Friday, June 18, 2010
With all that's gone on this week, I nearly forgot that today was release day--so it's a little like Christmas Morning to wake up and realize it's here!
I've "introduced" you to Raz, and posted a scene with both Raz and Arden--but today I'd like to post a scene from Arden's perspective.
I'll be celebrating all weekend, and will be giving away a free download from the commenter's, so if you stop by, be sure to leave me a comment! Stop back Monday morning to find out who the winner is!
Arden couldn’t be certain the exact moment she realized the approaching rider was watching her. But the chill crawling up her spine was the doing of the man lying unconscious beneath her. He’d deliberately tried to frighten her.
And for the moment, she was stuck. Her chin hovered mere inches from his chest. No matter how she struggled she couldn’t free her hair from beneath his dead weight.
“Wake up.” She tried to squirm free, to kick him—anything. She reached awkwardly around to slap at his cheek, but to no avail. He didn’t stir. Only the steady rise and fall of his chest assured her she hadn’t killed him.
The rider moved closer, slowing his pace to take in the scene before him. It was too late to play dead. She had a funny feeling it wouldn’t have done much good anyway.
The metal of the .44 grew warm against her palm, but her hand, pinned awkwardly between her body and the man she lie upon, was numb and tingly from lack of circulation. The rider stopped a few feet away and dismounted. He walked closer, then stopped, studying her with a smug expression. When the corners of his mouth turned up, she had the oddest feeling he considered himself the cat to her mouse. Every instinct screamed the truth. This was the killer.
In one grand attempt to remain alive, she rolled to one side, ignoring the sting of her scalp, and freed her arm. Cocking the hammer with her thumb, she trained the gun on him. “Don’t come any cl—”
A hand on the back of her neck slammed her face down on the ground. Her finger was squeezed tight against the trigger as he—the arrogant ass she’d been unable to rouse a moment ago—closed his hand over hers. Three shots rang out almost simultaneously, the kick from the gun lurching her arm as it fired. Something warm buzzed past her ear, like the hum of a bumble bee but much too fast and much too hot. She opened her mouth to scream but inhaled a mouthful of dust and dirt instead.
Silence reigned for only a second before he rolled off her, one hand pressed to his head where she’d struck him. “Son of a bitch.”
Sputtering, Arden sat up and wiped an arm across her mouth. The rider lay slumped at an odd angle in the dirt. She turned to the suddenly-conscious stranger “You killed him.”
He stood, hand still on his head. “You’re welcome.” With a motion of his finger, he wordlessly told her to stay put. Gun in hand, he approached the dead man, then nudged him with the toe of his boot. He bent to press two fingers to the side of the man’s neck. “He’s dead.”
“So I gathered.” She noted the precision of the two holes, one square in the chest, the other right between the eyes. Either would have been a lethal shot. Another chill slithered down her spine despite the sun’s merciless heat. Who was this man with such deadly aim?
“Do you know him?”
The sight of the corpse, already taking on a chalky hue, began to sour her empty stomach. She drew her knees up to her chin, shaking her head in answer to his question. “Do you?”
He glanced down at the man’s face, cocked his head as if considering. “By reputation only. At least I think it’s him.” He rose, reloaded, and holstered the .44. with a smooth motion that told her he did it often and without thought.
“Why did you kill him?”
“Why didn’t you just shoot him in the hand or the leg or something?”
“Are you out of your goddamned mind?”
“Anyone who can shoot as accurately as you could have disarmed him without killing him.”
“Hell, yeah. I could have invited him to tea, too.” He stepped a few feet away to retrieve the other man’s revolver from where it had landed. “But I have a bad habit, sweetheart. It’s called breathing. And I’m kinda partial to doing it.”
As he approached her, she reached for the extra gun he carried. “I’ll take that.”
“The hell you will.”
“I feel the need to protect myself.”
“And you’re doing a half-assed job of it, from the looks of things.” He knelt down in front of her. “Are you all right?”
She had to admit, his concern was somewhat touching. The memory of him throwing himself over her, shielding her with his body, caused a warm flush of gratitude. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Good. I got ten grand riding on your well being.” He glanced back at the other man. “Who wants you dead, Miss O’Hara?”
