Lawless Chapter Two

The heat was murderous. A plume of thin yellow dust rose each time a rider passed, then hung there to clog the still air. Sarah longed for a long, cool drink and a seat in the shade. From the looks of things, there wasn't a place in town where a lady could go to find such amenities. Even if there were, she was afraid to leave her trunks on the side of the road and risk missing her father.

She'd been so sure he would be waiting for her. But then, a man in his position could have been held up by a million things. Work at the mine, a problem with an employee, perhaps last-minute preparations for her arrival.

She'd waited twelve years, she reminded herself, resisting the urge to loosen her collar. She could wait a little longer.

A buckboard passed, spewing up more dust, so that she was forced to lift a handkerchief to her mouth.

Her dark blue traveling skirt and her neat matching jacket with its fancy black braid were covered with dust. With a sigh, she glanced down at her blouse, which was drooping hopelessly and now seemed more yellow than white. It wasn't really vanity. The sisters had never given her a chance to develop any. She was concerned that her father would see her for the first time when she was travel-stained and close to exhaustion. She'd wanted to look her best for him at this first meeting. All she could do now was retie the bow at her chin, then brush hopelessly at her skirts.

She looked a fright. But she'd make it up to him. She would wear her brand-new white muslin gown for dinner tonight, the one with the.charming rosebuds embroidered all over the skirt. Her kid slippers were dyed pink to match. He'd be proud of her.

If only he'd come, she thought, and take her away from here.

Jake crossed the street after losing the battle he'd waged with himself. It wasn't his business, and it wasn't his place to tell her. But for the past ten minutes he'd been watching her standing at the side of the road, waiting. He'd been able to see, too clearly, the look of hope that sprang into her eyes each time a horse or wagon approached. Somebody had to tell the woman that her father wasn't going to meet her. Sarah saw him coming. He walked easily, despite the guns at his sides. As if they had always been there. As if they always would be. They rode low on his hips, shifting with his movements. And he kept his eyes on her in a way that she was certain a man shouldn't keep his eyes on a woman-unless she was his own. When she felt her heart flutter, she automatically stiffened her backbone.

It was Lucilla who was always talking about fluttering hearts. It was Lucilla who painted romantic pictures of lawless men and lawless places. Sarah preferred a bit more reality in her dreams.

"Ma'am." He was surprised that she hadn't already swooned under the power of the afternoon sun. Maybe she was tougher than she looked, but he doubted it. "Mr. Redman." Determined to be gracious, she allowed her lips to curve ever so slightly at the corners. He tucked his thumbs into the pockets of his pants.

"I got some news about your father."

She smiled fully, beautifully, so that her whole face lit up with it. Her eyes turned to gold in the sunlight. Jake felt the punch, like a bullet in the chest. "Oh, did he leave word for me? Thank you for letting me know. I might have waited here for hours."

"Ma'am-"

"Is there a note?"

"No." He wanted to get this done, and done quickly. "Matt's dead. There was an accident at his mine." He was braced for weeping, for wild wailing, but her eyes filled with fury, not tears.

"How dare you? How dare you lie to me about something like that?" She would have brushed past him, but Jake clamped a hand over her arm. Sarah's first reaction was simple indignation at being manhandled.

Then she looked up at him, really looked, and said nothing.

"He was buried two days ago." He felt her recoil, then go still. The fury drained from her eyes, even as the color drained from her cheeks. "Don't go fainting on me."

It was true. She could see the truth on his face as clearly as she could see his distaste at being the one to tell her. "An accident?" she managed.

"A cave-in." He was relieved that she wasn't going to faint, but he didn't care for the glassy look in her eyes. "You'll want to talk to the sheriff."

"The sheriff?" she repeated dully.

"His office is across the street."

She just shook her head and stared at him. Her eyes were gold, Jake decided. The color of the brandy he sometimes drank at the Silver Star. Right now they were huge and full of hurt. He watched her bite down on her bottom lip in a gesture he knew meant she was fighting not to let go of the emotions he saw so clearly in her eyes.

If she'd fainted, he'd happily have left her on the road in the care of whatever woman happened to pass by. But she was hanging on, and it moved something in him.

Swearing, Jake shifted his grip from her arm to her elbow and guided her across the street. He was damned if he could figure out how he'd elected himself responsible.

