Authors: Adrienne deWolfe
His Wicked Dream
The Velvet Lies Series
Bestselling, Award-winning Author
Always Her Hero
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Cumberland Mountains, Tennessee
There were many ways to die.
Some men writhed in torment, fighting the inevitable with their last, rattling breath. Others succumbed quickly, cleanly, never knowing whose bullet had killed them.
But for Michael Jones, death was a lingering numbness, a curse that had dulled all pain, all pleasure, all
he used to take in life.
"You sure showed Hoss, didn't ya, Mick?" crowed the toothless bootlicker dogging his heels as he slammed out the swinging doors of the Jade Rose Saloon. "You sure showed him you weren't no lily-livered preacher's brat."
Stalking away from the wreckage and the wagering that his brawl had caused, Michael didn't bother to respond. What he'd shown Hoss tonight, actually, was that he was a mean-tempered sonuvabitch with two ham-sized fists and a chip the size of Blue Thunder Mountain on his shoulder. But he didn't expect this stranger, this sewer weasel who scavenged off the other riffraff of Whiskey Bend, to understand. It didn't take courage to bring a man to his knees. It only took brute force.
"I never did see a chair get smashed up in so many pieces," the weasel yapped, scrambling to keep pace through the mud and garbage as they circled behind the saloon and entered the alley. "Did you hear the way them soiled doves was cooing when you knocked Hoss on his ass? I bet you'll get all yer humpin' fer free from now on at the Rose. Womenfolk like rough guys, don't they, Mick?"
Michael touched his tongue to his smashed lip. It hurt like hell. So did his ribs, thanks to Hoss's head butting. His right eye was swelling shut, and his knuckles were raw and bloody. Any woman who'd want him in this condition was either desperate or scared witless. Neither kind appealed to him.
Still, it had felt good, damned good, swinging his fists at the migrant logger who'd recognized him and had threatened to carry the tale back to the town of Blue Thunder. Michael wished he could say he was ashamed of busting the chops of a drunkard with a grade-school education. But ever since God had forced him to bury Gabriel two years ago, he'd welcomed opportunities to break the Commandments. What better reason for him to ride secretly to Whiskey Bend every chance he got? He couldn't disgrace himself openly without losing the respect of the kid sister who so misguidedly looked up to him, but he could stain his soul black enough to disgust the King of Heaven.
Pissing off God: That was the one pastime capable of sparking zeal yet in Michael. That, and snatching souls from the Angel of Death.
Thunder growled, low and ominous. Puddles glimmered in the crackling arcs of light that chased four-footed vermin from their feasts into their holes. The weasel stepped around a rotting dump of fruit rinds and darted him an uncomfortable look.
"You sure don't talk much, Mick. Say, you want to head on over to Rooster's? I hear he's got a new bawd. Ain't been humped but once or twice."
Michael's lip curled. Two weeks ago, while Rooster had snored off a drinking spree, Michael had spent most of the afternoon at the brothel, quietly administering to the fourteen and fifteen-year-old orphans who'd been torn, beaten, or exposed to syphilis. The little fools had sold themselves for room and "romance," and there wasn't a damned thing Michael could do for them legally except tend their ills and pray they survived the terms of their contracts.
No, he had no desire to visit Rooster's. In his present state of mind, he'd probably kill the bastard.
He continued purposefully past the reddish glare of clapboard gaming houses, his ears closed to the whistles of scantily clad females and the calls of the hawkers trying to lure his purse inside their doors. The weasel's trot faltered.
"Where ya goin', Mick?"
This rejoinder didn't have the desired effect. Rather than slink off to the gutter that had spawned him, the weasel laughed, a raucous, brassy noise that sounded more donkeylike than human.
"That's a good one, Mick. 'To hell.'" Slapping his knee, the old man chortled again. "Ain't you figured out yet yer already here?"
Blue Thunder is hell
Michael thought acidly
Whiskey Bend is merely purgatory.
The weasel must have realized Michael's long, brisk stride was leaving him behind. He hurried to catch up.
"You reckon there's any booze where yer goin'?" the old man wheedled, darting a speculative glance at Michael's trouser pockets. "I sure could use a swig of rotgut. Fer my rheumatism."