Rachel tore the wanted poster from the wall in Teaspoon’s office. “This is a mistake!” she said calmly, crumpling the paper into a ball. She threw the ball into the garbage.
“Rachel,” Teaspoon said soothingly, quickly retrieving the paper from the wastebasket and smoothing it back out. “I know he is your friend-”
“He promised, Teaspoon. He wouldn’t go back on his word.”
Teaspoon shrugged. Women liked to believe that a man could change, especially if their heart was involved. But in most cases those hearts were broken.
“And now Roger is gonna have every bounty hunter in the county after him,” Rachel added, giving Teaspoon a pointed look as she snatched the poster from Teaspoon’s hand.
Teaspoon shrugged once more.
“I’m gonna put a stop to this,” she continued.
Again Teaspoon remained quiet. More power to you, darlin’, he thought to himself.
Rachel lifted her chin defiantly, spun around and marched out of the marshal’s office. She continued proudly down the street until she ran smack into Jimmy.
“Oof,” Jimmy said, recovering his balance while simultaneously reaching a hand out to steady Rachel as well. “What’s a-matter?” he asked upon seeing the expression on Rachel’s face. She looked ready to eat nails and spit out silver dollars.
“Nothing,” Rachel snapped.
Jimmy simply gave her a look of disbelief and stepped out of the way.
Rachel sighed. “You scheduled for a run soon?”
“Nope,” Jimmy replied cheerfully.
Rachel handed Jimmy the wanted poster. He studied the picture. Roger Barton, Rachel’s ex-beau and the father of Daisy was pictured. No wonder Rachel was so upset.
He read the words aloud. “Wanted Alive, Roger Barton, Five Hundred Dollars.” He raised his eyes. “Alive, that’s good.”
“For who?” Rachel snapped once more. She put her hand on Jimmy’s. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.”
“You want me to find him first?” Jimmy asked, now understanding Rachel’s earlier question.
“Yes,” Rachel said simply.
“Okay,” he replied. He walked toward his horse. “I’ll swing by the bunkhouse, pick up some supplies and be ready to go within the hour.”
Rachel smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”
Jimmy gave her a wry grin. “I could use the five hundred dollars.”
When Rachel began to sputter indignantly, Jimmy gave his horse a quick kick and galloped away.
It had been two days and still no word, Rachel thought, nervously twisting the dish towel she held in her hand. Jimmy had left two days ago, but he hadn’t wired telling them that he had found Roger. Nor had anyone claimed the bounty on him. That fact gave Rachel a glimmer of hope. But Roger wasn’t safe out there with all those lunatics after him.
“Rachel,” Cody called out. “I got a package for you.” She heard Cody take a sharp breath.
“I’m no package,” a small voice said. And when Rachel turned around, she saw Cody clutching a shin while Daisy, Roger’s daughter, stood there wearing the same tense expression that she was.
“Rachel!” Daisy cried, rushing into Rachel’s outstretched arms.
“How did you get here?” Rachel asked, trying to sound stern, when all she felt was relieved. At least Daisy was safe.
“That was our plan,” Daisy explained tearfully. “If something ever happened to Roger, I was supposed to come here, to you.”
Rachel hugged the girl tightly. “It’s a good plan,” she murmured.
For a while, Daisy was content to let Rachel hold her, but she was soon squirming. “We have to go find him,” she announced.
“I sent Jimmy after him,” Rachel said, knowing full well what Daisy meant.
Daisy looked at Rachel scornfully.
“Give him another couple of days,” Cody added, crouching down next to Daisy. “He’ll find your father.”
Daisy ignored them both and marched out of the house. When Rachel started to follow her, Cody put a restraining hand on her. “Let her be,” he said.
“She’s just a child,” Rachel snapped.
Cody smiled. Daisy wasn’t just a child. She was a demon.
Rachel saw the smile and relaxed. “An hour,” she said firmly. “If she’s not back within the hour-”
“I’ll go find her,” Cody finished for her.
