Saturday, August 29, 2015

Chapter 290: All 'Round My Hat

Wash hoisted the bag of flour off his hip and into the bed of the wagon, where it landed in a dusty cloud. He twitched his nose, wiping his face with the back of his arm. “Aye, I think that’s the last of it, so it is.”

The kitchen back at the station had been sorely in need of supplies by the time Miss Lily, Saint, and Hellbender had returned from their trip to Point of Rocks. And Mister Thomason at the mercantile had been very happy to see Wash and Bender when they’d walked in. In all honesty, Wash had been happy to be there. Standing in the tidy shop stacked high with household goods felt calming. Like things were easing back into some semblance of normalcy.

Beside him, Bender heaved the last sack up besides the one Wash had loaded. “Do we eat this much?” he said, looking a little perplexed.

“Aye, we do when it’s Miss Lily doing the cooking.” Wash pulled his hat brim down against the glare of the afternoon sun and dusted the loose flour from his hands onto his thighs.

Bender shook his head, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “How about we cool off with some sarsaparilla before we head back, yeah?”

“Aye, let me just...” He narrowed his eyes, focusing on the figure headed up the street towards the wagon. That’s Miss Sullivan. She’s headed this way... He felt his pulse quicken, an unbidden excitement rippling through him. “Go along with you, lad,” he said, watching the teacher approach. “I’ll catch up.”

Bender gave the approaching figure a knowing appraisal, nodded, and headed down the wooden sidewalk towards the Silver Star. “Take your time, mate,” he said, a knowing half-smile twitching in the corner of his mouth.

Wash pulled his hat from his head and held it in front of him, the sudden brightness of the sunlight feeling like arrows piercing his eye sockets. “How’s things, Miss Sullivan?”

“Good day, Mr. Monahan,” she said, her smile tight as she stepped past him on her way towards the mercantile doorway. It was as if she swept a winter gust with her as she walked, an air of tension so thick Wash could almost see it shimmering in the air like a mirage.

“I’m...” he cocked his head, wondering at her demeanor. She seemed pleasant enough, but back home, his life had often depended on reading people. Miss Sullivan was not happy. And he couldn’t shake the feeling that she was not happy because of him. What did I do? “I enjoyed supper last night, so I did,” he ventured, watching her closely. I wouldn’t mind...”

She turned, facing him, and there was a sadness in her eyes that startled him. “Mister Monahan...” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “I will continue to tutor you. You are doing well on your lessons, and I am glad for that. But do not think our contact will be anything other than...” she shook her head. “We will meet at the schoolhouse with Missus Plunkett from now on.”

...what? his eyebrows shot skyward. “Aye lass,” he said, his face flushing with confused heat. “Why...what...?” He felt self-conscious and embarrassed, and had no idea why. He couldn’t help but notice her own face was flushing pink as well. “Did I do or say something...?”

“No, I just think...”

“I’ve offended you somehow, so I have.”

“No.” She drew in a deep breath. “Mister Monahan, I know your business is your business and you don’t have to tell me anything about your past...but...” Her words fell over themselves in an awkward tumble. “I don’t know who you are, sir.”

Jaysus. She’s sodding right. Wash closed his eyes, mentally chastising himself. He stepped up onto the wooden sidewalk, where the sun wasn’t so brutal. She flinched, stepping back, and Wash felt one of the stitches holding his heart together start to come unraveled. “You know who I am, lass,” he said quietly. “I’m just a sad, gormless bloke that works as a coach guard because I can’t do anything else.”

“Mister Monahan...” she said, shaking her head. “We both know you did do something else before you came here. Because you didn’t work for the company. Did you.”

Wash’s face was burning. Suddenly, he was six years old and about an inch tall. “Does it matter, lass?” he muttered, thoroughly undone and humiliated. “Why is it so important?”

“Because I have to think there’s a reason you feel you can’t be honest.”

“Oh, and there it is.” He felt another stitch inside him pull, tearing, leaving a hole. “I suppose I could say the same, couldn’t I?” he said defensively. He thought about the look on her face when she’d told him she had come all the way out the Green from back east ‘looking for work’. He’d known she was hiding something even then. “I suppose you’re a lucky lass, to find the one and only job open from the east coast to Green River.”

Miss Sullivan’s mouth dropped open. “What are you implying, sir?”

“Nary a thing. I’m just saying I asked you and you avoided answering it. So I’m thinking we both have our secrets we’d rather keep buried, so we do.”

