Authors: Alison Kent
Titles by Alison Kent
HEAT | NEW YORK
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2013 by Alison Kent.
Excerpt from “The Gunslinger’s Heiress” copyright © 2013 by Alison Kent.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-60634-6
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Unforgettable / Alison Kent.—Heat trade paperback edition.
1. Man-woman relationships—Fiction. 2. Texas—Fiction. I. Title.
Heat trade paperback edition / August 2013
Cover photograph by Claudio Marinesco.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
’M NOT WEARING
a costume,” Boone Mitchell said, staring at his sister and the Dalton Gang member she’d tamed. Boone was the last of the hell-raising trio still standing, and he had no plans to fall—especially if falling meant wearing
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
black-and-white prison stripes the way Casper Jayne was doing now.
“It’s a costume party,” Faith said. “Of course you are.” Her own getup consisted of boots, a hat, and a cropped denim vest and matching miniskirt, both with leather tassels and brass hardware. She also had a star pinned to what little fabric there was covering her chest. And what looked like a real gun hanging from a belt at her hip.
“I’m not wearing a costume,” he repeated, glancing from one of the ridiculously garbed two to the other.
Calf nuts on a cracker.
He’d thought he was ready to settle down, but if this is what relationships did to men . . .
“Sorry, dude,” Casper said, his arms out as he tested the length of plastic chain between the matching black shackles binding his good wrist to the one in the medical brace. “The woman’s the boss.”
“Not on my ranch,” Boone grumbled, leaning against the sink in the kitchen of the house Casper and Faith shared—a kitchen that would easily hold four of the one Boone cooked in for no one but himself since Casper and Dax Campbell, the third of the three partners in the Dalton Ranch, had abandoned him. The fact that they’d done so for women . . .
“It’s an Old West theme so just go as a cowboy,” Faith said, as she crossed to where he was trying to stay out of the way. She had a length of black fabric in her hands and a look in her eyes that bode no good. She reached up to tie it around his head, adjusting the holes he was supposed to be able to see out of, but couldn’t, catching his hair in the knot and swatting away his hand when he tried to free the strands. “I’m not finished.”
As far as he was concerned, she was. He had no idea why he’d agreed to stop by the Mulberry Street house on his way from Lasko Ranch Supply back to the ranch, especially when he’d known this would be the outcome. Faith had been reminding him of the charity masquerade party for weeks. She’d bought him one of the pricey benefactor tickets when she’d bought hers and Casper’s, even though he’d told her she was wasting the cash.
“There,” she said, stepping back with her hands at her hips to take him in. “Perfect. Or it will be as soon as you put your hat back on.”
He slapped his hat against his thigh, raising a cloud of dust that had his sister grimacing and waving her hands. “What? I’ve been working.”
Faith scrunched up her nose. “Maybe you should shower first, change clothes.”
“Clean clothes means a trip to the ranch. And if I go home, I’m staying.”
“You could wear something of Casper’s.”
“Uh-uh,” Casper was quick to put in. “I don’t have enough shirts that I can afford losing any to his shoulders.”
“You would if you’d let me buy them,” Faith said, then turned to Boone. “You’ll have to go dirty then.”
“Or I could just not go.”
“You’re going.” She tapped a finger to her chin and considered him. “But you need spurs or chaps or something.”
“The spurs and the chaps are at home, and if I go home—”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re not coming back. I guess this will have to do.”
“You want me to go as a cowboy,
is what you get.”
“Wait. I’ve got an idea,” Casper said, turning to bound up the stairs, the plastic ball and chain fastened around his ankle thumping behind him.
Boone looked from the man he was having a hard time recognizing to his sister, whom he’d never seen so happy. “Ball and chain, huh?”
“It’s a good life,” she said, her smile dreamy. It was a new look for her. A good look for her. “You should find someone to tie you up. At least once in a while.”
“I’ve got ‘once in a while’ covered. And she doesn’t make me run around wearing zebra pj’s.”
Faith huffed. “I’m not
Casper do anything. I just told him if he wore that, then I’d wear this,” she said, and held up her hands like some
The Price Is Right
“Are Mom and Dad going to be there? Because you wearing that”—he gave her a quick once-over because she
his sister and he preferred not to look—“is going to have Mom gathering napkins from the tables to make you a serape.”
