The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot

BOOK 2 in the Quail's Creek Series

Can a charming saloon keeper convince a ruined barmaid he’s a sure bet?

True love is worth more than gold in this delightful followup to The Prospector’s Only Prospect.

Scandal has taught aspiring school teacher Temperance Goodrich to never trust a man. Stranded in lawless Denver City, she’ll do anything to earn enough to return home before winter–even work as a saloon girl. But entertaining rough men who are starved for female company isn’t easy, and time is running out.

When Owen Stames finally finds a claim that pays, he’s determined to prove the naysayers wrong and open his own saloon before the gold runs out. Too bad the sole vacant building is a former funeral parlor, and the only available employee is the prickly city girl who’s been fired from every bar in town.

Temperance is wary of Owen, especially when the accommodation he offers is a bed they must share. But when a brazen robbery nearly costs them everything, they realize they only have one shot at love… so they’d better take it.

The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot

BOOK 2 in the Quail's Creek Series
Ardent Historical Romance

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The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot

is BOOK 2 in the Quail's Creek Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
You’re accusing a complete stranger of being crooked?
— Temperance, The Saloon Girl's Only Shot

The most frequent question I’ve received about The Prospector’s Only Prospect is, “Will Pearl get her own book?”

Yes? I was expecting her book to be this one, but it’s not. I had all those partners in the Venturous Mining Company to choose from and Owen was the natural choice as he’s Virgil’s best friend, but they just didn’t feel right as a couple.

But I wanted Owen to be the hero of this book. He’s a bit of a handful, but he’s full of wisecracks, which is fun. Pearl is too flighty for him, though. He needed someone to ground him.

I pitched a saloon girl to my editor at the time and she gave it a thumb’s up so I started crafting the story. I made the mistake of telling my husband what I was up to and he said, “I think she should have a geology background and help him find gold.”

It’s 1859. The fact Temperance has as much education as she does is pretty remarkable, but I got to work with researching and her backstory began to take shape. I love Temperance Rose Goodrich! I love that she’s gritty and resourceful, but sensitive and loyal. She thinks she’s ruined and Owen becomes her perfect match when he says, “That’s nothing. Do you know what I’ve done?”

They fit together like two jagged edges of a broken heart to make a whole one. I adore these two and hope you will, too.

The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot


Chapter One

October 11th, 1859, Denver City, Territory of Kansas

She was a fallen woman.

As if she hadn’t already been one before she walked in the doors of The Dudley Saloon. No, the only difference now was that the good people of Denver would know it, same as they had in Chicago.

Having come to an agreement with the saloonkeeper, Mr. Cecil Dudley, Temperance Goodrich turned to confront the curious stares of the half dozen miners gambling and drinking at the tables.

A fresh scald of shame burned her throat. She didn’t know how to be a saloon girl.

I dance and talk with ’em, bring ‘em their drinks, her friend Jane had said earlier today. It pays much better than trying to get in at the shops.

Jane had asked her employer at the Bijou to hire Temperance, but he already had two girls. If it had still been the height of summer, he might have taken her on, but the whole town was quieting as men gave up on finding gold to travel home before winter arrived.

Also, the Bijou was in Auraria, across the creek. The Dudley was a quick walk to where Temperance was staying and was reputed to be the best in town—so good that it didn’t need saloon girls as enticement. It had brass wall sconces that cast golden light over the polished bar and into the mirror behind the bottle shelf. There was a cast-iron stove taking the chill off the evening air and an abandoned piano.

Darkness had been closing in outside when she had entered. Temperance had no other means to bring her father to Denver or to pay her rent. Whatever redemption she had thought she could achieve with this trip had been lost along the trail like so many shoes and wagons and lives.

This was her one chance to pull herself back from the brink of penniless ruin, so she had better get to it.

“Gentlemen.” She put on her church smile and made herself approach the least intimidating pair.

