Rocky Mountain Rose (Rocky Mountain Bride Series Book 3)

 

Rocky Mountain Rose

Rocky Mountain Bride Series, Book Three

 

By

 

Lee Savino

 

 

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Savino, Lee

Rocky Mountain Rose

 

eBook ISBN: 978-1-68259-188-8

Cover Design by ABCD Graphics & Design

 

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*

The saloon was packed wall to wall with unwashed bodies. At the long bar, men hooted and hollered after the serving women, offering little more than a pinch on the behind as a tip. Men crowded around the faro tables in the back, betting hard earned dollars to the slick-looking shyster behind the table.

Rose stood in the shadows on the top of the stairs, her hands on her hips, surveying the crowd. Rowdy though they were, she felt energy rush through her, as it did every night she danced as Rosie May, the belle of mining towns. When she arrived yesterday, men were waiting on the edge of town to catch sight of the crimson-haired beauty. Grizzled grey hairs and boys young as twelve, and every age in between, had all left their homes and come West to make their fortune, but after a few months in a mine, they’d give all their gold and silver for a glimpse of a lady. Tonight, she’d give them a glimpse, and more.

“Ready?” Her young escort, Sam, stood close by in his own black suit, complete with red cummerbund and high top hat. A boy of only sixteen, Rose took him under her wing when they left the traveling show together to form their own act. He now played the part of musician and master of ceremonies, and once his height came on and voice deepened, he would be a useful partner and bodyguard. For now, Rose had her trusty Nell, the pearl handled Deringer she hid in her sash. Looking over the boisterous crowd, Rose stroked her silken garments and felt the gun, its hard form comforting under her fingers.

Sam was already making his way downstairs to start the show. Once he sat himself at the piano, he glanced back, and Rose nodded to him, then backed into darkness to wait for her introduction.

His fingers flew over the honky-tonk keys in a stunning glissando.

“She’s here, boys! The belle of the West herself. The lovely Rosie May will dance tonight, the latest dance from Paris!”

A ripple went through the crowd; a few heads turned to look up at the top of the stairs where a woman’s gloved hand shook a black lace fan.

“There she is. I seen her!” someone cried, and the bar broke out in lewd comments as Rose let her leg slink out from behind the wall.

Whoops and hollers greeted the long, stocking-clad leg, then cries of disappointment when she slid it away. Then laughs and whistles rose as she turned and stuck her bustle out beyond the wall and shook it vigorously.

“Give her a cheer boys, don’t let her be shy!” Sam shouted, and someone took up the chant, “Rosie, Rosie.”

A fan, a hand, a slender arm encased in a black glove, then Rosie herself strode from her hiding place into full view on the landing. The men cheered.

“Hello, boys.” Rose put her hands on the railing, showing off her hourglass figure in the frothy white dress she wore. “Would you like to see me dance?”

A roar of approval, and she put a finger to her mouth, pretending to think. “I don’t know. I may need a drink first.”

A crush at the bar as men waved bills at the barkeep. Rose smiled down at them.

“Of course,” she called. “I may have it in me to give you a taste of what you’ll get tonight.” Hiking up her skirts and petticoat, she slid her leg through the railing, showing one black stocking, then the other, as men whistled and cheered.

Right below the landing, one of the men stood on the bar to hand up a glass of amber fluid. Rose smiled and blew a kiss at her benefactor, then held the glass high.

“A toast—to the one who will never leave you, or let you down. Who waits for your lips and always warms you at night. To whiskey!” She downed the shot, then rode the wave of laughter down the stairs, sliding down the banister and jumping onto a table set up for her next to the bar. A few men held up their hands to help steady her.

“Thank you, boys.” She smiled. Drawing off her gloves, she threw them into the crowd then called to Sam for music. She kicked her legs up to the lively tune, showing off black stockings and a hint of creamy thigh. As the men grew wilder, she leaned back to the stair railing and held on, teasing the crowd with flips of her skirt and shakes of her bustle.

A few more drinks and they might riot, but for now she had them eating out of her hand. Rose dipped and turned, a false smile plastered to her face, every once in awhile shaking out her long red hair for the room to admire. She was queen of the room, and all the men were her fawning subjects.

Then, in a fated moment, her gaze hit the corner and time stood still.

A man sat in the back, near the faro tables but ignoring them completely. His blue eyes pierced her, his gaze so intense she felt he could see everything about her—every curve, every breath, every pore. He had hair and brows dark as the devil’s, but the face of an angel, perfect and breathtaking.

She knew him.

A shock went through her, powerful as lightning. Her legs weakened, and she stumbled, nearly losing her balance.

A few of the men pressed against the bar put up their hands to help her.

“Rose, are you well?”

“Sorry, boys.” She shook it off. “Another whiskey!” she cried as she stole a glass from a man at the bar, upending it into her mouth. The shocked customer stood staring while his friends pounded him on the back.

Rose winked at him and then motioned to Sam. “Music, Maestro.”

The piano started again, and she launched into a bawdy tune, one she’d sung many times. The miners all knew it too, and she let their voices carry hers while her thoughts scrambled behind her pasted smile.

So her dead sister’s husband was watching. It’d been five years, but she remembered him. Of course, she’d never forget the man she hated above any other.

As the night wore on, she kept dancing, tossing back whiskeys as if they were water, and avoiding the gaze of the man in the corner as her mind raced. What did he want with her? Last he’d seen of her, she was a skinny child, too thin and ugly to catch a man’s eye. Unlike her sister Mary.

He stole Mary from her and left Rose at the mercy of evil men. She blamed Doyle, her sister’s boss, and her own father. But she blamed Lyle Wilder most of all: first for stealing her sister, and second for Mary’s death.

She strutted and sang and held on to the banister of the stairs to keep the rowdy men from pulling her off.

Damn the man. Why did he come to haunt her? She was a tall, bold woman of eighteen. Full grown and able to take care of herself.

With that thought, she whirled to start a new dance and saw a man in the center of the room punch another full in the face. It would’ve been a quick fight, if the falling man’s partner hadn’t jumped to his feet, pointing his pistol at the attacker. A shot rang out, but it went wide as the attacking man rushed the shooter and dealt a glancing blow to the pistol arm. A jarring noise came from the piano, but Rose kept her eyes on the gun as it dropped between the two men and became the center of a scuffle. A shout, and Rose’s head snapped around, looking for Sam.

Her friend slumped over the piano, and for a moment, Rose didn’t understand. Then someone screamed, a horrible sound.

Rose was halfway across the room, pushing to Sam’s side, before she realized she was the one shrieking. The boy’s white shirt bore a spreading stain, the same color as his cummerbund. Spit bubbled in the side of his mouth, and he convulsed once but the light was already fading from his eyes.

With a cry, Rose whirled and threw herself in the fray. Fumbling in her skirts, she brought out her tiny pistol just in time to reach the epicenter of the fight and face the shooter. With both hands on the gun, she fired, even as strong arms grabbed her around her waist.

The shooter fell, surprise on his face. Rose crowed in triumph, then all the air went from her lungs as someone hauled her over their shoulder.

The room spun wildly, and Rose’s world filled with angry faces. Clawing at her attacker’s back, she tried to break free, but a hand clapped on her bottom, hard enough to give her pause.

Then the two of them were outside in an alleyway, the door to the saloon swinging shut and cutting them off from all light and sound.

She started to scream, but the man stooped and bounced her higher onto his shoulder.

“Quiet, Rose,” he ordered, clamping a steely arm around her legs to hold her. Even carrying her full weight, the man broke into a jog down the long alley, the movement jarring her midriff so she had to fight to get air into her lungs.

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