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Authors: Elaine Barbieri

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BOOK: Renegade
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“I don’t think I like what you just said, Toby. It sounded like you were saying I wouldn’t make some man a good wife someday.”

“Maybe you would, and maybe you wouldn’t. I don’t know. I just figure you’re perfect the way you are.” Taking a step closer, Toby said more softly, “But I’ve been watching you and I figure you ain’t as world-wise as you make out to be. I figure you’re heading for trouble and I’m just trying to get you to sidestep it, that’s all.”

“By staying away from Matt Strait.”

“That’s right.”

“What if I don’t want to stay away from him?”

“I’d say I think that fella’s made it obvious that he don’t come here to bother with women—you included. If you push him, you might end up sorry.”

“Would you write me off then, Toby?”

“Samantha, honey,” Toby said sincerely, “it ain’t in my nature to do that. I’d stick by you to the end, whatever you decide.”

“Well, in that case—”

Excusing herself, Samantha headed directly toward the table where Matt had sat. Her heartbeat accelerated. She was tired of wasting time. She needed to get close enough to Matt Strait so he’d talk freely to her, which was easier said than done.

Samantha continued her sultry advance. She sensed Matt wouldn’t be able to resist her much longer, especially when she had done everything
short of jumping onto his lap to wear down his reserve.

It occurred to her abruptly that perhaps it was time to do just that.

Comfortable at a table in the corner of the room, drink in hand, Matt kept his eye on the poker table. He knew that Jake Watson would quit the game soon. Like him, Jake spent only a few hours playing poker whenever he came to the Trail’s End. He would leave soon. Matt would then take Jake’s place before it grew dark—relaxation that he had thoroughly earned.

His breathing suddenly accelerating, Matt felt Samantha Rigg’s advance toward him. He glanced at her and silently cursed. He remembered the first time he had seen her. She had been standing near the bar when he entered the Trail’s End. It had been like being hit in the stomach, so breathless had the sight left him. Her hair had seemed to glow with a golden warmth of its own. Her creamy skin was tight over delicate cheekbones, and her eyes—he had never seen hazel eyes with sparks of gold that seemed to dance for him alone. She had shown an instant interest and had batted her heavily kohled eyelashes at him. Yet despite all her efforts since then, he had remained true to Jenny and had refused to change his comfortable routine.

Admittedly, however, coming to the Trail’s End wasn’t as relaxing as it once had been.

Matt looked away with renewed determination as Samantha continued walking toward him.

Jim Sutton watched Samantha’s steady advance toward Matt Strait’s table. He commented to the brunette sitting beside him, “It’s easy to see the reason Samantha sent me over here. But by the look on Matt’s face, I figure her thinking don’t suit him too much, neither.”

Helen frowned. So Samantha had sent Jim. She had wondered why he had left Samantha for her.

Helen unconsciously shrugged. It didn’t matter why Jim had sought her out. She liked being with him. As a matter of fact, she liked Jim—more than liked him.

“I figure Samantha’s in for trouble with Matt.” Jim did not look away from Samantha. “She wouldn’t be in for trouble with me.”

“Maybe that’s why she likes Matt.” Jim turned toward her, and Helen hastened to add, “Samantha don’t like things too easy.”

Jim said simply, “I’m worried about her.”

“No need to worry about Samantha. She’s real nice, but she knows what she’s doing.”

Jim turned toward her with a frown, and Helen smiled. “Truth is truth, Jim.”

Jim appeared to consider that response and finally sighed. “You’re right. Truth is truth, but that don’t make me like it any better.”

Helen didn’t like the way things were going, either.

Standing beside Matt moments later, Samantha waited until he finally squinted up at her. When he did, his heated gaze all but stopped her in her tracks. Yet she forced a coy tone and asked deliberately, “Did you come here to see me, Matt, honey?”

Matt’s breathing quickened, betraying her effect on him. His intense perusal touched her almost palpably before he replied, “I came here to play cards, like I always do.”

Warning bells sounded in Samantha’s mind, but she responded as if unfazed, “Well, I guess I can change that if I try real hard.”

