Angel In The Rain (Western Historical Romance)

BOOK: Angel In The Rain (Western Historical Romance)
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Angel In The Rain

 

by

 

Devon Matthews

 

 

Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

 

 

Love Western Romances ~ 5 Spurs

“In Angel in the Rain, Devon Matthews has written a superb historical western romance with this tale of a sexy loner from the wrong side of life.” ~
Carol

 

Romance Reader At Heart ~ TOP PICK


ANGEL IN THE RAIN by Devon Matthews is the kind of book that can be enjoyed over and over again. I loved it the first time I read it and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much the next time I read it. Because this one, dear readers, is a keeper
.

              ~
Kay James
 

The Romance Studio ~ 5 Hearts

“I found it impossible to put down and I highly recommend it. I also expect it to become a best seller!” ~
Brenda Talley

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business esta
blishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

Angel In The Rain

 

COPYRIGH
T
2011 by Irma Sams

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.

 

Cover Art by
Irma Sams

 

Publishing History

First Cactus Rose Edition, March 2007

The Wild Rose Press

 

Dedication

 

 

For Darrell. You’re my hero, every day of my life.

 

Chapter One

 

West Texas – Spring, 1880

 

The moment she stepped from the stagecoach, cold chills skittered over Evangeline’s skin. She saw nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that should have made her uneasy in the least. So, why did she feel as though someone had just stepped on her grave?

The Agave Flats relay station looked much the same as a dozen others she’d seen since leaving the train three days ago—a crude blend of rough-hewn wood and adobe, flanked by knotty-poled corrals, standing in the middle of an empty landscape.

“Thirty minutes, ma’am, if you want to stretch your legs,” the stage driver called.

She forced an answering smile. If she “stretched her legs” much more, she wouldn’t be able to fit them inside the coach. With each interminable stop, she found it harder to tamp down a growing feeling of unease. She needed to be home.

A station attendant led away the horses, amid a swirl of dust. Evangeline looked down and slapped at the grit clinging to her fine, fawn wool traveling suit. Aunt Nelda would have a conniption if she could see her standing there without gloves or even a parasol to protect her ladylike pallor from the harsh southwestern sun. She heaved a breath and turned her back to the warm, grit-laden wind.

That’s when she saw him.

Nerve endings jolted when she spotted the dark figure nearly blending into the shadows of the relay station. The man stood with a shoulder braced against the outside wall, his thumbs hooked on the edge of a low-slung cartridge belt. One booted ankle anchored over the other. His relaxed pose stretched dark trousers taut over a long, muscled thigh. The black hat riding low on his forehead hid all but his chin and sardonically quirked mouth. His very posture exuded arrogance and something more. Something so darkly compelling it bordered sinister.

She knew he was staring at her. Right through her, in fact. Though the hat brim concealed his eyes, his gaze raked her with the impact of a physical touch.

Being stared at by men was nothing new to Evangeline Clayton. A woman traveling alone was a magnet for every roué along the pike, and she’d received her share of suggestive winks and leers during the train ride west.

Somehow, this man’s veiled inspection affected her more, probed deeper, as if he knew her very thoughts. She sensed a coiled energy behind his indifference, like a cat poised to pounce. And she had an eerie feeling that she was his prey.

“Miss Clayton?”

The driver’s voice tugged at her. With reluctance, she turned her back on the enigmatic stranger.

“Yes?”

“Just wanted to tell you, there’s coffee inside, if you want to step in out of the wind while we change the horses.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stewart. I just might do that.”

Evangeline watched the driver walk away and worried the inside of her bottom lip between her teeth. Tiny tingles continued to chase up and down her back.

Abruptly, the sensation vanished. She turned, knowing she would find the man in the shadows gone.

****

The monotony of the desolate scenery outside the coach window mesmerized Evangeline. Nothing but sand and an occasional wind-mangled scrap of brush or prickly pear, as far as the eye could see.

The stage had departed Fort Worth with a full complement of passengers. But, one by one, they had faded into the Texas landscape at various stops along the route. Now, after three days, only she remained to traverse the barren lands southeast of the
Llano
plateau.

After spending two years living in the city, where the multi-storied buildings butted up against each other, the solitude seeped into her soul. Going home should have given her a sense of relief. Instead, each passing mile brought more feelings of disquiet.

The tone of her father’s letter, summoning her home, had unsettled her. He’d spoken of his affairs like a dying man. The Roy Clayton she knew had never even hinted at his own mortality. He was a doer. A survivor.

Now, evidently, he was in trouble. Only she had no idea where to focus her concern. Stubborn old coot! Why hadn’t he confided in her instead of leaving her to wonder and worry during the entire fifteen hundred mile journey?

Evangeline sighed and thrust a manicured nail between her teeth, then immediately withdrew it and clutched her hands together in her lap. She’d been gone from New York scarcely two weeks and bad habits had already begun to surface. Nail chewing, no gloves, and no escort. Had she spent the past two years attending Miss Marvel’s Academy for Young Ladies, all for nothing?

She sat up straighter and lifted her chin. No, of course not. She
had
changed, transformed from an unruly, pants-wearing hellion into the woman of refinement her mother had wanted her to be. She’d learned her classroom lessons well, passed all the tests. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a new, polished miss.

So why did she feel like such a faker?

“You may acquire all the polish in the world, but underneath you’re still your father’s daughter,” Aunt Nelda had told her.

