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Authors: Lynna Banning

Her Sheriff Bodyguard (10 page)

BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
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Chapter Fourteen

awk stared at her. “My God, you killed him?”

“I did, yes.”

“I thought you'd never touched a gun before. You didn't even know how to cock my revolver, much less aim it.”

“You are right...I did not. Papa always carried a pistol hidden under his vest. That night I— He came at me again. I screamed and he pulled out his little pistol, and when I grabbed for it...”

“It went off,” Hawk supplied.

“The bullet hit his chest,” she said, her voice almost inaudible. “And then he was dead. I never told a soul. I just left him there.”

Hawk felt something rip inside his chest. God.

He reached for her, but she flinched away.

“Mama never knew what he had done to me. Or what I had done. She took me away and I never told her.”

He clenched his jaw so hard his teeth ached. And she couldn't escape her father because the law didn't allow her mother to have her. No wonder she was afraid to be touched. He wondered if she would ever forget.

* * *

As Hawk directed, Caroline began to lift her garments out of the wardrobe and pack them into the trunk. When Fernanda returned, he stepped out of the room on an errand of his own, and Caroline bolted the door from the inside.

When he reappeared he dangled a different room key in his hand. “Finish packing,” he instructed. “But—” he tipped his head toward Caroline “—save your boy's disguise.”

Fernanda snapped the trunk closed, and he dragged it out into the hallway. “Come on,” he said, flashing the new key. “We're moving.”

, one new room, it is not enough?”

“Whoever is watching us knows we're in this room. If we move, he won't know where we are.”

He manhandled the trunk to the far end of the hall and left it at the head of the stairs, then unlocked the door to a different room on the opposite side and ushered them inside.

“Fernanda, I want you to make one more visit to the church and talk to the padre.”

Ay de mi
, the padre, he grows tired of me!”

Hawk drew the Mexican woman aside and spoke so quietly Caroline could not hear. Fernanda sent him a conspiratorial look and marched out the door; she returned a short time later with something bundled up under her black wool shawl.

“Now,” Hawk said to Caroline, “I need you to put on those boy's duds you wore when we rode out of Smoke River.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “May I ask why?”

“Nope. Don't ask—just get them on.”

Three hours later, the two hotel porters found the trunk right where Rivera said it would be. They upended it, muscled it down the staircase and stowed it behind the registration desk. In the morning they would load it onto a cart, roll it to the train station, and heave it onto the Union Pacific bound west for Washington Territory.

A little before midnight, two priests in long black cassocks and a young boy in plaid shirt, jeans and leather boots slipped out the back door of the hotel and made their way to the train. The tall priest stepped into the station house, purchased three tickets and sent off a telegram.

When he emerged he studied the deserted passenger platform. Finally, with a nod of satisfaction, he ushered the other two travelers on board the southbound train, and the locomotive chuffed off down the track back to Oakridge.

Hawk settled into his seat and pulled the rifle from under his cassock. The other priest, short and pudgy in build, produced a large box lunch and a small flask of whiskey.

Fourteen hours later the southbound train pulled into the station at Oakridge. Perched on the stagecoach waiting at the edge of the platform, Jingo Shanahan waved his battered hat at the three passengers who stepped down off the locomotive.

“Over here, Haw—uh, Father. Where's yer trunk?”

The tall priest laughed. “On its way to Washington. Good to see you, Jingo.” He ushered his two companions into the waiting stagecoach, shut the passenger door, then climbed up next to the driver and laid his rifle over his knees.

“Kinda funny, seein' ya in them clothes,” Jingo confided. “But yer deputy made it real clear what I's to do, so—” he spat tobacco juice off to the side “—here I am. Jes' gives me the jollies seein' you dressed up like a—”

“Just drive, Jingo.”

The whip cracked and the stagecoach lurched forward. At Gillette Springs they stopped at the livery stable to pick up the horses Hawk had boarded. Then he folded up the black cassock and stashed it in his saddlebag, roped the mares behind his gelding and swung himself into the saddle.

By the time the stage, Hawk and the horses reached Smoke River some eight hours later, it was just before midnight and the main street was deserted. That was odd, Hawk thought. Unless his deputy had taken an added precaution and cleared out the downtown area. He didn't care what ruse Sandy had managed; he was just grateful no one would witness their arrival. Better yet, no one would know the whereabouts of Caroline MacFarlane until he was ready to spring his trap.