She was looking at him with a mixture of resentment and sadness in her eyes, and Wash realized he was bleeding inside, the pieces of his bruised heart becoming loose and rattling around in his chest. She’s...is she...afraid? Of me? “What sort of things are you thinking about me, lass? You think maybe me face is on poster or something? That I’m some sort of outlaw, and the law’s on me tail?”
She visibly recoiled, startled, as if she’s been slapped. Her face went pale.

He shoved his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumping. “The law’s not after me, lass,” he said, feeling hurt and angry.

She drew in a deep breath, and let it out in a shaking sigh. Her hands were trembling. “I don’t think that about you, Mister Monahan,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’ll be back in the classroom at the usual time, if you want to continue.”

She turned away, and instead of going into the mercantile, she headed quickly down the sidewalk, her heeled footfalls on the dusty boards fading away down the street.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gonna Be Late This Week

Murray
Howdy, all. I'm sorry, but I am running late this week. Hoping to have a post up Friday or Saturday. I had intended to work all through today on stuff, but as it turned out, my day started at around 3:30 am. We have a house rabbit, and he was unhappily and repeatedly thumping on the floor in an attempt to alert the household that we were all in mortal peril. Strange sounds were coming out of one of my kitchen cabinets,  and me and the husband ended up sitting in the dark with a flashlight, trying to figure out what was going on.

Murray here was going on. He had evidently discovered the hole in the floor where a bathroom renovation has been on hold since before Jim started chemo. And he was sitting in my kitchen eating a waffle cone.

So I set some humane traps and went back to bed. It was, after all, 3:30am, and I had gone to bed rather late.

Long story short, Murray ended up in my bedroom.  It's a little hard to relax when you know a wild animal is sitting in your closet, watching you try to sleep. Instead of finishing up my work, I spent most of the day trying to capture an opossum, calling wildlife rehab to make sure I didn't need to bring him in for dehydration, and relocating him safely to a nice place in my backyard, close to where he was probably living before invading my home.

So I honestly spent the day so horribly exhausted I actually feel drunk. I can't work like this.

Artist's Interpretation by Robin White
Anyways, my friends thought the entire opossum story sounded like a children's book. Rabbit discovers opossum in house, opossum sneaks into closet and hides befriends a hat. Robin even illustrated it after it was determined by Pam that the story was better if the opossum was actually wearing the hat instead of just sitting on it. 

Anyways, Murray is back in his own environment outside and I promise I won't clean up my closet, which is now in shambles, until I have posted this week's update.

See you soon!

-gina

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chapter 289: Dead Man Walking

Storm could hardly get his fingers to work as he fumbled boxes of shot into his bag. His hands were shaking, and it was all he could do to resist being overtaken by blind panic. He had never felt so helpless, so utterly trapped, in his entire life.

Behind him in the guest cabin, he could hear the creak of leather and the dull snapping of metal as Mister Lynch buckled on his holster.

Fiona and Dev were in the middle of Collins attacking the Lakota village. Every voice in his head was screaming at him, telling him to go, to find her, that she might already be dead. He closed his eyes, vainly trying to silence the chatter before it drove him mad. He realized he was breathing hard, his breath threatening to break into sobs in his throat.

She could be dead...He snatched the rucksack closed and looped it shut, rubbing his brow with the heel of his hand. She’s probably dead...they both... He groaned, hauling the strap over his shoulder and checking his weapons. What has she done? Oh, God, Fiona...

He steadied himself, and turned to face Lynch. “You ready to do this?”

Lynch’s face was pale, his eyes red-rimmed and fierce. He dropped his freshly-loaded Colt firmly into the holster at his hip and hastily pulled on his duster. He reached for the black hat and shoved it down over his bald head with a hand that Storm could plainly see was shaking as much as his own. The man’s face was a granite mask. They’d all heard stories about Lynch, rumors around town about a real or imagined past of gunfights and wanted posters and all that sort of nonsense. And if he’d ever wondered if Lynch might be capable of some of the troubling things people claimed might be true about him, he didn’t now. Lynch looked like an ice-cold killer. His bush silver brows knotted under the brim of his hat, and he glared at him with those steely eyes that bored holes right through a person.

