Not the Marryin' Kind

Not the Marryin' Kind

Jac Eddins

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A dozen men want to marry Nell Allistair, but she is smart enough to know it isn't her charm that intrigues them. With her husband's death she became the richest woman in the territory. Nell owns the saloon, the best ranch land in the valley and holds the mortgage on nearly every other property around. So far, Nell has held off her suitors by declaring she will not even consider remarriage until her year of mourning is up. Her time is running out. Don't miss this contemporary classic by the writer whose work Ayden Delacroix of In the Library Reviews calls, "Alive, vibrant and full of surprises."

 
PUBLISHED BY: Renaissance E Books
ISBN:
PUBLICATION DATE: 2008
WORD COUNT:
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 1
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Contemporary
KEYWORDS:
 

EBOOKS BY Renaissance E Books

EBOOKS BY Jac Eddins

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Jac Eddins/2008

CHAPTER 1

 

A woman's shrill scream cut through the usual noise of the Golden Pony saloon. All eyes in the room turned in her direction. The piano went still in mid-song. Most of the patrons remained where they sat or stood, but alert for what could happen.

The woman who screamed, her low-cut red satin gown soaked by the beer one of her companions threw at the other, took a quick step backward, just in time to avoid a punch thrown by the cowboy on the opposite side. The shorter man managed to dodge and countered with a jab of his own. The two men exploded into a flurry of wild blows while the woman stood back with her hands over her mouth and watched in dismay.

Some of the other men moved from the bar or their tables to form a loose circle around the fighting men. One gravelly voiced old cowhand offered a bet on the taller fighter.

For a few minutes neither of the battlers had an advantage. The tall one threw another wild haymaker. It missed and he reeled off balance. The second man sent a punch of his own, one that connected and sent his adversary crashing into a nearby card table. The wooden surface cracked and broke under the weight of the cowboy, scattering money, chips and glass over the floor. Several of the gamblers, who had been enjoying their poker moments before, scrambled down on all fours to chase the coins and try to recoup what was theirs from the sawdust. Two of the gamblers simply rose from their chairs, raised their hands and backed away. The stunned cowhand sat in the midst of the breakage, shaking his head in confusion.

"Enough!"

Nell Allistair had heard the scream and hurried from her office in the rear of the building. She stepped around the woman in red who now stood wide-eyed, surveying the damage. Nell took a position between the fighters, keeping the second cowboy from his fallen rival.

"Joe! Charlie!" Nell called out.

Two large, powerfully built men answered her call. They took their places, one on each side of her, ready to come to her assistance if she should she need them.

Nell took a deep breath and silently thanked her lucky stars they had a Sheriff who enforced a 'no guns in the saloon' policy. Before he made that a law, clashes over the attentions of a bar girl often came to gunfire. Fist fights were bad enough, but even those had to be stopped before they spread to become a general riot. Bored ranchers and trail hands didn't need much encouragement to join in a melee. The last big fight cost her the large mirror behind the bar, the one she paid a small fortune to have shipped from the east. One lesson noted. The picture of a scantily clad beauty hung in a gilded frame on the wall above the bar now. It wasn't great art, but one hell of a lot cheaper than the glass. Still, much of the furnishings and décor was breakable, and she didn't care to risk it. "You boys want to fight, take it outside."

A couple of bystanders moved to help the dazed cowboy back to his feet. He swayed and gazed about him, getting his bearings, unsteady as much from the alcohol he'd consumed as from the blow.

Nell motioned for the girl in red to go back to the office until things quieted, then addressed the bouncers. "Get them out of here. They don't come back in again until they learn to behave like civilized men."

The smaller ranch hand, the victor, turned to her, ready to argue, and then fell silent. He lowered his head in embarrassment. "Sorry, Mizz Nell."

