The Lone Sheriff

Excerpt from The Lone Sheriff
by Lynna Banning
Harlequin Historicals, September 2014

"You gonna meet the train, Sheriff?"

Jericho nodded. The kid was young. Red-haired and shiny-faced, sharp as a whip and foolishly brave. Sandy had been with him two years, now. Jericho relied on him. Trusted him.

But Lake County had never faced anything like this before.

"Whatcha gonna do, Sheriff?"

Jericho shrugged. He had a plan, all right. At four o'clock this afternoon the big black steam engine would roll into the station and Madison O'Whatsisname would get off. At four-o-five, Jericho would strong-arm him right back onto the train.

It'd be easy.

At precisely 4 o'clock, the Oregon Central chuffed into the station. Jericho adjusted his sling so the sheriff's badge showed, jammed his left thumb in his belt, and waited. A Pinkerton agent would no doubt be wearing a proper suit, but the only male who looked the least bit citified was Ike Bruhn, home from his honeymoon with his new bride.

Sandy jiggled at his side. "Ya see 'im?"

"Nope," Jericho grunted.

"Maybe he missed the train," his deputy suggested.

"Naw, must be here somewhere. Look for a gent in a gray suit." Pinkerton men always wore grey to blend in with crowds. He scanned the thronged station platform again while his deputy jogged off to check inside. Maybe Mr. Detective had chickened out at the prospect of fingering an elusive outlaw gang that was robbing trains. He narrowed his eyes and turned to check the station once more when someone stumbled smack into him.

"Oh, I am terribly sorry." An extremely pretty young woman carrying a green-striped parasol gazed up at him. Her voice sounded like rich whiskey sliding over smooth river stones and for a moment Jericho forgot what he'd come for. She only came up to his shoulder and on her dark, piled-up hair sat the most ridiculous concoction of feathers and stuffed birds he'd ever laid eyes on.

He sucked in a breath to apologize, then wished he hadn't. Goddam she smelled good. Soap and something flowery. Made his head swim.

He stepped back. "'Scuse me, Ma'am."

She waved a gloved hand and peered at his chest.

"Oh, you are the sheriff."

"Yeah, I am."

She smiled and his mouth went dry. "You are just the man I want to see."

Jericho swallowed. "You have a problem?"

"Oh, no." She twirled her parasol. "You have the problem. I have come to help." She waited, an expectant look on her face.

"Help?" Jericho echoed.

"Of course." The whiskey in her voice was now sliding over some pointy rocks. "I am Madison O'Donnell. The Smoke River Bank hired me to help you catch the gang robbing their gold shipments."

Jericho stared at her.

"I believe you were expecting me?"

He snapped his jaw shut. He sure as hell wasn't expecting her. The last thing he'd expected was this frilly-looking female with her ridiculous hat. In her green-striped dress and twirling her parasol like that she made him think of a dish of cool mint ice cream.

"Whatever is the matter, Sheriff? You have gone quite pale? Are you ill?"

He jerked at the question. Not ill, just gutshot. "Uh, yeah. I mean No, I'm not ill. Just . . . surprised."

She lowered her voice. "Most Pinkerton clients are surprised when they meet me. It will pass."

Hell, no, it won't.

Madison O'Donnell picked up her travel bag. "Shall we go?"

Not on your life. "Uh, my deputy's inside the station house. 'Scuse me, Ma'am." He strode past her without looking back. Inside he found Sandy talking to the ticket seller.

"I've found him. Her," he corrected.

Sandy's rust-colored eyebrows went up. "Huh?"

"Madison O'Donnell. She's a 'she'."

The deputy's face lit up. "Oh, yeah? A female? What kinda female?"

"A female kind of female," Jericho snapped. He headed for the doorway. "And don't spread it around about her being a Pinkerton agent."

"Where is she, Sher-?" His deputy's eyes widened. "Oh, criminy. Godalmighty, she's mighty good-looking for a . . . " His voice trailed off. Jericho guessed young Sandy had never seen a woman like her before. A back-East woman with birds on her head.

He swallowed back a chuckle, then turned it into a cough. Hell, he'd never seen a woman like her before, either.

"What're you gonna do with her, Sheriff?" Sandy said again.

"As little as possible. Close your mouth, Sandy."