Raz shifted his gaze back toward her. Something in her voice wasn’t quite right. “You sure about that?”
“Who would want to kill me?”
“Anyone who has known you more than five minutes.”
Hurt flashed in those big green eyes before she pushed to her feet. “I’m leaving.”
“That’s a good idea,” he agreed. “Whoever wants to kill you will try again when he doesn’t come back.”
“I assure you, no one wants me dead.”
“That remains to be seen.” He left her to rummage through the dead man’s pockets, looking for anything that might identify him. But he didn’t need a name to know what Arden O’Hara would have suffered before he killed her. Finding nothing of use, he hoisted the body over his shoulder and draped it across the back of the extra horse.
“We’d better head to the nearest town and find the sheriff.” He didn’t bother to add there would probably be a reward.
“Yes, we.” he repeated. “Don’t you want to know the identity of the one person in the whole world who wanted to kill you?”
She stared at the corpse as if it would bite her. “I told you, I don’t know him.”
“Whoever hired him knows you.”
She briskly rubbed her arms as though to ward off a chill. “Look, Mister—”
“Colt. Raz Colt.”
“Fine. Colt,” she repeated. “I think a terrible mistake has been made here. I’m quite certain this man never meant to harm me. I think he was probably trying to scare me.”
“Men like this don’t play games, darlin’. They kill.”
“You speak as though you have personal experience.”
He shrugged. “I don’t make apologies for what I am.”
“What are you?”
“A law-abiding citizen.”
She raised a brow in his direction before dropping her gaze pointedly to his guns. He wasn’t about to explain his lifestyle to her. He was a hired gun; it wasn’t something he was proud of but it was what he knew, what he was good at. And he liked to think he provided a service to the local law enforcement. Any low-life he took off the streets was one less gun the sheriff would have to face down.
Still, her decided lack of fear in all of this nagged at him. Sure she was a little green around the gills from staring at the dead guy, but not once had she come close to panicking; not before he’d entered the little shack, not when he approached her and not now, when she’d damn near met her maker.
He removed tobacco and paper from his shirt pocket and calmly rolled a cigarillo. “Mind telling me why you’re ‘quite certain’ this man wouldn’t harm you?”
She sighed dramatically. “It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time before he starts to rot.”
“I’m sorry you were dragged into this, but I was not kidnapped, at least not really.” She began to pace, moving away from him.
The cigarillo complete, he scraped a match on the heel of his boot. “I’m listening.”
She walked toward a nearby rock and took a seat, resting her elbows on her knees, chin in her palms. Another sigh. “I wanted Geoffrey to rescue me.”
He inhaled, held the smoke in his lungs, and willed himself to stay calm. A million different responses came to mind, most of them more colorful than what she’d spouted earlier. At last he allowed a stream of smoke to slowly leave his nostrils. “Why?”
She sprang to her feet and resumed pacing. “I needed to know if he cared about me or if it was the money. I didn’t want Daddy involved, I knew he’d worry.”
“That doesn’t explain our friend over there attracting flies.”
“The men I hired would never have sent a man like that, not even to scare me.”
“The men you hired?”
“Yes. I think we need to assume this man was after you rather than me. A man like you most certainly has enemies.”
“Not alive.” He threw the cigarillo aside and stalked toward her, thoughts of killing her himself running wild. “Are you saying I damn near took a bullet for someone who staged her own kidnapping?”
She shrugged, almost childlike. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes. I’m sure Daddy will still pay—”
“Mister Colt, you’re doing that repeating thing again.”
For the second time that morning, Raz hoisted her over his shoulder, this time taking care to remove his guns. He pressed one against her ribs, partly for effect, partly from anger. “Not half as sorry as you’re gonna be.”
As expected, she kicked and thrashed, pummeling him with her fists, screeching like a banshee.
He deposited her onto the back of his horse, pinned her arms together while he retrieved a length of rope from his saddlebag. Before she could free herself, he wound it tight about her wrists, then secured it to the saddle horn and mounted behind her.
“What are you doing?” she asked, sounding more annoyed than afraid. She tugged at the ropes and let out a child-like shriek when they didn’t loosen.
“Taking you home.”
But not until he taught her a damned good lesson.