Black Roots And Cowboy Boots
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by RaeLynn Blue, Shara Azod, Kathleen Rowland
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
Description: "Ashes of Lust" Space cowboy, Anton Johns, has spent the last ten years wrangling space debris and rogue satellites for Orbital Junk, Inc. While on Earth Prime collecting broken bits of a satellite and its boosters, he discovers a dead body. IGO Investigative Commander Sydney Ashe arrives and Anton soon realizes he will do anything to wrangle her heart. "Mail Order Huntress" African American Benjamin Stahl is a hard-bitten cowboy with a promise to keep. His conscience won't let him enjoy life until he learns what happened to his Indian wife. Another cowpoke takes pity on Ben for his never ending quest and signs him up for a mail order bride. Mahogany beauty Truth Hannah leaves her Nebraska homestead in 1883 after her mother dies. Destitute, naïve, and determined, Truth signs up as a mail order bride to meet a nice man who will help her hunt for her only living relative, a young cousin, who'd run away to Texas to find work. Benjamin writes that he'll marry her and track down her cousin. When Truth arrives in Texas, she learns that her groom didn't pen the letters. Ben is sworn to another yet struggles to keep his hands off Truth's diminutive figure. Will Truth hold Ben to the bargain? "Ride of a Lifetime" Trace Richards is not happy. As a star of the African American rodeo circuit, he should be out there bronco bustin'. Instead, he is stuck babysitting his boss's granddaughter. It's bad enough a minor injury is keeping him out of the saddle, but when the boss's brat turns out to be the finest woman he's ever seen Trace knows he's in trouble. Jesse Love is a woman on a mission. She's out to prove she's more than the boss's granddaughter, but that she is one hell of a cowgirl. She's also out to get her man. Jesse has had her eye on Trace for quite some time, and she's determined to rope herself one obstinate cowboy. Rating: Erotic Romance--Explicit (Contains adult content, language, and graphic sex)
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: February 2009
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [245 KB]
Reading time: 142-198 min.
MAIL ORDER HUNTRESS
Kathleen Rowland * * * *
A few more hours, Truth Hannah guessed, and the train of mail order brides would reach the depot at Big Bend, Texas.
It was late afternoon, and the temperature was cooling some. Truth slid the rattling window shut and saw thick black smoke from the locomotive pass by. She rested her forehead against the window and found the vibration soothing. She stared at the desert and hoped her intended would be a good man.
Wind-twisted pinions clung to their rocky niches, withered with a survivor's posture. Truth hoped she and the twenty-some other brides would survive. She'd signed with the Busy Bees, a company servicing young women of color from the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota territories. Half would continue on to Fort Worth, but she was among those getting off.
There was enough late afternoon light to read the letters from her affianced, Benjamin T. Stahl. Actually, she didn't need to read them since she'd committed his words to memory, especially the part where he'd promised to help her find her cousin.
"Where are we?" Eliza asked, blinking, as she awoke. She patted her hair and straightened in her wooden seat.
Truth, too apprehensive to sleep, was glad to have company. "We're past the desert of all black rocks." She'd seen glints of blue, green, and sparkles in the rocks. "Benjamin wrote about using big pillars of rock as landmarks when they drive cattle."
Eliza cleared her throat. "Jeremiah wrote about the lack of roads and buildings to use as landmarks."
"Their letters are similar," Truth said, "except for Ben's promise to help me find my cousin and Jeremiah's mention of his seven-year-old son. It makes me wonder if Jeremiah and Ben wrote their letters together."
Her friend chuckled. "Did Jeremiah warn you not to worry about falling off the earth? I worried a little."
"That makes two of us." Truth began worrying about something else.
Eliza let out a slow breath. "I'd like to see moths the size of hummingbirds."
"Oh, my." She put a hand on her fluttering heart. "One cowboy wrote both letters." * * * *
The depot bustled with grooms finding their brides. Everyone, that was, except Truth's intended. Excited couples hadn't noticed her standing alone in a shadow. She managed to stand tall, keeping a hold on her womanly grace, as she watched buggies and buckboards come and go from the depot. Her friend, Eliza, was busy shaking hands with her intended, Jeremiah, and his son. The three of them chatted. Jeremiah lifted Eliza onto a tall brown horse. Perching sideways, Eliza moved backward in little jumps and made room for the boy. Jeremiah lifted him in front of her, and the young boy beamed with hope. Riding sidesaddle with one hand gripping the saddle horn, the other resting on the boy's shoulder, Eliza turned and nodded. Just in case she saw her, Truth gave her a big wave back.
