Whippoorwill

Whippoorwill

by Sharon Sala
Whippoorwill

Whippoorwill

by Sharon Sala

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Overview

A frontier saloon girl longing for excitement gets more than she can handle in the “funny, heart-warming” debut of the bestselling Whippoorwill trilogy (Deborah Smith, New York Times–bestselling author).
 
Orphaned at age twelve, all Leticia Murphy wants is love, a family, and a happy ever after. But the Kansas territories are a difficult place, and Letty has to do what it takes to survive. Now, she’s the last saloon girl in the rough-and-tumble town of Lizard Flats, a place where happy ever afters are nothing but a dream.
 
Until—that is—a preacher from the East comes to town. The man of God isn’t quite as holy as he seems. And when he turns up dead in Letty’s bed, off sets a chain of unfortunate and hilarious events that will take Letty out of Lizard Flats in the company of Eulis Potter, the town drunk, on a trail that no one could have seen coming . . .
 
“Wear a corset because your sides will hurt from laughing! This is Sharon Sala at top form. You’re going to love this touching and memorable book.” —Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times–bestselling author
 
Whippoorwill is a funny, heart-warming story, set in a raw, untamed land and rich with indelible characters.” —Deborah Smith, New York Times–bestselling author
 
“Masterfully crafted players . . . and a story with a lasting sense of hopefulness.” —Romantic Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795337925
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 09/15/2021
Series: The Whippoorwill Trilogy , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 116,749
File size: 977 KB

About the Author

About The Author
Sharon Sala is a member of Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of Oklahoma RWA. She has 94 plus books in print, published in five different genres--Romance, Young Adult, Western, Fiction, and Women's Fiction. First published in 1991, she's an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader's Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer's Award of Excellence, as well as Bookseller's Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA's recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly bestsellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

LIZARD FLATS

Sleeping with men for money was not something Leticia Murphy had planned on doing when she grew up, but then, neither had she planned on being orphaned at twelve, or winding up in a godforsaken place in the Kansas territories like Lizard Flats. But here she was, like most of the other lost souls who'd come West, looking for something better, and in her case, wishing for a second chance. She knew the odds were against her, but it didn't stop her from yearning.

There was a ritual from her childhood that she performed each evening as the sun was going down, just as she was doing tonight. She stepped out onto the balcony off her bedroom above the saloon, looked to the heavens for the Evening Star, then stood quietly in the growing shadows to listen for the whippoorwill's call.

The routine came from a memory of her mother who had died when she was ten. She was always sitting in her mother's lap outside their clapboard house, watching night come over the land. They were on the bottom step with their bare feet planted firmly in the still-warm dirt, waiting for the first cool breeze of the evening. As they sat, they looked up, searching for the Evening Star and waiting for the whippoorwill to announce its presence. Her mother had always told her the bird was searching for its mate, but Letty had yet to meet a man who was worth the search.

However, the memory was one of the few good ones she had left. Two years after her mother's untimely death, her father was killed by a Comanche hunting party. Letty survived by hiding in a hollowed-out badger hole and that was the last time fate had showed her any kindness. At twenty-seven, she was well past the marrying age and nearly too used up to care — even if she had never stopped dreaming about a different sort of life.

In the middle of her muse, a gunshot sounded on the streets below. It wasn't the first time she'd heard that sound in Lizard Flats, and she would bet a year's worth of wages it wouldn't be the last. When the sound of an argument followed, she didn't even bother to look down to see what was going on before she went back into her room. Chances were she'd see both of the stupid louts who'd started the fuss before the night was out. Men were always the same. Drink. Fight. Then celebrate their victories or losses by paying for her pleasures. Ever since Truly Fine had left Lizard Flats months earlier, Letty was the only woman still working at the White Dove Saloon, which meant she got more than her share of fools in her bed.

Refusing to think about the boredom of her life, she pushed the coal oil lamp a little closer to the mirror and then leaned forward, giving her appearance a final check before going downstairs.

