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Authors: Lynna Banning

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BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
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Chapter Four

My lady very angry today. I think is because riding on horseback make her hurt. She is frightened, but she not admit.
Rivera say nothing, not even
buenos días
, until he drink three cups of the coffee I make extra strong. And I listen to my lady complain about everything, the blanket she sleep in, the boots, the biscuits he make for our supper, everything. She is mad, I think, because underneath she feel scared.

aroline had never felt so miserable in her entire life, not even the hours spent in dusty stagecoaches rattling through the wilds of Oklahoma and Texas. She was hot and sticky and her derriere hurt as if she'd been bouncing for hours on a pincushion. A pincushion made of hard leather.

It was all the fault of that odious man, Rivera. He was bossy. Rude. And ill-mannered. No matter how admiringly Fernanda gazed at the tall sheriff, the man was nothing but a bully with a shiny silver badge.

With distaste she surveyed their sleeping arrangements for the night. A single blanket apiece and a saddle for a pillow? How primitive. Even the Indians slept in tents, did they not?

Fernanda had taken the tin plates and spoons to rinse off in the stream; when she returned Caroline would ask her to hold up a blanket so she could undress in what limited privacy she could manage. She wondered with a stab of unease whether she would be able to get her boots off without bending over.

Rivera strode off to hobble the horses and she seized her chance. “Fernanda, hold up one of those blankets to make a screen, would you?”

“But you don't need—”

“Just do it,” she hissed. “Quickly! Before he gets back.”

Her companion sent her an odd look but dutifully unrolled a square of striped wool and held it aloft. Caroline stepped behind it and started to undo her shirt.

“Hold it!” An unwelcome male voice stopped her midbutton.

“I am undressing, Mr. Rivera. Turn your back. Please,” she added as an afterthought. She couldn't stand the thought that he would laugh at her. But the truth was she was, well, frightened. She didn't know how to behave in a camp out in the wilderness with a man nearby.

“Not so fast. Out here on the trail we sleep in our clothes.”

“You may do just that, sir. I, however, will not.”

Before she could slip free one more button, he yanked the blanket out of Fernanda's upraised hands and tossed it onto the bed of pine needles behind him.

“You hard of hearing? I said out here—”

“I heard you perfectly well. The question is, did
?” She couldn't continue undressing until he turned away. Caroline pressed her lips together and waited.

“Button yourself back up, lady. You're gonna sleep fully clothed.”

“I—I cannot.” She would not let him see how uncertain she felt about sleeping out in the open. Next to a man. Most of all, she could not confess that her stiff denim jeans chafed the inside of her thighs, despite the liniment Fernanda had rubbed on earlier. Or that her sunburned neck smarted under her shirt collar. She needed to be free of anything that rubbed her skin.

“Like hell,” he muttered. The next thing she knew he had yanked her up like a sack of meal and dumped her onto the blanket closest to the fire pit.


He knelt next to her. “I'll take off your boots so you won't have to stretch. Give me your foot.” He turned his back, straddled her leg and began pulling off the leather boots.

How humiliating! With her foot in his control she could not wriggle away from him. Oh, she felt so out of place in the West. So incompetent. She hated not knowing how to do something as simple as taking off her own boots.

But the relief she felt when her boot came off overcame her urge to complain. Bliss! She flexed her toes and closed her eyes with pleasure.

“I think my boots are too small,” she said. “My heels are rubbed raw.”

“Not too small,” he countered. “They're too big. That's why they rub.” He took her foot in both hands and stripped off her sock.

“Blisters,” he muttered. “Hot damn.”

“Well it isn't
fault,” she blurted out. “You were the one who insisted on horses. And boots.”

“Yeah, I did. Stop complaining. You're alive, aren't you?”

“Well!” She had never met a man so bad tempered and prone to give orders. She'd bet he'd been at least a colonel in the Rebel army. Maybe even a general.

