Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 25. Outlaws and Lawmen

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you—Richard Adams

Chapter 25.

Outlaws and Lawmen.

Jake and Sam rode into Hopewing and stopped at the front of the town bank. A boy sitting by the post greeted them with a smile.

"Need me to watch your horses, Misters?"

"Sure sonny," Sam smiled and pulling a dollar from his pocket handed it to the boy. "That's for both horses," he pointed out as he tied the reins of his horse to the post. The kid gave another grin and took the reins from Jake.

"Just remember, Jake," Sam turned to his partner. "We're only here for about an hour so we can get back to the Cora Belle tonight."

"You can stop remindin' me," Jake retorted. "I remember how long we're gonna be here, it's all you ever told me in comin' here."

"I'm just makin' sure you know it's a quick visit; not one you actually had to tag along for. I've only got to settle some personal business an' I don't need your help."

"Glad to hear that, cause I'm not here to help ya."

"Then why did you want to come to town?"

"I've got reasons."

"Reasons that have to do with a wedding band?" Sam winked at Jake.

Jake rolled his eyes. "Will you group of idiots ever get off my case? For the past two weeks all I've been hearin' about from the sorry lot on that ranch is about my weddin' day."

Sam let out a hearty laugh and thumped Jake on the back. "Yeah well, what did you expect? I was sure you were gonna propose when the two of you left the dance hall. Can't believe you haven't gotten around to it yet. Don't you remember where you live? If you don't ask her, Cal will grab his chance."

"Oh no he won't," Jake growled. He hated it when anyone brought Cal up. "Dannie don't even like him, she'd never agree to his offer. Besides, I don't understand what's the rush. Can't a man take his time?"

"Not in Hopewing he can't. There are ten men for every woman, if you don't claim her soon some smart ass will whip her right from under yer nose."

"Just get your rear end into the bank," Jake lost his patience.

"Hey, mind your manners, I am the foreman." Sam waved his finger at Jake and with another laugh at him went inside the Hopewing bank. Jake turned and made his way to the Sheriff's office.

Sam and the other cowboys didn't understand he couldn't make an offer to Dannie because Sam and the others didn't know about the whole tangled mess with Calhoon. He could never ask for Dannie's hand with Calhoon hunting him; there was no reason to drag her into this stupid mess created by his silly sister. Jake sometimes wondered if Rachel ever realized just how far reaching her actions had been. Could she even suspect that he was still suffering because of her reckless behavior? While she was happy and out of danger, Jake was at a constant threat of a blood thirsty criminal. When there had only been cattle and horses in his life, Calhoon's hunting hadn't bothered him as much as it did now. He had been alone and unattached, free to pick up and run to wherever he darn well pleased. Now, with the appearance of that little female, everything was different. Suddenly Jake found himself with thoughts of settling down, plans of building a home, and maybe even starting a family. But with Calhoon on the loose, it was all only wishful thinking. The fact that Calhoon wasn't exactly the easiest person on the planet to catch didn't help matters. Jake had never known where the man was hiding; from what point he was going to attack, and when to expect him. Now however, it seemed fate was finally being kind to him. The glimpse of Bessie two weeks ago had given him a little clue as to what Calhoon might have in mind, and perhaps if Jake played his cards right, he'd be able to somehow track that outlaw down and settle the score once and for all.

It was with this resolution that he entered the Sheriff's office.

"Howdy Jake," Jeremiah Grant, the Sheriff of Hopewing, greeted Jake with a smile and an extended hand.

"Howdy Sheriff," Jake took the hand and shook it. "I'm guessin' you know why I am here."

"I'm guessin' I do," Jeremiah nodded and motioned for Jake to take a seat as he resumed his own. "And I'm afraid I'm gonna to have to disappoint you cause I haven't seen anyone even close to the description you gave me. I've had my deputies on the lookout these past two weeks but your Bessie hasn't been seen by them either. I'm thinkin' she probably left these parts."

"That's not very comfortin'," Jake frowned. "Because it probably means she went back to wherever it is Calhoon is hidin', no doubt to inform him that I'm alive and kickin'."

Jeremiah leaned forward, placing both elbows on the table. "Just why is that cattle rustler trying to get you?"

"An old vendetta," Jake summed it up. "He's tryin' to get even with me for outsmartin' him once."

"Mind if I ask how long he has been chasin' you?"

Jake scrunched his face as he tried to remember how long it had been. "Five years I thinkin', six maybe, I've lost count."

"Why didn't you try and catch him before?"

"Why do I feel like I'm being questioned at a crime scene?"

