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Authors: The Law Kate Malone

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BOOK: Charlene Sands
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“Did you ever find the men who killed them?”

Cole nodded. “Turns out they were three brothers named Sloan. Jeb killed the one. We caught up with another a few days later. He was tried and convicted. We never found the third man, but I swear one day, I’ll find him.” A cold look stole over Cole’s face then, making him appear older and more the man that he was now than the boy she’d once known so well.

Shivers ran down her spine. Cole sounded so determined. Suddenly the dangers of his vocation became clear. He was the sheriff, the person responsible for the safety of the town.

Violence hadn’t hit Crystal Creek in such a way since the gold strike. Back then, she remembered many a story her mama told of people willing to stab their own kin in the back for an ounce of gold.

“It’s been peaceable here ever since, Kate. Folks like it that way.”

Kate ignored Cole’s attempt at persuasion. “I’m truly sorry to hear about Jeb and his wife, Cole. Seems that we both lost someone close.”

“That we did,” he admitted, searching her eyes carefully.

He made her nervous with the way he was watching her. Kate turned away and walked about the room. Frilly yellow window curtains filtered the sunlight, embroidered pillows sat snugly on the sofa and a fine Irish lace tablecloth draping the dining table were among many feminine touches about the room. “How do you manage with the child?” she asked cautiously.

“I have a housekeeper. She comes during the day and watches Meggie for me.”

Kate nodded, hating the relief she felt that Cole hadn’t married. “Kate?”

She whirled around to face him. “I’m here to see a copy of the ordinance, Cole. You do have one, don’t you?”

He was ready to answer when a soft knock at the door brought his head around. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”

A few seconds later, Kate came face-to-face with Patricia Wesley. She hadn’t laid eyes on the banker’s daughter in years, but the girl was now a lovely young woman. Dressed elegantly in a fine silk ivory gown, and with her dark hair pulled up into the latest fashionable style, Patricia Wesley spoke of refinement and taste. “Hello, Mary Kathryn. I’d heard you were back in town.”

Kate peered at Patricia, then at Cole, who was steps behind her. Patricia sidled up closer to Cole once he’d finally made his way into the parlor. “Patricia returned to Crystal Creek a few months ago,” Cole explained, his expression unreadable.

“Yes, I spent several years in Boston, visiting relatives and attending finishing school.” She glanced at Cole then. “But I’m back to stay now. As a matter of fact, that’s why I’m here, Cole.” She turned her back on Kate and put a possessive hand on Cole’s arm. “Father and I enjoyed having you to dinner so much last week, he’s offering another invitation for tomorrow evening. He really enjoys your Meggie. He says she reminds him of me, when I was her age.”

“Well,” Kate said quickly, “I’d better let you two make your plans.” Kate tightened her hold on her handbag and moved toward the front door.

“It was nice seeing you again,” Patricia offered a bit too sweetly for Kate’s liking. Patricia had always been one to turn her nose up at Kate in school.

“Goodbye, Patricia.” Kate stopped right in front of Cole and looked straight into his eyes. “I’d like a copy of that ordinance, Cole.”

Cole’s expression changed, a hint of anger marring his handsome face. He followed her to the front door, a frown pulling at his lips. “You’ll have it tomorrow.”

“I’ll be working on the Browns’ place in the morning. Will you bring it by there?”

Cole nodded and opened the door for her. “Kate, listen,” he began, but Kate dashed down the steps before he could finish his sentence.

“Tomorrow, Cole.”

Chapter Three

M
rs. Gregory set a plate of eggs and bacon out for Cole and poured him a cup of coffee. Meggie sat at the kitchen table facing him, wearing a loose-fitting flowered nightdress, stabbing at her oatmeal with a frown.

“Eat up, little missy,” Mrs. Gregory encouraged, bringing the bowl a bit closer to entice his daughter. Meggie was having no part of it.

“I don’t like oatmeal,” she announced solemnly.

“Meggie, take a bite or two—for Daddy?”

Cole witnessed the stark determination in his daughter’s eyes. She might have Jeb’s late wife’s blond hair and coloring, but she certainly didn’t have her accommodating qualities. That could only mean she had a streak of the infamous, stubborn Bradshaw nature.

