Bisbee mining camp, Arizona
“What can I do for you, stranger?” A stout, pot-bellied sheriff stirred out of his afternoon nap and sat up at Remington Jackson’s approach. Remington closed the jailhouse door and stepped into the dark interior. The place smelled of dust and body odor, but the welcome drop in temperature from the desert heat made his mission suddenly more bearable.
“I’m here to see Miss McGee.”
The sheriff eyed him suspiciously. “You her husband?”
Remington nearly choked on the thought. The whole idea of being tied to one thing for the rest of his life was loathsome enough, but to a Darkin was unthinkable. He cleared the sour thickness out of his throat and grasped the lapels of his black gentleman’s jacket. It had been foolish to wear his court clothing on a trek such as this, but he had no idea who he’d have to convince to let the Darkin thief go once he arrived, and a good attorney used all his assets, not just his silver tongue. He needed to be prepared to sway anything from a local sheriff to a federal marshal to a territorial judge.
“No. I’m her attorney.”
The sheriff ’s gaze sharpened. “Have we met before?”
Remington was about to throttle the man, but he kept his face placid and his manner cool. Maintaining control was key in these matters but the sooner he got Miss McGee released to his custody, the better. “No.”
“You look awful familiar, mister.”
“I assure you, had I met such an outstanding officer as yourself before, I would recall the moment.”
The sheriff sniffed, wiping the back of his hand across his nose, then hitched up his pants. “This way.”
As Remington approached the cell, even in the gloom of the jail, he could see her propped up against a wall, her hair a golden tumbled halo about her head, her curvy body accented by form-fitting buckskin breeches and a matching fringed jacket over a faded, pale blue chambray shirt. His body jolted with a hit of pure, intense attraction. Colt had said China was a looker. He’d lied.
From the light filtering in through the barred window of her cell, Remington could see even coated in dust she was something crafted out of pure male fantasy made real. Her creamy smooth skin, tinted with pink, delicate features, and the glass-like clarity of her silver-gray eyes reminded him of an expensive china doll. The normal taint of sulfur that hung about Darkin was softened by the scents of black tea and vanilla.
Colt had once bragged this woman could steal the rails out from under a train and no one would be the wiser. If Colt was right, directions to a missing piece of the Book of Legend were within his grasp. If Colt was wrong, well then Remington figured he’d have wasted his time and considerable skills as an attorney getting this shape-shifting female thief out of jail.
Why Colt would work with a supernatural being like China, Remington couldn’t figure, except his little brother had a penchant for running on the wrong side of things and liked pretty females. All their lives they’d been raised to hunt the Darkin down, protecting the unsuspecting population from the likes of vampires, demons . . . and shape-shifters.
Working with one just seemed a shade too desperate for Remington’s taste, but then he wasn’t much like either of his brothers. Not the older one, Winchester, who detested Hunting, and not the younger one, Colt, who reveled in the life.
Remington fit into neither category. He sat firmly in the middle. He liked to play both sides of the tracks as it suited him. Some days he was safe behind a desk, living a normal, respectable life. And others he was out hunting down Darkin and getting in a taste of adventure and danger.
The plan was simple and foolproof. Get in. Get her out. Obtain the material from Diego Mendoza’s safety-deposit box by legal means, if possible. Illegal if necessary. Head back to Tombstone and send the information on to Colt who could take care of things from there. Go back to the nice little life he’d carved out for himself as a part-time attorney and part-time Hunter. The only variable he couldn’t count on was the female Darkin.
He knew she’d worked with Colt before. He knew she’d cheated Colt a time or two. In fact at one time he and Colt had come to blows and gunshots over the matter. And he knew she’d been in Colt’s bed. Not an easy matter to untangle, but he’d dealt with worse.
But after taking a second long look Remington suddenly had a new understanding of his little brother’s assessment of this Darkin’s assets. Colt had never brought her around Winn or him before because his brother didn’t want either of them being sucked in by her like he was. Altruistic of him? Probably not. But Remington was made of sterner stuff than his little brother. He at least knew how to resist a Darkin’s charms, even one as pretty and deadly as China McGee. The trick was never to get emotionally entangled. As long as he treated her like the Darkin thing she was, everything would move along slick as oil.
