Win, lose—or fall in love . . .
After losing her mama and all she has, vagabond Patience “Patty” Sweet dreams of reuniting with her father in the New Mexico territory. So she teams up with a no-good gambler whose winnings enable her to get her closer to her destination. Patty hates hanging around saloons and poker parlors, pulling dishonest deeds. But when a game of five-card draw goes wrong in Lubbock, Texas, Patty gets offered up as collateral—to a handsome stranger who’s about to turn the tables . . .
Lawyer Grant Kincaid has no intention of claiming his prize—a nearly nineteen-year-old petite beauty with sweet eyes—who has a hold on him he can’t deny. But as he tries to help Patty untangle herself from her shady partner, he discovers she’s not as innocent as she seems. For starters, she’s already stolen his hardened heart . . .
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Lubbock, Texas, 1910 Under a full moon
It is a sad day in a woman’s life when she comes to grips with weakness of character. Today might have been that way for Patience Eileen Sweet, but she couldn’t dwell on something like that. Not this day, which had turned into a warm autumn night in 1910. Not when she intended to escape the mess of her own making. Her papa would have told her, “Patty Cake, proceed with caution.” He always claimed full moons bring babies, lunatics, and any number of disasters, particularly mine cave-ins.
Tonight would bring change; that she knew beforehand. This night unfolded for Patty in a saloon. By the midnight hour the floozies had served their last drinks and were nowhere to be seen, most of the customers having cleared out. The bartender did nothing to cover his yawns. Cigar smoke still curled toward the tin ceiling. Gaming chips still pinged. Three gamblers refused to give in or give up.
Still and all, it would be over soon.
Looking up from her mending, she meant to steal a glance at her “stepbrother,” but she locked gazes with one of the gamblers instead, and not for the first time this evening. The three were close enough that she could get a good look—he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. As he had the other times, he nodded once. There was a puzzled, curious look to his fine features, certainly not the nasty-old-pervert leer that Dorinda had warned her to look out for.
She did like this man’s black-haired, blue-eyed looks. He wore the garb of a West Texan—a yoked shirt with mother-of-pearl buttons and
denim britches that hugged him just right. His boots were the same kind that cowboys wore, only this ’poke’s weren’t scuffed or worn out. His clothes looked too clean, his hair and chin too smooth for a man of the land. He looked rich.
Patty moved her line of sight to her partner-in-crime, Chet Merkel. It was his turn to deal, and she could tell he was losing at five-card stud. They couldn’t afford for him to lose, not even for one evening, yet she prayed for his bad luck.
She knew what his next move would be. He’d barter her virginity. For the third time.
Twice before to two different men in two different towns.
Tonight it was Scarlet Garter Jenny’s Saloon. The “winner” would be a short, dark sheriff wearing a big, thick wedding ring. Or else the winner might be that curious fellow—the smooth-shaven pretty boy that the drunkards, gamblers, and preening waitresses called “counselor” and “mouthpiece,” with “Grant” or “Kincaid” thrown in from time to time. Well, the painted ladies usually said “Sugar.”
Neither of these men looked as gullible as the previous winners of her so-called prize.
Anyway, Patty knew how to get out of being the night’s reward. Did she even want to? Just looking at Grant Kincaid had her in a tizzy. One way or another, things would be different tonight. She was cutting all ties to her double-dealing snake of a “stepbrother,” Chet Merkel.
Definitely, she wouldn’t be rendezvousing with Chet later.
Martha Hix grew up in Texas and didn’t mind listening to stories about how her ancestors had been in the place for a long, long time. Well, in Texas that just meant more than a hundred years. This weird kid soaked up the stories and became an ardent student of family and general history, which came in handy when she took to writing both fiction and non-fiction. Eventually, her romance novels were translated into many foreign languages, some of them very foreign, like Japanese, Greek, and Turkish. On the home front, she lives in the fabulous Texas Hill Country with her husband and their spoiled four-legged kids. Visit her on the web at marthahix.com.