First Page: Trainwreck
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Her beard itched.
Leda fought the temptation to scratch it. Instead, she planted her hands on her hips, her legs splayed wide. Men tended to eat up the space around them, and so she would too.
It was dicey, staking out the sheriff’s office so boldly when she was not only wanted by the law, but was also presumed dead. Unfortunately, it was her turn to do reconnaissance in the small but growing railroad town of Ballou, Wyoming. She hoped it would be a quiet shift. Last week, Roy had come back with a concussion and the newest guest at Nearby Ranch, a one Miss Etta Johnson, the town’s most beloved prostitute.
Leda was looking at a pretty fair rendering of Etta nailed to the wall outside the sheriff’s office. In person, the woman had a generous, welcoming smile with soft violet eyes and a pert little nose. The sketch artist, however, had drawn her with a villainous scowl. The text below the picture announced, “Wanted for Attempted Murder. Reward $1,000.”
So it was a good news/bad news situation. Leda gave up and rubbed her chin, hoping it made her appear deep in thought. One the one hand, Etta had been wrong—she believed she’d killed John Witherby when she’d stabbed the wealthy beer baron. On the other, she was still wanted with a price on her head higher than everyone else at the ranch combined.
A pleasant tenor voice beside her made her jump. “Can I help you with anything?”
Leda shook her head no and spared a glance at the man next to her. He was of average height but had a muscular build; close cropped gray hair topped a surprisingly youthful face. A distinctive badge was pinned to his vest. Oh shit. Not the sheriff. A federal marshal. “Just admirin’,” she replied, deepening her voice. It was stupid of her to wear the beard when voice barely passed for an adolescent male. “She’s a looker,” she jerked her chin to Etta’s Wanted poster.
The marshal’s face tightened painfully, but he nodded in agreement. “Don’t let the pretty face fool you,” he warned. “Get close enough and she’ll gut you the first chance she gets.”
“Ain’t that true of any woman?” she joked. Leda desperately needed to get away from here before the marshal looked any closer at her own face. She took a small step away from the wall of wanted notices. Somewhere under all those was a picture of a young baby-faced Wes from their first train robbery back in ‘86. Roy probably had one or two on there as well. No one had seen her face yet, but that was just a matter of luck.
The marshal stared at the picture a second more, a deep furrow etched between his eyes. If this lawman was looking for Etta, that girl was in trouble. “Well, if you see or hear anything about Miss Johnson’s whereabouts, I’d sure appreciate you letting me know,” he said brusquely. With a slight tip of his hat, he disappeared back into the sheriff’s office as quietly as he’d appeared.
Leda let out a relieved breath and booked it back to the hitching post where her mare, Europa, was tethered. The placid beast flicked her ears as she approached. It was nearing midday and the railroad workers would all be heading to Jamieson’s Hotel for their noonday meal soon. She didn’t plan to be here for that; more people meant more risk of discovery.