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The Marshal's Lady

Liberty Valley Love #3


by Josie Malone

Cowboy Spell by Josie Malone

"Josie Malone has penned an exciting, adventurous, time-travel western romane sure to please."
— Sabrina York, New York Times
and USA Today bestselling author

While trailing a serial killer on horseback, homicide detective Beth Chambers finds she has somehow ridden back in time—to 1888! When she comes across injured Marshal Rad Morgan, she has no choice but to try to save his life. Though the handsome marshal believes a lady should stand behind her man, Beth is determined to catch the killer she’s chased through time, and prove she’s a capable law enforcement officer in any century.

A former Union soldier, Rad has survived the Confederate hellhole of Andersonville Prison—but his toughest challenge is beautiful Beth Chambers. As the headstrong female detective from the future lets him in on why she’s there, Rad becomes convinced that her stubbornness may get her killed. But when he is shot and left for dead, the marshal has no other choice but to put himself in Beth’s hands—and hope they can both survive!

Two officers of the law from different centuries chasing the same killer could be a recipe for disaster—especially with the distraction of love!


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Release Date: August 17, 2021
Genre: Western | Time Travel Romance

A Pink Satin Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

“To do HER Sacred Work, SHE chooses a Guardian,

then creates a hallowed place, despite Time and Space....”

Rules of Chronos

 

* * *

 

Friday, April 13th, 2018

 

Rain dripped from the brim of her leather cowboy hat and splashed onto her gloved hand. Homicide Detective Beth Chambers peered through the misty drizzle. Did she see tracks from the horse ridden up this trail earlier in the day? Hunting Gary Smith, a suspected serial killer through Mount Baker National Forest wasn’t one of her wiser decisions.

She knew he was a vicious monster even if nobody believed her. When she’d finally managed to get a search warrant last month, she’d discovered a cross belonging to one victim and an earring belonging to another in his car. The defense attorney claimed she’d gone beyond the scope of the warrant because it limited her to the house and garage that Gary rented in Eagleville. The prosecutor barely argued the case. Privately, he’d already told Beth all the work she’d done to close the murders in the three previous investigations was circumstantial. Nobody placed Smith at any of the crime scenes, although witnesses had seen him with various victims prior to their deaths. She hadn’t found the knife or club he used on the women.

According to the lawyers and the judge, ‘God in a Black Robe,’ it didn’t matter if the car was in the garage at the time. It’d been a calculated risk, but she was afraid he’d hide the rig, or have it detailed before she got back to the judge and had the warrant amended. Since it didn’t specifically mention the vehicle, it made the jewelry inadmissible, ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ As a veteran cop, she’d been chewed out by everyone from the lead homicide detective to the lieutenant to the police chief.

She refused to consider what the prosecutor or defense attorney would think of her taking vacation time to hunt Smith. If she’d gone ‘by the book’ he wouldn’t have been loose to beat and rape her best friend. Remembering the sight of Nina's battered body tore at Beth’s heart. He was the killer she'd sought for the past year when he'd started torturing and murdering prostitutes in western Washington. He had to be the one who’d dumped the bodies in and around Liberty Valley. The last three had been found near Eagleville, the small town where she currently worked at the ‘cop shop.’

Was she paranoid to think he wanted to get at her? She scanned the path up ahead where her German Shepherd trotted in front of her horse. If it hadn't been for Luke, her retired K-9 partner, it would have been much harder to find the man she hunted. The dog picked up on Smith's scent almost immediately in the old ghost town of Monte Cristo. From there, Beth followed the trail into the Cascade wilderness.

At first, she'd worried Smith might cut across country, but obviously, he'd opted to cover as much ground in as short of time as possible. She suspected he was heading for the Canadian border. I don’t like the way the guy looks at me, which of course I can’t tell the Lieutenant. There’s way too much misogyny at the precinct and I can’t say that either.

The blatant contempt reminded her of what she’d seen during her Army tours in Afghanistan. Survival instinct warned her to be careful and watch her back, but if she mentioned it at work, her boss would insist she visit the department shrink again for more treatment of her combat-related PTSD. Smith had demanded a real cop interrogate him, contempt for her seeping from every pore when she interviewed him, and then he’d lawyered up as soon as one of the senior male detectives entered the room.

