An Echo in Time

Sheriff and single mother, Taylor O’Brien, has enough worries as it is, what with spearheading a campaign for her re-election as sheriff, keeping the peace in her Montana mountain town, and raising her ten-year-old son.  The last thing she needs now is a complicated romance…

Then into Taylor’s life wanders Sam Evans, a ruggedly handsome cowboy who looks like he just stepped out of the late 1800’s.  As if his clothes aren’t strange enough, Sam has never tasted a french fry, jumps at the jingle of a phone, and has never seen a woman in pants, let alone a lady-sheriff.  The fact is, he did just step out of the nineteenth century–through a time-travel change.  By traveling through time, Sam had hoped to forget his woman troubles for a while.

But it was over a hundred years ago that Sam swore off women–and time has a way of changing one’s mind.

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Prologue

Black Mesa, Colorado — 1889

The attack came out of nowhere—three gunmen, maybe four. Sam Evans threw himself to the ground and took cover behind a stand of trees. Sweat broke out on his brow and ran into his eyes. He dashed it away and tried to get a bead on one of the gunmen but shadows blanketed the mesa. He couldn’t see a thing.

Wind howled. Dust and grit flew. Noise, confusion, and dirt seemed to be everywhere.

Sam’s ranch, the Cinnabar, lay in the center of the Montezuma Valley, far below the mesa. Closer—at the base of the mountain—the Lazy H Ranch, property of the woman he’d once loved. Sam had put Olivia Hamilton behind him, but he was here tonight for her. He couldn’t leave the valley without making sure her property didn’t fall into Sloan Durrant’s clutches. He couldn’t leave Kurt Richards to fight the battle alone, even if Kurt had stolen Olivia from under Sam’s nose.

The gunfire stilled and Sam took a heartbeat to look for Kurt. He’d been at Sam’s side only a minute before and Sam could only hope that he’d found to safety somewhere.

He forced himself to breathe slowly and struggled to find the control that had served him so well all his life. He wasn’t about to waste ammunition until he could see someone or something moving.

Kurt must have decided the same thing because the sudden silence was almost eerie. Sam just hoped that didn’t mean Kurt was injured—or worse.

Painfully aware of the sound of his own heartbeat, Sam cursed the wind for masking the noises their attackers must surely be making. He swallowed, felt grit between his teeth, and wondered how long he and Kurt could hold off their assailants.

Without warning, a shadow broke free from the trees and started running toward the edge of the cliff. Sam kept his rifle trained on the moving shape, squinting to see if it was friend or foe.

It ran. Stopped. Ducked. Spun around and waved both arms as if trying to get Sam’s attention. A shot rang out, barely audible over the wailing wind. A volley of shots joined it, and the shadowy figure began to run again. It had to be Kurt, but what was he doing?

Whenever Sam began to doubt Kurt’s story about coming from the future, the damn fool did something to wipe away Sam’s suspicions. Dancing about like that in the middle of a gunfight was about the stupidest thing Sam had ever seen. Kurt was going to get himself killed.

A sound to Sam’s left pulled him around just in time to see one of Sloan’s men creeping out of the bushes. The man’s rifle was trained on Kurt. Sam took aim and fired. The man dropped, but his buddies answered with half a dozen shots in Sam’s direction.

Sam crawled on his elbows through the trees to take up a new position. He struggled to keep Kurt in his sights through the swirling dust. Why didn’t he turn around and come back? Was he running away?

No, Kurt wasn’t the type to turn tail. Nor did he look like a man on the run. If he wasn’t running from something, what was he running to? There could be only one answer. . .

Olivia.

Sam scanned the landscape for several agonizing moments before he saw her standing on the edge of the cliff, bathed in moonlight like an invitation for their attackers. He sucked in a breath and everything inside him grew cold.

What in the hell was she doing here? Where were the men Sam had left behind to watch her?

Sam spat out an oath along with a mouthful of grit. Kurt had seen her first, thank God. He had only a few feet to go. But what Sam saw next made his blood freeze.

