Cover image for The outlaws : Jess
The outlaws : Jess
Mason, Connie.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, MA : Wheeler Pub., 2002.

Physical Description:
439 pages ; 24 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


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X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

On Order


Author Notes

Connie Mason was first published in 1984, and before that she was a full time home maker. Writing had always been one of her dreams. Mason was named Story Teller of the Year in 1990 by Romantic Times and was awarded the Career Achievement award in the Western category by Romantic Times in 1994.

In 1995, she was featured on a segment of the CBS news show 48 Hours, which devoted an entire program to the romance novel industry. She was also featured in an article published by National Inquirer.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One Wyoming Territory, 1868 Darkness had already fallen as Jess Gentry reined his weary horse into a stand of cottonwood trees lining the banks of the Lodgepole River. Lines of exhaustion etched his handsome features. Except during the war years, when his medical skills were needed twenty-four hours a day, he couldn't recall when he'd been this tired.     Jess dismounted, unsaddled his gelding, and tethered him to a tree, well within reach of sweet grass and water. Dimly he wondered if he dared ride into Cheyenne tomorrow and spend the last of his money on much-needed supplies. He felt fairly confident he wouldn't be recognized; it was too soon for Wanted posters to have reached Wyoming territory.     Jess stretched his weary bones and set about building a fire from dry wood and kindling he found nearby. Once the fire had caught, he rifled through his dwindling sack of supplies for the battered coffeepot he'd picked up in some nameless northwest Kansas border town. With dragging steps he walked down to the river and filled the pot with water. He produced a nearly empty sack of coffee, dumped it into the water, and set the pot on the fire to boil.     While he waited for the coffee, he found some beef jerky, a dry biscuit, and a single can of beans. He opened the beans with his knife and placed his dinner on the ground beside a battered tin plate and bent tin cup.     Almost too weary to eat, Jess leaned back against his saddle and sucked appreciatively on the freshly brewed coffee. It was just the way he liked it. Hot and murky. Strong enough to curl his toes. He closed his eyes and savored the hot liquid as it settled in his stomach like a welcome blast of heat on a cold winter day.     Unwelcome images appeared behind Jess's closed eyelids. The war. The dead. The horrible stench of mutilated flesh. Flesh he'd tried to repair. Men died. Young men with beardless faces, looking at him with hope-filled eyes. Older men with hardened visages, hoping for a miracle but too battle-scarred to expect one.     God, war is so senseless, Jess thought with a sigh. Nonetheless, he had served the Confederacy proudly, saving men who would have died without his skills. In the end, the Confederacy had been demolished, never to rise again, but Jess knew his skills would always be needed.     He was very nearly asleep when he heard someone approaching his campsite. Abruptly sluggishness fell away, replaced by wary caution as he drew his gun and waited, his body tense and alert.     Two men rode up to the perimeter of the campsite and dismounted.     "Howdy, pilgrim," one of the men greeted. "Smelled your coffee a mile away. Mind if we join ya?"     "I only have one cup, and I'm using it," Jess hedged, none too eager to welcome the rough-looking men into his camp. Each wore a week's worth of beard and smelled of beer and stale perfume, the kind preferred by whores.     "We have our own cups," the man said.     "In that case, help yourselves," Jess replied, slapping his gun back in his holster.     "Much obliged. You from around here?"     "No, I'm from Kansas."     "Kansas, huh. Me and Lucky visited Kansas a while back. The name's Calder, Jay Calder. This here's my brother Lucky."     "You're the Calder brothers?" Jess blurted out before he could stop himself. The Calder brothers had robbed a bank in Topeka a few months ago and killed a man. But he'd heard there were three brothers, not two.     Jay poked his brother in the ribs. "What do ya know? The pilgrim's heard of us." He gave Jess an assessing glance. "You have the look of a man on the run yourself."     "You could say that," Jess said cryptically. He wasn't about to admit anything to these hardened outlaws.     "Well, well, birds of a feather," Lucky guffawed. "What's your handle, pilgrim?"     "Jess will do."     Jay retrieved two tin cups from his saddlebags, filled them with coffee, and handed one to Lucky. Then they sat cross-legged on the ground, rolled cigarettes, and smoked and drank.     "I heard there were three Calder brothers," Jess ventured.     Jay's mouth turned downward into a fierce scowl. "We buried Danny yesterday. He took a bullet during a bank robbery we pulled in Cheyenne two days ago. Thought he was gonna be okay but he bled to death before we could get him to a doctor we trusted. Damn shame. He was the baby of the family. Don't know how we're gonna explain it to Ma. Promised her we'd look after him."     They drank in silence, the Calders mourning their younger brother and Jess wondering how in the hell he was going to get out of this with his skin intact. A gentle breeze stirred the air as the figure garbed in black crouched unseen behind a cottonwood tree. So stealthy was the mysterious figure's approach that neither Jess nor the Calders was aware of being watched. Hat pulled low over a face obscured by darkness, the watching stranger drew and cocked a pair of lethal-looking six-shooters.     While the three men were relaxed and inattentive, the intruder emerged from the darkness beyond the campsite and boldly stepped into the circle of flickering firelight with both guns drawn.     Jess and the Calders jumped to their feet, each man reaching for his gun.     "Freeze. Hands over your heads. Make one move for your guns and I'll shoot. Dead or alive, it makes no difference to me."     The voice was low, throaty, almost feral.     "A goddamn bounty hunter," Jay spat. "Where in the hell did you come from?"     "I'm here, that's all that matters. Drop your gun belts. Bringing in all three Calders at once is a bonus I hadn't counted on."     "Now hold on a minute," Jess blustered. "I'm not a Calder."     The bounty hunter's eyes slid in Jess's direction, skewering him with a contemptuous glare. "Shut up. You and your brothers killed a bank guard in Cheyenne two days ago. I don't care who did it, you're all guilty."     "But I'm not--"     "Drop your guns," the bounty hunter repeated. "Real nice and easy." When Jay was slow to act, the bounty hunter aimed a shot so precise that it nicked Jay's ear.     "Owwww!" Jay yowled, clapping a hand over his ear. "You didn't need to go and do that."     "Then do as I say."     The voice was so coldly challenging that Jess gave an involuntary shiver. He unbuckled his gun belt and let it drop. Lucky followed suit; so did Jay. The bounty hunter walked more fully into the light, revealing a tall, slim figure clad in unrelieved black; trousers that hugged hips far too shapely to belong to a man; baggy shirt tucked into the waistband spanning a narrow waist; and black hat that concealed nearly every facial feature but for startling green eyes.     "You," the bounty hunter said, nodding at Jess. "Get your rope and tie up your brothers. Don't try anything funny if you value your life."     Jess bent to retrieve his rope from his saddle and gingerly approached Lucky, intending to tie him first. The bounty hunter was too trigger-happy for his liking and he wasn't going to do anything to rile him. Later the authorities would discover the mistake and all would be well. Unless, of course, they somehow learned that Jess Gentry was a wanted man.     Suddenly all hell broke loose. From somewhere in his clothing Lucky produced a small pistol. The bounty hunter realized the danger and got off a shot at the same time Lucky fired. Jess watched in horror as both shots hit their mark. Lucky did a slow spiral to the ground, a blossom of red spreading beneath his shoulder. The bounty hunter let out an unmanly, high-pitched scream and pitched forward.     Jay fell to his knees beside his brother at the same time as Jess ran to the bounty hunter.     "He's alive!" Jay cried. "Ya ain't gonna die like Danny, are ya, Lucky?"     "Get me to a doctor," Lucky gasped, holding his wounded shoulder. "That damn bounty hunter shot me."     "I know," Jay bit out. "I'll take care of him. We gotta get you to a doctor pronto."     He glanced over at Jess, who had turned over the bounty hunter and was feeling for a pulse. "Is the bastard dead?" Jay asked.     