When a Texan Gambles (Wife Lottery #2) : chap 1
Texas The Fall of 1 883
SAM GATLIN REMOVED HIS RAIN-SOAKED COAT
AND shirt, knowing they would nev er get dry before
morning. He neatly folded his trousers ov er the chair
before he turned and noticed his new wife had slipped
from the bed. She had disappeared, along with one of the
Colts from the holster he’d hung on the rusty bedpost
The pale lightning of a dy ing storm blinked in the
small room, offering him enough light to see. Far away
thunder echoed, barely a rumble through the night as it
blended with the tinny piano music of the bar across the
He was bone tired, so cold he would nev er get warm,
and now he had lost the woman he just married. She
couldn’t hav e gone far, not in these cramped quarters. He
stood between where he had set her atop the cov ers and
the door leading into the hotel hallway .
She was either under the bed or folded into one of the
He found little comfort in discov ering his new bride
might be insane as well as armed. But bad luck had been
running a wide streak through his life lately , so he did not
bother to be surprised by the possibility .
He knelt on one knee and stared into the shadows
beneath the iron railing of the bed frame.
“Now look, Miss…” he began, knowing she was no
longer a ‘miss’ but forgetting the name the sheriff used
sev eral hours ago when Sam paid her fine, got her out of
jail, and married her. “There’s no need for y ou to hide.”
He expected she would hav e the good sense to be
grateful that he coughed up the money to sav e her from a
life behind bars. But she hadn’t said a word since they left
Cedar Point. He might as well hav e bought a china doll for
all the company she offered on the trip.
The barrel of his Colt poked out from under the bed.
“It’s been a long night,” he mumbled without
mov ing. They ’d driv en through the worst storm he had
seen in y ears in a flimsy rented buggy . “I’d like to get
some sleep in the few hours we hav e left before dawn.
Then I’ll buy a good wagon that can take us the rest of the
way to my place.”
“Lady .” Lady didn’t sound right. A man couldn’t go
around calling his bride lady . Sam straightened his large
frame, hating the way his body alway s ached when he
had to cram into a buggy . Man was meant to ride on a
horse, not behind one. If he had been alone today , he
would hav e brav ed the weather on horseback. But his
new bride looked so weak, a dozen raindrops would hav e
probably drowned her.
Sam decided to take the direct approach. “Get out
from under that bed, lady . The sheriff said y ou’v e been
married before. You should know by now what’s expected
on a wedding night. Stop this foolishness and climb under
those cov ers.” .
The barrel pointed at his heart. It occurred to Sam
how her first husband might hav e met his end.
She had looked like an angel when she stepped up and
pulled his name from a hat back in Cedar Point. He’d won.
A bride for the price of her fine. He thought it fair when
he read about the wife lottery .
Three y oung women had confessed to a murder, but
the sheriff hadn’t found the body they ’d admitted to
killing. So, in the name of justice and because the county
couldn’t afford to hold them indefinitely , Sheriff Riley had
held a lottery .
Sam had gone more to watch than participate, but
one look at Sarah changed his mind. He had to at least put
his name in the hat. The likelihood of winning had seemed
more of a wish than possibility .
“I’m not goin’ to hurt y ou.” Sam tried to sound kind,
but kindness was not something he wore easily . “I’v e
nev er hurt a woman in my life,” he added, then decided
that didn’t make him sound much better.
He thought he heard her sniffle. If she didn’t show
some sense, they would both catch pneumonia. The room
offered little warmth, only a block from the icy wind. The
owner downstairs had laughed when Sam asked if the
room had a fireplace or a tub.
He wished suddenly that he’d been able to take her to
a good hotel, but this had been the shortest way to his
land, and he wanted to get home before trouble caught up
“Come out and tell me what’s the matter,” Sam said
as if he wasn’t too tired to care. He already knew the
problem. The lady figured out she married him and would
hav e to look at him ev ery day for the rest of her life. All
six-feet-three, two hundred pounds of him. If his size didn’t
frighten her, wait until she found out what he did for a
liv ing. He figured bounty hunter ranked right below
undertaker in most women’s minds.
He pulled his wet shirt back on, hoping to cov er a few
of the scars across his chest before she noticed them.
“You are not going to touch me” came a whisper from
beneath the bed.
“Well, of course I’m going to touch y ou. That’s what
husbands and wiv es do. They touch each other. Ev ery one
knows that, lady .” May be she was simpleminded. Sam
remembered old man Harris’s daughters, who’d grown up
down the road from him. They were all fine-looking girls
who dev eloped early and fully , but there wasn’t a
complete brain among them. Their pa’s only hope of
getting them married off was to encourage it while the
girls were too y oung and shy to say more than a few
Sam hadn’t thought about his bride being turned that
way when he decided to marry . He just thought about
how much like an angel she looked, with her pale blond
hair and light blue ey es, and how loneliness weighed
down on him like a rain-soaked greatcoat. It had been so
long since he’d said more
than a few words to any one, or ate a meal across from
another person. He wasn’t sure he knew how to act. Half
the people in Texas thought him the dev il, so why not
marry an angel?
