Read The Angel and the Outlaw Online

Authors: Madeline Baker

The Angel and the Outlaw (7 page)

BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Suddenly restless, she put the moccasins aside and stood up. She was trying to think up a plausible excuse to go to him when she noticed several people making their way toward the edge of the camp circle. Curious, she followed them.

When she reached the outskirts of the village, she saw a number of Indians, both men and women, clustered together. At first, she couldn’t see anything, and then, as several people moved away, she saw J.T..

He was standing with his back to the stake, his eyes narrowed, his teeth clenched. There was blood spattered over his chest and belly. His trousers were torn and stained with blood. As she drew nearer, she saw that his whole body was quivering.

She watched in horror as an old woman stepped forward and raked his chest with a skinning knife, leaving a long bloody trail in its wake. Another woman stepped followed her lead, and then another. Brandy flinched as others moved in, slashing at J.T.’s arms and shoulders and thighs. One woman gouged his cheeks with her nails.

Brandy shook her head, appalled by their cruelty.

“Have you come to take your revenge against the white man?”

Brandy glanced over her shoulder to see Apite standing behind her. “Of course not.”

“It is your right.”

“What wrong has he done to those women? Why are they tormenting him like that?”

“He is a white man.”

“And that’s why they’re abusing him? Because he’s white?”

“They are seeking vengeance for the hurts inflicted upon their loved ones by the whites,” Apite explained. “For husbands and children who have been killed by the bluecoats.”

Brandy started to protest, to argue that J.T. wasn’t responsible for the atrocities committed against the Crow, but the words died in her throat. You couldn’t reason with hatred.

“Are they going to kill him?”

“In time.”

Brandy shook her head. She couldn’t let them kill J.T.. Without him, she might never find her way back home.

“Apite, the man is mine. I don’t want him dead.”

“He is your husband?”

“No, he is my betrothed.”

“You wish to marry him, even after he took you away from your home?”

“Yes. You mustn’t pay any attention to whatever I said when my spirit was wondering in the land of shadows. We…we’d had a fight and I…I was angry. But I’m not angry now. Please, make them stop.”

“Come, we will speak to Awachia.”

Brandy sent a last look in J.T.’s direction, then followed Apite to the chief’s lodge.

* * * * *

J.T. leaned back against the post, his body aching from head to foot, his throat dry as the Arizona desert in mid-summer. Blood trickled down his arms and chest and face. Flies swarmed over his wounds, scattering when his body convulsed, returning in even greater numbers to feed upon his bloody flesh.

He had known the moment Brandy drew near, had felt her presence even before he had seen her watching him, her huge gray eyes filled with revulsion. After the way he had treated her, he wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d grabbed a knife and joined in.

Instead, she had turned and walked away.

With a weary sigh, he sank down on the ground, his forehead resting against his bent knees. At least she would be well cared for. The Indians had apparently accepted her without question. She knew their customs. She spoke their language. He had seen the way the men looked at her. In time, when she grew resigned to the fact that she couldn’t get back to her own time, she might decide to marry one of the warriors…

J.T. swore softly, wondering why the thought of her with another man filled him with such distaste. She was nothing to him. She could never be anything to him. Even if she wasn’t from another time, he had less than a year…he grinned wryly…or perhaps only days, to live.

Unaccountably, he remembered the night he had kissed her. He had been angry then, filled with the need to hurt, to strike out, and she had been there, helpless, vulnerable. Her lips had been warm and pliable, her mouth honey sweet. Lying rigid beneath him, he had been aware of every soft feminine curve, every breath. Desire had vanquished his anger and for a moment he had known only the urge to pleasure her. Until he realized what he was doing, thinking. Shame had cooled his passion, choking his apology, making him turn away from the quiet accusation in her eyes.

His head snapped up at the sound of footsteps. Rising, he faced the warrior striding purposefully toward him. He felt a sudden, nauseating fear which was quickly replaced by a sense of calm acceptance. He had no fear of dying; he had looked into the face of death before, but he experienced a deep regret that he hadn’t gotten to know Brandy Talavera better.

J.T. drew a deep breath as the warrior pulled his knife. For an endless moment of eternity, the two men faced each other, and then, with a flick of his wrist, the warrior cut J.T.’s hands free.

With a gesture, the warrior indicated that J.T. should follow him.

Head high, shoulders back, J.T. followed the warrior across the camp toward a small lodge located near the edge of the camp circle. J.T.’s breath caught in his throat as Brandy stepped outside. Rarely had he seen anything more beautiful than the sight of Brandy Talavera clad in a sheepskin tunic and moccasins, her long black hair flowing over her shoulders.

