Authors: Joan Johnston
“WHEN WE LEAVE HERE IN A COUPLE OF DAYS YOU’RE GOING TO LEAD ME TO THAT VALLEY. UNDERSTAND?”
“You can’t make me do anything,” Anabeth challenged him.
“Can’t I?” Jake stood and in the same movement grabbed Anabeth’s hand and yanked her out of the chair. She came flying toward him, stopped only by contact with his broad chest. One of his hands caught a handful of her hair and arched her head back at a painful angle so she had no choice except to look at him. His other arm circled her hips, pinning her against his thighs.
Jake felt the heat in his loins and cursed. “You’ll do what I say, Kid, or I’ll—”
Anabeth opened her mouth to argue, and Jake closed it in the most efficient way possible—with his own.
AND HER WONDERFUL
“4½ Hearts … a delectable, humorous love story.… Her memorable cast of characters, the sprightly humor, surprise climax, and sensuality make this irresistible.”
“4½ Stars … so good, the reviewer couldn’t put it down.… The characters are wonderful! A happy and delightful story!”
Affaire de Coeur
“So deliciously told and so enjoyable.… You must get a copy and find a hideaway somewhere and sit back and have a heck of a good time.”
THE BAREFOOT BRIDE
“A story that warms your heart and tickles your fancy … Johnston writes about two lonely people who find love, passion and happiness despite themselves.”
“With tenderness and compassion, as well as humor and sensuality,
The Barefoot Bride
is a love story that charms its way into your heart.”
“A book you will read and remember for a long, long time. Wonderful characters light up the pages and warm your heart.”
Dell Books by Joan Johnston
After the Kiss
The Barefoot Bride
a division of
Random House, Inc.
New York, New York 10036
Copyright © 1993 by Joan Mertens Johnston
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
The trademark Dell
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
This book is dedicated to
two women who have
encouraged, emboldened, and exhorted me
always to do my best—
and believe that I will.
My sincere thanks to
my editor Damaris Rowland
my agent Denise Marcil.
Kid Calhoun admitted to a few vices—drinking, smoking, and swearing among them—but he never cheated at cards. The Kid’s mouth flattened and his eyes narrowed at the accusation being flung across the table.
“You cheated! Nobody could have that kind of luck!” the cowboy ranted.
“Those are fighting words, mister,” the Kid said in a quiet, whiskey-laced voice.
The cowboy seemed to realize suddenly how quiet the saloon had become. He glanced around and saw his friend at the bar gesturing frantically, but he had no idea what had his compadre so upset. He looked back at the whelp sitting across the table from him. The stripling was rail thin and had a face as smooth as a baby’s behind. The Kid’s extreme youth rankled. Bluffed by a brat who was still wet behind the ears! It was humiliating. He wasn’t going to stand for it.
The Kid pulled the coins in the center of the table toward him, but his eyes stayed on the grizzled-looking cowboy. Smoke curled lazily from a cigarette caught at the corner of the Kid’s mouth. A sweat-stained hat with a silver concho band was pulled low
on his forehead, shadowing his eyes. “I don’t cheat,” the Kid said. “Since I’m in a good mood, I’d be willing to accept an apology for the insult. Assuming you’re man enough to own up to being a bad loser.”
The cowboy surged out of his chair and grabbed for his gun. He stopped with his fingertips brushing leather and stared, for the Kid already held the barrel of a Colt aimed at his belly. The Kid was fast. Faster than fast. The cowboy swallowed hard. Sweat beaded on his upper lip. Ever so slowly, he moved his hand away from his side.
“I’m waiting for that apology,” the Kid said.
“Figure it was my bad luck did me in,” the cowboy conceded.
The Kid’s lip curled in the semblance of a smile. “Luck’s like that sometimes.” The Kid holstered his gun and reached for the whiskey in front of him. There was a slight movement from the cowboy, and the Kid said, “Don’t.”
The cowboy froze.
“You’re thinking that you’ll be able to draw on me.” The Kid’s eyes left the cowboy and returned to the pile of coins in front of him, as though the cowboy were not standing across from him, waiting for a chance to shoot him down. “I wouldn’t bet on it. Your luck hasn’t been running too good lately.”
