The Sheriff and the Hellcat
Katie Jennings crept towards the stream leading her mare, Violet, praying he wouldn’t hear them. Down the bank a ways, Tristan James had a fire going and was cooking the fish she had watched him catch earlier. Her stomach grumbled as she stood beside a thirsty Violet, fumbling around in her saddle bags for the apple and cheese sandwich she had hastily packed for herself before setting off this afternoon after Tristan.
Violet gave a happy horsey snort into the water and Katie winced. She had to keep her presence from Tristan. He was headed to Hope Town to search for Pa. Katie had an idea where her father was hiding there; she didn’t know the way there, and therefore was forced to trail Sheriff James. If she could just track Pa down before the lawman, he could get away again. Her heart hurt at the possibility of her pa at the end of a rope, or rotting in jail, as he surely would be if Tristan had his way.
Katie didn’t care what anyone said, she refused to believe her father had robbed that bank back in Springwater. He wouldn’t do that. Maybe he hadn’t been the best of fathers—he disappeared too often for days at a time, and Lord knew he drank too much. He’d been known to gamble away the money they needed for necessities on the homestead as well. But he was Katie’s father, and he wasn’t all bad. She knew he couldn’t have robbed that bank or shot and killed that teller like they were saying.
Lord, she was exhausted, mentally, and physically. It had been an endurance to keep up with Tristan’s pace today, and she had been constantly jumpy, nervous that he would somehow figure out that she was following him, even though she was keeping a more than safe distance behind him. This was the closest she had gotten to him all day, and that was only out of necessity; she had to give water to Violet and that meant getting close enough to him so as to reach the outermost corner of the stream.
Suddenly, strong, vice-like arms clamped down on her shoulders and a hard voice spoke in her ear, “You’re a long way from home, little girl.”
Katie’s heart stopped beating and for a minute she didn’t recognize Tristan James’ voice. Instead she envisioned a savage Indian or a dirty outlaw, either of whom would have raped and killed her right there. Then, Tristan whirled her around to face him, and her heart started beating again.
“Don’t do that!” she snarled, one hand held over her heart, her breath uneven and shallow. “You nearly scared me to death!”
“What are you doing here, Kate?” Tristan’s piercing blue gaze narrowed suspiciously at her, his arms folded over his chest. She had a quivery feeling in her stomach and she wondered if maybe she wasn’t going to be raped and killed after all. And why did that suddenly not seem so bad, at least the first part anyway? “You’re a long way from town.”
She shrugged and tried to look unconcerned with his obvious suspicions. “It’s a free country,” she said. “I guess I can pretty much go where ever I like. I’m an adult after all.” She glared at him after these words. He had the most obnoxious habit of calling her little girl, and it made her want to scratch his eyes out. She was twenty years old, after all!
“You’re following me, aren’t you?” Tristan towered over her petite frame, his hands on his hips. He cursed.
“It’s not polite to use that kind of language in front of a lady.”
“Don’t push it, Kate.” Tristan shook a finger at her the way a teacher had once when she was late turning in an assignment. “Besides, I don’t see any lady around here, anyway.”
She glowered at him, but bit her tongue. She was nervous, and anxious to see what he was going to do now that he knew she was following him.
To her surprise, Tristan grabbed hold of her hand and gave it a tug. “Come on over to the fire. It’s damn cold over here.”
Katie pulled her hand free and stood her ground. Her eyes flashed. “I don’t think it’d be proper for me to go over there with you.” She stuck her little nose up as far as it would go.
Tristan grabbed her mare’s reins and shrugged. “Fine, but don’t come running to me later when the wolves and bears wake you up to be their midnight snack.” That said, he turned and walked away, leading her unfaithful mare.
Katie gave out a little huff. He thought he could scare her, but she’d survived worse.
Just then a coyote gave voice to the night and a thousand and one goosebumps exploded onto Katie’s back.
She stomped the entire distance to Tristan’s camp fire, glaring at him when he looked over one shoulder at her with a smirk on his face. She plopped down in front of the fire; my, it certainly did feel nice. She held her hands up to the leaping red and gold flames and scooted a fraction closer, mindful to keep her skirt away.
