Kerrigan's Law
Welcome to Burr, Book 3

October 2017
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Excerpt from Kerrigan's Law

Burr, Wyoming Territory
May 1886

Everyone watched the stranger come through town.

He wasn’t the first stranger to pass through, not with the cattle trails so close and the newly built railroad bringing new folks every day. No, Burr, Wyoming Territory, saw its share of drifters and cowpokes and riffraff and railroad men on a near daily basis. But this fellow…well, he was different.

He strode down the center of the road, heedless of the horses and wagons that might be passing, a long rifle in one hand and the end of a rope in the other. The rope might not have caused anyone to bat an eye, except for the fact that at the other end of it was a filthy, mean-eyed cuss with his hands trussed in front of him like a holiday turkey. He stumbled ahead of the stranger, glaring and muttering and in a foul mood all together.

The three old men playing checkers outside the Four Aces saloon paused in their game as the newcomer and his prisoner passed by.

“Tall feller,” Johnny said, edging back his chair just an inch or so, as if to avoid the long shadow that nearly swept his toes. “Desperado?”

“He’s a big’un,” Gabriel agreed, seizing the moment to eyeball the checkerboard.  “Gunslinger?”

“Not with that rifle,” Mort said, squinting in the sun to get a better look. “But trouble for certain.”

“I’d go fetch the sheriff just from the looks of him,” Johnny said, “if we had one.”

“Amen,” Gabriel said, then jumped two checkers.

The stranger continued down the road, apparently oblivious to the way traffic stopped when he walked by. Whispers hissed in his wake, but he meandered down the middle of Main Street as if one man walking another like a dog were an everyday occurrence.

Ellie Pearson stopped sweeping the wooden walkway outside her husband’s store and reached for her three-year-old son, never taking her eyes from the stranger. The child paused in his sweeping as well, gripping his tiny broom with both fists. She squeezed his shoulder in reassurance just as her husband Nate stepped outside. With a concerned glance at the stranger, he urged his family into the safety of the mercantile.

On the corner, Juliana Tremont and her sister, Emmaline Tremont Turner, stopped their gossiping with the mayor’s wife mid-sentence as the odd procession passed by. With wide-eyed glances at each other, they scattered in three different directions like startled hens, the better to spread the news across town.

The stranger paused by the locked sheriff’s office and regarded the “Closed” sign before moving on to the office of the Burr Chronicle, the local newspaper. He opened the door and dragged his prisoner inside.

***

 

Marianne Westerly looked up from the article she was writing as the door to the newspaper office opened. A huge man filled the doorway, a black silhouette in the glare of the afternoon sun, his shoulders spanning the width of the doorframe and his hat nearly touching the top of it.

She reminded herself of the derringer in her reticule, of the rifle on the wall behind her, then stood, shading her eyes. “May I help you?”

“I sure hope so.” His voice was like gravel and rust, hard-used and rough. “I’m looking for the sheriff.”

“The sheriff resigned a few weeks back.” Marianne set down her pencil with outward calm, her pulse thundering through her veins, and gestured to the Help Wanted poster on the board near the door. “We haven’t replaced him yet. Job’s open if you’re interested.” She tried for a smile. “Would you please step inside? That sun is quite strong today.”

“Sorry, ma’am.” He stepped into the office, then gave a jerk on the rope he held. Another man stumbled in, tethered at the end of the line like a mule, skinny and sullen.

She swallowed her shock. A woman who lived on the frontier couldn’t be missish, not at the sight of a man all tied up. She dragged her gaze from the prisoner to his captor with what she hoped was calm aplomb—an aplomb that almost deserted her when she met those slate blue eyes. No one would call him handsome, not with his hard jaw and slightly crooked nose, the lines in his face that hinted at more scowling than smiling, and those thick, black brows and broad forehead.

No, not handsome, but he would never be ignored, and his stare just took a lady’s breath. Direct and unapologetic, that’s what it was. Like he knew who he was and what he could do. He was dusty and unshaven with a few days’ growth of beard, looking for all the world like an outlaw, yet her heart fluttered in her chest. She clenched her hand at her side to stop herself from pressing it to her bosom like some helpless heroine in a dime novel.

Don’t be foolish. You’re not some green girl, Marianne. He’s just a man, not some outlaw—not if he’s looking for the sheriff.

“Please close the door,” she said, amazed at the serenity of her tone.

He complied, kicking the portal shut and cutting off the blinding glare. Then he faced her, a single black brow raised as he slid his rifle one-handed into the holster strapped on his back. “Anything else I can do for you?”

She lifted her chin and ignored an utterly improper notion that flashed through her mind. Keep your wits, Marianne. “That will be all for now, thank you. You were asking about the sheriff?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He patted his long brown coat and came up with a crumpled piece of paper. “Here.”

She cast a wary glance at his prisoner.

He followed her gaze. “Don’t worry about him.” He jerked on the rope. “You behave in front of the lady, Addison, you hear me?”

“I hear ya,” Addison spat. “You just wait ’til my brothers come for me, Kerrigan. You just wait.”

“Yeah, I’ll wait all right.” The stranger rolled his eyes and grinned at Marianne, a lopsided quirk of the lips that transformed him from desperado to dashing in an instant.

She swallowed, her mouth completely dry at the change. “Kerrigan,” she repeated, coming around the counter to take the paper from his fingers.

“Yes, ma’am.” He tugged on his hat brim as she unfolded what proved to be a page of newspaper. “J.G. Kerrigan, at your service.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” she murmured, reading. “This is from the Chronicle. The story about that bank robbery in Timmonsville a few months back. The one the Addison gang…” She slid a glance at his prisoner. Addison. “Is he one of the bank robbers?”

“Yes. Are you Sarah Donovan?”

