Thursday, August 27, 2009

Excerpt - Outlaw Trail by Stacey Coverstone

Josie let her weary eyes skim over the parchment once more. The trail will be long, her pa had said. Will I have the courage and strength to follow it?
Will I be able to fulfill his last wish and make my own dreams come true? For the first time in her life, she felt hopeful about the future as she clutched the map tightly in her fist.
Though excited, she was dog-tired, both mentally and physically. Her eyes started to drift shut.

She had barely nodded off when the sound of snapping branches roused her. Her head jerked and her eyes flew open.
Josie’s spine went rigid when a low voice addressed her. “I’ll take that map now.”

Josie fished around in her pants pocket for the Derringer. Her hand touched the cold metal, and she squeezed her finger around the trigger of the gun and stumbled to her feet.

“Stay right where you are, and take your hand out of your pockets,” the voice ordered. “You won’t get hurt if you do as you’re told. Do it!”

She squinted at the tall figure standing in the shadows at the mouth of the cave and heard the click of a revolver. Ragged breaths escaped her throat. “Are you going to kill me?”
she asked in a throaty whisper, as she showed him one empty hand.

“That depends on how much trouble you decide to cause. Just hand over that map and I’ll be on my way.”

Inhaling deeply, her eyes roamed over the parchment still clutched in her fist. The trail will be long. Don’t give up. Her pa’s words rang in her ears. Nothing was going to stop her
from going after whatever lay at the end of that trail. Her pa had died so she could have a better life. No one was going to take that from her.
“If you want it, you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers,” she replied with bravado.

The man said nothing.

“Show yourself,” she challenged. Josie’s fingers twitched as she let her hand creep back into her pocket. She gripped the pearl handle of her Derringer again.
“How do you know about this map? Who are you?”

The man took one step forward, but she still couldn’t see his face. When he spoke again, she sensed he was someone of little patience.
“I don’t have to explain anything to a girl,” he snapped. “Walk around that fire and lay the paper on this rock over here.” His gloved hand pointed to a stone ledge, which jutted out from the cave wall.

“I’m not a girl,” she snapped back. “I’m nineteen and this map belongs to me. I’m not about to give it to some coward who won’t even show his face.”
Apparently striking a nerve, the man swiftly strode forward out of the darkness, with his gun raised and leveled at her. The fire danced upon his features. She gasped.
It was the stranger who rode the white stallion—the one all in black who’d been watching her in Dry Gulch. Her heart lurched. He tilted his dusty hat up with a finger to show her
eyes the color of dark molasses. She could feel the heat radiating from those fiery pupils as they bore into her.

“Is that better?” he asked.

“It’s you! Why are you following me?”

“I think I already explained. I’ve come for the map. Now, hand it over.”

She gripped the parchment even tighter. She needed to distract him while she took a minute to think this through, so she abruptly changed the subject. “Did you set that trap back there?”

He blinked. Seemingly caught off guard, he answered, “Yeah. I did that.”

“Well, it was clever. Was the marshal and his gang your target, or was I the one you were trying to ambush?” She didn’t give him time to respond. “I bet you didn’t count on the fact
that mules can jump over six feet at a standstill, did you?”

The man’s brow creased. “Quit your jabbering, girl, and pass that paper to me. I’m not in the mood to play games.” He advanced, stopping in front of her. His tall, muscular frame towered over her petite body.
Quick as a snake striking, she jammed the map in her back pocket and thrust the double-barreled Derringer into his rib. Just as speedy, he shoved his revolver against her temple.

“You’re fast, but not fast enough,” he drawled. “Put down the gun.”

“You put yours down first,” she countered.

Neither one moved. Josie’s chest rose and fell in erratic rhythm. The pistol felt cold as it pushed against her skin.

“Are we going to have a Mexican standoff?” he wondered aloud.

She felt his warm breath on her face. He stood so close, his musky smell, mixed with sweat and the faint scent of lavender made her woozy. “I know how to use this gun,” she managed.
“I’ll shoot you. Don’t think I won’t.” She cocked the Derringer to show him she meant what she promised.

The tall, dark stranger looked down into her eyes. A muscle ticked along his jaw. After several long moments, she felt the release of pressure from her temple.

“Toss the gun down on the ground,” she commanded, as she kept her gun pointed at his ribcage.

“I’ll toss mine when you toss yours.”

Josie searched his face. “Are you crazy, or just stupid? You stalk me, want to rob me of my personal possession, and you think I’m just going to throw down my gun? Why should I trust you?”

“Because I’ve never killed a woman before,” he said without skipping a beat. “And I don’t intend to start now.”

His response surprised her. After considering his words carefully, she removed the gun from his rib. “On the count of three, we’ll both throw our guns onto the ground.
Do I have your word as a gentleman?” she asked.

The man in black threw his head back and laughed. “Whatever gave you the idea I’m a gentleman?”

She rammed the Derringer into his gut again and narrowed her eyes. The gun pressed into taut, rigid muscle. She realized he could probably break her in half with one hand tied behind his back,
but she was not going to be intimidated. She had too much to lose to let him scare her out of what was rightfully hers.

“I’ll kill you right now, mister. And it won’t bother me none. Believe me. I’ll take my map and high-tail it outta here, leaving you dead as a stone.”

The man grinned, baring a perfect row of sparkling teeth. “You’re a tough little half-breed, aren’t you?”

“Half-breed!” she shrieked, lunging at him. She pounded on his chest with her fists and clawed at his shirt. He grabbed her wrists and both the pistol and Derringer flew out of their hands and
clattered to the hard ground. The stranger pulled her close. Josie struggled under his grasp. “Let me go, you ignorant jackass!” She kicked at his shins with her boots, but he lifted her off the
ground before she could do any real damage. His hands circled her waist in a tight hold.

“Calm down, missy,” he hollered. He kept a strong grip on her as he danced the two of them about, trying to avoid her bruising kicks. “I’m not ignorant. It was just a stupid joke.
That’s what Leroy always called you. His little half-breed.”

Josie abruptly stopped fighting and glowered up at him. His arms were still wrapped tight around her, causing her shoulders to squeeze together. “What did you say?”
He lowered her to the ground and repeated himself. “I said that’s how Leroy referred to you. But I think he was teasing.”

Shrugging out of his hold, she continued to stare. The racing of her pulse began to slow. Pushing a strand of flyaway hair from her face she stammered, “You…you knew my pa?”
For the first time, she took a real hard look at the cowboy. His mouth drew into a tight line, but he was awful good-looking, for an outlaw. His sun-soaked face was unshaven, his jaw was square,
and his brown eyes were…well, they were so beautiful and mesmerizing, she felt like climbing right into them.

She changed her mind about the mesmerizing eyes when he spit out his hateful answer. “I knew your pa, all right. He was a no-good, low-down, common thief who got what he deserved when they hung him.”

Shocked by the cruelty of the stranger’s words, she opened her mouth to retort, but for once, nothing came out. After staring into his flashing eyes for several moments, she lowered her head,
realizing she couldn’t argue with him on that count. “What did he do to you?” she asked, softly. Her lungs suddenly felt deflated.

“He stole my life,” he barked. “All my plans were ruined on account of that sonofabitch. He took what was rightfully mine, and I fully intend to get it back. Right here, right now.”

Stacey Coverstone
Western Romance Author
Delaney's Crossing, Available Now
High Lonesome, Available Now
Outlaw Trail, December 1
Lucky in Love, June 2010

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