A WOMAN DETECTIVE? NOT ON HIS WATCH!
As if tracking down train robbers wasn't hard enough, now Sheriff Jericho Silver's backup has arrived, and she's a gun-toting, head-turning beauty. She sure spells trouble.
Madison O'Donnell had the perfect lifea beautiful home and all the ladies' luncheons she could stomachbut it left her bored to tears. Now a widow, she's determined to fill her days with daring deeds and wild adventures.
Jericho is equally determined that she'll be on the next train home. But this is one lady who won't take no for an answer .
"Another delightful, quick and heartwarming read." RT Book Reviews on Smoke River Bride
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Smoke River, Oregon, 1873
Sonofa" Jericho shoved his shot glass of Red Eye around and around in a widening circle. That's all he needed, some citified armchair detective telling him how to do his job.
The bartender swept out a meaty hand and rescued the glass. "Got a problem, Johnny?"
"Nope. Gonna get rid of it soon as it turns up."
Jericho tossed off the whiskey and slapped the glass onto the polished wood counter. "No fancy-ass Pinkerton man from the city is gonna sit on his duff at the jailhouse giving me advice while staying out of the line of fire."
"Yeah. Fill it up, Jase. Jawing with some city slicker from Chicago's gonna be easier with this inside me."
The bar man looked him over. "Ya keep this up, you're gonna be pie-eyed. That's your fourth shot."
Jericho grunted an obscenity. Pie-eyed was okay with him. Three weeks of chasing the Tucker gang, and now his arm was in a sling. His gun arm. He swore again and downed his shot.
The windowless saloon was smoky and dim, but it was over a hundred degrees outside and the Golden Partridge was the coolest place in town. He grinned at the paunchy man on the other side of the counter and slowly pivoted to study the room behind him. A puff of hot air through the swinging double door told him he was no longer alone.
Hooking his boot heel over the bar rail, he shoved both elbows onto the bar top and watched his still-wet-behind-the-ears deputy sidle up beside him.
"You gonna meet the train, Sheriff?"
Jericho nodded. The kid was young. Red-haired and shiny-faced, sharp as a whip and foolishly brave. Sandy had been with him two years, now. Jericho relied on him. Trusted him.
But Lake County had never faced anything like this before.
"Whatcha gonna do, Sheriff?"
Jericho shrugged. He had a plan, all right. At four o'clock this afternoon the big black steam engine would roll into the station and Madison O'Whatsisname would get off. At four-oh-five, Jericho would strong-arm him right back onto the train.
It'd be easy.
At precisely four o'clock, the Oregon Central chuffed into the station. Jericho adjusted his sling so the sheriff's badge showed, jammed his left thumb in his belt and waited.
The first person off the train was Darla Weatherby with her bossy mother-in-law right behind her. Another trip to the St. Louis opera house, he guessed; both women fancied themselves singers. Jericho had heard them once at a church social, warbling a duet in Italian. Lessons in St. Louis weren't gonna help.
After them came rancher Thad MacAllister, followed by old Mrs. Hinksley and her sister, Iris DuPont, both dressed in pink-checked gingham with parasols to match. Then came more passengers he didn't recognize, but none of them looked remotely like a Pinkerton man. A Pinkerton agent would no doubt be wearing a proper suit. But the only male who looked the least bit citified was Ike Bruhn, home from his honeymoon with his new bride.
Sandy jiggled at his side. "Ya see 'im?"
"Nope," Jericho grunted.
"Maybe he missed the train," his deputy suggested.
"Naw, must be here somewhere. Look for a gent in a gray suit." Pinkerton men always wore gray to blend in with crowds. He scanned the thronged station platform again.
"Check inside, Sandy. Maybe he slipped past me."
His deputy jogged off and Jericho perused the crowd a third time. Nothing. Maybe Mr. Detective had chickened out at the prospect of fingering an elusive outlaw gang that was robbing trains. He narrowed his eyes and was turning to check the station once more when someone stumbled smack into him.
"Oh, I am terribly sorry." An extremely pretty young woman carrying a green-striped parasol gazed up at him. Her voice sounded like rich whiskey sliding over smooth river stones, and for a moment Jericho forgot what he was there for. She only came up to his shoulder, and on her dark, piled-up hair sat the most ridiculous concoction of feathers and stuffed birds he'd ever laid eyes on.
He sucked in a breath to apologize, then wished he hadn't. Damn, she smelled good. Soap and something flowery.
Made his head swim.
