Morrow Creek Marshal(7)By: Lisa Plumley
Not that he meant to tell anyone that. He wasn’t a medical man, per se. He was just a man who didn’t like leaving loose ends. From the moment the dance hall girl had tumbled offstage, she’d temporarily become his responsibility to see to.
Noticing that Rufus hadn’t left yet, Dylan gave him another glare. Obediently, the cowpuncher scurried off, hat in hand.
The moment he’d gone, the dance hall girl aimed a self-assured look at Dylan. “See? Rufus is doing exactly as I asked him to. I had this situation perfectly under control all along—until you blundered in with your fisticuffs.”
She hadn’t had anything “under control.” Dylan knew damn well that Rufus had only done as she’d bade because he had intimidated the man into compliance with that final scowl. How that fact had escaped her notice was beyond him—although she was in obvious discomfort, so she probably wasn’t herself just then.
“I’ll thank you to leave me alone now,” she added.
Her imperious tone wrested a rueful grin from him.
He’d wager that was her true self, despite everything.
“All right. I’ll go.” Contrarily, Dylan pulled up an empty chair. He sat across from her, rested his forearms on his thighs, then gave a carefree nod. “Just as soon as you get up from that chair and get yourself back onstage.”
Sucking in a deep, pain-filled breath, Marielle met the stranger’s gaze dead-on. He knew full well she couldn’t just get up off that chair and get back onstage. Not in the condition she was in. She’d tested her ankle. It hadn’t borne her weight.
Instead, it had made agony shoot clear up her leg and nearly overwhelm her. Reacting helplessly, she’d clutched the stranger’s muscular shoulder so hard that she knew by now he must be developing fingertip-size bruises beneath his fancy coat and collared shirt. He knew she couldn’t just gallivant onstage.
What’s more, he knew that she knew that he knew that.
People didn’t typically challenge Marielle. She’d been born charming her mama and papa and all the stagehands at the New York theater where they’d worked. She’d grown up knowing how to finagle her way...and, more important, how to make people want for her to get her way. It was a knack she had never questioned.
“Or,” the stranger went on in that selfsame blithe manner, his tone belying his handsome face full of concern, “you can come with me to the back of the house, let me fix up your ankle and maybe have a snort of applejack brandy for the pain, too.”
That sounded...tempting. But she refused to give in. She didn’t even know this man. He looked like a scoundrel to her.
A scoundrel was the very last thing she needed. Over the years, she’d turned down the assistance of several reputable men. Why would she abandon her practical path for a rake like him?
She managed an airy wave, trying not to betray that her ankle was throbbing. “I’ll wait for a proper doctor, thank you.”
“I’m better than a ‘proper’ doctor,” he assured her with a steady look, occupying his chair with assurance and vigor. He looked as though he could have whittled the dratted thing. Possibly with a huge bowie knife...which he kept strapped to his person like the bad man he was. “And you’re wasting time.”
“I don’t need your assistance, Mr.—”
“Coyle. Dylan Coyle.”
“—Coyle. I don’t even know you. Except to know that I find your air of nonchalance and entitlement completely irksome.” Earlier, privately, she’d found his steady and sure touch as he’d boldly examined her ankle downright...galvanizing. But she was certainly not going to inform him of that. She’d found the wherewithal to deliver him an aptly discouraging kick, and that had been that. Marielle Miller was no pushover. “I’d thank you to leave me alone. I’m injured. You are the cause of that. So—”
“That,” he said patiently, “is why I’m trying to help.”
“Aha.” She didn’t want to be small-minded. But she did want him to admit his obvious wrongness. Between being hurt and being upset with him, Marielle wasn’t her most clear-eyed and generous self. “Then you admit that you were at fault? Good. Thank you.”
His brown eyes flared. Arrestingly. “I said no such thing.”
“Humph.” Why on earth was she noticing his eyes at a time like this? Determinedly, Marielle went on. “Of course you did. Just now. And the fact remains that I had things under control—”
His interposing snort was infuriating. So was the way she couldn’t help noticing how finely honed his jawline was, how masculine his nose was, how intelligent his demeanor was.