Authors: Jodi Thomas
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Western, #Historical, #Fiction
I love that Kensington has put the four novelettes I published in Texas anthologies together in one book. Now for those of you who would like my stories all together we have
One Texas Night
. I rarely call the folks in my stories characters. To me they come alive and tell me their stories. May they come alive for you as well in these four short adventures.
In the first story, “Amarillo by Morning,” I picked my hometown as the setting and wrote one of my favorite characters of all time. You’re going to like meeting Hank.
In “Silent Partner,” I wrapped my story around an early rodeo. When I was a kid I loved the rodeo and by the time I was eight I rode in the Grand Entry. It was great fun doing the research about the history of rodeo and watching two people who needed each other turn to loving.
In “The Outlaw,” I enjoyed creating an outlaw who wasn’t all bad and a girl he meets in church who wasn’t all good.
“The Ranger’s Angel” gave me a chance to show just how hard it was to be a Texas Ranger. When Wynn’s hurt, Anna whispers her dream to him and he vows to make it come true. A hard Ranger and a caring angel find newborn love.
Step into the past with me and come along on the journey. I promise you’ll meet some great people.
Other Books by Jodi Thomas
BENEATH THE TEXAS SKY
With Linda Broday,
Phyliss Miranda, and DeWanna Pace
GIVE ME A TEXAN
GIVE ME A COWBOY
GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER
GIVE ME A TEXAS OUTLAW
A TEXAS CHRISTMAS
BE MY TEXAS VALENTINE
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
One Texas Night
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Other Books by Jodi Thomas
This story is dedicated to a real Amarillo hero.
Happy birthday, Hank.
Fort Worth, Fall, 1889
Hank Harris squared his shoulders, forcing himself not to slump as he passed through the doorway of the Tucker dugout. He stepped into the one-room home with dread settling around his heart like sand.
At six feet six he knew he was destined to hit his head any time he ventured indoors. Seemed like houses all got too short about the time he started growing whiskers. Now, at thirty-one, he’d spent half his life watching out for low rafters.
He caught himself wishing that was all he had to watch out for tonight.
“Welcome, Mr. Harris!” a female bellowed as if he wasn’t standing within reach of her. “Trust you made the five miles from Fort Worth without any problem. That north wind has sure been howling all day.” The woman winked boldly. “I’ll bet you think it’s calling you home to that mound of dust folks call Amarillo.”
Hank removed his hat and nodded, not wanting to encourage conversation. Dolly Tucker’s shrill voice could strike kindling in a dry stove. He only prayed that her tone wasn’t hereditary.
He couldn’t stop the smile that wrinkled his normally hard mouth. Maybe he should be praying for himself. After all, he was the one fool enough to agree to meet Dolly’s little sister. Most folks would say he had no right to be criticizing others. He wasn’t the kind of man anyone would mistake as good-looking and, with the price of cattle dropping, any wealth he had lay far in the future.
I’m a hard worker though, he reminded himself. And honest. If I ever get a wife, I’ll never mistreat her. That should be worth something in this world.
“You’re looking all cleaned and pressed,” Dolly yelled as she patted his arm. “You must have stopped at the creek.” She waddled around him like a round little toy. “Your hair still looks wet.”
Hank didn’t know how to answer. He had no intention of discussing his bathing habits with the woman. In truth, he could never remember discussing anything but the weather with the fairer sex.
When he’d seen Dolly’s husband, Charlie Tucker, at the stockyard in Fort Worth a few hours ago, it had seemed simple. Dolly’s sister was visiting from Chicago and Charlie said they’d like him to meet her. He had even insisted that Hank stop by around suppertime.
Hank knew what that meant. They were introducing her to all the single men in West Texas. He’d played the game before a few times in the ten years he’d been ranching. He was respectable enough for a brother-in-law to introduce. He owned his own spread, was single, didn’t drink to excess. But Hank also guessed that if Charlie was rounding up prospects, he might as well take his place at the back of the line.
On the bright side, he’d get a home-cooked meal for his trouble and Hank figured that made the ride out worthwhile.
“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Harris?” Dolly didn’t give him time to answer before shouting, “Charlie Ray, pour him a cup while I go to the barn and find Agnes. It’s almost dark. She should be able to guess it’s about time for supper. The world can’t always run on
Hank swallowed hard. Agnes was close to the ugliest name he’d ever heard. That must be why they keep her in the barn. Either that or the girl talked like her sister and poor Charlie would be deaf if he heard the voice coming from two directions at once.