He stepped back. "'Scuse me, ma'am."
She waved a gloved hand and peered at his chest. "Oh, you are the sheriff."
"Yeah, I am."
She smiled and his mouth went dry. "You are just the man I want to see."
Jericho swallowed. "You have a problem?"
"Oh, no." She twirled her parasol. "You have the problem. I have come to help." She waited, an expectant look on her face.
"Help?" Jericho echoed.
"Of course." The whiskey in her voice was now sliding over some pointy rocks. "I am Madison O'Donnell. The Smoke River Bank hired me to help catch the gang robbing their gold shipments."
Jericho stared at her.
"I believe you were expecting me?"
He snapped his jaw shut. He sure as hell wasn't expecting her. The last thing he'd expected was this frilly-looking female with her ridiculous hat. In her green-striped dress and twirling her parasol like that she made him think of a dish of cool mint ice cream.
"Whatever is the matter, Sheriff? You have gone quite pale. Are you ill?"
He jerked at the question. Not ill, just gut-shot. "Uh, yeah. I mean no, I'm not ill. Just surprised."
She lowered her voice. "Most Pinkerton clients are surprised when they meet me. It will pass."
Hell, no, it won't.
Madison O'Donnell picked up her travel bag.
"Shall we go?"
Not on your life. "Uh, my deputy's inside the station house. 'Scuse me, ma'am." He strode past her without looking back. Inside, he found Sandy talking to the ticket seller.
"Charlie says he hasn't seen anyone who looks like a"
"No need. I've found him. Her," he corrected himself.
Sandy's rust-colored eyebrows went up. "Huh?"
"Madison O'Donnell. She's a 'she.'"
The deputy's face lit up. "Oh, yeah? A female? What kinda female?"
"A female kind of female," Jericho snapped. He headed for the doorway. "And don't spread it around about her being a Pinkerton agent."
"Gosh-a-mighty, Sheriff, what're you gonna do with a lady Pinkerton detective?"
"I'll think of something." He slammed through the entrance, Sandy in his wake, just in time to see the train rattle on down the track.
"Where is she, Sher" His deputy's eyes widened. "Oh, criminy, she's mighty good-looking for a " Sandy's voice trailed off. Jericho guessed young Sandy hadn't seen a woman like her before. A backeast woman with birds on her head.
He swallowed a chuckle, then turned it into a cough. Hell, he'd never seen a woman like her before, either.
"What're you gonna do with her, Sheriff?" Sandy said again.
"As little as possible. Close your mouth, Sandy."
Without another word, his deputy stepped forward and snagged the woman's travel bag. "Allow me, ma'am."
"Why, aren't you sweet! At least some of you men out here in the West have nice manners."
Sandy blushed crimson and spoke to Jericho under his breath. "I moved the extra cot into the jail like you said, Sheriff, but maybe. I mean, where's she gonna sleep?"
"I expect you have a hotel of some sort in this town, do you not? I will be staying there."
Jericho pointed down the main street to the white-painted Smoke River Hotel. Sandy took off at a jog, the travel bag bumping against his shin every other step.
"And, Sheriff Silver, I hope there is a dining room nearby? I ate a ham sandwich back in Nebraska and a day later I had an apple in Pocatello. Believe me, I am quite famished."
Famished, huh? She looked plenty well fed to him. Not for the first time, Jericho noted the swell of her breasts and the plain-as-day curve of her hips. Even without the bustle ladies wore these days, her backside was nicely rounded.
He stepped off the station platform and tipped his head after his deputy. "That way. Restaurant's near to the hotel." He gestured for her to precede him and they started single file down the main street.
Following her was pure misery. Her behind twitched enticingly and every male within fifty feet stopped dead and stared as she passed. Every last one of them pinned him with a you-lucky-son-of-a-gun look.
He caught up with her on the boardwalk and they walked in silence for exactly four steps. He noticed that her gaze kept moving from side to side, taking in everything, the dusty main street, the barbershop, the mercantile, even the honeysuckle along the fences. Her sharp eyes missed nothing.
"I am simply starving," she stated.
"You said that already. Dinner's up ahead." He pointed to the restaurant close to the hotel.
"First I shall register and check for any messages."
"Messages!" Jericho snorted. "Nobody's supposed to know you're here in Smoke River."
"Mr. Pinkerton knows. He will want a report every twenty-four hours."
Jericho snapped his jaw shut. Jupiter, he had a damn amateur on his hands. "A telegram can be in-terceptedyou ever think of that?"
