Authors: Connie Mason
“Waitin’ for me like a good squaw, darlin’?” Colt drawled.
“Why did you bother coming at all if you can’t tolerate me?” Sam shot back.
“It was expected of me,” Colt rejoined lamely. “What kind of man could neglect a beautiful bride on her wedding night?”
“The kind that never wanted a bride in the first place.”
“Just so you understand that I don’t intend to honor your heathenish rites,” Colt reminded her sternly. “You’re my squaw, nothin’ more.”
“It’s no more than I expected from a blackhearted skunk.”
Above the blanket Sam had pulled up to shield her nude form, her shoulders gleamed like antique gold in the dim glow of the fire burning in the center of the tipi. Colt’s eyes glinted wickedly as he dropped to his knees and stripped away the thin covering with one fluid motion, tossing it aside.
“Damnation, you’re beautiful!” he muttered. “Maybe a saint could resist such outlandish temptation, darlin’, but as you well know, I’m no saint….”
© 1989, 2011 Connie Mason. All rights reserved.
t’s comin’, Sam. Listen. Do you hear the poundin’ hooves?”
“Pull your hat down over your eyes, Will, do you want to be recognized?”
“Are you certain we’re doin’ the right thing, Sam?”
“Hellfire and damnation, we’ve gone over this before, Will. Now hush up and draw your kerchief up over your nose.”
Adjusting the twin Colt revolvers that rested in a snug leather holster girdling slim hips, Sam jammed the disreputable felt hat over shiny black hair until nothing but piercing violet eyes peered above a red and blue kerchief.
Will followed Sam’s example, beads of nervous sweat dotting his forehead. “What if the money ain’t on the stage?” he asked uneasily.
“It will be,” Sam replied. “Just remember to stay in the background and follow orders. I’ve already told you we’ll take only what we need. No more, no less. Keep your guns on the driver and guard; they’re the most dangerous and likely to cause trouble. Let me do the talking and under no circumstances are you to fire your weapon anywhere but in the air.”
“But, Sam,” Will protested, “what if they—”
“You heard me, Will, no killing,” Sam emphasized. “Get ready, the stage is rounding the bend.”
Sam had spent hours finding the perfect spot to hold up the stage, finally settling on a deserted stretch of road ten miles south of Karlsburg where the road wound between wooded hills before curving down into the valley. The flat, arid plain farther south offered little in the way of concealment, but this spot provided ample protection.
Behind a stand of tall oaks the two youthful bandits waited for the stagecoach from San Antonio carrying an undisclosed amount of gold destined for Calvin Logan’s bank in Karlsburg.
A streak of lightning flashed across the threatening sky, and Sam cursed the luck that brought a storm on this day of all days. But perhaps, Sam reflected, the rain would work to their advantage, turning the road into a quagmire of mud and making tracking impossible. A clap of thunder rolling in from the west matched the thunder of horses hooves pounding on the dirt-packed, rutted road.
Suddenly it was time. Digging booted heels into the flanks of their mounts, Will and Sam rode fearlessly onto the road, firing warning shots in the air just as the stage came hurtling around the bend.
“Christ! That sounds like gunfire!”
Steve “Colt” Colter uncoiled his long buckskin-clad legs and leaped to the window of the rattling stagecoach. Seated across from him, a heavily pregnant woman clapped a fluttering hand to her chest and would have swooned if her husband, a shopowner returning from a visit to San Antonio, hadn’t chided, “Pull yourself together, Annie, it’s only thunder.”
“Thunder, hell,” muttered Colt, palming one of the Colts riding low on his hips. He’d heard pistol shots far too often not to recognize them now. The sounds even disturbed his sleep sometimes and invaded his dreams. No matter where he went they pursued him. It had been that way ever since he ran off at seventeen to help General Zachary Taylor’s army defeat the Mexicans in the war of 1846.
Another volley of shots set off a new violent reaction in the pregnant Annie, who began wailing at the top of her lungs and flailing her arms in the air.
“Christ! Keep her quiet, will you?” Colt growled, slanting her husband a quelling look. Another passenger, a drummer from San Antonio, pulled out a small revolver and peered cautiously out the opposite window.
How could he have let this happen? Colt asked himself disgustedly. The trip from San Antonio to Karlsburg had thus far been without incident and so boring he had ridden frequently beside the driver on his high perch. But when rain threatened he had climbed inside the relative comfort of the rambling coach to snatch a much needed nap. After all, he was a paying customer.
