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NO REGRETS

 

The Sunset
Series Book 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensual Romance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Cravings
Publishing

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A
Secret Cravings Publishing Book

Sensual Romance

 

No Regrets

Copyright © 2015 Christina Cole

E-book ISBN: 978-1-63105-643-7

 

First E-book Publication:
 
July 2015
  

 

Cover design by
Dawné
Dominique

Edited by Julie Reilly

Proofread by Shannon Ellis

All cover art and logo copyright ©
2015 by Secret Cravings Publishing

 

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This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in
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All characters and events in this
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strictly coincidental.

 

PUBLISHER

Secret Cravings Publishing

www.secretcravingspublishing.com

Dedication

To my husband, Ken, with love.

And also to Debby Pence, Lee Turner, and Cheyenne
Turner

with
gratitude and
appreciation.

My thanks go out to each of you for the inspiration
behind this story.

 

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Best
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NO REGRETS

The Sunset Series Book 4

 

Christina Cole

 

Chapter One

 

 

Sunset, Colorado - May, 1880

 

Willie
Morse tugged the cap down low on his forehead. With luck nobody would recognize
him. Lately, luck had been a scarce commodity. Sometimes, in his more sober
moments—which were less frequent day by day—he reprimanded himself for his
foolish attempts at gambling. When he’d first come to stay in the town of
Sunset, he’d actually thought to make a living of sorts at the gaming tables.
Instead, he’d only lost what little he’d once had. Now, he mostly stayed drunk,
living in the blissful world of solace and sweet oblivion that whiskey brought.
He really didn’t care all that much about money any more, really had little use
for it. Begging, borrowing, and on occasion, stealing provided him the
subsistence he needed.

No,
money had little value. What mattered were the basic necessities that supported
life.
Whiskey.
Food.
An occasional bath to wash off the stink that settled on him like
ticks on a coon hound, and most of all, a pillow beneath his head when he
closed his eyes for the night—wherever that happened to be.

A good
pillow, Willie often thought
,
was a source of comfort,
a guard against the bad dreams and wicked nightmares that had plagued him in
the months since his father’s disappearance.

Of
course, he did his best not to dwell on the past and the awful truths he’d
learned about his father, but that didn’t stop others from thinking on it. Nor
did it stop folks from judging Willie by his old man’s actions.

He
couldn’t take it anymore. Even those little creature comforts that had
sustained him in recent months had ceased to have meaning. Except for one
particular little craving.

Still a
bit unsteady on his feet from the previous night’s spree, he wrapped his hands
around the railing as he staggered up the front steps to the mercantile. When
he reached the wooden porch, he squared his shoulders as best he could,
took
a deep breath, then pushed open the door and slithered
inside.

He’d
lost quite a bit of weight. Not having regular meals had quickly reduced his
once bulky frame to one of more normal proportions. Along with the ratty old
clothes, the dirty tweed cap he’d purloined from a British fellow with an
odd-sounding accent, and the scuffed boots with the soles worn thin, he looked
nothing like the Willie Morse of days gone by. He squinted. Nobody in the store
so much as gave him a second glance.

Keeping
close to the far wall, he edged his way past the displays of canned tomatoes
and fancy tins of oranges, past the dry goods, and on past the shelves stocked
high with boots, hats, ropes, nails, and sundry other items a fellow might have
need to buy. A prudent shop-keeper,
Asa
Taylor
offered a wide variety of merchandise for his customers.

But
Willie had no need for any of it. His sights were set on the big barrel at the
back of the store. He kept his head down and spoke to no one. Already his mouth
was watering for the taste. He sidled up alongside the wide oaken barrel and
leaned against it. One big hand snaked downward.

“Damn
it, Willie, get your hands out of the pickle barrel. You’ve got no intentions
of paying for what you take, and don’t tell me otherwise.”

He
whirled around and looked up into the uncompromising glint of Sheriff Caleb
Bryant’s cold, dark eyes.

“A
man’s got to eat.” Willie fished a green pickle from the barrel. As he bit off
a chunk of the tasty treat, footsteps clattered across the wooden floor.

