Menu

L.K. Campbell

The Deputy & Mirabel

MIRABEL FINDLEY ARRIVED in Red Gorge with winter’s first bona fide blizzard. Hopping off the stagecoach, she sank into a snowdrift calf-deep. Her precarious footing gave way while attempting to extract her suitcase from the frozen accumulation. The stage driver reached for her arm and held her upright.

An older gentleman emerged from the nearest building and picked up the baggage for her. With a strained expression on his face, he deposited it onto the sidewalk. In her haste to get out of Yankton and with no plans to ever return there, she’d packed everything it would hold.

“Thank you, sir.” She accepted the helping hand he offered to climb out of the snow drift. “Could you direct me to Sheriff Findley’s office?”

“Keep walking straight ahead, ma’am,” he said. “Last building on your left.”

She dragged her luggage to the sidewalk’s end and paused in front of the door. Her chin dropped against the knot in her wool scarf. Why did I come here? Because I would’ve rather had a tooth pulled than crawl home to Illinois. Facing Mama and Papa with my news is the last thing I want to do. On the other hand, she needed Jack’s never failing, sympathetic shoulder—especially if that marshal changed his mind about her. Oh, please be sympathetic, Jack.

A bell rang above her head when she opened the door. A tall, slender man rose from a desk at the rear of the office.

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

She noticed Jack’s name and title etched on a brass plate attached to a large desk at her right.

“Is Sheriff Findley here?”

“No, ma’am.” He crossed the room and stopped a few feet away from her.

Her eyes locked on his. I’ve never seen eyes the color of blue topaz.

“I’m his deputy. Is there something I can do for you?”

She shifted her gaze to his silver badge. “It’s personal. May I wait for him?”

He massaged his dark blond beard. “That’s fine, ma’am, but I’m not certain how long he’ll be gone.”

Mirabel shrugged a shoulder. “I have nowhere else to go.”

In the relative warmth of the office, she felt comfortable removing her topcoat. She draped it over one of two wooden chairs next to Jack’s desk and sat down in the other chair. The seat’s hard surface wasn’t built for relaxation, but she’d spent seven days riding in a stagecoach. I’m used to discomfort.

The deputy motioned toward a kettle on the wood stove.

“Would you like a cup of coffee while you’re waiting?”

“Oh, thank you, that’s a kind offer. I came in on the stage from Yankton so I’m chilled to the bone.”

“I can imagine,” he said. “Did it snow during the whole trip?”

“No, it started a few miles past the last way station.”

“I’m hearing a lot of talk about a rail line from Yankton to Rapid City,” he said. “It will sure make for an easier trip.”

She tugged on the fingers of one glove to remove it but stopped when the deputy hollered.

“Dammit!”

She jumped up.

“Are you injured?”

He drew in a short breath through his teeth. “I burned myself on the kettle.”

Mirabel rushed outside and formed a small snowball. She brought it inside, placed it in his hand, and curled his fingers around it. He had scarred palms like men who’d performed hard labor.

“That’s better,” he said. “I’m sorry for my bad language, but I felt stupid for grabbing the kettle handle without using a potholder.”

“You’re going to need more snow.”

She scanned a table next to the stove. That large tin cup will do. She carried it into the street in front of the office and filled it with snow. Upon re-entering the building, she saw that the first snowball had become a puddle at the deputy’s feet. His handsome features displayed a grimace.

“This should stop a mild first-degree burn,” she said.

He pressed his fingers into the snow. It seemed to give him instantaneous relief.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m glad you know some doctoring.”

Spotting a rag on the table, she used it to wipe the water from the pine floor.

“I’m a nurse. By the way, my name is Mirabel Findley.”

His countenance brightened. “You’re a relative of the sheriff’s?”

“Yes, we’re cousins.”

He seemed to study her face for a moment. “Okay, I see that you favor each other.”

She smiled. With the exception of their sable-colored hair and dark blue eyes, they bore no resemblance. Jack took after the Findleys while she, on the other hand, inherited her mother’s long, angular nose, short stature, and hourglass figure that could become plump in later years.

“Our fathers were brothers,” Mirabel said. “But I don’t remember Jack’s father. He was killed near the end of the Civil War when I was only three.”

The deputy nodded. “Sheriff Findley has mentioned that.” He removed his fingers from the cup. “The burn is easing off, now. I never did pour your coffee.”

