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Authors: Jennifer Zane

The Lady and the Lawman

BOOK: The Lady and the Lawman
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THE
LADY AND THE LAWMAN

Jennifer
Zane

©
2013 by Jennifer Zane

Cover
Design © 2013 by Jennifer Zane

Cover
photo by Illustrated Romance

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either
are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses,
companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All
rights reserved.

No
part of this book may be reproduced or copied in any form or format,
by electronic, digital, or mechanical means including, but not
limited to, information storage and retrieval systems, without
written permission from the publisher. An exception is granted to
book reviewers who may quote up to 250 words in a review.

Other
books by Jennifer Zane:

The
Gnome Novel Series:

Gnome
On The Range

Gnomeless

Gnome
For The Holidays

Gnome,
Alaska

CHAPTER
ONE

Colorado-
1878

Curled
in a ball on the uncomfortable bench seat of the stage, her arm an
awkward pillow against the jolts and rocking of the stage, Margaret
Atwater snoozed fitfully. The
heat
was stifling, covering her like a wool blanket in July. Her dress
clung to her sweaty skin, her hair damp and sticking to her brow.
She'd undone the top few buttons at the neck, revealing the full
swell of her breasts above her snug corset. The smallest of
adjustment offered a reprieve from the endless warmth and the strict
confines of polite society. Who cared about social mores when it was
almost too hot to breathe, much less be covered head to toe in linen
and cotton?

The
leather curtains flapped noisily with each rock or lumbering sway.
Rays of intense sun intermittently filtered through and burned
through her closed lids. She licked her parched lips, anticipating
the next stop on the route like a lost man in a desert finding an
oasis. She must look as poorly as she felt. But she didn't care. She
was safely away from her fiancé's clutches and that was her sole
concern.

It
was impossible to say exactly where she was beyond a two days' ride
west of St. Louis. She'd lost track in the tedium of horse hooves and
the never-ending sway and dip of the stage. If she had to guess, she
was somewhere in the new state of Colorado.

Deafening
shots rang out, rousing her. “What?” she whispered to herself,
clearing her fuzzy head.

A
second round of gunfire chipped pieces of wood out of the panel above
her head and the stage lurched forward with incredible speed.


Oh
no!” she shouted, instinctively covering her head.

There
was no time to panic, or even think. Chunks of wood flew through the
air and landed in her hair, on her lap. The uncontrollable swaying
had her reaching her arms out, one hand hitting the side of the
stage, her fancy East Coast hat toppling off her head.

She
spread her legs wide on the floor to help maintain her balance and
grunted in an unladylike fashion as she held on. If any of her
society friends could see her now, they’d probably faint dead away.
Her dress was unbuttoned low enough to expose her ample cleavage the
lace on her corset, her hat was crushed beneath her feet, and
tendrils of her dark hair fell from its pins. Her dress was stained
and wrinkled from travel, and most likely beyond repair.

Through
the clamoring leather flap, she could make out a blur of the endless
green prairie. A wheel caught on what felt like a
deep rut and the stage jumped as if it were a feather in the wind. It
fell more like a boulder from a cliff.

Dust
kicked up as the stage slid to a rough stop and she coughed in the
thick air. The stage—and Margaret—landed on its side, the horses
unable to drag the heavy load farther. Whoever fired the gunshots
were nearby. She heard their heavy breathing from where she laid,
sprawled in a heap, her skirts around her neck.

Wincing,
she rubbed her hip where she landed on the corner of the seat.
Continuing on, she did a quick assessment of the rest of her body and
found only a few sore spots and probably, come tomorrow, many a
bruise. Attempting to get her bearings, she looked up at the roof,
no, the wall of the stage. Carefully but without any ladylike grace,
she pulled herself up to the window to peek out, standing on the
other wall and door, which were now the floor. Her legs, tangled in
the mess of skirts and petticoats, made it extremely difficult.

Two
men on horseback waved their guns and one fired again into the air.
Her heart leapt into her throat as she covered her ears and flinched
at the deafening sound. Only a squeak escaped her throat, a full
scream clogged by fear. She was going to die. Alone, standing in a
tipped carriage, a complete mess, shot by bandits or robbers or
desperadoes. She'd never contemplated how she would eventually die,
but she always assumed she'd be old and gray, and not in the middle
of nowhere!

The
only life she'd ever known, a life of stifling wealth and loneliness,
had changed overnight. Every dream, every girlhood plan, had been
wiped away by a few evil words by her fiancé. She’d escaped, but a
different destiny started for her now. Scared—no, petrified—in
Colorado. Just her, and men with guns.

Their
faces were shadowed because of their hats, worn low over their eyes.
Chaps covered long pants, their spurs clinked against their horse’s
flanks. The men were filthy, their clothes coated in a thick layer of
dust, their sleeves rolled up against the hot sun. Sweat stained the
front of their shirts.