Sheriff Barker was at his desk, bent over some paperwork and a cup of sweetened coffee. He was balding rapidly. Every morning he took the time to comb what hair he had left over the spreading bare spot on top of his head. He had the beginnings of a paunch brought on by his love of his wife's baking. He kept the law in Lone Bluff, but he didn't worry overmuch about the order. It wasn't that he was corrupt, just lazy.

He glanced up as Jake entered. Then he sighed and sent tobacco juice streaming into the spittoon in the corner. When Jake Redman was around, there was usually work to be done.

"So you're back." The wad of tobacco gave Barker a permanently swollen jaw. "Thought you might take a fancy to New Mexico." His brows lifted when Jake ushered Sarah inside. There was enough gentleman left in him to bring him to his feet. "Ma'am."

"This is Matt Conway's daughter."

"Well, I'll be damned. Begging your pardon, ma'am. I was just fixing to send you a letter." "Sheriff." She had to pause a moment to find her balance. She would not fall apart, not here, in front of strangers.

"Barker, ma'am." He came around the desk to offer her a chair.

"Sheriff Barker." Sarah sat, praying she'd be able to stand again. "Mr. Redman has just told me that my father..." She couldn't say it. No matter how weak or cowardly it might be, she just couldn't say the words. "Yes, ma'am. I'm mighty sorry. Couple of kids wandered on up by the mine playing games and found him. Appears he was working the mine when some of the beams gave way." When she said nothing, Barker cleared his throat and opened the top drawer of his desk. "He had this watch on him, and his tobacco."

He'd had his pipe, as well, but since it had been broken like most of Conway's bones-Barker hadn't thought anyone would want it. "We figured he'd want to be buried with his wedding ring on."

"Thank you." As if in a trance, she took the watch and the tobacco pouch from him. She remembered the watch. The tears almost won when she remembered how he'd taken it out to check the time before he'd left her in Mother Superior's lemony-smelling office. "I want to see where he's buried. My trunks will need to be taken out to his house."

"Miss Conway, if you don't mind me offering some advice, you don't want to stay way out there. It's no place for a young lady like you, all alone and all. My wife'll be happy to have you stay with us for a few days. Until the stage heads east again."

"It's kind of you to offer." She braced a hand on the chair and managed to stand again. "But I'd prefer to spend the night in my father's house." She swallowed and discovered that her throat was hurtfully dry. "Is there... Do I owe you anything for the burial?"

"No, ma'am. We take care of our own around here."

"Thank you." She needed air. With the watch clutched in her hand, she pushed through the door. Leaning against a post, she tried to catch her breath.

"You ought to take the sheriff up on his offer." She turned her head to give Jake an even look. She could only be grateful that he made her angry enough to help her hold off her grief. He hadn't offered a word of sympathy. Not one. Well, she was glad of it. "I'm going to stay in my father's house. Will you take me?"

He rubbed a hand over his chin. He hadn't shaved in a week. "I've got things to do."

"I'll pay you," she said quickly when he started to walk away.

He stopped and looked back at her. She was determined, all right. He wanted to see how determined.

"How much?"

"Two dollars." When he only continued to look at her, she said between her teeth, "Five."

"You got five?"

Disgusted, Sarah dug in her reticule. "There."

Jake looked at the bill in her hand. "What's that?"

"It's five dollars."

"Not around here it ain't. Around here it's paper." Sarah pushed the bill back into her reticule and pulled out a coin. "Will this do?"

Jake took the coin and turned it over in his hand, then stuck it in his pocket. "That'll do fine. I'll get a wagon."

Miserable man, she thought as he strode away. She hated him. And hated even more the fact that she needed, him.

During the long, hot ride in the open wagon, she said nothing. She no longer cared about the desolation of the landscape, the heat or the cold-bloodedness of the man beside her. Her emotions seemed to have shriveled up inside her. Every mile they'd gone was just another mile behind her.

Jake Redman didn't seem to need conversation. He drove in silence, armed with a rifle across his lap, as well as the pistols he carried. There hadn't been trouble out here in quite some time, but the Indian attack had warned him that that could change.

He'd recognized Strong Wolf in the party that had attacked the stage. If the Apache brave had decided to raid in the area, he would hit the Conway place sooner or later.

They passed no one. They saw only sand and rock and a hawk out hunting.

When he reined the horses in, Sarah saw nothing but a small adobe house and a few bartered sheds on a patch of thirsty land.

"Why are we stopping here?"

Jake jumped down from the wagon. "This is Matt

Conway's place."