"You'll be a lot more sorry tomorrow when you get the bill," Nell grumbled. Such fights upset her, but, in an area where men outnumbered women by fifty to one, they weren't unusual. Men often fought over her, too. It didn't matter that she let them all know she wasn't available for anything more than a drink, a bit of company and talk. Her life might have changed dramatically since she came west as a shy, newly graduated schoolteacher, but she still kept her distance from the men who frequented her saloon. And from men in general. Only one man ever pierced her cool exterior, and she had reason to regret that ever since.

The watchers who gathered to view the fight faded back to their tables and the bar. The show had finished for the night. The piano player reseated himself on his bench and began a rousing chorus of 'The Bonnie Blue Flag.' Life in the Golden Pony resumed its normal course.

Nell's men escorted the battered cowhands out. Her gray-blue gaze followed their path toward the door. She expected to see the crotchety old Sheriff striding in to take charge at any moment. Someone had run to get him. Someone always did.

Nell started away, back to her account books, when her glance fell on one man standing alone near the door. For a heartbeat she became faint, as if one of those wild punches the cowboys were throwing had caught her in the gut and left her breathless. It couldn't be! She took a deep gulp of air, closed her eyes and counted to ten, willing herself to maintain control. When she looked again, he wasn't there. She caught her breath and made her way to the bar instead.

"Brandy," she ordered.

MacCrae, her head bartender, hastened to pour the drink for her. She sipped it, calming herself. It couldn't have been Brenden. He was locked away in a jail down Texas way for a long, long time. But it was so like him! Had she imagined a gunslinger dressed in black, one with the same arrogant stance she couldn't forget? Was he a ghost conjured up by a wishful heart? No! She shook her head, denying it. She got over him years ago!

"Something wrong, Nell?" MacCrae asked her with a frown of concern. "You look a little pale."

"Paler than usual?" she asked with an attempt at laughing it off. Her fair skin always seemed even whiter in contrast with the black dresses she wore while working in her saloon.

Nell smiled at the older man. He had worked for her since she first opened the place, more like a trusted old uncle than an employee. "Nothing," she assured him. "I'm just more tired than I thought. For a minute my eyes were playing tricks. I thought I saw someone I knew a long time back."

MacCrae nodded. "You've been putting in too many hours, Nell. It's late and we close in just an hour. Why don't you go on back out to your place and get a good night's rest?"

"I might do that." She admitted to herself she was more tired than she'd thought. She had to be, seeing things that weren't there.

Macrae's pale blue eyes crinkled at the corners when he grinned. "Don't you worry 'bout a thing here. Me and the boys can handle whatever comes up. You want to have one of the fellows ride out with you?"

"No," she said with a shake of her head. "It's not that far. Nothing on the way would hurt me."

MacCrae frowned. "Mr. Carl don't like you riding alone."

"What Mr. Carl likes, and doesn't like, hardly matters. There's no ring on this finger." She lifted her left hand to display it. "And, until such a day comes, no one tells me what I can, or can't, do." Her tone softened. "I'll be fine, Mac. I have my gun, just in case."

The big Scots bartender grinned again. "Yes, Ma'am. And you do know how to use it!" Those close to her knew Nell was a better shot than most of the men.

Nell downed the rest of her brandy and set the snifter on the bar. With a nod to MacCrae, she turned and made her way back through the noisy saloon to her office. Within minutes she sent Becky, the barmaid, back to work, changed into her riding clothes, put the books away, and closed the office. She let herself out the back door and locked it after her.

A wry smile played at her lips. Nell Allistair, tough as nails! Sure. She could imagine the laughter if someone reported the way she trembled to those men in the bar. They'd never believe her knees buckled as if they were melting butter and her hands shook, all because she glimpsed someone who looked like a man she once knew.

A man she once knew! Those few words hardly did justice to what Brenden Cassidy had been in her life. She vowed when he left her, she'd put him from her mind forever. It proved an impossible task. All else faded to nothing when she remembered his strong arms holding her, lips setting her afire– With an effort she thrust those thoughts away.

Her chestnut mare stood patiently, saddled and waiting, hitched to the post by the office's back door. MacCrae had taken care of it for her while she changed clothes; he was always thoughtful about little things like that. Nell loosed the reins and steadied her mount, ready to swing her foot up into the stirrup.

