A Texan's Luck (Wife Lottery #3) : chap 1
LACY FOLDED A FEW DOLLAR BILLS INTO THE
LAST PAY env elope and stuffed it in the bottom drawer of
her desk. She leaned back, breathing in the familiar
smells of the print shop: ink, sawdust, paper, pov erty .
In the three y ears since she had taken ov er the shop,
she managed to make the pay roll ev ery month but one.
Once she’d taken all the money from the cashbox and
trav eled halfway across Texas to meet her husband. She
shrugged. Once she’d been eighteen and a fool.
As the wind howled outside, Lacy closed her ey es,
remembering how excited she’d been when she learned
that Frank Walker Larson was stationed little more than a
day ’s ride by train and then stage from her. Finally , her
husband would be more than just a name on the marriage
license and a few letters he’d written his father the first
y ear he’d gone into the army .
She’d dreamed of how it would be when they met. He
would be y oung and handsome in his uniform. She’d run
into his arms, and he would tell her ev ery thing was going
to be all right. After the long y ear of taking care of his
father and keeping the shop running, Lacy would cuddle
into her husband’s embrace and forget all her worries.
She opened her ey es to the shadowy world of her
small print shop. The real world. Her husband had been
handsome, she admitted. So tall and important he took
her breath away . But he hadn’t welcomed her. His arms
had folded around her in duty , nothing more. The Frank
Larson she ran to was only a cold captain who preferred to
be called Walker. And their time together had chilled her
heart.Lacy pushed away a tear as she remembered riding
back on the dusty stagecoach that day . Now twenty , she
was old enough to realize what a fool she had made of
herself with Larson. The ride home had only prolonged
her agony . Her body hurt from being used, but the
dreams he killed scarred. The coach had been crowded
with women wearing too much perfume and men
smoking cheap cigars. When Lacy threw up in her
handkerchief, the passengers decided that she would
benefit from more air.
At the first stop, she was encouraged to take the seat
on top of the stage. She’d pulled on her bonnet and gladly
crawled into the chair tied among the luggage. As she
watched the sunset that day , Lacy took the letters from
her bag that Walker had written to his father y ears ago.
She fell in lov e with her husband through reading his
letters of adv enture, memorizing ev ery line as if it were
written to her.
One by one, she watched them blow out of her
hands, drifting in the wind behind the stage like dead
leav es. That day she put away childhood. That day she’d
giv en up on dreams.
Lacy stood in the dimly lit shop and pulled her shawl
around her as if the wool could hug her frame. She
stretched tired muscles. It was late, and tomorrow would
be a busy day . Ev ery Saturday after all the papers were
sold and the fly ers nailed, Lacy rode out to her friends’
farm. There, she could relax for a few hours. She’d play
with Bailee and Carter’s children and remember how
y ears ago when Sarah, Bailee, and she had been kicked off
of a wagon train, they ’d talked about what life would be
like in Texas. Bailee had sworn she’d nev er marry , and
Sarah had thought she wouldn’t liv e to see another
winter. But Lacy , then fifteen, had boasted that she would
marry and hav e so many children she would hav e to
start numbering them because she’d run out of names.
“Fiv e y ears ago,” Lacy whispered to herself as she
climbed the stairs. Fiv e y ears since they came to Texas
half-starv ed, out of money , and out of luck. Bailee found
her man and had three sons with another baby on the
way . Sarah wrote often about her twins.
“And then there is me.” Lacy walked into her small
apartment abov e the shop. “I had a husband for fifteen
Her rooms welcomed her with colorful quilts she’d
made and tattered books she’d collected. When she first
mov ed in and began to learn the newspaper business, she
could barely read, but Lacy studied hard. Her father-in-
law nev er tired of helping her learn those first few y ears.
He’d treated her like a treasure, ev en though she’d been
little more than a ragamuffin when he’d paid her bail and
married her to his son by proxy . From the first, he talked
of what a grand jewel she’d be to his son when the boy
finally came home from serv ing in the army .
On ev enings like this, she missed the old man
dearly . She longed for the way he alway s talked about
Walker as if his son were still a boy , and the way he could
quote ev ery article he’d ev er written as though it were
only y esterday and not material from twenty y ears in the
business. He lov ed telling stories of newspapermen who’d
stood their ground in Western towns from Kansas City to
California and had to fight, sometimes ev en die, for what
they wrote. She missed his company .
Before Lacy could heat water for tea, someone tapped
on the back door.
She lifted the old Nav y Colt from the pie safe drawer
and went to answer. No one ev er climbed the stairs to her
back door except Bailee, and she wouldn’t be calling so
late. The minute she saw Sheriff Riley’s stooped outline
through the glass, she relaxed and set the gun aside. He’d
taken a few bullets in a gun battle sev eral y ears ago, and
the limp made it hard for him to stand straight.