“One bite, Daddy,” she said, lifting the spoon up to her mouth. After that taste, she shoved the bowl away, causing Mrs. Gregory to pucker her wrinkled
mouth. He knew Mrs. Gregory didn’t rightly approve of Cole’s indulgent ways with Meggie, but Cole felt somewhat justified. The child had lost a great deal already in her young years of life. She’d lost both of her parents and was subjected to being raised by a man who knew little about children. Cole knew no better way to make it up to the child than to let her have her way once in a while. Right or wrong, it was the way of it.

“Would you like me to bring the little miss down to the jail for lunch today, Sheriff?”

Often Cole enjoyed spending his afternoon meal with Meggie, but today he had too many things to do. “Not today, Mrs. Gregory.” He turned his attention to Meggie, who was staring up at him with wide, expectant eyes. “But Daddy will come home extra early this afternoon and we’ll do something fun.”

Meggie’s face beamed with delight and Cole was grateful his daughter hadn’t been overly disappointed about not visiting him at the jailhouse. It was one of her favorite things to do. “Can we go to the creek?”

“That’s a fine idea, darlin’.”

Meggie jumped down from the ladder-back chair and ran over to him, lifting up her arms. Cole’s heart swelled with pride and love and he reached down to deposit the child onto his lap. She hugged him tight around the neck. “I love you, Daddy.”

He kissed her forehead, wiping wayward locks of wheat-gold hair off her face. She was born of Jeb’s
blood, but she was his daughter now, through and through. “Love you too, Megpie.”

Meggie chuckled.

Cole set her down and swatted her bottom. “Off you go, now. Get dressed. Daddy’s got to get on to the jail now.”

Cole watched as his daughter left the kitchen, then stared up at Mrs. Gregory, who was tapping her foot at him. “That child has got to learn to mind. I love her dearly but I can see the writing on the wall, I can. She’s not going to mind you or me at all when she gets a bit older.”

Cole ran a hand down his face. He knew Mrs. Gregory was right, so he gave her the same answer he always did. “I’ll work on it, Mrs. Gregory.” With her staring down at him the way she often did, Cole felt as if he was back in Miss Ashmore’s classroom, getting a stern talking-to. It didn’t matter that he was sheriff of this town, that he’d become respected in the community or that he was raising a child now, her admonishments always managed to put him in his place.

“That child needs a mother,” she muttered, removing the plates from the kitchen table and bringing them to the sink.

Kate’s image pushed into his thoughts. She’d been all he could think about ever since he first caught sight of her walking down the streets of Crystal Creek. But Kate a mother for Meggie?

Cole shook his head. Doubts crept into his mind as
to whether the untamed, free-spirited Kate would make a good wife and mother. With being hell-bent on opening the saloon, what kind of mother would she make? Cole had promised Jeb he’d do right by his daughter. If Cole ever decided to marry, it’d have to be with someone who could teach Meggie proper. Someone like Patricia.

Why hadn’t Patricia’s image popped into his head at the thought of marriage? Why hadn’t Cole taken her subtle hints and pledged himself to her? She’d be good for Meggie. She could teach her womanly skills, all the things a young, refined girl should know. Patricia would make a suitable wife and a good mother. Cole wanted a real family. He wanted a wife to come home to after a day of work and he wanted a house filled with children. He wanted his heart to thump like mad when his wife walked into his arms at night. But it wasn’t Patricia entering his thoughts. It was Kate.

At one point, she was all Cole had wanted in a girl, but he hadn’t realized it until it was too late. She’d already left Crystal Creek by the time he’d gotten it into his thick skull how much Kate meant to him.

But she was a woman now, and he was the sheriff—a man who should set a shining example for the townsfolk. People looked up to Cole. What kind of match could they make with him being the sheriff and her stirring up trouble, trying her damnedest to open a saloon?

