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Authors: Lynna Banning

Her Sheriff Bodyguard

BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
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“Ladies unite. Votes for women!”

Caroline MacFarlane has one mission in life. The pain she experienced at the hands of her father is numbed when she stands on stage and teaches the world that women are just as strong, rational and capable as men!

But when her safety is threatened, suddenly protective sheriff Hawk Rivera is glued to her side—day and night! This unexpected bodyguard has Caroline's life in his hands, and she's surprised to find that Hawk's commanding presence is not just reassuring, but
enticing
, too...

“Caroline.” He scarcely recognized his own voice.

Barely aware of what he was doing, he deliberately turned her to face him, bent his head and caught her mouth under his.

He didn't know how long he moved over her lips, but he did know he never wanted to stop. She was sweet beyond belief, and soft. And female. So female he ached all over.

“Don't you ever,
ever
do that again!” she shouted, pulling away.

He could see her body shaking; the ruffles down the front of her shirtwaist trembled. He stared at her. Her eyes blazed into his, and without thinking he reached for her arm.

“Stay away,” she warned. “Just stay away from me.”

What the—
He stepped back but couldn't stop looking at her. He'd never misjudged a woman this badly since he was a green boy of fourteen.

Author Note

Women in the Old West struggled to be treated as equals, to own property in their own names and to exercise their right to vote—things we take for granted in today's America.

This story reminds us that such rights had to be fought for.

Lynna Banning

Her Sheriff Bodyguard

Lynna Banning
combines a lifelong love of history and literature into a satisfying career as a writer. Born in Oregon, she graduated from Scripps College and embarked on a career as an editor and technical writer and later as a high school English teacher. She enjoys hearing from her readers. You may write to her directly at PO Box 324, Felton, CA 95018, USA, email her at
[email protected]
or visit Lynna's website at
lynnabanning.net
.

Books by Lynna Banning

Harlequin Historical

The Wedding Cake War
The Ranger and the Redhead
Loner's Lady
Crusader's Lady
Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride
Lady Lavender
Happily Ever After in the West
“The Maverick and Miss Prim”
Smoke River Bride
The Lone Sheriff
Wild West Christmas
“Christmas in Smoke River”
Dreaming of a Western Christmas
“His Christmas Belle”
Smoke River Family
Western Spring Weddings
“The City Girl and the Rancher”
Printer in Petticoats
Her Sheriff Bodyguard

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In memory of my mother, Mary Banning Yarnes, and my grandmother, Leora Boessen Banning, both of whom quietly lived lives that enhanced the inherent rights of women.

Prologue

I, Fernanda Elena Maria Sobrano, am tell you this thing from my heart, how I find this man, Hawk Rivera, and ask for his help. My lady she not know what I do, but you will understand when I tell what happen.

Chapter One

“S
heriff, you can't miss this.”

Hawk Rivera tilted his head so he could see the pudgy overeager face of the mayor from beneath the broad brim of his well-worn gray Stetson. “Like hell I can't.”

“But everybody in town'll be there!”

Hawk winced. All the more reason he should stay away. It wasn't that he didn't like the townspeople of Smoke River, just that he didn't like them in bunches. “Mingling,” his mother had called it. He hated mingling. Made the back of his neck crawl like two dozen spiders had been dropped down his shirt collar. Mayor O'Grady cleared his throat. “She came in on the afternoon train. Fine-looking woman.”

Hawk shifted his boots to a new spot on his paper-littered desk. “Save your breath, Harve. Not interested.”

“Looks kinda feisty, too.”

“Still not interested.”

Harvey O'Grady smacked his now-empty whiskey glass down on top of a Wanted poster. “Not interested in a pretty woman? Somethin' wrong with you, Sheriff.”

Hawk snorted. “Nuthin' wrong with me another shot of whiskey and a little peace and quiet can't fix. Leave me alone, Harve.” He tipped his chair farther back toward the dirty wall of the jail. “Leave the whiskey.”

“Aw, hell. A little excitement'd do ya good. Sure as God made little green leprechauns, yer gettin' morose as a randy coyote.”

“Drop it, Harve.” Pointedly he looked at the door. “See you tomorrow.”

