Cover by Cynthia Lucas
Kelsey St. James is a city girl through and through, unable to understand her grandfather's fascination with the old West. She likes Starbucks and Donna Karan and would've made a lousy pioneer. It's too bad, then, that she manages to step through a portal in time that takes her back to the old West - and straight into the arms of a tall, dark stranger.
T.K. Reese is a half-breed gambler with a price on his head. The last thing he was looking for was a woman, let alone one wearing tight, bright pink breeches. But before he knows it, he's looking after Kelsey, teaching her to play poker and rescuing her from thugs.
Somewhere along the way, they find themselves falling in love. But Kelsey doesn't belong in Reese's world any more than he belongs in hers. They're forced to face the possibility that their love is nothing more than a shadow through time.
Kelsey St. James had always hated vacations. She hated the last minute rush at work to get everything in order so she could take four weeks off, she hated trying to decide where to go, she hated packing, she hated coming home and unpacking and getting ready for work again.
But she didn’t hate anything as much as she hated scraping old wallpaper off walls, which was how she was spending her vacation. After several years of indecision, her grandmother, Nana Mary, had decided to redecorate the old place with the idea of perhaps renting it out in the summer since no one in the family had used it much in last few years. So, here she was, on a beautiful day in mid-April, doing what she hated the most.
With a sigh, Kelsey brushed a lock of hair from her forehead and regarded the wall in front of her. The first layer of paper, put up in the last couple of years, had come off with ease. The layer underneath, which was a faded red-and-gold stripe that must have been a knock-out in its day, had been hung sometime in the late 1800’s and seemed determined to stay on the wall for another century or two.
Shaking her head, Kelsey reached for the spray bottle wondering, for perhaps the twentieth time that day, why she had ever agreed to do this. She could have hired someone to do it for her, but somehow that just didn’t seem right, not when Nana Mary had asked Kelsey to do it. The sly old dear. Nana Mary knew full well that Kelsey would do anything she asked. Nana usually had an ulterior motive whenever she asked Kelsey for a favor, knowing that Kelsey would never refuse, but if her grandmother had some hidden agenda this time, Kelsey was at a loss to figure out what it might be.
“After all,” Nana Mary had said cheerfully, “your father’s right. If we don’t fix it up, it’s going to fall down before I can rent it out.”
Kelsey had to agree with that. The old house was just a summer place located on an acre and a half of land just outside of Rapid City. She had to admit it was in pretty bad shape. Kelsey had spent her vacations here with her great-grandparents when she was a little girl. She remembered sitting in front of the fireplace, roasting marshmallows, while her grandfather told her stories about the Old West, exciting tales of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane, Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Frank and Jesse James, the Dalton gang, George Armstrong Custer and his ill-fated battle against the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn.
Of course, Papa Joe had idolized all the old cowboy stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue and Red Ryder, Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid. His especial favorites had been The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and The Rifleman . Papa Joe’s favorite western movies had been the ones directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Ward Bond.
Papa Joe had been quite a history buff, too. He liked nothing better than to talk about the Old West. He often declared he had been born in the wrong time, that he should have been born back in the early 1800’s, when men were men. He had loved telling stories about the old days. He described places like the Custer battlefield and Deadwood Gulch so vividly, it was almost as if he had actually lived there when the Indians roamed the land and Wild Bill Hickock played cards at Saloon No. 10. Wild Bill had been one of Papa Joe’s favorite characters. Papa Joe had told Kelsey so much about Wild Bill she sometimes felt as if she had known Hickock personally. During his life, Hickock had been a Deputy Marshal at Fort Riley and a scout for Custer. He’d been a sheriff in Ellis County, Kansas, a marshal in Abilene and he’d spent a year with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. But the thing most people remembered about Wild Bill was that he had been shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall while he was playing poker. Hickock had been holding an ace of spades, an ace of clubs, the eight of spades and the eight of clubsand the jack of diamonds, a hand that was known forever after as a dead man’s hand.
Over the years, Papa Joe had collected stacks of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about lawmen and gunfighters and men like Wyatt Earp who had worked on both sides of the law. Papa Joe’s intense fascination with Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was the reason he had bought the old house in the first place. Somewhere along the way, Papa Joe had gotten hold of the notion that Wyatt had once lived in the house. Whether that was fact or fiction didn’t matter. Papa Joe had bought the house for a song back in 1949, now the land alone was worth a small fortune. At the moment, she was sorry she hadn’t suggested they level the house and sell the land!