Determined, Samantha sat on Matt’s lap before he could reply and slid her arm around his shoulders. The bulge underneath her rounded backside was revealing, and she wiggled effectively.

Matt’s expression was suddenly tight. “All right. I think it’s about time you tell me what you want from me.”

“I’d say it’s obvious to everybody but you what I want.”

“Really? You find me irresistible, is that it?” Matt’s light-eyed gaze singed her. “I find that hard to believe.”

“Are you trying to tell me no woman ever found you irresistible before?”

Matt’s voice dropped a warning note softer. “You’re playing with fire, Samantha.”

“Am I?” Her lips hovered near his. “Well, maybe I like playing with fire.”

Matt stared at her a moment longer. He then rasped, “Hell, I’m tired of fighting this.”

Lifting Samantha to her feet, Matt stood up abruptly. He then pulled her along behind him as he headed for the door.

Uncertain what he intended when they emerged briefly out onto the street, Samantha gasped when Matt pulled her into a nearby alleyway and crushed her against the side of the building with his body. She did not expect his passion when he plundered her mouth with his and moved against her with unrestrained heat. Nor did she anticipate her involuntary response.

Somehow unable to help herself, Samantha joined his fervor. Trading him kiss for kiss and caress for caress, she struggled to run her hands against the muscles of his back, wanting more. She strained at the tightly belted waistband of his trousers as he caressed her tingling flesh.

The heat between them grew hotter.

Samantha was past rational thought when Matt drew her away from the wall and slid his arms around her. She was unaware of the exact moment when the plundering gentled and the loving began, but felt only the warmth of Matt’s body as he clutched her tight against him. She groaned when his hands
splayed wide against her back in ever-increasing hunger.

He clutched her closer still. He explored the intimate curves of her body. They were moving in mutual heat, writhing in mindless passion. They were—

Abruptly jerking himself back from her, Matt whispered hoarsely, “Don’t sell yourself short, Samantha. You’re real good. You can do better than cheap lovemaking in a dark alleyway, which is all you’ll ever get from me.”

Releasing her just as abruptly, Matt strode away.

Samantha stood stock-still. Her heavy breathing the only sound that broke the silence, she swallowed tightly and watched as he stepped out of sight on the street.

Leaving Samantha behind him, Matt strode toward the rail where his horse was tethered. He mounted, angry with himself for having given in to the beauteous tease. He nudged his mount into a gallop and headed out of town. Admittedly, he had almost fallen into the trap that Samantha had set for him, but he was now more determined than ever to ignore the attraction that had sprung up between them.

It was not difficult to understand why he was attracted to her. Samantha was the realization of any man’s dream. The trouble was that he knew her type. His mother had been of her ilk—a beautiful dance
hall woman who had surrendered to desire but who deserted his father as soon as she was able. She had not wanted to marry the decent man who loved her. Nor had she given a thought to him or to their son when she ran off and left his father to raise him.

Confused, Matt knew only that an emotion he could not name tightened deep inside him when he thought of Samantha Rigg. He also admitted to himself that a minute more in that alleyway, and he would have abandoned common sense.

Relieved that he could think clearly again, Matt slowed his horse to a canter on the trail back to his ranch. He reconfirmed in his mind that Jenny was the only woman for him. She didn’t have hair the color of corn silk or eyes that both teased and hungered, but he had known her most of his life. He knew she was loyal and loving, and without a dishonest bone in her body.

Jenny was everything that Samantha was not.

Two words summed up the situation with Samantha.

Forget her.

Aware that she had lost control and that her quarry had not, Samantha took a shuddering breath as Matt mounted his horse and left town. She then raised her chin, adjusted her smeared makeup as best she could, rearranged her upswept hair, and smoothed her dress. Taking a breath, she strode cockily back through the swinging doors of the Trail’s End. She
knew what the men were thinking, and she knew what she needed to do.

