Read Leather and Lace Online

Authors: DiAnn Mills

Tags: #Casey O’Hare, #fugitive, #outlaw gang, #Davis Jenkins, #Morgan Andrews, #best-selling author, #DiAnn Mills, #making life changes, #danger, #God’s redeeming love, #romance, #Texas Legacy series

Leather and Lace

BOOK: Leather and Lace
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Dedication

To Kathleen Y’Barbo Turner and Louse Gouge, who worked hard to critique this book.

Prologue

It’s a perfect time to ride out of here. They won’t be back for hours, maybe not till tomorrow with this storm coming. A good rain will hide my tracks . . . make it harder to trail me.

Casey O’Hare scanned the early morning horizon and watched the mounting storm clouds gather, roll, and spread across a blue-black sky. A brisk wind from the east swept up small sticks and leaves, tossed them lightly, then plunged them to the ground. In the distance, lightning flashed a jagged path across the sky. No rumble of thunder, just a warning of what lay ahead.

The fresh, earthy smell of rain teased her nostrils. Heavy drops hammered onto the dry ground faster and faster, as though daring her to escape this savage life. Riding in the open during a thunderstorm would be dangerous, but so was day-to-day survival with a gang of outlaws.

She could do it alone. She could stop the wishing and dreaming and change her sordid life. I will not become like them. Somewhere in this wide country was a place called home—and she’d find it.

April 1884, Utah Territory
Chapter 1

Fugitive Casey O’Hare had gone days without food but never without her gun. She knew how to call an outlaw’s bluff and when to listen. She recognized desperation in wanted men and could smell trouble by the turn of the wind. But her senses turned to sickening dread when she found herself looking into the steel barrel of a Winchester .44.

With an inward gasp, she studied the man towering over her. The stranger could be one more man on the run. He could be hungry for the reward. Or he could have orders to shoot her on sight. Glancing above the ominous man’s head to the cold, starless Utah night, Casey tasted bitter, gut-wrenching fear.

Was he alone?

“Evenin’.” She mustered the courage to smile. “You look right cold. Sit yourself by the fire.”

“I might.” He didn’t budge. “Soon as I take care of a few things.” His gloved finger rested a hair’s breadth from the trigger. Too close for her to jump him. A fresh sprinkling of snow reflected from the firelight and sparkled like silver across the top of the rifle barrel. He stuck his snow-caked boot under her Winchester, lying across her lap, and lifted it into his hand.

“Have some coffee, mister. It’ll warm you up. Mighty cold t’night. Take my mug. I’ve got another one.” She searched his shadowed features for something that might call his identity to mind. Remote hideaways and grim corners triggered nothing in her memory, and she’d always taken pride in remembering a face.

Keeping her hands in full view, she reached for the coffeepot teetering on the crackling fire and poured the strong brew. Tossing it in his face crossed her mind, but the rifle under her chin reined in the thought. “Here you are. Hope you aren’t hungry. I’m fresh out of grub.”

“No thanks.”

Her gaze lifted above the rifle to the shadowy figure looming above the blaze. Flames danced high enough to touch on his silhouette yet provided too little light to scrutinize his every detail. Beneath a snow-dusted, wide-brimmed hat pulled down tightly over his eyes glared a face as dismal as nature’s call to the winter night. Ice clung to his amber-colored mustache and beard. Casey recalled a man frozen to death who looked friendlier than this one.

“Mind if I get another mug from my saddlebag?”

“I’ll get it.” He reached for her saddlebag and pulled out her Colt and derringer. “No mug here.” He hunkered down onto a stack of drying wood and shifted the aim of his rifle from her face to her chest.

“I must have left it somewhere.”

“Give me the knife in your boot. Nice and easy-like.”

She obliged and let him think he had her—for now. While he gulped the hot coffee, she tugged at the worn army blanket around her neck.

She inched closer to the fire and watched the red orange flames lick greedily at the dry wood. The popping and snapping broke the silence like an old man who’d settled down to ease his bones.

How did she get out of this one? Who was he?

“Good coffee.” His voice rose barely above the sputtering fire.

In the firelight, she saw his piercing eyes—deep turquoise, as hard as the stone, and matching in color. She’d never seen eyes like his. She’d have remembered. Not once did his intense stare leave her face or show a trace of emotion. “State your business, mister.”

“Jenkins’s men got caught up in the snow, but come daybreak, they’ll be back on your trail.”

“Did Jenkins send you after me? Are you after his reward?”

“Neither,” he said.

“The law?”

“No.”

“Have I wronged you?”

“No, ma’am. I’m passing on a word of warning. If I can read your trail in the dark and snow, they won’t have any trouble come morning.”

“Guess I’d best be getting out of here.” She hesitated a moment more. “Look, mister, I need my rifle. Without it, you’re marking my grave.”

“I’m keeping it,” he said. “Do you know the way down out of these hills?”

“I’ll find it.” She kicked at a loose log on the fire. “And I don’t need your help.”

“I’m not asking. I’m telling.”

“Why? You got a fondness for Brown’s Park and gettin’ caught in a snowstorm?”

“I have my reasons.” He spat his words like venom.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” she said. “I don’t intend to let Jenkins catch up with me, or let a judge sentence me to hang, or lace a man’s pocket with bounty money. You belong to one of them. And you’d better not be around when I find out who you are.”

He chuckled. “I never say anything I don’t mean, and I don’t doubt you’d blow a hole right through me. I want Jenkins for myself, and by sticking with you, I’m bound to get him.”

