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The Outlaw and the Lady
by Lorraine Heath
Avon, 2001

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Chapter One

Fortune, Texas

Lee Raven.

For as long as he could remember, the name had swirled like a gray mist at the edge of his memories. Hauntingly familiar, but elusive. He couldn't comprehend its significance or understand why it hovered just beyond his grasp.

He only knew that it was the name he'd chosen to use the night he died.

It suited his purposes well. It did not hint at his beloved heritage, family, or roots. No one associated the name with him. Only his family knew what he looked like. As far as the world was concerned, the naäve, trusting boy he had been was long dead.

The man who had risen up from the depths of hell to take his place instilled terror within those who dared to whisper his name. Some believed he was Diablo, others thought he was a phantom. How close they all were to touching the truth. His charred soul made him hollow throughout, merely a shell of what he had once been.

Standing in the bank, surrounded by a shroud of darkness, he acknowledged once again that only fools wallowed in a past that could not be changed. He had chosen his path, fully understanding its consequences. Given the choice, he would choose to follow that road again.

Calmness settled over him as he pressed his ear against the cool metal door of the bank vault. In the dim light cast by the low flame in his lantern, he concentrated on the task at hand. His first order of business upon entering the bank had been to hang blankets over the windows so no light escaped into the night. The covering also prevented the soft glow of the street's gaslights from silhouetting any activities within the building. He found modernized towns to be a thoroughly aggravating nuisance.

He rubbed his thumb across his fingertips before flexing his fingers repeatedly. Taking a deep breath and holding it, he very slowly turned the dial with practiced ease, listening intently for the audible click. He stilled as the first set of tumblers fell into place.

He rotated the dial in the opposite direction. The tumblers immediately dropped, and he froze. They thought they could trick him. Estúpido. Obviously, they didn't have a clue as to exactly how accomplished he was.

He turned the dial until he heard the final clink. Smiling with satisfaction, he unfolded his lean body, cranked down the handle, and swung open the door to the vault. He stepped aside, a gallant wave of his hand serving as an invitation to those who'd stolen into the bank with him. "Hombres."

"I don't know how you do that," Alejandro whispered reverently as he peered cautiously into the dark cavern.

"I am a man of many talents," Lee assured his brother with a slap on his broad back. Slightly older, Alejandro did not possess Lee's relentless resolve for revenge. Lingering within deaths shadow, he had not witnessed everything that Lee had that fateful night. It was one thing to hear tell of all that had happened. It was another to have the images emblazoned on his memory, to hear forever the anguished cries and unacknowledged pleas for mercy, to always see the glistening blood. Too damned much blood. "Get the money."

"How much do we take?" Jorge asked with his typical reckless eagerness. At eighteen, he was the youngest of the group. He worshipped the scent of retribution only because he could not forget the rancid odor of defeat.

"Two thousand two hundred ninety-nine dollars and thirty-seven cents," Lee told them.

Alejandro groaned. "Can't we just make it an even twenty-three hundred?"

"No. That is not how much Shelby put in the bank," Lee explained as he did each time they visited a vault.

"Why do you think he chose this particular bank?" Roberto asked. Older than Jorge, not as old as Alejandro, he was always solemn, always inquisitive. "It is far from his ranch."

Lee shrugged, feigning disinterest. No reason to worry his brothers with the truth. The farther they were from home, the more likely Shelby's henchmen could capture them. He'd been surprised that he'd had only one man -- skulking in the shadows like the vermin he was -- to subdue outside the building.

Shelby tended to surround himself with minions similar to himself, rabid animals who took with no thought of giving. The other men he'd hired were no doubt sleeping the night away in the hotel, their failure to protect the money to be reckoned with, come dawn.

"The bastard is trying to find a safe haven for his money, but as long as I live, no such place exists." He jerked his head toward the vault. "Ándale."

His jangling spurs disturbingly loud, he strode confidently across the bank, the only other sound the muffled hush as his brothers quickly filled their burlap sacks. When he reached the bank president's desk, he pulled the stopper off the inkwell. He retrieved a piece of paper from a nearby stack and dipped a pen into the black ink. He hastily scribbled a message similar to the dozen he had left in other banks.

$2,299.37 has been withdrawn from the account of Vernon Shelby compliments of...

With a flourish, he scrawled his signature. Lee Raven. He plucked a raven's feather from the leather band circling his black Stetson and positioned it directly below his name. His calling card. Arrogant, he knew, but it ensured no one else paid the price he owed for his crimes.

Angela Bainbridge flattened her ear against the cool glass of the saloon window. She heard her father's boisterous laughter echo into the night, the deep rumble as telling as the cards he dealt. He'd allowed someone to win a hand at faro. If the recipient of his good humor was a smart man, he'd...

Excerpted from The Outlaw and the Lady by Lorraine Heath. Copyright © 2001 by Lorraine Heath. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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