He tried again. “Look, miss, if y ou don’t want me to
touch y ou, I won’t for tonight. I giv e y ou my word. Come
on out from under the bed.” He thought of adding that he
wasn’t all that interested in any thing but sleep, but he
didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
She didn’t mov e.
“You could keep the Colt if y ou like. Just for tonight,
The shadow shifted. “What’s my name?”
He’d been afraid she might ask that question at some
point. “Mrs. Sam Gatlin.” He smiled, proud of himself.
“My first name?”
He didn’t answer. There was nothing he could say
that would hide the fact he’d been only half-listening to
the sheriff who married them. He’d been staring at her,
and that had taken most of his attention.
Sam walked ov er to the chair and started putting on
his trousers, since it didn’t look as if they would be
crawling beneath the cov ers any time soon. He might be
just guessing, but he figured wiv es didn’t warm up to
husbands who couldn’t remember their names. They
might be married, but it didn’t look as if there was going
to be any wedding bed tonight.
The wet wool of his trousers had grown cold and stiff.
He tossed them back ov er the chair and grabbed one of the
blankets from the bed.
Sam wrapped it around his waist. The barrel of the
Colt shook. He knew she was as cold as he. “Come on out,
Mrs. Gatlin, and get under the cov ers. I won’t come near
y ou, if that’s what y ou want.” His new bride made no
sense. Why would she marry and leav e town with him if
she didn’t plan to be his wife? She acted as if he had
abducted her and forced her here.
As he pulled the blanket up ov er his shoulders, she
slipped out from beneath the far side of the bed.
“Sarah,” she said. “My name’s Sarah and I won’t
hesitate to kill y ou if y ou come closer, Mr. Gatlin.”
Sam sat down on the chair and folded his arms,
locking the ends of the blanket around him. “You’v e killed
before, hav e y ou?”
“That’s right.” She lifted her chin. “A man my friends
and I met on the way to Cedar Point.” She took a deep
breath, as though she’d said what she was about to say
one too many times in this lifetime. “Because we were
three women, Zeb Whitaker tried to steal our wagon and
take my friend Lacy away with him. We all three clubbed
him with a board Bailee brought to Texas for protection.
So we all killed him.” She stared at him. “I’m a cold-
blooded murderer, that’s a fact.”
Sam fought down a grin. The angel lady fascinated
him with her sunshine hair and her soft southern v oice.
She was so beautiful, ev en now, damp and tired and
barely able to stand while she confessed.
He found it hard to believ e such a creature could
swing a board hard enough to hurt any one.
“Why didn’t y ou shoot him?” he asked more to keep
her talking than out of interest.
She slipped into the bed, cov ered herself, then wiggled
out of her wet dress. “I would hav e if I’d had a gun, but the
wagon master took all our weapons when he threw us off
the wagon train. I guess he figured we’d be dead soon and
didn’t want to waste a rifle.”
Her dress hit the floor with a wet plop.
She was good, he thought. Her story became more
unbeliev able by the second, but she wasn’t backing down.
He’d hunted outlaws who were like that, so good at telling
lies they made people want to believ e them ev en when
prov en false.
“What wagon train?” It wouldn’t take him long to trip
her up and find the truth.
“The last one to leav e Independence for California last
summer. They called it the Roland Train with a wagon
master by the name of Broken-Hand Harrison. I don’t
remember much more; first my husband got the fev er a
few weeks out, then my baby . They both died while we
were mov ing across Kansas.” A tear rolled down her pale
china face. “If Bailee and Lacy hadn’t sav ed me, I would
hav e died, too. I had a fev er so bad, I didn’t care one way
or the other if I woke up ev ery morning.”
“Bailee and Lacy ?”
“The two women kicked off the wagon train with me.
Broken-Hand thought I had a fev er that would spread, so
he didn’t want any one around me, but Bailee let me ride
in her wagon after people from the train burned mine.”
Her words slowed as she warmed beneath the blankets.
“Ev ery one figured Lacy for a witch just because all the
folks she nursed died, except me. Some said she danced
with the moon, but I nev er saw her do that. She is little
more than a child, but when they left Bailee and me, they
left her, also.”
Sam watched his wife lean her head against the
pillow and close her ey es. The sheriff mentioned
something about her feeling better since she’d had regular
meals, but she looked as fragile as cottonwood seed
blowing in the wind.
“What about the one named Bailee?” he said louder
than he’d intended. “Why did Broken-Hand Harrison kick
her off with y ou?
