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A Wanted Man [Stone Creek Series Book 2] [Secure eReader]
eBook by Linda Lael Miller

eBook Category: Romance/Romance
eBook Description: The past has a way of catching up with folks in Stone Creek, Arizona. So schoolmarm Lark Morgan and Marshal Rowdy Rhodes are determined to hide their secrets--and deny their instant attraction. That shouldn't be too hard, since each suspects the other of living a lie. Her too-fancy clothes and big-city ways inspire gossip all over town; his blond good looks and impudent grin belong to a man sporting a gunfighter's coat. But Rowdy and Lark have one truth in common: the very real dangers they face. Like the gang of robbers wreaking havoc on the railroad heading toward Stone Creek--the men Ranger Sam O'Ballivan expects Rowdy to nab. And as past and current troubles collide, Rowdy and Lark must surrender their stubborn pride to the greatest power of all--an undying love.

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/HQN
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2007

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Stone Creek, Arizona Territory January, 1905

ROWDY RHODES LEANED BACK in the whorehouse bathtub, a cheroot jutting from between his teeth, and sighed as he waited for the chill of a high-country winter to seep out of his bones.

Jolene, an aging madam with pockmarked skin, three visible teeth and a bustle the size of the Sonoran Desert, sloshed another bucketful of steaming water at his feet, I done seen everything now," she told him, her eyes narrowed in lascivious speculation as she studied Rowdy's submerged frame, Ain't nobody never brought a dog to my bathhouse before."

Pardner, the old yellow hound, sat soaked and bewildered in the tub next to Rowdy's. He'd gotten pretty scruffy on the long ride up from Haven, the dog had, and Rowdy meant to take him for barbering next. They could both do with a haircut, and Rowdy was itching for a shave.

Pardner was just plain itching.

"Always a first time," Rowdy said, drawing on the cheroot and then blowing a smoke ring.

Jolene lingered, probably hoping to do less-hygienic business, but willing to settle for whatever conversation might come her way, It's one thing, you payin' for clean water for yourself, but I don't see how as it makes a difference to the dog."

Rowdy grinned and blew another smoke ring. We'll be wanting steaks, soon as we're dried off and decent, if you can scare them up," he told Jolene, Pardner likes his rare."

"If that don't beat all," Jolene said, pondering the hound. "I can get steaks, all right, but they'll cost you a pretty penny. And if you've a mind to pass the time upstairs with any of my girls, cowboy, your partner here will have to wait in the hall."

Given that he was naked, and in a prone position, Rowdy didn't see any profit in pointing out that he didn't have truck with whores. His .44 was within easy reach, as always, but shooting a woman, saint or sinner, was outside the boundaries of his personal code. Unless, of course, she drew first.

"No time for idling with the ladies," he said, feigning regret. He idled with plenty of ladies, whenever he got the chance, but he favored fine, upstanding widows.

"You lookin' for ranch work?" Jolene asked, in no apparent hurry to rustle up the steaks.

"Maybe," Rowdy answered. The truth was, he'd been summoned to Stone Creek by none other than Major John Blackstone and Sam O'Ballivan, an Arizona Ranger he'd chanced to encounter down south, a little over a year before, in the border town of Haven. He'd come partly because he and Pardner hadn't had anything better to do, and because he was curious. And there were a few other reasons, too.

He suspected his pa was somewhere in these parts, up to his old tricks, for one.

"Try Sam O'Ballivan's place," Jolene said helpfully. "Sam's a fair man, and he's always hirin' on hands to feed them cattle of his."

Rowdy nodded, Obliged," he said.

"Not that you're hurtin' for money, if you can afford clean bathwater and a steak for a dog," Jolene added.

"A man can always use money," Rowdy allowed, wishing Jolene would order up the steaks, go back to riding herd over the drunks he'd seen out front in the saloon swilling whiskey, and leave him to bathe in peace.

Pardner gave a despairing whimper.

"Just bide there for a while," Rowdy told him quietly.

Pardner huffed out a sigh and hunkered down to endure. He was a faithful old fella, Pardner was. He'd trotted alongside Rowdy's horse for the first few miles out of Haven, but then he'd gotten footsore and come the rest of the way in the saddle. As they traveled north, the weather got colder, and they'd shared Rowdy's dusty old canvas coat.

Remembering the looks they'd gotten from the townsfolk, him and Pardner, riding into town barely an hour before, Rowdy smiled. Even with a new and modern century underway, the Arizona Territory was still wild and woolly, and odd sights were plentiful. He wouldn't have thought a man and a dog on the back of the same horse would attract so much notice.

"You run along and see to those steaks," Rowdy told Jolene. Even with the bucketful of hot water she'd just poured into his tub, the bath was lukewarm, and there was cold air coming up through the cracks between the ancient, warped floorboards. He wanted to scrub himself down with the harsh yellow soap provided, dry off, and get into the clean duds he'd saved for the purpose.

Of course, Pardner needed sudsing, too, and Rowdy didn't reckon even Jolene's services extended quite that far.

Jolene hadn't had her fill of visiting, that much was clear by her disgruntled aspect, but she lit out for the kitchen, just the same.

Rowdy finished his bath, dressed himself, then laundered Pardner as best he could. He was toweling the poor critter off with a burlap feed sack when he heard the sound of spurs chinking just outside the door.

Rowdy didn't hold with the use of spurs, branding irons or barbed wire. Whenever he encountered any one of those three things, he bristled on the inside.

Out of habit he touched the handle of his .44, just to make sure it was on his left hip, where it ought to be.

Pardner bared his teeth and snarled when two drifters strolled in.

"Easy," Rowdy told the animal, rising from a crouch to stand facing the strangers. One was short, and the other tall. Both were in sore need of a bath, not to mention the services of a dentist.

Copyright © 2007 by Linda Lael Miller.

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