Together, she, Eliza, and other young women of color had endured the arduous trip in their crowded car. They'd kept each other's uncertainties at bay. As Truth watched the last couple depart on foot, she remembered what she'd learned long ago. The quickest way to get what she wanted was not to want it, outwardly, at least.
Truth glimpsed at the depot manager as he came out of the small building. Too embarrassed to speak about being stranded, she rounded the corner. She heard his keys jingle as he began locking up. She restlessly paced the planks around the back of the rough-hewn depot watching the manager head toward the center of town. She felt unease growing. Every 'bride' except her had been welcomed by a gentleman.
She spotted a tiny brown jackrabbit behind a shrub and leaned toward it. "Hey, bunny," she whispered. She looked at its long, twitching ears. They trembled from fear, she knew. The bunny thought she was a predator, and she wasn't surprised when the rabbit darted down a hole. She had started feeling her own kind of fear, not yet full-blown, but she couldn't deny the squall in her stomach.
She plopped onto a bench and prayed. Please, Lord, give me strength. She wiggled out of her traveling jacket, folded it, and placed it on the bench. She refolded the jacket, and then removed her gloves and her hat with the pretty plume. Perhaps, she'd grabbed at a straw too hastily after her cousin had left for Texas and Mama died. She was failing miserably at running the farm alone. In a bartering arrangement, she'd taught the basics to black children. Other than that, she had few options. The Busy Bees would get her to Texas. With no available buyer in the Nebraska territory, she held title to the family's spread but had sold her chickens, eggs, and every piece of farming equipment.
She needed to find Cousin Glen, her only kin. Glen was more like a brother than a cousin, and her mother would have expected this from her. She sat there long enough for the sun to dip behind a bluff. It was long enough for her to realize Benjamin T. Stahl was not going to ride up on a horse and meet her properly. This man won't claim me as his bride.
She wiped perspiration with a linen handkerchief. She refused to let the Texas heat smother what spirit she had left. She opened her needlepoint valise and placed her garments inside. She brought out two dollars from her meager stash sewn into the lining and placed it in her purse, alongside Glen's photo. About to close her valise, she snatched her letters from Ben. She was about to rip them up but stopped herself. The letters were her proof of a contract. She stuffed them back in and slammed the case shut. She jerked up and brushed the dust from her long skirt. How silly she'd been, spending precious money on her outfit, a reminder of why she'd come.
She squinted into the low sun and started for the center of town where people were milling about. Even in the late afternoon, they had a need to conduct business. After all, Big Bend was a ranching town on a rail line. Land was rich enough to grow grass, perfect for grazing Longhorn. Her cousin Glen had told her about the special breed of cattle. He was a sixteen-year-old dreamer and wanted to try his hand as a cowboy. At least she'd come to the right territory.
If she were to find a place to stay, she'd have to conjure up some pleasantries. As she plodded along, she centered her thoughts on Glen. As his older sister, she often entertained him with stories. After each one, he'd say he owed her a boxful of stars. She smiled. His dreams had always been lofty. He'd promised to make his fortune out west and send money back home. If there were money left over, he might buy a banjo, he'd said. When she and Mama hadn't heard from him in a year, her mother's heart nearly broke. They worried about the trouble Glen may have found.
She saw the depot manager walking toward her. He was going the opposite way, back to the station. He tipped his hat. "Miss, would you like me to escort you to the boarding house?" He gestured toward a two-story clapboard building.
Truth hesitated for a moment. The man's even expression meant the boarding house accepted black folk. "Thank you for your offer, sir, but I'll find my way."
He pulled out a pocket watch and checked the time. "You've waited three hours. Were you waiting for someone?"
She bit her tongue so hard she tasted blood. It wouldn't do for her to vent her anger at this pleasant man. She'd save that for the man who left her stranded for the afternoon. "I was waiting for Mr. Benjamin Stahl. Do you know where he lives?"
"Ah, Benjamin Stahl is the foreman at the Double-M Ranch, the biggest in these parts. I believe he owns a small spread next to it. About a mile northwest, I reckon."
Truth wasn't about to waste money on hiring a buggy and driver to track him down. "Thank you." She couldn't smile.
