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Winning the Lady

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This book fills my heart with joy. It was fun to write and has enough twists and turns to
throw anyone off the track. Here’s the excerpt. And this book is on pre-order now at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.
Excerpt:

Chapter One

Gil Davis stared out the saloon door and saw a little boy hobbling down the street. The boy couldn’t have been over four or five years old. Tears washed his face as he stumbled and fell. A woman approached. As soon as she touched him and started to clean his wounded knee with the hem of her petticoat the boy stared in wide-eyed wonder.
Gil, himself, was transfixed by the woman. Her long red-gold hair caught the sun and whispered a fire. Her fair skin looked bright pink against the glare of the morning sun. What kind of heaven might her eyes hold?
In all his life, he hadn’t seen anything as beautiful as a woman caring for a child alone in the street. She kneeled at the boy’s feet, and she barely looked at him as she tended his wound. He could see her speaking to the boy, but he couldn’t hear their conversation.
She tore off some of her petticoat to bandage his wound.
Caressing his cheek with a hand and wiping the tears away, she stood, her voluptuous figure created another heart-stopping scene in Gil’s heart. Her faded country cotton blue dress blew in the wind. She patted it down with one hand and walked away.
The boy limped away, his club foot more noticeable now than before.
The woman walked slowly back to the chair in front of the saloon as though she belonged there.
Her actions pulled at Gil’s heart, even though he wasn’t normally swayed by a woman. This woman commanded his attention.
He hadn’t seen an act of compassion in this town, until now. It touched him, renewing his faith in his fellow man.
The boy obviously was not hers. She simply wanted to help him heal. Gil swallowed hard.
An act of kindness gone unnoticed by most gave Gil a surge of euphoria. It had been a simple kindness, undisturbed moment in time, and he had witnessed it.
He smiled to himself as he rejoined the men at the table.
His cards in hand, he glanced at them then folded them. His mind wasn’t on his cards, though. He couldn’t shake the picture of the woman and boy.
“I thought we were gonna have to call a break, you were staring so long. Can we play poker now?” The big man at the table swallowed another drink.
“Just getting a breath of fresh air.” Gil resumed his relaxed position, and smiled..
“Well, it’s about time.”
“Friend, you should take a break every now and then. You miss so much if you don’t.” Gil smiled charmingly.
“I ain’t missed nothin’.” The man grunted. “I done seen all of this town I need to. My work needs doin’, so let’s get this game finished so I can go home and do ‘er.”
Gil tucked the beautiful memory into his heart and checked his cards once more.
The last game of the morning had a stack of cash in the middle of the table and a lot of nervous players folding their hands, some more unhappy than others.
“Not me, that’s enough for one day of losing,” said a tall thin man with spectacles and a deep resonating voice. Gil glanced at the man. He looked like a bad resemblance to Abe Lincoln. “I’ll call,” the big man said, pushing his wad of cash to the center of the table. The man glared at Gil, his big belly sticking out from his shirt. Sweat covered his face, and the whiskey that had missed his mouth drooled down his chin.
As a professional gambler, Gil tended to size his competition up before playing. He didn’t like this man. He had no reason in mind, just simply didn’t like him. “Are you sure you want to do that?”
“Sure, I’m shore. What you got?” The man stared at him with a sneer on his face.
“Sorry, friend. I raise you fifty dollars.” Gil waited to see if the man was all bluff or if he really had the hand he thought he had.
“I ain’t got no more cash,” the big man hollered.
“Have you any assets you might want to throw in? That is, if you have that good a hand.” Gil challenged. “A watch, a saddle, something?”
“I got one thing… my wife…”
Everyone at the table laughed until they saw the serious expression on the big man’s face. Then there was a silence that could be heard for miles. Some of the other men frowned with distaste. Others waited to see if he was serious.
Gil couldn’t afford to be rattled, but inside, his distaste for the man grew by the moment. What kind of animal did such a thing? He certainly couldn’t be human.
“Your wife?” Gil repeated.
“That’s right.”
“Let me get this straight. You are bidding your wife in a poker game?” Gil shook his head in disbelief.
“Why not? She’s right outside, and a real looker too.”
The woman he had feasted his eyes upon was surely not the right lady. She was much too beautiful and kind-hearted to be given away in a game. He couldn’t be referring to her, could he?
“Don’t you have something else, something material?” Gil insisted.
“No. All I got is her. Now, are you gonna accept my bet or not?” The man blubbered, gulping his drink and slamming the glass on the table so hard that the change rattled.
“Call!” Gil narrowed his gaze on the man.
“Three jacks…” The big man spread his cards on the table proudly and started to rake the hand in.
“Not good enough, friend. Full house…” Gil splayed his cards for all to see.
For a moment, the big man stammered, “I-I don’t believe it…” Then he folded his cards over and leered at Gil.
Most of the other players shook their heads and hung their mouths open.
When nothing happened, another player laughed. “He’s got you beat, Chester. You lose.”
The big man stared at the cards as though they were snakes. “It can’t be!”
“I’m afraid it is,” Gil murmured.
The big man stood, scraping the floor with his chair legs. The sound grated.
“Then she’s yours!” He backed away from the poker table, spit his tobacco on the floor, and grimaced. “Although, I can’t say you’re gettin’ much except a cook. Aw…she can clean a house, stuff like that, but I never have bedded her. She’s a cold one.” The man’s cynical laugh disturbed the silence.
Gil studied the man with the worn hat and torn clothes. How could a man gamble away his wife? A suggested annoyance hovered in the gambler’s eyes.
“Are you sure you don’t have something else of value to trade? A horse, a mule, a gun…anything?”
“No, I bid my wife, and you accepted my bet. Now she’s yours!”
Gil grimaced. He hadn’t been prepared for such a trade, but this man thought little of human values.
The tall thin man nodded. “I’d have to agree with the man. You’re acceptance makes it legal. She’s yours now.”
“She’s a cold one, huh? Although I’m sure I don’t know what to do with her.” Gil eyed the big man. “So…where is this lady you seem so eager to be rid of?”
The big man lit a cigar, and nodded to the door. “Ain’t no never mind to me. I thought she’d put out. She didn’t. Now, she’s sittin’ outside where I told her to. That’s where.”
Could Gil be so lucky as to win such a woman in a poker game? He’d heard of such dealings, but he’d never been in this position before. Not sure what to do, he stood and glared at the man.

