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On special assignment from the White House to the Nebraska prairie...
Crack undercover Pinkerton agent Jason Reynolds gets the toughest assignment of his career. Sent by President U.S. Grant to Omaha to capture a loco ex-soldier accused of stealing Jefferson Davis' treasury gold, Jason falls for feisty shopkeeper Arianna Quincy. Trouble is, she's not interested. When the lunatic grabs Arianna, Jason's skills are put to the test. Can Jason get his man and his woman?
Copyright 2015 © Jewell Tweedt
Arianna Quincy hurried into the mercantile, a scribbled list clutched in her hand. She had two goals—purchase the needed items, and talk her way into a job and a new life. Taking a moment to gather her courage, she wandered over to the colorful bolts of cloth and picked up a pretty calico.
“Awright everybody, just stay calm, and keep your hands up where I can see ’em. You, shopkeeper, open that till, and be quick about it!”
She spotted a man brandishing a Colt, and her eyes riveted on his face. A filthy hat was pulled low on his head, and a bandana covered his mouth. She stepped back.
“Lady,” he said. “I mean it. Hands up and don’t move.”
She raised her trembling arms, still holding the cloth. Panic coursed through her veins, and a lump lodged in her throat. What in heaven’s name...?
He swung his attention back to her cousin Billy behind the counter and motioned with his gun. “Hurry it up, I ain’t got all day. Just stuff the money in this here bag.”
Billy’s mouth turned down but did as he was told. He placed the bills and coins in the canvas sack. “Uh, mister, you should know this store belongs to the former sheriff and his wife, and they aren’t gonna take kindly to this.”
“Shut up, kid. Hand over some of that there coffee and tobacco.”
At the soft step behind her, Arianna swung her gaze to the left. A tall stranger grasping a shovel glared at her. His eyes demanded she stay silent. He mouthed, “I’m the new deputy. Drop the bolt.” His finger went to his lips.
Her face blazed. She was no fool. She wouldn’t cry out like a child.
Again he mouthed, “Drop it. Now.”
Her chin dipped a fraction as she let go of the bolt. It hit the floor with a thud. The crook turned and the stranger leaped forward and swung the shovel, catching the man across his ribs. His bones broke with a sickening crunch. Arianna shrank back at the horrid sound.
The crook collapsed onto the floor. “My ribs. You busted my ribs. You idiot!”
The stranger and Billy hoisted him up and tied him with a length of rope. Billy laid him down on a rough bench, stepped back, and glared at him.
“I need a doctor. Get me a doctor,” the man moaned.
Billy’s face darkened. “You’ll see the doctor, but first I’m going for the law. Mister, would you keep a watch on him while I run for the sheriff?”
The stranger stuck out his hand. “No need. I’ll take him to jail. My name’s Jason Reynolds, and I’m the new deputy in town.”
Billy pumped Jason’s hand. “Well, I’ll be. Pleasure to meet you, Deputy Reynolds. I’m Billy Prescott. Say, I sure do appreciate you lending a hand with that shovel. You’ve got a real mean swing there.” Turning to Arianna he said, “Cousin, did you hear? This is the new deputy.”
“You can call me Jason.” The young deputy offered his hand to Arianna. “Hello.”
She jerked back and swung around. How could he involve her in this escapade? Eyes blurring, she shook her head. “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare be all nice. We could have been killed. Why did you let it go so far?”
“What is it? Are you all right?” Billy rushed over and grasped her by the elbow. “He just saved our lives. What’s gotten in to you?” He lowered her to a nearby chair and fanned her with his big hand.
She whispered, “Billy, I think I’m going to be sick.” Her neck and face heated. A sweat broke out on her forehead and perspiration trickled down her underarms.
The deputy strode over and gently pushed her head down. He rested his hand upon the nape of her neck. She flinched and pressed her knees together. Strangers did not put their hands on respectable women.
He seemed not to notice her distress at his touch. “Breathe, lady. Take deep breaths, come on. Billy, get her some water and a handful of those saltines.” He took the tin cup of water and gently placed it to her lips. “Come on now, miss. Take a few sips.”
Arianna did as she was told, and after several minutes the nausea receded. Billy was back at the counter, keeping a close eye on the bound intruder.
The deputy continued to sit next to her, a crooked smile illuminating his face. “Now let’s try this again. I’m Jason, and you’re Arianna. Is that correct?”
She flashed him a tentative smile. After all, he had shown kindness. Sitting up straight and proper, she placed her hand into his much larger one. “Yes, I’m Arianna Quincy, and I apologize for my behavior, but you really didn’t have any right to put me in the middle of this dreadful situation.”
Reynolds’s brows crunched, and he yanked his hand away. “Look lady, I had no choice. I had to be sure you weren’t going to scream. Most gals would, and I couldn’t take the chance.”
He stood abruptly, and Arianna craned her neck to look into his eyes. He was tall and broad-shouldered. She hadn’t noticed his height before. His gray eyes were fringed with black lashes. But it was his smile that made her mouth go dry and heart pound.
Even white teeth flashed in a lean, tanned face. Tiny crinkles at the outer edges of those cool eyes softened them. Her heart beat erratically. Calm yourself, girl. It’s just the excitement of the robbery.
He had just saved her life and Billy’s. What a morning this turned out to be. All she wanted was a job, a nice safe position in a family-owned business like Weikert-Secord Mercantile. Now a man lay injured and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and this...deputy looked down at her with a smirk on his handsome face.
She struggled to stand, dismayed that her knees wobbled. “Deputy Reynolds, why is it that no one here knows who you are?”
Billy strode over to the lawman. “You must be brand new in town. I didn’t know Sheriff Simonson was hiring a deputy. We sure could use one.” He gazed over at the crook, now unconscious. “Um, I guess that’s pretty obvious. This is a mighty rowdy town.”
Arianna couldn’t help but stare as the deputy spoke. “Well now, folks, it so happens this is my first day in Omaha. I haven’t even checked in with the sheriff yet. I was to start tomorrow, but this fella changed my plans. I only came in here for a few supplies. I’ve rented a small house down the way.” A slow, easy grin spread across his face as he adjusted the brim of his cowboy hat. “Looks like an exciting place to be.”
Reaching down, he hauled the man up and over one shoulder as if he weighed no more than a sack of potatoes. “Now, if you’ll direct me to the closest doctor, I’ll see about getting his ribs bandaged up. My foodstuffs will have to wait.”
He turned and headed to the door. Pivoting on his boot heel he called to Arianna. “Come on, girl, are you gonna show me, or do I have to guess where the doc is?”
Arianna sputtered then stomped her foot and narrowed her eyes, her gumption returning full strength. Oh, he was irritating, and no kind of a gentleman whatsoever.
“First of all, it’s Miss Quincy to you, and I will direct you to Dr. Connor’s office. Second, I am not a girl. I am a woman and you’d best remember that. As a citizen of this community, and as someone who helps pay your salary, I think it prudent you act in a proper manner.”
Straightening herself to her full five and a half feet, she swept past the deputy and out onto the dirt street.
She looked back over her shoulder. “This way please.” After a few steps Arianna pointed to the doctor’s office with as much dignity as she could muster. I’ll show him how a lady behaves. He’s probably from some backwater place and doesn’t know how real ladies act. “Anything else you require?”
“Thank you, Miss Quincy, I can take it from here.” Jason shot her a glance, and the corners of his mouth tilted up. You’ve been most accommodating.” He shifted the man’s weight and knocked on the doctor’s door.
Arianna stomped back to the mercantile and crossed the threshold, clenching her fists at the deputy’s impudence.