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Authors: Jade Laredo

Sundown (2 page)

BOOK: Sundown
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“Which side?”
  


The North
.” 

The outlaw studied
the locket for a long moment. 
With
an expert
hand,
he pried
open
the charm
and examined its content. 
Like an
open book,
s
he
watched his blue eyes skim over
a
painful
chapter, which
bore
her
soul.
 
Snapping
the enclosure
, he l
et
the
necklace
spiral
back
into her hand
s
.
 
 


Fear not
,
Miss Gentry
.”  He murmured.  His gaze no longer seemed amused, but rather
lenient
and sympathetic.  “Y
our
secret is safe
with me.

Arabella blinked

S
he
suddenly
realized
t
h
is man was no ordinary outlaw. 
Intrigued
she forced an incongruous
smile
.
 
Indeed, he knew her secret

Y
et he
did not
judge
her
, nor did he
desp
ise her for concealing the truth
.
  With her sense of curiosity heightened, Arabella could have kicked herself for wanting to know more about this man.


Jesus, Joseph
,
and
Mary, m
other
of God
!
” 
An excited
voice bellowed
.  “
Dammit
Hoss! 
Would you q
uit dallying with that
skirt? 
W
e’ve got
us
some
disgruntled
company!” 

From nowhere, a
cloud of
dust rumbled in the distance. 
No doubt, a
posse hot on their
trail. 
Arabella craned her neck to see the impending ruckus. 
She watched
two
other
bandits quickly mount
their horses, sputtering
a film
of
dust in their wake

All of the
sudden
,
the outlaw
grab
bed her
arm
,
hoisting
her
over his
shoulder;
he carried her
toward his mount.
  

“Fight me
and
I’ll shoot
you.  U
nderstand?”  He g
rowled, heaving her up into the
sadd
le with the swoop
of one powerful arm.
 

She
did not
have time to answer.  Suddenly
,
a
barrage
of bullets
riddled
through
the air
, making the other
six
passengers
scatter
in chaos.  The
wild commotion
startled
the outlaw’s
mount, sending
them flying down a small ravine.
 
Arabella
closed her eyes, holding
on
for dear life
she offered a silent prayer. 

To her
disbelief, the bullets did not stop. 

Surely,
the posse
would not
shoot at a
hostage!
 
Shocked
, she ducked her head, and flinched. 
They kept coming, round after round.
 
With dreaded alarm
, she realized t
hey wanted the outlaw
dead, and obviously, at any
cost.

“Hold on tight
!”  He shouted as the wind whipped
at
their faces,
and the rush of bullets hurtled
overhead
.
  S
he
leaned in, resting her head
against the narrow of hi
s chest

They rode
long and
hard, circling
back
,
repeatedly
until
their tracks melded into one. 

One by one, the posse fell back until the trail was cle
ar behind them.  They rode
for another twenty minutes before
he brought his mount to a steady gait.
  Rounding
a
rock-strewn
ridge,
they
slowly
climbed
to
the top.  I
n every direction
, she could see for miles and miles,
there was
nothing but rolling hills and endless prairie.
 

“Get
down.”  He ordered. 

Arabella
obeyed.  She
slid
from his horse
,
and wobbled
on
her feet.  The heat from
the afternoon sun beat down on her face
, making her sway
as she tried to steady her balance.  With ease, he vaulted from his mount
,
and grabbed her elbow, eyeing
her warily. 

“Have a seat
.”

They waited for what seemed like an
hour. 

She watched as he scanned the distant prairie, his blue eyes roving with ease. 
More c
lever than most,
she realized
he had
easily
ou
twitted the posse.  Amazed
, she raised
her chin
and
nodded at his horse
.

“Where’
d you learn to ride
?”

“R
ode with the best.”

Arabella looked away.
 
His answer
was not
much
to go on
, but
judging
by
his
superior
bearing
, this
told her all she need
ed
to know.
 

