Excerpt from

An Angel Called Gallagher

Montana Gallagher Series

Book 4

Chapter One


Briarwood, Montana Territory—December 1883


White clouds of warm breath snaked through the cold air. She held her hands in front of her mouth in an effort to bring heat to her stiff fingers. Fresh snow had covered the land while she tried to sleep, and she didn’t want to sleep too long for fear that the small fire would dwindle. Two thin pieces of wood leaned against the inside of the small black pail. She tucked her feet under her legs and pressed them into her chest. The wool blanket was thin and only warm enough for a cool day, not bitter winter nights. When the sun dipped behind the mountains and the moon rose, the cold seeped past the blanket and into her bones.


Sleep came and went like fleeting dreams until the stars faded, and the small window by the door promised to reveal a rising sun over the mountain peaks. It would be a good day to gather more wood and branches from the forest floor. She looked to the two pegs above the narrow stone fireplace where her father’s rifle used to hang. The emptiness in her stomach might be worse if her father hadn’t left behind a cut of deer. She finished the last of the meat the night before, and the gnawing in her gut told her she’d have to find a meal soon.


Her eyes closed when the soft rays of sun touched her skin. As though drawn toward the promise of warmth, she stepped off the bed with the blanket wrapped around her small shoulders and opened the front door.


Catherine Rose Carr had been raised properly and prided herself on her ability to do her numbers, read a full book without too much difficulty, and to follow the moral rules her mother said every young man and woman must abide by to get to Heaven. She wasn’t certain if she was going to Heaven, or if her mother and father were even there waiting for her, but Catie was sure her behavior the past two weeks excluded her from ever finding out.


The snow soaked through her boots and left her legs weighed down with each deep step. Grateful she could find a moment of rest, Catie crouched low, pressing her back up against the wooden structure nearly the size of her cabin. She hadn’t come this far to turn back now. It took almost ten minutes to convince herself that starvation was worse than stealing.


Catie hadn’t been this far from the cabin before, and the ranch was the only place she’d come upon after half a day of walking through the woods. Her father had been adamant that she remain close to the cabin. Two days and he’d return—that had been his promise to her.


“Too many dangers beyond the walls of home,” he had told her.


Catie didn’t understand his concern. Hadn’t he taught her how to shoot the Remington rifle? She might have had better success hunting if he’d left it behind.


Three weeks ago, she swore her father would not forget to return, yet as the days and weeks passed, she was forced to break her promise.


The chickens, who must have sensed the unknown presence, squawked and squabbled from within. Catie covered her mouth with the end of the shabby wool scarf to keep any noise from escaping her lips. She heard the unmistakable sound of boots hitting wooden boards and someone talking softly to the fowl. Catie remained still as a sturdy oak, just the way her father had taught her when they tracked her first buck up the mountain. Someone else walked toward the chicken coop and entered the structure. Voices carried through the planks, and curious to know if they were friendly or a danger to her, she pressed closer against the wood.


“Brenna! You startled me. How did you manage to trudge out here in those boots, and what are you doing with a basket?”


“Then you startle too easily, Amanda.”


The woman laughed, a light and lovely sound. She spoke differently than the other woman, almost like a song.


“My boots don’t seem to fit well these days, so I borrowed an old pair of Ethan’s. I wanted some fresh air, and since my aromatic oils should arrive any day now, I thought I’d gather some pinecones, give them a little scent, and set them around the house.”


“What a nice idea. Would you like some company after I get these eggs back inside?”


“I was hoping you’d join me. I had a few ideas for the house that I wanted to discuss with you. I promised Ethan I wouldn’t attempt to stand on anything when he wasn’t around.”


One of the women laughed, and Catie thought it was the other woman without the music in her voice. “Then we better not let him or your grandmother catch you.”