“Ma’am.” The young fellow with bright red hair and a chipped tooth tipped his hat. He gave her an up-down glance that was both too familiar and boyishly hopeful. He was probably about her age of twenty-three but looked older with his untrimmed beard and gaunt face. “Are you new here?”

“I arrived at the end of September. I’m—” She faltered. Temperance? In a saloon? “My name is Rose.” It was her second name, so not a lie.

“I’m Rufus. This is Frenchie.” He indicated the man beside him who had a pipe sticking out from his scraggly gray beard.

“You got news from back east?” Frenchie asked with a heavy French accent.

“I left two months ago, so my news is stale. Let me see.” She tapped her chin, having become familiar with these inquisitions while she stood in line at the Express office, hoping for a letter from her father. The miners were lonely and homesick and cut off from the rest of the world. Many lacked the funds to buy a newspaper or the ability to read it. They had to pump a newcomer like a fire cistern.

“Did you hear about the rustling in Julesburg?” she asked. “I went through there the day after it happened.”

They both frowned and nodded, murmuring, “Shame.”

“Are you traveling alone?” Rufus asked, shy and hopeful again.

“With my father,” she prevaricated. Papa was still in Fort Kearney. Almost here. She just needed to earn his stage fare. She tried not to despair over the math of reaching that goal. Today’s wages minus what she owed Mrs. Pincher were less than zero, so…no. It was too depressing.

She made herself keep a bright smile on her face.

“What brings him here? Business? Or diggings?” Frenchie asked.

“His occupation is survey work. Mapping and cataloguing minerals and such.”

The two men blinked at her then turned puzzled looks toward each other.

“That’s prospecting, ain’t it?” Rufus said.

Behind the bar there was a commotion between Mr. Dudley and his wife. They hissed like a pair of cats by the woodpile, but Temperance could make out what they were saying.

“I thought you liked having another woman here,” Mr. Dudley said, with exasperation. He was wiry in every way, including the fringe of hair that ran around his bald crown. “You said it brought in business.”

“Marigold was different. We don’t know this one.” Mrs. Dudley had a matronly appearance but speared Temperance with a look made of icicles.

Temperance’s heart knew that look. She’d been raised by it.

“Are you men ready for another round?” Temperance nodded at the men’s near-empty glasses. “Is that beer?”

“I’ll buy.  Thanks, Rose.” Rufus offered her a quarter. “You keep the change.”

“Thank you, Rufus.” Was it really that easy to earn half a dime?

She checked with the other table then came to the bar for two glasses of beer and two shots of whiskey.

Mrs. Dudley had taken herself into the couple’s home, in back of the saloon. Mr. Dudley was red-faced as he poured and set the glasses on a tin tray so she could deliver them.

Temperance died several small deaths at being so clearly unwanted by the lady of the establishment, but her stepmother had been exactly as hostile, so she did what she’d always done. She pretended it didn’t bother her. She served the drinks and asked the card-playing men how their game was going.

She’d been mingling for an hour and had just pocketed another dime when Rufus called out, “Owen!”

“Howdy, boys.” The man who entered touched the brim of his hat and sauntered to the bar. He set his elbow on the ledge and took a reading of the room. “And girl,” he added with a nod of deference toward Temperance, allowing his gaze to linger on her.

Goodness, he was handsome. Tall and wide-shouldered, clean-shaven with a fading tan, indicating he’d been outdoors all summer. His jaw was smooth and shiny, as though he’d come straight from the barber. Like the rest of the men in here, he carried a pistol in a holster on his hip, but unlike the weary-looking miners, his jacket was brushed, his shirt and trousers freshly laundered. His boots were not falling off his feet from wear. His blue eyes pierced into hers with a sensation that pulsed so deeply within her she felt stabbed in the chest.

Do not let that happen again, she chastized herself. Her eyes grew hot with betrayal every time she thought of Dewey and all the intimacies she’d allowed him, all the promises she’d believed, only to wind up spurned. Cast out. Ruined.

