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From the day she was born, Rita Baxter’s mother encouraged her to follow her heart. Filled with innocent dreams and faith that her hard work training to be a Prima Ballerina on New York’s bright stage will lead to fortune and fame, Rita is crushed when she loses her mother and must take a job dancing in a burlesque chorus line to keep a roof over her head. Witnessing a brutal murder is the last straw. The police promise to keep her safe, but Rita has learned to be a realist. Determined to escape the Irish gang that wants her dead and start a new life for herself, Rita heads to Colorado Territory as a mail-order bride.
Jack Colton struck gold in his Central City mine, but the dark recesses of the mine mirror the lonely, dark places in his heart. He longs for a wife and family, but the only women in town interested in a hard former soldier like him aren’t really interested in him at all. Tired of being pursued for his newfound wealth, Jack decides to take a chance on a mail-order bride from New York. She’s supposed to be petite and beautiful, a dancer who will bring color and warmth into his cold life.
Sparks fly when they meet, both hopeful for a bright future. But murder is a poison and it followed Rita all the way from New York. Jack thought his killing days were over, but when an assassin arrives to destroy everything Jack will stop at nothing to protect his new wife…no matter the cost.
THE DANCING BRIDE
Central City Brides Book 1
BY CYNTHIA WOOLF
June 13, 1869, New York City
Rita stepped through the side door to the outside of the theater to take in the cool air between numbers. Dancing in the chorus of a burlesque show kept her figure in shape, but barely paid the bills. She needed to find another line of work. She lifted her hair, sticky from sweat, and let the night breeze work its wonders on her neck.
She heard the sound of feet slapping in the water puddles. Someone ran into the alley.
Rita stepped back into the shadows so she couldn’t be seen.
A man wearing a derby followed the first, shouting, “Stop, Mulligan. Mr. O’Hara wants ta see ya.”
The first man shouted over his shoulder, “Leave me alone.”
The derby wearing man stopped, raised a pistol and fired.
The first man fell to the ground and then rolled to his back.
“Don’t kill me, Danvers. I’ll talk to Barry O’Hara. I’ll tell him whatever he wants.”
“Too late, Mulligan. Ya just told me what I needed ta know. Ya ken? You’ll say anythin’ to save yer skin.”
Danvers pointed his gun at the man on the ground and fired.
Mulligan quit moving.
Rita wanted to scream, but she knew if she did, she’d be lying next to the man on the ground with her blood draining away. She stayed where she was, silent as a mouse.
Danvers looked around, turned and walked calmly out of the alley. He hadn’t seen Rita who waited for what seemed like forever until she was sure he was gone before going back inside.
“Joe. Joe, send someone for the police I just saw a man murdered in the alley.”
Joe Gant, a short, balding man with a large belly, who always wore suspenders and a belt to hold up his pants, served as the stage manager. He cocked his head, pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes.
“What you talkin’ about, Rita? I didn’t hear nothin’.”
Rita stood with her feet apart, pointing to the outside and shouted, “I’m telling you there’s a dead man in the alley. Go see for yourself.”
Joe went out through the side door into the alley. When he returned he was white in the face and mopping his head with his handkerchief.
“You’re right, Rita. Sorry I didn’t believe ya. Hank is on duty at the entrance tonight. I’ll go get him.”
Hank Reynolds was a cop the theater owner paid to provide security in his off time.
Rita sat in a chair, her hand to her heart, trying to get the organ to stop beating so fast.
Knowing the police would be coming, she changed into her regular clothes as soon as Joe went to get Hank. She didn’t want to be seen on the street in her short costume, with her legs showing. That was not to be done. A little later the police came, hauled the body away and took Rita down to headquarters to take her statement.
By the time the night was over, Rita felt like she’d told her story to a hundred different people.
Finally, the detective in charge, Roy Schneider, came by.
He was a good-looking man, with dark brown hair and brown eyes, whose nose appeared to have been broken several times.
She fluffed her hair and straightened her dress.
“Miss Baxter, you’re free to go. I wouldn’t leave town, though.”
She frowned. “Why would I leave town?”
“Well, you just saw Mike Mulligan murdered by Dick Danvers, Barry O’Hara’s right hand man. Not to put it too bluntly, but your life is in danger, Miss Baxter and I can’t provide protection for you.”
Rita sat in front of Schneider’s desk and he leaned on the edge of it, arms crossed over his chest.
She narrowed her eyes. “Barry O’Hara head of the Whyos gang?”
“Yes, one and the same.”
Her heart pounded, as the realization of what she’d seen became apparent.
“So are you telling me I should leave town? Where would I go?”
“I’m not telling you any such thing, but we know there’re people in the department that are on O’Hara’s payroll. He’ll know who you are soon enough. So, if you decide to leave, let me know where you are and no one else. They’ll come after you, Miss Baxter, there’s no doubt of that, but I want you to come back for the trial. We can’t put Danvers or O’Hara away without your testimony and they know that. They’ll want to keep you silent.”
Rita nodded and turned to leave.
“Goodbye, Miss Baxter. I’ll have an officer see you home. That’s all I can do.”
“Goodbye, Detective Schneider. I sincerely hope to never see you again.”
He leaned on the table, took a pre-rolled cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it.
“I hope you don’t either.”
Then he winked.
What the heck did that mean?
Cynthia Woolf is the award winning and best-selling author of twenty-five historical western romance books and two short stories with more books on the way.
Cynthia loves writing and reading romance. Her first western romance Tame A Wild Heart, was inspired by the story her mother told her of meeting Cynthia’s father on a ranch in Creede, Colorado. Although Tame A Wild Heart takes place in Creede that is the only similarity between the stories. Her father was a cowboy not a bounty hunter and her mother was a nursemaid (called a nanny now) not the ranch owner.
Cynthia credits her wonderfully supportive husband Jim and her great critique partners for saving her sanity and allowing her to explore her creativity.
KISSED BY A STRANGER – A Montana Sky Series Novella- Kindle Worlds
THE HUNTER BRIDE – Hope’s Crossing, Book 1
THE REPLACEMENT BRIDE – Hope’s Crossing, Book 2
THE STOLEN BRIDE – Hope’s Crossing, Book 3
THE UNEXPECTED BRIDE – Hope’s Crossing, Book 4
THORPE’S MAIL-ORDER BRIDE – Montana Sky Series – Kindle Worlds
GENEVIEVE, Bride of Nevada, – American Mail-Order Brides Series
GIDEON – The Surprise Brides
MAIL ORDER OUTLAW – The Brides of Tombstone, Book 1
MAIL ORDER DOCTOR – The Brides of Tombstone, Book 2
MAIL ORDER BARON – The Brides of Tombstone, Book 3
NELLIE – The Brides of San Francisco 1
ANNIE – The Brides of San Francisco 2
CORA – The Brides of San Francisco 3
SOPHIA – The Brides of San Francisco 4
AMELIA – The Brides of San Francisco 5
JAKE (Book 1, Destiny in Deadwood series)
LIAM (Book 2, Destiny in Deadwood series)
ZACH (Book 3, Destiny in Deadwood series)
CAPITAL BRIDE (Book 1, Matchmaker & Co. series)
HEIRESS BRIDE (Book 2, Matchmaker & Co. series)
FIERY BRIDE (Book 3, Matchmaker & Co. series)
TAME A WILD HEART (Book 1, Tame series)
TAME A WILD WIND (Book 2, Tame series)
TAME A WILD BRIDE (Book 3, Tame series)
TAME A HONEYMOON HEART (novella, Tame series)
Links to Cynthia/CA Woolf’s website, blog, books, etc.
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