~*~

“Ma’am.” A cowboy tipped his hat to her as he went inside.
Trish sat outside while her husband drank. It hadn’t been the first time Chester had come for a drink and got caught up in a poker game. Some men were weak about things like that.
“Mornin’,” she mumbled, wishing Chester would get a move on. He liked having his meals ready at certain times, and if they didn’t get home soon, she couldn’t have it ready for him and he’d be in a foul mood the rest of the day.
She couldn’t hear what they were saying inside, but it seemed a lively conversation. There were shouts and laughter then a sudden unexpected quiet.
Trish ran her hands over her thin cotton dress. She had spent the last few days cleaning the man’s house, milking his cow, and working like a dog, and he still wasn’t happy with her. During their three-week long marriage, they barely spoke to each other. Trish had been dealt a raw deal. Chester hadn’t lived up to her expectations, and disappointment crowded her thinking. She’d tried not to judge him as it was her mistake as much as his..
She sighed. “Come on, Chester, let’s go home,” she mumbled as the noise got louder.
Their relationship, what there was of it, didn’t amount to much. For a married woman, she felt very unmarried.
She slept in the bed, while he slept on the floor. Trish did all the work he asked of her and more, but neither was happy with each other. It hadn’t mattered. He was protective of her, and that was all she asked. Why had she ever agreed to become a mail-order bride though? Trish hadn’t worked this hard since she’d been home with her seven brothers. She should have stayed at Al’s. Of all the girls who agreed to become mail order brides, Trish was the unluckiest of the bunch. It wasn’t that she was so bad to look at. It was her nature, her cold-hearted nature. She didn’t trust men. It was that simple.
Memories of Al’s saloon lingered in the back of her mind. Whiskey, smoke, and raw-smelling cowboys. Did she really wish that on herself again?
A woman passed by and barely gave her a glance. No one had been friendly in this town. She’d been to town a couple of times, but nothing ever happened. The women looked at her suspiciously, and the men just stared.
She closed her eyes and smelled the fresh morning air. Every day, she had hunted for something to reassure her that it was all worth it.
Trish chose Chester Smith as a husband because he was big and strong, and she figured he’d take care of her. He boasted a lot before they were married, but that wasn’t anything to her. He was too old for her, but that didn’t matter to Trish. She could suffer through his age and big beer belly. She could even put up with his drinking. All she wanted was to settle down, have a home, and maybe some kids in time. Trish thought time might mellow her husband, that he’d take more pride in himself and his place with a woman that would work the farm as hard as he. Of course, it was harder to get used to her husband than she figured. And the thought of him touching her repulsed her. But sex wasn’t important to her now.
“Lay down and take it,” her mother had told her about marriage one day when she was talking about her own life.
And strangely enough, that advice had served her well as a whore. She had lain down and taken it.
But things had changed since then, and supposedly for the better.
Chester had a nice home on the outskirts of town, and she’d instantly pictured herself drawing the water at the well and watering the flowers that grew about the house. It was peaceful out there and suited her. Although Chester himself lacked some of the finer graces of life, she could put up with it. If she could get over his bad manners and sloppiness, she might even bear him a child or two.
She’d settled for Chester. She knew she’d just settled. Her friends were quick to tell her so. It hadn’t bothered her before, but now she was rethinking it. Now, the prospect of a home and family were nearly gone. Chester wasn’t the man she thought him. Why had she married him? She could find a decent man. Why had she been so sidetracked into thinking an ugly man was a better man? But as luck would have it, decent men were not that easy to come by.
Chester did what he had to around the place, he worked, but there was no joy in his heart. Even though he was a good farmer, he took pleasure in it. She tried to encourage him, compliment him on his talent with a plow, but he paid no mind to her either.
He seldom smiled, and only when he was drinking. Even putting up with his drinking wasn’t hard. She was used to drunks. But this wasn’t the life she had thought about having. She wanted so much more.
