Authors: Sylvia McDaniel
How can she forgive the man who arrested her brother? The man who was once her fiancé?
abrina Callahan left
Texas after the man she loved arrested her brother for cattle rustling. Two years later, when she arrives home, there is Patrick, the memory of his kisses still fresh on her lips. But now there’s even more trouble on the ranch she loves and only one man who can help her. Patrick…the cowboy who betrayed her brother.
he last thing
Patrick wanted to do was hurt Sabrina and her father. Now, he’s lost more than her love. His family has been killed, Sabrina’s loved ones are in danger and something is not right in Sherwood. Can he claim justice for his family and reclaim Sabrina’s heart? Or will old hurts tear them apart before he has the chance to prove his commitment.
Copyright © 2016 by Sylvia McDaniel
All rights reserved.
Published by Virtual Bookseller, LLC
Cover Art by Kim Killion
of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Books by Sylvia McDaniel
A Hero's Heart
The Burnett Brides Series
Lipstick and Lead
Scandalous Suffragette Brides
Bella —Coming Soon
Callie – Coming Soon
Southern Historical Romance
American Brides Series
The Surprise Brides
The Cuvier Women
Short Sexy Reads
Racy Reunions Series
from the courthouse settled over Sabrina Callahan as she hurried down the street of Sherwood, bringing back the unpleasant memories of her brother’s cattle rustling trial. The smell of justice—a mixture of fear, greed, and retribution—filled her nostrils. It was the reason she’d left town so long ago, a nagging ache now instead of the raging heartache she’d once experienced.
The telegram crackled in her reticule, reminding her of its message and the reason for her return. Whoever had sent the telegram had left his name off the unwelcome notice.
The same clapboard buildings lined Main Street, their fronts faded by the hot Texas sun. The closer she came to the sheriff s office, the louder and clearer the shouts of two angry voices smote her ears. Weary from her journey, she climbed the steps, her hand reaching for the door knob.
A deep, masculine voice resounded from the other side of the door. Somehow that voice was familiar. . .
“Dammit, Sheriff, neither the Comanche nor the Kickapoo would have burned out our ranch. My father was friendly with both of them.”
“I know this is hard for you to believe, but them redskins, they ain’t loyal to nobody. Hell, I was out there the next morning. Evidence clearly showed it was Indians.”
“Sheriff, anybody could have made it appear it was Indians.”
A cold sweat broke out on her skin. That deep timbre could only belong to one person: Patrick Shand.
The man who had arrested her brother. The reason she had left Sherwood. The man she had once loved and been engaged to.
The same older voice stated, “I’ve heard all the rumors. You’re goin’ around accusing Carson Jarvis because of that damned trial. I’m warning you; this is the last time I want to hear you blaming anyone but Indians.” The shouting voice softened. “I’m sorry, son; it’s been six months. I’m closing this case today. I’ve wasted enough time on it.”
There was a silence that seemed to stretch into eternity. Finally, Patrick responded. “Go ahead. Close your damn investigation, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking for their killers: And when I find them, it won’t be Indians.”
Patrick’s ranch had burned? What else had happened in the two years since she’d been gone? Should she stay and face Patrick or run and hide? Two years was a long time, but was it long enough to bury the hurt that had driven them apart?
Boot heels smacked across the hard floor. Before Sabrina could react, the door was yanked open, jerking the knob from her hand. It was too late to run, too late to hide.
Frozen in the doorway, she stood face to face with the man she had hoped never to see again. The man who had broken her heart
Patrick Shand towered above her, anger radiating from him. Tall, handsome Patrick, with eyes the color of Texas sand, sparked with streaks of gold. As the shock of recognition faded, a grin curved his full lips.
Sabrina’s heart hammered inside her ribs as she stepped back against the porch railing. His eyes raked her in a sweeping inspection. Cringing, she realized how dirty she must look after her long stagecoach ride. Dust coated her clothing and skin like a fine powdery mist, yet Patrick looked good, too good.
The years had changed him for the better. Her eyes unwillingly feasted on him, noting the places his body had filled out. A stubble of beard was beginning to show on his cheeks and the hard line of his jaw, enhancing his rugged good looks.
“Well, if it ain’t my lucky day! Look whose back from her fancy boarding school.” Patrick pushed his hat back from his face as though to make sure it was really Sabrina. “Do they teach eavesdropping or was this a talent I never knew about?”
Sabrina bristled. The years had not softened his sharp tongue. “Why would I want to eavesdrop on your conversation?” How could she ever have loved this arrogant man? She lifted her heavy skirts and swept past him, clearly dismissing him.
He moved aside and then called to her. “I’m wounded. You have nothing to say to your old fiancé? Rehash old times? Maybe even greet me with a welcoming kiss?”
Why didn’t he go away? After a grueling week of worry, he was the last person she wanted to see.
Sabrina turned and leveled her best glare at him. It had always worked on her students at the academy, but Patrick was not easily intimidated, and the smile he returned was not only challenging, but beguiling with his full lips and twinkling eyes.
That smile and those eyes—in a previous life were characteristics she’d loved about him.
“If I remember correctly, we said everything there was to say in front of the whole town two years ago.” Her voice sounded empty of emotion, though her heart pulsated in a nervous rhythm. She
over him, though her pulse raced with remembrance.
Clearly dismissing Patrick, she whirled around to confront the sheriff. But the face before her brought her to an immediate halt. “Where’s Sheriff Earl?”
Patrick stepped up beside Sabrina. “Sabrina Callahan, meet our new sheriff, John Sims.”
The law officer sat behind a battered desk, his feet propped up, and his arms crossed behind his head, relaxing against the wall. Obviously, this man enjoyed his food, as his stomach and chest seemed to blend together. She stared at a hole in the sole of his boot, his red sock shining through like a beacon.
“Nice to meet ya,’ Miss Callahan. What can I do for you, ma’am?” He smiled a toothless grin and then proceeded to spit over his right shoulder. Spittle pinged inside the brass spittoon, sending a shudder through Sabrina.
“What happened to Sheriff Earl?” Sabrina asked as she watched the sheriff move the wad of tobacco from cheek to cheek.
“Got shot in the back one night.”
Sabrina frowned. Sheriff Earl was dead. Her father’s closest friend was gone, and no one had informed her. Things had changed in Sherwood, and judging from the telegram she had in her reticule, not all for the better.
“My father is Jed Callahan.” Sabrina clutched the telegram tightly in her hand. “I received this telegram saying he had been shot.” For three hundred miles, she had read and reread that small piece of paper, wondering how seriously injured her father was, wondering if she would make it home in time, praying she wasn’t too late. Anxiously, she asked, “Is he all right?”
“Miss Callahan, your father’s gonna be okay.” The sheriff crossed his arms over his large stomach dismissively.
Sabrina frowned at the sheriff. “What happened?”
Sims scratched his head. “Jed don’t remember too much from that day. We’ve been having trouble with rustlers around here. The way I figure it, he stumbled on them stealing cattle and tried to take them on by himself.”
“Our distinguished sheriff hasn’t caught many criminals since he took office,” Patrick’s cool voice stated.
“Shut up, Shand. I’ve had all I’m gonna take from you today,” the sheriff shouted, wagging his finger.
“Do you have any suspects?” Sabrina pleaded, frustrated by the man’s uncaring attitude.
“Now, Miss Callahan, don’t you worry that pretty head of yours about this. We’ll catch whoever shot your father.”
Sabrina’s blood began a slow boil. First Patrick’s reappearance and now this overweight, spitting bore was speaking to her as if she had mush for brains.
“If rustlers were in the area, why weren’t you out there looking for them? Where were you the day he got shot?” Sabrina watched the sheriffs face turn a satisfying shade of red.
The sheriff bristled. “Now, Miss Callahan, I got enough responsibilities right here in this town to keep me busy. You ranchers have more than enough hired help to protect you.”
Patrick burst out laughing. “Tell the truth, Sims. You don’t sit well astride a horse and you might miss a meal if you were out on the trail.”
“Dammit, Shand! Get the hell out of my office or I’m going to throw you in jail.”
“Whatever you say, Sims.” Patrick put his hat on his head and started for the door. The clatter of his boots on floorboards echoed in the small room.
The sheriff said, “Miss Callahan, I’m a busy man. I have work to do.” He was clearly dismissing her.
“I’ll leave you to your work,” Sabrina replied sarcastically, all pretense gone from her voice, “. . . after you tell me if you’ve seen any of the riders from the Big C today. I need a ride to the ranch.”
She had no transportation. No one was expecting her, and until this moment she had expected Sheriff Earl to take her home.
The sheriff shuffled papers on his desk. “No. Can’t say that I have. You might check with the doc though. He’s been riding out to your ranch every day to check on your father.”
Patrick paused, his hand on the door latch. “The doc just left to deliver a baby. I’m headed in your direction.” His voice was cool, not at all inviting. She turned and regarded him with animosity. “No, thank you.”
A mocking smile touched his lips as he raised his brows. “How do you plan on getting home?”
He knew she had no way home and he was using it to his advantage. Sabrina sighed. “I guess I don’t have a choice.”
