When Jesse Cooper hits town, all the Arizona Ranger cares about is taking back a dangerous outlaw, dead or alive. The last thing he expects is to find himself falling in love.
Gabriel is firmly under his father’s rule. When wild rumours spread about a stranger in town, Gabriel thinks little of it, until he meets Jesse.
To Jesse, Gabriel is a greenhorn but a possible bed mate nonetheless. To Gabriel, Jesse offers a much yearned-for opportunity to indulge in a desire he can’t openly speak of. Lust burns brightly, forging a bond between the men that neither can admit to: Jesse, because his is no life for a man like Gabriel, and Gabriel, because he fears rejection.
Will the Arizona Ranger get his man?
Tired after several days in the saddle, Jesse tugged gently on the reins, slowing his horse from a canter to a gentle walk, and stretched out his lean frame. So far, the ride had been long and dry. He wiped the sweat from his brow and licked at dry lips, eagerly anticipating reaching town and getting out of the saddle.
He patted his gelding’s neck affectionately. “I’m looking forward to a bath, a shave, and sleeping in a real bed. You’ll like being in a stable with nice fresh straw and some oats to eat, won’t you, feller?”
Nugget stopped, whinnied, and bobbed his head as if in agreement, then pawed at the ground before ambling forward again.
“Well, won’t be long now. Agua Fria isn’t too much farther, maybe another couple of hours. Nice town, I hear. Prosperous too, thanks to the railroad and the copper mines.” He laughed softly, and trailed his fingers across the barrel of his pistol. “Big Iron’s likely to see some business in Agua Fria, I reckon. Serious business. Guess they’re about to have their nice peaceful lives thrown into disarray.”
Jesse tugged his hat into a more comfortable position, shading his face with his left hand as the sun climbed higher in the sky. He’d be glad to get out of the sun. Thankfully, he should be in town before it reached its zenith. The heat haze made it difficult to see clearly, but he was sure he’d spotted something other than rock, mesquite, sagebrush, and tumbleweeds. He peered ahead more intently.
“Yup. I see her, boy. Won’t be long at all now.” Jesse repositioned his bandana to protect his face from sun and sand, and urged Nugget back into a canter.
As he entered the town’s outskirts, Jesse slowed Nugget down to a walk. Removing his bandana, as much for courtesy as to avoid looking like a bandit, Jesse tied it around his neck, then tipped his hat forward to keep his face shadowed. Looking around, Jesse took note of where the important buildings were located: the saloon, bank, telegraph office, grocer, ironmonger, town paper office. Unusually, the women-folk were as fancily dressed as any he’d seen in the cities back East, and many of the men wore suits rather than the basic cowboy attire of good hard-wearing pants, shirt, and boots.
Yup, Agua Fria looked to be the prosperous town he’d imagined.
Reining Nugget in near the sidewalk, Jesse looked down at the small boy who stared up at him with wide eyes and an open mouth. Jesse touched the brim of his hat politely. “Can you point me in the direction of the livery stable?”
The boy pointed off to the left, and Jesse glanced over in that direction. No stable in sight. Reaching into a pocket, Jesse drew out a small coin that he let tumble back and forth in his fingers. “How ’bout you show me? I’ll pay you for your time.”
The boy’s eyes grew even rounder, and he nodded vigorously. “Sure thing, Mister. This way.”
Jesse dismounted to lead Nugget as he followed his small guide, ignoring the stares from men and women alike as he sauntered along the street. They’d learn who he was soon enough.
When they reached the stable, Jesse tossed the coin to the boy. “One more thing, kid. You know a good hotel in town?” he asked.
“The Copper Mine’s the biggest and the best,” the boy replied, the words rolling off his tongue as if it was an answer he gave without even thinking. “Thanks, Mister.”
“He’s right,” said a deep, rasping voice from Jesse’s right, and he looked over at the burly man who stood there.
Jesse nodded at the man. “Recommend it?” he asked.
The man shrugged. “I don’t have no need of a hotel, but it’s popular with the visitors we get, and they have some fancy foreign cook. Me and my brother Frank have the stables, smith, and ironmonger’s. You likely to be in town awhile?”
“Maybe, maybe not, it all depends. I’d like to have my horse stabled while I’m here. Nugget would like a rest, just like me.”
“Sure thing. The rates’re up on the wall there. If you’re happy with them, I’ll take him.”
Jesse ambled over and read the sign. The price was more than acceptable. “That’s fine. Now, where’s this restaurant with its fancy cook? I have a hankering for some good food.”
“Down the street, take a right at the main crossroad. You won’t miss it, biggest building we have. Check if Mr. Gabe’s on duty. If he is, and you say I sent you, I get a credit toward a meal there.”
Jesse tilted his hat back and stared at the smith. “I thought you said you didn’t have need of the hotel?”
“Don’t need the hotel.” The man patted his not inconsiderable belly. “But a good feed now and then don’t go astray.” He laughed merrily and loudly at his own joke, and Jesse nodded politely, smiling at the big man’s obvious mirth.
“Guess you do at that. Be seeing you.”