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Devastated by the tragic loss of her husband, widow Jacqueline Wallington seeks revenge against the man who betrayed him by robbing his banks and giving the money to the poor.
Deputy Gavin Ward is elated when his bullet hits its mark and takes down the well-known outlaw who just robbed his town’s bank. That is, until he gets an up-close and personal view of the elusive “Gray-eyed Bandit.” Guilt ridden over shooting a woman, Gavin tends her wounds and hides her at his cabin until he can figure out what to do about her.
Gavin soon learns that this beauty isn’t the outlaw that the posters proclaim her to be, but a sweet, troubled young woman ravaged by terrible twists of fate in her life. Gavin relates with his own demons to slay. As he finds himself falling head over heels for his patient and captive, he becomes determined to clear her name and right past wrongs...but is he fooling himself to believe Jack’s name will ever be cleared? Or will the woman he loves hang?
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Copyright 2015 © Terri Crews
The downstairs door banged open.
“Mrs. Jack, Mrs. Jack!” a young, anxious voice hollered.
She spread the dress over the mattress—white satin, off the shoulder, and undoubtedly the finest she’d ever owned. Yet another gift from Brody. They’d only been married for two months, and he continued to shower her with gifts. Leaving the garment upon the bed, Jack walked from her bedroom. Peering over the rail, Jack stared down at the boy.
“Cody Nicholas, what on earth are you caterwauling about?”
The lad caught his breath and wiped at his cheek. Tears streamed down his flushed face, leaving dirty tracks in their wake.
“Mrs. Jack, there’s…something terrible has happened to Pop Brody!”
The news made her heart race as she rushed down the stairs.
“What’s the matter? Tell me!”
The child of six sucked in more air to explain.
“One of them Longhorned bulls done charged and hurt Pop—”
Not waiting for him to finish, Jack gathered her skirts and tore through the front door.
“Brody!” she screamed as her heels hit the grass.
Vaguely, Jack noticed the other cowhands darting about to distract the unruly beast. Her breath was trapped inside her lungs at the sight of her husband sprawled on the ground. Her feet didn’t falter as she climbed her way into the pen.
“No, Jack! Don’t come in here! The beast has gone mad!” Waylon shouted.
Refusing to listen, Jack dropped to her knees next to Brody and picked up his head.
“Brody!” He blinked at her as if trying to focus. “I’ll get you to the doctor. Waylon, fetch the wagon!” The man failed to move. “Waylon, hurry! Stay with me. Let me see,” she urged, pulling at the blood-soaked shirt.
“No, a doctor won’t help… I’m sorry, Jack…” he gasped, holding his chest.
His eyes rolled back in the sockets, and his body went limp in her arms.
Fiercely, Jack shook him, but there was no response.
“Mrs. Jack, look out!” Waylon Nicholas yelled.
At the warning, she looked up to find the raging bull barreling toward her. Reaching down, Jack yanked Brody’s Colt free, waiting for Waylon to clear the way. Firing, the gun exploded in her hand, and the large steer dropped in a cloud of dust several feet away. Dropping the weapon, her greedy fingers clutched her husband.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Jack. The bull went mad or something, stomping and foaming at the mouth.”
His words fell on ears that failed to hear. Sobbing, Jack held Brody’s lifeless body to her bosom—there was nothing anyone could do now. Her husband was gone.
“Come on, Mrs. Jack. I’ll tend to him,” Waylon said.
Reaching down, he grasped her arm to pull her to her feet, but she tore away from his hold. Gut-retching sobs echoed in the silent air.
“Please, Jack, let me tend to him. I can at least do that for you.”
One last painful cry ripped from her chest as Waylon hauled her to her feet.
* * *
A week later, life remained dark and dormant around the ranch. Brody’s memory saturated every corner, and she vowed to do her best to take care of his home, a place she adored. Her plans included Waylon and Cody. They had managed thus far to continue as close to normalcy as possible.
Brody Wallington had treated her better than anyone else in her entire life. The older cattle rancher had taken her in and blessed her with a roof over her head shortly after a tragic fire claimed her folks, destroying all they had.
Missing Brody provoked a deep longing and restlessness inside Jack. Her days seemed empty, and nothing brought comfort.
How could she go on? Would life ever be happy again?
The wind rustled with more than just the promise of rain over the land. Any other time, the storm would be welcomed. However, the rider’s presence blew in with it like a bad omen. Recognition of the stranger only added dread and misery to her already tortured soul.
Why was he here? To pay his respects?
She doubted he possessed such sentiment.
She’d never liked Bill Terrell, never trusted him. As he slid down from his horse and approached with a leering glare in his eyes, she was reminded why.