Jess Malone was hanging spotlessly white sheets on the clothesline strung between posts in the yard. The chickens picked their way around her feet, and it was a warm day with a slight breeze.
Just right for these to dry quickly, she thought and picked up the basket to go back inside when she stopped short and shaded her eyes to see who was approaching on a horse. The rider was alone and still some distance away. The approach was from the open land and was not a route that was normally used. There was nothing out there but desert. The horse was trotting slowly, and it gave her time to run to the door and pick up the rifle that was always to hand.
Living alone just out of town could be dangerous for any woman, but Jess had been hurt in the past and was always on her guard. She hoisted the rifle to her shoulder and waited to see who it was. The horse was very slow, moving at its own pace, and she realized as it drew closer that the rider was drooping in the saddle. She relaxed her firmness on the rifle but kept it in place.
“Could be a trick,” she muttered to herself. The horse came on steadily and stopped a few feet away from her. Jess opened her mouth to ask why the man was there. She saw with a start that his eyes were closed and the reins were trailing from his hands. The horse stood obediently still, and the man fell sideways from the saddle and landed at her feet. He made no sound, and his eyes were still closed.
It was obvious to Jess, suspicious as she always was, that this man was in no state to cause any alarm. He lay motionless on the ground with sand encrusted in the stubble on his cheeks, and his lips were dry, cracked, and looked painful. The Stetson was flung to one side with the fall, and he had a single handgun in a holster at his side. It, too, was covered with dust and sand.
“Not used the gun for a while,” she muttered and lowered the rifle. Jess cautiously poked at the man on the ground with her toe, but he remained inert. The horse had grown tired and stood very still.
“You need a drink as well, boy,” she told the creature and with the rifle still in hand took the horse to the corral to make sure he had hay and the water trough was full. It was typical of Jess to think of the horse first. Her own three, precious beauties came to welcome the newcomer, but she knew they were all good natured. The horse started at the water trough, and she went back to the visitor on the ground.
“Well, I’ll have to do something,” she said out loud and propped the rifle against the fence. She knelt down carefully beside the man and took the gun from the holster to move it out of reach. She was prepared for a sudden movement from him when he felt the gun loosened and removed, but he lay as still as a stone. She sat back on her heels. Jess was a person known in town as someone who would always help, but it had taken a long time to build her confidence, and she was still fighting the result of what had been done to her in the past. On the other hand, she knew it had made her stronger and more willing to help others.
“Well you do seem to be unconscious,” she admitted out loud and went to get some water and cloth. She took the rifle and the handgun away at the same time, still taking no chances. When she returned with a bowl and a cloth, he had not moved. She squeezed some drops of water from the cloth onto his lips and did that until they were free of sand and dust. She wiped his forehead and let cool water dribble onto his face.
It took some time, but she saw the first flicker of response as he moistened his lips with his tongue and his eyes moved behind closed lids but did not open. She dropped some more liquid into his mouth and saw him swallow for the first time.
“Can you speak?” she asked loudly. There was a slight moan in response. She asked again and wiped his forehead with the cloth. She saw the struggle to open his eyes and simply waited. In the end, he raised an arm and rubbed his eyes. They opened, flickered around, and looked at her blankly, but she saw with a jolt that it was like looking into a mirror. The eyes were bright blue and exactly like her own.
“Take your time,” she told him, and he tried to sit up. She raised his shoulders, and he pulled himself to a sitting position and rested against the gatepost.
“Thank you,” he said, but his voice croaked. “Where am I?”
“The Malone homestead on the edge of Bassett.” He gave a slight nod, and she offered him a tin cup with water in it. He had difficulty swallowing at first, but his voice was better when he spoke again.
“Thank you,” he said again more coherently.
“I think that you must have come across the desert from the mountains,” she told him. “There is no water out there.”
He nodded. “I knew I was almost finished. Ned must have just kept on going.” He looked around with sudden alarm. “Where is he?” She smiled at the concern for his horse and told him that he was in the corral with her own three. For the first time, she had a flicker of intuition that the man was no threat. Anyone who thought of his horse before himself always went up in Jess’ opinion.