Catie listened to the light rustling, and finally the door closed with the women on the outside. She shouldn’t have dared. Reason seemed to have little place in her mind at the moment because she peeked around the edge for a glimpse. Starved for human companionship, Catie was desperate to call out. Almost. When the women had disappeared around the other side of the barn, she trudged through the snow to the front of the coop. Careful not to disturb the chickens too much, she collected as many of the leftover eggs as she could carry wrapped in her scarf. Her gaze flitted over the hens once, and Catie shook her head.


“You’re safe from me, little ones. I haven’t fallen that far yet.”


As quietly as she came, she disappeared back into the woods.


The unfamiliar voices halted Catie’s progress into the rough-hewn cabin. Smoke rose from the narrow chimney, and the scent of cooked meat caused her stomach to clench. A smile formed on her red lips, though her happiness did not last. It appeared to be three voices and none sounded like her father. Catie held the eggs close to her chest and walked alongside the perimeter until she could comfortably peek inside the window.


Three men stood or sat in various stages of undress, snug in the nearly barren cabin. One of them turned something in a hot pan sitting precariously over the wood and coals in the fire, even as she wondered how they’d come upon her home so quickly. She looked into the sky where the sun shined directly above her. Her excursion to the chicken coop had taken longer than she realized.


She looked again at the men through the window, careful to remain out of sight. They’d used the last of the firewood. In the months she and her pa had lived in the solitary cabin, she’d not seen another soul come around.


Catie waited for each man to turn around so she could glimpse their faces. She was convinced none were her father now that she’d at least seen their backs, as much as she might have hoped otherwise. The third man turned, and an inaudible gasp escaped her lips. If ever there was a man in her past life she didn’t want to meet again, it was him.


Catie pulled back, her eyes scanning the land around what used to be her home, or the home her father had found for them two weeks ago. Even if the men left, they knew where she lived. Looking down at the eggs bundled in her scarf, she ignored the pain of cold around her toes and walked back the way she had come.


She noticed the line shack in the distance. It was small, unoccupied, and warmer than the cabin. After a quick scan of the little room, Catie stepped inside, grateful to find a cot and a bin of wood for a potbellied stove. With the short winter days and the sun on a downward setting behind the mountains, she was out of options. Trespassing was only the latest in a growing list of wrongdoings. Survival demanded she forgive herself of the sin, and she prayed the owner of the shack would show mercy if they came upon her in the night. She didn’t relish adding jail to her future list of shelters. With the simple hope embedded in her mind, she closed the door.


She set her precious eggs—the stolen eggs—down on the flat surface of the rough table and started a fire. The tinder was still dry, and after half a dozen attempts, a small flame licked the edges of the wood. A few minutes later, Catie’s fingers turned a light shade of pink as the heat soaked into her skin, and she removed her boots to help warm her feet and dry her socks. The shack was better equipped than the cabin, and she found a small skillet and pot in a wooden box by the stove. A single plate, cup, and fork sat beneath the pan wrapped in a dusty cloth. She brushed the sleeve of her shirt over the pan to remove any lingering dust and cracked the eggs open when the heat seeped through the iron.


The eggs staved off the gnawing ache in her stomach, at least for one more night. Her hunger temporarily assuaged, Catie laid on the narrow cot, the scarf wrapped tightly around her shoulders. The few warm blankets were a blessing, and thankful for a sheltered place to rest, she fell into a deep slumber.


The following morning, Catie stood in the trees, her arms filled with small branches for kindling. She watched a tall man dismount and circle the shack, look inside, and then return to his horse and rummage through his worn leather saddlebags. Her body shivered, and the trees offered little protection from the cold breeze. Light drops of wet snow fell from the low-hanging branches of the pine trees, testing the strength of her resolve. The man left the shack, remounted, and rode away.


She hurried back to the scant warmth of the shack and nearly tripped over her own feet. On the edge of the cot, a thick blanket was neatly folded. Her gaze darted around the small space, settling on the thick cut of beef on the table. Beside the beef was a clean, white towel. Catie pulled back the corners to reveal a dozen more eggs and half a loaf of bread. Why would the man leave them behind? How did he know she was there, and would he make her go away? She would worry over those questions in the morning. For tonight, she would feast.


