Liz Ireland.

Millie And The Fugitive






Praise You cant blame me, Millie argued. Letter to Reader Title Page About the Author Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Copyright

Praise for

Liz Irelands first historical romance CECILIA AND THE STRANGER

CECILIA AND THE

STRANGER, with its small town hominess and subtle humor, is a heart warming, thoroughly enjoyable read.

Romantic Times

Laughter abounds as Jake

and Cecilia butt heads at every turn... A marvelous tale from start to finish.

Rendezvous

You cant blame me, Millie argued.

No, he couldnt, Sam admitted to himself. This was all his fault. If he hadnt gotten the fool notion about Millies dress into his head, he could have gone on thinking about her as a...well, a troublesome hostage. But now he was going to be hard pressed to look at her again without thinking of her as she appeared at this moment, that camisole sticking to her collarbone and cleavage, her petticoats outlining her tiny waist, hips and shapely legs.

Damn. He trained his eyes away, toward the spot where theyd left the horses. All right. Its my fault. Now hurry up and get your clothes on.

She shot him an exasperated look. First you want them off, now you want them on! And all the while you keep pointing that gun at mehow do you expect me to act efficiently under these circumstances?

Patience! Sam told himself....

Dear Reader,

Liz Irelands first book, Man Trap, won her the RT Award for Best Silhouette Romance of the Year in 1993.

Now this talented young author has turned her hand to historical novels and we are delighted to be able to bring you her newest title, Millie and the Fugitive. This wonderful story is about an innocent man running from the law who is forced to take along a spoiled rich girl, only to discover that she is the best thing thats ever happened to him. We hope youll enjoy it.

Pearl is part of Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ruth Langans new THE JEWELS OF TEXAS series featuring four sisters, brought together by the death of their father. Its the story of an Eastern-bred schoolteacher and the rough-and-tumble ranch foreman who wants her sent back home where she belongs. Dont miss any of this terrific series.

Badlands Bride, by Cheryl St.John, is about a newspaper reporter who goes west pretending to be a mail-order bride, only to find herself stranded in the Dakotas for a long cold winter. While Margaret Moores new Medieval novel, The Barons Quest, is the story of a rough-edged Saxon who falls in love with the refined gentlewoman whom he has inherited along with his new holdings.

We hope youll keep a lookout for all four titles wherever Harlequin Historicals are sold.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269 Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

Millie and the Fugitive

Liz Ireland


www.millsandboon.co.uk

LIZ IRELAND

lives in her native state of Texas, a place she feels gives her a never-ending supply of colorful characters. Aside from writing romance novels and tending to two very demanding cats and a guard dachshund, she enjoys spending time reading history or cozying up with an old movie.

Chapter One

Texas, 1880

Itll be slow going to Huntsville, boys, with me trussed up like last years Christmas goose, Sam Houston Winter said, lifting his shackled wrists as evidence of his hindered movement.

Toby Jenkins and Ed Herman, the two deputies riding to his left and to his right respectively, exchanged quick glances and chuckles. The two had loosened their demeanor since theyd left Chariton and their boss, Sheriff Tom McMillan, behind a mile ago. Now Sam had to see whether he could convince the pair to loosen him.

You sure take it on the chin, Sam, Toby said, shaking his head. Two years in the state prison ahead of you, and you still got a sense of humor.

Ed laughed his wheezy laugh again in agreement with Toby. Cant say Id be the same, ifn I was in your boots.

No, sir, Toby said. Though I think I would have done the same as you, Sam, if my brother was about to be hanged as a murderer.

You dont have a brother, Toby, Ed argued. He had to lean forward a little to see his sparring partner across Sams chest.

No, but ifn I did, and if they was gonna hang him, then Id do just what Sam did, and try to hide him.

Sure you would. I would, too, Ed said. But what I was just sayin was that I wouldnt be laughin when the judge threw me in the clink for aidin a criminal.

I know that, Ed, Toby said with irritation. Wasnt you listening? I was only sayin Id do the same thing. Except for the sense-of-humor part, he clarified. Like you, I wouldnt have no sense of humor about it, neither, like Sam here has.

No? Ed asked, a wry smile on his tobacco stained lips. Maybe thats cause you never had one to begin with!

The two threw back their heads in riotous, whooping laughter.

It was going to be an even longer ride than hed imagined, Sam thought dismally. Yet the annoying duo steeled his determination to make a break for it.

Anyway, its a shame we have to poke along like turtles on account of me, Sam said, lifting his shoulders in a shrug after the two had tamped down their guffaws.

Eds face was sober for a blessed moment. Sorry it has to be this way, Sam.