“Fernanda,” he said over his shoulder to her companion. “You have an extra pair of socks with you?”

. I have extra.” She rummaged in the small canvas bag he had allowed them and pulled out another bulky pair of boy's socks.

“Your boots fit okay,
?” he asked.

To demonstrate Fernanda executed a few dance steps, snapping her fingers over her head. “Fine boots,

Caroline's mouth fell open. She had never, ever seen Fernanda dance. Or even walk fast. Even in Texas, when Mama had hired the Mexican woman as a nurse, she had been the epitome of decorum. What had come over her?

That man, Rivera, had come over her, that's what. Caroline sensed some unspoken connection between Rivera and Fernanda, but she could not imagine what it was. He was at least ten years Fernanda's junior, and unless he preferred older women...

How reprehensible! The man was surely taking advantage of her friend.

She tried to yank her foot away, but his big hands held her fast. He massaged her toes, then her arch, and finally drew on the extra sock. Then he picked up her other foot and pulled off the leather boot.

“Tomorrow I'll help you get your boots back on,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice.

“There is absolutely no need,” she protested. “I have been capable of dressing myself since I was three years old.”

“Did you wear Western boots when you were three years old?”

She flinched. “Certainly not. I wore dresses, like any proper young girl.”

Without a word he dropped her foot, folded the boot tops over and slapped them down next to her saddle. “Good night, Miss MacFarlane. Use your boots for a pillow.”

Good night?
How am I supposed to sleep with just one blanket and a smelly pair of boots?”

He towered over her, then squatted on his haunches down to her level. “You sleep any way you like, Miss MacFarlane. You roll yourself up in the blanket, like a pancake. Personally, I prefer using my saddle as a pillow, but you suit yourself.”

She glared up at him. “I most certainly will not roll myself—”

He said nothing, just straightened to his full height and looked down at her. His eyes did strange things to her equilibrium.

“What if I get cold during the night?”

“You won't. It's the middle of the summer. Stays hot all night.”

“Oh.” Again she stuffed down the unwelcome feeling of incompetence. She should have deduced that about the weather.

“Do not worry,
mi corazón
, you will be close to the fire.”

Caroline bit her lip, hunkered down on the blanket, and pulled both corners up around her. Roll over like a pancake? How did one accomplish that?

She rolled to her left and felt the muscles in her back clench. She reversed direction, but the blanket wouldn't cover her completely.

All at once the blanket was yanked out from under her and a hand settled on her backside. “Like this.” He tucked one edge under her back and rolled her over twice. The blanket snugged up tight around her body.

“Just like a tortilla,” Fernanda chortled. “
Mi hija
, pretend you are the

In the next moment he slid his palm under her neck and stuffed her folded boots underneath her head. She clamped her jaw tight shut and watched Fernanda toe off her boots and roll herself up in her own blanket.

Rivera did the same. She noticed he had positioned both herself and Fernanda next to the fire; he slept on the outside.

Well, at least
was gentlemanly.

* * *

Hawk listened to the quiet breathing of the two women and hoped he'd dropped enough dry wood into the fire pit to last the night. Not that they'd need the warmth, but the flames would keep away predators. He drew in a careful breath. Coyotes, maybe. Not men.

He'd scouted the area around the camp and found no tracks but Red's and those of the two mares. Maybe Fernanda was wrong about someone trying to kill Miss MacFarlane.

He closed his eyes and tried not to remember how Caroline MacFarlane looked with her shirt half-unbuttoned. A song sparrow twittered among the branches of a nearby alder. Funny how a bird's singing could fill a man full of questions about his life. He wondered if his deathbed reflections about the decisions he'd made in his life would make it all clear someday. Then he snorted. He'd save his deathbed confession for when the time came.

He opened his eyes and looked up at the fat silver globe of a moon floating above the trees. Suddenly something startled the bird into silence, and the hair on his neck rose. He hadn't heard a horse. Hadn't heard a single footstep. Very slowly he sat up and reached for his rifle.

