Stay away, Logan, he warned himself. That had been Montague’s first rule. Never let a woman get under your skin — especially one who had the goods on you. It could be the kiss of death. Yet he liked a challenge, and he couldn’t resist confronting her again . . . just one more time.

She gave him a smug look as he approached. “Bet you didn’t pay for those fliers.”

“Of course I did,” he said, surprised.

She laughed and pulled her foot up to the edge of the bench. “No, you didn’t. You conned her into giving you credit, didn’t you? And you probably haven’t let go of a cent at the Welcome Inn yet.”

He set the box on the end of the bench, trying to look unruffled. “How did you know where I’m staying?”

She smiled. “I’m a genius. That, and the fact that it’s the only motel in town. So how are you planning to hoodwink

the men in the barbershop? Can’t flirt with them like you did the ladies. But you can still flatter them, can’t you? Touch on their misfortune. Plant ideas in their minds. You’ve probably learned enough about the ­people here in two weeks to know all their Achilles’ heels.”

His smile faded. Setting his mud-splattered foot on the edge of the bench, he leaned toward her. “I don’t know yours.”

She met his eyes boldly. “That’s because I don’t have one.”

Why did her comeback delight him so? Was it that she stared back at him, undaunted and unflattered by his close scrutiny? Or that she had his number, or thought she did, and wasn’t going to let him get away with a thing?

She glanced away when she heard Jason’s name being called from inside, and nodded for the boy to go in. “Tell him to cut it shorter around the ears. And I want to be able to see your eyebrows.”

“Aw, Mom!”

“Go,” she said, shooing him away.

When he was gone, she brought her gaze back to Logan and stared at him as if waiting for him to explain why he was standing there with his foot on her bench.

“Look, I don’t know why you’re out to get me,” he said. “I haven’t done anything to you. I’m just here trying to do these ­people a favor.”

“A favor?” She laughed. “That’s rich. You came here because you heard there was money here. That the local oil boom a few decades ago left these ­people sitting pretty. Then the wells played out, the factories closed, the hardest hit lost their farms — and everybody who still has money is waiting for a hero to show them how to grow it.”

“Is that why you came here, Carny?”

She didn’t ask how he knew her name. “It’s none of your business why I came.”

“Maybe it is,” he said. “Maybe you’re feeling threatened. Maybe you’re the one with the scam, and you’re afraid I’ll horn in on it. You know what they say. You can’t con a con.”

“They’re right, whoever they are,” she said, standing and starting toward the barbershop door. Just before she went in, she looked over her shoulder and added, “And you can’t con the daughter of a con, either. You’ve got your work cut out for you here, Brisco.”

Logan didn’t know whether that was meant as a threat or a challenge, but something about it delighted him more than anything had in years.

Grinning, he picked up his fliers and started up the street. He wasn’t just going to get rich in Serenity. He was also going to have the time of his life, with this little fireball who called herself Carny.

Shadow in Serenity
Copyright © 2011 by Terri Blackstock
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