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Jillian Hart (10 page)

BOOK: Jillian Hart
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    "One-Eyed Tommy took a bullet to his arm. My deputies are getting ready to haul him over to the jail." Ben strode across the clinic's lobby. "The doc says Milton owes his life to you. With the way that wound was bleeding, if you hadn't taken care of him he would have died."
    "I have a little practice with gunshot wounds." Polly took Emily by the hand and followed Ben toward the door. "One-Eyed Tommy was the one who was in my room last night"
    "Looks that way." Ben tipped his hat down, brim against the sun, and braced his feet wide as he gazed out on the peaceful town.
    "And you tracked him all the way to me."
    "Yep." Ben didn't move; he just stood there, tall and powerful, as handsome as myth. The way he'd burst out of the forest still stymied her.
    "You rescued me," she breathed.
    "Well, you'd already rescued yourself."
    "But you found the man who threatened me." No one had ever done this much for her. "Tommy must have carried a grudge. I've seen it before. He hated losing to a woman at cards."
    "Looks that way. He wanted to get even."
    She laid her hand on Ben's arm. "That happens now and again. Usually I just move on to another town and that takes care of the problem."
    "There won't be any more moving on." Ben covered her hand with his. "You've made a promise to us."
    "And you've kept your promise to me."
    "I told you I would."
    "Yes, but it's the first time anyone has. At least, for me." She ducked so he couldn't see the tears in her eyes.
    "Then it's a good thing you answered my letter,
Pauline
. "Ben's voice sharpened.
    Polly realized Emily was listening, silent as could be. Her heart sank. The girl wanted Pauline Curtis, not a woman bounty hunter for a mother. "I know just what to do. Now that the mystery of who's after me is solved, let's go fishing."
    Emily's eyes lit, but she didn't say a word.
    "I think I could take the afternoon off. We could make a day of it."
    "Or more. Come on, let's go make up some bed rolls, grab our fishing gear and go." Polly wanted to get away. Everything here was so different, so new– these feelings, this life, the way Ben had protected her and how Emily looked up at her as if she were important.
    Goodness, she needed something familiar and she needed it now.
    "Fishing it is." Ben brushed a light kiss to her cheek. "But I have to warn you, I'm pretty good."
    "He is, Polly." Emily caught her hand, and they stepped off the boardwalk together.
    "This might come as a shock to both of you, but I'm an accomplished fisherman. Fisherwoman. Whatever."
    They laughed, clearly not believing her.
    Fine, let them doubt. Polly lifted her face to the sun, breathing in the sweet summer air and giving thanks that it was Tommy and not Dixon who'd been after her.
    Maybe she could put her past behind her, just like she'd always dreamed. But she had to talk to Tommy first.