“Hello, Owen. You settling up?” Mr. Dudley poured a bourbon from what Temperance had already discerned was his ‘good’ whiskey.

“I sure am, Ceece. And might I say, it’s nice to see you prettying up the place.”

There was a sputtered noise of indignation behind Mr. Dudley. Mrs. Dudley had started to come into the saloon, but pivoted and went straight back into her home, slamming the door.

“What’d you go and say that for?” Mr. Dudley groused to Owen.

“Oops.” Owen tucked his chuckle of culpability into his neck. A devilish grin pulled his mouth to the side. “Tell her I didn’t mean anything by it. I’ll come settle up as soon as she puts down her kitchen knife.”

Mr. Dudley went after his wife, and Owen turned his attention to Temperance again. He waved an invitation for her to join him at the bar.

“Come introduce yourself. I don’t think I know you.”

I know you. That’s what jolted into her mind and lurched in her heart and sank into her blood and bones as she started toward him. He emanated the same confidence that Dewey had—that his charm and good looks were keys that would grant him passage wherever he cared to go.

Panicked bees and butterflies and birds all took flight inside her. She had an urge to run, but she also had a terrible urge to crash her fist against his chest and call him all the worst names she could think of. Who do you think you are?

She had been shunned from society and forced to take work as a saloon girl because of a man like him. She hated him on principle.

But she was working, she reminded herself. Jane had said a man had given her a silver dollar as a tip last week. Temperance couldn’t afford to throw away either her very new job or its potential earnings simply because she longed to kick this man in the ankle.

“I’m Rose.” She walked without hurry, doing her best to hold his attention in those small ways she had barely begun to master. She allowed the skirt of her gown to swish as she moved and made herself smile with her whole face, which wasn’t as hard as it should’ve been. The sparkle in his eyes invited her into a place of laughter and heat, sending a fresh pulse of intrigue into her belly.

When she arrived next to him, she deliberately stood a half-step too close while silently daring, Do your best to charm me. For the sake of her pocketbook, she’d pretend it was working, but it wouldn’t.

“Otis, was it?” She offered her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Owen.” The indent in his cheekbone was a dimple that winked as he suppressed a grin. He swallowed up her hand with his, making her pulse trip.

Don’t. She kept her expression nonchalant while he slowly released her, even though the slide of his fingertips against her palm seemed to reel her heart out of her chest, taking her breath with it.

She cleared her throat and dropped her hand into the folds of her skirt to surreptitiously erase the sensations.

“I assume you’re so well known because you’re a bible salesman?” she asked with faux innocence. He was the opposite of a church goer. He was walking temptation.

“Door to door, every day.” He didn’t miss a beat. “And you’re the new Sunday school teacher I’ve been hearing about?”

“What gave me away?” She resisted the urge to touch her hair or lick her lips, but she felt very self-conscious under his regard. Drawn. “Let me guess,” she tapped her lip, feigning contemplation. “Is it my obviously pious behavior?”

“More like, I could tell straight away that you’re a woman who will scold me into behaving myself.” He folded his arm on the bar, so his face was closer to hers.

Her stomach rose and fell as though she were in a carriage traveling over a dip in the road. She held his gaze a little too long, aware of the heat that tinted her cheeks. Aware that he could not only see it; he understood it.

“Those bibles must be heavy,” she said with a very deliberate drag of her gaze to his muscled shoulders and upper arms.

“Not as heavy as my conscience. Care to save me from my sins?”

“If it were Sunday, I would be in a position to help you atone.” She batted her lashes, allowing that word ‘position’ to linger between them. She held his gaze until her heart nearly battered itself out of her chest. “Being a Thursday, I can only offer holy water and a collection plate.” She slid her gaze to her tin tray.

“Ha.” He dropped a half dollar onto it with a clink. “I’ll take salvation where I can find it.”

“I thought you were delivering.” She cocked her head.

“I deliver,” he assured her with a confidence that gave her that slippery, out-of-control sensation again. “Have you not found it here?” His lashes tangled together as he looked through them at her. “When did you arrive?”

