Packing a six-shooter, Lisa-Ann Wilkins roars into Lubbock, Texas, determined to take out the man who killed her best friend. But a shoot-out at the local saloon only lands the bold beauty in the custody of Sheriff Wes Alington—and the real trouble begins. When the handsome lawman gives her the choice to keep his house until she settles the debts her havoc caused, it’s an offer she can’t refuse, despite the simmering attraction between them...
Wes knows keeping Lisa-Ann close is only going to lead to a pack of problems. For how can he preserve her honor when all he wants to do is take her to his bed? Then there’s the little matter of her plan to murder a local man. But once Wes sees Lisa’s vulnerable side, he knows the feisty lawbreaker is fast on her way to stealing his heart...
Praise for Martha Hix
“A romantic mixture of sensitivity, humor and spice, Martha Hix's delicious love story offers a refreshingly atypical heroine.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars, on Terrific Tom
"Filled with humor...and a wealth of love. Enjoy!” —RT Book Reviews on Magic and the Texan
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His Rip-Roarin' Bride
The Texan Brides Series
By Martha Hix
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Martha Hix
All rights reserved.
The Ides of March, 1906
Eyes shut, giving silent thanks that this week had pulled to a nice, calm close, Sheriff Wes Alington took a nice, slow drink of nice, refreshing beer and hitched a boot to the rail in Scarlet Garter Jenny's Saloon. Save for a waitress, the piano player, and this lawman, the place stood empty. Evidently this late cold snap kept customers away. Wes removed his star, tucking it in a vest pocket. Never really off duty while in the county, this was as close as he got.
Suddenly, Orville Bellingham ignited the ivories with "Ride of the Valkyries."
Wes enjoyed music. He'd spent over half of his thirty years in this isolated settlement, now the town of Lubbock. He knew a man could make his mark here, but few had the means to enjoy a Wagnerian opera. Not reared to brag, he made it a point not to discuss his trips to another world altogether. Never would he admit he used those expeditions to find the perfect wife. A cultured lady, one who could —
Interrupting his train of thought, his stomach growled. Once he finished this Pearl Beer, he would mosey on home to relax over a roasted-beef meal that a church lady sent over at noon to thank him for rescuing a kitty. Just as he started to lick his lips, all hell broke loose.
"There you are, you no-good, lyin', thievin', murderin' son of a bitch!"
In the middle of some woman's screeching tirade, he heard a scream from the waitress.
The music stopped.
Then the roar of gunfire, like a cannon going off.
Plaster flew from a gaping hole in the wall, to the left of the reed-thin Orville, who hotfooted it toward the back door, knocking the serving girl out of his path.
Sounding like a young lady but speaking coarsely, the shooter yelled, "You come back here, goddamn you, Orville Bellingham!"
Great, just great. There went Wes Alington's supper of leftovers. Just another Saturday night on the Llano Estacado.
He took a quick assessment of the gunwoman. Tall. Very tall! Wearing a cowman's hat and a mammoth old-fashioned duster cut from what looked like buffalo fur, she appeared gigantic and fearsome. Like a shield maiden in folklore from the fjords of northern Europe.
Rushing after the fleeing pianist, she tried to fire again but the rifle misfired. She growled like a bear with a thorn in his paw, heaving away what Wes judged to be a buffalo rifle. She pulled a pistol.
Pow pow pow!
Miss, miss, miss but she took out a mirror and a shelf of liquor bottles.
The piano player made his escape, the waitress running out the opposite door.
The gunwoman aimed toward the rear exit. "Come back here, Orville!"
Having already moved on instinct, Wes set his beer aside and was vaulting across the saloon by the moment the third bullet left its chamber.
"Cease!" He grabbed her right arm, half a heartbeat after she splintered the mirror. The Norsewoman screeched as if in pain, but he had to keep control. "Stop in the name of the law."
"You've no right — remove your hands, mister!"
"No, ma'am, I will not." Despite being somewhat shorter than the warrior, he twisted her arm and she screeched again. He pulled her hand behind her back so he could grab the smoking gun. She tried to jerk away.
