Authors: Linda Carroll-Bradd
Capturing The Marshal’s Heart
By Linda Carroll-Bradd
This is a work of fiction. Names, place, characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Linda Carroll-Bradd All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute or transmit in any form or by any means without express permission from author or publisher.
Published by Inked Figments
Cover artist: Tamra Westberry
Published in the United States
First printing August, 2013
Table of Contents
1868, South Texas
A knock sounded on the door. “Two minutes until locking up time, Miss Jazzy.”
The bedsprings squeaked when Jazzy Morgan stood, dropping a handful of coins into a porcelain box on her nightstand. She pressed her lips together to hold back a sigh before calling out. “Thanks, Ben.”
Henry Jackson buttoned his shirt and planted both hands on his thin hips. “Does th-that man ever forget which g-gal has a v-visitor?”
The idea of this scrawny rancher going against Miss Veronica’s Pleasure Emporium’s bruiser of a bouncer made her smile. She raised a hand to her head, and brushed her long hair away from her face. “Never that I can recall. Ben knows how serious Miss Veronica is about getting her percentage.” She brushed her long hair over her shoulders and walked toward the door. On impulse, she spoke with hurried words. “Henry, after church services, walk right up to Miss Simms and offer to escort her home. Don’t wait any longer for the rest of your life to happen.”
“I’ll th-think on it, M-Miss Jazzy.” His fingers tightened on the brass doorknob until his knuckles blanched white.
“No more thinking, Henry.” She stretched up on her toes and brushed a kiss against his cheek. “Time for action.”
“A k-kiss?” With a shake of his head and a muttered goodbye, Henry walked into the hallway. “You’ll b-be seeing me next w-week.”
. Her years as a fancy lady were over. Jazzy sagged against the closed door, relief flooding her senses. Now she’d discover what the next part of her life had to offer. A life that did not include being the wife of a farmer. She shuddered at the image of Tucker Flanagan professing his unending devotion and vowing he’d be back to claim her when he sold his prize bull.
She marched across the room, grabbed her petticoat with double eagle coins sewn into little pockets to carry her life savings, and tied it around her waist. As she dressed into the traveling suit she’d had the dressmaker copy from a drawing in a ladies journal, she couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Excitement bubbled inside her.
In only a few hours, her new life would begin.
* * *
US Marshal Slade Thomas strode after his hat as it rolled down the dusty San Antonio street. It teetered and landed flat, and he scooped it up. He pivoted and headed back toward the westbound stagecoach, brushing off the dirt from the brim as he walked. Blazes, he was tired. Ten days on the trail of a bank robber and always two steps behind. But he had a mission to finish.
“Is this your bag, mister?” A wiry man with piercing blue eyes stood on the sidewalk and pointed at the lone leather satchel.
“It is.” Slade quickened his steps and bent to grab the handles. He didn’t need the stagecoach driver discovering what sat at the bottom of his scuffed case. “I’ll load it.”
The older man lifted a shoulder and shook his head. “Fine by me. Soon as it’s stowed, we can leave.”
Slade pressed the satchel into a corner of the rack on the roof, then opened the door and scanned the dim interior—an elderly gentleman, a young boy, and four women of varying ages. Being the last one to board left him with a middle seat. He removed his hat, hunched his shoulders, and stepped up into the crowded stage. As he maneuvered backwards into the space, he kicked the gentleman’s cane and jostled against the knee of a woman dressed in red. “Beg your pardon, folks.”
He wedged himself onto the backward-facing cushion, tucked his boots close to the seat, and balanced his hat on his knee. Stagecoaches were not built for men with long legs. He glanced up and saw his actions were the focus of the other passengers’ attention. With a start, he realized both women on the opposite bench were of average size, had no distinguishable facial marks, blue eyes, and light brown hair.
Just like the wanted poster.
A voice called to the horses and the stagecoach jerked into motion. People on the sides grabbed at the walls to steady themselves.
Great, he’d been lucky enough to get the lumpiest seat he’d ever sat on.
A tug against his right thigh drew his attention. He turned and something tickled his cheek.
The feather on the top of the woman’s black hat bobbed into his sight. She leaned left against the side wall, using both hands to pull on her skirts. “Excuse me, sir. My skirt is surely trapped.” She pressed a hand against his thigh and shoved. “Can you move your as—can you assist me?”
He froze. Surely, he’d heard her wrong. As his mind scrambled to make sense of her words, his leg heated through his trousers under her touch. He’d definitely been without female company for too long. With one hand flattened against the door-frame over the head of the passenger on his other side and the other tugging on the overhead strap, he easily lifted his hips, until she’d gathered her skirts off the cracked leather seat.
“Thank you kindly, sir.”
He eased down to the bench and turned to his right. Out of habit, Slade reached toward his forehead to touch the brim of his hat.
The woman dressed in green gazed up at him with a smile across her shapely lips.
As he opened his mouth to speak, he scanned her face. “You’re—” Light brown hair, no distinguishing marks. Exasperation stole his words. Average size and blue eyes—blue as a summer sky.
Damn, not a third one.
And why did her assessing gaze have to be in the prettiest face he’d seen in months?
Her gaze frosted and she turned to the side, a rounded hip pressing into his upper thigh.
With three suspects, his chances of an easy end to a tough case were getting slimmer by the minute. In fact, his work had just increased. Now he had to identify which of these passengers was the guilty party, make the arrest, and haul her back to Oklahoma City.