Their
horses looked worn, nostrils flaring with each breath, their dark
coats glistening with sweat. They nickered and stomped the ground,
uneasy.

This
was like a scene right out of a dime novel she secretly enjoyed
reading, but Margaret didn’t remember the fear clamping down on her
heart like a vice, squeezing the breath from her lungs, when she’d
read about the stage robbers. It had seemed exotic, far-fetched and
romantic. She couldn't have been more wrong. Her palms gripped the
window frame, her knuckles white. A trickle of cold sweat slid down
the back of her neck.

When
she’d answered the advertisement for a mail order bride in order to
escape a doomed marriage to William Hunt, this little adventure was
not something she’d anticipated. Indians maybe, but not stage
robbers.


Check
those bags and look for loot. I’ll go see who’s inside,” one of
the men said, pointing his gun toward the stage.

They
were going to find her and kill her. She had to escape! As she ducked
back into the stage, her gaze darted around the small space,
searching for a
hiding
place. There was nowhere to
go
,
no secret way out. In fact, her only escape route was through the
door above her. She looked up, squinting at the brightness of the
sun. All she could see was the blue, cloudless sky.

Feeling
the stage shake, she heard a man climb up onto the overturned side
and moved around above her, toward the door. Gulping down her fear,
she watched as the metal latch turned, the door thrown open on its
rusty hinges. It slammed against the wooden exterior and she jumped,
startled by the loud noise. The stage shifted enough from the impact
for Margaret to lose her balance and fall with a loud “humph”.
Grabbing hold of either side of the doorframe, the man peered into
the stage, blocking out most of the sunlight.

A
crooked smile spread across his weathered face. Turning his head, he
spit a wad of chewing tobacco out of the corner of his mouth, leaving
brown saliva trailing down his chin, as well as the panel he'd hit.
He shook his head with what had to be disbelief as he wiped the
remaining spittle with his sleeve.


Well,
looky what we've got here!” His gaze took in her layers of
petticoats and ankle
exposed
from her latest tumble.

She
was embarrassed, but knew survival came before appearances, so she
scrambled away from the dirty man as best she could in the tight
space, her revealed calves be damned. The man leaned down into the
overturned cabin, grabbed her by the shoulders and dragged her out
into the bright sunshine as if he were lifting a baby from a pram.

He
hefted her first onto the side of the stage, then lowered her
none-too-gently to the ground. Unable to get her feet planted, she
fell into the tall grass. Her backside smarted at the contact.


Ow!”
she muttered. Tilting, she pulled a rock out from beneath her and
hefted it at the man. With bad aim, it hit the wooden stage with a
thunk
and bounced off, landing on the ground behind her.

The
other man rushed over from his search, knocking suitcases that had
been thrown from their high perch out of his way.


My,
oh, my. Ain't she a pretty one?” The newcomer whistled his
pleasure.

The
duo looked her up and down as if they hadn’t seen a woman in a long
time, drooling as if she were a piece of meat on a dinner platter
after a long fast. She felt
exposed
and naked and too afraid to speak. Their eyes roved over her hair,
her face...and lower.

She
was well endowed, had been since she was fourteen, and this
particular attribute always had men noticing, even with a prim dress
buttoned up to her neck. Now, with her dress gaping open, she could
only imagine what the men thought of her and how she was practically
flaunting herself. Her cheeks heated with mortification at the very
idea.

She'd
often dreamed of walking into a room and grabbing every man's
attention. To be alluring and desirous enough to make men forget
themselves and fall over their own feet to ask her to dance, to talk
to her. Never again. She'd do anything—anything—to be homely and
plain and as unappealing to men as physically possible if these two
men would stop leering at her. She flew a hand to her neck, adjusting
and tugging at the ends of the fabric. No use. Without buttoning it,
which took time and steady fingers—which she did not currently
have—it was a lost cause.

These
men were no gentlemen. Rough around the edges was a generous
description. Several days of stubble covered the lower half of their
sweaty faces. The whites of their eyes were bright because of their
sunburned skin and yellow teeth. She was sure they hadn’t seen
fresh water in weeks. To top it all off, they smelled. Badly.

Dear
Lord, give me strength!


I
don’t know who you gentlemen are but, if you’d be so kind as to
leave me alone, I...I’d appreciate it.”

The
men appeared baffled by her words, as if she spoke a foreign
language.


I’d
appreciate it!” One mimicked her high-pitched voice. The man who’d
found her in the stage
laughed
so hard that he choked on his chewing tobacco, before his cohort
smacked him on the back soundly. Margaret felt her cheeks heat with
embarrassment, humiliation.

Instead
of standing there and being ridiculed, she walked away. Before she
could make it around the stage, Tobacco Chewer grabbed her and yanked
her back in front of him.

BOOK: The Lady and the Lawman
10.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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