Title: Forever Wyld
Author: Laura Strickland
Genre: Western Romance
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Newly retired, Earl Hanson wishes he felt happier about it. He's built a cabin up in the hills and has free time on his hands. He also has the most obnoxious widow in town eyeing him up as a possible husband. What's a beleaguered former sheriff to do?
Fleeing an ugly scandal, spinster Victoria Major takes a job playing piano at the Trail's End Saloon. But it's the roughest watering hole in Wylder, and when the customers turn rowdy, Earl Hanson steps in to protect her. In return, it seems only right she should shield him from the predatory widow, by pretending he's her beau. Of course, it's only make-believe…
The man who had walked up to Victoria’s piano brought a feeling of safety with him—of reassurance. She already thought of it as her piano, even after only a few hours, because the two of them had suffered together. And its high back partially screened her from the room.
Now she inspected this man in front of her, and wondered who he was. Not a young man, by any means, he wore a battered hat and had a gun strapped to his side. A heavy coat covered bulky shoulders, a strong figure of just above average height. His hair, gone to silver, matched a pair of lengthy sideburns and a fine moustache. He had a weathered face, and some of the bluest eyes she’d ever seen.
“Well now.” He placed an elbow on top of the piano and leaned, effectively screening her from the room and affording a few minutes of blessed relief. “That would be a shame—you leavin’, I mean.”
“It would not. They hate my playing.” She gathered up a raft of music sheets in front of her. “That has been made abundantly clear. I’d better just admit it and—and slink away like a kicked dog.”
He cocked his head. “You the kind of woman who gives up easy?” The bright blue gaze slid over her face. “Got to admit, you don’t look it.”
“This stint has been anything but easy, Mr.—”
“Hanson. Earl Hanson.” He stuck out his hand. “And you are—?”
“Victoria Major.” She had no choice but to slip her fingers into his hand, which felt broad and horny. She wondered if he’d heard that cowhand call her a hag. The second time that had happened in the past five days. Then she wondered why she cared what he’d heard.
Just another man in this accursed town. Did it matter what Earl Hanson thought of her?
“Miss. It’s Miss Major.” She glared into his eyes. “I’m a spinster.”
“Ah. I thought—”
“People frequently do assume I must be a widow, because of my age.”
He didn’t look shocked at her direct statement. In fact, his expression didn’t change. He asked. “What seems to be the problem with the piano playing?”
“I have no idea, quite frankly.”
“That fella there says you only know two songs.”
“I am, sir, a classically-trained pianist. I know hundreds of songs. But not what they wish to hear.”
“Earlier on in the evening, Mr. Callahan said to play something lively, so I assayed with a bold Tchaikovsky piece. I also tried Beethoven and Handel.”
“I think Mr. Callahan might have meant you should play songs these folks know.”
“I understand that.” Victoria’s face heated. “I don’t know what they know. I did play Mares Eat Oats and Sidewalks of New York until I thought they would begin throwing things at me. They’re even averse to Stephen Foster.”
“Lots of folks here fought in the War Between the States—or fled it. Mr. Foster’s music might make ‘em feel a bit tetchy.”
“From what I can see, Mr. Hanson, everything makes them feel tetchy.”
“An astute observation. Listen, Miss Major, there must be some other songs you can play. How about Buffalo Gals?”
“I beg your pardon?”
He whistled a tune. He made an excellent job of it, right on key, but Victoria didn’t recognize the song and shook her head.
“My Darling Clementine?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’—” He sang well too, in a resonant baritone.
She wagged her head again.
“Yellow Rose of Texas?”
She might not mind listening to him sing for the rest of the evening, but she suspected he’d tire of it all too soon.
“Well, play me the two you do know.”
“I’m afraid if I play them again, there will be violence. It’s why I tried playing the Liszt. I don’t dare play Chopin again.”
He gave her a blank, blue stare. “Just play ‘em.”
Hastily, she gave him abbreviated versions of Mares Eat Oats—to an outcry from the room—and Sidewalks of New York. He stood like a bulwark between her and the rowdy room all the while.
“Miss Major, you play very well.”
“But you might put a bit more life in it. Some flourishes. Here, shove over.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Let me have the chair.”
She arose, feeling stiff and rusty, and he took her place. He stretched his gnarled fingers above the yellowed keys and seemed to gather himself before he started to play.
The old piano sang. It chortled, it chuckled. Suddenly, its out of tune jangle worked in its favor rather than the opposite.
A dull cheer rose from the room at large.
He finished the tune, though not without errors. It didn’t matter. His music had life. It possessed energy.
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Multi-award-winning author Laura Strickland delights in time traveling to the past and searching out settings for her books, be they Historical Romance, Steampunk or something in between. Her first Scottish Hist