Me, too, Toby said.

Stupid rules. Me and Toby both know you wouldnt swat a fly. You only did what you did which wasnt much, reallycause Jesse was your brother.

Same as we would have done.

Sam held his breath, dreading a repeat of their prior interchange, but the two seemed lost in thought. Serious thought, if the way Eds yellowed teeth sawed on his lower lip was any indication.

You know, Toby, Ed asked after a moment, how is it that Sams all trussed up like so? Its not like he was a murderer.

But hes a prisoner, just the same.

Ed nodded, as if he had forgotten this minor point. Thats right, Sam. You are a prisoner. Much as I hate to say it.

Me, too, Toby agreed.

You sure play a hell of a game of poker, though, Ed added as an afterthought.

Toby shook his head wistfully. During Sams weeks in Charitons tiny jail, the three of them had whiled away many a tedious hour over a worn deck.

Sometimes theyd even convinced Jesse to join in on a hand, but hed never taken any pleasure in the game. Jesse was in mourning for Salina, his wife, the woman hed been convicted of killing. For weeks, nothing had been able to keep him from brooding over his loss, not even his flight from the law, or his capture at Sams farm, or the hurried, hopeless trial that followed.

Sheriff McMillan, fueled by resentment toward Jesse after hed testified against the sheriffs son in a trial a year earlier, had seized on just enough evidence to convict Jesse. And he hadnt been interested in any information that might contradict his desire to get his revenge, either. As for the rest of the town, most folks considered the crime so heinous, so shocking, they were eager for especially swift justice.

Sam frowned. Now Jesse was all alone in that cell, with no one to even attempt to take his mind off his troubles. He was sure Jesse didnt even care that he faced the gallows in two weeks time. Jesse didnt think he had much to live for, now that Salina was gone. But Sam wasnt giving up so easily. In his pocket he had possible evidence of another mans guiltscant evidence that Tom McMillan, who only wanted a man to hang, wasnt interested in pursuing.

Meanwhile, he waited patiently for Ed and Tobys reasoning to progress to the next step.

Course, its not like Sams a violent criminal, Ed, Toby said. Hidin somebody isnt the same as killin somebody.

Ed shook his head. Nope. Fact, its practically the exact opposite.

Practically, Toby agreed. Sam here aint never even said a word against anybody. Not that Ive heard.

Me neither.

He just done what anybody would have done.

On this much, at least, the two seemed clear. Sam decided to give them a little mental shove. God knew, they needed it.

Well, I suppose thats just the way with the law, he said nonchalantly. If you start making exceptions...

Where would it end? Toby finished for him.

Why, sure. Sam was silent a moment, then mused absently, I wonder whether counterfeiters have to wear handcuffs

Toby and Ed suddenly looked at each other, their eyes wide and almost alarmed, as if the unexpected question had mentally flummoxed them.

I dont know, Toby said, his voice filled with wonder. Do you know, Ed?

No, I sure dont.

Counterfeiter. I aint never run across one of those. Toby bit his lip and squinted in thought as he stared across the horizon. It was morning still, and the sun was just now beginning to beat down upon them. I bet they do.

Bet so. Ed frowned. But then again, maybe they dont.

Funny thing is, Toby said, Sam here is even less dangerous than a counterfeiter, when you think about it.

Hes not even a thief or anything like that.

Hell no. Hes just a brother-hider.

I mean, whos he hurt?

Nobody I know of.

The two looked at each other again, communicating silently over Sams shoulders.

And if somebody like a counterfeiter doesnt have to be tied up, then why should Sam?

You got me stumped, Ed declared.

Whoa there, boys, Sam said graciously, hoping the triumphant surge he felt didnt show in his face. They werent even three miles out of town yet. This was too easy. I dont want to get you in trouble with your boss man.

With Sheriff Tom? Ed asked incredulously.

Why, Tom trusts us! Toby protested, as if the idea itself were plumb crazy.

Would he have let us take you all the way to Huntsville by our lonesome if he didnt trust us to use our, you know...

Discretion? Sam prompted.

Sure, thats it, Toby said. Wed just be using our discretion. Its not like you would try to escape.

You certain of that? Sam asked, darting his eyebrows up.

Ha! Thats a laugh! Ed said with another wheezing chuckle. Hold up there, Toby, lets let old poker face here out of these iron traps. Hes right, itll make for faster travelin.

Easy, it was too easy, Sam thought, proffering his wrists with an admirable show of reluctance.

Toby tossed a large ring of keys over Sams horse to Ed. Here, take care of it, will you? Ive got to water a bush.

