Two novellas of love, secrets, and heart-stopping adventure from bestselling author Heather Graham.
Born to a Sioux mother and a white father, Blade McKenna grew up between two opposing worlds, never wholly belonging to either. The Civil War brought him yet more sorrow and loss. Now Blade is a man who lives only for revenge. This violent, merciless wilderness is no place for beautiful Easterner Jessica Dylan, who is on her own mission to clear her late husband’s name. Rescuing the elegant, emerald-eyed beauty from marauding Apaches exacts a higher price than Blade is willing to pay. Unless the promise of love can ease a bitter loner’s heart....
Allyssa Evigan arrives in an ancient town on the English moors to claim her inheritance. She has no idea why the great-grandfather she never knew left her magnificent Fairhaven Castle—or why her mother died with words of guilt on her tongue. And who is the dark, haunting stranger who fetches her at the station on his midnight steed? Handsome, brooding Brian Wilde, who lives at a hunting lodge nearby, denies ever having seen her before. Is Allyssa losing her mind? Or is danger stalking her? Brian’s touch might fill her with fire, but Allyssa begins to fear that he is the keeper of the castle’s deadly secrets.
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.62(d)|
About the Author
Heather Graham (b. 1953) is a bestselling American author who writes primarily romance novels but also in genres ranging from historical fiction to time travel and vampire stories. She has published more than 150 novels and novellas and has tens of millions of books in print. She also writes under her married name, Heather Graham Pozzessere, and the pen name Shannon Drake. Some of her best-known series include her Civil War novels and the Krewe of Hunters series.
Read an Excerpt
Lonesome Rider and Wilde Imaginings
Two Romantic Novellas
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Heather Graham Pozzessere
All rights reserved.
Indian Territory, 1867
He had only been standing at the bar at the stagecoach stop a few minutes when she first arrived.
And from the moment she arrived, he should have known there was bound to be trouble.
Even with the war long over now, and hordes of Easterners and, in particular, displaced Southerners traveling west by wagon loads now, such women were rare.
In fact, he didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful woman—white, black or Indian.
Something drew his eyes to her the moment she walked through the door. He'd heard the stage arriving, of course, and that was surely why he, ever wary, had allowed his gaze to slide toward the door. And then he had seen her.
The setting sun was behind her and she stood silhouetted for a moment in the door frame, trying to pierce the misty environs of the inn, he imagined. But while her eyes adjusted, his were free to drink her in.
She had chosen her clothing well for her westward journey: a simple cotton gingham day dress with a bodice that buttoned all the way to the neck. She couldn't possibly be wearing more than one petticoat. Yet the very simplicity of her dress seemed to enhance all that was so very elegant about the woman. She was tall and slim, but beautifully, gracefully curved at the right places. Her throat was long and white and regal. Her face belonged on a statue—one of those ancient Greek ones—it was so exquisitely shaped and molded with fine cheekbones, a straight nose, perfect lips, wide-set eyes and femininely arched brows. Her hair, drawn into a net, knot at her nape, shone beautifully despite its severe restriction there. It was a fascinating color, not red, not gold. Soft tendrils escaped the knot to wisp gently over her forehead and delicately frame the edges of her perfect face.
She stepped farther into the room, her expression giving nothing away. It was an all right place, such as stage stops went, Blade reckoned. Neat enough, with a number of wrought wood tables strewn here and there, a big cast-iron stove squarely in the center and a long bar stretching the length of the room. There were rooms upstairs for overnight guests, intended for the more gentle types of clientele traveling west these days. There were no handsome carpets about as might grace the floors of many such an establishment back East, and there were certainly no pretty paintings to decorate the walls. But Jeeter and Molly Dickinson, the sprightly old couple who ran the place, kept it up, kept it nice, kept it clean. Poker games went on some evenings, and some evenings, Molly was as likely as not to sit back in her old rocker and grace all her guests with a little Bible reading.
There was no reason that the woman with the beautiful face and fiery hair shouldn't have come here, Blade decided.
But from the moment she approached the bar and old Jeeter assured her she could have a lemonade, Blade felt certain that there might be trouble.
Since he stood at the end of the bar, it was natural that her eyes should fall his way when Jeeter went off to call Molly from the kitchen for the lemonade. She studied him with a certain fascination, then seemed to realize that she was staring. She blushed to a rosy hue and quickly turned away from him, focusing her eyes on the bottles on the shelves behind the bar.
What had she seen? he wondered. Anything more than a tall man with nape-length ebony-dark hair, black eyes and hard features? Anything more than a half-breed?
The stagecoach driver had come in now, a graybeard with a full face of whiskers and a little jerk to his walk. His guard, the man riding in front with him, followed behind him.
His beard was grayer, but he was skinnier, smaller and had a more pronounced limp. Maybe he was exceptionally good with the rifle he carried. Blade hoped so. Blade picked up his whiskey and left the bar area free to them, striding across the room to a table in the rear. He sat with his back to the wall—he never exposed it, never.
He was barely seated before it began. The door burst open again and another group came in, surveying the place from the door. Men. Three of them.