Jess was on the verge of lying to save the bounty hunter's life. Unfortunately, the fool chose that moment to emit a loud groan.     "He's still alive!" Jay spat. "Kill him, pilgrim. If you don't, I will."     Jay scrambled on the ground for his gun belt and drew out a gun, turning it on the bounty hunter. Jess knew he had to think fast and act faster if he hoped to save the bounty hunter's life.     "I'll do it," Jess said, reaching for his gun belt.     Jay gave Jess a hard look, then turned back to his brother. Jess stood and aimed his gun several inches wide of the bounty hunter's head. Abruptly the bounty hunter opened eyes as green as grass and stared up at him. Jess's hand faltered.     "What's keeping ya?" Jay called out. "Are ya too chicken to kill a man? Should I come there and do it myself?"     "No, take care of your brother. Press on the wound to stop the bleeding. I can do this."     "Make it fast. I ain't leaving until I know the bastard's dead."     Those unwavering green eyes were still focused on him. He saw neither fear nor pleading in their startling depths. What he recognized was acceptance, and perhaps regret.     "Close your eyes and don't move," Jess whispered, hoping the bounty hunter had the presence of mind to realize what he intended.     Holding his hand steady, he fired into the ground scant inches from the bounty hunter's head. Then he immediately dropped to his knees and smeared blood from the previous wound onto the bounty hunter's head, making it appear as if Jess's shot had been a fatal one.     "Is the bastard dead?" Jay called out.     "Can't get any deader," Jess replied.     Jay gave the bounty hunter a cursory glance. "Good. I gotta get Lucky to the doc. Why don't ya join us? We could use another gun."     "Reckon I'll have to decline," Jess replied. "Always been a loner. Go on, get your brother to a doctor before he bleeds to death."     "Yeah, you're right. If I were you, I'd hightail it away from Cheyenne before the body is found."     The tense silence nearly got the best of Jess as he watched Jay hoist a swaying Lucky up into his saddle. By some miracle, Lucky kept his seat and the two outlaws rode off. It couldn't have been too soon to suit Jess. He turned back to the bounty hunter, praying it wasn't too late to save his life. He dropped to his knees, noting that the bounty hunter's eyes were closed.     Jess lifted the man's shoulders so he could peel off his vest. He stared in mute disbelief as the man's hat fell off, releasing a cloud of long black hair. Resisting the obvious conclusion, Jess refused to believe what his eyes were telling him.     Carefully he removed the bounty hunter's leather vest. With shaking fingers he unbuttoned the black shirt, revealing a blood-soaked camisole trimmed in dainty lace. He stared in disbelief and no little amount of dismay.     What in the hell? A woman!     Never in his life had Jess encountered anything so ridiculously absurd. Women belonged at home, raising children, cooking, and seeing to their husband's needs, not traipsing around the countryside packing guns and chasing outlaws. The profusion of blood spreading over the woman's right breast turned Jess's thoughts to more important matters. It wasn't for him to judge another human being; his mission in life was to heal people.     Focused now on saving a life, Jess retrieved his black medical bag, which never left his sight, and returned to the wounded woman. He used his scalpel to cut away the bloodied shift, concentrating on the gaping wound instead of the most perfect pair of breasts Jess had ever seen. Milky white mounds topped with pert, rosy nipples.     Reaching once more into his bag, Jess uncorked a bottle of carbolic acid and poured it over his hands. Then he probed the wound with his finger. The woman moaned and opened her eyes.     "Don't ... touch ... me ..." Her voice was filled with pain.     "I'm not going to hurt you. The bullet has to come out. I have some laudanum in my bag that should help dull the pain."     "Don't ... touch ... me ..." she repeated through clenched teeth.     "Look, lady," he explained gently, "either I remove the bullet or you die. Those are your only options, and there's no time to waste. You've lost a lot of blood."     Vivid, pain-filled green eyes bored into him. "Your brothers ..."     "They aren't my brothers and they're gone." He reached into his bag for the laudanum. "Are you going to cooperate or do I have to pour this down your throat?"     She pressed her lips together and gave him a belligerent glare.     