Authors: Andrea Downing
Lawmen and Outlaws
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Andrea Downing
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Cactus Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-889-9
Lawmen and Outlaws
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Andrea Downing
“...Loveland is a story that moves at a good pace and did not let this reader down. The dread and sorrow that Alex endured, with her father, could be shared by this reader. The love Jesse and Alex share shines throughout the story. They are genuine, convincing characters in a tale of romance and heartfelt moments, especially with the many conflicts they faced. Andrea Downing pens a family drama that allows the reader to almost reach out and relate with the players. She fashions some wonderful visualizations which are hard to forget.”
~Coffee Time Reviews
“A lovely read to see two people from two different places come together and make things happen. ... Watching Alex and Jessie is maddening at times and loving the next. The author does a great job with the characters and descriptions throughout the story. Makes you want to fall in love with a real cowboy. I would love to read more by this author.”
~Romancing the Book
For the real
Dylan James Kane,
who wouldn’t trade his spurs for anything
My sincere thanks to fellow authors and members of Women Writing the West, Eunice Boeve and Karen Casey Fitzjerrell, for casting their western eyes over an earlier draft of this story. You’ll make a westerner of me yet, ladies.
I’m indebted to my editor, Allison Byers, for guiding me through the Badlands of historical western story-telling and making the journey so much better.
Without my daughter, Cristal, I would never have the western adventures that lead to the stories I write, nor would I enjoy writing them quite so much. You make every day better than the last, sweetheart.
Marshal Dylan J. Kane was not a happy man. Days of tracking an outlaw had ended in rain-washed tracks, the trail gone cold, the crime unsolved. To make matters worse, a snap of thunder, ricocheting like a shot through the mountains, had startled his horse. Dylan had kissed the earth with a thud, rising up and brushing himself down just in time to catch sight of Daisy’s retreating figure. And so last, but certainly not least, the marshal had tramped five miles through Wyoming’s coarse sage, rain at times pelting him like a sinner out of Jerusalem, to find the mare grazing by the banks of the Snake River.
“Just like a woman,” he mumbled as he hunkered down with his canteen to scoop fresh water. “First sign of trouble they up and leave.”
Daisy tossed her head as if denying the fact, then pulled off leaves from a nearby cottonwood. The day had now cleared, and Dylan leaned back against a sun-baked rock. His face finding warmth, he enjoyed the peace of the moment, before a hum of melody that wasn’t birdsong interrupted the silence. Carried on the breeze was the murmur of singing, the light voice drifting in with a watery accompaniment. Leaves fluttered like background percussion.
“What the heck…?” Shuffling through the undergrowth, he came to a point where the river slowed, the bend forming slack water into a small inlet. From open saddle bags, several items were strewn nearby along with a few clothes, neatly folded—smalls of the female variety, but then a shirt, denims, and a gun belt. Was there a man here as well?
Dylan pushed some branches aside and watched as one long leg stretched up from the water. A hand, dainty and small, deftly worked soap down the length of the leg before it was replaced by the other. Both legs ended in the neatest little feet Dylan had ever seen.
But what he wasn’t seeing, the heaven between those two shapely legs, made what was between his own two legs a mite uncomfortable. He shifted a step to catch sight of the rest of the body—glistening wet hair met flawless white shoulders, and just above the water line two curves of—
“Hell and damnation,” Dylan whispered. “Double hell and damnation.”
Nothing could be done about his stirrings. Her face belonged to an angel, and if wings weren’t attached to those white shoulders, she sure as hell had the body of one. He watched for a moment as the song and the washing continued before pulling back from the shrubs and checking his surroundings. A single horse, grazing a distance off.
His day had just gotten a whole lot better.
Better still. The girl now floated on her back for a few seconds before ducking under the water. Lawman or not, he couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to have that beautiful wet skin against his.
“Hell and damnation, Dylan. Behave yourself.”
A man can’t stop the thoughts that go
through his mind
. “No siree, better behave.” He stepped forward.
“I think you should know—” The gasp as she turned and sank below the water up to her neck made him realize his mistake.
“Why you…How long have you been watching, you…you…you Peeping Tom, you. Why you…how dare you?”
“Now, hang on, miss. I only wanted to warn you ’bout the snakes in that there river.”
“Get. Out. Of. Here! Now!”
Hmmm. A little hellcat
. Dylan settled comfortably, one foot up on a thick tree root, and crossed his arms. “You ain’t bein’ right friendly now. After all, ain’t a whole lot you can do. An’ I’m just warnin’ you ’bout snakes. Way I see it, if I take a fancy to sittin’ here all day, you’re either stuck in that there river or forced to come on out here with me. Want to talk this over peaceable-like?” He gave her what he thought was his winning smile, but the huge eyes only flashed at him before ducking back into the water. Then they bobbed back up.
“If you don’t leave, you’ll have my death on your hands, I swear. Let me see you ride off, and fast, mister, otherwise I’m drowning myself.”