His office door slammed and Hawk reached for his whiskey, drained the glass, then refilled it from the flask the mayor had left. Night was too damn pretty to spoil it with politics.

Down the street somewhere he heard what sounded like chanting. “Oregon women better take note, Wyoming women have got the vote!”

He snorted. Bad poem. Bad idea. If Oregon women were smart they'd leave the thinking to their menfolk and tend to the business of making love and babies. Like they did in Texas.

But that's why you left, isn't it? Love and a baby?

He gritted his teeth so hard his jaw cracked. He grabbed for his whiskey and shut his eyes.

* * *

Caroline MacFarlane leaned out the second floor window of her hotel room and pointed. “Just look, Fernanda. The ladies have made signboards!”

Below her in the street a dozen women marched holding up hand-lettered placards.

LADIES UNITE.

WOMEN ARE PEOPLE TOO.

VOTES FOR WOMEN!

With their free hands, the ladies gripped their straw bonnets, which the hot afternoon breeze threatened to dislodge. Caroline's eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, Mama would have been so proud.”

Fernanda shifted her bulk beside her. “Your mama,
mi corazón
, work too hard.”

True. Her mother had never minded the dust, or the heat, or the rough manners of little towns like this one, out in the middle of nowhere. Evangeline MacFarlane had lived for The Cause. Caroline was doing her best to follow in her sainted mother's footsteps.

Fernanda touched her arm. “You must eat something before people come.”

“Afterward,” Caroline breathed. “I am far too excited to eat just now.”

“Humph,” Fernanda sniffed. “Soon you look like scrawny chicken. Now you put on speaking dress.”

Reluctantly Caroline let her companion draw her away from the window, lace her up in the whalebone corset that made it hard to breathe between sentences and smooth out the sleeves on her severely cut dark blue bombazine. She must look every inch a lady tonight; winning over an audience of ranchers and townspeople and their wives must be handled with decorum as well as rousing words.

With a final tug at her starched petticoats she donned her favorite speech-making hat, a bonnet with an iridescent green-and-blue pheasant feather drooping stylishly over one eye. She flashed Fernanda a smile and turned toward the door.

“Let us go forth and conquer!”

* * *

Even from inside his office, Hawk could hear the noise rumbling from the town hall behind the barbershop. A twinge of unease crawled up the back of his neck. He hadn't heard such a commotion since the lynching the new judge, Jericho Silver, had narrowly averted. That, he recalled grimly, had ended up in a near riot.

He was glad Jericho had been elected district judge. That had meant Smoke River had needed a new sheriff. And he'd sure as hell needed to get out of Texas.

He liked Smoke River. The town was flanked by mountains that shaded into purple in the distance, golden wheat fields, and endless grassy expanses where mottled brown cows grazed. Like Butte City, only smaller. Tree-lined streets. Nice houses. Even the main street looked well-kept.

His deputy cracked open the door and peered across the street. “They're gettin' kinda riled up, Sheriff.”

“Let 'em. Words never hurt anybody.”

“I dunno,” Sandy said. He pulled his blond head back inside the jail and shut the door. “All the men are lined up on one side and the women are on the other. Haven't stopped yellin' at each other for the last half hour.”

Hawk thunked his boots onto the dirty plank floor. “All right, I'll go have a look. You stay here and keep a cell open in case some damn fool troublemaker needs cooling off.”

He straightened his hat, checked his Colt and swung out the door onto the board sidewalk. Raucous catcalls drifted from across the street and he quickened his pace.

Inside the stifling hall overwrought women waved placards while the men taunted. Hawk frowned. All this uproar over a simple little speech? For a moment he considered tramping back across to the jail and letting them fight it out, but then he caught sight of a trim female figure in a dark blue dress and an interesting-looking hat and he changed his mind.

She had dark hair pulled into a neat-looking twist at the nape of her neck. He couldn't see her eyes, but the tilt of her chin looked determined enough to stop a cattle stampede. She ploughed her way up the aisle between the two warring factions like an implacable ship on choppy seas and took her place behind the improvised lectern, two stacked apple crates at the far end of the room.

She stood there for a good four minutes while the ladies yelled and carried on and the men shouted. At last she raised both arms and quiet descended.

