Read Saving Cole Turner Online

Authors: Anne Carrole

Tags: #Romance, #western historical, #western, #historical

Saving Cole Turner (7 page)

BOOK: Saving Cole Turner
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“He can’t go. I may be carrying his child. Your grandchild.”

“She’s lying” Cole yelled as her father’s rifle was once again aimed at Cole’s gut. Kate held her place. Maybe she shouldn’t have said that, but neither of them was acting like they were supposed to and she was desperate.

“You said nothing happened,” her father challenged.

“Nothing did,” Cole answered.

“Well, unless there’s something you know that I don’t, babies don’t get made unless something damn well happens.”

“She’s lying so you’ll force me to marry her.” Cole shifted his focus to Kate, his body rigid. “Is that what you want? A man you tricked into marrying you? A man you’re so ashamed of you can’t let him court you outright? A man who isn’t sticking around for any reason?”

Kate closed her eyes, trying to block out the feelings those words brought. She was running out of time to make things right.

Her father’s voice caused her to open them again. “So help me, if you got her with child and you skip out, Cole Turner, you’ll prove you’re no better than your old man.”

Kate screamed as Cole drew his gun in a lightning-fast response to her father’s taunt.

“I ought to shoot you for what you’re thinking, old man. She’s not carrying my child. I didn’t take advantage of her and I’m not going to be forced into marrying her.”

Both men were now aiming their weapons at each other. She knew the only thing that had prevented them from firing at one another was her standing between them.

“Stop, both of you.” She flung out her arms, the blanket dropping to the ground. She hadn’t expected Cole to fight against making her his wife. She thought only her father stood in their way. But she’d learned today a lot more was blocking their path to a life together than she’d imagined.

Maybe he was right. Maybe she had been ashamed of him. It hadn’t even crossed her mind to invite him home. To make her father accept him. And she’d never thought of having to leave Three Bridges to have Cole. She’d thought Three Bridges would be a safe haven for him, someplace they could settle.

Tears pooled in her eyes. She’d made a mess of everything. She’d tried to trap Cole into marriage and her father into agreeing to it, and all she’d gotten for her trouble was a broken heart and the knowledge that she’d failed on all counts.

“Put down your guns. I’m going home. Nothing happened but a swim.” She could barely see through her tears, but she didn’t dare move until they both lowered their weapons.

“Not like that, you aren’t. You ain’t decent. Put your clothes on,” her father snapped. “And you,” he motioned to Cole with the rifle, “turn around and get out of here before my temper snaps.”

“I ain’t running on your say so, Will Flanders.” Cole stood there, legs splayed apart, gun at the ready, back straight.

Feeling the exhaustion of defeat, Kate took one step toward the pile of her clothes and the air rang with the release of a bullet.

Instantly, Cole’s strong arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her hard to his side. Together, they dropped to the ground. He rolled her under him in one fluid motion, pinning her. Her father was down, too, and both men were aiming their guns at the trail, waiting.

“Who the hell is that?” Her father huffed.

“Don’t know,” Cole said, but the tone of his voice said he might.

“What are you doing on top of my daughter?” her father ground out, but his eyes never left the trail.

“Protecting her—which should be obvious, Flanders,” Cole retorted.

“What’s obvious is…..”

“Stop it. Someone is shooting at us,” Kate hissed out the words, hoping some sense would make its way into the men’s thick skulls.

Another shot came in, not finding a target.

“He’s holed up by that pine tree, I’ll wager.” Cole’s  hard body was pressed to hers. He felt hot, solid, and all male.

Here she was being shot at, and all she could think about was how good it felt to be under him.

“You all right, Kate?” The brush of his lips was warm on her temple. Her heart fluttered at the simple gesture.

“Yes.”

“Not too heavy for you?” His eyes stayed fixed on the pine tree.

“No.” Kate said, her nose touching the ground, breathing in the dusty scent of the earth.

Another shot blistered through the air.

“You yellow, Turner? Now that you don’t have your posse with you?” a deep masculine voice called.

“Friend of yours?” her father asked.

“More likely the rustler that got away--the stupid fool.” Cole shifted to settle over her as he called his answer to the gunman. “You’ve been smarter than the rest—up till now.”

“I’m still smart. I need a horse and I’m thinking I’ve got three right here to choose from.”

“Give me your rifle, Flanders,” Cole muttered and held out his hand.