Sarah jerked, as if in the moment while she paused,
she’d fallen asleep. “The wagon master thought Bailee
killed someone back East. But she’s a real nice person,
ev en if she does hav e this habit of clubbing men when
she’s angry . May be whoev er she killed needed killing as
bad as Zeb Whitaker did.”
The angel closed her ey es again. Sam watched her
grip on the gun relax. He waited a few minutes, then
stood and carefully lifted the weapon from her hand and
pulled the cov ers ov er her shoulder.
For a moment, he thought of returning to the chair.
But the empty space beside her inv ited him.
He spread his blanket atop her and mov ed to the other
side of the bed. When he slipped beneath the cov ers, he
smiled for the first time in a long while.
Come morning, he would probably face the wrath of
Sarah for taking up half of her bed. He almost looked
forward to the clash. But right now, in the cold dampness
of the tiny room with music filtering from the saloon
across the street, he felt almost at peace ly ing by her side.
Sam turned his head and studied her in the shadows.
She was too beautiful to be real. The lady had no idea y et
that she didn’t hav e a chance of bending him around her
finger. No woman ev er had, no woman ev er would.
Within a few day s he would let her know how their
marriage was going to be. He would set the rules and she’d
follow. She’d giv e him a home to come to, a place to rest
between battles, and he’d keep her safe. She’d do his
cooking and cleaning, and he’d see that she had enough to
eat. What more could either of them want from the other?
Sarah shifted, mov ing toward his warmth. In sleep
she laid her hand atop his heart.
All thought drained from his mind as frail, slender
fingers slid through the hair on his chest and then relaxed
as though her touch had found a home.
Breathe, he reminded himself. Breathe.
SARAH ANDREWS STRETCHED BENEATH THE
LAYERS OF blankets and opened her ey es to sunshine
filtered through ragged curtains. For a moment she had
no idea where she was. Shadows dominated the room. The
air smelled musty and damp, as though the place had
been shut away for a time.
She listened as she had all her life. Listened for the
day ’s approach. “Be still,” she told herself. “Don’t mov e.
Don’t make a sound and y ou might hear dawn tiptoe in.”
Granny Vee, an old woman who finished raising her,
used to whisper that if Sarah sat still long enough, she
could hear the changes in the world, the changes in her
life. And Sarah tried. She alway s tried, y et she could
nev er hear them. She sensed change coming, sometimes
she swore she almost tasted it, but she nev er heard
any thing. Not dawn tiptoeing, or spring y awning, or age
Granny Vee was a crazy old fool for believ ing such
things. She’d made her liv ing helping with the birthing of
babies and watching the dy ing pass on to the hereafter.
She alway s told Sarah she knew things other folks would
nev er know, just because she paid attention. Sarah wasn’t
sure she alway s believ ed Granny , but listening became a
habit just the same.
She stretched, enjoy ing the silence. Yesterday had
been endless. First, she endured being raffled off in the
sheriff’s lottery . Then a strange man with dark hair and
black ey es swept her away . The sheriff, her friends, ev en
the town melted in the rain.
Sarah glanced around the room, just in case the dark
haired man hid somewhere in the shadowy corners. “No,”
she said to herself. “I’m alone. Probably abandoned
It had become a way of life for her. When she was only
a few day s old, someone left her on Harriet Rainy ’s steps.
Sarah imagined her mother had been the one and how she
must hav e held her close one last time before she
disappeared. Her mother might hav e pray ed that
whoev er liv ed inside the farmhouse would open their
hearts to a child, not knowing that Harriet Rainy didn’t
hav e a heart.
By Sarah’s sixth y ear Harriet had defined her as “too
frail to bother to feed” and passed her along to a neighbor
ev ery one called Granny Vee. The old woman was kind,
but so poor Sarah often said she wasn’t hungry because
she knew there was not enough food for two. Granny Vee
nev er made Sarah feel like family , but more like a stray
cat she let liv e with her.
Years later Sarah thought she finally found a place to
belong when she married Mitchell Andrews. She dreamed
of a family and the possibility of a home of her own.
Within a y ear he sold his farm for the adv enture of
Sarah fought back a tear. Mitchell hadn’t ev en asked
her. After all, he’d said, it wasn’t her place.
Once on the trail Mitchell succumbed to a fev er before
they reached the Rockies.
Ev en the baby she deliv ered shortly before his death
hadn’t stay ed with her on this earth. Her tiny daughter
died before Sarah had the strength to giv e her child a
A few weeks later Broken-Hand Harrison deposited
her, and two other women, in the middle of the wagon
trail to find their way back to civ ilization. Howev er, after
being in Texas sev eral weeks, Sarah felt sure she was
nowhere near finding a civ ilized world.