Directly in front of Kurt, the wind picked up speed. The dust created a thick, dark cloud. Sam knew Kurt couldn’t see the strange hole that yawned in front of him. If Sam himself hadn’t known better, he’d have sworn something had happened to his eyes. The hole looked for all the world like a wrinkle in the landscape, shifting shape, waiting for Kurt to draw closer. Another few yards and he’d be there.

With a certainty he couldn’t have explained, Sam knew it was the doorway through time that had brought Kurt here. And with an equal certainty, he knew it would take Kurt back again if he got too close. Away from Cortez. Away from the Lazy H. Away from Olivia.

Much as Sam hated losing, even he knew Kurt and Olivia belonged together. She’d already lost a husband. Sam couldn’t bear the thought of her heart breaking over a second loss.

Sam had already made up his mind to leave Cortez. Olivia had Kurt. Jesse, Sam’s kid brother, had a lovely bride-to-be, and once Sam left, he’d have the Cinnabar, as well.

Sam had nothing but dreams of a fresh start and a vague idea of traveling to Montana to find it. There was nothing to keep Sam here.

Swearing under his breath, he darted out of his hiding place and ran, absolutely certain that he’d be shot before he reached his target. He let out a bellow for courage and plowed into the storm. His shout must have carried through the din because Kurt stopped, crouched, and wheeled back toward him.

Sam kept roaring to bolster his courage, but he hoped it would distract Kurt long enough to let him accomplish his mission. If not, it would make him a damn pretty target.

The wind picked up speed, swirling, blinding him, sucking him closer and closer to the yawning hole. He caught a glimpse of Olivia and experienced one brief pang of regret. Somehow, over the noise, he heard his name. It seemed more a whisper than a shout, but he didn’t let it stop him.

Gunshots echoed all around him, but miraculously, none of the bullets found their mark in his sorry hide. Still roaring, he passed Kurt and purposely headed into the crease in time. A second later, the hole seemed to grab him and he knew he couldn’t turn back.

The force of the wind sucked his breath away. A strange roaring echoed in his ears. Dust and lights nearly blinded him. One second his chest felt as if it might explode, the next as if a terrible weight might crush it.

And then, suddenly, everything grew almost supernaturally quiet, the lights in front of his eyes disappeared, and Sam’s entire body went limp. The only thing he was aware of was the helpless feeling of falling into utter blackness.

Chapter One 

Sam awoke with a start to the strangest sound he’d ever heard. A roar, almost like the sound of a locomotive, followed by a whoosh and a gust of hot air blowing across his face. He sat up quickly, but the pain in his head forced him back to the ground with an oomph.

Pain in every inch of his body made him long to sink back into unconsciousness. When oblivion didn’t come, he inched one eye open and tried to focus. Colors swam in front of him. Dirt and rocks spun around him. The tangy scent of weeds, sage, and pine tickled his nose.

Where was he? The last thing he remembered. . .

His eye opened a bit wider. No, that had to be a dream. He must have fallen asleep in one of the pastures. If he opened his eye a little further, he’d find himself in his wide bed at the Cinnabar.

The sound of another approaching locomotive forced him to acknowledge that he wasn’t dreaming. He dragged to his knees and focused on a strange ribbon of black with two yellow lines in the center. It stretched away in both directions as far as he could see and disappeared over the low rise of a nearby hill.

Definitely a road, he decided. Couldn’t be anything else.

Sam crawled closer and touched it. Rock. Sleek. Gray. Altogether, the strangest thing he’d ever seen.

His head pounded, his arms and legs ached, but the sound grew closer. He sat heavily and rubbed his temples, but the effort was almost too much. All at once, a. . . a. . . what was that? . . shot past too quickly for him to get a good look at it. It hadn’t been much bigger than a buggy, but saints alive, could it move!

He sank bank onto his heels and rubbed his face, and images from last night’s ambush flashed in front of his eyes. He’d jumped into that hole, only half-believing that he’d actually make it to the future. Now he thought maybe he’d actually done it.

Well didn’t that beat all? Never let anyone say Sam Evans didn’t do things up in a big way.

Slowly, the pain in his head began to subside. He looked around slowly at jagged snow-covered mountains cutting into the sky and forming a bowl around the valley. Black-green trees scrabbled up the mountainsides and crept into the valley at their feet. In the valley’s center, a series of rolling hills covered in tall grass and willows stretched away in either direction.

