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A Mysterious Bride for the Lone Sheriff Preview

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A Mysterious Bride for the Lone Sheriff Preview

About the book


By unlocking her deepest secrets, he found the key to her heart...

After losing her parents during a hijacking gone wrong, Jane Winster can’t trust anyone.

Living under the shadow of a fake name, her mask and semblance of freedom are shattered when she is accused of killing her brother. But under such circumstances, she feels love for the first time in her life.

Lawrence Charles, a charming but lonesome sheriff, is called to investigate a curious murder. Once he meets his primary suspect, he realizes that this case is going to change his life forever.

While struggling to extract Jane’s truth about her brother’s murder, her past strikes again. With a stolen necklace inextricably connected to her disappearance, Lawrence must quickly untangle the mystery before Jane pays the ultimate price.

​​Prologue

She could feel the pressure rising in her head, her face so hot she thought she’d start steaming at any moment. She clenched her fists, opened them, and clenched them again, trying to calm herself down. It wasn’t working. Nothing was working. Not when she couldn’t bring herself to look away from the man standing across from her, someone she knew, yet felt like a stranger all the same.

He looked just as angry, and she could see the furious flush on his cheeks. He held out his hand, jabbing towards her. “Give it to me. Now.”

“No,” she stated, her voice raw. Made sense. She’s been screaming that word at him for a while now. They were alone in the privacy of a saloon’s room, though she knew that when they started screaming at each other, they were well within earshot of anyone who might be outside. And there were always people outside. The thought of others hearing their conversation made her uneasy, but it didn’t stop the rage from creeping back up her neck.

Swallowing, she tried to tamper it, to speak calmly. “I thought you changed. I thought you put this all behind you. Why do you keep doing this?”

“You won’t understand,” he groaned. He kept on saying that, but why? What wouldn’t she understand?

She rolled her eyes, and the rage that had been creeping up enveloped her whole. “Of course, I would understand! I was there, remember? I know how it felt, but I scraped myself away from that, and I thought you did too! I thought you wanted better for yourself.”

“Shut up! Just—” He whirled away, pinching the bridge of his nose and releasing a breath. “Just give it back to me before this gets ugly.”

“Gets ugly?” She barked a disbelieving laugh that held no traces of mirth. She clenched her left fist even tighter, hiding the item he was after behind her dress. His eyes shot to her arm at the slight movement, and they became razor-sharp. “You’re not getting it back. You need to stop this.”

“Why are you so adamant about this? This is my life!”

“I don’t want this for you; can’t you understand?” Her voice broke. Tears sprang to her eyes, and her shoulders sagged, some of her anger washed by the sadness she now felt. It all slammed into her at once—the memories. The good and the bad, with this man she could no longer recognize. Yet perhaps this was really who he was all along. Perhaps he hadn’t changed like she thought he had. Perhaps he really did want this for his life.

That broke her heart more than anything else. “You still have time. You’re young. You can leave. Start a new life. You don’t have to do this.”

But it wasn’t getting through to him. Even as she spoke, she could see her words slamming right into a hard rock of determination. His face went dark. “Enough!” he shouted. “I don’t want to hear anymore. Give it to me!”

“No!” She stepped back, hiding her fist fully behind her. She clung so tightly to the item in her hand that it dug into her skin. She wouldn’t be surprised to see blood on her palm if she were to open her hand.

“Give it back!”

“No! Never!”

Then he lunged for her. She should have seen it coming. He was becoming too unstable, too angry. Eventually, he would have decided to just take it by force. Yet, though she should have known it was coming, she was unprepared for him when he grabbed her upper arms. One hand reached around her, trying to pry it out of her hand.

She bit him. He yelped but didn’t let go. Frantically, she tried wrestling away from him, unable to help the image of them when they were younger. They used to wrestle like this before. Not out of anger but out of necessity—because they were told to. Because they needed to learn. Now, those skills were being used against each other, and just as it had been back then, she was just as adept as he was. He was larger, burdened by the anger consuming him and making him clumsy; and though she was hysterical, mad, and crying, she managed to slip out of his grasp.

She ran for the door but didn’t make it. He threw himself at her and landed on the solid wood, slamming it shut just when she got it open. She whirled away from him, trying to get out of reach, but one long arm curled around her and brought her to his chest.

“Give. It. Here!” he gasped, fingers digging between hers. She kept her hold tight, thrashing about.

“Let me go, you loon!” she screeched and rammed an elbow into his stomach. He grunted in pain and let her go, giving her the time to scramble away from him. “Look at you!” She was shouting. She didn’t want to shout. She didn’t need people in this saloon-hotel hearing even more of what was going on in here, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. “You’re crazy. Can’t you see that?”

“What I see is you in my way.” He stalked towards her. She didn’t move. She wasn’t afraid of him because she knew, in the end, he would never hurt her. At least, not physically. “Give it to me, now!”

“No matter how many times you ask, you aren’t getting it. Just give up now.”

He sighed again. “You just … you don’t understand. I can’t leave the way you did. It isn’t that easy.”

“I never thought it was easy.” She softened. He didn’t look as angry as before. Now, he looked simply tired. She inched closer. “I know it isn’t, but that’s why I’m here. I can help you. I got away. You can, too.”

“I can’t!” He relaxed his shoulders, looking at her as if he was just now noticing that she was crying. He always hated to see her cry, but he didn’t embrace her as he would have before. Instead, he just stared at her, looking almost sorry. “I can’t,” he said again. “And you shouldn’t try to help me. You need to leave.”