“One thing, first,” Lynch said, and his hand shot out, slamming Storm hard into the door frame and holding him there with an iron hand around his throat. Storm’s head snapped back into the wall and pain exploded through his skull, lancing through his spine where he’d caught the metal latch. He gasped, trying to draw breath through Lynch’s choking grip. “At the moment, Peltier, you should explain to me why I shouldn’t kill you right damn now.”

Oh, tabarnak...Storm cringed, holding his hands up in surrender. He wasn’t sure when Lynch had drawn his Colt, but there it was in his employer’s other hand. Marde. He knows. He had faced down some awful things in his life. But out of all them, none but this one had ever made him feel so doomed. Not the prospect of being hanged. Not being captured by a deranged, sadistic murderer. Not even standing in front of a military fort with an Indian-hating Lieutenant itching to give the order to open fire. He knew beyond doubt that this situation would be the one to end up killing him...Erastus Lynch figuring out his scout and his niece were getting disheveled with each other.

I am a dead man.

He didn’t even care at this point. She could be gone for good.. “If she’s dead...” he managed to choke. “I hope you do.”

“Did you stupid sumbitches think I was joking when I warned you all not to mess with her?”

“No, sir,” Storm rasped. He felt giddy. The pressure on his throat was making him dizzy, weak.. “I’d die for her, Lynch,” he said, and meant it. “Hell...I’m about to do exactly that, one way or the other..”

He could feel Lynch’s eyes boring right through him.  He’s going to kill me. Right here, right now. I’m done. He met Lynch’s gaze and held it. He can damn well look me in the eye when he does it...She's worth it. I love her.

A muscle twitched in Lynch’s jaw, and he released his grip. Storm stumbled forward, sucking down a deep lungful of air as he steadied himself. The silence between them hung like the charged energy between gunshots during a battle.

Storm rubbed his throat, leaning back against the door frame and wondering if he would have a bump on the back of his head. “How long have you known?”

Lynch scoffed and shook his head in disgust. “I’m a lot of things, Peltier,” he said, re-holstering his pistol. He sounded tired. “I’m not stupid. If we survive this...believe you me we have plenty to talk about. Let’s go get her.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chapter 288: It Darts Like Lightning

Rosie had lost count of the number of times she’d wondered if she was still asleep and had dreamed the whole thing.

The Living At Green River Station and Being Friends with Lynch’s Boys thing. And much more specifically, the kissing Luis Santana thing.

She sat in the windowsill of the borrowed bedroom in the dark, watching the pink flicker of far-off lightning illuminating the purple nighttime clouds, far away across the plains. Crickets were singing down along the river, and she could still hear her heartbeat in her ears.

I didn’t dream it. It happened. I really am here, in this strange room that belongs to someone from the other side of the world. There’s an Irish gunman from New York pretending to be my cousin downstairs, snoring. And Luis Santana...the Pony Express Rider...the one with big brown eyes and shiny black curls and an accent that makes it hard to think...kissed me.

On the lips.

And when I said I didn’t mind...he did it again.

Nobody had ever kissed her. Before coming here, the very thought would have been absolutely absurd. In fact, she had felt pretty sure nobody ever would have wanted to.

She drew in a deep, shaking breath, remembering how he’d leaned in so shyly, how their noses had bumped. How his lips had been so sweet and so soft, and how weak and giddy the nearness of him had made her feel. Her heart had been like a team of horses with iron shoes. How had he not heard it? Surely he heard it. It had been deafening to her. She touched her still-tingling lips with her fingers, replaying the memory over and over.

Her face had burned like a brand. It still did. She suspected his had as well. For the first time since she’d met him, he had been tongue tied, stammering and pink-cheeked as she excused herself to go back upstairs to Mister Hungerford’s room. He’d never looked so sweet or charming as he had in that moment. It took every bit of  willpower she possessed to leave his presence and go back up to her room before Wash woke up and found them kissing in the kitchen.

I taught him to read. We did it.  He did it.  Her throat clutched with emotion, sudden water blurring her vision. It’s what he’s always wanted. I’ve never seen anyone so happy. His face had been transfixed with deep, soul-reaching joy, and she knew that she was witnessing someone realizing that his life was going to be different than the dismal future he’d envisioned. He knew he had been rescued. She wiped her eyes on the corner of her dressing gown, watching the blues and lavenders of the clouds light up. Every now and then, the entire sky would fill with strange, silver light, and the distant clouds would show themselves as a rolling, towering dreamscape.

I’ve never seen myself so happy. But...

