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Authors: Madeline Baker

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BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
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J.T. sat back in his chair, his mind reeling. Could it be true? Could she really be from the future? A hundred and twenty-five years in the future? No, it was impossible, and yet…

J.T. waited until the waitress left the table, then he leaned forward again. “So, what is Cedar Ridge like in the future?”

“Different in a lot of ways, and yet still the same. We’re not as modern as most cities. Most of the people live on farms or ranches. Some still prefer horses to cars.”

“Cars?”

“Machines that run on gasoline.”

“Machines. Gasoline.” J.T. swore under his breath.

“They’re like horseless carriages,” Brandy said. “There are so many inventions, I don’t know where to begin. We have movies—pictures with movement and sound—and machines that wash clothes and dry them, machines that wash and dry dishes. Houses are heated with gas instead of coal or wood. We have microwave ovens that cook food in minutes instead of hours.”

J.T. shook his head, unable to comprehend the things she described. “What do you do in the future? It sounds as if these machines do all the chores.”

“I work,” Brandy replied. “I’m a school teacher.”

J.T. grinned. So, she
was
a schoolmarm. “Are you married?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

She thought briefly of Gary and wondered, not for the first time, why she kept refusing his proposals. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

J.T. grunted softly. She was right, it was none of his business. Sitting back, J.T. cut into his steak, but he hardly tasted a bite as he tried to absorb what she’d told him. Carriages that ran without horses. Pictures that moved. Machines that washed clothes and dishes.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Brandy asked. “You think I made it all up.”

“I don’t know.” It sounded impossible, and yet, if she wasn’t from the future, where did she get those peculiar undergarments, and that funny-looking time piece?

“We have space rockets in the future,” Brandy said, hoping if she told him something that would sound completely outlandish, he would believe her simply because it was too bizarre for her to make up. “The West isn’t the new frontier any longer. In my time, outer space is the new frontier. We have telescopes orbiting the earth. Men have walked on the moon.”

J.T. shook his head. She really was crazy.

“Look.” Brandy reached into her pocket and withdrew her driver’s license. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

J.T. took the card from her hand, staring at the small color picture of Brandy. He’d never seen a colored photograph before, or felt paper that was this hard and shiny.
DMV Wyoming Driver’s License, Expires 8-2-98,
it said, and below that he read Brandy’s name and description.

“What is it?”

“It’s my license to drive a car. A motor vehicle. See that,” Brandy said, pointing at the date. “That means it expires August the second, nineteen hundred ninety-eight. And there?” She pointed to the letters D.O.B.. “That’s the date I was born. August the second, nineteen hundred and seventy-one.”

“It’s impossible,” he said, handing the card back to her.

“I know,” Brandy agreed, “but it’s true.”

J.T. finished his meal in thoughtful silence, unable to decide if she was insane or simply crazy. He left seventy cents on the table to cover the cost of the meal, then took up his rifle. “You ready to go?”

“Yes.”

He took her by the arm and led her out of the hotel, down the street to the mercantile. Inside, he purchased a bar of soap, a razor, some tinned meat and fruit, a coffeepot, a couple of tin plates, forks, spoons, knives, two cups, a sack of corn meal, sugar, salt, a couple of onions, a dozen potatoes, a couple of ponchos to turn away the chill of the night, a bedroll for the woman. And all the while he thought of the things she had told him, the peculiar underwear, the funny-looking watch. What if it was true?

Brandy stared around the store, fascinated by what she saw: wooden boxes of cigars, bars of Brown Mule Plug Tobacco, bottles of whiskey, a hoop of cheese, a barrel of crackers. The smell of dill pickles mingled with the aroma of freshly ground coffee.

“You want anything?” he asked.

“A comb and brush. And a ribbon to tie up my hair.”

J.T. added the items she’d mentioned to the growing pile on the counter, waited while the clerk figured the price, then wrapped everything up and placed it in a string bag for carrying.

Brandy shook her head, amazed at how much could be bought for so little. A one-pound tin of baking powder was twenty-one cents, ten pounds of Matoma Brand Rice was sixty-five cents, six cans of Columbia River Salmon was just over a dollar. You could buy twelve bars of Garland White Floating Soap for forty-two cents; a yard of calico was only a quarter; steak was fifteen cents a pound! ”Now what?” she asked as they left the mercantile.

“I’m gonna buy back my horse, and then we’re leaving.”

