The sun was low in the sky, promising twilight would soon follow. As Clementine Cassidy rode wearily into the small frontier town, she was surprised to see so few people in the street. Of those who were out, some scowled at her while others grinned. Wearing men’s trousers and riding bareback with just a rope around her horse’s neck never failed to evoke either scorn or admiration. But she was used to the attention, and she had far more important things on her mind. She and Magic, her dark bay mare, needed food, water, and rest. Coming to a stop at the general store, she slid off and walked up to the door.
“Hey, you, little girl.”
She was almost twenty-one, but with her long braids and diminutive size, it wasn’t the first time she’d heard the misnomer.
The male voice was gruff. “You can’t leave a horse loose on the street like that.”
As she turned around, her heart stopped. A brute with red hair falling around his shoulders strode toward her. He looked just like the man chasing her, but there was no way he could have reached the little town ahead of her. Then she spotted the sheriff’s badge glinting on his vest.
“You hear me, girl?” he bellowed, drawing closer.
“Magic won’t go anywhere, Sheriff,” Clementine replied, still trying to gather her wits.
“Find a rope and tie her up or I’ll do it myself—and whip your ass when I’m done,” he hollered, towering over her.
Though she wanted to kick him between the legs, leap on her mare, and gallop off, she didn’t have that option. She and her beloved mount were exhausted.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said sweetly, studying the unpleasant man’s ice blue eyes.
She sensed he enjoyed being a bully, and his bloated stomach told her he was a drinker. It was another thing he had in common with the beast chasing her.
“Whatta ya doin’ ridin’ like an Indian, and you should be in a dress. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’ll only be here overnight,” she replied, evading his questions. “I was just popping into the store to ask if there’s a livery for my horse, and a boarding house for me.”
“The livery is down a ways and across the street,” he said with a scowl. “Ask the fella there about a place to stay. His aunt owns a house for folks passin’ through. And don’t let me see your horse loose like this again, ya hear?”
“She won’t be, Sheriff. Thank you.”
As he grunted and marched away, a chill rippled through her body. Men like him were not to be messed with—unless she had the element of surprise.
A sassy grin curled her lips.
There were all sorts of ways to make that happen.
“You’d better do as he says. You don’t want any trouble with him.”
Turning around, she found an older man with a kind face, but wearing a worried frown.
“I’m sure that’s true,” she muttered with a sigh.
“I’m Sam, and this is my store,” he continued, stepping toward her. “I’m happy to bring out whatever you need. He’ll be watchin’, and if you leave your horse unattended he’ll be back in a flash.”
“That’s very kind of you,” she said gratefully. “I’m Clementine Cassidy, and this is Magic.”
“Well, I’ll be…” he murmured, breaking into a smile and staring at her. “I should’ve known. I’ve heard all about you.”
“Most folks who come in my store are usually travelin’ and we get talkin’. You’re the gunslinger’s daughter. You shoot better than most fellas, and you ride that horse with just a rope. Your father, he’s a legend.”
“My dad was the best,” she replied, feeling the familiar pang in her heart.
“I heard tell you’re also related to the famous outlaw.”
“I suppose you’re talking about Butch, and no, at least I don’t think so. But there are so many Cassidys in my neck of the woods it’s likely Butch and I share the same blood.”
“Dang. I’ve never met anyone famous before.”
“I’m not famous.”
“You certainly are, and I’m real honored to make your acquaintance. But the sheriff… you need to stay out of his way,” Sam warned solemnly. “It’s just as well he didn’t cotton on to who you are. He would’ve felt a need to prove himself.”
“I have a feeling he doesn’t cotton on to much,” she quipped with a grin.
“He’s big and he’s mean, but you’re right about that.”
“With any luck I won’t see him again. Magic and I need food and rest, then we’ll be on our way come morning.”
“The livery’s just down the street. Come back before you leave and I’ll stock you up. Except I don’t see your mare carryin’ any saddlebags. You don’t even have a sleepin’ roll.”
