Cecilia And The Stranger

Cecilia And The Stranger
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Desperate Trussed up in tweet and a suitably righteous manner, Jake Reed hoped he'd pass as a schoolmaster long enough to elude the gunman on his trail.But with Cecilia Summertree, the prettiest - and the nosiest - schoolmarm in the West dodging his every move, he was having a hard time keeping his mind on the classroom… . Cecilia knew exactly what she'd always wanted. The freedom to do what she pleased, when she pleased.Though in all her reckoning she'd never considered meeting someone like Jake Reed. A man determined to teach her that there were a few important things missing in her life, and one of them was him!

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Cecilia And The Stranger

Liz Ireland


For Suzie, also known as Budro—equestrian, geneology freak and master of slang and hyperbole.


Guthrie, Texas 1886

The man raised his head off the greasy bar just long enough to lift a sagging eyelid and make one last definitive statement.

“I ain’t going,” he announced with his strange Philadelphia cowpoke inflection just before his head again hit the wooden surface with a thud.

“You said that already, schoolteacher,” Jake Reed said.

“Don’ call me sh-schoolteacher,” the man slurred. “The name’s Pendergast. Eugene W.”

Jake tried not to weave on his bar stool as he looked at the slumped form. The Yankee’s newly bought Western duds, twill work pants and a plain cotton shirt, which had appeared comically pressed and new to Jake before, now seemed to have been worn just from hours of sitting in this smoky, smelly, dusty place. Even the black leather traveling bag at the man’s feet now had a fine layer of grime coating it.

Was he that drunk? Jake wondered. He hoped not. The sun was finally peeking in through the windows now. He couldn’t afford to let his guard down.

What he needed to sober up was another drink. He poured himself a generous slug from the sticky, near-empty whiskey bottle he and the other man had been sharing. “Well, aren’t you a schoolteacher, Pendergast?”

“Not in this godforsaken place!” the man hollered, so loud that it echoed through the empty barroom, almost rousing the snoring bartender in the corner. “I ain’t going to proceed to Annsboro, or any other destination in this whole damn hot, dried-up, uncivilized state. Soon as I can get my money back on these clothes, I ain’t goin’ anywhere but back to Philadelphia.”

No doubt the heat wave they’d been having had colored the Yankee’s opinion. Amused, Jake quirked an eyebrow. “Do all teachers in Philadelphia talk like you do?”

“Huh?” Pendergast regarded him through half-open bloodshot eyes. A curly black lock of hair fell lazily across his forehead. “Oh, you mean the cussing,” he said, reaching for the splash of liquid left in the glass Jake had just poured. “I learned to talk this-a-way from my books. Nobody says ain’t or cusses in Philadelphia. Everything’s perfect in Philadelphia.”

A beatific smile played across his whiskey-numbed lips as his head once more descended to the bar. He was out. Jake took off his hat and laid it across the man’s head. A person deserved some privacy while he slept, after all. Shortly thereafter, a gentle rumble emanated from Pendergast’s still curved mouth.

Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love. Maybe that’s where he should be headed, Jake thought. He tried and failed to remember where he was now; Annsboro was the only name he could come up with. He’d never heard of the place before meeting up with Pendergast sometime after three in the morning. The schoolteacher had spent the hours since then alternating between romanticizing the little town he’d not yet seen and grouching about what he had viewed of Texas so far. Now Jake knew more than he ever wanted to about what sounded like just another little Western town the railroad had missed.

Annsboro probably had a lot in common with Redwood, where he’d grown up and been deputy for a short time. He had thought he’d found his calling when Sheriff Burnet Dobbs pinned that little piece of metal on his chest. It wasn’t much of a job, really, in a sleepy place, but it had given him the opportunity to get what he’d most wanted in life since the age of ten—revenge on Otis Darby, the rich-as-Croesus rancher who muscled Jake’s family off their land, and in so doing killed his father.

Jake frowned bitterly at the memory. Some revenge. After years of trying to get something on Darby, he had discovered that the man and his son-in-law had been stealing horses. The two had been found guilty, but some fool judge let them out of jail after only two years. Even though Jake had given up the lawman’s life by that time and was working as a ranch foreman in the next county, Darby and Gunter were out to get him.

Jake had been dodging the man and his crazy son-in-law ever since. It seemed as if all he’d done was run for over a year now. But never fast enough. Otis Darby would always send his henchman Gunter to find him, and Jake would hit the road two steps ahead. They had harassed employers he worked for by burning their buildings, or killing livestock, although Jake could never prove it. He just knew, like a sixth sense—just as he knew what would happen if he dared to pursue his own dream of trying to start up his own ranch. The place would be burned to a crisp within a week.

Once upon a time he could have gone to the law. Maybe Burnet Dobbs would have helped him out, but in the beginning Jake hadn’t wanted to drag his old friend into the mess. Jake fought his own battles. Sometimes he thought he might as well get it over with and face Gunter and Darby down; then, at least, he would have evidence of what they were doing. Of course, the proof would probably be his own carcass.

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