Friday, December 12, 2008

Hellbender by Liezl Buenaventura

This was a Christmas present from my husband. Got two pieces of artwork instead of the usual one this month.

The pose is so 'Bender, as is the pleasantly thoughtful look on his face. I love the scruffy stubble.

Thanks, Liezl!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lily by Liezl Buenaventura

And here is another awesome portrait by Liezl Buenaventura, this time of our heroine, Lily McMillian. Amazing job, Liezl! Thanks again!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lights the Storm by Liezl Buenaventura

Check out this wonderful portrait of Lights the Storm Peltier by Liezl Buenaventura. I have to say, one of the main things that makes working with an artist so much fun is seeing how another person reads what you write and interprets it with their own creativity. It really gives me a rush seeing how someone else sees my characters.

I love the pensive expression and the sleepy eyes. I think I'd have his coffee ready for him in the morning, too, regardless of whether he'd restocked the woodpile or not.

Thanks again, Liezl!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter 11 by Martin Ross: In The Bag

Editor's Note: This is another guest post for the Chapter 11 contest written by Martin Ross.

Copperspots blamed himself for his current predicament.

It had been a cold morning, so he had decided to sun himself on a rather large rock. The stone had been much warmer than the sand and soothed his aching bones quite a bit. Unfortunately his midmorning slumber had also kept him from hearing the two legs until it was too late. Before he knew what was going on, Copperspots had found himself scooped up and thrown into a heavy burlap bag. This of course made him quite angry and he let the two legs know of his displeasure with much shaking of his rattle. However, despite his best efforts, the two legs ignored his threats.

"I'm getting old," Copperspots thought.

It was harder to catch mice than it used to be.

Harder to slither unseen in the rocks.

Harder to avoid the two legs when they went poking about in their clumsy bounce-stepping way.

Although, he could at least ease his mind with the thought that the two legs which had caught him this morning was much quieter than the ones that normally came clodding into his domain.

Yes. This two legs seemed to move with a more natural grace than the ones Copperspots had seen on previous occasions. Like this one was more at home with the great land.

The bag was dark and warm. Copperspots could tell the two legs was traveling by horse now, as the bag rocked at bit in a slow rhythm that two legs were incapable of. Copperspots could also smell the horse. A warm scent which reminded him of the summer he had spent hunting mice in a barn. Horses were not so bad, if one was careful to avoid their huge tramping feet. All in all, Copperspots had to admit, it wasn’t the most unpleasant place to be confined. In time, he found himself falling asleep.

He awoke with a thud.

The bag had been thrown loose onto the ground. Carefully, Copperspots slithered out of the burlap. Once out, he regretted leaving the bag instantly. He was now in some sort of shed. The foulest smelling place Copperspots had ever encountered. It pained him every time he flicked his tongue. This place was dark, with wood walls and the smallest hole of to let light in. Behind him he heard a surprising sound. It was a snake’s chuckle.

“Ssssoo! They got you too!”

Copperspots twisted around and saw old Redstrips, his longtime friend from the southern side. Beside Redstrips was several other snakes he knew: Longtail, Sundots, Quicktongue and the ever beautiful Roseback. She was an older snake like himself, who lived on the farthest side of the Great Rocks. They had met once when he was young and he had always regretted not choosing her as a mate. Since then, he had gone mateless all his life. From what he had heard, she had never chosen a mate either. Seeing Roseback gave Copperspots a bit of inspiration to pretend to be more confident than he actually felt.

“Yesssss, but it doesssssn’t ssssurprise me that he caught you firssst.” Copperspots chuckled back.

At this Roseback’s mouth curved into a shape that only a snake would recognize as a smile.

Copperspots could feel boldness rising in him. He wanted to show Roseback that he still had enough speed and courage to be a good mate for her. However, in this wretched smelling place, there wasn’t much opportunity to prove his mettle.

Just then the door swung open letting in a blinding blast of morning sun. All of the snakes moved back nervously as a large, oafish two-legs walked into the shed. He shut the door and proceeded to pull down his pants.

“Opportunity,” thought Copperspots “has presented itself.”

© 2010 Martin Ross

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chapter 11: Crook By Jenna Reid

 On the blog, I left out Chapter 11. It was an accident, and wasn’t caught in time to fix it easily. So instead of compounding the problem by renumbering everything, I invited the readers to supply the missing chapter and the winner was chosen by popular vote. Reader/writer Jenna Reid won and I liked her entry so much I decided to consider it canon and included it here in the book as an actual chapter of the story, with her permission. It fits into the story better as Chapter 12, so we moved it.

Hellbender Hungerford had seen men beaten up before. Life on the stations of the Flinders Ranges, where he had spent the early part of his life, could be rough. Hundreds of miles had separated those homesteads from the civilization of Adelaide, so law and order was as thin on the ground as it ever was here in Green River. Storm’s condition wasn’t the worst he’d ever been witness to, but nevertheless he knew it was bad. Storm’s insistence on leaving immediately had lasted as far as the boardwalk, and he had slumped, trembling and ghost pale, on the bench outside the jail. Bender knew that even if he tied Storm on to his pinto mare and hitched her reins to Swagman he’d never manage to get Storm back to the station alone. Trying would only make Storm’s injuries worse, so they were stuck where they were, forced to be content with waiting for Lynch to arrive and hoping he had the sense to bring a wagon. At least the boardwalk was shaded. It could get hot here in this season, hot in a dusty way that reminded him of home.

For years the Flinders Ranges had enjoyed what was, for the very outer hem of the Australian Outback, a wealth of rainfall. The valleys were greened and comparably lush, and the sheep and cattle men had prospered. Plenty of work for a horse doctor, although he’d ended up tending sheep more often than not. Bender didn’t like sheep much, but sheep were the lifeblood of the region. Or so he’d once imagined. He had been wrong, of course. The lifeblood of the Ranges, of the whole continent, was water. Towns were blossoming like wildflowers around the largest stations…and then the drought had come. First the rain had ceased, and then the small creeks dried up, until even the largest rivers had vanished into dust, leaving nothing to show that they had ever existed save lines of skeletal gum trees pointing accusingly at the searing blue sky. All across the ranges homesteads stood lonely and abandoned, with neat rows of graves in the yard and a skeleton or two strewn somewhere, the remains of the last poor unfortunates to die with no one to see to their eternal rest but the dingoes and the wedge-tailed eagles. Many had waited too long for a miracle and paid for it with their lives when the horses that were their only hope for escape had succumbed to the punishing aridity.

Storm’s rasping voice jerked him out of his reverie. “You ever been beaten up, Bender?” he croaked. “A couple of times, yeah,” Bender replied, remembering. “What happened?” Storm was looking at him intently, probably trying to keep his mind off the pain. “Well, one time I was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with too much money in me pocket.” “And the other?” Bender smiled slightly. “The other…was about a girl.”

Storm’s split and swollen lips tugged sideways in a tiny smile. “Tell me about it,” he said. Bender grinned. “She was the prettiest little thing in the whole of South Australia, and I loved her with all me silly young heart. I wasn’t the only one with an eye on her, though. She was the daughter of the blacksmith, and he had an apprentice who wanted to be a son-in-law. He wanted to pound me into my boots, and he did. He was a great strapping bloke, and pounding out horseshoes all day builds bigger muscles than dosing sheep and trimming hooves.” He paused, and his eyes grew unfocused, looking back on that distant day. “I was a sorry sight, but I won, in the end. Me darling girl picked me.” He glanced again at Storm and was surprised to see a look of aching sorrow on his face. Bender had the strangest feeling that that expression had nothing to do with Storm’s battered ribs, but the next second the twisted, despairing look had faded, and Bender wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined it.

In the silence that settled between them, Bender stood and stepped down into the dusty street beside Swagman. A thought had occurred to him, and he felt slightly ashamed for not thinking of it sooner. He pulled a flask of water from his saddlebag and brought it back up to Storm. Storm took a swig and spat, rinsing dust and blood out of his mouth. “Oh God,” he hissed, clutching at his left side, “I’ve felt better.” “Don’t you worry, mate, you’ll be apples once we get ya back to the station and Miss Lewis-Smythe’s tender care.” Storm groaned. “Fiona. She’s going to be furious. I hate upsetting her…” Storm’s voice trailed off, and Bender saw again that pained expression. He thought he understood it a little better this time, but he was distracted by the unhealthy flush rising in Storm’s pale face. Lynch had better get here soon. Damn Holt for a sheep-buggering fool. Storm had slumped back again, eyes closed and head resting against the rough wooden wall behind him. Bender looked away up the street, in the direction of the Green River Station, waiting.

“What happened to her?” The question was barely more than a whispering scrape of sound. “What’s that, mate?” Storm cleared his throat. “What happened to your girl? Where is she?” Though clearer, his voice was barely louder and he hadn’t opened his eyes. Bender had the sense that he was barely clinging to consciousness. “She died.” Storm’s brow creased faintly. “I’m sorry,” he breathed. “Nah, mate, it was a long time ago.” Years and half a world ago, and his heart was still as sore as the day he’d buried her under a still-green gum tree next to their small son. He had left the Ranges the next day, along with the few families who had remained, down to the coast and Adelaide. Bender had fled farther than most, across the wide Pacific, running from that pair of graves as much as the terrible drought. He was profoundly grateful when the jingling rattle of a team and wagon interrupted his thoughts. He gazed up the street again, squinting against the intense afternoon light, and relaxed when he recognized the slouched figure on the seat.