It was plain the cowboy wanted to draw his gun. And just as plain that the Kid wasn’t particularly worried about the prospect. The Kid continued holding the whiskey glass in his gun hand, while his other hand sorted through the pot on the table. Could the Kid really beat him to the draw under those circumstances?
The men in the saloon remained silent, waiting to see whether the cowboy would call the Kid’s bluff.
“What’s going on here? Everything all right, Kid?”
The tall man standing at the batwing doors to the saloon bore a striking resemblance to the Kid, having the same crow-wing black hair and blue eyes. But the man showed the promise of the boy. He was broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, with a voice an octave lower and a strong jaw shadowed by a day’s beard.
“No problem, Uncle Booth. Everything’s fine,” the Kid answered.
The cowboy welcomed the interruption like a long-lost brother. “Just a difference of opinion,” he said to the tall man. Now that the Kid had reinforcements, he could retreat without losing any more of his pride. He turned and headed for the bar where his friend was standing.
“Do you know who you was callin’ a cheat?” his friend hissed. “That was Kid Calhoun. Fast as greased lightning. He ain’t never killed a man, but it’s only a matter of time.
“Always has lots of money to spend, but nobody knows where he gets it. Says he’s got a mine down south a ways, but all you have to do is see his hands to know he ain’t workin’ no claim.
“There’s them that say the Calhouns—the Kid and his uncle—have been robbin’ stagecoaches from here to Texas. But ain’t never been nobody could peg ’em for sure. You was damned lucky to get off with a whole skin!”
The cowboy called for a rye and downed it in a gulp. He had been luckier than he’d thought.
“It’s time we were leaving, Kid,” the man at the door said. “Gather up your winnings, and I’ll meet you at the hotel.”
The Kid nodded his agreement. He finished his whiskey and dropped the coins from the table into his calfskin vest pocket as though he were in no hurry to leave. Then he stood and crossed to the door. At first, his hands hung down easily at his sides. The men in
the saloon shifted uneasily when halfway to the door he slowly curled them into fists.
Little did they know the Kid had done it to hide the fact his hands were trembling. The Kid shoved his way through the batwing doors and stalked down the Santa Fe boardwalk to a boot and saddle shop halfway between the saloon and the hotel. To anyone who passed by, it appeared as though he was admiring a black saddle decorated with silver conchos displayed in the window. For a moment, he did.
Then his gaze slipped to the dressmaker’s shop next door. To the fashionable Wedgwood blue silk taffeta dress, with its frog trim decorating the fitted waist and long sleeves, and eighteen cloth-covered buttons down the front. Kid Calhoun took a deep, shuddery breath and let it out. This time things had almost gone too far. This time, he had almost had to kill a man. The day was bound to come when he wouldn’t be able to bluff his way free. Then there would be no turning back. All his hopes and dreams for the future would be lost forever.
The Kid hung his head for a moment. This charade had to stop. It had been Uncle Booth’s idea, and it had been a good one at the time, but the situation had gotten out of hand. Imagine how angry that cowboy would have been if he had realized it was not a young man who had backed him down, but a young woman! Imagine his wrath if he had realized that the Kid’s real name was Anabeth Calhoun!
Anabeth looked longingly at the stylish dress from beneath lowered lashes. She had never worn a dress, at least not that she could remember. From the age of six, Anabeth had lived in a stone house in an isolated, hidden valley southwest of Santa Fe. She had been raised by her father and her uncle, who had headed west from their farm in Pennsylvania the year her mother died. The two men had discovered Treasure
Valley while prospecting for gold shortly after they arrived in New Mexico thirteen years ago.
The grassy valley, with its wealth of fresh water, had been a treasure, all right, but it was the only one they had found. The valley was a vast oval of land surrounded by impenetrable rock walls, totally invisible from the outside, and only barely accessible to humans. To this day, none of her uncle Booth’s outlaw gang knew where it was. It had provided a haven from marauding Apaches and, lately, a refuge from the law.
But her father hadn’t found much joy of it. He had been crippled in a mine cave-in when she was nine. Her uncle Booth had supposedly continued working in the Two Brothers Mine, located several miles west of the valley, eking out enough to support them. Meanwhile, she had nursed her invalid father, raised vegetables in a garden, and studied from books that Booth brought her from Santa Fe.