“I’m on a quick trip,” she said hastily, nimbly bouncing off the ground and swinging her leg over her horse’s back. “I’ll see you before I leave.”
Continuing down the street and finding the stable, she slid off and walking inside, relieved to be out of the baking sun, she let out a heavy sigh. Following like a puppy, Magic stopped behind her and snorted.
“I know,” Clementine said softly. “We can finally relax for a bit.”
“Hey there,” a man called, emerging from the shadows. “Can I help you? Clementine? Is that you?”
Though she vaguely recognized the voice, with her eyes still adjusting to the dim light she couldn’t make out his features.
“Clemmie, it’s me, Ted—Ted Lambert.”
She caught her breath, then grimaced. The pudgy, irritating boy she’d known as a child was the last person in the world she wanted to see.
“Just my luck,” she groaned under her breath as he stepped from the shadows, but as he neared she barely recognized him. The muscled, wide-shouldered, handsome man standing in front of her bore little resemblance to the lad who had been her self-appointed, unwanted, interfering bodyguard.
“Damn, it’s so good to see you!” he exclaimed.
“I can’t believe it,” she declared, trying to come to grips with both his appearance and his presence. “What are you doing in this tiny town?”
“I could ask you the same question,” he replied, grinning down at her. “How’s that wild uncle of yours? Has he been caught yet?”
“He’s not my uncle, at least I don’t think he is,” she replied, knowing she had to be civil if she wanted his help. “But as far as I know he’s still on the loose. Guys like Butch are slick.”
“What about your dad?”
“Uh, he passed a few months back,” she said solemnly, dropping her gaze. “But not by a bullet. He came down with a terrible fever.”
“Clemmie, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, it was hard… still is sometimes.”
“So, uh, what are you doin’ in these parts?”
“I’m here for him,” she managed as a couple of spontaneous tears slipped from her eyes. “He made me promise to visit the ocean. We were supposed to go together. He said you can actually watch the sun sink into the water.”
“You are one brave soul,” Ted remarked with a sigh. “You always were, and I also remember you bitin’ off more than you could chew.”
“That’s just your opinion,” she said pointedly. “But my mare needs food and water. Can I take her someplace? Do you have room?”
“Bring her through here. What’s her name?”
“Magic. Do you have a covered corral? We’ve been in the sun too long.”
“I sure do,” he replied, leading her through the stable. “I’ve often wondered what happened to you. I always thought havin’ a famous gunslinger for a father would be a blessin’—and a curse.”
“I guess,” she muttered. Trying to avoid any further conversation, she followed him in silence into a large corral partially covered with a makeshift roof.
“That’s Max,” he declared, pointing at an elderly, furry horse. “I made this pen for him a while back. The roof’s wood, not tin, so it doesn’t get hot in the summer, and keeps the corral a bit warmer in winter. He’s an easy-goin’ fella. Your mare won’t have any problems. There’s plenty of hay in here, and I just cleaned and filled the trough.”
“Thanks,” she said, slipping the rope over her mare’s head. “Go on, Magic.” The horse gave her a nudge, then walked forward and dove her nose into the water. “How much do you charge? I’ll only be here overnight.”
“Charge? Damn, girl, I’m not chargin’ you.”
“I pay my way, Teddy,” she retorted. “I didn’t need you taking care of me when we were kids, and I don’t need you taking care of me now.”
“Hey, settle down,” he said brusquely, his smile turning into a frown. “I know you’re worn out but there’s no need to be rude.”
“I’m not being rude.”
“Yeah, you are, but I know you’re tired, so—”
“Hey, Ted!” a voice called from the stable, interrupting him. “Get out here, now.”
“Dammit. That’s a guy who should be payin’ but doesn’t, unlike you who shouldn’t pay but wants to,” Ted grunted. “Stay here while I deal with him. I mean it, Clemmie—I don’t want him seein’ you.”
