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Copyright © 1996 by Deb Stover
Photo of Dave Stover taken by Olde Tyme Photography in Manitou Springs, CO and presented to Deb as a birthday gift while she was writing this book. He had no idea how well this photo depicted the dual heroes of this novel. Deb sent the photo and the photographer's release to her publisher in hopes they would use it as the cover art. They didn't, but the photographer gave her written permission to use it for promotional purposes.
-- Publishers Weekly
A Romantic Times Magazine "Top Pick"
"Sassy, snappy, sexy...the genre's newest star." 4 1/2 Stars!
-- Romantic Times Magazine
"Wildly funny, romantic and totally ingenious! A WILLING SPIRIT is delicious, titillating! Fine writing, a fantastic romantic
tale that spans the centuries!"
--The Literary Times
"Five Gold Stars! This is totally original...incomparable. Sam and Paul are wonderful 'co-heroes' and Winnie is delightful as a slightly dubious heroine. Creativity, thy name is Deb Stover!"
Five GOLD Stars! -- Heartland Critiques
"Five Bells!!! A hotter-than-a-pistol story you have to read to believe!"
-- Donita Lawrence, Bell, Book and Candle Bookstore
Romance Writers of America's 1995 Bookseller of the Year
"Deb Stover weaves magic. This book will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love...delicious, charming, exciting and heart-wrenching..."
-- Pen and Mouse
"Fast, fun and fiery hot!"
-- Suzanne Forster, bestselling author
"Scintillatingly superb..." 4 1/2 Stars
-- Affaire de Coeur
"One of the quirkiest, sexiest, funniest time-travels I've ever read."
-- Anne Stuart, bestselling author
"Provocative, teeming with fresh and distinctive characters that spring from the pages into your heart. A wonderful tale packed with action, adventure, and a sizzling romance that ignites the pages. This one is a treasure to savor many times." -- Rendezvous
LOVE CAN BE JUST
A MATTER OF TIME...
Some things just can't be explained. Winnie Sinclair can't explain how she ended up in an Oklahoma thunderstorm making wild love to Paul Weathers, her ex-husband's divorce attorney. She certainly can't explain how that same storm just swept her back in time to 1896 Indian Territory--or how on earth she's supposed to get back.
Now she's just met a lean, sexy U.S. Marshal who looks exactly like Paul. But gone are the three-piece suits and the expensive haircut, replaced by a pair of Remingtons and a Stetson.
He calls himself Sam Weathers, claims he was murdered in cold blood...and his spirit has borrowed the body of his great-great-grandson to bring the killer to justice. So now Paul...and Sam...are both hot and bothered by a redhead named Winnie. Worse, she's kin to the man they're hunting.
One thing is certain: history will never be the same.
But love just might find its own place in time...
Paul didn't know how much more he could take. Whistling off key, Sam guided Lucifer around a muddy place in the road. Since leaving the Lazy H the previous morning, they'd been rained on, hailed on, and fallen in the mud twice while leading Sam's horse through slippery clay.
Paul was dirty--dirtier than he'd been his entire life. Even during childhood, when boys wore more dirt on their bodies than anything else, he'd been cleaner than this. Sam, I need a hot shower, er bath.
"It ain't Saturday, yet," Sam said as if Paul's request was the most ridiculous idea he'd ever heard. " Are all men in the twentieth century like you?"
Paul knew when he was being insulted. If you mean, do they like to be clean, I'd have to say yes. Most of them, anyway. He had an itch low on his back where Sam's belt dug into his flesh. Being possessed was like wearing an invisible straitjacket. Hey, scratch my back for me.
"Yeah, I feel it. Hold your horses." Sam reached behind him and scratched the irritating spot until Paul felt the relief clear to his toes. " Better?"
Yeah, thanks. They'd crossed the border into Kansas early this morning. A trip that would've taken a couple of hours by car, had taken them all of one day and the better part of the next morning on horseback. Where was a Holiday Inn when you really needed one? Paul would give anything for a hot shower and a good night's sleep in a soft bed.
"We oughta reach Coffeyville before noon," Sam said, scratching the offensive place on Paul's back again. " I reckon we could use a bath. Before I forget again, I gotta tell you I owe Rufus for loaning me some money after that bastard, Landen, robbed me. You see to it Rufus gets repaid."