That wasn’t what she was expecting to hear. “Leave?”

“Yes, you need to go. It’s not safe for you here.”

“If you mean that I should quit my work here, then that’s not going to happen.” She shook her head vehemently.

“No, that’s not what I mean. Actually, yes—look, just give that to me and leave, okay? Get out of here as soon as you can.”

“Why?” She frowned at him, wanting to come closer but also fearing he might try to grab what he wanted from her hands again.

“It’s—” He broke off, looking away. “It’s complicated.” Then she saw it. The shimmer of tears in his eyes. For as long as she knew him, he rarely ever cried. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s my fault. It’s all because of me why you have to run, but please, don’t put up a fight. Just go, okay?”

“You can’t expect me to leave without so much as an explanation.”

“God—” She blinked at him, noting that he nearly cursed in front of her. “Just give it here, will you?”

“You know what I’m going to say again.”

He came for her, angry once again. Or maybe it was frustration. She didn’t know, and she definitely didn’t stick around to ponder it.

The thud when he accidentally tripped and fell might have been heard three doors down. When she, out of pure desperation, started throwing furniture in his path, she knew the entire hotel could hear it. But, in those moments, she didn’t care. Her quiet reputation built while she worked as a waitress here was now gone with the wind, and it was too late to fix things. Now, they would look at her and see a woman with a dramatic past following her. Whispers would trail in her wake. She would be the talk of the town.

That wasn’t what she wanted. She had wanted to lie low, to live a peaceful life away from everything she knew. She had wanted the same for him, but now here he was, proving to her that he hadn’t changed, that he didn’t want to change. Proving to her that her past wouldn’t stay behind her, no matter how many times she put her back to it. It would always come creeping up over her shoulder. Now, he was telling her to run. She was tired of running. Even though she was scrambling all over the now messy room, she could only think that she was tired of having to keep looking over her shoulder wondering when it would be time to take off.

Then everything stopped. She froze. For a second, she couldn’t hear a thing, her ears ringing. Then reality came bleeding back into focus, and she realized what she just heard. The bang of gunfire.

It took a second for it to sink in and then another sound shocked the air.

“Help!”


Chapter ​One

Lawrence didn’t get telegrams very often. Most of the people he knew were right in this town—the simple, silent town of Barefield. It quite lived up to its name. Not many things went on in this small town, which made Lawrence’s job as sheriff quite easy. The most he had to deal with were small disputes over the landlines between the Barton brothers on the other side of town, who were always in conflict with each other as neighbors. Sometimes, it was the only reason Lawrence ever had to leave his office, so when he received a letter stating that he had a telegram, Lawrence knew exactly who it was from.

“Good day,” he greeted the man in the telegraph office. James Walsh looked up from the daily newspaper, and the corner of his eyes crinkled with a smile. He was one of the few men in town who would confidently say he’s done and seen everything there was to see, and his weathered, scarred skin and nearly entirely white hair was James’s goto as proof.

“Well, would you look who it is,” James grunted. His breath smelled heavily of chewing tobacco. “I haven’t seen ya in ages. I reckoned you’ve been hiding away with that lady down by Barney’s.”

Lawrence leaned against the counter. It was empty, and since he didn’t have much to do, he didn’t mind having a little chat with the old guy. James was nearing his fifties, yet he had a mind as dirty as a slommack and tongue that had no qualms doling those thoughts out. Not to mention he had eyes that missed nothing. He must have noticed Lawrence chatting it up with Jess in the saloon, the only woman there who strictly served drinks, though Lawrence hadn’t seen him.

“I’ve just been hiding away in the office,” Lawrence said. There was no need to let James know that Jess had been trying to get with him all night. That would only be stoking a fire he didn’t need blazing around town. “How’s it going?”

“Nothin’ interesting round ‘ere,” James sighed. He folded the paper and set it aside. “You’d think working in this here office wouldn’t be so darned boring.”

“Not getting enough juicy gossip, James?” Lawrence asked lazily.

“Gossip? Ha! That’s for them ladies.”

Yet James always seemed to know everything on everyone. It didn’t make it any better that this was a small town where nothing much ever happened. Gossip was a hot commodity around here.

Lawrence decided not to comment on that. Instead, he said, “Well, I got your letter. I got a telegram?”

“Ya sure do.” Lawrence watched him as he got to his feet, old boots clunking against the wooden floor. James began muttering under his breath, a habit of his. “Here ya go,” he said, returning with the message.

Lawrence read it quickly, frowning. As he suspected, it was from the only person he knew out of town. Alfred, a friend of his, was requesting his assistance with a murder case. Alfred was the sheriff of Torn Canyon, a town that was half a day’s ride from Barefield.

Intrigued, Lawrence forgot all about James. According to Alfred, the murder suspect was already in custody but wasn’t budging on what exactly happened. He needed Lawrence’s expertise in cajolement—or in Alfred’s words, his lovely charm. The telegram didn’t say much more than that, other than the fact that Alfred was looking forward to his arrival so they could knock heads and get to the bottom of this murder.

Lawrence already made up his mind by the time he was done reading. Wow, a murder case. He wasn’t a stranger to them, but this old town had so little going on that the thought of it made him want to hop on his horse right now.

So, what was stopping him?

It was as if James read his mind. The old man had popped more tobacco in his mouth while Lawrence was reading. He gave Lawrence a look. “What ya want me to tell the lady?”

“Don’t tell her anything,” Lawrence said, then regretted it instantly. He didn’t want James thinking he and Jess had a relationship that would require her to know anything at all. “I mean—never mind. I’m going to be leaving town for a while. Heading over to Torn Canyon.”

