Authors: Sandra Chastain
The Outlaw Bride
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
2013 Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Sandra Chastain.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-307-81727-3
Cover Design: Susan Schultz
Originally published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, in 2000.
Hell couldn’t hurt this bad.
He awoke to white-hot pain that pierced his body. The unbearable agony radiated down his arm and across his chest into his groin, pinning him to the heat-baked earth. The dry burn of the sun overhead sucked the very air from his lungs.
Sims Callahan felt as if he were being branded with fire. He thought that he had died and gone to hell. But dying would be too easy.
Clenching his teeth, he tried to still the pounding in his head so he could think. There was something he needed to remember. Something …
Ben! He had to find Ben. Callahan was afraid that his brother was wounded, lying in the hot sun. His brother was too young to die.
Callahan didn’t know where he was or what had happened, but he knew that if he didn’t get out of the sun, he
would die too. A new wave of pain racked his lower body. Then, just for a moment, there was nothing except the realization that now, when his life was about to mean something, it was slipping away. “No!” he whispered, reaching out to find something to grab onto. There was nothing except flat earth and hard rock. He was the only living thing in this hell.
Hours passed—days, maybe—and he lay, unable to move, fighting black-robed Death hovering just at the edge of his awareness. The heat turned to cold. The light to dark and back to fight again. He was growing weaker.
“Are you alive, white man?”
Callahan tried to blink open his eyes to see who was talking to him, but they were sealed shut.
“Who …” he whispered, in a voice so hoarse that he wouldn’t have recognized himself. “Who’s there?”
All he heard was a grunt, then nothing but silence and the feeling of pain. The sun continued to beat down and then a shadow moved over him.
He was being lifted. “No …” he cried out, but felt his voice stick in his throat. His mouth was too dry to speak. Mercifully, Callahan passed out, but not before looking down and seeing an Indian’s moccasins.
A feeling of doom had rushed through the Sioux Indian when he’d seen the black-and-white horse on the mountain ridge—the death horse, his people believed. He’d followed the horse to the wounded man. There was a time he wouldn’t have helped a white man, but that was before a white woman saved the life of his father.
He glanced back at the ridge. The horse was gone. Bear Claw lifted the man and draped him over his horse, mounted, and rode away.
By the time the sun reached the rim of the Laramie
mountains, the Indian’s destination was in sight. The man was still alive, but just barely. Bear Claw would deliver him to the valley his people shared with the white medicine woman and her family.
It was up to the medicine woman to save his life.
Josie Miller faced the meanest judge in the Wyoming Territory with a stolen watch in her pocket and a teary-eyed prostitute beside her.
Josie swore silently, then faced the makeshift witness stand and Judge Carl McSparren. She tried not to compare him to the polished, educated men she’d read law for back in New York City. After all, there was a time when she, too, had been just as rough around the edges as the man she now faced.
Truth was, even though she was an attorney, she hadn’t changed a whole lot. She still had to prove herself in a territory where law was more often associated with gun-fights than trials. Like her adoptive mother, Dr. Annie, Josie was determined to demonstrate that even a woman with a past could succeed, and she would start right here in this courtroom.
The “courtroom” was actually a saloon, and today it
was filled with townspeople who had gathered to see what the lady lawyer would do next.
Until now, that hadn’t been much. Josie had helped Dr. Annie in her medical clinic more than she’d practiced law. But that was changing. She finally had a case that enabled her to help someone who needed it most in the wild west—a woman. Her client was Ellie Allgood, a bar girl accused of stealing a customer’s gold watch. According to Ellie, Virgil Wayne had given it to her in payment of her “services.” Since Mr. Wayne was drunk at the time, she’d hidden the watch before he decided to reclaim it. And she’d done a pretty good job. Even the sheriff, Will Spencer, couldn’t find it when he searched her room. But that didn’t keep him from arresting the girl. In fact, if Ellie hadn’t told Josie where to look, the
stolen watch would not now be burning a hole in Josie’s pocket.