Kelsey muttered a mild oath as she scraped her knuckles against the wall. She hated tedious work like this. She ripped off another strip of stubborn red and gold paper and tossed it into the large cardboard box sitting in the middle of the floor. The box was almost full. Next time she took a break, she would have to empty it or bring in another one.
She squirted more water on the wall, wondering, as she did so, what was going on at Russell, Russell and Raglan. She loved her job to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, which was a good thing, because it was her job that had kept her going when she filed for divorce five years ago. She shook her head. Had it been that long already?
For a moment, she let herself remember the past. She had married Nick right out of high school. Some girls were young and foolish, she had been young and stupid. Nick had encouraged her to go to work and once she was working steadily, he had conveniently lost his job. To her dismay, he seemed perfectly content to stay at home and watch TV. She couldn’t remember when he started drinking. She had tried to get him to go to AA. She had pleaded with him to stop drinking, she had nagged him, and then she had ignored him and immersed herself in her work. She had started working at Russell, Russell and Raglan’s as a lowly clerk typist. Five years later, she had a management position with a secretary of her own. Two years after that, she had been promoted to Vice President in Charge of Sales.
With a shake of her head, she banished her memories into the past where they belonged.
She pulled another strip of paper off the wall. It was a little depressing, tearing down a part of something that her grandfather had loved so much. She had never truly shared her grandfather’s fascination with the Old West. It had been a rough, untamed time in the history of the United States. Had she lived back in those days, she would have stayed in the east, safe from Indian attacks and flash floods and the myriad other catastrophes that had assailed the pioneers who had been adventurous enough to go traipsing off across the plains. She couldn’t imagine anything that would have dragged her from the security and comfort of life in the East for the wild, untamed frontier.
Not for her the rigors of moving westward, traveling by covered wagon, fighting the elements and the dust and the wild terrain, sleeping outside in all kinds of weather, praying that no one would get sick or break a leg or need a dentist, hoping that your food and water would last from one stop to the next. Not to mention the ever-present threat of attack from Indians and outlaws and other unscrupulous characters who had populated the Old West.
No doubt about it, she would have made a lousy pioneer. But she would have given anything to hear one of her grandfather’s stories again. Her grandfather’s disappearance was a mystery. Nana Mary declared she had no idea where he’d gone. One day he had been there, she had said with a shrug that seemed completely out of character considering the gravity of the situation and the next he had been gone. That had been over a year ago and no further explanation had been forthcoming. It was most peculiar. At his age, it was unlikely that he had run off with another woman, though anything was possible. Kelsey secretly feared he had been the victim of foul play, though she never voiced her opinion aloud because Nana Mary was convinced that Papa Joe would return.
Kelsey blew out a sigh as she yanked the last strip from one wall. She had moved all the furniture out of this room except for a tall, narrow bookcase. Taking hold of the bookcase, she rocked it back and forth until it was in the center of the room.
Turning back toward the wall, Kelsey frowned at the door that had been hidden behind the bookcase. Why would anyone put a piece of furniture in front of a door? And where did that door lead to? A room that held only sad memories, perhaps?
She thought of all the times she had stayed in this house, both as a child and as an adult. Nana Mary had ever mentioned a hidden room. What was through that door? A sudden shiver ran down Kelsey’s spine as her imagination sprang to life. If she opened the door, what would she find? A long forgotten fortune? A room full of cast-off clothing and old furniture? A dead body? She shook off her morbid thoughts. Maybe it just led into a closet, though she couldn’t imagine anyone blocking a closet. No one ever had enough closet space. Maybe it just led out into the side yard.
Curious now, Kelsey wiped her hands on her jeans and turned the old glass knob. She had expected some resistance from a door that hadn’t been opened in who knew how long, but it opened without a hitch. None of the things she had imagined lay on the other side. Instead, she looked out on a narrow dirt road that separated two tall wooden buildings. But that was impossible. There were no other buildings this close to the house.
In the distance, she heard the mournful howling of a dog and what sounded like a car backfiring.
Feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, Kelsey stepped through the doorway.