An icy metal circle pressed into the warm hairs at the
back of Paxton Terhune’s neck spread hoarfrost through
every bone. The simultaneous rasp of a sidearm’s hammer
cocking sounded loud above the frigid wind.
your hands away from the gun belt real careful. Then
don’t move.” A pleasant enough voice, well modulated, a
bit higher in pitch than Pax’s own baritone. He would
have found it quite pleasant and even described it as
musical were it not attached to that extremely cold gun
muzzle pressed to the back of his head.
mother having never birthed an idiot, Pax did exactly as
instructed and lifted his hands well away from his body
with exaggerated care.
muscular arm reached around his waist, necessitating
what was no doubt an equally muscular body pressing
tight to his back. A hand fumbled a bit before reaching
between his thighs to free his holster’s tie down.
downwards so all other parts of his body remained
perfectly still, Pax watched it flutter up to unfasten
the buttons on his coat so it could unbuckle his gun
belt, letting it fall to the leaf-strewn ground. The
gun tucked in its belt looked appallingly abandoned
lying among the bright yellow aspen leaves.
well-shaped, almost elegant hand felt about Pax’s belt,
up his chest to check below his armpits, then swept
behind him to check the back of his waistband and the
upper curve of his ass. Like the voice, Pax would have
enjoyed it all immensely were it not for that very
disconcerting gun bumping his medulla oblongata.
twitch wrong and I’ll blow your head right off. I get
paid more if I bring you in alive but I still get decent
money if it’s just your body.”
pretty voice shouldn’t express such troubling things.
not a very profitable attitude.” Besides, it made
Paxton’s heart pound and left him a little light
headed. He ran a dry tongue over his lips. “I’ll do my
best not to twitch.”
almost pretty, though very manly hand grabbed Pax’s
right wrist and wrenched it behind his back. “Stay
still. I mean it.”
have the least doubt of that.” A new metallic cold
circled Pax’s wrist above his glove, the clink of
iron-on-iron not helping his galloping heart and the
sharp constriction in his chest. Manacles. Not
something he could manage to cut through with the knife
hidden in his boot.
shifted, bumping against his head and he flinched. “Do
me a favor and ignore that twitch, will you?”
bladder felt full.
captor gave a faint snort and grabbed Pax’s other wrist,
jerking it into place next to the right one. Icy metal
circled it in the barest moment. Securely fastened with
no more than a few inches play between his wrists, his
captor spun him about.
source of the conflicting images conjured by the pretty
voice and elegant hand versus the damnable gun and
wrist-irons glared back at him. His captor matched the
former pairing rather than the latter.
Pax was about to die, at least he’d have something
extremely pleasant to look at in his last moments.
pushed back and hanging by the strings across the fine
column of a neck, his captor’s dark hair stirred in the
icy wind sweeping down from the snow field above them.
Straight ebony locks whipped about a finely chiseled
face with a strong Celtic cast, all dark and
fine-boned. Eyes grey as years-old ice and about as
warm stared back at Pax from under fine, straight
brows. Several days worth of beard shadowed a
well-sculpted jawline and roughened the outline of a
fine mustache. Just an amazingly beautiful man.
handsome angel of death seemed to decide it wasn’t time
to perform his duty just yet and let the pistol’s hammer
down with gentle ease and holstered his gun.
hard as I’d been led to believe it would be.”
allowed the pent up breath in his lungs to escape.
“What wasn’t as hard?”
“Capturing you. I was told you were hell on wheels.”
Paxton’s captor reached to pull his hat back on and
turned his collar up, buttoning his heavy coat up to the
neck. That coffee-colored hair barely brushed his broad
shoulders as it swirled in the growing wind.
you have the wrong man.” Pax’s luck at love far
outweighed his luck with cards and he suspected this
situation far more akin to poker than the arts of Venus.
Charles Edward Terhune, wanted for the murder of Benny
Cole. Five-hundred-dollar reward. An extra two-hundred
if I bring you in alive.” Those charcoal eyes didn’t
warm one bit. Beauty the bounty hunter might be but Pax
was beginning to take him in dislike.
well. So you don’t have the wrong man. Pity.” Pax
shifted his shoulders, trying to find a comfortable way
to adjust to his ungainly new confinement. “Well,
now... since you seem to know all about me, might I at
least have the courtesy of my executioner’s name?”
Steadman.” Beauty scooped up Pax’s fallen guns and
slung them over an appealingly broad shoulder. “I’m not
here to execute you, just bring you in. I’ll leave the
executing to a hangman after a judge and jury decide if
that’s what you deserve.”
that’s the rub, my... ahm... friend. I don’t deserve
it. I didn’t shoot Benny Cole in the back. I never met
the man to my recollection.” Pax shivered as the chill
wind swept in his open coat.
say you shot him in the back.” Beauty’s eyes narrowed,
his handsome face rife with suspicion.