“Sheriff
Bryant, you’ve got to do something about that man.” The proprietor, a tall and
gaunt fellow, shook a bony finger at the lawman.
Beside him
stood his plump, moon-faced wife.
She shook her finger, too, for good
measure.

“That’s
right, Sheriff,” she declared. “Every day he comes in here and pilfers whatever
he can lay hands on before we catch him and shoo him out. Either you arrest
him,” Martha Taylor said in a strident voice, “or I’m going to the mayor to
make an official complaint. Against
you,

she added, jabbing a fleshy finger at the tin star on the lawman’s chest. “If
we’re going to have a sheriff, we deserve one who’s going to make sure folks
uphold the laws. Now, I’ll grant you that stealing a pickle probably doesn’t
seem like a serious crime, and it’s certainly not a hanging offense, but—”

Old
Asa
stepped up and placed a hand on his short, stout wife’s
shoulder. His eyes bore down on Willie. “See what you’ve done? You’ve got her
all wound up now.” He nodded toward the barrel. “Just get your hands out and
go. We’d appreciate it if you not come back.”

Willie’s
face screwed up. His mouth puckered.

“Hold
on.”
Asa
went to the cash drawer, opened it, and dug
out a few copper coins. “If you’re in need of help, say the word. That’s all
you have to do, not steal. I’m more than willing to help a man out when he’s
down on his luck. Now, don’t make me regret doing this.” He handed the coins to
the disheveled man. “It’s a sorrowful thing, Willie, to see you this way.”

Willie
flung the pennies to the ground. “Don’t insult me, old man. I don’t want
anything from you.”

Even
before he got all of the words out, Sheriff Bryant grabbed his shirt collar.
“That’s enough. No call for you to act like a jackass. I’m arresting you.”

“For
what?”
Willie jerked away. Though not nearly as tall as Caleb Bryant, and despite the
pounds he’d shed, he was thicker built, more solid. He could still throw a good
punch. He sucked in a breath and resisted the temptation to land a fist in the
lawman’s face.

“Public
drunkenness.
You know I don’t allow that in my town.”

“This
isn’t your town, and for your information, I’m not drunk. Now, if you’ll excuse
me.” He tugged the cap down again, drew himself up, and did his damnedest to
walk a straight line from the pickle barrel to the door.

Passing
by a pretty, dark-haired girl, he winced,
then
set his
mouth in a scowl.

“What
you looking at?”

She
drew back. Willie wanted to think it was his imposing presence that warned her
to step away, but he knew more likely it was his foul breath and the stench of
his clothes. Sure enough, the girl’s pert nose wrinkled.

Willie
lifted his head and marched onward.

“Now
that’s plumb pitiful,” a soft voice said. He knew it was the pretty girl, but
at the moment he was too far gone to give a damn what she thought of him.

 

* * *
*

 

Hattie
Mae Richards clamped a hand over her mouth. Her face must be beet red judging
by the heat emanating from her cheeks.

“I
shouldn’t have said that.” She lowered her gaze. She’d been brought up better
and knew a decent young girl never uttered such unkind words aloud. A truly
good girl would never even
think
such
awful things.

“Don’t
go apologizing,” Old
Asa
told her.
“Never
wrong to speak the truth, Miss Richards.”

She
lowered her gaze. “It is the truth, and that’s the real shame of it.” But she
had better things to do than waste her time thinking about a stinking drunk, especially
one who’d been born to a life of wealth and privilege. Although she’d never
been formally introduced to William Howard Morse, Jr., she knew quite well who
he was.

She
knew, of course, that he’d been through some rough times in the past few months,
at least,
that’s
what people said. Exactly what had
happened, Hattie didn’t know, and it wasn’t her place to pry. Her friend, Emily
Sue, just shook her head when the subject came up and refused to divulge
anything more. The whole sorry state of affairs was best forgotten, she’d
insisted.

All the
same, to Hattie’s mind, personal misfortune offered no excuse for bad behavior.
Life dealt blows to many folks. She could attest to that from her own
experience. She, however, had not become a wastrel or drunkard. If anything,
hardships, disappointments, and the undeniable unfairness of life should be
seen as sources of strength, not justification for defeat.

