Authors: Lori Copeland
HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible
Cover by Left Coast Design, Portland, Oregon
Author photo © The Picture People
Published in association with the Books & Such Literary Agency, 52 Mission Circle, Suite 122, PMB
170, Santa Rosa, CA 95409-5370,
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 1999 by Lori
Copeland Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97402
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Western Sky Series
Outlaw’s bride / Lori Copeland.
Previously published under title: The bride of Johnny McAllister, 1999.
ISBN 978-0-7369-2751-2 (pbk.)
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America
09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 / DP-SK / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Barren Flats—formerly Paradise, California
agan Ramsey watched the trail of dust disappear, and then she let the curtain drop into place. “Thank goodness that one’s gone.” Judge Proctor McMann, known to most as “Procky,” chuckled and drew deeply on his pipe, the scent of cherry tobacco filling the parlor. “I have to admit that was a test of endurance.”
With a sigh Ragan started for the kitchen, where breakfast dishes awaited her. She’d been the judge’s housekeeper for three years, and she loved Procky like a father, but why she’d ever let him talk her into writing a book titled
Rehabilitation for the Unlovable
failed her. The past two years they had taken in one criminal after another, old and young. These were men who had shown the propensity for change, and Procky had hopes of gaining the inner workings of the troubled mind. However, sixteen-year-old Max Rutherford had returned to jail this morning after a brief but angst-filled stay.
thought Ragan. None of their subjects had lasted more than a few months, and she didn’t know why the judge insisted that they complete the book.
Procky patted his knee and Kitty bounded into his lap. “Things should settle down for a while.”
“For a good long while, I’d hope.” Ragan was still complaining when she entered the kitchen. “You promised, Procky. No more ‘subjects’ for a while.” Her patience was stretched thin by hoodlums, miscreants, and the just plain mean. “You have to make it clear to Judge Leonard that we can’t handle one more case for the time being.”
When Ragan had taken the housekeeping job she’d known the path wouldn’t be easy. With an ailing father and three younger sisters at home to feed, she would have her hands full. And true, when Judge McMann first talked about writing the book it all sounded exciting, helping criminals to become upstanding citizens, until she’d gotten down to the hard work. She wasn’t a quitter, but she did have enough sense to know when enough was enough.
The judge’s tone turned cajoling. “You were all for this project when we began the book.”
“That was before I met the subjects.” Ragan reached for the tea kettle and poured hot water into the dish pan.
Chuckling, the judge rolled his wheelchair into the kitchen. “You’re all spit and fire right now, but I know your heart, Ragan Ramsey. When called upon, you’ll report for duty.”
Ragan dunked plates in the sudsy water. “Not this time, Procky. You promised. Give us at least six months to recuperate.” Papa would be ashamed of her lack of compassion, but a body could only do so much.
“I’m not getting any younger, little lady. The good Lord could call me home anytime. What if I don’t have six months to complete the book?”
Shaking her head, she scrubbed a dish. “I don’t presume to know God’s timing, but I do know you’re as healthy as a horse.”
He looked down at his wheelchair. “Then what am I doing in this contraption?”
“Admittedly, you’re a little tottery.”
“I can stand up, but I can’t walk!”
She brushed his words aside. The judge, other than the normal complaints of an eighty-eight-year-old man, was fine, unlike her father, a
much younger man who was in the last stages of senility. Papa had lost his mind; he was an empty shell. Procky was still as sharp as a tack.
Rinsing a cup, she set it on the counter. “Just promise we’ll halt the program for a few months, at least long enough for me to regain my sanity. What with all these gangs riding through, shooting up everything, and having a sheriff who’s not only lost his hearing but won’t step aside—”
“Who in their right mind would take his place?”
She couldn’t think of a soul. Not in this town or anywhere near. Though the gangs stole their cattle, livestock, and anything else not nailed down, the men in town were spineless, terrified for their lives and their families. Not a one would organize against the marauders.
“All right, you win. I’ll write and tell Judge Leonard not to send any more subjects for a while.” He yawned. “If I don’t forget.”
“I’ll have pen and paper on your desk this afternoon.”
He winked and rolled to the doorway, heading for his morning nap. “Still doesn’t mean I’ll remember it. And you know the mail system. Can’t depend on a letter getting to the judge anytime soon—”
Ragan turned from the sink and pinpointed him with an icy stare.
“Okay. I’ll write the letter.” He rolled into the living room, mumbling under his breath. “Females. Can’t live with ’em and can’t manage without ’em.”
rouble is like an ill-fitting shoe: You pay a high price for a poor choice, and you can’t wait to get out of it.