“I’ll get it. Keep your fingers in that slush for a little longer.”

Before grasping it, she patted the kettle’s handle. Her suede glove provided sufficient protection. She found a ceramic cup and poured coffee into it.

“You haven’t told me your name,” she said.

He grinned. Do I detect a pink blush on his cheeks?

“It’s Micah Hansen.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Micah.”

A frigid gust accompanied the ringing bell. Micah’s posture stiffened. “Sheriff…”

She spun around. “Hello, Jack.”

His jaw dropped and froze in place.

“I know you weren’t expecting me,” she said.

He recovered his composure and hugged her. He’d shaved his beard since the last time they’d seen one another. I wonder if the new wife requested it. Otherwise, he hadn’t changed a bit.

“Mirabel, why are you in this part of the territory?”

“It’s a long story.” She cast a backward glance toward Micah. “I don’t mean to be rude, Deputy Hansen, but I need to speak privately with my cousin.”

Micah set the tin cup on the table. “I’m heading over to the tavern, Sheriff. I can smell Leroy’s bean and ham soup cooking from here.” He nodded at Mirabel. “Nice to have met you, ma’am. Thanks for the first aid.”

Mirabel smiled. “You’re welcome.”

After Micah donned his long, brown duster and left, Jack returned to their conversation.

“Now, what’s such a big secret that you couldn’t tell me in Micah’s presence?”

She plopped down into the uncomfortable chair again.

“Dr. Poole fired me, Jack.”

He removed his hat and overcoat and hung them on the coat rack.

“Fired? I can’t believe it.”

“Without any proof whatsoever, he accused me of helping a wounded prisoner escape.”

Jack’s eyes darkened and settled on her face. “You didn’t do it, did you?”

His question cut to the quick. Perhaps, I’ve made some poor choices in my life, but I’ve never broken the law…well…to that extent, anyway. She inhaled a deep breath before spilling the whole story.

“Of course, not. I wasn’t even there during the time he got away. Dr. Poole’s secretary informed Marshal Johnson that I must have left the back door unlocked when my shift ended. Then, the night nurse spoke up and said that she’d heard the man sweet-talking me.” Mirabel slammed a fist onto his desk. “None of it was true. I swear it. I was used as a scapegoat for their negligence.”

Jack shook his head. “Why would a U.S. marshal become involved? Who was the prisoner?”

She slumped against the chair. “His name is Danny McGowan.”

Danny McGowan.” As he repeated the outlaw’s name, Jack’s face reddened and formed a scowl. “My God, Mirabel, every lawman in the territory is looking for him including me and Marshal Davis from Rapid City.”

At the tone of his voice, she sank lower in her chair. Her throat tightened. She couldn’t suppress her tears. He doesn’t believe me.

“Don’t yell at me, Jack. I didn’t leave that door unlocked because I didn’t go out that way. I left by the side door that day. I’m not lying…I wouldn’t lie to you.”

He turned his back on her with his hands planted on his hips. “I hope you’re not. You’d be putting me in a terrible position if you helped him.” He swung around. “Wait a minute. There should’ve been a deputy guarding him. What was his story?”

“I was told that Charity—Nurse Brand—checked on McGowan later in the evening. She found the deputy out cold, handcuffed to the bed. The officer couldn’t remember how it happened.”

Jack slid the chair from under his desk and sat down. He massaged his forehead for a few moments. I’ve probably given him a headache. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have come here.

“This is really bad, Mirabel. Suppose Luke Johnson had believed that you were complicit in McGowan’s escape. He could’ve arrested you as an accessory.”

Mirabel shivered. The possibility of being jailed hadn’t even occurred to her. Using her handkerchief, she dabbed at the tears that had rolled down her cheeks.

Book 4 in The Dakota Lawmen Mysteries Series

Mirabel Findley has been fired from her nursing position for allegedly aiding notorious outlaw, Danny McGowan's escape from a clinic. She hopes to find refuge in Red Gorge, Dakota Territory where her cousin is the town's sheriff. However, Mirabel soon learns that Danny has also arrived in Red Gorge. He's determined to exonerate his brothers of a crime he claims they didn’t commit and coerces Mirabel into helping him. In the process, he traps Mirabel and Deputy Micah Hansen in a perilous situation. The deputy and Mirabel must work together to escape and survive in order to ensure that justice is done.