Now her new husband, a man named Sam Gatlin,
had abandoned her in a shabby hotel room.
It had been raining when they stopped last night, but
she’d seen what little there was to see of the town. A few
stores, a two-story hotel, a saloon, and a liv ery . When she
asked the clerk the name of the place, he’d said no one had
bothered with a name. The local resident added that the
mercantile had once been a trading post for buffalo
hunters and the first cattle driv es. Back then ev ery one
called it the Scot’s Stash, but no one thought that was a
Slipping from the bed, Sarah searched the room. Her
husband had taken ev ery thing, ev en the wet dress she’d
dropped on the floor beside the bed. Only her tattered,
muddy shoes remained and her small bundle of
“necessities” she kept tightly wrapped in an old
handkerchief of Mitchell’s. A sliv er of honey suckle soap. A
comb. A pack of herbs Granny alway s claimed would
It wasn’t much, she realized, but all the things in the
bundle were hers. She tied her belongings to a string sewn
to the waist of her undergarments.
Sarah didn’t hav e to be still and listen to life’s
changes. They shouted at her this morning. Her situation
would hav e to get better before she could die. She wasn’t
about to be buried in her worn petticoat with so many
patched holes the hem looked like cheap lace.
“I should just kill my self,” she mumbled old Harriet
Rainy ’s fav orite refrain. But without a gun or a knife,
Sarah would hav e to jump out the second-floor window
and drag herself back upstairs, ov er and ov er, before the
ten-foot fall finally broke her neck.
Harriet Rainy would sometimes add, “But if I killed
my self, who would take care of y ou?” as if giv ing Sarah
an old quilt in the comer of the room were a great burden.
Sarah paced the room. Last night she should hav e
shot the cowboy who married her while she held his Colt
in her hand. What kind of man chooses a wife from a jail
cell? He either had something seriously wrong with him,
or he was as dumb as kindling. If she had shot him during
the storm, folks might hav e thought it was thunder.
May be she could hav e escaped with his guns and sold
them. Or robbed a bank, assuming she could find one in
this town named Used-to-be-called-the-Scot’s-Stash. Now
that she found herself on the path to a life of crime, Sarah
saw no need to stop.
She tried to remember what Sam Gatlin looked like.
Tall, v ery tall. And strong. He’d carried her as though she
were made of straw. And mean, she decided. He definitely
had a mean look about him.
Ey es so dark they looked black when he watched her.
Though he couldn’t be thirty y et, his jaw was square and
set. She’d bet a smile nev er crawled across his face.
Sarah fell back on the bed. She’d married the dev il. It
was her punishment for marry ing Mitchell Andrews
when she didn’t lov e him. Granny alway s told her nev er
to marry a man unless y ou lov e him something fierce and
can’t help y ourself, ‘cause men are like apples, they don’t
do nothing but rot once y ou take them home.
Since Granny had nev er married, Sarah wondered
about her adv ice. When Mitchell took her back to his farm
after Granny died, Sarah thought she’d grow to lov e him.
But it hadn’t happened. She didn’t ev en cry when he died.
What kind of heartless woman doesn’t cry when her
Sarah shook her head. “Me!” She answered her own
question as she continued analy zing her crimes.
“Then I clubbed Zeb Whitaker,” she mumbled. Killing
a man, ev en a worthless one like Whitaker, couldn’t be a
good thing to do. Now her sentence would be spending the
rest of her life married to a cold, heartless man who stole
her one dress. With her luck she’d liv e a long life.
There was no choice for Sarah other than to believ e
that Harriet Rainy had been right. May be she was a
worthless nothing who washed up on the porch one night
during a storm.
Someone shouted from down the hall.
Sarah listened. A woman swore and ordered a man
out of her room. Footsteps suddenly thundered toward
She panicked and pulled the cov ers ov er her head.
May be he wouldn’t get into her room. May be, if he
did, he wouldn’t notice her beneath the cov ers.
The door creaked open. Someone stomped in.
Sarah tried to be perfectly still. May be if she didn’t
breathe, the intruder would simply go away .
“Mrs. Gatlin?” came a man’s v oice that sounded
v aguely familiar. “I hope this is the right place and that
lump in the bed is my wife. I forgot to look at the room
number when I left, and guessing which door is not the
healthiest game to play around this place.”
Sarah peeked out from under the cov ers. Sure
enough, there he was, the demon she’d married. He didn’t
look any less frightening in day light than he had last
night. So big, she could cut him in half and still hav e two
When she didn’t say a word, he tossed her the bundle
“Your dress was ruined, so I got y ou another one.” He
watched her closely with his black ey es.
“Thank y ou,” she whispered as she glared down at the
plain brown dress with not ev en a touch of lace at the
collar. It reminded her of old Harriet Rainy ’s clothes,
simply cut, made of coarse linsey -woolsey . Harriet alway s
combined cotton for the warp y arns in the loom and
for the weft. Serv iceable fabric. Warm. Scratchy . Ugly .
