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Secret Gamble
by Alice Blue

Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Jason McQuade is an ex-outlaw, but he means to reform his life and pay for all the wrong he's done. When he wins the deed to the Bar W Ranch is a hand of poker, he sees his chance to settle down and earn an honest living. But the property has enormous debts and Brand Kingford--a man who runs a lot of cattle and owns a lot of land--has a stake in the ranch. He won't give it up without a fight. Vanessa Chamberlain is furious at the man who took away their home. Is Jason angel or outlaw? She wonders when she finds out her father gambled away the ranch to save it from Kingford's clutches. Jason is determined to keep the Bar W and turn it around. Since the first time he saw the ranch--and Vanessa--he feels as if he's home. But can the widow of a lawman ever love a former outlaw?
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: November 2005

eBookeBook

6 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [352 KB]
Words: 82120
Reading time: 234-328 min.


Prologue

Wyoming 1875

Two guns fired simultaneously. One shot was accurate; the other was not.

"You've killed him! You dirty bastard, you've killed young Brockhurst!"

Jason Martingale saw the Brockhurst people hover around their fallen scion. It would do no good to argue the young man started the fight to prove he was better than Jason.

"Jason, this mess means you must flee for your life," said Lord Edward Alonzo Martingale. "You've used poor sense as usual. Lord Brockhurst has a lot more money and a great deal more influence in Cheyenne than you do."

Jason noted with contempt that his father said 'more money than you do' rather than use the word we. That his father and brother had even stood by him in this foolish gunfight had been amazing in itself.

"It was stupid of you to kill young Brockhurst," said his half-brother, "but then you are always quick tempered and slow witted when getting on with people."

"If he hadn't moved I would only have wounded him. Besides, I've been a deal smarter than you for years, Hugh," Jason said contemptuously. "I'll ride out immediately. Neither of you will miss me. You'll only miss the money I bring in. Supporting yourselves and saving the Double Ladder is your problem."

"Yes, there is that," his father said. "We shall dip further into Dorothea's diamonds."

"You can't give any more of my mother's diamonds to Jace," Hugh protested. "If he's not here he won't share the income from gambling with them. He can always go out and rob a bank like the commoner he is."

Jason grabbed Hugh by his ruffled shirt front. "This so-called commoner has supported the two of you since I was sixteen." He turned to his father. "Nate Brockhurst brought this fight on himself and you know it, but as you say, his father has too much influence in Cheyenne for me to battle. I'll pick up my horses and gear at the ranch and be gone."

Jason mounted his long legged part Arabian gelding. He ignored Nate Brockhurst's friends who shook their fists at him.

* * * *

Jason Martingale rode out from the Martingale Double Ladder Ranch where he'd worked off and on the last two years. He hadn't learned much except a fast draw and marksmanship. He hadn't rated a ladder of his own in the ranch title. Only his father and half-brother, Hugh, made up the Double Ladder Ranch. Royal blood counted, according to Lord Edward. They struggled to be a part of the English and Scots Lordlings group who invested in Wyoming properties they rarely bothered to see. Their claims to royal titles was laughable, but that was their problem not his.

A mile down the trail south from the ranch, three riders caught up with Jason.

"What is this?" he said with a grin that showed off a set of deep dimples. "Thomas, what's going on?"

"Virgil, Bill and I are sick of working on the Double Ladder with poor victuals, leaky bunkhouse and not getting paid when we're due. Your sire owes us two months now and it isn't likely we'll see any pay without you using your own gambling money when you get it. So we figure to side you wherever you go."

"Men, I'd be proud to have you with me but gambling money isn't always reliable."

"Better'n what we got now," Virgil said. "We be gittin' old but we ain't gittin' nuthin' where we're at."

"What about Miss Belva?" Thomas asked. "Do you think she'll wait for you?"

"I figure on comin' back for her as soon as I make a place to settle down."

Virgil Stone shook his grizzled head. Bill Dutcher wasn't much younger. Thomas Bender was more experienced as an aging English butler than a rider. He was much more of a father to Jason than his own had ever been.

Young Jason looked around at them all. He squared his shoulders. "Brother Hugh informed me I could always rob banks if I can't make a living gambling. There will be one change. Men, from now on I will use my mother's maiden name and be Jason McQuade. I have a feeling my father and half-brother will bring more disgrace down on their name than I ever could. If I disgrace myself, that will be on my own head. Are you still with me?"

The three stared at each other, then nodded.

"So be it."


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