I never enjoyed being a wanted man until the day Miss Esmerelda Fine marched into the Tumbleweed Saloon and pointed her derringer straight at my heart. Who would have guessed some duke's granddaughter--an awfully pretty one at that--would come gunning for the likes of me, a notorious bounty hunter with a taste for whiskey and a fondness for peach pie? Lucky for me, she was a mighty poor shot. Instead of killing me, she hired me to find her runaway brother. Little did she know she was about to make the acquaintance of a flea-bitten basset hound named Sadie, the infamous Darling Gang, and my shotgun-toting kinfolk. And little did I know she was about to lead me on a merry chase that would take us from a bungled bank robbery to the very first Wild West show to tour London, England.
I should have turned down her offer. I should have resisted her charms. But I didn't.
Because there comes a time in every man's life when he's got nothing left to lose...but his heart.
From the Paperback edition.
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The laconic drawl came out of the darkness, a thousand times more damning than the voice of her conscience.Esmerelda backed away from the bars as Lucifer himself emerged from the shadows wearing a butternut shirt, black vest, scuffed boots, and a pair of sinfully tight copper-riveted Levi's. There didn't appear to be so much as a scratch on him, proving that he was indeed Satan incarnate. Unless Old Nick, not content to wait for her arrival, had sent one of his most devoted emissaries to escort her to his unholy kingdom.
The wicked sparkle in his eyes made a mockery of his sympathetic frown. "Perhaps you should sit down, Miss Fine. You look like you just saw a ghost."
Esmerelda had no choice but to obey. In her attempt to put as much distance between them as possible, she'd backed all the way to the bunk. Her knees buckled and she plopped down on the lumpy mattress.
"I shot you," she blurted out, unable to come up with anything more coherent. "You're supposed to be dead."
"Am I?" He drew off his hat to reveal a devilish grin. "Ma always said I was never any good at doing what I was supposed to."
With the reddish glow of the lantern haloing his disheveled hair, he looked less like a demon than an avenging angel come to claim her soul. In that feverish half-light, she could no more determine the color of his hair than the color of his eyes.
Esmerelda rose from the bunk, drawn toward the apparition by a dangerous combination of fascination and fear. He curled his hands around the bars and cocked one knee through them, all but daring her to approach.
When she reached the bars, she stretched one trembling hand toward his chest. If he'd have grabbed her hand or whispered "Boo" at that instant, she would have crumbled into hysteria. But he simply watched her without blinking, his expression almost as wary as her own.
Her fingertips slowly came to rest against his chest. Beneath the faded fabric of his shirt lay a solid wall of muscle and bone. His heart throbbed beneath her touch, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that her visitor was no demon or phantom, but Mr. William Darling in the flesh.
She recoiled from the bars with a soft cry. She could not have said herself if it was one of relief or dismay.
Darling smoothed back his tousled hair with one hand. "Sorry I couldn't oblige you by being dead, Miss Fine. I'm afraid that little jaunt to hell you had planned for me will have to be canceled. Or at least postponed."
His quip made Esmerelda wonder just how long he'd been standing in the shadows watching her anguished pacing. He looked so earnest, it was impossible to tell if he was teasing her. "How?" she croaked.
He shrugged, his rueful smirk giving her the eerie sensation that he really could read her mind. "Luck of the devil, maybe? I really can't fault your aim. You put one hell of a hole in my chair, right where my heart would have been."
"If you had one?" she mumbled, still battling shock.
He gave her a reproachful look. "If I'd still been sitting there. But I was halfway around the table when you fired. You really should learn how to shoot a firearm without closing your eyes first. It's a dangerous habit. If I'd have been a different sort of fellow, I might have shot you dead instead of catching you when you swooned."
"You?" she whispered, horrified anew. "You caught me?"
He nodded. "I couldn't very well let you bang your pretty head now, could I?"
Esmerelda had no reason to doubt his claim. She remembered only too well how the pistol had materialized in his hand. He had the grace and reflexes of a cougar. But if...
By: Teresa Medeiros