    "You're not talking to him." Ben blocked the jailhouse door and glared down at her with the meanest look he could conjure up. "He had a gun trained on you. Milton swears to it. He could have killed you."
    "And I want to know why." She fisted her hands and despite the beautiful calico dress detailed in frills and lace, she looked tough enough to push him over. "I have the right. I have a new life to protect. Can't you understand?"
    More than he wanted to admit. "I'll question him for you."
    "No, I need to do this."
    Emily peeked out of the mercantile's front door, carrying her little basket full of purchases to take on their fishing trip. Worry marked her brow as she gazed at them from across the street.
    He waved at her to let her know everything was all right. "Emily doesn't like to see us arguing."
    "Fine, then, we'll stop. Just let me by."
    "You're one hard-headed woman, Polly. Fortunately for you, I'm starting to like hard-headed women." He eased back from the threshold. "But you're not going in alone."
    "Okay. I can live with that." She swept past him with a rustle of fine cotton, leaving a summery spice scent that set his teeth on edge.
    "That's quite a bride you've snared." Woody shouldered close, fingering through keys on the metal ring on the wall. "Milton said she got him away from danger. Funny how she would know how to do something like that."
    "She's a city girl. I've heard there's lots of violence in the bigger cities." He didn't like deceiving his best deputy, but that was the way of things when you had a secret to keep hidden. "Thanks for all your hard work. We arrived in time to arrest Tommy."
    "That was mostly your doing, and you know it." Woody found the key and crossed the room to unlock the cell door. "Tommy's still a little groggy from the laudanum, but he's harmless, for now."
    Ben couldn't help laying his hand on Polly's shoulder. He liked the feel of her. He liked being close to her. He let her lead the way into the cell. It was hard holding back, but Polly was right. She had the right to face this man and ask why he'd threatened her.
    "
You
." Tommy spat from the cot where he was stretched out, his arm laid out in a splint. "You did this to me."
    "I didn't shoot you." Polly didn't look afraid; she looked confident. Ever since that moment on the road when he'd spotted her in the buggy, he'd seen this side of Polly–and he liked it.
    Ben stepped close, so Tommy would know he'd better be on his best behavior. The gambler glanced up at him, and his scowl deepened.
    "You stole from me, woman. You made me a mockery in front of my friends. I want my money back."
    "Then why didn't you just walk up to me and say so?" Polly tossed her head. "We could have discussed it."
    "I thought I'd pay a visit to you in your room–"
    "You thought I was asleep. Goodness, you were going to make me pay for beating you fair and square in a poker game. Of all the low-down–"
    "You ain't no society lady from back East."
    "What makes you say that?" Ben gestured to his holstered gun.
    Tommy paled, but the belligerent tilt to his chin remained. "Try to scare me all you want, Sheriff, but this cheatin' saddle tramp is pulling the wool over your eyes. She ain't no city girl."
    "You're mistaken." Ben growled the words. "This is Pauline Curtis from St. Louis. I know her father. She's come to marry me and care for Emily. Anyone who says differently might do a lot of time in the territorial prison."
    Ben caught her by the elbow. "You have your answers, Polly. Let's go."
    She followed him out of the cell. She didn't say anything until they were outside and in the warmth of the sun. She swiped at the tendrils loose from her braids. When she looked up at him, her eyes were filled with heartbreak.
    "At least he doesn't know who I really am. That's what matters." She sighed and gazed off at the horizon. "About this time I'm always moving on."
    "You like wandering?"
    "I've never done anything else." She swallowed. "If Tommy were a smarter man, he might have figured out the truth. I know it would ruin your reputation as a lawman. No one would trust a sheriff married to Roy Brown's daughter."
    "I have to admit it troubles me. I don't want to lie to you." He knuckled back his hat. "The last thing I need is to be married to a notorious outlaw's daughter."
    "Then you want me to leave." Her throat worked, and she stared hard at the ground. "I understand. I've caused enough trouble–"
    "I thought we had an agreement. A permanent one."
    Her head jerked up. "I've caused you nothing but trouble. Emily could have been hurt today."
    "She wasn't, because you protected her, plain and simple. Now Tommy is headed to prison, and the three of us are going Fishing, just like we promised Emily."
    He hauled her into his arms, and she came easily. She felt sweet and amazing folded against his chest.
    He pressed a kiss to her hair. She wasn't the woman he'd planned on, but she was the one he wanted. No one could replace Neesa, and he wasn't going to even try.
    But it would be nice to have a woman in his bed.

    Bart Dixon tossed down another shot of whiskey and cursed those fool idiots who'd kept him waiting too damn long. How hard was it to ride twenty miles? Time was a-wastin', even if Polly Brown was probably warmin' up the sheriffs sheets by now. Maybe she'd already lit out of town.
    No, when a woman was pulling a scam, she took her time. She'd still be in that little one-horse stage stop when he got there. Trouble was, Polly was one of the best shots in Montana Territory. He could take her if she was alone, but not if that sheriff was protecting her.
    Dixon needed help. He needed his men.
    Those Browns had double-crossed him for the last time. They were gonna pay, starting with that wildcat Polly. He ordered another shot and tossed that one down, too. The whiskey burned in his guts and matched the fire of his anger.
    He would enjoy making pretty Miss Brown tell him where her brother hid all the gold. She might not enjoy it, but he would.
    No one bested Bart Dixon. Especially not a woman.
    He heard a commotion outside and knew his men had arrived.

