As an undercover detective working to stop a gang of outlaws, Seth can’t afford the distractions a woman like Amanda inspires. Yet when the fiercely intelligent beauty is thrust into the middle of a heist gone wrong, Seth will fight for a future that may never be theirs…even if it means risking everything he holds dear.
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Seth Grover was growing weary of his double life. On the surface he presented himself as a man to be watched—a quiet, soft-spoken stranger who was good with a gun and who had no visible means of support other than being very good at playing poker. That combination made most folks believe he was probably operating on the shady side of the law, which suited his purposes most of the time. The truth was that he was an undercover agent for the Wells Fargo Company, hired to go wherever he was needed to foil outlaws targeting the company’s wealth. Most recently he’d been charged with doing whatever it took to stop the string of robberies that had cost the company close to half a million dollars over the last few years.
In the early years of his life, he’d sown enough wild oats to earn his reputation as a rebel. In his first years undercover he had quickly established himself as a man good with a poker and a six-shooter. And the combination had earned him the right to travel under his own name, for many outlaws had been brought up in good families with strong moral values before they turned to lives of crime.
For several weeks now he’d been hanging around the small town of Whitman Falls—a place the railroad had bypassed, but a town that was thriving nevertheless. Fort Lowell was near enough that the stagecoach carrying the monthly payroll for the soldiers garrisoned there came right through town on its way to the fort. That payroll delivery was one of the reasons Seth had decided to take a room above the local saloon and stay for a spell. The fact that the saloon’s owner—Lilly Goodspeed—was a friend and one of the few people who knew his true profession helped make his stay in the small town more tolerable.
A gang thought to be responsible for a couple of bank robberies and stage hold-ups in northern Arizona was rumored to be moving south. Seth had a hunch that they planned one more big strike—possibly the payroll—before they struck out for the border and Mexico. It was a pattern he’d seen before and it was his job to make sure they didn’t succeed—hopefully without revealing his true identity.
He also had a more personal reason for foiling this particular robbery. He’d gotten word from his mother that his youngest brother had run away from the family’s Chicago home around the time that the gang had been operating farther north. He knew his brother, knew he was reckless and always seeking adventure. The latest reports Seth had received from his supervisor had mentioned a kid—fair-skinned and blond, with a missing finger—who appeared to be working as a lookout for the gang. The description was broad, but it fit Sam—a boy who had spent his years up to now in the city and one who knew little about life on the frontier.
It was certainly possible that Sam could have joined the gang—a long shot to be sure, but if he was that kid, this might be Seth’s last chance to save his brother from either spending his life on the run, rotting in a prison or getting killed.
As he walked from the shadows of the livery stable where he’d left his horse, he squinted into the sunlight and watched a wagon creak its way around the plaza that anchored the town. He spotted two women, with the younger woman driving the team. Seth stopped next to a hitching rail and watched as she pulled to a stop in front of the mercantile.
He kept watching, telling himself that it was out of boredom. The higher the sun rose, the quieter and more deserted the streets seemed. A few people had sought the shade of chestnut trees, but other than that there was little activity.
The older woman climbed down while the younger woman set the brake, wrapped the reins around it and jumped down as well. She was talking the whole time, waving her hands around to make her point, and when she pushed her sunbonnet off her head and allowed it to hang down her back held by the thin ties, he saw that she was a redhead—strawberry blonde, his ma would say.
Either way, in Seth’s experience, women with red hair and the lively temperament that seemed to go along with it could be trouble. It was like there was something in their blood that made them high-spirited. Still, there was no doubt she was the prettiest thing he’d seen in some time, and he was far from immune to the natural desires of a man in his prime.
Award-winning author ANNA SCHMIDT delights in creating stories where her characters must wrestle with the challenges of their times. Critics have consistently praised Schmidt for her ability to seamlessly integrate actual events with her fictional characters to produce strong tales of hope and love in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She resides in Wisconsin.
READ A SNIPPET OF THE OUTLAW:
“‘Someone like me?’ Is that how you see me, Amanda? As someone people should fear?”
“I don’t know what to think,” she said. “One minute you seem so dangerous, and the next you’re sweet and caring and…”
He took a step closer, his eyes sweeping her face. “And which do you want me to be?” His voice was low; it sent shivers down her spine.
“Both,” she whispered, and lifted her face for a kiss.