Jess sighed. He was so damn weary; he shouldn't have to deal with this. Uncapping the laudanum, he held it to the woman's lips. When she refused to drink, he pinched her nostrils until her mouth opened; then he poured a generous dose down her throat.     She shuddered, gagged, and swallowed. Satisfied, Jess sat back on his haunches and laid out his instruments on a white cloth he'd brought from the depths of his bag. Then he poured carbolic acid over the lot. By the time he'd built up the fire to provide sufficient light for the surgery and turned back to his patient, she had fallen under the spell of the laudanum.     "Good," Jess said to himself as he reached for the scalpel. He didn't want to hurt her any more than he had to.     Jess studied the wound before probing for the bullet. The bullet had entered two inches below her shoulder, just above her right breast, narrowly missing the lung. His concentration was so intense that beads of sweat dotted his forehead and ran into his eyes. His hand was steady as the scalpel bit into flesh and hit lead. Jess's relief was profound as he eased the bullet out. The rush of blood that followed worried him, and he exerted pressure until the bleeding slowed to a trickle.     When he poured carbolic acid into the wound, a scream ripped from her throat. He soothed her as best he could, gave her another dose of laudanum, and waited until she quieted to close the wound. His hands were shaking as he held a needle to the light and looped fine silk thread through the eye. But they steadied when he turned back to his patient. He had done this countless times in the past, but this was the first time he'd dug a bullet from a woman's tender flesh.     With neat, precise stitches, Jess closed the wound and bandaged it with strips of gauze. Then he sat back to inspect his work. There was a good chance the woman would live if she was strong enough to fight the fever that would soon follow.     There was little Jess could do now but make the woman comfortable. He placed his bedroll near the fire, carefully lifted her onto one blanket, and covered her with another. Then he sat beside her on the hard ground to wait and watch. Though Jess tried to remain wakeful, his weary body betrayed him and he dozed off. He awoke with a start when the woman cried out and began to thrash around.     "Zach! I hurt."     Her voice was hoarse, her face contorted. Jess was beside her instantly, bathing her face and holding his canteen to her lips.     "Here, drink."     She took a sip, gagged, then fell back into a stupor. Jess fed more kindling to the fire, then returned to his vigil beside her, pondering the unusual circumstances that might have led a beautiful woman to become a bounty hunter. And the woman was beautiful. Beautiful and shapely. He should have known she was a female the moment he saw those long feminine legs encased in tight trousers. And the voice. Low and throaty, too soft to belong to a male.     Damn! A female bounty hunter. What in God's good name would force a woman into so dangerous a profession? What were her parents thinking? Or her husband? Who was Zach? Obviously someone she loved. If Zach were here now, Jess would pound some sense into the man. What kind of man would allow a fragile woman to chase after vicious outlaws? The longer he thought about it, the angrier he became. She could have been killed. If he hadn't been a skilled doctor, she'd most likely be lying dead in a pool of her own blood.     Unable to keep his eyes open, Jess drifted off to sleep. He awoke to daylight, abruptly aware of luminous green eyes staring at him. Meg Lincoln had been awake a good ten minutes, her thoughts in a turmoil. The man she recalled from her vague memory of last night was sitting beside her, his arms resting on his bent knees, his head bowed. He was sleeping. She could see little except his thick, sun-streaked brown hair.     She knew he was one of the Calder brothers, but found it difficult to reconcile what she knew about the outlaw brothers with this man who possessed the skills of a trained doctor. To her knowledge, none of the Calders had ever studied medicine.     Meg stifled a groan. She hurt so damn bad, tears sprang to her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She wanted Zach. He'd always been there when she needed him.     