Surely the handsome cowboy can't be serious. Lucy Hall's father wants to see her? Now? After years of being brushed aside, Lucy's in no hurry to rush to the man's deathbed. And just as Wade Miller rode into town to bring her father's message, he can ride right back out with hers. But before Wade can leave, Lucy finds herself witness to a terrible crime, with a killer on her trail. In this storm of trouble, she'll take any shelter she can find--even if it means going to her father after all. Yet safety comes at a high price when time with the Dakota cowboy puts at risk the one thing Lucy's always protected--her heart.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
July 01, 2010
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Dakota Cowboy by Linda Ford
Summer 1896, Dry Creek, North Dakota
He looked like any one of the hundred different cowboys who came in pretending they wanted a nice meal in a fancy dining room when what they really wanted was to eyeball the girl serving the food.
Yes, he looked like every other cowboy except for his steady eyes and how quiet and still he held himself, all watchful and calm.
Eighteen-year-old Lucy Hall served dozens of men like him every day--ignoring their invitations to walk her home, smiling at their jokes, ducking away from those who would steal a touch. None of them made her look twice.
It was the way he seemed so self-assured, so peaceful with himself that drew her glance to him time after time. Often she caught a little smile on his lips as he overheard something from a nearby table. She wished she could share his amusement, grab hold a bit of his calmness. He gave her the feeling all was right with his world.
Lucy hesitated just a fraction on her way to get his order. No one would have noticed the slight pause if they'd cared to glance up from their meal. Only she knew the way her heart skittered with something akin to the nervousness she'd felt the first day she'd worked in the Dry Creek Hotel dining room.
"Morning, sir, what can I get you?" The words caught on the back of her tongue, but she would not clear her throat and cause any of the patrons to glance her way nor give them reason to tease her.
He smiled. His eyes were blue-green, like pond water on a bright day. He owned an unruly mop of blond curls.
Her cheeks heated as if seared by a July sun.
"You here alone?"
The sunshine threatened to blind her, though she knew the curtains muted the morning light. Her feeling of being shone upon had come from his smile, his eyes. She pulled her thoughts into orderly control and turned her concentration to his question. Was the man joshing? No, she sadly mused. Only like a hundred other cowboys wanting to sweet-talk her. She knew how to handle them. Tease them. Pretend to play along with their nonsense while guarding her words, her thoughts and her emotions. "Let's see. Apart from--" she glanced around the room "--about a dozen others and Harry and Hettie in the kitchen, yup, I'm pretty much alone."
He tipped his head back and laughed. "Guess that was a stupid question. It's just that I was told--I wondered if there was another girl helping you."
Lucy's nerves danced in accompaniment to his chuckle. She sniffed in air heavy with the smell of bacon and fried potatoes. He was like a hundred others she saw every day.
Only he wasn't. She wished she could put her finger on what made him different--besides the fact he made her nervous and excited all at once.
"I'll have a good-sized breakfast, please and thank you."
Please and thank you. Well, that was different. "Eggs? Sausage? Bacon? Steak? Hash browns?"
"Yup. The works, if you don't mind. I'm feeling just a mite hungry."
She chuckled. "Better bring a pocket full of bills if you ever develop a big hunger."
He favored her with another white-toothed smile. That was different, too. Most cowboys neglected their teeth, allowing the tobacco so many chewed to discolor them in a most atrocious way. "And coffee, please."
Lucy left the table, walked over to the pass-through window and called, "Starving Bachelor's Special."
Hettie snorted. "Pile it high?"
"Man says he's a mite hungry."
Lucy reached for a fine-china teacup and saucer. She loved the way so many of the men sputtered when she handed them the dainty things. She'd chuckle and leave them struggling to figure out how to hold the tiny handle. She filled the cup with scalding coffee and took it to the cowboy who picked it up with perfect calmness. Yes, that was different, too. This man was beginning to interest her. Who was he and what was he doing in the Dry Creek dining room?
She refilled a few more customers coffee cups before returning the coffeepot to the stove.
"Bachelor breakfast ready." Hettie wiped her sweaty brow on her wide, white apron.
Lucy grabbed the waiting plate of food and took it to the quiet cowboy.
He dropped his gaze to his plate. She could practically hear the rush of juice in his mouth. He held his fork and knife, poised as if ready to do battle with the teetering pile of food.
She sensed his reluctance to eat while she hovered at his side. "I'll bring more coffee."
Still, she hesitated wanting...she knew not what.
But she had other things to attend to and she took the coffeepot and began to refill cups on other tables.
"Lucy gal, order up," Hettie called in her beefy voice.
"Oh, Lucy gal, you can order me up whenever you want."
Lucy filled the leering man's cup and ducked out of reach.
"Lucy gal, Lucy gal." A row of patrons--all male, all ranchers and rough cowboys--hoisted their cups and leaned over, begging for refills.
Lucy hurried down the line, dancing out of reach, laughing at their teasing. There was a time they had scared her, made her tense and anxious. She soon learned the best way to deal with them was to turn it into a game. That way they all had fun. And if anyone got rowdy or out of line, Harry, Hettie's husband and owner of the dining room, would hustle them out the door so fast they dug ruts in the polished wooden floor. Harry tolerated no unruly or rude behavior, and Harry was brawny enough that no one argued with his rules.
She took the coffeepot to the hungry cowboy and refilled his cup.
"You're Lucy?" he asked.