Chapter Two


Brenna Gallagher’s eyes fluttered open. The heavy curtains blocked the cold and moonlight. Her husband’s deep breathing always brought her a sense of security and comfort, except tonight something poked and prodded at her subconscious to awaken her.


She slipped from bed and into her robe. On stockinged feet, she walked quietly from the room and into the hall. Only the roar of the wind beating on the house filled what otherwise would be a silent night. Brenna took comfort in the great home’s strength and foundation, but she knew firsthand that misfortune could penetrate its walls. They’d nearly lost her sister-in-law to her grandfather’s hired man just a few bedrooms down from theirs. She quickly quelled the memory and stepped into the hall.


Brenna walked the short distance to young Jacob’s room. With the events that had transpired over the past two years, it was a mother’s over-protective instinct that drove her to look in on her son in the middle of the night.


Jacob was like his uncle Gabriel—Ethan’s brother—and tended to sleep through almost anything. It wasn’t his cries or quiet murmurs that drew her to the nursery door, but the sound of a familiar tune sung by a soft voice.


Angels watching, e'er around thee,
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones' watch am keeping,
All through the night


Ethan had taught her the lullaby just as his mother had sung it to him. Brenna smiled at the thought of her grandmother, Elizabeth, or Gabriel’s wife, Isabelle, singing so sweetly to her son. They must have heard him awaken when she hadn’t.


Brenna eased opened the door so as not to disturb them, but the empty room left her shivering. No lamp had been lit or curtains drawn to allow the moonlight inside. Panicked, she hurried to Jacob’s crib and found him warm, content, and asleep. She searched every dark corner and checked the windows, but no one else was there.


“Brenna?”


She didn’t take her eyes off of Jacob. “In here.”


Ethan moved up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Did he wake up?”


She shook her head. “No, but I heard someone singing to him.”


“Elizabeth?”


“No. No one else was in here.”


Ethan turned her around. “Is everything all right?”


Exasperated, Brenna looked back down at their son. “I’m not crazy or hearing things. At least I don’t think I am. Do you remember the tune you taught me right after Jacob was born?”


He nodded. “My mother’s lullaby.”


“Yes. Do Gabriel and Eliza know it?”


Ethan shrugged. “I imagine so. Is that what you heard?”


“Yes.” She laughed. “Perhaps I did just hear it in my head.”


“Do you want to bring him into our room for tonight?”


“I don’t wish to disturb him.” Brenna leaned over and tucked the edges of the blanket around Jacob. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. Let’s go back to bed.”


Brenna followed her husband into the dark hall but not without one final study of the nursery. This time, she left the door open all the way.


***


“You look awful.”


Brenna looked up from her morning cup of tea and attempted a smile for Ethan’s younger sister, Eliza. A new bride to Brenna’s brother, Ramsey Cameron, Eliza was now her sister twice over. When Brenna first arrived in Briarwood more than eighteen months ago, she had stumbled unexpectedly into a family whose bond was deeper than any she’d known since the death of her parents. Brenna studied her sister-in-law’s lopsided grin. “You don’t. Marriage agrees with you.”


Eliza grinned. “I won’t argue with truth.” She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down across from Brenna. “You’re up early. Didn’t sleep well?”


“Something kept me awake.”


“Ethan?”


Brenna tossed a napkin at Eliza. “Where your thoughts drift is remarkable.” Her smile was fleeting. “I thought I heard a woman singing to Jacob, but when I reached his room, no one was there.”


Eliza shrugged. “It’s probably just the house. She’s old and sometimes likes to have her say.”


“Perhaps.” Brenna drank the rest of her tea and asked, “What are you doing here this early?”


“Elizabeth’s attempts to teach me how to cook have gone to waste. I need to place an advertisement for a live-in housekeeper and cook, for Ramsey’s sake, and thought I’d stop in first. I never realized how much work Amanda and Elizabeth did, and Mabel before them, until I wasn’t living here.”


