Authors: Carra Copelin
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Western, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Historical Fiction, #Westerns
ANGEL AND THE TEXAN FROM COUNTY CORK
A Brides of Texas Code Series
Jamey O'Donnell has reached a crossroads in his life. He loves his family, but he’s restless and feels the need to once again answer the call to adventure. On his way to join the Silver Rush in Leadville, Colorado, Jamey stops to help his old friend, Will Rivers. When he finds out his friend has been killed, he marries the widow to help her keep her ranch and find who murdered his friend. When the time comes for him to leave, can he ignore the long buried emotions she brings to the surface and then walk away?
Angel’s second husband, Will Rivers, has been shot and killed leaving her with an impossible dilemma. Either marry her neighbor to satisfy her husband’s debt or the stranger she shot in her barn who says he’s a friend. Which one does she trust? The man she suspects of killing her husband or the friend who promises to pay off her debt and set her free if she decides their marriage won’t work? Will she be able to bury the feelings stirred by the stranger to live a life alone?
Angel and the Texan from County Cork
Grayson County, Texas, December 23, 1879
Jamey O'Donnell could no longer feel his legs below his knees. His toes had gone numb a few miles back. This late December cold snap had caught him and a lot of other people off guard. Shifting in the saddle, he searched for anything remotely familiar, but the landmarks he remembered were either covered in snow and ice or non-existent. He supposed it was possible his memory was playing tricks on him. After all, landscapes changed over time.
He hadn't visited the Double R in three years, so maybe he'd simply taken the wrong turn off. One thing he knew for sure, he had to get in out of this cold soon or he didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of surviving.
His sister Matelyn's last words echoed in his head, "Remember to take care of yourself. Come back to us." He fully intended to do just that. Someday. Right now he was headed to Leadville, Colorado to mine silver. He'd heard talk in Dallas of the silver camps and the wealth to be had. He'd had a nice run mining gold at his site in California. When his good fortune ran dry, he'd come back to Texas.
His sister and brother-in-law, Mattie and Ian Benning, had been more than kind to let him live with them and work on their ranch. But even though he worked hard for his pay and had plenty of money in the bank, he still depended on the kindness and generosity of others for a place to live. He longed to put down roots somewhere on a place of his own. He’d looked for a ranch but, so far, he hadn't found one that appealed to him. In the meantime, he was headed to one last adventure. He didn’t know if he had any luck left in him, but he had to try.
Right now, though, the single digit temperatures were taking their toll. Finding shelter was imperative.
Out of the corner of his eye, the outline of a barn appeared. If he could cover the distance quickly, he and his horse, Rusty, both stood a chance of surviving. Hopefully there'd be other animals inside they could sidle up to for warmth, or at least he could bed down in his blankets in the hay.
As he neared the dilapidated structure, he wondered if he'd been too optimistic. The walls leaned dangerously to the south. The rotting and missing boards wouldn't stop a small rock much less the gale force North Texas wind. Dismounting carefully lest he land wrong and break a leg, he opened the slab of boards that could loosely be called a door and entered, leading Rusty behind him. It wasn't any warmer inside, but at least they were out of the direct wind.
He brushed the snow from Rusty's head and face then checked out their surroundings. A meager supply of hay bales stood along the north wall. He made a wild guess they were what kept the structure upright on that side. The west wall stood only by the haphazard support of three narrow stalls. A cow occupied the larger middle space with a milking stool and a bucket nearby. That sight encouraged him more than anything had in the last several hours. By all rights there should be a house to go along with this barn.
Movement behind the cow snagged his attention. He wasn't alone. Rusty shuffled nearer to him, putting his Winchester in closer proximity. He reached up to rest his gloved hand on the horse's neck.
“Easy boy,” he crooned.
“Don't move, mister, or I'll drop you where you stand.”
The speaker, dwarfed in men's clothing and wrapped in a heavy coat, resembled a young boy but the voice was decidedly female. And, while full of bluster, her voice held a slight tremor. She was obviously wary of his presence. Jamey took a deep breath and squared his shoulders.
“Sure'n I'll not be a threat to ye, miss. Me and Rusty, we're just tryin' to get in out of the cold.” Throughout his life, he'd been in and out of rough, sticky or tense situations. As he heard the snick of the hammer being cocked, he figured this qualified as all three.
“Take your horse and get out of my barn.”
Slowly, Jamey turned his body around to face her. He stayed close to Rusty while keeping his right hand near the rifle. In spite of his situation, he grinned. Speaking more to himself than to her, he said, “Well aren't ye just a wee slip of a thing?”
“I'm not kidding. I will shoot you.” She backed up a step, raised the barrel of the over-sized pistol, both hands shaking, and aimed straight at his chest. “Now move away from that rifle.”
He needed to get her calmed down or she might actually shoot him. Taking two steps forward, he said, “Fair, Colleen, my name is—”
The next thing he knew, he’d slammed onto the hard dirt floor. Searing pain shot along the right side of his head. As darkness closed around him, he wondered where he'd gone wrong.