Holding his breath against the vicious stink of that coat, he lobbed the six-shooter out of her reach, snapping her right hand into a handcuff. It was pure luck that he had the cuffs on him.
She reached back to spit on him, but missed yet again. "Let me go!"
"Quit that squirming. Ouch! That was my toe." He reared away at her next move. "Are you trying to unman me? Watch that foot of yours."
"Leave me be, you stinking, filthy pig!"
"Stinking?" He wrinkled his nose. Where's your room to talk?
Their combined movements dislodged something from her pocket. The object went flying. Her hat also met the sawdust. A wealth of corn-silk hair fell over his face. For a moment Wes could do nothing but blow hair from his eyes, nose, and mouth. Once finished, he could see that her blond tresses cascaded around her shoulders and down her back.
Her relatively clean-smelling hair certainly didn't go along with her overall appearance.
Now that her hair was out of his face and her manacles locked, he had the opportunity to take another assessment. He got a much better picture. Damnation! No one ever said it took beauty to snag a fine mate. Nor was war-hero acclaim a certain ticket to success with the fairer sex, but how in this world had that slug Orville Bellingham caught a beauty like this?
"What's going on here?" Wes asked. "Who are you?"
"I'm after the gentleman who did me wrong."
"And you, sir, are no gentleman, attacking me like this!"
Wes did something out of his on-duty character. He turned over the reins to curiosity. Why, he couldn't say. "What's your idea of a gentleman?"
"A man who treats a woman like she's a lady. He's kind and cordial." Her nose in the air, she went on. "He's loving and affectionate. Tender. Smart! Clever. Useful with a hammer, unafraid of a dishpan. Excellent with praise. Restrained with criticism. Ready to love his woman, worship his wife. A strong, affectionate father, once the young'uns come along. He's dedicated to his values and his family." She closed her eyes, lost in her world of make-believe. "Without question, his woman knows he's her knight in shining armor."
Wes snickered. "That's a servant, not an armored knight."
She couldn't be accused of listening, for she added, "He has a good sense of humor, where we can laugh about the silly things. He never picks his teeth in public, and never, ever passes gas in front of his lady or in church."
"You really ought to set the bar a couple of notches higher," Wes teased, holding back a belly roll of laughter. "Don't forget poetry reading. Mayhap a balladeer or even a ballet danseur. Singing. Dancing. The possibilities are endless."
"Oh, yes. Each and every one of those attributes. I have been known to daydream about a Romeo, serenading below my balcony."
"You don't say."
"I'm not looking for perfection, of course."
That did it. Wes laughed. Laughed heartily, trying to equate the buffoon who had just taken flight with a paragon found only in this woman's imagination. "Imperfection. You definitely got that with Bellingham."
"That's none of your damned business."
Serious now, Wes said, "You just shot at a decorated veteran of the Spanish-American War. The winner of our nation's highest award. Why'd you do it, ma'am?"
Her only answer was trying to kick him. He deflected the blow.
"Stop in the name of the law!" His patience wrung dry, he added, "Now!"
She fought her restraints anew, but there would be no wrenching free from Wes Alington, not this time. She might be the type to invade foreign shores, armed with no more than a wooden shield, but this shieldmaiden had met her match in the shortest sheriff in the Lone Star State.
"For pity's sake, woman! If Bellingham needs finding, I'll find him." He's probably with his sister.
Behind her, Wes meant to secure the shieldmaiden's left arm, but she proved lightning-quick. Whirling around, a second six-shooter in hand, she aimed to coldcock him.
Pain roaring at his temple, he tried to clear his senses, calling up all reserves to fight a loss of consciousness while wresting the gun out of her hand. The sidearm landed in the pile on the floor.
Suddenly, she went still, then craned around. Her mouth dropped, her eyes rounding. "Are you all right?"
If he hadn't been in so much pain, he might have laughed. "I am the law. Talk, ma'am, and I do mean now. Let's hear the rest of it."
