For Love Nor Money
For Love Nor Money
In which Dodger meets his match and makes up his mind.
When faced with an angry man, it had been Dodger’s experience that the best course of action was to try to ease the man down with soft words and shades of understanding.
When faced with an angry woman, it had been his experience that the best course of action was to just run.
But in this case, there was nowhere to run, and no shades of understanding to offer. If he admitted to having the guns, then she would try to take them. And Dodger wasn’t sure he was ready to part with the pistols just yet, especially since he hadn’t settled his argument with Boon.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ms. …?” Dodger half said, half asked, trying again for the woman’s name.
She stared at him in silent anger for a brief moment, then snapped, “Lelanea Dittmeyer. I’m the niece to the man you met this afternoon. The same man you robbed blind.”
Dodger figured as much. The woman’s hint of an accent had hit home when she chose the word thick instead of stupid. He offered his hand to her in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Dittmeyer.”
She glanced down at his hand, but didn’t take it. “Are we done with the formalities? Can we get back to the reason I’m here?”
“Don’t insult me. I know you have Boon’s guns. My uncle may be a trusting soul, but you will find I am nothing of the sort. Now please, hand them over and I will be on my way.”
Dodger remembered hearing the name tumble from Ched’s stiff lips at least once. The woman must have been on the train, and must have seen him walk away from the line wearing Boon’s dangerous pair of pistols. Ched said she was as good a shot as he was, but what else was it he said about the woman? Oh yes.
She had the devil in her.
“How do I know you are from the Sleipnir?” he asked
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“The train. How do I know you’re from the train? How do I know you’re not just some passing stranger who thought she saw me with these imaginary guns?”
“Imaginary … why I ought to …” She paused to gather her anger, frowning deeply and clenching her fists again before she said, “Mr. Carpenter, it would be in your best interest to turn over my guns right now.
“Your guns? I thought they belonged to someone named Boon.”
“They did. They belong to me now. So will you turn over my property, or I shall take this matter up with the law?”
“How did you find me so quickly?”
“I followed you back from the train.”
“No you didn’t. No one followed me.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“It’s my business to be sure. Now, how did you find me so fast?”
Again she stared at him in silence, as if assessing his worth. “It was easy. I know your type. I just started with the first saloon I came to and asked around. Your friend at the bar said you weren’t here, but he isn’t a very convincing liar.”
“Neither are you.” Dodger grinned, enjoying her telltale discomfort.
“This is getting us nowhere. I know you have the guns. I saw you when you returned from your run with Uncle. You walked right off wearing the things, as if they were yours.”
“They don’t come with the job?”
At his words, her entire demeanor changed. One moment she was full of vinegar and venom, the next she was brimming with hope. “Then you will work for us?”
The hope vanished, replaced again by her cold stare. “Perhaps isn’t good enough, Mr. Carpenter. Either you take the job or give me the weapons now.”
“I must admit, it’s a tempting offer when dropped from such pretty lips.”
She paused to lower her eyes to the floor, almost demurely, and moved to close the gap in the door left open by Decker. “You do have them. Don’t you?” When she turned back to him again, there was something different about her. She seemed softer. More feminine. In a voice dripping with honey, she asked, “Do you have the guns, Mr. Carpenter?”
“What if I do?” he asked.
“Then you should give them to me.” Lelanea shifted closer to him, slinking across the floor in fluid steps. “It’s the right thing to do. Give them to me. Please.”
It had been many, many a moon since Dodger had sought the company of the fairer sex. He even went so far as to avoid the bordello whenever he went into Great Rock for supplies. Well, he usually did. This self-imposed abstinence rose from his effort to keeps folks at further than arm’s length from his personal history, in order to keep them safe. Yes, it had been a long time since he had known a woman’s touch. But it hadn’t been so long that he had forgotten what seduction was like. What it was made of. How it worked. How it felt.
And he fell into that dance without even flinching.
As she drew ever closer, Dodger dropped his voice to a husky whisper. “What are you really after?”
“I think you know the answer to that,” she said as she sidled up to him.
“Are you going to beg me for it?” He was close to her now, close enough to smell the high notes of her perfume, and her natural scent lingering beneath.
Wrapping her lithe arms around his shoulders, she whispered, “I’ll beg, if you desire.”
“Maybe I like a woman who just takes what she wants.”
