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Prudence Vogel didn't want to miss a thing.
She wet the tip of a sharpened pencil on her tongue and steadied a writing tablet on her lap, ready to capture the last moments of her journey. But as was her nature, her mind wandered, and instead, she began to write the adventure playing out in her imagination.
Katarina's nose wrinkled at the smell of stale beer and dust as she slipped behind the saloon and peered into the darkened room-
The stagecoach jolted as a wheel slipped into another deep rut on the rough trail, sending her pencil scraping off the edge of the pad.
She sighed, resigned she'd have to commit the final moments of her journey to memory and pick up her heroine's adventure after she arrived at her destination.
She slid her tablet into the pocket of her valise behind her dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Katarina, her latest, well only, publishing credit. She'd kept the novel in clear view in hopes of drawing a comment to give herself an opportunity to sell one of the many copies she'd brought with her.
Not the dog-eared copy, that one contained penciled notes of the details she'd gotten wrong. For that was the purpose of this journey. Prudence Vogel had never traveled outside the city of Chicago, yet her first novelistic experience was an adventure tale set in the wild frontier, featuring a tall, handsome hero she'd only fantasized about. She needed to know whether she'd been wrong.
For all she knew, the real Jake White Eagle was a short, squat man who could suck his whiskey through the space where his front teeth ought to be. She'd braced herself the whole journey for disappointment because she'd built such high hopes he'd be the hero she'd envisioned-the kind of man a real "Katarina" would admire.
Tales of his wild youth, his talent with a gun, his time spent scouting with Buffalo Bill Cody for the Fifth Cavalry had fired her imagination since she'd come across the first mention of his name in the Chicago Tribune.
After that she'd scoured every newspaper she could get her hands on, searching for a description of the man and his exploits.
Physical descriptions had been hard to come by; "burnished skin" and "the deadly stare of the black-eyed Indian" hadn't told her whether his jaw was square or rounded, or his nose was a sculpted blade or broad and bumpy. And it would have been helpful to know whether Katarina would have to lift her patrician chin to kiss his lips. Since she'd lacked definitive answers to her questions, in her mind she'd created an image of the man she wanted him to be.
However, news of his dangerous exploits had been much easier to find. The man had earned quite a reputation as a gunslinger as he'd roamed the western territories. Then last year, for some reason, he'd settled in Serendipity, Montana. Not Deadwood or any number of more recognizable wild, western towns, but an unknown place with a whimsical name.
In her research, she'd missed the reason for his inexplicable move. Now she wanted the truth for the sequel to her book and detailed descriptions to bring her wild, western adventures to life.
Prudence pulled back the curtain to take a look outside, blinking against a cloud of dirt stirred up by the stage's team of horses.
Bright sunlight dispelled the gloom in the interior of the stagecoach. Everywhere around them endless blue sky filled the view. The golden tips of the prairie grass rimming the trail waved in a slight breeze. Cottonwood trees swayed in the distance.
"Close that curtain! You're lettin' in the dust."
As if we aren't already wearing a coat of gritty trail dirt? Prudence bit her tongue against the retort. Ever since Mrs. Waters had boarded the stage in Helena, she'd offered a contrary comment to every one of Prudence's actions.
Prudence firmed her lips into a polite smile and turned to the stout woman sitting on the opposite seat. "Aren't you the least bit curious about what's happening outside this coach?"
Mrs. Waters snorted. "Curiosity killed the cat."
Prudence lifted her brows, which sent her spectacles sliding down her nose. The woman had repeated the same tired old cliché as Mrs. Lake in the opening scene of her dime novel.
Just like the character of Mrs. Lake, the woman had a cliché for every occasion and nary an original thought.
Another coincidence! An odd prickling raised the fine hairs at Prudence's nape.
While some of the less important details-the flora, the fauna, and the ruggedness of the trail-had mostly been wrong, the events in her story had been strikingly similar. The string of similarities between Katarina's adventure and her own true-life adventure had at first amused Prudence, who'd been convinced she'd simply done her research and was an apt pupil of human nature.
But this time, the words were repeated as though they'd been scripted in advance.
As well, the more Prudence thought about it, Mrs. Waters was an exact physical replica of the irascible woman who'd complained throughout that first scene of her adventure novel.
Even Mr. Stanton who slept beside her resembled the handsome, debauched gambler who'd managed to snore throughout the last leg of the fictional journey despite the bone-rattling thuds of the lumbering stagecoach.
The one jarring detail that didn't match her story was the character of the heroine. Prudence was a far cry from the beautiful and spirited Katarina. Sadly, she wasn't brunette, or possessed of a pure, porcelain complexion and soft, curvaceous figure. Her own hair was a muddy blond, her nose sprinkled with an unfortunate quantity of mud-colored freckles, and her figure was as straight as a boy's. And she wasn't the least bit adventurous.
Still, if the story was somehow unfolding ...
A loud banging sounded from the top of the coach. "Folks, we're comin' up on Serendipity," came the call from the driver.
