“I can’t let you go. I can’t break the law.” I told James.
He sighed and laid on the cot with his arms folded behind his head, looking up at the cigar smoke-stained ceiling. I studied him for a few moments. He was the type to become better looking with age, his features were tanned and rugged, and his eyes were still as deep blue as ever. When I had first seen him in the Inn during my engagement party, I had felt the butterflies in my stomach, something I hadn’t felt for any other man.
I shook my head and forced myself to look away from him. I had just started organizing the papers on my desk when the bell over the front door jangled, and I looked up to see Melanie, Mr. Murphy’s daughter, coming through the door with a covered basket.
“I figured Mr. Rawlings might like some supper, so I brung him some,” Melanie said as she brought the food over to James’ cell.
She was only the first; over the next two days, a parade of single women flowed through my jail on every excuse under the sun, ranging from plausible to downright ridiculous.
I doubt that James Henry Rawlings had been so well fed in all his life before he landed in our jail, I thought with annoyance.
It was a relief when the posse finally showed up to take him to Judge Hocklee.
While we were filling out the paperwork, I heard shouts, and I smelled the bitter choking smell of smoke.
“The stables on fire! Get more water!” I heard men shouting from next door, where the stable was.
I ran to unlock James’ cell and left him with the posse while I hurried outside to help put the fire out. Men were throwing wooden buckets on the burning hay. I could hear the screams of a horse who was still trapped in the stables.
I ran in, dodging blazing piles of hay and coughing. It was dark inside from the soot in the air, but I followed the racket from the horse and unlatched his stall door. He exploded out at top speed, causing the heavy stall door to fly back into my shoulder and knock me on my back, to the hard-packed dirt floor. I rolled and put my hands under me to push myself up, but I heard an ominous groaning sound from above me. Before I could get to my feet, something heavy landed on me, pinning me to the floor.
One of the posse members had tied my hands to his saddle before he went to help put the fire out. I had seen Kat enter to save the horse, but she hadn’t come back out yet. I glanced at the group of men dousing the flames, but it didn’t seem that any of them had noticed that Kat hadn’t come back out, though the horse she rescued had.
I glanced down and saw the glint of metal in the saddlebag. There was enough slack in the rope for me to stretch my fingers just far enough to pull the knife out up enough where I could use it to saw through the rope around my hands.
I glanced again to make sure they were still distracted, and I dashed down the narrow alley to where I knew my horse was waiting and where there was a back door leading into the stables. It was my habit to keep my horse tied up separately from my men’s horses, and this wasn’t the first time that it had helped me escape.
My horse was prancing around nervously, but he calmed when he saw me. I untied him, then slid the door open as quietly as possible and cursed when I saw Kat pinned under a collapsed section of roof, pale and unmoving.
I grabbed a length of rope from my saddle, looped it around her, under her arms, and secured the other end to the saddle. Then I grabbed a sturdy beam and shoved it under the pile of debris on top of Kat, levering it up a couple of inches.
“Pull!” I hollered to my horse. He obeyed, and Kat slid clear.
“Halt!” I yelled as I dropped the beam.
I carefully laid Kat facedown across the horse’s back and swung myself into the saddle behind her. Once I was settled. I picked her up and held her with one arm around her waist and managed the reins with the other hand.
I set my horse to a slow trot, and we headed out of town to my camp a few miles away, carefully hidden in a hard to get to the cave.
I hoped that the posse would assume I was riding hard in the opposite direction and wouldn’t think to search the area.
I had just climbed up the hill and steered my horse into the cave when I heard an unmistakable click and felt the cold bite of a metal barrel under my chin.
“Take your hands off me,” Kat said with deadly calm.
“Ok, take it easy, Kat.” I raised my hands and let her slide to the ground.
“Bind your hands,” She said as she tossed me a rope. “I’m taking you back.”
“Like h—! How d’you think you got out of that fire? Me.” I jabbed a thumb into my chest. I could feel my blood pressure rising.
I swung my leg over and jumped off the horse, Kat following my movements with the gun trained on me the whole time. I grabbed the reins and led my horse out and tied him to a nearby tree.
“I said I’m taking you back!” Kat shouted.
“Going to shoot me in the back then, are you?” I tossed over my shoulder.
Then Kat snorted in disgust.
I grinned, knowing she couldn’t see it.
“Can I have my gun back?”
“No!” She snapped, and tucked it into her waistband.
“Thank you for rescuing me.”
“Don’t thank me, it’s not like I was about to leave you there to die. Any other outlaw would have. Sheriff.”
“Rather convenient, that fire.”
“Don’t look at me, I was locked up. And I resent the implication.”
“Are you going to tell me you’ve never killed anyone, you, a train robber?!”
“No one who didn’t deserve it,” I said, as I walked away from her to gather firewood.
“Hey, this isn’t over! I said I’m taking you…”
I could feel her angry gaze burning holes in my back, and I chuckled quietly and ignored her.
“We can camp here tonight, I have an extra bedroll, then I will drop you off within walking distance of Hadleigh, first thing in the morning.”
Kat sputtered in outrage, but I just finished setting the campfire and pulled my skillet out of my saddlebag.