A Knight In Cowboy Boots by Suzie Quint
contemporary cowboy suspense romance novel (approx 98,000 words)
Cover Art by Valerie Tibbs
When Zach McKnight, an irresistible oil rig worker with a thick-as-honey Texan drawl, first pokes into the secrets surrounding the mysterious Maddie Wells, he has no idea that the chance encounter will change his life forever. Maddie Wells is on the run with Jesse, the infant son of her murdered sister. The boy’s father isn't far behind. He wants his son and is willing to kill to get him. Zach is intrigued from the first moment he sees the dark haired beauty in a hotel, but getting his hard working hands on her delectable body is more easily dreamt than achieved. He gets shot for his trouble, by Maddie no less, and sucked into the web of lies and fear that are her constant companions.
She liked the atmosphere of this hotel and the clientele was good—a mixture of tourists and out of town businessmen. She should at least talk to the bartender before leaving.
“One more,” she said, reclaiming her barstool. "With a water back." The place had thinned out enough to talk with little interruption. If she liked what she heard, she’d ask for the manager’s name. Her lips parted to speak as the bartender set her refill in front of her, but the voice over her shoulder stopped her, setting her heart fluttering.
“Let me get that there drink for the lady, Pete.” Mr. East Texas Drawl stepped up to the bar. “That is, if the lady don’t mind?”
She turned her head cautiously, afraid moving too fast would blur her vision.
Mr. East Texas was watching her, waiting for a cue his offer was welcome.
Maddie cleared her throat. “Thank you.”
Oh, crap. She sounded all Marilyn Monroe breathy.
He handed the bartender a ten. Maddie expected him to pull up the next barstool. Instead, he shoved it over with his foot and leaned one elbow against the bar. “So what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Maddie laughed. It should have sounded old, trite, and corny, but nothing said in that drawl could sound anything but enchanting to her. If she narrowed her eyes, maybe she could pretend he was Vince. Her laughter lit something deep in Mr. East Texas’s dark eyes. Maddie suddenly felt warm. Sitting-in-front-of-a-raging-fire-on-a-cold-winter-night warm. The flutter in her heart moved into the pit of her stomach.
“Don’t tell the bartender, but I’m casing the place to see if I want his job.” Maddie said, keeping her voice conversational. The bartender's eyebrows rose, but he didn’t comment. He’d no doubt seen this dance often enough.
“Ah, well. Looking for employment. That’s respectable then.” Mr. East Texas nodded sagely. “Though I gotta admit, I was hoping you was here for less reputable reasons.”
“You mean like looking for a man to take me away from all this?” Maddie's open-handed gesture included the entire bar.
“Even the best watering holes have a long tradition of that sorta thing. Why, my daddy met my mamma in a place a lot like this.”
Maddie fought to keep a grin from breaking out across her face. How long had it been since she’d engaged in light-hearted banter, never mind flirting? It seemed like eons. “Really?”
“Well, maybe there wasn’t as much brass and mirrors. Or the selection of beverages this fine establishment has. And there ain’t no straw on the floor nor fiddle player in the corner . . .” He looked away as though seeking a fiddle player. “And they had dancin’.” His nostrils narrowed with an indrawn breath. His eyes came back to hers. “Damn. A man oughta take a woman dancin’.”
The flutter in Maddie’s stomach moved lower.
“What kind of dancing do you do to fiddle music?”
“The spirited kind.” He let a beat pass before he continued. “But I think you’re the kinda woman a man takes slow dancin’. Someplace where there ain’t much light, so’s nobody’d see when I kissed you.”
He held her eyes, waiting for her response.
Someone down the bar hollered for Pete’s attention and he moved away. Their audience gone, Maddie swiveled on her barstool to face him straight on.
“What if I didn’t want to be kissed?” she asked, knowing her body language sent a completely different message.
“Why, ma’am . . .” He leaned slowly closer as he spoke. “I don’t think I’d ask first.” His lips brushed hers lightly. Just a gentle touch, as though she’d been kissed almost in passing. He pulled back, but only a couple of inches. Neither of them had closed their eyes. Maddie swallowed, trying to work up some moisture in her suddenly dry mouth.
“My daddy says sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”
“Does he?” Maddie forced out.
“Oh, yeah.” His tone was heartfelt. “And I think I may need a passel of forgivin’,” he said just before he kissed her again. The kiss was just as gentle, but he lingered this time, and they both closed their eyes. He pushed away from the bar, cupping her face between his hands. Her neck bent back as he rose to his full height. She vaguely realized he was standing between her knees, her not-too-short skirt bunched up high on her thighs.
She was trembling when he stopped. Just for a moment, she thought he was, too, but she was probably wrong. They were both a little breathless though; of that, she was sure.
He breathed a question in her ear. “Are you staying at the hotel?”
Maddie didn’t care that he’d forgotten what she’d said about job hunting. She shook her head. “You?”
“Yeah. And I got a radio in my room.” He paused. “I could take you dancin’.”
All Maddie had wanted at first had been to hear him talk. That had quickly progressed to wanting to be kissed. Surely she wasn’t really considering going to his room? Damn Peggy’s ten o’clock class. Why didn’t she have a seven thirty class like a respectable college student? Then Maddie’s decision would be an easy no.
Well, maybe not easy, she amended, but at least definite.
“Would’ja like to go dancin’?” Mr. East Texas’s voice was husky and the drawl thicker.
She wasn't ready to let him walk away. He lit a fire inside her that heated her blood. She realized she'd hadn't felt warm in far too long, and she couldn't stand the thought of feeling the fire die and turn to cold ashes inside her. Not yet. “Yes.” Her response was little more than a whisper.
They left her untouched drink on the bar with the change from his ten.