I’m very aware of what I’m accused of doing. I’d hardly
be riding the outlaw trail if I thought the world
considered me blameless.” Pax’s opinion of the lovely
Zane’s mental ability sank. He sighed. “Do you think
you could rebutton my coat? It’s turning colder and
that wind is straight off the ice fields.” He looked
out over the edge of the ridge where they stood. Clouds
only a few shades lighter than Zane’s eyes hung over the
summits of the mountains, heavy and flat bottomed.
“It’s going to snow.”
early. Shouldn’t snow for another two weeks at the
earliest.” The beauteous Zane did move close though and
tug at Pax’s heavy sheepskin coat, forced to work at it
so he could button it with Pax’s arms in such an
yourself, but I’ve lived up here for over ten years. I
know snow clouds when I see them and I know the scent of
snow on the wind.” Pax shifted his attention from the
wide vista of the San Juans to Zane. The bounty hunter
frowned as he struggled with Paxton’s coat. If the
specter of hanging didn’t loom over him, Pax could
manage to enjoy the situation.
you’re so sure of that, let’s get you on your horse and
head to town.” Zane’s grasp on Pax’s upper arm steered
him toward where he’d hobbled his mount the previous
make it. The snow’s coming soon.” If Pax was any
judge, it would descend within the hour.
hefted Pax’s saddle onto Gentleman’s back, the roan
patient and well-trained. “We’ll see.”
they would. Zane would have to move the manacles for
Pax to mount up. And if Pax was lucky, maybe he’d have
a chance once the damned restraints were in front of
him. With that much use of his hands, he just might be
able to escape.
* * *
could not honestly expect Pax to climb on a horse
without the use of his arms and hands. “And exactly how
are we to accomplish this miracle?”
smile annoyed. “Easy.” He pointed to a large,
boulder. “You stand on that rock. I’ll hold the horse
and you just swing that long leg over.”
about you just tie the horse to that tree and you help
me up? It’ll be about as effective.” The infuriating
man ignored Pax and pushed him toward the boulder.
“Insistent, aren’t you?”
trait. Mama said Da was stubborn as the Devil himself.
Da said Mama always had to have things done her way.”
Yes, Zane’s smile definitely annoyed. It might even be
working its way up to infuriating. “Up with you.”
of a strong hand on Pax’s backside, helping heft him up
onto the flat-topped rock, shouldn’t have felt even a
quarter as good as it did. Especially not when that
touch belonged to a man taking him to certain hanging.
Pax would never get near a judge or jury; he’d be dead
before a week passed. Pity he had no way to explain
that to Zane in a fashion the man would believe.
having nothing to do with the weather worked its way up
Pax’s spine. Hanging. He couldn’t think of that; he’d
lose the ability to move if he did. “So, how’d you
manage to find me? It’s a big mountain.”
following you for three days. First time you’ve let
your guard down. Couldn’t even come up on you at night
the way you had your camps laid out.” A final push and
Pax stood steady on the rock and Zane’s hand fell away.
“Been trailing you since you left that grave site
the horror of the hangman’s noose returned. Pax would
never erase the sight of Maddox kicking and swinging as
the crowd held Pax away. The horror of it still woke
him screaming some nights. “You don’t have to do this.
If you take me back, I’ll never stand trial.”
looked up from positioning the horse. “The circuit
judge will be through here in less than a month. You’ll
have your day in court before you know it.”
I’ll be dead by then.” The futility of baring his soul
to a bounty hunter, even a good- looking one, sealed
Paxton’s lips and he swung a leg up and over the saddle
horn, managing to settle on the beast. A strong gust of
icy wind stirred the hair at the back of his neck. “If
we don’t freeze to death first.”
two methods of ending his earthly trials, freezing was
probably by far the kindest.
* * *
you actually expect me to stay on a horse without the
use of my hands?”
ignored the plea in the deep-voiced complaint. He
wasn’t about to feel sorry for some outlaw. Even if
said outlaw happened to be as fine set-up a man as Zane
had seen in years. “I reckon you can use those legs of
yours to hold on nice and tight.”
That just brought up thoughts of those long legs holding
Zane nice and tight.
bounty hunter really needed a trip to some big city. He
wanted a whore in the worst way and he wouldn’t find the
specific sort he needed in a little place like
Galleywinter. He might have a hard time finding one
even in Denver. And the flesh pots back east and out in
California were about equally hard to get to.
remember if you fall off and kill yourself I still get
an amazingly unhelpful man. And you have an appalling
disregard for your own pocketbook.” Paxton Terhune
turned a glare that bordered on pout toward Zane.
man pouting shouldn’t look that good. And that faint
Southern drawl shouldn’t sound as musical as it did.
