Excerpt: After Sundown
Book One: Lawless Nights Rocky Mountain Romance
As she crossed the street, her gaze on the dust, something made her glance up. Maybe a shift in the wind. The sound of a door creaking as it swung open. A strand of her unruly hair blowing into her eyes. She wasn’t sure.
But that was when she saw him. Watching her.
A stranger. He stood in front of one of the saloons, directly ahead of her, almost hidden by the darkness and shadows beneath its balcony. Silent and still. In the shifting afternoon light, she got only an impression of a tall, lean figure standing alone. But her heart started beating harder. She didn’t know why, couldn’t even tell what had drawn her attention to him, what made her so certain he was staring at her.
But some instinct lifted the fine hairs on the back of her neck. Even as she looked right at him, she could glimpse no more than an outline of broad shoulders. A western hat tilted low over his eyes. A pistol holstered on his hip.
And all at once, the fear that she had thought burned away by sorrow came rushing back in a flood. She almost stopped in her tracks, almost turned around, but forced herself to keep walking. Steadily, casually.
He didn’t move. Didn’t seem especially threatening. Wasn’t nearly as big and frightening as Big Horace.
She tried to breathe evenly, calm herself. He was probably just another miner who’d come in from his claim after weeks away from civilization. Was probably staring at her because he hadn’t seen a woman in a long time. Or maybe he was a traveler passing through, newly arrived on the stage and drunk from his visit to the saloon.
He stepped down from the saloon’s porch and started across the street. Directly toward her.
And the way he moved wasn’t drunken or casual, but slow and purposeful. And Annie knew right then that there was something different about this man.
Her heart thudded a hard stroke. A single panicked thought rioted through her mind.
She’d been found.
All the breath seemed to leave her lungs. She had thought she no longer cared about being captured–but she’d been wrong.
Oh God, oh God, oh God. She lowered her gaze and remembered the letters in her hand. Started leafing through them as she walked. Told herself she looked like any ordinary homesteader who’d just come from collecting the weekly mail. She tried to hum but couldn’t remember a single tune.
She could hear his footsteps now as he came closer, the sound heavier than she would’ve thought for a man who seemed so lanky. Muscle, some part of her brain supplied. Every lean inch of him must be pure muscle.
An uneasy fluttering sensation filled her belly. Dear God, what should she do? Think damn it.
Annie lifted her head and nodded politely and said a cheerful, “Good afternoon.”
Without saying a word, he reached up to touch the brim of his hat. His fingers were long and tanned, his face as lean and spare as the rest of him, his jaw stubbled by a dark beard, his mouth bracketed by deep lines. He had black hair that curled below his collar.
And clear, green-gold eyes that fastened on her with an intensity that made her legs feel weak.
Cowboy, she thought desperately as they passed almost shoulder to shoulder. Maybe he was a cowboy. He was dressed like one, had the rough, hard look of a man who’d spent his life on the range. And cowboys were reputed to be men of long stares and few words.
But what would a cowhand be doing so far from the cattle trails?
It seemed to take her forever to reach Dr. Holt’s house on the corner. Her hand trembled as she knocked on the front door, barely aware of the sound over the rising buzz that filled her head. There was no reply. A tingling feeling began between her shoulder blades.
Like she was about to be shot in the back.
Unable to stop herself, she nervously glanced behind her. The dark stranger stood in front of the general store.
She forced a smile.
He didn’t return it.
Annie knocked on Dr. Holt’s door again, her heart hammering now. Open the door. Open it. Please, Dr. Holt, open the door!