* * *
Good Lord, what had she done? Angel Rivers struggled to regain her footing. Without warning, Bitty had sidestepped and bumped into her causing her arms to fly up and her finger to pull the trigger. When the gun went off, the sound reverberated through her body, adding to the queasiness she'd felt since the stranger had appeared.
She hadn't truly intended to shoot him. She'd only wanted him gone from her barn. She didn’t know if he really sought shelter or if he worked for the devil in rancher's clothing, her neighbor, Cleve Moran. He and his henchmen, masquerading as ranch hands, had harassed her and her husband, Will, for months. That is, until they shot him two weeks ago.
Frightened and so cold her teeth chattered, she returned the pistol to the pocket of her skirt and then cautiously approached the body of the man she'd shot. He laid there silent and unmoving. Was he dead? She leaned closer to see if he was still breathing, but due to his coat buttoned up to his neck she couldn't tell. There was so much blood from his head wound, if he wasn't dead, he soon would be.
When she'd first come here a year ago, the firing of guns usually meant there'd be meat for the table. Since Will had been shot, she knew the treachery and human tragedy that was possible. And now she'd committed murder herself. This man might have been the answer to her prayers and here she'd gone and killed him.
What did she do now? Her first instinct was to run to the house and slam the door shut behind her. The second, and more humane instinct, see to the man whose life she'd taken. She shouldn't leave him in the barn, but what else could she do? There was no one to help and the stranger was too large for her to move by herself. She supposed she should at least try and figure out who he was so when the sheriff came he could notify the next of kin.
The man's outer coat pockets yielded nothing. Unbuttoning the heavy garment revealed a green vest layered over a heavy woolen shirt. Further searching found a leather pouch safe, fastened at his waist. A drawstring bag containing tobacco, rolling papers and a few coins were inside, along with a strip of jerky and part of a biscuit wrapped in a scrap of cotton cloth. Nothing to help her identify him.
Replacing the bag into the pouch, Angel carefully folded the flap back in place and re-buttoned his coat. He'd certainly been a handsome man. Taller than most, his shoulders were broad and his hands were big as dinner plates. She jerked her hand away when her fingers brushed his neck as she straightened the vest and the collar of his coat. She found it impossible to think him dead when his skin was still warm beneath her touch.
Tentatively, she caressed his cheek. Whether it was an effort to show remorse for her actions or to will him back to life, she couldn't say, but the act seemed right. Without warning, his hand shot up behind her neck and pulled her head down until their noses nearly touched. Panic enveloped her and she tried to push away but to no avail. He held her with an iron-like grip. When his eyes popped open, she shrieked.
Pinning her with an accusing glare, he whispered, “What the hell did ye do?”
Angel stared into eyes the shade of dark turquoise. They radiated pain and confusion while a handful of minutes ago they'd held laughter. At her, she reminded herself.
“It was an accident,” she pleaded while struggling to pull out of his grasp. “I didn't mean to shoot you.”
“Like hell ye didn't. Ye aimed the gun didn't ye?”
“Yes, but you scared the life out of me, busting into my barn the way you did. I thought you were a brute from my neighbor's ranch.”
He closed his eyes in obvious pain. “I should take ye over my knee and blister yer behind.”
“You'll do no such thing, why I—”
“Oh, holy hell.” His free hand reached to the side of his head. With all bluster absent from his tone, he captured her gaze and pleaded, “Help me.”
Angel landed flat on her bottom when he let go of her neck. She gulped air as she swallowed, trying to force her heart back into her chest. She scrabbled to her knees and then to her feet, thanking her lucky stars she was young and strong. After Will being shot and what had happened today, if she'd had her Pa's bum ticker, she'd be dead.
Keeping her distance, she leaned over the stranger. She made sure he was completely out then took off her scarf and wrapped it around his head to help slow the bleeding. By all appearances, she'd only grazed his temple so he'd likely survive. That is, if she managed to get him inside by the fire.
She searched the barn for anything that could be used to drag him to the house, but nothing lent itself to the task. Her only option appeared to be getting him up to walk with her assistance. Kneeling beside him, she jostled him slightly.
He moaned, but didn't open his eyes.
“Sir, I need you to wake up.” She placed her hand on his chest where his heart beat strong. “Sir? I need your help.”
Shifting his position, his hand covered hers. He blinked as if trying to focus and then whispered, “Where am I, colleen? I'm looking for Will Rivers and the Double R.”
“Why? What do you want with him?”
“He's a friend.”
“Will's never mentioned any friends except those I know in town. Who are you?”
“Ja-Jamey O'Donnell.” He cleared his throat, swallowed, then tried to raise himself to a sitting position. He propped himself up and leaned on his left arm. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out an envelope from his left breast pocket. “Here, he sent me a letter.”
Angel took the folded and wrinkled paper from him. She immediately recognized Will's familiar scrawl and opened it. He'd written it well over a month ago asking for help, presumably from this man.