“Come on mate, up you get,” he said, carefully hoisting the injured man to his feet and supporting him, “Saint Peter’s here for you.”

© 2010  Jenna Reid

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chapter 10 'Bender, Part II

"Oh, aren't you taking the piss." Bender fumed. The pale-eyed lawman said nothing, watching him. "You don't actually expect me to believe that you don't remember that he's one of our riders? As many times as you've had him locked up in here? Open the bloody door so I can bloody see to him!"

Holt sat looking at Bender with a bored look on his face. Bender's eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to have to explain to the United States Army why their documents are late? That a bloody sheepshagging jackass out in some pissant wateringhole held up something they paid ten dollars an ounce to send? Open the damn door, Holt!"

At that point, Holt hesitated, then got reluctantly to his feet, reaching for his keys. "Watch your mouth, or you'll find yourself locked up in there with him. Look, should be thankful the men in this town have an eye out." He shuffled over, taking his time, and fitted the key in the lock to the cell holding Storm and rattled them in the lock. "They saw an Indian on a mail horse. Nobody wants to think you people are paying a damn Crow a hundred dollars a month, so they naturally assumed your regular rider had been attacked and robbed." The door swung open with a loud groan and Bender shoved past him as he prattled on. "You got two white boys on your whole crew...and one of them is a Mormon, even. What do you think people around here think about that?"

"Oh, let go of it." 'Bender snapped as he carefully pulled the injured rider forward and parted the crusted hair over the angry, fevered wound in Storm's scalp. Not dangerously deep, but I'm hoping that's where all this blood came from...probably need to stitch it. "Who did this, Peltier?"

"You remember Rob...and Levi Yarl?" Storm rasped, his breathing shallow and labored, making speaking difficult. "Ambushed outside of town."

Bender thought a moment. Those two idiots Lynch refused to hire. Dammit. "Yeah." He swept Storm's matted hair away from his face and tilted his head back to check his pupils. "I remember 'em. Look'it the state of you, mate. They worked you over pretty bloody hard, looks like. How'd you get here?

"No idea."

'Bender eased the injured rider back against the wall and ran brusque fingers hastily over his torso, defly checking for injuries. Storm groaned in pain, his breath catching hard in his throat. "Ribs." he gasped.

"That's what I buggering thought." 'Bender hissed, livid. Storm, as was typical of express riders, was not a big man. Couple of big brainless apes like the Yarls could really have done some serious damage. And they may well have. Damn and double damn! "Holt, you lock a man up in this kinda state, you can't be arsed to call the Doc? How long were you gonna wait before telling Lynch?"

"Doc ain't coming all the way down here for a damn Indian. And I sure as hell ain't paying him for one." Holt sat back down at his desk, tossing his keys in front of him in with a disgusted jangle. "And Blackie's already headed out to the station to tell Lynch to come get his horse and his mailbags. Take your 'breed and go. You might consider how people are going to react when you pass them over to hire injuns and such. You can tell that to Erastus Lynch. He asked for this."

"Those jackasses attacked a mail carrier. They bloody robbed and beat a man outside of town, and you're telling me Lynch asked for this?" 'Bender snapped, incredulous. "So, tell me, you planning on arresting them now?"

Holt laughed. "For capturing a Crow they thought was a horse thief? You're lucky they didn't kill him!"

'Bender stiffened with anger, but checked himself. I gotta get him home, if I get locked up with him we're both cocked. "Look, Storm. I got some supplies out on Swagman. I'm gonna bind your ribs so you can move and then we're leaving."

"We're leaving now." Storm muttered, throwing an arm over 'Bender's shoulders and forcing himself to his feet with an agonized hiss. "You can put me back together later."

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saint by Liezl Buenaventura

So here is a sketch of our favorite miscreant, Saint, by the very talented Liezl Buenaventura. I'm going to be adding some artwork from time to time, so keep your eyes peeled.

I really love what she's done with the character. The wonderful pencils, the sketchiness. Heck, even the paper she used could not be more perfect.

Clearly, she's caught our boy before he's had his morning coffee.

Thanks, Liezl. Looking forward to working with you some more soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chapter 9: 'Bender

'Bender Hungerford was tired. Exhausted, really. He'd ridden east a hundred miles from Weber Station in the last couple weeks and had trimmed so buggering many horse's hooves he'd started dreaming about them in his sleep. At this point, Green River Station, with it's stone buildings, it's proper kitchen, and it's warm beds seemed to him as a Promised Land, as some fabled El Dorado. He couldn't bloody wait. He just wanted to eat something a woman had cooked, lay down on something that didn't have ants or lizards crawling all over it, and take a good long nap.

So when he saw the Indian pony with it's Russell, Majors, and Waddell brand tethered outside the Sheriff's office in Green River town, he did a double take. A sinking feeling started in the pit of his stomach. He stopped, rubbing his hand tiredly over his stubbly face.

"Ah, bugger me with a broomstick." He muttered to no one, focusing again on the distinctive mare. "This ain't good." He trotted Swagman up besides the spotted company horse, tethered him beside her, and headed for the door.

"Holt?" he pushed the door open, looking around as his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside. The room reeked of old coffee, sweat, and the acrid bite of pain and fear. The hair prickled on his arms."Blackie?"

Sheriff Holt, sitting at his desk, looked up. "Well. Hellbender Hungerford." He nodded, his light blue eyes burning into 'Bender's with a predatory smirk. "Back in Green River, eh? What can I do for you?"

Bender's eyes warily flitted around the room. "I just got in and I'm wondering why one of our horses is... what in the bloody blue hell is going on in here?" He covered the steps to the just-noticed cell behind the sitting lawman in two furious strides and grabbed the bars. "What happened? Open it!"

Lights the Storm Peltier lay across the bunk, slouched against the wall inside the locked cell. He stared at Bender with bloodshot and bruised eyes that swam in his ashen face. "Thank God, 'Bender." he rasped in relief, his voice weak. His hair was partially unbraided and stiff with dried blood, hanging over his face in filthy rattails. He looked like hell. Dried blood spattered the floor and stained the filthy army blanket on the bunk. This is not good...

"Someone caught this red with one of your mail horses." Sheriff Holt casually shrugged. "I assumed he was stealing it."

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Monday, October 27, 2008

You know what always bothered me about Young Riders?

The fact that they never seemed to be know...working. How come they were always all present and accounted for? And how come there was never some strange guy who showed up occasionally sleeping it off in the bunkhouse? Who was passing off these mochillas?

I'm guessing because they didn't really have contracts with Russell, Majors, and Waddell. They had contracts with MGM.

Don't get me wrong, I loved that show. I just thought it was kind of funny is all.

I didn't think the research into the show was bad, really. I mean, they kind of had to take some liberties to make the TV show, so you know, you do what you have to do.

For instance: Sweetwater Station. Sweetwater station was in fact a Pony Express station. I just don't think, after poring over various sources over and over again, that it was a home station.

Home stations were, give or take, about a hundred miles apart. We are pretty certain that Three Crossings Station was a home station. In fact, William Cody his own self, who really did ride for the Pony Express, wrote that Three Crossings was his home station. However, Sweetwater appears on maps of the trail to be around 20 miles away from Three Crossings. Not only that, but one source states that it was abandoned in favor of Split Rock in the summer of 1860. So I'm thinking that Sweetwater was probably a relay station. (cool link I found listing all the stations: .)

I think the thing that baffles me the most about how the stations were laid out was the fact that a guy could endure having his unit pummelled by a saddle and a running horse for a hundred miles. Just sayin.'

Anyways, just a heads up. I'm thinking of making the posts shorter so it's easier to sneak peeks at them throughout the workday when you are taking a little break. It's been put forth as a suggestion and I think it's a good one. Also, I think I'm going to try to post more often to make up for the shorter posts.

Hope you are enjoying the ride!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chapter 8: Jesse

“Jesse, I’m so glad you’re back!” Lily threw her arms around the lanky young man’s shoulders, pulling him downwards and releasing a cloud of brown dust from his clothing. The red fabric of her brother's shirt was dingy with the stuff. The swirling motes danced in the bright sunlight streaming in through the kitchen windows, but Lily didn’t care. She was just relieved to have her older brother back safely. The job was dangerous, and none of his disclaimers or sugarcoatings would change her mind about that. “You’re back kinda early.” She said. “I’m glad.”

Jesse hugged her hard, pulling her up onto the tips of her toes as he straightened up. “Well.” he replied sheepishly in his honeyed drawl. “I sent back as soon as I got there. I would normally have stayed a bit to rest up.” He swept dirty hands back over the shoulder-length strands of equally dirty yellow hair that had escaped the braid behind his head. “Gosh, Lily, I’m gettin’ ya all dirty...”

She grinned at him. “You know I don’t care anything about that. Why’d you get sent back?”

She guided him to the bench at the long kitchen table and pushed him down onto it. Fiona stopped peeling carrots long enough to pour him a tall glass of water and set it in front of him.