Mrs. Waters patted her hair while Mr. Stanton snuffled and opened bloodshot eyes as he refastened his string tie.
Surreptitiously, Prudence reached for the edge of the window casing and held on tight ... just in case.
Shots rang out, the coach jerked forward and back, and then shrill whinnies filled the air as the team lurched again and shot forward, sending a screaming Mrs. Waters headfirst into Mr. Stanton's lap.
Prudence suppressed a squeal of fright and held on. Then just as quickly, she relaxed, suddenly unafraid, because she knew how this would end.
A hero rode to their rescue.
Sure enough, shouts sounded outside-from the driver and another man whose horse ate up the distance between them in a staccato flurry of sharp hooves.
Gradually, the team slowed, snorts and frightened whinnies settling like the dust sifting underneath the flapping leather curtains, until at last the stagecoach came to a stop.
Just like in her story.
Only Prudence didn't wait for their rescuer to fling open the door. She stood and grasped the door handle, nervous but determined to see whether the object of her obsession was indeed on the other side.
The door gave way unexpectedly, bringing her along with it, and she toppled out of the coach and straight into the arms of a very tall man. Thick, strong muscle surrounded her as he swept her off her feet and held her close to his solid chest.
Startled, Prudence glanced up, but his rasping breath fogged the lenses of her spectacles, and she groaned.
Why, oh why hadn't she put them away? Better to be blinking at the man than looking like a startled, befuddled mouse. Around the rims of her glasses, she noted the breadth of his wide shoulders and the dark shadow from the hat shading his face.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" His voice was a deep, raspy bass that seemed to wrap around her like a raw caress.
"Jake?" she whispered, more sure of his identity than she'd ever been of anything in her life. She knew his voice-had heard it speaking in her imagination.
Naturally, he smelled of sage and soap. She'd written that as well.
"Do I know you?" he asked, amusement in his voice.
A wide, tremulous smile stretched her lips, and she slowly wound her arms around his shoulders. "No, but I know you, sir," she said, too excited to give more than a passing thought to her forward behavior.
His head tilted as though he were scrutinizing her. "She bump her head?" He directed the question to the people stepping from the coach.
"I don't think so," Mrs. Waters said, her voice trembling and affronted at the same time. "But she's a very strange young woman."
"Ma'am, think you can stand on your own now?"
Prudence sighed dreamily. "Must I?"
A soft snort and his arms tightened for a second; then he set her on her feet, his hands settling at her waist to steady her.
Prudence sucked in a deep breath at the intimate touch. The heat of his hands caused an immediate warming in her nether regions. Her breasts peaked against her thin chemise. If just a simple, helpful touch could do this to her, what havoc would a more intimate caress wreak?
"Well, damn," he said softly, quickly removing his hands and standing back.
"Wait-" Prudence reached up for her glasses and took them off, blushing as she searched for a pocket to hide them away. When she squinted upward again, he was gone.
His boot steps thudded, growing softer in the distance and mingling with the sounds of other people moving along the boardwalk.
She realized that for that short space of time, no one else had existed for her. All thought had stilled in her busy mind. He'd been exactly as she'd imagined. Well, as tall and strong as she'd imagined. And she was pretty sure he still had his front teeth because he hadn't lisped.
He'd acted the hero, putting his own safety at risk to slow the stagecoach. He'd behaved exactly as she'd expected.
Again, Prudence was reminded she was no Katarina. Her heroine hadn't swooned into the hero's arms. She'd given him a brilliant smile and said something equally brilliant, which Prudence couldn't have remembered at that all-important moment to save her life.
She'd been so filled with a vibrant, glowing heat that she'd forgotten her purpose-and the fact that maybe she had the means to avert certain disaster.
She patted her pocket for her spectacles and choked on the dust she raised. No wonder the man had fled in such a hurry! She was filthy and smelled as sour as old milk.
Glancing back at the coach, she decided to check into the hotel and give herself a quick scrub before setting out to find Mr. Jake White Eagle. She had a good idea where he'd be.
The man needed her insight into his future. But would he listen to her?
Another question burned a hole in her belly-Was he as handsome as her heart and body said he was? As she'd imagined back in Chicago when she'd penned her novel in the wee hours of the night inside the tiny room she'd kept above her uncle's apothecary?
Of course, he was. His hands had felt her over and found her wanting. He must have his choice of beautiful ladies.
If only she were as lovely as Katarina. In her first meeting with the hero, she'd rendered Jake speechless as he'd searched her fair countenance and committed it to memory before shaking himself out of his daze. He'd remembered at the last moment to extend his hand to help her glide gracefully from the stage.
Katarina had shivered delicately as she settled her soft palm in his broad, calloused palm and given him a blinding smile.
The smiling part Prudence had managed to get right. Although likely he'd stared at her puffy lips and wondered if she'd kissed a bee.
She sighed, hoping to earn at least his gratitude, if not his admiration, when she gave him the news that tonight he'd be drawing on a killer.
