Authors: Joan Johnston
What a delight to be able to share my one and only time travel novel with you again! I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of going back in time—knowing, of course, everything I know now! When I finally sat down to write a time travel novel, it turned out that, instead of stepping back into the past, I brought my Western heroine into the future.
What made it so much fun was imagining how a nineteenth-century woman would deal with all the modern mechanisms that make our work so much simpler…and our lives so much more complicated. It also gave me an opportunity to focus on how women’s rights, women’s fashions and women’s attitudes have changed over the past century—especially in relation to men! And imagine my hero’s surprise when the beautiful woman he rescues turns out to be from another time and place.
Those of you familiar with my HAWK’S WAY series have an extra treasure in store. You’ll be seeing the first appearance of Honey Farrell, the heroine of
Honey and the Hired Hand
, and Adam Phillips, the hero of
The Rancher and the Runaway Bride
. I had no inkling at the time I wrote
A Little Time in Texas
that these characters were destined to have their own books. But what fun to discover they did.
For my sister Jennifer Eloise Wilkes,
who always embraces an adventure
ngela Taylor backed away until she came up against a wall of solid rock. She was trapped. She counted the odds. Six to one. Not good. She should have gotten off the road when she’d heard them coming. A woman walking alone was considered easy prey. She told herself to calm down, to breathe deeply. These no-good sidewinders didn’t know it, but there was more mettle in her little finger than most women had in their whole bodies. She wasn’t about to give up or give in. Her eyes narrowed, her stance widened, and her hands formed into fists. The six men surrounding her might eventually overwhelm her, but they would pay dearly before they did.
“Say there, little lady,” one cowboy drawled, “you gonna cooperate, or not?”
“Ain’t hardly enough of her to go around,” another cowboy complained.
“Don’t like that look on her face,” a third said. “Plain mean.”
Another laughed. “You scared, Slim? One woman ain’t no match for—”
Angel saw the cowboy’s mouth drop and his eyes go wide. At almost the same moment a large male hand clamped around her waist and she was jerked completely off her feet. She clawed and bit and kicked, but her captor didn’t let go. Angel could have wept when she realized that she’d been caught by such an old trick. There weren’t six cowboys. There were
Only this one apparently didn’t intend to share her with the others. And they weren’t too happy about it.
“Hey, there! Where you goin’ with her?”
“That girl belongs to all of us! You bring her back here!”
“Hells bells! There’s a damned cave in that rock. Look out! He’s gettin’ away with her!”
“Come on! Let’s go after him!”
Angel would have screamed but she couldn’t breathe, the seventh man had such a tight hold on her. She struggled mightily in his arms but there was no question of escaping. The arm around her was thick with muscle. From the feel of the hard male body at her back, the rest of him was equally strong. Her feet hadn’t touched ground since he’d grabbed her. They were racing deeper and deeper into the cave, through a labyrinth of tunnels in the
rock. It was pitch-black, and she had no idea how the cowboy was going to get them back out again.
Suddenly they stopped. There was no sound except the man’s harsh breathing and her grunts as she struggled against his strength.
Another fear, even deeper than that of the man, took hold of her. The dark. She was terrified of the dark. Abruptly she stopped struggling. Her breathing was tortured as fear overwhelmed her and held her paralyzed. Her eyes went wide, seeking the light.
There was none.
Angel whimpered, a pitiful, plaintive sound.
“Be still,” the seventh man hissed.
But she was in the grip of a terror more powerful than the threat of mere physical harm. The whimper became a low moan.
The kidnapper’s hand clamped over her mouth just as one of the cowboys in pursuit passed close enough that she could smell a month’s worth of sweat and leather and horse. Angel felt relieved, then horrified as the sound of boots on stone faded into the distance. Better to face six men in the light than one in the dark.
“You see anything?” one of the searching cowboys yelled to another.
“Not a damned thing!”
“We’ll never find them in the dark,” a third ranted.
“I’m gettin’ outta here. This place is spooked,” another said.
The voices moved away. They were giving up the hunt. Angel could still hear them. Voices carried in the dark.
“We can’t let him get away with stealin’ her like that,” a cowboy grumbled.
“Who said we’re gonna?”
“What’s that you got there? Dynamite? What’re you gonna do with that?”
“Blow them to Kingdom Come. Or leastwise trap ’em in there till Judgment Day.”
