Reckless Angel

Sprawling fun in post-Gold Rush San Francisco – a control freak hero, a resolutely uncontrollable heroine, a wild saloon, and a cast of outrageous and eccentric characters.

Harper Monogram · isbn: 0061083062

Traitorus Hearts
Is it bad for my career to admit this? Ah, well, it was a long time ago . . . if there’s one book I wrote that I was never quite satisfied with, it’s this one. Oh, there are lots of good ingredients, including a very nice secondary love story and some really funny moments, but for some reason it just didn’t all come together the way I would have liked, though I can’t quite put my finger on the reason. (If you have a theory, feel free to let me know.) But if you liked Journey Home, here’s your chance to catch up with everybody at the Naked Rose.


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Traitorus HeartsChapter One
San Francisco, 1858

"Damn it, Angel, I'm gonna kill you!"

Jeremiah Johnston grabbed for the reins of the huge chestnut stallion that danced and snorted in front of him.

"Ah-hah. Gotcha this time, you overgrown monster." He took a cautious step and, for the third time, tried to shove his foot in the stirrup bouncing against the horse's muscular side. Once again, the horse skittered away, and J.J. swore loudly.

"Uh, Mr. Johnston?"

J.J. turned to glare at the young stableboy, Tommy. Where had he come from? He'd deliberately chosen a time when there'd be no one around to see him. This early, there shouldn't have been anyone up and about at the Naked Rose Saloon. And the thick, dense fog that shifted and slipped around him should have made doubly sure that no one witnessed his failure. "What do you want, Tommy?"

"Um." Tommy scuffed his toe in the dirt of the courtyard. "Well, I was wondering if'n you'd like a little help."

"No," J.J. said sharply. His shoulder ached from hanging on to the reins; the stupid horse kept trying to jerk away from him. It was all he could do to keep from wincing in pain. But there was no way he was going to let this half-grown kid, who couldn't weigh 110 pounds, know that the leather straps were just about to cut his hand in two. Not when Tommy had absolutely no trouble handling this misnamed monster himself.

Tommy hesitated, his gaze sliding from J.J. to Angel and back again.

"Go back to bed."

Finally Tommy nodded. Giving one last dubious look over his scrawny shoulder, he scooped up the mangy gray cat that had been slinking around his feet and slouched back into the stables.

"Now." J.J. turned to the animal again. Angel leaned away from him, his brown eyes wild in the beautifully molded head.

It was his brother-in-law's fault, and J.J. knew it. Everyone thought the handsome horse was an incredibly generous gift, but he was certain that, somehow, his sister's husband had managed to train the horse to behave properly for everyone but him.

"Come on, boy," J.J. crooned. "I'm not gonna hurt you." Even though the idea was taking on more appeal all the time.

The animal stilled, earls flattened against his head and nostrils quivering.

"That's a good horse." Lord, he hated this creature. All animals, for that matter. They were completely unreliable and unmanageable. But it galled him that there was one thing in his carefully ordered life that he was unable to control.

Somehow, he was going to handle this, too.

He sidled a little closer to the horse's side. Damn, the thing was big. J.J. eyed one of the huge hooves. He knew from experience that it hurt like hell when one of them landed on someone's foot.

Despite the clinging chill of the damp morning, a trickle of sweat ran down J.J.'s temple. He dashed it away with his perfectly white sleeve.

He could do this. It was further than he'd ever managed to get before. This time he'd gotten the saddle on the blasted thing, after all.

"Come on, baby," he said, pitching his voice low, the tone he used in bed when he wasn't interested in sleeping. Well, it worked then. That, at least, he could control.

Almost there. He jammed his foot into the stirrup, then dragged himself across the saddle.

The horse bolted. J.J. nearly tumbled off over the horse's rump but managed to grab the saddle horn.


The horse paid no attention. J.J. threw himself down across Angel's back and clutched the horse around his neck just as they ran through the gates of the yard.