“It’s not
your
horse,” Brandy replied insolently.

“It will be when I buy it back.”

There was no arguing with the man. “Where are we going?”

J.T. rubbed his throat. “As far out of Wyoming as I can get.”

“But I want to go home.”

“If that yarn you told me is true, and you really are from the future, just how the hell do you plan to get back there?”

“I don’t know.”

Their gazes locked for a moment.

She had beautiful eyes, J.T. thought, clear and gray. Her skin was smooth and kissed by the sun, her lips full and pink. He had a sudden urge to draw her into his arms, to taste her sweetness, to feel her arms around his neck.

J.T. chuckled. She’d be as like to slap him as kiss him, he mused, but then, the prettiest roses always had the sharpest thorns.

Brandy flushed under his probing gaze. She’d been ogled and leered at by the best of them, but there was something about the way J.T. Cutter looked at her that warmed her in the innermost part of her being, that made her toes curl and her stomach flutter. She had dated men who were more handsome, but she had never known one who exuded such sheer masculinity, such blatant virility.

He took her hand in his, the first time his touch had been gentle, not demanding, not angry, and she felt a sudden frisson of heat race up her arm, not as strong as the electrical jolt that had zapped her into the past, but a pleasant tingling warmth that spread through her and settled in her soul.

He felt it, too. She saw it in the sudden widening of his eyes, in the startled expression that crossed his face.

J.T. stared at their hands. His fingers were long and calloused from years of hard-living; hers were small and delicate. Never had he known a woman whose skin was as smooth, as soft.

Puzzled by the intensity of the attraction that hummed between them, he gazed into her eyes.

Never, in all his life, had he felt anything like the quick heat that had infused him when he first took her hand.

The woman was watching him intently, looking every bit as bewildered as he felt.

J.T. dropped her hand and took a step backward, then cleared his throat. “Ready?”

With a nod, Brandy followed him down the street toward the livery barn.

Chapter Five

 

J.T. shifted in the saddle, his arm settling more firmly around Brandy’s waist. It had been a long time since he’d been this close to a decent woman. Unlike the saloon girls he was accustomed to, who usually smelled of cheap perfume, whiskey, and cigarette smoke, this one smelled clean and fresh, like sunshine and flowers. Her hair was silky when it brushed his cheek. He could feel the warmth of her seeping into his arm where it curved around her waist.

She was too damn close for comfort and he drew back a little. So she was pretty and she smelled good, he thought irritably. In a few days she’d be out of his life and he’d never see her again.

“Tell me more about the future,” he said brusquely, hoping to turn his thoughts from smooth, suntanned skin and silky black hair.

Brandy glanced over her shoulder. “You believe me, then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Anything. Everything.”

“Well, I suppose the thing you’d like best would be cars.”

“Cars?”

“Horseless carriages.” Brandy frowned as she gazed into the distance. They had left the town far behind. Ahead stretched a rolling land of gentle hills and valleys and an endless blue sky unbroken by buildings, TV antennas, or power lines. “Have you ever been on a train?”

“Sure.” He’d even robbed a few, but he didn’t tell her that.

“Well, trains in your time…this time…go about twenty-five miles an hour. Now, try to imagine yourself in a motorized vehicle that can go over seventy miles an hour.”

J.T. whistled softly. Seventy miles an hour!

“Airplanes go even faster.

“Airplanes?”

“Ships that fly. Houses are bigger, too. They have electric lights and big glass windows and indoor plumbing. We have clothes made out of material that doesn’t have to be ironed, and telephones…”

Brandy paused. “A telephone is an instrument that makes it possible to talk to someone who lives clear across the country. Alexander Graham Bell will be inventing it sometime in 1876, as I recall.”

J.T. shook his head, his mind reeling. It was darn near impossible to believe she came from the future, but he didn’t think anybody could make up the fantastic things she had told him about. He wished, fleetingly, that he could see some of the wonders she’d mentioned—imagine, carriages that went seventy miles an hour, pictures that moved.

They rode until nightfall, then made camp in a sheltered hollow. They ate a quick meal of bacon, beans, biscuits and coffee, then J.T. went to hobble the horse while Brandy washed up the dishes.

J.T. spent more time than necessary looking after the pinto. There was a town a few miles west. He’d drop the woman off there, then continue north, maybe go as far as Canada. Maybe he could get some money together, buy a little spread…

He sighed as he ran a hand over the gelding’s neck. What was the point in trying to settle down? He only had a year left. You couldn’t build a ranch in a year.