She tipped her head to one side and planted a finger in the middle of her chin. "Now, I can't imagine how you'd know that. Oh, unless it's because the name has been hooted, bandied about and generally abused for the last ten minutes."
He nodded, his eyes suddenly watchful, guarded even. She couldn't think why he should look at her in such a way. But she didn't have time to wonder for long. Duty called and she got back to work.
After she'd been back to his table to refill his cup a fourth time she stifled a giggle as she glanced at his ears. It wouldn't surprise her none to see twin spouts of brown liquid gushing from each side of his head.
By now, only the coffee-swilling, no-longer-hungry cowboy and an older couple remained in the dining room. Lucy began to wonder if someone had smeared his chair with glue before he sat down. Wouldn't Harry have a conniption if they had?
His presence trickled along her nerves, making her very aware of him as she put fresh white cloths on each of the tables, and set out china and silverware in preparation for the customers who would come for the noon meal.
Harry charged into the room and glanced around. He took note of the lone cowboy before he poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to read some papers.
He glanced again at the cowboy and slid Lucy an inquiring look. She read his silent message. Is this fella bothering you?
She shrugged. How did she explain the way she felt drawn to him? Hoping...for what? That he'd hung about waiting for a chance to speak to her? Lots of the patrons waited for such a chance. If he had something to say, best he come right out and say it.
Not one to play coy games, she grabbed the coffeepot and headed in his direction. He was no different than any of the other cowboys who came and went. Most of them she didn't give a passing glance. A few she favored with a walk out, or accompanied to a play or some activity put on by the cultural society. If this one asked, would she agree to go? Yes, she would because there was something different about him. She couldn't put her finger on it. She only knew there was something in the way he didn't look at her. His stare was not openly curious and measuring like so many of the cowboys--as if they were checking her for conformity, estimating her hardiness--judging her like she a good beef animal.
He pushed away his cup. "No, thank you, ma'am. Mighty fine it was, though." He edged his chair back and looked at her, a hard glint in his eyes.
Lucy hesitated. What had happened to change the softer, kinder look she'd first noticed? But what did it matter? He was only one of hundreds of cowboys she served.
Wade Miller struggled to get his mind around the discovery that this was Lucy Hall--Scout's daughter. At first glance, he had been mesmerized by her bubbly personality that had every pair of eyes in the full dining room following her with amused appreciation. Who would know from the way she acted that beneath the surface lay a heart as cold as river ice? What kind of girl would return her father's letters unread and refuse continued invitations to visit?
He was here to change that.
She hovered at his side with the bottomless coffeepot. He planted his hand firmly over the top of his mug. His eyeballs were already drowning.
"I'm done. Thank you very much."
She nodded and told him the total for his breakfast.
He made to pull the money from his pocket and paused. Slowly, cautiously, he brought his gaze to her. She wore the same amused expression he'd observed throughout the morning.
"Something I can do for you, mister?"
He didn't like tipping his head to talk to her and pushed his chair back so he could gain his feet and full height. That was better. Now she had to tip her head, which set her pale brown hair to quivering. He'd once seen hair that color on an old dog he was particularly fond of. The animal had the smarts of a fox and the heart of a saint. For a dog the fur had been silky enough but he was willing to believe Lucy's hair was a whole lot silkier. And a thousand times sweeter smelling.
He jerked his thoughts back to reality. Nice hair did not change the cruelness of her heart.
"You're Lucy Hall, I take it."
"Where you plan to take it, mister?"
He grinned. She'd given him the perfect opening. "I'd like to take it and you to see your father."
She stepped back and curled her lips like he had a bad smell.
"My father sent you?"
Coming here had been his idea, not Scout's. "He figured you hadn't received his letters."
She planted her hands on her hips. "You tell him I got them just fine. You tell him I don't care to hear from him. You tell him--" She gasped in air like a horse that had been rode too long and too hard.
He wasn't about to give up just because some little filly was all tangled up in some sort of hornets nest. "He's sick. Wants to see you. Seems reasonable enough."
She leaned forward, her chin jutted out, her eyes warning of approaching thunder. "Mister, you had your say. I suggest you move on."
"Trouble, Lucy gal?" The big man Wade took to be the owner breathed down his neck. Every nerve in his body jerked to full alert. He knew better than to mess with a man that size and with that warning note in his voice.
"I'm on my way." But he'd be back.
He left the dining room and swung into the saddle. He rode past a rowdy bar. Knew the cowboys would be filling up the hotel rooms come nighttime. He could buy himself a bed but he was used to his own company. Preferred it to the sort he'd find crawling around town.
He reined his horse toward the thin stand of trees where he intended to set up camp. He unsaddled Two Bit and tossed him a handful of oats. He'd let him roam, picking what he could. The horse would come as soon as he whistled.
After finding a rock to lean his back on, Wade settled down to think. The heat beat at his skin. It caused the landscape to sway like grass in the wind. Nothing blocked his view of the town. A struggling prairie town with high hopes, few trees.
Nothing about this scenery compared to the ranch in the hills, to the west. There, grass grew high as a horse's belly, a house sat in the shade of cottonwoods, and a pretty little creek made a beautiful sound as it washed over rocks. No one could see the ranch without loving it. Not even someone like Lucy. He was equally certain that if she saw Scout she would forget whatever little tiff had made her shut him out of her life.
He could drive a herd of cows and rope a wild mustang but how did a cowboy persuade a reluctant, beautiful woman to go where she didn't want to go?