"Don't be ridiculous." Because it didn't appear that he was going to come around and assist her, Sarah struggled down herself. "Mr. Redman, I paid you to take me to my father's home and I expect you to keep the bargain."

Before she could stop him, he dumped one of her trunks on the ground. "What do.you think you're doing?" "Delivering your luggage."

"Don't you take another piece off that wagon."

Surprising them both, Sarah grabbed his shirt and pulled him around to face her. "I insist you take me to my father's house immediately."

She wasn't just stupid, Jake thought. She was irritating.

"Fine." He clipped her around the waist and hauled her over his shoulder.

At first she was too shocked to move. No man had ever touched her before. Now this, this ruffian had his hands all over her. And they were alone. Totally alone. Sarah began to struggle as he pushed open the door of the hut. Before she could draw the breath to scream, he was dropping her to her feet again.

"That good enough for you?"

She stared at him, visions of a hundred calamities that could befall a defenseless woman dancing in her brain. She stepped back, breathing hard, and prayed she could reason with him. "Mr. Redman, I have very little money of my own-hardly enough worth stealing."

Something came into his eyes that had her breath stopping altogether. He looked more than dangerous now. He looked fatal. "I don't steal." The light coming through the low doorway arched around him. She moistened her lips.

"Are you going to kill me?"

He nearly laughed. Instead, he leaned against the wall. Something about her was eating at him. He didn't know what or why, but he didn't like it. Not one damn bit.

"Probably not. You want to take a look around?" She just shook her head. "They told me he was buried around back, near the entrance of the mine. I'll go check on Mart's horses and water the team."

When he left, she continued to stare at the empty doorway. This was madness. Did the man expect her to believe her father had lived here, like this? She had letters, dozens of them, telling her about the house he'd been building, the house he'd finished, the house that would be waiting for her when she was old enough to join him.

The mine. If the mine was near, perhaps she could find someone there she could speak with. Taking a cautious look out the doorway, Sarah hurried out and rounded the house.

She passed what might have been the beginnings of a small vegetable garden, withered now in the sun.

There was a shed that served as a stable and an empty paddock made of a few rickety pieces of wood. She walked beyond it to where the ground began to rise with the slope of the mountain.

The entrance to the mine was easily found, though it was hardly more than a hole in the rock wall. Above it was a crudely etched plank of wood.

SARAH'S PRIDE

She felt the tears then. They came in a rush that she had to work hard to hold back. There were no workmen here, no carts shuttling along filled with rock, no picks hacking out gold. She saw it for what it was, the dream of a man who had had little else. Her father had never been a successful prospector or an important landowner. He'd been a man digging in rock and hoping for the big strike.

She saw the grave then. They had buried him only a few yards from the entrance. Someone had been kind enough to fashion a cross and carve his name on it. She knelt and ran her palm along the rubble that covered him.

He'd lied. For twelve years he'd lied to her, telling her stories about rich veins and the mother lode. He'd spun fantasies about a big house with a parlor and fine wooden floors. Had he needed to believe it? When he'd left her he'd made her a promise.

"You'll have everything your heart desires, my sweet, sweet Sarah. Everything your mother would have wanted for you."

He had kept his promise-except for one thing. One vital thing. He hadn't given her himself. All those years, all she'd really wanted had been her father.

He'd lived like this, she thought, in a mud house in the middle of nowhere, so that she could have pretty dresses and new stockings. So that she could learn how to serve tea and waltz. It must have taken nearly everything he'd managed to dig out of the rock to keep her in school back east.

Now he was dead. She could barely remember his face, and he was dead. Lost to her.

"Oh, Papa, didn't you know how little it mattered?"

Lying across the grave, she let the tears come until she'd wept her heart clean.

She'd been gone a long time. Too long, Jake thought. He was just about to go after her when he saw her coming over the rise from the direction of the old mine. She paused there, looking down at the house her father had lived in for more than a decade. She'd taken off her bonnet, and she was holding it by the ribbons. For a moment she stood like a statue in the airless afternoon, her face marble-pale, her body slim and elegant. Her hair was pinned up, but a few tendrils had escaped to curl around her face. The sun slanted over it so that it glowed richly, reminding him of the hide of a young deer.

Jake blew out the last of the smoke from the cigarette he'd rolled. She was a hell of a sight, silhouetted against the bluff. She made him ache in places he didn't care to think about. Then she saw him. He could almost see her chin come up as she started down over the rough ground. Yeah, she was a hell of a sight. "Mr. Redman." The grief was there in her red-rimmed eyes and her pale cheeks, but her voice was strong. "I apologize for the scene I caused earlier."