Samantha walked boldly toward the piano and muttered a few words to the old fellow seated there. She waited for her music to begin and then sang a loud, audacious tune until those same fellows laughed out loud. Thunderous applause accompanied the last line of the song, and Samantha smiled broadly.

But the truth was, she wasn’t laughing.

Chapter Two

A bright midday sun shone on the street beyond as Samantha stood again at the Trail’s End bar. The stench of perspiring bodies grew stronger in the afternoon heat, but she still preferred it to the pervading smell of stale beer and red-eye. In order to do her job, she also tolerated the heavy smoke that hung overhead despite the early hour; the shrieks of feminine laughter from either Lola, Maggie, Denise, or Paulette—Helen was not an offender—and the endless noise generated by the slap of cards and responsive moans of dispirited men at the busy gaming tables. A gentle but untalented fellow named Otto banged out continuous and unrecognizable tunes at the ancient piano, adding to the din.

Despite the early hour, several of her most persistent and ardent admirers had gathered—cowboys who truly believed a lucky one of them would have his attention rewarded with some private time with
her. None appeared to realize that she was interested in only one man.

Continuing to respond to their conversation with smiling and suggestive quips, Samantha glanced around her. She noted that Helen and Jim Sutton sat at a table in the corner. Although Jim still was one of her regulars, he now spent his spare time with Helen. The quiet brunette seemed to be his confidante in matters that he wouldn’t otherwise discuss, and she was glad. She apparently had done something right, although she seemed to have done everything else wrong.

Samantha nursed an inner anger, concealed since Matt had left her unexpectedly in the alleyway a week earlier. Unlike Toby, who continued to warn her against the path she was taking, the fellas surrounding her still didn’t realize her true focus.

Samantha was disturbed by that thought. She knew what she had come to Winston to do, but she wasn’t comfortable with her unanticipated feelings for Matt. She had been overwhelmed by the emotion that he had stirred in that alleyway. She had intentionally conveyed those feelings—of course—yet the scope of her response had not been planned.

The image of Matt leaving her abruptly still rankled. She could not avoid the truth that she had watched the doorway during the days since, getting angrier by the minute when he did not appear. She had determined when she awoke that morning that
if he didn’t show up that day, she would take steps of her own.

“What, no welcome?”

Samantha turned to see the object of her mental meanderings standing behind her. Stunned, she looked up into the face that had filled her dreams throughout otherwise sleepless nights; yet she felt nothing at all.

Matt continued with an easy charm. “I want to apologize for leaving you so abruptly a week ago. I’ve been hoping we can take up where we left off without too much difficulty.”

Samantha could not find her voice. Not only had Matt surprised her, but he was almost…
She had previously been so sensitive to Matt that she could feel his arrival the moment he walked through the doorway. Now as she perused his face, her gaze lingering on the contours of the strong features and full lips that used to set her heart pounding, she realized that the former barrier he had purposely erected between them appeared to have dissipated.

But so had the magic.

Samantha’s other admirers reluctantly melted away. Bemused by her sudden lack of feeling for the man standing before her, she told herself that she was relieved to be free of the emotional entanglement. Frowning, she discovered that she was actually annoyed when Matt sought to caress her intimately.

She reacted hotly. “Wait a minute. Last week you left me just when things were getting interesting between us.”

Matt shrugged. “That was not one of my better decisions.”

“One of your
better decisions

“I decided to walk away then, but I’ve been doing some thinking about it in the time since. I made a mistake. I’m here to correct it.”

“I’ve also been doing some thinking. I figure it might be time to change some things, too.”

“It’s always dangerous for a woman to think.”

“Is that so?” Silently outraged, Samantha replied with tenuous control, “I’ve done a lot of thinking most of my life. I hate to believe I’ve been wasting my time.”

“All I can say to that is…” Matt paused to revise his intended response. “If thinking brought you to me right now, I have to figure it wasn’t wasted.”

Oh, he was too smooth!

Samantha gritted her teeth and smiled forcibly. She didn’t like Matt’s attitude or the way the conversation between them was progressing. As a matter of fact, she didn’t like Matt.