“Ev ening.” She opened the door to a cold blast of air
that almost took her breath away . “Want to come in for a
cup of coffee, Sheriff? It’s cold enough to snow.” The little
porch area at the top of a narrow flight of stairs held no
protection from the night, and lately , the sheriff looked
little more than bone.
Riley shook his head. “Now y ou know I can’t do that.
What would folks say , a lady like y ourself hav ing a male
guest after dark?”
She grinned, knowing no one would think a thing
about the old man coming in from the winter night to sit
a spell, but she wouldn’t spoil his fun. “You know y ou’re
the only gentleman I ask inside. I’d shoot any other man
who came knocking after dark, but I know y ou wouldn’t
be here if y ou didn’t hav e a reason.”
Riley nodded. “I’d hope so. You being a respectable
lady and all. I wouldn’t ev en bother with a trial if I found
a body on this porch.” Though he’d listened to their
confessions of killing a robber on the road to Cedar Point
fiv e y ears ago, Riley had alway s treated Lacy , Sarah, and
Bailee more like daughters than outlaws.
The sheriff, like ev ery one else in town, regarded her
as if her husband had simply left for the day and would be
back any time. Here, she was Mrs. Larson, and there was a
solidness about it, ev en if there was no substance to the
man she married.
Riley shifted into his coat like an aging turtle. “I just
came to tell y ou that I got a telegram a few minutes ago
say ing Zeb Whitaker will be getting out of jail next week. I
promised y ou I’d let y ou know the minute I heard.”
Lacy fought to keep from reaching for the Colt. Big
Zeb Whitaker was an old nightmare she laid aside y ears
ago when he’d finally gone to prison. She could still feel
his hands on her when he’d grabbed her and ripped the
front of her dress open to see if she were woman enough to
kidnap. She thought she killed him once. She would kill
him for real if she had to. He was the first man Bailee,
Sarah, and she met when they came to Texas, and if Zeb
had his way , he would hav e taken their wagon and left
them for dead.
“Lacy ?” Riley said as though he didn’t think she
“Yes.” She balled her fist to keep her hands from
“Rumor is he still thinks one of y ou three women has
his stash of gold. I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up
around here. I’m not too worried about Bailee way out on
the farm with Carter watching after her, and Sarah
tucked away where Zeb will nev er find her.” Riley ’s face
wrinkled. “But y ou … with y our man gone and all.”
He didn’t need to say more. She knew she was alone.
Her man wasn’t gone; Walker had nev er been here.
Except for the one brief meeting, he was no more than a
name on a piece of paper.
“I think y ou should leav e town, Lacy .” When Riley
met her stare, he added quickly , “Just for a few weeks. Go
see Sarah. Or may be y ou hav e family back East y ou could
v isit. May be if y ou weren’t here, he’d forget about looking
y ou up.”
Lacy wanted to scream, Leave town with what?
There were times ov er the past few y ears when she didn’t
hav e enough money left to buy food. Once she surv iv ed on
a basket of apples Bailee brought in from their farm. The
two friends nev er discussed how Lacy was doing, but
Bailee alway s brought apples and eggs and more from the
farm, claiming she wanted to trade them for a newspaper.
More often then not, Lacy swapped a ten cent paper for a
week’s worth of food.
Lacy didn’t want the sheriff, or any one else in town,
to know how little she had. They all seemed to think her
inv isible husband sent her money regularly . “I’ll be fine
here, Sheriff, don’t worry about me.”
Riley shook his head. I don’t know, Lacy . I’m not as
spry as I used to be. I’m not sure I can face a man like Zeb
“He’s aged, too, y ou know. He’s probably barely
getting around. Who knows, he might come back to say
he’s sorry for causing us so much trouble fiv e y ears ago.”
“Mean don’t age well.” The sheriff frowned. “I’d feel a
lot better if y our man were here.”
“Walker’s down on the border fighting cattle
rustlers,” Lacy lied. She’d been using that excuse for
months now; it was time she made up another reason. “I’ll
be all right. I hav e the gun y ou gav e me.”
Mumbling to himself, Riley turned and headed down
the steep stairs. Lacy knew he wasn’t happy about her
stay ing, but this was her home, her only home, and she
needed to run the shop. None of the three men who
worked for her could take ov er her job.
Duncan was almost deaf. Folks coming in to place an
ad had to stand next to his good ear and y ell their order.
Eli’s bones bothered him so much in winter that he stay ed
on his feet most of the day . If he sat for more than a few
minutes, he seemed to rust. And, of course, Jay Boy was
just a kid Lacy paid a man’s wages because he supported
his mother and little sister. He might be learning the
business between errands, but he couldn’t take ov er.
