Courting the Outlaw's Wife
Shaw’s head hurt like a herd of horses stampeded around inside his skull. The ache in his chest rivaled the ache in his head. The men who rode up on them and shot him were obviously outlaws. They’d known Sara Lynn, called her by her first name. He still held her arm, as much to help him stay awake as to show her he wanted answers.
“How do you know those men?” he asked, again, making his head pounded harder.
“The one you hit with your gun is my dead husband’s brother.”
Her arm quivered in his hand. He loosened his grip.
“Who was your husband?”
He had a pretty good idea what her answer would be. He’d not connected her last name to the notorious Star gang until just now.
“Chet Star. That was his brother, Boyd.”
Shaw released her arm, but remained on the ground. His eyes closed, willing his roiling gut to ease up so he didn’t embarrass himself by vomiting.
Movement and whispers of a breeze made teased his eyes open. Sara Lynn sat beside him pulling on her stockings. Her silhouette was as pretty as he remembered from all the times he’d watched her from across the street. He’d spent too many nights standing in the shadows across from her hotel and the adjoining saloon, waiting for a fight to break out, just so he could break it up and get a glimpse of Mrs. Sara Lynn Star.
She finished buckling her shoe and peered straight into his eyes. The concern pooling in her emerald eyes eased the pain pounding in his head.
“I know your head and shoulder have to be hurting something awful, but we need to get to town. You need a doctor, and I need to pack.”
The sadness in her voice caused his mind to take longer to register the words.
“What do you mean pack?” He didn’t want her to leave. He wanted to know more about her and see if they might have a chance to become better acquainted.
“I can’t stay here now that Boyd knows where I am. No one will be safe. He’ll hurt people to get to me.” She swallowed. “I don’t have any proof, but I think he shot Chet to make me a widow.”
Shaw studied the sorrow in her eyes. He pushed to a sitting position with his good arm. Squeezing his eyes shut, he fought off nausea and the pounding. He had something to say and couldn’t say it with the racket in his head.
Her hand on his arm steadied him and gave him the fortitude to open his eyes.
“What makes you think Boyd killed your husband?” He watched her as intently as his banging head would allow.
She shivered and her gaze held his. “I didn’t meet Boyd until after Chet and I ran off and married. But when I did, he scared me and I could see in his eyes he was jealous of Chet. I don’t think he wanted me, he wanted what Chet had.”
“You’re a beautiful woman. I’m sure it was some of both.” Shaw reached out touching her cheek.
Her eyes glowed with renewed strength. “If Boyd came around when Chet was gone, I had to make sure I was never alone. He’d paw me and say things that he shouldn’t have said to his brother’s wife.” Her spine stiffened and anger glinted in her eyes. “I loved Chet with a young girl’s innocence. He was good to me and made sure I was provided for when he was gone. But after a few years, I realized the mistake I’d made.” She looked away. “The day they brought Chet home, a part of me hoped he’d die. Then I could be free of the gang and that way of life. But I did everything I could to save him.” Her gaze returned to him. “I would never intentionally wish ill of anyone.”
“I know. It’s not in you.” He saw her regret at her earlier thoughts mirrored in her eyes.
“Then when Chet died and Boyd started saying things, I had a feeling he was the one who shot Chet. And he would come to my home and try…” She bit her lip.
Anger surged through Shaw, causing his head to renew the throbbing.
“Did he hurt you?” He could barely say the words with his jaw locked in anger.
“He would have taken me one night. But a neighbor I’d confided in saw Boyd’s horse tied to a tree behind the house. She forced her husband to check on me.” Anger flared in her eyes. “That’s when I packed a valise and headed out looking for a place to stay and not be found. I thought Grass Valley was it.”
“It is.” Shaw cupped her cheek with his hand. “You don’t have to run if this is where you want to stay.” He wanted her to stay. His life had been empty until Sara Lynn arrived in his town. He wanted to court her proper and give her the life she deserved.
She nuzzled her cheek into his hand. The softness and warmth made his palm tingle. The trust in her eyes squeezed his heart.
He leaned forward and brushed a kiss across her lips. “We better get to Grass Valley.”
She nodded and stood, offering him a hand up.
He wanted to get patched up and on the mend when Boyd Star came after Sara Lynn. She was a woman worth fighting for and he planned to win.