Though Josie never talked about it, even to Dr. Annie, she had seen just what Ellie’s line of work could do to a woman—her own mother had been a prostitute. Alone and desperate, there’d been no one to help her. That kind of life took away a woman’s humanity and made her give up all hope. Now Josie was determined to find a way to help Ellie make something of herself.
Ellie could return the watch to the stranger, but in Josie’s mind there was a bigger grievance at hand. The girl had performed a service, and she deserved to be paid. More importantly, Josie wasn’t about to let an innocent girl be found guilty. But unless she came up with a miracle, Ellie was going to be branded a thief.
Trying desperately to think up a plan, Josie approached her client’s accuser. “Now, Mr. Wayne, you say you came into this bar, the one in which we are presently located, for dinner and whiskey. What were you doing in Laramie?”
“Caught the Cold Springs Spur down here to ride the train over to Cheyenne.” He gave a broad grin and announced, “Getting married on Sunday.”
Josie gave the man a long, serious look. “I suppose that’s why you’re so dressed up?”
Wayne smiled and tugged proudly at the collar of his new black wool suit. “Yep. Marriage is a serious thing. My future pa-in-law is an important man, and I want him to know that I’m good enough to take care of his little girl.”
“And you say the gold pocket watch you were carrying was sent to you by your fiancée as a betrothal gift?”
“Generous gift. You’re pretty excited about getting married, are you?”
“I sure am.”
“Ever met the bride?” someone in the make-shift courtroom called out.
The onlookers laughed. The judge banged a shot glass he was using as a gavel on the bar and called for order. When the laughter stopped, he said, “Answer the question, Wayne.”
Mr. Wayne frowned. “Well, no, but I met her pa. They have a big cattle spread south of Cheyenne that I’ll have me a piece of, when we get hitched.”
Josie glanced over at her client. Ellie’s pale face had a defeated look that said she was ready to be found guilty. Josie shared her desperation, so she chose her words as carefully as if they were her last. “Mr. Wayne, if you were in such a hurry to get married, why didn’t you take the afternoon train to Cheyenne? Why stay over?”
“Well, I just thought I might have me a little private bachelor party before I took a wife. A man’s entitled, ain’t he?”
Josie sighed. When it came to prostitutes, men had all the rights.
“You bet!” an observer called out. “Once you wed Azzilee Gunther you won’t never have another party.”
Sounds of agreement filled the room. Azzilee Gunther’s far-from-attractive looks and terrible demeanor were well-known throughout the territory.
“Silence in the court!” the judge said, then turned to Wayne. “You do know she’s pug ugly, don’t you, son?”
He gulped. “I know, but I figure it won’t matter none in the dark.”
“Judge McSparren, I object!” Josie said sharply.
“So will Wayne when the lights come on,” one of the men shouted.
The courtroom rippled with laughter.
Josie bit her lip in frustration. “Mr. Wayne, according to Elbe, after your … ‘private bachelor party’ you had no money and so you offered her the watch in payment for her services.”
“I wouldn’t never have done that. It’s engraved special. Miss Azzilee would have my hide if anything happened to that watch. It … it belonged to her granddaddy.”
Josie knew that she’d bitten off a bitter chew. The word of a dance-hall girl against a man about to marry into a wealthy family would be hard to defend. And now that Wayne had revealed that the watch belonged to the bride’s granddaddy, the onlookers were beginning to grumble. The judge and the jury might tease Wayne, but they were solidly on his side. Even if she offered to return the watch, Ellie would be found guilty.
She took Ellie’s hand and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. If Dr. Annie and Dan hadn’t saved her from jail by taking her in and making her a member of the Miller family, Josie could have
Ellie. Suddenly, Josie
felt a renewed determination. The Wyoming Territory had legally given women freedom, granting them the right to vote and hold office, but that wasn’t enough. She had to make these men recognize this freedom.