“Thanks, Miss Fiona.” He took a long, thirsty draught, then set the glass down. “Well... they said there was maybe some trouble along the route ahead. They wanted me to bring word down the line to Mr. Lynch. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Lily watched his blue eyes shift to the tabletop. He had always been an inept liar. And he’d done a poor job of convincing her his job as an express rider wasn’t dangerous, that all the stories were a bunch of exaggeration. “Jesse...what happened?"

Jesse fidgeted with his hands. "Well...look, it's not like we know exactly when the riders will arrive. The fellow I was to switch off with didn't show up, so...uh...I just had to relay that there was a delay, is all."

Fiona interrupted, coming back to stand in front of the table with a half-skinned carrot in one hand and a paring knife in the other. “What happened?” Her face was tight with concern. “Don’t tell me Storm rode off into a bad spot this morning.”

Jesse looked from his sister to Fiona and his sweet face softened into a gentle smile. “Nothing to worry about, Miss Fiona, really. He went northeast. I was riding southwest. Some of the relay stations further out on my route were closed, that’s all, so they sent me back so I could pass the news down. I’m sure Storm’s fine.”

“Why were they closed?” Fiona pressed, obviously unconvinced. “What about the mailbags?” She sat down at the table besides him, the carrot dangling forgotten in her white-knuckled hand.

“Well, they told me to leave the mochilla at Weber and they’d just have them picked up when the trail re-opened….”

" What's a mochilla?" Lilyfrowned.

“The mailbag. The...uh....” Jesse glanced at his sister and squirmed. “there was a...well... fire down the trail and a relay station”

Fiona’s green eyes widened in shock. “Burned?” She looked helplessly at Lily, her face a mask of worry. Jesse, what on earth...”

“Ah, I’m sure it’s nothing, Miss Fiona. An accident.” Jesse seemed to be troubled that he’d worried Fiona. “You know Storm as well as I do, Miss Fiona. Even if there is trouble, he’ll be fine. Don't worry. But you know,” He perked up, happy to change the subject, and turned back towards Lily. “I got to talk to Harris while I was in Fort Bridger. He’s the postmaster, you know. He said he’d try to find out about the stake. He said as far as he knew the land was pretty much worthless. But he’d ask around for me.”

Lily raised an eyebrow. “Well, somebody sure got a lawyer out here pretty quick. One was out here this morning" And, she thought ruefully, your buddy Saint made a fool of himself in front of him, but we won’t talk about that.

Jesse frowned. “Really? That was fast. He beat me back here.”

“I know. He said someone wanted to buy it.”

“Well, heck. I told Harris I’d just as soon sell it for whatever we could get, if you agreed.”

Lily shrugged apologetically. “Well, Jesse, I think we ought to at least find out what we have, first. I told the lawyer that.”

Jesse’s teeth showed in his tanned face. “Hey, the final decision is up to you, of course. The deed’s yours.”

Lily reached across the table and squeezed Jesse’s grimy hand. “No, it’s ours. We’ll both decide what to do with it.”

He gave her a smile and a nod, then turned his attention to back Fiona, who was nervously picking at the carrot in her hand. “Miss Fiona, Storm went off in the complete opposite direction, all right? You know them boys northeast a’ here got it pretty soft. He’s prob’ly got his feet up, drinking coffee with way too much sugar in it at Three Crossings right this very minute.”

Fiona gave him a feeble smile and stood up. “You’re probably right, Jesse. I know I worry too much.”

“Sometimes.” Jesse grinned at her. He quaffed off the remaining gulp of water in the glass and set it back down. “Lily, we need to talk to Lynch about taking a few days to go on out there and find out what this deed is for. I’d like to see what we’ve got ourselves into.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 7 Showdown

Saint strode purposefully to the big, whitewashed barn out back and walked into the shadowy maw of the front doorway. Hay scented dustmotes swirled in the sunlight shafting down through the warm dimness. I gotta get the hay replaced in the stalls. I don’t have time for this...horseshit. He walked over to a support post and thudded the top of his head against it, leaning there and looking down at his dusty boots.

Ah, merda. What the hell just happened?

He had just gotten finished making a complete ass of himself back there. It wasn’t that he’d simply made an ass of himself...that was nothing particularly new...but over what? Some young girl he didn’t even really know talking to some smarmy lawyer he knew even less?

He was trying to take advantage of her, the lying pig. As I was coming up through the yard I heard the slimy little pantywaist ignore her questions twice. Pomade-smelling worm.

He sighed, pushed himself off the post, and stalked over to the ladder leading to the hayloft. He grabbed the highest rung he could reach and swung himself up. I don’t like seeing people getting pushed around like that. He walked over to the nearest bale of hay, jerked it up by the binding cords, and heaved it over the side, watching with satisfaction as it partially exploded and lost part of itself when it connected with the dirt floor.

'It’s rough territory for such an attractive young lady as yourself.' He mentally mocked Galloway's voice in his head. Oh, don't make me sick. He grabbed another bale and tossed it after the first, feeling a bead of sweat roll down his spine, and giving the bale considerably more force than was really necessary to get it down below.


Lily could feel the heat of her anger roiling inside her as she stalked across the dusty yard towards the barn. The wide doors were open, and the interior of the barn hidden in shadow. She glanced around the property, and saw with dismay that she seemed relatively alone. Luis was off God only knew where, Fiona was in the bunkhouse changing bed linens, and Mr. Lynch was in his office. With Jesse and Lights The Storm off on mail runs and Wash and Tommy running errands in town, the property was relatively deserted.

And Saint, she knew, was in the barn.

She drew in a deep breath, steeling herself. She didn’t relish being alone with him, and she liked even less confronting him about what he’d done in the kitchen. But his butting into her affairs like that was beyond the pale. If I don’t say something now, there’s no telling what he’ll think he can get away with. No wonder Mr. Lynch dislikes him. I’ve never met anyone so pushy and arrogant! I just cannot believe anyone would be rude!

She paused, gathering up her courage as she gazed at the yawning mouth of the barn. I feel like I’m just waltzing up to the cave of a grizzly bear. She chided herself. What am I afraid of? That he’ll hit me? He wouldn’t dare. Jesse has told me about some harrowing things Saint has done, but hitting women wasn’t one of them. Yell at me? Well, maybe...but I have some yelling to do myself. She was trembling inside. She steeled herself and strode into the shadows.

As her eyes adjusted from the brightness of the yard to the dusty dimness of the barn, the first thing she saw were the scattered remains of hay bales beneath the ladder leading to the loft. She glanced around, feeling dread growing in her stomach, nervously rehearsing what she was going to say. Mr. Bari, my affairs are none of your concern. You don’t know me, and don’t you dare to presume to speak for me. You owe Mr. Galloway and I apologies....

“I bet you’re lookin’ for me.” The husky, accented voice came from the empty stall behind her. She whirled around, heart in her throat and stomach and in her shoes. She wasn’t even aware that she was recoiling a few steps backwards until after she'd done it.

Saint emerged from a stall, brisking his hands against his thighs in a lazy cloud of dust. Bits of hay clung to his shirt and in his charmingly disheveled hair. His hat was pushed back onto his head, and his olive-skinned face was flushed with heat and exertion. In the shafting yellow light sneaking into the barn, the plain white cotton shirt he wore glowed against his dusky skin.

She looked at him for a long, tense moment, trying to find her voice, but her mouth had gone dry. It was the first time she'd taken a really good, apprasing look at him. It was the first time she had dared. The well-rehersed dressing-down she'd had ready for him was rapidly evaporating the longer she held his dark, long-lashed gaze. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears. She was sure he could hear it.

“You had...” she attempted, amazed at how thin and shaky her voice was. She suddenly found the air inside the barn uncomfortably warm and stuffy. “That was...”

He reached up, pulled his hat off, and drew his hand over his face, rubbing his temples. He sighed tiredly. “I’m sorry.”

“I mean, you....” Thunderstruck, she stopped and stared at him. She certainly didn’t anticipate an instant apology. Now, her anger boiled around in her insides with nowhere to go, mixed with...something else she didn’t like and couldn’t identify. If she had ever had an idea of what she was going to say to him, it was forgotten now.

His deep brown eyes shifted to the stable wall and he rubbed the back of his neck before looking at her again. “Look. He wasn’t being honest with you.”

“You didn’t hear the conversation.” She blurted, snapped out of her trance and relieved to have some outlet for how she felt.

“I heard plenty. I’ve had to deal with his kind often enough....”

Now that he was talking, he seemed a lot less threatening. Lily grew bolder. “He said the same about you.”

Saint made a face of disgust. He shoved his hands into his back pockets and slouched, one shoulder against a thick wooden upright. “Oh, he hasn’t had to deal with ‘my kind’ often enough by half, Little Miss.” He growled.

Lily felt her anger flare again. “You were out of line. You can’t tell me you’re sorry if you’re just going to turn around and insist you were right in the same breath!”