Cole shook his head. There was no place in his life for Kate Malone. As much as he hated to admit
that…after everything they shared in the past, Cole knew he was right in his thinking. He’d obtained a copy of the town ordinance she’d requested, promising to bring it over to her today. Maybe then, after reading the ordinance, she’d realize the futility in trying to open up the Silver Saddle again. And if she decided to take it to a vote, the town council would unanimously turn her down.

Cole would hate to see it come to that. Knowing Kate and the way the town had always treated her and her mother, Cole didn’t want her to experience the unpleasant recollection again. If only she’d give up on the notion and either gain employment somewhere else in this town, or move on.

A sharp bolt of pain thundered in his chest at the prospect of her leaving. Yet, having her stay could only cause him a load of trouble.

Cole donned his tan vest, holstered his gun and slammed out the front door, heading straight for his office. Kate was expecting him this morning to give her a copy of the ordinance. He might as well get it over with.

A splash of water hit Kate’s face. She swiped it away quickly, dipping the cloth into the bucket again and rinsing away another layer of dust from the kitchen counter. The cabinets were clean now, as were the table and cookstove. She’d swept the floor and brought in several rugs she’d bought at the general store to disperse around the house.

All in all, the house she’d let from the Browns was shaping up nicely. With a quick glance around the kitchen, Kate realized her work in here was done. She untied her apron, and with a clean burlap towel, she dabbed at the moisture on her brow.

Kate was pinning up strands of hair that had come loose from her bun, when she heard a knock at the door.

Cole.

It had to be him. She’d been expecting him all morning.

“I hope you have the town ordinance with you,” she said quietly to herself as she headed for the front door, straightening her work dress. She knew she must look a mess, but there was really no help for it. Besides, her days of trying to impress Cole Bradshaw were long over.

When she swung open the door, she was surprised to find a young woman standing there wearing a tentative smile and holding a basket of baked goods. “H-hello,” the woman said shyly.

Kate searched her mind. This woman looked vaguely familiar. “Good morning.”

“Do you…remember me?”

Once again, Kate tried to recall the face as glimpses of a young girl flashed in her mind. “Are you… Nora? Nora Eldridge?”

The sandy-haired woman smiled, lighting up her entire face. “I’m Nora Cable now, but yes, it’s me.”

Nora Eldridge had been a shy girl who stammered
in class. She’d been the butt of many cruel jokes and as much an outcast in school as the saloon owner’s daughter. Kate had always felt a great kinship with her and had never, ever, participated in the mean-spirited antics of her schoolmates.

And Kate had never seen the girl smile. “Did you say Cable?”

Still smiling, Nora nodded. “I married Abe Cable one month ago.”

“Congratulations. I believe I met Jethro the other day. He must be your brother-in-law.”

“Yes, Jethro’s my relation now. That’s how I knew you were in town. He came home sort of…well, you did make quite an impression on my brother-in-law.” Nora blushed.

Kate chuckled. “Would you like to come in?”

“I don’t want to intrude. I brought a basket of molasses cookies and corn muffins to welcome you back.”

Kate took the proffered basket. “That was very sweet of you. Please, you’re not intruding—come inside. I’ve been working since dawn and could use a bit of company. The house is beginning to take shape. I understand no one’s lived in it for several years.”

Nora entered the house and Kate guided her to the kitchen. “I hope you don’t mind— I haven’t cleaned up the parlor yet—but the kitchen is spotless. Would you care to have a seat?”

“Yes, thank you,” Nora said, and Kate realized
that for the most part, her old schoolmate had lost her stutter.

Kate took out two plates from her newly polished cabinets and set them down. “I’m sorry I don’t have coffee to offer you, but would you care for some lemonade?”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

“So, you’re married now. I understand that the Cables bought up Southby’s Livery. Is that when you met your husband?”

Kate poured the lemonade, then set out some of Nora’s cookies and muffins on a platter.

“Yes,” she said with a joyful lilt in her tone. “I went with my father to rent a buggy just days after they had come to town. When I saw Abe for the first time, my heart kind of flipped over.” Her eyes grew wide as she went on to explain, “I’d never felt anything so powerful in my life.”

Kate knew something of powerful yearnings. At one time, she’d felt the very same way about Cole. But that all too potent jolt, she feared, came only once in a girl’s lifetime.