“What
was it you
were needing
, dear?” Martha Taylor waddled
over to Hattie. The sweet old woman’s usual smile had returned.
So had the pleasantness in her voice.

Hattie
blinked, pushed aside her philosophical musings, and quickly loosened the
drawstrings of her reticule. “Dr. Kellerman sent me over to give this to you.”
She pulled out a hand-written list and shook it open. “He said you probably
wouldn’t have the items in inventory but thought perhaps you could pick them up
the next time you go to Denver. They’re supplies for the hospital.” She spoke
the final word with reverence.

To
become a nurse and provide care to the ailing meant everything to Hattie now.
She marveled at how greatly her life had changed. Only a few months before,
she’d been shut away in a dreary little room at Miss
Brundage’s
Female Academy, working diligently to earn her teaching credentials. But she
knew she didn’t have the temperament for it. She could never have handled a
rowdy classroom.

When
Emily Sue—her friend and former roommate—mentioned that Dr. Kellerman was
opening a hospital in Sunset, Hattie realized at once that nursing was her true
calling. She immediately applied to train with him and was on the next stage to
Sunset after receiving acceptance. Hattie adored the big, bear-like Abner
Kellerman with his deep voice and friendly manner, as well as his lovely wife,
Charlotte. They had taken her into their home and made her feel welcome.

Not
once had she regretted her impetuous decision.

Mrs.
Taylor perused the list and nodded. “We’ll be making a trip tomorrow, won’t we,
Asa
?” She turned to her husband who nodded,
then
with a smile, she tucked the supply list into the
pocket of her apron. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No,
thank you. I’d better be getting back.” Hattie straightened her shoulders. “I
have a lot of studying to do. There’s so much to learn about caring for
patients, passing out medications, and keeping careful records.” Pride was a
horrible sin, but Hattie couldn’t help but feel her heart swell each time she
thought of the tremendous faith the good doctor had placed in her. She meant to
become the most knowledgeable and efficient nurse possible. “I’ll tell the
Kellermans that you’re going to Denver—”

From
the roadway in front of the store, shouts and cries rose up. A shrill whinny
rent the air, followed by an awful crashing noise. The mercantile itself shuddered
and shook as every man, woman, and child rushed outside to see what had
happened.
Asa
Taylor and his wife pushed their way
through the door along with the others, leaving Hattie standing alone, her
mouth open, her sentence still unfinished.

Gathering
her wits, she closed her mouth and raced toward the door. Even before she
stepped out into the afternoon light, she knew there’d been an accident, and
she could probably guess who was involved.

“Is
anyone hurt?” she called out as she tried to squeeze through the crowd of
onlookers who stood gawking at the scene. Nobody moved. “Please, let me
through.”
I’m a nurse
. As much as she
wished she could say those words, they would be untrue. She was
not
a nurse, only a hopeful young girl
learning the profession. “Please, move aside.” Hattie pushed her way through to
the front,
then
gasped to see Willie in the middle of
the road, surrounded by the shattered remains of a freight wagon.
Several crates had fallen and broken open, spilling out their
contents—a flock of chickens.
The noisy birds squawked and flapped as a
couple young boys chased them along Main Street.

Doing
her best to remember her training, Hattie quickly assessed the situation. The
delivery driver had apparently swerved and run into a water trough, but he’d
hit Willie, too. The young man lay unmoving, covered with blood, his clothes
ripped to shreds. The lower leg of his torn trousers flapped open to reveal a
huge, ugly gash, one so deep the shin bone showed. His skin had a deathly gray
pallor. His eyes were closed.

For all
she knew, he might already be dead, but for pity’s sake, why wasn’t anyone
trying to help?

“Damned
drunk.
Serves him right.
Wasn’t your fault,
Jed.

A knot of men formed around the badly-shaken driver to offer assurance, while a
scrawny adolescent patted the horses’ necks to calm them. Nobody seemed to care
what happened to the injured man lying motionless in the street.

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