Her eyes flashed blue ice — no, the blue of a fire, actually. "Oh, good. I've got myself a real live Judge Roy Bean."
"Most folks call me 'sir.'"
Roy Bean, going on three years in his grave in Val Verde County, gained notoriety along the Rio Grande, especially in the Lone Star State, but he'd been neither trained nor fit to uphold the law, much less to rule on it. The only thing the two men had in common was a love of Pearl Beer.
The shieldmaiden was rolling her eyes, showing how much she respected this man of the law. She said, "So tell me, sir. Do they also call you 'Law North of the Pecos'?"
"This is not about what I'm called. Do you want to stand here jawing all night, or would you prefer to tell me why you're out to kill Orville Bellingham?"
She swallowed audibly. "He killed my beloved Chuck."
"I see." Wes smelled a love triangle gone sour.
Her words got even quieter. "I spent a long year wondering where to find Orville, then ten days to make my way up here from The Divide. I've never been out of Kerr County before. When it got all flat and windy and lonesome, I was scared half to death. Scared, but I had no choice but to go on."
This wasn't the first time Wes had heard people say such as that about this part of Texas, a desolate area between the territories of Oklahoma and New Mexico.
He locked his eyes on the sorrow-filled woman. He figured she and the piano player had done some sparking, then the Lothario took off. Wes had a hard time seeing the accused swain as a seducer of the fairer sex, what with his stringy hair, protruding teeth, and beanpole physique. Truth to tell, he couldn't exactly picture ol' Orville having the strength or the guts to excel as a soldier on a field of battle, much less to pull off some sort of romantic conquest or robbery. Right then Wes found himself conflicted, trying to decide if he ought to take her somewhere to get a bath, a hot meal, and a comfortable place to lay her head, or if he could just do his job.
Wes was human. He didn't see anything wrong with the feeling he got after rescuing kitties and damsels. This foul-mouthed, road-dust-caked female had inches of height on him and she fought with a warrior's fierceness. She might not fit the usual description of a sweet little thing, yet he did warm to her plight. With a large dose of caution.
"What caused Bellingham to kill Chuck?"
She dropped her chin for several heartbeats. Then she looked Wes dead in the eye. "Are you some sort of constable? What the hell are you, anyway?"
"The sheriff of Lubbock County."
"Just my luck," she groused. "I've come all the way from The Divide to find Orville, and some badge-wearing so-and-so gets in the way of justice."
Suppressing a chuckle, Wes motioned toward a table. He knew it would be easier to digest the story if the witness could relax a bit. "Sit down. I'll join you." Once seated, he said, "The citizens of Lubbock County see that I uphold the law, not get in its way."
"I'm not like most folks."
That was saying a mouthful. "You had a rough time locating Bellingham. Tonight, before my eyes, you tried to kill him. Damaging this barroom in the process. And now you talk in circles. I'm wondering what you've got to hide."
She squared her shoulders. "To start with, Orville is a thief. Don't let his military record fool you. He is an evil man."
"He'll likely be easy to rope," Wes said soothingly, looking beyond the evil-smelling pelt and the grime on her face. "He lives at the High Hopes Ranch, north of town."
"You say he stole from you. I've seen my share of violence between men and women. It usually stems from love, past or present. I've seen petty arguments end up with one or both parties dead. If not dead? It takes the law to settle most of those arguments."
"I don't trust the law."
"How is that?"
She stared at Wes for a long moment. "You sound like a preacher."
"No, that was my father." Would he ever quit missing his dad? But this wasn't the right time for his personal reminiscence, so he said, "Bellingham showed up in October, a year ago. I don't know the man, over and above his musical talents and the rumors that he distinguished himself in the Philippines during our war with Spain."
Wes pressed on, asking a question in which he knew the answer. "Is he your husband?"
"Marry Orville? I've never even kissed the man! I wouldn't marry him, not even if he pooped gold and looked just like John Wilkes Booth."
Wes groaned but laughed, too.
"Anyhow, I'm an old maid. Twenty-two, almost twenty-three."