And in a sense that was all right with Kate, because in the end, if it didn’t work out, the pain the disappointment caused was brutally unbearable. Kate couldn’t go through that sort of anguish again.

“And Abe surely felt the same way about you,” Kate offered gaily, fending off her own personal heartache.

“He said he did. And it didn’t matter to him that
I stuttered. He said it sort of made him like me even more.”

“You…stuttered then?”

“Yes, for all these years I have, but after being with Abe, well, I guess I just needed the right man to help me through it.”

“I’m happy for you and so glad you came to visit me.”

“You,” she began, then paused. “You and Cole were the only ones who never…”

“I know. This town could use a dose of compassion. But you’re happy now, and that’s all that matters.”

“What about you, Kate?”

“Me?” She sipped her lemonade, not knowing how to fill in the past six years of her life.

“What do you plan on doing?”

“I hope to reopen the Silver Saddle, Nora.”

“Oh. I thought it was because of Sheriff Bradshaw. I remember the two of you in school, the way you looked at each other.”

In a wistful tone, Kate recalled, “He’d spend his days trying to best me at everything.”

Nora smiled and shook her head. “No, I meant when you both were a bit older. I’ve never seen two people so suited for each other. I used to think if only I could find someone to put a glow in my eyes, the way Cole did for you.”

Kate squeezed her eyes shut briefly, blocking out the past. “It’s not that way with us, Nora.”

“Oh, then I’m sorry for the presumption. I came here to welcome you back to Crystal Creek. I do hope you’ll be successful with the saloon.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I do. There’s no shame in running a saloon. I never understood why folks treated your mama so mean. She was a good woman. And so are you.”

Kate reached for Nora’s hand. “Thank you,” she said, touched by Nora’s sincere declaration. “It means a lot.”

“You’re welcome. Abe and I and…of course, Jethro, we’d be pleased to have you over for supper sometime. Would you come?”

“I’d love to come. Thank you.”

After eating muffins and cookies then finishing their lemonade, Kate saw Nora out, thanking her again for her kindness.

Kate resumed her work, tackling the large job in the parlor now, but this time with renewed eagerness. And she hoped that today, she’d made her first genuine female friend in Crystal Creek.

Cole stood outside Kate’s door, ready to knock, when an all-too-familiar shriek had him bursting forth. Within the span of a second, Cole noted Kate on a stepladder, reaching up toward a candelabra, her arms flailing wildly as she lost her footing. He dashed to her side and caught her in his arms, just in time, as the stepladder fell away. “Damn it, Kate.”

“Cole?”

She appeared dazed, looking up at him, confusion marring her expression.

He tightened his hold, the feel of her too good to abandon right now. “You shouldn’t be up on that thing,” he admonished, but there was no real effort in his command. He was too taken by the feel of her bosom crushing into his chest, the scent of her, not overwhelmingly sweet or flowery, just Kate, and the look of vulnerability in her eyes.

It was a look she’d only allowed at unguarded moments in her life. Right now, it was enough to make Cole lose all common sense. He pressed her closer, his gaze lowering to her lips. They were rosy pink and moist. Her body flowed into his. She felt so damn good in his arms. Yet, he wanted more. He wanted to kiss her for real this time, the way a man kisses a woman. As a young boy he’d never had the courage to kiss Kate that way.

“Kate,” he said softly, then brought his lips down on hers. The sweet, giving way she returned his kiss wobbled his knees. Gently he pressed her mouth open and heard her tiny moan. He muffled that moan with a tender thrust of his tongue. She met his thrust with one of her own, bold yet innocent in the way she touched him. Cole drove his hands into soft clouds of coppery curls as pins fell away. He cupped her head gently and soft silky waves flowed over his hands. A whimper escaped Kate’s throat then and Cole deepened their kiss. He had never known such powerful longings before. His heart thumped like mad. Lower
regions tightened with fierce need and he pulled her closer into his arms. As he slanted his mouth over her lips again, he felt resistance. Something stopped him.

BOOK: Charlene Sands
10.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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