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Authors: Marie-Nicole Ryan

Taming Talia

BOOK: Taming Talia
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Dedication

To Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and all the other cowboys of my youth, but I don’t want to forget the modern, grittier representation of lawmen like
Deadwood’s
Sheriff Seth Bullock. Thank you for the many hours of enjoyment.

Chapter One

Late October 1889, La Mesa, New Mexico Territory

 

Rot in peace.

Natalia Salacito Montrose stood over her husband’s grave with a clenched jaw and reined in the urge to spit. She clutched a clump of earth for an indeterminate length of time, then opened her fingers and let the dirt fall, each granule a symbol of her newfound freedom. Across the arroyo, a breeze whipped up and blew the dirt in a fine spray over the top of his casket. Served the bastard right he was buried in a plain pine box.

Rot in peace.

And the sooner the better.

“That’s that, then.” She stared at the preacher. His watery eyes widened. His lips moved as if to speak but stopped. Perhaps he thought,
better not
.

“I’m returning to the ranch.” She glared at the onlookers gathered around the grave and dared them to speak. “I prefer to grieve in private.” There, let them talk about her inhospitable attitude. Brushing the dirt from her hands, she held her head high, gathered her black skirts and swept to the waiting buggy.

Ignoring the raised eyebrows and open mouths of the few who attended the burial was easy. She’d tolerated her husband’s Anglo acquaintances the entire eight years of their marriage. Enough of their insincere condolences. It wasn’t as if her late husband had been taken by a sudden illness or accident. Oh no. He’d died in a gambling-house brawl—at least by the sheriff’s report. He’d been too polite to tell her anything else.

Others weren’t so circumspect and had cheerfully informed her that
after
the argument was over, her husband had taken himself upstairs to enjoy the favors of one of the soiled doves. His dalliance was interrupted by a knife in the back, courtesy of the man with whom he’d argued.

Who cared? None of the so-called fine folks who deigned to attend the burial. And certainly not his wife. The bastard was out of her life for good. All she had to do was run the ranch and enjoy her good fortune. As a wealthy widow, she was bound to have plenty of eligible suitors, but right now, all she wanted was a real man between her thighs. Any man would do. As long as he was clean. A man to ride hard until she relieved all the frustrations and longings of the last eight years.

“Home.” She nodded at the ranch foreman, took his offered hand and climbed into the buggy. Too bad he was closer to fifty than thirty. Clean enough, but she doubted he could give her the kind of ride she desperately needed.

As the foreman turned the buggy northward, the sun sank low in the sky, leaving the flat-topped Rabbit Ear Mountains to cast their stunted shadows over what had been a glorious October day. In the distance, she spied a lone horseman who had just turned south toward La Mesa. Behind him lay the ever-present mountains which one of her early teachers taught were the remnants of ancient volcanoes.

Her mouth tugged into a smile. A perfect stranger. Someone headed south who was passing through and would never be seen again. What were the chances?

 

 

Shading his eyes from the sun’s glare, Jared Fields stood in the stirrups and peered into the distance. Behind him were two flat-topped humps, the Rabbit Ear Mountains, marking the spot where the Santa Fe Trail branched into the Cimarron Cutoff. His destination of La Mesa, located in the northeast corner of the New Mexico Territory, lay a short ride to the south.

Not much longer. His ass ached from days in the saddle. Couldn’t complain, though. Considering the dismal conclusion to his Texas assignment, it was his good fortune to be in the right area and available for another. One more chance to prove himself and earn his keep.

Since he was Pinkerton’s closest agent, he’d been dispatched to La Mesa. His new client, the wealthy and prominent George Montrose of New York City, was convinced his son’s wife had engineered his murder in order to inherit his fortune and vast New Mexico landholdings. Jared’s mission was to prove Montrose’s suspicions correct. If he found otherwise, his assignment was to bring the widow, and thereby control of his son’s estate and any possible heirs, back to New York City.

No doubt discovering the truth would prove a simple task, unlike his last assignment. A few questions here and there would get to the bottom of the issue soon enough. Should the widow need convincing, he possessed the means of encouraging her. What woman in her right mind would hesitate to leave this vast and desolate area of New Mexico in the dust and make her way to New York? It was the center of the civilized and cultured world—at least as far as upper-class New Yorkers were concerned.

While New York had been the center of his world for most of his youth, he’d never realized the breadth and sheer beauty the West offered a man who needed a new life. And he’d definitely needed a new start after being disowned for gambling away his inheritance. When a friend suggested he join the Pinkerton Agency, Jared had jumped at the chance. The agency offered him freedom as much as it had given him a purpose in life. His background made him the perfect agent for the more delicate assignments, where his manners and breeding distinguished him from their common agents. Pinkerton agents were feared, and rightly so. Private lawmen, some called them. Others, renegades and thugs.

Here in the wide-open plains, he had a free hand in dealing with unforeseen problems and needed only a telegraph office to make his reports and receive assignments. So what if it wasn’t the life he’d been groomed for by his father? It was Jared’s life on his own terms, and no one needed to know or care what a disappointment he was.

 

 

Hours after her husband’s funeral, Natalia slammed the door to Reginald’s bedchamber and strode over to his chifforobe. She jerked open the doors, ready to haul out her late husband’s clothes and toss them onto his bed. Now that he was out of her life for good, she would instruct Sarita to burn them. A bonfire was all they were good for.

No, that would be wasteful. Better they be distributed to those more needy.