She leaned her head against the sill, tucked away in her room filled with wonders, the distant storm putting on a show for her alone. The station felt more natural, more welcoming to her than her home ever did. Her mind went back to the first time she’d seen them all together, that night a lifetime ago in Abigail’s jostling chairs and squabbling over the bread. The sight of them had filled her with almost unbearable delight, but it was more than just the fact that they were exciting and handsome, or that two of them...Tommy and Luis...had noticed her and were stealing glances her way. Watching them, she’d been filled with desperate longing for something she couldn’t name. She knew what it was now. They were a family. And among this family, she had never felt so safe. Before this, she had never belonged.

But...She smiled, wiping her eyes again. I am that happy now.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Chapter 287: Coup d'├ętat

“Damn your eyes, Lieutenant,” Scarcliff spat at Collins, slamming his closed fist into the tabletop in his pavilion. “I should court martial you for this.” He let himself sink into his chair, rubbing his eyes with his fingers, trying to think. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I had to act immediately, sir,” Collins said evenly. He was standing stock-still in front of Scarcliff’s table, a stony look of contrite concern on his face. “We were under attack. My scout was shot and died right next to me.”

Scarcliff grimaced, fighting hard to settle his temper. He was as close to panic as he’d ever been, and it took a monumental effort on his part to keep his emotions under control. We lost two out of our three scouts in this mess. Now we are sitting here nearly hamstrung. He gritted his teeth. And my second-in-command seems to be losing his damned mind. “That farmstead is where the attack happened, Lieutenant. Where the hell were you? The Sioux village had nothing to do with anything. Hell, most of the attackers at the farm were not even Indian! Peltier says Red Horn was there. He runs with a gang of whites!”

“Sir...” Collins shifted nervously. He was visibly sweating. “We were given bad information by someone I now know had ulterior motives. I acted on it, and I take responsibility for that.” He shook his head. “You have to know I wouldn’t just abandon you and your men out there alone if I thought you'd be attacked. I believed the fort was the target, so I returned here immediately in an attempt to strike first. I know now that it was a conspiracy to get the Sioux out of the way for the railroad. The railroad representative, Hezekiah Stone, claimed his men were being harassed by Sioux. He knew that would motivate us to attack.”

“That wasn’t your call to make!”

“Wasn’t it?” Collins’s mask of restraint began to unravel. “With respect, sir, we were being shot at. Wounded had turned over on us and Stone lied to us. Bad Medicine was dead. There was no way to get a message to you in time for you to return and help us. I acted in the best interest of the fort.” He spoke evenly, choosing his words with care. “I had bigger things to consider than protecting a farmstead. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the fort unmanned!” His gaze was sharp, accusing. “Sir.”

Scarcliff narrowed his eyes, giving Collins a hard look. Somewhere behind his temple, he could feel his blood pulsing.  He's not being entirely truthful. What the hell really happened out there? "What are you implying Lieutenant? Are you suggesting..." Footfalls were approaching the tent flap, crunching in the gravel and dried grass underfoot,and he trailed off, listening. He was surprised when they stopped and he heard Lynch and  Peltier talking beyond the canvas.

“Captain?” Lynch growled.

“Enter,” he muttered, bracing himself for yet another conversation he really didn’t want to have.

“Captain,” Peltier, still wearing his borrowed blue coat, threw back the tent flap and strode into the tent. Mister Lynch was beside him. “Miss Lewis-Smythe’s gone. She’s out there somewhere in this.”

“What?” Scarcliff came out of his seat as if he’d been shoved from behind. “That’s impossible!”

Lynch guffawed, a humorless, self-deprecating snort. “No, sir, it ain’t.”

“What is this?” Scarcliff was suspicious, his mind reeling with the implications of this new piece of information. “Because I assure you, I don’t have the time or the humor for jokes right now...”

Peltier interrupted him. “She’s gone. Devereaux with her.”

Scarcliff stared, stunned. “How?”

Peltier and Lynch exchanged a glance. Peltier shook his head, his eyes focusing briefly on something only he could see. “That’s Fiona,” he muttered, almost to himself.

Collin’s mouth was hanging open, and he snapped it closed. “Devereaux? That slovenly, unshaved half-breed that came in with you?”

Peltier’s lip tightened with annoyance, but he said nothing. His eyebrow hitched itself a little higher on his brow.