"Need a little help?"

Nell spun about before the hands on her hips had a chance to boost her. She found herself looking up into a pair of devilish dark eyes.

"It was you!" She pushed away his hands. Part of her wanted to throw her arms about his neck and smother him with kisses saved up for years. The other part was stronger, the one reminding her of the days she cried after he left her. "What in hell are you doing here? I thought you were still in Huntsville prison!"

In the moonlight he looked dark and dangerous as ever. His even white teeth showed when he grinned. "Ever hear of time off for good behavior?" his deep mellow voice drawled.

"You? Good behavior? Don't make me laugh!" Nell raised her head to look up at him. That was a mistake. Her heart beat faster and she became acutely aware of how near he stood. All the years had done was fill him out and make him more handsome. With all the strength of will she could muster she shoved him back, away from her. "How far behind you is the posse?"

"No posse, Nell. Not this time."

"What do you want here?" she snapped.

"You."

"Forget it! Leave here. You're not wanted."

He appeared to find that funny. "There are places I'm wanted. Plenty."

"Well, not here! And not by me."

"Not even a drink together, for old times sake?" He reached to touch a wisp of auburn hair that escaped the tightly drawn back bun she wore. "I like your hair better loose."

Nell brushed his hand away, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, forcing her anger to keep her from surrendering to the insane desire to be in his arms, into putting aside the hurt and emptiness of years. She always knew one day he'd ride back into her life. It played out in her mind like a drama on stage, a hundred times and more. This man before her was older, fuller built in his maturity, but the wavy black hair still tumbled over his forehead and his dark eyes flashed with the same sensual fire. After seven years, this time it was real.

"What you like doesn't count. There's nothing here for you, Bren," Nell told him, using every effort to keep her voice cool and even. "You said goodbye to those times when you left me."

For a moment he stared down at the ground. "I suppose I did. But I was a kid then. Scared. Marriage was a big step."

"Don't you think I was scared, too?"

He shrugged. "Didn't make much difference. You didn't wait very long for me. I came back six weeks later and you had already married old man Allistair. Allistair," he snorted. "You could have done better than that!"

Nell hid her surprise; she never knew he came back. "Tom was a good man. I had my reasons."

"Sure." A sharp edge entered his voice. "A couple hundred thousand good reasons."

Nell's temper flared and she restrained the urge to slap the arrogant sneer from his face. "Contrary to what you might think, I didn't marry him for his money!"

"You going to tell me you loved him? My place in your bed wasn't even cold!"

A red haze of fury blinded her. This time she did swing at him, wanting nothing more than to knock that taunting look from his face. Brenden was quicker and caught her wrist before the blow could land.

"Still a spitfire," he grinned. "Oh, yes. I remember!"

Nell struggled vainly to break free of his grasp. "Let go of me! Do us both a favor and get the hell out of town!"

"Nice to see you, too, sweetheart. But I think I'm going to stick around here for a spell. You could change your mind. Again."

"Not in your lifetime!"

"I'll just hang around a while to see. There's some of the old fire left. I can see it when you look at me."

"Ashes, Bren! Nothing but cold dead ashes. Get out of here and leave me alone!"

He dropped her hand and stepped back. "For now, Nell. But I'm not giving up. I thought about you a lot through these years."

"Forget it."

"Can't. I made that mistake once. You aren't easy to forget. Look, why don't we just talk? Suppose I come out to your place for dinner one night. Soon. Nice meal. Couple of drinks. Maybe we'll find it again."

Nell paled. In a sudden rush she moved to her horse and swung up into the saddle. From her perch there she paused to glare down on him. "Don't," she said. Her words came like pointed barbs of ice. "If you ever set foot on my spread, I'll have you killed. In fact, I'll shoot you myself!"

Before he could answer her, she spurred her mount and left him standing alone in the dusty alley, watching her ride away into the night.

 
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