“What?” She met his unapologetic stare, then wished she hadn’t as her heart gave a huge thump in response. “Oh. No, I’m not Sarah. I’m Marianne Westerly.” She returned her attention to the safety of the newspaper.

“When I saw the sheriff’s office was closed, I came looking for Sarah Donovan, as she’s the one who wrote the thing,” he said. “Thought a newspaper woman could tell me who acts as the law around here.”

“As I said, she’s not here right now—”

The back door to the office opened, and Sarah appeared, stopping short at the tableau before her. “What’s this?”

Kerrigan looked over at the new speaker as Marianne turned her head to address her employer. “Sarah, this is—”

In a flash, Addison spun, jerking the rope out of Kerrigan’s grip and looping it around Marianne’s neck with his bound hands, cutting off her words. He dragged her backwards towards the front door. “You all stay put now, or I’ll snap her neck!”

“Hell.” Kerrigan yanked his rifle from its holster.

Marianne clawed at the rope, trying unsuccessfully to ease the unrelenting pressure of the thick hemp around her throat. Already it was getting harder to breathe, and the world spun a little, black dots popping in and out of her vision. She could barely make out Sarah standing in the back of the room.

A prayer hovered on her lips, but she squelched it. Is this how you mean for me to die, God? After everything you’ve put me through?

She glanced at Kerrigan. He looked furious yet in control. He would probably make this Addison fellow regret the day he was born for this little exploit.

She wondered if she would live to see it.

“Don’t be a damned fool, Joe.” Kerrigan eyed the prisoner down the length of his rifle. “Let the lady go. If you hurt her, no judge is going to let you live.”

“You put that Winchester down, Kerrigan, or she dies.” Addison tightened the rope. “And you back there—I see you inching towards that rifle, woman! You better stay put.”

Sarah froze and glanced at Marianne, her face tense.

“Let go or you die,” Kerrigan said. “If you kill her, you really think you can take a single step before I drop you?”

The rope eased just a little, and Marianne gasped a grateful breath.

“You won’t kill me,” Addison sneered.

“Don’t test me.”

“You said you need me to get my brothers,” Addison said. “You kill me, they’ll hunt you down and kill you dead.”

“See, now you’re just making a case for me to kill you right here,” Kerrigan said. “No one would blame me after you grabbed this lady, and your brothers would come out of hiding and save me the trouble of tracking them down.”

“But…no, I didn’t mean that!” Addison sputtered.

“Miss Westerly,” Kerrigan said, “please accept my apology in advance. When I shoot this bastard—excuse my language—you’re bound to get all messy with the blood and brains and whatnot.”

“What? What?” The prisoner’s voice climbed an octave.

“As much as I hate to mess up that pretty dress you’re wearing,” Kerrigan continued, indicating her pale yellow cotton, “I’m sure you would much prefer to lose a dress than your life.”

“You’re talking about her dress?” Addison shouted, spittle showering Marianne’s nape and cheek. “What about me? I’m the one whose brains are gonna be all over!”

Kerrigan’s gaze hardened. “Well, Joe, you started this whole thing by grabbing an innocent woman. How did you think it was going to end?”

“Well, I…my brothers…dang it.”

“Your brothers aren’t here,” Kerrigan said. “And like you told me, killing you will only flush them out sooner.” One corner of his mouth lifted. “So I kill you—and you’re a pain in the ass anyway with all your whining and wailing—and then the lady is safe, your brothers come out of hiding, and I get the bounty for the whole Addison gang. Good thing, too, since I’ll owe the lady a new dress. Like I said, sorry about that, ma’am,” he repeated to Marianne.

Marianne managed to nod.

“Don’t agree with him,” Addison snapped. “He’s crazy.”

I’m crazy?” Kerrigan said. “Now, which one of us grabbed a hostage with me not two feet away and armed? You would have been smarter to go for my rifle, Joe. Then you’d be in control.”

“I am in control!”

“Oh yeah? I’ll have a bullet in your brain before you can make a move, and then Miss Westerly and I will step over your body and head down to the mercantile so she can pick out some fabric for her new dress.”

“Will you shut up about the dress?” Addison shouted.

“Well, I can’t do that, Joe. If I ruin her dress with your brains and blood, I need to replace it. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.”

“You’re not a gentleman, you’re a goddamn bounty hunter!”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t have manners.” Kerrigan gave Marianne a reassuring smile. “So Miss Westerly, what kind of fabric should we get? And what color? I imagine pink looks really pretty on you.”

Marianne held his gaze, taking comfort in the reassurance she saw there. J.G. Kerrigan would do whatever was necessary to get her out of this alive, and she would help wherever she could. “Hate pink,” she managed.

“All right then,” Kerrigan continued. “How about blue? I bet blue would bring out those gray eyes of yours.”

“Never mind the dang dress!” Addison shouted. “Here!” He freed Marianne, shoved her at Kerrigan, and darted out the door.

Kerrigan lowered his rifle and caught her with a strong arm around her waist. “You all right, Miss Westerly?”

“Yes,” Marianne rasped. She winced and fingered her throat. Surely her shortness of breath came from almost being strangled and not from being in the arms of the man who’d just saved her life.

“He’s getting away!” Sarah grabbed her rifle off the wall and charged from the back.

Kerrigan released Marianne. “He won’t get far. I’ll track him down. Don’t you worry, ma’am.”

“No need.” Sarah’s husband, Jack Donovan, appeared in the open doorway, dragging Addison along with a knife to his throat.

Kerrigan jerked up his rifle to point at Donovan. “Well, hell. Finally caught up with you, you son of a bitch.”

“Kerrigan.” Donovan shoved Joe through the door. “Long time.”

***

 

Copyright © 2017 Debra Mullins
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication


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