What a piece of work is a man!
The soiled doves were hanging over the second-floor balcony of L. B. Ditty's Saloon, wearing nothing but their chemises and bloomers. When Luke McBride exited the bank across the street, one gal gave a shrill whistle, louder than any man could make, causing all of the gals to burst into laughter.
“Hi, Luke, honey, you sure look handsome this morning,” one gal hollered. The other women chorused their agreement.
“Where you going, darling? It's noon, ya know, not too early to come in,” another gal offered.
Luke glanced up to see the bevy of beauties displaying their wares to anyone who happened to be passing by. He had to hand it to L. B. Ditty, she hired the most attractive girls she could find, and he knew each one by name. He stopped and tipped his hat to the women. “Hello, ladies. I can't join you today. I'm picking up some supplies.” There wasn't a man on earth who appreciated God's design of the female form more than Luke McBride. And he took time to show his appreciation whenever possible. Looking at them from his vantage point, he couldn't decide if he preferred the more voluptuous figures or the tall, lanky gals with less cleavage to display. The way he saw it, they each had their advantages. And here they were lined up like colorful blossoms ready to be plucked.
“Are you sure, honey? We was just getting dressed to go downstairs.”
Before he told them they shouldn't bother to change because they sure looked lovely in what they were wearing, he heard the voice of L. B. filtering down to the street.
“Girls, what in heaven's name are you doing out here on the balcony when you should be getting dressed?” L. B. Ditty didn't abide the girls making a spectacle of themselves outside the saloon. It wasn't good for business, at least not with the ladies in town on a Saturday morning. L. B. was adamant her girls maintain decorum so the local ladies wouldn't complain to their husbands. Inside the saloon, they could walk around half-dressed if they chose, she figured that was good for business.
“We was just saying hello to Luke,” one gal answered.
“Come look, L. B., Luke looks so handsome today,” another gal said.
“The way you're carrying on, I'd expect him to be walking down the street buck naked.” Even as the words left her mouth, she couldn't resist walking to the rail and leaning over to see if Luke happened to be in his birthday suit. That sure would give the ladies in town something to talk about instead of her girls.
Hearing the exchange between L. B. and the girls, Luke saw L. B.'s bright red curls appear over the railing. He tipped his hat, smiled, and spread his arms wide. “Sorry to disappoint, L. B., but as you can see, I'm fully clothed.”
Grinning, L. B. shook her head at him. “And that's a good thing, Luke McBride, or you'd have all the ladies in town in a dither. But the gals are right; you surely are a sight to behold.”
The gals flocked over the railing again, each exposing more bosom than the next.
Luke couldn't help but chuckle at the lineup of well-endowed females. “Thank you, ma'am. And might I say, you ladies look mighty fetching today.”
“You are full of nonsense, but it's a pleasure to see you this fine morning,” L. B. retorted. To her way of thinking, Luke McBride had the world by the tail, and he often liked to twirl it on a whim. She figured he would take exception if anyone ever said he strutted down the sidewalk, but there wasn't a man or woman who didn't take notice when he passed. Of course, that was partly due to his size. Like his brothers, Colt and Jake, Luke was well over six feet, had a rock-hard muscled body, and broad shoulders that naturally demanded a wide berth. His handsome face sported the same signature McBride square jaw, but where his brothers had black eyes, Luke's eyes were a vivid turquoise blue. She imagined that blue shirt he was wearing really made those blue eyes sparkle. He was definitely spit-shined, his shirt starched and pressed to perfection, not a speck of dirt on his pants, boots polished to a high sheen, his black Stetson brushed, even his holster was gleaming. Luke always looked attractive, yet there was something special about him today. Maybe it was his cocksure attitude that made him look exceptionally handsome.
No one could deny Luke McBride was a charmer, and he had a full calendar of Friday-night dinner dates to prove it. Women loved him, and there wasn't a man who didn't envy his carefree approach to life. Luke's motto was simple: He loved to laugh, loved horses, and loved women. Depending on the availability of the latter, he often rearranged the order.