All three were dressed in long, dirty dusters as if they'd been out on the trail some time, sleeping in their coats and wearing them through whatever. They wore old slouch hats pulled low over their brows. They had a look about them that indicated they were brothers. All were of the same medium to tall height, had the same sandy colored hair, and the same rough and craggy features.
The tallest of the three—perhaps the oldest or the leader—strode straight toward the bar. Jeeter had just come back with the lemonade. "Whiskey, a bottle of it, and good stuff, not watered-down slop," the man said to Jeeter. Jeeter looked uncomfortable right off, glancing toward the stagecoach driver as if he might find some assistance there.
Jeeter turned to the bar, found a bottle and set it on the bar. "Glasses," the man growled. "What do we look like, a herd of animals?" He started to laugh and turned to one of the men behind him. "A herd of animals, eh, Petey? Is that what he thinks we look like?"
Blade could have answered that question quickly and easily, but for the moment, he was determined to hold his peace. He didn't want trouble himself. Not here, not today. There was still too much that he just had to get done.
After that nothing much would matter.
"It's the best whiskey in the house," Jeeter said.
But the man wasn't listening anymore. He had turned his attention to the woman standing at the bar and he exhaled in a long, slow breath, then finished the sound with the touch of a whistle. "She's the best in the bar, I dare say!" he exclaimed, ignoring the whiskey bottle and walking toward the woman. "Hello there!" he said.
She turned to him, refusing to slink away. Her eyes slid over him in a scathing fashion. "Hello," she said in reply, the sound of her voice as cold as ice. In all of his life, Blade didn't think he'd ever heard anyone say a single word with such ice-cold distaste.
The man at the bar tried to ignore the sound of it, but the tick at his throat and the blotchy color that came to his face belied the look of calm he tried to give her. "What are you doing in these parts? Traveling by stage, eh? I'll get you wherever you want to go much faster, honey. And I'll make the trip a hell of a lot more interesting."
From his rear table, Blade could see her eyes now as she stared at the man. They were green. Sharp, sparkling, bright, beautiful green. They held a startling sizzle of cool anger.
"No, thank you," she said, once again her words unerringly polite, and yet her tone ...
Enough to freeze the flames in hell, Blade thought.
"Now, wait a minute," the man murmured, inching closer still.
The old stage guard stepped forward. "Now you wait a minute there, sonny—" he began.
The man spun around. "Petey! Jed!"
Petey snatched the rifle from the guard's hand. Then Jed spun him around so that he started to go flying against the wall.
"See here!" Jeeter spat in outrage, but Jed had leapt over the bar by then, and before Jeeter could pluck up his old dusty Colt—one that had seen some good service in the Mexican War—Jed had seized the weapon and pointed it at old Jeeter.
Now the fellow at the bar touched her, reaching out dirty fingers to stroke one of those tendrils of her gold-and fire-colored hair. "My name's Matt, lady, and I like to hear it. I like to hear it screamed out real good and it don't matter none whether the scream comes from pain or pleasure."
It didn't seem that there was any way to avoid trouble. Blade was deftly, silently on his feet. But the woman wasn't going down without a fight, either. Even as Blade approached the pair, her hand was connecting with the fellow's face, nails clawing it apparently, because Matt-who-liked-to-hear- his-name was crying out himself.
"Bitch!" he swore, and, grasping her, started to slam her down on one of the rough wood tables.
That was Blade's opening. He gripped Matt by the shoulders, wrenching him up. He spun him around to face him, and when he made sure that Matt saw him he gave him a sound punch to the jaw.
Matt went down, clutching his chin, eyes on fire, furious.
"Shoot the breed!" he roared.
Blade spun, the knife from his calf flying. He caught Jed in the hand before the man could begin to fire Jeeter's old Colt.
Petey was aiming the guard's rifle at him. Blade drew his own Colt, leveling it right at Petey's eyes.
Petey dropped the rifle.
Blade stepped over Matt, reaching a hand down to the woman. She accepted it, meeting his eyes, and leapt up from the table. Then she cried out a warning.
He swung around. Matt was up, reaching for his gun. Blade swung out with his fist again, determined he wasn't going to leave any dead men lying around for the law to find, not if he didn't have to.
He caught Matt, and saw that Jed was leaping across the bar, coming for him. He started to turn, then saw that the woman was both quick and opportunistic. She had grabbed the whiskey bottle and cracked it over Jed's head. Glass cracked, whiskey sprayed, and Jed went down. That left Petey, who was rocketing toward Blade again.
Petey was wild—all brawn, no brain. Blade stepped aside, let Petey shoot by, then brought both hands clubbing down upon his back.
Petey fell to the floor with a soft sigh.
Blade met her eyes again. Over Petey's prone body. She was studying him anew. Carefully, with no apology. And no blush now.
What was she seeing?
A half-breed still. Maybe she was glad that he was a half-breed, thinking his speed and skill must have come from the years he had spent killing and scalping the white men who had first come to tame this land.
Maybe she was even wondering if he spoke her language.
"Good going, young fellow!"