“What?”

“Your rifle. I can’t shoot that far with my gun.”

“You think I’m crazy? You’ll try to take Kate with you.”

Cole scoffed. “Your rifle isn’t preventing me from doing that. If I wanted to I would. But I don’t. Which I’ve made perfectly clear.”

Kate felt the sting of his remark as if a hundred bees had left their calling card.

Her father handed over the rifle and pulled out the gun on his hip to replace it.

“You’re going to kill him,” her father said as if reciting a fact.

In that single sentence, Kate felt the agony of Cole’s life. This is what he lived with every day of his existence. The sensitive, kind young man she’d known had been forced to kill over and over again to survive.

Cole called out to the rustler. “You can give yourself up now. It will go easier on you.”

“Not likely. I’m just a few steps from taking your horse and high-tailing it out of here.”

“I’ll track you down.”

“Guess I didn’t mention I’d be killing you and everybody with you first.”

Cole sighted the rifle, the butt resting on his shoulder.

“You got a bead on him?” Will asked.

“I’ve got him. He’s aiming at us from the right side of the pine. I’ll give him one last chance though.” Cole raised his head and called out, “Drop your gun!”

“Like hell I will.”

Cole’s bullet cracked through the air.

“Son of a …..!” A string of curse words exploded from the rustler along with a clattering sound Kate could only hope was the rustler’s gun hitting the ground.

“There’s more where that came from. Give yourself up and they’ll go easier on you.”

“I’m bleeding. Shit. You nearly blew my hand off. I’m bleeding.” The man’s frantic cries filled the woodland.

“Come out with your hands up.” Cole’s voice was deadly calm, but Kate could feel his heart pounding.

Cole reloaded. There was no response and no movement. Cole released the trigger and the shot zinged through the air.

A string of curse words came from the pine. Suddenly a man walked out, bloodied hands palm out. “You nearly blew off my toes, you one-eyed snake. Don’t shoot. I’m not dying over some cows,” he called out.

Cole reached for his Colt and handed the rifle to Kate. “Can you still shoot?”

“Of course, I can.” She’d been a least as good as him in their younger days. Of course, now, she had to admit he’d gotten a whole lot better.

“Cover me.” Then he rose off her, got to his feet, and, with his gun cocked, walked toward the rustler.

Cole and her father had the rustler secured in no time, tying his hands and feet. Some of the blanket was sacrificed to bind the man’s profusely bleeding hands. He’d likely never hold a gun again.

Once that was done, Cole donned his shirt and boots before wrapping a rope around the rustler’s waist and tying the end to the saddle horn of Cole’s horse. Likewise, Kate scrambled to put on her blouse and riding skirt over her still damp chemise and pantalets and slipped on her boots while her father trained the rifle on the outlaw.

The man looked like he’d led a hard life, two scars on his chin, a weathered face, and eyes with no light in them. He might be mean, but he didn’t look all that smart.

Cole addressed the man while her father kept the gun aimed at the fellow’s gut. “They call you Whitey, don’t they? Who’s running this operation, Whitey? Your men said you’re the only one who knows his identity.”

“There is no one else,” Whitey said, defiantly. “I’m the brains.”

Cole and her father exchanged glances.

“Not likely. I’ll ask you again and this time if I don’t have a name, there’ll be consequences.”

Whitey jutted his chin out like a stubborn old mule and tried to stare Cole down. “I’m the boss.”

Cole cracked the back of his hand across the man’s face. Whitey yelped like a dog that’d gotten stepped on.

“I don’t have time for baseless bragging. Tell me who your boss is.”

Blood formed on the man’s cracked lip as he focused cold eyes on Cole. “I ain’t going to tell.”

Cole raised his hand again and Kate stiffened. She’d never seen this side of Cole and yet, she wasn’t appalled. More like thunderstruck.

Her father was standing by, watching with narrow eyes, but, for the first time in Kate’s memory, her father was letting someone else handle the situation.

“I can kill you and collect the reward just as well, so tell me who put you up to this and I’ll say a word to the sheriff about your cooperation and be sure you get medical treatment.”

The man stared at Cole as if trying to gauge whether Cole had reached his limit. It was clear from the man’s ashen color that he was weakening from the loss of blood.

“Jake Parrish.” The name tumbled off the rustler’s lips like rocks in a landslide.

