This isn’t the fate Emily Potter imagined for her long-lost father: gunned down in cold blood in the parlor of his bordello in bawdy, booming Denver. Now the lovely armchair sleuth from the civilized East is determined to unmask the killer, employing the logic of her hero, Sherlock Holmes. Yet Holmes never faced distractions like the Reverend Thomas Hall, who seems unusually interested in the abandoned house of sin—and Emily’s every move.
Emily suspects the “preacher” knows more about gunslingers than the Good Book—and perhaps even something about her father’s murder. All she knows is it’s hard to keep her mind on deduction when Thomas seems intent on seduction. Meanwhile the bordello’s matchmaking ghost insists on providing lessons in feminine wiles. But as logic gives way to passion, Emily forgets to protect both her vulnerable heart—and her life.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: All Is Fair . . ., Bad to the Bone, and Rescuing Diana.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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Hot on the Trail
A twig stabbed into Emily's cheek, nearly putting out her eye. Grateful for her glasses, which were the only reason she hadn't just been transformed into a Cyclops, Emily swatted the offending rhododendron branch away from her face. Shifting her bottom on the uncomfortable bed of dead leaves and flowers, she peered through the thicket outside Mrs. Haines's boardinghouse once more.
Where was he? He should have come out sometime before noon, Emily reckoned, since he had always managed to be under her feet by midafternoon. Opening her casebook, she glanced at the scribbled notes from the coroner's report and her conversation with Thomas regarding the sheriff. The two-million-dollar notation glared at her, and her nose wrinkled as she underlined the figure.
Could her father really have stolen that much money? A shudder went through her as she realized how little she knew about her next of kin. And what facts she did have weren't promising. He'd left her and her mother to go west and make his fortune. Perhaps he had fallen into the wrong company, and chosen a road that lead irrevocably to disaster. The house and Rosie's presence certainly indicated that. Yet something just didn't add up. If he had stolen the gold, where was all the money?
Then there was Rosie. Even though she hadn't appeared again, Emily couldn't stop thinking about her. Was it really possible for a murdered woman to come back from the dead? She couldn't credit such a thing. She had to have imagined it. But why would she conjure the spirit of her father's paramour?
There were just too many threads here. She would have to find someone who knew her father and Rosie, someone who would talk. Emily hummed a little ditty designed to clear her mind. After all, she couldn't figure out everything in one sitting. This afternoon her focus was the handsome Reverend Hall.
It was as if he heard her thoughts, for a moment later, the preacher walked purposefully out of the boardinghouse and toward town. Emily kept as still as possible, not allowing so much as the rustle of a rhododendron leaf to give her away. Thomas paused for a moment beside the path, and Emily held her breath. Did he see her? He searched in his pockets for something, then finally proceeded on his way.
She exhaled slowly. That was close. Evidently he had paused to light a cigar, for she saw the faint glow of tobacco in his hand as he walked. She waited until he was at least fifty feet ahead, then climbed out of the bush, oblivious to the twigs and leaves stuck to her. Then she began following him.
It was more difficult than she'd anticipated, for she had to keep a good distance between them and yet not let him out of her sight. Thomas appeared to be window gazing, pausing at one store, then another, nodding politely to the townspeople. If she didn't know better, she would think he knew he was being followed. Emily was forced to dodge between buildings, hiding behind a fat matron with a parasol in order not to be seen. She ignored the startled glances of the town's ladies, focusing only on her quarry. Her eyes rolled in disgust as two young women curtsied outside the dry goods store, giggling, while their mothers tried to detain him. He was quick on his feet, she'd give him that, for he managed to keep moving without insulting anyone.
Abruptly, he stopped, then glanced back as if searching for someone. Emily ducked quickly into a cobbler's shop, positioning herself at the window so she could continue to watch him. The proprietor gawked at her, taking in her leaf-bedecked dress and the twig protruding from behind one ear.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Can I assist you?"
"No." Emily peeked out the door once more. Thomas was gone. In that one second that she'd turned her head to answer the man, he'd disappeared. Exasperated, she dashed outside, brushing past the surprised groups of bankers standing on the granite steps of their institution. Frantically she looked up and down both sides of the street, then sighed in relief as she spotted Thomas entering the barbershop.
Determined not to lose him again, Emily stood directly outside the establishment and peered covertly into the shop. There were three chairs inside, and a counter laden with shaving soap, lime oil, colognes, and towels. Emily thought she could hear Thomas talking with the barber, but both men seemed to have disappeared into a back room.
Now what? Emily's mind worked frantically. Thomas could be innocently getting service from the barber, but if so, why wasn't he in the chair? What if he were secretly meeting someone? The barbershop would be the perfect place. Concealed from public scrutiny, he could conduct any kind of activity, with the watchful eye of the barber on the door.
As the minutes ticked by, Emily grew more suspicious. Surely if he were simply getting a haircut, he'd be in the chair by now. She couldn't just stand here and let an opportunity slip by, and yet she couldn't enter the strictly male domain without giving herself away. Fuming with impatience, she surveyed the property. Perhaps she could slip in the back door and try to hear what was going on.
An alleyway between the shop and the bank provided the perfect route. Emily quickly disappeared into the shadows, then rounded the back of the building. A thrill raced through her as she saw a screen door slightly ajar, and she slipped into the storeroom unnoticed.
Thomas's voice came from the next room. Emily pressed her ear to the wall, but the thick wood muffled the words. Noticing a door with a keyhole just a few feet away, she crept closer and crouched down, listening intently.
"Could use a new preacher. Got a priest, but the more good influence here, the better."
"So I've seen. Denver seems like a nice town, but a little rowdy. And the unmarried women here are pretty persistent."
Emily heard a chuckle. "I can well imagine that. Good-looking preacher like you. You're every mama's dream. The poor Reverend Flatter left town last fall just for that reason. I don't think the ladies would ever accept his . . . preference."
"Well, that's not exactly my problem," Thomas said dryly, and Emily rolled her eyes.
The barber chuckled, then Emily heard the quiet clink of glass. "Looks like I forgot the lotion. Must have left it on the counter in the shop. I'll fetch it and be right back."
Emily could hear his footsteps receding. Was he gone yet? Was someone else there? What were they doing? She leaned against the door, pressing her ear firmly against the keyhole. Unfortunately, the hinge gave under the pressure, and Emily toppled into the room.
"Well, well, if it isn't my dear Miss Potter," Thomas said, his voice laced with laughter. Suds floated around his legs, and shaving soap covered his chin. The barber had apparently been prepared to give him a shave while he soaked in a hot tub.
"Why--I--" Emily stuttered, her face getting warm. She was facing a very naked and very amused man of the cloth. Acutely aware of his lean masculine form glistening with soap, his muscles providing enticing little curves and valleys for droplets of water to trace, Emily swallowed hard, then tore her eyes away. But not before she saw the knowing twinkle in the wretched preacher's blue eyes.
"I can explain. . . ."
"Yes, please do," Thomas said, biting on his pencil-thin cigar. "I'd like to hear that myself."