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Authors: The Law Kate Malone

Charlene Sands

BOOK: Charlene Sands
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“It ain’t fitting for a woman, Kate. A woman’s place is with her family, at home.”

“I have no family, Cole.”

“You could, Kate. One day you could have a fine family. But not if you open that saloon.”

Kate blinked at Cole’s blunt declaration. He was telling her that no decent, law-abiding man would want a woman who ran a saloon. Especially not Sheriff Cole Bradshaw. It wasn’t proper, wasn’t what women were expected to do.

“Kate, I’m warning you. Don’t reopen the Silver Saddle.” Kate didn’t miss the threat in his tone.

“Or what?” She planted her hands firmly on her hips, her chin defiantly raised.

He hesitated, peering into her eyes, then bringing his focus lower to her lips. She heard his slight, almost silent sigh. She waited a moment, and when he finally spoke, it was with deep regret. “Or I’ll have to arrest you.”

Acclaim for CHARLENE SANDS’s recent books

Chase Wheeler’s Woman

“A humorous, well-written tale,
Chase Wheeler’s Woman
belongs on your reading list!”
—Romance Reviews Today (romrevtoday.com)

Lily Gets Her Man

“A charming historical debut…”
—Affaire de Coeur

“A homespun tale of ordinary people coming to grips with deep emotions and finding a special love.”

—Rendezvous

#643 THE SCOT

Lyn Stone

#644 THE MIDWIFE’S SECRET

Kate Bridges

#645 FALCON’S DESIRE

Denise Lynn

THE LAW AND KATE MALONE
C
HARLENE
S
ANDS

Available from Harlequin Historicals and

CHARLENE SANDS

Lily Gets Her Man
#554
Chase Wheeler’s Woman
#610
The Law and Kate Malone
#646

Other works include:

Silhouette Desire
The Heart of a Cowboy
#1488

Dedicated to my sister Carol Pettis, for all of your love and support, for sharing a tiny bedroom and an even smaller closet all those years and for getting me through high school algebra. But mostly, for being the greatest sister ever. To your husband, Bill, and my two “other” children, Angie and Eric. My love to you all.

With love to my sweet mother, Caroline, and in loving memory to my father, Charles, who always had a story for me, who always sparked my imagination and who always made me laugh. This time the “sheriff” story is mine to tell, Dad.

Prologue

Crystal Creek
Northern California
1868

M
ary Kathryn Malone dashed down the schoolhouse steps, her pace never faltering until she reached the creaky wood gate. With haste she unlatched the thick rope holding the posts together and opened the gate.

“And don’t you be running all the way home, Mary Kathryn,” Miss Ashmore called out from the doorway. “It’s not fitting for a young lady to run wild.”

“Yes, Miss Ashmore,” Mary Kathryn responded, automatically slowing her stride to a sedate walk. She wished her teacher would call her Kate. All of her life, she’d wanted to be just Kate, but Miss Ashmore said “Mary Kathryn” seemed more civilized and if there was anything her teacher thought Kate needed,
it was more civilizing. Kate didn’t agree, but since she was only twelve, no one listened to what she wanted.

Except for Cole Bradshaw.

Once out of view of her schoolteacher’s sharp eyesight, Kate took off running again. She had to catch up to Cole. They’d be heading down to the creek together this very minute if Kate hadn’t had to stay late after her lessons to write on the blackboard twenty-five times, “I will not spit in class again. Ladies do not spit.” It didn’t matter to Miss Ashmore that Toby Benton had done the first spitting, either.

Kate ran behind old Mrs. Whittaker’s Millinery, stopping to make sure Mama wasn’t across the street, outside the Silver Saddle Saloon, sweeping away debris from last night’s brawl. One thing Mama was for sure, was clean. She hated when rowdies paid her saloon a visit and mucked up the place.

Once she was certain all was clear, Kate took off running again, heading toward the creek. She was just past the back end of the livery stable when something long and dark jumped out at her, tripping her up. She went down with a plunk, landing knee-deep in an untied bale of hay. When she glanced up through a web of straw, she saw the leg that had caused her to fall.

“Ha! Fooled ya, Kate.” Cole leaped out from his hiding spot behind the wall and stood above her, gloating. “Bet you didn’t know I was there!”

“The only way I’d know you was there, Cole Bradshaw, was by the god-awful smell!” Kate lifted herself
from the straw and stood, plucking out flaxen sticks from her long braid. She lifted her nose to sniff air. “And I was racing too doggone fast to catch a whiff, but I do now.” She waved her hands in front of him and stepped way back. “Whew, you stink.”

“Do not.” His brows lifted. “Aw, you’re just mad ’cause I bested you.”