Where was he? This sure didn’t look like the Montezuma Valley.

He searched until he found his rifle in the dirt, half-hidden beneath a bush. Forcing himself to concentrate, he dusted the rifle off and made sure it would still work. He only had a few rounds of ammunition left and only the good Lord knew whether he’d find game in these hills or how long he’d have to wander before he found civilization.

Struggling to his feet, he rested the rifle on his shoulder, chose a direction, and set off. Unless things had changed in the past hundred years or so, roads led to towns, and towns meant food and shelter.

He could hear another of those strange locomotive-wagons approaching, so he stepped off the road and waited. It only took a second for him to catch his first glimpse of reflected sunlight. It disappeared behind a hill and emerged again a second later. Another dip, another hill and the doggone thing was on a level with him.

It streaked toward him and he steeled himself, expecting the sound and the rush of hot air that would nearly knock him off-balance. But this wagon didn’t rush past. It slowed, passed in a blur of white, and came to a stop just a few feet from him.

It was the strangest thing Sam had ever seen—low and sleek and topped by a collection of red, blue and white bubbles. As he watched, mesmerized, the bubbles began to turn, throwing beams of colored light across the landscape. A moment later, a door opened on the wagon and a man wearing a shirt and trousers the color of tanned deer hide stepped out onto the road.

The fella wore a holster on his hip that held not only a revolver but a whole slew of other contraptions Sam didn’t recognize. He was little more than a boy with a smooth face and a youth’s air of self-importance, but he looked Sam up and down slowly as he walked toward him. “Good morning, sir. Are you lost?”

More lost that you can imagine, son.

“Not exactly.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Town.”

The kid took a quick look around. “Where’s your car? Did you break down somewhere?”

“Car?”

“What are you driving?”

Car. Sam told himself to remember that and said, “I’m on foot.”

“Hitchhiking?” The boy gave him another appraising glance. “Would you mind letting me see your firearm for a minute?”

There were two things a fella never messed with—a man’s horse and his gun. Sam tightened his grip on the rifle. “Is there some reason why I should?”

The little guy held out an impatient hand. “The rifle, please.”

Sam started to refuse, then caught the glint of sunlight off a metal badge on the kid’s chest. “You a lawman?”

The boy squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. “That’s right. Sheriff’s Deputy Donald Dumont.”

Sam still wasn’t thrilled to hand over his rifle, but he couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse and he didn’t want to start off his new life in trouble with the law.

The deputy spent a minute looking the rifle over, then glanced back at Sam. “What is this, an antique?”

“I suppose it might be.”

“Is it loaded?”

“You bet it is,” Sam assured him. “What kind of fool would wander through the wilderness with an unloaded rifle?”

The boy tucked Sam’s rifle under his arm as if he planned to keep it. “You want to tell me what your plans are when you get to town?”

“Don’t have any plans. Just looking for a place to stay.”

“Looking for a place to stay with a loaded rifle?” The deputy narrowed his eyes and motioned Sam toward his wagon. “I’m going to have to ask you to step over to the car, sir. Put your hands on the trunk and spread your legs.”

Sam had never taken kindly to being pushed around, and he never did anything without a good reason. He squared up himself, which put him a full head above the deputy. “You mind telling me why I should do that?”

Unbelievably, the little pip-squeak drew his revolver and leveled it at Sam. ““Because I told you to. Now, move.”

That revolver made a difference in Sam’s thinking. Having decided that the ‘car’ was the wagon with the lights on top, he started toward it and looked around for a steamer trunk so he could calm the little guy. “Put my hands where?”

The deputy gave Sam a shove toward the car’s tail-end, kicked his foot gently to spread Sam’s feet apart, and started patting Sam’s leg. Now, that might not have been too bad, but he made a big mistake when he started moving his hands up Sam’s leg.

Jerking upright, Sam spun around and put an arm in the deputy’s throat. He gave him a shove backward and the deputy sprawled in the dirt, losing his grip on his revolver. Sam kicked it out of the way and stood over him. “Oh, no you don’t, little fella. You just keep them hands to yourself.”

