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November 2008
Leisure Books
ISBN 978-0-8439-6112-6

Order from:
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Dorchester Publishing

She needs a killer…

Sky Brewster swore to her dying husband that she would not kill his murderer. But her heart cries out for justice, and she will not be satisfied until she sees the gunman dead at her feet. To get the job done, she’ll leave her Sioux people to make a devil’s bargain with a man whose talent as an assassin is surpassed only by his skills at seduction.

He needs a wife…

Max Stanhope is an infamous English bounty hunter who always delivers—dead or alive. But now he must take a wife to claim his birthright. When his newest client turns out to be as delectable as she is passionate, he figures he’ll mix business with pleasure.

The beautiful widow and the Limey make a deal: her hand in marriage for his special skills. But an old Cheyenne medicine man has seen the Great Spirit’s grand design, and True Dreamer knows Sky Eyes of the Sioux is destined to love the…





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After their short trip across the dusty street, Sky Eyes Brewster and her charge entered the lobby of the Angel’s Rest.  The scruffy old hotel’s small lobby was devoid of any furnishings except for a scarred desk, unmanned.  Behind it on the wall keys hung from pegs.  “Grab number seven,” she instructed Max.

In spite of his obscene protests, he stretched one long arm across the desk and retrieved his key, squinting through blood-shot eyes.  “Now what?” he asked in an Arctic voice.

“We go to your room and have our private talk, what else?  Do you think I find you so irresistible I’ll molest you at rifle point?”  He shook his head.  She wasn’t certain if it was to disagree with her, or simply to clear out the cobwebs. 

“At the moment, I am so limp…from fatigue, you could not ‘molest’ me at cannon point, dear lady.”

“Your virtue is safe with me, Mr. Stanhope,” she said tersely, motioning with her rifle toward the stairs.

Max climbed the creaking wooden steps and fumbled with the key until he got the door open.  Once inside, he made a flourishing bow, gesturing with his hand, as if to welcome her.  “My humble hovel, ma’am.”  Sky stepped inside, backing him over to a straight-backed chair in the corner. 

“Sit down,” she commanded, much relieved that he complied.  In truth, he looked ready to drop to the floor with exhaustion if not allowed to sit.  She quickly surveyed the shabby quarters—besides the chair, a bed with a lumpy mattress, a wash stand, chipped pitcher and a bowl were the only furnishings.  In one corner a Winchester ’76 with a checkered pistol grip and special target sights leaned over carelessly tossed saddlebags, his only personal possessions on the premises.  If he made a fraction of the reward money reported in the newspapers, he certainly wasn’t spending it in Bismarck.

“Why do you stay in a dump like this?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“Central location, close to Rosie’s…oh, yes, and my friend Mort Hersh runs the place.  He’ll be along shortly, I rather imagine, so you’d better make this ‘conversation’ quick,” he said dryly.

“All right.”  She whipped off her hat and tossed it on the bed, then moved over to the door, holding her rifle on him as she slipped the lock.  “At least I’ll have some warning before anyone intrudes.”

“I could use some water,” he said with a cough. 

“After all that whiskey, I imagine you could.  And probably a chamber pot as well,” she said tartly.  Filling the basin with brackish water, she turned suddenly and threw the contents into his very surprised face.

Max gasped and choked.  Sky calmly looked on as he shook his head like a dog emerging from a river.  “Now, you should be alert enough to comprehend what I have to say.”

Max was indeed alert.  He was also coldly furious.  “Look, miss….”

“Misses…Mrs. Sky Brewster.  I’m a widow.”

“Well, Mrs. Brewster, I’m sorry for you loss—”

“I didn’t come for condolences, Mr. Stanhope.  I’m here to hire your skills with a gun.  I want you to track down and kill the man who murdered my husband.”

Max sighed.  Damn, the woman had a head as thick as a brick.  Best to hear her out, then get rid of her so he could collapse on the bed—that was if Hersh didn’t arrive first.  Rosie probably had Ben out looking for him now.  One way or the other, he needed to lie down and sleep, preferably for about a week. 

“Why should I be interested in taking this ‘employment’?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.  “So far the only inducements you’ve offered have been indignities.”  He detected a faint flush in the widow’s cheeks.

