~ Tabby x
"Don't talk much, do you?" she said at length, interrupting his thoughts.
"Nope." He let go of her, opened the door to the sheriff's office and held it open for her without thinking. "After you."
Her eyes were wide but she moved quickly inside and stood waiting, obviously unsure of herself.
Crawford noticed she never even looked around. "Been here before?"
"No, sir. Never."
"Well, we need to get a file started on you." He moved to the desk and sat down behind it, gesturing to the chair on the other side. "Sit."
She sat, still staring at nothing but him as he fished a form from the desk drawer and picked up a pen.
He frowned at her. "Your real name."
She frowned right back at him. "I don't see how that's important."
"This will be a lot easier if you cooperate, miss," he said, coolly. "I won't ask a third time. Name?"
There was a pause, during which he watched a series of emotions flit across her pale, pretty face. Her eyes were big and dark, with long sooty lashes; her nose was dainty and straight, and her mouth was—
"Ada," she said quietly.
She paused again. "I'm not sure."
Crawford was unable to prevent his eyebrows from shooting up at her admission. "How can you not know how old you are?"
She lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. "I think I'm twenty-two."
"You sure about that? You don't look a day over eighteen."
There was a flash of something—anger, perhaps—in her eyes. "I'm twenty-two," she said again, more firmly this time.
"How long you been in Culpepper?"
"Longer than you." Leaning back in the chair, she folded her slender arms.
Suppressing a smile, Crawford gave her his most piercing glare before tapping the tin star affixed to his chest. "That's as may be, darlin', but I'm the deputy around here, not you. Now answer my question. How long have you been in Culpepper?"
She sighed. "I don't know. A couple of months, maybe?"
"Good enough." The nib made a scratching sound on the paper; otherwise there was complete silence. Crawford hadn't been lying when he'd told Gabriel it was quiet in the jailhouse. Not a single cell was occupied; a rare occurrence in the rapidly growing little mining town.
"And before that?"
"What?" She looked genuinely startled at his question.
"Where were you before you came to Culpepper?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Eying the empty coffee mug on his desk, Crawford found himself wishing he had some whiskey. "You always this… difficult?"
Sapphire glared at him. "Are you always this unfriendly?" she shot back.
He didn't miss a beat. "Only when I have to deal with people like you, wasting my time."
As the young woman turned her head to look around properly for the first time, her black hair gleamed in the lamplight, shimmering almost blue. Sapphire, he thought, irrationally.
"Wasting your time?" She gave a little snort. "There's no-one here. What else do you have to do?"
Not in any kind of mood to justify himself, Crawford took a deep breath, trying to contain his rising frustration. The girl was as infuriating as she was beautiful. He couldn't wait to be rid of her. "Where were you before you came to Culpepper?" he said again, enunciating each word.
There was a pause while she obviously considered what to say. "San Francisco."
"And what was your occupation while there?"
Quick as a flash, the feigned indifference was gone and she leapt to her feet, her eyes glittering. "I didn't take his stupid watch, all right? I'm not a thief! Now either lock me up or let me go, I'm done answering your dumb questions. I mean it! I won't say a single more word!"
With deliberate languor, Crawford rose from his chair and moved around the broad desk until he was looming over her. Her hot skin smelled of soap and he swallowed, hard.
"Sit back down," he said in his most dominant tone of voice.
"Make me." Even though she was fairly tall, she still had to crane her neck to look up at him, which she did, her lower lip jutting out petulantly.
Crawford had a sudden urge to bite it.
"You really don't want me to do that," he said slowly.
"Oh, really? You gonna hurt me? You promised Mr. Gabe and Madame Jewel that I would be safe." She was taunting him now; making the demons he kept so carefully buried deep down in his soul threaten to rise.
Again he swallowed, his fists clenching at his sides. "I don't know how it is over at that bawdy house," he said carefully, "but this here's my jurisdiction. In this building, I'm judge, jury and executioner. I'm the boss. You don't get to give me orders. I give the orders."
He watched her carefully, surprised to see that, instead of fear, there was something else in her eyes. Her bosom was rising and falling rapidly, the pale pink crescents of her nipples just visible beneath the black satin of her corset; threatening to pop right out. With a jolt, he realized what the emotion was.
No, it couldn't be. This girl made a living out of seducing men; he mustn't be fooled. "You sit right back down, missy, or so help me I'll put you over my knee and spank you until you agree to answer my questions—though it probably won't be sitting down once I'm through with you."
There was a long, long pause, during which Crawford became suddenly and painfully aware of how hard he was.
Then she bolted.
Quicker than lightning, she had flown through the office and to the door. Finding it locked, she looked around wildly, then made for the stove oven.
Crawford folded his arms across his chest, watching her shrewdly. True, the oven was cold, the ventilating pipe connecting the stove to the wall was only loosely connected, and the flue behind it did lead straight outside, but it was narrow; far too narrow for her to squeeze through, and surely a girl as clean and sweet-smelling as her wouldn't want to risk getting dirty by trying to escape that way.
"Well, I'll be damned," he muttered as she proceeded to do just that, wrenching the pipe out of the wall and diving headfirst into the dark, sooty hole.