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The Angel and the Outlaw [Secure]
by Kathryn Albright

Category: Romance
Description: He wants her as his bride, but the law wants him!No one asks the dark, brooding stranger about his past. People gossip, but daren't question. He and his young daughter live alone--and that's the way Stuart Taylor wants...needs it to stay. When the spirited new schoolteacher, Rachel Houston, is touched by Stuart's shy little girl, who's never uttered a word, everything starts to change. Stuart's surly manner doesn't worry Rachel--she can see the vulnerability hidden in the depths of his blue eyes. She's convinced there's more to the rugged, handsome stranger's story. But when the truth comes out, has Rachel the courage to stand by her man?
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Historical,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007


4 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [373 KB]

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Chapter One

Southern California, 1873

Stuart Taylor crouched on a flat boulder and pulled his trap up from the harbor floor. A small brown lobster slid to the corner of the crate. He grabbed it, turning it over to make sure of its size, and then tossed it back into the water. "Come back when you've grown," he murmured. Then, placing new bait in the trap, he stood and swung the trap out as far as possible, releasing the hemp rope at the last second. The crate splashed into the brine and sank quickly beyond sight.

He looked for his other lobster trap, but it was gone—rope and all. Someone was still stealing from him. He'd warned off two boys a few days ago with a bullet into their boat. Their sudden departure had convinced him they wouldn't try again. Maybe he'd been wrong.

Great. Guess he and Hannah would be eating beans tonight. Not the best way to celebrate a birthday. He grabbed the bucket at his feet and made his way up the narrow dirt path.

Hannah stood at the stone doorstep, anxiety filling her heart-shaped face until she caught sight of him. She wore her one good dress, the dark-chocolate-brown one he'd laid out last night. A white pinafore covered it, wrinkled in one spot now where her hands had twisted and worried the fabric. Uncanny how that trait of her mother's manifested itself in Hannah, though she'd only been three when Linnea died.

"Did you eat?"

She nodded, and with the bob of her head, he spied her tangled mass of blond hair. "Forgot something, birthday girl," he said gruffly, turning her toward the kitchen. "You can't go into town looking like something washed in by the waves."

She crossed her arms over her chest and stood stiffly while he brushed her hair then tied it in a ponytail with an old blue ribbon. The face that stared back at him grew more like her mother's every day. The dove-gray eyes shone with anticipation for the promised trip. She was lonely here. So lonely the thought of a trip into town had her flushed with excitement and up before dawn. He felt it, too—the isolation, the quiet. But it was safe.

He followed Hannah outside and boosted her onto his horse, Blanco. She fidgeted, patting the dusty animal on its withers. He grabbed the lead rope. "See that you don't wiggle right off your perch."

They took the trail that led from the tip of the windy peninsula, four hundred feet above sea level, to the small town on the water's edge. He didn't get into town much, only when supplies ran low, but today was August 10, Hannah's birthday, and he wanted to make it special for her.

He drew closer to La Playa and his anxiety increased in measure. Surely the risk of discovery had diminished now. It had been more than three years since the accident. Hannah didn't even look the same. She had stretched up into a thin wisp of a girl who seldom stood still. Her naturally pale skin had taken on a golden glow over the long summer days.

He rubbed his smooth chin, remembering the dark beard and mustache that once covered his face. He didn't look the same either. Still, doubts niggled at his mind. Dorian wasn't stupid, and he wasn't a quitter. San Francisco might be five hundred miles away but sooner or later Dorian would find him—and if Dorian found him, so would the law. Perhaps he should think about moving on.

Halfway to town, the trail sloped steeply through a brush-studded canyon. Two small lizards scurried from under the horse's shadow and dashed into the nearby chaparral as he led Blanco around one last sandstone curve. The harbor opened up before them, deep blue and sparkling in the sunlight. Barely visible through the scruffy bushes to the south lay the whaling port. He raised his face to the wind and sniffed. "Smell that, Hannah? Just salt and sage. No whale butchered today."

Turning toward La Playa, he led Blanco past a steamer moored at the new wharf before heading up San Antonio Street and past the Mexican Government Custom House. A few odd-shaped buildings, some built of wood and some of adobe, hugged each side of the square like ticks on the ears of a short-haired dog.

Stuart stopped at the community well and filled his canteens, all the while taking in the surrounding sounds the way a deaf man would who for one day is able to hear. Loud clanging rang out from the livery's half-opened doorway as the blacksmith forged a new tool or horseshoe. A thin, aproned woman swept the front boardwalk of the town's only mercantile.

Hannah tugged on his shirt.

"All right, all right. I'm going."

Looping the two canteens over the saddle horn, he walked back to Morley's Mercantile. Two young women stood at the opened doorway of the store, giggling and whispering behind gloved hands. He glanced up while tying the reins on the hitching rail. Both attractive, especially the blonde. He turned back to help Hannah.

"There on his forehead. Do you see it?"

He slowed in the act of setting Hannah on the ground. So he was to supply their gossip for today. He clenched his hands. He'd hate to disappoint them. Straightening, he leveled his gaze at the two.

The blonde quieted. She must be the banker's wife—or daughter. Her dress was quality through and through, right down to her matching green parasol. He hadn't seen anything so fancy since he'd left San Francisco. Her eyes judged him coolly before she whirled about with a toss of her head and entered the store.

Copyright © 2007 by Kathryn Leigh Albright.

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