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Maggie And The Law
By Judith Stacy
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneColorado, 1889
Men looked different when you were flat on your back.
At least, this one did.
Maggie Peyton gazed up at the man whose face hovered above hers. Dark, smoldering eyes bored into her. A corner of his lip turned back in a snarl. Hot breath puffed from his nose.
The hard floor pressed painfully against Maggie's back. His knees brushed her thighs. His long fingers pinned her shoulders down.
Bewildered, Maggie just stared at him.
For the last two hours he'd sat on the stagecoach seat across from her, rudely stretching out his legs to take up most of the room, but slouched down with his hat over his face seemingly sleeping - seemingly harmless. They were the only two passengers on board, and he'd barely spoken to her, except to introduce himself.
Then suddenly, a moment ago, this Mr. Spence Harding had bolted upright, grabbed her, dragged her onto the floor and jumped atop her. She'd been too stunned to think, to move. Now -
"Get off of me!" Maggie swung at him. Her palm slapped against his ear and jaw with a loud crack. His head whipped around. He loosened his grip.
Maggie scrambled away, kicking at his thighs. She rolled onto her side, trying to get to her feet. He grabbed her, easily turning her onto her back again.
A scream tore from her throat. Blindly, she batted at him, slapping his face, his shoulder, his chest.
"Settle down!" His voice, deep and guttural, boomed as he grabbed both her hands. "The stage -"
"Let me go!"
"Be still!" He stretched her hands above her head and held them down.
Maggie's thoughts raced. No one else on board. No one to help her, except perhaps the driver up top. But could he even hear her screams above the thundering of the horses' hooves, the creak of the coach, the rush of the wind?
Panic overwhelmed her. Maggie kicked wildly, blindly, furiously.
"I told you, lady, just - yeow!" Spence grimaced, then anchored his leg over hers and slapped his hand across her mouth.
Maggie's heart pounded. She struggled, desperate to escape his grasp. He'd pinned her to the floor. She was helpless, totally at his mercy.
Bile rose in Maggie's throat. Her worst fear. When she'd made the decision to leave New York, take this trip west - totally alone - her personal safety had been a concern. But she'd never expected this.
Maggie gulped as she looked up at Spence Harding. Beneath the brim of his black hat, his thick dark brows bunched together. His jaw tensed as his lips pressed into a thin, angry line.
The man was an animal. A beast. And he was huge. She'd noticed that the instant the two of them had boarded the stagecoach this afternoon in Keaton. Big shoulders and arms. Long legs. Meaty hands.
He'd ravish her. Murder her. Toss her body out of the moving coach. She'd never be heard from again. Her father would wait and worry, wonder what had become of his only child.
A little mewl gurgled in Maggie's throat as the man leaned down. She squeezed her eyes shut, her mind screaming in revulsion.
His leg shifted against hers. Maggie's eyes popped open. No, she couldn't - wouldn't - let this happen. She hadn't come this far, traveled for so long on such an important mission to have it end like this.
Maggie lurched, bared her teeth, and bit into his hand.
Spence jerked away. "Goddamn, son of a -"
Maggie wrestled from his grasp, groping for the seat, struggling to escape. Two big hands grasped her hips and sat her down hard on the floor. Spence glared at her, his eyes blazing.
"Stay down, before you get your fool head shot off," he commanded. "The stage is being robbed."
Maggie froze. Her gaze darted to the window, then back to him again. "The - what?"
"Outlaws are riding in." Spence drew his gun and rolled to his knees, creeping toward the window. "The stage is being robbed. Stay on the floor."
She realized then that the stagecoach had picked up speed, bouncing and bucking worse than usual.
"Well, why didn't you simply say so?" Maggie demanded. Anger bubbled up inside her, chasing away the fear. "Did you think I wouldn't understand? That I couldn't grasp the concept? Did you -"
"For chrissake, lady, shut up!" He glanced back at her. "And get down on the floor!"
"Well!" Maggie glared right back at him. "Why don't you get on the floor?"
He raised from a crouch to peek out the window, then dipped his head and looked back at her.
"I've already been slapped, kicked and bit," Spence said. "I'll take my chances with the outlaws."
He turned back to the window and eased upward, his gun at the ready. Maggie rose to her knees, craning her neck to see around him.
Outside, men on horseback raced through the rugged terrain alongside the stagecoach. They would overtake the stage in moments.
Such a spectacle. Maggie stared, mesmerized by the churning of the horses' legs, the men's dusters snapping behind them, their hat brims bending in the wind, their drawn weapons.
She'd never witnessed such a sight. Not once, in all her travels with her father to the farthest corners of the world. Oh, if only he could be here to see this. How intrigued he would be.
A gunshot pierced the air. Spence returned fire, then ducked, saw her peeking over his shoulder and pulled her to the floor.
"What the hell is wrong with you, lady? Stay down."
Another volley of gunfire sounded. Answering shots rang out, and Maggie guessed it came from the driver up top. A bullet tore through the door of the stagecoach, splintering the wood. Maggie gasped and flattened herself against the bucking floor. Spence pressed himself atop her.
"They're - they're really shooting at us," she whispered.
His face hovered inches above hers. Their gazes met and held in a long, lingering look. His features that had seemed so hostile, so forbidding only a short while ago, softened. The moment stretched endlessly. The two of them - strangers - caught in an age-old struggle for life itself.
Excerpted from Maggie And The Law by Judith Stacy Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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