Let James stew on that one. Who knew? Maybe he’d come back to Barefield to hear all sorts of rumors as to why he had to leave in such a hurry. Lawrence wasn’t necessarily a secretive guy, but he didn’t make a habit of telling others things they didn’t really need to know. For some reason, the women in this town seemed to like that—single and taken alike. According to Jess, that was what had drawn her to him in the first place. That, and his good looks.

“Now?” James croaked.

“Yup,” Lawrence said with a nod. Excitement raced through his veins. It took everything in him not to rush out the door right this moment. “I’ll have Cordon take over while I’m gone.” He didn’t know why he was telling James all this. The man had a way about him that got tongues wagging. Lawrence clammed up, not wanting to say anymore, and tipped his hat in farewell.

Lawrence could feel James’s eyes on him as he left, but he forgot all about the nosy man the moment he set foot outside. A few people wandered about on the street, a fresh layer of dust covering his boots as a soft breeze drifted by. Lawrence turned and began his walk back to the office. He would have to pack a few things for the ride, but it wouldn’t be much. Just enough water to resist the dehydration under the unforgiving sun, a few changes of shirts, and some food. Whatever else he needed, he could get in Torn Canyon. It was still early. He should make it with good time to spare.

He both loved and hated the fact that he didn’t know what else to expect. He didn’t know the murder details, who the suspect was, who the victim had been. The mystery of this case made him walk faster, had him more eager to get there. Not to mention the fact that he’d be seeing his old friend again, who was by far his closest. They communicated often, and seeing that the towns weren’t very far away, they could visit each other when they had the time. Lawrence usually had the time. Alfred, not so much. Torn Canyon wasn’t like the slow, quiet town of Barefield where there wasn’t much to do. It was always humming with activity.

Cordon wasn’t hard to find, and it wasn’t hard convincing him to take over while Lawrence was gone. Not many fancied the thought of being sheriff like Lawrence and Alfred had, but since he figured he wouldn’t have much to do, Cordon was quick to agree. Which gave Lawrence more time to gather up his things, strap them to his horse’s saddle, and set off to the south where his friend’s new murder problem awaited him.

***

Though it was half a day’s ride, Lawrence made it with enough daylight to burn. His throat was on fire by the time he arrived, so he guzzled down nearly half his water before jumping off his horse. The extra shirts he brought with him were a good idea. He had to change twice on his way here, both as a result of soaking through the ones he had on before. Lawrence didn’t like the feel of his shirts sticking to his body, so he was happy to have made it to the town when the sun wasn’t as dangerously hot. He drank some more of the water then tucked it back into the saddle. He was standing outside the sheriff’s building, and he faced the door, frowning.

It was quiet.

Every time he came to Torn Canyon, it wasn’t ever quiet. It was normally alive, the air heavy with the buzz of chatter. The clop of horses’ hooves and the rattle of buggies would accentuate the noise, people always on their way to do whatever business they needed taking care of. Lawrence looked around to find that he was the only one there on that street.

The intrigue melted into unease. Did this have something to do with the murder? Where did everyone go?

On edge now, Lawrence tied his horse to a post outside and went into the building. “Alfred?” he called.

He got no response. He ventured further inside, his eyes adjusting, and saw that Alfred’s desk was empty. He was about to turn away, not sure where he could start looking for him, but then he noticed someone sitting in the cell behind the desk.

At first, he wasn’t sure who it was. He nearly turned away, not at all interested once he noted it wasn’t the object of his search, but then the person looked up. Lawrence froze at the hazel eyes staring back at him. She was huddled in the corner, knees hugging her chest. Her hair was pulled back in a chignon, a messy one that looked to have been put hastily together, and the light shining in through the window above her had the brown strands glowing red. She stared him down, eyes rimmed red.

Lawrence didn’t think he had it within him to look away, but then, he didn’t have to. She broke the connection, putting her head back behind her knees. He just stood there, his breathing a bit shallow. Beautiful, he thought. His mind was shaken by it, so taken aback that he could only form that single word.

“Who are you?” he heard himself ask.

She looked back up, but this time, her eyes were uninterested. She looked him up and down but didn’t say anything.

Lawrence came a bit closer. “Why are you in here?” he asked. “Did something happen to you?” He looked at her more closely to see that her dress was torn in a few places, and her shoes were scuffed badly. “Who did that to you?”

She didn’t respond, but at least she wasn’t dismissing him entirely. Lawrence took that as a good sign. Without thinking, he grabbed Alfred’s chair and pulled it up to the cell. He noted briefly that it was locked. Why was she locked inside here?

“What’s your name?”

No response. Lawrence didn’t think he’d be getting anything out of her at this rate, but he couldn’t help trying some more. “Where is everyone?” he pressed. “Why are you here alone?”

She cocked her head to the side. Her eyes narrowed a bit, and at that moment, Lawrence would have given anything to know what she was thinking. Finally, her lips parted, and he tensed in anticipation. “They left. I don’t know where they went.”

He didn’t know if it was because of her beauty, but her voice, though a bit hoarse, was musical. Lawrence nearly got closer to the bars just to hear it better. “Do you know why you’re in here?”

She nodded solemnly. “I do.”

He wasn’t going to get anything more than that? That was fine. Lawrence knew a thing or two about getting information out of people. “I’ve been to Town Canyon before and it’s never been this quiet. It’s almost as if this place has become a ghost town. What happened?”