Paul would've cringed, but settled for a mental shudder instead. Robbing Sam was the least savage act Buck Landen had committed. Reminded of his great-great-grandfather's fate, Paul was painfully aware of the full implication of Sam's request for payment of his debt. The bottom line was that Sam wouldn't be around to fulfill that obligation himself. Unfortunately, Paul had no income--not for at least a century, anyway.
"I'm gonna send a wire to Fort Smith while we're in town and get next month's pay. Funny thought--a dead man drawin' pay." Sam brought the horse to a stop and looked down into a valley, heavily treed with a river running through it. "Yonder's Coffeyville. It's one of the prettiest little towns I ever had the chance to visit."
Paul looked down at the town through different eyes. Though the cornea and optic nerve were the same, the thoughts and feelings behind his physiological perception were far more alert-- receptive. Sam, or his spirit, were helping Paul learn to appreciate some things he'd taken for granted all his adult life. A flood of new perceptions bombarded him. The scent of rain-kissed grass, the sun glittering on the droplets which clung precariously to the tips of oak leaves. A scissor-tailed flycatcher flew overhead, then perched on a branch to sing its beautiful melody.
God, I'm getting downright sensitive. Next thing you know, I'll be watching Donahue.
Startled back to the present--the past--the current present--Paul broadcast a silent chuckle. He's a celebrity from my time. Some people call him a feminist.
Sam tensed. "Y'mean one of those fellows who...don't like women?"
No--not that. Wouldn't Sam be amazed by how much things would really change over the next hundred years? More than technology, the people were so different. Morals were looser, that was for sure. Donahue believes in women's rights. He has a television talk show--
"A tele-what?" Sam gave Lucifer his head, allowing the horse to pace himself as they made their way down a slippery slope. "Never heard of that before."
Paul searched his mind for some way of explaining modern technology to his ancestor. Well, it's a...little box and you watch people in it.
"Y'mean they shrink folks down to fit inside a little box?" Sam brought the horse to a stop again. "You're pullin' my leg for sure, now."
Paul sent Sam an exasperated groan. No, like photographs. I'm sure you must know what photographs are. I know they've been invented. I've even seen some from the Civil War.
"Sure, I know what they are. What do you think I am?" Sam reached into one of his saddlebags and withdrew a small oval frame. " This here's my wife and boy."He was silent a moment. "George."
Paul looked at the woman and child in the photograph. Recognizing the squeezing sensation in his throat as Sam's reaction to his loss, Paul's eyes stung with unshed tears. He wasn't sure if they were his own or Sam's. Both, probably. George. My great-grandfather.
Sam nodded. "He'll be all right with my sister." The lawman took a deep breath and stared at the photograph for several minutes longer. "Paul, can I ask you a favor? Another one, I mean?"
Somehow, Paul sensed what his ancestor was about to ask. Yeah?
"When you go back to your own time and all--"
If I can find my way back.
"You will. I feel sure of it." Sam took another deep breath and held it for a few minutes. " You take this photograph with you. My sister's got others and I want you to have it."
A priceless gift from the past--a memento of his adventure through history. Thanks. I'd like that. There were a few moments of mental silence between them, for which Paul was eternally grateful. He needed to get his act together before their combined emotions made him--them--start bawling.
"Good." Sam slipped the photograph back into the leather pouch at his side, then prodded Lucifer toward town again. "I reckon we could get us a bath, seein's how you ain't used to good old-fashioned dirt."
Old-fashioned--that's for sure. Sam chuckled, and Paul couldn't help wondering again whose emotions had triggered the reaction. A bath would be great, Sam. Thanks.
"And a drink." Sam smacked his lips. "A shot of bourbon would hit the spot about now."
Bourbon'll do, but it's a little early for me. Paul remembered the brandy he and Winnie had shared, including the aftereffects.
"There you go again, fillin' my head with pictures of that redhead."
I wish you wouldn't do that. Paul hated sharing his memories, especially of Winnie, but he hadn't determined a way to prevent Sam from seeing the mental images precipitated by Paul's thoughts. Yet.
"I can't help it," Sam said, shaking his head in disgust. "And I can't help getting hard as a year-old corn dodger every time you fill my head with them pictures either."
Sam sure as hell wasn't alone in that. Were Paul's memories of making love to Winnie accurate? Or had the trauma of these past few days slanted them? Was it possible she hadn't been as warm, as giving, as sexy, or as spectacular as he remembered? Then again, maybe she had.
"I think you oughta do right by her."
