A MAN FOR ANNALEE
Gunfire jarred Annalee Gallagher. She straightened in her seat, her heart pounding. Another bullet zinged past the stagecoach, and the older couple sitting across from her gasped in unison. Heaven help her, she’d escaped one nightmare only to find herself in the middle of another.
The broad-shouldered man who’d been drowsing against her jerked upright and drew a pistol from his holster in a blur so fast Annalee wondered if he hadn’t been holding it all along.
He fired six shots out of the window before leaning back to reload. “Think I winged one.”
She didn’t know if he spoke to himself in affirmation or bragged to the occupants of the stagecoach.
One thing for sure, though, she wanted a look at the gunmen. Did they resemble the criminals in her dime novels? Surely one peek wouldn’t hurt. She leaned toward the open window next to her. Thus far her journey from Chicago to Cicero Creek, Wyoming, had been blessedly uneventful. She’d met none of the miscreants and bloodthirsty Indians written about in her books, so the thrill of living through a stagecoach robbery, like those in stories she’d read, warred with her sense of self-preservation.
If she’d had her wits about her, she’d be afraid, or so she told herself as she glanced out of the window, hoping to see the highwaymen. With her mind and heart so absorbed with grief this past week, this incident, no matter how perilous, was a welcome respite.
The gunmen were out of her line of vision, the pounding of their horses’ hooves growing closer. More shots rang out. The stagecoach driver cracked his whip and bellowed an order to the team of horses. “Hi-ya! Go! Go!” The stage swayed precariously as it accelerated over the bumpy road. Gritty dust blew into the coach with such force the air seemed alive with it.
She flinched as the coach’s jarring motion caused her burns to throb. Having just survived the devastation of the great fire in Chicago—a tragedy that snuffed out three-hundred lives and destroyed nearly one-third of the city—she didn’t think anything would ever frighten her again.
She was wrong.
Still, wanting to get one good look at the shooters, Annalee stuck her head out of the stagecoach window. A rider came into view. Before she could duck back inside, he raised his rifle and fired, shooting off her new traveling bonnet.
Heart racing, Annalee plopped back onto her seat. “He shot off my hat!” Her voice rippled with astonishment and fury. Her trembling hands touched her scalp, and she prayed she’d feel hair. She breathed a sigh of relief when her gloved hands showed no blood.
“What did you expect after sticking your head out like that?” The man beside her fired off another shot. “You made a target of yourself.” He quickly reloaded his revolver, muttering under his breath before redirecting his attention to the shooters. “Just my luck to be sharing a seat with a lunatic.”
Available in eBook and paperback formats from Still Moments Publishing and Amazon on February 19th. Woot!