Before Sam could catch his breath, the deputy’s foot shot straight up and caught him in the very area he’d been trying to protect. Searing pain sliced through him. Tears filled his eyes. He fell, unable to breathe or see or think, and a cloud of choking dust billowed up around him.

In a flash, the deputy scrambled after his gun and aimed it straight at Sam’s head. “Get up.”

Sam couldn’t even speak, much less move.

“I said, get up. Assaulting an officer is going to earn you a nice, long stay in jail.”

“Assaulting an officer?” Sam croaked. “Seems to me, you’re the one who was trying to get fresh.”

“Don’t get smart.” The little guy’s hand was trembling so badly, the revolver bounced around in front of Sam’s face.

Damn and blast, the little fool would probably shake the gun into firing. Sam took a deep breath and struggled to his feet. He put up both hands to show he wasn’t going to fight.

But that wasn’t enough for the little guy. “On your head,” he ordered. “Put your hands on your head and keep ‘em there.”

Sam did his best, but the pain kept him hunched over and protective instinct made him want to keep certain areas covered.

Red-faced with fury, the deputy shoved him toward the car. “You, mister, are about to become a guest of Heartbreak Hill, Montana.”

Sam stumbled, caught himself, and drew a little straighter. “Did you say Montana?”

“That’s right.”

“I made it?”

“If this is where you were aiming for, I suppose you did.”

A slow smile spread across Sam’s face. He took another look at the mountains, wondering if there were silver mines in this neck of the woods or if they’d played long ago. He’d find out soon enough, he supposed. Meanwhile, he had the chance he’d been wanting. A chance to test himself in a place where nobody knew who he was. A chance to prove himself—if only to himself.

And, as Kurt had told him when their situations were reversed, there were worse things than a few days of free room and board. Especially when a man was out of touch, so to speak, with his surroundings.

As for landing in a town called Heartbreak Hill. . . Well, if that didn’t sound like the perfect place for Sam, he didn’t know what did.

His smile spread to a grin and he sketched a bow at the deputy. “Well, now, I’d be pleased to come with you, son. Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”

“I’m telling you, Taylor, you oughta let me handle your campaign. I’ve got a million ideas, every one of ’em good.”

Taylor O’Brien looked up from the filing cabinet she’d been rifling through and smiled at her father. He sat easily in the huge rolling chair he favored when he visited her office and ran a hand across his shock of once-red hair. “I’m sure you do, Pop. But I know how busy you are. I think Ruby and I can handle it.”

Charlie O’Brien snorted a laugh. “Busy? With what? I haven’t had a blasted thing to do since they made me retire. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than help my little girl be re-elected County Sheriff.”

Taylor found the file she wanted and nudged the drawer shut with one hip. “Ruby has some really good ideas, Pop.”

“Better than mine? I doubt that.”

Taylor believed that her father had a million ideas, but there was a huge gap between her definition of a good idea and his. In the two years since he’d retired, he’d been in nearly as many troublesome scrapes as her ten-year-old son, Cody. In the past couple of weeks she’d had to pick him up from a poker game after he’d lost every cent in his pocket, extricate him from an argument with a neighbor over borrowed tools, and smooth ruffled feathers at the Moosehead Lodge when he’d refused to pay for an overcooked steak.

She sat behind her desk and flipped open the file. “I appreciate the offer, Pop, but you could help most by just staying out of trouble.”

Charlie snorted again. “I don’t go looking for trouble. You know that. It just finds me.”

“So you’ve said. But that brings up another thing. I’d like you to stop saying that in front of Cody. He’s starting to get ideas.”

“Well, then? You see? That’s all the more reason you should let me be in charge of your campaign. It’ll keep me busy and I won’t have so much time to spend with Cody while you’re working.” \

“It’s tempting,” she said. It wasn’t exactly true, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He’d also become more sensitive since he retired.

“It’s smart.” Charlie relaxed in his chair and grinned at her. The smile stretched across his broad face and made his blue eyes twinkle. “Who’s prouder of you than your old dad is?”

