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Authors: Emma Wildes

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Lawless

BOOK: Lawless
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eBooks are
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transferable.

They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

Macon GA 31201

Lawless

Copyright © 2008 by Emma Wildes

ISBN: 1-59998-955-7

Edited by Jennifer Miller

Cover by Anne Cain

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: Apr
il 2008

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Lawless

Emma Wildes

Dedication

To Lara Santiago: friend and part-time muse. Thanks, DL.

Lawless

Chapter One

September, 1876, Colorado

The sunset bathed the walls of the gorge in crimson, like a glossing of spilled blood.

The air was cooler as Cal Riker trotted his horse through the stream into the shadow of an overhang of raw rock, the soft splash of the horse echoed by the riders just ahead of him.

He was going to have to do something soon. This wasn’t good timing, but it was the hand he’d been dealt and he’d damn well better play it right.

A few minutes later they rode up a small slope and into the makeshift camp he’d called home the past two months. Six men swung out of their saddles, but he stayed mounted, noting with a swift glance that as Ferris Norton lifted his prisoner off his horse, she looked pale as alabaster and her eyes were like dark holes in her face.

The woman was not a complication he needed, but with luck she was about to become his problem.

Cal reached behind and untied his saddlebag with a swift twist of his wrist and tossed it into the middle of the riders. “My share for the girl.”

Norton, tall and beefy, with a bristly black beard and the legendary scar that bisected an eyebrow and ran all the way down his face to his jaw, looked at the bag and then up at where Cal still sat on his horse. “Why? You’ll have your turn, Riker.”

“You heard my offer.” His face carefully expressionless, Cal assessed the reaction of the group with a swift glance. Most of them were afraid of him, something he was careful to keep honed to a fine edge, but he doubted he could take on six at once. He was good, but no one was that good.

The big outlaw, still holding his prize by the arm, gave an uneasy laugh. “I was lookin’ forward to a little fun.”

“There’s almost twenty thousand dollars in that bag. You all can divvy it up. That’ll pay for a lot of whores.”

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Emma Wildes

The half-breed, Jackson, nodded in agreement and several of the others glanced at the bag and then again at the girl.

It was a pity she was so damned beautiful. Disheveled golden hair framed her ashen face and the pale pink gown she wore showed off some nice curves in all the right female places.

Shit.

In one lithe movement he slid off his horse and stood there, his hands hanging very loosely at his sides. He’d take out Rollins first, he decided, the veteran gunslinger being the fastest shot. Norton second, probably, because he’d always hated the bastard anyway.

Several of the others weren’t known for their courage and might bolt when he opened fire, and he genuinely liked little bow-legged Josh Reece, who was barely more than a kid, so he’d wait and see what he did.

Every man went on full alert at his unmistakable posture.

“I’m pretty interested in making this deal.” Cal kept his tone even like he always did, nice and slow, the soft drawl indicative of his childhood in Texas.

“I can see thet.” Norton glanced at the rest of the group. His voice was gruff.

“There’s no need to get all testy about it. I suppose we can take a vote.”

“I’d rather be rich than dead, boss,” Rollins said with slow deliberation. He obviously knew the score and that Cal would go for him first. It was like an unspoken agreement between them, a basic law of survival. He gave a husky habitual cough, wiped his mouth, and added, “I say we take the money.”

“Money.” Jackson shrugged. He often rode off for days at a time and they all speculated he had a woman somewhere, probably with his mother’s tribe.

Reece said briefly, “I wasn’t keen on grabbing her in the first place. I vote money.”

Well, that was half. Cal flicked a look at the two remaining men, Ham and Jake Small, a set of twins who as far as he knew, had split one brain between them. They followed like sheep usually and their only redeeming value to the gang was their innate brutality.

6

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Lawless

“If Riker is so all fired to keep her for himself, I ain’t arguin’,” one of them muttered. To his relief, the other one nodded.

“I guess you win then.” Norton didn’t look pleased, but he was greedy down deep, and Cal had counted on it when he realized the big outlaw had dragged the girl off the train. “That’s one helluva expensive fuck, Riker. Here you go.”

The shove he gave her was deliberately hard, and because her hands were bound she lost her balance and went sprawling on the dusty ground.

It was more difficult than Cal imagined to tamp down the gentlemanly instinct to leap forward and help her up. But if there was one thing he’d learned in the course of his checkered career, it was never let down your guard and take your eyes off the enemy.

He didn’t even move when he heard the small sob, almost instantly stifled as she fought her long skirts and found her feet. A pair of stormy dark blue eyes shot him a killing glare and he was suddenly damned glad his lovely purchase didn’t have access to a weapon. There was a dirty scrape on her smooth cheek and he saw it with a glimmer of deep inner guilt he sure hoped did not show.

Norton reached down and picked up the bag of money, weighed it in his hands and walked away.

At least they’d avoided a bloodbath. Cal gave a small exhale of relief as several of the men followed, eager to get their share and understandably distrustful of Norton. He gazed at the young woman with cool assessment, raking her up and down with a deliberate thorough inspection, lingering on the full curves of her breasts under the soft material of her dress. Then he gave her a smile that had nothing at all to do with humor.

“I bet right now you’re asking yourself if you just got saved or sent right to hell.”