“The Limey” examined her carefully now that his head was starting to clear and she was fully visible in the light pouring like butterscotch from the room’s lone window.  Mrs. Brewster was one of the most stunningly beautiful women he had ever met.  She was tall, with a mass of very long, glossy black hair done in a braid as thick as a man’s wrist.  Judging by the faintest dusky hue of her complexion, he would assume she had some native blood, but damn little. 

Her features were cameo delicate, with a mouth that had slightly puffed lips as if swollen by kisses, a small straight nose, pointed chin and arched black eyebrows that framed the bluest eyes he’d ever seen.  He’d been right about her body, too.  It was slender with high, pert breasts that pushed against her loose shirt, and legs—lord, what legs—long and shapely in fitted buckskin breeches.  She wore moccasins instead of boots.  She also wore a gun belt strapped around those shapely hips and in the holster rested a Merwin & Hulbert, ivory-gripped revolver, likely a .38 caliber piece.  This was a formidable female.

Sky watched his cool green eyes sweep over her, head to toe.  Those eyes had seen a lot of death.  “Do I pass  muster?” she asked dryly.

He nodded.  “I’ve always suspected beautiful women know they do.”

“The same could be said of beautiful men,” she snapped, then bit her tongue as his eyebrows raised slightly at the backhanded compliment she had not intended to blurt out. 

Stanhope chuckled.  “A beautiful bounty hunter?  A most novel oxymoron.  It even alliterates.”

Sky bristled.  “Let’s focus on a not-so-novel idea—you killing a murderer.”

“Look, Mrs. Brewster, if a man killed your husband, get the courts to try him.  See him hanged.  You shouldn’t require my services.”

“Unfortunately for both of us, I do.  You can see I have mixed blood.  I’m Ehanktonwon—Yankton Sioux.  My husband was a missionary, an Episcopal priest, who championed the rights of Indians.  He was a thorn in the side of every sleazy Indian agent and local bureaucrat in the region.  Are you so naïve as to expect justice for “a psalm-singin’ preacher who didn’t understand ‘all Injuns is semi-human, murderin’ trash’?” she asked, emphasizing the last words with a nasal twang.

Max could hear the roughening in her voice and recognized that she was suppressing tears.  She was right.  Any white who took their side, much less married a mixed blood, was fair game.  “I’ve lived out West long enough to know how people here feel about the native population, but I don’t go after men unless the law’s on my side.  I take it that the authorities don’t agree that your husband was murdered.”

“No,” she said coldly, “they don’t, and it isn’t because I didn’t try to use the courts for the past year.  It all began when Will and I were on the northern border of Yankton lands.  We came across a man flogging a young girl from our parish with a riding quirt.  My husband never carried a gun in his life, but he was a big man.  He jumped off his horse and grabbed the quirt away from the little bastard.” 

She paused to compose herself, then continued.  “The coward tried to pull his six-gun but my husband grabbed it and tossed in away.  Then he took the man by scruff of his collar and used his own whip on him until he’d cut through the fellow’s pants and blistered his ass.”  Sky swallowed, then said in a low, flat voice.  “Will made two mistakes.  He turned his back on the snake and he never let me carry my weapons.  I could have stopped what happened next...” 

Max finished for her.  “And this child-beater had a hideout gun?  He shot your husband from behind?”

She nodded.  “Then the girl he’d hurt started screaming.  We…we both went for him barehanded, but he’d emptied his gun into Will.  He jumped on his horse and rode away.  The sheriff and the courts concluded it was self-defense,” she said bitterly.  “Even though everyone knew Will never owned a gun and he was shot in the back.  The only ones to protest the verdict had the wrong color skin.”

He looked at the Merwin & Hulbert .38 in her holster, then to the Winchester Yellow Boy.  “Why don’t you kill him yourself?  You look capable enough.”

Sky bit her lip.  “Before he died…Will made me swear I wouldn’t kill his murderer.  He was a priest…and a far better Christian than I’ll ever be.”

“I assume he didn’t specify that you could not hire it done?”

“I suppose, in a way, I’m still breaking my oath, but when I learned more about what kind of animal his murderer was, I couldn’t let it rest.  I want that killer dead.”

Max sighed.  “Hell, I’d like to help you, but there was a letter waiting for me when I returned this morning.”   He glanced over to the drawer beneath the wash stand.  “I have some very pressing business that must be resolved back in England.  I truly am sorry, Mrs. Brewster.  I hunt men, but I don’t set out to kill them.”

“I don’t believe you’d have any qualms about killing this one—if  you’re the man called ‘The Limey’.”

