Harassed by an employer, Suzanne Thibold picks up a pre-read paperback to de-stress and is whisked to 1870 Dry Wells, Texas, inhabited by rank cowboys and town folks. She almost adjusts to the conditions when she learns Oscar Needham bought her as a Mail Order Bride.
A bronco-buster hired by the S-bar-M Ranch, Cady Dillon comforts Suzanne after she is frightened by a shooting fracas below her hotel room. A burst of adrenaline has them making love. Cady knows she's too good for him. He deserts her and heads for the California gold fields.
Suanne awakens in her hotel room, but in the year 2010, still in Dry Wells. She is hired by the town's current banker. Inhabitants she meets seem very familiar. When she gets a flat tire in a mall, Suzanne's former lover's great-grandson fixes it for her. They agree to meet at Dry Wells' Summer Rodeo. Cady (William) Dillon stands Suzanne up, but then appears at her condo after midnight to explain why.
Will she forgive him? What do you think?
PROLOGUE<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
It was Saturday, the last day of a very busy week for 28-year old, Suzanne Thibold, a Certified Accountant employed by Schermer and Broad, Inc. in Dodge City. Like every other Saturday morning, she did whatever errands were needed to keep her household and herself in shape before again hitting another heavy work week at the office.
She stopped at the dry cleaners, left two business suits to be pressed. Next, she perused the aisles at the local Stop ‘n Value food mart, picked up a half gallon of milk, a loaf of whole grain bread, cold cuts, some fruit, plus a box of cereal and three or four TV dinners, amongst other sundries. Two full bags of groceries piled into her cart, she strolled toward her 2007 Volkswagen SUV to unload her purchases for the upcoming week.
With no boyfriend and no date for Saturday night—which wasn’t unusual these days—she drove to a small mall to see a friend, owner of Annie’s Bookshop, to pick up new reading material.
“Morning, Suz,” the bookstore’s proprietor greeted Suzanne.
“Hi, Annie. I stopped in for a novel or two to read over the weekend. I’m looking for something different.”
“Like what? Biographies? Mysteries? Suspense? Maybe Romances?”
“Umm, I dunno. Even maybe a western. Haven’t read one of those for ages.”
“You’re in luck. Yesterday a lady brought in a bunch of former reads—westerns. I dumped them on a bargain table in the back of the store. Didn’t go through them yet, but you’re welcome to dig through and find anything that grabs you.”
“Okay, maybe I’ll find something that keeps me from falling asleep. I’m really pooped. Last week at work was hectic, and I need winding down.”
“I put fifty-cents on paperbacks on that table. Take a couple. Who knows? Might they’ll get you in the mood for a hunky heartthrob. Maybe even a cowboy.” Annie laughed.
“Yeah. Right. Just what I need—a hot stud cowpoke, huh? To jazz up my love life.” Suzanne sighed audibly. “The men I met recently lacked excitement. Not with my blood running cold instead of hot.”
Annie laughed a little louder. “You look kinda beat, Suz. Is everything okay?” She paused, squinting over at her friend before asking, “Have you seen Jack?”
“Jack Wilson? Uh, uh, no way, Annie.”
Suzanne didn’t want to go into what happened to her while in the bookstore. Maybe she’d spill the beans another time. Instead, she dodged Annie’s curiosity. “I think Jack, the jerk, disappeared into the wild blue yonder. That was weeks ago, and he never called again.” Suzanne made a face at her friend, then grumbled, “You know it’s just as well, Annie. I wasn’t his type. Never was. And I don’t think he was mine either.”
Suzanne forced a smile onto her lips as she turned away and made her way between the bookshelves toward the back of the store. Several female customers entered just then, and started chattering with Annie, bombarding her with questions about new book arrivals.
Suzanne idly picked through the stacked pile of used paperbacks. Finally, she spotted something that caught her eye and yanked it out of the jumble. Women were pictured on the cover dressed in vintage clothing. Four of them stood in front of a few dilapidated-looking buildings, a few horses tethered in the background. Must be a western, Suzanne decided and looked at the cover more closely. Her lips twitched into a smile. One of the women on the cover could be her sister—same color hair pulled into a bun on top of her head instead of a ponytail. The lady was well-endowed, too. Big boobs, tiny waist, and wide hips. Whadda ya know? An hourglass figure. Just like mine. Betcha she had to wear a corset, Suzanne giggled silently, to keep that figure.
Mail Order Brides was the book’s title. Suzanne checked for the author’s name, but couldn’t find it. Not on the cover, not when she flipped through the first couple pages.
Hmm? That was strange. No author’s name, no publishing house or year of publication. Suzanne juggled the paperback loosely in her hands. Should she buy it? The pages were stained yellow with age along the edges as if the book had lain in an attic for years before the woman thought to bring it in to trade for cash at Annie’s. Suzanne sniffed at the book’s pages; it didn’t smell damp or musty.
Cracking it open, she read a few lines: ‘It was high noon in the town of Dry Wells, Texas. The year of the Lord—1870. In the arid desert of west Texas the temperature at that hour often reached the high 90’s. Not a cool breeze ruffled the gritty, red sand of the town’s main thoroughfare. Even less activity was stirred by men lounging outside of the Stagecoach’s office. The only movement seen was the rhythmic flicking of horses’ tails tethered outside the saloon.’
Hey, a western might be interesting, Suzanne thought. Cripes! For fifty cents I can’t go wrong, can I? Even if I hate it after a few pages, I can easily dump it in the trash with no big loss.
Holding onto the book, still undecided whether to purchase it or not, Suzanne spent a few more minutes rummaging through the previously read paperbacks. She picked out two more, tucking the paperbacks into a canvas shopping bag she carried.