Shutting the wardrobe door, she returned to her bedchamber. It was comfortable, though slightly spartan. Nothing like Reginald’s massive mahogany furniture from New York City.

The four posts of her bed were hewn from the local mesquite, with iron spindles joining the head and footboards. A simple but colorful counterpane covered the thick feather mattress. Her bed was certainly big enough for two, but most nights she slept alone and undisturbed.

A traditional curved fireplace occupied one corner of the room, while a tall oak chifforobe sat in the other corner. A one-armed horsehair settee sat at an angle to catch the best daylight for reading. Reginald insisted on calling the piece of furniture by its French name, a tongue-twisting—for her at least—
chaise longue
. A small dressing table occupied the area next to the window.

On the table rested a silver-backed brush and mirror—gifts from a mother she’d barely known—and a bottle of expensive French scent, Reginald’s only gift. Picking it up, she removed the stopper, sniffed and wrinkled her nose. She’d never cared for the stuff, but she set it back. At least the crystal bottle was pretty.

She stripped out of her widow’s black, dropping the silk garments to the floor and loosening the laces of her corset. In the chifforobe’s mirror, she caught sight of her body, the body Reginald never gazed at adoringly or with the least bit of desire. No, he’d rather waste his time gambling and whoring at the Silver Queen than be husband to his wife.

Other than taking her roughly from behind, he never touched her with love. Never kissed her. Never stroked her body like the fine instrument it was.

She moved her hands up and down her figure, jutting her breasts. Just look at what he missed. She tweaked her nipples and imagined a man’s mouth suckling them. Her core thrummed with the need for release. She rolled down her pantaloons—stupid things—and stepped out of them. A triangle of black curls beckoned her to explore the damp folds. True, he’d taken her virginity, but he’d never given her pleasure a second thought. Only his own.

Still standing in front of the mirror, she found the nub hidden in the damp folds of her cleft. With one hand she caressed her breast while she circled the nubbin with the fingers of her other, increasing the pressure until her thighs trembled and her pussy grew slick and damp. Her breathing quickened, and her skin grew warm. When her knees began to tremble, she stumbled to the bed, sinking into the soft feather mattress. Her body heated, and she came quickly with a rush of pleasure.

Lying back on the bed, she caught her breath and marveled how easily she could give herself more pleasure in a few seconds than her late husband had in eight years of what had amounted to a prison sentence.

Thankfully not a life sentence after all.

Chapter Two

Jared sat at the bar of the Silver Queen Saloon. It was as dismal as most saloons he’d run across in the New Mexico Territory, replete with the smell of stale beer, sweat and spilled whiskey. He signaled the barkeep. “Whiskey.” He slugged down a shot and regretted it immediately. A fiery burn scorched the back of his throat, ripping all the way down his gullet.

Damn.

Was it too much to ask that this one-horse cow town have a decent whiskey, or at least one that wouldn’t threaten to dissolve his innards with every swallow?

Four men sat in a corner playing poker, while a half-dressed whore flaunted her wares over the shoulder of one of the cowhands. Another whore sidled up to Jared, smelling of flowery perfume and sweat. “Not now, honey,” he said. Not now and not that desperate. She flounced off with a huff, settling her sights on another of the card players.

In town for two days, he’d kept his ear to the ground. Many of La Mesa’s good citizens were more than happy to repeat the latest gossip about the object of his quest, Natalia Montrose. Seems the inhabitants of La Mesa were of two minds about the lady. A good many who seemed to have known her all her life felt sorry for her loss and believed she deserved her good fortune. Even the local sheriff, a no-nonsense man by the name of Moulton, counted himself in that group. The lawman went so far as to say Jared was wasting his time pursuing the widow. Montrose had been killed in a whore’s bed by the man who’d earlier called Montrose out as a cheat.

A few others in town thought she was a jumped-up, gold-digging Mexican hussy who had her husband murdered for his fortune. Likely the truth lay somewhere between, although her late husband’s father certainly believed her responsible.

A whiff of horse and even more regrettable body odor wafted his way. “Stranger, you looking for work?”

Jared turned and examined the miscreant standing at his side. The man was short and stocky, too covered in trail dust to determine his complexion or hair color. One of his muddy brown eyes gazed directly, while the other stared at the wall.

Focusing on the straight eye, Jared leaned back with his elbows on the bar. “Depends on what it is and how long it might take.”

“Need hands for a trail drive. Herd’s rounded up, but one of the cowhands broke his leg, and we be already shorthanded. We got coupla thousand head rounded up ready to ship to Fort Sumpter and Fort Roswell.”

Granted the man only had one good eye, but what made him think Jared looked like a cowhand? He straightened his string tie and brushed a speck of dust from his jacket. “Afraid I must decline. Not so fond of cattle.”

The cowboy snorted. “Figured as much. Appears more like you be handy with cards.”

“Been known to play a hand or two.” Or ten. Or twenty. Weren’t cards the reason his father disowned him nearly fifteen years ago?

“How’s about you and me plays a hand?” The cowboy sniffed and wiped his nose with a grimy cuff. “I win, and you sign on.”

“Why would I risk doing that? I’m not much on following orders. Rather give ’em.”

The cowboy shook his head. “Poor Missus Montrose. She’s a widow woman now her man’s got hisself killed. She’s gonna need the money driving those cattle to market will bring.”

“Montrose? Yes, heard about him.” Jared glanced toward the stairs leading to the whores’ rooms.

“Yessir. That’s right. Died right upstairs, he did.”

BOOK: Taming Talia
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