Authors: Debra Mullins
This book is dedicated to Sandy Young and her daughter Sarah Ann, the real life Sassy.
Everyone watched the bed come through town.
The three old men sitting outside the Four Aces saloon ceased their checker playing as the antique passed by in the back of Amos Carver’s ancient buckboard.
“Would ya look at that,” Mort rasped, pushing back his hat with gnarled fingers. “Big enough for a whole family.”
“Or for one hot-blooded woman,” Johnny said.
“Amen,” Gabriel whispered.
The wagon continued down Main Street, sunlight gleaming along the bed’s carved headboard. All activity in Burr came to a standstill, as if the entire town were bewitched by the fantastic sight.
Marianne Westerly, the preacher’s daughter, gripped her mother’s arm as they stepped out of Pearson’s Mercantile. Her hushed comment carried the longing of a prayer. “Oh, Mama, look at the carvings.”
Nearby, Ellie Pearson stopped sweeping the wooden walkway outside her husband’s store to look with wondering eyes upon a bed splendid enough to birth a king. She caressed her ripening belly, where her unborn child slept. Her husband, Nate, stepped out beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders. Resignation underscored his tender smile as he watched the unattainable pass him by.
The Tremont sisters even forgot their rumor swapping with the mayor’s wife to stare in goggle-eyed amazement at the magnificent spectacle.
“Oh, my stars!” Emmaline Tremont exclaimed, then blushed when her sister elbowed her for staring.
From the window of the newspaper office, Sarah Ann Calhoun also took note of the extraordinary bed. The morning sun imbued the walnut finish with warmth, as if the wood itself still lived. Old Amos Carver, spitting and cursing at his mule from the driver’s perch of his decrepit wagon, seemed an insult to the bed’s majesty.
For a moment, half-forgotten dreams of white lace and baby cradles drifted through Sarah’s mind. Then she shook off the foolish notions.
It’s just a bed
Just another of Jack Donovan’s foolish acquisitions
. It meant nothing to her.
Nothing but an opportunity.
With a grin, she reached for her pad. Her duty as editor of the
lay in reporting anything that might interest the town. And the town was very interested in Jack Donovan.
He had arrived in Burr several months ago and deposited a scandalous amount of money into the bank. Then he bought some fine grazing land and built up a ranch, filling his beautiful house with wonderful furnishings from back east. Rumors abounded about the source of his wealth. Some said he had discovered gold. Others said he was a notorious outlaw who had retired to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But since he came to church every Sunday and never had more than one drink at the saloon, the matrons of Burr chose to overlook his mysterious origins. In fact, many a young lady had set her cap for Jack Donovan.
But not Sarah.
She stepped outside the newspaper office, resolved to put an end to the speculation once and for all. Jack Donovan and his mysterious past would evade her no longer. There was something about him, a dangerous edge, that told her that he wasn’t exactly the law-abiding citizen he appeared to be. She was determined to uncover the truth. Once she discovered his secrets, she would finally make her father’s dream come true: the
would become one of the biggest newspapers in Wyoming Territory.
And her own demons would be silenced forever.
She watched Amos and his wagon disappear over the rise. Around her, the town began to bustle once more. Conversations picked up where they’d left off. Horses whinnied, leather creaked, and wheels rumbled over hard-packed dirt. Down at the church, a group of men resumed hammering the dance floor they were building for the spring social on Saturday night.
Sarah’s shoes tapped a purposeful beat down the wooden boards as she went to fetch her horse. The time had come for Mr. Donovan’s reckoning. She would have the answers to her questions, and she would use that bed to get them.
“There she goes,” Johnny said, lifting his gaze from the checkerboard as Sarah strode past them toward the livery stable.
“Goin’ after Donovan again.” Gabriel spat into the spittoon beside his chair, then leisurely jumped one of Johnny’s checkers and scooped it from the board.
“I never saw a woman more determined to run a man to ground,” Mort commented.
“You remember the time she followed him down to the creek, and there he was, as nekkid as the day he was born?” Johnny hooted. “I never saw a woman so churned up.”
“And her stormin’ through town afterwards, soakin’ wet from head to toe. Tongues were flappin’ that day for sure,” Gabriel said with a grin. Johnny’s double jump made the grin fade. He scowled at the checkerboard. “Makes a body wonder how she got herself so wet,” he said absently.
“What about the time he was working in the barn out at his place and she cornered him in the hayloft?” Mort leaned back in his chair in preparation for a nap, but couldn’t resist a quick glance at the game board. “The boys who work for Donovan said she come runnin’ out of that barn like a cat with its tail on fire. And with straw in her hair, too. Musta looked awful funny, ‘specially with it bein’ the middle of winter and all.”
“What about the time she found him in the barber shop?” Johnny asked. “How do you figure she got shaving cream all over her like that, anyway?”
“Heaven only knows,” Gabriel answered, snaring another of Johnny’s pieces.
They settled into silence, the occasional clack of captured checkers blending with the rowdy music and whooping laughter coming from the saloon behind them.
Then Sarah came galloping past, and the three men paused and gazed after her until she disappeared over the hill.
“So,” Gabriel said, turning back to the checkerboard. He scowled as Johnny made his next move. “You figure on a June wedding?”
Mort slid his hat low and closed his eyes for the intended nap. “Yup.”
“King me,” Johnny said with a smug smile.