Beth leaned forward in the saddle and patted Tigger’s sweaty gray neck. She and the purebred Arabian, bred for endurance, had won several trail-riding competitions. Usually, she opted for the shorter fifty miles in a day contests. Soft puffs of steam rose from the stallion’s sculptured nostrils. He still arched his neck proudly, but white lather oozed under the leather breast-collar. “Poor guy. This is sure miserable weather for you and me.”

She straightened in the saddle and felt her muscles leap in aching response. Sitting in an office chair this past winter hadn’t prepared her for riding so much. She rose in the stirrups, twisted, and tried to relax. Tigger snorted. The loudness of the sound startled her. When had the woods grown silent? Large evergreens loomed closer to the narrow path. The trail was quiet, way too quiet.

Before, she’d heard birds and squirrels even when she rarely spotted them. An hour ago, the distinctive thumping of one of the state’s helicopters conducting a routine marijuana search had disrupted the rainy spring afternoon. The oppressive silence reminded her of Afghanistan when death had lurked around each corner. Once Luke became her partner, she’d discovered the dog was more reliable than any of the men in the sheriff’s department.

She suddenly realized she hadn’t seen him in the last five minutes. Where was he? She reined Tigger to a stop and scanned the trail ahead. One gray boulder blurred into the next. Her apprehension grew. Where was Luke? Her hand fell on the butt of the rifle, and she slowly began to draw the 30.06 carbine out of the scabbard.

She continued to keep Tigger motionless, while she measured the giant first-growth cedars surrounding her and the path. Each tree was large enough to hide a man. Any of them would provide cover while Smith got a clear shot at her. But why wait so long? Why hadn’t he ambushed her any time during the past two days? He must know by now that she was following him.

Her gaze narrowed on a brown, gray, and black shape near the granite boulders. It wasn't a rock. She knew in an instant. The limp, broken body was Luke. He was d...

Her brain refused to form the thought. At the same moment, she heard the whine of a bullet!

Beth spun Tigger toward the trees and spurred hard! The Arabian leaped forward, but it was too late. The leap changed into a rear!

She shoved the rifle back into its holder and concentrated on staying in the saddle. She threw her weight forward and to the right, hoping the shift in her balance would signal the horse to land on his front feet. Instead, the stallion continued to rise higher and higher.

No time to panic. She kicked her feet free of the stirrups, prepared to vault off the horse. Not enough time.

Tigger slipped on the granite. He lost his own balance, falling to the right. She saw the dirt approaching. Faster and faster. She threw herself out of the saddle, but the ground was too close.

The Arabian crashed over backward!

Beth tried to roll away from him—too little, too late. Her body slammed into the mud. Her head hit the granite boulder beside the path. She tasted blood, her blood. When she looked up, she saw Tigger falling toward her. Before she could move, he landed on top of her, crushing her beneath his thousand-pound body.

How many women had Smith killed? It wasn't the first time Beth wondered that, but she knew it would be the last. Tigger still didn’t move. The stallion couldn't. Her body felt as if it melted, sank in on itself. It was over. For a moment, she thought she heard someone nearby, but she didn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t.

Everything was over. It’s not fair. So many projects she hadn't finished. She'd wanted Smith and so much more. A good man to love, one who loved her. Children.

That was gone. Only pain, unending agony now.

A prayer formed on her lips. “Just one more chance. Let me stop Smith. Please.”

* * *

The sloppy wetness of Luke's tongue as he licked her face roused Beth. Her head spun. She struggled to lift one hand. She forced open her eyes and gently pushed the dog away. He whined and sat down beside her. She reached up, felt the bump on the back of her head where it’d hit a rock.

Remembering the sight of Luke's broken body beside the trail, she touched the dog, stroked his brown fur. He pressed closer, and she rubbed his shoulder. He’d been stunned, not killed. “Guess we both messed up, buddy. We've gotta be a lot more careful from here on out.”