Saint grimaced. He ran a hand through his tousled hair and sighed with exasperation. “Look, I’m sorry you’re angry with me, and I’m sorry I butted into your affairs, but if someone’s gonna come in here and rob somebody I work with, they’d better not try doing it where I eat breakfast every day!” His voice rose, a furious edge creeping into it. Lily took an involuntary step backwards. “And another thing...what would Jesse say if I let his sister get pushed around? I have sisters myself, Miss, and I’d be pretty furious if one of my buddies let one of ‘em get swindled!”

Lily’s mouth opened, then closed with a snap. Somehow, she couldn’t imagine this arrogant, swaggering, brawling ruffian as having a bunch of sisters he was protective of. The intensity of his gaze forced her eyes to the wisps of straw on the dirt at his feet. This reaction was the last thing she expected from him.

Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, when she found it again. “Why are you so sure Mr. Galloway is being dishonest?” She kept her eyes glued to the floor.

There was a long silence. A sparrow chirped somewhere in the rafters of big, airy building. She heard Saint draw in a deep, resigned breath and let it out slowly. “Why would someone be so interested in buying this land if it’s as worthless as he says? Whoever it is...and we still don’t know...sure didn’t waste any time getting a lawyer out here. And lawyers ain't cheap.”

Lily looked up at him. “I...uh....” this is not his business...I don’t need to tell him anything....She paused, struggling with her pride before grimacing in defeat. “I told him I wanted to talk with Jesse and find out what we had before I’d consider selling.”

He nodded.

“I’m...going to go back inside, now...I.... I feel stupid . I came in here to keep from being bullied, and here I am feeling I’m supposed to apologize to him!…...well...I have a lot of socks to darn.”

“Sure.” The throaty purr of his voice was akin to being licked by a cat. She realized with a shock that she wanted to hear him speak some more. Does everyone in New Jersey talk like that? How many sisters does he have? Did he really win a fight where he was out -weighed and out-numbered? Does he really, truly have to be so horribly cocky and…horribly…. handsome?

She turned briskly around, tearing her eyes away from him, and forced herself to walk out of the barn and back to the house.


Saint deflated against the stable wall. This is wonderful. Jesse’s sister shows up here and the first thing I do is get into an argument with her. That’s great. Ptah. What in hell was I thinking?

He could hear Jesse’s voice echoing inside his head, remembering the conversation he’d had before leaving for his run. Don’t you be messing’ with my sister, Saint. She ain’t like one of these gals in town you go around with. Don’t be thinkin’ about how nice she is, and don’t be thinkin’ about how pretty she is, he’d warned. And don’t be thinkin’ I can’t deliver an ass whupping to ya. Saint had thought the whole thing was kind of funny. He had absolutely no intention of even thinking about any he-ing and she-ing with anyone he worked with, least of all with a friend’s sister. He’d gone ahead and let Jesse have his rant, and assured him he’d leave her be.

And now, in less than a day, he’d managed to have her hating him. Nice work. At least now I don’t have to worry about Jesse thinking I have intentions on her. She was pretty suprise there, really, but I sure didn’t expect to hear about it. I didn’t think she had it in her.

He thought about that frightened doe look in her eyes at the breakfast table, how her hand trembled when she poured his coffee. At the time, he’d doubted she’d make it out here. Who would have guessed she’d have been out here a couple of hours later, ready to go toe-to-toe with him? His lip tugged in an admiring smile in spite of himself. She had guts, he’d have to give her that. She had been terrified, and yet she’d come right in here anyway, ready to give him a little hell.

You’re gonna be all right, Little Miss.

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chapter 6 - Gentleman Caller

In the aftermath of Luis’ needling Saint over breakfast, while Saint squirmed and Lily flinched, and Fiona glowered over the whole affair with a disgusted, disapproving glare, it was Tommy who had come to the rescue.

He had announced, out-of-the-blue and in his quirky, breathless way of speaking, that his socks were full of holes.

Everyone had turned to look at him as if he’d lost his mind.

Everyone but Wash, actually. Wash was apparently used to him.

But everyone else had, and he’d gone on to say that socks were a thing that could make or break a man’s day, and that he was sure that worn-out socks were something condemned souls in the Bad Place were doomed to wear for eternity. It was awful enough to have socks that slid down into a man’s boots and wad up around his arches, he had explained earnestly, as the tense conversation around him ground abruptly to a halt. And according to Tommy, having to endure that horror in addition to having one’s toes burst through and poke out of the holes was nigh unbearable.

Especially when it was cold.

So when Lily had offered to darn his and anyone else’s socks after breakfast, he happily and noisily took her up on it, thanking her profusely. Breakfast quickly broke up, and the crew hurried to the bunkhouse to gather their mending.

Lily was in her room, going over the morning’s events in her head. She had just gotten her sewing basket together when a sharp knocking sounded at her door.

“Oh, come on in.” She called. Luis appeared in the open doorway, a bundle of worn socks in his hand. “Good.” she smiled. She was glad to see him. He was, she was beginning to suspect, a career troublemaker. But she didn't care. He was the first of the boys she'd met, and his presence put her at ease. “You got your mending?”

"Yes’m." he nodded. "I got Storm’s, too, cuz he ain’t here. An’ Jesse’s. Listen, Miz Lily, there’s a man downstairs to see you. He's in the kitchen.”

Lily stopped and stared at him. “A man?”

The boy nodded, eyes earnest and black curls bobbing. Lily frowned, her brow furrowing. She took the bundle of socks from him. “Who is it?”

Luis shrugged. “Some perfume-stinking git in a fancy suit, a stupid looking hat, an’ a book bag. You want us to get rid of him for you?”

More perplexed by the moment, Lily’s frown grew deeper. Who on earth? Who even knows me out here? “No, no. Of course not. I’ll see him.” She smoothed her hair and straightened her apron. “Are you absolutely sure it’s me he wants?”

“Yes’m. He knew your name and all. Asked for Miz Lily McMillian.” A teasing smile dimpled Luis’ smooth brown cheek. “So, Miz Lily, you ain’t got any lawmen out lookin’ for you, eh? Or maybe he heard about your cooking and found out you can sew an’ he’s come callin’?”

Lily laughed at that. “Oh, you. Don’t be silly.” She picked up her basket and headed for the door. “Can’t imagine what he could want from me, but we’ll find out, I reckon.”

By the time Lily got down the stairs, through the parlor and out the back door, then through the garden and to the propped-open kitchen door, she was consumed with rabid curiosity. Who in the blazes could be here? And looking for me no less?

The man rose from his seat on the bench where he’d been seated when she entered the kitchen. He was tall, with short, neatly combed blond hair and a handsome face. He wore a tailored brown suit, and a dress style hat sat politely on the table beside his coffee cup. An official-looking case of ledgers and papers sat open on the table, gently shifting in the warming spring breeze wafting through the open doorway.

Lily’s head cocked involuntarily in puzzlement, but she took his hand when he offered his. “Miss McMillian,” he said, in a deep, manicured voice, “my name is Richard Galloway. I’m sure you’re wondering what this is all about.”

She smiled. “Well...yes, sir, I have to admit I am.” She felt him give her hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it.

“Please.” He gestured to the bench across from himself. “Have a seat. I’m here in regards to the land you inherited from Mr.Chet Dillon.”

Lily felt her eyes go wide with suprise. “Oh...” she stammered. “Of course.” She sat down a little harder than she meant to. “Are you here because you spoke to Jesse? My goodness, that was fast. He’s not even back yet.”

“No, ma’am. I’m a lawyer.” He smiled warmly at her, his clear blue eyes on hers, lingering on her face.”I was hired by someone who is interested in buying your land.”

Lily stared back, shocked. My heavens, one day no one even knows what this land is, and the next someone wants to buy it? It had never occurred to her that anyone might be interested in buying this parcel of land that had apparently meant so little to her Uncle and that he'd never even shown it to her. She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“Well, sir.” She said finally. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s on the property, to tell the truth. If you had some information about that, it would help. Who wants to buy it?”

The blue gaze never wavered. “I’ve never been there, myself, Miss McMillain. But located where it is, I can’t imagine it’s worth much. My client is willing to pay good money on it, however.”

A slight shadow flickered across the table. “Hey, Miz Lily.” Luis appeared in the open doorway and slouched against the propped door, a piece of straw dangling from between his teeth. “Say, we got any more of those biscuits left over from breakfast?”

“Uh. “ Lily looked up at him, “Yes. Look in the basket over near the second stove.” It was taking most of her attention to sort out what this lawyer was saying and she was having a tough time focusing on Luis’ distraction.

Luis, sauntering casually and unhurriedly into the kitchen, nodded amiably at the lawyer. The lawyer turned back to Lily. “As I was saying, Miss McMillain. This land more than likely is worthless. I could probably get you a fairly good price for it, if you were willing to sell it.”

“Hey,” Luis interjected on his way to the door, his mouth full of bread. He smiled and nodded at them both. “Gracias, Seniorita.”

Lily nodded briefly in his direction without really looking at him. Luis disappeared into the yard with his snack. “I don’t know, Mister Galloway, “ she continued....”I mean, I ought to at least go find out what’s out there. And I’m real curious who is interested in buying it. Is it a friend of my uncle’s?”

“Well, ma’am, I don’t know that I’d bother with that.” His eyes swept over her appreciatively, smiled, and gave her a slightly embarrassed shrug. “That’s some rough territory out there for such an attractive young lady to be traveling to. Probably more trouble than it’s worth. You really ought to consider my offer.”

