Abby plastered a smile on her lips. Congratulations, Luke. She stood, clutching her gray reticule. You have what you wanted.
Luke scraped his boot against the worn courthouse floor and sighed, deeply. You know Ill be good at this.
Yes, I suppose I do.
It didnt matter what she knew, she decided. Luke carried himself like his father, followed in his fathers footsteps, and was handsome, tough, and yet gentle, as was his father. For the past thirteen years, however, John Wesley Ross, Texas Ranger and the love of Abbys life, had rested near the Rio Grande River in Lonevilles arid, apathetic ground with bullets lodged in his chest. The only relative she had left in the world was standing beside her, tall and fearless. She closed her eyes for a moment. Oh, John, youd be so proud of him, but I cant lose him the way I lost you.
Because their thoughts always seemed entwined regardless of where they were, Sam Carver had seen the tight little smile that appeared starched on Abbys lips before, and now recognized that it meant trouble. Trouble for ol Sam Carver.
He excused himself from the mayors presence, and walked toward her. First hed helped Abby recover from Johns death; then five years ago when an escaped convict murdered his wife Lettie, Abby had come through for him. What they had in common was heartbreak. The same heartbreak kept them apart. Every time he considered courting her, he remembered Lettie. He had tried to teach Lettie to protect herself, but she couldnt bring herself to try. A man hed put in prison found her alone and acted out his revenge.
Abby had come to Loneville by wagon train. He and John had found the train lost and the people starving and dying of thirst. Theyd come too late for Abbys parents. Sam remembered how delicate and soft of hand she had been, but John taught her the language and how to protect herself with a gun. Still, she was nearly killed the same day John died. Having a small child with her was what saved her life, most likely, though it didnt stop the Kincade gang from shooting John while Abby and five-year-old Luke watched.
Marrying a Ranger was dangerous, and Sam could never expose another woman to the same peril again. But he wanted Abigail Ross—God, how he wanted her.
Sam stopped directly in front of her. He ignored the angry sparkle in her green eyes as he asked, May I have the honor of taking you to dinner, Abby?
Abby knew it was useless to be mad at Sam, but she couldnt help it. Sorry, but my dinner is in my warming oven just waiting for me.
He seemed nervous, Abby decided, and after seventeen years he shouldnt be. But she understood why. Every time she saw him, she could see the love, the desire to touch her, in his blue eyes—like now. Sam, however, didnt realize she felt the same way, and Abby couldnt tell him with words or actions, though it became harder each time he came near. He courted death with every step he took. She had been loving him for the past five years; giving herself to him would make losing him unendurable.
Besides, she had something to do, and it could take a lifetime.
Then youll be staying in town this weekend? he asked.
Yes. I have several orders that will keep me busy. She and John had purchased a ranch three miles from town, but since his death, she preferred living above her millinery and dress shop during the week.
The scent of violets that always surrounded Abby attacked Sams senses, making his blood heat; his pulse thundered in his ears. May I escort you to the shop? he asked huskily, his throat suddenly dry. He needed to be with her for a while longer.
Abby nodded. As they approached the courthouse entrance, she stopped and waited for Sam to open the door. I appreciate your company, Sam.
Once outside, Sam noted how Abby studied the people in the street, on the sidewalks, and near the bank. He hadnt been the only one to notice that Abby did this consistently—had done it since the day she opened her shop, directly across from the bank. Hed once heard two women discussing how strange everyone thought her habit. No one knew what Abby was looking for—or whom.
Except, perhaps, Sam. After shooting John, Kincade had said he would return one day and take care of her. Sam believed she secretly anticipated him.
See anyone new, Abby? he asked, wanting her to trust him.
I hardly ever see anyone new, Sam. I—
Ranger Carver! a man shouted, interrupting Abby as he raced across the street. Sheriff Marks from Crystal sent a man here hell-bent-for-leather. He says a gang robbed the bank in Eldorado and was thought to be headed our way. It could be the Kincade gang, he says.
Loneville was known to all who wanted into Mexico urgently as the sweet crossing of the Rio Grande. The ranger office was seldom occupied because Sam had twenty-thousand square miles to patrol. Sheriff Tom was getting old and could never tangle with a gang.
Wheres this man waiting, Bobby? Sam asked.
Bobby turned, swinging his arm and panting laboriously. At the hotel.
Go on back, then. Ill be there directly, Sam said, watching as Abbys eyes grew wide, then squinted to slits.
Ive changed my mind, Sam. Ill be leaving for the ranch after I have my dinner.
He wanted to breathe a sigh of relief. You know Ill have to order Luke to help guard the town?
Yes, she answered quickly. Of course. Dont worry about me, Sam. When you think the danger has passed, come tell me.
Sam tipped his hat and stepped into the street. It most likely wont be them, Abby. But just in case it is, Ill breath easier if you arent in this town.
When she disappeared into her shop, he hurried to the courthouse, informed Luke, and mobilized the towns manpower.
Im sorry, Captain. I was wide awake a minute ago. He moved to walk away. Im going to check on the bank.
Sam nodded. Its been a long night. A long, nerve-wracking night. But Abby had left town early, so he didnt have to worry about Kincade hunting her down.
Then, the bank door opened. Instantly, bullets flew from what seemed a dozen directions. One ripped through the skin on Sams forearm. He fell against the wall of the hotel and drew his gun. Before he fired at the bank, he noticed a rifle barrel come out of the darkness in the alley beside Abbys shop. The rifle blasted four times, then disappeared, and everything grew quiet.
When the smoke cleared, the Kincade gang lay dead at Lukes feet.
Even the townspeople knew that Abigail Ross was the only other person, besides himself, who could shoot with that kind of accuracy. Part of Johns lessons.
She was sitting on her porch waiting for him. Good morning, Sam. The danger must be over.
You hear the shooting this morning all the way out here? He stepped from his horse, mounted the porch steps, and didnt stop until he was inches from her.
Abby stood and touched the bandage on his arm. I—I could hear the—echoes. Is Luke all right?
Sam took her in his arms. Now he knew that if he couldnt be there for her, she could protect herself. Life was too short to waste. Would you marry a Texas Ranger?
Abby placed soft kisses near the corners of his lips. Today, Sam—if he asked me.
He led her to the door. Then go and grab your hat, Abby. The minister is waiting.