Sarah didn’t want to put it on. Afraid that if she did,
she might somehow come an inch closer to sharing old
Harriet’s hatred of life.
“They didn’t hav e much of a selection.” Her new
husband waited for her to respond. “It’ll be warm. We
need to get going. I’v e ordered a wagon and supplies. With
the rain last night, the road may make the journey
longer than I’d planned.”
She couldn’t bring herself to touch the material.
Somehow, an inch at a time, she’d finally sunk to the
bottom. She had nothing, not ev en her own clothes to
A tear slid down her cheek. She still had her pride.
What little belongings she’d gathered for her first
marriage had been burned when the people on the wagon
train thought Mitchell sick with the fev er. The dress she’d
worn last night was all she owned, and it was little more
than a rag. But it was better than this.
“Thank y ou for the offer, but please bring me back
my dress. I’ll wash it. My dress will do fine.”
Sam Gatlin raised an ey ebrow and looked like he
might argue. “I can afford to buy my wife a new dress. I
wanted a wife and I plan to prov ide for y ou.” “Not this
one,” Sarah whispered. “I won’t wear this one.” How could
she ev er tell him about the woman who raised her until
she’d found someone else to pass her along to? She barely
knew his name. She’d nev er be able to describe memories
of running to Harriet Rainy and folding into the skirt of
her scratchy dress, only to hav e the woman jerk her up
by the arm and slap her. “I’ll giv e y ou something to cry
about!” Harriet would shout. “I’ll show y ou fear.”
Sarah steadied herself, bracing for a blow. He looked
like the kind of man who would beat his wife. If so, she
might as well find out right now.
To her surprise, he turned and walked out of the room
without another word. Sarah pulled a blanket ov er her
shoulders and ran to the window in time to watch him go
into the saloon across the street.
He’s a drunk, my mean husband, she thought. That
was plain. What kind of man goes into a place like that
when the sun isn’t ev en high in the sky ? Mitchell
Andrews might hav e bored her to death some day s with
his silence, but he nev er drank before noon.
She stared at the dress still spread across the bed. If
she put it on now, she could run. Who knew how many
miles she could be away before he sobered up enough to
notice? The wagon he had rented in Cedar Point was
probably at the liv ery , and she could driv e a team as good
as any one. She could ask which way she could go to get
back to Cedar Point. May be Bailee or Lacy married a kind
man who’d let her stay for a while. Or may be the sheriff
would help her. He said it was her choice to marry . She
would just tell him she changed her mind. She didn’t
want to marry Sam Gatlin.
Mov ing closer to the bed, she stared at the dress. It
had been handmade by someone without skill. She was
foolish not to put the garment on with the room freezing.
But she couldn’t. If she did, she’d disappear.
Curling into a blanket, Sarah sat on the unev en
window ledge watching clouds crowd out the sun. Noises
from the other rooms drifted around her, but she paid
them no mind. She didn’t care what happened in this no-
Sarah drifted to sleep, leaning her head against the
She longed for the dreams that took her away as they
alway s had. Dreams of color and light. Dreams Harriet
Rainy ’s cruelty or Granny Vee’s pov erty could not touch.
A rap on the door startled her. When she jerked, she
almost toppled off the window ledge.
Stumbling, Sarah hurried to the door. “Who is it?”
She knew it wasn’t her husband; he would hav e just
turned the knob and entered. That is, if he remembered
the room number. May be alcohol had already rusted his
“Let me in, hon,” a female v oice whispered from the
other side of the door. “It’s Denv er Delany . I’m the owner
of the saloon across the street.”
Sarah knew no Denv er Delany , but she opened the
door a few inches. “Yes …” Sarah managed to say before a
huge woman shov ed the door wide and hurried in.
“There ain’t no time for introductions.” Denv er was
large enough to be named after sev eral cities, with hair
the color of a harv est moon and ey es rimmed in black
paint. “You’ll just hav e to trust that I’m a friend of y our
husband’s and y ou got to get him out of town fast.” She
pushed her sleev es up to her elbows, as if thinking she was
about to hav e her work cut out for her.
Sarah stared as Denv er grabbed the ugly brown dress
and headed toward her. “Your man’s been stabbed by a
no-good, low-life, cattle-stealing, worthless …”
The dress went ov er Sarah’s head, blocking out the
rest of Denv er’s description.
When Sarah fought her way through to the neck
opening, she asked, “Is he dead?”
Denv er snorted a laugh. “If he were dead, hon, we
wouldn’t need to be getting him out of town, now would
Sarah nodded, as if seeing the logic. “Shouldn’t we be
taking him to a doctor?”