“Momma and Daddy are in Houston until late Sunday night. Texans football this weekend.” She tugged on the bottom of her vest that left her midriff bare. “Besides, if you think my outfit’s going to raise eyebrows, you should see what Arwen’s wearing. Dax is going to be shooting eye daggers at anyone who looks at her wrong. Assuming he lets her out of the house.”
Now, the Dax part of that equation would be worth seeing. But Boone wouldn’t be looking at Arwen just like he didn’t look at Faith. Arwen belonged to his partner in the Dalton Ranch, making her family, too. “Doubt he’ll have much choice, the party being at the Hellcat Saloon and Arwen being hostess.”
“Well, he’ll have to get over it. Having her place chosen to host the library’s fund-raiser is a huge coup. Kendall was afraid the committee would vote down the suggestion and we’d end up at the country club where everything would cost twice as much.”
“Kendall Sheppard. She owns the bookstore? You danced with her at the folks’ anniversary party? She’s on the library board.”
“Right.” One of the few eligible single women in Crow Hill, and a friend of his sister’s. Meaning he crossed paths with her often enough to make Faith’s matchmaking obvious. He just wasn’t too good with names. “I guess that means she’ll be there tonight.”
“She will. As will Lizzie Nathan and Everly Grant and Nina Summerlin. You’ll have a great time.”
Before he could tell her his idea of a great time would have all four women in his bed, not on a dance floor, preferably at the same time, Casper clattered his way back into the kitchen. “Here,” he said, handing Boone a leather gun belt. And a gun. “Buckle this on, and with the Zorro mask, you’re set.”
Boone spun the old Colt’s cylinder looking for bullets, happy to find he wouldn’t accidentally be shooting anyone, or his own foot. “Like two eyeholes in a black scarf is going to fool anyone?”
“The point isn’t to fool anyone,” Faith said, tying on her own mask that was a lacy-looking metal cutout and didn’t hide much of her face at all. “The point is to have fun. To dance and drink and flirt and pretend for a few hours that you’re someone else.”
That was just stupid. “I like who I am. I don’t want to pretend I’m someone else.”
“Then don’t. Just dance and drink and flirt.”
“I don’t want to—”
“Just drink. Jesus, Boone. You can do that, can’t you?”
“Sure he can. Especially with all that drinking going toward a good cause.” Casper pulled a long strip of drink tickets out of Faith’s top, tore off half of them, and gave them to Boone. “Sheriff here’s made of money. She can buy more.”
Boone folded the tickets and stuffed them into his pocket while Casper stuffed his back between Faith’s breasts. She slapped at his hand, took care of the tickets herself, then handed him a plain black mask that Boone supposed was prison-issue to go with the stripes. Casper snapped it into place, rolling his eyes as Faith lifted his hair to hide the elastic, yelping when she pulled too hard.
Seeing the two together had Boone smiling. And after all the years he’d spent enforcing the Dalton Gang’s no-sisters rule to keep them apart. Still, the time had needed to be right, and the sixteen years he, Casper, and Dax had spent away from Crow Hill before returning to take on the ranch they’d inherited had given both Faith and Casper a chance to get their act together. It had been a lot of years, but it had been worth it.
“Wow, y’all look great,” came a voice from the doorway that led into the house’s main hall.
“Hey, Clay,” Boone said to the fifteen-year-old boy Casper was in the process of adopting. “You and Kevin up to holding down the fort? Because say the word and I’ll grab a pizza from the Flying Pie and we can hang out and watch all the Bruce Willis movies you want.”
“Kevin and I got it covered,” Clay said, reaching down to pat his scruffy mutt who was the size of a few of the calves Boone had moved from the Braff pasture this morning. “And I think tonight’s going to be
. And then bed by eleven since it’s a school night,” he added, getting a nod from Casper.
“See?” Faith waved Boone and Casper toward the door where Clay was standing. “Clay and Kevin have it covered. Let’s go.”
Boone jammed his hat on and followed the sheriff and her prisoner to the front of the house where his truck was parked on the street. He’d drink up the tickets Casper had given him, doing his part for literacy, and hope like hell he didn’t end the night wearing prison stripes. Or worse.
