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Authors: Lacy Williams

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BOOK: Marrying Miss Marshal
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Chas went silent again. Danna saw the muscles move as he swallowed hard.

“And Julia came into the saloon behind you.” She could guess the rest, but perhaps it would be cathartic for him to tell it.

He nodded, his throat still working. Finally, after a long moment, he continued. “The men had their guns drawn before I even knew she was there. She was shot twice. There was blood everywhere.” He rasped the words now, rushing, as if he couldn't stop. “I got hit, too, but I didn't even feel the bullets. I tried to save her, but I couldn't.”

Again his throat worked. Danna expected to see tears on his face, but though his eyes were luminous, no moisture fell from them.

What would it feel like if Chas loved
her
the way he'd loved his Julia? Would she feel treasured, the way she never had with Fred?

Finally, she had to ask. “And your brother?”

“Dead before he hit the ground.”

Chas rubbed both hands down his face, and Danna worried there was more to the story. He spoke evenly now, the words seeming to come easier to him. “I haven't been home since it happened. I promised myself I'd find the man responsible and kill him. And now I'm so close.”

“Hank Lewis?”

He nodded.

No wonder he'd been so fixated on the man, enough that he could draw an accurate portrait.

“You know I can't let you kill him,” she murmured, and hoped he wouldn't erupt in a fit of temper.

He shook his head, not quite meeting her eyes. “Then you'd better hope you find him before I do.”

The air crackled between them.

Danna stood, breaking the awful tension between them. “Will you wrap my arm? I want to go talk to the man we locked up last night. And maybe see if our boy over at Doc's is awake.”

He returned to her side, and the heat of his hand on her bare skin made her wish they didn't have places they had to be.

“Would you really arrest your husband?” He didn't look up, but his words held a tinge of amusement.

She shrugged. “I'd prefer not to have to make the choice.”

“I know. I know. Your first husband was perfect.” He said the words as if he was joking, but to her trained ear, it sounded as if the words were tinged with a hint of jealousy. Chas was jealous of Fred?

She tried not to examine the warmth spreading through her. It made her want to reassure him.

“I never said that. Fred never would have spoken about what you just shared with me.”

“Really?” he asked.

Now it was her turn to share. Seemed like she owed him, after everything he'd told her. “We didn't talk about our feelings, or…things that were hard for us.” Like Rob, and how much it hurt when he hadn't wanted his sister anymore.

“I haven't told anyone else.”

“Not even your parents?”

“I told you I haven't been home since it happened.”

“How long ago?”

“Four years.”

“You haven't even sent a letter or a telegraph to let them know you're all right?”

“I can't.”

“Why not?”

“I just can't. Leave it be.”

It sounded as if Chas needed to find a way to forgive himself for Julia's and Joseph's deaths. That one event was keeping him from his family, and it didn't sound as if he'd found any healing.

“Do you think your husband
wanted
to talk about those other kind of things?”

Chas's words brought her out of her thoughts. What a funny thing to say.

“I doubt it. Fred wasn't the type of man to keep things inside. If he wanted to say something, he usually did.”

“Maybe he wanted to, but he wasn't sure how you'd react.”

Chas tied off the white cloth he'd used to wrap her arm. His hand remained on her shoulder, thumb brushing the edge of the cloth. His touch sent shivers down her spine.

“Thanks.” Was that really her voice, that breathy whisper?

Their eyes met and held, and Danna found herself wishing for a repeat of the kiss they'd shared in the preacher's parlor.

Chas must've seen her wish reflected in her eyes, because he leaned in until his chin brushed hers and his breath warmed her lips.

But at the last second, as her eyes were closing, he jerked away and moved to the opposite side of the room.

“We should—”

“Oh—” Her voice emerged broken, so she cleared her throat before speaking again. “Will you go down and check on the prisoner? I'll finish getting dressed and join you in a minute. We should check on the wounded outlaw, too.”

He nodded, again not looking at her, already half-turned toward the door.

She dressed quickly and then stood inside the door with her hands pressed to her stomach, trying to breathe.

She felt as if she would fly apart with one wrong breath, one wrong move. Her husband was in love—with a dead woman. A woman that Danna would never be able to compete with. No, it sounded like this Julia had been cultured, refined…
manipulative
.

Danna shook the jealous thought away. She needed clarity. She knew she had no hold over Chas. They'd agreed to annul their temporary marriage after they found both the robbers and the cattle thieves.