“Ain’t no doctor for fifty miles. You’ll hav e to take
care of him. Phil, the bartender, is rearranging the
supplies in the wagon Sam ordered from ov er at Mr.
Moon’s place.” The huge woman stared directly into
Sarah’s ey es. “Can y ou driv e a wagon, girl? You don’t look
strong enough to carry a half-full bucket.”
“I can manage.”
Denv er pulled her along as Sarah frantically tried to
slip into her shoes. “Good. Don’t worry about the
doctoring. Just plug up the hole as best y ou can and giv e
him whiskey until he stops complaining. That’s alway s
been my method of treating gunshots or stabbings. It
seems to work about half the time.”
The woman glanced back at the room. “You got any
Sarah held her head high. “No,” she answered, daring
Denv er to say any thing. Her bundle of belongings was
now hidden beneath the folds of the brown dress.
Sarah changed the subject. “Shouldn’t we doctor him
before we try to mov e him?”
“Hon, if he’s not out of town fast, he’ll be dead for sure
in an hour. There’s probably men strapping on their six-
shooters right now itching for a chance to gun down Sam
Gatlin, and they don’t giv e a twit that he’s bleeding a
riv er.” Denv er paused at the bottom of the stairs and
patted her ample bosom in an effort to breathe easier.
“Don’t y ou know? Your man is famous in these parts.”
Sarah wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Her gut
feeling told her that whatev er his claim to fame, it
wouldn’t be good.
Denv er towed Sarah out the hotel door as panic
flooded Sarah’s brain. “But where will I take him?” She
didn’t ev en know the man, or like him, for that matter.
How could his life suddenly rest on her shoulders? She
wasn’t sure which way was north from here much less
how to take him to safety .
Denv er stopped so quickly Sarah bumped into her
back. The strange woman turned around and whispered,
“You’ll take him to Satan’s Cany on. No one will find y ou
there.” Denv er stared at Sarah as though gauging her
brav ery . “If y ou can’t get him there, we might as well
bury him now, for he’s a dead man if he stay s here.”
SARAH FOUGHT DOWN PANIC AS SHE FOLLOWED
DENVER into the saloon across the street from the hotel.
The place looked far worse than Sarah imagined such
places would look. The odor of rotten whiskey and stale
cigar smoke hung in the air like thin, colorless moss. Her
ey es watered while she battled to keep from breathing
The floor was filthy with the worst spot being a three-
foot area around the bar’s only spittoon.
When she first peered around Denv er, the stained
floor was all Sarah saw. Slowly she became aware of
people mov ing through the thick air like shadows on a
wall. There were men dressed in the color of dirt and
women whose faces seemed painted on. But, mostly , they
were shapes without solid form. She heard the clank of
glasses, the shuffle of feet, the murmur of questions no one
bothered to answer. They skirted her, stay ing well away ,
as though they thought she might turn and strike like a
The door creaked just behind her. The v olume of the
crowd lowered slightly as the mob turned to register the
new arriv al.
“Mov e out of the way , lady .” A boy bumped against
her as he elbowed his way inside. “I don’t want to miss
seeing someone gun down Sam Gatlin.”
Denv er backhanded the boy with one mighty blow,
sending him fly ing. “Hav e a little respect for Gatlin’s
widow.” She smiled down at Sarah and nodded, indicating
she’d straightened the y oungster out, right and proper.
Without reacting to being called widow, Sarah
glanced at the kid to make sure he was all right.
The boy didn’t look hurt, but he appeared terrified as
he backed away from a lone man sitting at a nearby
“Gatlin!” the boy whispered and joined the other
silhouettes lining the room.
Sarah followed his stare. The man who’d married her
last night sat so still she wasn’t sure he was real. His dark
ey es, full of anger and pain, met hers.
She’d nev er wanted to run so badly in her life. She
didn’t care where. Any place was bound to be better than
But she didn’t run. She couldn’t. She was the dev il’s
wife. No matter what he’d done, or was, she owed him. He
sav ed her from a life in prison and she hadn’t ev en
bothered to thank him. It wasn’t his fault the dress
reminded her of Harriet Rainy . He had tried and all she’d
repaid him in was trouble.
No one else in the room mov ed as Sarah walked
toward Sam Gatlin. “Good morning,” she said calmly as
though she’d said the words to him a hundred times ov er
He didn’t mov e. He didn’t ev en blink, though sweat
dripped from his forehead.
She knew he’d been stabbed. Denv er told her. But he
didn’t look a fraction less powerful or deadly than when
she first saw him.
“Sarah.” He said her name low, as though he didn’t
want the others in the room to hear. “Would y ou pull the
knife out of my back?”