Paul's thoughts immediately skidded to a halt. Uh, excuse me? Surely, Sam didn't mean what Paul thought he might. What do you mean by 'do right by her?'
"I dunno what it's like in your time, but these days a man's honor-bound to marry a gal if he tarnishes her reputation."
Tarnishes her reputation? His ancestor actually thought Paul should marry Winnie Sinclair simply because he'd spent the night with her. Of course, it had been the most sexually satisfying night of his life, but that hardly seemed justification for marriage. It wasn't as if she'd been a naive, virginal young girl. I don't think I tarnished her reputation in either century.
"Huh. From what I've seen--a whole helluva lot more'n I wanted to--you done a pretty thorough job of soilin'."
Soiling? Anger and resentment clouded his thoughts. Maybe he shouldn't react this way to Sam's archaic morals, but it wasn't as if he'd been the only consenting adult on board his houseboat that night. What kind of man do you think I am? We both wanted it, Sam.
Sam gulped. "I ain't sayin' she didn't want to...be with you like that, but she probably thought you was gonna marry her." He sighed. " Women do."
Not modern women, Sam. Besides, Winnie's been married before.
"She's a widow, then." Sam squinted as he pulled on the reins and brought Lucifer to a stop before a wooden structure. He hopped down and tied the reins to the hitching rail. "All the more reason to do right by her."
She's divorced, Sam. Paul regretted the words the moment they left his gray matter. He should've kept his thoughts to himself. The worst part of it was, he had a great deal of respect for Winnie Sinclair, yet here he was putting her down to make himself look better in his ancestor's eyes. Tacky. Really tacky. But her ex-husband's a real jerk. I represented him, so I oughta--
"I don't reckon I wanna hear any more of this." Sam drew a deep breath and walked into the livery stable. Gritting his teeth, he turned toward a short, heavy-set man with a beard. Under his breath, he added, "Now, hush up so folks won't think I'm talkin' to myself."
Paul was furious--with himself as much as Sam. The true insult to Winnie Sinclair had been made less than two minutes ago, not the night of their midnight rendezvous. Of course, Sam couldn't understand that. Things were different now than they would be in 1996.
Sam handed the proprietor a handful of coins, then the short man led Lucifer away. Thank God. A hot bath and some time away from that smelly horse were just what Paul needed. There was something else concerning him more at the moment, however. I'm sorry, Sam.
"Good." Sam looked across the street. "Ah, bourbon."
Wait a minute. You said we were going to take a bath. Paul couldn't believe he was talking about a group bath, but he certainly didn't have anything he should, or could, hide from Sam.
They got baths upstairs." Sam grinned and rubbed his hands together as he made his way across the dusty street. "Soft beds, hot baths, smooth bourbon and hot women--what more could a man want?"
Women? Paul's imagination went crazy, fueled by Sam's thoughts. Hey, wait a minute. This is my body and I don't want to catch anything.
Sam hesitated for a few moments. "You been fillin' my head with pictures--real clear pictures--of you'n Winnie." He shook his head then stepped onto the boardwalk in front of the saloon. "The women here get paid for pleasurin' a man. There ain't nothin' wrong with it."
It's my body, Sam. Paul was helpless. There was nothing he could physically do to prevent Sam from using him this way. I don't want you to do this with my body.
Sam gritted his teeth, then pushed the swinging doors open and stepped inside. The floor was covered with sawdust. Brass spittoons were in every corner. The dark stains on the sawdust surrounding the receptacles made the origin of the substance obvious. Gross.
"I've had about all of you I'm gonna take."
There's a simple solution to that problem. Paul sensed he was pushing his ancestor farther than common sense told him he dared, but he didn't want to have sex with a nineteenth century prostitute. Or maybe saloon girl was the correct term. All Paul knew was that he couldn't let this happen.
Obviously choosing to ignore Paul's suggestion, Sam stepped up to the bar and pushed his hat back on his head. The bartender paused in front of him and nodded. "Gimme a bourbon and a beer."
"Comin' right up, Marshal." The bartender poured the requested refreshment, then placed them on the polished surface in front of Sam. "Ain't seen you in a while." Sam took a long sip of beer, then shot the bourbon down his throat in one smooth swallow. He followed the entire gut-burning procedure with yet another sip of beer.
Damn. Slow down, will you? Paul felt liquor induced warmth spread through him like butter in his veins. Even his stiff muscles relaxed as the alcohol worked its magic. On second thought, a little more wouldn't hurt.