"If you don't mind me saying, Ben Stahl isn't all that friendly. Maybe it's good he didn't show up and bring you home as his bride."
She peered at the man's light brown eyes. "He agreed to certain terms." As she spoke, her insides churned even more, and she imagined wild and angry butterflies. Ben Stahl had promised to help her search for her cousin, and she had it in writing. He'd paid money for her passage by train. In her mind, until now, that made him decent. Willing to make compromises, she'd looked forward to meeting him and envisioned her future with her husband and cousin. "I still plan to marry Ben Stahl."
The man's eyebrows shot straight up. "For now at least, it appears you're on your own."
"It appears that way for now." Truth wasn't going to dwell on that fact. She had a cousin to find but needed Ben's assistance. She continued on her way to the boarding house. * * * *
A jackrabbit darted from a shrub, and Ben Stahl's Palomino reared. He reined in his spooked mare. "You're bigger than that rabbit, Honey." He glanced around the dark train depot, deserted except for the glow of a gaslight. The depot manager, Mr. Stubbs, had undoubtedly marked the arrival time of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad in his journal. The train would make a connection with the Southern Pacific and head north to Fort Worth. On his ride to town, Ben had seen the train making tracks over a ridge. It left puffs of steam, and it also had left behind his mail-order bride at the depot. He mumbled a string of swear words.
This morning was the first time Jeremiah said anything about two mail-order brides. Ben knew about Jeremiah's hopes and dreams, all tangled up with Eliza. Over morning coffee, his cowpoke buddy laid the 'Truth Hannah' news on him. A young unmarried female was the last thing Ben wanted. The dance hall girls did him just fine.
Jeremiah confessed to having signed them both up with Busy Bees. He'd paid fees, travel expenses, and had penned both letters. Jeremiah came clean about a promise to help Truth Hannah find her lost cousin in Texas. He'd added, "With a woman to care for, you won't sulk. I have a son, but my dancehall honey took off. My bride, Eliza, wants my son to be hers. Maybe we'll have children of our own, God willing."
Ben hadn't planned on a wagonload of children for himself. He wanted a wife like he wanted a Texas-sized hole in his roof. His Indian wife was pregnant when she'd gone missing. In his mind, he forever ran through the possibilities--kidnapping, rape, or murder. Losing her had cost him his soul. His heart ached every damn day. Another woman couldn't win the love he carried for his childhood sweetheart.
Still, Ben felt an obligation to locate his Busy Bee bride. He dismounted and walked up to the door of the station. He turned the knob, locked, and then rapped on the window. "Stubbs, answer the door."
Mr. Stubbs pulled it open.
Ben reached into his pocket for the tintype photo of Truth Hannah. "Have you seen this woman?" He held up the photo, nearly touching it to the man's nose.
Stubbs stepped back. "That pretty woman waited hours for you. Without even a glass of water, she waited." Mr. Stubbs frowned with disapproval.
As Ben slipped the photo back into his pocket, he felt shame. He'd put another woman in jeopardy, this one stranded in a strange town. He could have been on time, but in his angry state, he'd lagged. "Where is she, do you know?"
"You just missed her. She was aheadin' for the boarding house. Bit of a walk on foot."
"Thanks." Ben turned and mounted Honey. Trotting, he thought about Jeremiah and the pretty picture he'd painted. They'd go on picnics, maybe take their brides to church. Jeremiah's son had shown interest with mention of a church taffy-pull. Their newly built cabins would benefit from a woman's touch, Jeremiah had said. Marrying the bride Jeremiah had chosen for him wasn't in his stars. There was no doubt in Ben's mind that Jeremiah left out some details about him. At twenty-two Ben felt he'd lived several lifetimes but was beginning to feel sorry for Truth Hannah. * * * *
The mail-order bride without a groom marched into town. She'd traveled all this way to meet an honest man and had believed she'd find companionship. She'd trusted that over time, friendship would turn to love. In either case, she'd forge a life for both of them. She'd come with two promises, one for marriage and the second for help in locating her cousin. She felt disappointment and the sting of tears, but if she let into them, she'd be crying for the rest of the day.
She sensed the weight of grief. It was more than a tightening of the heart. It was a heavy object with geography. She pictured sorrow as a dark hub with trails going in and out. Her fevered mind sought to name these trails so she'd pick the right one to travel. She named one 'vengeance' and gave a stone in front of her a kick. She wouldn't pick it. Settling the score with her betrothed sounded like punishment. Other trails were featureless except for one. The pathway she could name was the path to Glen.