“About an hour ago.”

His mouth twitched. “In Denver,” he clarified.

“Recently.” She was deliberately cryptic to keep him intrigued.

“Where’s home?”

“Chicago. Have you been?” She resisted the urge to draw back so she could draw a full breath and tried to keep the conversation on him. She was fascinated by him. His eyebrows and sideburns were bronze. His lips were full and smooth and seemed to naturally rest in a secretive smile. He smelled of fresh air, leather, and soap.

“I hear it’s cold in Chicago. I don’t like to be cold.” He was looking at her mouth which made her aware she’d been staring at his. “I could be persuaded to visit, though. If I knew a warm welcome awaited me.”

Oh. Heat kindled in her middle. It licked like flames upward in her chest, past her  throat and into her cheeks.

No, no, no.

“I was hoping for the same thing here.” She was barely clinging to her air of nonchalance as she struggled to breathe.

“What brought you here?” His eyelids returned to being weighted. His tone was laconic but held a note that sounded like real interest.

Don’t fall for it.

“Seeking a warmer climate, obviously. You?”

“Bible sales. Obviously.” His mouth paused in its slow smile that stalled as he looked past her. “Excuse me one minute. Business.” He shot his drink and straightened to move around her to the far end of the bar where Mr. Dudley signaled him to go into the room behind the bar.

Temperance released the tension from her chest with a subtle exhale. Who on earth was he to affect her so profoundly? This was worse than Dewey’s effect on her. That had been fueled by flattery and her own hopes. This was visceral. Uncontrollable.

A man called out to her, thankfully pulling her from her daze.

When Owen reappeared, he was placing a wallet in an inside pocket of his jacket.

By then, Temperance had been commandeered into shaking dice for one of the men at the gambling table. She did her best to pretend she hadn’t noticed his return.

Owen stayed for one more drink. She felt his eyes on her for a full quarter hour, but when she looked for him after that, he was gone.


Chapter Two

When the other boarders in Mrs. Pincher’s rooming house began to stir, Temperance made herself rise to wash her face and brush out her hair, even though she’d only had four hours of sleep.

Her thoughts immediately turned to the mysterious Owen. She had been tempted to ask the other miners about him, but one didn’t flirt with one man by asking about another.

Besides, she had no interest in him. She refused to be intrigued by him.

She was lucky she hadn’t woken anyone, including Mrs. Pincher’s dog, when she had used a pilfered key to slip in after two. Mrs. Pincher only took in respectable long-term boarders. She preferred married couples, but she had made an exception for Temperance, seeing as her father was joining her soon.

Temperance’s wages and tips for the night at Dudley’s had amounted to a dollar ninety-five. She ought to give all of it to Mrs. Pincher for her overdue rent, but she recounted it, then wrapped it in a handkerchief, leaving out the quarter that the stage office charged for receiving a letter, should one be there from her father.

She examined her purse, wondering if she could get anything for it. She had mended the hole in the ruched silk and the bright green hadn’t faded. Only one bead was missing off the leather trim.

She sighed. Whatever she got wouldn’t go very far. Not nearly far enough. What on earth is keeping these men who had offered Papa a contract?

“You turned in early last night,” Mrs. Pincher said when Temperance came to the table for a bowl of porridge.

“I did.” Temperance flicked her gaze around the room, ensuring she hadn’t seen any of her fellow boarders in Dudley’s last night.

“But you didn’t sleep well? You look tired. Do I smell cigar? Gentlemen, I’ve asked you not to smoke in the house.”

Temperance resisted the urge to sniff her sleeve and ate her porridge in short order.

When she rose, Mrs. Pincher asked, “You’re going out this morning, Miss Goodrich?”

“To the stage office, yes.”

“Your father is arriving?”

“I hope so.” It was the same conversation they had every morning, and it was wearing thin with both of them. “Then I’ll see if Mr. Gardner has come to town.” The man’s name seemed to carry weight, so she dropped it as often as she had to.