“He’s drinking and eating,” she said.
The visitor visibly relaxed and took some more water from the cup. “Thank you again. If I can stay here while the horse recovers, I’ll move on and leave you in peace.”
His concern for the horse was the deciding factor in how she felt about the stranger, and she found herself offering him a seat in the house.
“If you can walk,” she said. He grabbed the rail of the fence and hauled himself to his feet. He took a few unsteady steps and then focussed ahead and made a reasonable attempt at walking toward the house. He held the rails as he made it up the porch steps, and she steered him to a chair without making contact.
“When did you last eat?” she asked. He gave a half a grin and told her it was two days ago. “What?” she exclaimed and went to the stove. There was soup left from her meal, and she served a bowl with some homemade bread. Then she offered a coffee, and he accepted everything gratefully and offered to pay.
“If we cannot help a stranger in trouble, we should be ashamed of ourselves,” she replied. “My folks were all of Irish descent, and I am guessing that yours were the same. As Meg would say – the map of Ireland – written all over you. The dark hair and the blue eyes.”
“Who is Meg?” he asked, and she told him that Meg and her husband had the livery in town.
“They saved me when I needed it, and she is like a mom to me now,” Jess volunteered.
“Maybe better with adopted folk than your own,” he observed with a touch of bitterness, and she wondered what trouble he was fleeing from but stopped herself from asking outright.
“What about your husband’s folk?” he asked, and she sighed and said that Meg was her husband’s sister. She hesitated. “My husband died last year,” she told him at last and then added that she did washing and sold eggs to make ends meet.
There was a pause as he found words hard to find. Then he held out a hand. “I’m Clay Donnelly,” he told her, “and I will definitely pay for the food.” She touched his hand briefly with her own and then pulled back.
“Jess Malone,” she answered. “I’ll check the horse and bring in the washing. Have a rest.”
She walked out of the house and over to the washing which was dry enough to iron, and she folded it into her basket on the ground. Then she walked over to the corral and slipped inside the gate. Her three horses all came to see her and nuzzle for any titbits. The animals were the reason she stayed on the homestead and worked hard to make enough to keep them. The Palomino mare was her pride and joy, and she spoke into her ear.
“I hope you have been nice to Ned. He’s a very tired horse.” She made a space and stepped toward the visiting animal. “Ned …” She fished in the pocket of her apron and found a titbit. “Good boy. Come and say hello.”
The horse was a strong and dark colored gelding. She noted that he was well constructed and would be able to move and manoeuvre fast and easily if he had to. She took a step toward him and held out the hand with the snack. He wiggled his nose and then came toward her to take the treat.
She stroked his nose and patted his neck. Poppy, the Palomino came and pushed her head between them.
“Your beautiful Palomino is jealous.” The man’s voice startled her, and she jumped. “Sorry,” he added, “I didn’t want to make the horses move about.”
“This is an excellent working horse. You must be a cowboy,” she said with her hand on Ned’s neck.
“And you have a way with you because he is trained to not go to strangers unless I give him the command.”
She smiled naturally at him for the first time, but the smile faded as she saw him crumple and grab for the fence rail to stop falling to the ground. Despite having been hurt herself or maybe because of it, Jess Malone had an instinct to help people, and she dashed through the gate to hold him under the shoulders until he straightened up.
“You should still be sitting down. Let’s get you back there.” She pushed her shoulder under his arm, and together they staggered back to the house. As they reached the porch steps and were struggling to make it to the top, the sound of a horse arriving stopped them and a voice called out to ask what was happening.
“Come and give me a hand, Leo,” Jess answered, and the deputy sheriff slid from his saddle and ran to help. Clay Donnelly sank gratefully onto the chair and thanked them.
“Jess was right. I should have stayed sitting down.”
Leo sat as well and took the coffee that Jess offered.
“I’m the deputy here – Leo Sands.” Jess explained what had happened, and Leo gave her a quick look to make sure she was alright. His wife was her best friend, and he knew full well that Jess had an issue with trusting men. He often tried to persuade her to move into town, but she wanted to run the horses and stubbornly refused.