It was the stage driver, hurrying to him, reaching out to shake his hand. "I can tell you, son, the company will have a fine commendation for you!"
Blade shook his head. "No, no commendations. Thanks. I just think you should get on your way."
"There could be a reward!" the stage driver said. "A monetary reward! You can't just let—"
"No commendation!" Blade repeated, unaware that his voice was every bit as cold as hers had been earlier. "You need to get under way here, before another group like this shows up."
The driver seemed to have sized him up quickly and was ready to obey. "Mrs. Dylan, he's right. Seems our best move now is to get going on, before more riffraff shows up." He spat on Matt's downed body and stepped over it.
But Mrs. Dylan didn't seem to be in any kind of hurry. Her green eyes were set on Blade. A rush of heat swept through him suddenly. She wasn't just the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, she was the most desirable. She brought tension and hunger to his loins, and a raw, savage pain to his heart.
He'd been alone for years now. He'd known whores and ladies in that time. This was different, because she was different, and he didn't want to feel this. He was suddenly furious. She had caused this, surely. With her cool voice, her emerald eyes and her lithe, so elegantly curved figure.
"Lady, you need to get going! You should be hightailing your pretty rear right back East—"
"I'm not going back East!" she snapped coolly.
"Then you need to get going!"
"Will you excuse me just a moment, gentlemen," she said to the driver and the guard. "I'd like to speak to this man."
"Watch out for the ones on the floor, Mrs. Dylan!"
"I will," she promised.
The two left the bar. Jeeter was busy mopping up behind it. Blade surveyed the woman, his eyes narrowing as they swept over her.
"What?" he demanded.
"I'd like to employ you."
She spoke quickly and earnestly. Her voice, as cool as it could be, was wonderful and melodic to him. "I might have been in serious trouble here if you hadn't come along. I realize that this is a dangerous and raw place. You seem to be at loose ends—perhaps in danger of having your face flattened yourself," she said, indicating the unconscious men at their feet. "I can pay you very well. Very well indeed."
"I'm not for hire."
"But I really need you—"
"You really need to go home!"
"I can pay you well."
He was startled when he suddenly grasped her arms, drawing her against him. "You can pay me well? Well enough? Well, let me tell you how I'd want to be paid. You. I'd want you, Mrs. Dylan, just the same way old Matt here wanted you."
She jerked away from him, her emerald eyes liquid as she stared at him. She should be sufficiently outraged, furious, he thought. And she'd walk away, thinking about her beautiful, marble flesh being mauled by a ... half-breed.
"And what if I were willing to pay?" she whispered.
"What if I were willing to pay?" she demanded defiantly.
"We're not talking about a one-shot deal here, lady!" he said roughly. "We're talking about whenever and wherever I choose. Think about it—I may not be worth my price!"
Her eyes, emerald ice, surveyed him once again. "It's damned sure you're not worth that price," she assured him. She started for the door at last. She swung around to face him. "You're good, but not that good!" she told him, that same ice in her eyes, the challenge more than he could resist.
"Oh, lady," he said softly, "you just don't know how good."
He felt the green fire of her eyes warming him, awakening him, and—damn her—exciting him.
No, he wouldn't fall for this kind of woman, not now. There was still a raw, gaping, bleeding hole inside of him where his heart should have been. There were things he had to do, and he could not—would not—get involved....
"Good day, sir!" Mrs. Dylan said, then turned and left as regally as she had come.
The dying sun touched her hair. And she seemed to leave in a blaze of fire, Blade thought, resisting the urge to smile.CHAPTER 2
There were two reasons Blade determined to follow the stagecoach. He'd set the trash brothers—Matt, Jed and Petey—on their horses and promised them dire consequences if they were ever to meet up with him again, but there was still the possibility that the men would go after the stage, for revenge if nothing else. He'd had to get them out of the saloon, though, since he couldn't rightly leave them for old Jeeter.
But even if the outlaws didn't follow the stagecoach, it was heading right through a corner of Apache territory. Mescalero Apaches were a people fed up with the land already taken from them and determined to give little quarter to the white populace, which had often dealt mercilessly with them. If the whites called them savage, so much the better to the Mescaleros.
He stayed behind, though, at a good distance. And for the first few hours, he began to wonder what he was doing. The stagecoach was going to go through the wilderness just fine. The brothers from the inn wouldn't have been patient enough to follow prey this long. His only fear now was the Mescaleros, and so far, it seemed, they were being quiet. With the war over, forts were popping up all over the place, and all the trails were being heavily traveled by the military, sometimes hundreds of men in U.S. cavalry blue. Perhaps the Mescaleros were keeping their distance because of the increasing number of reinforcements. At any time now, the military bugle could be heard, calling fighting men into action.
He was being a fool. He should turn around and head back. One look at this woman was enough to know that she was pulling him along by nether parts of his body, and, in truth, he wanted no part of it.
Yet he kept riding.... At least, Blade justified, she was going in the same direction he wanted to go.
Excerpted from Lonesome Rider and Wilde Imaginings by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1993 Heather Graham Pozzessere. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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