Heart pounding in her throat, Rachel Constantine stared at her intended victim as he drew abreast of her on the opposite boardwalk. She would have been pleased to see him stagger just a little, anything to assure her he had indeed been drugged. As it was, it was difficult to tell he'd even had anything to drink.
With a sigh, she plucked her wire-framed spectacles from her nose and stashed them in her skirt pocket. From here on, she would have to settle for looking at Rafferty through a blur. Better that than risk being seen wearing eyeglasses. Most men didn't find ladies with poor eyesight attractive, and for tonight, at least, it was vitally important that Rachel be a femme fatale. Drat! Why did he look so sober? Had something gone wrong inside the saloon? Maybe he wasn't drugged, after all. Just the thought made her pulse race even faster and her knees go weak.
Biting her lip, she cast a glance at the saloon. To her relief, she saw Dora Faye standing inside the doors, signaling just as they had planned, to let her know everything had gone smoothly. Unless Matt Rafferty had the constitution of an ox, he would be unconscious in a few minutes. Rachel smiled into the darkness. From her hiding place in the shadows, it would do no good to wave back at her friend, so she made a mental note to stop by the saloon tomorrow to thank Dora Faye profusely. None of this would have been possible without her help.
As Rafferty moved past the mercantile, he slowed to a stop, standing in silhouette against the moon-washed glass. Rachel squinted to see him better, then wished she hadn't. He seemed taller than she remembered, maybe a little broader across the chest and shoulders as well. Just a trick of moonlight and shadow, she assured herself. Don't go letting your nerves get the best of you.
Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. Matt Rafferty was walking, talking trouble, definitely not the type a decent young woman approached without some measure of trepidation. Nevertheless, the man couldn't be allowed to go around humiliating young girls and breaking their hearts. At the very least, he deserved to be taken to task. Because her fourteen-year-old sister Molly was his latest victim, Rachel felt that it was her job to do just that. Hence, the plan she'd concocted with Dora Faye's assistance.
As surefooted as a prospector's mule, Rafferty stepped off the boardwalk to cross the street. Watching him come toward her, Rachel felt her mouth go dry. This was it. Going down the list of dos and don'ts Dora Faye had given her, she stepped out from the shadow of the general store. "Well, hello, Mr. Rafferty!" she called, trying for a flirtatious twitter. "What a pleasant surprise!"
Evidently taken off guard, he broke stride and came to a slow stop. Without her eyeglasses, Rachel knew she tended to look a bit owlish, so she tried not to open her eyes too wide. As she closed the distance between them, his blurry edges took on better definition. No doubt about it, the man was bigger than she cared to admit.
"Rachel Constantine? Rachel Constantine, the marshal's daughter?"
Giving a throaty laugh, just as Dora Faye had taught her, she said, "How many Rachel Constantines do you think there are in Shady Comers, a baker's dozen?"
He seemed baffled by the question. Clearly, his thought processes were muddled, a sign the valerian Dora Faye had put in his whiskey was taking effect.
She drew up a few feet shy of him and struck a seductive pose. It was hard to remember all that Dora Faye had taught herhow to move, stand, and smile.
"Trust me, sir," she informed him in a twittery little voice, "there is only one Rachel Constantine. My pa says that after me, they broke the mold."
She immediately wanted to call back the words. Irresistible temptresses did not talk about their fathers. Even she knew that.
Though the eight Rafferty brothers had been living in the area for nearly a year now, her eyesight was such that she'd never gotten close enough to get a good look at any of them. It seemed to her that tongues had been buzzing forever about how handsome they all were. She was absolutely dying to see what all the fuss was about.
Not that she was personally interested. Goodness, no. She had her eye on Lawson Wells, the minister's son. Tall, painfully thin, and nearly as blind as she, he was about as far from handsome as a body could get. Consequently, he was sweet and thoughtful and caring, all the things Matt Rafferty obviously wasn't, no doubt because he was so handsome he felt he had no need to be. A pox on handsome men: that was Rachel's motto.
Even so, she was curious. At the risk of appearing myopic, she leaned closer so she could see his face more clearly and judge his looks for herself. No question about it, he was handsome. A bit older looking than expected, but she imagined working outdoors and drinking heavily would make anyone look older than he actually was.
Even shaded by his hat, his smoky blue eyes glistened in the moonlight like raindrops shot through with lightning. Thick waves of ebony hair fell lazily across his forehead, and whether it was a trick of light or an actual cast to his skin, he looked to be deeply tanned. Oh, yes, he was handsome, but not in the usual way. There was something about him, a lethal edge, that made her wary. Dangerous. Matt Rafferty wasn't merely dreamy, as rumor painted him, but dangerous. Little wonder poor Molly had come away lacerated and heartsick.
Rachel didn't like the way he studied hera lazy appraisal, his eyes glinting as if at some private joke. It seemed at odds with the stories she'd heard, namely that he was a charmer. Instead, he was making her feel awkward and more than a little frightened, which seemed more in keeping with the stories she had heard about his older brother, Clint. Now there was a man to avoid, always serious, never smiling. His gray-blue eyes could sear right through a woman, according to her friends.
After completing the slow appraisal of her person, Matt flicked his gaze to hers and said in a deep, silken voice, "That must've been quite some mold, sweetheart."
Mentally, Rachel stumbled about, trying to make sense of his comment. In her bewilderment, she forgot all about looking owlish. Lands, he was attractive. No wonder poor little ...