Please let him be here.

The sanctimonious Mrs. Pincher had started out amiable and motherly but had grown as frosty as these fall mornings when Temperance had been unable to pay her rent last Thursday. Papa wouldn’t have much more in his pockets than Temperance did, but his arrival would reassure Mrs. Pincher that they were, in fact, here to accept gainful employment.

If these men from the Venturous Mining Company turned up as promised.

Temperance had been told the stage office here in Denver or the mercantile in Auraria were the best places to learn whether one of the partners had come to town. The stage office was closer, so she always started there.

“Shall I take Clarence with me?” Temperance asked after she had fetched her coat and gloves.

Mrs. Pincher made a noise that Temperance didn’t know how to decipher so she left him at home. It was too bad. The dog was good company when she made her daily trek. Not much protection, though. The yellow mutt had a tail that wagged the rest of him, and his mission was to buddy up to everyone he met.

Without his oblivious cheer lightening her step, a morose mood closed in on her. The weak sunshine held little warmth, and what leaves were left on the trees were yellow and burnt orange. There was a sense of urgency permeating the town that was almost tangible. Everyone knew that cold nights meant decisions had to be made. Would they stay and tough out the winter? Or go back to wherever they’d come from?

Then there were those infernal mountains, looming over her like a monstrous wave about to crest.

Twelve days ago, the sight of those distant peaks, vaguely reminiscent of the sails on ships in Chicago Harbor, had given Temperance a lift of hope. She had been relieved to see them as she came off the sea of the prairies to arrive at her destination.

They had continued to grow in height, though. So much height. She had seen the mountains of Upper Canada. They were nothing compared to these towering behemoths that stood as a formidable wall against the sky, hemming her in.

If the mountains made a mockery of her understanding of mountains, Denver City undercut her definition of a city. It was more like an ants’ nest turned over by a plow. People moved with purpose in every direction except for those who wandered aimlessly, begging.

That won’t be me. It won’t.

But she could still hear her stepmother saying, “You cannot stay in this house.”

A knot formed in Temperance’s stomach. She forced her attention to her surroundings again, amazed anew at how much growth seemed to happen overnight. Commercial buildings of all sorts were establishing themselves between the houses. Homesteads were in every stage of construction and were fashioned from every type of material. Some were ragged tents or sod huts dug into the earth. Others were rectangular structures of stacked logs or a weatherboard building like Mrs. Pincher’s. A few had a coat of whitewash and a garden. Two had an upper floor.

She had been warned that Pike’s Peak was a hardscrabble place. A humbug. Every emigrant she had passed on her way here became more credible by the day. There’s nothing there, they had said. No gold. No chance at a life. Nothing of civilized order.

A brawl on the boardwalk ahead of her proved it. She lifted her skirts and crossed the manure-strewn street to the other side.

Despite its primitive, rough-and-tumble reputation, the town wanted a railroad. At least, the Venturous Mining Company did, or so one of its owners, Mr. Gardner, had claimed in his correspondence with her father.

Temperance had written back to him, outlining her father’s credentials and his typical compensation with an additional allowance for travel expenses, accommodation, the hiring of guides, and other sundries.

If you make your way here, we can provide you meals and accommodation for the duration of your stay, Mr. Gardner had replied. Our partner, Tom, knows these mountains better than anyone. Once the report is finished, I will purchase you a stage ticket for your travel home. Either I, or one of my partners, visit Denver City weekly. You’ll have no trouble finding us on your arrival. We’re all well known.

She was trying not to lose faith in this entire endeavor, especially since coming here as summer waned had been her idea. Her father had wanted to wait until spring, but she’d been desperate to prove she wasn’t a burden or a shame to her family.

She was a necessary assistant to him. She was a valuable contributor to the family.