Old maid? Wes figured that beneath all her swagger and grime, she would be easy on the eye. What kind of place was The Divide, where a lady couldn't lasso herself a Romeo or even a knight in shining armor? "This Chuck fellow. What was wrong with him?"
"Not a thing." Chains rattling, she got to her feet. "Now if you'll let me go, please, I'll just move right along."
"No way." Wes also stood. "If Chuck wasn't your husband, who was he?"
A single tear made a runnel through the grime on her cheek. "I loved him."
He brushed her cheek with his forefinger, before realizing the impropriety of what he'd done. "You were affianced?"
She gawked at him, as if he'd abruptly grown a second head. "Chuck was my best friend."
"Did he leave a family?"
"He did get that blond strumpet over at the XO Ranch in the family way. I never saw so many babies at once. Every five minutes another one out of that little bitch. Sure were cute, though. Most of them looked just like Chuck. All yap and speckled bellies."
Wes groaned. "You're talking about dogs."
"As much as any of us might like the idea, we don't have the right to take another human's life, not over the loss of a pet, no matter how close we are to our dogs or cats."
Her mouth flattened. "You're just plumb eaten-up with the self-righteous, aren't you?"
"No, no, no, no, no!"
He recognized Geneviève Benoit's voice. The former can-can girl at the Moulin Rouge in Paris rushed in. "Mon dieu! What is happening? My beautiful Garter! No, no! It is ruined. Monsieur Flic, whatever shall I do?"
"Don't fret." Wes got to his feet. "I'll make certain this is all taken care of."
Geneviève — better known as Jenny — was ever the distressed damsel, bringing forth the ancestral concept of courtly love. Wes had never been immune to the petite redhead, even before she attended "finishing school" in Gay Paree. What a woman! What a wildcat.
Jenny eyed the unkempt stranger. "My waitress said a woman was shooting a gun in my saloon. You, obviously. Why?"
The warrior woman nodded toward Wes. "This asshole let a murdering piece of shit get away!"
Jenny's gloved fingers covered her lips. "'Tis no way for a lady to talk."
"I'm not a lady."
"'Tis not something to brag about."
"Oh, shut the hell up, you old biddy."
Wes had to chew the inside of his cheek, lest he loudly protest. The last way he'd describe the lovely French can-can girl? Old. And he wouldn't allow anyone to be rude to her. "That's enough!"
Jenny eyed the ruins of the saloon. "I am pleased my portrait isn't damaged."
All three eyed the suggestive painting above the bar. The portrait featured Jenny standing in a Victorian salon wearing an ostrich boa, a red garter, and slippers — one of which was propped on an ottoman. In the painting she also wore a tight-fitting, beige garment as a second skin. The bodice dipped into a V to accentuate her cleavage, her large breasts near to spilling. Not leaving a lot to the imagination, she'd cleverly covered enough to stay out of jail.
"Isn't that something?" The tall blonde shook her head. "You called me down, when you let people see your nasty bits barely covered? Hypocrite."
"The very nerve —"
"Don't worry, Jenny love," Wes interrupted, the endearment slipping out. He rushed to get by it. "I'll make sure Miss..." What's her name? He tilted his chin in the shieldmaiden's direction. "Miss Bryn Hilde Eriksdottir of the Norse lands will —"
"That's not me! I am Lisa-Ann Wilkins, thank you very much. I'm from The Divide in Kerr County, not some horse land. We raise sheep and goats."
"I stand corrected." He smiled at his success in pulling out the wild woman's name and provenance. "Fear not. Miss Lisa-Ann Wilkins of The Divide will pay full restitution."
"Merci, I am very —"
"Oh no," the culprit broke in. "No way. I'm not paying a penny."
Oh, yes, you will.
"You needn't trouble yourself about tonight," he said to Jenny. "Go home, get your beauty sleep. I'll make certain this place is put to rights."
Excerpted from His Rip-Roarin' Bride by Martha Hix. Copyright © 2017 Martha Hix. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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