“If I can rest in the barn until Ned is fit to go on, I’ll leave you all in peace,” Clay told them. “I am very glad of your help.”
“So, what were you running from?” Leo cut to the basic question in his usual lawman’s need to spot any trouble.
Clay Donnelly sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess it sounds unbelievable, but I was foreman at the Barnhaven Ranch on the other side of the mountains. Here I am half dead and falling off the horse.”
“So why?” Leo asked bluntly.
“I got a message from my brother to say he was in trouble, and I went to find out what was wrong. While I was away, some cattle were rustled, and a couple of men claimed that it was me.”
“But your brother would explain,” Jess suggested, and he shook his head.
“Nowhere to be found, and the man who brought the message disappeared as well. My brother has always been in trouble one way and another, but I never thought he would do that to me. I helped him out so many times in the past.” He paused. “I thought that nobody believed me, and I had better get away. I guess they thought that the confusion would give them more time to get away.”
“We could get in touch with the sheriff there and try and find out what happened,” Leo offered. “You obviously have not got a herd of cattle with you. Where would he take the rustled steers?”
“To the railroad as fast as they could,” Clay answered. “I’ll keep on and try and find another job on a ranch. I came over the mountains as the best way to lose anybody chasing me, but I don’t think they followed. I don’t think that the boss really believed I had done it, but he had to listen to what they said.”
Leo wanted to know what the brother was called and said he would try and find out from the railroad if cattle had been loaded in the middle of nowhere. Then he looked from Jess to Clay and back again.
“I am surrounded by folk with dark hair and blue eyes.”
Jess laughed. “I like your red hair, Leo. I never had a brother but yes, black hair and blue eyes surely is an Irish background in both cases.” She smiled at her friend’s husband. “You must have a Scottish background in there somewhere.”
He nodded and stood up. “Yes, Granny was a Douglas.” He looked at Clay. “The rustlers would stop the train and not risk going into a staging depot. I just came to collect the things for the hotel and to check if you were okay, Jess.”
“I am, thanks, Leo,” she answered. “I’ll get the washing and the eggs.” When she came back, Leo was offering to take Clay into town and find him somewhere to stay.
“We do try and help folk if we can,” he was saying, but Clay said that if Jess didn’t mind, he would rest in the barn until the horse was fresh enough to go on. Leo raised an eyebrow at Jess, and she said that she really didn’t mind. He knew that she was honest enough to admit if anything worried her, but as insurance added that he and Clemmie would come and visit later.
“I will make something to eat,” Jess replied with a smile that told him thanks. “Clemmie can bring the quilt she is working on and let me see how far it has come.”
Leo strode off to the horse and tied the bag of clean washing behind the saddle. He climbed aboard and waved.
“See you in a couple of hours,” he called. Jess went back inside and told Clay Donnelly to stay where he was.
“I can cook and talk at the same time, and then I’ll check on Ned.”
“Thank you again. I would help if there was anything I could do.” He looked at her. “Why did you not choose to send me with Leo?”
She shook her head and half smiled. “Call it Irish intuition, but something in my head told me that you should just rest here.” Clay smiled back, and she saw with a sudden jolt that the man was quite handsome. The skin at the sides of his blue eyes crinkled, and a surprising dimple appeared in his cheeks.
“I am guessing that you approve of my worrying about Ned?” he queried, and she nodded and agreed.
“So, you have Irish intuition as well,” she answered and handed him a coffee. She poured one for herself and sat down. “I wish I knew more about my Irish ancestors, but I just have to work with what I remember.”
“I know that my grandparents came from a place called Kilkenny and sailed from Liverpool in England,” Clay told her, and she gasped.
“Kilkenny? Really? That is just unbelievable. My grandparents were from a place called Floodhall in Kilkenny. They maybe knew each other. What a strange thing to happen.”
They looked at each other in silence for a few moments, and then Clay shook his head.
