Texas Redemption(2)

By: Linda Broday

Short wiry females had a way of making him tread extra lightly. He’d rather tangle with a hardened mountain man.

The skinny termagant never spared him a glance. Her gaze flitted over the crowd the whole time she worked as though expecting them to toss coins her way and wanted to make sure she didn’t miss one if they should.

Yep, just like that trained monkey.

“Well, mister, I don’t have all day.”

He assumed she spoke to him, although he based that merely on the lower volume with which she spoke, nothing more. Her arms full of dishes, she turned toward the back.

“I’ll have a steak. Biggest you’ve got.” Brodie didn’t know if she heard him. She didn’t acknowledge the fact.

The monkey impersonator faded into the dark interior. He contemplated leaving…until a younger woman strolled from the kitchen.

Sweet Jesus. Of all the luck.

Her image haunted his dreams much too frequently for forgetting. He’d lost count of the nights when memories jerked him from a sound sleep. And days when familiar yearning pulled deep in his gut, leaving a chest full of misery and bleary eyes.

From across the crowded café the violet-eyed beauty still made him pray for impossible things, promising each desire could come true despite the meager coins in his pocket.

Strange how she wound up here in Texas. He’d never thought to see her again after leaving St. Louis.

She blew away a strand of fallen hair, struggling under the load of plates piled with food. She concentrated on her footing and aimed for the complaining patron’s table. With their griping satisfied, she went back for more. She carried armload after another without noticing him. He doubted she’d recognize him anyway after so long.

The years had treated her kindly. She’d changed in small ways—all of them favorable. A mature woman with rounded curves stood in place of the slender young girl he’d known.

His throat clogged when she came close enough to touch.

Tiny lines hugged the lush mouth that once invited, daring him to resist. A block of stone might’ve. But he bore no kinship with rock. In him she found a randy soldier who liked to taste.

Ahh, those kisses. More an angel’s than flesh and blood.

Brodie would stake good money she could make him believe he held the key to her heart even now.

He wouldn’t make that mistake twice. Still…

A crooked smile formed when he considered his good fortune.

* * *

Laurel sent the clock a silent cussing. She swore it hadn’t moved in the last hour. Her feet and back paid no heed that impatient customers waited for their lunch.

She lifted a plate containing a large cut of beef and strode for the dining room of Ollie’s Café ever mindful of her purpose. Marriage to Murphy Yates offered answers to her dream.

The devil take anyone who stood in the way. She clenched her jaw. She’d worked too hard.

Miles of ground lay between Missouri and Texas. Trouble wouldn’t find this town at the swamp’s edge.

“Let the last day of your past be the first day of your future.” Olivia, or Ollie as she preferred, had given the first of much advice the night she sprang Laurel from that hellhole.

The dear woman had seen something worth saving. The chance to make a new life would come just once. Laurel gripped the plate tighter. She meant to grab hold and ride until someone pulled her, kicking and screaming, from the saddle.

A dull ache between her shoulder blades reminded her what she stood to lose. She weaved between the tables, sidestepping sweaty cowboys and their heavy boots.

She’d do whatever necessary to keep her secret buried.

In the midst of noon madness, someone grabbed her arm, sending the plate crashing to the floor. “Spit and thunder. Now look what you’ve done.”

“Don’t worry none about that, sweet thing.”

A man pulled her onto his buckskin lap. She found herself staring into the cold disdain of young Jeb Prater.

“What do you think you’re doing? Let me go.” Dear God, she’d thought to rid herself of bold hands and heavy breathing. Pounding in her head reminded her of things she tried to blot out.

“When I get good an’ ready.” Jeb squeezed her waist. Lust glittered in his stare.

“I think you’re ready now, boy.” The dark warning tore through the room like scattershot, instantly muting clanking forks, conversation, and noisy chewing.