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Authors: The Mackenzies

Ana Leigh

BOOK: Ana Leigh
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I dedicate this novel to my editor, Micki Nuding, who has traveled this long trail with the MacKenzies and me.


Thanks for turning my garbled words into novels, Micki. This author couldn’t ask for a better saddle pal.

“I Know What You Want From A Man, Rosie.”


“That’s good—because you don’t have it,” she snapped.

“You sure?” Zach asked. “That kiss says otherwise.”

“I’ve been fighting off riffraff like you for years. Maybe a couple of hot kisses and a roll in the hay is enough for you, MacKenzie, but it’s not enough for me,” she declared. “I’ve got plans for my future, and they don’t include a down-on-his-luck drifter like you.”

“You’re wasting your time if you’re trying to convince me that you’re saving yourself for the right man,” he taunted.

Her fingers itched to slap the smirk off his face. But what did it matter what he thought? She’d always shrugged off such looks before. So why did it hurt this time?

“No, Zach MacKenzie, you’re the one wasting your time. You see, you don’t know me at all,” she said softly.

“But I soon will, Rosie.” Tipping a finger to the brim of his Stetson, he nodded. “Good night—for now.”

Chapter 1

Texas 1892

he door suddenly burst open, sending a gritty spray of sand over the newly polished wooden floor. Three men filled the entrance to the restaurant that smelled of fresh paint and baked apple pie. Their glances swept the interior, pausing briefly on Everett Billings standing at the kitchen door, before moving on to fix their stares on Rose Dubois and Kate McDermott. The man in the middle mumbled a lewd remark, and the others snorted in laughter.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but the restaurant isn’t open,” Everett Billings said nervously.

“It is now,” the barrel-chested man in the middle said. They entered and headed for a table in the corner. Two more men followed, and another trailed behind.

The last man to enter held Rose’s attention. He was tall, his legs long and muscular, and a holstered Colt was tied to his thigh. Unlike the other five men he didn’t slouch or shuffle, but crossed the floor in a smooth, loping stride, his broad shoulders squared but relaxed, and his head held high in a way that suggested pride rather than arrogance.

Rose couldn’t see what he had to be proud about. He was dressed just as grubbily as the motley crew he accompanied: worn Levi’s, shirt, and vest, dusty, run-down-at-the-heels boots, and a battered, sweat-stained Stetson.

Yet he stood out like a peacock amidst a gaggle of geese.

And the gang sounded just as disruptive as the honking fowl, boisterously loud as they scraped chairs across the floor to seat themselves at a table in the corner.

“Why did they have to sit down at one of my tables?” Kate whispered to Rose, as they filled a tray with glasses of ice water.

“Your lucky day, honey,” Rose murmured.

“I don’t think so.” Kate picked up the tray and hurried over to the table.

The Harvey rules required all men to wear suit jackets in the dining room. There wasn’t a jacket among this crew, but Rose doubted the manager would insist they don the ones offered to male customers for such emergencies. Billings had made a hasty exit into the kitchen the moment the group sat down.

Just their bad luck that she and Kate had arrived early; the other three Harvey Girls weren’t due for another fifteen minutes.

As Rose continued slicing pies in preparation for the dinner train arriving in an hour, she watched poor Kate taking the men’s orders.

Fred Harvey himself had handpicked Rose for this assignment, putting her in charge of the other four girls in the limited crew he’d sent in to “test the waters.” Brimstone was still primitive and lawless, so the question was whether it would be advisable to build a larger Harvey House and make the town a scheduled dining stop on this trunk line of the Santa Fe.

The few honest and decent folks in the area had welcomed the possibility. Law and order had always followed after the arrival of Harvey Girls in the other towns along the route of the Santa Fe Railroad where Fred Harvey had established restaurants. It was common knowledge that the fine cuisine he offered, served on fine china and Waterford crystal by the hands of these pretty waitresses of fine moral character, was helping to tame the West as much as the Colt revolvers and Springfield rifles in the hands of courageous lawmen.

Since Rose’s quest for a rich husband had proven unsuccessful after two years at the Harvey House in New Mexico, she had welcomed the transfer. A new location offered new faces and new hope.

However, in the week she’d been here, she’d seen that Brimstone offered nothing but sand, scorpions, and shiftless drifters like this gang. The so-called sheriff was as bad as the men he jailed. And her hope of finding a wealthy rancher was slimmer than the town’s chance of finding an honest sheriff.

At a sudden outburst of loud laughter, Rose glanced over in time to see a blushing Kate walk away, followed by bawdy remarks and lewd glances. There were tears in the girl’s eyes as she passed by Rose.

Why had Harvey sent a sweet girl like Kathleen McDermott to the lawless town of Brimstone? Fresh off a Wisconsin farm, the dark-haired young girl had a naive, wide-eyed innocence that belonged in a drawing room drinking tea with family and friends, not serving coffee to boisterous cowboys in a godforsaken town like Brimstone.

Though these men weren’t cowboys any more than Rose was. In the West one fact was undeniable: working cowboys always treated a woman with respect and reverence; no man dared insult a lady in the presence of one of them. These men were ruffians—good-for-nothing drifters. Or even worse, gunslingers.

“Hey, sister, you here to help or just to look at?” one of them called out to her.