Suddenly the man stirred, lifted his head, and stared at her. His eyes were hazel, she thought, with golden flecks in their centers. It surprised her that she would notice such details when she hurt so much. His eyes weren't the only thing she noticed. The man was handsome in a rugged sort of way. Broad forehead, a bold slash of a nose, wide mouth and full lips. None of his features were classic, but put together they seemed to work in a way most women would admire. He was a large man, sleekly muscled and thoroughly masculine.     "You're awake."     His voice held a trace of a Southern accent. She liked that, but shoved the startling thought aside. She had more important things to deal with.     "Why didn't you ride off with your brothers?" Her voice was little more than a croak. She wet her parched lips with the tip of her tongue but had little moisture to give.     "Would you like some water?"     She nodded weakly. He held the canteen to her lips.     "Drink slowly," he cautioned.     Meg took a sip, then another, letting the life-giving liquid soothe her throat.     "That's enough for now. How do you feel?"     "Like I've taken ... a cannonball. You ... didn't ... answer my question."     "The Calders aren't my brothers. I tried to tell you that before, but you wouldn't listen. They barged into my campsite shortly before you arrived. I never saw them before in my life."     "I ... don't believe ... you."     "Suit yourself, lady. But why would I save your life if I was one of the Calders?"     Meg didn't know what to believe. She knew three men had robbed the bank, and that they had been positively identified as the Calder brothers. She couldn't think straight. Pain had reduced her to a mindless lump of pure agony. She'd sort it all out when she could think coherently.     "Are you in pain?"     She nodded weakly.     "I'll give you some laudanum."     He lifted her head, held the bottle to her lips, and tipped it up. This time she swallowed without offering an argument.     "What's your name?"     "Meg Lincoln."     "I'm Jess Gentry."     Jess Gentry, Meg thought as the laudanum took effect and her mind shut down. It was a lie. It had to be. The man was a Calder. She just had to figure out why he possessed medical skills and why he had chosen to save her life.     "Sleep," Jess said, brushing damp curls away from her flushed face. "You're going to need all the strength you possess to get you through this."     "Zach." The name slipped unbidden from her lips as she slid into unconsciousness. Jess studied Meg's features while she slept. She couldn't be more than twenty-one or two, he decided. In sleep, her face was wiped free of pain. Her broad forehead was smooth and unlined above perfectly arched brows. She had high cheekbones, full, lush lips, eyes that slanted upward at the outer corners. She was a damn provocative female.     Someone ought to talk some sense into her, Jess decided. Did she have a death wish or something? Only a woman who cared little for life would take up so dangerous a profession. Looking back on her bold entrance to his campsite, he decided she must be one cool character with nerves of steel.     Rising stiffly, Jess stretched and walked down to the river to wash and refresh himself. Taking off his shirt, he splashed water over his face, shoulders, and torso. He contemplated taking a full bath but decided to wait until later. When Meg awoke she'd need nourishment. His first order of business was to bag a fat rabbit and boil it up into a rich broth. He also needed to find Meg's horse.     Jess put his shirt back on and returned to camp. Meg was still sleeping. He checked his guns, strapped on his gun belt, and disappeared into the shadows of the cottonwoods. He found Meg's mare tethered to a tree a few hundred yards from the campsite, happily munching grass. He left the mare for the time being and continued on his quit for food.     Thirty minutes and two rabbits later, be retraced his steps to Meg's horse and returned to camp with rabbits and mare in tow.     Meg slept on as Jess gutted and cleaned the rabbits and put one in the battered coffeepot to boil and staked the other over the fire to cook. Then he checked Meg for fever, pleased to find her temperature only slightly elevated, and inspected her wound for infection.     So far so good, Jess thought with relief as he sat down beside Meg. Unfortunately, things could change quickly with wounds such as Meg had sustained. He was gazing off into the distance, thinking about Rafe and Sam, when Meg awakened and spoke to him.     "Am I going to die?"     Jess's thoughts snapped back to the present and his gaze swung around to the lady bounty hunter. "Not if I can help it."     "I'm thirsty."     Jess carefully lifted her head, reached for his canteen, and held it to her lips. She drank deeply, sighed, and indicated she'd had enough.     "How are you feeling?" Jess asked, studying her pallor with a critical eye. She'd lost too much blood for his liking.     "Like I've got one foot in the grave. I still don't understand why you didn't leave with your brothers."     "I'm not a Calder," Jess replied shortly. "I told you my name last night."     Meg regarded him with confusion. "Jess Gentry. I remember, but ..."     "Just concentrate on getting well. We'll sort everything else out later."     "I want to go home."     "You can't be moved yet. In a few days, maybe. We'll have to wait and see what develops in the next few hours."     Meg's eyes grew round. "Like what? I can still die, can't I?"     "Well, there's always the possibility of infection. I doused your wound with carbolic acid and I'm hoping it was enough to prevent infection. If not, a high fever is bound to follow. But don't worry, I'm a doctor. I know what to do to help you."     Jess saw disbelief march across Meg's features. Obviously she wasn't of a mind to take his word for anything. But he had more important things to worry about, like saving her life.     "I'm going to give you some more laudanum," Jess said, reaching for the bottle. "Rest is the best thing for you right now. When you awaken, I'll feed you some rabbit broth. You'll need it to keep up your strength."     Meg shook her head. "No. No more laudanum. I can't think when I'm drugged."     "Don't think. Just concentrate on getting well. You want to return to Zach, don't you?"     Meg sent him a startled look. "How do you know about Zach?"     "You called for him in the night. Is he your husband?"     Meg shook her head.     "Brother?'" Another negative shake. "Father?"     "No."     Jess abruptly cut off his questioning. Clearly Zach was Meg's lover. Jess wished the man were here now so he could give him a good dressing-down. No man in his right mind would allow his woman to turn to bounty hunting for a living.     "Open your mouth, Meg," Jess said sternly. "I'll just give you enough laudanum to dull the pain."     Meg stared at him, then opened her mouth with marked reluctance. Before long she fell asleep. When she awakened several hours later, Jess patiently fed her broth and bits of rabbit meat. She fell asleep again. Jess built up the fire and settled down for the night on the bedroll he'd taken from Meg's saddle.     Her cry in the night pulled him from a deep sleep, and he sprang to her side. It didn't take a genius to recognize the irrefutable signs of infection. Meg was drenched in perspiration, thrashing from side to side, damp strands of dark hair plastered to her pale face. Her body burned with fever that would kill her if it wasn't lowered.     Disregarding propriety, he stripped off her trousers and drawers, picked her up, and carried her to the stream. Though the night was warm, the water was cool. Sitting in the water, he held her on his lap, letting the water spill over her heated flesh. He held her like that until her body felt cool to the touch. Then he carried her back to her bedroll and pulled away the bandage covering her wound.     The sickening stench of infection immediately cast him back into the last days of the war, when the wounded piled up so fast that they died before they could be treated. Those horrible days and hectic times weighed heavily upon Jess as he stared down on the unconscious woman stretched out on the ground.     I won't let you diet! he silently vowed. He'd seen too many men perish, smelled the nauseating odor of death too often to give up now. Jess would defy the devil himself to save this woman. Stiffening his shoulders, he set to work to save Meg's life.     First he disinfected his hands and scalpel. His hands were steady as he cut into the infected flesh. Greenish pus spurted out, but he ignored it, pressing on the wound until the blood ran clean and red. Then he disinfected the wound with carbolic acid. He decided not to sew it up, preferring to leave it open to drain. It would leave a scar, but what was a scar compared to one's life? Lastly, he fastened a clean bandage over the wound.     As Jess washed up at the stream, he prayed that his skill had been enough to save Meg's life. No one as young and vital as Meg deserved to die. Copyright © 2000 Connie Mason. All rights reserved.