She put her knees down, revealing a full chest and a waistline that sank in without help. “There were gunshots at the hotel,” she said. “Someone must have told the sheriff that there was a fight going down over there. That must have been where they went.”

“Do you know anything about the fight?”

She shrugged. “I might.”

“Someone died?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

He leaned back regarding her. “You know more than you’re saying.”

She didn’t so much as blink. “So, do you.”

Lawrence nodded. “I don’t suppose you plan to answer any of my questions then?”

“I already did,” she stated softly. “What else do you want to know?”

“What’s your name?”

She merely blinked at him, waiting. She didn’t plan to answer that one, that much was obvious. Lawrence moved on to one less personal. “All right, then. Where is everyone else? Are you the only one in this cell?”

“Yes,” she stated.

Suddenly, Lawrence remembered what the telegram had said—that they already had the suspect in custody. If she were the only one here, then that would mean …

She noticed the moment realization dawned on him. He saw the way she tensed, the way her eyes narrowed just a bit. She gripped her dress as if preparing to do something when he inevitably asked the question, though Lawrence didn’t know what.

Before he could say anything, however, the door opened. Lawrence rose and turned to see his friend lumbering in.

Alfred Thates, deputy sheriff of Torn Canyon, a man who always had a smile ready—especially for the ladies—looked as grim as death when he walked in. His eyes fell on Lawrence, but they didn’t so much as twinkle like they usually do. “You’re here. You got here quick.”

“Left as soon as I got your telegram,” Lawrence explained. “This case got me interested.”

“Well, there isn’t much more to it.” Then he sighed heavily and went in for a hug. Lawrence enveloped him warmly, patting him heavily on the back. Alfred smelled like tobacco. He only ever chewed tobacco when he was stressed. “It’s good to see you, Lawrence,” Alfred said, pulling away.

“Good to see you too, Alfred. I see you’ve been keeping the gray hairs away.”

“Don’t know how long that’s going to last,” Alfred said, smiling just a tiny bit. It disappeared nearly instantly as lines of stress deepened in his forehead. His eyes shifted to this side, landing on the woman in the cell. “And it looks like you already met our primary suspect.”

Though he suspected as much, Lawrence’s blood still ran cold. This beautiful woman was a murder suspect? He didn’t look back at her. “All you said that it was murder, but you didn’t tell me who died.”

Alfred’s eyes lingered on the beautiful woman a second longer before he looked at Lawrence. Then he said, “This woman seems to have killed her own brother.”


Chapter Two


Lawrence wasn’t sure what he had expected Alfred to say. He already guessed what was happening here, that this beautiful woman sitting inside the cell was here for the same reason he was, but he hadn’t expected to hear that she killed her brother. Lawrence turned and looked back at the woman.

She sat up straighter when their eyes met. Lawrence saw a myriad of emotions pass through them. He saw sadness, he saw anger, he saw disbelief. But then finally, he saw acceptance. She was good at masking it, good at making it look as if she didn’t care that she was sitting in the deputy’s cell. But Lawrence was just as good at noticing these things.

He wrenched his eyes away from her. “We should probably talk about this somewhere else,” he said to Alfred.

“We should,” Alfred agreed, and without another word, they both turned and went outside. They left the horses by the post and instead made their way to the closest saloon-bar on foot in utter silence, both burdened by their own thoughts. It wasn’t empty inside, but it definitely wasn’t as full as it normally was. Alfred led Lawrence over to a table away from what little people were inside.

“Where is everyone?” Lawrence asked once he was seated. “It looks like a ghost passed through this place.”

“You might not be entirely wrong about that one,” Alfred said. He sighed heavily, shoving his legs out before him. His eyes looked tired. “Everyone’s too spooked to be up and about, it seems.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad.” It sounded terrible, but Lawrence couldn’t understand why everyone would be spooked because that beautiful woman in there murdered her brother.

Just thinking it made him shiver. It didn’t sit well with him. Those eyes of hers … they weren’t the eyes of a murderer. Even if she had murdered him on accident, he would have seen some trace of regret, wouldn’t he?

“I suppose it’s how it all went down,” Alfred explained. His shoulder-length brown hair, usually slicked back into perfection, was sticking up all around his head. He tucked some of the strands behind his ear. “She’s been here a while, you know? Moved in from God knows where and took up a job at the hotel as a waitress. Quiet but nice. People noticed her. Hell, I noticed her. You’ve seen her, right? It’s hard not to notice when a lady like that just shows up out of nowhere. And I was wondering the same thing everyone else was. Where did she come from? Who was she?”

Lawrence didn’t have to ask to know that she probably hadn’t told anyone anything about herself. “What does this have to with why people are so spooked?”

“Wouldn’t you be spooked if the mysterious woman who showed up one day started fighting her brother in one of the saloon rooms? Causing quite the scene too. Billy, who mans the bar, told me he could hear them all the way downstairs. Throwing things, screaming at each other. Then gunshots.”

Lawrence’s blood ran cold. “The murder weapon?”

“We haven’t found it.”

“So—”

“But what we did find were two guns and two knives. She was carrying all of them.”

That didn’t sound good. What was she doing carrying so many weapons? “But the gun that was shot wasn’t with her?”

Alfred shook his head and sighed again. If it had been, it wouldn’t take much more to convict her. “Unfortunately, no. And as much as they all heard the commotion, no one really knows what went on in there. Everyone is on edge now.”

Lawrence could understand that now. It wasn’t every day you hear that the mysterious woman in your town just killed her own brother. Lawrence had a feeling that the Torn Canyon residents would be warier of outsiders from now on.

