It’ll take more than a badge to get her to confess her secrets.Kit Wainwright only meant to stop the thief making off with his beloved uncle’s ashes. He wants to hang up his gun, become a law-abiding citizen and leave his violent past behind. But the mayor takes notice of his sharpshooting skills, slaps a badge on his chest and puts him in charge of cleaning up this lawless town. Starting with tracking down the notorious Velvet Grace.
Bordello owner Cora Reilly never meant to become a crusader. But after shooting the last corrupt sheriff in self-defense, she’s spent the last few months turning her hastily donned disguise into a local legend to defend the girls in her town from riff-raff.
There’s no way Cora can trust the handsome new sheriff. Yet Kit’s kisses leave her wanting to open her arms—and her bedroom—to soothe his grief. Even if it brings him too close to the truth that could send her to the gallows.
Warning: Contains a reluctant sheriff with a keen eye for a moving target, and a take-no-crap madam who isn’t about to let him get close. Okay, maybe just a little bit closer. Just this once…
The gun, still warm from shooting the sheriff, fit just right against Cora Lynn Reilly’s
ribs, wedged beneath her breasts between her corset and her blouse. Her heart thundered
like a cannonball as she looked for a way to exit the room that wouldn’t require going near the body on the floor, but unfortunately, there wasn’t one. The sound of the blast would likely bring someone upstairs to check on the man, and she couldn’t be caught alone with him.
Balancing on her toes to miss the blood spreading across the boards, she stepped over the first booted leg, her skirt spanning Bill Sidlow’s bloated thighs. She lifted her hem to avoid dragging her petticoat across the man’s torso, now damp and crimson, and set her left foot down with care between his side and his spread-eagle arm.
Don’t look, don’t look. But morbid curiosity got the better of her. She had to be absolutely
certain the bastard was dead, so she glanced down at Sidlow’s face. His sightless eyes stared back at her, familiar enough to make a frisson of terror run down her spine again after he’d cornered her against his apartment wall with demands of sex.
“Shoulda known better,” she scolded beneath her breath. But whether she’d directed her words at the sheriff or herself, she wasn’t sure.
He gave no response, his flaccid mouth and sagging jowls glistened with spittle—no
different than in life, she supposed. When he’d visited the club earlier that night, he’d pulled her aside to invite her here to his place for a private word, and even then his breath against her ear had been wet and disgusting.
She’d assumed he wanted to talk about business away from the girls and their customers, because if he’d wanted to make any advances of a sexual nature, where better than the
Willows, the popular social club she owned on the Row? But she’d been wrong. The sheriff had wanted more than to talk. He’d wanted to take, and that was something Cora wouldn’t allow.
Now, one mistake and a bullet later, she had to get out of his apartment fast before anyone found her here.
Tearing her stare away from the sheriff ’s corpse, she set her body in motion for the door, but the sudden tread of boots on the stairs outside stopped her in her tracks.
“Sheriff? Was that your gun I heard?” Mrs. Murphy, wife of the boarding house owner, called from a short distance below.
Cora’s pulse raced. She scanned the room again. There was a window, but she didn’t recall seeing a way down. She was certain no one else had seen her enter the building. She couldn’t let Mrs. Murphy find her now, for who would believe a bordello madam who’d shot the sheriff with her pearl-handled pistol in his own bedroom?
No way would she allow anyone to hang her for the likes of Bill Sidlow. She’d never shot anyone else in her life and hadn’t even taken her gun out of its case before tonight. The only reason she’d brought the weapon was in case she was accosted by one of the drunks in the streets outside.
Besides, her girls needed her. Especially now that there would be no one to keep the town’s worst ruffians from their doorstep, and God knew, Fort McNamara had its share of those.
She swept another glance around the room for something she could cloak herself. The bed was stripped to the sheet, but a long blue velvet drapery hung above the lone window. It would have to do.
A knock sounded at the door. “Sheriff? You all right?” Mrs. Murphy asked again.
Cora vaulted over the body and yanked the heavy fabric from the rod. Returning to the door, she swirled the drape around her head and shoulders until she’d fully cocooned herself, then she waited for a chance to escape.
The door metal rattled. When Mrs. Murphy peeked in, Cora threw her weight against the wood panel, knocking the woman outside off balance, and then barreled past. She descended the stairs, running as fast as she could in the tight wind of her drapery cloak.
As she reached the front door of the boarding house, she heard the woman’s shriek of horror at discovering her boarder’s remains. “Murder! Help, the sheriff ’s been murdered!”
Bursting outside into the darkened street, she kept to the shadows, holding the fabric closed at her neck as she dodged drunken cowboys looking for good times. She averted her face, praying no one would recognize her until she made it back to the bordello.
One thing she knew for certain, after this night, she had better get used to carrying her pistol.