The warrior spoke to her, then turned away, leaving them alone.

“Come inside,” Brandy said. She held the door flap open for him, then followed him into the lodge.

“What now?” he asked as she stepped inside.

“I’m going to clean you up, then get you something to eat.”

“And then?”

“And then…” Heat washed into her cheeks. “And then nothing. You’re going to live here.”

J.T. lifted one black brow. “Live here? With you?”

“Yes.”

J.T. stared at her, noting her flushed cheeks, the way she refused to meet his gaze. Indian men and women didn’t share a lodge together unless they were married…

“Brandy, look at me.”

“No.”

“At least tell me what’s going on.”

“I told Awachia that you were my betrothed.”

“And?”

“And he asked me if I still wished to marry you.” She lowered her gaze, unwilling to meet his eyes. “And I said yes, and he said if I took you into my lodge, we would be man and wife.”

J.T. shook his head, too stunned to speak. Married!

She risked a glance at his face. “It’s not a real marriage,” she remarked quickly, as if reading his mind. “I did it to save your life.”

“Is that the only reason?”

Brandy looked up at him, confused by the wistful note in his voice. “Of course.”

J.T. nodded. What had he expected her to say? That she had done it because she cared for him? Hell, except for his mother, no one had ever given a damn what happened to him.

“I think you’d better lay down before you fall down,” Brandy suggested, eager to change the subject.

“Yeah,” J.T. replied wearily, “I think you’re right.”

On legs that were less than steady, he crossed the floor and sank down on the buffalo robe bed located in the rear of the lodge.

He studied Brandy through half-closed lids as she moved around the tipi, then knelt beside him. Dipping a cloth in a bowl of water, she washed the blood from his face and chest and arms, dried him with a piece of soft trade cloth, then spread a layer of thin yellow ointment over his wounds. Her touch was gentle, soothing.

When she was finished, she covered him with a buffalo robe, then turned her back while he removed his blood-stained trousers. She grimaced as she took them from his hand. They were beyond repair and she wadded the garment up and tossed it aside.

J.T. watched her a moment, but his eyelids soon grew heavy as the tension of the past few days melted away. For now, he was warm and safe and nothing else mattered.

Moments later, he was asleep.

Chapter Seven

 

J.T. stretched, wincing as the movement pulled on the half-healed wound in his side. In spite of the slight twinge, he felt better than he had in days.

Opening his eyes, he glanced around the lodge. It was cool and dim inside, and he was alone. He grinned wryly as he thought of Brandy Talavera’s aggravation the day before. She had taken him into her lodge, and in so doing, had saved him from a long and painful death.

The fact that she had stepped in to save him solely because she believed she couldn’t get back to her own time without him mattered not at all. No matter what the reason, she had saved his sorry hide from a horrible fate. He owed her a debt he could never repay.

He was sitting up, thinking about breakfast, when she entered the lodge. Her hair was damp and he figured she’d been bathing in the river. The thought of her covered by nothing but sun-dappled water sent a shaft of desire straight to his groin, making him grateful for the furry buffalo robe that covered him from the waist down.

“You’re awake,” she said.

“And hungry.” And not just for food, he mused ruefully.

His gaze met hers and he felt that quick jolt of awareness that had sparked between them once before.

Brandy jerked her gaze from his. “So eat.”

“It’s a wife duty to see to her husband’s needs.”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Cutter. I am
not
your wife, and where you’re concerned, I have no ‘duties’ of any kind.”

She wasn’t talking about anything as mundane as preparing meals and they both knew it.

Brandy gestured at a cast-iron pot hanging from a tripod over the firepit. “There’s some stew in there if you’re hungry.”

“I guess that means you won’t be mending my socks or washing my duds, either.”

“That’s right.”

With a shrug, J.T. stood up and reached for one of the wooden bowls stacked near the fire.

Brandy gasped and quickly turned away. “Put something on!”

J.T. grinned at her back. “Can’t. Don’t have a thing to wear.”

With a sigh of exasperation, Brandy stormed out of the lodge, the sound of J.T.’s sardonic laughter ringing in her ears.

* * * * *

Half an hour later, Brandy returned to her lodge. Lifting the door flap, she peeked inside, relieved to see that J.T. was lying down, decently covered, apparently asleep.

Tiptoeing inside, she peered into the stew pot. It was empty. So, she thought irritably, he could fend for himself when he had to.

She dropped a pile of clothing on the floor beside his bed, then turned to go, not wanting to be there when he woke up.

“Hey.”