She watched as Tristan set his horse’s feed bag onto Violet’s head and she felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t even thought of bringing the mare a feed bag and food. How had she forgotten something like that? Well, I’ve never done this before, after all, she reasoned in her head. But the guilt was still there.
Tristan sat beside her when he finished and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot over the fire. Katie gave him a look fit to drop him in his tracks and was surprised when he laughed at her.
“I’m sorry, Kate, but I’ve only got the one set of dishes. I just wasn’t expecting company tonight.”
She stuck her nose back up in the air to show she couldn’t care less. Arms folded in front of her, she said, “You may address me as Miss Jennings, Mr. James. You are being too familiar calling me Kate.”
“I’ll call you what I want, Kate. After all you are the one interrupting me, not the other way around. Besides that, we’re in the middle of the wilderness, in case you haven’t noticed. No one’s around to hear my familiar manner of addressing you.”
She gave him a withering look and the sound of her stomach growling filled the silence between them. She refused to look in his direction, knowing he would have that annoying grin on his face again.
She was surprised when he stood up and grabbed a cooling frying pan from beside the fire. He placed the remains of the trout dinner in front of her and said, “Might want to eat something before you faint from hunger on me.”
There was humor in his eyes and a smile in his voice. Katie wanted to tell him to go to hell with his trout, but the smell was mouthwatering and it sounded so much better than a spotted apple and a mushy cheese sandwich. With a brief glance at him, she dug with both hands into the flaky fish before her.
Tristan watched the girl before him as she inhaled the trout. She certainly wasn’t a delicate eater. He remembered how his mother and sisters ate, like little birds pecking at their food. Kate Jennings ate like a man, licking her fingers and making little appreciative sounds. He told himself he was ridiculous to be attracted to her, especially when she ate like that. Besides, she was just about the biggest thorn a man could be misfortunate enough to find under his saddle.
The first time Tristan had met Miss Jennings, his immediate impression was that she needed a good spanking. She was too mouthy and stuck up for her own good. And the more interactions he had with her, the more he began to worry he would be the one to finally take her over his knee. That didn’t sit especially well with him, considering that he’d never laid a hand on a woman in his life, not even his sisters as they were all growing up. But damn near every time he came in Kate’s proximity, his hands fairly itched to upend her and lay into her pert little derriere.
Despite that, he also felt a definite tug of attraction towards the red-haired hellcat. She had called him a liar to his face the day he said he had seen her father running from the bank with a pistol in one hand and a big bag of money in the other. And all he’d wanted was to give her bottom a good warming, then take her to his bed for a thorough session fit to wear out the feather mattress. He could imagine just what she’d think of those improper thoughts!
Now, watching her gobble the fish, he wondered just what the hell to do with her. What he should do was take her back to town, but that would cost him two days traveling time, and that could mean missing her old man.
He really didn’t have a lot of options besides keeping her with him. He didn’t want to chance turning her loose again. There was the possibility of her finding her daddy before he did and then she would warn him off. Besides, Tristan was not the type of man to just leave a woman to her own devices out in the open wilderness. While Kate was certainly adequate at taking care of herself in many ways, he was sure she would be better off under his supervision out here where she had little to no experience.
“What’re you staring at me for?” she suddenly snapped.
Tristan bit back a chuckle. She had spirit, that was for sure. “I was just trying to figure out what to do with you.”
“Do with me?” She bristled. “You don’t have to figure that out, seeing as how I’m a grown woman.”
“Look, Kate. I’m tired. I’m sure you are, too. Let’s not even start arguing about this. You’re traveling with me from here out. If I have to, I’ll put you under arrest. I’ll tie your hands together and tie you to your horse. I’ll do whatever I have to. But you’ll stay with me.” He returned the glower shooting at him from her bright green eyes and added, “And you’ll do what I tell you. Just because you managed to interrupt my search, and will most likely slow it down, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. You understand?”
He could tell there were a bunch of things she wanted to say to him, all of them probably inappropriate for a lady to utter. It was almost comical the way her pretty little bow of a mouth worked silently, then finally closed in a firm line.
She fairly growled when she finally spoke. “Fine. Whatever you say.”
Tristan nodded. That’s good, he thought. But he couldn’t help but think he had won that promise from her much too easily.
