The Paladin's Lady Partner (Part 8)
Sadie tried not to scream as another round of shots kicked up dust not far from where the two of them stood at the front of the barn. Elliott immediately ordered her to get behind his back while he returned fire. At the same time he led her toward the barn door and all but shoved her through it. He got off two more shots and then followed her inside.
After pulling the door closed behind them, he pointed toward the empty stall in the back corner piled high with hay. "That's the safest spot for you. Get in the middle of that and stay down low."
Before following his orders, she tugged his face down and gave him a quick kiss. "Don't get killed again. I'm not sure my heart can take it."
He laughed and kissed her back. She hurried to make herself a nest in the hay, because as much as she wanted to help fight their attackers, she was unarmed. The best she could do was stay out of Elliott's way and hope that Jethro and Mack would be able to help him drive off the shooters.
Meanwhile, Elliott knocked the glass out of the small window on the opposite side of the barn. He didn't immediately start shooting again, no doubt waiting for a clear target. Common sense said he couldn't afford to waste a single bullet, considering he only had the bullets he already had in his gun. He'd brought his saddlebags into the house after he'd walked out to the barn with Jethro and Mack earlier before coming back inside to help her with breakfast.
While both Mack and Jethro had been wearing their guns and carrying their rifles when they'd come into the house, neither of them had been carrying anything else with them. She couldn't imagine a lawman going anywhere without extra ammunition. With that in mind, she poked her head up and looked around. Sure enough, there were two saddles on the ground near the front of the barn.
She started to crawl toward them but then had second thoughts. "Elliott! Jethro and Mack left their gear by the door when they turned their horses out into the corral. Maybe they have more ammunition."
He looked to where she was pointing and nodded. Stooping down, he crossed the barn to grab both sets of saddlebags and started rooting through them. It didn't take him long to find a box of bullets. In the brief silence while he reloaded his gun, she closed her eyes and listened hard to determine where the next spat of shots came from. It sounded like only one gun was firing back from the house. Please, God, don't let something have happened to either Jethro or Mack.
"I can only hear one person shooting from the house. Do you think they're both all right?"
Elliott looked up from his revolver. "You already know that Jethro is hard to kill, and Mack wouldn't have lasted this long as a lawman by making an easy target of himself."
He lowered his voice. "I'm guessing one of them went out the back and is circling around behind the shooters. With luck, we'll capture one alive this time. If so, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say for himself once we convince him that it's in his own best interest to talk to us."
She shuddered to think what that convincing might entail. Not that she would lift a finger to stop Elliott from doing whatever he thought was necessary to get the job done. They had to put a stop to this for good before someone else died. Even if Elliott and Jethro could come back from death, that didn't mean they didn't suffer in the process.
Finally, she offered Elliott a smile, not that it was a very happy one. "You know, it's not like I wanted that lead mine in the first place. I really hate this."
Elliott returned to his position by the window. "I do, too, sweetheart. I promise we will get to the bottom of this and put an end to it, once and for all."
"I know you will."
She just prayed that no one else had to die before that happened.
The shooting grew more sporadic. Elliott and whoever was still over in Sadie's house pulled the trigger often enough to make sure the bastards kept their distance. He had to wonder why they were also slacking off on their attack. Maybe they were up to something or they were running short on ammunition. He suspected it was probably a combination of both of those things.
As far as he could tell, there were only two shooters out there. Maybe three, but certainly no more than that. No doubt they'd been told Sadie would be an easy target, a woman alone with no one to defend her. It was unlikely they'd come prepared to stage a long siege.
They would have been better off if they'd done a little scouting before going on the attack. Well, they'd learn the error of their ways soon enough. Either they'd die on that hillside or the lawman would make sure they'd spent the next few years in prison. Maybe Mack would cut them a deal if they pointed out who'd paid them to come after Sadie, but they didn't deserve to get any breaks. Anyone who was willing to kill an innocent woman ought to be locked up like the vicious animals they were.
Suddenly, a single shot rang out, which was followed by an angry shout. It sounded as it came from the hilltop to the east. Elliott shifted position to get a better view. A few seconds later, he spotted Jethro standing on the ridge above and waving his rifle over his head.
"I think it's over, Sadie, but we're going to stay right where we are for now."
She left her hiding spot and joined him at the window. He wrapped his free arm around her shoulders and held her close. He meant to comfort her, but the warmth of her body cuddled in close to his soothed him as well. A man could get used to that in a hurry.
"What happened? Are Jethro and Mack all right?"
"Jethro is. Just as I suspected, he circled around behind the men on the ridge. He signaled that he had everything under control up there."