That tied his tongue for a moment. The way she said it, they might have been talking over tea in some cozy parlor. "Forget it. You ready to go back?" "I beg your pardon?"

He jerked his thumb toward the wagon. Sarah noted that all her trunks were neatly stacked on it again. "I said, are you ready to go back?"

She glanced down at her hands. Because the palms of her gloves were grimy, she tugged them off. They'd never be the same, she mused. Nothing would. She drew a long, steadying breath.

"I thought you understood me. I'm staying in my father's house."

"Don't be a fool. A woman like you's got no business out here."

"Really?" Her eyes hardened. "Be that as it may, I'm not leaving. I'd appreciate it if you'd move my trunks inside." She breezed by him.

"You won't last a day."

She stopped to look over her shoulder. Jake was forced to admit that he'd faced men over the barrel of a gun who'd had less determination in their eyes. "Is that your opinion, Mr. Redman?"

"That's a fact."

"Would you care to wager on it?"

"Look, Duchess, this is hard country even if you're born to it. Heat, snakes, mountain lions-not to mention Apaches."

"I appreciate you pointing all that out, Mr. Redman.

Now my luggage."

"Damn fool woman," he muttered as he strode over to the wagon. "You want to stay out here, hell, it don't matter to me." He hefted a trunk into the house while Sarah stood a few feet back with her hands folded. "Your language, Mr. Redman, is quite unnecessary." He only swore with more skill as he carried in the second trunk. "Nobody's going to be around when it gets dark and you change your mind."

"I won't change my mind, but thank you so muchfor your concern."

"No concern of mine," he muttered, ignoring her sarcasm. He scooped up the rest of her boxes and dumped them inside the doorway. "Hope you got provisions in there, as well as fancy dresses."

"I assure you I'll be fine." She walked to the doorway herself and turned to him. "Perhaps you could tell me where I might get water."

"There's a stream half a mile due east."

Half a mile? she thought, trying not to show her dismay. "I see." Shading her eyes, she looked out. Jake mumbled another oath, took her by the shoulders and pointed in the opposite direction. "That way's east, Duchess."

"Of course." She stepped back. "Thank you again, Mr. Redman, for all your help. And good day," she added before she closed the door in his face.

She could hear him swearing at her as he unhitched the horses. If she hadn't been so weary, she might have been amused. She was certainly too exhausted to be shocked by the words he used. If she was going to stay, she was going to have to become somewhat accustomed to rough manners. She peeled off her jacket.

And, she was going to stay. If this was all she had left, she was going to make the best of it. Somehow.

She moved to the rounded opening beside the door that served as a window. From there she watched Jake ride away. He'd left her the wagon and stabled the rented horses with her father's two. For all the good it did her, Sarah thought with a sigh. She hadn't the vaguest idea of how to hitch a team, much less how to drive one.

She continued to watch Jake until he was nothing but a cloud of dust fading in the distance. She was alone. Truly alone. She had no one, and little more than nothing.

No one but herself, she thought. And if she had only that and a mud hut, she'd find a way to make the best of it. Nobody-and certainly not Jake Redman-was going to frighten her away.

Turning, she unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled up her sleeves. The good sisters had always claimed that simple hard work eased the mind and cleansed the soul. She was about to put that claim to the test.

She found the letters an hour later. When she came across them in the makeshift loft that served as a bedroom she wiped her grimy hands as best as she could on the embroidered apron she'd dug out of one of her trunks.

He'd kept them. From the first to the last she'd written, her father had kept her letters to him. The tears threatened again, but she willed them back. Tears would do neither of them any good now. But, oh, it helped more than she could ever have explained that he'd kept her letters. To know now, when she would never see him again, that he had thought of her as she had thought of him.

He must have received the last, the letter telling nun she was coming to be with him, shortly before his death. Sarah hadn't mailed it until she'd been about to board the train. She'd told herself it was because she wanted to surprise him, but she'd also wanted to be certain he wouldn't have time to forbid her to come. Would you have, Papa? she wondered. Or would you finally have been willing to share the truth with me? Had he thought her too weak, too fragile, to share the life he'd chosen? Was she?