His voice reached out to her. Coming to a halt, Brandy glanced over her shoulder. “What do you want now?”

“A smile and a kind word?” His tone was light, slightly mocking.

“Mr. Cutter, I’m in no mood for games.”

His gaze slid from her stern expression to the rigid set of her shoulders. She looked as stiff as a cigar store Indian. “Yeah,” he muttered ruefully, “I can see that.”

“Well?” she asked impatiently, “what do you want?”

“A drink of water?”

Brandy glanced at the waterskin lying within easy reach of his hand.

“It’s empty,” J.T. said.

She was about to chide him for being too lazy to go outside when she remembered that, until moments ago, he’d had nothing to wear. “Very well.”

Grabbing the waterskin, she left the lodge, wondering why he seemed to bring out the worst in her. The man had been wounded, yet she resented the fact that he expected her to wait on him hand and foot. She knew she was being obstinate, knew that, for anyone else, she wouldn’t have hesitated to do all she could to see to their comfort. What was it about J.T. Cutter that made her so touchy?

A quick image of him rising from the bed, standing unashamedly, gloriously, naked in front of her made her cheeks grow hot. He was a remarkably well-made man, from the spread of his shoulders to the soles of his feet. He was also a killer, she reminded herself, a horse thief, a bank robber, and a kidnapper. But that hadn’t stopped her from admiring his well-muscled arms and legs, or from wondering what it would be like to run her hand over his chest…

With a sigh of exasperation, she knelt beside the river and filled the waterskin, then splashed her cheeks with the cool water. What was the matter with her? She had never been attracted to “bad” boys before. J.T. Cutter was the exact opposite of the kind of man she admired. She liked men who were honest and hard-working, men with high moral standards and a strong sense of right and wrong. And yet none of the gentlemen she had dated had ever stirred her the way this outlaw did. And she didn’t like it. Not one bit!

She had worked herself into a fine rage by the time she returned to the lodge. “Here,” she said, thrusting the waterskin into his hands. “I hope you choke!”

It was an unfortunate choice of words. J.T. raised a hand to his throat, remembering, all too clearly, the feel of the rope tightening around his neck, the sudden sensation of weightlessness as the trap door was sprung…

Brandy stared at him, seeing the horror reflected in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean that.”

“It’s all right,” he replied hoarsely.

“No, really, I’m sorry.”

“Forget it.”

But he didn’t forget it. That night, he relived it all again in his dreams—the memory of being led up the stairs of the gallows, of having the hood dropped over his head, of staring into the smothering darkness, his heart thundering inside his chest, his blood pounding in his ears. He had never known such gut-wrenching fear in his whole life—not when his mother died and left him alone, not when he’d found himself looking down the bore of another man’s rifle. Once again, he felt the weight of the noose around his neck, the rough hemp of the rope that bound his hands behind his back. He was helpless and afraid and then he heard the sudden, expectant hush as the crowd held its breath…

“No!” The word was ripped from his throat. Covered with sweat, he bolted upright, looking for the light, that soft glow that had been filled with love and understanding.

“J.T.? J.T., are you all right?”

“Yeah.”

He was breathing rapidly, as though he’d been running for miles. His body was drenched with perspiration, his hands were shaking.

There was a sudden burst of light as Brandy threw a handful of kindling on the coals. “J.T.?”

“I’m fine,” he said, his voice hoarse.

It was in her mind to crawl back under the covers and let him fight his demons alone, but then she saw his face and knew she couldn’t do it.

Slipping out of the covers, she put some wood on the fire, then went to kneel beside him. He looked at her as if he didn’t recognize her, his dark brown eyes wild and feverishly bright.

“It’s all right, J.T.,” she whispered. Feeling somewhat hesitant, she drew him toward her, until his head rested on her shoulder. “It’s over,” she murmured soothingly. “Don’t think about it anymore.”

His skin was taut beneath her hand. She could feel him shivering convulsively, feel the sweat cooling on his skin. She ran her fingers through his hair, massaged his nape, let her hand slide over the broad expanse of his back. Gradually, she felt him relax. His head grew heavy on her shoulder and she urged him to lie down again, surprised when he rested his head in her lap.

He didn’t look like a killer now. In spite of the dark shadows under his eyes and the rough stubble that covered his jaw, he looked vulnerable and alone.

She had a sudden impulse to kiss his brow, to gather him into her arms and comfort him as a mother might comfort a frightened child. But J.T. Cutter wasn’t a child and she feared any such display on her part might be misinterpreted as more than just a simple desire to give assurance to a fellow human being.

“J.T.?”