He stopped to listen. If he weren't mistaken, Mack had just left the house and was headed their way. Sure enough, he called out, "Elliott, Sadie, are you both all right?"
"I'm going up on the ridge to see what Jethro is dealing with up there. Stay under cover a little longer until we make sure none of the shooters got away."
"We will," Elliott called back loud enough for Mack to hear him, but then he muttered under his breath, "Like I wasn't smart enough to figure that out myself."
Sadie giggled. "So, would you rather go check on Jethro or be in here with me?"
Damn, he loved the way this woman thought. He shoved his gun back in its holster to free up both arms. "I'm right where I want to be."
She fiddled with the buttons on his shirt. "So whatever shall we do until they come back?"
He glanced around the barn. "I figure we should get comfortable in case it takes them a long time. That pile of hay looks pretty inviting."
Never let it be said that Sadie was shy. She took his hand and tugged him over to the stall where she'd taken cover and gave him a gentle shove. He let the push carry him down into the hay but pulled her down with him. They landed in a tangle of limbs with her sprawled on top of his chest. Before she could protest, he flipped their positions, trapping her beneath him.
Her bright blue eyes darkened as he brushed a strand of hair back from her face. "I wish they weren't coming back at all. You should probably slap me for what I'm thinking right now, Sadie. If we were really alone, we'd be doing a whole lot more than kissing."
He let his hands do a little wandering as his lips captured hers. To his pleased amazement, Sadie moaned and softened beneath him, letting the curves of her lush body cushion him as her arms wrapped around his neck. She parted her lips, inviting him to deepen the kiss. She tasted like sweet temptation and warm woman. And the same time, his conscience pointed out that there was a big dose of innocence in that kiss as well.
Now was not the time to let the situation get out of hand. He slowly gentled his kiss and eased back to put a small amount of space between them. No way he wanted Sadie to think that he regretted giving into a bit of temptation with her. But if they didn't stop now, he wasn't sure he'd be able to.
He traced her cheek with his fingertip. "Sadie, I never expected this."
Her answering smile was everything he could have hoped for. "Neither did I, Elliott. You make me want-"
Before she could finish her thought, the creak of the barn door opening caught his attention. "Damn it, Jethro, could your timing be any worse?"
But when he glanced over his shoulder, he didn't recognize the older man standing there. But evidently, he was no stranger to Sadie. "Mr. Schmidt what are you doing here?"
When the man didn't immediately respond, Elliott asked, "Who is he, Sadie?"
"He's the attorney I met with in town." She glanced at Elliott and then back to the lawyer. "Did you need me to sign some more paperwork?"
As she spoke, Sadie struggled to get up, her fair skin flushed with a combination of passion and embarrassment. Elliott took another hard look at Schmidt and the gun clutched in his right hand. He immediately tightened his hold on Sadie to keep her right where she was. His body wouldn't afford her much protection if the lawyer pulled the trigger, but the man sure looked like he was thinking about doing that exact thing.
Finally sensing something was amiss, she dropped her arms back down to the hay to give Elliott room to maneuver. Maybe he could buy them enough time for Mack or Jethro to return if he could get the man talking.
"I'm guessing his employer is pressuring him to close the deal one way or the other. I'm sure Mr. Schmidt here is to make you a better offer for the mine."
The lawyer was already shaking his head. "I'm sorry, but it's already too late for that. It's not my fault that there's only one way this is going to play out now. If you'd accepted Mr. Putnam's offer when I advised you to, none of this unpleasantness would have been necessary."
Sadie was clearly outraged by his comment. "Unpleasantness? Is that what you call trying to kill me twice in as many days? Not to mention you've endangered my friends as well."
Her eyes flared a little wider when Elliott tugged his gun out of his holster, but otherwise she gave no sign that she knew what he was planning.
Meanwhile, the lawyer was still prattling on as he tried to shift the blame to everyone other than himself. "Your friends should have stayed out of this. Of course, clearly this gentleman has found a way to enjoy your other, um, assets. Maybe if you'd made me the same offer, my dear, I could have convinced Mr. Putnam to sweeten the deal for you."
Then he gave them a knowing look that made Elliott want to kill him with his bare hands. There wasn't time for that, though. The lawyer clearly was having to work up the courage to pull that damn trigger. Any second now, he'd manage to convince himself that he was the wronged party here, and then he'd start shooting.
The lawyer only got off one shot before Elliott rolled up to his feet and put a bullet right between his eyes. Schmidt dropped like a rock, but he still managed to hit his own target. Elliott cursed as he felt the familiar burn of a bullet tearing through muscle and bone. Sadie gasped has he staggered and fell back into the hay.
He stared up into her tear-filled eyes and whispered, "Sorry, Sadie. Looks like I'm gonna die again."