Well, not at the moment. Despite her daily inquiries, she hadn’t been able to locate the Venturous Mining partners. No one had seen any of them since the end of September. Apparently, Temperance had arrived the day after Mr. Gardner had married his wife and took her back to their camp—which was some forty miles away.

Given how her luck was running these days, she presumed they’d all contracted cholera and perished, leaving her doomed to a similar fate.

She paused across the street from the Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express office, taking in the painful fact that her father wasn’t among those lingering on the boardwalk with trunks and other luggage. She hadn’t really expected him. That would take a small miracle.

A queue was forming, though, indicating the stagecoach and mail had arrived. She waited for a milk wagon to jangle past with its bed of empty cannisters before she crossed and took her place at the end.

She dug out her quarter while she waited, as though holding it pinched between her finger and thumb would ensure there was news from her father. Good news.

The queue moved in fits and starts as some men requested the postmaster read their letter to them to ensure it was really for him. It was a ruse many played. Some genuinely couldn’t read their own letter. Others wished to avoid paying for correspondence that carried bad news.

“Dear Francis,” she could hear the postmaster’s voice as she neared the window. “I write with the sorry news that your wife has taken up with the brewer at the public house—”

“That’s not mine,” the man grumbled. He slapped his hat onto his head before storming off.

It was the third time she’d witnessed something similar.

Temperance touched the edge of her collar, waiting while the man’s companion stuck his head in the window to inquire about his own letters.

“Good morning, Buster. Can I buy your place in line?” a man asked behind her.

All the skin on her body seemed to tighten while a hot ball of sunshine burst within her. She knew that voice!

She snapped her head around to see Owen. He wore the faintest hint of golden stubble and his eyelids were heavy and lazy. He dominated her vision like those infernal, muscled mountain peaks, intimidating, yet somehow glittering and radiant. His eyes were bright blue, his smile knowing.

“Sure, Owen. Happy to.” The other man accepted the coins that Owen dropped into his palm.

“My business isn’t urgent.” Temperance tried to keep the ring of desperation out of her voice. “Why didn’t you ask me?”

“Then I wouldn’t have an excuse to stand here and chat with you, would I?”

Oh, she wished his deep voice didn’t rope her in so easily.

Him and his charm. She glanced ahead, hoping to be called to the window, but the miner there must have been happy with the contents of his letter. The postmaster was relaying the happy news that a baby girl had arrived safely.

“How are you today, Rose?”

Infuriated that Mr. Buster was walking to the end of the line with a dollar she sorely needed. The sound of his coins echoed in her ears while her face felt as though it was sunburned.

“So much better now you’re here.” She tucked a stray hair into the edge of her bonnet. “I hope I’ll see you later, as well?” She meant at the saloon where he would hopefully tip her again.

“Oy. Who’s that cutting in?” someone toward the end of the queue called out.

“Owen Stames,” replied the man behind Owen.

“That rounder! He was chasing skirt in the cathouse when I left it this morning. I suppose that’s why he’s too busy to wait in line like the rest of us?”

The cathouse. Temperance lifted her brows.

Owen Stames didn’t seem bothered by having his private habits made public. He was amused by the stir he’d caused and tried to turn Temperance into the embarrassed one by holding her gaze, daring her to remark on what she’d heard.

If she had been the virginal, upstanding woman of six months ago, she would have huffed with indignation and distanced herself. Instead, she was a woman who had fallen from grace and was now banished from her home and the decent society her family had raised her in. She was a saloon girl facing a man who suffered no ill consequence for hiscongress out of wedlock. It was deeply unfair and made her want to stomp on his foot.

“Careful,” she said with a falsely sweet smile. “Chasing leads to catching.”

The noise that came out of him was somewhere between a sputter and the honk of a goose.

“Listen, Owen.” The grumbling behind him subsided as a bearded, dusty miner leaned forward to tug at Owen’s sleeve. “You can’t just pay the man at the front so you can cut in line and take up half our day while they sort your mail.”

“But I can, hoss,” he said over his shoulder. “If you’d like enough dust in your pocket to do the same, come see us. We’re always looking for hard workers. We pay a fair wage.”

