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Raton, New Mexico Territory
Keeping his six-shooter aimed at the sheriff, Bart Kingsley crouched at the corner of a white picket fence. He was bleeding bad. The bullet that caught him in the side hurt something awful. But Bart knew he couldn't let pain overcome him. He was on a mission to find the woman he loved.
Laura Rose Vermillion's window stood out as a black patch on the dull gray wall of the dormitory just over the fence. Bart knew it was Rosie's window because he had caught sight of her shaking out a pink rug that morning. His Rosie his beautiful Rosie.
"Kingsley!" a voice echoed through the darkness. "Kingsley, I know I winged you, boy. Come on out like a man and maybe the doc can save your sorry hide."
Bart gritted his teeth. He was too close. Too near Rosie now to let a bullet stop him. Hiding in some shrubs near the depot, he had waited all day until the sun went down and the last train left town. But when he made his move, Sheriff Mason T. Bowman had appeared out of nowhere.
"I've got help, Kingsley," the lawman called out now. "The Pinkerton National Detective Agency out of New York City sent their best man after you. You ain't never going to get away. Not with a Pinkerton detective on your trail. You know that, boy. So, put your hands up nice and slow, and we'll hold our fire."
Bart grimaced. A Pinkerton man? Now that was serious business. Those fellows could track outlaws better than a pack of hound dogs. The damp blood on his buckskin jacket told Bart he was leaving a trail nobody could miss.
But he couldn't be captured now. Not this close to his Rosie. Bart tugged the kerchief loose from his neck and pressed it against the bullet wound. He set his gun on the ground and worked his jacket's buttons into place to hold the kerchief tight.
Taking up his pistol, he began to creep along the boards of the fence. The dormitory housed young women who worked as waitresses for Fred Harvey's famous railway restaurant. Bart surmised that a fence built to keep eager young bucks away from the pretty females inside it would have a gap or two.
"Kingsley, we've got every street blocked!" Bowman barked. "You'll never leave Raton alive unless you surrender now. Come on out, boy!"
Bart pushed against the pickets as he inched toward Rosie's window. Aha. A loose board swung outward, leaving just enough room for a man to slip through the fence. Bart edged himself between the securely nailed pickets, then reached back and eased the loose board back into place.
"Look at this!" a deep voice called out. "You plugged him all right, sheriff. There's blood right here by this fence. Good shot. He won't get far."
The Pinkerton detective, Bart guessed. He touched his jacket and prayed the kerchief would hold. Slinking across the grass, Bart tried to think about Rosie. Beautiful Rosie with long brown hair and pretty little ankles. Six years had passed since he'd seen her, but Bart knew he would always love her.
"The blood trail stops at the corner," the Pinkerton man announced. "He's close."
Bowman shouted into the night. "Men, search under every woodpile and behind every fence. Shoot him if he runs."
Bart pushed himself up against the rough stone wall of the dormitory until he was standing. Dark mists swirled before his eyes. Don't faint. Not now.
He reached up and caught the edge of a protruding stone. Then he lifted one leg and found a foothold. Rosie, he reminded himself. Overhead was Rosie's window.
"'Spose he could have gotten over the Harvey girls' fence?" someone asked.
Bart pulled himself upward until he found another stone ledge to grab.
"Nah, the sheriff pegged him good," came the response. "If he ain't dead already, it won't be long."
Now Bart ran his fingertips along Rosie's wood win-dowsill. He set his foot on a protruding metal pipe. As he placed his weight on it, the pipe cracked.
"You hear that?"
"Sounded like it came from the dormitory!"
"Who's got a light? Sheriff, over here! Bring a lantern!"
Bart had slipped down a good two feet, scraping the skin on his palms. Now he found another foothold, this one of stone, and he heaved himself up again.
Coming up in line with the sill, he lifted a prayer. God, let this window open.
He gripped the lower edge of the casement and pushed. The window slid up. The scent of lavender and roses drifted out into the night. With a grunt, Bart dragged his body over the sill and tumbled to the floor of Rosie's room. A wave of dizziness came over him as he fought to stay conscious.
"Hey, here's a place where a picket is loose on the fence! Bring that lantern over here!"
"You see any blood?"
