Excerpt from Devil in Texas

      
Galveston, TX
August 1883
 
     Life was about to get good.
     That's what William "Cass" Cassidy thought as he craned back his blond head to gawk at the mostly naked mermaid, who protruded in all the right places from the brothel's sign. When he spied the seagull roosting so happily between the nymph's pumpkin-sized breasts, Cass's grin turned lopsided.
     "You see that, Collie?" Cass reined in beside his 17-year-old sidekick and jerked his thumb in the direction of the redheaded mermaid. "I'm gonna get me one of those."
     Collie shoved back his hat, spilling sun-bleached hair to his shoulders as he frowned up at the mermaid's trident. "Looks like another way to get ventilated, if you ask me."
     Cass chuckled. Dismounting, he let his buckskin forge a place at the crowded hitching post. "I told you. The Line is the safest place in Sin City for a fella on the run."
     "You yak about a lot of things," Collie grumbled, swinging from the saddle. "But what I really want to know is: why does a state senator want to meet you in a place like this?"
     "'Cause Austin's crawling with Rangers."
     "Well, that should have been your first clue."
     "About what, Mary Sunshine?"
     "That your old ranch boss is as crooked as a corkscrew."
     "Says the kid who steals pies off windowsills."
     "Hey! A fella's gotta eat!" Collie protested, his lean, wolfish cheeks turning as red as his bandanna. "'Sides. I thought you wanted to be a Ranger, not piss one off."
     "Depends on the Ranger."
     The truth was, Cass was hoping to strike a deal with his old ranch boss. Now that James "Cattle Baron" Westerfield chaired the Senate's Law Enforcement Committee, he had the political clout to fix Cass's troubles with the law. Baron had read the letters of commendation written on Cass's behalf by Kentucky lawmen, and he'd promised to help Cass get a fair trial. Best of all, Baron had the power to appoint Rangers. That meant Cass could finally earn the badge he'd been denied by his old enemy, Rexford Sterne, who served as the Rangers' commander.
     Damn. Cass scowled. Why did thoughts of Sterne still have the power to conjure the specter of Sadie? Cass had thought he'd finally put his treacherous lover and her betrayal behind him.
     Determined to do just that, he pointed at the cartoon of the redheaded mermaid on a billboard beside the door. "This sign says the show's about to start. I'm going inside. I want to hear this Cassandra McGuire sing."
     "It's your funeral," Collie said.
     "And you're going in with me."
     "No, thanks. I hear brain rot's contagious—Hey!"
     Ignoring the kid's protests, Cass dragged Collie through the fancy, nautical doors of the Satin Siren Casino and Saloon. His gunslinger's eyes only blinked once to adjust to the foyer's ambient lighting.
     Then he noticed the stage. The aqua curtain was rustling. It parted to reveal pile of upswept, flame-colored curls. A face that rivaled Aphrodite's hovered in that makeshift window for a moment, a bare fraction of time, but every nerve in Cass's body fired with recognition as a pair of tawny tiger eyes locked with his.
     He sucked in his breath.
     The face vanished.
     Cass muttered an oath. The devil's own daughter smoldered behind that curtain, and the firebrand's name wasn't Cassandra McGuire.
* * *
     Sadie Michelson cursed under her breath as she dared to peer a second time through the stage curtains. Unfortunately, her eyes hadn't deceived her. The heartthrob with the sun-bronzed skin, sapphire eyes, and sinfully tight, leather chaps was none other than her cocky ex-lover.
     There are 26 brothels on The Line, Cass. Why did you have to pick mine?
     Sadie fumed. In less than two minutes, she was supposed to sashay onto the stage, tease the all-male crowd into a lusty lather, and make her first contact with a corrupt state senator.
     But how was she supposed to get James "Baron" Westerfield to confide all his loathsome secrets, while Cass was seated at the senator's table?
     Panic threatened to drag her into its undertow. She couldn't let Cass compromise her mission. She wouldn't!
     For four long years, Sadie had labored to forget her outlaw lover and his soul-searing kisses. Clawing her way out of the ashes like a stubborn phoenix, she'd convinced Alan Pinkerton to give her a chance. She'd fought her way into the Master Spy's secret circle of men, determined to overcome her stigma as a cowtown whore. She'd accomplished her directives in record time and more impressively, without bloodshed.
     Now she faced the highest-profile assignment in her Pinkerton career. If she could pin a murder charge on Baron, after all her illustrious male colleagues had failed, she would finally silence her critics.
     Damn you, Cass, you're not going to blow my cover!
 
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