* * *
Sally Detrick was shopping in the mercantile when she spotted Luke through the window talking to someone across the street. Hurrying to the door, she saw what was drawing his attention. Seeing those saloon women in their undergarments hanging over the railing, oohing and aahing over Luke, made her see red. Marching over to him, she hooked her arm through his and pulled him toward her. “Why, Luke McBride, you sure do look handsome today, even if you are just full of the devil!”
L. B. saw the look on Sally's face when she'd looked at the girls. That did it; Sally was sure to run to her daddy and tell him about the evil ways of her girls. Knowing Detrick would raise a ruckus, L. B. quickly ushered the girls away from the balcony.
“Hello, Sally,” Luke replied, glancing at the balcony one last time to see the girls' backsides as they were being herded inside. With some regret he turned his attention on Sally.
Sally pushed her lower lip out in a pout. “Why did you turn down my dinner invitation?”
Luke knew that question would be coming. The main reason he'd declined her invitation was due to her daddy. Every time he went to dinner at their ranch, Old Man Detrick stuck to him like glue once his feet were over the threshold. Detrick wanted a husband for his girl, and no cowboy was going to do anything untoward until he had that ring through his nose. But he was confident the old man wasn't aware of all of Sally's shenanigans or he'd lock her in her room until she walked down the aisle. He couldn't blame Detrick for trying to keep a tight rein on Sally. He'd seen firsthand on his last date with her that she certainly wasn't the prim and proper young woman she presented to the world.
She'd invited him to go for a ride and picnic by the lake, telling him that her daddy would not be joining them. Within minutes after they reached the lake, and without any coaxing from him, Sally surprised him by stripping down to her bloomers and chemise and jumping into the water. Luke was the one who usually pushed the boundaries of propriety in good fun, but she'd turned the tables on him. That day, she was the devil on his shoulder encouraging him to remove his pants and jump in. He jumped in, but he'd wisely kept his pants on. He wondered how many men she'd
with in the past since she seemed way too comfortable being nearly naked with him. He'd seen uninhibited women, but not even the gals hanging over the balcony could hold a candle to Sally in that department. All afternoon she'd tried every move in her vast repertoire to get him in a compromising position. As much as he was tempted, and he was sorely tempted, he didn't want Old Man Detrick to take a horsewhip to him if he found them. He could always shoot the old buzzard, but if he did something as stupid as compromise his oldest daughter, he figured Detrick would have every right to demand a shotgun wedding. Luke leaned over and whispered in her ear. “You want to go for a ride?”
Sally pressed closer and seductively batted her eyelashes at him. “Yes, I want to! I didn't want to leave the lake the last time. You know what I want, but I can't go. I'm shopping with Lucinda Sawyer. We came to town together.”
It was probably for the best, Luke thought, because he did know what she wanted. It was a puzzle to him why he was still playing with fire, as his big brother Colt had warned him. One of Colt's favorite sayings played in his mind.
If you play with fire you are going to get burned.
He wondered if this was a Shakespeare quote. Colt was fond of quoting Shakespeare. Playing with fire seemed to be a recurring theme for him lately. And Luke knew if Sally used the same tactics as last time, he wouldn't have the willpower to stop her even if he wanted to. He wouldn't be playing with fire, he'd be in flames. While he wouldn't mind knowing her in the biblical sense, he thought it would be wise to listen to that little voice in his head. Or was that his brother talking? It was pure torture trying to clean up his act, as his brothers had been haranguing him to do. Just because God had blessed them with beautiful wives and they'd settled down didn't mean he wanted to follow their lead. He didn't want to be hog-tied into marriage either, so he altered course with Sally. “If you can't go for a ride, I'll take you two lovely ladies to lunch instead.”
Glancing through the window of the mercantile, Sally saw Lucinda walking to the door. She leaned closer to Luke and whispered, “Meet me at noon tomorrow at the river. I have something special I ordered from Paris, France, that I want to show you.”