She couldn't go back on their agreement, not now. No matter what she'd started to hope in the last two days…

She needed focus, needed it desperately. What she really needed was to catch the remaining two or three outlaws, keep Chas from killing Lewis, sleep for two days straight, and
then
work through her feelings about Chas.

She needed divine help.

Danna turned and fell to her knees at her bedside. She poured out her heart, begged for God to help her with the tasks she found to be insurmountable. What she couldn't ask for in words—for Him to love her—she secretly hoped He heard anyway.

When she got up to face the town and her job again,
she found her cheeks were wet, but she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Until she got to the bottom of her staircase and it dropped right back in place. A crowd of people jostled between the jailhouse door and where she stood, murmurs rippling through it. “Gone.”

“Marshal's done.”

“…resignation.”

The jailhouse door stood open and her heart hit her toes. She found Chas in the center of the crowd, pushing his way toward her. In tow was the man she both did and didn't want to see.

Sheriff O'Rourke.

Chapter Seventeen

T
he crowd parted for Danna's passage. She met Sheriff O'Rourke in the middle. Over his shoulder, she could see Chas's grim expression.

“I'm afraid we've got a bit of a problem,” the sheriff murmured.

The crowd went silent around them, but the last thing Danna wanted to do was discuss any business with the nosy busybodies who resided in Calvin in attendance. She nodded toward the jail. “Let's go inside.”

She followed the sheriff back through the group of residents, having to elbow through a couple of times, when their curiosity made them push in to try and get more information. They knew better than to ask her for details, but several men shouted questions at the sheriff. Thankfully, he didn't respond.

Once she stepped up on the boardwalk, she noticed Chas had halted outside the doorway. She motioned him toward the door. “I'd appreciate it if you'd—”
Support me.

The words stuck in her throat, but Chas must've known what she meant, because he stepped right
behind her as she entered the jail and placed a hand at her hip.

The sheriff stood at the cell door where she'd placed the outlaw who'd threatened Chas last night. The
open
cell door.

“Oh, no.” The words fell from Danna's lips as a near silent whisper, but Chas was close enough to hear. His hand at her waist squeezed in a comforting way before he let go.

The outlaw she'd captured last night was gone.

O'Rourke appeared to be examining the lock mechanism on the cell door, and Danna stepped up right beside him.

“I rode up about twenty minutes ago and came in here first to find you.” The sheriff turned his face up to look at her, but the edge of his hat brim shaded his eyes and she couldn't make out his expression. “I've been on a case and only got your telegraph yesterday.”

She nodded, words still failing her as panic gripped her throat. The town would call for her badge now for sure.

The sheriff continued. “Outside of the lock's a little scratched up, like someone tried to pick it. See here…”

O'Rourke pointed to the outside of the locking mechanism, where there were indeed several deep gouges in the metal.

“They're impossible to overcome,” she returned, finally finding her voice. “Fred had a friend who could get through any kind of lock or safe, and he couldn't break through these.”

She looked over to Chas, who stood behind the desk. While she watched, he bent and reached for something behind the desk. What was he
doing?

“Was there a spare key, then?” the sheriff asked, diverting her attention from Chas for the moment.

“Yes, it was—”

“In the third desk drawer, in a hidden compartment,” Chas finished.

She'd never told Chas that. “How did you—”

Words failed her again as he held up the desk drawer, revealing the broken compartment.

“But who could've come in and done it?” Danna wondered aloud. She stomped over to where Chas stood behind the desk and groaned when she observed the mess of Wanted posters, papers and other paraphernalia strewn across the floor. Apparently, whoever had released the outlaw had felt it necessary to dump the contents of all the desk drawers.

“We accounted for all of the men in Lewis's gang,” she continued, looking to Chas for confirmation.

He nodded, face grave. “All the men we knew about.”

“…we knew about,” she repeated softly. She moved to the center of the floor and gazed between the cell and the desk, contemplating what that meant. There were one or more members of Lewis's gang they didn't know about. And now their best chance of tracking down the bank's money had waltzed right out the door.

“Perhaps you should've left a guard,” O'Rourke said, and his tone had Danna looking up to examine his face. Instead of the concern he'd shown up until a few moments ago, his expression and voice were hard as steel.

She knew it was over.

“I didn't have anyone to leave behind.”

 

Two hours later, it was done.

Danna had surrendered her badge and her responsi
bilities at the request of the town council. The county sheriff was taking over the bank robbery investigation. She and Chas had three days to vacate the rooms above the jail.

Chas stood silent by her side, aching to do something. Knowing that at least part of this mess was his fault. His only consolation was that Danna hadn't gotten herself killed.