Dylan snorted with a grunt-like laugh. He watched some leaves fly off in the wind. Believing she must be getting cold, he wouldn’t continue his joke too long. “Tell you what. You promise to have dinner with me and I—”
“I wouldn’t have dinner with you if you were the last man on earth. You gonna get outta here, or do I die? My honor is more important to me than some dinner!”
“How do you know you wouldn’t like din—” but he never finished the invitation. The girl ducked down and disappeared from sight.
Dylan waited for her to reappear. Then he waited some more. And a little bit more. “Oh, shit,” he mumbled to himself as he yanked off his boots, pulled off his shirt, and dropped his gun belt. “Oh, hell and damnation!” And then he was in the water, thrashing about, looking for the beautiful body he wanted so badly to hold.
Lacey Everhart could swim like a fish, or so she’d been told back in Tennessee from where she and her brother, Luke, had come. She tried to keep it out of her mind that the badge she’d spied meant the good-looking man on the riverbank was a lawman, no less. First and foremost, she needed to get the hell outta here and not have him follow her. She ducked down and swam for the reeds on the edge of the river and stayed there until she heard the splash. It was sooner than she would have thought.
Pulling herself out and shaking her head to stop the drips, she grabbed her knickers and camisole before pulling up the denims and tugging on her shirt. He popped up every so often and looked back but couldn’t see her here behind the brush. She buckled on the gun belt before slamming her feet into her boots, snatching her saddlebags, and throwing them on her horse. Then she marched down to the river’s edge. She held out her gun.
“Mister?” Her voice was too low to gain his attention, so she shouted the next time. “Hey! Mister!” A slow smile spread across her face as she watched his head turn and the realization dawn on him. “You can come on out now. Real slow. Slow and easy.”
Dylan grabbed some branches and pulled himself up before standing a few yards from her, water trailing down the contours of his irate face. The hairs on his chest dripped like melting icicles. “That’s some dang trick, lady. I went in to save you, and this is the thanks…”
“Just stay where you are and take your pants off. Now!”
His mouth formed into a pucker with its attempt not to smile.
He couldn’t be that dumb, surely
. His long fingers skittered down his buttons and undid them one by one before he dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. Long wet drawers didn’t do much hiding, but his modesty was preserved.
“Sit on that rock there and clasp your hands behind your back. And don’t try any funny business neither.” Holding the gun on him, Lacey bent and picked up the pants before tossing them into the river. Luckily for Dylan, they caught on a branch hanging over the water and dangled like a fish on the end of a pole. She walked backwards to her horse, the gun steady on the man, and reached up for her rope.
“Guess you came sneakin’ up on the wrong woman, Mister.”
“You see the badge?”
“I seen a bit of tin pinned on your good-fer-nothin’ chest. Doesn’t mean a dang thing to me. You think you can take advantage of that?” She stared at his chest, now shirtless, its rippling muscles bulging as he clasped his hands behind him.
“I wasn’t takin’ advantage—I was warnin’ you ’bout the snakes…” He took a breath in thought. “I cared for your safety.”
“Cared nothing. The only thing you cared about was getting an eyeful and mebbe a bit more later. Keep those hands clasped behind you and don’t move. I get nervous, this gun is liable to go off.”
“You going to tie me up? I may starve to death. Or freeze.”
“I doubt it.” She moved behind him, getting one end of the rope in her mouth as she worked to make several turns around his wrists. Feeling safe to lay the gun aside out of his reach but within hers, she fed the dally through and tied a fancy knot, leaving the rest trailing behind him. Then she seized the gun again. “If you have half a brain, I reckon you’ll be outta this before night fall.” She stood and looked down at him. Tall, lanky, but for a lawman, he sure could use a shave and a haircut. His eyes were soft, a gentle man’s eyes, not hard like some she had known though steel existed behind them. She could see that. He scrutinized her as well, and the urge to run her finger along his jaw line hit her a moment before the urge to bend and kiss him took hold.
“Don’t come after me, Marshal,” she whispered. “I don’t want to see your ugly face again.”
Sheriff Brady, his face like a walnut, leaned back in his chair with feet propped on the desk. Dylan studied his fellow lawman keenly. The smell of river water pervaded the air, and when Brady coughed, his chair jerked indicating it might tip over. The sheriff brought his legs down and clasped his hands in front of him, eyeing Dylan as the marshal turned over the stack of Wanted posters and studied them.
“You say the description you got was that he was young with fair coloring?”
“Yeah,” Dylan answered, “but I have to admit that ain’t a whole lot to go on, nor is it definite that was the guilty man.” Dylan shifted in his chair.
The sheriff ran a hand across his face as if trying to suppress a smile.
“Morgan wasn’t a popular man over in Twin Pines, and the folks what said they saw a rider leading Morgan’s horse through town at a run might’ve been trying to mislead me. But fact is, whoever took the horse could be responsible for Morgan’s death—plus, horse stealing alone is a hanging offense. That’s the sum of it.” Dylan squirmed again, his wet pants rubbing uncomfortably.