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Excerpt from "Summer's Spunk"


Colorado has bandits, rattlers, and cactus galore... not to mention Jesse and Summer, the town's newest and most hard-headed heroes.

Summer Bennett has been at her aunt’s etiquette school, and now she is ready to start a life as a mail-order bride. After answering the ad for a bride in her hometown, she is eager to return to her roots and see her family again. But when her stagecoach is attacked, and a handsome deputy comes to the rescue, she realizes the man is her childhood tormentor, Jesse Slade. With Jesse in her life again—and engaged to her sister—Summer is determined to stop the wedding while at the same time, planning her own special day. Perhaps tying Jesse to the outhouse might make things easier than dealing with his desirous looks and warm touches.


The cloud of darkness parted in Summer’s mind, opening a small light of awareness. Every muscle in her body screamed in pain, and she clenched her jaw. Protective arms surrounded her, and the swaying motion let her know she was on a horse, curled against a firm body. The man’s musky scent enveloped her. Comforted her.

As the fog lifted, she shifted closer, her hand resting on a solid chest. Gentle fingers stroked down the side of her cheek, and she nuzzled closer. A sharp pain shot through her head, throbbing with every beat of her heart.


She groaned and forced her eyes open, squinting against the sun. Her head pounded, but she struggled against the soreness and the fog in her brain. Suddenly, her memory came rushing back. The stagecoach, the bandits, and especially the archangel of mercy who had come to her rescue.


She let her body relax against the contours of the man’s muscled body. Not too often did she like being protected and cared for by a strong, virile man, but at the moment, she was reluctant to break the spell.


She dared a peek at his face. His deep blue eyes grabbed her attention. Kind eyes. Sunlight glinted off the golden tones of his light brown hair, his thick mustache, and long sideburns. He must have sensed her watching, for his square jaw changed shape, and a soft smile bracketed his mouth.


Handsome. She couldn’t have dreamed up a better vision of a hero, and dream it must be because things this good just didn’t happen to her. Safety and security spread over her like a warm blanket, and she melted against him, closing her eyes while his long fingers continued their tender exploration. It was the first time in her life she had allowed a man to touch her like that—a soft stroke, a gentle caress—and the first time she had ever really relaxed in a man’s presence.


“How do you feel, Summer?”


The soft, baritone voice rumbling in his chest seemed oddly familiar. Summer frowned and took a second peek at his hair, his mustache, and that incredible mouth. He gave her a full smile.


Awareness tugged at her memory and a large knot formed in the pit of her stomach. When recognition came, it struck like a thick piece of wood right between her eyes and ripped through every nerve in her body like venom from a rattlesnake bite.


She jerked, moving off the comfortable nest she had made of his chest. “Jesse Slade?”


A crafty smile claimed his face. “The one and only, darlin’.”


She widened her eyes. “Darlin’? I’m not now, nor will I ever be your darling, Jesse Slade.” She couldn’t believe her rotten luck. Her temper snapped, and she fought to move from his grasp. She batted his hands away. “Get your hands off me.”


“Be still Summer or–”


“Let me go,” she demanded.


“Tarnation, Summer.” His hands moved to her waist. “You’re as slippery as a wet weasel.”


“Quit touching me and put me down.”


Although he held onto her, she managed to slither from the horse.


“Of all the confounded-stupid-female stunts.” He pulled to a halt and dismounted.


The moment her feet touched the ground, dizziness overtook her, and she plopped down on her bottom. When Jesse reached for her, she slapped his hands.


She glanced up at him from her undignified position and clenched her teeth. “Of all people, it had to be you.” Holding onto a stirrup, she got a good grip before pulling herself to her feet. She gazed into the heavens. “Why Lord? Why me?”


“There’s no need to get your feathers ruffled.” He looked at the blood oozing from her shoulder wound. “Look what you’ve done. You’re bleedin’ again.”


She glanced at her injury. It was worse than she thought, but she’d die before admitting it to him. She was not riding into town perched on Jesse’s lap for the whole town to see.


