Sean didn’t know what to make of the widow, especially after the stories the other marshals had told him. She was fast with a gun—faster than most men. However she also had a sharp tongue and was bossy as hell. He couldn’t tell even what she looked like due to the huge floppy hat, and a dress at least three sizes too big and two sizes too short so he could see the man’s boots she wore. All he knew was she was tall and ornery with an attitude as big as Arizona itself.
He followed her into the house, ducking through the doorway after she did. The interior of the house was dark and rich with shadows. Sean paused for a moment to get his bearings. The rough hewn furnishings spoke of folks who used what they had to make furniture including logs, sticks and mismatched boards. Whoever had been the carpenter should have been put out of his misery. They were crooked, tied together with bailing twine and spit. Sean was afraid to even sit on anything for fear it would splinter under his weight.
The interior was clean, at least, although the floor was dirt, there was two rag rugs and even a pump with a large wooden sink. She went over to the sink and started working the pump until the water gushed out. After grabbing a canning jar from a rickety shelf above the sink, she filled it and took a long drink. Dribbles ran down the sides of her mouth, leaving spots on her dress. She yanked off the ugly hat then to his surprise, poured the rest of the water over her head.
“Oh my God, I needed that.” The water ran down her body, soaking the sorry dress she wore, revealing a hell of a lot more than he expected.
Beneath the brown fabric lay the curves of a woman, breasts that would more than fill his hands, and an hourglass figure that made his body harden against his wishes. Sean’s mouth went dry and he vaguely wished he could have a taste of water himself.
From her skin.
“I hope you’re not the shy type, Marshal. I had a long day and need a bath. I’m gonna get the water ready while we jaw for a bit.” From beneath the stove, she pulled out an impossibly small hip bath.
Visions of her standing in that bath naked made him shake. What in the hell was wrong with him? This woman about shot his head clean off and now he was having fantasies about seeing her without clothes.
She filled a bucket with water and put it on the back of a large pot-bellied stove, then stoked up the fire.
“I’ll make some coffee so we can talk.” After filling a battered tin pot and throwing in some beans, she set it on the stove beside the bucket. “You don’t talk much do you?”
“What did you want me to say? I came here to do my job, nothing more.” His voice sounded rusty even to his own ears.
“I know you’ll be doing your job.” She gestured to the rickety chairs at the equally rickety table. “Sit down and I’ll get busy telling you why I sent for a marshal.”
Sean eyed the chair with suspicion, figuring his ass would be on the dirty floor before the coffee boiled, but sat anyway. At least it was a chair, something he hadn’t seen much of in the last month. It creaked ominously beneath him but held together.
“Get talking then.”
She sat in the other chair and blew out a breath, the force of which made one curl sway against her cheek. It wasn’t very bright in the cabin so he couldn’t quite see her face or tell what color her hair was, especially since it was still wet from the water she’d dumped on her head.
“Can we get some light?”
Another sigh. “I ain’t made of money, marshal. Oil ain’t free, neither is candles.” Even though she complained about it, she turned the wick up in the lamp. “That better?”
The warm glow painted her face in golden light. Memories slammed into him.
Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.
Widow Quinn was Lucille Harris? What kind of world threw him into a situation with the woman who lived in his dreams? He hadn’t seen her in five years, not long enough to dispel her from his memories. Now here they were alone, she was wet and sexier than she had been.
Her expression hardened right along with her jaw. “You don’t get to call me that.”
“It is you, isn’t it?” Twitches of shock echoed through him.
“My name is Lucille. I ain’t been Lucy in years.” She slicked her hair back, revealing more of her face. Tiny lines creased at the corners of her eyes and mouth, as though she had been frowning a lot. Now she just scowled at him. “Can we just talk about the missing cattle?”
“How did you end up here?” He gestured to the hovel they sat in. “In this place?”
“I want to talk about cattle, not about me or my life.” She scratched at the tabletop, avoiding his gaze. “We had six dozen cattle, not prime beef, but they was ours. They’ve all disappeared over the last six months, not long after Patrick died.” She gestured to the door. “That cow is the last animal I got. I don’t trust anyone, including you, but I gotta do something. I can’t live on nothing but milk and dirt.”
Sean had a thousand questions for her, but she wasn’t going to answer even one of them. He had to focus on the job, not on the woman, however fetching she was.
“I’ll do what I can to sort this out.” He didn’t want to promise anything. She probably didn’t take care of the cattle after her husband passed, maybe didn’t know how. “Have you looked for the cattle?”
She made a face at him. “I looked on every square inch of this property for them beeves. They’re gone.”
Lucille got up and used a rag to pick up the coffee pot, pouring into an equally battered but serviceable tin cup. Sean wondered if she had more than one or if she wanted to share with him. That thought made his breath catch. No, no, no.
Don’t let your mind wander that way.
When she set the cup down, he watched her hands. Although she obviously did plenty of work with them, they were still very feminine looking with long fingers and skin the color of cream. “I ain’t much of a coffee drinker except in winter.”
He took a big gulp of the coffee to distract himself, and it worked. Too well. It had to be the worst coffee he’d ever had in his life. Not only were there bits of beans floating around in it, but it was as thick as sludge. He contemplated spitting it back in the cup but decided Lucy might bash him over the head with the pot if he did. Reluctantly, he swallowed the mess and tried not to shudder at the taste.
By the time he was done with that first gulp, she had already filled up the hip bath and was currently removing her clothing. Sean stood up so fast he spilled the coffee all over the table. Yanking off his neckcloth, he mopped it up as best he could, trying like hell not to look at her as she revealed her nude form. He could not get involved with Lucy again. Not again.
“I told you I was going to take a bath and hoped you weren’t shy. Life is too hard out here to be modest, Sean. Besides you already seen everything I got.”
Shy? Jesus, he wasn’t shy. He was a red-blooded man, alone with a woman in the middle of nowhere and she was getting naked. And wet. What the hell did she think he would do? Just watch like a fool while she took a bath?
He turned and headed for the door. Sean wasn’t an idiot. There would be a helluva lot more going on if he stayed. She didn’t say anything, which told him she understood why he was leaving. She could have called him back, or even invited him to join her, but she didn’t. Lucille was a woman alone, but she knew enough to not poke a bear.
Sean, proving to himself he was a fool, turned and looked just as he was closing the door behind him. The sight of her nakedness burned into his mind.