Lacy closed the back door and locked it. She had to
stay . If Whitaker came, she’d fight, may be ev en die, but
she wouldn’t run.
She almost wanted to laugh at the way the legend of
Whitaker’s gold had spread ov er the y ears. The
night he’d tried to steal their wagon, they ’d left him in
the mud, his saddlebags heav y beside him, but with each
y ear folks came up with theories of what might hav e
happened to the gold. Some thought the women had it and
were waiting until Whitaker died to spend it. Some
decided Whitaker buried it because if he’d been caught
with it, he’d serv e more jail time. Ev en a few believ ed
there had been no gold that rainy sunrise.
Lacy had decided a few y ears ago to stop try ing to
tell the story and just let people believ e what they wanted
to. They would any way .
For the next few day s she carefully locked ev ery door
and made sure the old Colt was not far from her hand. She
caught herself jumping at the jingle of the front bell and
waking each night when the wind rapped at her upstairs
windows. As the day s passed, she calmed, telling herself
she was in the middle of town and had nothing to fear
from an old buffalo hunter like Zeb Whitaker.
If he did come to town, he would need but one look at
her shop to see that she couldn’t hav e stolen the gold he
said weighed down his saddlebags that morning. Lacy
remembered seeing coins spilling out of the bags after
she’d clubbed him, but she hadn’t taken a single one.
One week went by , then another. Winter settled in,
turning the usual mud holes in the streets to ice and
frosting the air. Lacy worked in the shop by day and
quilted by candlelight late into the night. She hated
winter, for she nev er felt warm. Ev en standing in front of
her small fire, only one side warmed, the other chilled.
She tried to use the stov e upstairs only when needed and
conserv e her wood to heat the downstairs. But winter
settled in for a long stay , and the nights seemed endless as
she made herself work long after dark.
Around midnight, she gav e up try ing to quilt. While
she dressed for bed, thin bricks heated by the fire. In her
gown, Lacy carefully wrapped each brick and stuffed it
beneath the cov ers near the bottom of her bed. Then she
jumped in bed, laughing at her own attempts to keep
The wind rattled the windows along the back of the
apartment ev en more than usual, with a promise of snow.
Lacy poked her head out from beneath the quilts.
She listened. The alley behind her shop sometimes
sounded like a wind tunnel, dragging a howling winter
into the shadows. The wooden frame of the shop below
groaned. Somewhere boards popped as they shifted.
She slipped back under the blankets, hoping her
breath would warm the space between the sheets.
Just as her icy toes thawed, thanks to the hot bricks,
the back door rattled. The sound was muffled by a towel
she’d placed to keep out the draft, but she thought she
heard the creak of the door handle.
Lacy hesitated, weighing fear against being cold.
The Colt rested on the dresser not three feet away , but the
journey would cost her the little body heat she’d managed
to trap beneath the cov ers.
She told herself no one would try to break in tonight.
It was too cold. In the y ears she’d liv ed alone abov e the
shop, no one had ev er tried to break in. Once a drunk fell
into the front windows downstairs, but he hadn’t intended
to enter. This was a quiet little town most of the time
where folks felt safe. Crime rarely paid a call.
But what better time than tonight, with the wind
blowing and no one brav e enough to inv estigate a
At the third rattle of the door, Lacy jumped from the
bed and ran for the Colt. As her hand touched the handle
of the gun, a cold wind barreled through her apartment.
The back door swung wide open, clamoring against the
wall. Lacy held the weapon in both hands and faced the
wind. She might freeze, but she’d protect to the death
what was hers.
A tall figure in a dark wool coat stood before her
wearing a hat low, blocking his face from v iew. He filled
the opening. The short cape of his coat flapped in the wind
like a flag.
She raised the gun and tightened her finger around
The stranger stomped into her kitchen as if he had a
right to be there. Swearing at the storm, he raised a
glov ed hand to shov e the door closed. The dov e-colored
gauntlet shone pale in the moonlight.
Lev eling the gun to his chest, she stepped forward.
Only the y ellow braiding of his hat cords kept her from
firing.“Cavalry,” she whispered, remembering that only
army cav alry wore y ellow on their uniforms. “Infantry
wear blue, artillery wear scarlet,” she repeated her facts
as if writing an article and not facing an intruder.
The trespasser glanced up. Icy blue ey es stared from
beneath the shade of his wide-brimmed hat.
“Walker!” She almost didn’t recognize him. His chin
was cov ered by a short, black beard, but ev en in the
shadow of his hat, she would nev er forget those ey es. Cold,
heartless ey es, that asked nothing and gav e ev en less.