Without waiting to hear the response, Bart reached up and pulled the window shut. For a moment, he sat on the floor, head bent as he sucked in air. At the sound of girlish voices outside the room, he stretched out flat. Then, with the last of his strength, he scooted his big body under the bed.
Lying in the darkness, Bart anticipated the moment Rosie would enter the room. Or would it be the Pinker-ton man who had finally cornered him? Or the sheriff, gun drawn, ready to blast the fugitive?
Bart closed his eyes. He was close now. So close. He had spent the past two months tracking a runaway woman who didn't want to be found. Trailing her halfway across the frontier. Spotting her at last in this two-bit mountain town.
"Oh, my," a light voice sang out as the door opened and a shaft of light sliced the darkness. "I don't know about you, Etta, but I am just whipped. Good night."
Another girl spoke. "I'm so tired I could fall asleep right where I'm standing. Morning's going to come early.
Rosie shut the door to her dormitory room and sat down on the bed. Beneath the hem of her black skirt, Bart caught sight of those pretty little ankles he remembered so wellworth every drop of blood he had shed.
Until Sheriff Bowman shot him, no one had ever spilled a drop of Bart's mixed Apache and White Eye blood. Not his stepfather, who'd sure tried enough times. Not Laura Rose's pappy, who would have liked to, whether he had the guts to pull the trigger. Not any of the string of lawmen and bounty hunters who had tried to gun down Bart and had found themselves eating cold lead for supper.
But here he lay, his blood soaking into the edge of Rosie's pink hooked rug. All this because of a woman he'd tried to forget for six long years.
Laura Rose. From underneath the bed, Bart studied those ankles as she unlaced her leather shoes and worked her stocking feet around in tiny circles. God didn't make many ankles that slim, that fragile, that downright luscious. Rosie had ankles worth fighting for.
Not that Bart had ever fought for them. No, sir, there was no way he could deny that when push had come to shove, he had skedaddled out of Kansas City as if a scorpion was crawling down his neck. He'd been only seventeen at the time, but strong as an ox and twice as stubborn.
He could have stayed in Missouri and challenged Rosie's pappy for her. He could have pulled out the marriage license he still carried with him everywhere. He could have argued his case in court as her pappy had threatened to make him do. But Rosie's father wasn't a highfalutin doctor for nothing. After the shouting, warnings and threats had failed to make Bart give in, Dr. Vermillion had resorted to the only weapon left in his arsenalthe truth.
Under the bed, Bart grimaced as he probed the seeping wound in his side. The physical pain seemed almost easier to bear than the memory of Dr. Vermillion's accusations. He shut his eyes for a moment, fighting the self-contempt that had made him silent and withdrawn as a boy, the shame that inflamed his angry loneliness as a man.
Breathing steadily, he willed a wall of iron around the hurt inside and watched Rosie's feet moving around the roomsmall feet for a woman so tall. A ragged hole in the heel of one dark cotton stocking revealed tender pink skin.
"Etta, come in here, would you?" She had opened the door to her room and was calling down the hallway. Bart wished he could shrink farther into the space beneath her bed, but it was mighty hard to fit a six-foot-three-inch, two-hundred-pound man under a brass bedstead.
"Do you smell anything odd in here?" Rosie was asking her slipper-footed neighbor. "The minute I came in from the restaurant, I noticed the scent of leather and dustas if the outside air had gotten into my room."
Beneath the bed, Bart bent his head and took a whiff of his buckskin jacket. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good wash. Come to think of it, his hair probably needed combing in the worst waymaybe a cut, tooand his boots hadn't been polished since he took them off that horse thief in Little Rock.
"Phew!" Etta exclaimed. "I hate to say it, but the smell's probably coming from your own shoes, Laurie. These laced boots Mr. Harvey makes us wear cause all kinds of problems for a girl in a busy restaurant. I've gone through two pairs of stockings a month since I started here."
Bart saw Rosie lift one foot and heard her little gasp. "Would you just look at this, Etta? An awful blister right on my heel!"
"What did I tell you? You'll have calluses in a month and corns before you know it. Someone should write a letter to Mr. Harvey and tell him how we suffer. You soak your foot in a basin of water, and I'll fetch some vanilla from my room."
