Morrow Creek Marshal(9)

By: Lisa Plumley



“Thirty-three?” Marielle gawked at him. He’d aged her by three years in an instant! A moment ago, she’d been feeling woozy with pain. But now her clarity was fully restored. “I’ll thank you, Mr. Coyle, not to comment on my age. Or anything else about me! I am not interested in your opinions. What I am interested in is having your apology and maybe some recompense for this disastrous incident. Because this is all your fault—”

“I’m sorry. I’ve gone and made you angry.”

“Indeed, you have!” Of course he had. Thirty-three?

“I didn’t mean to disregard your experience.” Coyle gave her a keen look. His eyes sparkled. “Your vast experience.”

That was more like it. Proudly, Marielle lifted her chin. “For your information, I am not thirty-three years old.”

“Ah.” He roamed his gaze over her again with nearly the same perceptiveness he’d employed while she’d been onstage. He rubbed his whisker-stubbled jaw. He nodded. “You’re thirty-five. I have to say, ma’am, that while you are a very fine specimen of womanhood, it’s no wonder your feeble ankle snapped so readily.”

Speechless, Marielle stared at him. Had he said...feeble?

He actually grinned, looking pleased. Intolerably so.

“I am not feeble,” she informed him. “You are deluded.”

“I’ve never seen a dance hall girl with so much...maturity,” Coyle opined. “No wonder you’re the one pictured on the fancy painted sign in front of the saloon.” He gave her a look full of wonderment. “You make those other girls look like novices.”

Confused, Marielle squinted at him. He sounded pleasant, but... “That’s hardly complimentary—to me or my fellow dancers.”

Not clarifying, he studied her...probably looking for the old crone’s wrinkles he expected to find. Of all the audacious—

“You’re older than me,” she shot back. “By a year or more.”

Coyle raised his brows. “You think I’m forty?”

She earnestly considered kicking him again. Harder than before. It wouldn’t be polite, but he did deserve it.

Before she could do so, he laughed. That act transformed his whole being. It turned him from a very attractive man to a downright fascinating one. Drat. How did he keep doing that?

He was enjoying himself so much, Marielle almost wanted to join in the frivolity. Instead, she gave him a peevish look.

“I’m thirty-two, Miss Miller, plus a month or six.”

Hearing her name on his lips, Marielle frowned. “How do you know my name? We haven’t met. If you expect me to believe—”

“That I divined it? If you must. Be my guest.”

His teasing didn’t deter her. “The sign. My name is on it.”

She’d negotiated strictly for that with Jack Murphy.

“Right alongside your likeness,” Coyle confirmed. He tilted his head to observe her. “Paint doesn’t do you justice, though.”

“Hmmph. It didn’t lead you to expect geriatric dancing?”

“It didn’t lead me to expect to be helping a stubborn dance hall girl quit thinking about her injury. But that’s working out all right.” He nodded toward her ankle. “I bet it doesn’t hurt as much now, does it? Outrage cures everything.”

Marielle was startled to realize it did. It had. At least momentarily. Her expression of relief clearly revealed as much.

Charitably, Coyle let his small victory go unremarked upon.

“I’ve already apologized,” he said instead. “I’m very sorry you got hurt. But as far as reparation for your injury goes, I doubt that your cowboy has the means to pay for the damage he’s done here tonight. So if I were you—”

“I meant you should pay, you cretin! Thanks to you, I won’t be able to dance for days, if not weeks.” Judging by the growing throbbing in her ankle, her injury was indeed serious. She doubted she would be able to remove her dancing shoes when she got home tonight. They would have to be cut off. Then replaced. That would cost money. So would food. Housing. Fuel for her stove. Tallying her expenses, Marielle grew ever more alarmed at her predicament. “The way I see it,” she said, “you owe me.”

For the first time, Coyle seemed taken aback.

Could he...did he truly believe he’d been helping her? As far as she could tell, he’d been spoiling for a scuffle. Men often were when imbibing. She had unfortunately provided an impetus.

Now here they were, deadlocked on what to do next.

“I don’t owe anyone anything,” Coyle disagreed darkly. “That’s the way I like it. That’s the way I intend to keep it. I’m going to fix your ankle. Then I’m leaving Morrow Creek.”

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