Susan Mallery

Wild Hearts

A book in the Lone Star Sisters series, 2009


Welcome to Wild Hearts, an eBook exclusive prequel to Susan Mallery’s Lone Star Sisters trilogy!

Who can tame the wildest man in Titanville?

Zeke Titan has a reputation for breaking hearts, but the townspeople of Titanville can’t deny all the good he’s done for them. So they turn the other cheek as he seduces one schoolteacher after another. Until Alethea Harbaugh comes to town.

The new teacher brings with her a passion for women’s rights that invigorates the ladies of Titanville, and instills fear in the men. Zeke is intent on seducing her, if only to send her running, ruined, from the town so that things can return to normal. But Zeke just might have met his match…in more ways than one!


Chapter One

Texas, 1882

Zeke Titan had long believed there was nothing more beautiful than Texas…except maybe a willing woman. He’d been missing both for the better part of six months, which explained why he was riding shotgun on a freight wagon, instead of waiting for the daily coach that traveled between Dallas and Titanville.

His business and the cold Yankee winter had kept him away from home for far too long. And the beautiful ladies of New York and Boston hadn’t tempted him as they once had. He couldn’t say if he had lost the enjoyment of the chase or if he simply missed Titanville.

He’d been born under a lucky star, at least that’s what everyone always said. He’d never met an enemy he couldn’t turn into a friend, had yet to lose money on any enterprise he invested in and he couldn’t be beat at cards. A good life, he told himself. Then why did he feel so restless?

The freight wagon rounded a bend in the road. Up ahead he saw the familiar shapes of the buildings of the town. As always, a group of people stood waiting for the arrival of the bi-weekly freight wagon. There would be supplies for the dry goods store, a sewing machine or two, building material, fabric and whatever else it took to keep a household running. Zeke wouldn’t know. He’d been living in the Titanville hotel since he was sixteen when an ace of spades had turned him from a poor orphan into a rich man.

They passed the stables first. Billy Wade yelled something, but Zeke couldn’t hear what it was. Then Big John, the blacksmith, called out to him. Zeke held a hand to his ear. Big John ran after the wagon.

As Zeke turned, he saw other men running toward him. Most he recognized, a few he didn’t. The crowd behind the wagon grew. As the driver slowed the horses, Zeke jumped down. He held his Winchester loosely, just in case there was trouble.

Billy got to him first. His friend was gasping for breath and holding his side.

“You’re back. We’ve been waitin’, Zeke. Waitin’ and countin’ the days. You gotta help us. We don’t know what to do.”

“About what?” Zeke asked, stepping out of the way of those eager to claim their packages.

“There’s trouble. Big trouble.” The other men joined Billy, crowding around Zeke. They nodded.

“It’s awful,” one man said.

“You won’t believe what they’re makin’ us do.”

Zeke imagined everything from Indians to cattle rustlers.

“The new teacher got here ’bout two days after you left,” Billy said, his eyes wide, his expression frightened.

Zeke relaxed. “You’re talking about a woman?”

The men exchanged glances.

“Not just any woman,” Billy told him. “She’s different, Zeke. Mrs. Harbaugh brought more than books to town.” He looked around, as if afraid someone might be listening, then lowered his voice. “She’s changed them.”

The other men nodded.

“Changed who?”

“All the women. My Molly never used to talk back to me. Now she has ideas and…” Billy swallowed. “She wants me to listen to her. I told her I was buyin’ more cattle and she said no. She said we needed to save money to send our boys to college. In Maryland.”

There was a collective gasp.

“They’re tsked,” Big John said, then shuddered.

“They’re what?”

“Tsked,” Billy told Zeke. “Titanville Society for Knowledge, Empowerment and Devotion. Tsked. If we do something they don’t like, they tsk at us. It’s to remind us to act right.”

The men looked defeated. Zeke couldn’t help it. He laughed. The sound came from deep inside and felt good.

“I’m gone six months and every one of you is running scared because of a woman?” Zeke kept laughing until his sides ached. “That’s a good one. You think that up, Billy? It’s a fine way to welcome me home. Good for you.”

Billy grabbed his arm. “It’s not a joke, Zeke. You’ve got to do something to help us. You’re the only one. We want you to court Alethea Harbaugh. Get her to fall in love with you. All the women do, it won’t be hard. Have your way with her, ruin her, then send her back where she came from.”

“I’m not sure her husband will approve of me courting her.”

“She’s a widow,” Big John said. “She’s powerful, Zeke. There’s something about the way she looks at a man. As if she knows every bad thing he’s ever done.”

“Why is she here?” Zeke asked, still convinced they were joking. They had to be.

“She’s the new schoolteacher,” one of the men said. “The books she’s brought with her. Plays by some dead Englishman. Something about a ham. My boys are walking around quoting him all the time. You’ve gotta stop it!”

Billy sucked in a breath. “Zeke, we’re desperate men. We’ll do anything you say. Just get that harpy out of town.”

The wagon driver handed down Zeke’s trunk. Big John took it and put it on his shoulder as if it weighed less than a chicken. The group of men began moving toward the hotel.

“You get her gone and things will go back the way they were,” old Sam said. “Zeke, we’re depending on you. I’ll give you first pick of my prize sow’s spring litter.”

“I’ll butcher it for free,” another man said.

“We’ll get together and build you a house, if you want. The biggest house Titanville’s ever seen. Just get her to leave.”

Billy nodded. “Anything, Zeke. You can bring your mares to stud with my best stallion.”

These were fine offers, Zeke thought. Generous. Desperate. He’d played enough cards in his life to know when

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