“The poster says alive,” Teaspoon warned the man marching out of the marshal’s office.
Jake Colter grinned. “Alive is exactly what it says,” he said agreeably.
Teaspoon frowned. Alive, yes, but safe and sound, no. Colter wasn’t known for caring much about the men he dragged into prison. And some of them had been dragged, literally. “I’m warning you, Colter.”
Jake just laughed and climbed into his wagon. He wasn’t too fond of his current means of transportation, a slow cumbersome method, but he found it most effective in bringing prisoners in. He no longer allowed his prisoners to ride on horseback, not after Chase.
Snapping the reins, the two horses began to move. As he rode out of Rock Creek, he began to think - Where would a man like Roger Barton go? He was accused of being a counterfeiter, so he was probably flush with cash, that meant he could be almost anywhere. But Colter knew Roger had a weakness for that Dunne woman. And even though he had only seen her once, Colter had to hand it to the man, he certainly had good taste in women.
It was then he heard a noise, something rustling in the back of the wagon. “Better not be varmints,” he muttered to himself. He hated varmints. Stopping the wagon, he reached back and lifted a blanket. His jaw dropped when he saw her, a little red-haired girl.
Colter let out a noise, that even to his ears, sounded vaguely like a scream. “What are you doing here?” he yelped.
“Hitching a ride,” Daisy said disdainfully. She eyed Colter. Not much, she decided. She hoped that he was all about the job, because his looks implied he was all about the mirror. He had hair more beautiful that most of the women she had seen. She stuck out her hand, “Daisy, Daisy Barton.”
“Get off my wagon!” Colter shouted.
“You’re Jake Colter, right?” Daisy asked, nonplussed by the bounty hunter’s fury.
Jake began fumbling for the gun in his holster. Daisy leaned over and picked up his rifle. She pointed it right between his eyes.
Jake slowly raised his hands. “I’m Jake Colter.”
“Are you looking for my father?”
Colter leaned over and snatched the rifle from Daisy’s hands. “Yes!” he yelled. “Get off this wagon.” He may still have to deal with this little monster, but least Daisy was on the barrel end of the rifle now.
Daisy simply crossed her arms in front of her. “No.”
“What do you mean no?”
“No. I’m not getting off this wagon.”
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
Daisy tut-tutted him. “Such language. I’m not old enough to hear such talk.’
“You’re not a child, you’re forty-year-old midget. Get off this wagon. Now!”
Colter sighed loudly. “So why are you hitching a ride with me?” He had never like children and avoided them at all cost. Unsure of how to deal with this one, Jake decided to treat her like he treated everyone else, like dirt.
“You’re after my father,” Daisy explained. “I wanna be there when you find him.”
Colter felt a smile creep onto his face. He loved flattery, in every shape and form. And this little she-devil had just paid him a great compliment by being so sure he’d find her father.
“I figured when you find him, I could help him escape,” Daisy continued.
Colter felt the smile vanish. “You think I’d be stupid enough not to find you?” he sputtered indignantly. “And then you would outfox me?”
She did, Colter fumed. She really believed she could hide from him, find her father and help him get away, all under his nose. “Brat,” he muttered.
Daisy climbed over the wagon seat and sat next to him. “Trouble, actually.”
“My father calls me Trouble.”
“Well if the shoe fits,” Colter mumbled.
Daisy smoothed her skirt. “I’m ready,” she announced primly.
Colter stared at her. Then he picked up the reins, snapped them and shook his head. ‘Well, maybe I can use her as bait,’ he thought.
“I don’t wanna hear about it,” Jimmy muttered under his breath.
“I tell you I was just giving the plates back,” Roger declared. “I snuck into that office and left them on the desk. I figured the bank would just be happy to get them back and drop the charges.”
“I don’t care,” Jimmy grumbled.
“But instead I see my face plastered all over the county,” Roger exclaimed. “I tell you, someone else must have come in after me and taken them. I gave them back, I swear it.”