Her eyes were still blue. Her hair was still brown, but there were fine lines at the corners of her eyes that hadn't been there last year. She pouted her lips to check her lip rouge then gave a stray curl a final tuck. It didn't do to dwell on the inevitable. She was getting older. The day was going to come when she would no longer be able to get a dollar for each man that she laid. The strange thing was that she had never been able to see beyond that fear. What happened to old whores, she wondered? Did they just dry up and blow away like the earth in Lizard Flats, or was there something worse — something more sinister than even she could imagine?

She made a face at herself just as Will the Bartender banged on her door.

"Letty! You come on downstairs now. I got customers wanting a little female attention."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," she yelled.

Just before she left her room, she blew out the lamp and then walked to the open door leading out onto the small balcony overlooking main street.

There was a faint breeze blowing, shifting the thin lace panels over her windows in an effort to get inside. She ran her fingers over the lace. Hanging the curtains had been a feeble attempt to give elegance to her life, but she did have a sense of satisfaction knowing she'd paid for them herself. Her momma would have loved the fine lace, she thought, as she walked out onto the balcony, although she would have heartily disapproved of how Letty had come by the money to pay for them.

Once outside, she looked up. The sky was clear without a cloud in sight — the Evening Star already evident. The air smelled of dust and gunpowder. The thin slice of moon hanging just above the horizon would not cast many shadows upon the darkening land. For Letty, it was a night like so many others, yet she still listened, waiting to hear that call.

"Letty! You get on down here now!" Will the Bartender yelled again.

Letty ignored him, watching as half-a-dozen cowboys from a neighboring ranch rode into town in a flurry of whoops and shouts. She frowned, hoping most of them got drunk and passed out before they got the notion to take her to bed.

Just as she was about to give up and go inside, she heard the haunting, mournful coo she'd been waiting for. The lone whippoorwill's call sent shivers up her spine. Somewhere beyond the lights of the town, a small brown bird was calling to its mate. The sound was a reminder of who she'd been, not what she'd become, and it gave her enough solace to face the oncoming night. Satisfied, she walked back into her room and closed the door. It was time to get to work.

As she started down the stairs, Pete Fairly began banging on the piano keys. She didn't recognize the song, but it didn't matter. The noise level inside the White Dove had already reached fever pitch and no one was listening to him play. When one of the cowboys saw Letty coming down the stairs, he let out a whoop.

"There she is!" he hollered, and took off his hat and threw it in the air before yanking her off the last two steps and whirling her around in his arms.

Letty pasted a smile on her face and let her mind wander as the cowboy took her around the room in what passed as a dance. Pretending that she liked it was part of the job. She knew how to laugh and flirt and drink with the best of them.

One hour passed and then another. Letty's toes had been stepped on so many times by so many drunk cowboys that she wanted to cry, she'd been up and down the stairs to the cubbyhole where she serviced the clients a half-dozen times, and she was wishing for something substantial to eat.

"How about a song?" someone shouted.

Letty sighed with relief. At least while she was singing, they couldn't step on her feet.

"Yeah sure, cowboy."

Letty was sauntering toward the piano when someone suddenly picked her up and sat her on the end of the bar, instead. She threw back her head and laughed and when she did, the men in the room laughed with her. Then she looked over at Pete, who was waiting for her to begin.

Letty cleared her throat. The room began to settle. She had a good voice, but it never occurred to her as she sang that her life was a perfect analogy for the small brown bird to which she listened each night. She would never have admitted, not even to herself, that through her songs, she was calling for a mate of her own.

"Mother, oh Mother, where did I go wrong?

I was a good boy until I left your sweet home.

Now I sleep on the ground and spend my days on the run, with nothing to remind me of you but this song."

The poignancy of the words blended with the pure notes of Letty's voice, bringing more than one wild cowboy to tears. Before she was through, the room had gone completely quiet. Even the gambler at the back of the room had laid down his cards and was leaning forward, his elbows on the table, his gaze fixed on Letty's face.

His name was James Dupree. He'd been at the White Dove for exactly six days now, and each night he found himself drawn to the woman sitting at the end of the bar. He knew her name was Leticia Murphy, but she called herself Letty. In her youth, he figured she must have been quite a looker, but the hard life and the years had etched their own brand of scars on her face. The smile on her lips never quite reached her eyes, and her laugh was too brittle to be believed. Still, there was something about her that drew him. Maybe tonight he'd make it his business to do more than tip his hat.