“He was at the village,” Collins sputtered. “I saw him there.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

No Chapter This Week

Howdy, all. Sorry there's no post this week. I'm trying to get the proof for Riders & Kicker's done. I have the proof copy in my hot little hands right now, all full of highlighter and sticky tabs. I can't concentrate on that and write, too. Also, got some serious family stuff I'm having to take care of...was out of town all day today with my mom in law (she fell and got hurt).

Also, everyone's decided to go on vay cay this week, and I have to make the "take care of everyone's cats" circuit. Thank God it rained a couple times, so at least I don't have to water people's gardens.

I should be done with the proof soon, so I'm hoping to be able to get back into a hard push of writing after this thing finally hits Amazon. I really want to get all this squared away.

Anyways, be patient and bear with me! I'm trying!

-gina

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chapter 286: Beaten

Fiona fought, screaming, as Hezekiah Stone’s fingers twisted in her hair, dragging her forward. He cuffed her, and suns exploded behind her eyes as she stumbled to her knees. He let go of her hair and balled his fist into the back of her coat at the collar. She clawed at him, hot tears burning her face. Mr. Devereaux...oh, God. The thought of  Mr. Devereaux collapsing beside her in a spray of blood sent another spasm of blind rage and panic through her, and she screamed again, twisting and biting at her captor’s wrist. 

He delivered another hard blow, and this time she fell, sprawled in the grass at his feet, blackness threatening to close over her vision. “Get up, girl,” he growled. “You can walk or you can be dragged.” He reached down and grabbed the front of her borrowed blue Army coat, hauling her to her feet. Her knees threatened to buckle, and she grabbed his arm for support. “The army will buy you back pretty or beat to hell, they don’t care. Either way, they get to be heroes saving you from the injuns..” He shook her like a dog shaking a rabbit, and her teeth snapped together. “How beat up you get depends on you.”

She was breathing hard, her ears ringing and her vision wavering. She gritted her teeth, tasting blood.. I’ll not give this animal the satisfaction of seeing me fall again...

He nodded. “Good. See?” He jerked her forward. “You come along quiet, you get to stay pretty. Don’t give me a reason to put you on a leash.”

She let him drag her forward, her shaking legs barely holding her upright. The coat was digging into her armpits as she stumbled, jerked upwards as Stone held it wadded in his fist.

“Where...” she gasped, her voice shaking,. “where are we going?”

“Shut up,” he muttered. “You’re getting better than you deserve. Although that may change when Collins finds out you came out here warned the Sioux he was on his way.”

“Captain Scarcliff won’t...”

“My money’s on Scarcliff ending up dead, if he isn’t already. Collins means to give himself a promotion. So if I were you, I’d maybe re-figure who you need to be whoring up to.”

“What about you?” she spat. “You’re going to be in more trouble than I am, aren’t you? You know good and bloody well what’s really going on.”

“We all know good and well what’s going on, Red. And the safe bet is that you and your chattering mouth are  probably going to disappear.” He gave her another violent shake, nearly dragging her off her feet. “But not before I get paid for you. I’m getting something out of this, at least.”

New panic clawed at her insides and she closed her eyes, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. She was sweating inside the wool coat, her face dripping with tears and exertion. Mr. Devereaux’s shooting doggedly replayed in her mind like a recurring nightmare. And what’s become of Jesse? Was he killed as well? She swiped the prickly sleeve of the coat across her face. And Storm...what’s become of you, beloved? If Stone isn’t bluffing...if there’s a coup in progress...there’s no telling what’s happening with Scarcliff’s detachment. Both of Collins’ scouts are dead. Did he have them killed? What did they know?

Her control was slipping away as fear wrapped more tendrils around her and started squeezing. She forced her mind away from it, fighting to keep her terror at bay. Storm...I have to get back to you. I have to. Summoning all her will, she focused her mind on his beautiful face, on the infinite depth of his eyes. The world didn’t exist outside his embrace; she wasn’t alive unless his heart was beating against hers. I have to keep going...keep breathing. Get back to him. Nothing else matters.

She clenched her jaw, groaning with defiant effort. He’ll let his guard down at some point. Stop fighting and pay attention. Be ready to bolt at any time.

What if I never see him again? The thought was incessant, loud, shouting over her efforts to stifle it. What if I die without holding him one last time? What if I do make it back and he’s dead? She hung in Stone’s grasp like a rag doll, suddenly too empty to weep.