“Who’s gonna know? They ain’t gonna tell. ’Sides. It’ll serve ’em both right. If we can’t have her, nobody can.”
“I ain’t so sure about this,” one cowboy said.
By then it was too late. Several sticks of dynamite had been lit and tossed into the cave entrance.
Angel only had a second to acknowledge the fact that they were doomed. Anger flared. She wasn’t ready to die trapped in the dark. She wrenched free and started running for the opening of the cave. She had to escape!
She heard her captor swear low and mean as
he chased her. He grunted with effort as he threw himself bodily at her. His forward motion forced her down hard as he covered her with his body.
Mere seconds passed before the first explosion came, followed by a second and a third. The sound was deafening. The repercussions rocked the inside walls of the cave. Angel choked on the settling dust, but only a few pebble-sized rocks fell near them.
“Where the hell did you think you were going?” the man asked as he sat up and brushed himself off.
“I would think that was obvious.” Angel tried peering through the gloom. She coughed from the dust. “Do you think we can dig ourselves out of here?”
“At least we’re alive,” she said. “We—”
“Shut up and listen.”
“I don’t hear—”
He clamped a hand over her mouth, and she heard it. The ominous sound of cracking rock. The man cursed vehemently as a low rumble began, sending a shudder through the cave.
Suddenly he bolted upright and yanked her to her feet. “If you want to live, you’ll run. Run like the devil is at your heels!”
He took off in the dark, his hand clamped like
a vise on her wrist. Angel careered after him, her arm stretched out of the socket as her short legs valiantly tried to keep pace with his long strides.
The rumbling sound seemed to follow them, until finally it caught up with them. Angel felt herself being propelled off her feet by a blast of air. With the kind of strength she could only imagine, the seventh man pulled her into the protective circle of his arms before they were both thrown forward.
“Get ready! Here it comes!”
Angel wanted to ask “Here what comes?” but it was already too late for that. There was no way she could have prepared for what followed. Behind them the cave began to collapse. Thousands of tons of rock fell, blocking their way out and sealing them in what had become their tomb.
When the dust settled again, Angel was surprised to realize that she could breathe easily. She wondered how long the air would last…and whether her kidnapper would take advantage of their remaining time alive to take what he had risked both their lives to get.
The man sat up and put a hand on her shoulder. “You okay?”
“Of all the stupid, shallow-pated, lack-wit questions I ever heard, that one—”
“Whoa, there, lady. That’s no way to talk to someone who just saved your life.”
Angel sat up abruptly, scooting backward out of range of his hand and stared into the dark. She knew he was there, she just couldn’t see him. “You have me all to yourself now,” she said bitterly. “For all the good it’ll do you. I have no intention of relinquishing my virtue to some varmint who—”
“Whoa, there,” he said. “I have no designs on your, uh, virtue.”
“Then why did you drag me in here?” she demanded.
“I was rescuing you, dammit!”
me! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re
in here. We’re going to die! We’re—”
“Whoa, there, lady.”
“If you say that again, I’m going to scream,” Angel warned.
When the cowboy chuckled she said, “I’d like to know what you find so funny about this situation. We’re going to
“No, we’re not.”
“I don’t know where you’ve been for the past few minutes. To refresh your memory, this whole cave just came down practically on our heads.
There must be
of rock between us and the only way out of here.”
“That wasn’t the only way out.”
Angel was afraid to hope that she’d heard him right. “What?”
“There’s another way out. I’ve been in this cave before, but I’ve never come in this direction. Today I wasn’t paying attention and I took a wrong turn. I didn’t realize there was another way to daylight. You have no idea how surprised I was to see you.” He whistled long and low. “Sure looked like you planned to give those cowboys a run for their money.”
“I wouldn’t have made it easy for them,” she agreed. “You’d best be warned and watch out yourself.”
He laughed then, a rich, full sound. “Lady, I wouldn’t dare make a move on a hellcat like you. By the way, what’s your name?”
That made him laugh again. “Far as I can tell, you’re anything but.”
“Now, look here, Mr.—”
“Name’s Dallas. Dallas Masterson. Pleased to meet you, Angel—Angel what?”
“Pleased to meet you, Angel Taylor.”
