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"A Stubborn Caring Bride for the Sheriff"

a Western Historical Romance Novel,
by Ava Winters


When Roy saw Sannie, he had a new chance to gain her forgiveness and a caring family. But someone from her past knows how to attack their most vulnerable emotions to set them apart.

Sannie is a dazzling woman with a sharp mind. Having spent the last years as a con artist, without even choosing so, she decides she's had enough. But Ivan, her threatening current partner in crime, is her last barrier to fulfill her lifelong dream of a loving family.

Roy is a bold and blunt Sheriff. Having a tender heart that pounded for leaving behind the only woman he ever loved did him no good, so he decided to leave it in the past. Now he longs for a peaceful and emotion-less life ... but everything changes when Sannie and Ivan come into his town.

Now well-hidden secrets, strong buried emotions, and two hearts that ache to reunite are ready to be unfolded.

Despite the fact, they are on opposing sides, and Ivan will do anything to keep them apart, Sannie and Roy will fight with all they have for a second chance in love.

How can Sannie and Roy overcame all obstacles find the forgiveness and the loving family they were looking for when the past threatens to repeat itself?

Prologue

Chapter Divider

A Cheater at Heart

1865, outskirts of Marshall, TX

Sannie’s heart raced with excitement as she faced the burly, rugged man that stood before her. He was angry and threatening and altogether more intimidating than any opponent she had faced in her young life.

Sannie, however, was confident.

“They say you never lose a bet, eh?” the man asked her, leaning forward. His breath smelled of cheap whiskey and chewing tobacco. “You and your little friend have run circles around my folks, I’ve heard.”

Sannie’s eyes flickered to the boy that stood beside her. Roy had a straight face on as he watched the proceedings. He was the master of maintaining a poker face. Sometimes his dark brown hair would fall so low over his crystal blue eyes that it would be impossible to ascertain his emotions. Roy glanced back at her and gave her the tiniest of smiles.

Sannie turned back to her new opponent with more resolve. The burly man’s friend whispered something in his ear and the man shushed him, ordering another whiskey.

“I’ll tell you what, kid,” the man said with a crooked grin that revealed a missing tooth. “I’ll let you bet all the gold you won from my friends over the last few nights. One bet for all the money you swindled off my folk.”

“And why would she do that?” Roy asked the man uncomfortably.

“Because obviously you swindled my friends out o’ that cash,” the man explained, leaning forward with a raised finger. “I don't know how you fooled ‘em, ‘cause they’ve got to be the most skilled chiselers themselves and they ought to have caught you. But I won’t let that happen.”

“I still don't see why we have to make any bets with you,” Roy said, crossing his arms.

Sannie appreciated how brave he was acting before the admittedly scary-looking fellow.

“‘Cause if you don't play, I’ll have these guys knock the stuffing out of you,” the man threatened pleasantly.

Sannie gulped nervously.

“You’d threaten a lady?” Roy asked darkly.

“She’d playing cards in a tavern, at what, fifteen?” The man cackled. “She ain’t no lady.”

“How dare you—” Roy began.

Sannie raised her palm and placed it against Roy’s shoulder. He paused to glance at her briefly, but a moment was all it took with Sannie and Roy. They had a friendship that went back years, and a connection that was unrivaled. They could know each other’s minds by just meeting each other’s gaze.

Easy, Sannie thought as she peered back at him with supreme confidence. Let him play me. He can only lose.

Roy took in a shallow breath and backed away. It was a smart decision, too; they were mere teenagers in a shady tavern filled with much burlier and bigger men. These were men that were on the road, too, and not the polished folk from the city. They had to play their cards right.

Literally.

“So, are you in, my lady?” the man asked mockingly, inducing a sneer from his friends. They were all eager to watch Sannie and Roy lose a bet. Over the last few days, they had beaten them at poker, one by one, repeatedly. They’d made away with most of their pocket gold, which stirred up quite a lot of trouble. One of the disgruntled goons had gone to fetch their leader, who now sat before Sannie with a belligerent smirk.

“If I am to bet with you, would you tell me your name?” Sannie asked sweetly.

The burly man chuckled at her act of naivete and Sannie resisted the urge to grin. He’s going to fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

“The name’s Rover,” he grunted, wiping a spot of whiskey off his crusty black beard. “And this is my clan you’ve been bettin’ with.”

“It’s good to play with you, Rover.” Sannie gave him her sweetest smile. With her impossibly large brown eyes; full, pink lips; and dimpled cheeks, she was the picture of an innocent, simple girl. On the road with Roy, she’d learned that if she could play the character, people would never suspect her of any wrongdoing. The stronger their ego, the harder they tried to ignore the fact that they were getting played by a little girl.

Rover’s grizzly black brows pulled together as he leaned closer to her. “Hold on there, little girl. We’re gonna bet, but it ain’t gonna be on cards.”

