Authors: Myla Jackson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Erotica
This book is dedicated to proud, hardy men and women who’ve survived the tragedy and destruction of tornadoes and have the courage to rebuild and start over.
Lucky Albright had been driving all day and she still wasn’t out of Texas. Worse, she had no idea where she was. With her gas gauge on empty, her stomach gnawing a hole clean through to her backside, and her wallet bone dry of remedying either of her first two issues, she pulled into the parking lot of the only building she’d seen since the last small town of Hole in the Wall. Maybe, just maybe, someone inside could point her to the nearest homeless shelter.
Because that was what she was.
She reached up to swipe at the ready tears, cursing herself for shedding even one when the people of Comfort, Texas, had been anything but a comfort to her. Hell, they’d run her out of town like an unwanted stray dog. All she’d been looking for was a quiet place to call her home. And they’d kicked her out after a series of unfortunate events that hadn’t been her fault at all.
She could still picture the mayor of Comfort along with over half the town loading her meager belongings into her truck.
“Get out of town and stay out of town,” the mayor had said. “In fact, get the hell out of Texas. Your kind is not wanted anywhere near the great Lone Star State.”
With townsfolk lined up along the street, blocking her return to city limits, she had felt like she was part of a cartoon or a reality show about being punked. Surely this wasn’t happening to her. She had every right to be in that town. Never in her life had she committed a crime, she followed rules, she was an upstanding citizen.
So she’d had a run of bad luck. It wasn’t her fault Mitsy Grumbal’s dog tangled with a skunk, Joe Sarli wrecked into the side of one of their precious historic buildings, Raymond Rausch’s cow had gotten loose and trampled the flowers around the town square, or the public library had burned down. But somehow, she’d been the one closest to the incidents and she’d taken the blame. Taken wasn’t exactly the term she’d use. Assigned was closer to reality.
As she drove through the parking lot packed with a Saturday night crowd, the tears blurred her eyes, but she refused to shed even one more. Before she could find a place to pull in, her engine sputtered and died. Her beat-up pickup drifted to a stop behind four large, shiny new trucks.
Lucky leaned her head on the steering wheel, fighting back more tears. “Fuck this!” she yelled, slamming her palm against the dash. “I’m an Albright. Albrights don’t give up and they sure as shootin’ don’t cry.” She unbuckled her seat belt, climbed down from the truck, tucked her hair up into her cowboy hat and strode for the front door of the building, glancing up at the crooked sign hanging overhead.
Ugly Stick Saloon.
Figured. She could use a beer about now, but she didn’t have the money to buy one, much less a gallon of gas to get her into the next town. All she could hope for was to find work washing dishes, scrubbing toilets or, if her luck changed, landing a job with a rancher who needed a ranch hand. One who would give her a lift to the ranch until she could afford to put gas in her truck and bring it with her.
Music pulsed through the corrugated tin walls of the building. As Lucky stepped through the front entrance, she could hear the excited screams of the women inside.
A large gender-ambiguous person stood guard just inside the door, blocking her entrance. “Sorry, mister, it’s Ladies Night. No men allowed.”
Lucky didn’t mind when people mistook her for a man. She was taller than most women and slender, more athletic than curvy. And she liked to wear men’s jeans, chambray shirts and cowboy boots. The horses and cows she preferred to work with didn’t care what she wore or how she wore it.
But right at that moment, she needed to get inside and find help. Either that or stay the night in her truck, blocking the four larger trucks in their parking spaces.
“Suits me just fine.” She swept off the cowboy hat and let her long sandy-blond hair fall down about her shoulders. That too would have been cut short, but she hadn’t had time or the spare cash to get it cut in the past couple months and it grew like hay in a warm summer rain.
The bouncer’s eyes narrowed and gave her a swift appraising once-over before nodding. “There’s a five-dollar cover charge to get in tonight.” A meaty hand came out, palm up.
Crap. If she’d had five bucks, she wouldn’t be out of gas at this point. She’d have bought a gallon in Hole in the Wall instead of risking another fifteen miles to Temptation. “Look, my truck…stalled out in the parking lot. I need to speak with the owner.”
“Sorry, Audrey Anderson is busy.”
Feeling more desperate by the second, Lucky put on her best poker face and insisted, “I need to speak with Ms. Anderson.”
The bouncer crossed beefy arms over a broad chest. “Unless you pay the cover charge, you ain’t gettin’ in.”
Defeated, Lucky trudged back to her truck. She couldn’t leave it in the middle of the parking lot, blocking other vehicles from getting out. She put it in neutral and, rounded to the back and leaned with all her might against the tailgate. The heavy vehicle barely moved an inch.
Throwing all the anger and frustration she’d lived with over the past two years into her next push, she got the truck rolling. Grunting and pushing, she plowed her feet into the gravel and the vehicle moved faster.
Until that moment, Lucky hadn’t noticed the slight slope leading to the far end of the parking lot, the line of trucks and the drainage ditch beyond.
Once the truck was in motion, she glanced up and froze momentarily.
The truck was now rolling at a good clip and headed straight for a bright red pickup, with a shiny paint job and a license plate that read USS1.
Lucky dug her heels into the gravel and leaned back, holding on to the bumper, but it did little slow the momentum, her worn boot heels kicking up lines of dust behind her.