“I have my own claim to work.”

“Offer’s always open,” Owen said mildly.

“Ma’am?” the postmaster called.

“Oh.” The man before her had finally moved on. Temperance quickly stepped forward with her most pleasant smile, even though she was still unsettled by Owen’s chasing skirt.

It only affirmed what a reprobate he was, but it still bothered her, probably because she couldn’t shake her infernal awareness of him. In fact, she felt as though his stare was traveling all over the crushed back of her gown.

“Good morning,” she greeted the clerk. “I’m wondering if you’ve received—”

“Goodrich?” He recognized her.

“Yes.” She had her quarter at the ready.


“Oh.” She was exactly like these disappointed miners who turned away every day, heartbroken at receiving nothing. “And what of Mr. Gardner of the Venturous Mining company? Have you received any indication that he’s in town?”

“No, but that’s his partner, Owen Stames, right there.”

No. She wanted to close her eyes and die. She was so wilted by this awful news, her arm dropped to her side, and she accidentally let her quarter slip from her nerveless fingers.

“No!” She had to chase it as it rolled, threatening to wobble through a crack in the boardwalk.

A boot stepped on it, trapping it before it fell.

No, no, noooo.

Had he heard the man tell her who he was? She straightened, flushed and disconcerted. The heat from his intense blue eyes pierced her straight in her chest.

He bent and picked up the coin, pausing when she opened her palm for it.

For one second, she thought he was going to keep it. Despair rose so thick in her throat, she stopped breathing.

“No use soiling your gloves.” He indicated she should open her purse while he gave the coin a rub on his pant leg, as though imbuing it with luck before he dropped it in.

“Thank you.” Her throat had become a shadow of its former self.

“If you’re answering one of Virgil’s ads for a bride, you’ll have to get in a line longer than this one,” Owen drawled, thumbing toward the queue.

“That’s a good one, Owen,” the man behind him said with a chuckle.

“Are you finished at the window?” Owen asked.

“Y-yes.” Ugh. He had heard she was looking for his partner. How mortifying.

But as much as she would have loved to run straight back to Mrs. Pincher’s and scream into a pillow, she didn’t have that luxury. She had been waiting nearly two weeks for one of these men to show up.

“I actually have business with you and your partners.”

“Oh?” Owen hitched his elbow on the sill while he waited for his letters to be gathered.

How did the dance of his gaze over her figure feel so much like a physical caress? Her entire body tingled to life.

This was what carnal knowledge did to a woman. She used to blush if a man looked at her, confused by it, not fully understanding why she felt singled out and uncomfortable. Now, as Owen Stames gave her his full attention, she flushed in an entirely different way. She was accosted by a breathless awareness and a sense of possibility. She thoughtthings. How would it feel to do those things with him?

…chasing skirt at the cat house…

Her veins stung and she hardened herself against him, making herself stand taller.

“Actually, your Mr. Gardner invited my father, Reginald Goodrich, to write a report for him. I have the letter here.” She started to retrieve it from her purse.

“Don’t bother.” He grew more circumspect. “You can tell me what it says.”

“It promises that your company will underwrite his feasibility study for a railroad.”

“Are we getting a railroad, Owen?” the next man in the queue asked.

The word railroad went down the line like a chugging steam engine, eliciting a few hoots along the way.

“You know I want in on that, Owen,” someone called from the caboose. “Come see me when you’re looking for investors.”

Owen glanced in that direction, then back at her. He looked her up and down again, but this time it was an assessment that was more objective, judging her character in a way that made her want to shift in discomfort.

“Is your father here?” he asked.

“In Denver? Not yet.” She realized another bead had fallen off her purse, leaving a loose thread. “He fell from his horse while we were on the trail. He’s recovering in Fort Kearney. He can’t ride, so he sent me ahead to request funds for a stage ticket, to bring him the rest of the way.” Oh, it felt good to finally make that request to the men who would grant it. All her pent-up worries began to subside.