“Tell it to the judge,” Jimmy said wearily. He tugged at the rope which held Roger’s bound hands and made sure the other end was securely tied to the pommel of his saddle.
“Hickok,” Roger pleaded. “You know me.”
“I know you,” Jimmy retorted. “That’s the whole problem. I know how you stole those plates in the first place. I know how you dumped Daisy off on us and took off. I know you promised Rachel you’d change, but here you are, right back where you started.”
“It’s not my fault,” Roger half-shouted.
“Then whose fault is it?” Jimmy shot back. “Daisy’s? Rachel’s?”
Roger sighed loudly. “I get the feeling you don’t like me much.”
Jimmy shrugged. “I don’t think much about you at all.” He squinted his eyes and glanced upward. According to his stomach it was about six o’clock and the sun positioned just about the horizon confirmed his suspicions. He pulled on the reins, stopping his horse. The animal carrying Roger pulled up as well. Jimmy took both sets of reins and looped them over a branch. He unwound the rope tied to the pack horse’s saddle and led Roger to a clearing and secured Roger’s hands behind him. Reaching into his saddle bag, he pulled out a few pieces of dried meat.
“I can’t eat with my hands behind my back,” Roger mumbled.
“Who said you get to eat at all?”
Roger sighed loudly.
Jimmy leaned over and loosened the binds enough so Roger could move his hands in front of him. He then handed Roger a piece of jerky. He began to feel uncomfortable. What would he say to Daisy? The kid would probably kick him in the shins if she heard that Jimmy was the one who had turned her father in.
Roger grimaced as he put the dried meat in his mouth. Tough as shoe leather, just like its owner, he decided. He suddenly found himself missing Daisy.
“So who do you think stole the plates?” Jimmy asked finally.
“The bank owner,” Roger replied without a moment of hesitation.
“Why?” Jimmy asked. From what he had gathered, Roger was accused of stealing plates from a con artist. The con had tracked him to Sweetwater, where the man had met his demise. He thought that Roger was supposed to take the plates back. Was the man telling the truth? Did he really try to return them?
“I put them back,” Roger said softly. And this time Jimmy believed him. Nothing he could put a finger on, just something in his eyes.
“So what do we do?” Jimmy asked.
“We steal ‘em back.”
“The bank is in New Orleans, but the bank owner isn’t there. He’s visiting his sister in Rock Creek or so he said,” Roger said, his voice rising in excitement. He was certain the banker had the plates and was lying low. The banker knew the focus was on him right now, Roger imagined that he was just waiting until he heard the ‘culprit’ was dead and buried before using the plates.
Jimmy exhaled loudly. “We live in Rock Creek” he muttered wearily. Why couldn’t just one bounty be simple? He took out a knife and cut the binds. The next move would be Roger’s, Jimmy decided.
Roger beamed at him.
“She’s not in the barn,” Noah shouted, running toward the bunkhouse.
“Or your place, Rachel,” Kid yelled, hurrying toward Noah.
“She’s gone,” Rachel said wearily. She knew she shouldn’t have let that child out of her sight.
“We’ll find her,” Cody said, awkwardly shoving his hands in his pockets. He felt rather guilty knowing he was the one who had told Rachel to give the girl some time alone.
Rachel could only nod.
“Me and Kid will look around town,” Lou said. “Maybe she’s with Teaspoon.”
“Noah and I will take a ride, see if we find any tracks,” Buck added.
Again Rachel nodded.
“I’ll saddle your horse for you,” Cody said with a sigh. “We can look around too.”
It was then Rachel smiled.
It wasn’t very long before the three groups headed off in three different directions.
“Someone will find her,” Cody said finally. He and Rachel had been riding for almost an hour in complete silence, something which Cody found quite unnerving. “We’ll find her,” he added, puffing out his chest slightly.
He pulled up on the reins and jumped off his mount. Sitting on his heels, Cody picked up a hair ribbon and held it between his fingers.
“That’s Daisy’s!” Rachel exclaimed.
