Disobeying the Marshal

By: Lauri Robinson

Chapter One


El Dorado, Kansas

Cord Donavon paused in the darkness, listening again for the faint, almost muffled scream. Where had it come from? Frustration goaded him. Once again his mind had been wondering instead of concentrating on the duties at hand.

The sound came again and he picked up his pace to investigate the dark alley a few yards ahead. Distracting—that’s what it was. For ten years, since he’d been eighteen and had a badge pinned on his chest, nothing had come between him and the law.

Until three months ago.

Until Florie.

Did she ever think about him? Did she recall that night with fondness, or…a sigh built in his chest. He should never have left her there. Then again, maybe he should never have become a lawman. Could be he wasn’t cut out for it. His mother hadn’t thought so. She said women didn’t want to marry a Marshal. It was too hazardous. Her reasoning hadn’t mattered to him then, but lately the logic of her words carried more weight.

Why was that?

Rounding the corner, Cord made a decision. Now that he’d finally captured the notorious Winter brothers, he’d go see Florie. Get answers to a few questions. He wouldn’t be welcomed, not after being told to never step foot on the property again, but he’d encountered hostiles before. Besides, he had to find a resolution. This torn-in-two sensation eating him caused doubt—and a doubtful lawman was trouble.

Down the dark and narrow passage, light filtered through the back window of Sister Marie’s, casting an orange glow on a man and woman tussling. Annoyance grew in Cord’s chest as he jogged down the alley. Seconds later, he pulled back a fist and popped Abel Cartwright square on the jaw. While Abel sailed to the ground, Cord bent down to grasp the upper arms of the woman crouched near the back steps of the saloon.

Abel groaned but didn’t move. The whiskey on his breath said he probably wouldn’t until morning. On most occasions Cord would’ve taken Abel to the jail, let the man sleep it off, but tonight he found disgust in how some men treated women and figured the man could stay right where he’d landed.

“Miss, are you all right?” Cord asked. She must be new to the saloon—the others knew better than to slip outside where Homer, the bartender, couldn’t interfere when things got rough.

The fine ends of her hair whisked across his face as she flipped her head up. Her streaming tresses held a faintly familiar scent—a mixture of country air and vanilla. The brief whiff evoked more Florie memories.

Without warning his lungs locked tight, imprisoning his ability to breathe as his heart slammed against the inside of his chest harder than Abel’s head had hit the ground.

It couldn’t be.

Could it?

“Florie?” he croaked, staring into the gentle face he recalled so well.

She lifted a hand as if to touch his cheek, but instead pressed it against the base of her throat. “Cord?”

The sound of her voice was like a gust of spring in the air. “Florie,” he whispered. “It is you.”

The shaky way she nodded drew his attention to how she trembled beneath his palms. Gently, he helped her to her feet. It was miraculous, her being here. The thought was like a bee sting—sharp and attention-grabbing. Lawmen didn’t believe in miracles. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

She bowed her head.

Cord brushed her russet hair back from her temples so he could gaze into her big round eyes, hoping to read her thoughts. As his thumb brushed a smudge on her cheek, she flinched.

Fury shot through his veins. Examining the bruise, he asked, “Who did this? Abel?”

Trembling fingertips touched his face, keeping his gaze from going to the man on the ground. “No.” She dropped her hand to her stomach and glanced toward the saloon. “He just surprised me. I was hiding in the shadows, hoping to…” She pinched her lips together.

A giant fist wrapped around his spine. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been peeking out the window of her mother’s clapboard house, while the self-righteous older woman had held a shotgun to his chest. He’d asked Florie to come with him, practically begged her to, but she’d refused. He didn’t blame her. Hadn’t then and couldn’t now. And he didn’t blame her mother, either. His profession aside, he’d done wrong. Had his actions driven her to this? To Sister Marie’s?

“Hoping to what?” he asked.

The darkness of night didn’t lessen the perfection of her delicate features, nor diminish the soft shade of her blue eyes. Worry contoured her lovely face, and the sight played havoc with Cord’s already twisting insides.

“I-I came to see you, b-but I didn’t want you to see me like this,” she whispered. “I was hoping Marie would loan me some clothes.”

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