Somewhere a big dog barked. She jumped and then realized the bark was not for her. She'd stay on a worthy path and not let annoyances distract her. She was determined to find Glen. Ahead, she saw a group of cowboys tie their horses to a hitching post and brush through the swinging doors of a saloon. Glen was below drinking age but may have spoken to someone in there. The dimming sun bounced off the saloon's metal roof, giving it a salmon-colored glow. She read the scrolled letters, The Palace on a gold and red sign as it swung on hinges in the early evening breeze.
Trying to relax, she breathed deep and expanded her cramped ribs. She pressed her heavy valise against her chest and then decided she would look more self-reliant if she held it by the handle. She trudged toward the saloon.
She hiked up her skirt and skipped up the plank steps. She couldn't see through the tinted glass of the windows, but on the sills were posters of half-dressed women. One was named Pinto Girl, and she squinted at the photo. The young white woman had a birthmark, a large brown splotch on her face. Truth mustered up more courage. She'd never been inside a saloon. She sucked in a deep breath and blew it out with a gasp. Surprised at her own boldness, she stepped inside.
The place was packed with boisterous men. A few painted women with plunging necklines smiled at them. She breezed past a woman with a birthmark over half her face about the color of a new saddle. Wearing only a black corset on top, Pinto Girl walked with her toes turned out in a peculiar lurching gait like a camel's. Red-flocked wallpaper covered walls about halfway up. Candles on the many chandeliers lit up the great room. Feeling vulnerable, Truth held her valise in front of her with both hands and made her way to a long, polished bar. She climbed onto a stool. Looking ahead, she admired flames from gaslight sconces as they reflected off a row of bottles.
The bartender walked over. "Something to drink, Miss?" He spoke with a burring Scottish accent and wore a plaid vest.
"Sassafras tea, the bubbly kind in the biggest glass you have, please." She glanced at prices behind him and put down a dollar.
The bartender, tall, white, and raw-boned, laid down change and set down her cold drink with a splash.
Her throat was parched, but she delayed sipping. "Sir, I'm looking for my cousin. His name is Glen Hannah. He's twelve in this picture." She held it up and explained a little about her search. "He's in his late teens now."
"Can't say I have. Sorry." He shook his head.
She swept her gaze over the room. "Would you mind if I asked some of your patrons here tonight?"
The bartender leaned across the top of the wooden bar. "You wouldn't want to ask. These are not good men." His words came out as 'gude mon'. "Let me have the picture. I'll ask for you." His huge hand reached for the photo.
She couldn't bring herself to part with it to a stranger. "Thank you, but no. After I finish my drink, I'll wait outside and ask people as they leave."
"Suit yourself." He moved a few stools down to serve cowboys. "Fresh off the trail? What will it be, gents?"
Truth held the glass, cold in her trembling hands. She touched her lips to it and swallowed the sweetened, bubbly drink. She closed her eyes and relished its taste and the relief it brought. Within a few minutes, she'd finished the last drop and let out an unladylike burp. For an instant, she put a hand to her mouth, and then gathered her belongings. As she slipped from the stool onto her feet, she realized how cramped and tired they were. She headed for the door.
Halfway there, she felt wide hands on her shoulders. Someone who smelled like goose grease was twirling her around. She held her valise but nearly lost her balance. Nearly toppling, a stranger's hands steadied her shoulders. Looking at the floor, she saw worn cowboy boots. Ragged denim fell over them like puddles. She glanced upward. A silver buckle hung somewhere between the man's groin and navel before she faced the man's freckly face. Grimy auburn hair hung past his ears. He was about the height of her cousin when he was twelve but was built like an icebox. She studied him for a moment. He wore no shirt, just suspenders that crisscrossed across massive shoulders. His arm muscles were huge. His chest hair looked like fox fur growing in patches. "Howdy, young lady." The man flashed uneven teeth.
Through the man's whiskers, she smelled whiskey breath. "Make me proud," he said. "Let me buy you a round."
"No." Truth pulled from his grasp.
"Then why poke your nose into the joint?"
"I came in to look for someone."
"You've found me. I'll buy you a drink. Be my lucky charm while I play Three-card Monte."
Truth thought about the bartender's warning and looked at the door. It looked far away. She hadn't used her head coming into this place.