Johnny McAllister stood before Judge Robert Leonard and waited for the ax to fall. He’d been tried for a crime he didn’t commit in front of a jury that found him guilty, and he didn’t have a way in the world to prove his innocence. When the judge raised his gavel, Johnny braced for the worst.
“Johnny McAllister, you stand accused of robbery of the First Territorial Bank of California.” The judge peered solemnly over the rims of his spectacles. “And for kidnapping my daughter, Mary Beth, and scaring the waddin’ right out of her. Restate your plea.”
Johnny glanced at the young girl sitting on the front bench, smirking. If he had known Mary Beth was the judge’s daughter, he would have run the other way. “
, your honor.”
The judge pointed his gavel at the accused. “You plead not guilty. However, the jury finds you guilty and requests that you be hanged by your neck until dead.”
The word ricocheted in Johnny’s ears. He’d never find Bledso. He’d never avenge his family’s death. That stung more than the sentence.
Judge Leonard’s shock of snow-white hair made him look like an insightful old owl. “You present quite a problem for me, Mr. McAllister.
To be honest, I don’t know what to do with you. For the life of me, I can’t find any way that you appear to be associated with the gang of thugs you’re accused of consorting with. The Puet bunch is as mean as they come, and they’ve ridden together for some time. It doesn’t stand to reason that they’d accept a drifter like you in their ranks. You don’t fit their profile.”
He studied Johnny with owl-like eyes. “But I have my duty. Therefore, it is the decision of this court that you, Johnny McAllister, be remanded to the custody of Judge Proctor McMann in Paradise, California, for a period of no less than one year, and no longer than two years. The exact amount of time served will be determined by Judge McMann.”
The convicted’s knees threatened to buckle in relief. He wasn’t going to hang. One or two years—he could do anything for a couple of years. He could do three if he had to, and still keep an eye out for Bledso.
Johnny waited as the judge shuffled a stack of papers.
Peering over the rims of his spectacles again, the magistrate said quietly, “You’re wondering why I’m going so easy on you.”
“Yes, sir, I am.” In most counties, he’d be a dead man and he knew it.
“Well, I’m not necessarily convinced that you did rob the bank, if that’s any comfort. You could be pulling the wool over my eyes, I’ll allow for that, but you saved my daughter from certain harm, and I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
His features softened. “Judge McMann is an old friend and trusted colleague. He and I have been working together for the past two years on a program that I will permit him to explain. But foremost, I sense something in you I don’t find in most of the men who stand before this court.”
Johnny couldn’t imagine what that would be, but he wasn’t going to argue.
“I may never be certain whether you did or did not rob the bank—and we’re talking about my money too. You understand that, don’t you, young man?”
“I’m giving you a second chance. Do you know what it means to get a second chance from the law, Mr. McAllister?”
“I do, Judge.”
“Good, because not everyone gets a reprieve in this court. I hope, even pray, Mr. McAllister, that you make the best of yours. It isn’t likely you’ll get another.”
Johnny nodded. The judge could save his prayers. No one, including God, had ever given him a break, so he recognized what the judge had done.
“At the time of your arrest, you carried a handgun.” The judge motioned to the bailiff, who laid the pistol in front of him. “It’s a fine firearm.”
“It belonged to my grandfather.”
“Then it must hold a great deal of sentimental value to you.”
“Yes, sir, it does.” Gazing at the gun, he could feel Grandpa’s arms tighten around him and steady his hands as he sighted the pistol for the first time. The old man’s gentle voice brushed his cheek and quieted his turmoil. He’d give up almost anything he owned before parting with that gun.
It was Grandpa who took him in after his parents died and quieted his nightmares when he woke screaming during the night. The old man had instilled in him a deep respect of right versus wrong. Grandpa was the only one he had after the murders. Johnny felt his presence now as surely as if he stood beside him.
“Your gun will be returned to you at the successful completion of your time with Judge McMann. At that time you will also receive a just and fair price, along with accrued interest, for the sale of your horse, which will be sold immediately at auction.” He paused, and then he said quietly, “If a year or two in the custody of Proctor McMann doesn’t mold you into a God-fearing, productive citizen, then may God rest your soul, because money or firearms won’t do you any good. In the event you fail to serve your sentence, proceeds from the sale of your pistol and horse will go to compensate bank patrons for money lost during the robbery, and you will once again
stand before me for sentencing. Do you have any questions, Mr. McAllister?”
“Are the terms of the punishment clear?”
Johnny nodded. Serve the sentence without incident, and he’d go free. Violate the rules, and he’d hang.