He put her in jail. Even though she had to admit it was a perfect place to keep the money safe, she still wasn't happy about Adam's choice, because she knew he expected her to stay inside while he went gallivanting after Ezekiel and his men. If she had had a few minutes alone with him, she would have let him know just how unhappy she was, but the jail was crowded with lawmen, and she wasn't about to criticize Adam in front of strangers. She. did glare at him though when he suggested she might be more comfortable inside one of the empty cells.
She sat down in a chair next to Sheriff Norton's desk, put her satchel on her lap, and folded her hands on top. Adam stood behind her. After removing a stack of papers from his chair, the sheriff sat down and tilted back against the wall. He was an older man with a big belly and melancholy eyes. His face reminded Genevieve of a hound dog's. His jowls extended past his chin, and when he smiled-which seemed to be most of the time-the folds of extra skin on either side of his face wrinkled up to his ears. He was very kind to her and Adam, and she liked him immensely. His voice radiated fatherly concern when he asked how he could be of help, and he listened patiently without interrupting once while Adam explained why they were there.
Two U.S. marshals leaned against the wall and listened. The men were so similar in appearance and attitude they could have been brothers. They were about the same height, nearly six feet, and had the same worn and world-weary expressions. The more muscular one was named Davidson, and the other was called Morgan.
Their presence should have been a comfort, but they made her nervous instead. Their gazes seemed to bore right through her. There was an air of danger about them as well. She couldn't even begin to imagine the horrors they must have seen that would have turned them into such frightening men. Her mind conjured up one horrible possibility after another, and before long she was fighting the urge to jump up and leave.
She really wished they would stop staring at her. She kept expecting one of them to pounce on her, and she glanced over at them every other minute just to make sure they hadn't moved.
Adam must have sensed her unease because he put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a little squeeze.
After he had finished explaining their circumstances to the sheriff, including details she wished he hadn't mentioned, Marshal Davidson suggested that Genevieve look through the posters of wanted men to see if Ezekiel was one of them.
The sheriff pointed to a knee-high stack of papers on the floor in the corner behind him. "There they are, but I'll wager you it will take you the rest of the day to sort through them."
"Adam, are you certain Jones and his friends are following you?" Morgan asked the question but watched Genevieve all the while.
"Yes, I made sure they could easily follow my tracks to Middleton."
Davidson took a step toward her. She visibly jumped and then became angry.
"Gentlemen, what are you staring at?" she demanded.
The marshals glanced at one another before turning back to her. Davidson raised an eyebrow and looked a little sheepish, but Morgan maintained his glacial expression. She didn't think the man had blinked in the past five minutes.
"I was looking at you, ma'am," Davidson said.
"I wish you wouldn't," she said. "I swear to heaven you make me want to confess to a crime just to get you to stop."
"Did you have a particular crime in mind?" Morgan asked. A hint of a smile crinkled the corners of his eyes.
The marshal became human to her. She began to relax. "No," she answered. "I would have to make one up. Do you know how intimidating you are? Yes, of course you do. That's how you interrogate criminals, isn't it?"
"Genevieve, what are you talking about?" Adam asked.
"You wouldn't understand even if I tried to explain. You do the very same thing."
Davidson burst into laughter. "Ma'am, did you really impersonate Ruby Leigh…?"
"Diamond," Morgan supplied with a grin.
"You sure don't look like the kind of woman who would go by such a name," Davidson remarked.
She frowned at the marshal. "How exactly do I look?"
"Refined," Davidson answered. "You're a lady, and I'm having trouble picturing you up on a stage in a saloon."
"I didn't impersonate anyone, at least not on purpose. Mr. Steeple tricked me. Adam, you really didn't need to tell the marshals I sang in a saloon."
He squeezed her shoulder again. Davidson came to his defense. "He was telling us how he first spotted Ezekiel, so he had to mention the saloon."
"I assure you I'm not in the habit of entertaining drunken men, and I only sang church songs."
"Did you really make all of those men cry?" Morgan asked.
"Not on purpose."
Her answer made them laugh again. Her embarrassment intensified. She waited until the noise died down before suggesting in a righteous stammer that they tell her what they were going to do about Ezekiel and his friends.
Norton reached over to pat her hand. "Don't you be worrying about it, little lady."
His condescending tone of voice didn't sit well with her. "Sheriff, Ezekiel Jones is coming after me. I have to be worried about him, and I also have to be worried about Adam. He's determined to go after all three of those horrible men. Please stop squeezing my shoulder," she added with a quick glance up at Adam. "I don't want you to get hurt"
"My mind's made up," he told her in no uncertain terms.
She turned back to the marshals. "Well?" she demanded.
"Well, what?" Davidson asked.
"I'm waiting for one of you to tell Adam he can't take the law into his own hands."
Morgan shrugged. His response wasn't what she was hoping for. Neither was his reply. "He seems real determined, ma'am, and I don't think anything I say will change his mind. I don't blame him for wanting to go after Jones. If the woman I loved were being threatened, I sure as certain would put a stop to it."