He didn’t answer, and she realized he was asleep again. She drew the buffalo robe up to his shoulders, intending to return to her own bed, but, to her surprise, she was reluctant to leave him alone and so she stayed, cradling his head in her lap, one hand lightly stroking his brow, until she heard the camp stirring to life.

* * * * *

He knew she was gone even before he opened his eyes. For a moment, J.T. lay there with his eyes closed, remembering how the touch of her hand and the sound of her voice had chased away the remnants of his nightmare the night before. In all the years since his mother passed away, no one, male or female, had ever taken the time to soothe his fears. He had forgotten what it felt like to have a woman hold him in her arms for no reason other than to comfort him. It embarrassed him, how readily he had turned to her for solace, how eagerly he had sought shelter in her arms. He couldn’t recall a single time when he had wanted, or needed, a woman for anything other than a quick coupling. Out of all the women he’d taken to bed, he remembered only the first one.

But he would remember Brandy Talavera, not just because she had been kind, but because she had seen him at his most vulnerable. He felt an unexpected tenderness toward her because she had been kind and yet, perversely, he resented the fact that she had caught him at a weak moment.

And then he heard the sound of her footfalls and he forgot everything in the anticipation of seeing her again. A shaft of early morning sunlit sliced across the floor when she opened the door flap and stepped inside.

Brandy hesitated inside the door, wondering how much he remembered of the night past. And then she took a deep breath. She had to face him sometime. It seemed to take a great deal of concentration to put one foot in front of the other, to cross the floor to his bedside. “Good morning.”

“Morning.”

Her gaze slid away from his. “Are you hungry?”

“Does it matter?”

“If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Is that right? Last night you told me in no uncertain terms that you weren’t interested in seeing to any of my needs.”

Brandy flushed, embarrassed to be reminded of her uncharitable attitude. “I know what I said.”

“So what changed your mind?”

“Nothing.” She gave him a sharp look, puzzled by his gruff tone, his sullen expression. “I don’t care if you starve.”

J.T. muttered an oath under his breath, wondering why he was being such a bastard. She’d done nothing to earn his disdain, and then he realized he was just using the same surly attitude he’d always used to keep people at arm’s length.

“Brandy…”

“I want you out of here, now, today.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that! I married you, and now I’m divorcing you.” She turned on her heel and started toward the door. “Get dressed, and get out!”

“Brandy, wait!”

She paused, one hand on the door flap, but she didn’t turn around.

“I’m…” He swore under his breath. “I’m sorry.”

“You haven’t said those two words very often, have you?”

“I’m not sure I’ve ever said them.”

“Get dressed,” she said softly. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

J.T. took a deep breath. “I want to thank you for last night. And if you’re thinking I probably don’t say thanks too often, either, you’d be right about that, too.”

His soft-spoken words seemed to curl around Brandy’s heart. “Would you tell me something?”

“If I can.”

Slowly, she turned around to face him. ”You had that same nightmare once before, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“The last time, you said something about being promised a year. What did you mean?”

“Nothing.”

He was lying. She could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes. “Get dressed. I’ll fix you something to eat.”

J.T. nodded. Like most of the Crow women, Brandy did the majority of her cooking outside. It must be quite a change for her, he mused, having to cook over an open fire when she was accustomed to a machine that cooked food in minutes instead of hours.

Getting carefully to his feet, J.T. put on the clothing she’d brought him. The buckskin shirt was incredibly soft against his bare skin. The breechclout covered his loins and not much else. The moccasins were a fair fit. He wondered fleetingly what his mother would think if she could see him now.

Brandy stepped into the lodge, and came to an abrupt halt, hardly aware of the soup that sloshed over the sides of the bowl onto her hands.

J.T. stood near the center of the lodge, his expression slightly sheepish when he met her gaze. ”So, what do you think?”

Brandy swallowed hard. What did she think? She could hardly think at all! Had he always been so roguishly handsome? Had his shoulders always been that broad, his legs that long? And why was she so tongue-tied? Every man in the village wore practically the same attire.

“Hey,” he called softly. “You all right?”

“Fine. Here.” She thrust the bowl into his hands.

J.T. stared at her, wondering at the sudden flush creeping up her neck.

“Sit down and eat,” Brandy said, her voice unaccountably brusque.

BOOK: The Angel and the Outlaw
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

And All That Jazz by Samantha-Ellen Bound
Undead and Unwary by MaryJanice Davidson
Cyclogeography by Jon Day
Chosen Sister by Ardyth DeBruyn
The Goblin Gate by Hilari Bell
Chasing Abby by Cassia Leo
IM02 - Hunters & Prey by Katie Salidas
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders