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Outlaws don't become rangers
Or even suitable husbands for proper young women like Laurie Bender, the daughter of a Ranger. Big, bad Boon should know this—he once rode with the most notorious outlaw in Texas! To redeem himself, and have a shot at a coveted Texas Ranger's star, he must now rescue this feisty little lady from his former gang.
Laurie represents everything a dangerous man like Boon can never have: she's beautiful, honorable... And when they share a stolen kiss, Boon starts dreaming the impossible.
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Award-winning author, Jenna Kernan has over a dozen novels published. She has been twice nominated for the RITA Award from Romance Writers of America. In 2010 she won the Book Buyers Best Award for her debut paranormal, Dream Stalker. Jenna is every bit as adventurous as her heroines. Her hobbies include recreational gold prospecting, scuba diving and gem hunting. Jenna grew up in the Catskills and currently lives in the Hudson Valley of New York State with her husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Northwest of San Antonio, Texas, 1879
The men watched her with hungry eyes. Laurie Bender sat perfectly still outside the circle of firelight, hands bound before her, praying to disappear, knowing from the long, lustful stares that not one of the outlaws had forgotten about her.
She had endured a night and day of hell since her abduction from the train station in San Antonio. She'd been bound, tied and bounced over rough country in the back of a buckboard until she was black-and-blue. But that would be nothing compared to what awaited her next.
She cast a quick glance around the circle to find the biggest ruffian staring at her. The instant their eyes met, he rubbed his groin in the most lewd gesture she had ever seen. She dropped her gaze but could not contain her gasp of shock. The blood drained from her face so fast that her cheeks tingled and her ears began to ring. His laughter raised the hairs on her neck; it was a cruel sound filled with malice and menace. From then on, Laurie kept her eyes on the fire.
If only her father would come before it was too late. Had her letter reached him? Did he even know to expect her?
The shout came from the ridge above the outlaws' filthy little camp, squatting against the cliff of a box canyon around the remains of a broken-down adobe ranch house. The structure now lacked a roof and had been abandoned, Laurie supposed, for lack of one single thing a ranch needed.
All nine men set aside their bottles and rose to their feet, drawing their guns in unison. Three melted into the darkness while the others fanned out. Two mounted up and rode past the second sentry, who was perched high on the cliff above them.
The big one in the gray hat took the opportunity to come straight at her. He grabbed her hair as one might grasp a troublesome weed and yanked, forcing her head back.
He nuzzled against her neck above the top of the knife-pleated ruffle that topped her blouse and then brought his lips to her ear.
"I'm taking you now," he growled.
A pistol cocked close to Laurie's head and the man let go so fast she stumbled.
"I like ya, Larson. I do. But I can't abide a man not following orders." It was the voice of their leader, George Hammer. Laurie recognized it, would never forget it as long as she lived. Everyone in Texas had heard of George Hammer and his gang because he killed all witnesses of each robbery he committed down to the last woman and child. His soul must be as black as ink. Laurie knew he would be punished in the afterlife, but that belief was cold comfort now.
Her father was one of the men after Hammer. Laurie closed her eyes, imagining her father's division of Texas Rangers storming the camp.
The painful grip on her hair eased away and her scalp tingled in relief as Larson stepped back.
"Been a long time since we had a woman, boss," Larson whined.
"Now you apologize to our little guest." The outlaw stood with Larson, moving in a slow-motion pantomime that made Laurie's heart pound.
Hammer held the cocked pistol barrel pressed to his underling's forehead. Larson didn't seem to be breathing, but he sure was sweating. Laurie wondered how he liked being so afraid he couldn't draw breath? Suddenly he didn't look so tough.
"'Pologize!" demanded Hammer.
Larson's eyes shifted to her and she read the glittering hatred there. She prayed he would not have opportunity to seek revenge against her for this perceived grievance. She lifted her chin in defiance, feigning a bravery she did not feel, trying still to be her father's daughter.
"Yes, ma'am. I sure do. I sure am sorry."
"Now git," said Hammer, prodding him with the cold steel. Larson toppled like a falling tree, landed on his backside in the dust and then scuttled away like a scorpion. Laurie noted the pink ring mark on the outlaw's forehead, the imprint of George Hammer's pistol.
George Hammer grabbed Laurie's bound hands and squatted, drawing them both back to a seat on the log, as if they were good friends, except he kept a fist on the ropes, squeezing so the bonds rubbed her chafed skin. All the while he kept that pleasant smile fixed upon his lips. Laurie shivered.
"Time for that later, I reckon," he said, watching Larson disappear from the circle of light cast by the fire. Then he returned his gaze to her.
He looked her over with a critical eye and nodded. Laurie realized his smile never reached his eyes. Oh, no. His eyes were flat and lifeless as smoked glass.