"Well," she stammered, "I don't know. I can't really make a decision like that without talking to my brother first, and as I've said, I haven't even seen the land yet. You have to understand, my Uncle left it to me, and he's gone now. I may not want to sell it."

Galloway cleared his throat, a thread of impatience edging into his eyes. "I do undertand that, Ma'am, but..."

The sunlight spilling through the doorway dimmed again. Lily and Galloway both looked up. Saint had walked into the kitchen with a rough-hewn three-legged stool in his hand, coolly surveying them both. He was a dark, rangy shadow outlined in a nimbus of midmorning light, the stray ends of his long, dark hair dancing in wine-hued glints along the tops of his shoulders. He silently strode across the kitchen, taking his time, and set the stool near the sink with a sharp wooden thump. Straightening up, he made eye contact with Richard Galloway from beneath the brim of the ever-present black hat. He did not look happy.

“Tell England her stool’s fixed.” He grunted at Lily without looking at her. His eyes, which never left Galloway’s, were feral and full of threats. “Who are you?” he growled, his accent making his words harsh and pushy.

“Richard Galloway.” Galloway leaned out of his seat and extended a hand across the table to the glowering teamster. “I’m a lawyer.”

“Yeah, so I heard.” Saint dropped a brief, disdainful glance at the offered hand, but didn't move to take it. His dark eyes snapped back onto Galloway's. “So. What I want to know is why you won’t answer the lady’s question.”

Lily’s head jerked towards him and she stared, openmouthed. How dare...

Galloway’s smile dropped a notch before hitching itself back into place. “And you are...?”

“She’s asked you who sent you at least twice.” Saint stood calmly staring down the lawyer. “ At least, as I was coming up to the door, that’s as many times as I heard. That, and how good-looking you think she is, which I'm pretty damn sure I didn’t hear her asking you about.”

“Mr. Bari!” Lily said, a little louder than she meant to.

Saint ignored her,continuing. “But the part where she asked you about who’s interested in the land, that part I did hear. You’re in here trying to sweet talk her out of her property and you won’t even tell her who sent you? I smell something in here, Dicky boy. Other than the overpowering cheap cologne, I mean.”

Galloway looked helplessly at Lily. “Ma’am, is he...I mean, he isn’t...your...”

“No, he most certainly is not!” Lily was outraged. I can't imagine the sand....the nerve of this...this...oh! “I think I can handle my own affairs, thank you, Mr. Bari.” She said tersely, unable to keep the anger out of her voice.

Saint’s attention snapped to Lily’s face for the first time since he’s entered the kitchen. His gaze held hers for a long, tense moment before he shot a last warning glance at the lawyer. He turned and walked briskly back out into the yard.

Lily and Galloway watched him go.

“Well.” The lawyer broke the silence first. “That was... interesting. Jealous beau?”

Lily’s face, already flushed with indignation, grew even redder. “What? No! Good Heavens!” The very thought… I could...I could wring his arrogant neck! “Mister Galloway, I am so sorry...” She stammered, mortified. "I barely know that man...actually, I really don't know him at all. I can't believe he came in here...and...and..."

“Please, “ The lawyer smiled and rifled though the papers shifing in the breeze on the table. He placed his empty coffee cup on top of them to hold them still. “Call me Richard. There’s no need to apologize, Miss McMillain. I understand there are some rough sorts out here. I deal with …his type… every day.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chapter 5 Breakfast

“It’s pretty rude of you to keep staring at her like that, don’t you think, Luis?” Saint said as he quaffed off the dregs of his second cup of coffee and chewed absently on the grinds. The crew, minus Storm and Mr. Lynch, sat around the long breakfast table. The kid was getting on his nerves.

Luis shot him an irritated look and gave Lily one last glance before staring back at his fried eggs. Lily blushed bright red. Saint warily watched as she refilled his cup, imagining how a scalded groin would hurt if that shaky little grip missed and gave him a lapful. He reached out and grasped the pot handle, gently dislodging her hand with his and setting the percolator down on the table.

“You ladies sit down and eat, eh?” He knew she was trying so hard, trying above all else to make a good impression on them all. The poor girl was a nervous wreck. She wasn’t much like Jesse at all, at least as far as he could tell. Jesse was brash and liked excitement. His sister Lily, however, seemed sweet and quiet and endearingly bashful. A fragile little thing that seemed like she’d seen a bit more wear than she should have had to have seen. No wonder Jesse was worried about her. If I were Jesse, I’d tell me to stay away from her, too.

His gaze traveled discretely up her arm as her hand slid off the pot handle and took inventory on their way to her face. Slim, but, as Luis had correctly commented, strong enough. Her arms below her rolled-up shirtsleeves were a little sun-browned from her travels. Her neat apron hung from a trim waist, and her slight build swelled girlishly beneath her calico bodice. Open, readable face, her cheeks flushed with warmth and self-consciousness, and her clear grey eyes, hiding behind a pair of frumpy little spectacles, were honest and guileless. Her light brown hair was piled on top of her head in roll, wisps escaping in slightly unruly tendrils. She wasn’t the fiery beauty that Fiona was, but she was quietly pretty, and Saint found her gentle face appealing. She wasn’t the sort of girl he was used to dealing with in town, that was for sure.

“Sit, Miss.” He insisted, smiling reassuringly at her. “We’re big boys. We can help ourselves.”

She sat stiffly across from him, at the end of the bench beside Wash.

“S’, lass,” the Irishman said amiably, grabbing the spatula from the serving platter and sliding a couple of eggs onto the plate before her. “Fiona tells me y’ made the biscuits! I love ‘em. You lasses know how to turn out some chicken fixin’s, that’s f’ sure.”

“Thank you.” Lily smiled, her voice small and her eyes looking everywhere but across the table at Saint.

She’s afraid of me. Saint’s eyes narrowed. Good grief, what the devil has Lynch...and Jesse... told her about me?

"So.” Luis perked up as he thought of something to say that would allow him to continue to stare at the New Girl. “Jesse tells us he’s s’pposed to find out about some deed or something while he’s gone. You got land somewhere?”

“Yes. Well, no." Lily answered. "I have this deed my Uncle left me.” Lily eagerly made eye contact with Luis, relieved to have something to take her mind off her shyness. “It’s not worth anything, really. But I thought, since it’s near here, I’d try to find out more about it. I’ve had it for years without ever having seen the land it says I own.”

Fiona spoke up. “How did you come by it?”

“Well.” Lily gave a sheepish smile. “My uncle won it. In a poker game. He gave it to me for a birthday present three years ago.”

Saint smiled at that. Lily continued, warming. “ I just never got a chance to go there and find out before he was….” Her smile dropped almost imperceptibly. “Before he passed on.”

Luis leaned forward, interested. “You gonna go see what’s it about?”

“I’d like to, sometime.” Lily smiled. “I’m just curious. You never know. Anyway, it’s supposed to be near one of the relay stations Jesse will pass through, so he’s going to see if he can find out anything.”

“Well,” Tommy said, “Probably, he’s already found out something. He’s due back today or tomorrow, so likely he’s talked to somebody days ago.”

“I hope he comes soon.” Luis said, feigning innocence and cutting his eyes to Saint. “If the Yarl boys come after Saint because of that fight, he'll want to be here.”

Saint felt all the muscles around his spine tighten. How the hell does the little punk always, without fail, know exactly where to stick in the needles?

“Luis….” He snapped, feeling embarrassment creep into his guts. He put down his fork and glared across the table.

“Aw, come on, Saint. You should be proud, you took on both the Yarl boys and won." He gave Saint a sly, predatory smile and turned to Lily. "Saint Broke Rob Yarl's nose and stabbed Levi Yarl with a busted bottle! Blood everywhere! Jesse aint' gonna want to miss the next one! ”

Fiona frowned delicately. “I hardly think this is proper breakfast conversation, Luis.”

Saint winced as the unfamiliar heat of self-consciousness flooded his face. He glanced involuntarily at Lily and was horrified when their brief gazes collided in an awkward, mortifying train wreck. In the breath of a moment before they both frantically tried to avoid being caught looking at each other, Saint read the look on her face. It was the same look a person might give a grizzly bear they weren’t sure was sleeping or dead. I am going to kill that little git.

Dammit. “Luis, you need to be quiet. Right now.” He hissed, trying very hard to not sound like the kind of person who bloodied up saloons. Although, truth be told, he felt very much like he might bloody up the bunkhouse or barn if he caught Luis there anytime soon. "Uh...look, wasn't like that." He mumbled lamely.

"Well, actually, it..," Tommy started.

Wash and Saint both cut him off. "Tommy."

“Oh.” Luis said innocently. “Si, of course. Sorry. I shouldn't have said nothing. I'll be quiet now. ” He took a long sip of coffee. Tension-filled silence hung over the table like a thick fog. Luis waited until it reached maximum awkwardness before shattering it.