She seemed so sure of herself.  “You know I am.  But what would make me agree to your offer?  Surely not your delightful interviewing skills,” he could not resist adding. 

Those huge blue eyes flashed triumphantly.  “A few weeks ago, you were in a card game with a man, cleaned him out.  He was a bad loser and tried to draw on you.  You had him beat by a mile, but like a damned fool, you didn’t squeeze the trigger.  The man left the bar, got on his horse, rode sixty or seventy paces down the street, unbooted his rifle, and shot your horse tied at the hitching rack.  Shot him in the belly.”

Max paled under his sun-tanned skin.  “Johnny Deuce shot Rembrandt…my Remy, the bravest, most intelligent, most beautiful paint pony I ever saw.  If he’s the son-of-a-bitch who killed your husband, you’ll get what you want.  Sooner or later our paths will cross  again.  I assure you that he’ll be as dead as you could wish him.”

Sky shook her head, “That’s not good enough.  I want him dead at my feet, and I want him dead now!  I’ve already waited for over a year fighting for justice in courts that don’t know the meaning of the word.  I can pay you seven hundred dollars to do what both of us want.  Kill Johnny Deuce.”

Max stared at Sky intently while thinking about the news he’d received that morning.  A crazy idea flashed into his brain.  Wildly improbable, but it just might work.  She could be the solution to his dilemma…if he handled it deftly.  The shock of learning about his uncle Harry’s death had not yet worn off.  Hell, it probably never would.  That was why he’d sought the oblivion of liquor.  Harold Stanhope, Baron Ruxton, was the only family he’d ever cared about…and now he was gone.   

He absently gazed at the drawer in which he had placed the letter from his uncle’s London solicitor.  He had to return…and soon.  “What if I make you a counter proposal?”  His mouth curved ever so slightly at the double entendre only he understood.

One of Sky’s finely arched black eyebrows rose.  Heaven above, when the man smiled that way, she didn’t have any idea what to expect.  “What kind of proposal?” she asked suspiciously.

“Why, of marriage, of course,” he said with a perfectly straight face.

Sky almost dropped her rifle.  She did lean it, barrel down in front of her, using the stock to support her suddenly unsteady legs.  “How much did you have to drink?” was all she could manage to say.

“I am quite perfectly sober, thanks to you—and deadly serious, I assure you.”

“Why would an Englishman want to marry a mixed blood woman, much less one he’s just met—and not under the most ideal circumstances, as you’ve repeatedly reminded me?”

He made a dismissive gesture with one elegant hand.  “Back in England, your Sioux blood, what little there is of it, wouldn’t signify.  I have just come into an inheritance, but to claim all of it, I must present to my solicitor in London a suitable wife.  The intent, I believe, is for me to wed and fertilize a delicate ‘English Rose’.”  He spit out the phrase as if it were a slice of lemon.  “But there may be another option…with no fertilization required.  You’re educated, Church of England, and to make it believable, attractive.  You fit the requirements admirably,” he added, amused at her stunned expression.  She looked as if she had just seen George Armstrong Custer leap out of his grave, yanking arrows from his body.

Sky finally gathered her wits.  “You’re rather crudely proposing what I believe the English call a marriage of convenience.  Is that right?”  At his nod, she attempted to gather her wits, unable to believe such a bizarre bargain.  “I assist you in claiming your inheritance and you kill Deuce for me in return?”

“Precisely so.  We can have the marriage annulled once we return to America.   Then I’ll track down Deuce and—”

“No!  First you kill him, then I marry you and sail to jolly old England,” she countered stubbornly.

Max rubbed his burning eyes, cradling his head in his hands.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  She wasn’t going to be easy.  “It can’t work that way.  It might take weeks, even months, to track him.  I haven’t the luxury of time.  I have inherited my uncle’s title.  If I don’t return immediately, I’ll not only lose his unentailed fortune, but my gutless little bastard of a cousin will receive it in my stead.  Cletus allowed my elder brother to die when we were children.  If not for that…I doubt I’d go back.”

“You don’t want the money?  The title?” she asked amazed.

“I don’t give a damn for any of it.  I am not unlike what some would unflatteringly call a remittance man.  My uncle has sent me money, which has been piling up in a New York bank for the past five years.  Couldn’t talk the old boy out of it, so…”  He shrugged, then looked away, staring with those cold green eyes into a time and place far away. 