The woman was brushing her hair when he returned to the campfire. She had beautiful hair, long and straight and black as ink. It snapped and crackled as she brushed it out, and he thought he’d never seen anything lovelier than Brandy Talavera brushing her hair in the moonlight. It gave him a warm feeling inside even as it made him aware of the emptiness of his life. He had no home, no family, no one who would mourn him when he was gone.

Brandy glanced over her shoulder, startled to find J.T. standing behind her, a wistful expression in his eyes. For a moment, his eyes held the same morose expression Bobby’s did whenever one of the kids in class talked about their parents. Odd she should think of that, Brandy mused. Bobby’s folks had been killed in an automobile accident, and he lived in a foster home. He tried to pretend it didn’t matter that he didn’t have a real family, but Brandy sensed that it mattered a great deal, that he felt the loss keenly.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“What? No, nothing’s wrong.”

“Are you married, Mr. Cutter?”

J.T. shook his head. Marriage was something he had never seriously considered.

“Do you have a family?”

His brows rushed together in a frown. “Why?”

“I just wondered. The history books didn’t say much about your early years, except that your father was a gambler, and your mother…” She broke off, suddenly flustered.

J.T. cocked his head to one side. “Go on,” he urged in a deceptively mild voice. “What do the history books say about my mother?”

“That she…uh, deserted you when you were…when you were just a boy.”

“Is that all they say?” He took a step closer, so that she had to tilt her head back to see his face. The firelight cast red-hued shadows over his face and hair. His eyes, those eyes that were so dark they seemed almost black, were watching her closely, smoldering with barely controlled fury.

Brandy’s hand tightened on the handle of the brush. “History isn’t always accurate.”

“What do the books say?” he demanded softly.

“That she was a…that she…that she was…” Try as she might, she couldn’t force the word past lips gone suddenly dry.

“A whore?” His voice was cold and flat.

Brandy nodded, wishing she had just kept her mouth shut, and then, to her mortification, she blurted, “Was she?”

J.T. drew in a deep breath, ashamed to tell the truth, ashamed of himself for being ashamed to admit it was true. His mother had done what she’d had to do to put food on the table, and in the end, it had killed her.

J.T. nodded curtly. “But she didn’t desert me,” he said quietly. “Not in the way you mean. She died when I was fourteen.”

“I’m sorry,” Brandy murmured. She thought of her own parents. Her mother was a nurse in Butte; her father was a truck driver. She had known the security of their love her whole life. Even when she’d been a teenager, determined to rebel against everything her mother held dear, Brandy had known her parents loved her, that they wanted only the best for her. And, in the end, it had been their love that kept her from turning to drugs and alcohol, the way so many others did. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

“Are you?” The fire had burned down and she couldn’t see his face clearly, but she heard the sneer in his voice.

Brandy lifted her chin and met his gaze. “Yes.”

J.T. raked a hand through his hair. Anger and frustration roiled up inside him. No doubt she had grown up in a little white house surrounded by loving parents. She’d probably never known what it was to be hungry, to have to beg for food.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. He’d never forget what it had been like to sneak into a smoky saloon looking for his mother, never forget the humiliation he had endured as he listened to the rude remarks and derisive laughter of men who had paid to sleep with his mother.

Anger and frustration welled up inside him. In spite of everything, in spite of the humiliation and the shame and the embarrassment of being her son, he had loved her.

And suddenly he hated Brandy Talavera. Hated her soft gray eyes and smooth honey-colored skin. Hated her because she’d had parents who loved her, because she could never in a million years understand why he had turned out the way he had.

“Go to bed,” he said, his voice harsh.

“What?”

“Go to bed.”

It was in her mind to argue, but one look at his face assured her that arguing would not be prudent. Removing her shoes and petticoats, she slipped under the covers.

Wordlessly, J.T. grabbed her hands and lashed them together with a short length of rope. There was no gentleness in his touch now, only a deep dark anger.

Brandy started to protest, to say that she wasn’t fool enough to try to run away, but the words died in her throat when she saw the anguish in his eyes. He was hurting deep inside, and he was taking it out on her because she was there.

Her sympathy for him vanished when he lowered himself over her, trapped her face in his hands, and covered her mouth with his. It was a brutal kiss, filled with anger and frustration. She bucked beneath him, outraged and afraid, but his body held hers pinned to the ground. His lips ground into hers, his tongue raped her mouth, hot and hungry.