“I s’pose I better, eh?" He quipped cheerfully. "Hate for Saint to use me to bust a table in half with like he did with Rob Yarl.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chapter 4: The Fine Art of Being Subtle

Lily carefully set the oil lamp on the long, bench-flanked table that dominated the room. The sun hadn’t risen yet and the kitchen was silent and dark. She quickly lit the other lamps that variously hung and stood around the room as Fiona grabbed the large ewer from the stand by the door. Her heart was hammering hard in her chest and she self-consciously smoothed back the strands of hair that always seemed to find their way out of her long braid just when she wanted to look nice. Today, she was to meet the men and boys she’d been hired to care for. Today, they would be sizing her up, making their opinions of her. Most likely, they’d end up talking about how her biscuits were dry or how worn out her clothes were. Fiona had been chattering away at her, and she could barely hear her over the roar of nerves in her own ears.

“How did you sleep?” Fiona inquired, picking up a pitcher and peering inside for vermin. “Your first night in a new place, you know. Were you comfortable?”

“Uh, I was fine. I’ve never slept in such a fine bed before, but I think I can get used to it.” She smoothed her apron and shivered in the pre-dawn chill, thinking about how the whole main house was intimidating, far finer than what she was used to. She was used to living in a rough, two-room cabin with a grizzled, middle-aged bachelor. “I was probably more comfortable than I have been in a long time. I still can’t believe I’m gonna be staying here.” She smiled happily at her new friend.

Fiona’s red curls were a gleaming, fiery mass as she leaned toward the nearest lantern, tilting the ewer forward. “You know, I think there’s a crawly in here. Well,” she looked up at Lily and gave her an affectionate look that partially soothed Lily’s jangled nerves. “I can scarcely believe my luck either. We shall be wonderful friends, Lily, and I am so glad my uncle finally hired a girl my own age to talk to! Do you have any idea how utterly desolate it can be out here? Oh, dear.” She turned the ewer out onto the floor and made a face of disgust as a large brown centipede crawled across the rough-hewn planks of the floor.

“I reckon it’s a good thing that isn’t going to end up in Mister Lynch’s coffee.” Lily lifted her skirts gracefully and stepped on the offending insect with an unsettling crunch. “Well, Fiona, I get the feeling Mr. Lynch had less to do with hiring me than you did.”

“Now, now, you were perfectly qualified....”

Lily set about lining up flour bins and tins of lard on the wide worktable that lined one wall, desperate to start doing something familiar. “Maybe, maybe not. I guess we’ll find out by and by.” Seein’ as how you talked Mr. Lynch into hiring me and all, and right there on the spot, I sure hope I don’t let you down. She mused grimly. I get the feeling Mr. Lynch didn’t get much say in it.

Fiona had to the sink with the now insect-free pitcher, and was working the pump handle to wash it out. Lily was cutting the flour with lard by the time Fiona got the water going and came back to the table, bearing the now-heavy pitcher on her hip like a toddler. She set the vessel down on the table, then went over to the wood rack, choosing some likely pieces to use as kindling.

“So, “ Lily said, roughly mixing the crumbly biscuit dough on the workbench. “How many folks in all work here?”

“Well, let’s see...” Fiona struck a match inside the firebox and blew on it carefully, watching the fire catch and tentatively creep over the kindling. “There’s Uncle Erastus, and my Aunt Genevieve, who is away right now, Luis Santana....”

“Yes, I’ve met Luis...” Lily smiled fondly, remembering the puckish Mexican boy who’d carried her bags upstairs for her and who’d given her such kind words of encouragement. I reckon if it weren’t for that sweet boy, I think I might just have lost my nerve and bolted. I mean, Fiona opened the door, and here was this beautiful, fancy-talking Lady in this fine, fancy house. Almost thought I was in the wrong place....

“Tommy know, I believe he’s a Mormon.....George Washington Monahan, he’s an Irishman.” She fed a few sticks of tinder into the firebox. “He tells marvelous stories! And...well, of course you know Jesse...there’s Peter Bari. Oh, I wish this fire would light! It’s cold in here.” She blew gently onto the flames again. “They call him Saint, you know, but his name’s Peter.”

“Jesse told me about him.” Lily bit her lip, embarrassed as she remembered her brother warning her about this particular rather… colorful…co-worker. “Um…why do they call him ‘Saint’?”

“I’m afraid to ask. He’s a bit of a rowdy.” She picked up a neatly split log quarter and set it atop the growing fire. “And Lights The Storm Peltier.”

“I reckon he’s an Indian, then, with a name like that?” Lily smiled.

Fiona got up, wiping her hands on her apron. “He’s half Crow. But you’ll get to meet them all today. The only one who’s out on a run right now is your brother.”

Lily’s nervousness returned in a renewed rush. She felt her face flush and heat began to burn behind her ears. Fiona gave her a comforting one-armed squeeze. “Oh, don’t be shy, they’ll love you.”

“I just want to make a good first impression. Maybe I ought to go brush my hair....”

The door opened. Lily jumped. A sweet-faced young man with short, dark brown hair and spectacles stood in the doorway, shouldering a bundle of firewood. “Good morning, ladies.” He smiled amiably. “Wanted to make sure the woodbin was full. I know you don’t like it when it gets empty. I guess we like it even less, considering it means we don’t eat.” He chattered in a breathy, endearing babble. “Ma’am.” He nodded at Lily before loading the bundle into the woodbin, placing the considerable overflow on the floor nearby.

“Well, thank you, Tommy, but Storm filled that up last night after supper as I was tidying up. This is Lily McMillain; she’s taken the other housekeeping job. Lily, this is Tommy Page.”

His hands now free, Tommy pulled his brown hat from his head and held it in front of him. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am, I hope you enjoy working here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Page.” Lily forced herself to meet the youth’s direct, snapping gaze. He had an engaging smile and a boyish face she found comforting. She smiled, relaxing a little.

“Tommy,” Fiona said, a knowing look on her face. “Breakfast isn’t ready. You’re a little early, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I understand. I was just making sure you had enough wood. I’ll be out in the barn. If you will be so good as to....”

Fiona finished for him. “Yell when we have coffee.”

“Yell...yes, Ma’am.” He nodded sheepishly at Lily, putting his hat back on. “Ma’am.”

“Mr. Page.”

They watched as Tommy sauntered out the door. Lily’s nervousness had partially turned to relieved excitement. Maybe this won’t be so hard after all.

“Uh huh.” Fiona shook her head when he was gone. “Well, that was transparent.”

“What?” Lily frowned, puzzled.

“Oh, nothing.” Here, let’s get the coffee going, shall we? I have a feeling we won’t be running out of wood for a while.” She deftly dumped a scoop of beans into the top of a hand-grinder and gave the crank a number of firm turns. A rich, roasted aroma filled the kitchen as she removed the drawer from the bottom and dumped the contents into the basket of a white-enameled tin percolator. “It’s the gent’s job to keep that woodbin filled. And I don’t nag them -if they want to eat, then they ought not have to be reminded.”

“Do they forget?”

“Well,” Fiona placed the percolator onto the now-warming stove and wiped the stray grounds of coffee from the worktable. “They have, but Storm often brings a load in during the evenings while I’m cleaning up. You watch, though. By tonight, we’ll be stacking the stuff on the porch.” She looked up at Lily, her green eyes twinkling with merriment .

“Surely....” Lily said nervously. “they’re not coming by here to get a look at.....well....”

Fiona tilted back her head and laughed. “Oh, Lily, don’t be so bashful, love! Of course they’re coming to get a look at you! Remember, you’ll be with these oafs day in and day out. You’ll get un-shy soon enough.”

“What if they don’t like me? Lily said, as she hefted a huge iron frying pan off the wall and set it onto the stovetop. She spooned a bit of lard into the pan and smeared it around.

“Don’t be silly. Tommy likes you. And I know Luis does.”

The lard in the pan had begun to hiss. Lily started cracking eggs against the edge of the pan and dropping their contents inside. “Really...?”

The door opened. Lily’s head jerked around, expecting Tommy again… A wiry man with a tousled shock of a deep auburn hair clomped into the kitchen, hefting an armload of firewood. “G’mornin’ to ya, lasses.” He quipped with a Mullingar-laced lilt. He started to dump the wood into the woodbin and stopped. “Whoa, this is already spilling over.”

Fiona stifled a laugh. “Just put it on the floor and come over here and meet Miss Lily.”

Wash carefully let the wood spill out of his arms into a pile beside the woodbin. He stood up and wiped his hands on the back of his trousers, then pulled off his hat. “Ah, you know, that’s really why I’m here!” He admitted cheerfully.

“I know.” Fiona chirped. “Miss Lily McMillain, this is Mr. George Washington Monahan.”

Lily met the man’s vivid blue eyes. “Mr. Monahan.”

“Oh, call me Wash, Miss, everyone does.” He grinned. “I’ve heard a lot about you! You’re brother’s glad you’ve come to work here, and I know the rest’ve us are, too.”

The Irishman’s warmth was like sunshine on chilly skin. Lily’s felt the remains of her anxiety melting away. “I’m so glad to meet you. I know I’ll like it here.”

“Well, good. Then you’ll stay, eh?” His eyes strayed towards the percolator. Look, lasses, I dinna suppose....”

“The coffee is on and we shall call you when it’s done.” Fiona chirped.

“Aye, good lass. “I’ll be in the barn.” He headed for the door, replacing his hat.

"I imagine you'll be in good company out there." Fiona quipped.

“Eh?” The jaunty Irishman turned around and cocked an eyebrow.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Wash.” Lily nodded quickly, dismissing him before Fiona could make any more wisecracks. Although all the attention was embarrassing her, it was hard not to be infected by Fiona’s mirth.

“See?” Fiona giggled. “It’s not so bad, now is it?

Lily smiled, concentrating shyly on the sizzling bacon bubbling in the pan. “No.” She admitted. She was surprised at how excited she was at the idea of what her life might be like now, and relieved that the people here seemed comforting and eager to accept her. She couldn’t wait for the next new person to walk through the door, couldn’t wait to see who else would be part of her new life. Her fear evaporated like the fragrant steam whispering from the top of the percolator.

The door opened with an abrupt jolt. “‘Morning, England. Coffee ready?”

Lily’s head jerked towards the husky, cranky growl that cut through the morning dimness like a stone crashing through a church window on Sunday morning. She felt her insides clutch with fresh nervousness as she viewed it’s source.

A tall, broad-shouldered man barged insolently through the kitchen, opened a cupboard, and removed a cup. A black hat slouched rudely atop his tousled spill of almost-black hair. He shuffled over to the stove and poured some coffee as if he were on his last legs and here was the Elixer of Life.

It was…. Him. The Hell-raiser. The person her brother had warned her about. The person she absolutely didn’t want influencing her, her brother, or her life.

Fiona glared at him. He took a few casually noisy sips off the top, sighed, and then noticed the overflowing woodbin and surplus of wood. A smirk of knowing amusement crossed his face as he started back towards the door.

“Saint. Peter. Bari.” Fiona cut the name into scolding, annoyed bits. “Did you leave your manners in the bunkhouse?”

Saint turned around, sipping his coffee. He glared at Fiona, his eyes dark slits over the rim of the cup, like a feral dog unwilling to relinquish a bone he was chewing.

Oh, dear Lord, don’t stop him, just let him go! Lily’s mind howled as she felt her face beginning to burn. There were things in this world a body just ought not to try to attract the attention of. Standing here drinking coffee was one of them. She watched with dread as her tiny friend stared up at this tall, wolfish man.

“I know Storm didn’t cut all that wood.” Saint muttered. Lily couldn’t place his accent. He wasn’t local, that much was for sure.

Fiona ignored him. “Peter, I want to introduce you to Miss Lily McMillain. Lily, this is Mr. Peter Bari.”

Lily’s mouth went dry as the man turned dark, smoldering eyes upon her and gave her a searching sweep of regard, a slight smile of what she could only imagine was amusement breaking across his roguishly handsome face. “Ma’am.” He touched the brim of his black hat and nodded.

Lily was fairly certain that what amused him was the fact that her heating face was surely turning pink under his unflinching gaze. Unlike the others, this man clearly hadn’t a shy bone in his rangy, well-muscled body, and didn’t care what sort of impression he made. She realized abruptly she was a more than a little afraid of him. And if coffee might improve his mood, she sure didn’t want to interrupt his drinking of it now. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Bari.” She managed. She self-consciously pushed her glasses up onto her nose with a flour-dusted finger.

He nodded, his lips relaxing into a cocky smile beneath a long, slightly crooked nose. A dimple threatened to reveal itself in his right cheek as his face softened. “The pleasure’s mine, Miz McMillain.” The lightly accented growl of his voice curled strangely around his vowels, and hammered his r’s flat. “You can just call me ‘Saint’, if you like. I...well, I ain't much of a morning person.” He turned to go.

“Will you please tell the other gents the coffee’s ready?” Fiona said after him.

“I always do, England.” He said without turning around. Lily could hear his boots clicking across the stone slab outside the door. She felt herself deflate.

Fiona starting setting the table. “The nerve...”

Lily began transferring breakfast from the stove to serving plates. Her face tingled hotly as she wiped her damp palms across her apron. “You cannot convince me that he came in here…”

“He comes barging in here like that every morning.” She said, to Lily’s dismay. “"Not much of a morning person' indeed! The man isn’t human until he’s had his coffee. He’s awful. Uncle Rast is like that. Anyway, they apparently don’t have manners in New Jersey.”

“New Jersey?” Lily was surprised. She had almost thought he was from another country, with his dark, exotic looks and his different accent. “He sure doesn’t strike me as an Easterner.”

“Well.” Fiona poured coffee into the waiting cups. “”He knows his way around, if that’s what you’re asking.”

This tall, pushy …person... is going to come in here every morning and make me feel like…like…a tiny little bug? Lily felt like someone who had just finished off a delicious glass of fresh milk only to find a soggy fly in the bottom. She couldn’t imagine her fireball brother having to share quarters with this person. Do they get into fights? Everyone else is so….well, nice! She considered the masculine span of his shoulders and his height. Her brother was fairly tall, too, but he was gawky, still coltish in his movements. Saint had a kind of fluid gracefulness about him. “He’s kind of…tall… for an express rider, isn’t he?”

“He’s not a rider. He drives the stagecoach. Never lost a cargo. That’s one reason my Uncle doesn’t fire him on the spot. Uncle Rast doesn’t like him at all, I’m sorry to say, but Saint is reliable driver. The man can handle a team of horses.”

Fiona had removed another cup from the cupboard, poured it, and was stirring a third spoonful of sugar into it as Lily removed the biscuits from the oven. Fiona swept one up, deftly buttered it, and stuck some bacon into it before rolling it up into a linen napkin. Lily began to open her mouth to ask, when the door swung open yet again and a strikingly beautiful young man, with Native features and a jet-black braid hanging to his waist, hurried in. Lily’s eyebrows shot skyward in surprise as Fiona pressed the coffee into one brown hand and the wrapped bread into the other.

“Thank you, Fiona.” He said softly, smiling, then regarded Lily. “You’re Miss McMillian.”

“Yes. You’re Mr. Peltier.”

“Yes.” Dimples appeared in his cheeks. “But to you I’m Storm. Sorry, I have to….” He started towards the door, gesturing apologetically.

“I know.” Fiona said, shooing at him to hurry. “Ride safe.”

He gave Fiona a glance as he hurried back out, an enigmatic whisper of a smile playing across his sculpted features.

Lily cocked her head at Fiona, waiting for an explanation for the royal treatment.

“Well…” Fiona explained, gesturing after him. “He never lets the woodbin get empty.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Poker Game (Prequel 1)

This was written some time ago, before I had the current plan for what I wanted to do with this story. It technically is part of the story, it just takes place about a week or two before Chapter 1 and was originally written as a sort of a fun writing exercise. It doesn't really advance the story, just sort of introduces you to some of the characters on a relaxed night at home. It might be fun to read just as a stand alone tale.

George Washington “Wash” Monahan took the worn deck of cards and tapped it deftly on the stained, sticky, and chipped tabletop. The oily smoke from the lamp coiled out of the sooty glass chimney and mixed with the smell of the fireplace, stale cigarette smoke, and sweat. He reached across the table and turned the flame up on the cracked oil lamp that presided over the bunkhouse poker game, then put the deck down in front of Jesse, who tucked a peppermint stick into the side of his mouth like it was a quirly, deftly shuffled and started dealing for the four of them.

“Allright, lad.” Wash said. “About the fight last week. Talk.” The Irishman leaned forward keenly, his blue eyes eager and the fireplace behind him lighting his tousled reddish hair in a devilish halo.

Saint cringed. Couldn’t they just forget about the damn fight? He'd thought it was funny while the excitment was still on him, but in the cold light of day, the thought of it just made Saint feel tired and annoyed.

Wash continued, “We been waitin’ for ya to get back from your run. All ye said before you left was ‘The Yarl boys are busted up good' and then ya left. We ought to give you a clip round the ear for that.”

Tommy spoke up from where he lay on his upper bunk, not looking up from his dime novel. Another lamp, perched on the bare beam over his head, bathed him in a circle of yellow light and reflected on his silver spectacles. “You ought to give him a clip on the ear, anyways. Luis, this book’s really good. I’ll go back and read it to you when you want to hear it.”

“Gracias.” The swarthy teenager quipped, picking up his cards as Jesse dealt them. “I saw that when Jesse brought it in, an’ hoped it was for us. I've been wanting to hear a new book." He peeled four cards out of his hand and pushed them in front of the tall, blond youth who sat across from him.

“Man trades four has an ace at the door.” Jesse muttered in his twangy Nebraska drawl as he deftly dealt out four more cards to the Mexican youth. The peppermint stick shifted to the other side of his mouth. “What, Saint didn’t tell you all about that fight? It’s his story.” He shot Saint a mock-innocent look.

Saint stretched his long legs out under the table, gave Jesse an exasperated glance, and tossed two cards down before picking up the two new ones Jesse pushed towards him. “Isn’t anything to tell. The Yarl boys decided to act like they normally act. They grabbed me, and I made them let go. End of story.”

“My bollocks, end of story.” Wash quipped, laughing. “I dinna think you’ll pass off that sad offering. We know ye better than that.” He arranged his cards in his hand and glanced at them.