"C'mon now." The cowboy's persistence enraged her.
"Go away." She rushed for the door but felt a tug at her neck. The cowboy had his hold on the back of her Gibson Girl blouse. As she pulled away, the front of her neck hurt. Within a second, she heard a long, deafening rip and turned her head to the side. "Look what you did."
"Yeah, just looky. I ripped your blouse clear down your back." The cowboy's chuckle was a low grumble. "Don't s'pose you want the buttons. Some popped off."
She bent to pick up the covered buttons. She'd covered them as a finishing touch when she'd hand-sewn her blouse. Standing up, she glanced around at hard, menacing eyes. She'd drawn the attention of everyone in the saloon. She heard their unsympathetic tones.
Pinto Girl picked up a stray button and handed it to her.
Truth took it but couldn't speak. Her simmering rage boiled over at the bare-chested cowboy coming toward her again. "Stay away from me." She lifted her heavy valise, swung it backwards, and slammed it into the cowboy's gut.
He bent over. "Ugh." He wasn't cackling now.
Pinto Girl moved between him and Truth. "Here I thought you liked me," she said to him. "I'll make you happified."
Laughter followed from the crowd. "'Course he'll pay her first," a voice cut in.
Pinto Girl put her hands on her waist and then turned toward Truth. "Go."
Truth tore across the saloon and through the double-doors smack into the chest of another cowboy. The swinging door slapped her in the butt.
Another cowboy was grabbing her shoulders. "Whoa, steady."
Not this again. Truth raged. With the force of her entire body, she shoved him with all her might. They both lost their balance and fell into a tumble on the pine planks. The cowboy braced her fall and took the brunt of the impact on his back. His hat fell off. He cushioned her with his arms. Her valise flew into the air and came down on the cowboy's head.
He said nothing.
Truth closed her eyes. For just a moment while she rested on top of his broad body, she relished a feeling of safety before opening her eyes. She stared into his, the darkest brown imaginable. His hair was raven black and tightly coiled. She studied his angled cheekbones and dark brown skin. He had a handsome powerful jaw. She felt a tingle between her legs, completely female in nature.
"Miss Truth Hannah?" he asked.
"Yes." She recalled certain words from his letter. Tall, not terribly bad-looking. I was a black scout for the U.S. Army. Served on frontier posts before going to Texas.
Truth swallowed hard, realizing this man fit the description. She said, "Benjamin T. Stahl, let me get off you." She pushed herself up, but her blouse slipped down her arms. Wearing nothing but a camisole, she put her blouse on backwards and held it together at her bosom. Normally, she'd feel embarrassed. The anger she felt at the cowboy on the ground lessened it.
He lifted himself on his elbows. His expression gave nothing away.
She hoped he liked how she looked. She hoped she measured up, but couldn't tell by his expression, as stoic as an Indian brave. Standing, she stared downward. It was her turn to assess him. She was casting a shadow over him and took a few steps back. The planks creaked underfoot.
His denim Levi's fit tightly over his long, muscular legs. His chest was wide and covered with a buckskin shirt. Fringe decorated its base and the underside of the sleeves. Strips of leather laced up the front. Around his neck, he wore both a red bandana and under it, a black and tan necklace. The round tan stone at the center was decorated with a painted sun. His leather cowboy boots were tooled with a thunderbird across the front. The myth of the thunderbird, an Indian creature, registered in her mind.
When he picked up his Stetson and placed it on his head, she could see her betrothed wasn't like most men. "Are you an Indian or a cowboy?"
"Seminoles raised me from the age of three. I carry two names. My middle name is Thundercloud."
Well, sweet agony. She couldn't deny that Benjamin was a fine-looking man. She watched him stand with the grace of a Texas wildcat.
Behind her, she heard the hum of voices and knew men from the saloon had spilled out. She singled out the rumbling voice of the dirty man in suspenders but didn't look up. Probably hoping for more entertainment. Unlike in there, her fall with Benjamin was due to her clumsiness and state of agitation.
Benjamin stood and brushed off his pants. He didn't look friendly, and the crowd backed up. He was broad where a man should be and towered over her by a foot. He approached her. His lips twitched as if he was about to say something, but she didn't give him a chance.
"I wouldn't be standing here without dignity if you had been on time." She felt her fury at him rush back with full force. "You were late, Benjamin Thundercloud Stahl." * * * *