Jake White Eagle tied the reins to the hitching post in front of the sheriff's office and stomped up the wooden steps, feeling as ornery as a horse with a burr beneath its saddle. First order of business was to find out who fired the shots that spooked the runaway stagecoach.
Maybe then he could forget the softness of the woman he'd held in his arms as she'd melted all over him like sweet, warm molasses.
The first sight of her tumbling from the door of the coach hadn't inspired so much as a spark of interest. She was mousy. Her blondish brown hair straggled from its neat bun. Her scrawny figure was hardly worth noting.
However, close up, the sight of her slender nose dotted with golden freckles and the misting lenses of her wire-rimmed spectacles had forced a grin.
The smile she'd returned had been brilliant, scorching as summer sunlight. Suddenly, she'd felt light and fit just right in his arms. The way she'd wrapped her arms around his shoulders had sent an arc of electric heat straight to his loins. For a moment, he'd thought she returned his interest.
Until he'd set her on her feet and held her tiny waist between his large hands. Her sharp gasp had felt like a splash of cold water.
She'd been shocked a breed held her tight.
Reminded he was tolerated for his skill with a gun, he withdrew quickly, leaving her blushing and glancing away at the impropriety of his touch. Townfolk might turn a jaded glance when he diddled with a saloon whore, but decent folk would look askance if he set his sights on a young, marriageable white woman.
Her smile had been one of relief, not of interest returned. He'd do well to remember that and give the woman a wide berth. Besides, he had enough problems on his hands-drunks to turn out of the jailhouse, a wild young town to tame.
As he walked into the dim interior of his new office, he flipped the sign to let folks know he was in and reached for the keys hanging on a peg.
He had what he wanted right here. A chance at respectability after a checkered past. One reed-slim woman with lush pink lips wasn't going to put a spoke in his wagon's wheel.
Chapter Two A quick, darting glance around the edge of the window and Prudence spied her target. The gunslinger had his back to her and was talking to a large man who tucked his wrinkled shirt inside his pants and hitched up his yellow suspenders.
When they moved toward the door, she quickly drew back and straightened the hem of her neat, gray-striped jacket. She'd settled on a staid, professional outfit. No use in trying too hard to win an appreciative glance.
She'd only look desperate.
In her hand, she held a copy of her novel. Not the precious dog-eared copy that had been the first to roll off Beadle's printing press. This was a fresh copy. She intended to give it to him along with the warning that, however unlikely it sounded, the events within its pages were coming true.
She wouldn't mention she was the novelist. That would be far too embarrassing. After reading it, he might guess correctly at her infatuation.
Oh, why had she extolled his beauty and gone on and on about the strength in his taut, leanly muscled body? He'd wonder how an innocent maiden would know about any fires that heated the loins of the heroine at just the sight of his manly physique.
Never mind he'd figure that out quickly if she couldn't remember how to breathe. She was about to get her first clear view of that impressive body and handsome face, and her insides trembled like jelly.
The door opened and the burly man with the yellow suspenders stepped onto the planked walkway, wincing at the sunlight. "Dammit, Jake. A man could go blind this time a day."
"Quit grousing, Caleb. Next time watch who you pick a fight with when you're drunk."
"Who'd a guessed that little pipsqueak had fists like a hammer." He rubbed his swollen jaw. "Must a caught me by surprise."
"I saw the whole thing," Jake said flatly. "You swayed right into his fist."
Caleb winked. "Must have felt sorry for him."
"Whatever makes you feel better. Now get along."
"Sure have lost your sense of humor since you pinned on that star."
Prudence's eyes widened, and her gaze fell to the shining silver badge on Jake's chest. In her story, he'd been newly elected to the position.
Caleb's glance passed over her, then paused. He grimaced as he reached to tip his nonexistent hat. "Howdy, ma'am."
Prudence nodded absently but kept her gaze on the hardeyed man standing at the doorway with his arms folded over his chest. Her heart fluttered like a butterfly's wings, and her palms grew moist. Gazing at last into his face, her breath caught.
She hadn't begun to do the man justice. Feeling a little lightheaded, and more than a little intimidated by his male perfection, she looked her fill, just so that she could recount this moment later.
Excerpted from Wild, Wild Women of the West II by Delilah Devlin Layla Chase Myla Jackson Copyright © 2008 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
'Once Upon a Legend' by Delilah Devlin. In1883 Serendipity, Montana, when writer Prudence Vogel meets model of the lead protagonist of her books Jake White Eagle, she realizes he is even more a hunk.-------------- 'Second Wind¿ by Myla Jackson. In 1884 Thunderstruck, Kansas, when naked balloonist Dolly Sherman falls from the sky, she knocks Seth Turner off his horse and into each others arms.------------- 'Cinnamon and Sparks¿ by Layla Chase. In 1876 Colorado Territory, when newcomer Oriana Donato Ignacio finds herself in danger, Sheriff Kent Wyman vows to keep her safe.---------------------- The second W to the 4th power contains three superb erotic wild west romances starring women who know what they want and go after their respective him.-------------- Harriet Klausner
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