Katie woke before the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon. She lay on the cold, hard ground for a few minutes, carefully keeping her breathing even as though she were still asleep. She’d spent most of the night before awake, trying to ignore the strange sounds of nature at night by coming up with a plan to get herself away from Tristan. She hoped it would work.
After lying there a few more moments, she dared a glance towards the lawman, and saw he was still lying on his bedroll, eyes closed, hands clasped together over his chest. She wasted a few minutes admiring him. He was a handsome man, with his dark hair and those bright blue eyes. He was tall and as broad in the shoulders as a bear. Her mouth fairly watered for him before she caught herself and gave herself a mental shake. What was wrong with her, for goodness sake? He was the enemy!
Moving as silently, she hoped, as an Indian, Katie crept on all fours towards Sheriff James. His gun nestled in the holster on his hip, beckoning to her. She settled without a single sound on the ground next to him and with a maddening patience, began to draw the pistol slowly from the holster. She had just succeeded in that task, sitting back with a sigh of relief, when Tristan bolted up from the bedroll nearly scaring her to death.
She pointed the pistol at him, desperately ordering her trembling hands to still. “Don’t come any closer, Mr. James,” she warned. Lord, was that her voice, all wavy and unsure sounding? She bit her bottom lip and took a deep breath, trying to get control of her runaway emotions. “I’ll shoot you, I swear it.”
Tristan just watched her as calmly as if she were holding out a cup of tea to him. Then before she even realized what had happened, he had reached between them and grabbed back the gun. He tossed it away from where they sat on the ground and before she had a moment to stand and make a run for it, he grabbed hold of one small wrist.
“Apparently you don’t understand our arrangement, Kate,” he growled. “You’re supposed to do what I tell you, and you are most definitely supposed to keep your hands away from my gun.”
To her shock, he gave her wrist a hard yank and she went sprawling forward in a very unladylike manner, then fell abruptly over his hard, lean thighs. “What are you… no!” Her skirt was thrust up over her waist, nearly covering her head in the process. Katie’s cheeks flushed a heated red, realizing that this man was seeing her in nothing else but her worn drawers. Her modesty was quickly forgotten, however, when the first spank landed on the seat of said drawers.
She let out a little squealing scream and began to kick and pound at him with her fists. Tristan kept at her spanking as though she were nothing more than a slightly bothersome fly buzzing around his head.
“I’ve wanted to do this from the first time I met you,” Tristan was saying as he pounded away at her tender bottom. “Lord knows someone should have by now.”
Katie had never been spanked in her life, and she decided then and there that she never wanted to repeat the experience. Tristan was a big man, and his hand was wide and strong. Her bottom felt like someone had lit a match to it. She tried in vain to free herself, but his arm was locked around her waist and it was useless. He gave her several harder swats, enough to bring tears to her eyes that she blinked purposefully away.
Then he pushed her off his lap and watched her scramble to her feet, her skirt falling back into place. He looked up at her with a proud grin on his handsome face, then laughed out loud at her when she began to rub her poor bottom through her dress.
“Ooooh! I hate you!” she spat.
“You just worry about behaving yourself, little girl,” he called to her as she went to her saddlebags and drew out her hairbrush. She watched him notice the wooden hairbrush and wondered at the strange look that came into his eyes when she produced it.
She decided to ignore him. She crooned to Violet as she brushed the tangles from her hair and wondered how in the world she was going to manage to ride all day in the saddle with her sore behind.
But despite her trampled pride, and despite her well spanked bottom, all Katie kept thinking about was how strong and firm Tristan James’ body had felt when she’d been positioned over it. She didn’t understand her thoughts, and tried to push them away, reminding herself how much she hated him.
But those memories kept nettling her for the rest of the day.
Oh boy, it sure was hot!
Emily O’Donnell sighed heavily and glanced sideways at her Aunt Maggie. She longed for a cold glass of lemonade and gazed past her straight-backed guardian down the road to the dining room at the end of the dusty sidewalk. Even to Emily’s six-year-old eyes the building looked like the greatest of desert mirages.
She leaned her heavy wooden sign against the steps of the saloon and poured herself a glass of the now tepid water that Maggie had brought along with them that morning. She sipped it slowly, not really relishing the idea of picking up that sign again.
