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

By: Linda Broday


“Please, I need a doctor,” Brett murmured as they rifled through his pockets.

After taking his knife and the bank draft from the sale of the horses, they unlocked a door that led down a dark walkway. The smell of the earthen walls and the dim light told him the building had been dug into a hill. They unlocked a cell and threw him inside.

“A doctor,” Brett repeated weakly as he huddled on the floor.

“Not sure he treats breeds.” The sheriff slammed the iron door shut and locked it. “See what I can do, though. Reckon we don’t want you to die before we hang you.”

“That’s awful considerate.” Brett struggled to his feet and clung to the metal bars to keep from falling. “Once and for all, tell me…what did I do? What am I guilty of?”

“You were born,” the sheriff snapped. Without more, he turned and walked to the front of the jail.

* * *

Panic pounded in Brett’s temples like a herd of stampeding mustangs long after the slamming of the two iron doors separating him from freedom. This proved that the sheriff had targeted him solely because of his Indian heritage; he had nothing to charge him with.

His crime was simply for being born?

Dizzy, Brett collapsed onto the bunk as his hat fell to the crude plank floor.

Movement in the next cell caught his attention. Willing the room to keep from spinning, Brett turned his head. He could make out a woman’s form in the dimness. Surely his pain had conjured her up. They didn’t put women in jail.

He couldn’t tell what she looked like because she had two faces blurring together, distorting her features—but he could hear her pretty voice clear enough.

“You’re in pitiful shape, mister.”

Since his bunk butted up to the bars of her cell, she could easily reach through. He felt her cautiously touch one of his moccasins.

“Checking to see if I’m dead?” he murmured.

“Nope. Do you mind if I have your shoes after they hang you?”

Brett raised up on an elbow, then immediately regretted it when the cell whirled. He lay back down. “That’s not a nice thing to ask a man.”

“Well, you won’t be needing them. I might as well get some good out of them.”

“They aren’t going to hang me.”

“That’s not what Sheriff Oldham said.”

“He can’t hang me, because I didn’t do anything wrong.” It was best to keep believing that. Maybe he could convince someone, even if only himself. “I think he was joking.”

“Humor and Sheriff Oldham parted company long ago. He’s serious all the time. And mean. You don’t want to get on his bad side.”

“Wish I’d known this sooner. You sure know how to make a man feel better,” Brett said dryly, draping his arm across his eyes and willing his stomach to quit churning. “What is your name?”

“Rayna.”

“Who stuck that on you? I’ve never heard it before.”

“It’s a made-up name. My father is Raymond, and my mother is Elna. My mama stuck ’em together and came up with Rayna. I’ve always hated it.”

“Got a last name, or did they use it all on the first one?”

“Harper. Rayna Harper.”

“Forgive me if I don’t get up to shake hands, but I’m a little indisposed. I’m Brett Liberty.”

With that, blessed silence filled the space, leaving him to fight waves of dizziness and a rebellious stomach. Keeping down the contents seemed all he could manage at present.

But Rayna wasn’t quiet for long. “Where did you get those Indian shoes, Brett? I’d sure like to have them.”

“My brother.” His words came out sounding shorter than he intended.

“Sorry. I’ve been in here for a while by myself, and I guess I just have a lot of words stored up. Sometimes I feel they’re just going to explode out the top of my head if I don’t let some out. What are you in here for? I couldn’t hear too well.”

“For being born, I’m told.” Brett was still trying to digest that.

“Me too.” Rayna sounded astonished. “Isn’t that amazing?”

Brett had a feeling that no matter what he’d said, she would say the same thing. He wished he could see her better so he could put a face to the voice. Even though the conversation taxed him, it was nice to know he wasn’t alone. Maybe she’d even hold his hand if he died.