Brenna thought of the grandmother she first met not long after her arrival in Briarwood, Montana. Now, she couldn’t imagine life at Hawk’s Peak without Elizabeth. “Amanda has been a dream, especially since Grandmother refuses to slow down.” Brenna studied her sister-in-law. “Elizabeth is going to teach me how to bake her delicious mince pies this afternoon. Care to join us?”


Eliza laughed. “I’d rather be thrown from a wild mustang.”


Brenna smiled. “Not in that dress you won’t. Not even a riding skirt for your trip to town.”

“Tore up my last one yesterday. Caught it on a nail and ripped it clean through, along with some of my leg.”


“Nothing serious, I hope.”


“Nope. Ramsey cleaned it up.”


Brenna grinned. “A task I’m certain you both enjoyed.”


A blush rose up Eliza’s cheeks. “Always do. Speaking of tasks, I better get to mine. I wanted to ask if anyone needed anything from town.”


“You’ll save Gabriel a trip. He said something about an order of lumber he had to pick up tomorrow.”


Eliza swallowed the last of her coffee. “I’d give him my list, except I haven’t been into town for two weeks.”


“Or here in a week. We miss you around here.”


“I’ll admit, it’s strange not to be here every day. The house isn’t far, but Ramsey and I have been talking about putting up a cabin nearby.” Eliza stretched the muscles in her shoulders against the back of the chair.


“You’d give up the other house?”


Eliza shook her head. “Ever since we decided to put the new stables here instead of at our place, Ramsey and I have considered the time we’ll spend here. We don’t need a lot of space, and we’ll keep the big house, for now.” Ramsey and Eliza now lived in the expansive ranch house that once belonged to Nathan Hunter, and although the land was now a part of Hawk’s Peak, they had yet to call it home.


“I think it’s a wonderful idea.”


Brenna and Eliza looked toward the door where their other sister-in-law walked in, hand in hand with Andrew, her younger brother. Isabelle came to Montana as a schoolteacher, hoping for a new beginning for her and Andrew. Unbeknownst to Isabelle at the time, the new beginning included an unexpected love between her and Gabriel Gallagher.


Isabelle sat down next to Andrew and said, “We’d love to see you around here more often and not just in a saddle as you pass through.”


Eliza sneaked a cookie and winked at Andrew. “You will over the next couple of weeks since we’ll be bunking in my old room. Between the extra horses and Gabriel finishing up the new house, we thought we’d be of more use here.”


“I couldn’t be more pleased, especially with Christmas so close.” Brenna added more hot tea to her cup. “Have you decided where you’d like the cabin?”


“There’s a spot west of the main house near the trees.” Eliza pushed her now empty coffee mug away, her gaze moving to her nephew. “What’s wrong, Andrew? You’ve barely touched your muffin, and I know for a fact that Amanda’s muffins are the best in the territory.”


Isabelle smoothed a hand over her brother’s hair. “He didn’t sleep well. Wandered into my and Gabriel’s room early this morning.”


Brenna watched Isabelle encourage the sleepy boy to sit up straight at the table. “What kept you up?”


Andrew yawned. “The lady singing.”


Brenna fumbled with her teacup.


Isabelle set a cup of milk in front of Andrew. “Are you well, Brenna?”


She nodded, then focused on Andrew. “You heard a lady singing last night?”


“Uh huh. It was pretty.”


Brenna looked up at Isabelle. “So you weren’t the one in Jacob’s room last night?”


“Brenna, I’m sure it’s nothing,” Eliza said. “Like I said, this old house likes to make noise.”


“Yes, I’m sure it’s nothing.” Brenna pushed away from the table. “I better get Jacob up.”


“Can’t be coyotes or wolves. They would have killed their share of the chickens.”


“I’m telling you, Ethan, something or someone is taking eggs from the coop.”