As she rested, she watched her aunt quietly, wondering at the unbound energy young Maggie O’Donnell showed as she strode back and forth, back and forth, in an endless line in front of the Dog and Horse Saloon. The sign Maggie held was high in the humid summer air, proclaiming the evils of a life of drinking and whoring, the evils of the very establishment they sat before every day, in an effort to get the business shut down.
Even at her tender age, Emily knew that they wouldn’t succeed in getting the saloon shut down. She wished that Aunt Maggie would realize that too. She missed the days when she used to bake pies to sell to the dining room with Emily at home in the morning. Today especially, she missed how they used to laugh in the sunshine over a late afternoon swim.
Instead, they now paced in front of the saloon every day, protesting its existence. Aunt Maggie said it was called “picketing” and that it was a perfectly legal way to protest the morality of the saloon and its customers. Emily believed her, but even so they had plenty of trouble from the saloon owner and some of the customers anyway. Not to mention what their picketing was doing to Maggie’s relationship with Sheriff Daniel Adams.
Emily knew she should stand by her aunt, especially knowing Maggie’s reasons behind her beliefs, but she couldn’t help but look forward to lessons starting for her in the town schoolhouse in a few days and she wouldn’t have to stand outside in the cold or heat, holding a heavy sign in her thin arms.
A pang of guilt struck her as she thought this and she stoically resumed possession of her sign. Her daddy had been killed in a knife fight at this very saloon over one of the ladies of the evening. That was the whole reason Aunt Maggie wanted the place closed down. And Emily knew she should be better support since he’d been her father and all.
But it was hard for the little girl to keep up with Maggie’s unflagging energy and conviction. Maybe Maggie took Patrick O’Donnell’s death harder than Emily had because Maggie had known him growing up as her older brother while Emily had only known him as a disinterested father who was usually red-eyed and surly from too much whisky.
Emily much preferred the sheriff to her own father, though admitting so was something she never did, not even to herself. The sheriff was a handsome man, always quick with a smile or a laugh. He tugged on her braids when he said hello and he always had an orange or a piece of candy in his pocket for her. He even had a nickname for her, that no one else used and that she secretly loved—Sunshine (because of her bright blond curls, he said). He was the nicest man she knew and sometimes, when she was really feeling sad or alone, she wished she’d been born with him as her daddy and not Patrick O’Donnell.
Sheriff Adams was courting Aunt Maggie and Emily thought it would be the most wonderful thing in the world if they got married. Then the sheriff would be her uncle, and he’d sort of be like a father to her, too, the way Aunt Maggie was sort of like a mother to her. They made a handsome pair, him with his tall, broad shouldered frame and rugged dark, good looks contrasting with Maggie’s lithe, willowy form, fair auburn hair and pale blue eyes. There was a night and day sort of contrast between them that only served to make the spark of attraction between them so much more pronounced. Even little Emily was aware of it, though she was too young, of course, to put a name to it.
Emily thought her aunt was the luckiest girl in Hope Town, maybe even in the whole world, to have the sheriff courting her, but sometimes Maggie sure didn’t seem to think it was so great. Usually that was when the sheriff gave her a hard time over their picketing. He warned her that it was a dangerous business and that they could get hurt. She countered that if there was that much danger from this place, it only supported her theory that it should be shut down. Emily had heard them arguing more than once over the saloon. Although the sheriff didn’t exactly disagree with them about the dangers of it, he had no power to shut it down. It was a legal business that, unfortunately, brought a lot of money into the town.
Emily was worried that Maggie’s stubbornness on the issue and the friction it caused between her and the sheriff was going to end their courtship. And that really made her sad, because next to her aunt, the person she liked best in Hope Town was Sheriff Daniel Adams.
“Oh, no.” The softly spoken words from Maggie’s mouth made Emily stop in her pacing path and turn in the direction of her aunt’s gaze. The sheriff was striding across the dirt road towards them, his handsome features set in a grim, determined line. And he did not look happy.
“Are you crazy, woman?” Daniel Adams grated when he reached Maggie’s side. His gaze bore down on her and he clenched his fist involuntarily as he tried to control his worry and anger. “It’s entirely too hot for the two of you to be out here pacing around with those damn heavy signs on your shoulders! You should be inside, out of this sun!”
