The Paladin's Lady Partner (Part 9)
"Don't you dare die on me, Elliott Jones!"
Sadie ripped open his bloody shirt, sending a couple of buttons flying into the hay. Too bad. His life was worth more than the cost of a shirt. The sight of the new bullet hole so close to the one that had killed him just the day before made her want to pick up his gun and put a few more slugs into the dead lawyer who's shot him. Instead, she focused on what she could do to keep Elliott from dying. If she could stop the bleeding or at least slow it down, maybe his body's incredible ability to heal would take over.
She ripped a strip of fabric from the bottom of her petticoat and used it as a pressure bandage over the wound. His beautiful, dark eyes fluttered open briefly as he struggled to whisper something. "Hush, Elliott. Don't try to talk. Save your strength."
The stubborn man wouldn't quit trying, so she leaned down closer to hear whatever it was he thought was so all-fired important. "Tell me again."
"Don't cry, Sadie. Not for me."
"I'm not crying."
Then she used the hem of her dress to wipe away the evidence that proved she was lying to them both. He managed a small smile. "Sorry, my mistake."
Then his eyes rolled back, and his face went slack. Her own heart stuttered until she placed her fingers alongside his neck and felt a pulse. She kept a steady pressure on his wound, but there wasn't much else she could do for him on her own. Then she heard footsteps headed her way. Hopefully, it was either Mack or Jethro, but she wasn't going to take any chances.
After wiping her bloody hand on her skirt, she picked up Elliott's gun and aimed it toward the door. There was no way she was going to let anyone inside that barn who might cause Elliott further harm. She'd shoot first and worry about the consequences later.
"Who's out there?"
The footsteps came to an abrupt halt. "Sadie, it's Jethro. We heard gunfire."
Thank goodness! She set the gun aside. "Come quickly! Elliott's been shot again."
The Paladin slowly pushed the door open and stepped inside, weapon drawn but down to the side. He gave the dead body on the floor a cursory look before heading straight for her. He holstered his gun as he knelt down beside Elliott, his face impassive. "How bad is it?"
"Bad enough." Sadie lifted the blood-soaked cloth up just long enough to give Jethro a good look at the wound. "He thought he was going to die again."
"Son of a bitch! What happened?"
Her face flushed hot. "After the shooting stopped, Mack said he was going up on the hillside to help you. While we were waiting for more news, we got…distracted. That made us careless."
She half expected Jethro to yell at her for getting his friend shot, but he made no comment about that. Instead, he focused on what was really important. "Let's move him over to the house."
Without waiting for her to respond, he muscled Elliott up off the floor, cradling his friend against his chest with great care. Sadie hated how Elliott's head lolled to the side as if he were boneless. She didn't want to see him suffer, but it was really worrisome that being jostled didn't even cause him to whimper. Rather than stand there and fret over him, she hurried ahead to get things ready. She left the front door of the house open for Jethro and then quickly spread an old quilt over her bed before returning to the kitchen.
When Jethro stepped inside, she pointed toward her bedroom door. "Take him in there. I'll be in as soon as I gather everything we'll need."
After filling a basin with hot water from the kettle on the stove, she pulled some clean cloths out of her rag bag, got down her sewing basket, and picked out her sharpest knife. Last, she reached for the half-empty bottle of whiskey on the shelf. Her hands were shaking hard enough that she almost dropped it. There was no time to waste, but she took a few seconds to calm herself. This wouldn't be the first time she'd stitched up an injury; that didn't mean she looked forward to adding to Elliott's pain.
By the time she stepped into her bedroom, Jethro had already stripped off Elliott's bloody clothes and his boots. She tried to ask, "Is he still-"
He nodded even though she'd been unable to finish the question. "He's holding his own. That's a good sign. No promises, but if he hasn't died by now, chances are he won't."
She sent a silent prayer winging upward that he was right about that. Then the front door opened again. Jethro immediately straightened up and drew his gun. He motioned for her to duck down until they knew who was out there.
"Sadie, it's Mack. Are you all right?"
Jethro holstered his gun and called out. "She's fine, but Elliott's been shot again."
Mack appeared in the doorway. "Where's the guy who did it?"
Jethro answered before Sadie had a chance to speak. "Elliott killed him in self-defense. The body is out in the barn."
The sheriff joined them inside the bedroom. After one glance at Elliott on the bed, he muttered a handful of curse words, for which he immediately apologized. "I'm sorry for talking that way in front of you."