“It’s time.”  He turned
aroun
d, holding out his hand
.  Reluctantly
, she grabbed his fingers and with
one
heave
, she was up in the saddle and he right behind her.


H
old on
.”
He whispered into her ear,
his breath
, warm and moist against her ear.  Impulsively, she nudged her
chin against her shoulder
, brushing
away the unsettling sensation.
In return
,
she heard
him laugh, but
the
rush of hot
wind
against her ears blotted out any
further
response
.
 

Arabella closed her eyes

She
squeezed the
golden
locket, tucked safely away in her skirt pocket

Why the out
law decided to let her keep the
little treasure
was unfathomable to her. 
Perhaps his act of kindness was in some way due to the tattered rebel jacket he still wore.  A relished memory he could not let go just as she could not part with her precious locket. 
Regardless
, she was thankful
t
he
brigand
chose not to keep it.
 

As she swayed back and forth to the steady rhythm of his mount,
n
erve-racki
ng exhaustion took hold
,
and
she
lost
track of time

Minutes slowly turned into hours b
eneath the glare of the high plains sun,
and
soon
she
fell
in
and out of
consciousness

The last thing she heard before s
uccumbing
t
o a
dark
void
was the sound of the outlaw whispering her name.

Arabella opened her eyes to a gulf of darkness. 

The moon hung low, full and luminous in the midnight sky.  The peaceful sound of rippling water lapping against a nearby bank meshed with the rise and fall of a steady breath. 
At that point
, every muscle in her bod
y tensed once she realized
she lie with her head against the crook of his solid chest.  

“You’re awake.” 

The sound of his voice was loud and clear, and no longer muffled by the confines of a
hankie.  Before she could lift her shoulder, he cuffed her chin, and blindfolded her with his bandanna.

“Trust me.”  He murmured.  With adept hands, he tied the cloth around her forehead, covering her eyes
.  “You’re better-off not knowing.”

Arabella frowned. 

“May
I have your name, at the least?”

She waited patiently.

“L
uke.”  He said
.  “And your name
?”

“Arabella.” 

“Courageous,
” Luke
ushered a sigh.  “Willful
and tragic.”

“Come again?”   

“The lost Queen of England.”  He began, clearing his throat.  She noticed his voice took on a thoughtful quality.  “You share the same first name as Arabella Stuart, and strang
e as it seems you seem to share the
qualities as well.”

“How so?”

“You defied me, justly so
,
to save your precious locket, knowing
very
well
your life was in jeopardy, yet willing to give up your life for the memory of a lost love.”

Arabella liked the sound of his whiskey-tainted voice, smooth and perceptive.  Swallowing hard, she realized his astute assessment of her tattered life.  His cons
ideration was proof enough
he managed to figure her out in mere seconds when in fact, it had taken her nearly a dozen years to do so.

“Why didn’t you take my locket?”

“I didn’t want your locket.”  He replied.  “I only wanted an excuse to touch a piece of your life.  You intrigued me, and I felt the need to know you.”

Arabella swallowed
hard

Earlier that
morning,
he had
pointed a gun in her face, and now he confessed he only wanted to know her.  Confused, she turned her head away.

“Why did you lie to m
e about your fiancé?”

“I didn’t lie to
you
.”  Arabella emphasized with a sigh.  Clearing her throat, she found her voice only
to catch once again. 
“I originally hail from Maryland. Those northerners
on the coach
whom you thought were my friends wouldn’t understand the concept of living on the b
order
and loving a rebel
.”

After a
lengthy
moment, Arabella decided her answer was enough for this
strange
man.  The silence that loomed was deafening.  Rolling her head, she shifted.  Finally gaining the courage, she asked him directly.

“What are you going to do with me?”

“What do you want me to do with you?”
 

“Let me go.”

“You may do so
if you wish.” 

“I can’t.” 

“Why not?”

“I’m not exactly familiar with these parts.”

BOOK: Sundown
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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