Slap her silly, but she was done! Annabelle McKenzie strode down the wooden sidewalk on her way to the bank. Done with raising chickens, feeding cows and goats, and shoveling manure. She wanted to go with her sisters to hunt for bad men. She wanted to be a bounty hunter.
Deep in thought about how she would explain to her sisters how she craved adventure and longed for excitement, she rounded the corner to enter the bank and slammed into the hard chest muscles of a large dark-haired man. The scent of soap and campfire spiraled straight to her center.
This was a manly man, and Lord knew, they were scarce in Zenith, Texas. Where had this specimen come from?
His hat was pulled low over his face, and he grabbed her by the arms, halting her progress. Her head fit just below his chin. She looked up at his strong, rugged jaw and serious face.
Long black lashes blinked over emerald eyes as he gripped her arms. “Slow down,” he said in a deep husky drawl. He kept his head down, barely looking at her. “There’s still plenty of cash left in the bank.”
What a condescending, egotistical, handsome renegade. Not an “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me”, but rather a crass remark about the money in the bank. “Maybe you should watch where you’re going.”
She tilted her head and stared into his handsome rugged features. There was something about him that seemed familiar, yet she couldn’t place him. Somewhere she’d seen his face. She gazed at him. “You’re tall enough you should be able to see a woman coming.”
He nodded, and she gawked at the way his shirt fit his strong shoulders and muscled arms. His lips were full and tempting, made for kissing.
“You’re right, ma’am. I should see a small package like you, barreling around a blind corner. Maybe I need to replace my spectacles with a pair that can see through walls,” he said, releasing her arms.
Where had she seen him before? “What’s your name?”
A sly smile turned up the corners of his full, luscious lips. “Why? You plan on having me arrested for running into you?”
The man had an ornery mouth, and she was just the woman to give it right back.
“Maybe,” she said. “I know the sheriff well. It would serve you right for being belligerent and disrespectful.”
He smiled a wickedly sly grin that sent tingles through her. “You have a really nice day.”
His voice was dripping with sweet sarcasm that made her feel like she’d eaten too many cookies. Tipping his black hat at her, he sauntered out the door.
Like a kick from a bull, it hit her.
His face was on one of the wanted posters she had out in her saddlebags.
For a moment, she stood there stunned, wanting to grab him by the arm and haul him down to the sheriff’s office. He was getting away, and yet, part of her wasn’t certain he really was a criminal. What if her imagination was stampeding with ideas, trying to keep her from dying of loneliness in this old maid of a town?
But what if this was her chance? Her opportunity to show her sisters she could do more than just watch the cows munch grass. She had bounty hunter blood flowing in her veins. She could catch criminals just as well as they could.
She had two hundred dollars tucked in the satchel on her shoulder. One step closer to paying off the bank note. They only needed a little more, and then the old place would be theirs.
But she didn’t have time to make the deposit. She had a criminal to catch.
This morning, she’d stopped at the sheriff’s office and picked up the latest wanted posters. Tonight, when she got home, she intended to make her sisters understand. She was nineteen, soon to be twenty, and spent all her life on the farm. She needed to get away from the braying of cattle and the collecting of eggs.
Making a hasty retreat out the door, she watched as the man walked down the street toward the mercantile. Then she hurried to her horse tied up on Main Street.
Opening the leather bags, she thumbed through the papers. The third one she came to had a picture of her man. Beau Samuel – Wanted for Bank Robbery. Five Hundred Dollar Reward.
Tingles of alarm galloped along her spine. Oh, my God, she’d just run into him at the bank. He was planning on robbing the Zenith Savings & Loan.
She checked her satchel, finding her six-shooter resting beside her little pot of lipstick. The bounty was more than enough to pay off the bank. Meg could start her dress shop. And Annabelle would have a little adventure in her dull, boring life.
Excitement flooded her nerves like a welcome ray of sunshine. A wide smile spread across her face. This was going to be so much fun. She’d follow Mr. Samuel, and before he left town, he’d be in her custody, and she’d be the heroine who saved the day.
In one afternoon, she would accomplish what Meg and Ruby had taken all year trying to do.
He’d disappeared inside the mercantile. She’d be waiting for him when he came out.
As the family bookkeeper for their bounty hunting business, Lipstick and Lead, it was her responsibility to make certain the bank loan was paid, the farm continued to operate, and supplies were bought, while her sisters had all the fun chasing bad guys and bringing them to justice. Her sisters earned the money, and Annabelle made certain they had a home to return to.
After their father died, they’d learned his profession out of desperation. Bounty hunting paid better than being a waitress or a seamstress or even a housekeeper. And you only had to answer to the men captured and brought to justice.
Not the randy hands of the owner of a business or his employees.
Living on a farm alone, taking care of cattle and chickens and gardening, was enough to make any person question her sanity. In the last year, Annabelle had begun to regret agreeing to take care of their land, while her sisters did the hunting.
She longed for adventure, excitement, danger. Something more challenging than shoveling manure. Only, her sisters disagreed. Meg and Ruby wanted Annabelle to remain on the farm.
Hogwash! It was someone else’s turn to babysit the chickens, harvest the garden, and chase the stray cows. Annabelle was about to snag her first bounty.
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