“So, you let this money sit untouched and made your own way with a gun,” she supplied.  The man was an enigma.  What would make him do such a thing?  Sky intuited that  it would not be wise to ask.  Then he stood up and advanced a step toward her.  Now he was grinning at her like a lobo wolf...a very dangerous male animal.  She did not back away but stood her ground.


Will Sky agree to Max’s outrageous proposition?  If she does, will he have cause to regret his rash proposal?  What dark secret has driven him to become “The Limey?”  Read PALE MOON STALKER to find out.  Coming in November from Leisure Books.


-Chapter I

Bismarck, South Dakota, May, 1884

“You’re going to kill a man for me.”

A strident female voice dragged him back to consciousness.  For a blurry moment Max forgot where in the hell he was.  Rosie’s joint?  He looked up, eyelids feeling as if they’d been shaved with a dull razor, and recognized the battered chairs and tables strewn like discarded dice across the beer-soaked wood floor.  Yes, Rosie’s.  He was collapsed on his own table in the farthest corner of the room where nobody could get at his back.  Her bartender Ben had a shotgun that would keep off the jackals. 

Then who was the harpy standing next to him?  Exhaustion combined with whiskey made considering the question too difficult.  With a guttural grunt he dropped his head over his arms and returned to oblivion.

“I said you’re going to kill a man for me.  Wake up, you drunken sot!” 

Max looked up and tried to focus on the source of the voice.  Damn, he was bone weary.  Twenty hours of hard riding could do that to a man—and that was after two weeks on the hunt with almost no sleep whatever.  Once more he lowered his head.

“I said wake up, and this is the last time I’ll tell you.”  There was a tight desperation in her tone now. 

He should have paid attention to that.  Ordinarily he would have, if not for sleep-deprivation and whiskey.  His head barely touched his arms before he felt her hand seize a fistful of his hair and yank backward until he thought she’d broken his neck.  Why hadn’t Ben blown her to hell with his twelve gauge?  Because she was female, Max guessed.  Damn the soft-hearted bastard!  He struggled to open his swollen eyelids when she suddenly released her grip on his hair. 

“Put your head down one more time and I’ll kick the bottom of this table till your brains rattle like beans in a gourd.”

To make her point, she gave one table leg a stout kick, nearly overturning it.  He rubbed his burning eyes and looked at her for the first time.  Yep, a female all right, even though she was dressed like a man in buckskin pants and a shirt that laced up the front. The generous curve of breasts strained against the lacing.  No doubt she was a she.  His eyes swept down her body, which was a very good one indeed. 

A narrow waist gave way to the gentle swell of hips followed by long legs.  She stood with her back to the door, silhouetted in the morning sun so that he could not make out her facial features beneath the low-crowned, flat-brimmed plainsman’s hat she wore  Some sort of old Winchester was clutched in her right hand, barrel to the floor.

“Well, Sleeping Beauty, looks as if you’re finally waking from your drunken stupor.”

He struggled to unglue his furry tongue from the roof of his mouth, then said, “Look, lady, I’m not a hired gun.  I don’t kill men for money.”

“If you’re the one called ‘The Limey’, reports say differently.”

“I genuinely dislike that epithet.  My name is Maxwell Stanhope.  If you must address me, call me Maxwell, Stanhope, even Max.  And I repeat, I am not a gun for hire.”

 “Well, Mr. Stanhope, I take issue with that.  You hunt men for bounty, specializing in murderers.  I’ve heard you’ve brought back over twenty men…and eight came back face down across a saddle.  I call that killing men for money.”

She possessed a clear, deep voice for a woman—but it was beginning to grate on his overtaxed nerves.  “Lady, I don’t give a damn what you call it.  I’m not for hire.”

“I think you’ll want this job,” she said, grabbing his ear in her left hand and twisting it forward and down.  At the same time she pulled him out of his chair so quickly that the table almost tipped over.  The half empty bottle of Rosie’s best, which wasn’t all that good, and a shot glass crashed to the floor. 

“Ouch!”  He cut loose with a string of oaths.  “That’s not a damn handle!”  He was rapidly coming awake now.  Her grip was strong as steel and he could see the hard gleam in her brilliant blue eyes.  “Are you crazy?”  Max reached down for the Smith & Wesson in his holster.