Maggie set her sign down and her hands flew to her hips. “You know perfectly well, Sheriff Adams, that we picket this sorry excuse for a business every day—rain, shine, heat or cold! So why don’t you just mind your own business and leave us alone?”
Daniel’s eye’s darkened and he noted with a brief stab of satisfaction that Miss High-and-Mighty O’Donnell actually took a tiny step back from him.
“You, Margaret O’Donnell, are my business. And I’m just looking after what’s mine.” With one finger, he brushed the fair skin across her cheekbone, tsking disapprovingly at the flare of red that was appearing under the hard sun. “You’re getting sunburnt already!”
Maggie gritted her teeth, batted his hand away with irritation, and crossed her arms over her chest in a huff.
“You shouldn’t be out here in this heat, Maggie,” Daniel continued in a more quiet tone. He glanced at Emily and gave her ever-present braid a playful tug before focusing his attention back on her aunt. “If you won’t go inside for your own health, at least do it for the little one here.”
“I-I’m okay, Sheriff,” Emily offered half-heartedly.
Daniel smiled at her and tweaked her nose. “You’re a trooper, Sunshine, but I was hoping you’d be on my side here.” He knew, of course, that she was. Poor kid. As much as he cared for Maggie, it made him angry to the point of distraction when he thought of how she was using Emily’s loyalty in her own personal battle with the saloon.
Apparently, Maggie heard the truth through Emily’s false bravado, for she visibly faltered. “Maybe, maybe you could take Emily with you for the day? I’ll just protest by myself today.”
Daniel sighed. “It’s not any safer for you to be out here in the sun than it is for her, young lady. You could just as easily succumb to the heat.”
“Please, Daniel. I have to.”
“No, Maggie. You don’t have to.” He sighed again, unable to tear his gaze away from her pleading eyes. Maybe if he didn’t have to look into those big blue eyes he would find it easier to put his foot down with her. It was only for her own good, after all. But with her looking at him that way, he just didn’t know how to say no to her. “Fine. I’ll watch Emily for you. But only until noon. Do you hear me? At noon the three of us are going to have lunch at the hotel and then you two are going to go home. Do you understand?”
Apparently, Maggie knew she wasn’t going to get him to budge again and she nodded her agreement. “Thank you, Daniel,” she whispered.
Daniel bit back a smile. He shook a finger at her. “You just remember what I said. Because if you’re not at the door to my office at twelve-oh-one, little lady, I’ll be back here so fast to turn you over my knee your head will spin. Got me?”
It wasn’t the first time he’d threatened to spank her. Sometimes the urge to do it was so strong, his hand literally itched. But so far, he hadn’t actually upended her. He wouldn’t be surprised if one of these times she pushed him too far, though, and the threat became reality.
Maggie had the good grace to blush at his threat while Emily giggled into her hand at the idea. Maggie looked up at Daniel through lowered lashes and smiled shyly. “Don’t worry, Sheriff, that won’t be necessary. I’ll be there at twelve, I promise.”
He held her gaze a few extra moments, just to further convince her of how serious he was. “And take my hat in the meantime,” he groused, slipping the worn garment from his head and settling it onto her shining red crown of hair instead. The hat was big and fell down over the tops of her ears, making her look even more damn cute than normal. Maggie pulled a face and Emily giggled, a trill of musical merriment that made his heart throb with love. “Yeah, it’s a bit big, but it’ll keep your face from burning up as red as your hair.” He grinned at her then, and leaned in closer so only she could hear what he said next. “You best behave yourself, and keep that hat on your head, because if I look out here and it’s off, the reddest part of you is going to be your bare bottom.”
The bloom of blush that warmed her face then was gorgeous to behold. Daniel chuckled and tapped her nose, turning from her before she could give voice to the indignation that was written all over her face.
Still smiling, he held out a hand to Emily. “Be good,” he cautioned Maggie in a little sing-song tone over one shoulder as he led his small charge away from the saloon.
Maggie O’Donnell spent the remainder of her morning pacing in front of the Dog and Horse Saloon, ignoring the menacing glares and verbal jibes of the men who passed by her on their way out after spending the night in one of the rooms above her. Some of the ladies who worked those very rooms peered down at her from behind their curtained windows, frowning their disapproval at her efforts. Many of them had openly confronted her on occasion, usually in the afternoon after spending their morning catching up on their beauty sleep after a hard night’s work. They didn’t appreciate the threat that Maggie was to their livelihood. The only one who had never expressed a negative opinion against Maggie’s protests was Daisy, the woman that Patrick had fought over the night he had been stabbed to death right outside the doors of the saloon.