“All that way across the sea, and years later, you and I meet through sheer chance. Who would have thought it possible?” He paused. “And lucky for me that the horse headed for somewhere that would save my life.”
Jess stood up. “Speaking of Ned, I will just check he is fine and you stay sitting down,” she warned and left him with his coffee. The horses had settled down and were peacefully munching. Polly had decided that Ned was her new best friend and was following him closely. The two nanny goats that she kept for milk were in the group as well. The billy goat was tethered behind the barn, and she went to make sure he was fine as well. She smiled and went back to the house collecting a few eggs on the way and thinking about what to cook for her friends.
No time to make pastry, she thought and then told herself that Clemmie and Leo would be happy with bacon and eggs. “I’ll pop a cake into the oven and that will be fresh.”
Clay was still sitting where she had left him, and she told him that Ned was fine.
“Poppy has made friends with him.” She smiled and set about making a cake.
Clay Donnelly watched her work and wondered – with his own brand of intuition – why she gave him the feeling of being afraid of something but keeping it firmly under control.
“My own parents are passed away,” he told her from across the room. “I tried to look after my brother, but he never wanted to be helped really.”
“My parents were killed in a robbery,” she offered but without any extra details.
Those were her own demons, and she kept them securely locked away. “You’ll like Clemmie. She is full of life and enthusiasm for just about everything.” She talked on about other people in the town, and he asked how she met Meg.
“Maybe that is why I said you could stay,” she answered quietly, “I ran away from trouble like yourself, and Meg took me in. It’s eight years ago now, and she gave me a whole new life.”
“And when did you know that you had a gift with horses?” he asked with that unusual smile that transformed his serious face. She responded to the smile and said that she had always known.
“But living at a livery stable was just the right place for me.” Then she jumped to her feet. “I’ll put some warm water in a bowl and look to see if I have a shirt of my husband’s that will fit you.” He started to protest, but she waved a hand and bustled about. Leaving the water beside him with a cloth and a towel, she came back with a clean shirt and a bandana. “I can wash the ones you are wearing.”
He handed her the sand encrusted shirt and bandana, put on the clean ones and said that he felt much better. With a hairbrush to ease the sand out of his hair as well, Clay Donnelly was a sight that would have turned many a young woman’s head. To push that thought to one side she found a bucket of water and dumped the discarded clothes into it. Using the wooden plunger she took the feeling that had almost risen inside her head and worked it thoroughly out of the way. Men were not on Jess Malone’s agenda. It was just too difficult.
She found plates and cutlery and told him that Leo and Clemmie would be happy with bacon and eggs. The cake came out of the oven and was left to cool on the window ledge. She found some bottled fruit to serve with it, and they both heard the sound of visitors.
Leo and Clemmie hitched their horses at the rail, and Clemmie came running over to wrap her arms around her friend.
“What a great excuse to come and visit,” she exclaimed and then looked at Clay. “And I am such a nosey woman. I was dying to see this Jess lookalike.” Clemmie Sands was a vivacious redhead with a pale skin and freckles scattered across her nose. Her eyes were grey-green, and she was never still except when making her quilts. Even then her mind was always spinning around, and she loved somebody to talk to whilst she worked.
As it happened, Leo Sands was someone who liked to listen, and his livewire wife often spotted something her husband had missed as she chattered away and asked questions about his day at work. They were a well-matched couple, and he was a popular deputy sheriff.
Clemmie held out a hand to Clay who stood up to greet her.
“Sit at the table now you are on your feet,” Jess suggested to Clay, and he moved across the room with more sureness than he had before.
“I am definitely stronger than I was,” he told her but sat at the table as requested.
“His horse is recovering as well,” Jess added, and Clemmie laughed.
“A horse to look after will just make Jess’ day,” she said. “There is nothing she can’t put right with a horse.”
“I had noticed that she has a way with them,” Clay responded.
Jess was at the skillet and piled bacon and eggs onto plates with some potatoes. She shook her head at Clemmie.
“My friend thinks I am a miracle worker.”
“Well you did turn around that nasty creature for the Biggins man,” Clemmie retorted.