Cody stood up then. “You sure?”
Cody waved his hand at some wagon tracks. “Looks like she hitched a ride with someone.”
Rachel frowned. “Who?”
Cody shrugged. “Don’t know, but it’s not someone who’s trying to hide.”
“So we can follow them,” Rachel declared.
“Follow them?” Cody sputtered.
Colter began cursing, rather colorfully when he saw two riders racing toward him.
Rachel jumped from her horse and ripped the gag from Daisy’s mouth. Cody leaned down from his own mount and handed Rachel a knife. Rachel swiftly sliced through the bonds that held Daisy’s hands. “What are you?” Rachel half-shouted. “Some kind of monster?”
Cody snickered when Jake turned beet red.
“She’s just a child,” she continued angrily.
“She’s the monster,” Colter muttered. Great, he thought, now he was whining just like that brat was before he bound and gagged her. How much was one man supposed to put up with?
“He’s a horrible person,” Daisy said tearfully. And when Rachel hugged her, Jake saw Daisy poke her head over Rachel’s shoulder and stick her tongue at him.
“Where were you taking her?” Rachel asked sharply.
“No where,” Jake groused.
“So why is she with you?”
“She was hiding underneath the blanket,” Jake explained and hung his head when Rachel simply glared at him.
“He was gonna use me as bait,” Daisy wailed.
“Bait!” Cody and Rachel exclaimed in unison.
“There’s a five-hundred dollar reward for catching her father,” Jake said, almost pitifully. And Cody actually began to feel sorry for him. He looked downright pathetic. Of course most people were reduced to that condition after spending a few hours with Daisy.
Cody then raised a hand to his forehead, shading his eyes. “Someone is heading this way.” Two someones, in fact. It wasn’t until the two riders got closer that Cody recognized them. “It’s Jimmy and Roger,” he said.
Jake whipped his head around so fast, he lost his balance. Daisy tried to shove him backward, but Rachel pulled her away.
When Jimmy caught sight of Colter, he sighed loudly. It just got worse and worse.
“Daisy!” Roger cried and Daisy rushed toward him. Roger leapt off his horse and hugged his daughter tightly.
“Well, I suppose I should be thanking you,” Colter said to Jimmy.
“For what?” Jimmy replied irritably.
“Bringing him right to me,” Jake answered. “And this time, don’t expect me to go splitting the bounty with you.”
“Shut up, Colter,” Jimmy snapped. One day he really would kill that man.
“Are you going to turn yourself in?” Rachel asked Roger, studiously trying to avoid looking him in the eye.
“Rachel,” Roger began.
“You promised,” Rachel whispered.
Jake leaned down from his wagon and put an arm around Rachel’s shoulders. “There, there.”
Rachel brushed his hand off her and shot him a withering look.
“Can’t trust a man with shifty eyes,” Jake said brightly.
“Shut up, Colter,” Jimmy and Cody chorused.
“He says the banker from New Orleans has the plates,” Jimmy explained.
Rachel lifted her chin disdainfully.
“I could take you to New Orleans with that five-hundred dollars,” Jake said, smiling at Rachel.
“Shut up, Colter,” Jimmy said almost conversationally as he fell back into his old pattern with Jake. He glanced at Rachel who was now avoiding looking at both Roger and Colter. “He says the banker is in Rock Creek.”
“And?” Rachel asked expectantly.
“He thinks he can steal the plates back,” Jimmy concluded.
“We should be telling Teaspoon,” Cody whispered to Jimmy, both still crouched in the bushes, watching as Roger zig-zagged his way to a very large house.
Jimmy remained silent until he saw Roger open a window and slip inside. He then turned to Cody. “Tell him what? That we are accomplices to breaking and entering?”
“I dunno,” Cody muttered. But he was sure they should tell the marshal something. He glanced over his shoulder. Rachel was in place, holding all of their horses’ reins. Colter was just to the left of her. He was supposed to be looking in the other direction, to make sure the coast was clear. But did he do that? Nooo, he was too busy watching Rachel.