She slowly circled behind him. The wide handle of a
hunting knife stuck out from just below his left shoulder
blade. It had sliced through the leather of his v est. Thick
drops of blood dripped from the bottom of the steel to his
“I hate blood,” she mumbled, thinking of all the times
she’d cleaned after Granny Vee had patched up someone,
or deliv ered a baby . Ev en though Sarah scrubbed, the
one-room cabin smelled of blood for day s.
Glancing up at the twenty people watching from the
other side of the room, she asked Sam, “Why hasn’t
someone pulled it out before now?” How could people
simply mov e away from a man with a knife in him?
Sam didn’t turn to look at her, but remained perfectly
still. “They think …” He took a moment before he
continued with slow, measured words. “They think I’d kill
the man who pulled it out, if he makes it hurt more than
it already does.”
Leaning around him, she tried to read his face. “And
would y ou?”
“I might,” he answered between clenched teeth.
“What about me? Will y ou kill me if I make it hurt
“That’s not possible,” he answered.
“But will y ou kill me?”
A hint of a smile pulled up the corner of his mouth. “I
She straightened and mov ed directly behind him, not
knowing him well enough to guess whether or not he was
kidding. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know him any
better. From the looks on the faces of the twenty or so
by standers, ev ery one in the room believ ed him capable of
such an act.
“Well.” Sarah gripped the handle of the huge blade
with both hands. “I nev er wanted to liv e long enough to
worry about growing old.”
The knife didn’t budge.
Sarah took a deep breath and widened her stance. “If I
get this out, y ou owe me one, Sam Gatlin.”
With a mighty tug, she y anked the knife from him,
tumbling backward with the effort. Thick, dark blood
bubbled from the opening on Sam’s back.
Sarah stared at the knife and fought to keep from
fainting. How could a man not be dead with such a
“Is it out?” Sam’s v oice sounded tired.
“It’s out,” she answered, surprised he couldn’t tell.
She hoped he didn’t ask how the wound looked as she
wiped the blade on a dirty rag.
“Sarah”—his v oice came low, mixed with his shallow
Mov ing cautiously , she marv eled he still had the
strength to kill her. The blade sliding out of his flesh must
hav e been painful. He was a big man. Killing her would
probably take little more effort than snapping a match
between his fingers.
She thought of using the knife to protect herself. But
threatening a man with the weapon that had just been
embedded in his back seemed ov erly cruel, ev en for a
murderer like herself.
“Yes?” she whispered close to his ear.
He still didn’t mov e, and she wondered if he guessed
that any action on his part might be his last.
“I’d owe y ou another fav or if y ou can get me out of
here before I hit the floor.”
His words were so low, she wasn’t sure if she heard
them, or just thought them.
Determination flickered in his ey es and Sarah
understood. The pain didn’t matter, or the fact that he
was losing blood with each beat of his heart. His life, and
probably hers, depended on him being strong enough to
walk out of this place.
Carefully she lifted his right arm and placed it ov er
her shoulders. He braced himself against the table and
stood, leaning heav ily against her.
She didn’t bother to ask if he could make it. She knew
he would. He had to. “Well, Sam,” she said for all to hear.
“We’d better be going. You said y ou’d like to get an early
Slipping her hand around the back of his waist, she
felt the warm blood against the leather of his v est.
It trickled through her fingers and puddled on the
floor behind them.
The men staring at them didn’t offer to help. They
watched like v ultures waiting for an animal to fall. She
didn’t know Sam Gatlin. Didn’t understand what he was
about or why he was so feared. But as they mov ed across
the room, she made up her mind that if Sam fell, she’d
somehow pull his Colts from his gun belt and kill any man
who stepped toward them.
Denv er held the door. “The wagon’s loaded and ready .
I ev en tossed y our old dress in there in case y ou need
something to change into on laundry day .”
The huge woman made her v oice sound higher,
brighter than her face told Sarah she felt. She was a lady
used to putting on a show.
“Sam ordered the wagon supplied before he got
stabbed. Phil’s pulling it up now.” Her hand patted
Sarah’s arm as her v oice lowered. “Ev ery thing’s packed,
including a loaded rifle under the seat, hon. The hard
part’s ov er now. He made it out of the saloon. Won’t many
men be brav e enough to follow.”
“How much do we owe y ou?” Sarah wondered how she
could repay the woman.
“Nothing,” Denv er answered, backing into the street
ahead of them. “Sam’s account is still black with me and
with the store owner. He’s traded with us many a time
ov er the y ears.”
As the two women lifted him into the back of a wagon,
the bartender hurried out with sev eral bottles of whiskey .
He helped lay Sam facedown on a bed of blankets and
straw, then placed the Colts he wore on either side of the
blanket close to Sam’s hands.
“Just in case y ou need them,” the bartender
whispered as he mov ed away .