“Yes. That was some transformation. The beast bit me on the shoulder once for no reason,” Leo added.
“Horse was frightened,” Jess said in a down to earth tone as she ate. “I had to stop him going back to the Biggins monster so I told him it was best to sell. I said the horse was really bad.”
“So where did he go?” Clay asked in genuine interest.
Leo laughed. “She talked Meg into putting up the money, and he’s still there. Not a horse you could rent out to anyone, but a good worker around the place. He still takes fright at the sight of a whip or a stick.”
“I still love Jasper to bits,” Jess said. “I have to go into town tomorrow, so I’ll see him then.”
“And he loves her,” Clemmie said. “The horse will go crazy when she walks into the livery.” Then in her usual manner, Clemmie changed the subject at the drop of a hat and asked Clay about his job at the ranch. Leo watched her go and ate his meal with a wink at Jess. They both knew that Clemmie could talk details out of a stone if she really wanted to.
By the time they ate the cake and fruit and had a coffee in hand, Clemmie had found out more about Clay Donnelly than he knew himself. He knew they were finding out about him and understood their concern. He just answered her questions. They took to softer seats and Jess asked if Clemmie had brought the quilt. Leo went to take it from the saddlebag, and it was spread on the table. Even the men could see that she was an artist with her quilting.
“This is for Missus Mantino, and she is giving it as a gift to her daughter-in-law. It’s a secret at the moment,” Clemmie said.
“The colors are wonderful,” Jess said, “Like fall in a forest.”
“Oh, that is a lovely way of describing it. I’ll remember that,” Clemmie exclaimed.
There was a shout from the gate, and Leo rushed to the door.
“Big trouble at the saloon, Leo. Still fighting and two men dead. Can you ride straight back?” the second deputy called from the gate, and Clemmie packed up her precious quilt. Jess brought the horses and hugged her friend.
“Lord, I hate it when Leo has to sort these fools out. Thanks for the food,” Clemmie said but galloped off with the man to his job. Jess and Clay were left standing behind the gate watching the dust settle on the road.
“Is there often trouble in town?” Clay asked, and she shook her head.
“Nothing most of the time.”
“Are you not afraid on your own here?” he asked the question that had come back into his head a few times since his arrival.
She shrugged. “I can shoot. Keep the door locked and the shutters.”
“I’ll sleep in the barn tonight, if that is okay with you,” he offered, and she smiled and said her thanks.
After midnight, he heard a noise and was glad that he had moved into the barn.
The sound that Clay heard was Ned snickering from the stall in the barn. The horse tapped his foot on the ground, and that was a sure sign of agitation. Clay eased himself off the bed of straw and pushed the blankets to one side. The handgun was lying to one side, and he picked it up wishing that he had cleaned the sand from it the night before. He eased the door open a crack and in the moonlight saw a man trying the window to the side of the front door.
Hoping the barn door would not squeak as he pushed it, Clay eased himself sideways through the opening and silently approached the house from the side. As he looked around the corner, the man was trying the front door and was obviously not expecting to be observed.
Clay stepped out into view with the gun in his hand and clicked the safety catch.
“Can I help you at all?” he asked in an even voice. The man at the door swung around in alarm and then put his hands in the air.
“Don’t shoot. I’m not armed,” he answered.
“Good job it was me that saw you and not Jess. She would have shot by now.” He approached the man and pushed him away from the door and then used the gun to hammer on the wood and shout for Jess to come outside. The person at gunpoint was quite large and filled the space on the veranda. Clay pointed the gun at his chest and told him to stand still. He heard a sound behind the door and called out, “Jess I found an intruder. You can unlock the door.” There was a scuffle at the door, and Jess appeared with a kerosene lantern in her hand and a robe pulled hastily around her.
“What on earth is happening?” she asked and then saw that there was a man held at gunpoint.
“You recognize this man?” Clay asked, and she stepped out with the lantern to see who it was.
“Kilter Scott, isn’t it? What on earth are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
The man said again that he wasn’t armed and blustered out a story about his horse going lame.
