Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3)(2)

By: Linda Broday

The man’s shadow fell across Brett. “Who are you, and what do you want?” the farmer asked.

“I’m shot. Name’s Brett Liberty. I have a horse ranch seventy miles east of here.” When he started to stand, the farmer jabbed the end of the rifle into his chest. Brett saw the wisdom in staying put.

“Who shot you?”

“Don’t know. Never saw them before.” A bee buzzed around Brett’s face.

“How do I know you didn’t hightail it off the reservation? Or maybe you’re an outlaw. I’ve heard of Indian outlaws.”

Brett sighed in frustration. “I’ve never seen a reservation, and I assure you, I don’t step outside the law. I’m respected in Battle Creek. My brother is the sheriff. If I took up outlawing ways, he’d be the first to arrest me.” Likely throw him under the jail instead of putting him in a cell. But he didn’t add that.

He glanced longingly toward the house, but the rifle barrel poking from a window told him asking for safety inside was out of the question. So was running. Their guns would cut him down before he’d gone a yard.

Maybe if he stalled, made sure he looked as unthreatening as possible and kept the man nearby, he might just make it. With a witness to the posse’s actions, the sheriff might let him live. It was his only shot.

The ticking clock in Brett’s head was getting louder, blocking out the buzz of the persistent bee. His pursuers would be here in a minute. His dry mouth couldn’t even form spit. “Please, mister, could you at least give me some water?”

It was a gamble, but one that looked like it might pay off. Silently, the farmer backed up a step and motioned Brett toward the well with his rifle barrel.

“Thank you.” Brett got to his feet and stumbled toward the water. He lowered the bucket and pulled it up, then filled a metal cup that hung nearby and guzzled the water down. He was about to refill it when horses galloped into the yard and encircled him.

“Put up your hands, or I’ll shoot,” a man barked, sparing an obvious glance toward the farmer.

Brett glanced up at the speaker and the shiny tin star on his leather vest. He set his empty cup on the ledge circling the well. “Your warning comes a little late, Sheriff. I would’ve appreciated it much earlier. Would you be so kind as to tell me what I did to warrant this arrest?”

The bearded sheriff dismounted. Hate glittered in his dark eyes, reminding Brett of others who harbored resentment for his kind. Jerking Brett’s hands behind his back, the middle-aged lawman secured them with rope. “You’ll know soon enough.”

Ignoring the sharp pain piercing his back, Brett tried to reason. “I can clear up this misunderstanding if you’ll only tell me what you think I did wrong.”

No one spoke.

Brett turned to the farmer. “I’ll give you five of my best horses if you’ll let my brothers know where I am. You can find them in Battle Creek. Cooper Thorne and Rand Sinclair.”

The farmer stared straight ahead without even a flicker to indicate he’d heard. While the sheriff thanked the sodbuster for catching Brett, two of the other riders threw him onto a horse. With everyone mounted a few minutes later, the group made tracks toward Steele’s Hollow.

Brett had passed through there before daybreak, anxious to get home to the Wild Horse Ranch. The town had been quieter than a blade of grass growing. He couldn’t imagine what they thought he’d done. This was the first time he’d traveled through the community. Usually he took a more southerly tack returning home after driving a string of horses to Fort Concho, but this time he’d had to deliver a sorrel to a man on the Skipper Ranch near Chalk Mountain, so he’d decided to cut through.

He made a mental note to give Steele’s Hollow a wide berth from now on.

Not that there would be a next time if things kept going the way they were.

The combination of blood loss and the hot sun made Brett see double. It was all he could do to stay in the saddle.

By the time they rode into the small town an hour later, Brett had doubled over and clung to the horse’s mane with everything he had. The group halted in front of the jail, jerked him off the animal and into the rough wooden building.