Authors: Jessica Frost
Tags: #Menage Everlasting, #Menage a Trois (m/f/m), #The Lost Collection
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE NAUGHTY
The Lost Collection
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IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE NAUGHTY
Copyright © 2010 by Jessica Frost
E-book ISBN: 1-60601-649-0
First E-book Publication: July 2010
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Copyright © 2010
Foul curses rose in the early-evening air, breaking the silence that echoed in James Sanford’s ears. With each step he came closer to the saloon, it turned into a cacophony as several voices rose in unison near him.
He glanced behind him at Trevor Kent, his partner and friend, and lifted his brow and shoulders, mouthing, “Do we have the right place?”
This certainly didn’t seem like it.
For most of their trip from the train station to the saloon, he and Trevor had been quiet. They weren’t much for conversation, especially when they hadn’t had time to rest in the past few days. But because they were Texas Rangers, it came with the territory.
During their last case, they had to stake out an Indian tribe they suspected of harboring a couple of notorious outlaws. It was a miracle if they slept more than five hours a day.
Being in their profession for over five years now, they had become accustomed to the erratic work schedules and the stress, both physically and mentally.
When he and Trevor got off the train in Fort Smith, Arkansas this evening, they headed to the saloon instead of heading to the inn to catch up on rest and sleep, like Trevor wanted. James eagerly wanted to get an early start on their case, and the perfect place to begin would be here, tonight.
It took quite a bit of persuading on his part, but Trevor finally came around when James tempted him with the idea of mingling with gorgeous saloon girls to see if they could pick up any clues.
But now, as James observed a man stumble out of the saloon’s swinging doors and tumble toward him as he stepped onto the saloon’s porch, he wondered if his plan was all that great. This was hardly what James expected.
Shouting “Whoa there,” he lifted the luggage bag he held in the air to regain his balance.
Trevor, who stood a couple of steps behind James on the stairs, slid to his left to make space for the stranger’s motions. He glanced at James and lifted his eyebrow in puzzlement.
What the hell is happening here?
James shrugged and glared at the spectacle unfolding before his eyes.
“Sorry, m–mister.” The stranger stood up clumsily and wiped his drool and bloody lip on his cotton sleeve as he glared at James. He moved his gaze back to inside the saloon and waved his shaky hand before him, shouting, “That’s the l–last time I come h–here. The s–service s–stinks!”
A burly man came to the door and sneered at the inebriated stranger, who now staggered to his horse on the side of the saloon.
The rotund man hollered back, “Good riddance. We don’t need your kind here.” Then he noticed James and Trevor and gave them a nod. “Howdy.”
Trevor and James responded simultaneously, “Howdy.”
Trevor looked behind him at the drunk who attempted to mount his horse. “Is he the only one not welcome, or does that go for us, too?”
The man’s lip lifted to the side, and James figured it was his way of being hospitable. “No, only for varmints like him who order whiskey but don’t have money to pay for it.”
He pushed open one of the swinging doors and extended his arm inward. “Welcome to Eden’s Paradise, where whiskey and women go hand in hand.”
The saloon wasn’t quite what James expected. From hearsay, he imagined it would have been a lot grander, but, then again, the population in Fort Smith wasn’t that big. About twenty-five wooden tables sat in the room’s circumference. Only a few were occupied, but the majority remained vacant.
The bar was situated at the far right of the saloon, and a small stage that housed a piano stood at the opposite end of the room. A straight staircase with unvarnished oak steps sat perpendicular to the stage. James estimated the distance between the staircase and the stage hovered around the fifteen-foot mark.
He glanced at the burly man and smiled. “Nice name for a saloon.”
“I smell the whiskey, but where are the ladies?” Trevor added, scanning the room with a blank expression,
The man walked over behind the bar and gazed at them. Moving his jaw sideways, he flicked his tongue over his yellow front teeth as if he fiddled with a food particle lodged in between them.
Making a snapping sound with his tongue, he responded, “You fellas are early. The saloon girls only come out when the crowd gets here in about ten minutes.
Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll pour you some whiskey?” He motioned to the stools at the bar.
Trevor was about to sit when James placed his hand firmly on his shoulder.
“Whiskey sounds good, but we prefer to sit at a table so we can get a better look at the ladies when they come out.”
Handing them two glasses, the barman shrugged. “Suit yourselves.” Then he turned back to wipe dry some glasses on the counter behind him.
Trevor frowned at James in confusion when he chose a table in the corner where the stage and piano sat.
Placing his bag under the table, he glared at James. “You just told him we wanted to get a better look at the saloon girls and here you go making us sit all the way in this isolated corner.”
James stared at the bartender, who hadn’t noticed their peculiar choice of table. All the other men in the saloon were too busy drinking and enthralled with their own table’s small talk to have even perceived their movements.
“Relax, Trev. He’s too busy to give a hell where we sit. And everyone else couldn’t care less, too. Besides, we need to talk, and what we have to say is for our ears only. When the girls come out, you can have your fun interrogating them then.”
Once they sat, Trevor took a big gulp and then cleared his throat. “Well, what do you think?”
“About what? Our assignment or the saloon?”
“Both.” Trevor glanced at his surroundings, his left eyebrow raised in curiosity for a brief moment.
James followed his gaze. “Well, it sure doesn’t look like what I expected. Its reputation made me think it was a wild, loud place.” Then he returned his focus back on to his partner.
“As for our assignment, we’ll wait and see. The captain fixed it. We’ll start our jobs this week on the train as expressmen. This way, we’ll be able to protect the safe and all the gold and money if Wild Isabelle LaRue strikes.”
After taking another sip of his whiskey, Trevor rested his glass on the table and leaned forward, raising his questioning eyebrow once more in the process.
“How do you know it’s her gang that’s been holding up the trains? Rumors across the West say she and her gang high-tailed it to Mexico after their famous heist two years ago. They got away with plenty of money and gold to last them a lifetime and more,” Trevor rationalized.
James raised his glass to his mouth and swallowed a swig. The whiskey passed his throat, stinging his tongue and tonsils in the process, and he concealed a cringe. He rarely drank, hated the taste of whiskey, and found it a distraction when on a case, but tonight it was part of his cover. Whether he liked it or not, he had to pretend he enjoyed the stuff or they’d look suspicious. After all, they were in a saloon. Why else would they be there but to drink?
Taking a deep breath to try to cool down his burning throat, he stated, “We’ve been over this before, Trev. You know what I told the captain then. She wasn’t only in it for the money. She was in it for the thrill, too.”
He then twirled the liquor in his glass as he stared at it. “My hunch is that she and her gang laid low for a couple of years, and when the dust settled, decided to get back to train robbing.”
“I still have my doubts.” Trevor snorted. “But you did convince the captain, because he decided to send us here to investigate.”
Men started coming in now in big numbers. Trevor glanced at the loud group of five who just entered and came to sit a couple of tables away from theirs. They seemed to be discussing ranch handling from what James could decipher.
Looking away a few seconds later, Trevor turned his attention back to James.
“Okay, now explain to me why we came here to Eden’s Paradise,” he asked.
“From what I know about Wild LaRue and her gang, they loved their booze and mixing.” James tapped the table as he spoke.
“Mixing? Liquor, you mean?” Trevor scratched his head.
“No, I’m talking frolicking.” James had to laugh.
A smile spread over Trevor’s lips as a naughty expression overcame his eyes. He obviously envisioned her in sexual trysts.
“Oh, so then the nickname ‘Wild LaRue’ wasn’t because of her robbing ways, but because of her…”
James nodded. “And rumors had it she liked her men in twos.” He sat back on his wooden chair, placed his arm behind the backrest, and raised his gaze to the staircase as the saloon girls started walking down the back stairs one by one.
“And since Eden’s Paradise is famous for its—” He froze.
As soon as she started down the stairs, James lost his train of thought. Her red, frilly dress and her wavy black locks cascading over her shoulders captivated his vision and his mind.
“Famous for what? Don’t leave me wondering here,” Trevor asked.
James heard his question but couldn’t answer. He was too busy sucking in air, hoping to reopen the passage to his collapsing lungs while he continued to stare at her as she smiled at the lady in front of her. Her pearl-white teeth and sparkling blue eyes enchanted him.
“Oh. Now that is a sight!” Trevor whispered, turning to look behind him.
James broke his gawking stare when she walked past their table and smiled at them, saying, “Howdy, boys.”
His vocal chords stilled, and heat rose to his cheeks as he clumsily tipped his Stetson hat, bowing.
Trevor, on the other hand, had no problem expressing himself. His smile widened and his eyes sparkled with interest and adoration when his gaze locked with hers.
Trevor was a ladies’ man, no doubt about it in James’s mind. In the years he had worked with his partner, James had seen Trevor use his charm to win a lady’s heart. Well, actually several ladies’ hearts. How many ladies Trevor had been with during the years he knew him, James lost count.
They came and went and Trevor never ever seemed to be affected by the breakups in the least. James figured it was because Trevor never stayed long enough with one particular lady to ever let the relationship go further than the physical.
James found it hard to understand why his partner was the way he was toward the ladies, but sometimes he wished he was a little less shy and gawky and more charismatic like his partner. Trevor knew how to flatter a lady and make her swoon.
Ordinarily, it didn’t bother James to see his partner work his charm, but tonight, Trevor’s suaveness irked him slightly.
With a wide grin splitting his face, Trevor stood up, took off his hat, and bowed. “Howdy, miss.”
A slight giggle escaped her lips, and her cheeks reddened a tinge as she kept walking. When she and the other ladies passed their table, she went up to the bar to sit.
“Oh, she is something.” James sighed.
“Uh-huh. She sure is pretty,” Trevor agreed.
“She’s more than that, Trev. She’s beautiful,” James remarked.
He continued to stare at her while a tall, extremely skinny man with a slight limp walked over to her.
“Why don’t you go talk to her?” Trevor asked.
“I’d love to go talk to her, but it seems she already has company.”
James was too distracted eyeing his competition flirting with the beautiful lady that he didn’t notice when one of the girls dressed in a low-cut outfit swanked over to their table
She asked, “Well, boys, I never seen you here before. Are you new in town or just passin’ by?”
“New in town,” Trevor piped up.
Her smile widened. “Well, welcome to Fort Smith. My name’s Sally.”
“Howdy, Sally,” Trevor responded.
“Nice to meet you,” James added.
“We don’t get many new residents here. So why did you boys decide to move to our lovely town?” She leaned her empty tray on her hip.
Trevor gazed at James, signaling if he should tell her. When James nodded slightly, he gazed at her. “We got ourselves jobs on the train.”
Her brow lifted inquisitively. She appeared to be gearing up to ask something, but closed her mouth and paused a second
Then she remarked, “That’s great. I gotta go get the other table’s order. Will you boys be wantin’ second shots of whiskey?”
Trevor nodded, and she started to go back to the bar when James stopped her. “Pardon me, but who is that lady dressed in red at the bar?”
Sally looked over, frowning as if she tried to figure out who he was talking about, then her eyes focused. “Oh, that’s Belle Samson.”
Something clicked in his brain, and his analytical mind rolled over the name again and again.
She turned to him and placed her hand on his shoulder, leaning in so her cleavage was at eye level. She didn’t seem to do it so much to seduce him, but rather so no one at the table next to theirs could hear her.