Authors: Katie Lane
Tags: #Fiction / Romance - General, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fiction / Romance - Western, #Western, #Erotica, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary
It was funny. As much as he wouldn’t have minded
dying in the last couple years, now that he had the opportunity, some unknown will
to live kicked in. He took the steps in one leap and pulled the gun from the woman’s
It wasn’t difficult. Her coughing had stopped, and she stared at the blood that seeped
through his fingers. She took the sight better than Brant did. He could stare down
the fiercest business competitors and three headstrong little brothers, but blood
had always made him a little lightheaded. A wave of dizziness washed over him, and
he reached out and steadied himself on one of the porch posts.
“Minnie!” A woman’s voice filtered out of the screen door only seconds before it was
shoved open by a petite bleach-blonde who could’ve won a Marilyn Monroe lookalike
contest if not for the wrinkled skin and glasses so thick her eyes looked like they
were staring through a goldfish bowl. When she saw Brant, she stumbled to a stop,
her high-heeled shoes clicking against the cement of the porch.
“Goodness, Minnie,” she said in a breathy, Monroe voice. “You didn’t tell me we had
company.” She jerked off her glasses and batted her long, fake eyelashes.
“For the love of Pete, Baby,” Minnie said, “we don’t have time for your shenanigans.”
She waved a crooked red nail at Brant. “Can’t you see that the man is bleedin’?”
Baby placed her glasses back on and sucked in a breath. “Oh no, Minnie, not again.
Last time you shot someone we got in loads of trouble with Sheriff Hicks.”
Brant had just started to process this new piece of information when the front door
opened and a tall, slender woman stepped out on the porch.
She was as old as the other two, but not as blatantly painted or dressed. This woman
wore no makeup and
looked like a throwback from the sixties in her bell bottom jeans, floral blouse,
and leather sandals. Her hair was long and gray and held back with a chain of dandelions
that she took off, then walked over and placed on Brant’s head.
A wistful smile slipped over her face. “Can I have him, Minnie? After all, you got
the last one.”
“Jesus, Sunshine,” Minnie huffed, “that was over thirty years ago.”
Sunshine looked confused for only a second, and then she laughed. “Oh, Minnie, you’re
such a tease.”
“For the love of Pete, will you two quit fawning over him and get him a chair before
he passes out.” Minnie pressed her fingertips to her temples. “I need to think.”
“I’m not going to pass out,” Brant said. “All I need is a towel and the cell phone
from my truck so I can call the sheriff.” He wasn’t planning on pressing charges,
but he did think the sheriff needed to confiscate any guns Minnie might still have.
Next time the crazy old broad could very easily blow a hole in herself.
“But you can’t do that,” Baby said. “We can’t have the sheriff coming out here. Not
when we’re just getting the business started back—”
“Of course we need to call the sheriff,” Minnie cut Baby off. “But first we need to
get Branston’s wound cleaned up. Sunshine, go get the stuff Doc Mathers gave us when
you cut your finger. And Baby, why don’t you make us a drink? I’ll take a double,
and fix our guest here a Wild Rooster.”
If possible, Baby’s eyes got even bigger. “A Wild Rooster?”
Minnie’s eyes hardened. “You heard me. After being shot, I think that’s exactly what
a man needs.”
“I-if you say so, Minnie.”
Baby hurried back inside with a staccato click of heels while Sunshine offered him
one more airy smile before she followed. When they were gone, Brant walked over and
sat down in one of the wicker chairs.
Why he had stopped by the house on the way to his brother’s wedding was beyond him.
He should’ve known that he wouldn’t find any answers here. Of course, if he was truthful
with himself, he would admit that his desire to stop by Miss Hattie’s didn’t have
as much to do with his family’s history as it did with the vivid dreams he’d been
having. Dreams of sultry eyes that held a promise no man could refuse.
But Miss Hattie was long gone. The only thing left was a dilapidated mansion and a
bunch of crazy old ladies. Which Minnie only confirmed when she rolled over to him,
hooked her long nails into the hole that she’d blasted into his shirt, and almost
ripped his sleeve in two.