“I picked out a couple books from that table, Annie,” she said, striding up to the front desk. “They’ll hold me for a few days. I’m so frazzled after this week in the office, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying home. I’m gonna plop my backside on the living room sofa, chomp on popcorn and maybe some chocolate…” She winked at Annie. “And read and watch TV all weekend.”
Annie laughed louder this time. “Woo! Sounds like something I wish I could do, Suz. But you know me. Two kids give me no rest for the weary, right?”
“Well, it’s supposed to rain all weekend anyway,” Suzanne commented, adding a pucker to her normally smooth forehead and bright, animated countenance. “I felt a few drops on my head just before I came in here. Sure,” she growled, rolling her eyes. “The sun’ll come out on Monday when I have to go back to work.”
Annie had to smile at her grumpy-faced friend. “If I get time, I’ll go through that pile in back. Any I think you might like I’ll put aside.”
“Thanks, that’s great. For now, these should do, Annie.” Suzanne finally managed a smile, waved a farewell, and exited the store.
Suzanne drove to her apartment complex, parked in her spot, and lugged twin brown paper bags of groceries up two flights to her apartment. Always efficient, she emptied perishables into the freezer and refrig, tucked other foodstuffs onto kitchen shelves, then fixed herself a turkey sandwich. Munching on her lunch along with a mug of instant coffee, she glanced at the paperbacks she bought at Annie’s. Idly, she picked up Mail Order Brides and started to read.
Indeed it was a Western, set in the late 1800’s in some town in Texas she’d never heard of. The author must have fictionalized the town and created its occupants. It obviously wasn’t a true story, or if it was, it should say so on the cover, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, as Suzanne continued to chomp on her sandwich and devour words on the book’s yellow-tinged pages, the type seemed to blur. Frowning, she blinked several times, her eyes burning and itching. She closed them, rubbing blunt fingertips over her eyelids. She felt totally wiped out after spending a restless night without much sleep after what happened at the office.
Alfred Schermer managed to keep her late again last night with some trumped up excuse. It hadn’t been the first time he cornered her; it probably wouldn’t be the last time unless she did something about it. The door to his office seemed to close behind her after hours. The man was a first class lecher. Cripes, he was married with teenage kids; couldn’t he keep his pants zipped. Suzanne heard the office rumors soon after she was hired, but nobody in the know wanted to get fired. So all Suzanne knew was rumors. After all, Schermer was the senior partner, the firm’s top boss.
What was it about her that got him so hot and bothered lately? He pressured her last evening very quickly. She had entered his office and he handed her a glass of wine, then asked her to sit down for a friendly “chat.” What felt like a possessive hand had glided around her shoulders, gently pushing her into a leather chair. Meanwhile he perched his ass on the edge of his desk and smiled down at her with those fake-looking, white teeth of his. He really did look like a wolf.
Quivers of discomfort crawled up Suzanne’s spine.
Schermer’s eyes ran over her from head to toe where she sat with her long legs crossed, a good length of thigh showing from beneath her brief, navy, suit skirt.
“You’ve been with us how long, Suzanne?”
“A few more months than a year, Mr. Schermer,” she said.
His next words eased into a more intimate tone. “I thought so. Hmm? I suppose I should have recognized your work when I noticed it. Perhaps you deserve a raise. Do you think so?”
Suzanne looked at him straight on, tilting the corners of her mouth upward. “I hoped you’d think so. I try to satisfy my current list of clients, but I believe I might do even more if—”
“No, no, no, Suzanne.” He laughed. A new glint flared deep inside hazel eyes. “It’s not your clients you need to satisfy, dear lady—it’s me. That is, if you want a hefty raise.”
Suzanne frowned. Swallowing hard. “I don’t think I quite understand. I thought I had. Satisfied both you and Mr. Black, I mean.
Schermer raised his full glass of wine and took a deep swallow. Then he suddenly smiled. “Think about revising your contract if you expect to get ahead in this company with me, Sugar.”
Revise it? Sugar?
“I was hired for two years, Mr. Schermer. Do you wish me to extend it?”
“No, sweetie, that isn’t what I meant at all.” Schermer’s thick lips spread wide into a different kind of smile that coincided with the heat in his lecherous eyes. “Drink your wine, my dear. Perhaps you and I should go to dinner. Talk some more.”
Slowly, he stood away from his desk and leaned closer, almost hovering above her. Suzanne seemed transfixed by the odd expression on the man she knew to be close to fifty.
“We’ll go someplace cozy, hmm, my dear? Then we can talk some more about what you are willing to do—to make me happy. Real happy. Then maybe I can authorize that generous raise you’re looking forward to, right?”
No way was she going to dinner with him. “I’m so sorry,” Suzanne said pushing up quickly from her seat on the chair. “I’m afraid I already made other plans for tonight, Mr. Schermer.” She checked her wristwatch quite obviously. “And I’m already late. Perhaps some other time, okay?”
Suzanne forced a smile onto her lips, then put down the full glass of wine she barely sipped at. She stepped away from him. “So, I’ll say goodnight.” She threw the words over her shoulder, inhaled deeply and left Alfred Schermer alone in his office, frowning.
~ * ~
Her employer’s words stuck in her brain, repeating themselves over and over while she sat in her kitchen eating a sandwich and running her eyes over a paperback novel. No way could she forget last evening’s horrible experience. She wasn’t stupid or naïve. She knew what he had been suggesting. Now she’d have to resign, move someplace else and find work—and do it quickly. Funny. She contemplated a change a few weeks ago. Even printed out a bunch of resumes. They lay on her desk in her apartment, ready to be mailed. She must remember to send them out.