A Fortune for the Outlaw's Daughter

By: Lauri Robinson
Chapter One

 Life had never been easy for Maddie Stockwell. Being the daughter of the outlaw Bass Mason, a man who’d changed his name more often than he’d changed his socks, had forced her to look out for herself at an early age. She was quick on her feet, too. Quicker than the man with the hands that had just seized her could possibly know.

 The fingers digging into her waist sent curse words—things she’d never say aloud but had heard numerous times—running through her mind. They muffled the piano music and shouts of people filling the saloons on both sides of the alleyway. Furthermore, the hand over her mouth stank of fish, and the pressure of that hand pressed grit into her lips and cheeks, igniting her fury.

 Whoever he was—this man who’d grabbed her as she left the community well—was big. Strong, too, given the way he hoisted her off the ground, dragging her backward.

 Claws of fear dug into her throat, but it was the anger surging inside she focused on. Not again. Did every man think all they had to do was hover in the night darkness and snatch her up as if they were picking peaches or something?

 They might be able to do that to other women, but not her.

 With movements she’d acquired while fighting off those who had ridden with her father, Maddie kicked one heel backward into the man’s knee as she shot an elbow straight back, catching his ribs. She also flung her head back, connecting with what she assumed was his nose by the way he screeched.

 She didn’t stop there, though. The frustration inside her hadn’t played out. As the arms around her went slack, she spun and brought the now half-full water bucket around at full speed. It met the side of his head with a solid thud, and her well-aimed kick targeted right below the belt buckle sent him the rest of the way to the ground.

 He was no longer a threat, rolling on the ground as he was, but the names he was shouting, the things he was calling her—as if any of this was her fault—had her temper flaring.

 Maddie swung the bucket again, cracking him upside the head. The last bits of water flew in all directions while the bucket splintered into pieces. She froze for a moment when the man went quiet. As swiftly as his hands had grabbed her moments ago, something she couldn’t describe gripped her from the inside.

 Her entire being shook as if she stood in the center of a Rocky Mountain snowstorm instead of a warm, dark California night. Mad Dog had found her again. This wasn’t him, but it was one of his men.

 Shouts, muffled by the throbbing in her ears, had her spinning about. Two men, as big as the one on the ground, barreled down the alley.

 Instinct said run, but where?

 She couldn’t go back to Hester’s. That would jeopardize the other girls, so Maddie leaped over the prone body and headed for the street at the end of the alley several buildings ahead. Her heart raced as fast as her feet. The ground rumbled from the weight of those chasing her, and the opening seemed to get farther away instead of closer.

 A whoop or whistle had her chancing a glance over her shoulder.

 Like the devil riding out of hell, a horse raced right between the two men, knocking them aside.

 “Hold out your arm, darling,” the rider shouted. “Lucky will save you!”

 The two men were scrambling to their feet. The horse getting closer. Her choices were clear: get run over and caught or leap on the horse behind the devil himself.

 Instinct, again, had her choosing the latter.

 Turning, she held out an arm, and as the man’s hand clamped her elbow, she jumped, flinging one leg over the back of the saddle. She’d leaped on behind her father more than once, way back when, before he’d left her with Smitty. He’d been the one man she could always count on, Smitty that was, right up until the end. God rest his soul. Unlike most men, he deserved a place behind the pearly gates.

 “Hold on, darling,” the man in front of her shouted.

 The clop of hooves echoed against the bricks as the horse rounded the corner, entering the street. Maddie wrapped both arms around the stranger to keep from sliding off, and caught a glimpse of her pursuers shaking their fists in the air.