As a thank-you, here is an almost 1,000-word sneak peek from chapter 15 of Courageous Love. The book is still on schedule for me to have copies sometime soon after the New Year. For now, enjoy the excerpt!
To read chapters 1 and 2, click here: CHAPTERS 1 AND 2 OF COURAGEOUS LOVE.
Andi let the hastily scribbled warning flutter from her fingers. Her heart pounded in her ears. They’re watching me. Watching Lucy. Watching the baby. Bile rose, choking her. Whoever was behind the Carter troubles knew Justin was out of town. “The cat’s away . . .”
Before the paper touched the porch floor, Riley snatched it up. One moment he was scanning the words. The next instant he stuffed the note in his vest pocket. “I’ll be right back.” He took the steps in one bound and hit the walkway running.
“Riley!” Andi’s voice cracked. What was he up to? No explanation. No by-your-leave. No nothing. “Getting the sheriff won’t help!”
Riley vanished toward town.
Hands shaking, Andi lifted Sammy from Tucker’s side. The dog sat on the edge of the porch, head cocked and ears pricked. His attention was fixed on the empty sidewalk, but he made no move to follow his master.
Sammy howled. “Doggie-e-e!”
“Hush.” Andi crushed him in a worried embrace and glanced around the yard. She had always liked Justin and Lucy’s house near the edge of town. The cottage sat on a shady lot well away from the noisy, dusty, uptown traffic. The shed in the big back yard housed Justin’s horse and buggy.
Perfect house. Perfect setting.
Now Andi felt isolated. Alone. The neighbors on either side seemed acres away, their places surrounded by ornamental shrubs and spreading valley oaks. Andi’s heart beat faster.
Sammy ceased his howling. He went limp in Andi’s arms, clearly sensing something was not right. “Mama,” he whimpered.
“Shhh. It’s all right. Let’s go find your mama and . . .” Andi paused. And what? Smoldering annoyance gnawed at her gut. Why had Riley bolted like a runaway locomotive? Where was he? “Come on, Tucker,” she ordered. “Inside.”
The dog whirled. Tail wagging, he brushed past Andi’s legs and slipped into the house ahead of her.
“You can play with him inside.”
She had no sooner put Sammy down and bolted the front door when an insistent rapping startled her. She peeked through the curtains. Riley! Throwing open the door, she lit into him. “Why did you—”
“Not now.” He ducked inside, hauling a squirming little boy with him. Dirty tears streaked the urchin’s face. Riley dumped him at Andi’s feet. “You tell Miss Carter exactly what she wants to know, starting with that note. Do you hear me?”
At Riley’s ferocity, the boy burst into fresh tears. “He g-gave me t-two bits to deliver it,” he blubbered, wiping his shirt sleeve across his runny nose.
“Who?” Riley pressed him.
The boy shrugged. “Dunno. I was lookin’ for pennies down past the railroad depot.” He sniffed. “A Mexican fella came by and grabbed my collar. Said he’d pay me t’ run an errand.” His eyes widened. “A whole quarter. Y’know how much licorice two bits can—”
“What did he look like?” Andi cut in.
“Kinda old, like my pa, but slicked up in fancy duds. Black moustache and beard, trimmed up real nice. Black hat.” He scrunched up his face in thought. “Another fella was with him, scribbling on a scrap of paper. The Mexican grabbed it and handed it to me.” The boy’s eyes filled with fresh tears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean no harm.”
Andi bent down and gripped the boy’s shoulders. She forced a smile. “I know you didn’t. It’s not your fault. Riley didn’t mean to scare you. You did a good job remembering what he looked like. What’s your name?”
“Listen, Mark,” Andi said quietly. “If you see him again, come right on over and tell me where he is. I’ll give you a silver dollar.”
Mark’s tears dried up. A wide smile showed two missing front teeth. “No foolin’? A silver dollar?”
“No fooling,” Riley assured him with a friendly grin. “Do you know how much licorice a whole dollar can buy?” He ruffled the boy’s hair. “You can run along home now.”
“Yes, sir! G’night, miss. I’ll find him. I’d do most anything for a silver dollar.” Mark slammed past the screen door. It banged shut behind him.
Riley closed the front door and leaned against it, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I scared you, but I was afraid I’d lose that little fellow. He’s our only clue to—”
“Never mind.” Andi waved Riley into silence. “What good is a Wanted poster if no one recognizes this bandit? Looks like he has free run of the town.” Her heart raced anew. So did her thoughts. We can’t stay here. Not now. Not after seeing that note and hearing the description of—
She clenched her fists. “I’m taking Lucy and Sammy out to the ranch.”
Andi nodded. “Not one minute longer will we stay in this house without Justin. Not even with Tucker.” She shuddered. Mother thought town was so safe. How wrong she was!
The Circle C ranch shimmered in Andi’s mind—just out of reach—as the only safe place in the valley. Maybe even in the entire state. Chad was there. Mother was there. Two dozen ranch hands were keeping an eye out for trouble.
Andi looked at Riley. Riley’s there too. He’d promised to yank her out of the next fix she found herself in. Well, this was one fine fix.