Annalee didn’t know which was more disconcerting: the fact she’d fainted on the stagecoach or that the marshal now held her like a baby. She shifted in his arms, nervous at being held this close. Her burns throbbed so badly, she could barely think. “I can walk, you know. I only fainted.”
“You might have hit your head. Caused an injury.” He tilted his head to the side and stared at her, an unsettling warmth in his brown eyes. “No need to frown like that. You’re not heavy. As soon as the doc’s through with your shooting victim, I’ll carry you inside.”
“I did not shoot the driver.” She pursed her lips and glared at him. Up close, the marshal had an interesting face. A bump on his nose indicated it had been broken, probably in a brawl or two. His square jaw proclaimed stubbornness—something she could relate to—and a scar from the corner of his lower lip to the cleft of his chin no doubt signaled a life of violence. Dark, wavy hair hung over his jacket collar and nearly brushed his shoulders.
Boone cleared his throat, arching one dark eyebrow. “Are you through with your examination? I could take my boots off so you can count my toes.”
Her hackles rose at his remark. “Put me down, you annoying man.” She shoved at his hard chest. His hold tightened, increasing her pain. She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out.
The lawman tilted his head to the side again and his eyebrows furrowed in thought. “I wonder…”
“Were you born cranky or have you been practicing on a daily basis? Frankly, I’ve never met a more peevish woman. Now Widow Morrison, she’s a mite cranky, but rumor has it she’s got trouble with her bowels…”
Annalee gasped, her cheeks heating with the blush of embarrassment. “Shut up. I’ll have you know there’s nothing amiss regarding my disposition. Why, I’m a graduate of Miss Feather’s Finishing School for Refined Ladies of Culture and Proper Decorum.” She gave an imperial sniff and hiked her chin a notch.
He grinned, a sight that made her insides flutter, before he inclined his head and whispered, “You flunked that part, didn’t you?”
His warm breath against her ear caused her toes to curl in her black leather, high-button shoes and a shiver to race through her system, reactions she found troubling. She pierced him with an imposing glare. “I beg your pardon?”
“The decorum part. You flunked that, didn’t you?” The corners of his mouth twitched as if he were fighting a smile. “Because every time you get riled, your mouth turns as nasty as a cowpoke with saddle sores.”
He had her there. Her “devil tongue,” as Miss Feather called it, had earned her more demerits and kitchen duty than she cared to admit. Thus she’d been dubbed with the disparaging title of the “Demerit Damsel.”
She’d not share that morsel of information with this infuriating stranger. She shot the marshal a sideways glance. For some reason, he grated on her nerves. “You, sir, have a brainless tongue that goes off half-cocked with what little sense God gave you.”
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