Sean Donovan (The Californians, Book 3) (4 page)

BOOK: Sean Donovan (The Californians, Book 3)
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Sal was thrilled with everything but the damage. Buck
could see it was a losing battle this time: Sean would
have to go. What neither Buck nor Sal understood at first
was that it would have happened anyway. The first man
Sean hit had been the sheriff's brother. Within the space
of 12 hours, Sean was on yet another stage headed out of
town.

 
four

Sean had not liked the look of the livery owner from
the day they met, but he'd given him work and at the
time that was all he wanted. The repairs at Buck's had
nearly cleaned him out, and Sean knew that his money
was not going to last long.

Sean came to Tulare thinking to find more work in a
bar, but the owner of the place he tried had not been
interested. It went against Sean's grain to be doing manual labor once again, but the future need for food and
lodging had been at the back of his mind, and he had
relented. That had been over two weeks ago, and Sean
had yet to see a dime of his earnings.

In truth Sean enjoyed livery work, but he was still
angry over the way he'd been treated at Buck's, and
wouldn't have admitted this to anyone. Right now he
was down to his last few coins and decided that today he
would collect his pay. He dropped what he was doing, a
sudden premonition coming on him, and went right
then to seek out his boss.

"Get back to work." The obese, bald man spoke from a
chair by the door.

When do I get paid?"

"You haven't worked here long enough."

"I've been here two weeks," Sean's voice dropped to a
dangerous note, but the fat man took no notice.

The big man laughed. "Come back when it's been a
month."

"I'll take my pay now."

The man only laughed harder, now looking at Sean's
flushed face. "You're a fool," the man chortled. "It
wouldn't matter when you came, I don't have the money.
The wife takes every dime." The man found this highly
amusing and laughed as though he hadn't a care in the
world.

Sean was furious. He started toward the man, intending to beat the money out of him, but a gun appeared in
the livery owner's hand. Sean kept coming. It took a moment for the fat man to see that this time his scheme was
not going to work. He scrambled to his feet, fear making
him clumsy. Sean had the man backed into a stall when a
voice interrupted him.

"Is there some problem?"

The voice stopped Sean's movement, but he didn't
turn to see the man standing just inside the door.

"We're closed," Sean barked over one shoulder.

"Put the gun down, Pinky." The voice spoke again,
not at all intimidated by Sean's anger. "Have you been
cheating someone again, Pinky?"

This time the voice captured Sean's attention. He
turned to find a small man dressed in a well-cut suit
regarding him with an almost gentle smile. At the same
time, the fat man, now behind Sean, began to babble.

"It's not my fault, Hartley. You know what she's like. I
should send this guy over there and let him beat it out of
her." The man sounded on the verge of tears, and Sean's
face showed his disgust.

Without a word to either man, he strode to the back,
picked up his jacket, and went out the door. In his anger it took some minutes for him to realize that someone was
calling his name. He stopped and turned. Once again
the small man, Hartley had been his name, was smiling
at him and approaching with bold confidence.

"I'm sorry about what happened in there. Pinky is a
disreputable worm, but compared to his wife he's an
angel."

Sean had stayed silent through this recital, and Hartley spoke as though he'd suddenly remembered his
manners.

"Where is my head," he said when he saw no answering smile in the younger man's eyes. "I'm Hartley. Pinky
told me your name is Sean."

Sean stared for a moment at the offered hand but
finally gave his own. "Sean Donovan."

He turned in the direction of his lodgings, and Hartley, with practiced ease, fell in step beside him.

"I'm not sure what your plans are for the rest of the
day, Sean, but if you haven't a previous engagement, I'd
like to take you to supper."

"Why?" Sean answered, stopping again and scrutinizing Hartley with eyes hard as flint.

"I have a business proposition for you."

Sean weighed this carefully, trying to gauge the man's
honesty. His first thought was that the man was not the
least bit honest, but there was something fascinating
about him, and in a moment Sean found himself agreeing.

In an hour he had cleaned up and was walking through
the door of the best hotel in town. Sean and Hartley were
shown to a table as though they were royalty, and after
Hartley ordered for them, he turned to Sean, again
sporting that gentle smile.

"I will admit to you straight away, Sean, that I sought
you out because of your size. You see, I'm in need of a
personal bodyguard, and I think you might be the man."

Sean was quiet, and Hartley was relieved that he
didn't ask what became of his last one. Hartley knew it
would do nothing for his position if he had to admit that
his last "bodyguard" died while they'd been robbing a
bank. He was quite certain that Sean would eventually
join him in his robberies, but now was not the time to go
into that.

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm in finance," Hartley told him smoothly. "There
are times when I'm required to carry large sums of cash.
I'm certain that having a man of presence with me will
deter even the most persistent pursuers. Tell me, Sean,
can you fire a gun?"

"No." Sean hated to answer because he suddenly
wanted this job. This man, the way he was dressed, and
the way he carried himself reminded him of Buck's, and
Sean missed the class and excitement of that place.

