spurs and the solid tread of well-worn boot heels. Up close he was even more ruggedly good-looking, and his dark eyes hinted at something untamed about their owner. Right now those eyes were frankly bar-coding her.
His gaze moved from her eyes to her lips, then dropped to linger on the shadowy cleavage revealed by the scooped neckline of her costume.
His X-ray vision breached the exotic lingerie she secretly indulged in and devoured her beneath the clothes. Paris had never felt so achingly, meltingly female as heat tingled from her breasts to her belly.
"You're not going to make me drink alone, are you? You look like a chardonnay kind of girl," he drawled. "Doesn't she, Hank?"
"Actually, I prefer sauvignon blanc," she said coolly.
A half-filled wineglass instantly appeared before her, next to a tumbler of whiskey. His eyes locked to hers, the cowboy clinked his whiskey glass against her wineglass and swallowed. Her gaze followed the long, tanned line of his throat as he drank. They sure didn't grow men like this in Seattle.
As Paris took a sip of her wine, the cowboy rested his elbows on the bar. "New to Forked Creek?"
"Yes. No. Not really." She'd been reading about this place and envisioning it for months now. Even tried to phone the mayor.
He cocked a brow. "You sure?"
She cleared her throat. "My great-great-grandmother used to live here."
"Really?" he asked, tossing back his drink. "What was her name?"
"Martha May Brown. She ran the brothel, and wrote about it in her journal."
"So here you are, set to visit the scene of her misadventures?"
Paris smiled secretively. "Something like that."
"Come on then. I'll show you around." He set his empty glass down on the gleaming bar where it was whisked away by the ever-efficient Hank, who had been eavesdropping unabashedly. "What's your name, Princess?"
Princess? She rolled her eyes, but couldn't deny his charm.
"Paris. Paris Sommer."
"Mitchell Brand the third. Folks call me Brand." His tone told her he was proud of his name, proud of who he was. "Well, Paris Sommer, you're in Forked Creek now. The normal rules don't apply." He took her hand and warmth tingled through her again.
"Which normal rules?"
"Ones like 'don't talk to strangers.' We're all strangers here, our lives intersecting for a brief moment in time. Take advantage of it and run with it."
There were other things she'd like to take advantage of and run with. "Are you sure it's no trouble?" Paris felt a quiver of excitement. Was it the old-fashioned clothing, the freedom of pretending to be someone else, or the sheer magnetism of the man beside her that had her feeling flustered and fluttery, unlike her usual calm and cool self?
Mitchell Brand flung his arm around her shoulder. "Darlin', I have the distinct feeling you're going to be a whole lot of trouble."
Suddenly his cell phone rang, sounding totally out of place and effectively breaking the mood.
"Brand here. Right now? Yeah."
He snapped the phone shut. "Afraid our little tour will have to wait for another time."
Paris nodded and swallowed her disappointment as she watched him leave the saloon. Men like Mitchell Brand never spent much time with her. She'd learned that the hard way not long ago.
Brand resented being summoned like a schoolkid to the principal's office -- which in his case had been the commander's office of the military college, where he'd always seemed to be on report.
Warren West, great-grandson of the town's founder, had gotten himself elected town mayor, and his office was the largest one in the town hall. With no computers or modern amenities, it was more of a stage than a functioning office, a place for Brand's stepbrother to hold court.
Warren looked pissed. "I told you I require regular updates."
"And I told you, when there's something you need to be informed about, you will be. I've only been here three days."
"Time's running out, Brand. I need you to find that deed, not get distracted by every pretty tourist who comes to town." So the bartender was a snitch. Figured. "This one's different," Brand said. "I need you to check her out. Paris Sommer. Claims to be kin of Martha May."
"You know her?"
"She called my office sometime last year. I thought she was a crank-caller. If she came all this way, she must know something."
It was pathetic to see the way Warren perked right up, like a dog thrown a bone. He never would have made it in the Special Services. Still, Brand felt a twinge of sympathy for the other man. Warren's destiny had been decided before his birth, his legacy being this town and the preservation of its "authenticity." The company started by his grandfather and carried on by his father had gone public, making Warren more of a puppet of the shareholders than an authority figure. He wasn't the one who wielded the scepter of authority in the West clan.
Warren wet his lips in a nervous-excited habit Brand recalled from their youth. "Stick with her. I'll see what I can find out. If she's for real, maybe she can lead us to the deed."
"Sticking with her was precisely what I was up to when I was interrupted by your call," Brand pointed out.
"I needed to make sure you were still on the job."
Brand leaned across Warren's desk, his face level with the other man's, well aware of the way Warren shrank back from him. "I'm here because you claim I owe you -- no other reason. And when I'm done, we're done. That clear?"
