Author’s Note: DEVIL PLAYS WITH FIRE opens approximately 4 months after DANCE TO THE DEVIL’S TUNE, and continues the star-crossed love affair of Cass (the outlaw-turned-lawman) and Sadie (the Pinkerton Agent.)
Wearing little more than longjohns and a week’s growth of beard, Cass stood up to his calves in Kentucky wildflowers. Behind him, his morning campfire smoked, adding the pungent aroma of chicory coffee and buttermilk flapjacks to the breeze. Before him stretched an alpine pasture, wet with dew and silvery with the night mist that the rising sun had yet to burn off.
“Pay attention now, Pancake.” Cass fixed his playful pony with a stern stare. “We practiced this drill yesterday. One stomp means animal approaching. Two stomps mean human bushwhacker. Okay. A noisy squirrel chases you through the hickory trees. What do you do?”
Pancake bolted like a lunatic, running circles around the pasture.
“I said a squirrel, you big lunkhead, not a wolf!”
Nickering, Pancake pranced back to Cass’s side and reached for the bottle in his fist.
“Hell no.” Cass swatted the gelding with the vegetable in his other hand. “That didn’t deserve a sip of whiskey. That didn’t even deserve a carrot!”
Pancake returned the favor by swatting Cass’s backside with his tail. Then he stomped twice.
“That’s great.” Cass shook his head. “You’re a day late, and a dollar — ”
A twig snapped. Cass caught his breath. Dropping the carrot, he spun to face the threat, a six-gun cocked in his fist.
To his bemusement, he saw a stocky hiker with balding, auburn hair and a long bushy beard emerging from the trees. Dressed in a plaid cap and matching knickers, the Scot stumped through the wildflowers with a canvas knapsack on his back and a hand-carved walking staff in his right hand.
‘I guess Pancake really did learn something from me yesterday.’
“That’s far enough,” Cass barked at the intruder. “How’d you find me?”
“I am the Pinkerton,” the Scot deadpanned.
Cass’s smile was mirthless. Oh, he recognized his nemesis, all right. About six weeks ago, after arguing with Sadie, Cass had sneaked inside the headquarters of the famous detective agency– mostly to prove he could outsmart its security measures — and had come damned close to smashing Allan Pinkerton’s face. Settling for a less satisfying revenge, Cass had told the detective chief (rather loudly) what he thought of Pinkerton’s contemptible plan to let young women bait psychopaths and get murdered, so Pinkerton could pay the rent.
“Get your plaid ass back to Chicago,” Cass growled. “You’re not welcome here.”
“Still sore about the Palmer House, eh?”
Cass ground his teeth until his jaws ached. Pinkerton was referring to Cass’s quarrel with Sadie at her Chicago hotel. The quarrel had started because she’d accused him of “ditching her in Denver.” Their argument had escalated to volcanic proportions after he realized just how cozy she’d become with fellow agent, Mace Ryker, while Cass had been busy in Kentucky, hunting a fugitive.
‘What’s worse’, Cass mused bitterly, ‘the whole damned fracas erupted on the day I intended to propose marriage!’
His throat constricted at the memory. He hadn’t seen Sadie since Chicago, mainly because he had no idea where she was. Pinkerton had sent her deep under cover.
Irritably, Cass shoved his .45 back into its holster. “Heard about that little incident, did you?”
“Lad, everyone within five blocks heard. Your row inspired Chicago’s first noise ordinance.”
“You see me laughing, smartass?”
The Scot winked. “I always have my most passionate rows with my woman. That’s how she knows my love is true. Besides, the make-up sex is like riding a hungry tigress.”
Cass scowled. “If you’re trying to cheer me up, you’re doing a crappy job.”
“Aw, buck up, laddie. Ryker didn’t get her to the altar yet.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“Sadie’s.” Pinkerton struck a match and squinted, puffing his stogie to life. “That reminds me.” He blew out the flame. “Are your guns still for hire?”
Cass folded his arms across his chest. “You sure got some nerve, Flatfoot.”
“Maybe I didn’t make it clear what I think of you and your army of scum-sucking weasels.”
Pinkerton blew a leisurely ring of smoke. “Things change.”
“As far as I know, hell didn’t freeze over.”
The Scot shrugged. For a long moment, he appeared to be studying the proliferation of ivory blossoms in the dogwood trees, the colorful carpet of periwinkles and sun drops beneath Pancake’s hooves; the majestic circle of conifer-laden mountains, towering above Cass’s head.
“Blue Thunder Valley sure is pretty country,” Pinkerton drawled. “Peaceful. Quiet. I can see why a man might come here to mend his heart.”
“My heart’s just fine,” Cass snapped.
“Course, there’s not much in the way of excitement,” Pinkerton continued in that same grating tone of conciliation. “No Injuns on the war path. No outlaws jumping stage coaches. No mobsters running opium dens.”
“I got plenty to do around here, Pinkerton.”
“Is that a fact?”
“I’m training my horse to fend off road agents.”
As if on cue, Pancake hiked his tail and let one rip.
“I can see that,” the Scot said dryly.
Cass’s cheeks flamed. “Good. Then you can see I’m busy. So scram.” He grabbed Pancake’s halter to lead him away.
“Too busy to earn a $10,000 reward?” Pinkerton challenged.
Cass scowled. “I told you — ”
The protest died on his lips. In Pinkerton’s hands was a crumpled murder warrant. “WANTED,” the parchment screamed. Beneath the usual list of aliases was a sketch of an outlaw with a saucy smile and daring décolletage. Beneath the murder suspect’s chin was printed, “$10,000 Reward. Deliver prisoner to the nearest Consulate of Mexico for extradition.”
The breath whistled past Cass’s teeth.
That international felon, in all her buxom glory, was Sadie!