An ex-spy for the confederacy must stop hiding from himself and the world, but finds himself on the wrong side of the law in a fight for his very existence.
When the only daughter of a Brownwood’s local cattle baron allows a stranger to take the blame for a murder she thinks she committed, she orchestrates a jailbreak. Jake Nolan knows only one thing; he’s innocent of murder charges and Julia Stanton is the only person who knows who’s really guilty. While Jake holds her captive to discover the truth, Julia’s seductive charms imprison his heart.
The posse rode off, misdirected to another location.
With her senses still heightened by her near run-in with the law, Julia leaned against the closed door. Guilt gnawed at her insides. She had just complicated her situation more by lying to the authorities. If her father would be disappointed by her involvement in the murder, he would most likely disown her if he found out about this latest excursion.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she glared at Jake Nolan. Her inability to change the past brought back familiar feelings of resentment. Death had a way of changing life. Her mother had died when she was young, leaving her alone in a house full of men. She glanced at the tips of her worn boots. She’d never regretted being a part of the Stanton empire, but facts were facts. No man wanted a woman who could out-ride, out-shoot, and out-wrangle him.
Allowing her to participate in the daily operations of the ranch made Cal Stanton a hero in her eyes. She’d cherished every moment spent in his shadow.
And now, she couldn’t imagine losing this special bond with her family. Releasing Nolan was supposed to be an easy fix to a complicated situation. Unfortunately, there was nothing simple about it. She had just helped a convicted felon escape, and with the prisoner unconscious and hiding in their line shack, it wasn’t over yet.
Mr. Nolan had better awaken soon. She crept toward the man. A spark of gold caught her attention, and she stared at the parted vee of his shirt. Nestled against a bed of curls lay a medallion of some sort. She lifted the medal between trembling fingers. A gold double eagle? What inspired Jake to wear the coin instead of spending it? The men of her acquaintance didn’t hold much with sentimentalities. With her other hand, she fingered the area where her mother’s locket used to hang. Since Sly’s death, she hadn’t had the heart to wear it.
She let the coin drop. How had he slept through her shaving him? But then concussions were tricky. It wasn’t unusual for one of their ranch hands to sleep for days after taking a blow to the head while trying to break a horse or wrestle a mean bull. At least the wound to his temple wasn’t deep, and it had stopped bleeding. She glanced at the basin of water she had used earlier and wondered if she dared pour it over his head. She reached for the bowl, willing to brave his anger just to get him moving.
"Don’t even think about it."
Julia jumped a mile high, so unexpected was the deep timbre of his voice. Her hand jerked from the enamel container and water sloshed over the sides. Glazed eyes peered at her. He winced and closed his eyes again. Reaching for the wound, he touched the area.
"A bullet grazed your forehead."
His hand froze and his eyes snapped open. With a hard glare focused her way, he fingered the rest of his head. Julia swallowed, gulping down a huge dose of apprehension. His green eyes glittered with anger. She fingered her own braid and stammered an answer to the question in his eyes.
"We’ve... been here almost an hour, and you... you needed a disguise. I just put the time to good use. Besides, I had to shear the area around the wound to look at the damage. It’s not that deep, by the way."
He grabbed her wrist, and the sudden contact caused her mouth to go dry. Between clenched teeth, he said, "I’m beginning to dislike you immensely."
"Well, you’re not exactly my favorite cowpoke, either. Look, I’m genuinely sorry for everything, but I’m trying to make it right." She yanked her hand from his grasp.
He sat up slow and groaned. Swinging long legs over the side of the cot, he gave her a solemn look. Why didn’t he yell at her? She would deserve it. The silence stretched on and so did the time. She needed to get back to the ranch before they missed her, and this man needed to be on his way if he hoped to elude the authorities.
The sooner he was up and about, the sooner he would ride out of her life. Perhaps then, she could get back to a more normal routine. She could go back to daydreaming about Faraday Metzer without the unbidden image of this man to cloud her judgment. And, maybe, she could shake the guilt that kept her awake at night.
She shot him a tentative smile. "Feel like riding?"
He narrowed his eyes, but refrained from comment.
"Are-are you always so serious?" She tried for a little levity and failed. "Look. We’ve wasted enough time here. You need to get a move on, and I need to get back to the ranch. There’s a horse ready for you, and we packed a saddlebag. We even stuck some money in there, so you have a real opportunity of escaping and making another life for yourself somewhere else."
"I don’t want another life. I want this one, sorry as it may seem to you."
"With the whole state of Texas out looking for your hide? At least, no one will recognize you now that your face isn’t hiding behind all that hair."
He brought his hand up to his face and toured the rugged features with a calloused hand. Eyebrows furrowed in an intense frown, and his tongue worked the inside of his cheek. Slowly, methodically, the man rose to his full height, intimidating her even more with his seemingly casual actions. He took a deep breath and exhaled, the sound a whisper of the retribution to come. Guilt kept her rooted to the spot. Now he would yell at her, and she’d deserve every harsh word he threw her way. She was almost looking forward to having it done and out of the way.
He approached her then. She should have run, should have hopped on her horse and galloped away. In his condition, he wouldn’t have been able to stop her. Julia stood her ground, mesmerized by his very presence. The room reverberated with tension. I'm guilty of ruining his life. He knows it, and now I need to face the consequences. Anticipation and dread played havoc with her sense.
Jake Nolan reminded her a little of her father. Cal’s look alone could make her wither with shame and remorse. Jake made her feel all of these things and more. It was a novelty to be able to look up into another man’s eyes. She wished things could be different, that their meeting had occurred under different circumstances, and that she could sort out the various emotions coursing through her mind.
His hand reached out to touch her hair. Frozen, Julia just stood, allowing this man to cup her cheek. Like the time he’d inadvertently touched her hand, the soft brush of his fingertips on her skin caused a tingle to crawl up her spine and settle in the pit of her stomach. His gaze held her captive as he took one hand then the other and held them for a moment. A click sounded, and cold, smooth metal touched her skin. In her mesmerized state, she had allowed Jake Nolan to place the manacles he had worn earlier on her slender wrists.
She jerked her bound hands out of his grasp. "What are you doing?"
"Taking you with me, ma’am."