In truth, Maggie felt bad for the women who worked upstairs at the saloon. She knew, or at least she hoped, that none of them would do so by choice and she knew enough of hard times to understand that they were only surviving as best they knew how. But even so, her brother had died over one of those women, and the alcohol and gambling he’d indulged in before moving on to her that night hadn’t helped him any. Maggie was bound and determined to make sure that no one else in Hope Town had to suffer the same fate. She wanted Patrick’s daughter to be able to grow up in a better place.
Maggie’s eyes darted across the street towards the sheriff’s office, a smile playing across her face despite the way he’d just spoken to her, as she imagined how Daniel must be trying to keep Emily occupied. He really was very kind to the little girl and Maggie knew that Emily just adored him. If things went as planned and she did marry the man, he’d be a very good father figure for her.
And that was really what Emily needed. Maggie knew that Patrick hadn’t been a very attentive father to the little girl. It had always surprised her, because he’d been a surrogate father for her when they’d been growing up and their father had passed away when she was only eight. Patrick had practically raised her, and to this day she still saw him as her hero, despite all he’d done in past years to contradict that vision.
She always thought it had all gone downhill for her brother when Emily’s mother, Songbird, had died in childbirth. It had been hard for Patrick and Songbird from the very beginning with her being half Indian. But when his true love had died, and left him a baby girl to raise on his own, it had been the last straw. After that, Maggie had watched her brother deteriorate, crawling deeper and deeper into the bottle, and being less and less like the boy she’d worshipped growing up. He’d gambled and spent too much of his time here at the saloon, and upstairs with the ladies of the night.
Memories of Patrick occupied Maggie’s mind for most of the morning, until around eleven when John Miles, the bartender and proprietor of the Dog and Horse appeared at the batwing doors, his arms crossed over his stained undershirt, frowning openly at Maggie. She met his red-rimmed eyes unwaveringly, having long since resolved not to let herself be intimidated by the man.
“You here again?” He spat, his dark eyes roaming over her figure in her simple cambric dress. The hardened gaze narrowed and she straightened her back, reminding herself silently that Miles was just a cowardly little man, and certainly no one to be afraid of.
“Yes sir, Mr. Miles. Here I am, just like usual. Here I’ll be until I see the man who killed my brother brought in to account for his crime. Good morning to you. I trust you slept well.”
“Don’t you get smart with me, young lady,” Miles snapped. “Where’s the kid?”
She hesitated, then wondered why she cared if he knew. “Sheriff Adams thought it best she be out of the sun and so he is watching her for me today.” She deliberately left out the little fact that Daniel had also instructed her to be out of the sun at noon.
Miles snorted, giving her a long look that obviously included the sheriff’s hat on her head. “Why couldn’t he take you with him?”
“Sheriff Adams knows that I have a mission here and he respects my right to carry it through.”
“Yeah, a mission to shut me down!” Miles roared.
“Really, there’s no need to shout at me, sir,” Maggie scolded quietly, in a tone she knew from past experience simply irritated the barkeep even more. “If you were willing to help me bring my brother’s killer to justice, maybe I wouldn’t be so sure that this place should be shut down. If I thought you actually cared about your customers’ safety.”
“Look lady, it ain’t my fault your no good brother liked to come here and get so blind drunk, he lost all the money he had playing poker. It ain’t my fault he got involved in private matters between one of my gals and her gentleman caller. I don’t know what happened that night, and I ain’t about to go pointing my finger at somebody without knowing what cause he had to take his knife to your brother. And besides that, Miz O’Donnell, like I told you and the sheriff before, I don’t know for sure who it was that Patrick fought with. Daisy had more than one caller that night.”
“You’re protecting someone,” Maggie openly accused. She’d thought it before, but had never actually spoken the words to the man, though she’d hinted it to Daniel before. “And I aim to find out who.”
“I already told the sheriff who Daisy’s customers were that night. Daisy’s been questioned herself. You got a lot of nerve accusing me of things.”
