Love is the greatest treasure of all...
Home. Samantha Carleton dreams of such a wonderful place, somewhere permanent, somewhere safe to simply be herself. Her life wasn’t easy by any measure, always to her knees in creeks and mud, hot on the trail of the next gold nugget. Danger lurked in her day-to-day existence, her well-being dependent upon the rough miners and greedy outlaws they encountered believing her to be a teenage boy.
Ever since she budded into a beautiful young woman, Sam’s pa has dressed her as male to keep her from unwanted attention. But when his love of whiskey causes him to ramble on about his ‘son’ Sam’s keen ability to locate gold, she finds herself taken hostage by the worst kind of lowdown criminals.
When Sheriff Trace Wallace goes undercover to find out who’s been jumping claims, he overhears a plan cooked up by two lazy greenhorn outlaws to kidnap and enslave an older boy to pan for them. Rather than see the kid who is labeled a menace about town placed in jeopardy, he offers his help in bringing Sam to heel.
But Sam is no picnic to handle and in their many struggles Trace soon discovers the unruly boy is in fact a beautiful but tough woman who not only helps him bring in the bad guys, but also ensnares his heart.
“Why didn’t you tell them I’m a woman?”
“Are you a woman, Sam? I didn’t notice.”
“Liar. You got yourself a good eyeful, didn’t you? I saw the look on your face.”
He turned to her. “I didn’t tell them because I figured you have your reasons for dressing that way. I’d personally
like to know why a woman would do such a thing.”
“Well, I guess I can answer you that much at least for keeping my secret.”
Trace gazed into jade eyes that were large and clear.
“Oh, it going to cost you more than that,” he declared.
Sam’s eyes widened at his statement. She’d certainly like to know what he meant by that. Likely she had him
pegged right—he didn’t tell because he wasn’t sharing.
“What are you getting at?” she asked nervously. “I won’t barter like a saloon girl for your silence.”
Trace held her gaze for a few seconds. To reassure her, he smiled then looked at her head. He had to know. “I
want you to remove that piece of a hat.”
Sam narrowed her eyes at him in confusion, but if that was all he wanted, she wouldn’t argue. She raised her
hand and undid the string fastening it tight.
The sunlight caught the many colors held captive under the darkness of the hat. He sucked in his breath at the
thick mass wound tight to the top of her head.
It was a right shame she chose to cover it.
Maybe it was the outlaw he portrayed that spawned the compelling urge in him. He wanted—no, needed—to see it
loose and flowing around her shoulders.
“Take it down,” he ordered.
Hesitating, but secretly wanting to be admired as a woman for once in her darn life, Sam found the pins and
unwound her auburn mane. It was past time to redo the bun, past time some man saw her as a female. She shook
her head and its length fell to her waist.
Trace was at a loss for words. Sam was a beautiful woman. The dark red tresses set off her jaded eyes, pale skin,
and made her lips even redder. He couldn’t help but reach out and take the heavy silk in his grasp. Nothing came
close to the softness he rubbed between his fingers. Fear tightened in his belly. If Butch and Jethro were to find
Sam watched him with confusion, her heart pounding because she sensed his appreciation for her hair, his attraction. Why would it mean so much to a man to see and feel hair? She never understood. Before her mother left, her pa always did the same thing.
“What a crown of glory you have, Samantha. It’s a shame for you to cover it. Now, tell me why you do so?” he asked. His eyes never left her face.
Sam liked the sound of her given name spoken softly from his lips.
“When I turned fifteen, Pa insisted I dress this way. We lost everything due to his love for the bottle. Ever since, we’ve traveled around, went whichever way the wind would blow us. He said it was for my protection. That he didn’t want some man getting ideas and thought it better I look like a boy.”
Trace freed the tresses that he held in his fingers, one by one letting them drop away.
“He was right, Sam. As sad as it is, he was right.”
As he let go, he traced the soft skin of her cheek. What was wrong with him? He’d never been so bold. Never felt such magnetism to a woman.
He chalked it up to the outlaw he played. Or maybe it was because she was so brave and cunning. It took a lot of lady to play the part she had so well. Strength, smarts. He admired her.
Sam’s insides trembled at his touch as Trace murmured, “Now there is one more thing I want in order to keep your secret.”
As reached for her, her heart pounded. Sam didn’t want to accept the hand that took hers, pulling her closer, but she did. Proudly, she stood in front of him as he seized gently her by the shoulders.
“I need you to do as you’re told, Sam, as a part of the deal. I’m to see to you and I’m telling you now, obey me without argument, understand? I’ll be expected to tan your hide if you don’t and I will if I have to, so don’t make me. Don’t give them a reason to do you harm, or me. And you better play the part of a boy to the best of your skill. Because the woman I see before me doesn’t stand a chance if they find out who you really are, do you understand?”
“All right, but I already knew that. Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I haven’t heard stories of what happens to some women? I might look like a child, but I assure you, I’m not. No more than you are an outlaw.”
“Looks are deceiving, Sam, as you should well know.”
“An outlaw wouldn’t keep my secret. He would use it against me, if only for his own benefit.”
“Who’s to say that’s not what I am going to do? I just wanted to make sure that you’re worth it.”
Trace didn’t think, just reacted. He jerked her to him and covered her mouth with his.