“A stage ticket.” He accepted his bundle of letters and shook his head at the man inside, who had perked up at the words. “No, I’m not buying one right now.”

“Wait!” Temperance cried, even though Owen only stepped away from the window, so the next man could move up.

Tremendous. She could feel every pair of eyes on her now, as though she were performing a piece of street theatre for their entertainment. She stepped further along the boardwalk, seeking a shred of privacy.

“It’s only from Fort Kearney. Mr. Gardner made an arrangement with my father. He promised that if Papa made his way here, your company would cover his expenses for the duration of his stay.”

“If that’s what Virgil promised, then that’s what we’ll do,” Owen said with an amiable nod that lifted her hopes again. “But your father has to make his way here.”

Was he enjoying this? He was wearing that subtle grin.

I’m here.” She tapped the middle of her chest with so much force it hurt, but talking to him made her feel as though she was knocking against a brick wall.

“And who are you?”

“His daughter.” Obviously. “Temperance Goodrich.”

“I thought your name was Rose.” He canted his head and gave her a narrow look from the corner of his eye, as though he’d caught her in a lie.

“Rose is my second name,” she said with indignation.

“Uh huh.”

“It is,” she insisted. “Now, if we could sit down somewhere to discuss the particulars—”

“Which particulars?”

Was he genuinely obtuse or playing dumb? She gathered her patience.

“Your Mr. Gardner promised my father accommodation and the necessary funds to outfit him for the report he’ll write. Supplies. A guide if he needs to traverse into the mountains, etcetera.”

“But your father isn’t here.”

“Yes, but he will be,” she insisted. “And I need to pay my rent until he arrives.”

“I see what you’re saying.” He nodded.

“Thank you.” She let out a fresh breath of relief.

“That isn’t the deal Virgil struck, though.” Owen adjusted his hat on his head.

“It is.” She wanted to stomp her foot. “He offered my father a contract.” She strained to speak calmly and firmly, the way she would if one of her younger brothers needed straightening out. “He says here,” she retrieved the letter, “that he will provide accommodation and meals for the duration of his stay, plus suitable compensation for the report.”

“To your father,” he clarified without so much as glancing at the letter. He was giving her the same dispassionate look she gave the grocer when he tried to sell her fish that reeked because it had turned. He was listening politely, but nothing she said would induce him to buy. She could tell.

Panic began seeping into her blood and stalling the air in her lungs.

“I help my father,” she pressed on, hearing the distress thinning her voice. “I ensure we have a comfortable place to stay and compile his notes.”

“I’ll bet you’ll ensure you’re comfortable,” he said with a snort of irony.

“What are you suggesting?” She dropped her arm, so the letter rustled against her skirt. “That this is all a ruse? You’re accusing a complete stranger of being crooked?” She leaned forward and hissed, “Is this because we met in a saloon last night?”

“That does give me cause to wonder.” He scratched the side of his nose. “People do what they have to here. Maybe you came across a misdirected letter and thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll see if I can turn this into something.’”

“I don’t know if I’m insulted or flattered,” she said with undisguised sarcasm, because she was definitely insulted. “Who in their right mind would come all this way on the possibility of a successful flimflam?” She waved the letter.

“Everyone?” He turned to call toward the queue, “Who here has been swindled in some way since they arrived in Denver?”

Every hand went up.

“Claiming there’s gold here is the biggest lie of all,” one man said glumly. Heads nodded, and there was a murmur of agreement.

“For heaven’s sake!” she cried.

“I have errands to finish.” Owen waggled his letters in a salute. “But I will definitely see you tonight.” He winked at her as he sauntered away.

The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot

is available in the following formats:
The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot
Dani Collins
May 7, 2024
ISBN-13: 978-1-7779045-1-7
The Saloon Girl’s Only Shot
Dani Collins
May 7, 2024
ISBN-13: 978-1-7779045-1-7
Pages: 270

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