“Turn at the corner,” he directed the stage driver.

At the door of his half sister's boardinghouse, Hawk signaled a stop. Jingo pulled the team to a halt and waited until the large priest and the skinny kid inside climbed out and tiptoed up onto the wide front porch. At a signal from Hawk, he lifted the traces and the coach rolled away down the street and on out of town.

Hawk tapped on the dingy front door. “Ilsa?”

The door cracked open. “Hawk?”

“Yeah, it's me. Open up.”

A tall, slim woman in a shabby night robe flung open the door and reached to hug him. “Oh, Hawk, I've been so worried! Sandy told me—”

He patted her shoulder. “Everything's under control, sis. Like I said, I've brought you two more boarders.” He tipped his head toward Fernanda and Caroline, waiting on the steps behind him.

“A priest?” Ilsa's voice rose in surprise. “Hawk, Sandy didn't say anything about—”

Fernanda stepped forward. “You will forgive,
Hawk does not tell everything.”

The tall woman laughed. “I see my brother still hasn't changed. Even when he was a boy, he—”

Hawk cut her off. “Got anything to eat?”

“Of course. Come in. Eggs and bacon all right? And Elijah made ginger cookies this afternoon.”

Hawk conducted Fernanda and Caroline through the screen door Ilsa held open. He didn't introduce them.

The first thing the Mexican woman did was wriggle out of the priest's cassock. “I do not think the padre like being buried under all this black.” She handed the fabric to Ilsa. “You can sew? Good for mourning dress.”

Caroline had not spoken a single word since leaving the stagecoach. Now she was swaying on her feet. Hawk grasped her arm.

“You all right?” he said in a low tone.

She touched her temple. “Just a headache.”

He walked her to an overstuffed chair. “Ilsa, you have anything for a headache?”

“Why, of course. You think I run a boarding-house unprepared for emergencies? Look in the cabinet next to the sink while I gather some eggs.”

Caroline's head drooped. “I—I thank you for your kindness, Mrs...Rowell, is it?”

Ilsa propped work-worn hands on her hips. “As usual Hawk has forgotten to make introductions,” she said with a fond smile. “I am Ilsa Rowell, Hawk's sister.”

Hawk snorted. “I didn't forget, sis. Just figure sometimes it's best not to know.”

“Nonsense,” Ilsa retorted. “I'm waiting.”

She had green eyes, like Hawk's, Caroline noted. But not as penetrating. And the woman's skin was three shades lighter than his.

Hawk swallowed. “Ilsa, this is Caroline...” He hesitated.

“Miss? Or Missus?” Ilsa asked, eyeing her boy's attire.


“Hawk, get the girl some aspirin. And some coffee. It's on the stove.”

“And her companion is Fernanda Sobrano.
, I think.”

Fernanda's black eyes snapped. “Certainly it is
. Except for you,
Hawk, men are worthless.”

“Now wait a damn—”

“I am Fernanda Elena Maria Sobrano,” the Mexican woman announced. “And,
por favor
, I also would be grateful for some café.”

Ilsa pointed to the stove. “Brother, you are a fine sheriff, but as a host...”

“Please do not berate him, Mrs. Rowell,” Caroline interrupted. “Hawk has saved my life on three occasions.”

“As well he should,” Ilsa said. She went on talking as she stalked out the back door, and her voice faded into the squawking of disturbed hens.

In her absence, Hawk shook some white tablets into his palm, poured coffee into a chipped mug from the sideboard and moved to Caroline, seated in the parlor. She clutched the aspirin and nodded her thanks.

Hawk returned to the kitchen and poured coffee for Fernanda, then lifted an iron frying pan from the hook behind the stove, poked up the fire and sliced a dozen slabs of bacon from the side hanging in the pantry.

Caroline opened her lids when the back door slammed. She watched Hawk expertly crack eggs from the wire basket Ilsa held out, then splash a bit of milk into the bowl with them. She blinked in surprise. Caroline couldn't scramble an egg if her life depended on it.

This man was such a puzzle, a combination of steel-spined sheriff and gentle brother. Hawk Rivera was different from any man she had ever known. However, she admitted, she had never before allowed a man within ten feet of her; Hawk was an exception.

Fernanda bustled about the small kitchen laying out plates and forks and frayed gingham napkins as if she'd lived here all her life.

