Excerpt: A Hard Ride Home

Emmett Grady had been back in Silver Creek for all of six hours when he ran into a wayward whore behind the Weeping Willow Inn and Saloon, better known as the only proper whoring establishment for a hundred miles in any direction. She was rouged up and giggling, with her blonde hair in a couple of ribboned braids like a girl’s. Except she wasn’t a child, not with those tits stacked high above a tight red corset.

“Curfew,” he barked out, startling her and the boy tugging her toward the barn across the dirt lot.

When she stared at him, wide-eyed, red lips in a pout, he tipped his hat and added, “Ma’am,” even though, most likely, he didn’t need to address a young whore like that.

(The thing was, Emmett had only been Sheriff for one afternoon, and he hadn’t had many dealings with ladies of the line. It was hard to know the etiquette of these situations.)

But he knew damn well that he didn’t owe her lanky friend a whit of courtesy. “Same goes for you, boy. These girls can’t be street-walking. Town’s not safe at night.”

“I’m no paying customer, and no one minds the curfew,” the boy laughed, pressing an impish kiss to her hair. The moonlight cast garish shadows all over his face. He was tall and skinny and sharp-edged and a little otherworldly, like a ghost or a scarecrow.

They were drunk.

“Did you hear that, Miss Rose?” the boy laughed, grabbing her around the waist and rutting against her rump. “Newcomer thinks I’m paying you for a tumble. But you’d comp me, wouldn’t you, little sister?”

“Jesse, behave. We was just walking, Sheriff.”

“Sheriff?” Jesse peered at Emmett over the top of her head, his grin faltering. “But he’s a boy. A pretty boy.”

“Watch your tongue,” Emmett said crossly, twenty-two years old and still sore over the coach driver saying he looked awful young to be taking up as sheriff. “Now head home and let her go back to the Weeping Willow or sober up behind bars.”

“I bet you don’t even have the keys to the jail,” Jesse said, giving the girl a gentle push toward the stairs at the back of the whorehouse.

“I do too, right here.” Emmett opened his coat and showed off the freshly minted set, and his pistol, for good measure.

“Mm.” Jesse peered at them, swaying without the girl to steady him. “Big gun.”

“I’ll tell you one more time, boy. Run on home.”

Jesse gave him a wobbly cross between a curtsy and a bow and trotted off after the girl.

Emmett caught his elbow as he passed, and twisted his arm behind his back. “I said home,” he growled, “Not the saloon. You’re drunk. Leave those girls alone.”

“You’re gonna be in so much trouble, Sheriff,” the boy said, voice gone husky and soft. He moved his body, shifting like a cat—to push his ass back against Emmett’s crotch obscenely.

“What the—” Emmett pushed him away, and Jesse darted for the staircase. By then, a handful of girls stood out on the upper balcony, petticoats fluttering in the night breeze like laundry on a line.

They whooped and hollered all manner of nonsense as Emmett caught up to Jesse, wrapped a short length of rope around his skinny wrists, and hauled him off to jail to sleep off his whiskey.

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