"Now don't get upset, Jake. Calhoon is a wanted man. Texas is tremblin' from the thought of him, and now it seems he's gonna to weasel his way into Arizona as well. You know as well as I do that the law has been after him for ages and ages, but he jumps from nowhere and then disappears again, makin' it impossible to catch him. At last it seems we have a clue as to where he is gonna to strike next and that means I need to know all the ins and outs."

Jake huffed a little. "Calhoon and I have been playin' cat and mouse for several years. Much like the law, I have no idea where to find him so my only option is to wait for him to come and get me. So far he's been refusin' to do the work and sendin' his henchmen. He lost me when I came to Arizona but it looks like he's found me and wants to try and git me again."

"Well, you seein' his little female has given us a bit of the upper hand. I've wired Fort Rivers and the surroundin' settlements, saying Calhoon might show up. My deputies are on the lookout night and day, if we can at least catch one of his gang they can help lead us to him."

Jake gave a halfhearted nod. He didn't think anyone from the outlaw gang would give away their leader, but then he didn't know much about criminals and the ins and outs of catching them, while Sheriff Grant did that for a living.

"I am gonna have to ask you to stay in the town for a while," Jeremiah kept on talking.

"Why the hell would I want to hang around here?" Jake was less than inspired with this idea

"Because you're the bait, and havin' you off on some ranch in the middle of nowhere is not my idea of easy catchin'. I need you to be close by. I'm sure Walkers will understand if you explain the situation to him. Does he know about Calhoon?"

"No, no one knows save you and an Indian friend of mine."

"An Indian?" Jeremiah raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Of all the people to tell, why some savage?"

"For starts, Tarak ain't a savage, and second, when I first saw Bessie I asked him to keep his eyes open, since he travels the terrain a lot and has a talent for detecting the kind of people who don't want to be detected. This may surprise you, but there ain't no better tracker in the entire area. Whites and Indians alike hire him to hunt things down from them."

"If you think Indians are trustworthy," Jeremiah shrugged. It was obvious he didn't approve of Jake's friendship but had more important things to think about.

"So how long do you want me to be stuck here?"

"Until Calhoon shows up."

Jake scowled. "Do I have to stay in the town all the time?"

Jeremiah narrowed his eyes. "Jake, while the outlaw is chasin' you, I don't suggest you go visitin' the Circle 4. The last thing you want to do is get Miss Preston involved in this."

Jake shifted in his seat. Of course he knew it was common knowledge about his courting Dannie, and he knew that the entire town was talking about it, but he didn't like being reminded of the fact.

"I'm serious Jake, if Calhoon finds out about her, he will try and use her to his advantage. Men like him always do that, they go for the people you love." A sad smile appeared on the Sheriff's face. "Help us catch Calhoon and then you will be free to court the young lady all you want."

Jake nodded his head and stood up. "Thanks for everythin', Sheriff. I'll think about stayin' over."

"No thinkin'! You don't make one move out of here until Calhoon or one of his gang shows up! You can board with me, I've got space now that my brother has made the graveyard his home."

Jake was not happy with this arrangement, but he knew the Sheriff was right, so he nodded his head again. "I'll just go tell Sam he's returnin' to the Cora Belle on his own," he stated and shuffled towards the exit.

Dannie could quote Latin phrases about the stars all she wanted, but Jake was born under a heap of unlucky stars and he darn well knew it. Now he was stuck in this hole of a town for who knows how long, and to top it off, he was a threat to everyone he knew, no one more so than Dannie. Jake knew the Sheriff had been correct when he said Calhoon would try to use the people he loved to get him, it was for this very reason that he had never communicated with his brother. Jake hated the idea of not being able to see Dannie, but her safety was the most important thing for him. He wasn't going to let that monster get a hold of the most precious thing he had, the person he treasured most in the world. He'd write Dannie and explain the situation to her. She would understand.

Jake was so lose in his thoughts that as he neared the bank he crashed right into a young lady. "Pardon me," Jake mumbled, reaching out to steady her. "I didn't see you ther-" The words died in Jake's mouth as he found himself staring into the large hazel eyes of Bessie.

"Jake!" The expression on her face spoke of her not expecting to crash into him. For a few seconds the two of them stared at each other

"Uh," Bessie said at last, running her hand through her hair. "This is unexpected."

"Is it?" Jake taunted.

"Who would have thought I would find you here," Bessie kept rambling on. "Where the devil have you been all this time, Jake? You just disappeared. I was waitin' for you and waitin' and you never came." Her voice became was sad and confused. "I couldn't understand why you did that? Why did you just abandon me, we had so many plans and you threw them all to the wind?"