“If I was, what’s the answer?” She tilted her chin up, still defiant after the grueling all-day ride, and her less-than-chivalrous treatment at the hands of Ferris Norton since the moment he’d spotted her on that train and decided he wanted to not only rob it, but take her along as a bonus. Cal had to give her credit for not looking as frightened as he was sure she was. Any woman would be, and with good cause.

She was about to get a lot more scared.

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Emma Wildes

He cocked a brow. “Do you know who I am?”

Her face was delicately pretty, with fine bone structure and those compelling long-lashed blue eyes. The soft rose of her mouth would tempt any man, and her hair looked like pale tumbled silk across her slender shoulders. “They called you Riker.”

“Yes, ma’am, they did. Maybe you’ve heard of me now and again.”

It hit her then, he could see it as her remarkable eyes dilated and her lips parted. The horror was evident on her pretty face when she whispered, “
Cal
Riker?”

The nightmare seemed to get worse with every passing moment. What had started out as a pleasant trip on her way back from visiting her grandmother in Boston had disintegrated to a hellish abduction at the hands of rough outlaws.

Not ordinary thieves, Laurel realized with a chill that had nothing to do with the growing dusk. Not if a man like Cal Riker rode with them.

How many men was he supposed to have killed? Dozens, if she could remember, her mind frozen as she stood there with the numb realization that she faced a notorious man who had developed an almost legendary reputation for violence. Cold, ruthless and fast as the devil with a gun.

His eyes were a clear crystalline gray, like twin chips of ice in his expressionless face. He was tall and leanly built, dressed like most ordinary cowboys in dusty boots, jeans, a dark shirt open at the neck and a hat pulled low. When he spoke his voice held a cool, musical drawl that sent a shiver up her spine. “Now that we’ve got it clear who I am, what’s your name?”

“Laurel Daniels.”

“I see. Well, Miss Daniels, this sure hasn’t been your lucky day, has it?”

One of the men nearby, obviously of Indian heritage with long, sleek dark hair and sloe black eyes, gave a small laugh, listening to the exchange.

“I’ve had better,” Laurel said, doing her best to keep the wobble out of her voice.

The way he had just looked at her did not bode well for what came next. It was only logical a man paid twenty thousand dollars for a woman for one purpose only, but her mind rejected the stark reality of her predicament.

8

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Lawless

“Turn around.”

She eyed him uncertainly, biting her lip to keep it from trembling.

“Turn around unless you like being tied up.” He pulled a knife from a sheath attached to his belt.

Being tied made her even more vulnerable so she slowly complied, feeling the slide of the cold metal as he deftly slashed the rope binding her wrists. Tingles of feeling shot back into her fingers.

She rubbed her chafed wrists and turned back around. “My father is a wealthy man.

He owns Snowy Peaks Ranch, near Tijeras. He would pay to get me back…unharmed.”

“I’m going to bet he’d pay to get you back no matter what, Miss Daniels. Are you hungry?”

Tears pricked her lids at both the slightly mocking tone of his voice and the knowledge he was right, her father would pay the ransom no matter what happened to her in the meantime. She shook her head, the idea of food almost ludicrous under the circumstances. There was no way she could eat. The thought of it gagged her.

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

When he started to simply walk away, leading his horse with a low jingle of spurs, she had no idea what to do. Laurel looked around, entertaining the idea of running, but the encampment was situated with a high wall of sheer red rock on one side, rising steeply from the floor of the small canyon, and the other was just the opposite, a drop of a series of layers of neck-breaking inclines that could easily result in falling right off into the gorge and the river below. It was easily defensible, remote if their long ride was any indication, and the two small cabins indicated the band was using the location on a regular basis, at least enough to build permanent structures. That probably meant no one lived nearby, for someone had started a fire and the thin stream of smoke would alert pursuers.

Stay, or chance it?

Her pulse throbbed in her wrist as she contemplated her options if she bolted.

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Emma Wildes

The entrance to the gorge was visible from the vantage point of the small plateau where the hideout was located and she was sure they could see her every inch of the way, and on horseback, catch her.

“Don’t try it.” Riker glanced back and halted, holding the reins of his big bay horse, the animal’s coat dappled in the fading light. There was an implacable set to his mouth.

“It’d be stupid, you might break your fool neck, and I would have to go after you, which would irritate the hell out of me. Now, come along. Whether you’re hungry or not, I am.”

Irritating a man like Cal Riker was probably like poking a rattlesnake with a stick.

Stupid. And she wasn’t stupid by any means, but it was hard to reconcile going meekly when she had a fair idea of what lay in store for her later.

She didn’t care who or what he was, if he laid a hand on her she was going to kill him. The thought steadied her, made her wipe her damp palms on her dusty skirts and lift her chin. “Look, Mr. Riker, I realize I don’t have the upper hand here by any means—”

“Lady, you are in deep trouble.” He tilted his hat back, giving her a better view of his face. It was a bit startling to realize he was strikingly handsome in a clean-cut way, with finely modeled features that included high cheekbones, a nice straight nose and dark blond brows arched over those startling, intense silver eyes. “I know it, and so do you, Miss Daniels.”

Somewhere in his nefarious past he’d been well-educated. It was in the modulation of his speech, even with that slow, soft accent. He was younger than she expected also, probably not even thirty. She fought to keep her tone steady. “I’m sure my father would give you back your money and then some.”

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