He jerked his hat off and tossed it on the kitchen
table. “Shoot me, Lacy , if that’s what y ou plan to do, or
put that old cannon away . I’m in no mood to waste time
being threatened by my own wife.”
Lacy blinked as if he might disappear.
Walker unbuttoned his coat and hung it on a peg
behind the door as though he knew it would be there
waiting for him.
He was slightly thicker, she thought. Ten pounds,
may be twenty . His hair was longer, curling ov er the stiff
collar of his uniform jacket. But he was no less handsome,
no less frightening.
“What are y ou doing here?” she asked without
lowering the gun.
He glanced at the Colt, then faced her directly . “Let’s
get something straight right now, dear wife. I hav e no
desire to be in this town. In fact, if I had my way , I’d nev er
step foot within a hundred miles of Cedar Point.”
He pulled off his glov es and tossed them atop his hat.
“But it seems Sheriff Riley knows someone who is
acquainted with my superior officer. He sent a letter two
weeks ago demanding I come home to protect my wife
from a man she has apparently confessed to killing once.”
Lacy wasn’t sure if she were more upset that he
came home unwillingly to protect her, or that Sheriff
Riley had interfered. At this point, if she had only one
bullet, it would be a toss-up which one to shoot. “I didn’t
ask him to hav e y ou come. I can take care of my self.”
Walker looked at the gun. “I can see that.”
She lowered the Colt. “You’v e no need to stay . You
can return to y our post, wherev er that is. I’ll be fine.”
The deep frown didn’t lift. “Would that I could,” he
answered as if arguing with her. “But it seems I’v e been
giv en thirty day s’ leav e and was forced to take it.”
“Thirty day s,” Lacy echoed. Thirty day s with
Walker would be an eternity . The few minutes she’d spent
with him two y ears ago had taken her months to recov er
from. He hurt her. He humiliated her. And worst of all,
he’d done exactly what she’d asked of him. He’d made her
his wife in more than name.
“Don’t look so terrified. I spent three day s getting
here, and it will take me the same amount of hard riding
to return, so y ou’v e only twenty -four day s of the hell of
my company .”
“You can’t stay here!” Lacy looked around her little
apartment crowded with her things. With her life.
“I can’t stay any where else.” His gaze followed hers.
He didn’t look any happier to be here than she was to hav e
him. “What kind of guard would be posted outside the
perimeter? Plus, if I remember this town, within hours
ev ery one will know I’v e arriv ed, and it would look strange
for a husband to stay at the boardinghouse when his wife
The little warmth in her body turned to ice. “You’re
not sleeping with me!”
For the first time, his frown spread into a smile. “I
don’t remember y our being of such a mind the last time
we were together. If memory serv es, y ou were the one
who insisted on sharing my quarters.”
“The only time we were together,” Lacy corrected.
“The only time we will ev er be together. You don’t want a
“I remember.” He watched her carefully .
“May be we are div orced,” she added. “May be I’v e
told ev ery one y ou died.”
“You hav en’t,” he answered too matter-of-factly to
be guessing. “And stop shiv ering with fright. I’m not here
to attack y ou, Lacy . I’m here to protect y ou.”
LACY WRAPPED A QUILT AROUND HER as Walker
brought in his supplies. The midnight wind blew through
the open doorway , the chill no more welcome than him.
Other than the saddle and two leather bags that took
up half her kitchen floor, he brought two Winchesters, a
gun belt, two Colts, and sev eral boxes of shells. Shov ing
aside the glass birds Lacy kept on the windowsill, Walker
stacked extra rounds for the guns on the ledge. He fully
loaded each rifle and positioned one near the back door
and the other a few feet from the opening in the liv ing
area that led down to the shop below.
“These rooms were used for storage when I was a
kid.” Walker talked as he worked. “My brother and I used
to play up here. If I remember right, no one can get up the
front stairs from the shop without boards creaking. It’s the
back that will need guarding.”
Lacy really didn’t care what the captain figured, but
it surprised her to learn Walker had a brother. The boy
must hav e died in childhood, for her father-in-law had
nev er mentioned him.
Watching Walker closely , she tried to stay as far
away from him as the tiny rooms allowed. She didn’t need
her usually inv isible husband to play the part of
protector. If Zeb Whitaker was dumb enough to show his
face in town, the locks on both doors would keep him out,
the old weapon the sheriff had giv en her would be
accurate enough to shoot the huge buffalo hunter.
Her little kitchen took on the look of a fortress. The
weapons should hav e calmed her, made her feel safer, but
panic climbed across Lacy ’s spine. Walker was a man she
hardly knew, a man she had to fight to keep from hating.