“It’s just a scratch.” She lifted her skirts, grabbed an edge of her petticoat, and ripped off a piece. It was bad enough that he had to rescue her, but why in heaven’s name did he have to look so gol-darned handsome? This certainly wasn’t the skinny, ill-tempered Jesse Slade she remembered. Well, the ill-tempered part still fit.


He stood by the horse, arms folded across his chest as he tapped his foot. She brought up the strip of fabric between her free hand and chin and awkwardly fashioned it around her shoulder. Her head pounded worse than ever. She kept on, but the makeshift bandage tore apart. Out of the corner of her eye, a self-assured grin stretched across his mouth.


“Oohh.” She stomped her foot, causing another throbbing burst of pain in her head.


“Would you like some help?”


Jesse gave her a self-assured grin she’d like to slap right off his face. She knew the man enjoyed every second of her struggle, but she just couldn’t ask this arrogant no-good for help.


“Course, I’d have to touch you,” he needled.


She tossed him a murderous glare, but he ignored her. She tore off another strip of petticoat and began again but fared no better.


“Summer, if you’d just use your head for once, you’d admit you need help.”


She scowled and tried to think of another solution, but nothing came to mind. It galled her, but plain and simple, he was right. She couldn’t bandage her shoulder by herself. Letting out a sigh, she nodded.


Jesse took the flimsy strip of fabric and covered the wound while she stood stiff as a board. The enticing scent of cedar and leather emanated from his body and stirred flutters in her stomach. The gentle touch of his hands as he bandaged her shoulder sent warm tingles over her skin. Her chest constricted, making it difficult to breathe. When he stepped away, the feeling disappeared, and she wanted to sigh with relief but didn’t for fear he’d hear.


He smiled. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”


She inhaled deeply and gave him an indignant look. “Maybe not for you.”


“I was just tryin’ to help.”


“After making my life miserable all these years, why do you want to help me now?”


A mocking grin touched his lips. “Well, I couldn’t just let you bleed to death, could I?”


“Don’t tell me you’ve grown a conscience?” She brushed the dirt off her skirt.


His eyes twinkled. “Actually, I promised Rosie I’d find you. When the stagecoach was late, we knew somethin’ was wrong. After all, I had to rescue my future sister-in-law from harm.”


Summer sucked in her breath. Oh!  If not for her injured arm, she’d have socked the rotten polecat in the nose. “Well, you’ve found me, so go back and tell my sister I’m fine.”


His smile faded. “You’re not fine.”


“I’m fine enough. Aspen isn’t that far. I’ll walk the rest of the way. I’ll not let the whole town think I’ve been rescued by the great Jesse Slade.”


Another wicked smile tugged at his lips. “But I did rescue you, Summer.”


She propped her hands on her hips. “You most certainly did not. You uh… you just happened to arrive at the exact moment I lost consciousness.”


He sighed and tipped his hat back from his forehead. “Actually, the bullets from my gun dismounted three of the bandits.”


She scowled. “I had things under control. Besides, I’m very capable of walking to town on my own now.” She took several steps forward, and dizziness blurred her vision. She swayed and tilted toward the ground. Two strong arms grabbed her by the waist and pulled her upright.


“You bullheaded little twit. That does it.” He picked her up and carried her to the horse, then let her feet drop to the ground and held her by her uninjured shoulder. “You ain’t walkin’.”

She slapped his hand. “I’m not going into town with you.”


“You’re as ornery as an old mule.” He paused, his heated gaze boring into hers. She liked neither the look nor the silence. “You listen to me, Miss Persnickety. I don’t care what you like or don’t like, I’m takin’ you to town.”


“I—don’t—like.” She ground her teeth with each word.


“Too—darn—bad.” He mocked her. “You have two choices. You can get on that horse willin’ly, or I’ll hog-tie you and put you there myself.”


Her mouth dropped open, and her mind scrambled frantically for several seconds.


He produced a cocky grin. “Time’s up.”

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