"Well, no matter," Hartley assured him. "I can teach
you.

Long before the meal ended, Sean's head was swimming with all that Hartley promised. For the last several
weeks it seemed his luck had been bad, but now as he
crossed the street with Hartley to a fancy bar, not as a
worker but as a patron, Sean believed his luck had finally
turned around.

A sudden noise outside the door had Sean on his feet.
Listening intently, he reached silently for his gun and
made his way out to the living room. Not having bothered to dress, he eased the door open to the hall, but found the passageway outside their suite of rooms empty.
He closed the door again, and went back to bed, telling
himself he was taking his job too seriously.

It had been six weeks now since he had met Hartley,
and never had he lived in such luxury. A niggling irritation that he wasn't doing much to earn his keep popped
up in the back of his mind, but Sean effectively pushed it
away. He now knew what Hartley was, and had to force
himself to push that thought away as well.

He had always hated stealing, and even though he'd
been well on the way to getting drunk, Hartley's news
about being a professional thief had come very close to
sobering him. That had been just two weeks ago, and
Sean could see now how very carefully he'd been
maneuvered. At first he'd been furious, but Hartley was
as smooth as they came, and Sean had never lived as he
was living now.

Meals were delivered, beds were made, his clothes,
finer than those at Buck's, were always kept washed and
pressed-he had everything but the red carpet. It didn't
even seem to matter that Sean was a bodyguard and not
the man with the money; he was treated like a king.

The job had very few drawbacks-none at all, if Sean
could keep his conscience silenced. It wasn't the easiest
thing when Hartley would get roaring drunk and pass
out, leaving Sean to put him to bed. And it was harder
still when Hartley brought girls up to his room, only to
have them wait until Hartley was asleep before they paid
a visit to Sean. He never let them stay, but there were
times when he wondered why.

Sean convinced himself that on the whole, it was a
good life. It even included travel. Hartley had informed
him just the day before that they would be leaving Tulare
today. He hadn't said exactly where they were going,
and almost before Sean could question him, he found himself on horseback, following his employer out of
town.

The weeks to follow were spent in a dusty haze. Gone
were the fancy hotel rooms and room service.

When- Sean finally questioned his employer, Hartley
responded, "It's time to go back to work."

Sean wondered at his own stupidity in thinking the
luxury would last forever. They could only live high until
the money ran out, and then Hartley was back at his
thieving game. He didn't care from whom he stole, just
so long as the victim was outside of Tulare. They rode
into some towns in the dead of night, and Sean knew if
he'd been questioned he would not have been able to tell
anyone where he had been.

He also realized with sobering clarity that even though
he was not a part of the robberies, his presence made
him an accessory. There were times when he asked himself why he stayed, especially when he stood waiting in
dark alleys and back streets for Hartley to appear. It
never took more than a few minutes to remind himself,
however, that he had been the one to walk away from
Santa Rosa and his family. With that in mind and convincing himself they wanted nothing more to do with
him, he knew he had no place else to go. He stayed on.

Weeks passed. Thanksgiving came and went and still
they were on the road. Christmas passed, as did Sean's
nineteenth birthday, with little or no notice. Finally, after
an especially profitable night, Hartley stole some supplies, loaded them on Sean's horse, sat a comely barmaid
he'd been taken with onto his own mount and headed
them up into the foothills outside of Visalia.

When Sean woke, fully dressed and in an unmade
bed, he realized how long and exhausting their midnight ride had been. Once again he had no idea where he
was. He emerged from his bedroom to a spacious, if rundown cabin. The view out the dirty windows was
glorious, and not bothering to close the door behind
him, Sean went outside. Beauty notwithstanding, Sean
was already feeling restless, and was glad when Hartley
joined him.

"You're up early," the smaller man commented as he
rolled and lit a cigarette.

"What are we doing here?" Sean came directly to the
point.

"It is necessary, Sean, to lay low for a time. I have a few
more jobs to do, but they will take some planning."

"I don't care to be stuck up here with nothing to do."

"But there is plenty to do. There is money to count,
food to eat, beds to sleep in, and of course, there is
Anita."

Sean gave him a blank look. "No, thank you."

Hartley had been looking forward to a rest, but he
could see that Sean was not going to stand for it. He was
a little surprised to find that he liked Sean enough to
alter his plans. Sean was one of the best men he'd ever
ridden with; his sharp eyes and usually calm ways were
a valuable asset. There was much about him that
remained a mystery, but Hartley was sure they'd be
together for a long time, plenty of time to someday learn
it all.

Hartley returned to the cabin without a word, and told
Anita to start breakfast. Sean, telling himself to relax, let
the matter drop for the time. Just 24 hours later he was
calling himself a fool for doing so. He woke and found
that Hartley had ridden out, leaving him and Anita
alone.

 
five
BOOK: Sean Donovan (The Californians, Book 3)
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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