The saloon singer known as Lady Gone Bad is the most drop-dead gorgeous outlaw the West has ever seen. Lady has never met a cowboy she couldn't entice, or a lawman she couldn't outrun. But when Lady tangles with a sexy U.S. Marshall, she's tempted to stick around long enough to watch him lay down the law--in her bed.
A Man's Desires
U. S. Marshall Rafe Morgan wants to lock up Lady Gone Bad for good--and he won't let his attraction to her slow him down. But when his attempt to bring Lady to justice goes awry, Rafe is nearly hanged--and by dawn, his face is plastered next to hers on every "Wanted" poster in Texas.
A Passion Unleashed
Now on the run together, Rafe and Lady find themselves in very close quarters--and even more compromising positions. As Lady surrenders to Rafe's touch, she slowly begins to reveal all her secrets--including her real name. Maybe Lady Gone Bad isn't beyond redemption after all. Either way, Rafe is in for one wild ride. . .
"An exciting read!" --New York Times bestselling author Bobbi Smith
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Lady Gone Bad
By SABINE STARR
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Sabine Starr
All right reserved.
Chapter One1883, Delaware Bend, Texas
"She's a wild woman, a renegade, a lady gone bad." Deputy U.S. Marshal Rafe Morgan sat at a battered table, his glass of whiskey gathering dust, as he listened to the legendary singer billed simply as Lady. She was a stunner, a heartbreaker. And her name was at the top of his "Wanted" list.
Lady's husky voice wove sultry fantasies, enticing, cajoling, promising fulfillment by the light of a silver moon. She stood, strumming a guitar as she mesmerized her audience. Smiling coquettishly, she set one foot on a rung of the stool beside her, revealing white lace petticoats and shapely legs in black lace stockings.
Rafe shook his head, determined to break free of her spell. He felt like all the other red-blooded men in the saloon. More sinner than saint.
A crimson gown set off her auburn hair and golden skin, and showcased her luscious body. She was rumored to be part Indian, maybe explaining why she'd never been caught. A man could drown in her big eyes. Lose his wits and everything he owned. Plenty of men would be willing to pay that price. He wasn't one of them.
Rafe carried a warrant for Lady's arrest. Judge Parker and Marshal Boles of the Circuit Court for the Western District of Arkansas with jurisdiction over Indian Territory wanted her brought in, dead or alive.
He had tracked her to the Bend, a tough town squatting on the Texas side of the Red River. Outlaws had turned the place into their own heaven on earth, gambling, drinking, and carousing. If a Texas Ranger dared to show up, outlaws could easily escape north across the Red River where Indian law applied strictly to Indians and deputy marshals were limited to federal law. Rafe and other deputies did their best, but still the desperados ran wild.
Rowdy with drink and desire, cowboys, gunslingers, and outlaws stamped their boots, hootin' and hollerin' and clamorin' for more as they joined the refrain of "The Ballad of Lady Gone Bad." They were out of tune, with no rhythm, but enthusiastic enough to shake the rafters.
Lady's performance was so riveting that, while she sang, every man in the place ignored the Red River Saloon's legendary bar. Quite a feat considering the cavorting naked women carved into the mahogany. Patrons couldn't set a glass steady on top, but a lot of them spent time nursing a drink and stroking the handiwork of a down-on-his-luck Eastern tenderfoot who had traded art for whiskey. The shapeliest parts were worn smooth and shiny. Rafe appreciated the famous bar, but it could not compare to the living, breathing beauty on stage.
Lady pursed her lips, painted come-hither red, and glanced around the saloon as she crooned in a sultry voice.
They always curse to lose their horses. They surely cry to hand over their gold. But on Lady's trail at the wide Red River, They better make sure not to ride alone.
Rafe tossed back his whiskey, wishing it was cold as a river in winter. He regretted that the whiskey did nothing to ease his pepper-hot, iron-hard ache for Lady Gone Bad. She teased and tormented men, stoking their fires, but gave no relief. Nobody knew her real name or much about her, but how much trouble could one little lady be?