Caroline downed the aspirin with a swallow of coffee and waited for the pain to recede, listening to the comforting sounds in the small kitchen, the sizzle of bacon, the low voices of Hawk and his sister talking about inconsequential things—her son's paper delivery job, the upcoming dance at Jensen's barn, and the sharpshooting contest Hawk's deputy, Sandy, had arranged next Saturday.

She opened her eyes when Hawk laid a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in her lap and pressed a fork into her hand. “Didn't think you could make it to the table,” he murmured.

“N-no, I—”

“Eat. Ilsa says your room's all ready and nobody's gonna disturb you until noon tomorrow. Oh, I almost forgot. Sis says she'll leave some clean duds outside your door. Unless you'd rather wear jeans and boots?” With a chuckle he tugged her plaid shirt collar.

Tired as she was, Caroline laughed. “It would be more sensible to maintain my disguise, but I have to admit that I feel less female in jeans than I ever have in my life. And my feet will never get used to wearing boots!”

Hawk opened his mouth to say something about her being “less female,” then thought better of it. The less said about his feelings on that score the better. For him, there was not one thing about Caroline MacFarlane that would ever be “less female,” no matter what she was wearing.

He rejoined Fernanda at the table, but as he shoveled in eggs and toast he kept one eye on Caroline. She was a misfit out here in the West. Must have been in Texas, too. She belonged in a city, in a fine house with servants and books and—well, everything a little town in Oregon didn't have.

Fernanda touched his wrist. “My lady, she is all right,

“Yeah, I think so. Tired. Got a headache. But she's not frightened anymore.”

“She is never frightened until her
die of the lung sickness. Then she hide it and do you say?...her ‘must do.'”

“Her duty,” Hawk supplied. “She sure has one helluva work ethic.”

What is ‘ethic'?”

“Something that drives her. Compulsion, like. Something that makes her go on giving speeches when she's dead tired and scared to death.”

“Ah. You think she will recover from this ‘ethic'?”

Hawk thought about it. Probably not, since he now knew that part of what had been driving her was killing her father. He figured she had to keep moving to keep that memory from swamping her.

, look.” Fernanda nodded toward the boyish figure slumped on Ilsa's best upholstered chair. Hawk pushed back from the table and stood up.

Ilsa glanced up from her coffee. “Put her in the blue bedroom, Hawk. I'll put Fernanda next to her.”

“You are kind,
,” Fernanda said. “I will help in house.”

Hawk lifted the still-full plate off Caroline's lap and set it on the floor beside the chair. Then he slid one hand under her knees, hoisted her into his arms and started for the stairs. The blue bedroom was at the far end of the hallway.

He walked as slowly as he could. She felt so good held against his chest he didn't want to let her go. At the last room he dipped to turn the brass knob and kneed the door open.

A blue print quilt covered the narrow bed under the window. Ilsa had sewed it by hand one square at a time when she'd first found herself a widow. He laid Caroline on top of it and folded the sides up around her. Then he slipped off her too-large boots. Tomorrow he'd check whether she had any blisters.

It was damn hard leaving her there, her head flopped over in sleep. Every bone in his body wanted to stretch out beside her, feel her warmth and the softness of her body against him.
Watch it, Rivera! You've been there before and it didn't end well.

Gently he straightened her neck on the goose-feather pillow, then with a suppressed groan he stood up and tiptoed out the door.

Chapter Fifteen

aroline jerked awake to the sound of someone chopping wood outside. It took her a moment to remember where she was, in Hawk's widowed sister's boardinghouse. She wondered who was chopping wood and stretched to look out the window.

He faced away from her, his back tanned to the color of chestnuts, the muscles rippling under his skin with every blow of the ax. He was beautiful to watch, hefting the ax and bringing it down square onto a chunk of wood. At each blow, four equal pieces of oak fell away from the chopping block.

She owed him her life, she thought suddenly. A few nights ago he had kissed her, and she had paid him back by striking him. Even now her cheeks burned in shame at what she had done. She had explained about her father, about why she had panicked when he touched her, but she had seen the hurt and resignation in his eyes and it haunted her still.

The ringing of the ax stopped and he turned toward the house, then lifted his shirt off the fence. Scars shone white under the sprinkling of dark hair on his chest, and three odd parallel lines slashed across his midriff. Caroline pressed her lips together. This man had known violence.