Sadie managed a small smile. "No need. I'm of a mind to use a few of those words myself."
"I'm also sorry that I left the two of you alone."
"You couldn't have known that Mr. Schmidt would come after us himself." She glanced at Jethro while she started sponging the drying blood off Elliott's chest. "The dead man out in the barn is the attorney I saw in town. It was just as we thought. He admitted those men came after me because I'd turned down Mr. Putnam's offer for the mine. I offered to reconsider the deal, but he said it was too late for that. Elliott managed to get off one shot before Schmidt shot him."
Her whole body ached with regret. "This is the second time Elliott has died or come close to it trying to protect me. What kind of man does that for a woman he barely knows?"
To her surprise, both men smiled at her although it was Jethro who responded. "The kind of man who took one look at a woman and fell hard. I'm not saying that Elliott wouldn't have done the same for any woman in jeopardy. After all, he died to keep my wife safe, too. Regardless, he'll have no regrets over what's happened to him the past couple of days, because it's clear that you're special to him."
Her eyes brimmed full of tears again, but now wasn't the time to cry. "Can you hand me my sewing basket off the dresser?"
After Mack passed it over, she said, "Jethro, you'll have to hold him down while I dig out the bullet."
The big man maneuvered himself around her to place his heavy hands on his friend's shoulders. Without waiting for her to ask, Mack positioned himself at Elliot's feet. She poured the whiskey over the knife blade. "All right, here we go."
It felt like forever before she finally dug the slug out of Elliot's chest. His eyes remained closed, even as he fought to break free of the hold the other two men had on him. None of them wanted to see him hurting, but it was a relief to see him reacting to the pain. Fresh blood welled up out of the wound, but it was already slowing down. After wiping his skin clean again, she quickly stitched the wound closed. Finally, she wiped Eli's chest clean with a rag soaked in the whiskey. As soon as the alcohol hit his wound, his eyes popped open, and he let loose with a string of curse words.
"Damn, that hurt."
Relief had them all laughing, even it if bordered on hysteria. Still chuckling, Jethro leaned down to get into Elliott's line of vision. "You want some advice? Next time, dodge the damn bullet."
Elliott ignored his friend and turned his dark eyes in her direction. "Are you all right?"
"I am now." She took his hand in hers. "You should rest."
"I will as soon as I get things cleaned up in here."
He nodded and drifted off to sleep. While Sadie covered him with a quilt, the other two men gathered up the basin of bloody water, her sewing kit, and the knife. At the last second, Jethro picked up the bottle of whiskey. He held it up to the light. "Unless you need the rest of this, I could use a stiff drink about now."
Then he looked at his sleeping friend. "Or maybe a few."
Sadie knew just how he felt. "Feel free to finish it off. There's another bottle up on the shelf if that much doesn't do the job."
He laughed and left the room.
Now that she was alone with Elliott, she gave into the urge to brush his hair back from his face and then kissed his forehead. "Thanks for not dying this time."
Then she slipped out of the room to let him sleep in peace.
Out in the kitchen, Jethro and Mack were sitting at the table sipping their drinks. When Jethro offered to top off Mack's glass, the lawman shook his head.
"I'd better not. I've got that guy you caught up on the ridge all trussed up and ready to interrogate. He's going to be doing some hard time, but I made it clear how long he'll be behind bars will be affected by how cooperative he is. Want to go see what he has to say for himself before I haul his worthless carcass back to town?"
Jethro looked toward Sadie. "Do you need me right now? I won't go far."
"No, you go see what you can learn. I'm going to put some soup onto cook while I keep an eye on Elliott."
Mack drained his glass and set it back down. "After we finish our little talk with my prisoner, I'll take him and the bodies back to town."
Jethro followed him to the door. "I would appreciate it if you could hold off going after Putnam until Elliott is well enough to ride along with us."
Mack didn't answer right away. Finally, he said, "I promise to try. For one thing, once I hand the prisoner off to my deputy and deliver the bodies to the mortician in town, I'll be back to help you keep an eye on things around here until Elliot is well enough to defend himself."
He shot a quick look in Sadie's direction. "Eventually, Putnam is going to run out of men to send after you. However, I wouldn't put it past him to make a try for you himself, especially once he gets word that Schmidt's dead. He'll be wondering how much the lawyer told you."
A shiver danced over Sadie's skin, but she wasn't going to let fear rule her. "Let him come. We'll be ready for him."
Mack grinned at her. "Yes, we will."
Then he and Jethro walked out the door.