She leaned closer. “Well, I think you’ll live. I have bunions that are bigger than
Brant examined the wound and had to agree. Despite the blood, the gash was no more
than a couple inches long and not very deep. Although the loony old gal had ruined
his favorite tailored shirt.
“You should consider yourself lucky.” She sat back in the wheelchair and took a long
drag of her cigarette, then released the smoke through her mouth and nose.
“Luck isn’t something I count on,” Brant said.
Minnie studied him through the smoke. “Then I guess we’re two peas in a pod because
I don’t put much store in it, either.”
Baby came hustling back out with two glasses of amber liquid that sloshed over the
rims and onto the porch. She
gave one to Minnie and then offered one to him. He went to take it and realized he
still held the gun. Being a bit of an antique buff, Brant had no problems recognizing
it. It was a Remington derringer, more than likely made in the late eighteen hundreds.
Since the gun only had twin barrels and both shots had been used on him, he felt comfortable
setting it on the table before accepting the drink.
“Bottoms up,” Minnie said. She downed her drink in one gulp.
Brant took his time. A Wild Rooster turned out to be nothing more than an expensive
brandy that slid easily down his throat and took the tension from his shoulders and
the sting from his arm. While he sipped the drink, Baby stood over him looking anxious.
Figuring it had to do with him calling the sheriff, he started to tell her that he
had no intention of pressing charges when Sunshine came back out with an armload of
bottles, tape, and bandages. For being a little loopy, she seemed to know a lot about
first aid. While she expertly cleaned his wound and bandaged it, he set the empty
glass down and got to the point of his visit.
“Have you ever heard of a man named William Cates?”
Minnie lifted one penciled-in eyebrow. “Name sounds familiar. Who is he?”
After Sunshine secured the last piece of tape, Brant leaned forward. “My great-grandfather.
Supposedly he was shot here.”
Baby sucked in her breath. “You shot his grandfather, Minnie?”
Minnie held up her hands, the cigarette dangling from her lip. “Don’t look at me.
I’ve only shot three men in my
life—that sneaky bastard who took off with our best silver, that writer who stole
our stories and never gave us a cent, and Branston here.” She looked at Brant. “When
did this shootin’ take place?”
She snorted. “Lots of folks got shot back then—thus the name the Wild West.” She took
another drag of her cigarette. “Is that what you’re doing here? Searching for a bit
of family history?” Her eyes narrowed. “Or is it revenge that you’re after?”
The woman was perceptive. He’d give her that. Brant wanted revenge. He wanted someone
or something to blame for the death that followed him like the vulture that still
circled the sky. Except looking at the three old women, he realized that he wouldn’t
find it here.
And maybe he wouldn’t find it at all. But that didn’t mean he would stop trying. Looking
for answers about the Cates Curse was the only thing that kept him from insanity.
That and his family.
The thought of his family reminded him about his brother’s wedding. He started to
get to his feet, but a wave of dizziness had him falling back in the chair.
“Feelin’ a little light-headed, are you, honey?” Minnie asked. At least, he thought
it was Minnie. He was having trouble focusing. In fact, everything suddenly seemed
a little fuzzy and surreal.
A hand slipped over his pectoral muscle. “So are we going to keep him, Minnie?”
Brant pushed himself up from the chair. The ground rocked more than the deck of the
fishing boat he and his brothers had rented earlier that summer.
There was a husky chuckle. “It looks like it, Sunshine. Now quit mauling him and help
Baby get him upstairs.”
Brant started to say that he wasn’t staying, but his mouth wouldn’t form the words.
He took a step forward and stumbled. Two arms slipped around his waist and steadied
him before he was guided through the front door. From that point on, everything became
a jumbled blur. A ride in an elevator. A long hallway. A soft bed with slick sheets
that smelled of lilacs.
When he hit the bed, he rolled to his back and tried to focus. A woman appeared. A
woman with amber eyes and piles of wavy blond hair. She floated above him, the hint
of a smile on her lips.
Brant recognized her immediately, and his eyes closed.
“We shouldn’t have drugged him,” Baby whispered as she leaned closer and studied the
man, who was out cold. “I bet he wouldn’t have pressed charges if we had asked real
“We couldn’t chance it,” Minnie said. “Besides, this man ain’t just here for information.