Clementine rolled her eyes. When he’d ordered her around growing up she’d ignored him—except for the time he’d hit her with the stick.
The moment, all those years ago, unexpectedly flashed through her mind.
He’d told her to steer clear of the waterhole. Some older boys he didn’t know were there and could be trouble, but she’d just laughed and started down the path. He’d picked up a long, thin twig and swished it against her backside. It had hurt like crazy and stopped her in her tracks. When he’d threatened to whip her again if she didn’t listen, she’d run all the way home.
But they weren’t kids anymore.
She wasn’t about to let him boss her around, and she was curious.
Waiting until he was out of sight, she crept back into the stable, using the many barrels and a wagon for cover. Ted’s back was to her, but as the gruff visitor came into sight she was astonished to see he looked very much like the menacing sheriff—redheaded and overweight. If he hadn’t been sporting a long, scraggly beard they could have been twins.
“If you don’t bring me my fuckin’ horse you’re a dead man,” he snarled, abruptly pulling an ominous, gleaming knife from inside his vest. “I’ll leave you to bleed out in the dirt.”
From what she could see, Ted wasn’t carrying a weapon. As much as she’d disliked him growing up, she couldn’t just stand by and let the foul-mouthed bastard stab him. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her gun from its holster, stepped out, and moved quickly forward.
“Put that away, mister.”
“Clemmie, get back!” Ted shouted. “Stay out of this!”
“Do as I said, mister,” she insisted, ignoring Ted’s frantic request. “Put the knife away, pay him what you owe, then take your horse and leave.”
“Hah, a little girl with a toy pistol. I’m so scared,” the man sneered. “After I slice up your friend here, I’ll enjoy cuttin’ off your braids. Or maybe I’ll use ‘em like reins while I have me some fun.”
“Clemmie, go back to—”
“Mister, I’ll tell you one more time,” Clementine continued, interrupting Ted’s urgent plea. “Pay up and get out of here.”
Throwing back his head, the man laughed out loud, then suddenly scowled and took a step toward her.
“Put that gun down, girlie, or you’ll be real sorry.”
“You’ll be the sorry one!” Clementine snapped. “You’ve got three seconds. One—”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, little girl. You just made a big fuckin’ mistake.”
“Two—and I’m not a little girl.”
The man suddenly lunged toward her, but with lightning speed she took aim and pulled the trigger, shooting the knife from his hand.
“Are you outta your fuckin’ mind?” he bellowed, leaping backward and almost toppling over.
“Maybe I should put a bullet in your hand, though I might shoot your foot instead,” she declared, firing into the ground and missing his toe by an inch.
“You’re plumb loco!” he shouted, stumbling sideways.
“Maybe I am, but like I keep saying, you need to pay what you owe or leave.”
“You crazy cow. You’ll be sorry, you and your dumbass boyfriend,” the man snarled furiously, then abruptly turned and marched away.
“Dammit, Clemmie, you shouldn’t have done that!” Ted exclaimed angrily, spinning around to face her. “That was the sheriff’s brother and he also happens to be his deputy. They run this town, and when I say they run this town, I mean they own it.”
“Own it?” she repeated. “How can they own a whole town?”
“They’re evil. If a man doesn’t do what they say, they take his wife, or beat up his kids. Everyone’s scared to death, and for good reason. We call it the curse of Kevin and Clyde. That man you just ran off was Kevin.”
“Why hasn’t anyone sent for help?”
“They control everything, includin’ the telegraph office, and the people here are too damn scared to take any risks.” He shook his head. “When I came here, I was warned about them, but I didn’t believe things could be that bad. I was wrong. He’ll come back with Clyde and burn the place down.”
“Not if he needs it.”
“Dammit, you’re right. They’ll probably kill Max or my other horse, Finnegan,” Ted mumbled, frowning, a deep furrow creasing his brow. “I’ll have to move them, but that won’t be easy. Finnegan’s a big gray from Ireland. He’s not exactly easy to hide.”
