Eagle Valley, Nevada
The last time Fancy Holleday robbed a train, she did it in her bloomers.
On that singular occasion, she’d had only one hired gun to distract from his duties. Tonight, the train carried a railroad detective and a deputy U.S. marshal. As skilled as she was at disposing of lawmen, even she had to admit she had limitations.
Fancy scowled, careful to hide her tapping boot beneath her skirts. She’d made the unfortunate decision to concentrate her charm on the marshal, since she’d reasoned that a federal tin-star could do her mission more damage than the detective. Cord Rawlins, however, had barely glanced her way. Now her time was running out.
Perhaps the Texican had grown too fond of this horse, she thought uncharitably. How else might she explain his indifference? Other men positively drooled over her lavender eyes and bulging bustline; Marshal Rawlins acted as if beautiful women were as common as fleas on dogs. She had half a mind to plop down on his lap to see for herself if he were bull or steer.
She smirked at the thought — until she heard the clock chime the quarter hour. Her heart lurched. Only 15 minutes remained before the other outlaws boarded. Only 15 minutes were left to prove to her Spanish lover that she was still valuable to him, in spite of her 25 years.
Damn that Marshal Rawlins. Did she have to look like a beefsteak to interest the man?
Gazing past the scurrying waiters with their trays of crystal and gleaming silver, she glared once more at Rawlins. He had made a face at the menu’s exotic selection of blue-winged teal and had specially ordered beef. His suffering waiter had been sent back twice with orders to “burn” the steak. Now Rawlins was shoveling beans down his gullet with a slab of cornbread.
Fancy sniffed. As far as she could see, Rawlins’s badge was the only thing that distinguished him from a cowpoke. She supposed she had expected more from a federal tin-star. Foolish of her, really. She had yet to meet a lawman whom she could respect. The ones in San Francisco all seemed to be more crooked than she was. That was why she never had qualms about drugging them when they interfered with her lover’s casino business. The way she saw it, laudanum was a far kinder fate than anything Diego might have planned.
But Rawlins, of course, was oblivious to the favor she’d tried to do him. He had refused to sneak off with her to the sleeping car, and he had declined her invitation to dine. Now, short of cracking open his skull in full view of a dozen witnesses, she didn’t see how she could possibly render him unconscious before Diego’s thugs derailed the train.
Diego Santana, so help me God, this is the last time I will ever participate in one of your heists.
She winced inwardly as she remembered their last job, when she had to strip to her underclothes before the laudanum finally took effect on the railroad detective. Her gun hand quaking as much from cold as from guilt, she had herded the pajama-clad passengers from the sleeping car to the snow, where Diego had looted and ridiculed them.
She had hoped then, as she did now, that Diego would come to appreciate her loyalty and that, finally, he would ask her to marry him. Although she and Diego had had their differences of late, tonight he was counting on her to crack the safe in the express car. He had given her another chance, thank God, even though he’d been furious with her for begging him to forget his dreams of a counterfeiting empire. Arguing with him had proven useless, so she had finally swallowed her misgivings and agreed to help him accumulate the kind of wealth he would need to control the Barbary Coast. Although she didn’t share his new fondness for armed robbery, she loved him. That would have to see her through this ordeal.
Uh-oh. Fancy’s heart tripped. Marshal Rawlins was on his feet. He was heading for the door! If she bungled this job, Diego might send her back to the whorehouse! She would never see an altar, then.
There was only one thing left to do: make a scene. Hadn’t Diego always said that scene-making was her second-greatest talent?
With theatrics worthy of the great Laura Keene, Fancy bounded to her feet, swept the china from her table, and loosed an ear-splitting shriek.
“You cad!” she exclaimed, looming over the innocuous-looking gentleman who sat behind her.
Until that moment, her neighbor had been staring dreamily out the window at the starlight and pines rushing by. Now he turned, blinking owl-like at her through thick, round glasses. Only then did Fancy notice his black frock coat and starched white linen collar. She nearly groaned aloud. Her mark was a preacher! Why in God’s name had she let herself be seated next to a preacher? Convincing Rawlins that this worm of a creature had tried to fondle her would demand the performance of a lifetime.
She let her forefinger shake as she leveled it at the cleric. “Loathsome man. Never in my life have I been so . . . so vilified! And you, a pillar of the church. Have you no conscience? No shame?”
The parson had yet to recover his wits, and Fancy glanced hopefully at Rawlins. The marshal looked like he was about to yawn – or worse, to continue on his way. She battled a wave of panic.
“How dare you hide your depraved, disgusting behavior behind the trappings of your office!” She flared her nostrils at the
“My dear young woman, I think you must have mistaken –”
“Charlatan!” She filled her lungs until her breasts nearly spilled from her artfully rigged corset. “You lie! You would have these good people questioning my integrity. Marshal!” Her bellow rattled the windows and caused at least one passenger to douse his lap with turtle soup. “Arrest this man!”