The gravel-voiced speaker was a big man whose flesh had begun to slide into bulkiness. Bushy dark brows hovered above gray eyes that were as icy as a morning in January. His cheeks and jaws were covered with a black beard.

“Are you addressing me, sir?” Rose asked coolly.

“Rather be
dressing you, sweetheart. Right, boys?”

That brought another round of laughter and ribald comments from the others, except the tall one. He sat silently staring at her.

“Tell your girlfriend to hurry with that grub, and hustle your bustle over here and pour us some coffee.”

What a rude excuse for a man! Rose picked up the coffeepot and stalked over to the table, determined to put him in his place.

“You want it in a cup, or should I pour it directly into your big mouth?”

“Hey, Jess, she’s sure got your number,” one of the men said amidst their guffaws.

Jess appeared to lose his sense of humor when the joke was on him. He turned his cold, gray-eyed glare on the speaker. The laughter ceased instantly, and the men clamped up, exchanging nervous glances with each other.

Belatedly, Rose realized it might have been more prudent to have ignored his crudeness. Maybe she could undo the harm by being pleasant.

“You fellows be sure and save room for a piece of apple pie,” she said, circling the table and filling the cups. “It’s fresh-baked every day, and it’s delicious.”

“Humph!” Still disgruntled, Jess glared at her. “ ’Pears like we’ll have plenty of room for it. Where in hell is that grub? Haul your ass into that kitchen and find out.”

That did it—she’d had enough of this bully’s crudity. “I have a better idea, sir. Why don’t you haul your obscene mouth out of here—and take this pack of laughing hyenas with you. Animals aren’t permitted in the restaurant.”

She spun on her heel to walk away, but Jess grabbed her arm, yanking her around.

“You little bitch! I oughta—”

His threat ended in a howl as she jerked away, tipping the coffeepot, and a stream of the hot liquid poured onto his lap. Yelping, he released her arm and clutched at his privates.

The men beside him grabbed napkins, but before they could come to his aid Rose picked up a glass of ice water and dumped it over the coffee-stained area between his legs.

“At least it spilled where it can’t do any harm,” she said and stepped away.

Jess shoved back his chair and tottered to his feet. He balled his fist to strike her, but the tall man put a restraining hand on his arm.

“It was an accident, Tait.”

Tait glared at him, jerked his arm out of the man’s grasp, and hobbled to the door. He paused at the entrance to look back at Rose. A shiver raced down her spine at the naked malevolence in his eyes.

“I’ve got a score to settle with you, sister.”

Rose knew she had crossed a dangerous line, but it was too late to change it. She raised her head and took the threat without cowering.

They all slammed out except for the tall one, who tossed some coins on the table.

“This should cover the coffee. Save me a piece of that pie.”

He ambled over to her. This close, she saw that his eyes were as blue as sapphires and tipped with long, dark lashes. The effect was mesmerizing. He seemed to generate a heat—or was she merely flustered from his nearness? Leaning down, he said softly, “Jess Tait’s a dangerous enemy, Redhead. You be careful.”

Rose remained motionless as he walked away, her gaze riveted on the door through which he’d disappeared.
You be careful.
Thick with sensual huskiness, his seductive voice had made the warning sound more like . . . like . . . Like he’d just rolled over in bed and kissed her good morning.

She shivered again, but this time fear had nothing to do with it.


Zach MacKenzie paused outside the restaurant. Tait and the others were headed for the Long Horn, where the gang had taken rooms for the night. Obviously the accident had no lasting effect on Tait, because he was moving in a fast clip as he worked his mouth and hands furiously, madder than a cornered rattlesnake in the hot sun—and just as dangerous.

As usual, Pike and Cain were lapping at Tait’s heels. Those two butt kissers disgusted him.

When Bull and Joe broke off from the other three, Bull turned his head and shouted, “Hey, MacKenzie, Joe and me’s gonna get some ass. You comin’?”

Zach shook his head. “Naw, maybe later.”

“Your loss. Ain’t too many whores in this town and when I’m finished with ’em, they’re gonna be too worn-out to be much good for anything but lay there pinin’ fer my return.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Zach said.

Whores and whiskey—that was all those two thought about. Zach was tired of trailing along with this bunch, but for the time being, he had no choice. He glanced over in time to see the other three disappear into the bar. Good. He had an errand to run, and when he got back, he had an appointment with a piece of apple pie—and that redhead.

She intrigued him all right: that hair, those blue eyes, and curves that even her starched apron and black dress couldn’t hide. But she was more than just good looking: she had spunk. The way that gal had stood up to Jess Tait may not have been the smartest thing to do—but it took nerve. She had more guts than a lot of men had.

These Harvey Girls were fine, decent women—and some were feisty as hell, like Emily, the Harvey Girl his cousin Josh had married.

He grinned, wondering if the spilled coffee had really been an accident. Then he recalled Tait’s threat to the gal. Accident or not, the man was mean and spiteful enough to beat her up—or maybe worse—to get even.

He’d just have to make sure that it didn’t happen. If anyone was going to lay hands on that redhead, it was going to be him—and pure pleasure was what he had in mind.

Adjusting his Stetson, Zach headed for the stables.

BOOK: Ana Leigh
4.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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