“How long has this been goin’ on?”
“It was set in stone when I arrived a few months back. Everyone told me to do whatever those two bastards said.”
She paused, staring at him. Ted was as bossy and irritating as he used to be, but she suddenly found herself wanting to help if she could.
“Is there any chance they’ll come back today?” she asked, an idea coming to mind.
“No, they like to let people stew. They’ll stay in the sheriff’s office, drink whiskey, and plot their revenge through the night.”
“Perfect,” she murmured, nodding her head.
“Now, Clemmie, you stay away from them,” he said sternly, taking a step toward her. “Do I need to whip your butt like I did that one time? I will, if you don’t listen to me. You can’t go near them, you hear?”
“You have no right to order me around,” she retorted. “You didn’t then, and—”
But before she could finish, he abruptly grabbed her wrist, jerked her forward, and began landing a volley of hard, stinging swats across her backside.
“Clementine Cassidy, you stay away from them!” he exclaimed, spanking as he shouted.
“Stop it!” she yelled angrily as he continued to blast his hard, rough palm against her backside. “You have no right to do this. Stop, stop. You’re horrible. Let me go.”
“I don’t care what you think of me, but I do care what happens to you. And that gives me the right,” he shot back, without pausing his slapping hand. “Clyde and Kevin are as bad as men can get.”
“Teddy, you don’t understand,” she protested. “I know how to—”
“Clementine, you’re the one who doesn’t understand.” He tightened his grip as he suddenly stopped and spun her around to face him. “You stay as far away from them as you possibly can. If you see one of them comin’ down the street toward you, go the other direction. Do I make myself clear?”
“Okay, okay. Let me go!”
“Where’s your stuff?” he demanded. “I’m takin’ you across the street to meet Ida. You’ll stay put until I sort this out. No arguments.”
“I don’t have anything,” she snapped, trying to jerk her arm away. “And I’ll go where I want.”
“Hey, I looked out for you when we were kids, and that won’t change no matter how old you are.”
“Do you wanna have a wash and get some grub and rest in a nice bed?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then behave yourself!” he barked. “Ida has found a way to deal with those two, and she doesn’t need you interferin’ or bringin’ trouble to her door. I’m warnin’ you, Clemmie. I’ll spank your bare butt if you don’t do as I say.”
Her backside was burning with a prickling heat, and as he scowled down at her, she realized she couldn’t win the argument. “Okay, fine,” she mumbled with a resigned sigh. “If they show up when I’m there I won’t do or say anything. If I see them coming I’ll turn around and go the other way.”
“Good,” he growled. Releasing her arm and taking her hand, he marched her out the door.
While she had agreed to back off and avoid the two redheaded thugs on the street, there was no way she would let them continue their reign of terror. The problem was, she had very little time.
When the sun came up, she had to leave, and fast.
Ted’s Aunt Ida was an attractive, slim woman with bright blue eyes and a warm smile. Clementine had expected the woman to be older, though with her smooth, unblemished skin it was difficult to guess Ida’s true age. The boarding house was a proper home, not a hotel. After Ted left, Ida explained she’d opened her doors to weary travelers after the death of her husband.
“I was lonely with no one to look after, and the only other place to stay in this town is an unpleasant, rundown hotel. Mind you, it was quite an adjustment having strangers coming in all the time, but I’ve met some lovely people. Not all of them, mind… but most.”
“I’m sure,” Clementine said, finding the house much nicer than she’d expected. “Uh, by any chance do you have a bath here?”
“Of course, cleanliness is next to godliness,” Ida replied. “Come with me.”
Following the woman a short distance down a narrow hall, Clementine was ushered into a small, windowless room. In the center sat a compact tub, and against the wall, a table holding a basin and jug with a mirror hanging above it.
“I’ll show you to your bedroom, then I’ll start bringing in the water. You’re a little thing, so it won’t take me long.”
“Thank you,” Clementine said gratefully as they returned to the passageway. “I’m so covered in dust and grit I can’t stand it another minute.”
“Well, you can’t put those clothes back on,” she said, looking her up and down. “I’ll leave you something to wear while I get them washed. They’ll dry in no time in this hot weather. When they’re ready I’ll leave them outside your door.”
“That would be much appreciated,” Clementine said as Ida led her to the back of the house and opened a door.
“This is my quietest room. You rest a spell. I’ll fetch you when the tub’s ready.”
As Ida left, Clementine flopped down on the welcoming bed, pulled off her boots, and stretched out. Closing her eyes, she said a quick prayer of thanks for the safe haven, then turned her thoughts to the dastardly brothers.
She’d grown up surrounded by a plethora of siblings and cousins. Being small in stature and unable to physically defend herself, she’d learned to use her wits, though more often than not Ted had stepped in.
Thinking back to those days, she recalled him being a constant source of irritation, and she’d never felt she’d needed his help. Behind his back she’d called him ‘Teddy’ because he’d been plump, nothing like the strong, lean cowboy he’d become. But mentally shaking herself, she focused her thoughts on Clyde and Kevin, and a smile curled her lips. Her size had always been an advantage. People underestimated her. Thanks to Sam, the kindly owner of the general store, she knew stories of her had reached the small town, but they would be about her bullets, not her brains. He’d also suspected she was related to the famous outlaw. She’d often thought it was at least possible she was. That same rebellious spirit, love of adventure, and fearlessness certainly coursed through her veins.
Her eyes popped open, an idea suddenly springing to mind.
She knew exactly how to subdue and capture the tyrannical twosome.
It would be dangerous, but the best plans often were. And to help her pull it off, she’d have her best friend at her side.
A short barreled, single action army pistol.
The warm bath had been divine, and dressing in the clean clothes Ida had left—even though they were a size too big—had been a welcome relief. Now, sitting at the kitchen table and taking the last bite of a delicious meal, Clementine yawned and leaned back in her chair.
“Thank you, Ida. I feel so much better, though I think I could sleep for days.”
“You’re very welcome. I know I have clothes somewhere that would fit you, but I just can’t remember where I put them.”
“My belt is holding up the skirt just fine, and I won’t be going anywhere.”
“Do you want a piece of apple pie?” Ida asked, rising from the table and moving to the counter.
“I would love some, but I’m so tired I really need to lie down. Could I take it back to my room?”
“You poor girl, of course you can. Don’t worry, I won’t disturb you in the morning. You can sleep as late as you want.”
“Thank you ever so much,” Clementine said gratefully, watching Ida cut off a generous piece and place it in a dish.
“There, now you go and relax,” Ida said, handing it to her. “I’ll be turning in soon myself.”
Pushing back from the table and accepting the pie, Clementine headed down the hall to her room. Closing the door behind her and placing the dish on the small dresser against the wall next to the window, she untied the leather pouch knotted to her belt. Removing a photograph from the pouch, she tucked it away in one of the skirt’s deep pockets, then withdrew a small bottle containing a colorless liquid and drizzled a small amount on top of the pie.
Picking up her beloved Colt revolver, she shoved it down the front of the stiff bodice beneath the billowy blouse, making it virtually impossible to see. The barrel fit snugly between her breasts, and she’d have no problem retrieving it in haste if necessary. Hiding her pouch behind the dresser, she checked her appearance in the small mirror.
She had dunked her hair in the bath water, combed out the knots, then pulled it up at the sides into a single plait at the top of her head. The braid fell down her back with her long, flowing locks.
Satisfied, she turned her attention to the window.
It moved easily, and because of her size she only needed to slide it halfway up. Poking her head out, she found the sun had set and the light was fading fast. It would be dark when she returned, but there was a small lamp on the nightstand and a box of striking matches. Lighting the wick, she set it low, returned to the window, climbed through, then reached in and picked up the pie.
The air was warm with a soft breeze, and there was just enough light to see piles of garbage behind the buildings. As she walked cautiously around it, she discovered the many crates, the scraps of food thinned out the further she went, and she quickened her pace. The buildings were set close together, but she was sure she remembered seeing a wider opening between the sheriff’s office and the store next to it. Finally spotting light coming through a barred window above a narrow pathway, she knew she’d reached her destination. Creeping forward and stopping beneath it, she prayed Teddy had been right and the brothers would be inside.
A moment later she heard Clyde’s gruff, unmistakable voice. “Yep, we’ll bust up that stable real good,” he boasted, “and let all those horses loose.”
“I’m gonna enjoy scarrin’ his face,” Kevin said. “I think I’ll use my serrated knife. That’ll teach the bastard to cross me!”
Though she was filled with rage, she kept her composure as she continued sneaking up to the street. Though she could hear the noise of the saloon, there were no people wandering around, and moving around the corner, she approached the door. Pausing to take a breath and summon her courage, she pushed it open.
Stepping inside the surprisingly small office, she found the sheriff with his feet up on his desk, his brother sitting in a chair across from him, and an almost empty bottle of whiskey between them. Seeing two cells side by side only a few yards away, Clementine wanted to jump for joy. The setup couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Well, well, what have we got here?” Clyde drawled. “The little girl has decided to turn herself in. Looks like we won’t have to chase her after all.”
“Pity,” Kevin scowled. “I love a good hunt.”
“I’ve come to apologize,” Clementine began, feigning nervousness as she walked slowly forward. “Ted explained how things are done in this town, and I don’t want any trouble for either of us. Kevin, I’m so sorry I shot at you. I know this pie can’t make up for what I did, but I hope it will help. Ida made it. She cut this slice for me, but I want you to have it.”
“Whatta ya think, Clyde?” Kevin asked his brother, though still glowering at her.
“I’m not sayin’ no to Ida’s apple pie, that’s for damn sure,” Clyde said with a snort. “What we’ll do with her when we’ve finished, well, that’s another story. Bring it on over, girlie.”
“I really am very sorry,” she continued earnestly, ready for anything as she placed it on the desk and quickly stepped back.
“I should take a knife to that pretty face of yours and teach you a lesson,” Kevin sneered, picking up a blade that had been sitting on the desk. “I’ve got all sorts to choose from, and I’d enjoy picking one just for you.”
“Please, no, please let me make this up to you,” Clementine whimpered, keeping up the pretense.
Chortling as he sliced the pie in two pieces, he devoured his half in seconds, then handed the knife to Clyde. Cutting his into several small bites, he popped them into his mouth one by one.
“Damn, that woman knows how to bake,” Clyde grunted, picking up the whiskey bottle and taking a swig. “Now what, Kev? You were the one she shot at. You get to choose.”
“She can take off her clothes, then get on her knees and beg for mercy,” Kevin replied with a chuckle. “While she’s down there she can lick my cock.”
“You heard him, girl, get on your knees in front of my deputy,” Clyde ordered, shifting his feet off his desk.
“Before I do,” Clementine said, watching them carefully, “there’s something very important you need to see.”
“Your tits,” Kevin exclaimed, then laughed harshly. “But I wanna rip off that blouse myself. Get over here. Hey, I just noticed something. You’re in a fuckin’ skirt. What happened to those ugly trousers?”
Clementine didn’t move.
“I said, come over here,” he barked, glaring at her. “Now.”
Still, she held her ground.
“Stupid bitch!” he snarled. “Now you’ll be sorry.” But as he stood up he teetered, then tumbled to the floor.
“Kev!” Clyde shouted, jumping to his feet—then abruptly collapsed to the floor with a sickening thud.
Running to grab a set of keys hanging on a hook on the wall by behind the desk, Clementine tried them on the cell doors. Relieved to find they fit, she quickly opened them.
“Pay attention,” she said sharply, stepping across Clyde and standing over Kevin where he laid on the floor groaning. “It’s time to introduce myself. My name is Clementine Cassidy. You may have heard of me.”
“What the fuck…?” Clyde grunted. “The shooter? Dammit, I should’ve realized.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too late now, and I didn’t just happen to wander into this town either.”
“You poisoned me,” Kevin whined. “My guts are on fire.”
“If you don’t shut up and listen your stomach won’t bother you anymore. You’ll be dead.” She produced her revolver from beneath her blouse, along with a photograph from her pocket. She dangled the picture before them. “You see these two men? Do you know who they are?”
“Just tell us,” Kevin groaned.
“One of them is my uncle, Butch,” she lied. “You may have heard of him.”
“Aw, shit,” Clyde mumbled.
“The other guy is my eldest brother. He rides with Butch, and he’s real protective of me. They’re both on their way here, along with a few of their friends. Do you want to know why? Ted’s a friend—we grew up together. When I heard what you’d done to him and the rest of the folks in this town I asked my uncle for help. I came ahead to scout things out. He’ll be here with his gang any time now.”
“Tell us what you want?” Kevin pleaded.
“Take off your gun belts and crawl into the cells. Kevin, if you’ve got another knife on you—”
“I don’t, fuck—”
“You’d better not be lying. If you are, I’ll shoot off your fingers and toes one at a time, then I’ll take aim at those teensy marbles between your legs—and I don’t miss.”
“I’m not, I swear,” Kevin moaned as he unbuckled his belt.
“Just as well, now hurry up and get behind those bars.”
Try as he might, Ted couldn’t sleep. Staring at the ceiling, all he could think about was Clementine, and how strange and wonderful it was that their paths had crossed.
Growing up together he’d seen himself as her hero, even though she constantly yelled at him for interfering when the bigger kids picked on her. The day he’d taken a stick to her backside he knew she might never speak to him again, but the boys at the watering hole were bad news and he’d been determined to protect her.
As they’d entered their teens, she’d kept him at arm’s length, but he had no interest in any other girl, and when she’d started traveling with her father, he’d swallowed the bitter pill, thinking he might never see her again.
But now she was back in his life. He was overjoyed. Spanking her in the stable had felt as natural as breathing. It had made her angry, but he had no regrets. Keeping her distance from Clyde and Kevin was imperative. He just hoped she got the message, and wasn’t as stubborn and willful as she used to be.
“Teddy? Teddy, are you here?”
Startled by her urgent call, he jumped to his feet, pulled on his trousers and boots and hurried down the stairs. He didn’t see her, but hearing Magic nicker, he raced to the covered corral.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled like that,” Clementine declared as he reached the gate. “I didn’t mean to scare you, but Teddy, you have to come with me right now.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“This town is now free of those evil men. Is there someone who can act as sheriff until there’s a new one?”
“What are you talkin’ about? I hope you haven’t—”
“Just tell me!” she demanded. “Who would that be?”
“Clementine, don’t speak to me that way,” he said sternly. “You just made an impossible claim and I have to know what’s goin’ on.”
“Sorry,” she said quickly. “Clyde and Kevin are locked in the cells, and even if they weren’t, they couldn’t hurt anyone. They can barely lift their heads and they’ll be miserable for hours.”
“You did this?”
“Uh, yeah. So, is there someone who can step in?”
“Hershel, I guess, or Sam. They’re the ones who try to keep the peace around here. Hershel is younger and stronger, but Sam’s smarter.”
“Can you fetch Hershel while I try to wake up Sam? I met him earlier.”
Taking a breath, he gripped her arms and stared down at her.
“Clementine, I’m not runnin’ off anywhere or fetchin’ anyone. Neither are you, not ‘til you tell me every last detail.”