She pushed the file to one side and gave him her full attention. “Nobody.” That was true.

“And who wants you re-elected more than I do?”

“Nobody.” Taylor studied his eager face and felt herself caving. She’d always hated disappointing her father. “What do you have in mind?”

Charlie popped upright. “For one thing, I think we need to gussy you up some. Get you looking like a female again.”

Taylor shook her head wearily. “I should’ve known you’d throw that old argument at me, but it won’t work. I’ll win the election—if I win—on my abilities and the issues, not on the way I look.”

“Looks can’t hurt.”

“Looks aren’t important to the job.”

“But they’re important to folks, and folks is who’s going to be voting.” Charlie leaned forward and wagged one finger at her. “I’m not the only one who remembers the way you used to dress, and I’m not the only one who thinks you should start caring about yourself again.”

Taylor closed the file with a snap. “How I look isn’t anyone else’s business. It’s been ten years since I ‘gussied up.’ This is who I am.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.” She stood abruptly and locked eyes with him. “Have you been asking people what they think of the way I look?”

“Asking? No. I haven’t been asking.” Charlie shrugged casually. “But if someone wants to express their opinion, I’m not rude enough to shut ‘em up.”

“And you expect me to believe they’re just stopping you on the street to tell you what they think of my hair or makeup?”

“What makeup?”

Taylor let out a frustrated sigh. “Look, Pop, no matter what you think, I happen to like the way I look.” Okay, so that wasn’t entirely true either, but the things she didn’t like would have taken money and surgery to fix. Taylor just wasn’t that vain.

“I didn’t say you aren’t pretty. You’re damn pretty, just like your mother was. Just. . . maybe you don’t do all you could to accentuate your features.”

In spite of herself, Taylor laughed. “Where on earth did you hear that?”

“The Sally Show. I like to watch it when they do what they call make-overs.”

Taylor blinked a couple of times, trying to adjust to the mental image of her father, who’d held the county title of arm-wrestling champ for nearly fifteen years, who’d come home bruised from a night out with the boys more than once, who’d ridden rodeo and roped bulls and gentled wild horses, watching make-overs on daytime television. Maybe she did need to find something for him to do.

But did it have to be on her campaign?

Ruby Phillips had been Taylor’s best friend since before either of them could remember. She’d known Charlie nearly as long as Taylor had, and though her loyalty ran deep, she wouldn’t be thrilled by the thought of having him underfoot. She’d already suffered more than her share of embarrassment at Charlie’s hands.

Not that he meant to embarrass anyone. It’s just that Charlie was. . . well, Charlie. God love him, but he was one of a kind.

On the other hand, he did know how other people his age felt. And Heartbreak Hill’s senior population was large enough to make his input valuable. Taylor’s opponent, Hutton Stone, had a leg up with folks over fifty, just by being one of them. Involving Pop in the campaign might just help her win.

Surely, Ruby would understand.

Taylor reached for the can of Diet Pepsi she’d opened a few minutes earlier and took a long drink. “All right, Pop. I’ll talk to Ruby and see if there isn’t something you can help with. But Ruby’s still in charge.”

Charlie shot to his feet, grinning as if he’d just been handed a winning lottery ticket. “Hot dog! You won’t be sorry, Sweet Pea. I can promise you that.” He picked up the worn John Deere cap he’d left on the edge of her desk and settled it over his graying hair. “I’d better get myself home and start thinking of a few ideas.”

Taylor eyed him over the rim of the can. “I thought you said you already had ideas. A million of ‘em.”

Charlie smiled, not at all embarrassed at having been caught. “Well, I did have the one.”

“You’d better make the others better than that one, or I’ll change my mind.” Taylor flipped open the file on her desk again, glanced at her watch, and argued with herself for a moment before asking, “Would you mind looking in on Cody after school? I don’t want him conning Anna into believing he doesn’t have to do his chores—again.”

Charlie nodded as he pulled open the door. “That little girl is no match for him, you know. You ought to let him stay with me.”

“Anna’s not a little girl. She’s eighteen.”

“She’s still no match for that boy. He’s an O’Brien. Besides, I’m right next door. Cody could run over in the mornings when you leave, and stop by after school. You wouldn’t have to be late when Anna doesn’t get there on time.”

“Tempting. . . but, no. You and Cody together all day?” Taylor shuddered. “I love you, Pop, but the way trouble finds the two of you when you’re separate, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

Charlie scowled. “We’re not that bad.”

“I’m glad neither of you gets into real trouble, but you’re both. . . exuberant. Besides, you’ve already raised your family. I promised myself when I took this job that I wouldn’t impose on you.”

“Taking care of Cody isn’t an imposition. He’s my grandson.”

“Yes, and I love that you feel that way. I just want to make sure you keep feeling that way. Asking you to babysit while I work would be the quickest way I know of to ruin it.” She left her desk and crossed the room to stand beside him. Sliding one arm around his shoulders, she stood on tiptoe and brushed a kiss to his whiskered cheek. “I think we should save the days you and Cody spend together for special occasions.”

Charlie’s scowl deepened, but the glimmer in his eyes softened his expression. “All right. If you say so. Can’t say I agree with you, but I won’t argue.” The sound of an approaching car drew his attention to the window, and the glimmer changed to the familiar glitter of curiosity. “Speaking of trouble,” he said under his breath, “here comes that useless deputy of yours.”

“Donald isn’t useless.” Taylor craned to see over his shoulder. “He’s just young. Honestly, Pop, how’s he supposed to get any experience if nobody ever lets him do anything?” She broke off when she realized that the patrol car was creeping toward the office at a snail’s pace and caught the I-told-you-so look on Charlie’s face. “What is he doing?”

“Beats me. He’s your deputy.” Charlie leaned a little closer to the window. “Looks like he’s bringing someone in with him.”

Taylor groaned silently. Heartbreak Hill didn’t have any real crime. Nothing that called for an arrest, anyway. But every once in a while Donald arrested someone just to make himself feel important. With the campaign heading into the final months, the last thing she needed was trouble.

Sighing, she stepped out onto the old-fashioned boardwalk behind her father and waited while Donald parked the patrol car. A stranger sat in the back seat, craning to see out the windows. She couldn’t see much, just a dusty black cowboy hat and a drooping moustache that bracketed the man’s mouth, but it was enough to tell her that Donald had arrested someone she didn’t know.

Trust Donald to end the summer with a bang.

She strode toward the car while Donald climbed out and resituated his hat. “What’s going on?”

Donald jerked his head toward the back seat. “I found this guy wandering along the edge of the highway out near Solomon’s Bend.”

“So you arrested him? On what charge?”

Charlie couldn’t seem to resist the urge to put in his two cents worth. “Loitering, probably. Or dressing funny. Or maybe he’s got too big a moustache. Is there a law about that?”

“Very funny, Pop.” Taylor waved him away from the car. “What’s the charge, Donald?”

Her deputy unlocked the back door and assisted his prisoner onto the street. The man straightened until he stood well over six feet tall—a good foot taller than Donald—and glanced around with undisguised interest. He looked as if he were already in costume for the old west shoot-out the town staged in the square during the summer months. But with less than two weeks until Labor Day, why would the city hire someone new?

Donald slammed the door and took his prisoner by the elbow. “How does carrying an unlicenced weapon grab you? A loaded weapon? Or resisting arrest?” He looked straight at Charlie, challenging him. “Or assaulting an officer?”

Taylor darted another glance at the prisoner. Taking those arms, legs, and chest into consideration, the man looked twice Donald’s size. If he’d tried to hurt Donald, her deputy wouldn’t be here now. And the man didn’t look even slightly concerned, nervous, angry, or sorry. In fact, she couldn’t tell if he was even paying attention.

He scanned the street, studied store fronts with interest, watched people walking, jumped when a car passed, and turned a quizzical expression toward a ringing telephone. His eyes sparkled and his lips twitched. For all his size, he looked like a small boy in a toy store.

Donald jerked his head toward the back of the car. “Get his weapon from the trunk, okay? I’m putting him in a cell before he loses his head again.”