Lelanea swept her arms down his back. “Good. Then I think I’ll just take it.” And she tried to do just that.
Quicker than she could retrieve the gun, Dodger reached around to snap his good hand over her wrist, then wrapped his other arm about her waist, wrenching her to him in an impromptu embrace. Even with his injured wrist, pinning her to him was all too easy, because she wasn’t prepared for it. He locked onto her wide eyes with his, whatever spell she thought she had over him lost in her sudden look of surprise.
“Now, now,” Dodger chided. “It’s not polite to cock a man’s pistol without being invited first.”
“Let me go,” she said with a sneer and a pout and a fair amount of struggling.
“Drop the gun first.”
Dodger lowered his eyes to the swell of her bosom straining against the buttons of her blouse. The red lace of some frilly underthing peeked through the gaps, teasing the hell out of him. When he looked back up again, her surprise had turned to disgust. “I am pleased to inform you that you’ve placed yourself in a very dangerous as well as scandalous position.” He hugged her closer to emphasize his point. “Let go of the gun. Nice and slow.”
“I’ll cry for help. I’ll say you tried to take me. By force.”
“I could kill you before you made a single sound.”
“You don’t have the guts.”
“Try me.” He crushed her tighter, relishing her gasp as he snatched her breath away. Dodger had no intention of really hurting the poor girl, but she had to learn that he wasn’t an easy target, and now was as good a time as any. “Drop the gun and I’ll let you go.”
Intractable to the end, she shook her head, refusing his single request. Her stubbornness had nothing to do with the devil in her. It did, however, have everything to do with the woman in her.
His demands weren’t working, so Dodger settled on a different tactic. “Let it go and we can talk about my contract.”
“Then you’ll accept?” she asked in a wheeze, a glimmer of hope mixed with a bit of confusion lighting her eyes.
“I suppose I sort of have to.” Dodger was astounded by how genuine his own words sounded. He thought his claim was just a ploy to make her relinquish the nine shooter, but now that he said it aloud, it had a certain ring of truth to it that he couldn’t deny.
Doubtful but interested, she let the pistol slip back into his pants.
He released her from his clutch with a certain amount of regret. It might have been some kind of trick on her part that let her get so close to him, but to be honest, he reckoned he might have done the same if she had just asked nicely enough. He reckoned, and this was a hard thing to admit, that she was about the prettiest woman he had seen in a long, long time. He also reckoned that Boon was both wrong and right about her.
Lelanea Dittmeyer sure didn’t need protecting.
But Dodger was going to try to protect her anyway.
“Are you going to take the work?” she asked as she rubbed her wrist.
“I had planned on it,” Dodger said. “I was just in the middle of packing when you arrived. But you sort of backed me into a thieving corner without allowing me to explain myself.” He didn’t consider this a lie so much as a slow truth, one he was just now coming to understand
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply… I just … I thought you had stolen the guns. They mean an awful lot to me. Boon was … well … he was a very good friend of mine.”
“He was a good man then?”
“The best.” Her soft smile suggested he was more than just the best.
“Well, I might not be the best, but I will try to live up to his legend.”
“You don’t have to live up to anything. We are just grateful to have someone of your talent aboard.”
Dodger snatched a clean shirt from his wardrobe and proceeded to button it up. His swollen wrist made slow work of it. “You have a funny way of showing your gratitude.”
“Again, I apologize. If you had just said as much before …”
“Yes. I suppose its part my fault. I have a habit of keeping my interests close to the vest.”
“That’s good, though. I’m sure it’s an excellent trait for a man in security.”
“That’s what they tell me.” Dodger winced as the last few buttons grew more and more difficult to affix.
“I heard about your injury. My uncle can help with that.”
“I can manage.”
She crossed her arms and gave a small huff. “He is a fully qualified doctor, you know.”
“Is he your driver’s personal physician? ‘Cause if he is, I think I’ll pass on taking him up as a doc. Thanks.”
He supposed such a snide remark would make the woman angry, but no, Lelanea surprised him with a gentle laugh. With this humor came her first genuine smile, and it was just as beautiful as he suspected it might be. Dodger tried his best to ignore her gorgeous smile, instead returning his attention to the very guns that brought her to his bedroom. As he retrieved, holstered and buckled the pair into place, he caught Lelanea staring at him, another grin curving her delicate lips.
(Click forward to continue chapter.)