The Law and Miss Hardisson

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Excerpt from The Law & Miss Hardisson, by Lynna Banning....

     Clayton Black drew rein at the top of the hill and gazed down at the secluded valley stretching below him. He sucked in some air, winced at the familiar pain in his rib cage and let his breath out easy. Two of his ribs were bruised, the doctor had said. One was cracked. He couldn't take a breath without being reminded.
     He rubbed his injured arm as he gazed down at the creek twisting through the land. Bordered by gray-green willow and cottonwood trees, it lazily encircled the tidy town and then meandered off to the west.
     Just the look of the place--trim picket fences, rosebushes in bloom, boardwalks on both sides of the streets--gave him the jitters. Too orderly. Too civilized.
     He squinted under the wide brim of his hat. Newspaper office, mercantile, hotel, livery stable, barbershop, sheriff's office. A gleaming white church steeple drew his gaze and he groaned. It was one of those towns full of pious people and prayer meetings. A white steeple town.
     Clayton's lips twitched into a lopsided smile. He knew only one thing for certain--he would capture his father's killer or die trying.
     The look of the town below him, so settled, so civilized, made him nervous. Yeah, a white steeple town, full of people with refined manners and an extra helping of bigotry. He didn't belong here.
     Hell, what was new about that? Being half Cherokee meant he didn't much belong anywhere.


     "There,"Irene murmured in satisfaction. She rearranged the in-work file on the large oak desk and glanced approvingly at her well-organized office. It looked much more tidy since she'd washed the front windows and painted the rough pine walls. The sheriff wouldn't mind. Besides, he was out of town. She'd paid three months' rent in advance, spread a large oval braided rug over the plank floor, even put up lace curtains. She was in business.


     The door banged open. "Where's the sheriff?" a low, gravelly voice inquired.
     "Gone,"Irene said without looking up. "Is there something I can-- "
     "Gone where?"
     Irene raised her gaze to the doorway and stopped breathing. A tall man stood before her, one arm in a black cloth sling, his leather vest coated with trail dust, his tanned face impassive. Steady gray eyes held hers.
     "Gone where?" he prompted.
     Irene jerked to attention. "Gone, um, gone-- " She couldn't think with him staring at her that way! "Gone... hunting!"
     "Where's this I. P. Hardisson, then? Sign over the door says he's a lawyer."
     "He is. I mean, I am. I am I. P. Hardisson."
     He looked her over for so long she felt tingles at the back of her neck. "Irene Pennfield Hardisson," she supplied. Something abou tthe man unnerved her but she managed to keep her voice steady. "Attomey-at-law," she added unnecessarily.
     "Clayton Black, Texas Ranger. " His eyes still rested on hers, but he didn't move. Tall and lean, he just stood and looked his fill.
     "Mr. Black. " Irene extended her hand.
     He gave her fingers a quick, hard shake with his left hand, then stuffed it into his back pocket. "You ever hear of anyone by the name of Fortier?
     "Brance Fortier?"
     "That's him. He's a murderer. Where is he?"
     Irene's resolve stiffened. "A man," she pronounced in measured tones, "is presumed innocent until proven--"
     "Please let me finish."
     Clayton took two long steps forward and leaned over her desk. "Okay," he said. "Finish."
     She blinked. His face was so close to hers she could see the flush of anger on his high cheekbones. Hair black as midnight swept his collar. "...until proven guilty."