A Fortune for the Outlaw's Daughter(2)

By: Lauri Robinson



 Sea air—a mixture of dirty water, salt, dead fish and wet wood—stung her nose when he brought the horse to an abrupt halt. They dismounted at the same time, and he grabbed her by the back of one arm, propelling her in one direction while slapping the horse on the backside, sending it in the opposite way.

 “In here,” he directed, hushed and hurried.

 The tall building blocked the moonlight, making it impossible to see much of anything. He’d saved her from the other men, but that didn’t mean he was safe. Few men were. Life had taught her that. “What about your horse?” she asked, trying to buy time to figure out an escape on her own this time.

 “It wasn’t mine,” he answered. “I stole it.”

 She dug her heels into the dirt. “Stole it?”

 His strength was no match as he pulled her forward. “Don’t give up on me now, darling.”

 “Don’t call me darling,” she said. “And let go of me.”

 “Can’t. Alan Ridge isn’t going to be happy when he learns you knocked out his henchman. I may have gotten his other men off our tail for a bit, but eventually they’ll learn where we went. At least the general direction.” He threw open a door. “You can trust Lucky, darling. You’re safe with me.”

 A chill rippled through Maddie. Mad Dog Rodriquez and Alan Ridge were the same man; she’d discovered that in the first town she’d hightailed out of in the dead of the night. Smitty had heard Mad Dog was in Mexico, and that was why he’d sent her to California: to escape the outlaw for good. That plan had backfired and she’d been doing little more than avoiding capture since stepping off the train. Mad Dog had a penchant for stealing girls and selling them at high bounties, but that wasn’t the only reason he was pursing her.

 “You know Alan Ridge?” she asked.

 “I know of him.”

 She didn’t like it, not one little bit, but Lucky, as he called himself, seemed her only alternative at this moment. Given her choices, Maddie followed him, vowing to escape the first chance she got.

 He closed the door behind them and let go of her arm but took her hand as he spun around. It was even darker inside, completely black. “Hold on to my belt. I’ll never find you in here if we get separated.”

 Maddie was contemplating that when he whispered again. “But Ridge’s men will. Have no doubt about that, darling. When that one comes to, he’s going to be looking harder than ever.”

 “Are you one of Ridge’s men?” she asked point-blank, though not really sure what she’d do if he said yes.

 “Aw, darling,” he drawled. “Would I be trying to save you if I was in cahoots with him?”

 Men were a fickle bunch, and not a one of them was above lying, yet her instincts, which she hoped weren’t trying to fool her, said she could trust this man. However, her ire was still riding high. “Will you stop calling me that,” she hissed, while wrapping her fingers beneath his belt. Men who’d ridden with her father always called her darling. She’d hated it then, and hated it now. Along with everything else about her past.

 Lucky started walking forward slowly, as if feeling his way. “I will if you tell me your name.”

 “Maddie. Madeline Elizabeth Stockwell,” she answered. It was a good name. This one she’d settled on. No one could trace it back to Bass. That wasn’t likely, considering he’d been calling himself Boots Smith when he died, but she wanted to sever all ties to her former life. California was supposed to have been a fresh start, but since arriving, she’d found herself running more than when living with outlaws.

 “Well, ain’t that a mouthful?”

 Stung, she retorted, “It’s better than Lucky.”

 “Lucky’s just my nickname, darling. Real one’s Cole. Cole DuMont.”

 “Who gave you a nickname like that?”

 “I did.”

 “You gave yourself a nickname?” She’d given herself a full name, but that had been a necessity; giving yourself a nickname was just plain silly. Maddie was her real name, as far as she knew. Madeline as well as Elizabeth and Stockwell were ones she’d chosen. They sounded distinguished. Proper. That was what she wanted. A real, proper and distinguished life. She’d have it, too. If she ever got away from Mad Dog and his henchmen.

 “Sure enough did.” Lucky paused to open a door. “Figured if I called myself that often enough, it would stick. Luck, that is.”

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