Jake nearly exploded from her words. He was about to tell Bessie just everything he thought about her when he realized that she didn't know he was aware that she worked for Calhoon, and perhaps it would be better for him if he kept quiet about that part for now.

"I threw them all to the wind?" He asked, looking her square in the face. "I distinctly remember hearin' you talking with some man. I don't know about you, Bess, but I don't like to be cheated on. You were the only person keeping me in Wichita and when I found out you were being unfaithful I took up and left."

"I was being unfaithful?" Bess looked at him with disbelief. "Whatever put that into you head?"

"I told you, I came to your house and heard you speaking with another man."

"Did you hear what we were speaking about?" There was a hint of alarm in her voice, even though she tried her best to hide it.

Jake didn't quite know how to answer, but he had to come up with something quick so he wouldn't give himself away. "I saw the other man through the window and it was enough! It's all or nothin' with me, and since you went with nothin', nothin' is what you got!"

"Jake, foolish Jake, you always had a bad habit of rushing into decisions," she shook her head. "That man was my brother."

"Oh, and since when did you have a brother?"

"Since I was two years old. He is the only family I have and he had come to some trouble with the law and crawled to me for help. What was I to do, turn him away? You could have at least tried to get to the bottom of everything instead of abandonin' me. And now, meetin' you again, all you can do is accuse me of cheatin' on you. Why do you always have to make me the villain?"

Jake fought to keep his cool. "Well how about next time you don't keep such secrets and that will save your next friend from such misunderstandings."

"You still don't believe me?"

"No! I think you're just makin' the story up to try and make me the villain."

She tossed her head in annoyance. "I can prove it to you. Let's go over right now and meet him."

"Oh, he's here with you?"

"Of course, after he got in trouble I keep him with me to make sure he stays out of harm's way. Without me he would be lost."

"How kind of you, Bessie," Jake patronized, trying hard not to sound too sarcastic.

"I'm serious Jake. He on the edge of town waitin' for me, we're headin' off to California and stopped here for supplies. I'll introduce you two and he can confirm that I was as faithful as any wife could be. Maybe you could join us. Why hang around this dump?"

Jake took a deep breath. Meeting up with her 'brother' was most likely just trap. He thought hard on what to do. The thought did cross his mind that the 'brother' could be Calhoon himself. Maybe if he played along with the game she's lead him to the nest. Only he had to somehow get word to the sheriff.

"My partner is waitin' for me at the bank, and if he finds I disappeared he'll be upset. We agreed to meet here before the hour is up."

"Just tell him you're busy and will get back to him later," Bessie shrugged indifferently. "He can drop by the saloon if he's bored. Go tell him, I'll wait."

Bessie didn't realize she was giving Jake the chance he needed.

"Oh fine," he rolled his eyes. "I'll go meet this sorry brother of yours who showed up at the wrong time in the wrong place. Let's see if he'll confirm your words. Be right back." Jake quickly walked into the bank and bumped into Sam just as he was heading towards the door.

"Ah Jake," Sam grinned but Jake shook his head.

"Listen, I need you to get to Sheriff Grant as quick as possible and tell him I've walked off to the edge of town with Bessie. Have him get his deputies and hurry there."

"Bessie?" Sam was confused. "Who the hell is Bessie?"

"Just do it," Jake hissed. "Either that or go dig me a grave." With that he hurried out of the bank. Sam stood thunderstruck for a couple of seconds. The look in Jake's eyes and the urgency in his voice told of something being terribly wrong.

"What did that boy get himself into?" Sam wondered with concern as he left the bank and hurried off to the Sheriff's office.

"Ah, Sam," Jerimiah greeted him. "Lookin' for Jake?"

"No, Sheriff, Jake just came to me and said to tell you he'd gone off with Bessie to the edge of town and that you should hurry after him."

"Dag nabit," Jeremiah leapt to his feet. "Speak of the devil and he comes around. We've got to hurry or Jake is a dead man."

"What the blazers is goin' on?" Poor Sam was alarmed and confused.

Jeremiah paused and looked him up and down. "There's an outlaw after Jake and we've got to catch him. You've got experience with a gun, don't you?"

"I'm a war veteran."

"Great!" Jeremiah shoved a badge and a shot gun into Sam's hand. "You are now a U.S. deputy; now get to the edge of town, I'll be there as soon as I get Abe and Dick. Go on, we can't let them get away."

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