Sam grinned, then turned his attention back to the bartender. "Yeah, it's been a while, Fred." He sighed and took another sip of beer. "Gimme another shot."
As the bartender poured the amber liquid, Paul tried to read Sam's thoughts, but they were carefully masked. What the devil was the old man up to?
"Seen Buck Landen lately?" Sam asked in feigned indifference, then gulped the bourbon and sipped the beer.
The bartender stared long and hard at Sam's eyes, then frowned. "You look different, Marshal."
Paul was aware of heat flooding Sam's face and knew his ancestor was blushing. Did he look different? Then he recalled the color of those sightless eyes staring up at the sky on the banks of the Verdigris. Gray--Sam had gray eyes. What color were Paul's eyes right now? He hadn't seen himself in a mirror since Sam entered his body. The fool never even used a mirror to shave. For all Paul knew, he might be walking around with another man's eyes.
"Yeah, just different," the bartender said, refilling Sam's shot glass. "And no, I ain't seen that bastard, Landen since last year when he was through here." Fred shook his head and sighed. "And that's just fine with me and everyone else in this town."
Sam looked beyond the bartender at the huge, ornate mirror hanging behind the bar. Paul's gaze followed his ancestor's. Gray. My eyes are gray. No, they weren't Paul's eyes. They were Sam's gray eyes staring back from Paul's face. Sam's dead eyes. Paul stared long and hard, realizing by Sam's fluctuating expression that the lawman knew exactly what was happening. For the first time since Sam's spirit had entered Paul's body, Paul was seeing his own face.
His face, but not his eyes.
What'd you do with my blue eyes, Sam?
Sam shook his head very slightly, then returned his attention to the bartender. Placing his empty glass on the bar, he held out his hand to indicate he didn't want another refill. "Louise workin'?"
"I am for you, Sam Weathers," a sultry voice said from directly behind them.
Sam turned around with a devilish air that made Paul want to scream. The old fart was going to use Paul's body after all. Sam was going to have sex with a prostitute, against Paul's will. This was sick. Don't do this, Sam.
"Shut up and enjoy it, Paul," Sam whispered so low, no one else could have heard him. "Louise, you're lookin' mighty fine. I swear you look younger every time I come to Coffeyville."
Paul followed his great-great-grandfather's gaze, down the length of the buxom beauty and back up again. She was beautiful, in a round sort of way. She's fat. I don't like fat women.
Sam sighed in frustration and closed his eyes for a minute. "She ain't fat."
"Fat?" Louise echoed. "Who're you callin' fat, Sam Weathers?"
Sam smiled at the woman again, but she'd already turned around and was heading back up the stairs. "I wasn't talkin' to you, Louise, honey."
The voluptuous brunette paused on the stairs and glanced back over her shoulder. "Well, I sure as hell hope whoever you was talkin' to can keep you warm, Sam. And take care of...other things, too, 'cuz I sure as hell ain't." Her gaze dropped suggestively, then she turned around and flounced back up the stairs.
"Oh, you've gone and done it, now." Sam turned back around to face the bar, but stopped short when he saw the bartender's shocked expression.
"You all right, Marshal?"
"No, Fred. I ain't all right. I ain't been all right for a coon's age." Sam walked over to the bar and drained his beer mug. "We want us a bath."
"Us?" Fred's lips twitched suggestively and he cleared his throat. "Sure. A bath for...two?"
"One." Sam closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, laying both hands on the bar for a few moments. "Just one, Fred." He opened his eyes and smiled tightly. "We--" He bit his lower lip closed his eyes for a minute. "I want fresh water, too."
"Hell, Sam. Leftovers is half price. Y'know that, don't you?"
Fresh, Sam. There's no way I'm going to let you put my body into someone else's second-hand bath water. No telling what they might have left behind.
Sam closed his eyes again, then reopened them and bared his teeth. Even though Paul couldn't see Sam's expression clearly in the cloudy mirror, he knew it wouldn't even come close to resembling a real smile. "Fresh. Fresh water, Fred." Sam barely moved his lips when he spoke, gnashing his teeth at the same time. "And a room for the night."
"For one?" Fred was grinning openly now.
Sam leaned on the bar and narrowed his eyes. "Yep, just one."
Ah, victory is sweet.
A menacing whisper filled Paul's mind. "And dangerous as hell."