Already? Hell, its gonna be slow goin anyway, even without Sam cuffed. Ed laughed heartily as Toby disappeared to the other side of a scrubby little elm.

After only minimal fumbling, the bonds fell away in a noisy clatter to Sams saddle. Far too easy. Providence couldnt have sent him two more gullible jailers.

Now we just have to wait for old leaky-drawers, Ed mused, shifting in his saddle and looking off in the direction where Toby had disappeared. I swear, the mans as bad as

The sound of the cuffs hitting the back of Eds head made a dull clump sound, and then the deputy slumped over and listed to the side, falling from his horse. Sam jumped down and eased the mans way to the ground. He wasnt a violent man, normally; ordinarily he would have felt a sting of guilt for taking advantage of the two mens kindness this way. But these werent ordinary circumstances he was in. He grabbed the rifle off Eds saddle and held it up toward the tree Toby just then appeared from behind.

Hey! Whats goin on here? Toby demanded.

Ed had a fainting spell, Sam said, keeping his voice raw and cool, his muscles tense. The time for friendly patter had passed. Drop your gun, Toby.

Sure thing, Sam, the second deputy said, scooting forward obligingly with one hand stiffly in the air while the other pulled a derringer from its holster and lowered the gun to the earth. Heck, you know I dont blame you none. Id do the same ifn I was you.

Maybe so, Sam said, picking up Tobys derringer and tucking it into his belt. I dont have time for making excuses. Now get over here and drag Ed back to that tree.

Whatever you say, Sam, Toby said, grabbing Ed by the armpits and dragging him backward. His frightened eyes never left the barrel of Sams rifle. Sam grabbed a coil of rope from Eds saddle and joined Toby by the tree. I hate to do this to you, friend....

You aint gonna? Toby winced and fell to his knees in supplication. Please, SamIve got a widowed mother.

Youll see your mother again, Sam assured the man, moments before his rifle butt came down on his head. Soon Mama Jenkins would be treating her boy for a nasty bump on the head.

Quickly Sam cuffed the two men together, then propped them up against the tree and bound them tightly to its trunk. He had enough rope for the job and then a good length left overyet another sign that the Fates were with him this day.

Feeling magnanimous, he trotted back to the horses and retrieved a canteen of water from one of the saddles. He returned to the two men and propped the water between them.

He didnt want them to die he just didnt want them to be found for at least a day or two. After a final whack on the head for each of them, he turned and drove two of the horses away, saving the gamest one for his own flight.

The black would have to ride hard in the days ahead. It was nearly four days to the south and west to Little Bend, the town where he had business. Dead-serious business. And Jesses date with the hangman in two weeks left him precious little time.

He mounted the black and kicked him into an easy lope, due west. In spite of the tension that ate at his insides, a wide smile broke out across his lips. At least he was off to a good start. Yes, sir. Things couldnt have gone much better if hed planned it step by step.

Then he heard a noise. A horses whinny, high and shrill.

He sawed the reins of the black and brought him to a stop, turning in his saddle. The other two horses had galloped off in the opposite direction from where the sound had come from. Tense, alert, he surveyed the landscape around him. There wasnt much to it. Just a sloping, grass-covered hill, dotted with elms and other unremarkable trees. Except one...

His eyes caught sight of what hed been looking for. On the other side of the tree stood a horse, a pretty little dappled gray mare. Raising his rifle with one arm, he rode slowly toward the tree where the horse was tethered. A pear tree. Its branches sagged with fruit.

Sam stopped. He didnt like this at all. A riderless horse practically within spitting distance of where hed clunked two deputies over the head... Maybe his luck wasnt so good today after all.

Whos there? he asked, his finger tense on the trigger. Having come this far, he was ready to shoot his way out of trouble if he had to.

But as his eyes scanned the area once again, he noted something interesting. The mare was outfitted with a sidesaddle, polished to a high gloss. Sam had seen few of those ridiculous-looking things in his twenty-eight years. Yet the sight of it made him relax a little. It was only a woman.

He hoped she was alone.

Where the hell could she be?

Just then, his gaze alit on precisely what hed been looking fora dainty tan boot peeking out from beneath a limb of the pear tree. The woman was treed...but shed also been in a perfect position to witness him clobbering two deputies.

All right, lady. Come on out.

A branch rustled nervously, sending a brown pear dropping to the hard ground below. But fruit was all that appeared.

I know you heard me, he said, riding forward a few more steps. He doubted the person who belonged to those kid-leather boots rode armed.