It was not there.  Then he saw it laying on the floor in a puddle of whiskey beside the table.  The damned female must’ve tossed it away just as she grabbed his ear.  Mortifying!  That never would have happened if he were not insensate with exhaustion.  He swatted at her hand and the pain in his ear intensified for an instant.  Then she released him and raised the Winchester to his gut.

“You’re going to listen to what I have to say…and we’re going to talk in private.  Do I make myself clear?” It was a rhetorical question.

Sky Eyes backed him stumbling across the floor of the empty saloon, heading for the door.  From the corner of her eye she caught the motion when the barman started to raise a double-barreled shotgun.  “I wouldn’t,” she said coolly to the dapper little man.  She prodded Maxwell Stanhope’s midsection with the barrel of her modified Winchester ’66 “Yellow Boy”. 

“The Limey” teetered, nearly falling backwards, then groaned, clutching his gut.   “Lady, unless you want me to christen those fancy buckskins with the contents of my stomach, I wouldn’t do that again.”  His voice was raspy and he coughed as he righted his balance.

With one eye on the barkeep, Sky said to Max in a low emotionless voice, “Be quiet.”  To the man with the shotgun she said, “I mean to talk with your friend.”  When his thumb reluctantly slid back toward one of its hammers, Sky cocked the hammer of the Yellow Boy.  The metallic click seemed loud in the large room.  The bartender froze in nervous confusion.  Sky waited unblinking.  Probably hates the thought of shooting a woman...even one like me.

Their standoff was interrupted by the creak of floorboards at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor bordello.  She watched the barman’s eyes lift.  Keeping her rifle trained on Stanhope, she glanced quickly up, then back to her groggy target. 

The small, round woman dressed in a pink wrapper looked old enough to make her coal-black hair improbable “You mean to hurt ‘em?” she asked.  Her voice seemed incongruously young coming from a decidedly middle-aged female.

Sky hesitated for a moment, then asked in a flat voice without challenge, “Why do you care?”

“Max is my friend, honey.”

“No, I won’t hurt him,” Sky said.  “I need him fully functional—to discuss private business.  He seems inclined to be stubborn.”

Rosie chuckled.  “Well, honey, Max is stubborn, or he’d spend most his time conductin’ ‘private bidness’ with half the females west of the Mississip.  Still, ‘pears your bidness ain’t that kind.”  She paused for a moment, as if considering, then said, “He stays in room seven in that flea bag ‘cross the street.”  She shook her head at Ben, who very slowly slid his shotgun back under the bar and carefully brought up his empty hands to rest them on its scarred surface. 

Sky uncocked the Winchester.  She pushed her quarry out the door while he continued growling obscenities. After he turned around, they crossed the street with her prodding him painfully in the kidney with the rifle. 

After they had banged through her front doors, Rosie waddled down the stairs, bursting into laughter.  “Lordy, Max Stanhope, the darling of news rags from Chicago to San Francisco, ‘The Limey,’ ‘Scourge of the Bad Men,’ ‘The Hangman’s Hound,’ dragged out of a whorehouse with a rifle in his gut—by a young gal, no less!” she chortled.  “Damned, if I wouldn’t like to be a fly on the wall fer that conversation.”

Outside, Sky considered the Englishman who spoke with a perfectly clipped  accent indicating that he came from the aristocracy.  Small wonder he’d been dubbed a “Limey” by ordinary citizens out west.  The irony of an upper class Brit being given a pejorative name did not escape her.  Neither did his physically imposing appearance.

He  topped her own five-eight by four or five inches.  She had no idea her bounty hunter would turn out to be a perfect male specimen, tall, lithe and sinuous with curly silver blond hair a London belle would kill to have.  Lord, it was pale as moonlight!  Small wonder so many women wanted to conduct “private bidness” with him.  Even filthy with sweat and trail dust, his sun-bronzed face was as patrician as one of those old oil paintings she’d seen in museums back East.  The nose was long and slender, the mouth wide, jaw line chiseled. 

But it was Stanhope’s eyes that would hold anyone’s attention.   Even after one brief confrontation with him in the bar, she would never forget those eyes.  Framed by arched silvery eyebrows, they were dark green, slitted and ice cold.  This was a dangerous man.  She’d been blessed lucky to get him this far.  She imagined his trail fatigue had more to do with it than her skill.  He was killingly angry at her, but somehow she would convince him to go for her proposition.  She absolutely had to…

Meanwhile Max has a proposition of his own to put to Sky…once he has time to think it over.  Stay tuned to read about the bargain they strike in September!

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