“No?” Sannie pretended to look worried.

“No, we’re not.” The man grinned wickedly. “We can choose another game, anything without cards. You kids have probably been doin’ slight-o’-hand tricks since ya’ll were babies. I ain’t playin’ with that.”

Sannie shrugged innocently. “You can choose the game if you’d like. I don't mind.”

Rover and his cronies laughed uproariously at her proclamation. “Well, well, we’re sorta cocky, aren’t we? All right, then. I’ve got a game for you.”

Sannie crossed her arms and leaned forward, her ears perked up to absorb every word.

“I’m gonna put this glass right here,” Rover said, lifting a small, empty glass from a nearby tray and putting it in the center of the wooden table. “I’m going to fill it with rum, all the way to the brim. Just enough so it's totally full, but doesn't flow over.”

“Okay…” Sannie trailed off.

“One by one, we gotta drop coins into the cup,” Rover continued. “First one to make the rum spill, loses.”

Sannie eyed the glass before her, her mind churning. I know this game. The first person has to drop enough coins in so that the next person cannot drop in another coin, but not so many that the rum spills over. Her fist clenched under the table. But I’ve only played this game with water! I know that six coins in the first turn for water would do the trick, but what about rum? If he plays his turn successfully, I will lose in my second turn!

“What do you say?” Rover asked her with a sneer. “Are you game?”

Sannie stayed quiet, her eyes trained on the glass. I cannot let him win. Our winnings from this tavern are our whole loot for the month. Okay... Okay... How can I win?

She gazed around herself, eyeing the room carefully. They were seated before a massive window, through which the afternoon sun’s warm rays filtered into the dingy bar. Sannie's eyes flitted between the window and the small lump of chocolate that lay in her pouch.

I’ve got it! Yes!

“All right, I’m game,” she said coolly. “But we have to choose another table. How do I know you haven’t tilted this one or something?”

“Fine, choose whatever table ya like,” Rover said, leaning back in his chair. Sannie pretended to eye the tavern thoughtfully, rubbing her chin. She paused when her eyes landed on the seat right in front of the window, where most of the sun’s warm rays were falling.

“How about that one?” she asked, pointing at the table.

Rover shrugged with an air of supreme confidence. “It’s all right with me.”

Sannie stood up immediately and began to walk over to the table so she could get the seat she wanted. She went and sat down on the chair with its back to the window. This way, her back was to the sun. She watched the outline of her shadow on the table with the smallest of smiles.

This is perfect.

“All right then,” Rover grunted as he hustled his overgrown body into the chair across from her.

Roy had come by her side once more. The sound of his even breathing really calmed Sannie down.

“Are you ready?” Rover asked as one of his cronies brought over a small glass.

“I’d like to take a look at this glass,” Sannie requested, widening her eyes. “Just to make sure I’m not getting chiseled. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Rover said, leaning closer. “But I’m watchin’ you. No funny business.”

“None,” Sannie promised, pulling the glass toward her with a wide-eyed look. She ran her fingers along the edge of the glass and then peered into the inside to make sure it was completely empty. Then, so quickly that no one could see, she ran her thumb along the bottom edge of the glass. A piece of chocolate that she’d stuck to her thumb was now attached to the bottom of the glass. It was too small a piece to catch casually with one’s eye, but it was big enough for what she wanted to pull off. She quickly put the glass back on the table, making sure to keep it in the shade.

“All right,” she said to Rover, raising her eyes to his black gaze. “Let’s play.”

The goons around him cheered uproariously, thoroughly entertained by the game before them. They seemed to be utterly certain that their leader would win, judging by their snide grins and whispered comments. One of his goons reached forward to fill the small glass with rum.

He’s probably played this game here many times, Sannie reflected, watching Rover’s haggard face carefully. Well, he’s about to be surprised.

“Since you’re such a lady, I’ll let ya go first,” Rover said, confirming her suspicion.

Of course, he asked me to go first. He knows I won’t have the guts to put enough coins in to beat him. He’s definitely played this before.

“All right,” she agreed with a smile. “Roy, can I get some of the silver coins—”

“Use the gold,” Rover commanded, his lip curling.

“I’d rather use the silver,” Sannie said.

“Well, we’re using the gold,” Rover replied with a hideous, toothy grin. “You’re not a chicken, little girl, are ya?”

Sannie resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “The gold it is,” she said, accepting a handful of coins from Roy. He gave her a significant look before she turned away from him.

“Start,” Rover commanded, his gold coins kept before him at the ready.

Sannie took a deep breath and picked up five coins, eliciting a few gasps from the onlookers. One by one, with as much care and attention as she could manage, she dropped the five coins into the depths of the rum. The liquid rose dangerously close to the brim … and then came to a halt.

Everyone let out a collective breath, including Sannie.