The closer he came, the more that tree shook, until, as Sam sat directly beneath a bright yellow dress covering a host of frilly starched white petticoats and a tantalizing peek of shapely, pantalet-clad legs, every branch on the tree was quivering. Looking up, he discovered a pair of the darkest, most frightened eyes hed ever seen staring down at him. Shed heard him, all right. She just wished she hadnt.

All, right, little lady, he said in the same gruff voice, come on down now.

In a split second, even though her gaze never left his face, the young womans entire demeanor changed. A bright, fetching smile broke out across her rosy-red lips, even if the fear remained in her eyes as she hugged even more tightly to the tree trunk.

Well, my goodness! she cried, in an overly friendly tone that was betrayed only by a slight anxious crack in her voice. I thought I heard someone!

Right, Sam said, lacking the leisure to be amused by her little show of innocence. You might also have thought you saw a man tying two deputies to a tree.

Deputies? she asked. What deputies?

Come on, lady, he said, raising the rifle another notch.

Her expression turned deadly earnest, and she shook her head fervently. Oh, no, I swear. I didnt see a thing. Mymy lips are forever sealed.

If you didnt see anything, what are they sealed against?

Thats just it, she insisted. They wont be able to get a single solitary word out of me, Mr. Im sorry, what is your name?

Not a chance, he told her.

Desperation crossed her face. Youve got to believe me, she pleaded. I wouldnt tell a soul I saw anything, even if I did. Which I didnt. Ask anyone. Im honest to a fault. I never break my word. Never, never, never, neverOoooh!

He grabbed her booted foot and tugged. Are you coming down, or am I going to have to drag you?

No! It took her a moment to regain her composure, not to mention her equilibrium, as her right foot struggled for balance on a narrow limb. I mean, of course Ill come down, she said, trying the pleasant tactic again. Im most eager to make your acquaintance.

Ill bet.

He leaned against the saddle horn for a moment as the young woman fussed and fidgeted, alternately shooting nervous glances at him and studying with some confusion her position in the tree. My goodness... she mumbled absently. I got up here so fast, I never considered how to get down....

Sam sighed. He didnt have time for this. Do you want some help?

No, noOooh!

Before she could waste any more precious moments, Sam reached up with both hands, grabbed her about the knees and pulled firmly. It didnt take much effort. In a cascade of starched cotton and pears, the young woman landed across the saddle in front of him, her keen dark eyes rounded in shock. Both Sam and the girl sucked in surprised gulps of air in reaction to his bold maneuver.

She had to be the lightest woman hed ever held in his armsnot that he made a habit of lifting females. As he looked into her pretty face close up for the first time, he felt a stab of disappointment. This was hardly time for a leisurely getting-acquainted chat with an attractive girl. Seeing the momentary curiosity in the young womans expression return quickly to fear as she stared back at him reminded him of his purpose.

Sorry, miss, Im in a hurry, Sam drawled.

His words, even spoken as casually as they were, sent the young lady over the edge. Tears spilled down her pale cheeks, and she recoiled from him, grabbing behind her at the black mane of his horse. Please dont kill me, she pleaded frantically as she attempted to squirm away.

I wont, Sam said.

Please! I wont say a wordon my honor!

I dont believe you, but Im not going to kill you.

She ran a hand through her tangled black hair, her gaze darting frantically across the horizon all the while, no doubt hoping for rescue. My daddy will pay you any amount of money for me, if youll only let me live.

Lady, havent you listened to a word Ive said? Sam asked. Im not going to kill you.

What? She stared at him dubiously.

Im not a murderer.

Yes, you are! she cried vehemently. I saw

You saw what?

Her voice was suddenly meek. Nothing. But she didnt have to say a word for him to imagine exactly what shed seen, or what she thought shed seen.

Sam couldnt help it. He laughed bitterly. Had he really thought the Fates were with him? No such luck! He had a witness who had been close enough to watch him tie up two deputies and club them on the head, but too far away to notice that he hadnt killed them. Now he had to figure out what to do with her.

Daddy can walk into the bank and take out thousands of dollars for you, just as soon as Im returned. Believe me, I wont fail to mention how you rescued me from that tree.

Moneys not what Im after, Sam replied.

Then how about dry goods? she asked hopefully. My father owns a store. Theres all sorts of things there you might want. Fabric, food, guns... Well, he naturally might not want to give you guns

Quiet! He couldnt think, with her frantic babbling in his ear.

What could he do with her? Hitting two men on the head was one thing, but a woman... He had never hit a woman before. Besides, a woman was more delicate. He couldnt risk causing her serious harm, or, worse, accidentally killing her. That would make him a murderer. He looked down at the rope in his hands. Same if he tied her up. He didnt know when someone would find the two deputies. Could be today, could be a few days.





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