The Bend was hell on lawmen. Rafe was out of his jurisdiction. But he didn't care. He wanted this arrest. And he had a plan. Wasn't much of a plan, but he didn't figure he needed much of one. He'd buy Lady a drink, lure her outside, and handcuff her. Once on horseback, he'd take her back into Indian Territory and head for Fort Smith.
If Lady didn't give him any trouble, he'd take time on the journey to inquire about his sister Crystabelle. She'd been kidnapped off a Katy train by outlaws. He didn't know if she was still alive, but he couldn't give up hope. He had good informants and better trackers, but so far nothing had led to Crystabelle. She was a delicate lady. He worried about her every day.
As he waited, he studied the patrons. A big man with a long mane of silver hair under a black hat sat at a table with his back to the wall. Two smaller men, one with a blond beard and the other with straight black hair, sat on either side of him. They looked like the kind of trouble that kept lawmen busy.
When he turned back to look at Lady, she was setting aside her guitar. She stepped into the crowd, giving her audience a notion of what it'd be like to get close to her. She patted a bald pate, stroked a bushy beard, and blew a soft kiss as she slowly prowled the room. A low growl, more animal than human, followed in her wake.
She sidled up close to Rafe and leaned down, the décolletage of her gown revealing the upper slopes of her breasts. "Buy a lady a drink?"
He nodded, determinedly staring at her eyes instead of the tantalizing view below. She had unusual, tricolored eyes, a brown center with a band of sage green and an outer ring of forest green. Reminded him of agates. She likely mesmerized men with her cat eyes. But not him. He was made of stronger stuff.
Rafe picked up the whiskey bottle on his table and filled the extra shot glass. He pushed out the chair next to him with a boot. He dropped his right hand down near the Colt .45 Peacemaker he wore on his hip, ready for trouble.
"New in town?" She smiled, ruby lips curving slightly upward. She ignored the drink and the chair.
She leaned in closer and teasingly walked the tips of her nails up his chest. Breath caught in his throat. Wasn't easy, but he remained stoic. She smelled sweet and tart, like honeysuckle and lemon. He wanted nothing more than to bury his face in that lush bosom. She had a beauty mark just below the right corner of her mouth. He wanted to kiss that dark spot, lick and nibble to her mouth. Mark her all over.
But he was here on business.
"I like to give newcomers a special welcome." She flattened both hands against his chest and stroked upward over his leather vest to his shoulders. "Something they'll never forget."
Suddenly she flipped open the left side of his vest where he'd pinned his deputy badge out of sight. Damn. He should have left it in his saddlebags. But it didn't matter. She was going with him come hell or high water.
She pouted her crimson lips, sighing. "Figured you for a lawman the first moment I saw you. Hoped I was wrong." She jerked the handcuffs out of his vest pocket.
Surprised again, he reached for the handcuffs, but she dodged quick as a cat and stepped back out of reach.
Lady turned to the crowd. "Gentlemen! We've got a lawman with us tonight."
Stamping their boots, the crowd jeered, hissed, and cursed.
Rafe figured he was well and truly shut in the outhouse and tumbling downhill. But he'd been in worse situations and come out alive. He just needed a plan that didn't aggravate the situation.
She held the handcuffs above her head and clicked them together in rhythm. She pointed at her audience, and the saloon filled with deep, raw voices.
She's a wild woman, a renegade, a lady gone bad.
Lady threw back her head and laughed, twirling in a circle as she continued to click the handcuffs.
Rafe wanted to grab her, shake her, and take her to bed. But he couldn't let her get the best of him. "Darlin'," he drawled. "You want me to show you how to use those cuffs?"
She turned to face him. Excitement brightened her agate eyes as she raised one arched eyebrow. "Lawman, you want to play?"
Audacious as only a lady gone bad could be. She was burrowing into his mind, putting down roots like a squatter. He jerked free. She was one little lady whose good luck had turned bad. "Got an iron bed back at the hotel."
"Really?" She stepped closer, handcuffs held against the swell of her deep bosom. "Tell me more."
"Give those back and let's go test how well they work on my bed's railings."