“Well done, little girl,” Rover said mockingly. “You’re not totally daft then, are ya?”

Sannie did not respond. She waited quietly for him to play his turn. He has to play it before the chocolate melts.

Rover reached forward with only one coin in his hands. He gave Sannie one cocky, wicked grin before dropping the gold into the glass. The liquid danced around the edges, almost spilling over. Almost.

Rover’s grin was already victorious. “Your turn, little girl.”

Sannie stared up at him sagely. He must know I can’t put another coin in without spilling the rum. I have to act nervous.

She began to bite her lip and twiddle her thumbs together as she eyed the glass. Rover watched her display of under confidence with a predatory smirk.

“We don't have all day, missy. If ya lose, ya lose,” he commented, drawing a few sniggers from the crowd.

Sannie leaned away from the table with a grimace. “I think, maybe, that my shadow is stopping me from seeing the rum clearly.”

Rover laughed loudly. “Eh, look at these excuses! I’ve never heard the like. I’ll tell ya what: Why don't you come to my end and put the coin in from here? You’re still gonna lose.”

“Yes, I’d like that,” Sannie said, quickly shuffling over to his side of the table. He leaned away to give her room, leaning into one of his cronies’ ears to whisper a secret joke.

Sannie ignored him. Her eye was on the glass that was now sitting in the hot rays of the summer sun. She watched the glass like a hawk, pretending to think as she waited for the beams of the sun to melt the chocolate. When Rover began to get impatient next to her, she raised a coin in her hand, approaching the glass.

She resisted the urge to grin. The chocolate had melted and the glass was level again. She could see that the rum would safely take one more coin, now that the glass wasn’t tilted any longer. Hovering above the glass with the fake hesitance of nervousness, she slowly and carefully dropped one more gold coin into the glass.

The coin fell to the depths of the glass and the rum rose to the edge of the brim, the surface of the liquid dancing just over the wall of the glass without spilling.

YES! Sannie wanted to cry out with joy but she resisted the urge once more, resigning herself to a relieved sigh.

“NO!” Rover howled as he stared at the table in pure disbelief. “This... This can’t be!”

“It’s your turn,” Sannie said coldly, going back to sit down in her seat.

Rover turned to the glass with definite fear in his eyes. He raised one coin in his hands, swallowing audibly. His hand was shaking, Sannie could see it. He swallowed loudly once more and leaned forward.

He can’t win. He has to know that by now.

Rover was sweating profusely as his coin hovered over the surface of the rum. He was panting and trying to hold his breath at the same time. The man was a wreck.

Even if there was more room for a coin in the glass, he’s such a mess he couldn’t sink it! Sannie realized, crossing her arms against her chest.

Rover gnashed his teeth together audibly as his coin hovered just a breath away from the surface. Everyone in the tavern was silent.

The edge of the coin touched the surface of the rum and it immediately spilled over the sides, wetting the wood of the table underneath.

“NO!” Rover roared as his defeat became certain. The entire tavern exploded in a cacophony of laments and even a handful of cheers. Rover sunk his head in between his hands and breathed heavily, his shoulders falling up and down. Sannie walked back to their original table and picked up the bag of money she’d bet against Rover. Roy quickly picked up the coins on the game table and hurried over to Sannie’s side.

“That was amazing!” he cheered as he neared her.

“Yeah, yeah, we gotta get out of here,” Sannie said, pulling her bag over her shoulder.

“What about the coins in the glass?” Roy asked, casting a glance behind him.

“Leave them!” Sannie hissed to him. There was so much discussion and commotion in the tavern that there was no way she could be heard. “I cheated!” she told Roy. “If they find out, we’re dead!”

Roy had heard enough. He grabbed Sannie’s hand and they raced out of the dingy tavern and into the sunny afternoon outside. Thorny shrubs and vast, unending plains greeted them as they hurried away from the dangerously shady tavern.

“We have to start playing at nicer places,” Sannie huffed as she jogged.

“Tell me about it!” Roy yelled. “How did you even cheat there?”

“I stuck a piece of chocolate under the glass so that it was tilted and it looked full when it wasn’t really,” she explained, slowing down a bit so she could hear him. “Then I moved so that the sun would melt the chocolate and I could put in the last coin!”

Roy came to a complete halt, his jaw hanging loose.

“What?” Sannie asked him with a slow smile.

Roy reached forward and gave her sweetest, softest of kisses on her lips. Sannie’s cheeks reddened furiously in response.

“You’re incredible,” he told her.

Behind them, a loud howl emanated from the tavern they’d left behind.

“Uh oh,” Sannie let out a whistle. “We gotta scram.”

“Come on,” Roy said, holding onto her hand as tightly as he could, his crystal blue eyes twinkling at her.

They ran toward their unknown futures together.

Chapter One

Chapter Divider

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