Morrow Creek Marshal(6)

By: Lisa Plumley

Instead, the dance hall girl teetered in his arms. Setting his mouth in a straight line, Dylan half held, half hauled her to a marginally quieter spot away from the stage. There, she tried to put her weight on her right leg. She grimaced. Her face turned even ghostlier. With growing concern, Dylan steadied her.

“You’re hurt!” Predictably two steps behind the situation, the cowboy rubbernecked. He scrambled to rustle up a chair for her. Lickety-split, he shoved it under her caboose. “Here.”

Gratefully, she sank onto that support. Gamely, she beamed up at that troublemaking bootlicker of a cowpuncher, just as though he deserved her gratefulness for getting her injured.

She didn’t say a solitary word to Dylan, kind or otherwise. She only compressed her pretty lips, then frowned at her ankle while the saloon’s usual hurly-burly proceeded just beyond them.

“You’d do best to elevate that sore ankle,” Dylan advised gruffly, mindful of the need for quick action. He knelt at her skirts, then expertly delved his hands beneath their spangled hems to test what he suspected was grave damage to her ankle.

Before he could do more than graze her high-buttoned shoe and skim his fingers up to her stocking-clad ankle to gauge the swelling he expected to find there, the minx kicked him.

Instant pain exploded in his knee. “Ouch!”

Her eyes narrowed. “Next time, I’ll aim higher.”

Her gaze fixed menacingly in the vicinity of his gun belt. Ordinarily, Dylan didn’t wear it. Not anymore. But when traveling alone across multiple states and territories, he did.

As much as he didn’t like it, sometimes he needed...backing.

Feeling provoked, Dylan glared back. He nudged his chin at the cowboy. “How come he gets a spoonful of sugar from you, and I get a big dose of vinegar? I’m the one who helped you.”

“Near as I can tell, you’re the one who made me get dragged offstage in the middle of my performance.” With a worried frown, the dance hall girl glanced toward the stage, where her fellow dancers were currently high-kicking in the glow of the lights.

The show had to go on, Dylan guessed. That seemed fairly coldhearted to him, though. He’d thought his line of work was hard-nosed—and it was—but there was more to skirt tossing than he’d first realized, it seemed. There was more to her, too.

Contrariness, for instance. Also, plenty of obtuseness.

“I was protecting you!” Dylan objected. It was past time to set her straight. Maybe, he reasoned, the pain had made her light-headed. That would explain her poor grasp of the situation.

“No, you were picking on poor—” She broke off, glancing at the cowboy for his name. After what felt like enough time for Dylan to turn gray-haired and stooped, the befuddled cowpoke finally blurted it out. “—Rufus, here, when your intervention was entirely unnecessary. I had matters well in hand.”

“Near as I could tell, Rufus had matters well in hand.”

“A miscreant like you would concentrate on the disreputable side of things, wouldn’t you? That is a very rude comment.”

“Very rude,” Rufus put in, looking belligerent.

The dance hall girl put her hand on his mud-spackled wrist in a calming gesture. Unreasonably, Dylan resented her caring.

At the same time, grudgingly, he admired how well-spoken she was. How indomitable. How courageous. He knew good men who would not have dared to speak to him in the tone she’d used.

“I didn’t require your ‘help,’” she informed him further.

“She didn’t require your help,” said myna bird Rufus.

Dylan gave him a quelling look. Sensibly, the man cowered.

“What you require is treatment for that ankle.” He cast her gaudy skirts a concerned look. “If you’d just let me see—”

“Are you a doctor?”

“I promise you, I’m better qualified than whatever backwoods sawbones you’re going to find in Morrow Creek.”

“Then you’re not a doctor.” She eyed Rufus. “I’m terribly sorry to impose on you this way, Rufus, but would you mind very much fetching Doc Finney for me? Harry can tell you how.”

The cowboy hesitated. It was evident that he wanted to linger—that he was having second thoughts about her avowed “no saloongoers” courtship policy. Helping him along the path of a true believer, Dylan scowled at him. “Good idea,” he growled.

While the knuck was gone, he would settle things here. Starting by getting her out of the noisy saloon and into someplace more conducive to a proper medical evaluation.

He hadn’t spent years as a Pinkerton detective, then more years as a lumberman doing dangerous work in largely unmapped territory, then more years as a private security man for hire, without acquiring a necessary quantity of medical knowledge. In his time, he’d extracted bullets—sometimes from himself—set broken limbs, stitched up knife wounds and kept at least one man from bleeding to death in the middle of nowhere. To him, treating a turned ankle—no matter how serious—was a walkover.

Also By Lisa Plumley

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