The street in front of the saloon sheared down at a sharp angle, ten blocks directly into the waterfront from where the Rose drew some of her less elite clientele. J.J. shut his eyes against the sickening tilt of the earth and felt their speed increase as the horse thundered straight down, heading for the bay.

Well, at least he knew how to swim.

"Damn it, Angel, I'm gonna kill yooouu!"

Only the faintest pearling of the air told Angelina Winchester that dawn was approaching. The heavy fog absorbed sound and light and emotion, leaving only dense, lush gray and a faint, distant prickle of fear.

When the stagecoach driver had dropped her off late the night before, he'd made it clear that the Barbary Coast, San Francisco's waterfront, was no place for a woman. Then, she'd been too tired to care. She'd simply sneaked her horse into the stable behind a busy tavern -- one too busy for anyone to notice an additional horse -- and found herself a quiet corner around the back. The niche was well-hidden by an overgrown bush that had leaves like nothing she'd ever seen, so she'd wrapped her arms tightly around her bag and gone gratefully to sleep.

Now she pushed herself reluctantly to her feet, every bone and muscle protesting with painful clarity. Shivering, Angie pulled her shawl more snugly around her shoulders. Lord, it was cold. It was June, for heaven's sake. Back home, the air would be warm and sweet by now, fragrant with flowers and new grass, settling around her like an old, favored blanket.

And, for the first time, she wondered if she'd done the right thing. Throughout the entire trip, even as it had taken her three extra weeks and a good deal more money than she'd expected, she hadn't wondered. Not even when she'd been left behind at several coaching inns and had to wait for the next stage, when it became clear her horse wouldn't be able to keep the pace set by the coach's teams, which were fresh from frequent changes.

No, she'd never questioned it once, because she knew the only way she would ever have the home she'd always wanted was to leave it first.

But she was no longer so sure. Her family claimed she was too impulsive -- reckless -- and couldn't take proper care of herself. She knew they were wrong.

If only she had a bit more of the money she'd started out with. If only the air didn't reek with the stench of rotting fish, salt water, and the sour smell of the dingy saloon.

And if only it weren't so dark, if she could depend on the welcoming glow of the street lights. But they were relentlessly dark; the driver had told her the lights had been shut off the year before, when the city refused to pay the gas company. The depression that had set in when the gold fields played out had darkened the bright, beckoning light of San Francisco. She felt an equal, suffocating dimming of her hopes.

Ruthlessly, she shoved her loose braid down the back of her blouse, hoping that, for once, it would stay safely tucked out of her way. She jammed her shabby hat back on her head, ignoring the grumbling protests of her stomach.

After all, she was here. There was little use in second thoughts now. First, she needed a job. It wasn't as if she didn't have the skills to get one.

Grabby her satchel, she peeked around the corner of the stable. The yard leading to the back of the saloon was empty. Satisfied that any remaining inhabitants of the saloon were resting up after last night's revels, she headed for the stable door.

Yes, she had her talent, and she had Lance. What more could a woman need?

Though breakfast would be nice.

There was no help for it. He'd fought the horse, Angel's hooves thundering wildly on the planked street, all the way down to the waterfront. The increasingly dilapidated buildings were a blur, flashing across the edges of his vision as he clung to the horse's back.

He had just enough impression of his surroundings to recognize a large, brick warehouse. Just two more blocks to the wharf, and then there was only a long, deceptively sturdy-looking dock that he had a sneaking suspicion just might collapse under the weight of the overgrown, ill-mannered moose beneath him.

Maybe, if a little of his usual luck returned, the thing would be too stupid to know how to swim. Good riddance.

He blinked, trying to clear his eyes, and saw the other horse. It pounded along beside him, keeping pace. This one was every bit as big and as fast as Angle, but a woman huddled on its back. He caught a quick glimpse of dark hair, streaming along behind her like an unfurling black silk flag.

Lord, she must be scared to death, swept along on a runaway horse.

Traitorus HeartsHell. It was going to be up to him to save her. And it was going to beat the dickens out of his new suit.

He took a great gulp of air and gathered his strength.

And then, without giving himself any time to think more about it, he jumped.







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