Ethan studied his wife. “What were you doing out in the chicken coop?”


“Fresh air.”


Ethan smiled and draped an arm around his wife’s waist. “With the chickens?”


Brenna nodded once, sprigs of red hair framing her face. “Does it matter? That’s not the only thing strange happening around here.”


“What exactly has happened?”


“Someone’s been staying in the east line shack.”


“Is this about the singing you heard?”


Brenna managed to keep her frustration in check. “No. I’m willing to concede that I might have imagined a woman singing to our son, though Andrew heard it as well, but I am not imagining this. Ben mentioned it this morning when I was outside.”


“With the chickens again?”


“Ethan.”


He held up his hands and grinned. “The teasing is over.”


Brenna smiled and raised up on her toes to kiss him. “You’re an exasperating man, Ethan Gallagher.”


“You love me anyway.”


“Heaven help me, I do.”


“Are we interrupting?”


Ethan and Brenna turned when Gabriel and Eliza walked into the room. Ethan’s younger siblings brushed the snow from their coats and stepped into the kitchen.


“Always,” Ethan said, but Brenna swatted his arm and smiled at the other two.


“Is the coffee hot?” Gabriel blew into his hands and rubbed them together.


“Fresh pot.” Brenna filled two mugs full and passed one to each of the newcomers.


Gabriel said, “We have a problem at the line shack.”


“How is it you know and I don’t?” Ethan asked, ignoring his wife’s smug smile.


“I just spoke with Ben.” Gabriel refilled his mug. “Thought he saw smoke, but when he went to check, no one was around. He did say someone’s been there. Fresh cinders in the stove.”


Eliza pulled out a chair and made herself comfortable. “Ramsey swore he heard something out in the barn last night, and he found fresh prints—too small for a man. He went out to look . . . found nothing suspicious.”


Ethan glanced at each one of them. “I can understand that with everything we’ve been through, there’s cause for concern, but you’re all a mite paranoid. Bad guys don’t sing lullabies or only steal eggs.”


Eliza glanced over at him. “And you’re not paranoid?”


He shook his head. “For the first time in a decade, our family is going to have a normal and quiet Christmas. The fighting is over, and I for one plan to enjoy it.” Ethan pulled his wife closer and pressed his hands gently to her middle.


Gabriel slapped his brother’s back. “You already got the best gift a man could want.”

Eliza grinned. “Another Gallagher. Now there’s something to celebrate.”


Gabriel moved his empty cup aside. “Speaking of celebrating, I think we ought to have a holiday gathering.”


Brenna’s bright smile lit up her green eyes. “What a lovely idea, Gabriel.”


Skeptical, Eliza stood and carried her cup to the sink. “Lovely indeed.” She turned to her brother. “Since when do you like parties?”


“Dear sister, you’re the one who doesn’t like them. I, however, will enjoy any chance I get to dance with my wife.”


Ethan shrugged. “It’s a good idea, although we can’t ask people to ride out here in the snow, Gabe.”


“We can celebrate in town. I think it’s time for everyone to enjoy a fine Christmas. Do you remember the last time Briarwood celebrated the holiday with the entire town?”


Ethan smiled, a faraway look in his eyes. “Not since Mother and Father were around.”


Brenna looped her arm with Ethan’s. “I’ll work with Amanda and Elizabeth. Perhaps we can meet with some of the women in town and plan the details.” She gazed up at her husband. “I’ve not enjoyed a true Christmas celebration since I left Scotland.”


Ethan brushed a finger over Brenna’s lips and gently squeezed her hand. “You have to promise to take it easy.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “You’ve not been feeling well these past few days.”


Surprised, she met his eyes. “I didn’t realize you’d noticed. I’ve already born you a child, Ethan Gallagher. I can manage, and I know my limits. My guardian angels have kept a close watch ever since I shared the news.”


Eliza glanced around the kitchen. “Speaking of Amanda and your grandmother, where are they?”