Blowing up the bank had seemed like a sensible thing to do at the time. Colt Jackson had claimed the map in a Hunter’s safety-deposit box in the bank would lead them to a piece of the Book of Legend, giving China a way to gain favor from the Darkin archdemon lord Rathe. He was part demon, part vampire, and all powerful, and she’d do just about anything to ensure she stayed in his good graces permanently.
Of course now that her dirty skin pimpled up in gooseflesh as a black cockroach skittered up the stone of her cell wall next to her head, she had changed her mind about her methods and crossed off blowing up banks and working with Hunters.
The stench of stale sweat and fumes of liquor and urine from the drunkard in the next cell sleeping away his intoxication made even breathing an unpleasant experience. The crust of rock dust from the explosion still coated her skin, making it itch. Being cooped up in a cell made her chest tight. She needed to get out, soon. Shifters didn’t do well in confined spaces.
In retrospect, it had been stupid of her to trust Colt even marginally. Their rocky, on-again off-again relationship over the years should have given her enough experience to know better. The only reason she’d been willing to give it another shot was because she had usually come out better than he did whenever they’d crossed paths before.
Maybe it had been just her pride talking a bit too loudly, but she’d truly believed she could take the map, leaving him behind to take the punishment for the robbery. So much for well laid plans. It had turned out just the opposite. He’d double-crossed her and made the fuse on the dynamite shorter than she realized. She’d been the one caught in the blast and hauled off to the pokey.
China frowned and crossed her arms over her chest, making her fringed buckskin leather jacket creak. Once an apple went bad, it was bad to the core, and their seeds were soured too. She’d never trust another bad-seed Hunter again as long as she lived. Colt had seen to that. As much as she found him physically appealing, if he ever dared cross her path again, she’d scratch those blue eyes right out of his head.
The heavy thumping step of the sheriff, accompanied by the jangle of brass keys, grew louder. China leaned forward, trying to see who was coming.
“She’s down here. I’ll give you five minutes.”
“Ten.” The deep male voice wasn’t familiar, putting all her senses of self-preservation on alert. Ten minutes alone with the wrong sort of man could be an eternity. China pushed away from the wall.
The sheriff huffed. “All right then, ten, but not a tick longer. I’ve got to get to lunch.”
China pressed her face against the cool metal of the bars to get a better look at the man the sheriff was leading to her cell, but all she could see in the shadows of the long hall were his hands. They were an odd mix of smoothness and size. Big and powerful, but so well-manicured it had to be a fancy man who hadn’t done a lick of hard work in his life. What in the world could he want with her? A brothel owner? A card sharp?
She stepped back, pressing herself against the wall, the rough texture of the stones digging into her back. The sheriff rattled the key in the lock and opened the cell door. China stiffened her shoulders, smoothing her damp hands along the legs of her buckskin pants.
In walked the spittin’ image of Colt Jackson, all jet hair, superior blue eyes, sexy mouth, and broad shoulders, gussied up in a black suit and tie. The cell door clanked shut behind him, leaving them locked in together. All the words China had been holding in her mouth crumbled into a gritty dust that coated her throat and made her choke.
She bent over double with a coughing fit, and the man laid one of his smooth hands on her shoulder, his touch burning right through the leather to sear her skin.
“Are you all right, Miss McGee?”
China blinked back the tears in her eyes and glared at him for an instant, slapping away his hand. His features were nearly the same as Colt’s, but his chin held a cleft that Colt’s didn’t, and the blue of his eyes was just a shade lighter. She didn’t trust him any more than she trusted the man he resembled. Less. She didn’t know just how far
one would go to get what he wanted.
“I thought you were Colt.”
The man tugged at the impeccable white cuffs that peeped from underneath his suit jacket. Expensive sapphire cuff links winked in the light. Nothing like Colt would’ve worn. “People often mistake us at first. I’m his older brother, Remington.”
China drew back from him as though she’d been branded. “Get him out of here!” she shrieked.
The sheriff came at a run, his breath in short gasps, his hand on his chest. “What in tarnation is goin’ on in there?”
Mr. Jackson ignored the question and stared at her, his blue eyes piercing straight through her. “Miss McGee, may I at least explain why I’m here?”
China shook her head, making her hair, still dusty from the explosion, swing in limp hanks about her face. “I don’t want nothin’ to do with you, or your brother, or whatever other kin you have out there. Colt’s the reason I’m stuck in this cell, so no. I don’t want to have any kinda conversation with you. Just git.”
The doppelganger’s face turned nearly as smooth and unreadable as blank paper. “I’m here to get you out. I’m your attorney.” He turned to the sheriff. “We’re fine here; you may go. I’ll be taking Miss McGee with me.”
The sheriff ’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think so.”
Mr. Jackson’s jaw ticked. “And may I ask why?”
The sheriff held up a yellowed “wanted” poster of a face very like Remington’s. “Said your name was Jackson, didn’t ya?”
Remington frowned. “If you would check the name on that poster, you’ll find it’s a
The sheriff eyed the paper, glancing from it to Remington’s face and back again. “Yep. It is. But as close as you both look, it could be an alias. I can’t let you out until we track down your brother and can prove you ain’t him.”
Remington grabbed the bars, bringing his face as close as he could to the sheriff ’s. “You have no right to hold me,” he said, his tone cool, calm, and lethal. “You have no evidence. I demand to see a federal marshal or at the very least a judge.”
The sheriff smirked. “Well, that’d be long about Friday three weeks from now. They don’t come by here but once a month, and you just missed them. Unless, of course, you can tell me where I could track down your brother.”
Jackson’s body remained deadly still. His icy cool façade frightened her more than Colt’s gun-blazing anger at a time like this.
“Just tell him!” she urged. He blasted her with a bone-chilling stare that was colder than an icicle through the heart. China about swallowed her tongue. Clearly he wasn’t about to turn in his little brother to the authorities to save his own skin—or hers.
“Do as you must,” he told the sheriff without a hint of emotion. “And I shall do the same.”
The sheriff turned on his heel to walk back down the hallway. China rushed to the bars. “Wait! I didn’t hire no attorney,” she spat, but the sheriff wasn’t listening. He kept his back to her and kept walking, whistling some inane tune under his breath. She turned and glared at Colt’s look-alike brother. “I didn’t ask you to come here.”
“No, but Colt did.”
China didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her plans had already failed. She’d needed to get the piece of the Book of Legend. But Colt had ditched her before they’d recovered it. “Why would he do a fool thing like that?” But she already knew the answer.
He felt guilty for leaving her to be arrested when he robbed the bank. He needed her skills to get to the missing piece of the Book of Legend that he’d been searching for during the last two years, said he’d need a Darkin thief to get to it. He might even still be attracted to her. She hoped.
She had a thing for Colt Jackson. He’d somehow gotten under her skin. While their relationship had been brief—and neither could trust the other farther than either could pick the other up and throw him or her—it didn’t mean he wasn’t attractive as hell.
China eyed the other Jackson brother. He was just as devastating as his little brother, perhaps more so because he had the polish and an air of sophistication that Colt lacked. A keen intelligence sparkled within the depths of his blue eyes that she found intriguing. They looked so much alike she could see how the sheriff would be damn certain he had the outlaw with an alias behind bars.
“Maybe he was concerned you knew too much and wanted someone to keep an eye on you.”
China frowned. Now that sounded like Colt. No trust. But with good reason. Colt was a man who liked to win. But what about Remington Jackson? Was he cut from the same cloth as his brother? Just how hard would it be to outsmart him and get away from him once they were out of the jail? She wasn’t about to stay in this cell with him any longer than she had to. She had a job to do. And she was going to recover a piece of the Book of Legend for Rathe one way or another.