Luke growled and licked her hand. She risked trying to sit up. Her mind fogged and she almost slipped into welcome darkness. No time for rest. The accident had obviously been Tigger's fault. It wasn't the first time the stallion had thrown her. However, it was the first time he'd reared and gone over backward on top of her.

“Damned, stupid idiot. I ought to have bought a Quarter-horse instead of falling in love with a beauty like you when Nina took me to Xanadu Arabians. I shouldn’t have listened when Audra bragged about how brilliant you are and your terrific pedigree.”

From where he pulled at a few tufts of grass near a granite boulder, Tigger nickered in answer. Beth glared at the horse. A faint wisp of memory filtered into her mind, and she tried to follow it. She had fallen off him, hadn’t she? Wasn't she pinned by the stallion for at least a moment or two? She must have passed out prior to Tigger standing up. No wonder she thought she was dead meat. For a moment, she recalled a sense of pervading peace, love, admiration, and acceptance. There had been all of that and yet something more.

The harder she tried to remember, the more the feeling slipped away. Reluctantly, she gave up the battle. She’d think about the accident later, after her head quit hurting. She hugged Luke tightly for a moment, then rested one hand on the German Shepherd’s solid, eighty-pound body and struggled to her feet. Her ribs throbbed in protest. She must have cracked one, if not broken it.

Her head swam. She took a step. Her stomach rebelled and she barely made it to the side of the trail before she hurled, grateful lunch had only been beef jerky and water eaten in the saddle hours ago. Should she head home? Nobody would blame her if she stopped searching for Gary Smith, nobody but herself. She raised a hand to her forehead and felt for the cut she remembered. The blood had frightened her. She'd been so sure she was dying.

There was no blood on her face now and no sign of the injury either. She tried a cautious step. Her legs were fine. She could walk. Her hysterical fear during the accident prompted the notion it was the end of the world and her life. Nina often said, “A good fall is one the rider walks away from.”

Recalling her friend restored Beth’s courage. She took a deep breath. Her body might feel a little sore, but she wasn’t finished yet. Smith deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars and justice must be served. She wouldn’t wimp out now, not when she was so close to him.

“No.” She petted Luke. “We’re not going back yet. We’re getting that scumbag off the streets and behind bars.”

The dog pressed against her. She stroked his bristly short hair. “Come on, partner. Let's go look around.”

Crossing to the Arabian, she took the rifle from its scabbard. She checked the load and started up the path. The stud whickered and then trotted after her.

“Now's a fine time to tell me how much you love me.” She swung around to catch the reins and tie up her horse. The sight of a bloody crease in the center of his forehead stopped her. A bullet wound. She was closer to Smith than she'd imagined. Tigger's spooking saved her life. She rested her hand on his gray neck. “I’ll be more careful. I don’t want you hurt.”

The stallion nuzzled her arm and Beth changed her mind. She couldn't leave the horse tethered. If he were loose, he could run away from Smith, and since the Arabian was used to getting treats from her, he'd come when he saw her. She glanced at the trail, a thin scattering of dirt over granite.

She went to Tigger’s right side. She opened the saddlebags and removed evidence bags and plastic gloves. Now, if she found anything, she would be able to use it against Smith. She worked her way through the overgrown salmonberry bushes and alder saplings, glad when she found her way back among the evergreens. Less than a hundred feet up the trail, she discovered the place where Smith had launched his attack. A few cigarette butts littered the muddy ground, and she recognized his footprints.

Removing her digital camera from a jacket pocket, she took pictures of the area then collected the evidence. No way she’d use her phone to take a video and risk losing it to the inept prosecutor. John Watkins, the lead homicide detective still complained about having to replace his smartphone when it was seized for evidence. She’d turn the cigarette butts into the lab when she got back to town. Tests would prove Gary Smith indeed attacked her, leaving her for dead.

The man was long gone. Did he think she was finished? Why hadn’t he made sure? He generally beat his victims almost to death, then slit their throats to be certain they couldn’t testify against him. Shooting her wasn’t his usual M.O. Why had he changed? She shrugged. Everyone made mistakes. Smith was a human being, not only the monster she personally thought of him.