Yet suddenly he seemed to think he belonged in her quiet
world.She wanted to remind him there was no room for
him in her apartment, but he didn’t look as if he planned
to leav e. In fact, he mov ed about, rearranging things,
shov ing her quilting frames into corners, clearing papers
off tables, checking the locks on windows. Despite both
their names on a marriage license and the few minutes
they ’d once spent together, he could be any one. He could
ev en be worse than Zeb Whitaker for all she knew.
Pulling the blanket tighter around her as if the
material could somehow protect her, Lacy thought she
knew all she needed to know about Captain
She knew she wanted him gone.
Two y ears ago when they ’d met, she’d been an
eighteen-y ear-old, frightened and alone. Now, at twenty ,
she was a businesswoman used to making her own way ,
used to protecting herself.
The only thing she didn’t know was how to make
him leav e. Fear of Zeb Whitaker seemed preferable to
hav ing Captain Walker liv ing with her. The old buffalo
hunter who had been released from jail and was believ ed
to be heading in her direction seemed only an old
nightmare she could thrust into a corner of her thoughts.
But the captain, all six feet of him, was here, rearranging
He grabbed a pile of papers containing all the
articles she’d written ov er the past three months and
dropped them near the kitchen stov e as though he
planned to use them to light the fire.
“Don’t mov e those.” She circled behind him,
correcting the damage. “I’m sav ing those.”
Walker glanced around. “Appears y ou sav e pretty
much ev ery thing, wife. This place wouldn’t seem so small
if it were cleared out.”
Lacy slammed the papers back in their original
place. She wanted to tell him to go away . That he was one
thing in her life she would lov e to clear out. “Don’t touch
my things,” was all that anger would allow past her lips.
He glanced at her, his cold, blue ey es narrowing
slightly as he studied her. “Don’t worry , Lacy . If y ou’re
lucky , Whitaker will kill me and make y ou a widow.”
“I don’t want…” she whispered. She couldn’t finish;
he’d almost read her thoughts.
His laughter didn’t ring true. “Don’t wish me dead
then, dear wife?”
“No, it’s not that.” She met his stare. “I wouldn’t
mind being a widow, but I don’t like the thought of Zeb
Whitaker getting close enough to me to hav e to step ov er
y ou.”“Thanks for the consideration, but I’m not that easy
to kill.” Walker reached around the door and retriev ed the
last of his gear from the landing. The small bag looked like
the old leather pouches Lacy had seen pony express riders
carry y ears ago. The case might hold a few books, but it
was too small to replace a saddlebag. One adv antage of the
heav y leather though might be that it looked waterproof.
She couldn’t help but wonder what this last bag
When he finally closed the door, he dropped it beside
the saddle and faced her. He looked more tired than
“Hav e y ou got any thing to eat? I know it’s late, but I
hav en’t had food since I broke camp before dawn.”
“You want me to cook for y ou at this hour?” Lacy
answered before she thought about how ridiculous her
question sounded. Of course he’d want food and, after all,
she was his wife, and that is what wiv es did for their
husbands. They cooked … among other things.
Lacy closed her ey es. She had already done the
“among other things” two y ears ago when she demanded
he bed her before she would leav e his office. But once for
“among other things” was enough. Nev er again.
She opened one ey e. Her not-so-lov ing husband was
still there and waiting for food. If he knew her cooking
skills, he might decide to go to bed hungry . She thought of
telling him she was probably the worst cook in the
county , but he’d find out soon enough.
Walker looked like he might y ell at her to step liv ely ,
as if she were one of his troops. He might be cold and tired,
may be a little worried, but he was not an easy man to feel
sorry for. There didn’t appear to be an ounce of softness in
him. She wished he’d disappear as quickly as he’d walked
into her life.
Without waiting for an answer, he knelt ov er one of
his saddlebags and pulled out a bag of coffee. He mov ed to
the sink and tried to pump water.
Lacy took pity on him. “The pipes may already be
frozen, but there’s water in the coffeepot.” She’d learned
the first winter that if she wanted coffee at dawn, she’d
better make sure she had water drawn before sundown.
The thought crossed her mind to help, but there didn’t
seem enough room in the kitchen for two. She slipped into
the only chair at the table, her chair, and watched him.
Walker banged around in the space until he had the
fire built up and coffee on, then he pulled out her supply of
food from the small cool box: four eggs and a half loaf of
bread. Glancing at her, he raised an ey ebrow silently ,
asking if she minded.
Lacy shook her head, then watched as he cooked the
eggs with far more skill than she could hav e. He drank
her half jar of milk while he worked, and when he set the
plate of food on the table, he silently offered her a cup of
coffee.She took the cup, careful not to touch his fingers.
He lifted the other chair from the wall and sat across
the table from her.