“Oh, here and there.” Brenna swung a white towel through the air. “They won’t allow me to do anything more than stir soup or read a book when Jacob is asleep. I’m going mad.” Brenna’s thoughts drifted to the older couple who had helped raise her and still looked after Cameron Manor in her absence. “Iain and Maggie hovered just as much when I was in Scotland, pregnant with Jacob.”


Gabriel cupped his sister-in-law’s face. “You’re not going mad, but you are going to have another baby.” He grinned up at his brother. “This is going to be a Christmas to remember.”


“Not if we don’t get our work done around here,” Ethan interjected, though he winked at his wife before turning to his sister. “I have a few ideas for the spring stable expansion I’d like to run by you and Ramsey.”


Eliza sneaked a sample of the unfrosted cake someone had left on the counter. “I’m headed over to meet Ramsey right now. We have a mare who took a tumble a few days ago.”


“Is it serious?” Gabriel asked.


Eliza shook her head. “Ramsey knows what he’s doing, but she’s one of the mares for the new breeding stock, and he doesn’t want to takes any chances. Ethan, if you’re ready, we can head over now.”


“Let’s go, then.” Ethan brushed a kiss over Brenna’s lips, kissed his son’s forehead, and headed outside with Eliza and Gabriel.


They covered the distance between the main house and the old Hunter spread—Ethan wondered if they’d ever stop thinking of it as Nathan Hunter’s house. Two of the men Ramsey employed had cleared a crude path between the two ranches using the horse-drawn wedge plow. The rest of the snow in many areas was flattened by the cattle during the daily rotations for winter grazing and feeding. It made travel between the two properties easier, but not ideal.


When they rode up to the barn, Ethan remembered the day he first brought Brenna to meet her grandfather. Brenna remained strong that day despite Nathan Hunter’s cruelty, but it had also been the day Ethan fell in love with Brenna, and that was a memory worth keeping. Ethan refocused when Ramsey stepped out of the barn.


Eliza dismounted and joined her husband. “How’s the mare?”


“The leg doesn’t appear to be damaged. She’s standing on it now.” Ramsey kissed his wife and then shook hands with Ethan and Gabriel when they joined them. “Good to see you both. I don’t get over to Hawk’s Peak as much as I’d like these days.”


They followed Ramsey back into the barn and out of the wind. Ethan walked to the stall where the injured mare stood, her head over the stall door. “You’ve done a good job around this place, though I, too, have to admit we wouldn’t mind seeing you around the house more often. Besides, this is a part of Hawk’s Peak now.”


Ramsey grinned and looked at his wife who said, “We wanted to speak with both of you. Ramsey and I have talked about building a cabin nearby, on the west side of the main house close to the trees. Neither of you would mind, would you?”


Ethan grinned. “Mind? Of course not. It’s your land, too.”


Gabriel asked, “Why only a cabin? Will you still keep Hunter’s . . . I’d better stop calling it that.”


“Yes, we’d still keep this ranch house for now, but we’d have a place close by. I wasn’t going to say anything . . . as nice as this place is, it still has a feeling of Hunter around it. Ramsey and I want to tear down the old house and start new, make a place that’s ours and not something Hunter built. Did you know Elizabeth won’t come and visit? We don’t press her for a reason, or bring it up, but we know it’s because of the unhappy memories.”

Ethan draped an arm over Eliza’s shoulders. “We can clear land and start on the new cabin after Christmas.” He pressed his lips to her forehead in a brief kiss and then ruffled her messy hair, knowing it would bring out a smile.”


She swatted his hand away and leaned into Ramsey.


Ramsey said, “I’d like to be the one to tell Elizabeth and make sure she’s in agreement. It’s one thing not to want to visit, but another knowing the place is gone for good.”


“We won’t say anything, and I’ll ask Brenna to keep your plans quiet as well.”


“Appreciate it.” Ramsey checked the mare once more before they left the barn.


Gabriel stopped, turned a full circle, and asked, “Where are the men you hired?”