Chapter Ten

    Knee-deep in the North Fork of the Indian Trails River, Polly jerked her wooden pole to set the hook. "I've got another bite."
    "You're sure a good fisher." Emily set down her pole and curled up on a boulder to watch.
    "You aren't keeping the line taut enough." Ben's whiskey-rough voice tickled her ear.
    "Says the man whose line broke and whose only catch got away." She put a steady pressure on the line and pulled it in. "I know what I'm doing. I'm about to bring in my third trout"
    "You're going to lose him if you don't tighten up that line."
    Polly shook her head, not at all worried. "Emily, is your father always this way?"
    "Pretty much. Sometimes he gets really bossy."
    "Hey!" Ben seemed offended, but he laughed.
    Polly inched in the line. "Don't worry, Emily. I think I can cure this ailment of your father's."
    "You can?"
    "Sure. I'm about to take his pride down a notch." She felt the trout try to make another escape, but he was tiring. She inched out the line.
    Polly watched Ben grit his teeth and fist his hands. It was really bothering him that she wasn't listening to his advice. "Do you want to bring it in?"
    "No." He sat down on the rock next to Emily. "Go ahead, show me how wrong I am. I bet that fish gets away from you."
    "You're on." Polly waited, then began pulling in the line. "I know it's hard to believe, but I'm better than you in some things, MacLain. Your inflated male pride is just going to have to accept it."
    "At least I can cook."
    "Oh, you think you're funny." The line in her hand strummed and vibrated as the trout fought. She dragged him in a few yards. The white-capped water swirled around the length of her line.
    "You can't cook real well, Pa."
    "Well, I'm better than Polly."
    "Don't worry, Emily." Polly eased the fish closer to the bank. "Your father is about to lose his bet."
    The whisper of the water was broken only by the trout's last splash. A hawk called overhead as it completed a lazy circle. Leaves sang with the wind, and it was so peaceful, Polly could taste it
    "Victory." She knelt down and let the cool water run over her hands. She lifted the flopping fish by the gills, broke the line, and set the trout in a bucket. "The loser has to clean the catch."
    "Wait one minute. I don't remember agreeing–"
    "I remember it very clearly."
    Grumbling for effect, he grabbed the bucket and fished in his pocket for a knife. "You want to help me, Emily?"
    She wrinkled her nose. "No way."
    "Emily's going to help
me
." Polly held out her hand. "Come on. We need to gather up some firewood."
    "You aren't going to make a fire, are you?" Emily's brow crinkled.
    Polly's defenses went up. Goodness, they thought she was incompetent. "I'm a skilled campfire maker, among other things."
    "You sure are skilled at fishing, for a city girl." Ben's eyes teased as he brushed past her. "Do I need to go out with you so you don't get lost?"
    "No, I may be just a little city-bred woman, but I've got an excellent sense of direction." She couldn't help joking, either. "Do you need me to show you how to clean those fish? You don't look like you know what you're doing. You were wrong about how to catch fish."
    "I thought proper women were supposed to be quiet and demure." Ben cocked one brow.
    "Well, I'm not
that
proper." She left him chuckling, perched at the rushing river's edge.
    She liked Ben MacLain.
    "Polly, you fish real good." Emily dropped to her knees to pick a spray of wild asters and daisies. "Did you learn that just for me, too?"
    "I'd do anything for you, dear heart." Polly's chest tightened when Emily caught her hand.
    "These are for you."
    Polly stared down at the bouquet. "No one's ever given me flowers before."
    "Is that so?" Ben's voice sounded behind her. "A pretty lady like you must have had more beaus than she could count."
    He knelt in the shade beside his daughter and began scooping up a collection of asters, wild roses and daisies. The flowers were small and delicate against his strong, sun-bronzed hand. Her heart beat faster, watching him.
    When he stood, he offered her the bouquet. "To the victor of the fishing contest."
    She blinked, but he still stood before her, as handsome as sin with tender admiration alight in his eyes. It was the man and not the flowers that left her weak. "You're a gracious loser, MacLain."
    "You're one, too. I'll get the campfire started and you–"
    "No. I'll do it." She gathered the flowers to her and breathed deep. The sharp scent of daisies, the breezy scent of asters and the gentle wildness of the roses filled her senses. "I know the best way to cook fish."
    "Urn, Polly." Emily leaned on one hip, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "I don't think you oughta try cooking."
    Ben pressed a kiss to Polly's cheek. "It's a man's job to cook over the campfire."
    "You don't think I can do it."
    "No, that's not it at all. I want you to sit back and enjoy the supper I'm going to fix."
    "You
don't
trust me. You think I'll burn the food to a crisp." Doubting Thomases, both of them.
    "Let's face it. Your cooking efforts so far have been miserable failures."
    "It's that darn stove, is all." Really. She'd been cooking over a campfire since she was six years old. "Go clean those fish and stop worrying. I won't set fire to the entire forest."
    "Sure. I'm just going to get a few buckets of water ready, just in case."

BOOK: Jillian Hart
8.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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