“Idiot,” Cody grumbled to himself.
Jimmy was ready to tell Cody to shut up when he saw Roger leap out the window and hit the ground running. A very large woman flung the front door of the house open and took aim. She fired a load of buckshot at Roger’s behind. But that didn’t slow him, not for an instant.
Jimmy and Cody leapt to their feet as well and began to run.
“So much for your plan,” Cody yelled in Jimmy direction.
But Jimmy just ignored him. In a few seconds, the group was all on their respective horses, tearing away. Cody just concentrated on the road ahead of him, trying desperately to block out the loud shouts from the woman behind him. He prayed that she hadn’t reloaded, because right now, he was the one closest to her.
“Boys,” Teaspoon drawled, shaking his head. He glared at the group gathered in his office.
“It was my fault,” Roger said quickly. He wished he had the plates in his hands now. That would certainly calm the marshal. But before he even had a chance to look around, that woman spotted him and subsequently began shooting at him. Roger’s only thought then had been of self preservation.
“Roger,” Rachel whispered, moving close to him.
“It was his fault,” Colter added brightly. He soon lowered his head when Rachel looked at him disparagingly.
“Couldn’t you issue a warrant or something to arrest the banker?” Cody asked.
“That’s just what I was about do to,” Teaspoon said sternly.
“Why didn’t you suggest that earlier?” Jimmy hissed at Cody.
“Would you have listened?” Cody shot back.
Teaspoon moved to the cell and opened the door. “I hate to do this,” he said slowly.
“But you have to,” Roger finished for him. He stepped inside the cell, grimacing as he heard the door clang shut.
“There’s no need to lock him up,” Daisy announced angrily.
“It’s for his own good,” Teaspoon explained. “Here he is safe from the folks looking to collect the bounty,” he said, giving Colter a pointed look.
“Speaking of bounty,” Jake began.
Jimmy, Cody, Daisy and Rachel began speaking at once, each drowning out the other. Teaspoon quickly raised his voice, silencing the group. “The way I see it,” he said loudly. “Roger turned himself in. So if anyone gets anything, it would be Daisy as his heir.”
Daisy looked at Colter smugly.
Jake began to curse, but he stopped when Rachel elbowed him in the stomach. He gave Rachel a pitiful look, which didn’t seem to move her at all.
“Now all of you, get out!” Teaspoon said loudly. He really didn’t want to see anymore of this ridiculous display. Jimmy should have known better, Cody as well. Rachel was obviously too concerned about Roger and Daisy to be thinking clearly and Colter never thought. “I have work to do if you want me to bring that banker in here.”
The group quickly dissipated, each going their own way, save Rachel and Daisy, who went together in the direction of Rachel’s home.
“We have to get him out,” Daisy told Rachel.
“Daisy,” Rachel said in a warning tone.
“Roger ain’t made for prisons. He’ll die in there!” Daisy exclaimed.
“He’ll be out, soon as Teaspoon arrests the banker.”
“No he won’t.” Daisy shook her head furiously. “Once the marshal gets a gander at the list of charges against him, he won’t. He’ll never get out.”
Rachel’s shoulders slumped as she heard the words - the list of charges. How long could that list possibly be?
Jake Colter was waiting. He had just seen the Dunne woman and the pest scurry around the corner, obviously up to no good. They had been hiding there until they saw the marshal come out and walk down the street, probably to send a rider to get a judge’s signature on the warrant. A few seconds later, Rachel and Daisy snuck into the office.
Jake moved in then. He stood near to the window, but not close enough to be seen and glanced inside. He wasn’t even surprised by what he saw. When he looked inside, he saw no one, no Rachel, no Daisy and no Roger.
Silently he made his way down the stairs and stepped toward the alley. Poking his head around the corner he saw Roger climb aboard a horse and put Daisy in front of him.
Leaning down, Jake saw Roger kiss Rachel and murmur something in her ear before he rode off. Rachel watched the horse fade away, wiping her eyes. Then she straightened up and strode out the alley, as if nothing happened.