When Sarah caught up with Amos’s wagon, he neither slowed nor looked back to see who followed him, though he gripped the stock of his shotgun with one hand. Sarah moved alongside the wagon, her bay keeping pace with Amos’s mule, Gertrude.
“Morning, Amos,” she said with a cheery smile.
“Mornin’.” His gaze never wavered from the road.
“I see you got yourself a job.”
“Yep.” Amos turned his head and shot a wad of brown spittle arcing into the dust. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and tugged his worn hat down over flyaway gray hair.
Sarah waited, but the old prospector said nothing more. “You’re working for Mr. Donovan?” she asked.
She rolled her eyes. She’d get more information out of Gertrude!
He swung his head around and looked at her with rheumy blue eyes. “Told me this would happen,” he grumbled.
“What? Who told you what would happen?”
“Donovan.” He spat another wad of tobacco juice into the road. “Told me you’d be along.”
“Did he?” Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “What else did he say?”
“Told me not to say a word if any busybody, newspaper-writin’ shrew started askin’ questions.”
With each word, her spine grew stiffer. “Did he indeed?” she asked through clenched teeth.
Amos chuckled, tobacco juice dribbling into his unkempt gray beard. “Yep. He’s payin’ me four bits to haul this here bed out to the ranch. He ain’t payin’ me nothin’ to answer a lot of fool questions.”
“I see.” Gripping the reins with one white-knuckled hand, Sarah reached for her reticule. “Well, I’ll pay you two bits to answer questions.”
“Think, Amos.” Sarah shook her purse. The jingle of coins brought a speculative gleam to the old man’s eyes. “I’ll pay you to talk to me. Just like a job.”
“Humph.” He squinted at her purse, then shook his head. “I’m not losin’ four bits just ‘cause you’re nosy. If ya got questions, ya gotta talk to Donovan.”
“Like I haven’t tried,” Sarah muttered. Jack Donovan had managed to elude her inquiries for five long months. “All right, have it your way. But I’m riding with you to the Donovan spread.”
“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug.
When Amos turned his attention back to the road, Sarah’s gaze slid to the bed.
Up close it was even more spectacular. Her imagination provided a clear picture of how it would look assembled, with a fancy coverlet spread across the mattress. She leaned closer to examine one of the bedposts. Cherubs carved from walnut clutched garlands of lifelike flowers that twined around the post. She imagined waking to a servant bearing hot coffee and biscuits. Slowly the servant’s nebulous features gave way to a lean-boned face with a pair of wicked, dark eyes…
Startled, Sarah pushed the mental picture from her mind. Jack Donovan had no business slipping so intimately into her private thoughts. Her interest in him was purely professional.
And the sooner she got her questions answered, the sooner she could forget about Jack Donovan.
“What do you mean, he’s not here?” Sarah demanded, frustration roiling within her.
Standing on the front porch of Donovan’s sprawling, white ranch house, Matt Gomez, the foreman, gave her an apologetic smile. Men swarmed around them, unloading the pieces of the bed. As they traipsed up and down the stairs, she noticed more than one stifled grin, and Matt himself had a twinkle of humor in his brown eyes.
“I’m sorry you rode out here for nothin’, Miss Calhoun. Heck, if Donovan had known you were comin’ I’m sure he woulda put off his trip to Laramie.”
“Oh, I’m sure.” Sarah watched as her sarcasm wiped the good humor from the foreman’s expression. “No doubt he heard I was coming and took off, the sneaky poltroon!”
“Sneaky what?” Matt thumbed back his hat. “Now, Miss Calhoun, there’s no need for name callin’ here. And just what the heck is a poltroon, anyway?”
“A coward, Mr. Gomez.” She smiled when he stiffened. “What else would you call a man who runs from a woman?”
“Smart,” Amos snickered, helping one of the hands with the headboard. Masculine chuckles echoed his words.
“Donovan ain’t a man to run from nothin’,” Matt said, clearly offended.
“Well, apparently, Mr. Gomez, he is running from
The men grew very quiet. Sarah smiled triumphantly, certain she had the upper hand. Why, they even looked a little afraid of her.
“Good afternoon, Miss Calhoun.”
Her stomach erupted into nervous flurries as she slowly turned. Jack Donovan stood a few feet behind her, legs spread, his saddlebags slung over his shoulder. His dark pants were covered in trail dust, as was his white shirt and black leather vest. While not the tallest man there, he still topped Sarah by several inches. He wasn’t as broad in the shoulders as some of the other men, nor as big in the chest or as beefy in the arms. His build was one of lean, whipcord strength that gave the impression of speed and agility. But he didn’t need bulk to intimidate people. Most folks took one look at his black-as-hell gaze and cleared a path.
At the moment, he wore his hat low over his eyes, but Sarah had only to glance at the firm set of his jaw to know that he was annoyed.
Then again, he was always annoyed with her.
“I didn’t know you were back, Donovan,” Matt said.
“Well, I am. Don’t you men have work to do?” He jerked his head toward the wagon. The hands leaped into action, moving the furniture with none of the easy banter of before.
“Well, Mr. Donovan, trust you to spoil a good time.” Sarah glanced at the silent, bustling men, then turned her attention back to Donovan. Propping her hands on her hips, she asked, “Are you going to talk to me today, or are you going to hide until I’m gone?”
He stared at her for a long moment, and Sarah found herself wishing that she could see past his hat brim to his eyes. Then he strode past her and up the steps, where he shrugged off his saddlebags and placed them on the porch.