“Feathers will haul off and fly south from one of Mrs. Whittaker’s fancy plume hats the day you best me, Cole Bradshaw!”

“I bested you,” he said smugly, folding his arms across his middle. “Always do.” He stood tall above her and peered down her slight frame. She couldn’t wait to grow another four inches to catch up with him. Then she could look Cole right in those piercing blue eyes, valiantly, being his equal in ability and size. But it seemed every time Kate grew half an inch or so, Cole also grew at least one or more. Didn’t seem fair to her, not one bit, even though Cole was two years older.

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

“Do
not.

“Do
so.
Race me down to the creek.”

Kate’s hand went to her stomach. She’d just gotten over her monthlies, which tended to make her tired and cranky. But aside from that, she’d been feeling sorta queasy in the gut whenever she was around Cole. Just looking into his face sometimes, or watching how his long hair curled up and teased the tips
of his shoulders made her insides churn. Like they were doing now. Kate didn’t understand what was happening to her, but she couldn’t refuse Cole a race, queasy stomach and all. “I’m getting kinda tired of beating you all the time,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I let you win.”

“Do not.”

He came close and pointed his nose at hers. “Do so.”

A small flutter swept through her insides again. Cole didn’t smell foul at all. Fact is, with Cole standing so close, Kate liked the way he smelled, like lye soap and earth all rolled up into one. “Cole, I don’t feel like racing today.”

“Are you scared I’d beat you this time?”

Kate grinned. “You won’t beat me. I’m faster than you.”

“No, you’re not…hey!”

Kate took off running, whipping past the backs of the shops in town, down a lush green slope and around a cluster of pine trees, the wind pushing hair off her face, the air in her lungs near to bursting. Laughter escaped her throat, and she kept on running, feeling alive and tremendously free. “C’mon, slowpoke,” she called out, knowing full well Cole was fast on her heels. She heard his breathing, the puffing sound that meant he was catching up.

She could see Crystal Creek in the distance, a hundred yards away. The giant gray stone, their finishing line, lay just ahead. She had to reach it first. She had
to win. She couldn’t let Cole beat her. She tilted her head and saw him one stride behind. With oxygen exploding in her chest and her legs burning, she pushed herself even harder.

“I win,” she shouted, jubilant, when she kicked her boot to their rock. Cole wasn’t but a step behind. “I bested you,” she huffed out, bending to catch her breath.

Cole did the same. Bracing his hands on his knees, he hung his head and took long slow pulls of breaths. “You did. But I’m catching up. Soon,” he said with a solemn nod, “soon, you’ll never beat me again.”

Kate slid down to the ground, stretching out her legs, and leaned back on her palms, looking toward the creek. Runoff from the Sierras kept the stream flowing, the water deep and blue and inviting. Cole’s words sank in and she believed him this time. She was winning the race, each time, by less of a margin. He’d nearly beaten her today and, pretty darn soon, he’d be leaving her in the dust.

The crushing thought saddened her, but she would never let him know her fears. He sank down next to her and picked up an old wrinkled leaf, twisting it to and fro. Both their gazes locked on to that nut-brown leaf, contemplating.

“It don’t hurt to lose once in a while, Kate.”

“Bet you’re used to it.”

“I can beat any boy in school.”

She grinned. “Just not me.”

“It ain’t that important anyways,” he said.
“What’s important is for me to be a fast draw. For when I’m sheriff of this here town.”

“I’m going to be sheriff, Cole. Not you.”

His face pulled taut as though he’d just eaten the sourest pickle. “Tarnation, Kate. Girls can’t be sheriffs.”

“Mama says women can be whatever they want to be. It ain’t right for a man to say what a woman can or cannot do in life.”

“Aw, she’s just saying that ’cause she owns the Silver Saddle, Kate. Folks don’t take kindly to a woman running the saloon.”

“But they still come in, don’t they? Mama says you gotta give them what they want. She keeps them happy with better whiskey and the lowest prices in town. Mama knows her business.”

Cole nodded. “I ain’t got nothing against your mama, Kate. But a woman’s got to be at home.” His eyes sparked with mischief and he wiggled his brows. “Making babies.”

Kate chuckled nervously. She didn’t know if they ought to be speaking of such things, but she and Cole pretty much talked about everything. She tilted her head, pondering. “That what you want, Cole?”

“Yep, I suppose. After I’m sheriff, that is. I want a heap of babies.”

Cole never really knew his ma and his pa, who died early on. With his older brother raising him on that farm, Kate knew how much Cole missed having a real family. “Mama can’t have more babies. She’s got no
husband. My pa ran out on us when I was a tot. But Mama’s a good woman, Cole. Goes to church every Sunday.”

“Still, none of the ladies want to have anything to do with her.”

“Mama says that’s their loss.”