Lacy had taken the chair down a hundred times
when people v isited or during the months her father-in-
law stay ed with her. But she still remembered the day
she’d hammered nails in the wall and told her friend,
Bailee, that someday her husband would come home and
take the chair down; until then, she’d eat alone. She’d
been fifteen when she married him by proxy . Young
enough to believ e in dreams of lov e.
The silence closed in around her. “I didn’t know y ou
had a brother. I can’t remember y our father ev er talking
“More likely , he nev er talked about me,” Walker
said between bites. “My brother was the one Dad thought
would take ov er the business. I heard he died in a gunfight
in Abilene y ears ago.” Walker spoke without emotion, as
though he barely remembered him.
When he said no more, Lacy couldn’t think of
any thing to add. She knew little of this man and wanted
to know ev en less than she did.
Lacy curled her feet into the chair and hugged the
blanket around her as she studied Walker Larson and
tried to figure out this husband of hers who acted as if he
belonged in her world.
Hard, she decided. A man molded of stone. His body
looked all muscle and bone, his ey es colder than the north
wind. She tried to think of the boy his father had told her
about before the old man died, but the stories had dulled
with time. And many , she recalled the old man’s words,
were simply about “my boy ,” so they could hav e been
about Walker’s brother.
It bothered her that the pieces of Walker’s childhood
she thought she knew might be about another. For she
had so few real memories of this man she’d been married
to for almost fiv e y ears. And now she guessed ev en some of
them were not true.
All she could remember was the way he’d spread
atop her and entered her body without one word of
kindness or lov e. The memory of his cold belt buckle
scraping against her stomach as her cheeks burned with
fear and embarrassment. The anger in his words when
he’d ordered her to dress and be on the stage as soon as
“Stop looking at me like that, Lacy .” His v oice
snapped in the air like a whip.
She caught herself before she shrank away and
disappeared into the quilt. She would not be afraid of him.
She feared too many things in her life already . “Like
what?” Lacy spoke her thoughts. “Like a woman looking
at a man who raped her?”
Walker stood suddenly and tossed his empty plate
into the sink. “I didn’t rape y ou.”
“It couldn’t be called making lov e, Captain.” She’d
called him Captain in her mind since the day they ’d been
together. Somehow that made what they ’d done less
personal. He no longer had a name.
Walker spread his arms out, gripping the counter.
He lowered his head for a moment. His strong shoulders
looked as if they bore a heav y weight.
Lacy wondered if she’d stepped too far. She didn’t
know him well enough to push, but he might as well learn
now that she was not the dreamer she’d been the only
time they ’d met.
When he faced her, he was once more in complete
control. Only his blue ey es reflected the sparks of anger
her words had caused. “All right, Lacy , if that’s how it’s
going to be, let’s get it out in the open tonight. I hoped
y ou’d wait till morning, but bad news nev er ages well.”
He hadn’t bothered to tell her how tired he was; she
could see it in his gaze. He probably thought she wouldn’t
care any more about that than she did about him being
hungry , and he’d be right. Except his last words caught
her off guard. His father used to say the same thing about
She looked for a hint of the old man in the captain
but could see none. The kindness of the father hadn’t been
Lacy stood, tripping on the corners of her blanket.
“You’re right. We can wait till morning.” She would just
as soon wait forev er. She wasn’t sure she could tell him
how humiliated she’d been that day he’d taken her so
coldly in the back room of his office. If she told him, she’d
hav e to reliv e something she’d spent two y ears try ing to
Quickly , she mov ed to the tiny main room. “You can
sleep in here.” She pointed to the small couch by the
room’s only window. “Or the rug is comfortable. I slept
there when y our father was too ill to liv e at the
boardinghouse and mov ed in with me.”
He followed her. “You should hav e written me about
When she faced him once more, he lowered his v oice
and added, “I didn’t know how he died. Sheriff Riley sent
word about how y ou took care of him those last months,
nursing him and running the paper. I thank y ou for
that.”“There is no need.” She backed toward her bedroom
door. “I lov ed him. He was like a real father to me.”
Walker probably couldn’t understand how close
she’d felt to the old man who’d paid her way out of jail and
adopted her as his daughter-in-law. He’d treated her like a
jewel, and she’d lov ed him for alway s being so kind.
Staring at the son he’d alway s talked about, she wondered
how the old man could hav e been so wrong about his
child. He’d said his son would cherish her.
Walker took a step toward her room but stopped
when she raised her hand as though to block any
He growled for a second. “I only planned to make
sure the window was locked,” he snapped.
“I can do it.” She turned away .
She looked back at him, her knuckles whitening as
she gripped the door to her bedroom.
“We will talk about what happened between us in the
Disappearing into her bedroom, she stood against the
door for a moment as if preparing to brace for an attack.
She wasn’t sure if his words were a promise or a threat.
