Castillo's Fiery Texas Rose - By Tessa Berkley
Whoever brought a woman along on a freight run was asking for trouble, Trace Castillo mused as he sat on the porch of the sheriff’s office. Enjoying the shade, he watched the shenanigans going on across the street. Hell, trouble might liven up the little town of Cobb’s Crossing. It didn’t matter how it turned out; he had a front row seat to watch the mess unfold.
He lifted one foot, placed it against the post, and leaned back to enjoy the show as he caught sight of the freight driver, Moe Horne, making his way across the street toward two loaded wagons. He’d run into Moe a couple of times. He wasn’t a bad man. However, his size and quick anger made him volatile, easy to manipulate when plied with sufficient alcohol. Trace wondered if that had been the case today.
Moe stepped off the boardwalk and looked back at the group of saloon regulars who stood half hidden in the shadows. One of them waved him onward. Trace shifted his gaze and calculated the direction of the target. Of course, it would be that woman, the one standing in front of the general store beside the freight wagon as if she owned it.
With a tilt of his head, he looked from under the brim of his Texas flat-top to give her a better appraisal. When the wind blew just right, he could make out her petite frame beneath the billowing white blouse, all rounded out like a nice little filly. Mother Nature’s fingers lifted the hem of her split riding skirt to reveal a pair of shapely legs encased in brown leather boots. He’d estimate that bundle of trouble stood a little over five feet. She seemed intent on the tack of her animals while waiting for the man he’d seen disappear inside.
To her credit, she wasn’t one of those women who dressed to the height of fashion while traveling from town to town. No bustle or heavy skirts. She used common sense about the rigors of the trail and dressed accordingly. His mouth curved in a wicked grin. How he’d loved to have a peek beneath that wide-brim Stetson she wore, to see what color her eyes were.
He’d gotten a tantalizing glimpse of a copper-colored curl or two. However, right now, he had to content himself by watching the seductive twitch of the fabric covering the soft curves of her hips. His smile faded, however, as Moe’s body blocked his view. Irritated, his mouth stretched into a thin line and his eyes hardened.
Mary Rose Thornton listened to the sounds of the town stirring behind her and focused her attention on the team of bay draft horses hitched to the bright red wagons emblazoned with gold lettering that proclaimed them the property of the Thornton Freight Company. She moved her hands along the tack, making sure the buckles and straps had not strained. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she brushed her fingers over the sun-burnished hides of the horses. Daniel would be through soon with the owner of the general store, and they’d set out again toward Claiborne. Engrossed in her task, she didn’t realize anyone stood behind her until she turned.
She blinked in surprise and took a step back to gain some space. “Mr. Horne,” she said. “I didn’t hear you come up.”
Moe Horne would never be called handsome. A large man, his arms looked thick as fence posts, his hands so massive the only things similar would be the hammers used by the local blacksmith. But, by far, his most unnerving feature was the milk-white eye contained within the scar that ran the length of his face, from temple to chin. She swallowed as one side of his mouth lifted in a warped grin.
The gaze of his good eye moved up her body, pausing at the curve of her hip in the riding skirt before moving on to the swell of her breasts against her blouse. She blinked. Mary Rose wanted nothing more than to pull her arms across herself and hide as much as possible from his leering view. She watched his look move to her face, and the hunger she saw made her blood chill. She took another step back. Her hip brushed the trace on the wagon, and the lead horse stepped to one side, rattling the chains.
With nowhere else to go, she drew herself up straight and addressed the problem. “Mr. Horne, state your business.” Her words were curt,