“No,” she said out loud, visions of the charred remains of the Comfort Public Library flooding her head. “Not again.” She willed the strength of a bulldozer into her back and tried again to slow the vehicle.
It rolled faster, until it slammed into the back of the pretty red truck, forcing its front wheels over the edge of the embankment, where it teetered for a moment. Gravity and the weight of Lucky’s truck gave it an added
, and it slid down into the drainage ditch below.
Her own truck followed the red truck into the ditch, metal crunching metal.
Catching herself before she too pitched over the edge, Lucky teetered on the embankment, staring down at the wreckage, her heart sinking into her boots.
Why was it when she thought things were really bad they got worse? The phrase
it only goes up from here
never entered her realm of possibilities.
She stood for a long time, staring at the trucks in the ditch, wondering how she’d talk her way out of this one.
“Fuck, Audrey’s gonna be pissed,” a voice said beside her. A pretty blonde stood with glazed eyes and a tight skirt just behind Lucky, swaying slightly.
“Yup. Audrey loves that truck. Almost as much as she loves her red boots,” an equally pretty brunette said.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen. It was an accident.”
“Mister, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.” The blonde hiccupped, pressed a hand to her lips and stared at the brunette, her eyes rounded and dancing with amusement.
The brunette with the big brown eyes giggled. “Shh. Mona, you’re swayin’.”
Mona hiccupped and pointed at the brunette. “Don’t think you’re so cool, Bunny. You’re swayin’ too.”
They hugged each other, falling to the ground giggling.
Lucky’s gut twisted. “Please tell me that truck didn’t belong to Audrey Anderson, the owner of the Ugly Stick Saloon.”
The women giggled more, rolling on the ground, Mona aware enough to say, “Okay, we won’t tell you. Shh, Bunny, it’s a secret.”
“Fuck secrets.” Bunny laughed again, her eyes filling with tears of senseless, uncontrollable mirth. “Jackson just bought her that truck to match her favorite boots.”
“Do you suppose you could go back into the Ugly Stick Saloon and ask her to come outside?” Lucky asked, biting back her frustration at the two women’s staggering inebriation.
“Sure,” Mona said. “Wanna see her face when she realizes that’s her truck in the ditch.”
“Me too. Wait, where’s
truck?” Bunny asked.
“You rode with me, silly. Besides, you don’t own a truck.”
“That’s right.” Bunny giggled.
“Do you two mind getting Audrey?” Lucky reminded them.
“Going,” Mona responded. “Come on. Maybe we can see Cory dance again.”
Lucky followed the two ladies to the door.
“Greta Sue, we’re back,” Mona sang and showed the bouncer the ink stamp on her wrist.
Bunny did the same and the bouncer allowed them inside, while Lucky received an eat-shit-and-die-because-you’re-not-getting-inside-without-the-requisite-cover-charge look.
Greta Sue. Hell, who knew she was female?
Lucky held her breath as Greta Sue pointed at her, her gaze narrowing, warning her not to make any sudden moves.
Lucky waited, the acids in her empty stomach churning, eating a hole through the lining. What would she say to the owner of the Ugly Stick? Would she be like her bouncer, large, bulky and friggin’ scary? Would she slam her into the ground with one thick stump of a fist and leave her there to die?
She’d considered death as an alternative, but Lucky had one problem with that…she liked living.
The scent of beer and grilled burgers drifted toward her from inside the bar and she swayed with hunger, not having eaten since the night before. She truly was in hell.
Greta Sue closed the door to the stomach-churning smells, leaving Lucky out in the dark. A minute passed, then two. Had the two ladies forgotten? As plastered as they were, that could have been the case.
Seven minutes passed before Lucky came to the sad conclusion the ladies had either gotten lost in the crowd, or forgotten. From all the whooping and hollering going on inside, Lucky guessed it was the latter.
She wondered if there was a rear entrance. If she could at least sneak inside and find Audrey, she could break the bad news and hopefully avoid going to jail. She rounded the tin building that vibrated with the sound of the sexy music and screams from the crowd. A door at the back opened and a woman stepped out carrying a bag of trash. She propped the door to keep it from shutting, then set off for the large trash bin set away from the building.
Her heart hammering, Lucky saw her break and took it. She ran for the door, careful not to make too much noise and ducked inside. The back of the building had a hallway with a room off to the left and another to the right. Footsteps on the porch behind her made her turn left. Her back to the room, she peeked out into the hallway, waiting for the person to pass by.
“Hey, buddy, you dancin’ tonight?” a male voice said behind her. “Or are you lookin’ for the poker game?”
Lucky spun, her cheeks burning and her jaw dropped. A truly beautiful man with long blond hair stood in front of her, wearing nothing but a G-string and chaps. He stuck out his hand. “Cory McBride.”
“Lucky Albright,” she said automatically.
“Nice to meet you. So what is it? Poker or dance?” He waved toward the other men in various states of undress. All equally as handsome as the man in front of her. Holy hell, they were strippers!
Lucky swallowed hard to ease her dry throat. “Poker,” she eked out.
“Across the hall.” Cory opened the door and pointed at another door.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Don’t you let them eat you alive.”
Lucky glanced down the hallway. The coast was clear and she stepped out. When the door didn’t close behind her, she glanced back at the man.
He nodded. “That’s the one. Go on in.”
It was go in or admit she wasn’t there for either dancing or poker.
She chose the door to the right and walked in, turning to close it behind her.