"Got a real high opinion of yourself, don't you?" She glanced back at the room, shaking the handcuffs. "Gentlemen! What do we do with lawmen in the Bend?"
An angry roar filled the saloon.
Rafe forced his mind back to business, but his body didn't want to follow. He checked the outlaws packing the tables and didn't like what he saw. His situation was turning ugly fast. He had to end the game. He stood up, keeping an eye on the men around him.
She quickly snapped one cuff on his left wrist.
He reached for her, but she slithered aside and snapped the other cuff on a rung of his chair.
As she stepped back in triumph, laughter filled the room.
Rafe hadn't given her enough credit despite the stories of her exploits. And he'd let her cloud his mind. He could quickly break the chair over a table and get loose, but she'd pricked his pride. He sat down and casually leaned against the chair, appearing completely relaxed despite his fast pulse.
She looked surprised, cocking her head to one side.
He patted his leg with his free hand. "Sit here and let's talk about finding my handcuff key."
She shook her head, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. "You look like a lawman that needs to be taught a lesson."
"Think you're the woman to do it?" He touched his vest pocket, ready to take action if any man made a move toward them.
She sighed dramatically. "I do believe the task has fallen to me."
He patted his leg again. "Sure could use some help finding that key."
"You just don't know when to fold." She turned toward the crowd, her crimson skirt swirling around her. "Gentlemen, he's all yours."
Rafe watched her pretty backside sashay away. Turned out, she'd held all the aces. He couldn't go after her, not with a room full of men ready to jump him. He stood, then slipped the key from his pocket and into the cuffs with smooth familiarity.
A big brute with a beard down to his belt rose in drunken bravado. Somebody shattered a whiskey bottle on the side of a table. The outlaw trio he'd noticed earlier stood up and started toward him.
If they wanted a show, they'd get it. But he'd give as good as he got. He freed his hand with a satisfying click and reached for his Peacemaker.
Chapter Two"Got trouble," Lady called as she burst into Manny's Livery Stable, tossing back the hood of her forest green cape. Soon night would give way to dawn. She had to keep moving if she wanted to get away under the cover of darkness.
"When ain't you got trouble?" Manny turned from feeding a horse.
"I had to teach a no-good lawman a lesson."
"Was he happy to learn it?"
Shaking his head, Manny spit tobacco toward a spittoon in the corner as he limped forward in faded blue jeans and a red plaid shirt. "How fast you got to leave town?"
"You want Jipsey?" He scratched his grizzled beard, and then raked fingers through his wild mane of black hair touched with silver.
"Please. I've got to change clothes."
"Change from girl to boy, you mean."
"I do what I have to do."
"Can't let the dead rest, can you?"
She paused, her hand on the ladder leading to the hayloft, and looked back. "Copper and Jipsey are all I've got left of Ma and Da."
"The best! Da thought Copper would outshine any stallion he ever bred. If I don't locate him soon, he'll go lame."
"You'll find Copper before he's put down."
"I better." Tears moistened her eyes. She blinked hard to get control.
"You cryin'?" he asked, sounding astonished.
"Not crying. Mad."
"Don't get mad. Get even." Manny picked up a saddle and bridle. "Make your wishes come true."
"If wishes were horses," she sighed, "I'd have a remuda."
"Copper and Jipsey will give you a line that'll make all the other horses eat their dust."
"Got to find Copper first."
With her guitar strapped over her shoulder, Lady climbed the ladder as fast as her skirts would allow. She took deep breaths, drawing in the comforting, sweet scent of hay.
Her cozy nest upstairs was hidden behind strategically stacked bales of hay. Thick canvas sheeting covered the rough wood floor. A quilt and pillow added comfort, warmth, and beauty. A small mirror, wash basin and pitcher, hand towel, oil lamp, and a trunk to store necessities provided all she needed to survive in the Bend.
She gently placed her guitar in a special case, closed the lid, and set it aside. When she was sixteen, she'd worked an entire year to be able to afford the wonderful instrument. Now at twenty-seven years old, she left her guitar safely at Manny's when she went on the road.