Slowly, she returned to Tigger, collecting her hat on the way. She replaced the rifle in the scabbard, checked the tack, and then swung into the saddle. For the next hour, she rode cautiously. She kept a wary gaze on the trail and often rested a hand on the butt of the rifle. Luke remained closer this time, a few feet from the Arabian.

Suddenly, the path opened into a small clearing. A hill rose before her, clawing into the sky. Even misty fog and slanting rain couldn’t disguise the hazardous trail up the steep incline. She saw paw prints in the mud and knew Luke had already started the climb. She petted Tigger’s neck, lingering to watch the moon rise above the giant cedars and hemlocks. Something in the atmosphere caused the bright globe to appear red tonight. It provided plenty of light to see the trail and that was all she cared about.

Tigger tossed his head and snorted, the loudness shocking her. She returned her attention to the mammoth slope in front of her. Huge granite boulders lined the path while smaller fragments awaited an unwary hoof. A light sprinkling of dirt covered the slick gray stone and a tiny evergreen clung precariously to the side of the hill. Fog shrouded the top of the ridge, hiding the steepest part of the ascent.

She took a deep breath and measured the climb again. Then, she urged Tigger forward. The gray stallion leaped up the rocky incline, scrambling for footing. Granite pieces fell behind them and she glimpsed another horse’s hoofprint and a scrape on gray stone. So, Smith still had Wonder, an abused Appaloosa stallion he’d stolen from Nina Armstrong’s horse rescue facility.

Nobody knew where the starved wreck of an equine came from almost two years ago, but Nina, a famous Washington State horsy do-gooder nursed him back to health. The woman had interrupted Smith when he’d absconded with the horse three days ago and she’d paid the price. Beth found Nina before she died. She identified Smith and asked Beth to return the stallion to her barn.

The drizzle grew heavier, silvery rain slashing down in a curtain of thread-like drops, streaming downward. Waves of water rolled, small drops followed by larger ones creating a hazy view, a thin fog-shrouded screen blocking most of the path behind them. Tigger collected himself for another series of leaps. When they gained the first plateau, she reined him to a halt.

Oddly enough she could breathe better up here, better than she had when she first mounted after the accident. Her ribs had stopped hurting. Her head no longer pounded like someone beat a jack-hammer against her skull and her stomach wasn’t roiling. She truly had walked away unscathed. She’d have to tell Nina when they returned that her advice was correct as always. Of course, the younger woman would pitch a fit when she heard about the fall and lecture Beth for the hundredth time about keeping her heels down and staying balanced in the saddle.

She waited for Tigger to regain his breath. With a squeeze of her legs, she sent the horse forward again, grateful for the bright red moon lighting their way. More than once she heard his hooves strike small rocks. He jumped another log and came to a halt on the summit. She petted his steaming neck, scanning the top of the ridge. The evergreens which were so huge at the bottom of the hill had become tiny tips, like baby Christmas trees, insubstantial from this height.

Grateful the rain had stopped, she eyed the descent, stretching before her, down a winding trail. The path seemed clearer in the evening moonlight with none of the hazards they’d overcome on the ascent. She touched Tigger’s sides with her legs and the Arabian headed downhill at a faster pace. When they reached level ground, the small stallion picked up a jog.

Suddenly, she heard a short yip. Luke had found something of interest. A low, menacing growl came next. It meant the discovery was male, a human male which the large German Shepherd considered fair game. His refusal to work with men had almost ended the canine’s career with the department before it started.

“Luke, hold.” Had she found Smith already? Why wasn't he shooting at Luke or her? She pulled her carbine from the scabbard.

Tigger snorted as they came around a bend. He leaped sideways as he caught a glimpse of the shadowy figure huddled near a boulder. Luke stood in front of the man, continuing to growl, hackles raised.

She cursed the dusk. The red moonlight didn't help her see much. She couldn't get a clear view of the man, but he appeared bigger than her suspect. “Smith?”

“No.” The stranger groaned. “I'm hurt. Bad.”

She shoved her rifle back into its holder. Her voice deepened with frustration and impatience. “What the hell are you doing here then?”

“Bleeding.” Faint amusement filled his bass rumble.

 

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