Authors: Lauri Robinson
Outlaw Clint Turnquist is on a missionâone that doesn't involve falling in love. His freedom hinges on tracking down his former gang, but he can't resist Doreena Brockman's plea to help protect her ranch from the strangers watching her property. Bold and beautiful, she tempts Clint with both her body and her promise of a fresh start. But even with his past standing between them, denying the urge to kiss her may take more discipline than he hasâ¦.
America's Old West was settled by men and women full of fiery pioneer spirit and determination. Other countries had their wild and rowdy times, but nowhere else had anything like the vast open land west of the Mississippiâland of promise, change, beauty, wonder and riches. Of course, there was also pain, hardship, broken dreams and death. Men had to be bold, women tough.
In this story, it's Doreena, a woman struggling to save her home, and Clint, the outlaw who stumbles upon her.
I hope you enjoy their journey to happily-ever-after.
To my mother, whose pioneer spirit is still alive and well.
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 grimaceâan 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.”
She grinned, showing an appealing little gap between her two front teeth. “You get down now, and he'll wake up ornerier than before.”
Clint assessed his options. Even if he maneuvered around to the other side of the tree, the critter would feel his feet hitting the earth. A sudden movement drew his attention back to the woman. She'd swung around to sit on her tree branch, and situated her skirt to hang over her dangling legs.
“He won't sleep long, and when he wakes up, he'll have forgotten all about us and be on his way.”
It was Clint's turn to raise a brow.
She grinned again. “I, Mr. Turnquist, know a lot about pigs.”
Settled on her branch, looking as comfortable as if she sat on a porch swing, she asked, still whispering, “You from around here?”
Her relaxed manner quelled his urgency to get down, but he'd never been one to share information readilyânot even to charming, young women. “Nope.”
“Just passing through?”
“So, where you from?”
“Where you headed?”
“Why do you want to know?”
She looked around. A few rolling hills, clusters of trees, and blue sky decorated with thick, floating clouds was about all there was. Her roaming gaze ended on him. “No reason. Just thought as long as we're stuck here, we might as well converse.”
He sat quiet for several minutes, until boredom and the underlying sense of her disappointment made it impossible to remain silent. “You from around here?” he asked.
“Yes. My ranch is just over those hills. About three or four miles.”
“For now anyway.” Her sigh was weighted. “I inherited it when my parents died, and until my younger brother turns eighteen, it's mine.” She peered around the tree to make eye contact. “Nebraska doesn't recognize women's rights. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton have been in Lincoln advocating on behalf of women. I've gone both times. But even with their help, every amendment introduced into legislation has failed.” Her thickly lashed eyes turned back to the landscape. “Of course most of the bills directly relate to a woman's right to vote. I'm interested in other rightsâparticularly land ownership.”
A distressed expression covered her face, and Clint had an irrational thought. He wished the tree wasn't separating them. It was hard to tell what a person was thinking without studying them directly.
“I've consulted a lawyer, but without a significant law change, I'll have to turn the ranch over to Tristan on his birthday in two months.”
Clint didn't respond. Not only was it none of his business, old habits were hard to overcome. The word
made him twitch. The mention of anything close to a lawman kicked every outlaw's nerves into a gallop.
“It's silly really. If Papa had left a will, there wouldn't be a problem.” She leaned her head against the tree trunk. “Actually, if Sheriff Drake didn't have it in for me, even that wouldn't matter.”
First a lawyer, now a sheriff. Clint's nerve endings buzzed like flies on a windowsill. “How long you think that critter's gonna sleep?”
Peeking around the tree with a smile that made her eyes sparkle, she answered, “I can't say for sure, but it's usually no longer than half an hour or so.”
The invite to tease her couldn't be ignored. “Usually? You get treed a lot?”
She stifled a giggle by pinching her lips together. “No. But hogs in general don't sleep that long when napping. I just got him last week. He rutted his way out of the pen the first night, and I've been searching for him ever since. Once I get him home, I'll put a ring in his nose to stop it from happening again.”
Clint didn't have a response. Besides being endearing, Doreena Buckman had grit.
“He's my make-it-or-break it. That's one of the biggest Chester Whites you'll ever see.”
Sleeping, the pig looked bigger than it had rutting the ground around the tree. “I'd say.”