When she sang the last notes of the song, there was a collective hush from everyone in the room before the men erupted in a chorus of whistles and cheers. To kill the painful memories resurrected by the song, the cowboys immediately began buying more drinks, which suited Will the Bartender just fine. He shouted to the drunk at the end of the bar.

"Hey Eulis, go to the storeroom and bring me another crate of whiskey. I'm gettin' low."

Eulis Potter pushed himself off from the bar and aimed his feet in the general direction of the back room.

Once he'd been a soldier with General LaMoyne's army. The fort was long gone, burned to the ground back in forty-two by a Comanche raiding party. After that he'd quit the service and wandered the territories until he'd come to Lizard Flats. He'd gotten drunk in the White Dove that night and had yet to sober up long enough to leave. He now held two jobs — doing janitor work for Will at the White Dove, and digging graves on the hill outside of town. He didn't particularly care for either one, but they kept him in drinks and a roof over his head.

Letty watched Eulis as he stumbled toward the back room. His clothes were little more than rags that smelled to high heaven and she'd never really seen his face. It was hidden behind a mop of dark, unshorn hair and a thick, greasy beard. But she was a 'live and let live' sort of woman and rarely wasted energy on something that didn't concern her. It was after midnight, which meant she was done. Thankful that the men were otherwise occupied, she slipped off the end of the bar and nodded to Will. It was her signal that she was going to her room.

He hesitated, as if thinking about calling her back, then saw the look on her face and waved her on.

She started up the stairs, her mind on the warm bath waiting for her in her room then heard footsteps behind her. She turned with a ready rejection on her lips only to realize it was the card shark who'd been occupying the back table.

"I'm done for the night," she said.

The gambler doffed his hat.

"Miss Murphy, my name is James Dupree. May I buy you a drink?"

His voice was cultured. His fingernails were clean. Despite her weariness, it was enough of an oddity to pique Letty's interest. She hesitated, and then shrugged.

"I guess." She started back downstairs when he shook his head and cupped her elbow, instead.

"Is there somewhere we could go that is a little more private?" Letty snorted. It was unladylike, but then his last question had been ungentlemanly, and she wasn't in the mood to take another man to bed.

"Speak your mind, mister. I'm too tired for games. You can drink by yourself. If you want to take me to bed, it'll cost you a dollar."

The gambler heard disappointment in her voice and it shamed him. He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed it, then fixed her with a dark, secretive gaze.

"I don't want to drink by myself. Besides, I think you sell yourself too cheaply, Letty. You're worth far more than a dollar."

Letty's mouth dropped.

"Now how about that drink?" he asked.

She shrugged.

Dupree hurried back down the stairs, talked Will the Bartender out of a fairly decent bottle of wine he'd been saving for himself, and grabbed the cleanest two glasses he could find before rejoining Letty.

"After you, Miss Murphy."

She eyed him curiously then led the way to her room.

James didn't know what he'd expected, but it was not clean sheets and lace curtains.

"I don't bring my customers here," Letty said, and then wondered why she'd said that.

Ah, so that explains it. "Then I thank you for the courtesy of considering me a friend."

Letty frowned. "I don't know what I consider you, mister, but I wouldn't call you a friend. I don't have any friends."

"My friends call me Gentleman Jim, but I would like it if you would call me Jim." He set the wine and glasses on a nearby table, opened the wine and then looked at Letty. "May I pour?"

"It's why you came. Suit yourself," she said, and plopped down into a chair, thankful to be off her feet and not on her back at the same time.

He muffled a sigh as he poured the wine. She was harder than he would have liked. From her viewpoint though, he doubted his life looked any rosier. As he handed her a glass, he realized he had subconsciously been hoping she would behave as the women from his past — simpering and flirting while knowing full well that their lush bodies and sweet lips tricked hungry men into vowing words of love and marriage that they didn't really want.

"To friends," he said gently, and lifted his drink.