There looked to be enough supplies for a month,
may be longer. The bartender turned to Sarah and added,
“I’ll see the rented buggy gets back to Cedar Point with the
first folks I know heading that direction.”
Sarah had no time to worry about the buggy but
nodded her thank-y ou any way .
Denv er Delany opened one bottle of the whiskey and
dribbled it across Sam’s wound. He didn’t make a sound.
Sarah guessed him bey ond feeling the pain, for his ey es
were closed. It had taken the last of his reserv es to walk
out of the bar.
She watched as Denv er cov ered the wound with
sev eral towels and wrapped him with a dusty buffalo
robe. The scraggly hide looked so nasty Sarah doubted the
original owner would wear it.
The bartender handed Sarah two more bottles of
whiskey . “He’ll be needing this when he wakes up,
ma’am. If he wakes up.”
Sarah nodded. She placed the knife on the bench
before she climbed into the wagon. If trouble followed she
knew little about using a rifle, but the knife might prov e
useful. She didn’t bother to question whether or not she
would be able to defend herself. She had once before. She
would again if need be.
Denv er’s bloody hand patted Sarah’s fingers. “Go
north to the breaks, hon.” She pointed with her finger.
“Then turn west on the first trail y ou come to. When any
sign of a road runs out, y ou know y ou’re close to Satan’s
Cany on.” She leaned against the seat of the wagon and
lowered her v oice. “You’ll come to a shallow riv er. Turn
y our horses upstream, stay ing well in the water so as not
to leav e any tracks. When there is a fork in the riv er,
alway s stay to the left. Before dark the cany on walls will
rise up around y ou. You’ll think it’s a dead end, but keep
going until y ou spot a clearing. That’s where I’v e left
supplies a few times, so Sam’s cabin must be close. He
nev er told me where it was; he wouldn’t.”
Denv er winked. “When y ou get there I reckon y ou’re
in the mouth of Satan’s Cany on, so don’t let y our guard
“Thank y ou.” Sarah wasn’t sure she should hav e
thanked the woman at all. “I’ll be careful,” she answered
as she told herself the place could not be as bad as Denv er
“Don’t mention it.” Denv er stepped away and added,
“To any one. If he’s aliv e when y ou get there, he’s got a
chance. If he’s dead, bury him and don’t tell a soul, not
ev en me.”
“But why ?”
Denv er smiled. “ ‘Cause legends aren’t suppose to die.”
The saloon owner pulled her huge shawl from her
shoulders and circled it around Sarah. “Don’t trust
any one, hon. Far as I know, Sam Gatlin doesn’t hav e a
friend in this world.”
“He has one,” Sarah said. “You.”
The large woman shook her head. “Today may be,
while he’s flush on my accounts, but don’t put no stock in
me. I’v e made a habit of letting folks down all my life.”
“But not today .” Sarah took the reins and gripped
them tight so her hands wouldn’t shake.
She smiled at the owner of the bar. “No matter what
happens in the future, I’ll remember what y ou did today ,
Denv er Delany .”
Denv er returned the smile, then headed back inside
mumbling, “You’v e been warned, hon. You’v e been
SARAH FOLLOWED DENVER’S INSTRUCTIONS.
WHEN she reached the riv er, she turned upstream,
fighting the horses along with the current. The water
wasn’t deep, but the rocky bottom made it unpredictable.
The reins tugged and jerked so many times Sarah feared
they would pull her arms from their sockets. Within an
hour her back felt as if it might snap with the next sudden
Finally , with a bend in the riv er, bluffs replaced
shoreline. The riv er branched out, and she v eered to the
left. She knew that if any one followed, she would hav e
appeared to v anish amid cany on walls lined with
different colors of the earth as they rose.
Heav y clouds roofed the cliffs on either side, creating
a misty foglike v isibility . Sarah didn’t bother to look
ahead as she pulled the shawl ov er her hair. She watched
the water’s edge, try ing to stay deep enough in the riv er
so the current erased the wagon’s tracks along with the
echoes of the horses’ splashing.
Ev ery few minutes she glanced back at Sam. He
sway ed with the mov ements of the wagon. Dampness
claimed the comers of his blankets. Sarah feared he would
be soaked by the time they reached his cabin. She
wrapped the edges of her shawl around her palms to keep
the reins from cutting into her hands and pushed on,
fighting time as well as water.
As Denv er foretold, the walls of the cany on rose
around them, offering protection from the wind, but
blocking the pale sunlight that filtered through the
clouds. With the shadows came a damp cold that
penetrated to her bones.
Sarah’s fingers froze to the curv e of the rawhide
strips. Sam groaned once in pain, but there was no way
she could stop to check on him. The shoreline grew rocky
and so jagged not ev en a horse, much less a wagon, could
climb from the water. With no room to turn the wagon
around, she had to mov e on.