A Fortune for the Outlaw's Daughter(4)

By: Lauri Robinson



 “Come on,” Lucky said, as he turned around and started climbing down the wooden ladder. “Unless you want to stay here, become one of Ridge’s girls.”

 Something changed, and Maddie glanced up. Strangely there was a momentary part in the clouds. The moon, as big, round and right as she’d ever seen, peeked through and shone down on her. Her heart skipped several more beats as she glanced back toward the rowboat. Still cautious, she asked, “How much will it cost me?”

 “Nothing.”

 It was the first time she got a good look at Lucky’s face. Kind of long, with a square, clean-shaven jaw. It was his eyes that caught her attention. Even in the fog they twinkled as if that was where the stars were, instead of high above the clouds where nobody could see them. She glanced up again. The moon was gone. No stars, either.

 “Come on, Maddie,” Lucky coaxed. “I promise you’re safe with me. You’ll be safe all the way to Seattle.”

 There were no others mingling around, no one to hear if she shouted, unless perhaps Mad Dog or his men—if they had followed. She wanted to believe Lucky, climb down and escape this town and all the dangers it held, yet caution had been her constant companion for years. “How do you know I don’t have family here?” she asked. “Someone looking for me. Right now, even. Who’ll hunt you down, along with Ridge.”

 His smile made those eyes twinkle brighter. “If you had family, you wouldn’t have been fetching water for Hester.”

 A splattering of hope rose inside her. “You know Hester?” The older woman had assisted Maddie in escaping Mad Dog’s clutches once before and had promised a permanent escape would happen soon.

 “That’s why I was at the saloon,” he said.

 The air left her lungs in a gush. “It is?”

 “Yes. I’m the rescue Hester promised.”

 Relief filled Maddie. That explained why Hester had sent her out to fetch water tonight. This was her chance, and she had to take it. “Why didn’t you say so?”

 He made some kind of reply, but already swinging around, Maddie didn’t hear exactly what. She was too busy willing her heart to stay in her chest as she lowered closer to the water. Wet and slippery, the ladder wasn’t easy to navigate. A wave of reprieve rushed over her when a firm hold took her by the waist, lifting her the last few feet.

 The boat rocked as Lucky guided Maddie to sit on one of the wide boards. Then he flipped a blanket over her head and shoulders before he sat down opposite her and grasped the handles of the oars.

 Though already damp, the blanket didn’t offer warmth, but did block the wind, and Maddie repositioned it, grasping both corners beneath her chin. Her thoughts went to the two younger girls that Hester had ushered into the attic late last night. When Lucky started to row, she asked, “What about the others?”

 “I was just sent after you, but don’t worry, if Hester promised them an escape, it’ll happen.” He made several more big circles with both arms at the same time, moving the boat through the water, before asking, “Are they friends?”

 “No,” Maddie admitted. “I don’t even know their names.” Just as she hadn’t known the names of the other girls that had come and gone within hours the past few days. Hester had said it would take time to get her out of town, considering her previous encounters with Ridge’s men. They hadn’t been just run-ins, they’d been escapes. Maddie escaping, that was. Three times, in three different towns. She still didn’t know how Hester had learned about her or knew to meet her at the edge of town, but the woman had, and she’d done exactly as promised.

 Maddie’s happiness faltered. As badly as she wanted to escape Mad Dog, she didn’t want to go as far as Seattle. There was no gold there. It was here. In California. That was what Maddie wanted. Gold. Enough so she’d never be hungry again. Never be cold or scared or homeless or penniless. And with enough gold, she could go someplace Mad Dog would never find her.

 “Where are you from?”

 Maddie lifted her head and questioned answering. The less anyone knew the better. “East of here.”

 His laugh was quick. “Everything is east of California. Where were you born?”

 Her memories didn’t start until Wyoming, then Montana, Texas, Arizona. She even remembered a hut down in Mexico. Thus was the life of an outlaw. Until Colorado, where they’d run across Smitty, prospecting high in the hills. Her father had left her with him instead of dragging her along to the next train, stagecoach or bank that Bass thought he needed to rob. That had been five years ago. “Kansas,” she said. At least that was what she’d been told.

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