Arizona Territory, 1887…
Clack, clack, clack.
Chase rolled his shoulders, trying to ignore the woman in the next cell. Her heavy sigh signaled she’d again turn and start banging the small tin cup along the bars.
Clack, clack, clack. The staccato ring echoed in the stone room.
With a sigh, he reached up and tugged the brim of his hat down more. It wasn’t enough to block out the view from her waist down. And it was a view. Her denim pants didn’t leave too much to the imagination. Normally, he didn’t like women in britches, but on her, they weren’t too terrible. That banging, though. His head was going to start hurting soon.
“Would you please stop? It’s not helping,” Chase said, pushing his hat back and leaning up on his forearms.
“No?” she asked and not like it was really a question. “You know what would’ve helped? Listening to me when I said don’t bring that sorry ass Gracen’s corpse to this rotten town. I told you—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Chase grumbled, lying back and pulling his hat over his eyes. He might have to give her this one. When they had ridden in with the body over the back of the horse, she’d warned him the sheriff and his deputy were no good. Sure enough, before they were dismounted, there were guns pointing at them.
Chase quickly identified himself as a U.S. Marshal and announced he’d a bill, a warrant, allowing him to bring Frank Gracen in, dead or alive. The woman did too, though hers was signed by a judge somewhere out of Kansas. Neither of those things prevented them both from being taken inside the only halfway sturdy looking building on the street and locked in the two cells.
Chase wasn’t overly concerned. His identity could be confirmed with a telegraph, and he’d vouch for the woman he’d encountered when they both took aim at, killed, and then claimed the corps. But she wasn’t having it. The longer they stayed locked up waiting for the judge to act, the more irate she became. And for such a beautiful woman, she was a bit scary when she was spitting mad.
The banging started up again, and this time it seemed she put a bit more force in it. Maybe she’d dent the cup and have to stop. Before that hope could rise, the door between the cells and the office opened and the fat, sweating, deputy stepped in. His stench made Chase’s eyes water.
“Knock off that noise,” he shouted.
“Let me out of here; you’ve no legal reason to hold me,” she shouted back, recoiling when he stepped closer.
“You don’t shut your whoring mouth, it’ll be more than holding done to ya,” the man threatened.
“Now, wait a minute,” Chase said, getting to his feet. “Ain’t no reason to call names. The lady ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“Lady?” the man laughed then coughed, likely because the effort was too much for his hulking weight. “You must be blind; round here, we know whores when we see ’em. And around here, we don’t tolerate ’em. We got nothing but good decent folk in this town and we aim to keep it that way.”
“Then let me go, and you can have back your puritanical township,” she snapped. Chase raised a brow at the word choice. If she was educated beyond what most women were, it certainly made her more interesting to him. She was certainly educated far above the deputy who looked not to understand the word.
“You think you can just throw insults?” he snarled, grabbing the keys from his belt and stepping toward her. “I’ll teach you pur-tan-al,” he said, jamming the key in the lock.
“Wait a minute,” Chase shouted as the girl backed up as far as she could. “You need to stop,” Chase warned as the door to her cell opened. “I’m a U.S. Marshal, and I’m ordering you to stop.”
“I’ll stop,” the man said, dragging his arm over his mouth as he worked to back her into a corner, “after I teach this whore some manners.”
She was clever enough not to get cornered, and when she stepped on the bench, she’d a slight advantage as she could perhaps kick him some place he’d feel it. “Only one here needing manners is you,” she snarled and sent her foot into his jowls. He stumbled back and hit the door, which sent it swinging wide.
“I like ’em with a little fight,” the deputy taunted and charged her.
“I order you to stop,” Chase said, not willing to watch the woman get raped right in front of him. He reached out and grabbed the open cell door, pulled the key out, and used it to unlock his cell. He stepped into hers as the deputy moved from just pinning her down, to leaning in and licking her face.
Chase took hold of the man’s collar and belt and threw him forward. His head bounced off the bars, but it wasn’t enough to knock him out. Waiting until he turned to look at who’d interrupted his mating ritual, Chase sent his fist into the man’s face. It took two more blows to knock him out.
When he looked sideways, he saw she’d managed to squirm out from under the pig, but she was breathless and unnaturally pale. Those big blue eyes, wide with fear, looked back and forth between him and the man unconscious on the floor.
Chase held out a hand to her. “Come on,” he said. She took it, and he hauled her to her feet and backed out of the cell. He let her go long enough to pull the key from his door and use it to lock the cell now holding the deputy. “You all right?” he asked as the lock clicked in place.
“Yeah, sure,” she said, still a little breathless. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Slow that pony,” Chase said, hooking her by the back of her flannel shirt.
“Let’s go; I’m not staying here.” She tugged, trying to get free.
“And when we are duly set free, we’ll go,” Chase told her as he took hold of her arm and dragged her into the cell with him.
“No, we’re free; we need to leave.” She tried to shove past him, but he stood his ground, blocking her. She was a tiny thing, even with all her bristles up.
“No, we’ll go when the sheriff clears us and when the money is handed over for Grungy Gracen.” He held her back as he reached out and grabbed his cell door, swinging it closed and quickly locking them in.
“Are you crazy?” she screeched, going for the keys he held above his head. Even jumping, she couldn’t reach them.
“No, I’m a sworn officer of the law, and I’ve a reputation I won’t have tarnished with a hasty act.” He set a hand on her shoulder to stop her efforts to grab the keys as she was already panting.
“Yeah, well, I’m just out for a bounty and not stupid enough to stick around where I’m not wanted.” They looked over to where the deputy was now groaning and picking himself up off the floor. She made a grab for the keys as he’d lowered them, but he pulled them out of reach.
“We’ll wait, be cleared, be paid—”
“That is my bounty. I found him, and if not for me, he’d have blown your head off,” she snarled, crossing her arms over her ample enough chest.
Chase snorted; he wouldn’t have this argument with her again. They’d, or rather she’d, made it an issue the entire ride to town. She’d gotten crabby enough over it, he had almost yanked her over his lap. A few good smacks to her pert bottom could still serve her well. And he was considering it when the door opened again.
“What the Sam Hill?” the sheriff yelled.
What the Sam Hill indeed? Chase would be asking him that question a lot now.