Morrow Creek Marshal(10)

By: Lisa Plumley

Leaving. That confirmed all her misgivings about him. It was too bad, really, Marielle thought. She almost liked him.

It wouldn’t pay to let him know that. Quite literally.

“I am not interested in your travel plans, Mr. Coyle.” With a purposely regretful look, Marielle glanced from their position in the very back of the saloon to the crowded saloon floor itself. There was a ruckus near the front doors as several men entered. She’d need to make this quick, in case Doc Finney was arriving and this was her last chance to be heard. “I’d hoped that further...encouragement...wouldn’t be necessary for you to do right by me in my predicament. But now that I see it is...”

Meaningfully, she let her threatening statement linger.

“You expect your neighbors to force me to pay? Is that it?” Coyle gave a knowing headshake. “I see you looking to them for help, but I promise you, I know most of these men. They know me. They won’t go against me. Not even at your insistence.”

Undoubtedly, he’d scared them into that stance, Marielle guessed. Above all else, Dylan Coyle was intimidating.

“You don’t know my brother, Mr. Hudson Miller. I’m afraid he’ll be very unhappy to hear that you won’t help me.”

Doing her utmost to appear apprehensive over what Hudson might do to assuage his unhappiness, Marielle bit her lip.

Thankfully, Coyle appeared to swallow her pretense.

“Are you suggesting your brother will force me to pay you for your lost work time?” he asked. “Because if you are—”

“Hudson is awfully large. And strong. And very mean.”

Uttering that last outright fib, Marielle all but expected to be struck by lightning. If Hudson ventured closer, her threat would fall apart like crepe paper on a rainy day. Because while Hudson was indeed big and burly, he was anything but malicious.

That’s why Marielle had dedicated herself to caring for him, all by herself, from before they’d arrived in Morrow Creek. Hudson needed her. He was a sweet, softhearted soul who had a sense of fun where his ambition ought to have been. Hudson would have been lost without her. She’d supported them both for years. She didn’t aim to quit now. She’d made promises to that effect.

“Is Hudson ‘mean’ enough to make you agree to have your ankle treated?” Coyle inquired. “Because if he is, bring him over and let him supervise while I tend to it the way I tried to before. That injury is only getting worse the more you dally.”

She couldn’t do that. Hudson was approximately as menacing as a gamboling puppy. He was probably inebriated, what’s more. That was the cost of having her brother at Murphy’s saloon to watch over her. He drank. He gambled, smoked and caroused, too. But he didn’t exactly terrorize bystanders, even with his size and his strength. He would greet Coyle like a long-lost friend.

Caught, Marielle swallowed hard. She looked away.

“I told you, I don’t need anybody’s help!”

She never had. She refused to now. Period. But her outburst was as good as an admission of defeat. Her erstwhile “protector” didn’t let it pass unnoticed, either. His expression hardened.

“You are confusing obduracy with strength,” Coyle told her in an unyielding tone. “Everybody needs help sometimes.”

Exasperated and hurting, Marielle glowered at him. “I also don’t need some drifter with a ten-dollar vocabulary and a gun belt telling me what to do and how to do it. If you’re too skint to make good on the trouble you’ve caused, just own up to it.”

“This isn’t about money, and you know it.” His gaze wandered to her face. Held. “It’s about getting what’s coming to you. Having the ledger squared. We’re the same in that way. Trouble is, we’re going about it from opposite directions.”

The same. Could they be? All Marielle knew was that at those words, the raucous saloon fell away, pushed like daytime before night. She frowned at Coyle, struck by his perspicacity.

She did want fairness to prevail. She didn’t want to be disadvantaged. If he was speaking truthfully, he felt the same way. No one had ever truly understood her. Yet here he was...

...Trying to manipulate her into granting him his wishes. Which she didn’t need to do. Doc Finney would deal with her ankle, very soon now. Letting a stranger tend to it—especially now—felt like surrendering. Marielle refused to be cowed.

For Hudson’s sake and her own, she’d always been strong.

“We’re not alike,” she objected in no uncertain terms, vexed at his nerve. “You’re nothing but a drifter, and I’m—”

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