They'd returned to her rooms without speaking. Once inside, she'd wilted onto the bed, not looking at him. He stared out the dingy window, trying to figure out a way to comfort her that didn't involve touching her. He'd nearly kissed her earlier, and that would've been a grave mistake, more so because he was leaving soon.

What he needed to do was figure out a way to track down Hank Lewis, take his revenge, and move on to the next job. Alone.

Problem was, he was tired of being alone. Spending time with Danna had shown him how lonely his solitary life had become. He wasn't sure he could return to the way things had been before. Without Danna in it, his life seemed empty.
Was
empty.

But he'd made a deal with himself. Ensure Danna's safety, then leave so he didn't endanger her again. He never reneged on a promise, not even when fulfilling it felt like he'd taken a bullet to the gut.

He just needed to figure out a way to extricate himself from the situation gently.

“—for me?”

He started, realizing he'd missed Danna's words. He had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Sorry. What?” He made his voice as apologetic as possible, and faced her, leaning against the windowsill.

“I said, why didn't you speak up for me?” she asked, her eyes betraying her hurt.

The emotion on her face hammered him. He never saw her so vulnerable, and somehow he knew he was the only person she'd shown it to. It made what he had to say so much harder.

“I thought…I thought their decision was best.”

Her lips opened in a silent gasp. She seemed unable to speak for a moment, but then gathered her composure. “What?”

Tears glittered on her eyelashes. It cut him to the bone. She'd stood silent and proud while her job—her entire life—had been stripped away. But now
he
had reduced her to tears.

He was a cad. The worst sort.

Danna had the strangest urge to get up and shake some sense into Chas. But her muscles had atrophied in the short time since she'd slumped onto the bed, and she found she couldn't move.

In light of everything that had happened in her life in the past few days and weeks, she should've been too numb to feel any more hurt.

But it seemed as if every piece of her ached.

She was confused. On the mountain, during the snowstorm, he'd said he thought she made a good marshal.

“If you didn't think I should be marshal, why did you marry me? It was only to save my job?” she asked, the tears in her voice betraying her.

He was silent for a long moment. “I needed you to help me find Hank Lewis. I have to… He killed Julia. I can't forget it.” It went unsaid that he couldn't release his need for revenge.

“Julia,” she whispered. She should have known.
It had all been for her. He'd loved Julia—still loved her—so much that it colored all of his decisions. Danna would never be able to compete with a memory.

“If you want, I could write a letter to my parents in Boston. I have a little money left, and if I sent you to them, I know they wouldn't turn you away.”

She knew it cost him to make his offer, considering he hadn't made contact with his parents since his brother died.

“What would I do in Boston?” she asked with a little teary laugh. She stood up and turned away, wiping at her cheeks. She didn't want him to see how much this was hurting her. Not now.

“You could see the sights,” he said, and his voice was low. “Remarry.”

She laughed again, and this time it was bitterness coloring her voice instead of tears. “If no one in the Wild West will have me, I doubt I could find a husband in a city like Boston.”

“Danna…” He spoke her name like it hurt him to say it, but she couldn't bear to face him.

“Thank you for the offer, but I can't accept.” She turned to face him finally, and looking into his craggy face hurt as much as she thought it would. She forced a small smile to her lips. “I think I'll stay with Corrine for the time being, if she'll have me.”

He swallowed once, his eyes never leaving her face. “And if her husband returns?”

Finding Brent would give her something to work on.

“Then I'll find something else.”

“What about…your brother?”

The thought of going to Rob and admitting her failures tasted a lot like dirt. She shrugged anyway. “It's a possibility.”

He looked like he wanted to say something else, but she couldn't handle much more of this.

“You don't have to worry about me,” she said, stealing his chance to ask her something else. “O'Grady,” she added his surname, needing the distance. But it made her tear up when she said it, so she soldiered on quickly. “I'll be fine.”

A sharp twinge in her shoulder and arm had her clutching the offending appendage. Chas's brow wrinkled.

“You should have the doctor look at your wound,” he said. She couldn't help but notice he didn't offer to look at it again himself.

Maybe it meant he
had
felt something when he'd doctored her up before.

“What will you do? Hire a tracker to go after your outlaw?” The words were out before she could catch them, and she knew they made her sound like a weak woman, but there was no taking them back.

“Maybe. Goodbye, Danna.”

The door closed with a final click, and she knew he'd closed the door on their relationship, such as it was, as well.

BOOK: Marrying Miss Marshal
5.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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