Rawlins folded his arms across his chest. Straddling the threshold, with the gaslight slanting across his shoulder, he looked like one of the gunslingers that always seemed to adorn the covers of penny dreadfuls.
“You want the preacher cuffed, eh?”
“Yes, sir, I most certainly do!”
“What in blazes for?”
Fancy hiked her chin. Obviously, Mama Rawlins had neglected to teach her son the finer points of etiquette.
“Because that . . . that beast of a man dared to —” she paused dramatically, “grope me!”
Rawlins chuckled, a rich, warm sound in the breathless silence of the car. “Whoa, darlin’. No one was over there groping anything that you didn’t give away a good long time ago.”
She bristled. Rawlins’s drawl was so pronounced that words like “whoa” and “thing” dragged on for nearly three syllables. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that he’d seen through her ruse. Despite her stylish emerald traveling suit and the demure black ringlets that framed her face, Cord Rawlins had pegged her for a trollop. She wasn’t sure she could ever forgive him for that.
“If you’re not man enough to defend my honor,” she said coolly, “then I shall be happy to speak to the railroad detective whom I saw dining here earlier.”
Every eye in the car shifted eagerly back to Rawlins. He appeared undaunted. Hooking his thumbs over his gun belt, he strolled to her side. She was surprised when she realized he was only about three inches taller than she. Standing in the doorway, he’d appeared much larger. Nevertheless, the lawman exuded an aura of command. He reminded her of the wild mustang that Diego had corralled last spring.
“Well, preacher?” Rawlins tipped back his Stetson with a forefinger. A curl so dark brown that it verged on black tumbled across the untanned peak of his forehead. “Speak your piece.”
The cleric continued to gape. “Well, I, um . . . “
“Spit it out, man. Did you or did you not grope this . . .” Rawlins paused, arching an eyebrow at the straining buttons of Fancy’s bodice. “This, er, lady.”
She glared into his dancing eyes. They brought to mind the jade dragon that Diego had won for her – then gambled away. The hurtful memory only made her more determined to dislike Rawlins. Fortunately, the man had dimples. Bottomless dimples. They looked like two sickle moons attached to the dazzling white of his grin. She thought there should be a law against virile Texicans with heart-stopping smiles. Cord Rawlins had probably left dozens of calf-eyed sweethearts sighing for him back home on the range.
“I’m sure there must be some reasonable explanation,” the preacher babbled. His scarecrow’s body trembled as he towered over Rawlins. “I’m sure the young lady just made a mistake – “
“The only mistake I made,” Fancy interrupted tartly, “was thinking that this lawman might come to the defense of a lady. No doubt Marshal Rawlins finds such courtesies an imposition on his authority.”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am.” He indulged her with a roguish wink. “I thought you did a mighty fine job of defending yourself.”
Oh, did you now? she thought, seething. Then just wait ’til you get a load of my .32! If only that blessed moment would come. Where in hell is Diego?
“Show’s over, folks.” Rawlins waved his audience back to their meals. “Your pigeons are getting cold.”
“That’s it? Fancy gaped at him, forgetting to hide the embarrassing gap between her front teeth. “That’s all you’re going to do to help me?”
” ‘Fraid so, ma’am. You aren’t any worse for wear, as far as I can see. And I reckon Parson Brown isn’t any worse off, either.”
“Why, you — !” Fancy remembered belatedly that ladies didn’t curse. “You can’t just walk away,” she insisted, grabbing Rawlins’s sleeve and hoping he would mistake her panic for indignation.
A nerve-rending screech pierced the expectant silence in the car. Fancy had a heartbeat to identify the braking of iron wheels. In the next instant, the floorboards heaved, throwing her against Rawlins’s chest. Silver, crystal, and a diner’s toupee flew. She cringed to hear the other passengers scream as she clung to Rawlins’s neck. His curse ended in an “oomph.” Fancy was grateful when he sacrificed his own spine rather than letting hers smash against the carpet. For a moment, Rawlins’s tobacco-and-leather aroma and wiry musculature imprinted themselves on her senses. Then her mind whirred back into action.
She had to get his Colt.
Fancy Holleday has more nerve than the average cardsharp. No man can resist her smoky voice and violet eyes—and that includes the federal tinstar, Cord Rawlins. Cord may have tracked her all the way to Texas to recover the U.S.minting plates that she stole, but the Nevada penitentiary is a long ride north, giving her plenty of time to charm, seduce, or just plain outsmart the handsome Texas lawman.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Cord Rawlins is sworn to bring renegades to justice—including the brazen lady train robber who turned the tables on him near Carson City. Tracking Fancy down is Cord’s job, but resisting her persistent persuasions is a matter of personal honor. With Fancy’s life in his hands, Cord begins to wonder if his clever prisoner is really as shameless as she pretends to be. Could her wicked smiles be hiding a desperate secret—one that could steal his heart?