Nights with the Outlaw

By: Lauri Robinson

Chapter One




1885-Central Nebraska

Clint Turnquist thought he’d seen it all. He tipped the brim of his hat back as he nudged his mount closer to the commotion. The edges of a blue dress fluttered beneath a tree limb, exposing white pantaloons covering a set of legs stretched out and wrapped around the branch, holding a woman in place.

She tossed aside the cinnamon-colored wisps of hair hanging around her face with a shake of her head, and settled a stern stare on him. “Don’t you dare shoot him,” she shouted from her precarious perch.

Clint had no intention of shooting the pig rutting the dirt around the tree’s roots, but he was going to scare it off. The thing was half as big as a cow and tore at the ground with all the gumption of a crazed bull. He cocked his gun.

An identical click came from the tree. “You shoot my pig. I shoot you.” She held the aimed pistol steady, one-handed. The other arm held her in the tree.

“You’d be better off pointing that thing at your pig than me, lady. It looks downright wild,” he told her.

In that instant, the pig spun and shot forward toward Clint’s horse with all the fury it had been bestowing on the tree.

Clint grabbed for the saddle horn as Runner reared, and again when the animal twisted sideways and bucked. When the horse twisted yet again, Clint flew through the air, landing on the dry Nebraska dirt. There was no time to catch his breath before the pig, with eyes rolling in all directions, charged him.

Lungs burning, Clint scrambled to his feet and got a hold on a low branch of the massive oak. It had been years since he’d climbed a tree, but the memories of what needed to be done, and the fear of drooling fangs slicing his shins, soon had him hugging a branch on the opposite side of the trunk from the woman.

Having missed its target, grunting and snorting, the hog attacked the tree again, ripping thick roots out of the ground like they were little more than flower stems.

The woman peered around the trunk. “Shh,” she whispered. “He’ll go away if he can’t hear us.”

Air finally filled Clint’s lungs, and his hand went to his hip. Great. He’d lost his hat and gun when he hit the ground. He glanced below him to where the sparkling gold eagle on the oak handle of his pistol glistened beneath the ever-growing pile of pig-churned dirt. He shot a glance at the woman. Her gun was tucked into the holster belted around her waist and snapped in place by a wide strip of leather.

She flipped aside the long braid of hair dangling over one shoulder and then in a friendly, nice-to-meet-you sort of way, stretched out an arm. The action seemed a bit odd considering their predicament, but Clint reached around the trunk and took her hand with his free one. “Doreena Buckman,” she whispered.

Odder yet was his thought on how the unique shine and blue-green color of her eyes held a striking resemblance to the gulf waters down in Texas. “Clint Turnquist.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he returned, wondering if he’d lost his mind when he’d hit the ground, as well as his gun and his hat.

She released his hand, and he resettled his weight on the tree limb. Runner let out a snort from where he stood several yards away, and another horse, a black-and-white paint, Miss Buckman’s no doubt, grazed a short distance off, but other than that, it was just him the woman and the pig. Clint let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Shh,” she reminded, somewhat primly.

Holding in the grin attempting to form, he gave a nod of compliance. He wouldn’t have believed this scene if he wasn’t part of it. The last speck of his gun disappeared beneath the soil. It was only a few months old, but he’d come to love it like an old friend. “She’ll treat you good, better than a woman in most instances,” the shopkeeper back in Missouri had said when Clint bought the pistol. He’d found that interesting, since loving a woman didn’t have a place in his life. He pulled his gaze off the growing pile of dirt and stole a quick glance at the woman.

Wrapped around her branch, she gave him an apologetic-looking grimace—an extremely attractive one. Besides their captivating color, her eyes seemed to hold a secret or a promise.

His blood stirred, making him focus his attention on the pig, the tree, the dirt, or anything else, except her.

It wasn’t long before the hog wore itself out and plopped on its side. Clint closely studied the dirt-covered snout quivering with every breath. Sure enough, the critter had fallen asleep.

Clint eased sideways, and laid a hand on the tree to aid in his descent.

Doreena Buckman’s hand covered his. Her brows arched. “You been around many hogs, Mr. Turnquist?”

Her whispered question was husky enough to make his spine quiver. “A few when I was a kid.” He glanced toward the sleeping animal and lightheartedly whispered, “But I guess I’m more familiar with bacon and ham now.”

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