"You don't look much like him. He don't have your dark hair or eyes. Your ma as pretty as you?"
She looked away in answer and learned her mistake when he grasped her chin and wrenched her forward to look at him.
"You know what your pa done to my kin?"
Laurie shook her head, anxiety sitting heavy in her belly, but she kept her posture straight, due for the most part to the long-boned corset that reached her hips, supporting her now that her spine proved unable to do so. She'd lost her straw hat and her upswept hair now tumbled in a dark tangle over one shoulder. Hammer settled beside her and stared off into the camp instead of at her. "Because of him, I had to bring my little brother home to our mama with his tongue all swollen and purple. Wasn't a proper hanging, just strung him up on his horse, so it didn't break his neck." The outlaw stroked Laurie's throat, washing her insides with cold terror. His grip tightened. "He strangled real slow. That's a hard death. Your pa did that."
Her voice croaked like a frog's. "I'm sorry for your loss."
He released her hands and gave them a gentle pat. He turned to face her, letting her see his bloodshot eyes narrowing on her with hatred. "You will be. I'll see to that. Time your pa gets here, there won't be much left." He snorted. "I mean to have justice. Promised my ma I'd make him pay. My little brother for his little girl. But we won't kill ya." He leaned in, so that her nose nearly touched his big greasy one. "But you'll wish we would." He glanced toward his men, all waiting for the rider. "First I'll let 'em get drunk, real drunk. Drunk men ain't gentle." He gave her knee a little squeeze. "'Spect they'll pass you around with the bottle. Gonna be a long night. So you best rest up."
She could hear hoofbeats now. Someone shouted.
"It's Boon. He's alone."
The men holstered their guns, except Hammer.
"You take his pistols?" asked their leader.
"Yeah," called one of the riders, holding up a holster with its weapon still sheathed within.
Three riders trotted into the circle of men. It wasn't her father or one of his Rangers. Her disappointment weighed down upon her. If she'd had a way to take her own life she surely would have. But George Hammer had taken even that, since he left her nothing with which to save herself from ruination.
Laurie's attention went to the new arrival. He rode a shod bay quarter horse with a white blaze down its nose and entered the camp at a slow walk as if he owned the place. The rider's lean body was sheathed in a tan canvas duster. A gray hat with a wide flat brim shaded his face. Beneath he wore a navy blue work shirt, fawn-colored kerchief, a scarred leather vest and dark striped trousers tucked into narrow black boots with pointed toes that fit neatly into the stirrups. He swung gracefully from the saddle, holding the reins as he lifted his gaze and scanned the group of men. Each stood at alert, hands poised to reach for their guns. Was this unarmed man so dangerous?
Laurie glanced to the rider's narrow hips, noticing he wore no holster but had maintained possession of a knife, judging from the antler handle protruding from the top of his right boot.
Boon stepped closer, approaching Hammer. He had a square jaw covered with dark whiskers that didn't obscure the cleft. He lifted his chin and now she could see his face. Her breath caught as she realized he was young and handsome. His size, confident manner and liquid grace had fooled her into assuming he was older, but he seemed to be her own age, perhaps only eighteen or nineteen. The firelight cast his bronze skin orange, but she could see his eyes were pale, like seawater.
"Thought you was dead, Boon." George Hammer stepped forward, grabbed Boon's collar and tugged, exposing his neck. "Don't see no rope burns." He pushed him away.
Boon caught himself easily and his spurs jangled.
Laurie noticed one hand ball to a fist before he relaxed, stretching out his long fingers. "Why ain't you dead?"
Boon met the outlaw's gaze with a steady one of his own.
"Don't know. My horse fell on me. Don't recall what came next. When I woke up you fellers were gone and the Rangers, too."
Hammer narrowed his eyes, his long nose nearly touching Boon's. "They caught Wilson. How'd you get away?"
Boon gave an easy shrug. "Caught my horse and rode the other way."
So he was an outlaw, just like the rest of them. Laurie's hopes flagged. Why had she let his beautiful face make her think he could not be a criminal? She had enough experience to know that looks were no indication of whether a man or woman was good or bad.
Cal stepped into the light. This was Hammer's second in command, a short, lean man. His trimmed goatee, air of authority and Southern accent all made Laurie wonder if he had been an officer for the Confederacy from one of the original secessionist states, Virginia or Georgia perhaps.
He approached Boon, circling him as if Boon was a recruit called out for inspection.
"They shot your horse, Boon," said Cal.
"But they didn't kill him. I did that, riding toward San Antonio. Bled to death not four miles from the last stage station. Told the station master I got bushwhacked by Comanche."
"Damn fine horse, t...
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Book Description Harlequin, 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373297238
Book Description Harlequin, 2013. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373297238
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # STRM-0373297238