Sighing, she looked around. Four bedrooms, and a parlor with the, windows facing west, she thought with a quiet laugh. Well, according to Jake Redman, the window did indeed face west. The house itself was hardly bigger than the room she'd shared with Lucilla at school. It was too small, certainly, for all she'd brought with her from Philadelphia, but she'd managed to drag the trunks into one corner. To please herself, she'd taken out a few of her favorite things- one of her wildflower sketches, a delicate blue glass perfume bottle, a pretty petit-point pillow and the china-faced doll her father had sent her for her twelfth birthday.

They didn't make it home, not yet. But they helped. Setting the letters back in the tin box beside the bed, she rose. She had practical matters to think about now.

The first was money. After paying the five dollars, she had only twenty dollars left. She hadn't a clue to how long that would keep her, but she doubted it would be very long. Then there was food. That was of immediate concern. She'd found some flour, a few cans of beans, some lard and a bottle of whiskey. Pressing a hand to her stomach, Sarah decided she'd have to make do with the beans. All she had to do now was to figure out how to start a fire in the battered-looking stove.

She found a few twigs in the wood box, and a box of matches. It took her half an hour, a lot of frustration and a few words the sisters would never have approved of before she was forced to admit she was a failure.

Jake Redman. Disgusted, she scowled at the handful of charred twigs. The least the man could have done was to offer to start a cook fire for her and fetch some water. She'd already made the trip down to the stream and back once, managing to scrounge out half a bucket from its stingy trickle.

She'd eat the beans cold. She'd prove to Jake Redman that she could do very well for herself, by herself. Sarah unsheathed her father's bowie knife, shuddered once at the sight of the vicious blade, then plunged it into the lid of the can until she'd made an opening. Too hungry to care, she sat beside the small stone hearth and devoured the beans.

She'd think of it as an adventure, she told herself.

One she could write about to her friends in Philadelphia. A better one, she decided as she looked around the tiny, clean cabin, than those in the penny dreadfuls Lucilla had gotten from the library and hidden in their room.

In those, the heroine had usually been helpless, a victim waiting for the hero to rescue her in any of a dozen dashing manners. Sarah scooped out more beans. Well, she wasn't helpless, and as far as she could tell there wasn't a hero within a thousand miles. No one would have called Jake Redman heroic- though he'd certainly looked it when he'd ridden beside the coach. He was insulting and ill-mannered. He had cold eyes and a hot temper. Hardly Sarah's idea of a hero. If she had to be rescued-and she certainly didn't-she'd prefer someone smoother, a cavalry officer, perhaps. A man who carried a saber, a gentleman's weapon.

When she'd finished the beans, she hiccuped, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and leaned back against the hearth only to lose her balance when a stone gave way. Nursing a bruised elbow, she shifted. She would have replaced the stone, but something caught her eye. Crouching again, she reached into the small opening that was now exposed and slowly pulled out a bag.

With her lips caught tight between her teeth, she poured gold coins into her lap. Two hundred and thirty dollars. Sarah pressed both hands to her mouth, swallowed, then counted again. There was no mistake. She hadn't known until that moment how much money could mean. She could buy decent food, fuel, whatever she needed to make her way.

She poured the coins back into the bag and dug into the hole again. This time she found the deed to Sarah's Pride.

What an odd man he must have been, she thought. To hide his possessions beneath a stone.

The last and most precious item she discovered in the hiding place was her father's journal. It delighted her. The small brown book filled with her father's cramped handwriting meant more to Sarah than all the gold coins in Arizona. She hugged it to her as she'd wanted to hug her father. Before she rose with it, she replaced the gold and the deed under the stone. She would read about one of his days each evening. It would be like a gift, something that each day would bring her a little closer to this man she'd never really known. For now she would go back to the stream, wash as best she could and gather water for the morning. Jake watched her come out of the cabin with a pail in one hand and a lantern in the other. He'd made himself as comfortable as he needed to be among the rocks. There had been enough jerky and hardtack in his saddlebag to make a passable supper. Not what he'd planned on, exactly, but passable.

He'd be damned if he could figure out why he'd decided to keep an eye on her. The lady wasn't his problem. But even as he'd been cursing her and steering his horse toward town, he'd known he couldn't just ride off and leave her there alone.

Maybe it was because he knew what it was to lose everything. Or because he'd been alone himself for more years then he cared to remember. Or maybe, damn her, it had something to do with the way she'd looked coming down that bluff with her bonnet trailing by the ribbons and tears still drying on her face. He hadn't thought he had a weak spot. Certainly not where women were concerned. He shoved himself to his feet. He just didn't have anything better to do.