Zane cursed with all the inventiveness he’d always been
accused of, the words racketing around inside his head
but never making it to his lips. Yeah, he really needed
take that ride to some nice, decadent, godless town.
right helpful. I’m helping the good citizens of
Galleywinter sleep safe in their beds at night without
worrying about outlaws sweeping down on them.” The pout
turned to pure ire and Zane grinned at the man riding
beside him. “So I’m sure Galleywinter thinks I’m just
of a deep growl escaped Terhune and Zane’s grin
broadened. He might not have the fine grasp of fancy
language his prisoner did but he could hold his own.
sure. Except the name of the town is Galena Winter not
Galleywinter.” A tip-tilted nose tipped a little
outside the town says Galleywinter.” So did the one
over the saloon where Zane managed a decent poker game
before setting off after Terhune. Fellow sure seemed to
think he knew a lot.
it’s hardly my fault the illiterate moron who posted
that couldn’t spell.”
coughed to subdue a laugh. Yep, knew a lot and not
ashamed to share it. A real fancy fellow. Well-spoken,
nice horse, good boots, and a high-tone attitude. Might
have come across a mite better if he wasn’t wanted for
back-shooting a miner though.
shook his head and steered the horses from the stand of
evergreens out into a fine alpine meadow still green and
lush. The sweet summer grass didn’t match the arctic
blast that greeted them as soon as they cleared the
shelter of the trees. It swept his hat off, leaving it
hanging down his back, whipping through his hair with
He reached back, settling the black Stetson back on his
head. “That’s cold!”
you. It’s about to snow. We need to find shelter
before we’re caught in a blizzard.” For once, Terhune
didn’t sound annoying. He sounded concerned.
told you we’re a month out from winter.” Though the
damp, frigid wind said otherwise.
born this obstinate or is it something you’ve had to
work at?” Terhune’s hazel eyes managed to be utterly
condemning while his face remained bland. “Because I’m
not sure if I should congratulate you on the natural
talent or on achieving such a high degree of proficiency
at being a willful idiot.”
starting to not like you much.” Zane hurried the horses
just a bit to get across the meadow and back into the
shelter of the trees.
sure I should be concerned about this.” Terhune
grimaced as he jostled a bit and Zane could see the
muscles tightening in the outlaw’s thighs where he
gripped the saddle.
Zane’s brain wanted to dwell on those thighs. Long,
solid… He did like tall, lanky men. Especially when
God was kind enough to grace them with broad shoulders
and a chest to match. He went back to silent cursing.
outlaw appealed in ways that made it really hard for
Zane to keep his mind on business. If an ounce of fat
existed on that lean body, it hadn’t been apparent when
Zane searched the outlaw for weapons. And that ass fit
his hands just perfect when he boosted Terhune up onto
that boulder to mount the horse. Firm and hard.
looking at the man and thinking of how his body felt
turned Zane’s mouth dry and shot hardness between his
legs. Best to turn this one in as soon as he could and
not think of him any more. “I’m the one with the gun.”
mind on business, old son. I’ve just been without too
long. Two years, three months and some odd days too
long. And Zane was damned tired of no one to keep
company with but his own hand. Well, with the money
from this bounty, he could take that trip to Denver.
Maybe out to San Francisco even.
well that weapon will do you little good against Mother
Nature in a pettish mood. And I fear she’s rather
stirred up today. I’ve no wish to be caught out in her
wrath. If you’d allow logic to enter into your despotic
thought processes, you’d admit this and let me lead us
to shelter. There’s a line shack not two miles from
here.” Clear hazel eyes, half obscured by a fall of
darkest blond hair, bored into Zane. “And my hands are
losing sensation. You can’t actually expect me to stay
on this horse for the hours it will take to get to town
in this condition.”
gag improve the condition?” A snowflake landed on
Zane’s nose and he sighed.
for no snow for a month, hey?” Terhune didn’t have to
look that pleased about it.
just a flurry.” Zane glanced toward the west and
grimaced. A curtain of white obscured the far
mountain. “All right, a big flurry.” He sighed. “You
just enjoy being right too much.”
always best to have one’s observations confirmed.” The
Exasperating, annoying, irritating man. And too
good-looking when he smiled. Even white teeth gleamed
as a new batch of snow swirled about them, setting
Terhune’s twilight blond hair dancing.
the way to your damned cabin.”