“Did you know it's cheaper to ship one pound of live hog than it is three pounds of grain?”
He shook his head.
“Well, it is. And bacon is the mainstay of the Western coffer.” She pointed to the land. “My father ran cattle, but after he died the cattle business went sour for us. So I studied up on hogs.” Her gaze was utterly serious. “My first sow farrowed forty-five pigs in her first three litters. Thirty-nine of them made it to market. Can't do that with cows.”
The smugness in her voice made him smile. “No ma'am, I guess you can't.”
Her pert lips puckered. “Last month, I found my best boar dead in his pen. Stabbed.”
His nerve endings pricked again. “Who stabbed it?”
“Don't know, but I have my suspicions.”
Clint wanted to know more, but held his silence. The hog had stirred, was rolling its round body onto the four legs that didn't look large enough to hold its weight, and Doreena Buckman had put a finger in front of her lips.
After sniffing the torn-up ground, as well as the air, the pig trotted off as if it knew exactly where it was going. Clint watched, wondering how far away the critter had to be before it would be safe to climb down, but also a touch disappointed their time in the tree was over.
“Well, Mr. Turnquist, thanks for the visit. It made the time go by faster.” Her shrill whistle had Clint tightening his hold on the tree branch.
When the black-and-white paint arrived at the tree, she lowered herself from the branch onto the horse's back fluidly, as if she did it every day.
Clint looked at Runner. The horse tossed his head.
“Here, climb on.” She held her hand up.
His ears burned at having a woman help him off the branch, but after considering his options, Clint took her hand, and used her horse's rump as a staircase to the ground.
“You need help catching your horse?” she asked.
I better not.
Clint glared at Runner as he grabbed his hat. “No, but thanks.” He kicked at the dirt, uncovering his six-shooter.
“You looking for a job?”
A shiver had Clint pausing to look at her as he bent to pick up his gun.
Doreena felt the blush all the way to her toes. The tenderness in his blue eyes had her insides acting all silly. She stiffened her spine, drawing up a touch of confidence. “I could use some help catching the hog.”
His gaze went back to the gun as he cracked it open.
“I have three hired men,” she explained. “But two of them left this morning to drive a hundred head of hogs to the rail station in Lincoln, and Jeb's too old to chase down a feral pig.”
He wiped the gun with his bandanna.
She took his silence as an answer. “Sorry. I shouldn't have asked. I normally don't blurt out my problems to complete strangers. It's just been one of those days.” With a nod of her head, she kneed Scout. An odd bout of melancholy had her twisting around in the saddle. “Have a good life, Mr. Turnquist.”
He gave an offhanded nod, and she turned to follow the pig. Minutes later, the sound of hoofbeats following behind her made a smile tug at her lips and had her heart thudding in her chest. Why she'd asked for the man's help was a confusing jumble in her mind, as was why she'd told him about the ranch. Clint Turnquist was a handsome man, with those kind blue eyes and sandy-shaded hair, but she'd never been fooled by a man's looks. After all, who truly knew what the devil looked like?
The buckskin sidled up next to Scout. “We'll help catch your pig.”
“I'm obliged,” she responded, hoping her tone disguised the excitement buzzing inside her. “Where'd you say you're from?”
And you aren't going to,
she reckoned. It didn't matter, not out here. Drifters often roamed through her acreage on their way to parts unknown. Usually, she'd offer a meal before sending them on their way. Once in a while she'd offered one a chance to earn enough provisions to see him to his next stop. Her instincts were good, and she trusted them. Clint Turnquist was no different than a dozen others she'd encountered.
, her mind refuted.
Doreena couldn't protest, and that muddled her usual straightforward logic. The anticipation running in her veins at having this particular stranger's company for a bit longer confused her.
“Over there,” he said, drawing her attention to a patch of bramble brush.
She slid her long riding crop out of its spot behind the saddle. “Just get him between the two of us, then we'll drive him home.”
As a team, they rousted the hog out of the underbrush, and once it was trapped between the horses, she tapped the pig's rump with the leather tip of the crop. The hog attempted to jut sideways, but seeing Clint's horse, quickly changed its mind. “Herding pigs is easy when there are two of you,” she said, “but with just one, it's like chasing a bumblebee.”
He cracked a slight grin, and the humor sparking in his eyes made her breath catch.