The request snapped Taylor out of her momentary stupor. “Is something wrong with the car? You drove up so slowly—”

“The car’s fine. It’s just that anytime I went faster than five miles an hour, Wyatt Earp here went crazy, acting like I was trying to kill him or something. It took me more than forty-five minutes to drive ten miles.”

Taylor bit back a smile and opened the trunk. “Well, then, why don’t you let me book him? You look like you could use a break.”

Charlie came up behind her and nudged the trunk open. His gaze shot to her face, then flashed back to the trunk. “Do you know what that is?”

“Not exactly.” Taylor lifted the rifle gingerly and checked for the safety. “It looks old. Is it an antique?”

“I’ll say. It’s probably well over a hundred years old.” Charlie hopped back onto the boardwalk with more agility than he’d shown since he retired. “Where did you find that?”

The cowboy blinked several times and focused on Charlie’s face. “The rifle? I bought it in Cortez.”

Great voice, Taylor thought before she could stop herself. Deep, clear, and bass. Perfect for an actor. He must be here for the shoot-out.

Charlie pushed back his cap so he could see better. “Interested in selling?”

“No.”

“Then how about the name of the dealer you went through? I know a couple of people who’d give their eye teeth for something that nice.”

And Charlie would probably like to collect a hefty finder’s fee. Taylor stepped in front of him. “Not now, Pop. We have work to do.”

“Exactly,” Donald gave a put-upon sniff and tried to tug his prisoner toward the office. “I’m telling you, we need to get him booked before he goes crazy again.”

“Take a break,” she said again. “I’ll handle it from here. You can file your report later.”

Donald quirked an eyebrow at her. “You sure you can handle him? He’s strong as an ox.”

“If I can’t, I have no business being sheriff.”

The cowboy looked startled, then turned to Donald with a deep scowl. “I’ve never hit a lady in my life, you little pipsqueak. The only reason I belted you is because you tried—” Two crimson splotches flared in his cheeks and he flicked a glance at Taylor. “Well, you know what you tried. No need to spell it out in front of the lady.”

Donald’s mouth opened and shut a couple of times and he looked as if he either wanted to disappear or hit something. “I didn’t try anything. I was frisking you. It’s standard police procedure.”

Obviously, Donald and the stranger had gotten off on the wrong foot, and if the look on Donald’s face was anything to go by, things were about to get worse. “Take a break,” Taylor said for the third time. “That’s an order. Don’t come back for at least an hour.”

Donald’s mouth flapped for a few seconds, but in the end he let go of the prisoner and stormed off down the boardwalk, muttering under his breath.

“You too, Pop. The show’s over. There’s no need for you to stick around.”

“I don’t mind staying. You might need me.”

“I’ll be fine. This is my job. And you promised to look in on Cody for me, remember?” Without giving Charlie a chance to argue, she led the cowboy into her office, shut the door, and settled her prisoner in one of the chairs in front of her desk.

He didn’t put up any resistance, even when she released one wrist from the handcuffs and clipped the free end to the arm of the chair. While she checked the other wrist to make sure the cuff hadn’t cut off his circulation, he studied her office as if he’d never been inside one before.

“Well, I’ll be,” he mumbled as he looked from one thing to another. “I’ll be.” When the fax machine rang, he jumped halfway out of his chair and pulled back as if he’d just seen a rattlesnake. “What’s that?”

For a big guy, he wasn’t so tough. “It’s a fax machine,” Taylor said. “Haven’t you ever seen one before?”

He shook his head and leaned a little closer as the wheels began to squeak. When paper started rolling out of the machine, he jerked backward again. “What’s it doing?”

“Printing a transmission.” Taylor found the form she needed and perched on the edge of her desk. “Let’s start at the beginning,” she prompted. “What’s your name?”

“Evans.”

“Is that your first name or your last?”

“Last.” He turned his warm gray eyes directly on her and smiled for the first time. “The whole thing is Samuel J. Evans, but you can call me Sam.”

“All right. . . Sam.” The name fit him somehow, like a comfortable old pair of jeans. “Where are you from?”

“Most recently, Colorado.”

“You mentioned Cortez outside. Is that where you live?”

“Near there.” He made himself more comfortable—or as comfortable as he could be handcuffed to the chair.

“Do you have an address?”