"Why, of course. That is why I always send messages in code."
He clamped his teeth together and rolled his eyes. Code. That was a fancy back-east way of doing things. Out here in the West, you just plain said things.
Sandy waited at the hotel entrance, a dazed look in his eyes. Jericho gestured him inside. "She's gonna register. Tend to her bag, Sandy. I'll wait in the dining room."
"Gosh, thanks, Sheriff."
Detective O'Donnell breezed past them both, through the hotel entrance and up to the reception desk. Sandy glued his eyes to the lady detective's hip-swaying steps and Jericho swore under his breath. Clearly his deputy was already smitten. Young men were damn foolish.
He turned away, strode out onto the boardwalk and into the restaurant. "Bring me a cup of coffee, Rita. And add a shot of brandy to it."
The plump waitress eyed him. "Something wrong, Johnny?"
Without answering, Jericho headed for his favorite table by the window. "Make it a lot of brandy," he called over his shoulder. He had a bad feeling about this; the train back to Chicago didn't leave until noon the following day.
* * *
The dining room was crowded. Ranch owners and their wives, townspeople with their kids in towthe room buzzed like a hive of bees. He settled in the corner facing the entrance and waited.
Rita brought his spiked-up coffee, and he waited some more. What took a woman so long to unpack a little bitty travel case? Or maybe she was upstairs decoding her messages. He swallowed a gulp of the black brew in his cup.
Sandy crossed the room, grinning like a Halloween pumpkin, and took the chair opposite him. "Got her all squared away, Sheriff." He tried to curb his smile. "She sure is somethin', isn't she?"
She was something, all right. She could be a lot of things, but one thing she was not was a Pinkerton detective. He could hardly wait to muscle her back onto the train.
Sandy stood up abruptly. "Here she comes."
"Right. Sandy, go on back to the jail."
Her entrance into the dining room caused a flurry of activity. When Detective O'Donnell glided into the room, every single male in the establishment rose to his feet, just like their mommas had taught them.
Jericho's momma hadn't taught him a damn thing. Jericho's momma had dumped him at the Sisters of Hope orphanage in Portland and forgot he even existed. He never knew whether she was white, Indian, or Mexican, though his bronzy skin suggested one of his parents was something other than white.
Miss O'Donnell darted over to him. He rose automatically because that's what the nuns had taught him. She grabbed his hand and yanked hard.
"Never, never sit by a window, Sheriff. Surely you know that?"
"Well, sure I know that, but I'm not exactly on duty."
He lifted his trussed-up right arm. "Got shot up."
"Of course you are on duty. A good sheriff is always on duty." She tugged him to an empty table in the far corner of the room. "Sit with your back to the wall," she whispered. "Always."
"Oh, for crying out Look, Miss O'Donnell, you fight your war your way and I'll fight mine like I've always done." He dropped into the closest chair.
"It's Mrs. O'Donnell," she shot back, sinking into the opposite chair. Her eyes snapped. For the first time he noticed the color, a green so clear and luminous it looked like two big emeralds floating under a cold, clear stream.
"Sorry. Didn't know you were married." Somehow that had never occurred to him.
"I am not married, Mr. Silver. I am a widow."
He blinked. "Sorry," he said again.
"Do not be sorry," she sighed. "I was never so bored in all my life as when I was married."
Bored? She was bored doing what all women dreamed about from the time they were in pigtails? Before he could pursue the subject, Rita appeared and quietly slipped Jericho's forgotten cup of coffee onto the table near his left elbow. Detective O'Donnell peered at it with an avid look.
"Please, would you bring me what he's having?"
Rita frowned, then caught Jericho's eye. "You don't mean exactly like his, do you, Miss?"
"Of course I do."
"Just make it plain coffee, Rita," he directed.
Mrs. O'Donnell's green, green eyes flicked to his cup and then up to meet his. "Make it exactly like his, please."
Rita raised her graying eyebrows and darted another glance at Jericho. "Exactly like yours, Johnny?" she murmured.
Jericho tried not to smile. "Yeah, exactly." He'd teach MissMrs.City-bred Detective not to make assumptions about things in the West.
Mrs. O'Donnell's coffee came almost immediately. Rita hovered near the table, and Jericho knew why. The detective's coffee had to be at least half brandy, and Rita wanted to watch the lady swallow a mouthful.
So did Jericho. He followed the lady detective's every move as she picked up the cup with a small white hand and blew across the top. Then she downed a hefty swallow.