For one fleeting moment, she surrendered to his touch. Heat flowed through her veins, her heart pounded in rhythm with his, and she knew a wild, unexplainable urge to slip her arms over his head and hold him close, to whisper words of comfort in his ear.

The idea that she should respond to such a violent act, that she should respond to him, shocked her back to awareness, and she lay stiff beneath him, fury building with every breath.

And then she bit down on his tongue, hard. She tasted the warm metallic taste of blood, and then he drew away with a yelp of pain.

Straddling her hips, J.T. glared down at her, his anger fading as he saw the fear in her eyes. Damn! He was treating her as if she were no better than a whore…

With an oath, he stood up, too ashamed to face her, hating himself because he was behaving exactly like the men who had bedded his mother. He had wanted to kill those men.

Hands clenched at his sides, he walked away from her, taking refuge in the changing shadows beyond the campfire. Damn her! Why had she questioned him about his past? It was not something he cared to think about. It was over and done and there was no going back. His father had been a worthless gambler, usually drunk, always mean. Frank Cutter had taken his mother away from her people, gotten her pregnant, and then, when J.T. was seven, Frank Cutter had deserted them, leaving Sisoka in San Antonio to fend for herself and J.T.

But no one in Texas was going to offer a helping hand to a half-breed Lakota woman. Sisoka had been too ashamed to go back home, too proud to admit her parents had been right when they warned her not to marry Frank Cutter, and so she had done what women had done since the beginning of time—she had sold herself to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Somehow, in spite of the way they had lived, she had never lost hope that things would get better. She had made J.T. believe that someday, when she had saved enough money, they would find a place where no one knew them and start a new life. But it had never happened. And then, when he was fourteen, Sisoka had gotten pregnant again. She had died in childbirth, and the baby with her.

J.T. prowled through the darkness, too restless to sleep, too filled with bitter memories to find rest. Walking down to the narrow stream located a short distance from the campfire, he hunkered down on his heels and stared into the still water.

In the darkness of the night, the face of the water looked like black glass.

Sometimes he felt as though he had spent his whole life shrouded in darkness.

* * * * *

The tension between them was almost palpable the following day. J.T. refused to meet Brandy’s gaze when he untied her hands.

They ate breakfast in silence. J.T. spared her a few minutes alone while he went to saddle the horse, and then they were riding again, heading north, toward Montana.

Crow country, Brandy mused. Her ancestors had roamed this wild land, proud and free. They had spent their winters in the Wind River country where there was pasture for their horses during the cold weather, then moved down to the Tongue River in the spring. Back then, before the invasion of the white man, their enemies had been the Cheyenne, the Blackfoot, and the Sioux; the Hidatsa and Mandan had been their allies.

Her mother had taught her to speak her native tongue, to be proud of her heritage, to respect the ancient customs and beliefs.

She was still thinking about her ancestors and how they had lived when a dozen horsemen appeared out of a fold in the hills. They were Crow. And they were armed and painted for war.

Brandy felt a sudden chill as she visualized herself falling prey to a distant ancestor, her body, minus its scalp, left to rot on the prairie.

She heard J.T. curse under his breath as the Indians raced toward them, the sound of their war cries shattering the peaceful stillness of the day.

J.T. wheeled the pinto around and headed for a stand of trees, firing over his shoulder as he went.

Answering gunshots tore up the ground at his horse’s feet. He felt a sharp stab of pain in his back, heard Brandy’s startled scream as the gelding stumbled and went down.

He groaned as he hit the dirt, felt a moment of soul-deep regret when he saw Brandy lying as still as death a few feet away, her left temple stained with blood.

“Dammit, Gideon, I was supposed to have a year,” he murmured, and then, just before everything went black, he wondered if he would see Brandy on the other side.

 

Awareness returned in a blaze of pain. Muttering an oath, he tried to pull away from the source, but he couldn’t move his hands or his feet, couldn’t do anything but lie there, his body bathed in perspiration, as the pain went on and on.

With an effort, he opened his eyes. He was in an Indian lodge, lying facedown on the floor. Spread-eagled between four stout wooden stakes. He listened to the voices coming from behind him, but the words made no sense. Feeling weak and sick, he closed his eyes. The sound of chanting filled the air, mingling with the scents of sage and sweet grass.

BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
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