Something occurred to him. “If no one really knows anything about her, how do you know it’s her brother?”

“It’s the only thing she admitted. When we took her in and charged her, she said she wouldn’t ever kill her brother like that. They were seen together before that too, and she even introduced him to a few people. Thomas,” Alfred said. “His name was Thomas. That’s all we know on him.”

“So, she’s denying the charges then?”

“Of course, she is,” Alfred said, a little annoyed. “Only a madman would willing admit to killing someone. I think it might have just been an accident. She doesn’t stick me as a cold-blooded killer.”

“You don’t believe that she didn’t do it?”

Alfred frowned at him. “Do you?”

The answer to that was a simple, resounding yes in his head. He didn’t know why. He couldn’t understand how he had managed to change courses so quickly. He had come here to help his friend get a murder confession, but now he found himself teetering on the side of the murder suspect herself.

Lawrence decided not to answer the question. “What’s her name?”

Alfred’s frown deepened. He noted Lawrence’s deflection and would no doubt come back to it later. But for now, he said, “I don’t even know that. She went by Meredith, but when we asked her for her full name, she told us that Meredith wasn’t her name, and she didn’t plan on telling us her true one.”

“A woman of mystery, indeed.” It had Lawrence’s blood rushing.

“She’s as crooked as a Virginian fence,” Alfred spat. “I can’t get a damn thing out of her.”

“Maybe I should try,” Lawrence suggested. He could hear the eagerness in his voice, and he cleared his throat, reining it in. “I might be able to get through to her.”

“Well, hell, that’s why I called you over here anyway. See if you can crack that head of hers open. She’s as stubborn as a mule, I tell ya.”

“Give me some time alone with her, then. I might get something.”

“Take all the time you need. I need to head back to the saloon to take a good look at the scene, anyway. I’ve been putting it off this whole time. I just came back here to make sure she was still locked up inside. A lady like her, there’s no telling what kind of tricks she has up her sleeves.”

Lawrence didn’t doubt it for a second.

Alfred tipped his hat at him then walked away in that half-limp swagger of his. He got it from a gunfight he had been in over a woman, one he had walked away victorious from, though he had taken a bullet in the leg. A romantic coot, Alfred was, because he hadn’t gotten the woman in the end and has to live with that limp for the rest of his life. He claimed he loved it, though, and would always use it as a great story for when he wanted to woo the ladies, but Lawrence knew there was an underlying sadness about the entire ordeal that wouldn’t go away. On days he couldn’t seem to forget about it, the limp somehow got more pronounced.

Lawrence didn’t see himself as the type to get into a gunfight over a woman, but when he walked back into the sheriff’s building to see the beautiful woman still sitting in the corner, he nearly forgot why.

Those captivating eyes of hers caught his, the moment he re-entered. In one hand he held a plate of dried fruit pies and cakes and in the other, a canteen of water. She watched his every move, not moving an inch as he reclaimed his seat in front of the cell. It took everything in him not to stop and stare back. He wanted to drink in the sight of her, stamp those gorgeous eyes and pouty lips into his memory. The sudden urge to touch her, to run his fingers through her hair just to make sure she was real, overwhelmed him, and he struggled to rein it in. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

“I brought food,” he announced.

She didn't respond straight away. Lawrence almost didn’t expect it, so he blinked in surprise when she murmured, “I can see that.”

The sound of her voice washed over him again. He noticed suddenly that it was a bit hoarse as though she had been screaming. “Are you hungry?”

“Are you always so full of questions?”

Lawrence shrugged. He picked up one of the cakes and bit into it. It was an old trick of his, letting the other person see him eat. They were bound to want some too, and when they asked, it would be too late for them. They already fell into the trap. “You intrigue me,” he admitted. “I want to know why you’re here.”

“You already know why I’m here. They think I killed Thomas. They think I killed my brother.”

“Did you kill your brother?”

She cocked her head to the side. “You know what I’m going to say to that.”

“I want to hear you say it,” he said casually. He leaned back in the chair, cocking his boots on the metal bars of the cell. She narrowed her eyes at the relaxed pose. “I want to hear you deny your charges.”

“Why?”

He shrugged again. “As I said, you intrigue me.” Lawrence lifted one of the pies. “You sure you don’t want any?”

She narrowed her eyes even further. He was throwing her for a loop, he knew, which was good. If she didn’t know what angle he was playing, she wouldn’t know what to avoid.

It seemed she decided to go for full transparency instead when she said, “I didn’t kill my brother. Not even on accident.”

“Then who did?” She clammed up. Lawrence went on, not really expecting her to answer that anyway. “I reckon he didn’t just shoot himself, did he? Did he shoot himself?”

“No!”

“Then who did?”

She folded her lips, looking away. Lawrence leaned closer. “You say your name was Meredith, was it?” She looked back at him, suspicious now. She could sense that he was up to something but couldn’t figure out what. “If you help me, Meredith, then I think I can help you.”

“How could you possibly do that?”

“I’m a sheriff too. And Alfred is my friend. I’m sure I can get him to see my way, but you’re going to have to convince me that you didn’t do it.”

She frowned. “Do you not think I did it?”

“I think there’s a possibility something went wrong here. I’m here to find out what it was.”

She didn’t say anything, only looked him up and down, trying to figure him out. Lawrence allowed her to for a moment then offered her the cakes again with a simple gesture of his hands. He tried not to let his happiness show when she got to her feet, brushed her dress off, and made her way over to him. She was still frowning suspiciously at him when she took the cake and the canteen of water through the bars. “It’s Jane,” she said.