"Put a drop in each shoe and set them in the hall all night. By morning that scent will be gone, you'll see." Etta paused a moment. "Although I must admit your shoes really do have the oddest odor I've ever smelled."
As her friend shut the door, Rosie hurried to the window. Bart heard the sash drawn up and felt a blast of chilly air. The sound of male voices drifted into the room from the street below, and Bart stiffened.
Etta breezed back into the room. "What on earth are you doing, Laura Kingsley? You'll catch your death!"
Turning his head with some difficulty in the tight space, Bart watched as Rosie stood on tiptoe to lean out the open window of the second-floor room. Laura Kings-ley, Etta had called her. The name Rosie had chosen for herself sent a warm thrill down Bart's spine.
"What's going on outside, Etta?" she asked. "Look at all those men and horses right under my window."
"Ma'am?" someone shouted from below. "Excuse me, ma'am, but have you seen a wounded man about these parts?"
"Shut the window!" Etta hissed. "Quick! Shut the"
"I'll have you know men aren't allowed near our dormitory," Rosie called out. "It's against Mr. Harvey's regulations. You'd better take your horses out of this yard before the sheriff arrests you."
"I'm the sheriff of Colfax County, miss. Sheriff Mason T. Bowman. This fellow with me is a detective from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency out of New York City."
"I told you to shut the window," Etta whispered.
"Don't mean to frighten you ladies, but we're in search of a desperate outlaw. He was wounded about an hour ago in a gun battle just outside of townshot two or three times. He's lost a lot of blood, and we've tracked him as far as this backyard."
Shot once, Bart corrected silently under the bed. He might have needed an excuse to get close to Rosie, but he wasn't fool enough to let two bullets plug him.
"This man is armed and dangerous. He's a hardened criminal with a price on his head in Missouri. You ladies had better keep your windows shut tight and your doors locked."
"Yes, Sheriff Bowman." Rosie's voice quavered. "I'll tell the other women."
"What has this man done?" Etta called down.
"You name it. Robbed banks, trains, stagecoaches. He's a horse thief and a cattle rustler. And he's wanted for murder."
Under the bed, Bart frowned. He was not a horse thief and cattle rustler.
"What's his name?" Etta asked.
"Goes by two or three aliasesInjun Jack, Savage Jack, Jack King. His legal name is Bart Kingsley. He ran with Frank and Jesse James before Jesse got killed last year. The detective is after him for three train robberies in Missouri. Been trailing Kingsley all the way from Kansas City."
Kansas City? Bart frowned. The Pinkerton detective had been tracing him since Kansas City? Rosie had left a trail a mile wide, but Bart didn't think he had given any clues to his own whereabouts. Maybe he was a chuckleheaded fool after all. No wonder the sheriff had plugged him.
"If we see anything suspicious, we'll send for you right away," Etta assured the sheriff as she shut the window. "A murderer! Can you imagine, Laurie? Right outside the dormitory, too. The other girls will be scared out of their wits at the thought. I'm going to tell Annie and Mae right away. Won't they just swoon? Laurie? Are you all right? You're trembling!"
"Don't be scared of that outlaw. The sheriff will have him rounded up by morning."
"Etta, I want you to open my wardrobe door right this minute and look inside. Waittake this!"
Rosie knelt by the bed, and Bart prayed she wouldn't see him in the shadow as she fished a pistol out from under the mattress. He let out a stifled sigh when she stood and gave the weapon to her friend.
"Laurie! You're not supposed to have a gun," Etta squealed. "It's against regulations!"
"If he's in there, shoot him! Just shoot him right through the heart."
Bart scowled. Well, that was a fine attitude.
"Take your gun, Laurie. The wardrobe's empty."
"Don't leave me here alone. Please, I beg you!"
"That man's not going to get in here. I locked your window, and you can bolt the door after I'm gone. I never expected you to be so"
"Etta " Her breath was shallow. "Etta I know that man. The outlaw. The killer. I know him. Or I used to know someone by that name."
For a moment the room was silent. Then Rosie let out a ragged breath. "Bart Kingsley," she whispered. "I was married to him."
A knock on the door by one of the girls who had come to investigate the shouting had taken Etta out of the room for a moment. As soon as she informed everyone about the sheriff's warnings, she hurried back into Rosie's room and sat down on the bed beside her friend.