“Gone.” Ramsey secured the barn doors and slipped an arm around Eliza’s waist. “One of them took off and the other I had to fire. He spent more time with a bottle than working. You take it for granted, but good help is hard to find. Most of your men have been with you for years, and they’re loyal. As you’ve reminded me, this is a part of Hawk’s Peak now, and the men who work here should be as loyal.”


Ethan said, “Work’s always a tad slower in the winter, so if you need some extra help around here, let me know. I’m sure the men would be happy to come over.”


“I’d be grateful, though it’s helped since we’ve combined the herds. Eliza and I can manage the horses until we get the next phase of the stables completed.”


“I wanted to talk to you about that,” Ethan began.


He shared his ideas for the new expansion as the small group walked into the house. Ramsey and Eliza, in turn, shared their thoughts about what would be best for the animals. When they’d finished their second cup of coffee, Ethan and Gabriel said their goodbyes and headed back to the main house.


Ben met up with them halfway home.


“Something wrong?” Ethan asked.


“We have a visitor.” Ben brushed his gloved hand across his brow and replaced his hat. “On a hunch, I left a few things out at the line shack in the north pasture the other day, and sure enough, the blanket was used and the food eaten.”


“Drifter? Trapper, maybe?” Ethan scanned the open land between the ranch and the tree line. The shack was too far out to see, but there was no mistaking the gentle curls of smoke rising from the chimney pipe. “They haven’t gone after the cattle.”


Ben shook his head. “I can’t see that they’ve done anything more than steal a few eggs.”

“Eliza said Ramsey heard something out at their place.”


Ben nodded. “You want me and the boys to take shifts and catch the fella?”


“Not yet.” Ethan shifted in the saddle and looked to Gabriel. “The winter was off to a cold start, and it’s not getting better. Last night was one of the coldest in memory.” Ethan bit down on a piece of jerky. “On second thought, let’s go have a look now ourselves.”


Catie patted the low flames with the pan in an effort to extinguish the fire but only served to ignite it further. Panicking, she left the fire burning, and stumbled from the shack. She raced toward the trees, and once she was safely beneath her canopy of pines, she realized her scarf still lay on the bed.


She huddled between two large pines, remaining low to the ground with the hope that the needled branches would hide her from view. Her hope did not last long.


“Not what I expected.”


Catie slowly rose and turned around. She had not heard the man approach from behind.

“Do you have a name, young lady?”


She debated answering him. She was not keen on going to jail for trespassing, nor could she outrun him.


“Catherine Rose Carr, but I’m called Catie.” She watched his warm blue eyes study her and realized his presence offered her more comfort than fear.


“Well, Catie, I suppose you’re the one who’s been sleeping in our range shack.”


She nodded and stepped back when the man began to remove his coat. He stopped.

“You’re scared, but it’s cold out, and you can’t remain here on your own. You don’t need to fear me.”


“That’s what bad men say.”


He chuckled and finished removing his coat. “You don’t have to take my word for it. While you’re sorting out whether you can trust me, take this.” He handed her the coat.


Unwilling to freeze, but still wary, Catie accepted the large garment and slipped her arms into the sleeves. The heavy coat smelled of horses.


“Thank you,” she mumbled. “Don’t go thinking we’re friends now.”


“I wouldn’t dare, but you’ll still have to come with me. We need to talk, and I’d rather not stay out here in the cold. I know my wife would like you to meet you.”


“What’s your name, mister?”


He tipped his hat. “Ethan Gallagher. I believe you’re acquainted with our chicken coop.”


She had the courtesy to blush. “I reckon I’ll go.” Catie paused and narrowed her eyes. “You wouldn’t be trying anything funny, would you?”


Ethan grinned and held up his hands in defense. “On my honor, I am not.”


***


Excerpted from An Angel Called Gallagher by MK McClintock. Copyright © MK McClintock. Published by Trappers Peak  Publishing and Cambron Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be  reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.


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