Realizing that last acknowledgment could cause her a problem, Samantha said, “Look, things got a little out of control that day for both of us. I think we should start again and get to know each other a little better.”

Matt leaned closer to trail his mouth against her cheek. He whispered, “I think we know each other well enough already.”

“I don’t.” Aware that Matt was about to cover her mouth with his, Samantha ordered coldly, “Not so fast.”

Matt did not reply.

“I have some pride, you know.”

“If you had
you wouldn’t be working here.”

Samantha bristled. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re going to have to make up for that fiasco in the alleyway a week ago.”

“I was only joking with my last remark,” Matt replied belatedly.

“You weren’t funny.”

“Maybe not. I’m sorry.”

Somehow even angrier, Samantha said, “I don’t want to end up like I did last week. I need to know what to expect from you. We need to talk.”

Matt drew back, his light eyes hardening. “Talking isn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“Maybe so, but I didn’t have a deserted alleyway as my ultimate goal when I first saw you, either. Just so you know,” Samantha continued, “there are plenty of fellas willing to take your place right now, so I need to make something clear. I expect some conversation first.”


“Considering what happened, I need to know a little about you…about the way you think.”

“You know all you need to know.”

“But not all that I intend to know, especially why you left me that day.”

“I told you—”

“You said you made a bad decision, but you didn’t say why.”

Samantha realized the risk she was taking when Matt drew himself up angrily and said, “I guess it’s time for me to think some things over, too. You’re obviously not the woman I believed you were.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“I’ll let you know.”

Turning away from her without another word, he strode back across the saloon and out through the swinging doors.

Once again left abandoned and seething, Samantha was determined not to show anger when a voice at her elbow said, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.”

Samantha turned toward Toby and replied automatically, “He’s a bastard, but I’ll figure him out.”

“If you’ll take off those blinders you’re wearing, I think it’ll be pretty obvious what Matt is thinking.”

Samantha looked at the old man’s sober expression. She knew what his reply would be before she asked, “And what is that?”

“Matt figures it’s worth spending some time with you, but not his whole future.”

“What if I’m not interested in the future, either?” Samantha replied deliberately.

“If you’re not, you’re doing a damned good imitation of wanting more than Matt’s willing to offer.”

“I only asked for some conversation.”

“He don’t want it.”

“I don’t care what he wants. It’s what
want that counts.”

“Then look for another fella.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Well, then…” Toby’s lined face screwed up with concern. “I guess you have to come to a compromise with what you want and with what Matt is willing to give. There’s nothing else to do, other than to forget him entirely.”

“You’re telling me I can’t have it both ways.”


“You’re wrong.” Resolved, Samantha said with conviction, “And I’m going to prove it—when I figure out how.”

“You’re a determined woman, do you know that? I’m starting to think maybe Matt made a mistake when he chose Jenny over you.” He shrugged. “But in any case, I’d like to keep you company until you straighten all this out in your head. If that’s all right with you, of course.”

Somehow unable to resist the old man, Samantha said, “It’s all right with me. I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy your company, no matter what you say, Toby.”

“I know you do.”

Samantha replied with sudden sincerity, “Damn it all! If you were only twenty years younger.”

“Thirty years is more like it.” Turning to the mustached bartender, Toby said more loudly, “The lady and me would like a drink when you get a chance.” He added, “As a matter of fact, leave the bottle.”

Toby carried it to a nearby table a few minutes later, Samantha close behind. She had a genuine affection for the old man.

But she still did not understand the bastard named Matt Strait.

Helen and Jim watched the proceedings between Samantha and Matt silently. They then watched as Samantha and Toby made their way to a table. They exchanged glances and shook their heads.

The sky was dark and so was most of Main Street hours later when Samantha walked unsteadily beside Lola, Paulette, and Helen toward the Sleepy Rest Hotel. Maggie and Denise had left the Trail’s End with their male friends of the hour, which they were prone to do. No one was surprised.