He’s after something. I just haven’t figured out what yet.”
Sunshine reached out and smoothed the dark strands of hair from his forehead. “Maybe
he’s like everyone else and just wants a little love.”
“He doesn’t look like he wants love to me,” Baby said. “He looks mean. And I bet he’s
going to be real mad when he wakes up.”
Minnie chuckled and took a puff of her cigarette. “Now, I doubt that, Baby. There
isn’t a man alive who walks out of Miss Hattie’s without a smile on his face.”
Henhouse Rule #14: When unexpected things arise… rejoice.
HE SECOND HAND OF THE WALL CLOCK
ticked past the ten, then on to the eleven. Elizabeth Murphy waited until its slender
arm was perfectly aligned with the black minute hand, between the one and the two
of the twelve, before she got up from her chair.
“The library is now closed,” she stated in the same no-nonsense voice she’d used since
first accepting the job as librarian over fifteen years earlier. It was irrelevant
that not a soul was in the library to hear her. Her mother had taught her that rules
and routine were what kept a person’s life on the straight and narrow.
And no one’s life was more straight and narrow than Elizabeth’s.
Without the slightest hesitation, she pushed open the gate in the circular counter
and proceeded to walk down each long aisle. As she went, she tucked in protruding
spines and checked for any misplaced titles.
Books were her babies.
She loved the woody, earthy smell of them. Loved the smooth, crisp feel of their pages.
Loved the colorful book
jackets and their straight, even spines. To a shy, awkward girl, they had been her
teachers, her storytellers, her friends. To a single woman, they were her life.
She read all types of books, from nonfiction to fiction, from
New York Times
bestsellers to the reliable classics. If she had one fault, it was that she lost
herself in a good story, forgoing sleep and food until she’d finished the last page.
That was why she never started a book during the work week. But this was Saturday
afternoon, the start of her weekend, so she took the time to pick out a number of
books to take home. She had just selected a historical romance from the paperback
rack when someone spoke from behind her.
“What kinda books are those, Ms. Murphy?”
The paperback slipped from Elizabeth’s hand as she whirled around. Kenny Gene stood
there in his tight Wranglers and pressed western shirt, his eyes squinting at the
cover of the book on the floor.
“That woman sorta looks like Shirlene Dalton,” he said. “Although if Shirlene paraded
around with her bosom showin’ like that, not one man in Bramble would get any work
Elizabeth held a hand to her chest. “You scared the daylights out of me, Kenny Gene.
The library is closed. Didn’t you hear my announcement?”
His gaze flickered up from the book. “Uh, I must’ve been in the men’s room.”
She released a long sigh at the obvious lie. “Kenny, I thought we had this discussion
before,” she said as she picked up the book. “If you don’t want to marry Twyla right
now, you need to tell her, instead of avoiding her so you don’t have to set a date.
Sooner or later, she’s going to figure out where you’ve been hiding.”
Kenny shook his head. “That’s doubtful, Ms. Murphy. The library is the last place
on God’s green earth anyone would come lookin’ for me—although I gotta tell you that
them Scooby-doo books are downright entertainin’.”
It was hard to keep a stern face. Of all the people in Bramble, Texas, Kenny was the
“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying them. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need
to talk with Twyla. Just tell her what you told me—that you were thinking more a long
engagement than a short one.”
“That might work with someone like you, Ms. Murphy. Old maids are much more logical
than ordinary women. Probably because their hopes for snaggin’ a man are slim to none.”
His words should’ve offended Elizabeth, especially since she was only thirty-seven,
but she couldn’t blame him. Or any of the people in Bramble. Not when she had worked
so hard to achieve her old-maid anonymity.
“But Twyla don’t think the same way as you do,” Kenny continued. “That girl is hell
bent for leather on being hitched, and after three times, I’d say she’s pretty good
Elizabeth bit back a smile. “I guess that depends on your point of view, Kenny.”
“Well, her point of view is targeted on me, especially with Shirlene’s weddin’ tonight.
If Twyla catches that bouquet, it’s all over for me. The town will have us hitched
She couldn’t argue the point. The folks of Bramble loved weddings as much as they
loved football. And everyone knew how much Texans loved their football.