The sudden silence felt odd. Tension boiled in the room, and when the woman dropped her arms and opened her lips, Hawk's instincts signaled trouble.

“Ladies,” she began. “And gentlemen.” She put subtle emphasis on the word. “We are about to change history.”

The women cheered. The glowering men sat with their arms clamped across their bellies.

“We must take our future into our own hands. We must...”

Something about her low, melodious voice curled around his gut like smoke on a hot summer night. The women hung on every word, their faces rapt, while the men roared their disapproval and heckled when she stopped to draw breath.

“Go back to Boston, girlie!”

“Our women don't want the vote.”

“Oh, yes we do!” a woman screeched. She leaped to her feet and pounded the tip of her parasol on the wooden floor.

“Siddown and shut up,” a male voice yelled.

To her credit the speaker waited for the tumult to die down before continuing. But she did continue. Hawk rolled his eyes at the inflammatory stuff she was saying, but he had to admit she had courage. A smart person would edge on out the back door.

“Gentlemen,” she called, after a particularly ugly outburst of catcalls. “Gentlemen, let me ask you a question.”

“Save it, honey!” someone yelled from the back of the room.

“No, I will not ‘save it,' sir. Hear me out. Did you know that here in Oregon a married woman cannot—?”

“Sure we know all about that, lady. Keeps our women right where we want 'em.”

“And where is that, sir?”

“Underneath a man with her legs spread, where else?”

The men guffawed while screams of outrage erupted from the women, and the shouting match resumed.

Hawk heaved a tired sigh. Enough was enough. He didn't favor women's right to vote, but he did support law and order. He strode forward down the aisle separating the warring parties, counting on his presence and the revolver he wore on his hip to calm things down. Deliberately he moved toward the woman behind the apple crates and the noise of the crowd dropped.

He drew close enough to her to note that she had very, very rosy lips, and then suddenly a gun went off somewhere behind him. A bullet thunked into one of the crates.

Hawk dove forward and threw himself on top of her, toppling her to the floor under him. A second shot whined past his head.

Pandemonium erupted. Women screamed, men yelled and somewhere outside a dog began to bark.

“Don't move,” he ordered the woman pinned beneath him. “Lie still.”

Her body twitched, but she said nothing.

He heard the dog yelp and go quiet. Gradually the noise inside the meeting hall faded to an uneasy buzz, and he rolled off her and onto his feet, revolver drawn.

A sea of stunned faces stared back at him.

“She okay?” a male voice asked.

“I—I am quite well, thank you,” the woman spoke at his back. He heard a rustle of petticoats and he guessed she was getting to her feet. He kept his weapon trained on the crowd, but no one moved or spoke.

He holstered his sidearm. “Meeting's over, folks. Go on home unless you want to spend the night in jail.”

The hall emptied like a beer keg on Saturday night and Hawk turned to the woman. Damn suffragettes. Stirred up trouble everywhere they went.

Her fancy hat was mashed flat and her hair was straggling out of her bun. A plump Mexican woman darted from the crowd and began brushing the dust off the now-rumpled dark blue dress.

“Stop, Fernanda,” the woman urged, batting at her hands. “We will take care of this later.”

“I'll see you to your hotel, ma'am.”

She trained the bluest eyes he'd ever seen on him and did not smile. “Thank you, Sheriff, but that will not be necessary. I am perfectly capable of walking.”

“Might be capable all right, but unless you're carrying a pistol in your skirt pocket, you're not armed. Come on.”

He grasped her elbow. She wrenched free, but he grabbed her arm again and moved her toward the entrance. The Mexican woman followed them out the door and down the street to the hotel.

“What's her room number, Ed?” he growled as he marched her past the front desk.

The balding desk clerk gulped. “Two-ten. Top of the—”

“Right.” He snagged the key from the rack, guided both women up the stairs, and shooed them into the safety of their room. “Throw the bolt,” he ordered.

Then he tipped his hat and stalked back down the staircase. Before he returned to the jail he scouted the town from the livery stable at one end to the church at the other, nosed around the saloon and spent the better part of an hour studying fresh hoofprints in the road.

Nothing. Whoever had fired those shots was long gone.

Or the bastard was still in town. It was then he began to taste fear in the back of his throat. Someone was gunning for her.

BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
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