She didn't know if she should correct the marshal's assumption or not. Adam didn't love her; he was simply being compassionate by helping her. That was all.
"If Ezekiel's wanted for murder or any other crime, I'd be real interested in talking to him," Morgan continued.
The marshal's casual attitude drove her to distraction. "I don't want you to talk to him. I want you to lock him up. If the murder he committed wasn't reported, then I shall press charges against him."
"On what grounds?" the sheriff asked.
"The man locked me in my room."
"Begging your pardon, but it's your word against his, and I don't think he's gonna admit locking you up," the sheriff told her.
"The sooner you go through the posters, the better," Davidson suggested.
"Yes, of course, but in the meanwhile, I want you to arrest Ezekiel and his two friends. I'll be happy to give you their descriptions."
"Now we're right back where we started," the sheriff complained. "As I was telling you before, you just got to have grounds to make an arrest."
"Such as?" she asked.
The sheriff pondered the question a long minute before answering. "If one of them happens to take a shot at you, well then, we could nab him for attempted murder."
Davidson grinned. "I know it's frustrating, ma'am, but the law's the law. Maybe we could talk to him and scare him into leaving you alone."
"We ought to ask Ryan to have a word with Ezekiel," Morgan told his friend.
"Adam, what do you think?" Genevieve asked.
She turned to look up at him and only then discovered he was gone. "When did he leave?"
She was on her feet and turning toward the door before the sheriff could answer her.
"He took off a few minutes ago," he said. "Sit back down, ma'am. You got to start looking through the posters. These here are the latest ones, but if you think Jones might have committed a crime a while back, then I got to take you into the storeroom. I keep every poster I receive. Some go back as far as ten years."
"While you're looking through them, Morgan and I will stop by the telegraph office and send a couple of wires asking for information. Adam gave us a good description, and we should hear something back real soon. In the meantime, you're in good hands," Davidson said.
"Are you boys headed back up the mountain?"
Morgan nodded. "Ryan's going to stick close to the doctor's house as long as there's a chance our witness will make it. If you run into any trouble, he'll lend a hand."
Genevieve watched the marshals leave and then turned to the sheriff and asked, "Mr. Steeple told me there were three marshals in Middleton. Ryan's the third one, isn't he?"
"Yes, ma'am. Morgan and Davidson are taking orders from him, and I heard Morgan say Ryan was senior man in charge. He's also the youngest."
"Is Ryan's first name Daniel by any chance?"
"It sure is," he replied. "I don't expect I'll ever be calling him anything but marshal or sir. He ain't the type to get friendly with. Fact is, he scares just about everybody in town, and I imagine that's why Morgan suggested Ryan be the one to talk to Ezekiel Jones or Henry Stevens or whatever in tarnation his name is."
"What did Morgan mean when he said that Marshal Ryan was staying dose to the doctor's house?"
"He's over at Doc Garrison's house, waiting to see if poor old Luke MacFarland is gonna up and die on him. He's the only witness we got to the terrible trouble we had here the day before yesterday. What started out as a plain old bank robbery turned into a massacre. Luke was outside and saw what happened through the bank window. Before he passed out on us, he told Ryan and me he could identify the leader.
"The folks working at the bank handed the money over as meek as could be and then put their hands up to let the robbers know they weren't gonna be heroic and go for their guns. There weren't no call to shoot them down, no call at all, but that's what the robbers did. Frank Holden, the president of the bank, had six bullets in his head. There was blood splattered all the way up to the ceiling. It was a cold, vicious act, and five good men I called friends died like dogs."
Genevieve was sickened by the story. "Those poor souls," she whispered. "If they didn't put up a fight, why were they killed?"
"They would have been witnesses, that's why. Luke and Nichols were watching all of it. Both of them got shot. Luke took a bullet in his gut, and that means he don't have much hope of lasting, which is a crying shame for his family. He's got a wife and four boys to feed, and if he dies, I don't know what will happen to them."
"What about the other witness?" she asked.
"Nichols took a bullet through his heart. Doc said he probably died standing up."
"I hope the marshals catch the men and lock them up for the rest of their lives."
"I'd ruther they strung them up," Norton said. "You can understand now, can't you, why Davidson and Morgan are letting Adam take care of Ezekiel? They got their hands full trailing the gang. None of the marshals have had much sleep lately."
"Do you think they'll find the gang?"
"Maybe, and maybe not. There's over a hundred caves in these mountains, and they could be hiding out in any one of them. Eventually they'll get caught because they're bound to make a mistake. The five of them have been on a killing spree for over a year now. The man in charge is a clever devil to be able to elude Ryan for so long. The bastard always makes sure there ain't no witnesses, just in case he gets caught."
The sheriff stood up and stretched his arms wide. "If you don't mind being alone, I'd like to go over to the doc's house and see how Luke's doing."
"I don't mind," she replied. "But if you happen to run into Adam, will you please tell him I'd like him to help me go through the posters?"
