New Orleans, Louisiana – 1867

Baily Winston took a deep breath and smoothed her cotton skirt as she stared at the sign above her head. The Gator Bait Saloon, wildest in the Vieux Carre´.

She shivered despite the heat. No self-respecting southern lady would enter a saloon, but Bailey was desperate. The war had ended two years ago for the country—Bailey’s struggle continued.

She pushed the swinging doors open and stepped inside, the wooden floor creaking with her footsteps. Several men sat at a table playing cards while saloon girls peered over their shoulders. A young man sporting a wooden leg played the piano. Bailey coughed and waved her hand at the thick cigar smoke swirling in the humidity as she moved closer to the long, polished bar.

A toothless gent grinned, lifting his foamy beer in salute. Her heart raced. I must be crazy to come here.

She started to turn and run but the door behind the bar opened, and the answer to her prayers stepped out. Without looking at her, the man moved in the opposite direction. Three years had passed, but Bailey would recognize the light brown hair curling around his collar, the width of his shoulders, and his nonchalant stride anywhere.

“I came to ask you an important question, and I’m not leaving until I do.”

She whispered a silent prayer for strength as the man turned toward her, holding a whiskey glass in one hand and a cleaning rag in the other. His gaze met hers and he plopped the glass down. “Bailey Rose Winston, what are you doing in a place like this?”

Bailey pulled out a wobbly stool and sat down, grabbing the edge of the bar to steady herself. Her blood sparked like she was standing in the middle of a lightning storm. “I heard you were working here, Cody, so I came to see you.”

Cody cocked one dark brow and frowned. Bailey knew that look, but she could handle Cody’s mood. “You get out right now. You don’t belong here.”

“Neither do you.”

Cody put his elbows on the bar and leaned closer to her. “I work here. You go home. Now.” His voice sounded low and menacing, but it would take more than a little temper to shake her resolve.

“I came to ask you an important question, and I’m not leaving until I do.”

He let out a deep breath. “What is the question?”

“Will you marry me?”

Cody jerked. His hand hit the whiskey glass, sending it crashing to the floor, but his hard stare never left Bailey’s face. “I’m not in the mood for your games.”

“I’m serious. Ma is sick, and the boys are too young to help much at the farm. We owe taxes. I can’t pay if I don’t bring in a crop. We’ll lose our home.”

Cody’s posture relaxed, and his gaze softened. “I’m sorry for your troubles, but what does that have to do with me?”

“The Cody I knew would’ve kept his promise.”

“I need a man to help me bring in the crops. I can’t do it alone.”

Cody shook his head. “I’m not the only man around.”

“Don’t you remember our childhood promise?”

Lines creased Cody’s brow and he rubbed his jaw. What was wrong with him? Had he lost all his senses in the war?

“We said we’d get married when we grew up,” Bailey continued. “You carved our names in the old oak tree.”

“You carved our names in the tree.”

Great. That was the part he remembered.

Cody brushed his shaggy hair away from his face. “You can’t expect me to keep a childish promise.”

“The Cody I knew would’ve kept his promise.”

“That Cody is gone. He died in the war and lives in a saloon with a bunch of ghosts.”

Bailey slapped the cold bar with her palm. “You are still very much alive and wasting your life behind a bar.”

Cody bowed his head and ran his thumb along a deep crack in the wood. “I’m not the man you need. Not much spirit left.”

“I’m not interested in your spirit. I just need your back, and it looks plenty strong.”

Cody laughed. “Bailey, you haven’t changed. Just as feisty and bull-headed as ever.”

Bailey brushed tears from her cheeks. “You were my best friend. I’ve always loved you. We could do anything together.”

Cody opened his mouth and his eyes clouded over. He had to remember their friendship – their love. “I’ll always love you but…” He grabbed her hand. His calloused thumb brushed across her flesh. “The war changed me. I’m not good enough for you.”

Bailey gripped his hand tighter. “You’re about the best person I’ve ever known. We can put the war behind us. Together.”

Cody’s mouth twisted and he let go of her hand. “Your offer is tempting.” He brushed her hair over her shoulder. “You’re so pretty and strong.”

Bailey trembled. He still loved her. He’d say yes. Cody opened his mouth, then snapped his jaw shut and turned around.

Bailey’s heart cracked yet it continued to beat and push blood through her veins. “Sorry to have bothered you. I’ll find another man.”

She jumped off the stool, gathered her skirt, and headed toward the door. The toothless man lunged toward her, grabbed her arms, and pulled her against his chest.

“I’m not interested in your spirit. I just need your back, and it looks plenty strong.”

“I’ll marry you, girlie.” Bailey’s stomach churned at his hot whiskey-laden breath.

She struggled in the man’s hold. Cody soon stood beside her. “Get back, Roscoe.” He shoved the drunk away.

“Thank you for that—at least.” Bailey tried to step past Cody, but he grabbed her shoulders.

“Is that all you have to say to your fiancée?”

She looked up into Cody’s hazel eyes. “Fiancée?”

“Bailey Winston, will you marry me?”

Bailey tilted her head. “I asked you first.”

Cody’s fingers tightened on her shoulders, and her flesh burned through the cotton dress. A slight smile touched his lips. “Then I’ll answer for both of us.” He paused before saying the one word destined to change both of their lives. “Yes.”


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Meet the Author

Sharon Rene grew up in Louisiana and lives in Tennessee. She writes children’s, young adult, and flash fiction. Her collection of flash fiction entitled A Flash of Romance is available on Kindle and

Her book of short stories for elementary age children, A Mixed Bag of God’s Grace, will be published by in May 2018, and the first book in her young adult speculative series, Hesitant Heroes, will be published in 2019.

You can follow Sharon on her Facebook page.