Authors: Colleen Faulkner
"You can't talk about my friends like that," Celeste said. She
kissed Fox playfully on the lips as she brushed the damp hair off his
"And if I do?" He lifted a dark eyebrow comically. "How will you punish me?"
She laughed sensually as she took his hands in hers. "Let me take you upstairs and show you."
Celeste led Fox up the stairs and into her room. Inside the doorway
she faced him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She pulled him
closer and was rewarded by the hard, hot sensation of his hungry mouth
"Celeste," he murmured in her ear.
"Fox." She stroked his cheek with her palm as she studied his
suntanned face. His eyes were half-closed, his voice thick with desire
She kissed an invisible path down the center of his chest, caressing
the hard, muscular flesh, teasing the crisp mat of dark hair.
Playfully, she tugged at one of his nipples with her teeth and laved it
with her tongue. He pulled the tortoise hairpins from her hair, and it
fell in a thick wave of red over her shoulders and down her back.
"You have the most beautiful hair, Celeste." He pushed the heavy
locks over her shoulders so that he could see her face. "Like an
They kissed again… a long passionate kiss that whispered of the need they had for each other.
Books by Colleen Faulkner
Forbidden Caress Raging Desire
Passion's Savage Moon
Temptation's Tender Kiss
Love's Sweet Bounty
Flames of Love
Destined To Be Mine
To Love a Dark Stranger
Angel In My Arms
Published by Zebra Books
ZEBRA BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
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New York, NY 10022
Copyright © 1998 by Colleen Faulkner
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
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excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
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that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold
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'the Publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
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First Printing: April,
Printed in the United States of America
February, 1869 Carrington, Colorado
Celeste sat lightly on the edge of the iron bed and smoothed the
crisp coverlet. Her friends filed quietly into the room and surrounded
the bed. She heard nothing but muted footsteps, the swish of starched
petticoats, and the hiss of the gas lamps that lit the room. For once,
the lively group was subdued.
"John," Celeste whispered, half-fearing he was already dead. "John,
love. It's Celeste. Can you hear me?" She took his bony palm and
smoothed it between her two hands. His skin was gray and transparent.
Cold. "John," she persisted as she willed herself not to cry. "They're
all here, as you asked; Sally, Kate, Titus, Ace, even the Reverend."
John MacPhearson's eyelids fluttered. He inhaled a whistle of air
and his chest rattled like a stove pipe. He coughed and struggled to
catch his breath.
Celeste lifted his worn hand to her lips. "It's all right," she soothed. "Take your time."
John sucked in another labored breath and opened his eyes. "C… Celeste?"
She put on her best smile and leaned closer. Before his illness,
John had been a strikingly handsome man with sparkling black Indian
eyes and salt and pepper hair. The sparkle was gone from his eyes, the
luster gone from his hair. "Here, you old codger. Where else do you
think I'd be?"
Another cough wracked his body, and everyone in the room seemed to
struggle with him to gain the next breath. The air smelled not of a
cloying sickroom, but of sunshine and herbs. Celeste wouldn't have it
any other way.
After a long, tense moment, John managed to smile. A decent smile
for a man dying of tuberculosis at fifty years old. "Thought you'd be
playing cards at Big Nose Kate's. It's… it's Sunday, ain't it?"
Celeste's heart swelled with sorrow, but she gave a little laugh.
"Ah, we've got hours yet. Still time to get in some Black Jack before
He closed his eyes. "Put a chip in for me, will you, sweetheart?"
"I'll do that."
He closed his eyes, then opened them again. "Silver?"
"Right here on the end of your bed," Celeste assured him.
The yellow dog lifted its head and whined pitifully, as if already in mourning for the death of his master.
"I—" John started to speak, but a fit of coughing seized him.
Celeste helped him lift a bloodstained handkerchief to his lips and
held his shoulders as his frail body fought to gain another breath. He
exhaled with a rattley
and everyone in the bedroom exhaled with him in sympathy.
It took so long for him to inhale again that Celeste wondered if
this would finally be John's last breath. The thought of losing her
friend twisted painfully in her heart, but he had suffered too long. No
man as good-hearted and full of life as John MacPhearson deserved to
suffocate to death.
For a long moment everyone stood and stared at John and Celeste,
probably wondering if he were dead. There was Big Nose Kate, the madam
of Kate's Dance Hall, dressed in her Sunday best red crinolines, and
Silky Sally in her silk sheath gown as shimmering as a drop of water.
Titus, the washed-up gold miner, stood to the rear in his dirty denims,
smelling of cheap rye whiskey. Ace, the young deaf and dumb half-breed,
stood at Titus's side, perhaps to catch the miner if he began to sway.
The last visitor was the good Rev. Joash Tuttle, who hovered on the far
side of the bed, dressed in a tight, cheap black suit, a worn Bible
cradled in one arm. Celeste knew every man and woman in this bedroom
would mourn the loss of John MacPhearson, a man they called their
"Celeste," John whispered hoarsely.
"I'm here. Right here." She gently dabbed at the bloody corners of his mouth with the handkerchief.
"Knew you'd stay with me 'til the end…"
"Why wouldn't I? You'd do the same for me."
Sally sobbed and Kate handed her a lacy handkerchief from the sleeve
of her gown. "Straighten up or get out," she hissed as she elbowed her
Sally dabbed at her painted lips and sniffed. "I'm sorry."
John struggled to sit up in the bed, and Celeste reached behind him
to fluff the goose down pillow. "Called you all here to—" he gave a
hacking cough "—to witness my—" cough "—signature." He pointed to the
carved rosewood armoire on the far side of the room. "Fetch my box,
Celeste. You know, the tin one."
Deftly, Celeste retrieved the battered tin box painted with Indian
symbols from the clothing cabinet and returned to John's side. "Here
With a shaky hand, he opened the box and rifled through papers and a
few photographs. "Got it." His head fell back on the pillow and another
fit of coughing wracked his body. When he could breathe again, he held
out his hand to the reverend. "Gimme your fancy fountain pen, Joash. I
know you got it inside that funeral suit of yours."
The reverend handed his friend the pen. "Not my funeral suit, I'll have you know, John. It's my lucky card-playing suit."
The joke, though weak, was enough to make everyone in the room laugh and crack the veneer of awkwardness.
"Hell, you ain't gonna win, lucky suit or not," John teased.
Sally poked the reverend playfully in the side. "I was hoping to win enough off you to buy myself that new pot of rouge, Joash."
The reverend laughed with them.
John uncapped the pen and squinted to focus his eyes. "I want you
all to witness that I'm of sound mind. This here's my will and last
testament." He sucked in a breath. "I won't bore ya with the details,
'cause I know you got a card game to git to, but I don't want no one
contestin' my words after Fred hauls my body off in that new glass
hearse of his." He paused. "I'm givin' the house to my Celeste."
Celeste's gaze met his. "John, your son—"
"Let me speak, will you, girl? I ain't got much breath left in me," he panted.