Must be a money-grubbing bounty hunter. She shivered. With a price on her head, she didn’t see a bounty hunter holding any better credentials than an outlaw. She should have shot Jenkins when she’d had the chance. More so, she shouldn’t have gotten mixed up with a gang of outlaws in the first place. Seemed like her life had gone from one bad decision to another—except this last one to leave it all behind.

“Do you have a name? I need to call you something,” she said.

“Morgan.”

“I reckon you already know me.”

“Casey O’Hare, Davis Jenkins’s woman.” Morgan wrapped his gloved fingers around the coffeepot.

“I’m not his woman, never was, never will be.”

A hint of amusement flashed across his face and sparked an angry flame within her. He poured a second cup of coffee. “You’re prettier than the stories and the wanted posters, but the fire’s the same. Must be the red hair.”

She stared hard into the stranger’s face. His mouth curved into a slight smile. Casey observed what she could see of his face in the shadows and searched for a defined mark of deceit, but she saw only a clever stranger. Could this Morgan be an angel sent to deliver her or the devil setting her up for a kill?

Perhaps the beard and mustache were meant to disguise a man she’d otherwise recognize. Mr. Morgan wouldn’t be the first to hide this way. He could conceal his looks easier than she with her long hair and the fact she was a woman outlaw in a territory full of wanted men.

A wolf howled. Casey shuddered as several more answered. If the wild animals didn’t devour her, she’d surely freeze to death. Seemed like her life had been forever preyed upon by someone or something. Good folks said a person like her couldn’t shake her past. But she knew better. She’d lose Casey O’Hare in some secluded town where no one would recognize her.

“How do I know you aren’t one of them?” she said.

“You don’t, but I’ll tell you what I do know.” He handed her the empty mug, and she filled it for herself. “I’ve heard plenty through more than a half-dozen men about how Davis Jenkins set his gang after the woman who refused to stay with him. Those claims are over six weeks old.” His face hardened. “By this time, he might very well want you dead. You and I both know Jenkins always gets what he wants, no matter what the cost.”

Casey felt the icy air as she looked up to meet the gaze of this stranger who appeared too confident. “I don’t hold much stock in rumors. Only fools rely on hearsay in this part of the country, and they rarely live to remedy their mistakes.”

“I’m no fool, and I know where they’re camped.”

“So how far off are they?” She wrapped her freezing gloved hand around the hot mug. His finger still rested on the Winchester’s trigger.

“Depends on the weather. I saw ’em earlier today. Can’t miss Jenkins with that ugly scar running down his face.”

“What kind of man tracks down another in this snow and cold? Most men wouldn’t risk their life for the likes of him.”

“I don’t claim to be a smart man, just vengeful.”

“Makes me think I’m better off alone.”

“But you’re not, and I’m telling you that we’re camping by the Green River tomorrow night.”

Maybe he would, but she had other plans.

“Why did you run off?” Morgan said. “Word is he treated you fair.”

She bit back another caustic remark. “I said I’m not his woman, which is the reason he wants me back. It has nothing to do with money, another man, or any other lie you’ve heard. He’ll not rest until I’m either with him or dead.”

“I don’t believe a word of it. A lover’s spat. That’s all. What happened? Is the law paying more money for his hide than yours? Or did he find out you had another man?”

“I didn’t ask you to believe me.”

“You’ve been a part of this gang since you were fourteen. Now you tell me there’s never been anything between you and Jenkins?”

“You’re talking through your hat.”

He laughed. “Fancy words from someone who has a gun on them.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be, since I know a whole lot about you.”

“Where did you get your information?”

“I happened to be in Billings when you shot a man in self-defense.”

“The sheriff called it murder.”

“You were nothing more than a kid, and the man pulled a gun on you. Besides, you didn’t kill him.”

She knew that man died. She’d seen it on a wanted poster. “Sounds like you watched the whole thing or had firsthand news.”

“I told you before, I was in Billings. Remember the heat and the storm that stopped the posse?”

A vague recollection taunted her mind—a young woman in a light blue dress and a man dressed in a dark suit and shiny boots. “What were you doing in Billings?”

“Getting married.”

Maybe this man did know a lot about her. But why? “Why aren’t you home with her?”

“She’s dead.”

“No young’uns?”

Morgan’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll ask the questions.”

Casey held her tongue. No point in making him mad.

“Tim’s riding with ’em,” Morgan said. “I saw him with Jenkins yesterday. In fact, he and the boss looked real friendly.”

“Leave my brother out of this.” She clenched her fists. How had Morgan learned so much about her? Newspapers seldom printed the truth, and wanted posters never got any of it right. Too late to change anything. Only remorse sealed her fate.

Casey emptied the coffee grounds onto the frozen earth. Just like my life—useless. I despise this miserable emptiness. I hate sleeping with one hand on a gun and always having to look over my shoulder. Casey took a deep breath. Soon this will be behind me, or I’ll die trying to free myself from the whole sorry lot of them.

“We’d best get going,” Morgan said. “We’re wasting time, and I don’t entertain the thought of another blizzard coming through.”

She studied the stranger’s face, then turned her attention to the looming blackness behind him. Could Jenkins and his men be hiding among those trees that seemingly stretched to the sky? Were they laughing and thinking about what they’d do to her? She shook her head and refused to dwell on the outlaw and the others. The nightmares would drive her mad.

Right now she needed to concentrate on this Morgan fellow and how to outsmart him. Until then, she’d be traveling down an icy mountain path, weary and nursing the pain of wretched memories.

“We’re wasting time, girl. I have plans.”

A gust of bone-chilling wind whipped across her face and took her breath away.

BOOK: Leather and Lace
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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