Dragging home his own ball and chain.
* * *
O YOU KNOW
how amazingly hot you look?” Everly Grant asked of Arwen Poole, whose already impressive chest had been corseted into a rack that almost had Everly drooling. She pushed her bonnet off her head, letting it hang down her back by the ribbon tied at her throat. “And what amazingly drab lives schoolmarms must’ve lived in the Old West? No wonder we were all spinsters. We can’t get a cowboy to look at us sideways wearing this plain muslin crap.”
“But you make an adorable schoolmarm,” Arwen said, reaching beneath the bar for a deep margarita glass and exposing even more of her cleavage. How she kept those things from popping out of her barmaid’s white blouse . . . “No doubt there’s some rancher out there looking to be taught a thing or two. And you’re just the teacher to do it.”
Picking at the buttons fastening the bodice of her ankle-length dress, Everly glanced down at her chest, which left absolutely everything to the imagination, and gave her a full, unobstructed view of her lap where she sat on a Hellcat Saloon barstool. It was hopeless.
was hopeless. “Let’s see. Amazingly hot versus adorable. The only rancher I’m liable to attract is one looking to have calf nuts fried to a crackly crunch for dinner.”
Arwen screwed up her face and made a
motion with her tongue as she filled the glass from the margarita machine. “I don’t know about that. I’m pretty sure I saw Boone Mitchell giving you the eye.”
Boone Mitchell. Everly shivered. He would making putting an end to her four years of abstinence worth the wait. “Yeah, no doubt coming up with a reason to head in the opposite direction should I get close.”
“Everly! Stop it. You’re gorgeous and everyone here knows it.” Arwen twisted the top off a bottle of Dos Equis and upended it into the slush of the frozen margarita via the hook on the side of the glass. “There’s nothing wrong with making a man wonder what he’ll find beneath your clothes if he’s lucky enough to get you out of them.”
“At this rate, no one will be finding out anything.” And for a very long four years, that had been exactly what she’d wanted. No leading anyone on. No inadvertent flirtation. No accidentally attracting a man who might think she was willing to take whatever he thought she had coming once they were in bed. She was done being a victim. “But that’s okay. I’m supposed to be on the clock.”
“That’s right. You’re covering the event for the paper.” Arwen signaled over Everly’s head for one of the saloon’s servers, pushing the “beer-rita” toward Luck Summerlin as she approached. “This is for Bubba Taylor. Get his tickets first,” she said before turning back to Everly. “Want one? Working girls drink on the house.”
Working girls, though of a different sort than Arwen meant, also got all the action. Everly would definitely rethink her costume next time. “Sure, but just the margarita. I don’t need the beer. One drink will have to do me tonight.”
“Coming up,” Arwen said, reaching for a smaller glass this time. “Having to stay sober at a party’s hardly fair, and I say that from a lot of personal experience.”
“It’s a good cause. I just hope the story raises more awareness about the cuts to the library’s funding. I know Kendall’s got a selection of books she’s lending out at the bookstore, but that puts her in a bind.” Everly reached for the margarita Arwen slid toward her, stirred it with her straw. “Roma Orleans is pretty much handling the entire library herself, and she can’t keep it open but a few hours a week.”
“I know. Faith said Clay’s been volunteering both there and at the bookstore, shelving returns, cleaning toilets, whatever needs to be done. And he spends almost all of his allowance on new books to help Kendall out. She said he’s read all the Jack Reacher and Harry Hole books, and has started in on Lucas Davenport.”
Blood and guts and violence, yet the boy was the sweetest thing ever. “That kid is something else.”
“Tell me about it.” Arwen leaned across the bar to wipe a spill. “Dax pays him to come over after school and cook dinner a couple nights a week. He makes a double batch of whatever it is, giving us another two meals of the leftovers. The rest of the time we eat here. I’m totally off the hook for cooking.”
“And you like it.”
“I do.” Arwen nodded, and laughed. “I had no idea I hated to cook as much as I do until Dax moved in, and I felt like I needed to make more of an effort at feeding him than bringing home burgers or ribs.”