“Your name?”

She nodded. “Jane Winster.”

A small victory. Jane Winster—somehow the name’s fitting. “The name’s Lawrence Charles. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jane, despite the circumstances.”

She nodded and made her way back into her corner. “You said you were a sheriff?”

“I am a sheriff, yes. For the town of Barefield.”

“That’s not very far from here,” she commented softly. She was prying, wanting to know more. Lawrence didn’t mind giving up a bit of information if that meant she might trust him to open up as well.

“Half a day’s ride,” he confirmed with a nod. “I set out for here as soon as I received Alfred’s telegram.”

“And Sheriff Alfred called you here to help with this … situation?”

“I believe that’s what the telegram said, yes. Otherwise, I might have made a mistake being here.”

The side of her lips quirked. Another tiny victory. She bit into the cake. “You’re wasting your time here, Lawrence. I don’t plan to tell anyone anything.”

“Oh, I have no doubt. Alfred tells me you’ve been living in this town for a while, and no one knows a thing about you. Not even your real name.”

“And I intend to keep it that way.”

“You just might find yourself in deeper waters if you do that, Jane. If you don’t tell us who really killed your brother, how will we get justice?”

“You don’t have to worry about that.”

That surprised him. The more they spoke, the more he realized that this wasn’t your average woman. Your average woman didn’t carry around weapons and take a murder accusation as well as she did. Other than the red-rimmed eyes, she didn’t look as agitated as she should have.

“I believe you, Jane,” Lawrence said suddenly.

She looked up at him. “Excuse me?”

“I believe you. You say you didn’t kill your brother? I believe that.”

Slowly, Jane set the food aside. “You do?”

“But,” he went on. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what happened.”

Jane’s eyes went impassive. She went silent. Lawrence tensed. Had he said something wrong? He couldn’t tell, but with the way she was looking at him, he had a feeling he might have just put his foot in his mouth.

Suddenly, she got to her feet with the food in hand and carried it over to him. “If you’re only going to pester me about this, then I don’t want to hear it.” She handed him everything back through the bars.

Lawrence watched as she crawled onto the single bed the cell sported and turned her back to him. He didn’t know what else to say. It had been going so well. He was getting her to talk, almost getting her to smile at him. He even got her name! He supposed that was the most he could hope for right now.

Trying not to sigh with disappointment, he rose. “It was nice meeting you, Jane,” he said, and though he didn’t expect a response, he was still disappointed when he didn’t get one.

The disappointment deepened as he stepped outside. The sun was beginning to set, and his horse was getting restless. Lawrence padded over to it and untied it from the post. He hopped on top, almost sluggishly, not really wanting to leave but knowing he had to. Jane didn’t look very eager to say anything else. At least, not today. He could try again tomorrow. No, he had to try again tomorrow. If not to get to the bottom of this mystery, then just to see her again.

That distrusting look flashed in his mind as he trotted away, heading towards the closest hotel. It was where he knew the murder took place, and Lawrence was eager to see the scene for himself. He put those distrusting eyes at the scene, imagining them melty with tears. She had been screaming, he surmised, probably at her brother. They had been arguing; it got physical. He pictured her wrestling with him; she seemed like the type to put up a fight. But no matter what, he couldn’t see her pulling a revolver on him. Even driven by anger or sadness, Lawrence found it difficult imagining that beautiful woman pulling the trigger on her own brother. But he couldn’t explain why.

He let his mind go wild as he made his way to the hotel, indulging in the memory of her sitting in the corner of the cell. She didn’t belong there, but somehow, she managed to brighten her surroundings, to make the dreary cell come alive. He could almost picture how lovely it would be to see her smile, and Lawrence felt his own lips tug at the thought. He was so caught up in the thought of the endearing Jane Winster that he didn’t see Alfred standing by the entrance of the hotel until he was nearly upon him.

The sight of his friend brought him to a halt. Alfred’s face was as pale as a ghost. “What’s wrong?” he demanded, alarmed.

Alfred only shook his head, jabbing a thumb behind him. “The crime scene,” was all he said before he turned his head to the side and vomited next to his shoes.


Chapter Three

There wasn’t much that frightened her anymore. Jane thought she had seen and heard it all. She was used to the type of life that forced her to grow up, one that hardened her to the sort of things normal women of her time wouldn’t even consider. It was those things she had sought to get away from, hoped to put behind her, and start afresh. She thought she did, but she was wrong. And now, with the memory of that past came the realization of one of her biggest fears.

She knew she was dreaming, but she couldn’t wake up. She was stuck, unable to pull herself back into reality, no matter how much she tried. She was back in the room again, standing across from her brother. She could hear herself screaming at him, her voice breaking, tears clogging her throat. The raw emotions bred from the fear hidden deep within, fear for him, came oozing through. She was begging him to give up this life. She was begging him to turn his back to it.

He was begging her to let him be. To leave. To get away. He was telling her that she wasn’t safe, but she wasn’t listening. In her head, she knew she should listen, that she should heed his warning, but she kept on screaming at him. And when he came after her, trying to take from her what he felt was his, she put up quite the fight.

All of a sudden, she wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t screaming or crying; instead, she was watching. From the sidelines, she was witnessing that fear come true. From beginning to end, it played, then replayed. Then it kept going over and over until she was crying again, begging for it to stop. The moment the doors banged opened, men rushing the room at the sound of the gunshots, Jane jumped awake.

