“Sheriff…I just killed my husband.”
Hotel owner Claire Daines is a respected member of the community. Until she shocks the entire town by rushing into a saloon wearing only her nightclothes and confessing to very inebriated lawman.
Is she a killer? Is she crazy? Or is she covering up something worse?
For years, Claire hushed up her husband’s dangerous condition to guard his reputation. When tragedy strikes, she puts her own life at risk when she vows to keep another terrible secret.
Sheriff Frank Garrity must get to the truth, although the tough, hard-drinking lawman hides his own secrets and would rather walk a lonely path than face his demons. But as Frank unravels Claire’s subterfuge and unlocks her heart, he’s torn between his desire to save her and his duty to bring her to justice.
Parsons, Kansas, March 3, 1874
“Sheriff…I just killed my husband.”
Her honeyed voice sounded familiar, but what she said sounded like pure nonsense. That or he’d misunderstood.
Frank Garrity raised his head from where he’d laid it on his arms after he got tired of holding it up. He dragged open eyelids as heavy as wet canvas and squinted at a fuzzy feminine image clothed in pure white.
God above. An angel.
He tried breathing. The smell of cheap cigars and even cheaper whiskey convinced him he was still in the saloon, therefore amongst the living, which meant he’d slipped into another drunken delusion. He only thought he saw an angel standing there, confessing murder.
This specter looked more substantial and far more pleasurable than the others that haunted his dreams. A wealth of dark hair cascaded over her shoulders, past the point where the scarred tabletop concealed her lower half, keeping the rest of her a tantalizing secret. If inebriation brought on angelic visions like this one, he’d have another drink.
He curled his hand around an empty whiskey bottle, but couldn’t recall finishing it. Regret flickered. Normally, he didn’t drink this much. Only on days when guilt overcame his good sense and there was no other way to obliterate the pain. God might’ve sent an angel to warn him not to overindulge.
“Did you hear me?” The angel’s dulcet voice wavered. “I shot Frederick.”
“Who?” Frank blinked, bleary eyed and confused. The only Frederick he knew lived next door with his wife. Claire.
The whiskey-drenched fog cleared. So did his vision. Frank jerked his attention to her face and shock struck him square in the chest.
No angel. It was the owner of the hotel, Mrs. Daines. He hadn’t recognized her right off because she didn’t have on a dress.
He closed his eyes and then opened them to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Nope, still there, in her nightgown and wrap, although the proper lady he knew wouldn’t be caught dead in a saloon, much less looking like she’d just crawled out of bed.
Her hair hung loose, in disarray. Her face had an unhealthy flush and she had a wild look in her eyes. She thrust her arms out at him, turning up delicate wrists, pale and blue-veined. Her slender fingers curled inward as if cradling something fragile. “I-I’m turning myself in.”
Surely, the poor woman’s mind had snapped.
Frank came to his feet so fast his chair flew back. It clattered to the floor, all the louder because the noise broke a hushed silence that had fallen over the crowded barroom. No tinkling piano, no clinking glasses, no catcalls, not even a giggle from the scantily clad serving girl a few feet away, wide-eyed and stock-still.
He stumbled against the table as he wheeled around to where the crazy woman stood, holding her arms out in that ridiculous position like she expected him to slap manacles on her. Determined to get her home before the whole damn town saw her in her unmentionables, he stripped off his heavy overcoat—which he’d kept on because the thin walls didn’t stand a chance against the freezing temperatures—and flung it around her shoulders, hauled her up against him and made for the door in as close to a beeline as he could manage.
Not too roostered. He hadn’t fallen over and only weaved slightly.
The next instant, her arm slipped around his waist to steady him.
“Dang it, woman, let me do the rescuing.”
He swept her up into his arms as he reached the front of the saloon, where a soot-faced railroader opened the door as courteously as a butler.
A frigid blast struck Frank in the face. He sucked in a sharp breath. That cleared his head.
The fragrant, feminine bundle in his arms started squirming. “Sheriff Garrity, put me down! I said you should arrest me, not accost me!”