Clio spent most of her time reading books. Books and family were her life. She tried to spend some time on Earth, but really, it was minimal.
I should have tried harder.
Her belated thought meant nothing when she slammed into the water in a wooden container, spraying the filthy muck five feet into the air. A round of cursing and whinnies decorated the air and she tried not to swallow any of the nasty stuff that surrounded her. She had landed in a horse trough. A trough!
A hand grabbed her arm and yanked hard. She flew out of the water only to land on her knees in the dust, coughing and sputtering. Trying to forget what the water smelled like or what animals—two or four legged—had been drinking from it. Her stomach heaved and she fought against it.
“Somebody get her a towel or something,” a deep voice said. “For Chrissakes, stop staring, Billy! Ain’t you ever seen a woman in a purple peek-a-boo before?”
“Not like that, Ace. I was hoping to get a look at her…” answered another voice, this one a bit whiny.
“Shut up and get back inside that damn saloon before I shoot you, you stupid cowpoke.”
Just when she had gotten her breath back, a green cloth was shoved in her face.
“Here, dry off with this.”
Clio accepted it gratefully and pressed her face into it. It smelled of smoke, sweat and something she suspected was whiskey.
“It’s a tablecloth. There ain’t much else to find in this part of town.”
She took a deep breath and reemerged from the cloth to look up into the face of the man who had pulled her from the trough. He had longish, chocolate-brown hair that brushed his collar and matching eyes, framed by lashes that would make any woman jealous. He was no woman though, that much was for certain. His face was hard, his expression even harder. He wore a black hat, a gray shirt with a black leather vest, a dark-colored neckerchief and denims, with some pointy boots on his feet.
What really drew her attention, though, was the gleaming silver star pinned to his vest.
“Are you an officer of the law?”
One brown eyebrow went up as he frowned at her. “Do you need any help besides what I already gave?”
Clio stood and sourly noticed he did not offer his assistance and even though she nearly almost fell on her head in the dust. She finally noticed her surroundings and gasped in surprise.
Oh hell and damnation. She shouldn’t have sneaked her father’s book, or read the words aloud. Honestly, she knew books had power, but this was beyond expected. She had cast spell on herself and gone back in time! Not only the past, but from the looks of things, the Old West. In front of her, at least a full head taller, stood her savior.
She bit her lip and contemplated her question before asking it. Clio certainly didn’t want to raise any more suspicion than she already had. “Can you tell me where we are and what day it is?”
There, that ought to be as innocuous as she could make it.
“It’s Tuesday and you’re standing in front of The Iron Bell saloon.”
She shook her head and was mortified when a bit of green goo flew from her hair to land on his vest. She watched in horror as it slid toward his exceedingly firm stomach.
“No, I mean town and state. And the actual date if you wouldn’t mind.”
Both eyebrows went up this time and his gaze raked her up and down. “You must’ve hit your head right good, lady. This here is Peyote, Texas, and it’s the fifteenth of June.”
“Yes, I believe I did hit my head. Can you also provide the year?”
This time he stepped back a pace and his hand crept close to the dark pistol she noticed riding his thigh. Her pulse notched up.
“It’s 1875. Now what kind of game are you playing?”
Clio had no words. She was in Texas, 1875! She closed her eyes and focused on Mt. Olympus, trying to return there as she always could. It was no use. Nothing happened.
She didn’t intend on traveling to earth or back in time. Books had never harmed her before now. If only she hadn’t sought out her father’s book. Ever curious, okay nosy, she had been looking for the gold edged book for some time. It was the one tome she hadn’t read or even been able to touch. Clio could hardly be blamed for wanting to seek it out. According to lore, Zeus had walked amongst humans, but she hadn’t believed it was all true. Now she knew it must be because here she was. On earth, unable to return. Perhaps she missed part of the spell when she read it aloud.
Was she mortal for good? Would she ever be able to return to Mt. Olympus and her family? Her father would be furious, that is, if he ever found her.
Ace Nevada looked at the little, black-haired thing in front of him with a good dose of doubt. He had no idea how she ended up in the trough in front of the saloon and she sure as hell didn’t look familiar. He knew everyone in this town on sight. He had a knack for remembering faces. And bodies.
He surely would have remembered the graceful curves currently getting hugged by that wet, purple frippery. She had a fabulous pair of tits too—more than a handful with hard nipples poking out. Yes sirree, he would have remembered her down at Martha Ann’s, not that he visited the whorehouse very often except for business.
This one would have definitely gotten his attention for pleasure. He had the sinking feeling she was a bit touched in the head though. That purple frock belonged in a whore’s bedroom, not out on the street, even in a town like Peyote.
“You belong down at Martha Ann’s?”
Her eyes, which he noticed were an amazing shade of dark green, held no recognition at the name of the madam’s. “I do not know anyone named Martha Ann.”
He tried a different tactic. “How did you get here?”
“I’m not sure. I, um, can’t remember.”
He frowned. “Maybe you hit your head too hard when you landed. I’ve heard of that before. Folks losing their memory after getting hit upside the head.”
She closed her mouth and nodded slightly as though the idea had merit. What the hell did he know?
“Where are you from?”
She glanced up at the sky then down at her wet outfit. It was sticking to her like a second skin. She pulled at it, but it only made it worse. Hell, she was shivering. He felt a tug of pity for her and draped the tablecloth around her slender shoulders.
He searched his memory for the town. “That somewhere near St. Louis?”
She shook her head and gazed around like a scared kid. “No, a little farther north.”
“What’s your name, honey?”
Her gaze snapped back to his, her expression downright forlorn. “Clio. My name is Clio.”
He sighed heavily. She was obviously a fish out of water and more than likely not a penny to her name. Might have been lying about not knowing how she got there, but some of what she said appeared to be truth, mixed up with fibs of course. No matter what, she was his responsibility, dammit. Sometimes being the sheriff was annoying. He wasn’t about to lock her up, which meant he only had one other choice.
“I’m Ace Nevada. Let me take you down to Maybelle’s boarding house, Clio. She might be a tough old broad, but she’ll take care of you. I don’t suppose you have a suitcase with some other clothes, do you?”
He knew she was going to say no and wasn’t disappointed when she shook her head. Of course she didn’t.
Ace turned on his heel and started walking away. He paused when he realized she wasn’t next to him. He glanced back at her.
“Let’s get going, Clio. The day ain’t getting any younger and that purple frock of yours ain’t getting any drier.”