Behind them came a loud rapping on the open office door. Brand swung about to see a heavyset, middle-aged man paste a phony grin across his jowly mug.
"Luke." Warren stood behind his desk and extended his hand to the older man. Brand raised his brow in a silent question, which Warren ignored.
The old boy brushed past Brand as if he were invisible. "A little birdie's been chirping in my ear, Warren. Saying maybe you're not telling me everything you know."
"What makes you think Warren knows anything?" Brand asked.
Beetled brows knitted together as the older man slowly turned and took Brand's measure. "The prodigal stepbrother, I assume. It appears Warren knows enough to call you."
Brand chose to deliberately misinterpret the other man's words. "Why did you call me down here, Warren?"
"Thought it was high time for you to meet Luke Lamoy."
"I keep telling the boy here that we're well on our way to being partners. He doesn't always seem to take me serious," Lamoy told Brand.
Brand waited to see what Warren would say, Warren, true to form, didn't say a word. He'd always been that way, preferring to say nothing rather than risk saying the wrong thing. And it was hardly Brand's place to step in. Maybe the silence was effective, for eventually the visitor hitched his belt beneath his middle-aged girth and headed for the door.
"I'm off then, if there's nothing I need to be filled in on. I'd best say howdy to that daughter of mine before she gets wind that I'm in town and haven't seen her yet. Give my best to your mother, Warren. Always did think of you two as family." The door slammed behind Luke and Warren dropped back into his chair.
"You know what Lamoy wants, don't you?" Warren asked.
"I'm betting it's something to do with that deed you're so fired up about."
"It'll be a major toehold in the town for him if he can pull it off."
"Is it worth the fight?"
"I have a responsibility to this place, these people. The shareholders. I'm sure that's hard for you to grasp, since responsibility never seemed big in your vocabulary."
Brand shook his head. "You don't know me at all. No one does." He left the office without a backward glance, wishing he were anyplace other than Forked Creek.
Paris felt like she needed to pinch herself, to remind herself she was really, truly here. The Wild West ghost town was run almost like a theme park; everyone was encouraged to playact the past. Families on vacation walked by dressed in period costume, wide-eyed with amazement.
A stagecoach rolled past her and pulled to a stop near the hotel. The coach's door opened and out stepped a woman and a little boy, followed by two rough-looking men dressed head to toe in black, guns strapped to their thighs. Everywhere she looked, it was like a minidrama.
A peek in the barbershop window showed a man being shaved with a straight razor. The saloon doors flew open and a man landed face-first in the street. He picked himself up, let out a roar, and charged back inside.
Paris crossed the street to window-shop at the milliner's, where she found herself drawn to a cherry red hat complete with a veil and a silver fan-shaped hat pin. Martha May might have hankered after a hat like this.
As she headed back to the bordello the town clock struck five. Now that she had an idea of the layout of the town, she hoped Martha May's map would make better sense.
Inside the house, she paused at the foot of the stairs, hearing raised voices. "...didn't raise you to spend your days playacting," a man said.
Val's voice replied, "You didn't raise me at all."
"I raised you to respect your elders, and that's a fact."
"Since when did respect include pimping..."
The rest of Val's response was too muffled to be heard. The door opened and a burly middle-aged man stepped out, his scowl changing to a wide smile as he caught sight of Paris.
"Well, hello there, little lady. Y'all must be new in town."
"Why, yes I am." She didn't trust this man; he was too fake. Fake tan, fake-white teeth, fake smile. She took half a step back even as he extended his right hand.
Copyright © 2005 by Kathleen Shandley
Posted December 9, 2008
Librarian Paris Sommer inherits her great-great grandmother¿s diary that includes tantalizing insight into a brothel her ancestor owned in Forked Creek, Nevada. Unable to resist a look at her family tree, Paris visits the town where she meets ruggedly handsome cowboy Mitchell Brand both feel the heat emanating between them from that first contact. Paris discovers a map coded in her grandmother¿s diary that speaks of treasures. She begins a search, but others also want the booty and will kill to obtain it. As Brand teaches her the art of lovemaking, he also tries to keep her safe, but concludes that as long as she remains in Forked Creek she lives in danger. Paris leaves, but wonders how she will live without the hunk who turned her into a woman with needs only he can satiate he feels he has died the little death with the woman who can make him hard with a look going away. --- UNTAMED is an erotic contemporary romance starring an innocent librarian and a classic womanizing cowboy that reminded this reviewer of the Devil and Miss Jones. He teaches her the art of seduction, but she ropes him in with her siren¿s call though both have lives they each acknowledge they should return to, but each knows how difficult moving on will prove. Though the support cast seems one dimensional the growing relationship between the fully developed lead couple makes for a wonderful heated tale. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2010
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