The saloon women all lived in the less than desirable rooms at the Sleepy Rest, the town’s only hotel. The lodgings there were designed for transients and for people like them who did not live in the more respectable houses on First Street. The same could be said for the small restaurant next door, where offerings were neither extensive nor good.

Showing his age, Toby had gone back to his room behind the livery stable to sleep off the effects of an empty bottle, leaving Samantha to spend the remainder of the evening fending off the amorous advances of drunken cowboys. She had congratulated herself on being able to hold her liquor, but she suddenly realized when she staggered unexpectedly that she wasn’t as sober as she had thought she was.

Samantha grunted in a totally unladylike manner and quickened her step to keep up with the girls. She realized suddenly that they were more sober than she was, and that thought upset her. She didn’t like the failure in personal judgment that admission represented. It wasn’t professional. She was glad Allan Pinkerton wasn’t there to see her.

“I’ve been waiting to talk to you, Samantha.”

Samantha’s step faltered when a shadow materialized into Matt’s unexpected figure. She raised her chin to scrutinize him more carefully. She stared at his handsome face, wondering why she had been so drawn to him. It wasn’t as if she had never seen a man as big and masculine as he was before. Or as handsome.

He towered over her, waiting for her to speak, and she stared at him a second longer. He was still as big and muscular and all male as he had been, but the magic had disappeared, all right. She told herself again that she was glad—but she wasn’t so sure.

She had some sober thinking to do.

Paulette and Lola said almost in unison, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Samantha.” They grasped Helen’s arm as she seemed ready to disagree and pulled her along with them.

Samantha turned unsteadily. “No, don’t go.”

Helen looked back at her as Paulette and Lola dragged her along toward the hotel.

Frowning, Samantha turned back to Matt. She said with a hiccup, “What…what do you want?”

“I want to talk to you.” Matt smiled, but she had the feeling his smile did not come from the heart when he said, “But I think you could use some help getting to your room, too.”

“Why, because I’ve had too…too much to drink?” Samantha silently cursed when she hiccupped again. She raised her chin a notch higher. “As you can see, now is not the time to talk.”

Taking her arm, Matt said, “Talking isn’t all I had in mind for tonight.”

“What did you have in mind?” Samantha shook off his grip as she stood swaying in the middle of the street. “If you think you can just take up where we left off in that alleyway, you’re mistaken.”

“I just want to see you to your room.”

“Yeah.” Samantha nodded with a lopsided smile.


“I don’t believe you. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe a word you say!”

Matt shrugged again. “You’re the one who wanted to get to know me better.”

Samantha drew back, her gaze narrowing. “Yes, by

“Talking, huh?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, this is your chance.”

“No, it isn’t. I wanted to know what to expect from you, but I already know what to expect from you tonight.”

“Maybe you do and maybe you don’t.” Matt stepped closer. His gaze hardened as did a more obvious part of him as he took her arm again. His grip was harsher and his belated smile did not ring true when he began, “I only want to make sure—”

Aware that he was stronger and more determined than she was, Samantha suddenly knew she had no recourse. Reaching down with her other hand, she lifted her skirt to withdraw the small derringer concealed in a holster on her thigh. Matt went still when he saw the small gun and heard her warn, “I don’t want to use this gun on you. I’ve never needed to use it before, but I’m telling you now that I won’t hesitate.”

Matt released her arm. All pretense at a smile disappeared when he said, “You don’t want to do that, Samantha.”

“You’re right, I don’t. But I will. So get on that horse of yours and ride out of town—and I’ll go to sleep like I want to.”

She hiccupped again.

Matt smiled engagingly. “I’ll give you a last
chance to change your mind. I know you’ll be sorry if you don’t.”

“I won’t be sorry and I won’t change my mind—not tonight, anyway.” She frowned when she said with unexpected honesty, “Tomorrow, maybe.”

“I’m not promising there’ll be a tomorrow for us.”

Samantha whispered, “Then I’ll just have to take that chance, won’t I? Get moving!”

Samantha saw the look in Matt’s light eyes then. Frustrated and angry he mumbled, “I’m warning you—”

BOOK: Renegade
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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