She was covered in sweat, gasping for air. Jane clutched her chest as she struggled to control her breathing, and she put a hand to the wall for support, though it really was to tell herself that she wasn’t in that room anymore, but locked within another where no one but herself could get hurt.

The thought calmed her for some reason. Jane released a low breath, brushing the loose strands of her hair from her face. It was morning again. She hadn’t even noticed that she’d fallen asleep. After the new sheriff left yesterday, Jane had stared at the wall, thinking of ways she could get herself out of this situation and coming up short. Lawrence. Yes, that was his name. The sheriff from another town who came in to help convict her of murdering her own brother.

Though she was still shaking from the dregs of the nightmare, Jane chuckled into the silence. Outside, she could hear the hustle of the town once more, as things slowly began going back to normal. Secluded within her cell, though, Jane could only think of the handsome sheriff, and she laughed once again, though it was laced with bitterness.

He said he believed her. How foolish did he think she was? Why would he believe her when nothing was proving her innocence? He could only take her by her word, and he didn’t know her enough to do such a thing. He was a friend of Alfred’s. He was here to help him. Surely, his only aim was to get a confession out of her. Jane wasn’t about to let that happen, no matter how devastatingly handsome he might be.

Sighing, she wiped at the sweat on her face with the sleeve of her dress. She hadn’t washed up since yesterday, and since this was her first time spending time in a cell overnight, she didn’t know if they planned on giving her the chance to. Her black dress was growing quite dusty, and the spots of her brother’s blood still stained the side. For a moment, she contemplated redoing her hair, but she decided she didn’t care anymore and pulled it free, letting it tumble down around her shoulders. At that moment, the door opened.

Alfred was the first to walk in, looking grim. It was unusual to see him this way. For all of her time working as a waitress, Alfred had frequented the hotel bar a few times, and she always pegged him as a smiling, cheerful man. Since he had arrived to take her to the jail cell, that smile of his didn’t make a single appearance.

Jane forgot all about him the moment Lawrence walked in. Their eyes met, and Jane couldn’t find it within her to look away. Not that she really wanted so. She held his gaze, following him as he came towards the cell doors.

“Good morning,” he greeted, tipping his Stetson hat at her. His thick, black hair was peeking out the back, tilted back to fully reveal his face.

“Morning,” Alfred said as well.

Jane said nothing. She didn’t know what exactly they were here to do, but she knew it was another ploy to get her to confess something about what happened. She wasn’t going to cave, no matter how much those deep blue eyes bore into her.

“So,” Alfred said with a sigh. He drew up his chair and plopped down before the cell, just as Lawrence had the day before. Lawrence perched on the desk instead. “I took a look at the scene yesterday,” he said. “You did quite a number on him. Wouldn’t think a woman as small as you had such anger in her.”

He was drawing her out. Jane wasn’t going to fall for it. Slowly, she pulled her eyes away from Lawrence and looked at Alfred. “You’d be surprised what women my size are capable of.”

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say.

Alfred’s brows rose a tad. “Sounds like you’re agreeing with me, Jane.”

Jane’s eyes shot to Lawrence again, almost betrayed. He was the first person she told her real name to, but she should have known it wouldn’t stay with just him. “I’m merely making a general statement,” she said after a while. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

“No,” Alfred said, shaking his head. “There isn’t, but you know general statements isn’t what I’m here for. I need to know what happened in that room.”

“You know what happened,” she said, almost blandly. “We were fighting; then there were gunshots.”

“So, you killed him.”

“No.” Jane shook her head. “I didn’t kill him.”

“So, who did?”

Jane’s eyes shot to Lawrence, who had asked the question. His arms were crossed over his vest. Was it her, or did his eyes get even bluer when they were intense? She didn’t know but she nearly shivered at the sight. For a moment, she said nothing. Then after the moment passed, she decided there was nothing she could say to that, so she kept her silence.

Suddenly, Alfred shot out of his seat in anger. “You saw what happened in there, Jane? And your brother is dead? If you claim you aren’t the one who killed him, you would have told us who did by now, so we can go after the right guy. Whoever did that to him in that room needs to be brought down.”

“I know,” Jane said calmly, and she watched as his face turned a disturbing shade of both red and green. Alfred looked like he was about to be sick, so he whirled away. Jane watched as he stalked around for a few seconds before coming back.

“You’re going to break sometime, Jane Winster,” he said, visibly collecting himself. “Someone must know something.”

“I guess you should get to asking, then,” she told him.

She thought her comment would upset him further, but he only straightened and looked over his shoulder at Lawrence. Lawrence nodded at him. Not a good sign and even more reason not to trust Lawrence.

Without another word, Alfred left. Ah, I see, she thought, watching as Lawrence took the vacated chair. He’s here to try and wear me down again.

“Hello, Jane.”

Jane contemplated not responding but her mouth was moving on its own accord. “Hello, Lawrence.”

“You look tuckered out.”

Alright, I’ll play this game, Blue Eyes. “I suppose you wouldn’t believe me if I said I only just woke up, then.”

“Yeah?” His brows rose in surprise. They were bushy, she noted. They made his face look strong. “Didn’t get much sleep last night?”

“Not at all. It’s hard to sleep on this uncomfortable excuse of a bed.” She raised her hand before he could say anything. “Let me guess. I wouldn’t have to sleep here if I would just admit to killing my brother, and I would be sleeping comfortably from a noose, now wouldn’t I?”

To her absolute horror, Lawrence chuckled. He actually chuckled! “I suppose that isn’t really an incentive to say anything.”

“No,” she said, slightly alarmed by his demeanor. “No, it isn’t. You’re wasting your time here.”