Kate felt the hairs on her neck stand at attention.

“What name did you say?” her father asked, his eyes wide in disbelief.

“You heard me. He’s had us stealing from all the ranchers, but he wants Tyler’s and Pritchard’s land the most, or so we’ve gathered.” By the smirk on the man’s face, he seemed to be getting a measure of satisfaction from doling out this news.

The rustler had just confirmed what her intuition had always told her about Jake Parrish.

Though he must have been momentarily stunned at the revelation, her father recovered. “That slithering worm of a horse’s ass is a dead man.”

“There are courts for the likes of these. We’ve got Parrish dead to rights. That’s what matters,” Cole said, showing more level-headedness than her father. “Let’s get this one into town so he can tell the sheriff.” Cole mounted his horse, then reined the horse around to face her father. “Is this sheriff an honest one?”

Will Flanders nodded. “I’ve known Evan McCaffrey all his life. I’d stake my name on it.” He paused a moment as he looked Cole dead in the eye. “But then, I’m known to have been wrong about character in the past.” Without another word, her father strode to his horse, mounted it, and signaled for Kate to do the same.

Kate’s heart beat wildly as she walked toward Cole. He was ready to head out as if there was nothing more to be said. But, as far as she was concerned, they had a lot yet to resolve. She intended to invite him to come to the house, proper-like. He’d been right about how she had treated him. Today she’d learned a lot about Cole she hadn’t known before, a lot about the man he was, and she loved him even more.

“Cole, we need to talk,” she said when she reached him.”Come to the house after?”

He looked down from his atop his horse, a sad smile forming on his lips. “Go home, Kate. It’s over.” He turned his horse and began to ride out, Whitey stumbling along behind.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

“I’m not going,” Kate declared, the pain of rejection still as raw as when Cole had told her to go home. “I’ve got my pride.”

Her father sat on the bench of the buggy parked outside the ranch house, one booted foot against the riser, waiting for her to climb aboard. His expression serious, Kate mentally braced for a lecture.

“Pride’s got its place, Kate. It keeps us from doing foolish things and it motivates us to keep trying when things get tough. But it rides the reins with a heavy hand, sometimes stopping us from acting when our future calls.”

Was this the same man who just a day ago had forbidden her to see Cole ever again? “You threatened to lock me in my room if I went to see him and now you’re prepared to escort me into his arms?”

A sheepish grin claimed her father’s face. “And you told me you wanted to marry the boy and now you’re turning tail.”

She wasn’t turning tail. But she’d all but groveled to Cole and he’d still said no. Cole’s reasons were all twisted up in her mind. Somehow he’d made it seem like it was her fault.

All day she’d waited by the window in the parlor dressed in her best green silk dress, expecting him to come down the ranch road, declare his love for her, and ask for her hand. After all, once he had time to think things through, how could he leave her? He’d risked his life to protect hers. She was sure that, with some reflection, he’d realize he couldn’t live without her, the same way she felt about him. And she’d all but decided she’d go away with him if that’s what he wanted.

Hour after hour ticked by. Mary came and sat with her. Her father poked his head in now and again. She’d sat there like a parched desert flower waiting for a rain that never came.

“He made it clear he didn’t want me.”

Her father gave a lopsided smile. “He wants you, honey. There’s no mistake there. When a man is willing to give up the woman he wants, sacrifice his needs for her sake, that’s love, honey.”

“Not the other?” she shot back.

“No. Not the other.” His eyes took on a serious cast. “All I want is for my girl to be happy. I now believe Cole can make you happy.” He leaned over the passenger side of the cracked leather seat and peered at her. “And you do, too. Get in and we’ll sort things as we drive. If we don’t go now, I can’t guarantee what state we’ll find him in. Man gives up everything important in his life, no telling what he’ll turn to.”

Kate’s heart clenched. Would Cole turn to drink and all that could mean for his soul?

Without another word, she put her boot on the step and reached for her father’s outstretched hand.

The slapping of the horse’s hooves against hard ground measured the time, while dust billowed around them as they headed toward her future. Or not.

BOOK: Saving Cole Turner
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Enchanter by Joanne Wadsworth
Wrong Thing by Graham, Barry
The Soul Hunter by Melanie Wells
Killerfest by Lawrence de Maria
A Table for Two by Janet Albert
Dead Stop by Hilliard, D. Nathan