Texas Rose - By Patricia Rice

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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.

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Copyright © 2010, 2012 by Patricia Rice. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

First published by Topaz, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. First Printing, March, 1995

Cover and eBook design by eBook Prep www.ebookprep.com

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Chapter 1

"Excuse me, gentlemen. I am looking for Pecos Martin. Is he here?"

The drawn shutters of the gambling hall turned the late afternoon sun into dusk. Smoke curled in the murky air, giving the room an atmosphere resembling the first circle of hell. Engrossed in their various card games, few of the occupants paid much attention to the vision in the open door.

And there was no doubt that she was a vision. With the sunlight for a backdrop, her chestnut hair glowed almost auburn. Arranged in thick, loose folds at the back of her head and topped by an incongruously tiny green velvet and lace hat, her hair rivaled the setting sun outside. The features beneath the thick waves of chestnut were not distinguishable in the gloom, but they appeared to be of the delicate cream and evenness that were fashionable. Perhaps the eyes were larger and darker than customary, having a certain exotic slant, but the clientele in this room weren't connoisseurs of fashion.

So the exquisite walking gown of green foulard adorned with yards of ruching and topped with a darker green fitted bodice went unrewarded by her audience. Only one head lifted in this sea of male attire, and the vision breathed an almost audible sigh of relief as her glance found him.

Surrounded by men in dark top coats, grubby sack coats, and black hats, this one man alone wore buff linen. His frock coat fitted snuggly to wide shoulders, and his starched white collar contrasted nicely with the golden-brown of his coloring.

Evie felt a swell of reassurance at his appearance. This had to be the man she was looking for. Of course, he was much younger than she had expected. A man who had done everything that Pecos Martin had done should be older and grizzled and weather-beaten. She had expected one of the derelicts in shirtsleeves and vest with three-day's growth of beard to be the man Daniel had told her about. But this man was obviously accustomed to sun, more so than anyone else in here.

His hair lay in thick lengths of sun-licked gold. Peering through the gloom, she thought his features were probably quite handsome. She hesitated to call a cold-blooded killer handsome. But he was definitely remarkable-looking.

Reassured by those looks, certain she was in the place described by Daniel, Evie approached the gambler without hesitation. The scene was just as she had imagined.

"Mr. Martin?" she inquired as she approached, her petticoats rustling in the silence. She didn't want to disturb anyone's concentration. The men in the card game with the golden gambler scarcely noticed her presence. She wasn't accustomed to that, but she wasn't accustomed to frequenting dens of vice, either.

The gambler grinned as his gaze raked over her new walking gown. Evie hoped he noticed the clever way she had cut the gussets so the tunic fit her waist neatly before flaring out over the full skirt and modified bustle. He certainly seemed to be appreciating some aspect of her attire, anyway. She smiled tentatively.

"Deal me out, boys," the man murmured, laying down his cards and scooping up the coins and greenbacks littering the table in front of him. He crushed his cheroot against the table and rose without a word of protest from the other