Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge

The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge Amazon Buy Link

The day Evie met Benjamin Rolfe, a man with an unbridled enthusiasm for life and grandiose plans to match, she knew they’d marry and live happily ever after…

Five years later, her charming rancher is now a bitter, cynical stranger with a shaky moral compass. And after too many shattered dreams, Evie no longer believes in fairy tale endings.

When they lose the homestead and head out on the open road to start a new life in Oregan, their marriage is already strained to breaking point. Can their love survive this second chance?

Free to Read Prologue:

The saloon doors slammed open. “That yellow-bellied, four-flusher,” a tall man complained loudly as he staggered out of the Bucking Pony, “needs to be taught a lesson.”

The breeze carried the sound of stomping feet and more raised voices through the night. Benjamin Rolfe, only a few yards away, took a prudent side step off the boarded sidewalk. From where he hid, in-between two dark, empty buildings, Ben could only make out snippets.

“Low down dirty cheater.”

“I warned the boss not to buy that horse from Rolfe.”

Curious, Ben peeked around the corner. Talbert’s men. He counted the figures of at least six men standing by the horses tied in front of the saloon.

“If the Sheriff won’t do his job, then someone needs to do it for him.”

Ben moved back into the deeper shadows. He didn’t care what some drunken ranch hands thought of him and wasn’t about to risk his hide defending an already ruined reputation. With his back against a rough wood wall, he let their tirade drift past him, waiting for them to leave.

Minutes passed with aggravating slowness. His mouth dry, thirst nagged by the time the men finally mounted up and rode out of town. Ben lingered out of plain sight a short time to be certain they were gone then continued on his way to the saloon.

Inside the batwing doors, the place was almost full. Ignoring the brief lull in conversation as he walked in, Ben crossed the room to stand at the bar and dropped his saddlebag to the floor. The bartender stared at him for a couple of seconds before slapping down a glass and filling it with cheap whiskey.

His hand curled around the glass but instead of taking the long drink he’d been craving for hours, the cowboy stared down at the golden brown liquid. He should be happy, celebrating. His share of the take would at least half fill the jar he’d emptied at home. Evie wouldn’t even have to know he’d broken another promise.

Ben tilted the glass slightly from one side to the other, watching the alcohol flow. He should go home. It was late and he needed to talk to his wife. The image of blue eyes filled with disappointment flashed through his mind. A muscle worked along his jaw and he tossed back the drink.

The whiskey burned his throat and he put the glass down with a hard thud. Familiar with his routine, the bartender moved over, poured him a refill and left the bottle. His fingers tightened around the glass but before he lifted it to his mouth again, the noisy room quieted.

Braced for a fight, Ben released his grip and turned to face the door, expecting to see that the group of Talbert’s ranch hands had returned. The sight of only two men standing by the door caught him off guard. Damn. He would’ve preferred a fight.

The Nash brothers strode across the room, cocky, confident, as if they owned the place. His decision to hook up with these lowlifes for this last con was one he’d regretted from the moment he made it. They had no good reason to follow him back to Cedar Ridge.

“Rolfe what a surprise,” Billy’s smile was more like a coyote barring his teeth than anything human.

“Yes, it is.” He offered them an equally insincere smile of his own. “Have you lost Byron?”

“He’s getting patched up.”

“So what brings you out this way?”

“Seth and I were bored,” Billy’s over pleasant tone set his teeth on edge. “I thought we could find a game here.”

A two hour ride at night for a game? “Is that so?”

“If not, we’ll start our own.”

Billy chuckled and shouted to the bartender for a couple of bottles as he and Seth sat down at the empty table. Ben reached back, grabbed his glass and lifted it in a mocking toast. He drank then slowly turned his back to the outlaws, a deliberate act to show them he wasn’t afraid. With a hand steady through sheer force of will, he refilled his glass.

The fact that Billy hadn’t bothered to offer a believable explanation didn’t bode well. They were here either to rob him or kill him, possibly both. His options were few. Most of the townspeople wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire and the one man who’d likely help was the one man he couldn’t ask.

Please protect me from the other scumbags, Sheriff. Yeah that would go over well.

Ben finished off his drink and poured another. He nursed this measure of whiskey and listened to the brothers persuade a few men to play poker with them while he waited for the chance to slip away. A band of pressure coiled around his chest when they started to brag about the robbery. With them running off at the mouth, the Sheriff would soon have more than suspicion about his ‘jobs’. And that meant leaving town sooner rather than later.

Ben cursed under his breath. He’d thought he’d have time to break the news about the move gently, to make Evie see that this would be the best option for them. Now he wouldn’t have that luxury. From the slurred speech of his fellow con men, he knew that escaping the Nash brothers tonight would still be possible. But, with these scumbags in town, it wouldn’t be long before their loose lips would have the law on him or, and his gut clenched at the thought, they’d find out where he lived.

He’d endangered his wife.

More whiskey poured into the glass. Yesterday he’d cut her off when she tried to encourage him to tell her what was wrong. If she knew the truth about his family, about him, Evie wouldn’t have wasted her breath. Ben downed a few drinks in a row then paused, noticing the bottle was now half empty. Shame bled through him even as he filled his glass again.

Ben shifted so he could watch the Nash brothers out of the corner of his eye. He’d never meant for it to go this far. It was just going to be the one time, one job so they could have a home again. After that, for a time, he’d worked damn hard to stay on the straight and narrow and play by the rules. Only he was kicked in the teeth for it.

The whiskey no longer burned going down. It barely numbed the pain. He’d been a fool to think he could be a better man than his father had been.

Ben squared his shoulders and straightened away from the bar. He needed to go home. He had to explain. His fingers tightened on the glass again. He didn’t know where to start, what to say. He’d lied to Evie about so much, for so long.

Instead of walking away, Ben loosened the glass, grabbed the bottle and turned around. Both Nash brothers were red in the face drunk. He picked up his bag and moseyed over to stand by them. Neither man looked up from his cards. He could slip away without a fight now, that would be the smart thing to do, but the pile of coins on the table captured his attention.

It was enough money to build the home he’d always promised Evie. Ben took a swig from the bottle then pulled up a chair, joined the game. Maybe this time…

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The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge Amazon Buy Link

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