He ran his free hand over his chin. “I guess that would be the Cinnabar Ranch—at least it used to be.”

“Used to be?” Taylor perched on the corner of her desk. “How long ago did you leave?”

“That all depends.” He craned forward to glance at the newspaper on her desk. “That the right date?” At her brief nod, he tilted his head to calculate. “Last thing I remember, it was the end of August. . .” He half-stood to watch a car go by, but the handcuffs pulled in back into his seat. He shook his head in wonder and grinned at her. “Amazing.”

“What is?”

“This whole thing.” He waved his free hand vaguely. “Never would’ve imagined.”

“What did you mean when you said, ‘the last thing you remembered.’. .? Have you had a memory loss?”

“Not exactly. You asked how long ago I left. Well, it was the end of August when everything went blank.”

She checked his eyes for signs of drug use, but they looked clear and bright. She couldn’t smell alcohol on his breath, either. Maybe he suffered from some chemical imbalance. “Do you have blackouts often?”

“No. Just the one.” He cocked an ankle across his knee and tried to rest his arm on the chair but the handcuffs pulled his hand to his lap again.

“Are you on any sort of medication we should know about?”

He shook his head slowly. “I’m not sick, ma’am.”

“Okay. I’ll take your word for it.” She looked back at the report. “What’s your social security number?”

“My what number?”

“Social security.”

He shook his head as if she’d confused him. “I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a number assigned to you by the government. You know, to keep track of the taxes they deduct from your wages. Haven’t you ever had a job?”

“Just on the ranch. Never have worked for anybody else.”

“But surely you filed a federal tax return.”

“Not that I recall.”

Oh, great. A tax protestor. Taylor set her clipboard to one side. “Do you have any identification, Mr. Evans? Maybe a driver’s license or state ID card?”

“’Fraid not.”

Taylor held back a frustrated sigh. He wasn’t making this easy. “Maybe I should contact your family. Is there anyone in Cortez I could call for you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Friends?”

“Not anymore.”

“Is there anyone I can contact? The charges against you are fairly serious.”

He leaned forward and met her gaze steadily. “What charges? Carrying a gun? I didn’t shoot anybody. Putting that young whippersnapper in his place? He deserved it. ‘Sides, I didn’t hurt him—other than his pride.”

“But you did assault him—”

“What he did to me was a sight worse. Any judge in his right mind would agree.”

“What he did to you was well within his rights as an officer of the law.”

Sam looked deep into her eyes—deep enough to leave her flustered. “Now, how would you know that? You weren’t there.”

“Well, no. I wasn’t, but—”

“And I’ll wager that if he’d tried something like that on you, you’d be a might upset.”

“He’s an officer of the law,” she said again. “He had every reason to check for concealed weapons. If he’d taken you into custody without frisking you, it would have been with reckless disregard for his own safety—and mine. And yours too, for that matter.”

“If that’s all he wanted to know, he could have asked.”

Taylor stood and tried again to gain the upper hand. “You may very well be an honest, upstanding citizen who would have confessed to having a dozen knives hidden in your waistband and boots, but Deputy Dumont couldn’t take the chance. If he hadn’t taken adequate precautions when he arrested you, I would have fired him.”

“Poor fella.” Sam turned those gray eyes on her again and frowned so deeply the tips of his moustache almost touched beneath his chin. “Tell me, Sheriff, are you always this bristly?”

He looked so amused, so damn superior, Taylor’s fraying patience snapped. She fished the handcuff keys from her pocket and unlocked the one attached to the chair. “Okay, Mr. Evans. That’s enough of that. We’ll finish this later, when you’re ready to cooperate.”

“I am cooperating.”

“You’ve been completely uncooperative. But don’t think you’ve won. Patience and time are two commodities I have in abundance.” She led him through the door to the temporary holding cells and locked him inside one. “I’ll contact the court to find out when your arraignment will be. Meanwhile, I suggest you spend some time trying to remember something about yourself. And while you’re at it, try to drum up some friends and family. I have a feeling you’re going to need them.”.

(copyrighted material)

Don’t miss Kurt and Olivia’s story — Whispers Through Time 


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