He stayed well behind her. He knew how to move silently, over rock, through brush, in sunlight or in the dark of the moon. That was both a matter of survival and a matter of blood. In his youth he'd spent some years with his grandmother's people and he'd learned more than any white man could have learned in a lifetime about tracking without leaving a mark, about hunting without making a sound.

As for the woman, she was still wearing that fancy skirt with the bustle and shoes that were made for city sidewalks rather than rough ground. Twice Jake had to stop and wait, or even at a crawl he'd have caught up with her.

Probably break an ankle before she was through, he thought. That might be the best thing that could happen to her. Then he'd just cart her on back to town. Couldn't say he'd mind too much picking her up again. She felt good-maybe too good. He had to grin when she shrieked and landed on her fancy bustle because a rabbit darted across her path.

Nope, the pretty little duchess from Philadelphia wasn't going to last a day.

With a hand to her heart, Sarah straggled to her feet. She'd never seen a rabbit that large in her life. With a little sound of distress, she noted that she'd torn the hem of her skirt. How did the women out here manage? she wondered as she began to walk again. In this heat, a corset felt like iron and a fashionable skirt prevented anything but the most delicate walking.

When she reached the stream, she dropped down on a rock and went to work with her buttonhook. It was heaven, absolute heaven, to remove her shoes. There was a blister starting on her heel, but she'd worry about that later. Right now all she could think about was splashing some cool water on her skin.

She glanced around cautiously. There couldn't be anyone there. The sensation of being watched was a natural one, she supposed, when a woman was alone in the wilderness and the sun was going down. She unpinned the cameo at her throat and placed it carefully in her skirt pocket. It was the one thing she had that had belonged to her mother.

Humming to keep herself company, she unbuttoned her blouse and folded it over a rock. With the greatest relief, she unfastened her corset and dropped it on top of the blouse. She could breathe, really breathe, for the first time all day. Hurrying now, she stripped down to her chemise, then unhooked her stockings.

Glorious. She closed her eyes and let out a low sound of pleasure when she stepped into the narrow, ankle-deep stream. The water, trickling down from the mountains, was cold and clear as ice.

What the hell did she think she was doing? Jake let out a low oath and averted his eyes. He didn't need this aggravation. Who would have thought the woman would strip down and play in the water with the night coming on? He glanced back to see her bend down to splash her face. There was nothing between the two of them but shadows and sunlight.

Water dampened the cotton she wore so that it clung here and there. When she bent to scoop up more water, the ruffles at the bodice sagged to tease him. Crouching behind the rock, he began to curse himself instead of her.

His own fault. Didn't he know minding your own business, and only your own, was the best way to get by? He'd just had to be riding along when the Apaches had hit the stage. He'd just had to be the one to tell her about her father. He'd just had to feel obliged to drive her out here. And then to stay.

What he should be doing was getting good and drunk at Carlotta's and spending the night in a feather bed wrestling with a woman. The kind of woman who knew what a man needed and didn't ask a bunch of fool questions. The kind of woman, Jake thought viciously, who didn't expect you to come to tea on Sunday. He glanced back to see that one of the straps of Sarah's chemise had fallen down her arm and that her legs were gleaming and wet. Her shoulders were pale and smooth and bare.

Too long on the trail, Jake told himself. Too damn long, when a man started to hanker after skinny city women who didn't know east from west.

Sarah filled the pail as best she could, then stepped out of the stream. It was getting dark much more quickly than she'd expected. But she felt almost human again. Even the thought of the corset made her ribs ache, so she ignored it. After slipping on her blouse, she debated donning her shoes and stockings again. There was no one to see or disapprove. Instead, she hitched on her skirt and made a bundle of the rest. With the water sloshing in the pail, she made her way gingerly along the path.

She had to fight the urge to hurry. With sunset, the air was cooling rapidly. And there were sounds.

Sounds she didn't recognize or appreciate. Hoots and howls and rustles. Stones dug into her bare feet, and the lantern spread more shadow than light. The half mile back seemed much, much longer than it had before. Again she had the uncomfortable sensation that someone was watching her. Apaches? Mountain lions? Damn Jake Redman. The little adobe dwelling looked like a haven to her now. Half running, she went through the door and bolted it behind her.

The first coyote sent up a howl to the rising moon. Sarah shut her eyes. If she lived through the night, she'd swallow her pride and go back to town.

In the rocks not far away, Jake bedded down.

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