The distinct clink of glass to glass echoed within the quiet of the room, and he thought as they took their first sip that at least this woman was honest. She didn't pretend. With her, a man knew where he stood.

"To friends," Letty echoed, and then walked out of her room onto the small balcony, knowing the man would follow, which he did.

"Why, this is a wonderful place," Jim said, taking note of the night sky as well as being able to look down upon the sprinkling of lamp lights throughout the small town.

"I guess." She tossed back the wine in the glass as if it was medicine.

"Would you care for more?"

Letty's expression tightened. "You don't have to get me drunk to do it. Or maybe it's you who has to get drunk before you can lower yourself to use a woman like me."

Jim frowned. "What are you getting at?"

Thankful for the dark that hid the tears in her eyes, Letty handed him the empty glass and then put her hands on her hips in a defiant manner.

"It's obvious you're not like the men around here. You're used to elegant women and nice places. I'm not elegant and the White Dove Saloon isn't much, either."

"I'm afraid you misjudge me, Miss Murphy. What I once was is no longer important. I am nothing more than a man who makes his living at cards. I have no home, no family ... nothing but a horse and two suits of clothing. I fail to see where that sets me above you in any way."

Letty's heart started to pound. What was he up to? "Then what is this all about?"

For a moment he said nothing, and then he exhaled slowly. She could hear it from where she was standing.

"I can tell that I've caught you at a bad time," he said gently. "My mistake. Next time we'll do this at the beginning of your day, rather than at the end of it."

He took a step forward, once again lifting Letty's hand to his lips, but this time he pressed a kiss in the center of her palm.

Letty's heart skipped a beat.

"You sing like an angel, Miss Murphy. Maybe tomorrow night when you sing, you might look my way. At least I can pretend that you're singing to me."

"Uh ... I don't —"

He tipped his hat, lightly vaulted the distance between her balcony and the balcony on the adjoining building, then took the stairs down to the street. She watched as he sauntered toward the hotel and then disappeared inside.

She couldn't think. She couldn't move. Something wonderful had just happened but she wasn't sure what. Not since her father's death had she been treated so decently. She wanted to laugh and at the same time, felt like crying. In the distance, she heard the sound of horses' hooves and then a shout of laughter. Confused by what had transpired, she went back into her room and closed the door.

Wearily, she pulled the curtains then took off her clothes and stepped into the tub of bath water Will the Bartender furnished for her each night. As she sank into the depths, relishing the warmth of the water lapping at her thighs, she thought of how many trips Eulis had made up the stairs to fill her bath. If he spent that much time on his own personal hygiene, he wouldn't be so disgusting, but the moment the thought was born, she realized that judging the town drunk was hardly in her best interests. Even though she hadn't let demon rum get the best of her, they weren't so far removed from each other after all.

For three free drinks of liquor each night, Eulis Potter swept the floors of the White Dove Saloon and carried water for Letty's bath.

For a roof over her head and food in her belly, Letty Murphy let strangers have their way with her body.

Disgusted with the rambling manner of her thoughts, she reached for the wash rag and lye soap and began scrubbing the scent of her customers from her skin. A short while later, she turned back the covers on her bed and crawled between the clean sheets. Her head hit the pillow with a weary thump. Just before she closed her eyes, she remembered the gambler and the way his lips felt on her skin. She wouldn't let herself believe that he'd meant anything personal. She couldn't afford to care.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Whippoorwill"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Sharon Sala.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
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.

Table of Contents

Dedication,
Lizard Flats,
Howe the Mighty Do Fall,
The Man of Her Dreams,
Westward Howe,
The Quest for Truly Fine,
Things Are Not Always as They Seem,
There Are None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See,
An Armed and Less Than Shiny Knight,
I Baptize Thee ...,
Charity Begins at Home,
A Drunk by Any Other Name,
A Preacher by Any Other Name,
A Promise Made Is a Promise Kept,
Howe Low Can He Go?,
Let the Games Begin,
And So It Continues,
The Reckoning,
We Shall Gather at the River or a Reasonable Facsimilie Thereof,
Rest In Peace, You Dirty Bastard,
Epilogue,

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