Colt had been traveling constantly since leaving north Texas over a week ago on his way to Karlsburg, stopping briefly at San Antonio where he conferred with Captain Rip Ford about his next assignment before boarding the stage for Karlsburg. Captain Ford had suggested he ride the stage rather than his own mount, which was tied behind the vehicle, because of the large amount of gold being delivered to Karlsburg. Protecting the gold shipment wasn’t exactly Colt’s assignment in the German settlement, but as long as he was going there, Captain Ford hinted, he might as well take on the chore.
Suddenly the coach screeched to a halt, sending the occupants flying. “Harry!” Annie cried out, clutching at her husband. “Is it Indians? Oh, God, we’re all going to be killed!”
Before Colt could untangle himself from the crush of bodies pressed against and atop him, the door flung open and a gruff voice ordered, “Get out!”
Colt cursed the luck that had caught him off guard; for climbing in out of the rain was a mistake that could cost him his life. If he lived through it, he’d never make the same mistake again.
“My … my wife is pregnant,” Harry said in a strangled voice. “Don’t hurt her.”
Violet eyes narrowed on the rounded middle of the half-fainting woman. “Do as I say and no one will get hurt.” Sam waved a six-shooter menacingly, and Harry scurried out of the coach, half-carrying, half-dragging his nearly paralyzed wife.
“Be careful, you idiot!” growled Sam, to Colt’s surprise. “Don’t let her fall.” In all his years of knocking around, Colt had never encountered a thoughtful outlaw before.
Sensing the bandit’s preoccupation, Colt made a lunge for his gun. But he had miscalculated the man’s concentration. “Try it and you’re history,” Sam ground out. “Toss your gunbelt to the ground.”
Colt froze, raising tawny gold eyes to stare into pools of incredible violet. Cursing, he complied, dropping his guns into the dirt outside the stagecoach.
“Step out real slow like.”
The low timbre of the bandit’s voice grated on Colt’s nerves, and for the space of a heartbeat he considered defying the man who appeared to be no more than a lad. But even a cold-hearted bastard like himself couldn’t be so unfeeling as to endanger the lives of others, especially a pregnant woman. Years of being a loner, of fighting for his very existence, had changed Colt from a happy-go-lucky youth into a hardened and cynical drifter, but every so often a spark of decency proved he wasn’t entirely without redemption.
Gingerly Colt stepped from the coach, followed by the drummer, whose jerky motions revealed his fear. Colt’s sharp eyes took in the situation with one sweeping glance. Until now he hadn’t been aware of the second bandit still astride his mount holding the driver at bay with a Winchester rifle. A snort of disgust left Colt’s lips, for the second bandit, though brawnier than the first, looked nearly as young. Could these two youths be the fierce desperadoes who had been terrorizing the citizens of Karlsburg? The same bandits Captain Ford had sent him to dispatch after a desperate plea from the mayor and townspeople? If these two sorry-looking specimens were an example of the rest of the gang, Colt reflected, his job should be fairly simple. And you could bet your ass he’d not be caught napping again.
“Throw down the strongbox,” rasped Will, pointing his Winchester at the driver.
“It…it’s too heavy,” the man protested, unwilling to give up his precious cargo so easily.
Will started to dismount in order to help, but Sam’s curt order stopped him in his tracks. “No!” Violet eyes studied the four people assembled outside the stage, finally settling on Colt. “You! Help him.”
The gun waved dangerously before his nose, and Colt would have lunged for it if the pregnant Annie hadn’t been standing beside him. A stray bullet might easily find its mark in her soft flesh. For himself, he’d taken chances far more dangerous than facing down a pair of stagecoach robbers barely out of diapers. Gritting his teeth, he whirled and climbed atop the coach to join the driver. Together they hefted the heavy metal chest and tossed it to the ground.
“Climb down, both of you,” Sam ordered.
Once the two men stood beside the others, Will dismounted, garnered their weapons, and flung them into the dense brush beside the road. A pelting rain began to fall and a loud roar of thunder brought a wail from Annie’s bloodless lips.
“Get her inside out of the rain,” Sam said, motioning to Harry with the muzzle of the Colt. Harry hesitated only a moment before lifting Annie inside the coach, where she sagged against the seat, sobbing softly. Sam hated putting a pregnant woman through all this, but it couldn’t be helped.
Will approached the strongbox, kicking at the padlock that protected its contents. “How in the hell did ya know we was carryin’ gold?” asked the grizzled driver. Tobacco-stained teeth, scraggly gray beard, and sun-browned, leatherlike skin attested to his many years of experience.
“I have my ways,” growled Sam.