A shooting over a poker game, a family seeking revenge, a blizzard sweeping across the Texas Panhandle—it’s more than the world-weary gambler known as Lady Sapphire can handle without help. Determined to make it to her childhood home by Christmas Eve with her stagecoach full of treasure, she needs an escort, and there’s no time to be choosy.
Neal Behlen, a drifting gambler and occasional lady’s man—depending upon the size of the lady’s bank account—has his eye on the contents of Lady Sapphire’s mysterious steamer trunks. Taking on the job as her temporary bodyguard seems a lucrative venture and a pleasant diversion, since he plans to work in bedroom benefits along the way.
The price of their business arrangement is steep—their hearts—and both are reluctant to pay. What they need is a gift of Christmas hope, but will it arrive before it’s too late for love?
What brings you to the north Texas prairie with winter coming on?”
“For the past many years, I’ve returned home during the Christmas season, but not necessarily by the same route. There are those who are curious enough about the rumored contents of the trunks I carry with me to lay in wait and attempt to rob me if I become complacent in my habits and predictable in my routine.”
“What do people think you have in your trunks?”
“Treasure.” Her eyebrows went up, and the corners of her mouth twitched in a playful grin.
“The way you say it… Sounds mysterious.”
She smiled, sipped again, and then put the cup on the table. “No mystery, Mr. Behlen. What one person considers treasure is another’s rubbish.”
“Neal. My first name is Neal.”
“First names are reserved for friends, close acquaintances, and family. You are none of those. Few are privy to my name, and you are not among the chosen few.”
He tipped his whiskey glass to her, chuckling. “Then why did you wait for me to come to your table? For all you know, I want your treasure.”
She assessed him for many long, thoughtful moments. “Mr. Behlen, there are gamblers and then there are gamblers, and world of gambling is actually quite small. I make it my business to know who rank among those in the latter category. As a gambler with considerable talent at the poker table you, are highly regarded, and I wanted to meet you to learn for myself if you are as notorious in person as the rumors I’ve heard.”
Neal squinted with the feeling this wasn’t going to be complimentary. “Notorious in what regard?”
“I’ll put it this way. If you would master your penchant for living off the charity of rich women and tend to the game of poker instead, you are of a caliber to compete in the European gambling circles where there is real money to be had—by a real player.”
He was right; it wasn’t a compliment. He wouldn’t deny it, nor was he abandoning the prospect of her being his next well-to-do woman he’d spent a few months with before she tired of him. He had nothing to offer a woman other than charm, bedroom prowess, and willingness to show her a good time—on her money.