A Montana Women Novella
Annie and the Outlaw
by Nancy Pirri
Recently released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Cane Smith returns to Bozeman to claim the son he’s never met, only to discover the boy's mother is dead and the boy has been adopted by a rancher and is being raised by his twenty-year-old daughter, Annie.
When Annie refuses to part with the boy, Cane makes her an offer: Miss Annie will have to marry him if she wants to keep the boy in her life. Annie will do anything to keep her little boy with her—but can she live with the hard, rough Cane Smith?
Release Date: August 1, 2017
Genre: Historical | Western
Christmas Day, 1887
Huntsville, Texas Prison
Cane Smith had a son.
The letter from Mae Franklin, dated a year ago, had found its way to him. During the six and a half years he’d spent in prison, he’d never received a single letter until now. There was a note tucked inside the envelope with Mae’s from Judge Simon Hopkins, the man who’d sentenced him to prison. Mae had written the letter but had never sent it. In Bozeman, Montana, U.S. Marshal James Freeman, had found the letter addressed to Cane after Mae had been found dead in her home. She hadn’t included an address but Freeman had recognized Cane’s name from his trial and passed the note on to the judge.
Cane learned that a boy being raised in Bozeman by the Callahan family resembled Cane. The boy’s mother, Giselle Hanks, had been a prostitute. She’d spent nights in the arms of many men, including Cane. On her deathbed, Giselle confessed to her friend Mae how she was certain Cane was her baby’s father. Mae had asked her how she knew for certain, after being with so many men. Giselle’s last murmured words convinced Mae. Only with Cane had she left herself unprotected, for she loved him and believed he loved her.
Tears welled in his eyes at the same time hope filled his heart. He had a son, a reason to live when he’d wanted to die. After spending almost seven Christmases in prison, he had a purpose in finding a way out of this hellhole. He folded the letter and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. He lay back on his lumpy cot and imagined being a father—imagined what his life would be like with a son.
His happiness fled quickly at the thought of his life up to this point. How would he take care of the boy, even if he were released? He’d been a wandering cowboy for years before going to jail. He was twenty-eight years old and had accomplished nothing good in his life. Nothing except for fathering a child.
Cane thought back to the day he’d been sentenced to twenty years in prison—for a train robbery he hadn’t committed. Without proof, he never had a hope in hell of clearing himself. The few folks on the train who’d witnessed the robbery had accused him.
Was there a chance of turning it around now? He had to find a way. Sitting up with renewed determination, he decided he’d find a way out of prison and claim the boy. He came to his feet. “Hey! Jailer!”
The only reply he received was from the inmate in the cell to his right. “You prick! You woke me up.”
Old Warren Strom was no threat. Truth be told, he was Cane’s only friend in this godforsaken place. “Sorry, Strom, I need to see a guard.”
“I need to write a letter and don’t have any paper or pencil.”
A hand holding a scrap of paper, a yellowed envelope and a broken stub of a pencil appeared out of the bars at the front. Cane reached over and grabbed them. “Thanks. I owe you.”
Strom muttered gruffly, “Now shut the hell up and let a man get some sleep.”
Settling down on his bunk again, Cane wrote back to the judge. When he finished, his heart felt weighed down in grief as he thought about sweet Giselle who’d died, strangled by some drunken cowboy passing through Bozeman shortly after the birth of their son. The poor woman hadn’t had any chance in life, having been born of a prostitute, the only home she’d known a brothel.
He’d been no better than any other man who’d swaggered through her boudoir door. After living on the plains for weeks at a time, spending a night with a prostitute was one of the few joys in life a cowboy had to look forward to when he came to town. A few visits to Giselle, and he knew he’d fallen in love.
The last time he’d seen her he promised he’d return once he saved enough money. Then he’d marry her and take her away with him. He thought of her tear-filled eyes and the longing in them as she’d nodded. It was only after he left town that he realized she hadn’t believed him for an instant. He guessed she’d received similar offers from other cowboys who hadn’t kept their promises. He’d meant to keep his and would have if he hadn’t gone to jail. Sadness filled him then as he thought of Giselle dying before he could show her he meant his declaration of love.
Cane hadn’t been able to save the woman he loved, but, by God, he would find a way out of prison and find his son.
He thought about Judge Hopkins, the man who’d deliberated over his trial. He’d come to know the judge a bit the few times he’d come to Bozeman before being accused of the train robbery. Had sat and drank a beer with him and played a few hands of cards. From that little interaction, he knew the judge was a good, honest man. Before Cane went to prison, after his trial, the judge had taken him aside and said he believed in his innocence. Unfortunately, the jury hadn’t. Then the judge had told him to keep his ears and eyes open while in prison.
Prisoners came and went—none of them shedding any new information—until a month ago, when two new prisoners had arrived. Prisoners were allowed out of their cells only a few hours a day. Cane was watchful, planting himself near these men to hear more talk whenever he could. The longer he listened to them, and the more he watched them, he began to recognize them. They’d been two of several cowboys working a cattle run with him before he was arrested. One of the men bore a striking resemblance to Cane.
In the letter he’d just written, Cane asked Judge Hopkins to open his case once more, based on what he’d heard. Meanwhile, he would keep his ears open for more information. He’d befriend the two men, hoping they’d take him into their confidence.