Texas Redemption(9)

By: Linda Broday


“I had a good teacher.” Laurel hugged the dear lady.

“I’ll be more than happy to wring that fellow’s neck.”

What a picture: Ollie squared off on tiptoes in front of Shenandoah, her bandy legs stretched, hands struggling to reach his throat. Yeah, the man had real trouble on his hands.

Laurel kissed her thin, hollow cheek. “I love you. Don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

“Quit your dadblasted worrying. I ain’t some favorite shoe that’s likely to fall out the back of a wagon first time it hits a rock.”

Foot apparel and people didn’t bear much similarity, but both could fall from a wagon, and Ollie had run smack into a boulder once that day already. Laurel counted her blessings on the way downstairs. Minutes later, she cautiously pushed open the door to the dining room. Thank heavens. The steak and the man had both disappeared, only a shiny silver dollar left behind.

This time the money paid for an honest living, not services of another nature. At least until they ran her out of town.

She dropped the coin into the pocket of her yellow dress and smoothed the white apron over it. Her clothing ranged in many shades…except one. She’d rot in hell before she wore purple again. That hell she’d not revisit again.

Shenandoah could already have spread his venom. Her quiet, respectable life might crash around her any minute.

Her stomach felt as if she had eaten a belly full of lead instead of the town bully doing it for her.

The bell tied to the door tinkled merrily. Laurel whirled.

* * *

From the shadows, Shenandoah’s mouth set in a firm line as he watched his beautiful Lil drop the silver dollar he’d left into her pocket.

His chest hurt from trying to fill his lungs with air.

She’d tried to deny their acquaintance. She’d not shown a flicker of happiness to see him. Nothing to indicate she remembered the feel of his arms, the taste of his kisses. A corpse would’ve welcomed him with more warmth and feeling.

He’d thought he meant more than simply a body who shared her bed. She’d become someone he never would’ve imagined.

The pain spread out in a searing arc.

What Lil and he once had should’ve been enough to at least warrant a “Hello, how are you?”

The rudeness rankled. Back then she’d have rekindled the fire right there in front of God and everybody. Unless…

Sweet Georgia clay.

Maybe she’d married and left her heart in someone else’s keeping. That would explain her attitude.

Quick, jabbing pain almost doubled him, as if someone put both fists into his gut.

He didn’t know if he could stomach her on another man’s arm. The special tenderness he cherished inside no marriage vow to another would sever.

He had half a mind to march in there and demand answers. She owed him that much. He tossed aside the matchstick dangling from the side of his mouth and straightened. Before he could translate the thought to action, a figure strolled past.

His mouth went dry as the man pushed inside the café. The passing of eight long years didn’t dull recognition.

Shenandoah untied Smokey. “Might as well get you bedded down, boy. No use waiting around for hell to freeze over.”

One last backward glance assured him the moisture on his face wasn’t from melted ice. It was way too warm and he’d run out of wishes.





Three


Laurel pivoted, expecting to encounter roguish disdain. Relief bathed her to find Murphy Yates instead.

“Is that any way to greet your betrothed? You’d have thought you’d seen a ghost.” Long strides covered the short space. He pulled her into his arms.

Little did he know how accurately he described what the afternoon breeze had spirited down the main street of town. She shuddered to think how quickly this man of the finest cloth would put her from his life at the mere hint of scandal.

She forced cheery lightness. “Nothing more than a devil in disguise. That’s certainly not you. I’m frazzled, that’s all. Dueling in the streets tends to do that. Did you see or hear the shooting?”

“Bank business kept me busy inside, but Sheriff Tucker gave me the gist of it. I’m surprised someone hasn’t taken the wind from Prater’s sails before this. I always suspected his bluster would get him in deep water sooner or later.”