Through the ages, where there has been society there have always been norms and, conversely, scandals when love gets in the way of propriety, and love prevails over social mores of the times.
From the ancient Celts to medieval Cornwall, from Regency and Victorian England to the American west after the War Between the States, eight stories by multi-published, bestselling authors explore the triumphs of love between a man and a woman—even scandalous love—over what’s considered “proper” in their time. " "Through the ages, where there has been society there have always been norms and, conversely, scandals when love gets in the way of propriety, and love prevails over social mores of the times.
Early October 1866, Central Missouri
Rachel Conroy’s hand trembled as she shoved the gunnysack across the bank counter. She jerked a quick glance at the big clock on the wall. The Diamond Bluff bank closed in one minute. Nightfall had finally approached. Thank goodness the cobblestone streets of the German settlement were quiet now—the reason she’d chosen this time of day to execute her plan.
Still, she was literally risking her blasted neck. But sakes alive, what other choice had there been?
She gripped the cold gun, peered over the cloth stretched across her nose and cheeks, and drew in a shaky breath. “Everything in the drawer, mister. Coins, gold, silver, paper. Whatever you’ve got. And do it pronto or you’ll be seein’ your maker before you can holler howdy.”
She held her gaze steady and studied the teller. He stiffened behind the counter, his head lowered beneath a wide-brimmed felt hat. Honey-toned hair fell in a thick, straight mass to his brawny shoulders. By golly, she had to admit they were nice shoulders. The kind a woman could hang on to in the throes of passion, the kind that would bunch beneath her fingers when he thrust into her center. Her palms started to itch. She suddenly imagined reaching through the iron bars and tipping up his chin so she could see his face. She wanted to look into his eyes and have him tell her everything was going to be all right, that he would—
She shook her head to rid her mind of the stupid thoughts.
Hellfire and damnation, Rachel. Have you lost your cotton-pickin’ mind?
Well, she was robbing a bank. That certainly qualified her as barmy. But dang it all to hell, she couldn’t afford to slip into the coddling arms of her wild imagination, not in the middle of a cussed hold-up of all things.
He continued to keep his head downcast—or maybe if he was smart he stood motionless with fear, aware a burglary ensued. Her attention moved to the book he had his nose buried in. She took one step closer. A quick glance at the fancy script across the top of the page read, “Winemaking.”
Winemaking? Now that’s one convoluted banker to be reading about grapes of all things, and while piles of loot surrounded him.
She gave a mental shrug and blinked. Pay attention, you idiot. Rachel wagged the gun back and forth, nearly clanking it against the bars. “Did you hear me, pal? I said everything. Now.”
The clock ticked mockingly.
Gaddurn it, she wished he’d raise his head.
She waited for what seemed like danged eons, longing to glimpse the eyes and peer into the soul of her victim, to see that he paid for his association with the bank owner, that bastard Heinrich Finster.
When he continued to disregard her, she cleared her throat. “You keep ignorin’ me, you swine, that book’ll be blown to smithereens right along with your skull.”
At last his gaze rose slowly. Ah, here we go. She swallowed a lump and planted her feet apart, steadying the weapon for the action to come.
With an arrogant jerk of his head, he swung the longer strands of hair behind his broad shoulders. A familiar straight nose and strong, square jaw became visible. Rachel sucked in a faint breath, making the kerchief quiver over her mouth. Drat. It was the newcomer in town. She didn’t know his name, but she was certain it was him due to his usual conceit—he’d never seemed to notice her, moving in that swagger of his from the livery to the general store to the locksmith as if he owned this entire hellhole excuse for a town. As if everyone, and most especially Rachel, were beneath him.
Or didn’t exist at all.
Hmph. Yeah that was probably what he’d thoughtuntil now, until her weapon looked as real to him as a rattler staring him right in that handsome face of his.
She released a breath of relief. It was really a good thing. Since he’d never laid eyes on her before now, he wouldn’t recognize her. Feeling secure behind her disguise for the first time since donning it fifteen minutes ago, she allowed her gaze to scan his face, noting how it fit with his burly body. Lordy, but she’d never seen him this close up before. Her stomach did a flip as she studied the well-put-together features and big presence that made her feel dwarfed. No, make that womanly. Her face warmed at that surprising thought, but she didn’t have time to examine her silly-girl reactions. The visual path of his gaze traveled up the length of the gun, then along her arm and briefly settled on her chest. She stiffened, shivered. Though she’d bound her breasts flat, her nipples tingled at that quick brush, and she became starkly aware of her femininity beneath the lad’s garb.
Finally, his gaze locked on hers and she realized her urge to examine his soul had been a fatal error on her part. The chiseled face with the almond-shaped, deep-set pools and brown slash of eyebrows had her drowning for seconds longer than was safe. Mesmerized by the stormy gray orbs, she fought to keep her knees from crumpling beneath her. Her breath caught and she held his earthy, leathery scent in her lungs until her vision went hazy. To help break the dreamy lure, she released the air, tipped her felt hat down and lowered her stare to the faint growth of dark whiskers surrounding the wide mouth now compressed in alarm. A quick visual arc of his jaw emblazoned a picture in her mind of hard features contrasted by the deep dimple in the chin.
Like some stupid little chit, Rachel had always held a girlish fondness for male chin dimples.
A damp flood of warmth soaked the crotch of her men’s trousers, and her face flamed hot with shame at her body’s traitorous reaction. She fought the urge to yank the kerchief down and drag in a full gulp of cool air. Cripes, just her luck. Why was this strapping fellow manning the bank, instead of Finster?
On second thought, she didn’t care to know. Like the greedy varmints they were, men regularly passed through Diamond Bluff, searching for gold or rich land to farm—or a warm body to bunk with—but Rachel had no hankering to learn their identities. After the hell her stone-cold-in-his-grave—thank Jesus—husband James had caused her, she’d had enough male involvement to last her a lifetime. She simply yearned to be left alone, free to run her boardinghouse as she dang well pleased.
She blinked when the teller gave her an intent look that sent a quick-as-greased-lightning shiver of caution up her spine.
“Pardon me?” She recognized his accent as German. It clipped each of his words in the same guttural way it did everyone else’s in this sorry town. Yet there was something different about his inflection, something extremely sensual and hoarse like a whisper of fine silk dragged over tree bark. The deep, annoyed tone stroked her eardrums and held her enthralled for yet another dangerous moment.
Snap out of it, Rachel. There’s practically a danged bomb ticking, and it’s going to explode any second if you don’t get on with your business here.
She blinked again—why couldn’t she stop that? Concentrating, she prayed her own voice held up. “I said give me all the money in the drawer,” she barked mannishly. “And no hassle out of you, buster, or you’re goin’ to find yourself in a helluva fix when a bullet from this here Colt finds a home right in your black heart.”
He slammed the book shut and shoved it aside. “I say there, young man, do you realize what risks you take?”
A boxed set of eight sensual, historical novels and novellas by eight multipublished, award-winning and bestselling authors... Ann Jacobs, Anh Leod, Cornelia Amiri, Maeve Alpin, Kate Rothwell, Lynne Connolly, Jane Leopold Quinn, and Josie Jax
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