She imagined him tipping his hat. Only she was
pretty sure he wasn’t wearing one. “If you know the way out, why are we still sitting here?”
“There is a slight problem.”
Angel tensed. “What’s that?”
“I lost all my gear back there at the entrance—exit—to the cave. I don’t have any light. So while I know there’s another way out, we may have a problem finding it in the dark.”
Angel had forgotten about the dark. Now the blackness rose again to suffocate her. “Oh, dear God.”
“I’m afraid of the dark,” Angel whispered.
An instant later strong arms embraced her. Dallas tucked her head down under his chin. As he did so, at least a day’s growth of whiskers scraped against her temple. Pressed up so close to him, she could hear his heart thumping against his chest.
“Better?” he murmured.
To Angel’s surprise, she did feel better. The dark was not nearly so frightening within the cocoon of warmth he had created.
“How long have you been afraid of the dark?” Dallas asked.
“Since I—” She stiffened in his arms. “That’s none of your business. Look, are you going to just
sit here, or are we going to try to find the way out?”
He didn’t answer with words, simply stood and took her along with him. “Let’s go,” he said curtly.
Angel heard the irritation in his voice. She hadn’t meant to be so rude, but she couldn’t explain something so personal to a perfect stranger. Still, she couldn’t help feeling grateful when he took her hand in his and didn’t let go of it. Of course, he probably only held on because he didn’t want to lose track of her in the dark. But she found comfort from the contact, all the same.
“Coming down,” he said.
“The ceiling’s getting lower. Duck your—”
“Of all the dumb, noddy-polled, loplolly questions I ever—”
Dallas chuckled. “You’ve got a quaint way of expressing yourself, Angel. But I get the message.” He reached back and found her hand where she had pressed it to her forehead. “How bad is it?”
“Good girl.” He patted her on the back and
pushed her head lower. “Keep your head down. It gets worse.”
So much for sympathy
, Angel thought.
He was right, though. Things did get worse. Soon they were crouching, then crawling on their bellies.
“How much farther?” she asked.
“Another hour. Maybe two.”
Five minutes more would have been too long. Another hour—or two—seemed an eternity. She was exhausted. There was a hole in the knee of her trousers, and skin was scraping off every time she moved. “Can we stop and rest a minute?”
“There’s a place where we can sit, just a little farther on.”
That sounded more appealing than stopping on her belly, so Angel kept crawling. A few minutes later they were sitting up across from each other. There wasn’t enough room for Angel to stretch out completely, so she sat with her knees upraised. The stone was cool behind her back, and she thanked whoever was responsible for the dry rock floor and the apparent lack of animal life in the cave.
“How could your friends do something like this to you?” Angel asked.
“They weren’t my friends.”
“Then why did you get involved?” Angel asked.
“It’s my job to help damsels in distress.”
Angel smiled despite the awfulness of the circumstances. “What are you? A knight in shining armor?”
“No. I’m a Texas Ranger.”
“Of all the tom-doodle, gim-crack things I ever heard—why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”
“I never got the chance.”
“When I think how scared I was of you—and all for nothing.”
“Does that mean you aren’t scared of me now?”
There was a long pause. “Should I be?”
He snorted. “Not hardly. All I want to do is get you out of here and headed safely home. Then I plan to wash my hands of you and forget I ever met you.”
Absurdly, Angel was irritated by his attitude. So, he couldn’t wait to get shuck of her. Well, it wasn’t any skin off her nose if he did. She would be glad to be shed of him, too.
“What were you doing out there all alone?” he asked.
“Maybe I should have asked where you were headed.”
“That’s quite a walk from the hill country southwest of Austin, especially for a sprite of a woman like you.”
“I’m stronger than I look.”
“I won’t argue with that,” he said, chuckling. “It’s still a long way for a woman to be walking by herself.”
“It’s either travel alone or not at all,” Angel said.
He paused, then asked, “No husband?”
Angel sighed. “No. No family at all.”
The thought of all the walking alone she had yet to do reminded her about her skinned knee. “Do you by any chance have a bandanna?” she asked.
“My trousers are ripped and my right knee’s getting scraped worse every time I move. I wanted to try and bandage it.”
“I’ll do it.”
Before Angel could protest, Dallas had reached for her. Only he missed her knee and found her thigh. She tensed at the touch of his hand. His fingers walked their way down her leg to her knee.