"I doubt I'll see him anytime soon," the sheriff responded. "We both know he went looking for those fellas. Why, he's probably waiting by the hill outside of town. That's what I'd do if I wanted to nab someone coming from Gramby. The only way into Middleton is over that hill beyond the stable. I got a feeling he'll come back empty-handed by nightfall, 'cause if you heard there were three marshals here, this Jones fella probably heard the same thing."
Genevieve shook her head. "I don't think Ezekiel was in town long enough to talk to anyone. At least that's what Adam hopes. Sheriff, I'm worried about him. Ezekiel is terribly bold, and the two men riding with him wouldn't think twice about shooting a man in the back."
"I don't want you sitting in here fretting," the sheriff told her. "Maybe I will mosey on up the hill and have a look around for Adam. He probably don't need my help though. From the looks of him, I'd say he could hold his own in any fight, even against three."
He showed her where the storeroom was located and then left her alone. At first sight, she thought the task was hopeless, for there were papers stacked everywhere. They lined the shelves to the ceiling, and more were on the floor. The dust made her sneeze, and some of the old posters crumbled when she touched them.
It wasn't as chaotic as she'd first thought though. The sheriff had separated the posters by the year they were received. She ignored the latest notices and, starting with the year-old fliers, worked her way back.
After three hours of searching, she was stiff from sitting on the floor, hungry, and covered with dust. When she stretched her legs out to get rid of a cramp in her calf, she knocked over a pile of posters she had yet to look through. With a sigh, she leaned forward to straighten them up, and then let out a whoop of joy. Ezekiel Jones's ugly face was staring up at her.
The drawing had done Ezekiel justice, because it captured the evil essence of the man right down to the detail of his beady, squinty eyes. He was wanted for murder and extortion, he was considered armed and dangerous-and she could certainly testify to those two facts-and there was a hundred-dollar reward for his apprehension. Several of the aliases he had used were listed at the bottom of the sheet, and in bold letters across the top was the notice that he was wanted dead or alive.
She was so excited with her discovery she could barely think what to do. Adam needed to see the poster as soon as possible. Surely then he would realize what a dangerous adversary he was up against. My God, the man really had committed murder. She had heard him boast of the heinous crime, but a part of her hadn't believed him. The poster removed all doubt. Ezekiel was a killer. Hopefully, after Adam had seen the poster, he would agree to let the authorities take over the hunt.
She grabbed her satchel and hurried to the front door and then decided it was foolish to carry Thomas's money with her. She ran back to the jail cells and locked the satchel inside one of them. She wasn't about to leave the keys behind, and so she slipped the heavy metal ring over her wrist and wore it like a bracelet. The keys jingled and jangled with each step she took down the boardwalk.
The streets and the boardwalk were crowded with people coming and going. She wasn't quite sure where Adam was, but she hoped he was waiting for Ezekiel near the base of the hills behind the livery stable. The sheriff had told them that the main road from Gramby led into Middleton from the north, and if Ezekiel was coming after them, he would probably use that route. Earlier she had hoped that Ezekiel hadn't heard that U.S. marshals had converged on Middleton, but now she prayed he had indeed heard, so that he would stay away. The thought of Adam taking on not one but three blackguards frightened her. He played by the rules. He would never shoot a man in the back. Ezekiel would.
The possibility terrified her, and before she realized what she was doing, she started running down the boardwalk toward the livery.
A shot rang out. The noise so jarred her she stumbled. She grabbed hold of a hitching post to keep from falling and dropped the poster. She scooped it up, folded it, and shoved it in her pocket as she squinted into the sunlight to see who was firing his gun. Someone shouted to her, but the words were drowned out by a hail of gunfire. The noise was explosive, the sound ricocheting from building to building. The men and women who had been strolling down the main thoroughfare ran for cover, and within seconds, the streets and boardwalk were deserted.
She was frozen with panic. She saw a man running down the center of the street toward the sound, his gun drawn. He was moving so fast into the sunlight he was almost a blur.
A yellow-haired woman poked her head out of the general store a few feet in front of Genevieve and shouted to her. "Get on inside here before you get yourself killed."
"The gang who robbed the bank came back, and now we're all gonna die," another woman screeched from behind the first.
Genevieve turned to go inside. Then she stopped. Why would the robbers come back? They already had the money from the bank. What if it wasn't the gang…?
Adam. A chill went down her spine. Oh, God, what if Adam was in trouble? She had assumed he had gone in search of Ezekiel, but what if he had returned to town? She pictured him pinned down and surrounded by Lewis and Herman and Ezekiel, and, dear God, what if he had already been shot? She had to find out. She just needed to get close enough to see for herself that Adam wasn't involved.
She picked up her skirts and ran. The noise seemed to be coming from between two buildings on the next street. The sun was blinding her, and fear was making it hard to breathe. Panting, she raced forward as though his life depended on it. She was leaping off the boardwalk between the alley and the next building when she heard someone whisper her name. She stumbled as she turned to see who was there.
And then she screamed.