“Not really,” Patrick stated with a smirk on his face. He opened the door, obviously expecting cooperation from Sabrina. Part of her wanted to deny him, wait until tomorrow, but the thought of her father made her swallow her pride.
“Let’s go.” Sabrina replied.
“After you, my lady.” His voice was heavy with sarcasm. Touching the rim of his hat, he glanced back at the sheriff. “Don’t work too hard, Sims.”
The sheriff spat again over his shoulder, missing the spittoon. A stream of tobacco juice slid down the wall. Sabrina hurried out the door.
Patrick loaded her trunk in the back of the wagon and they quickly headed out of town. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Sabrina sat back and relished the feeling of being close to home.
The west Texas countryside shimmered in the warm spring sun and welcomed her home. The fresh scent of honeysuckle floated in the air, announcing spring’s arrival. Across the prairie, bluebonnets, orange Texas paints and yellow buttercups blended, splashing color against the green grass. Mesquite trees stood against the sky like gnarled old men.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sabrina gazed at the man sitting next to her. Strong, sturdy hands gripped the reins, controlling the horses. The memory of those hands holding her, kissing her, returned leaving her aching from long-ago memories. The muscles in his arms strained the fabric of his shirt. Over long, muscular thighs, his blue pants fit snugly. The innocence of youth was gone and left behind was a man, hard and dangerous.
A stray lock of sandy hair fell from beneath his hat and grazed his forehead. A sudden urge to reach over and brush it back with her fingertips assailed her, but wisely she kept her hands to herself.
Patrick turned to her with a curious expression. “I don’t remember Jed saying you were coming home.”
Sabrina sighed and pushed a strand of blonde hair beneath her bonnet. She should have known her father and Patrick would have kept in touch, even after the broken engagement.
“He doesn’t know I’m coming.”
“That’s what I thought.” Patrick stared ahead, avoiding her gaze. “Why did you come home?”
“I was worried about my father.” And the ranch: The other line of the telegram had said the ranch was in financial trouble.
Warm wind struck her full in the face as he brought the wagon over the crest of a ridge. Anxiously, she asked, “Have you seen my father? How badly is he hurt?”
“He’s fine. The doctor wanted him to stay in bed a couple more days, but Jed refused.”
“What does Dad say about the shooting?”
“He rode up on them before he actually saw them. By the time he pulled his gun, it was too late. The bullet grazed his head, knocking him unconscious. Then they left him for dead.”
Sabrina’s hands gripped the wagon tighter. Her father could have been killed. And no one had felt she needed to know except the mysterious telegram writer. “Did you send me a telegram?”
Patrick gazed at her oddly. “Why would I send
a telegram?” A puzzled expression crossed his face. “I didn’t even know where you were. Wasn’t there a name on it?”
“No.” Sabrina watched the wind whip across Patrick’s face. “Maybe Matt forgot to sign it.”
“I certainly never expected to find you in Sherwood. Last I heard, you were never coming back.” She adjusted her bonnet as the wind tried to whip it from her head.
Patrick’s face turned grim. “I came home to find my family’s killers.”
Sabrina gasped. “Your family was murdered!”
It seemed as if Dad’s letters had been trivial. Filled with nothing, telling her nothing, leaving her in the dark regarding what really was going on in Sherwood. Quietly, she said, “I didn’t know. What happened?”
“Someone attacked the ranch and killed Mom and Dad. When I came home, the house was burned to the ground and the stock were all scattered to hell and gone. The sheriff says it was Indians, but I don’t believe him.” His voice sounded empty.
Horrified, Sabrina replied, “I’m so sorry.”
She reached out to touch his arm in a comforting gesture, but he pulled away from her touch. She saw his clenched jaw, the rigid manner in which he held the reins. Patrick had always been a proud man, much too arrogant to let her comfort him, but maybe it was better this way. Touching him would only bring back pleasant memories which didn’t need to be revived.
“Your parents were always kind to me.” Patricia Sand had consoled her those painful days after Patrick left Sherwood. She had agreed with Jed that Sabrina needed to leave town, leave behind the ugly gossip and disturbing memories. “Do you really believe someone in town killed your parents?”
“Mother’s last letter said Dad had given Chief Black Bear five steers to feed his tribe. Why would he kill the man who helped feed his tribe?”
She watched the mixture of pain and anger cross his face. “Do you have any other evidence?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Enough to be suspicious.”
Puzzled, Sabrina watched the countryside slowly roll by. Patrick had no one now. He was totally alone, and somehow the thought of being totally alone in the world sent a shiver of fear through her.