He strode across the bare dirt yard toward the back porch, putting his arms into the sleeves of the blue cotton shirt. “Billy?” he yelled. “Come fill your ma's wood box.”

Billy? Who was Billy?

A scrambling of feet outside her door had her pulse skittering. “Coming, Uncle Hawk.”

What was the youngster doing outside her door? She fervently hoped Billy was under twelve years old. Then she realized she was stark naked under the bedsheet. The last thing she remembered was eating scrambled eggs in the parlor downstairs. Someone had carried her up to this room, but, oh, heavens! Had that someone also undressed her?

She crept out of bed, splashed cool water on her face from the pitcher on the bureau, then peeked into the armoire for her clothes. Empty. No shirt. No jeans. And, bless the Lord, no boots!

She opened the bedroom door to call Fernanda and found a neat pile of folded clean clothes on the floor. A threadbare petticoat, a faded yellow seersucker skirt and a simple white lawn shirtwaist with a high collar but no lace. Everything was slightly too large and the skirt and petticoat were so long they brushed the floor, but she was grateful nonetheless. The garments smelled good, like sunshine. But, she realized suddenly, there was no camisole. Not even any underdrawers!

And she had packed her shoes in the trunk that had gone on to Washington. Back to the hated boots.

She pulled them out from under the bed and stuffed her bare feet into them. Her breath hissed in. More blisters. Quickly she pulled the hated things off and kicked them back under the bed. That left her feet bare. But the skirt was so long no one would ever see.

Downstairs Fernanda was humming as she moved about the kitchen rattling pans and rolling out piecrust. Hawk sat at the painted wood table peeling apples with his pocketknife.

“Coffee's on the stove,” he announced without glancing up. “Wait an hour and you can have pie for breakfast.”


“Sure. You think all I do is keep law and order?” He grinned at her, his teeth white against his dark skin. She was quite sure she had never seen him grin at her like that before. She would have noticed.

Ilsa stepped in from the back porch, soapsuds clinging to her forearms. “I see you found the clothes I sent up with Billy. I'm sorry there were no clean undergarments.”

Hawk's grin widened. “You mean she's not wearing—?”

Ilsa smacked his shoulder with the back of her hand and Fernanda's rolling pin halted. “My lady, she no wear corset since you dress her like boy.”

“Oh?” Hawk's green eyes darkened.

Caroline drew herself up as straight as she could manage in her blistered bare feet. “Yes, thank you, I would like pie for breakfast, and no, I am not wearing any—” she swallowed, then lifted her chin “—underclothes. I will wash out my things when—”

“I tossed them into the washtub with mine,” Ilsa interrupted.

Hawk rose suddenly and bolted for the back door. “Gonna need more wood.”

Fernanda and Ilsa exploded into giggles.

“I will help with the washing,” Caroline announced.

mi corazón
,” Fernanda said. “You finish peel apples for pie.”

So she peeled all the apples heaped in the huge crockery bowl, sliced them up and piled them into the bottom crust Fernanda laid in the pie tin. Little by little, listening to the crack of Hawk's ax in the backyard, the chatter of birds in the walnut tree and Fernanda's humming, Caroline felt her taut nerves begin to relax. She was safe here, at least for a little while. At least until Hawk sprang his trap and she would be the bait.

Sweaty from another hour spent splitting firewood, Hawk stopped to survey the mounting tower of oak destined for Ilsa's wood box. He could hear his sister's breathy whistling coming from the back porch, and he rolled his eyes. He'd never been able to teach Ilsa to do a proper job of whistling through her teeth; his half sister was too much their mother's daughter, and her father, Momma's first husband, had died before Ilsa was two years old.

He strode onto the back porch and upended a bucket of rinse water over his head and chest. He chuckled at his sister's squawk. “Hey, sis, you wouldn't want me smelling like a logging camp come suppertime, would you? Besides, I have to go back over to the sheriff's office.”

Every few hours something in Smoke River needed straightening out, a saloon card game gone sour, a lost schoolkid, even keeping order at the Ladies Temperance Union meeting, though how a bunch of teetotaler women could get so riled up was beyond him. His deputy would appear to have coped well enough, but he needed to check in now he was back.

The bucket of cold water washed off the sweat, but it didn't cool down his thoughts. So Caroline wasn't wearing any underclothes, huh? Hell's handbasket, that made him sweat all over again.

BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
2.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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