Earlier, while the passengers were gathering, he’d positioned himself on the bench closest to the ticket window. From there, Slade had managed to catch most of the passengers’ names, but hadn’t wanted to draw undue attention by studying their faces.
A quick movement and flash of color caught his eye. The woman next to him lifted the shade and peered outside, a frown wrinkling her forehead.
“Have pity on us and pull that shade tight, Miss Morgan.”
“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Harrington.” Her widened gaze focused on the older woman who’d spoken.
Slade wished he had a straight-on view of the woman beside him. He had to be content with side glances and the weight of her petticoated skirts pressed the length of his leg.
Miss Morgan released the shade, letting it bounce against the side of the door. “Don’t y’all wonder about the country you’re travelin’ through? Lordy, I was hoping for a bitty breeze.”
Slade detected a Texas sprawl in her speech. She savored her words before letting them escape between her lips—her full, lush lips. Damn, what was he thinking? He had a suspect to apprehend.
“None of us want to breathe all that dust.” Mrs. Harrington scanned the cramped space, looking for confirmation from the other passengers.
Slade heard the mousy woman to his left, a Miss Torrance, agree in a quiet voice, and the elderly gentleman, Grove Denton, emphasized his assent by rapping his cane on the floor of the coach.
Miss Morgan leaned back against the cushion and let out a groan. “The air is stiflin’ and I just can’t breathe. If you won’t let me open the shade, I’ll just get cool another way.” Her pale hand rose to the buttons at her neck.
In fascination, Slade watched, using only short glances, as she undid her collar and then the first two buttons on her blouse, exposing a regal neck and creamy skin. Awareness of this woman hit him in the gut and his body reacted.
He shifted on the seat to ease the strain on his trousers and accidentally bumped Miss Morgan’s knee.
She shot him a questioning look from under her lashes and slowly pressed her leg the length of his. From her reticule, she pulled out and flourished a fan painted with red roses. Waving her left hand, the fan moved quickly in front of her face and she sighed. “That’s better.”
Slade detected a look of envy from the quiet woman across from him. On this point, he agreed with the outspoken Miss Morgan. The coach was unbearably hot, enough so that he planned to remove his waistcoat at the next stop. Keeping up the image of a traveling rancher be hanged.
Mrs. Harrington sniffed. “Proper young ladies don’t use fans in public. That’s vulgar.”
Miss Morgan pinched the front of her blouse between two fingers and pulled it several inches away from her chest.
Without realizing he’d even moved, Slade eased his head sideways and spied a glimpse of her cleavage.
He froze, suddenly aware of how disrespectful his action must appear. What the hell was he doing?
After flashing the complainer a syrupy smile, Miss Morgan aimed the fan directly over the blouse opening and flicked her hand back and forth. “There’s times when a body’s comfort comes afore all else.” She sighed, lolled her head to look directly at him, and batted her eyelashes. “Don’t you agree, sir?”
Captured by her knowing gaze, Slade stiffened and fought for a casual answer. He opened his mouth to respond and felt the distinct glide of a boot tip run along the back of his calf. His mouth snapped closed and he swallowed hard.
Blood pounded in his ears and his hands fisted on his thighs. Too many months had passed since his last visit to a parlor house. That had to be why he was misinterpreting the casual bumps and touches caused by the jostling stagecoach. No other explanation made sense.
The saucy gal turned toward the middle of the coach. “I surely don’t know how you ladies wear all these layers of clothes in this heat.”
What had she just said?
Slade narrowed his gaze and scrutinized every detail about Miss Morgan. From the wisps of light brown hair that framed her face to the green jacket hugging narrow shoulders and rounded curves to the skirt that revealed a tantalizing flash of booted ankle.
Mrs. Harrington clapped her hands over the ears of the small boy resting his head on her knee. “Well, I never! Miss, you are most assuredly a disgrace.”
Miss Morgan lifted her head, gazed at the woman, and shrugged. “Maybe so, but I bet I’m cooler.”
A chuckle threatened to rumble from his chest, but he forced a yawn instead. “I’ll say, today is a real scorcher.” He let his gaze circle the coach and spread his lips into the smile that had disarmed suspects and prisoners into divulging information they should have kept to themselves. “Does anyone mind if I raise the shade for a bit? We might be lucky and catch a breeze.”
Her fan stopped in mid-stroke, Miss Morgan met his gaze and beamed. “That’s a mighty fine idea, mister.”
* * *
Jazzy breathed in the scent of bay rum and eyed the fine cut of the tall man’s suit. She could still feel the press of his upper body against her shoulder when he’d leaned to release her skirt. Such solid chest muscles. From the corner of her eye, she gauged the cost of his tailored suit and fine felt hat, and started figuring the fee she could charge.
Miss Veronica’s Rule #1: Aim for the highest reward
. In her experience, a man with looks, money, and all his own teeth was a rarity.
…no more thinking about fees. Her gaze flicked to the open window and she saw dry earth, low shrubs, and dust.
Miss Veronica’s was part of her old life.
When the handsome stranger first looked at her and cut off his own response, she’d feared he’d seen past her new traveling suit to the parlor girl beneath. Then she got to thinking this man could be the first conquest in her new life. The decision to invite him to her bed would be hers and hers alone. With regret, she shook away that thought. Her plan didn’t include seducing a man on her very first day of freedom. She had a goal, a destination, and higher aspirations.