Another thought crossed his mind. What if Agnes wasn’t bright enough to know the time of day? Some men in this part of the country weren’t too particular, but knowing the time seemed a necessary skill.
Dolly’s husband moved to the iron stove and burned his hand grabbing the pot. Hank fought down a laugh. What was it about some men? They seem to live perfectly well by themselves for years. Then they get married and act like they’ve never been near a stove.
“I appreciate you stopping by,” Charlie mumbled as he finally managed to pour a cup.
Hank nodded, knowing he was just doing a favor for a friend. Men like Hank lived alone. No woman would have wanted to start out with nothing like he’d had to and, by the time he could afford more than a three-room house, he’d be too old and hardened for a woman to be interested.
Before Hank’s coffee cooled enough to drink, someone tapped at the door.
Hank stood ready to offer his hand as more guests arrived. He wasn’t surprised to see the young banker most of the cattlemen used while they were in Fort Worth. William J. Randell always seemed fair and wore clothes that looked like he must have ordered them from somewhere up north without bothering to take his measurements. He had a habit of playing with his watch fob when he was nervous, which would have made him easy pickings at a poker table. His hair curled in thin waves over his head making him look older than Hank guessed him to be.
The man behind Randell looked almost the same age, only Hank had never seen him before. He was stockier and stood with his feet wide apart as if expecting a fight to break out as he entered the dugout.
“Potter,” the stranger said as he shook hands without waiting for Charlie to introduce him. “Potter Stockton at your service.” His smile never reached his dark eyes.
Hank felt like counting his fingers to make sure they were all still there when the handshake ended. Something about Stockton didn’t seem right. He was too friendly, too eager, too forward for a man not running for office. Hank found himself thinking a little less of the banker for keeping company with Potter.
Charlie Tucker didn’t seem to notice. He offered the two men a seat and grinned. Before he could pour more coffee, Dolly returned alone from the barn. Her little marble blue eyes sparkled as she counted the bachelors at her kitchen table.
Within minutes, Hank was forgotten, which suited him fine. Dolly made over first the banker, then Potter Stockton, who explained he worked for the railroad. As Dolly served the food and insisted they eat, she kept the questions coming in rapid fire.
William J. Randell told all about the big family he came from in Ohio and Potter Stockton said he had relatives in Tennessee who were related to the royals in Europe. Hank kept quiet. As far as he knew he had no living relative. His mother left them when he’d been three and his father worked their small farm around Tyler, Texas, until he died before Hank turned twenty. The sale of that farm had given Hank his start near Amarillo.
They were halfway through the meal before Charlie got a word in to ask about his sister-in-law Agnes.
“She’ll be along,” Dolly scolded her husband as if no one would have remembered the reason they’d all been asked to dinner if Charlie hadn’t mentioned it. “We’ll be eating at midnight if we wait on her.”
Hank pushed food back and forth on his plate, feeling like the walls were closing in around him. He’d always hated dugouts. Everyone said they were warm and protected from the weather since they were built half into the ground, but he felt like he was half buried in them. Even through the cooking odors, he could smell damp earth.
When he stood, mumbling something about taking care of his horse, no one in the room noticed him leave. He felt cheated. Though he had no hope of finding a bride, he had thought Dolly could cook. He would have had a better meal at the café by the train station.
Once outside, he stepped into the blackness between the two small windows and took a deep breath, wishing he could ride back to town. Waiting on the platform for the midnight train north would be better than going back inside. But if he just left, it would be an insult to both Charlie and the invisible Agnes. There was an unwritten law that said the girl, no matter how homely or dumb, had the right to turn away any man who came calling.
And he’d been dumb enough to come calling, even if it was wrapped in a dinner invitation.
He knew he’d be leaving alone. Both men inside were better-looking, better dressed, and probably had more money than him. Potter said he could dance and was a crack shot. Hank had never shot at anything he couldn’t eat. William Randell bragged about building a two-story house in town and said he was up for a promotion at the bank. Potter swore he’d be in the cream of Fort Worth society in five years. They were dueling braggarts and Hank wanted no part of it.
“It’s bad in there, isn’t it?” a voice whispered from the blackness on the other side of the window.
Hank jerked away, almost knocking himself out on the low-hanging roof. He had no doubt the voice belonged to the missing sister, but she’d scared a year off his life when she spoke. In the night, he couldn’t make out even an outline of her. “Yep,” was all he could think to say.
“Dolly and Charlie Ray mean to marry me off,” she whispered after a long silence. “Dolly’s been planning it all day.”