Maggie shrugged. “We’ll see, Mr. Miles. Like I’ve told you before, I will find out who killed my brother and then we’ll see what your involvement in the whole thing really was.”
Miles cursed under his breath. “I don’t know why that sheriff of yours allows you to make a fool outta him like this. If you were my woman, I’d make sure you knew your place and you wouldn’t be meddlin’ with my job and makin’ me a laughing stock.”
Maggie glared at the odious man. He’d said similar things to her before, even going so far one time as to tell her outright that if she were his woman, he’d ‘knock some sense into her.’ She shivered inwardly, recalling the cold anger in his eyes that time. She never wanted to show it, but the man scared her.
“I’m not anyone’s woman, Mr. Miles,” she replied evenly. Thank God, I’m not yours, she added silently. “What I am is the sheriff’s intended. But that doesn’t mean that I suddenly don’t have the freedom to stand outside on this sidewalk and express my opinion of your establishment.”
“Humph. Well, you just watch yourself, Miz O’Donnell. I wouldn’t want you to trip on those boards in one of your passes and hurt yourself.”
She glared at his veiled threat and let out a held in breath as he turned and walked back inside the barroom.
Maggie sighed, and stopped to rest a moment, taking a drink of the warm water she’d brought along that morning. She wiped her damp brow and nodded at a few of the women passing by on the sidewalk. They carefully averted their eyes from her gaze and moved swiftly past. Maggie gritted her teeth and seethed. Those women were the wives of men who frequented this place, and in Maggie’s opinion, they were highly likely to lose their husbands to an incident like Patrick’s. Yet they practically ran by her when all she tried to do was be polite. It made her angry.
Newly resolved, Maggie plunked the container of water down and grabbed up her sign. There had hardly been anyone going into the saloon yet that day, as it was still early and not many of the saloon’s patrons were ready to imbibe yet. But Maggie had just gotten a new idea of how to make her time on that hot sidewalk count for something.
“This business is a den of sin and danger, and anyone who enters is likely to be killed as my brother Patrick O’Donnell was in a knife fight three months ago over one of the ladies of the evening!” Maggie announced as she stomped across the sidewalk. Now, at her outburst, the women passing by were staring openly, then quickly looking away and hurrying down the street, darting anxious looks over their shoulders. “You are doing your husbands and sons and brothers a grave disservice by not standing beside me in picketing this saloon and all that it represents. What will you do when your man is dead? Who will provide for you and your family?”
Maggie’s tirade continued on and she drew the attention of several on lookers as well as the shopkeepers across from the saloon. Miles stood behind the batwing doors listening to her with a dark scowl on his face, then turned abruptly on his heel and walked away. About ten minutes after she had begun, she looked across the street and saw Sheriff Adams standing outside of his office, his arms crossed over his imposingly wide chest, while he frowned across the distance at her.
She faltered for only a minute, before she found her voice again. But butterflies were darting around in her belly suddenly, and she was ever conscious of Daniel’s eyes following her as she bellowed her warnings to the town and paced in front of the saloon. When she next dared look across the street at him, she could feel the angry heat of his gaze and she flushed hotly. She swallowed, and it sounded almost like a gulp.
She chided herself for being so nervous. It wasn’t noon yet; she wasn’t late for their lunch date. And she was only protesting like she always did. Of course, she knew that Daniel didn’t approve of her protesting in the first place. He understood her reasons, but he thought it wasn’t a safe thing for her to do, considering some of the unsavory characters that frequented the saloon who didn’t take too kindly to her trying to shut it down. He also thought it wasn’t something that a lady should be concerning her time with.
And from the looks of things, he didn’t think it was very ladylike of her to be shouting out a tirade against whoring, drinking, and gambling, either.
She had a sudden, irrational picture in her mind of Daniel striding across the street, and yanking her face down over his lap for the famous spanking he was always threatening to give her. And when she dared a split second glance in his direction again, the picture suddenly didn’t seem so irrational. In fact, she had a sinking feeling it had almost been a premonition. She actually shuddered. But not simply because the idea of being put over Daniel Adam’s knee for a hard spanking was frightening and embarrassing. But also because, for some reason she couldn’t comprehend, a shiver of excitement stole over her at the idea, as well.