Today he had come for a drink and made her sit outside while he had a hand of poker. She heard him boasting inside the saloon, but she wasn’t sure what had happened. Perhaps he’d won and would be in a good mood the rest of the day.
Trish smiled and closed her eyes. She wished he wouldn’t gamble his money away, but there was no stopping him. Why had she listened to Jo Ella and her dreams? Trish had her doubts all along about finding a husband. Her lack of trust in men had led her to Chester.
Why?
It wasn’t as if he drank every day, nor gambled, but Trish would have rather he didn’t altogether. to. Her pa had been a prime example. Her pa had tried to bed her when she turned sixteen and developed faster than most. She’d been ashamed of her womanly figure. The way her father and brothers looked at her made her ill. But when she pulled a gun on him, he told her to get out and never come back. The one thing she was happy about was that he hadn’t touched her. She was too proud to allow that to happen even at sixteen. And what was worse, her brothers had had the same idea. Staying home was not an option when her mother refused to speak up.
A tear escaped down her cheek. She had put that memory away long ago and tried not to ever look back. Only living with Chester gave her time on her hands to think, and remember.
Believing she could make it on her own, she was soon hit with a hard reality. She was no tomboy, no rancher, nor farmer, even though she’d been brought up to do the chores. She couldn’t hire herself out as a one. She couldn’t do sums well, so clerking in a store was not feasible. Unless you could sew, there were no decent jobs available. She had wanted to learn, but her mother hadn’t the time to teach her. So, like others who came from broken, bad homes, she found herself in a saloon, selling whiskey, and herself.
Her story wasn’t unlike the other girls at Al’s. All had been abused by their folks. All of them sought something better and found something worse.
Her father had warned her as a young child, “Don’t take up them painted lady ways.”
Her mother had hung her head in shame when Trish looked to her for support. The look on her face was unforgettable. She could see the remorse and guilt in her mother’s eyes and feel it in her heart. Her mother hadn’t been a strong woman.
But she had!
So Trish grew up not trusting any man. The way she figured it, if she couldn’t trust her own father, then she couldn’t trust any man.
Trish glanced around the almost dead town as the wind whipped at her skirt once more. She didn’t like the wind, as it whistled a sad tune. It made her lonely, only she didn’t know what she was lonely for. No one seemed to stir. It was just past noon, and she reckoned most were home either working or fixing a meal.
This town was thirty miles from Veda, and she wondered if she’d ever see Jo Ella or the others again. They were like sisters to her. She hated the separation, but Chester wouldn’t allow her to use the one and only horse on the farm. He wouldn’t allow her to go gallivanting around, as he called it.
When her husband came out of the saloon, he was drunk and staring at her very strangely.
“We going home now, Chester?” Trish asked politely, getting to her feet and looking up at her husband in expectation. “I need to get dinner on.”
“I am. You ain’t. I just lost you in a poker game.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You what?” Trish raised her voice to a high pitch. She looked him in the eye, but he couldn’t even do that. He was too drunk. “What are you sayin’?”
“You heard me, gal. I just lost you in a poker game. That’s what I’m saying. You can take this so-called marriage of ours and throw it away. I don’t care. You don’t belong to me no more, understand? So don’t follow me. Don’t come home. I don’t want you no more…”
Trish’s eyes widened in horror. “How could you do that?”
“Didn’t have nothin’ else to bid on.” He started walking away, stumbling as he went.
“But…we’re married?” she cried out, wondering if he was joking and if she should follow him anyway. “I’m a human being, not a anti…”
“Not anymore, we ain’t.”
“But it was a legal marriage. You can’t just walk out on me, like that.”
“Reckon I can. Don’t fret. In three years, you can get a divorce on abandonment charges.”
Three years. What was she supposed to do in the meantime?
Pure panic set in. Trish flopped back into the chair. He lost me in a poker game? Like I’m some sort of trash he doesn’t care about.
Now what was she to do? Chester was still her husband.
Didn’t he care? Although upon reflection, she gave him nothing to care about. He certainly didn’t seem distraught.
The farther away he got, the more her heart pounded in fear of the unknown. He was leaving her here to rot!


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