Luke almost groaned aloud at his imaginings. He figured something from Paris, France, meant silky and see-through. Sally might not be as beautiful as his two sisters-in-law, but she did have a nice full figure, and judging by her display at the lake, she liked to show it off. And he didn't mind looking. He still couldn't get the image of her in a wet chemise out of his mind. Before he had time to respond, he felt a warm body press against his other side.
“Hello, handsome. What are you doing in town on a Saturday afternoon?” Lucinda inquired. Lucinda had been trying to wrangle a date with Luke after she met him at Sally's house last winter. She was aware of Sally's plans to marry the very handsome and available McBride brother, but to her way of thinking, if a proposal hadn't been made, he was fair game.
“I'm here to take two lovely ladies to lunch,” he replied smoothly. Neither woman was what he would call beautiful, but in his opinion all women were lovely in some way. In his experience, a little gallantry went a long way with the ladies. What did it hurt to do a little harmless flirting?
“How wonderful!” Lucinda leaned around him to look at Sally, managing to keep in close contact with his chest. “You're a dear to share your handsome man.”
Sally didn't want to share Luke, but she had no control over him. Yet. That wouldn't be the case much longer; she planned to have him standing at the altar before he knew what hit him. She'd set her sights on him when he'd returned to Wyoming a year earlier. Everyone knew he was the most eligible bachelor in the state after his brothers finally married. Her father told her Luke had made a small fortune while he was traveling around the country busting broncs. She couldn't remember exactly how he'd made so much moneyâseemed like her father mentioned it had something to do with silver mining. The details weren't important. He was handsome and he was well-off. Her father wasn't a pauper by any means, but even their ranch paled in comparison to the McBride Cattle Company. Sally gave Lucinda a knowing smile. “Isn't it wonderful of him to surprise
Luke picked up on the feminine undercurrents, but he didn't know what it was about, and he was smart enough not to ask. “Would you two ladies like to go to the boardinghouse or the hotel?” While he was in town, he figured he might as well eat and enjoy some female companionship. His favorite pastime.
They'd started to cross the street when the stagecoach came barreling down the road. At the same time, Mrs. Rogers came out of the mercantile trying to hail them by waving a package in the air. Sally realized she'd left her package in her haste to join Luke and hurried back to Mrs. Rogers. Lucinda took advantage of that moment to tell Luke she wanted him to call on her, but Luke wasn't really listening. His attention was on the stagecoach that pulled to a halt a few feet in front of them. The driver scampered down from his perch to open the door for the passengers. A man stepped from the coach and helped the driver assist an elderly woman to the ground. Both men quickly redirected their attention to the interior of the coach. Their faces were beaming when a young woman placed her hands in theirs, allowing them to assist her from the coach. She was looking down and the wide brim of the pink hat she wore hid her face. Luke stared at her pink hat. He liked the vibrant color; and the brim was decorated with lace and an array of feathers. His sisters-in-law would love that hat. Victoria and Promise were lovely women and they enjoyed keeping up with the latest fashions. He just knew a woman who wore such a stylish hat would be beautiful.
Sally rejoined them and curled her arm through his again. “Mrs. Rogers saved me a trip. I can't believe I forgot this.” When Luke didn't look at her, she flapped the package in his face. “This is the one from France,” she reminded him playfully.
Luke couldn't help but glance at the parcel that was blocking his view of that pink hat. It was small, real small. That meant whatever was inside of that package was really small. His mind started imagining again, but his illicit thoughts were disrupted by a feminine voice with a distinct British accent. It was the woman in the pink hat conversing with the stagecoach driver. She was facing the driver and Luke still couldn't see her face.
The next moment changed Luke's perfect day. A man came flying through the batwing doors of the saloon behind him. He slammed into Sally's back, causing her to stumble forward. Thankfully, she was still holding on to Luke's arm and he managed to keep her from hitting the ground. Luke turned around to see what was going on and he saw Tubby Jenkins on the ground. It didn't take long for Luke to see how he got there. Clyde Slater, the town troublemaker, came charging out of the saloon after Tubby.