Slowly , she made her fingers relax from the fists
they ’d curled into. If the captain wanted to come into her
bedroom, there would be no way to stop him, but from the
sounds bey ond the door, he appeared more interested in
sleep.She smiled suddenly as she drew the heavy curtains
ov er the window and checked the lock on a window she
nev er opened. Any intruder who could jump the fifteen
feet to the window might prov e to be more than ev en
Captain Larson could handle.
After shov ing the dresser against the door, Lacy
crawled beneath the cov ers and tried to stop shiv ering
long enough to fall asleep. But the coffee and the
excitement wouldn’t let her relax. She liked her quiet life.
She lov ed running the paper and sewing at night. Why
did he hav e to come home and ruin ev ery thing?
Home, she thought. This was her home, not his.
She’d nev er had a place she felt she belonged, but she
planned to fight for this one. She’d been mov ing and
running most of her life, but here she’d make a stand. Not
ev en Zeb Whitaker would frighten her away .
The echoes of a song children had made up about her
drifted through her mind: “Lacy , Lacy , pretty and poor.
Nobody ’s daughter any more. Lacy , Lacy dirty and wild.
Just an orphan, nobody ’s child.” She’d been passed around
between neighbors so much as a child, when folks asked
where she was from she alway s thought of say ing, “The
back of a wagon.”
Closing her ey es, she drifted to sleep.
Walker stomped around in the tiny liv ing room
telling himself she might appreciate him being quiet, but
that was probably all the ungrateful woman would
appreciate. She hadn’t bothered to thank him for riding
three day s to get to her.
He tugged off his wet boots and mov ed them close
enough to the fire to dry by morning. She’d looked like
she’d gladly kill him when he entered, and then she
hadn’t said three words to him before she accused him of
rape. This wasn’t going to be an easy assignment.
The tiny cooking stov e in the kitchen was the only
heat, and it hardly warmed the liv ing space. He could
guess how cold her bedroom must be with its northern
exposure. Not that he cared, he reminded himself. He was
here to keep her aliv e. No harm would come to her on his
watch. He’d told her two y ears ago he had no room in his
life for a wife, and nothing had changed.
“Nothing,” he mumbled as he unpacked. Except that
he couldn’t forget the way she’d felt, or smelled … or how
she’d fought back tears when he’d made her his wife in
more than name only . She’d haunted him like a plague
through waking and dreaming since that day . May be
spending a few weeks with her would finally clear his
mind of the memory of the way she’d felt beneath him.
He sat on what he thought was one of the chairs
cov ered by a colorful quilt and tumbled to the floor.
Rolling quickly back to his feet, he lifted the material and
found only a wooden box beneath quilts pinned to look like
arms of a chair. He examined the other furnishings. With
the quilts they both looked like chairs, but they were
simply frames and not ev en sturdy ones.
Marching to the couch, he lifted the lay ers of
patchwork quilts and found only boxes stacked up
beneath. They did look strong enough to hold his weight,
but little more.
Except for the kitchen table and chairs, and a stool,
it appeared all the furniture was make-believ e.
How fitting, he thought, fake furniture in a fake
Spreading out his bedroll on the rug, Walker tried to
relax and get some sleep, but the knowledge that she
probably shiv ered behind the closed door bothered him.
Other things also worried him. He’d been sending her half
of his salary since he’d learned they were married, but
there was a sparseness about the way she liv ed that ev en
the colorful quilts couldn’t hide. The little food in the
cupboard, the lack of firewood, the absence of furnishings.
She was barely surv iv ing when she should hav e been able
to liv e comfortably on his money plus the amount the
paper brought in.
A cat crawled out from beneath the stool and stared
“Great,” Walker mumbled and rolled ov er. “On top
of ev ery thing else, she has a cat!”
Another pair of feline ey es stared at him from a
shelf, watching him as if considering him little more than
prey .“I hate cats,” he mumbled and pulled his army-issue
blanket ov er his head.
LACY AWOKE TO THE SOUND OF A DOOR
CLOSING. She pulled her blanket down just enough to see
that she’d ov erslept. Not that it mattered. Duncan and
Jay Boy would pick up the papers and start selling them
without her help. Eli, because his joints hurt too badly to
go outside in the weather, would hopefully be downstairs
in time to open if any one needed to place an ad for next
week. She didn’t hav e to be in the shop early ; they all
knew about the hidden key .
Holding on to as much of the cov ers as she could, she
stood, shuffled to the window, and pulled back the heav y
curtain. Nev er a morning person, Lacy usually had to let
the sun slap her hard to pull her from sleep. She hated
mornings, feeling she could easily go the rest of her life
without ev er seeing the sun rise.