“I left him down on the road and wondered if I could borrow another to get back to town.”
“Why not just knock and shout who it was?” Clay asked. “You were trying the door and the windows.” The man repeated his story and said he was sorry to bother them, but Clay was having none of it.
“Sorry, but I just don’t believe you. Let’s go and get this lame horse. Jess can see if it needs care.”
“Look. Look,” Kilter Scott answered. “I’ll just go and leave you to get back to sleep. I’ll walk the horse if it can’t carry me.”
“I would rather look at it,” Jess agreed with Clay. “Clay will keep the gun pointed at you. We can all go down to the gate.”
The man protested that it was too much trouble. He was sorry to bother them and so on until they reached the road and found his perfectly able horse tied to the fence. Jess put the lantern on the ground and checked each of the beast’s legs. He stood patiently and stood four square and steady on each leg.
“Nothing wrong with the horse, Clay,” Jess announced and wondered what they should do.
“Look I am so sorry. I’ll just go back to town,” Scott said. “I meant you no harm.”
“But what did you actually want?” Jess asked. The man stared back at her and made no reply. “We’ll let you go and then tell Leo in the morning.”
“On the horse and go,” Clay told the man and waved the gun to back it up. The intruder took no further bidding and kicked the horse into a gallop. They watched him go and then looked at each other.
“Thank goodness you heard him,” Jess said. “Let’s have a coffee and see if we can work out why he was there.”
The two of them walked back to the house, and she shone the lantern at the door and window.
“No sign that he tried to force them open,” she observed.
“But he might have done if I had not caught him,” Clay replied and took the coffee she offered from the pot that was still on the stove. They sat and looked at each other.
“I’ll come into town with you, and we can report what happened,” Clay told her, and she nodded.
“My intuition that you should stay here was right,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for being there.”
“One good turn deserves another,” he answered. “What would he be after?”
Jess looked around her small and homely living room.
“Look at it. I only have what I need to work and live. There is nothing valuable or anything that anyone would want to steal.”
“Do you know who he is? Would there be any other reason that he wanted to get into the house?”
Clay saw the change cross over Jess Malone’s face. The absolute fear that was there for an instant and covered up went straight to his heart. The woman was very afraid of something and making sure that she didn’t let it show.
“Have you thought of something?” he asked, but she shook her head.
She hesitated and looked at this man that she had only met yesterday but knew beyond doubt that she could trust him. Maybe her Irish insight would be proved wrong, but he stopped the thought by speaking first.
“My instinct is that you are frightened of something. Don’t say anything if you don’t want to, but I won’t do you any harm, and I’ll help if I can.” It gained a small smile, and she told him that her Irish intuition also said that she could trust him. She took a breath.
“I was hurt by men once, and it is still there inside of me. I have worked hard to make a life, and my horses are what make it all worthwhile. I would rather not talk about it.”
Clay Donnelly wished that he could take those men, whoever they were, and wring their scrawny necks, but he told her that he didn’t need details.
“I only know Kilter Scott as someone from the town. He has a job, I think, and I have only ever said good morning to him before,” Jess remarked.
“How strange,” Clay said. “I am so glad I was here.”
“I would have shot him,” she declared and then laughed at herself. Then she said that people in town knew that so why would he try and break in? They talked around it for some time but came to no further conclusion.
“I’ll report it to Leo and get all the lectures from him and Clemmie about moving into town.”
“I’ll back you up, and if you want me to, I’ll stay a couple of days and be a sort of guard dog. I am pretty sure that I was not followed.” Then he looked at her. “Have you never thought that a couple of big dogs would warn intruders away?”
Without realizing that she was acting impulsively, she said that she would be glad of his company for a little while.
“I can turn my hand to most things,” he told her, “so any jobs that need doing just let me know. I’ll go back to the barn and let you try and get some sleep.”
“You can have the sofa if you like,” she offered on impulse once again, but he said that he would more likely spot something wrong if he was outside the house.
“Lock the door again. I can knock and shout if I want to get inside.”
