12 Tales of the American Old West
“Good morning, Miss Durand.” The smooth voice of Jesse Cordoba behind her interrupted her thoughts as she looked over the meager selection of books displayed on a single shelf. “You look lovely today.”
Disappointed in the paltry selection of reading material, Angelica looked up at the handsome gambler and gave him a polite smile, an empty smile that meant absolutely nothing. “Why, Mr. Cordoba, it’s delightful to make your acquaintance again. What brings you to this fine establishment this beautiful morning?”
He held up a tin of tobacco. “Replenishing my supplies.”
She peered at it and recognized the brand. “Ah, my Cousin Horace favors that particular blend.”
“Whenever I stay in a location for more than a few weeks, I have it shipped to me from New Orleans,” he said.
“New Orleans is a fascinating city. I consider it my home,” she replied and reached for a book on the shelf. It was dusty. She glanced at the cover and flipped through the first few pages. She murmured, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” She looked at Jesse and asked, “Have you read any of his work?”
“No, I can’t say as I have,” Jesse admitted, looking haughty and superior, a man who did not sully his mind with such frivolous things as fiction.
She turned that polite, empty smile on him again. “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to take a chance.” She glanced at the eight other books languishing on the shelf. “I’ve already read Rudyard Kipling’s work. Immensely entertaining.”
Jesse accompanied her as she headed toward the counter to pay for the book. He said, “I am surprised at your choice of purchase. You look like the kind of woman to take great interest in ribbons and lace.”
Expression turning frosty, she turned toward him and asked, “Do I look like I need further embellishment, sir?”
The corners of the man’s mouth curled upward a tiny bit as he leaned toward her and whispered into her ear, “You are quite aware that your beauty needs no improvement, madam. I should like to see it unfettered by cloth.”
Cheeks flushing at his effrontery, Angelica leaned away from him. “Sir, you are impertinent. You should not say such things to me.”
He chuckled, a dark, sensual sound. “Madam, you cannot expect me to think you untouched. You sat in a saloon for over an hour and watched our game before summoning the brass courage to join us. You’re no delicate lady.”
Angelica’s expression congealed into icy disdain. “Nor am I a prostitute.”
He chuckled again and ran a finger down her cheek before she could avoid the touch. “Oh, I’m sure you don’t charge for it and I know I never pay for it.”
Angelica’s hand whipped out and slapped him in offense. “Sir! You are insulting.”
A shadow loomed over them and a heavy hand settled over Jesse’s right shoulder.
“Don’t insult the lady,” a baritone voice growled.