A shadow glided behind a thick pine trunk and he thumbed back the hammer. What would a man on foot be doing twenty miles from the nearest town? Maybe a renegade Indian, looking for food?

Or it might be that someone had trailed them, left his mount a mile or so back and sneaked up on the camp.

He got to his feet and crept forward toward the tree. If it was a man intent on harming someone, he'd bet that someone was not himself. Those who held grudges against him he'd left back in Texas, and besides, too much time had passed since his Ranger days. A Mescalero would have caught up with him by now.

He walked to within arm's length of the pine, dug a pebble from his shirt pocket and tossed it off to one side. Nothing, not even an indrawn breath. He chanced a deliberately noisy step onto a dry twig. Still nothing. Then he moved so he could see what was behind the trunk.

Nothing but moonlight and tall trees. Either his imagination was working too hard or he was getting jumpy with two females on his hands. Or...

Then he heard the far-off thud of hoofbeats, and his blood ran cold. Someone had been here. On foot, and so quiet there hadn't been even a warning nicker from the horses. He should have heard something. Anything. God, was he getting old?

He released the hammer, stalked back into camp and dropped the Winchester next to his bedroll.


“It was nothing, Fernanda. Go back to sleep.”

“You lie, my friend. I hear the horse, too.”

“You've got good ears,

“Ay, that is true.” There was a long pause and then the Mexican woman's soft voice spoke again. “I have learned to listen,

Hawk didn't sleep. He didn't even try, just lay awake with his thoughts and his doubts and his fears. Not for himself, but for the spirited, headstrong crusader who slept a short distance away from him. She was a damn fool of a woman, sticking her nose where it didn't belong.

But he'd agreed to protect her, and he would. Stealthily he moved his bedroll as close to hers as he could get without waking her.

Tomorrow he'd teach her how to shoot his revolver.

* * *

, can you fire a pistol?”


“A pistol!” Caroline spluttered.

I carry a
always in my pocket.”

“What?” Her voice rose an octave. “Fernanda, you never told me that.”

“You never ask,
mi corazón
. Besides, I never tell you lots of things.”

Caroline struggled to her feet and immediately regretted it. Her legs felt stiff as new sofa springs. Nevertheless, she marched over to Fernanda, who sat placidly beside the fire pit eating the last of the biscuits. Before she could confront the Mexican woman, Rivera laid his big hand on Caroline's shoulder and spun her toward him so fast it made her dizzy.

“There's something I want to show you before we get started.”

“Oh? And what is that, Mr. Rivera? How to take off my boots, perhaps?”

A smile flickered. The first hint of any humor in the taciturn sheriff and a welcome change from that smoldering anger in his green eyes and the perpetual frown he wore. My goodness, what a sourpuss he was. He'd be nice-looking if his face were not so scrunched up.

“Nothing to do with boots,” he said in that maddeningly calm voice of his. Didn't he ever get excited about anything? Even Fernanda's impromptu fandango last night hadn't cracked his impassive expression. He must have been a superb soldier in the War, imperturbable as a sphinx under fire.

She sniffed. “Well, what is it? Show me and let us be on our way. I have a speaking engagement in Gillette Springs this evening.”

He shot her a look. “I want you to learn to use a revolver.”

She sucked in a breath. “I beg your pardon? What on earth for?” The very thought of putting her hand on a firearm sent a shudder up her spine. Did women out West actually do such brazen things?

“For protection.”

“Yours or mine? No well-bred lady handles firearms.”

“No well-bred lady travels out West lighting fires under half the population without knowing how to protect herself.”

“Lighting fires? Well, I should hope so. For your information, Mr. Rivera, ‘lighting fires' is going to be the salvation of womankind.”

He said nothing, just took hold of her upper arm and propelled her away from the fire. Fernanda fled to the stream with the empty tin cups and the coffeepot.

BOOK: Her Sheriff Bodyguard
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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