As she peeled off the satin gown she never felt completely comfortable wearing, she remembered the surprised look on the deputy's handsome face. Lawmen counted on women who wore satin to be dumb. She counted on that misconception, but stayed on her toes every moment of every day. No other choice when you ran with wolves.
The patrons of the Red River Saloon would force the lawman out of the Bend. She wished she'd gotten to play with him a little more. He reminded her of a powerful stallion, and she did admire good horseflesh.
Tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-legged. He moved with the natural grace of a wild animal in his blue shirt, black leather vest, and charcoal trousers tucked into black knee-high cavalry boots. He wore his dark hair long, pulled back with a leather thong. A clean-shaven face revealed tanned skin, high cheekbones, and full lips. But most riveting of all were his eyes, a deep, smoky gray.
He was a man to make a woman's blood run hot. Probably why she hadn't resisted her impulse to touch him, tease him. Smiling, she thought about his handcuffs. She liked a man with enough guts to find her amusing rather than intimidating. Unfortunately, this one wanted to put her behind bars.
She stripped off her corset and all the other trappings men doted on. After she carefully folded the delicate fabric, she stored her clothes in the trunk for the next time she played Lady.
For now, she needed to obscure her curves, so she wrapped her breasts to flatten them. She slipped into a loose green, plaid shirt, big black vest, and baggy Levi's. She tugged on fancy cowboy boots, her one concession to vanity. She tied a blue bandanna around her neck, pointed end in front, to conceal her throat and pull over her nose. She pinned up her long, thick hair and covered it with a wide-brimmed hat. Last, she put on leather gloves to protect and disguise her hands. She could pass for a boy if nobody looked too close.
A disguise. All her life was a disguise. The satin and the blue jeans, the saloon singer and the young boy who rode like the wind. She sometimes wondered who she really was under all the lies. Yet she couldn't let it matter.
Now she was going into danger again, grateful Da had taught her how to use weapons. She quickly buckled on his holster belt, checked that his prized pearl handle Colt .44 was fully loaded, and slipped the revolver into place. She adjusted the weight on her hips. Finally, she slipped a knife into the sheath inside her boot. She was as ready as she was going to get.
When she hurried down to the stable, she focused her mind on the challenge ahead.
Manny already had Jipsey bridled, saddled, and set to go.
"Thanks." She gently stroked the long blaze face of the chestnut. She stepped back to admire the dark red color with white left fore pastern, right fore sock, left hind sock, and right hind sock. The coloring worked well for camouflage. Picking up the reins, Lady swung easily into the saddle.
"Canteen's filled. Cornpone and jerky in your saddlebags."
She leaned over and kissed Manny's rough cheek. "What would I do without you?"
"Swing on the end of a rope."
"Don't even say it."
"Job came in for you."
"Yep. Hayes Brothers been up to their usual shenanigans."
"Thought they were in Indian Territory."
"Back in Texas long enough to steal two apple pies from Ma Engle's farmhouse near Whitesborough."
"She thinks they didn't gobble them down first thing?"
Manny chuckled. "She bakes the best apple pies in the Red River Valley. Folks know it. Church social coming up. Stood to reason she'd be baking pies and letting them cool on the porch. She was coming back from the barn when she saw them riding off with her pies."
"What does she want them to return? Apples?"
"Nope. She left her reticule out there, too. They grabbed it. Guess they figured she'd have some money."
"She wants that back?"
Manny placed a hand on her boot. "Thing is, Ma had her daughter's funeral jewelry in her reticule. She'd braided that child's golden hair into a flower pin. Ain't worth nothing to nobody but her."
"That's a real shame. But they probably threw her pin away by now."
"She's willing to pay a half eagle to the brothers and one to you, if you can get it."
"That'd be ten dollars. Might be all the money she has in the world."
He nodded. "She only had one daughter. Snake bite last summer."
"This is going to be another one of those times when I don't get paid, isn't it?"
"Okay. I'll keep an eye out for the Hayes Brothers."
Excerpted from Lady Gone Bad by SABINE STARR Copyright © 2012 by Sabine Starr. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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