In the deepest corner of her heart, Evangeline knew it was true. Two years of constant classes aimed at teaching her ladylike deportment hadn’t altered her thinking one whit. She still harbored the same rebellious inclinations. While she now walked in a composed, sedate manner, at times she wished she could lift her skirts and run with wild abandon.

Warring emotions nagged at her. Being alone inside the coach gave her entirely too much time to think.

A hard jerk of the stage tossed Evangeline against the backrest. Blinking, she coughed and batted at the gritty cloud of dust mushrooming from the worn upholstery.

Beyond the open window, the blurry landscape confirmed the dangerous speed the coach traveled. Several more hard jolts forced her to clutch at the edge of the seat.

Tension gripped her stomach. What did the fool driver think he was doing? Had he fallen asleep and dropped the reins?

A muted pop, like a firecracker exploding inside an empty barrel, jerked her attention back to the window. Was that a gunshot?

From nowhere, two men appeared, pistols in hand, riding lathered horses.

Evangeline ducked back against the seat when one of the riders veered toward the coach. His blurred face loomed nearer as he attempted to peer through the window.

Wheeling away, the rider goaded his horse and moved ahead. Above the grinding clatter of wheels and the thunder of galloping hooves, she dimly heard, “Stop this stage!” More gunshots punctuated the order.

As the coach rolled and bounced to a standstill, Evangeline’s heart throbbed painfully against her ribs. She knew the stage carried nothing of value, and she was the only passenger. Surely, not even ruffians would risk being shot merely for the contents of her purse. What were they after?

The man she’d seen through the window stepped into view and shoved a still-smoking pistol beneath the waistband of his dirt-slick pants. A shiver crawled along her spine when he turned and started in her direction.

He jerked the door open and held it wide. “Climb on down outta there!”

Up close, the man looked repulsive. His face was smoke-filthy, the pores of his bulbous nose so clogged with hardened grease, it resembled an overripe strawberry bursting with seed. Beyond his sloping shoulder, she saw his partner aiming a pistol at the old stage driver.

“Hurry up! I ain’t got all day.”

Summoning the shreds of her courage, she squared back her shoulders. “Just tell me what you want.”

His fleshy lips curled in a lecherous smirk. “Come on out here, sweet thing, an’ I’ll show you.”

Evangeline’s skin crawled as if a snake had slithered beneath her petticoat. The interior of the coach offered an illusion of security. But if she stepped outside...

Escape seemed impossible. She had to try. Drawing a deep breath, she leaned, as if to follow his order, then launched herself at the door on the opposite side of the coach.

She was wrenching desperately at the door handle when thorny hands clamped around her waist. She screamed, clawing for purchase as he hauled her backward.

Being tossed down like a sack of grain on the hard ground abruptly ended her scream. Through the still-settling dust, she watched his retreating steps as he moved toward the front of the coach.

“Get this damn stage outta here,” he ordered the driver. “Go on. Git!” He pulled his pistol once more and aimed it at the hooves of the skittish horses.

Two shots in quick succession jolted Evangeline. Next to her, a big iron-rimmed wheel lurched. The coach rolled forward, picking up speed, taking all her possessions and her only means of flight.

Evangeline struggled to draw breath into her lungs. Through a haze of stark terror, she saw the big man turn and start toward her once more. Her thoughts whirled madly. They hadn’t kept the stage horses. They hadn’t demanded her purse. They hadn’t even bothered to rifle the baggage.

She yelped when the ugly brute reached down and yanked her upright. The big man’s partner moved in behind her and wrenched her arms behind her back, until her elbows butted together. Hot daggers of pain burrowed into her shoulder sockets. The agonizing pressure immobilized her. She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out.

“I got her, Jed.”

Evangeline tried to recoil when the brute, Jed, crowded close. With a grubby paw, he fingered the tiny buttons closing the front of her fitted jacket. She bit the inside of her lower lip to stop a whimper when he moved up to the collar of lace at her throat and brushed against sensitive skin. The smells of sour sweat and fetid, unwashed bodies wafting from the two men were enough to make her stomach heave.

Using her weight as leverage, she tried to break the man’s hold on her arms, but he didn’t give an inch. “Take your filthy hands off me! Let me go! Get...off!” She lashed out with the only part of her still unfettered—her tiny sharp-toed boots.

Surprised anger flashed across Jed’s face when she struck his shin. He drew back his hand and slapped her.

The blow snapped Evangeline’s head aside and instantly stopped her frantic squirming. A sting shot through her left cheek and jaw. Numbness quickly followed. She tasted blood. She opened her eyes wide, willing back hot tears. These bastards would
not
make her cry.

“I’ll see you both hang for this!”

The brute grinned. He shoved his face near hers, putting his rank breath directly beneath her flaring nostrils. “I doubt that, little lady. Now, let’s see what we got here.”

The weasel snickered.

Threats would have no effect on these scavengers. Their minds seemed set on one thing only.

Jed snatched the natty bonnet from her head and crushed it in his fist, taking hairpins and a great deal of roots along with them. Her long, blond tresses fell free, cascading nearly to her waist.

He dropped the ruined hat into the dirt then reached in with both hands and ripped open her jacket. Twenty-six tiny faux pearl buttons popped like a row of shelled kernels from an ear of corn. When he tore at her thin linen shirtwaist, panic poured through Evangeline.

BOOK: Angel In The Rain (Western Historical Romance)
9.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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