Daring

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Ruby McKenzie knelt beside her cousin Caroline McKenzie in the Texas dirt and gazed down at the campsite. They were perched precariously up on a ridge, spying on their next victims. The fire barely glowed in the predawn light.

She loved her life. She loved what she did for a living. And she loved her independence.

“Were you nervous the first time?” Caroline asked her voice soft and trembling.

God, sometimes she just wanted to shake the girl. How could she ever expect men to respect her with a voice more suited for the bedroom? “No. I couldn’t wait. I wanted my first man so bad I was almost giddy.”

Ruby’s occupation was a lonely, dangerous one. One she’d learned after her father had died, saddling her and her two beloved sisters with a bank note on their farm and no skills to earn a living. So, they’d become bounty hunters, following in their father’s footsteps. Hunting criminals for cash.

And they were good at catching outlaws.

“The man lying in front of the fire is the one on the wanted poster,” Caroline said, gazing at the camp below them. “But I don’t recognize the other man.”

Ruby glanced over at Caroline; her cousin’s black as midnight hair was braided down her back, making her look almost like an Indian squaw with her dark coloring. She was beautiful and sophisticated and much too soft for the job. This was her first hunt and Ruby worried. Was she ready for the action? The possibility of having to use her gun? Could she protect Ruby in a gunfight?

She sighed and peered down in the darkness, trying to discern the features of the unknown man. “There’s no way of knowing who that second man is until we get down there. He could be a bounty we hadn’t planned on collecting.”

“Or not,” Caroline whispered.

“Relax,” Ruby said squirming, an itchiness to get started making it hard for her to sit still. She couldn’t wait to spring into action and snap up another criminal. Maybe even two.

“How are we going to do this?” Caroline asked, licking her lips nervously. “It’s almost morning. The sun should soon be rising.”

“We sneak into their camp and pull our guns on them before they know we’re there. Really, this is very simple. We surprise them and before they can recover, we’ve ridden out with our bounty. Once we catch them, we’re two hours from town. We’ll turn them into the sheriff in Dyersville and be on our way,” Ruby said, pushing her blonde curls away from her face.

Excitement pulsed through her veins as she prepared herself mentally for the capture. She could hardly wait to slap the rope around their wrists, but maybe that part of the abduction would be better for Caroline to handle. “Let’s go over the details.”

Caroline bobbed her head, her eyes large in the moonlight. “What do I do?”

“We’re going to walk into their camp with our guns drawn. You tie them up, while I hold my gun on them. You’ve got to be quick before they start to think we’re just a couple of harmless women and try to disarm us. I don’t want to shoot our guy, but I will if I have to.”

“What kind of knots do I tie? A bow or a square knot? How tight around their wrists? I don’t want to hurt them.”

The words sent uneasiness flowing through Ruby. Why had her sister Meg decided now was the time to fall in love and marry the sheriff of Zenith? Ruby and Meg had been great partners, and now she’d left Ruby stuck with a novice like Caroline. “Tie a knot that keeps them from getting loose. I’ll double check they’re secure once you’re done.”

“Oh,” Caroline said, biting her lip. “So, we burst into their camp with our guns drawn and tell them we’re bringing them to justice. Then I approach the men and pull their hands behind their back and tie a rope around their wrists?”

“Stop thinking so hard and just react. Are you sure you can handle tying them up?”

What if Caroline froze in the middle of the capture? How would Ruby be able to save both of them if her cousin became scared?

Caroline inhaled enough air for a battalion of soldiers. “I think so. But what if they grab me? What if they pull their guns on us? What if they shoot at us?”

“Calm down, Caroline. I don’t need you passing out on me.”

Ruby watched as Caroline sucked in air more leisurely and released it slowly. She practiced measured breathing several times. “Better. When we charge into camp, I will tell them to throw down their weapons. I’ll collect them, while you keep your six-shooter trained on the men. Once I have their firearms, then I’ll hold the men at gunpoint while you secure them with rope.”

Caroline shook her head. “No. I don’t like this. I’ll hold the revolver on them, while you collect their guns and tie up the men. I’m afraid to get too close.”

“All right,” Ruby said, her tone clearly full of frustration. But she had to make certain whatever job she gave Caroline the tenderfoot could handle. Right now, Ruby wasn’t certain Caroline wouldn’t get them both killed. “You’re as nervous as a prostitute in church.”

Caroline jumped up. Her body stiffened, as she placed her hands on her hips and gave Ruby a haughty glare. “Now, Ruby, there’s no need to get nasty. Don’t be using prostitute and church in the same sentence. That’s just not nice.”

Ruby wanted to roll her eyes, but refrained. Caroline had always been a little uppity. Well, in this business, there was no place for airs. Working alone had to be simpler than training this greenhorn. “Concentrate on us getting the bounty.”

“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I’ll keep my gun trained on the bad guys, while you pick up their revolvers and tie them up.”

“Correct. Now let’s get going before it gets any lighter.”

Ruby pulled out her little pot of lipstick Meg had taught her how to use.

“Why are you putting on lipstick? These men won’t see it in the dark.”

“No, but it’s a ritual Meg started. Put on your lipstick, almost like putting on your war paint. Then go after your bad guy. It gives me strength.”

Caroline shook her head, like she thought it was nonsense. “Give me some.”

Smiling, Ruby handed her the little pot. “Just smooth a little on your lips.” She watched her cousin put on the paint. “Now, we’re ready.”