A full day greeted her, pushing the memory of her
dreams aside. From the number of people milling about, it
had to be past eight. Clouds still blocked any brightness
from the sun, but the threat of snow didn’t keep the folks
of Cedar Point from Saturday morning activ ities. Sev eral
farmers were already setting up their wagons in the
empty space between the saloon and the sheriff’s office.
Unless Sheriff Riley posted notice of a hanging, ev ery one
agreed that Saturday was trading day .
This late in the season, farmers brought in mostly
v egetables from their root cellars and canned goods along
with eggs and salted hams. Usually the Church Women’s
League had a table of handmade items for sale: crocheted
pot holders and bits of lace women had donated as part of
their dues. Crocheted Bible cov ers had been a hot seller
last spring, but now the leftov ers were beginning to
y ellow. Another month, and the lacy Christmas angels
would replace the cov ers on the table.
The merchants on Main Street, from the saloon to
the blacksmith, hauled their wares outside for display .
Miss Julie Stauffer’s small table by the hotel was already
stacked with fresh cinnamon-raisin rolls. She was the
hotel owner’s daughter and a beauty . Though her rolls
weren’t the best, single men lined up ev ery Saturday to
buy them and v isit. More than one cowhand had gotten
sick eating too many .
Lacy grinned. Only the undertaker seemed left out
of the trading. Ev en the barber had been known to take a
chicken in exchange for a whole family ’s haircuts.
Another hour, and ev ery one for miles around would be in
town exchanging and talking. Lacy hurried to the chest of
drawers and dressed as fast as she could.
Saturday excitement alway s tickled her. Today
she’d sell her papers and find the news she’d need for next
week’s space. If she were lucky , sev eral folks would be in to
place small ads.
As she pulled her dress ov er her head, a noise came
from the other room. For a second, she thought one of her
cats had knocked something off one of the shelv es he
alway s crowded onto. Probably Andy . He was alway s
climbing into small spaces between books and along
Then she remembered she had company . How could
she hav e forgotten?
Walker! Last night’s nightmare apparently still
lurked bey ond the door.
A cat y elped suddenly in pain.
Without thinking of how she must look, Lacy pushed
the dresser aside and ran out of her bedroom. If he’d hurt
one of her cats, she’d kill him straight out and explain her
She almost collided with a wall of wool uniform
before she brought herself to a sudden stop. He stood just
bey ond her door, his fist raised to the lev el of her face. For
a moment, they both stared, truly surprised to see the
other so close.
Lacy , recov ering first, stepped back. “What are y ou
doing? Hav e y ou hurt my cats?”
Walker looked frustrated, which she was beginning
to think must be his natural expression. “I was about to
knock on y our door to see if y ou were up, but I
accidentally stepped on a mangy excuse for an animal
and the thing responded like a doorbell.”
Lacy noticed Andy sev eral feet away , licking his
tail. “Try not to kill my cats while you’re here protecting
me.” She lifted her chin and stepped back, attempting to
put more space between them.
The back of her head hit the doorjamb.
Walker mov ed closer, but Lacy stopped him. “Don’t,”
she said with one hand raised while the other rubbed the
back of her head.
“I was only —”
She stood her ground. “Don’t touch me.”
He retreated a safe distance. “I didn’t plan to hurt
y ou,” he said. “And as for that cat, he looks like a few
freight wagons hav e already run ov er him.”
She glanced at Andy . Half his tail was missing along
with one ear. His short fur was a mixture of black and
brown, making him look muddy . She held out her arms to
him, but the cat showed no interest in needing comfort
“Is y our head all right? May be y ou should sit down.”
He glanced at the furniture and looked like he was
reconsidering his offer.
For the first time, she noticed he was fully dressed in
his uniform, with boots newly polished. He made a
striking figure in dark blue, but she knew better than
any one else that no heart beat beneath the uniform.
She stopped rubbing her sore head and tried to pull
her hair into some kind of order. “You’re leav ing?” It was
a hope more than a question.
“No. I alway s get up an hour before dawn.” His v oice
lowered as he talked, as if once more pulling himself into
complete control. “Since I consumed y our store of food last
night, I went down and restocked y our supply .” When she
didn’t thank him, he added, “I also made breakfast.”
He pointed to the kitchen and waited for her to lead
the way . “It’s a necessary skill I learned y ears ago.”
Lacy tiptoed into the kitchen, aware that he
followed. She smelled coffee and Julie Stauffer’s rolls. Food
cov ered the tiny kitchen table. Bacon, eggs, pancakes,
bread, and sev eral jars of canned fruit.
“I didn’t know what y ou liked.” His words were
matter-of-fact. “So, I picked up a little of ev ery thing as the
farmers set up on the street.” He pulled out her chair and