Cole shrugged. “It’s why you don’t have any gals as friends, ain’t it?”

“I don’t need gals as friends, Cole. I got you, and one day I’m going to sheriff this town.” She slugged him in the arm and grinned, determined to change the subject. She didn’t mind not having any gal friends, not really, but she didn’t like Cole bringing it up all the time, neither. “But you can be my deputy.”

“You got that turned around backward, Kate. I’ll be sheriff and maybe, if’n you’re good with a gun and all, just maybe you can be my deputy.”

Kate made a wide circle with her arms, hitting the ground with her palms and bringing up autumn leaves that blanketed the ground. “Ouch!” Tears stung her eyes from the jolt of unexpected pain.

Cole was up on his knees, twisting toward her. “What’s wrong?”

Kate lifted her injured hand. Her impetuous swing had brought up a rusted-out rowel that was hiding under the thick layer of leaves. Its sharp point was stuck in her hand.

“Hold on,” Cole said, quickly examining the rowel. “This is going to hurt,” he said, but before
she could respond, he yanked out the sharp piece of spur.

“Darn it, Cole!” she shouted. “That did hurt.”

She gazed at her hand, just above the wrist, at the base of her palm. Blood spurted out, coloring her skin red, soaking into her shirtsleeve.

“Sorry, Kate. Had to be done.” Without hesitation, he slipped his shirt out of his trousers, ripped off a strip of cloth and dabbed at her hand. “Hold this, press hard. It’ll stop the blood.”

Kate held back tears. She never cried. But her hand ached with fresh pain. “Okay.”

Although she tried, she couldn’t put enough pressure on the wound. Blood kept soaking through.

“Here,” Cole said, gently taking her hand. He sat next to her, his eyes focused solely on applying pressure to her injury.

Kate felt the trembling inside again. She didn’t think it was caused from her wound, but more than likely, from the boy tending to it. “You might have a scar here. Wound’s pretty deep.”

“It’s okay,” she said, fighting off the tender feelings stirring up her insides. But she couldn’t help noticing Cole’s dark lashes, or the deep sky-blue of his eyes, or the kind way he had of caring for her.

He was her only true friend. It didn’t matter to him that her mama ran a saloon or that Kate was a girl or that, sometimes, he got teased for playing with the saloon gal’s daughter. Cole Bradshaw was her friend.

“Feeling better?” he asked softly.

“Yeah,” she said, trying not to look too deeply into Cole’s eyes. “I hope we’ll always be friends, Cole.”

He glanced up at her, his gaze reassuring. “We will.”

“But how can you know?”

“I just do, Kate. I know.”

“Really, you promise?”

“I promise.” A light sparked in Cole’s eyes and he lifted up the rusty chunk of metal that had caused her damage. “I’ll show you.” He opened his palm and with a quick flick, he slashed his hand in the same spot where Kate had been cut. Only, his cut didn’t go as deep and just a few drops of blood oozed out.

He took up Kate’s hand and pressed his hand, wound to wound against hers. His hand was bigger and rougher, Kate noted as she splayed her fingers to his. The blood mingled and he smiled. “Friends forever,” he said seriously. Then he took the strip of his shirt and tenderly wrapped it tight around Kate’s hand.

Kate’s heart pounded in her ears. Cole had made her queasy again. She felt sick and, at the same time, a pleasant trembling traveled along her entire body.

She reached out to hold his hand in hers, inspecting his line of blood. On impulse, she lifted her skirt, tore off a length of her petticoat and wrapped the white lace over his wound. She applied pressure, just as he had and dared to glance into his eyes.

He swallowed, his Adam’s apple riding the length
of his throat and she thought she felt his hand tremble. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

“You’re welcome,” was her soft reply.

He raised up and stretched then bent to offer a hand to help her up. “I got chores to do and my brother Jeb don’t like me being late. I’d best get on home.”

“Me too,” she said, but when she stood, he didn’t drop her hand. Instead he pulled her slightly and pressed a kiss to her lips. His eyes met hers only for a moment, before he turned away.

“See you tomorrow, Kate.”

Kate stood frozen to the spot, speechless, staring after Cole. He’d kissed her! Her first kiss and it was from Cole. Minutes passed and hundreds of thoughts crowded her mind. She’d been surprised, stunned really, when she’d realized what he’d done. His lips were warm and moist and she’d never felt anything so wonderful in her whole life.

Goose bumps erupted on her arms and she rubbed at them, then she lifted a finger to her lips. They tingled still.

At that moment Mary Kathryn Malone knew what all the queasiness was about. She understood all the stirrings when Cole was near. She realized now, just what it all meant.

She was in love with Cole Bradshaw. And she would never, in her entire life, love any other boy.

BOOK: Charlene Sands
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