“Am I?”

“Yes. I didn’t do it but that’s all I’m going to say. You can choose to believe me or you can—”

“I already said that I believe you, though.”

Jane faltered, forgetting what she had been planning to say. “You … do? Right, you said that yesterday. But … that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Why?” He leaned back and crossed his arms again. Jane's heart fluttered at the sight, and she resisted the urge to put her hand on her chest in an attempt to calm it. “You don’t think it’s possible that someone could believe you’re telling the truth?”

“No, but—” She was thrown for a loop. Yesterday, he had said as much, but she had just written it off as a ploy to get her to open up to him. She had patted herself on the back for not falling for the trap, but now she wondered if maybe he was telling the truth. “Why would you believe me? You don’t even know me.”

“Yes, apparently, no one really does.” He looked as if he was about to say something else but thought against it. It only made Jane more confused. “Let’s say, I just have a gut feeling.”

“I don’t suppose you get very far relying on just gut feeling,” she said without thinking.

This time, his brows shot all the way up. “Not really helping your case here, Jane.”

The pleasure rushing through her over hearing her name on his lips hit without warning. Jane took a moment to collect herself. What was happening to her? “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

Lawrence didn’t respond straight away. He reached his hands up around his head, placing them on his hat and looked up in thought, stretching his legs out. The pose was relaxed and comfortable—and had Jane's heart fluttering like crazy.

Suddenly, with a grin so wide it nearly took up half his face, Lawrence rose. “I got it.”

Curious, Jane watched as he made his way towards the keys hanging on the wall. Her eyes widened bit by bit as he made his way over to her cell and unlocked it. “What are you doing?” she gaped at him.

“I’m letting you out.”

She couldn’t help but ask, “Why?”

“Because I trust you, Jane Winster.” His grin widened. The sight of it had Jane rooted to the spot. She knew she should take this chance. The door was unlocked. She could rush past him, take him by surprise, and knock him out the way. He wouldn’t be expecting her to know how to get by him. She could be out of there within a few seconds.

Yet there was something about Lawrence Charles that had her subdued. She no longer felt like a caged animal, willing to lash out when she got the chance to. She felt … no, she didn’t feel safe. But she didn’t feel like she was in danger, either.

“You trust me,” she echoed dumbly. She still hadn’t moved from her spot on the bed, though the doors of the cell were hanging wide open now. Her window of escape was closing, but she could only focus on one thing. “Why? You don’t know me. You have no reason to trust me.”

“That’s true,” he said with a nod. “But something tells me that you’re telling the truth, and I’m not very keen on letting you go down for something you didn’t do. Now, are you coming?”

Stiffly, almost dazed, Jane got to her feet. Her limbs felt stiff and unused, and she lumbered over to him ungracefully, picking up her boots by the side of the bed as she did. She had kicked them off before falling asleep last night. Her feet were slightly blistered after the beating they took running around the room from Thomas. She didn’t quite like the thought of having to put them back on again, but she couldn’t go outside barefoot.

Lawrence stood by and patiently watched her struggle.  She slipped the boots back on and resisted the urge to hiss in pain. Once she was done, she attempted to skid by him, but he held out an arm. “Just one thing,” he said, and with his next hand, he held a pair of handcuffs.

Jane suddenly got angry. “I thought you were letting me go.”

“No can do, sweetheart. As much as I believe you and all, I have to make sure you aren’t a flight risk.”

“I’m not going to run away,” Jane lied. In actuality, that was exactly what she had planned to do. The moment she set foot outside, she had planned to get away from Lawrence’s intense blue eyes and this town that now whispered about her.

“Now, my gut is telling me that that was a lie,” Lawrence said, and his lips quirked as if he found that funny. Jane was too dumbfounded to comment. “Let’s hurry before Alfred gets back. I’m not sure he’ll be happy with me letting out his prisoner.”

“Right. He calls you in to help him with his case, and the first thing you do is let me go.”

“Life’s funny that way, I tell ya. Besides,” he jangled the handcuffs before her again, “I’m not letting you go. I’m just letting you out the cell.”

“To become your prisoner?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “So, you can see that you can trust me. I want to get to the bottom of this just as much as you do.”

She didn’t bother to tell him that she had already gotten to the bottom of this. She knew the answer to the question they were all asking, but she didn’t plan to say a word about it. “Where will you take me?” she asked.

“The hotel.”

Jane winced. “Is nowhere else available?”

“There’s only one hotel in town,” he reminded her. “Unless you don’t feel comfortable going back?”

A dumb question, she thought. Who would feel comfortable going back to the place their brother was killed? Still, it was worlds better than being locked up behind these bars. At least at the hotel, she could wash up and get a change of clothing. Not to mention the fact that she was starving, and at the hotel, she at least knew there was food available, although she hadn’t a clue how she planned on getting any.

She caught Lawrence’s eyes. Sincerity shone back at her, taking her by surprise. She believed him. How crazy, she thought. But a tiny voice in the back of her head, the one she never listened to, wanted to believe him and did. Overly wary thoughts sought to drown that voice out, but it still peeked through the noise.

“Alright,” she said finally. She held her wrists out to him. “I’ll come with you.”

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  • Ok, I’m hooked. What did she have that her brother wanted? What had they gone through together that had her running away and changing her name. Who shot her brother and why? How does the visiting sherriff figure in her life? I WANT TO KNOW!
    I can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

  • I loved it. I will never again read a preview. I am on pins and needles waiting to find out what happens. November 1st – are you sure you can’t do it sooner like today

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