Dorothy Garlock

Dorothy Garlock by A Gentle Giving Page B

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Authors: A Gentle Giving
scruff of the neck and pulled him away.
    “Stupid, featherheaded, brainless woman! Of course, it’s me. She broke my hand and drove my ring right into my head. Jesus, deliver me from hair-brained females.”
    “Oh, Lord. We’re sorry. Buddy heard something and—”
    “He probably heard me. I was keeping an eye out for Coyle and Fuller.” Smith got to his feet waving his injured hand. “It isn’t safe to be within ten feet of this . . . this wildcat. She ought to be in a cage.”
    Willa stood as fear left her and anger blossomed into full bloom. “You got just what you deserved. You had no business sneaking up on us.”
    “Sneaking! Sneaking!” he shouted.
    “Yes, sneaking,” she shouted back trembling so violently that she could hardly stand. “Too bad your hand got in the way. Nothing could hurt that hard, stupid . . . pickled head of yours.”
    “What the hell were you doing out here, anyhow?”
    “We were . . . hiding—not that it’s any business of yours!”
    “Hiding! Ha! A blind man could’ve spotted you in those light clothes. You stood out like a shithouse in a fog.”
    “Can’t you carry on a
decent
conversation?” Willa asked haughtily.
    “If I want to,” he answered back, his tone mocking hers.
    “Are you all right?” Charlie asked anxiously, still holding onto the growling dog.
    “Yes, but no thanks to your . . . Mr. Pickled-brain Smith,” she said scathingly as she brushed the dirt and leaves from her shoulders and arms.
    “Be thankful you’re a woman,” Smith growled menacingly. “If you’d been a man, I’d have shot you.”
    Willa produced the Derringer and pointed it at him. “And I’d have shot you right back.”
    “Godamighty! Put that thing away. If I’d a shot you, woman, you’d a been dead before you hit the ground.”
    “Well, you didn’t, so that’s that.” Her voice was calm, but her stomach was threatening to revolt, and her heart was racing like a wild mustang. She returned the Derringer to her pocket. “Come on, Jo Bell. There’s no need to let him ruin the rest of the night. I’m thinking he wants to get back to his . . . bottle and drown his sorrows.”
    “You hurt him, ma’am.” Jo Bell’s voice was soft, caressing, intimate. She moved to stand between Willa and Smith. “Don’t mind her, Mr. Bowman. She’s just a fussy old maid. Come to the wagon. Let me bandage your hand.”
    “Get away from me, you little brat,” Smith snarled. “I’ll take care of myself.” He stomped off into the darkness, leaving them to look at the spot where he disappeared.
    “Well—” Jo Bell tossed her head, angry at being rebuffed. “I hope yore old hand rots and . . . falls off!” she yelled.
    “I sure do hate it that we’ve made him mad at us,” Charlie said on the way back to the wagon.
    “I’m not one bit sorry I hit him.” Willa suddenly burst into laughter. “Ping! I’ll never forget the sound of that skillet hitting his ring.”
    “Buddy was going for his throat.” Charlie spoke quietly, and Willa sobered. “He could have killed him.”
    “I suppose that’d be all right with you, ma’am,” Jo Bell’s voice was laced with sarcasm. “You think that old dog is so . . . grand.”
    “No, it wouldn’t have been all right. I hate to see any living creature killed. The time may come, Jo Bell, when you’ll be glad to have Buddy’s protection.”
    “I doubt that. I just doubt that.”
    *  *  *
    The next afternoon, when the heat of the day was making itself known, Jo Bell climbed into the back of the wagon to rest in the shade.
    “I’m just not goin’ to sit out here and let the sun cook my face. Heavens! I’ll have freckles all over my nose.”
    Willa was glad to be relieved of the girl’s senseless egotistical chatter. She removed her hat and placed it on the seat beside her and wished that all she had to worry about was a few freckles on her nose. Her level brows drew together in a puzzled frown, and once again she tried to

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