“Thank you, Clay. I am glad that Ned brought you to the door,” she said and meant it. He held out a hand to shake, and she took it, and this time she didn’t pull back immediately. She felt a little shiver run up her arm at his touch but took no notice. That, in itself, was a huge step for Jess Malone. She locked the door and went back to her bedroom.
The night passed uneventfully, and she woke having slept much better than she thought she would. She dressed and started breakfast and then found that Clay had let out the chickens and put the horses in the corral.
“Mornin’, Missus Malone,” he quipped. “I feel a lot better for a good sleep.”
“You look a lot better,” and then she laughed. “That sounds like you looked awful yesterday.”
“I managed a shave,” he told her.
“It suits you better,” she answered and put down a plate of eggs, ham, and sourdough biscuits. Then she took a plate herself and sat opposite.
“I think you might be right about a couple of dogs. They would be company as well.”
They checked out Ned and found him well rested. Jess collected the eggs and said that she would take them into town and collect the next lot of washing.
“The hotel is a life-saver. He buys my eggs and pays me to wash the sheets,” she told him, and he asked if she had been paid for working with difficult horses.
“Every once in a while, I get asked to do some training or try and help with a problem. I don’t charge very much because the horses need the help.”
He shook his head. “It is quite a talent. You should advertise and make some money.”
“Maybe one day.” She smiled over the saddle that she was putting on Poppy, and he tightened the cinch to make sure the one on Ned was secure. She carefully put the eggs into her saddlebags, collected a bag for the things she needed at the store, closed up the house, and they set off toward Bassett.
Walking the horses because of the eggs, it was still only a short time before they reached the town. Clay saw a tidy place with several stores and saloons and one hotel. There was a wooden church with an open door and a small house beside it for the minister. There was a blacksmith who was working away with a hammer making ringing noises on the anvil.
“The livery is further down the street, but I’ll drop off these eggs first and then you can meet Meg,” Jess said, and they swung out of the saddles and hitched the reins at the door. She pointed at the broken woodwork.
“I wonder if that was caused last night.”
Gino Mantino was bustling around in a big white apron but stopped to thank her for the eggs and to say the next bundle of washing was behind the counter.
She introduced Clay as a visitor. Gino shook his hand. “I am sorry not to stop and talk. We had trouble here last night, and I have had to rush around to put things right.”
“What happened?” Jess asked, and he explained that a group of gamblers had started to fight, and what had begun as a little argument had spread into the street and a real disturbance had ended up with two of the men dead and three more injured.
“You can see my railings were broken, but I locked the door in time to stop them rolling inside.”
“Were the sheriff and deputies alright?” Jess asked, and he nodded.
“They were up most of the night making sure the place was safe but not hurt.”
“We’ll let you get on,” Jess said and told him she would collect the sheets later. They walked back to the entrance, and Clay gasped and stepped back inside. He pulled at Jess’ arm to join him.
“Falling for the Lonesome Cowboy” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Jess Malone’s life hadn’t been easy since the day she was kidnapped and her parents were killed. With courage and strength, she managed to escape and start over under the care of a kind livery couple. Even though she changed her life for the better, the trauma never left her broken heart. Then Clay Donnelly literally fell off his horse unconscious at her gate and she had to act fast and save his life. Could the man she helped be the one to make her world complete? Or would the scars in her soul stop her from ever finding true love and happiness?
Clay Donnelly arrives at a beautiful woman’s door after having ridden over the mountains and across the desert to escape pursuit. After a false alarm, he had to abandon his post at the ranch he was working on as a cowboy to help his brother. After realizing that the call for help was a trap, he decided to make a run for it to avoid being blamed and found himself at Jess’s door. Can he convince the charming woman who helped mend his wounds that he can be the one to mend hers? Or will her tortured past become an obstacle between them?
They both found love when they least expected it, but they have to fight their demons to let it blossom. Can Clay make Jess see that he is the one who deserves her trust? Will Jess let go of her trauma and succumb to this unprecedented feeling?
“The Sheriff Who Stole Her Aching Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.