Colter grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back into the alley. “Wonder what the bounty will be on you,” he whispered.
Rachel jerked herself free. “Bounty? For what?”
“Freeing a prisoner,” Jake announced calmly.
“I didn’t do anything,” Rachel retorted.
Jake ignored her protest and pointed at the hotel. “Meet me there in one hour or I go to the marshal.”
“One hour,” Colter repeated before he left. He had a lot to do in that hour. He had to rent a hotel room, maybe order some wine and bathe. Wasn’t often that he gussied up before being with a woman, but he figured the Dunne woman was worth it.
Exactly one hour later, Jake Colter stood in the hotel lobby, appraising himself in the mirror that hung in the hall. Not bad, he decided, not half bad. He looked out the window. No sign of Rachel. So he took a seat on the sofa and waited. He waited for almost a whole hour before he realized she wasn’t coming.
Marching down the street, Jake headed straight for the marshal’s office. He found the banker in the cell blabbering while Hickok stood by and Cody scribbled the older man’s babbling down.
Rachel was there and when she saw Colter, her eyes practically glowed and not at all in the good sense. She was practically breathing fire.
The marshal was there as well, listening. Rachel had his ear and was probably filling it with untruths about him, Jake thought.
Teaspoon smiled when he saw the bounty hunter and Jake felt a butterfly or two in his stomach at the smile.
“Jake,” Teaspoon said companionably. “Did you hear? Roger is innocent. Seems as if Mr. Farnsworth had the plates right there under his bed. So it looks like no one gets the bounty.”
Jake scowled at him.
“Now Rachel seems to think you have something else to tell me,” Teaspoon continued.
“No,” Jake muttered.
“What?” Rachel snapped. “We can’t hear you.”
“No,” Jake repeated, clearly this time. “Nothing.” What was the point? He didn’t want the Dunne woman in jail, he wanted her in his bed. A slow smiled crossed his features. Women always fell for a man with noble intentions.
“Nothing at all,” he said once more. He stuck out his hand. “Nice doing business with you, Marshal.”
Teaspoon shook the proffered hand, as expression of surprise crossed his features.
“Hickok,” Jake called out. “I’m still waiting to see your face again on a bounty.”
Before Jimmy could respond, Colter hurried out of the building, walking toward his wagon. And as expected, Rachel followed him. Jake smiled, women were so predictable.
She caught up to him just outside the general store. “Jake,” she said. “Wait.”
When Colter stopped, Rachel stood in front of him. “Thanks,” she said, feeling rather awkward.
“You’re welcome,” Jake replied.
“I’m grateful for your silence.”
Grateful! The key word. He grasped Rachel by the arm and pulled her toward the hotel.
“Stop!” Rachel shouted. “I’m not that grateful,” she hissed when Colter released her.
Colter threw his hands in the air in frustration. No matter what he did, it wasn’t the right thing.
Rachel saw the confusion on Jake’s face. “I appreciate you not telling Teaspoon.”
“He probably wouldn’t have done anything anyway,” Colter muttered.
“Still, it saved him from being in an awkward position,” Rachel said.
Colter sighed. “What you did, it took guts.” What he wouldn’t give to have someone care enough about him to do what Rachel did.
“The alternative was far worse,” Rachel smiled.
Colter started to move toward his horse. “Take care of yourself, Rachel.”
Rachel placed a hand on his arm. “Thank you,” she whispered, reaching up to kiss his cheek.
Colter caught her quickly and planted a greedy kiss on her lips, his arms holding her tightly.
Suddenly Jake felt a pair of hands jerk him away from Rachel, then a meaty fist plowed into his face. Still seeing stars, Jake looked up and saw William Tompkins, the storekeeper, glowering at him.
“Stay away from her,” Tompkins roared before he stormed away.
Teaspoon, who had taken in the whole scene from the window of his office began to laugh. Looked like Rachel had two suitors to contend with now.