Luis frowned briefly into his hand and stuck an unlit quirly between his lips. “Nah, ‘way I heard it, you near tore the front off the Silver Star. Anybody raising?”

Saint snorted dismissively. “It wasn’t like that.” He mumbled, tossing a half-dime onto the table.
Seeing the coin lying on the table, Luis face fell. He watched Wash meet Saint’s bet with another half-dime, and then Jesse hesitate before dropping 5 pennies onto the pile. Everyone was looking at him. He cringed like his guts were being strung out by dogs, then dropped 5 pennies onto the table.

Jesse grinned at him. “What, Luis? Straight flush?”

“Shut up.”

“Okay, well, this is too good. You remember we went down there to deliver that feed order to Thomasin’s, right?” Getting cranked up, Jesse removed the candy from his mouth and gestured with it as he spoke. "Well, it was kinda warm that day, and we worked up a little bit of a sweat loading that stuff into the warehouse out back. So Saint wants to go down to the Silver Star for a couple sarsaparillas.” His blue eyes had lit up with mirth and the long spill of his cornsilk hair gleamed in the lamplight as he became animated with the fun of the tale.

On the bunk behind him, Tommy had dropped his book beside him and sat up, ducking the ceiling beam and dangling his legs over the side, his attention on Jesse’s story.

Saint rolled his eyes and got up to put another log into the fireplace. Sparks flew up the chimney and clung to the thick black soot coating the firebox. Jesse went on. “I wanted to go down to the main store to pick up some peppermint sticks for Lily and me. And also, the penny press book for Tommy. So I went on back with Thomasin, and Saint went on down to the Silver Star.”

Saint sat back down with a slight look of embarrassment on his face and picked his cards back up, trying to ignore the epic as it unfolded.

Jesse chattered on. “So by the time I got down to the saloon, the Yarl brothers had seen Saint go in by hisself and I reckon thought they might have a little fun.”

“Well, You know those two stupid apes have it in for us. I guess they figured getting one of us alone was about their only chance of having the upper hand.” Saint muttered.

Luis spoke up. “Raise.” He tossed a dime onto the pile.

“Huh?” Wash jerked his head back and glanced at Luis like one would a fly buzzing around one’s ear. “Oh, yeah, here.” Another coin clinked to the sticky surface of the table.

Jesse absently tossed a dime into the pile, and continued with his tale. “Yeah, you know some fun was had.” He laughed. “They stood behind him at the bar, calling him an Injun lover, a Yankee, and an Eye-talian bastard and all. You know, the usual.”

“Well, “ Luis quipped. “‘The usual’ mostly means Storm ends up in jail. This time it wasn’t Storm in the fight, and this time none of us spent the night in jail. So this ain’t so usual.”

“S’anyhow, by the time I get over there, one of ‘em’s got Saint by the front of the shirt. Saint don’t even blink. Hell, he don’t even spill his sarsaparilla. It was like the Yarl boy was asleep or something, Saint just put down his drink with one hand, pulled off his hat with the other, and slammed his head into Rob Yarl’s face. That ol’ boy let go a him and fell back like somebody’d shot him. I mean it was beautiful. He fell fat ass first into a table, busted it in half, and laid on the floor holdin’ his nose, which by now looked like a stomped-on rotten tomato.

Wash’s eyebrows went up and he looked at Saint with admiring approval. “Rob Yarl weighs eighteen stone if he weighs an pint, lad.”

Saint shrugged and held up his hands. “He might be bigger, but he isn’t faster. Really, you guys, it wasn’t any big....”

“Oh, it ain’t even got good yet.” Jesse bit off the end of his stick and crunched for a moment, then pointed the bitten end at Saint and grinned. “So Saint turns around to give some to the other one and damned if Levi Yarl ain’t gone and pulled a big knife on him.”

Luis mouth dropped open and Wash’s eyes got huge. Concern shoved the mirth right off the Irishman's face. “Aw, now, lads, that ain’t something to jest over. Ye could’ve gotten yourself killed!”

“Well, “Jesse continued, munching noisily around his words, “true. So it’s a good thing Saint was drinking a sarsaparilla. He picked the bottle back up by the neck and cracked it against the bar behind him. Pop flew everywhere. All this so fast you could barely see it happen.”

Wash stared at the younger men. The story, at least for him, had lost a good bit of it’s charm.

Jesse went on obviously, enjoying the memory. “Levi Yarl takes a swing at Saint with the knife, right? Saint sideswipes it, scoops up Yarl’s hand with the busted bottle and slams the whole thing, hand, knife, and bottle into the bar.”

Tommy was leaning out of his bunk so far it was hard to believe he didn’t actually fall out of it. Apparently, the story had taken a turn even he hadn’t seen. The paperback lay untouched on the bunk beside him.

“Yarl screams like somebody’s granny with a mouse up her skirts.” Jesse took another loud crunch of his peppermint stick and chewed a few more times. “So Saint just grabbed him by the shoulders of his shirt and heaved him over the bar.”

Saint smirked. “Hell, he was going that way, anyway.” He watched Luis intently. The kid was the only one who’s attention was still on the game.

“You staying in, Saint?” the boy asked impatiently.

Saint studied him closely for a moment more, smiled, and then closed the fan of cards in his hand, placing it face down. “Nope.”

Luis’s eyes narrowed in annoyance and he tossed another half-dime down.

Jesse didn’t even seem to be aware that his own fingers were tossing a series of pennies into the pile as he continued with his tale-spinning. Luis elbowed Wash, who fumbled to drop another half-dime onto the growing heap, his eyes never leaving Saint and Jesse.

“I wouldna tell Lynch you were in a knife-fight, lad.” Wash said grimly. “Where was Jack while all this was goin’ on?”

Tommy piped up, “And Jack is....?”

“The bartender.” Four voices offered in unison.

“Well, “ Jesse said, popping the last of his candy into his mouth, “At that point, Jack had reached under the bar, gotten out the shotgun, and was on his way over. “

“Mainly to make sure neither of those two fools was getting up for more.” Saint commented. “He hates those guys.”

“So he wasn’t mad?” Luis asked.

“Not really. Not at me, anyway. But he did say he was going to make Rob Yarl pay for the table since it was his ass that broke it.”

Luis, sensing the spell was about to be broken, fidgeted nervously. He knew the guys would never have laid down the kind of coin they had in the pot if they hadn’t been distracted. “Anybody raising?”

Jesse and Wash snapped their attention back to the here and now. Wash took in the expectant look on Luis’ face. He studied Saint,who was leaning back in his chair with a smug look on his face, arms crossed and his cards face down before him. He looked at the pile of coins, many of which were his, in the center of the table.

“Call.” Luis quipped happily, revealing three aces. Jesse sat staring, stunned.

Wash fanned out his extremely hopeless hand in front of him. “Dammit.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Monday, September 8, 2008

Chapter 3: Reconnaissance

Lights the Storm Peltier steered Luis Santana into the bunkhouse by the shoulders and pushed him firmly down onto the split-log bench by the firebox. He then walked over to the table and sat down across from Saint, who happily helped him stare down the scruffy, waif-like teenager. He was careful not to put his elbows into the semi-permanent gooey patina of coffee rings, sorghum, and tobacco ash that coated its surface.

“Alright, Little Brother, it looks like I’ll get no sleep tonight until you tell us what she looks like.” He said. “Talk.”

“What?” Luis asked innocently. He studied his fingernails, feigning disinterest. Saint couldn’t help but smirk. It was a rare thing when his bunkmates were actually hanging on Luis’ every word and he could tell the boy wanted to savor the moment. He knew Luis liked having them at his mercy. This might be interesting after all. If the little punk played this right, he might have Tommy and Wash begging.

Saint’s dark eyes went to the table’s nasty surface, studying the lonely playing card that lay face down in front of him, a relic from the poker game they played three nights ago. He prodded it with his fingernail, intending to turn it over. It stuck to the table as if painted on. Maybe a new housekeeper around here might be a good thing…

“C’mon, Luis.” Lights The Storm prompted. “The new housekeeper.”

Luis scuffed a boot across the floor timbers, pounding a nickel-sized crumb of limp bread into the wood grain. “I dunno…”

Storm, looking at Luis in weary disgust, held an open palm out to Saint. Saint dropped a freshly rolled quirly into it and Storm tossed it to the stalling youth. Luis plucked it deftly out of the air and stuck it unlit between his lips.

“Hookay.” Luis said, drawing out the moment.

“Wait, wait!” Tommy interrupted him. “I wanna make a bet she’s blonde. Double duty chopping firewood. Any takers?”

Wash eyed him, thinking. “Much as I hate to say it, that’s the smart bet, lads. She likely looks like Jesse. Pass.”

Saint scowled. “Would you two shut up and let him talk?”

“Well, Wash, you missed a chance.” Luis held out his quirly for Saint to light. “She ain’t blonde. She’s got kinda light brown hair. Wears little spectacles like a schoolmarm or something. An’ she looks about Fiona’s age….”

“Fiona’s what? 19? 18?” Wash wrinkled his brow.

“She’s 19.” Storm said. “Quick, eyes, height, whatever. I want to go to sleep.”

“Lessee, don’ rush me. This is important stuff. “I think her hair’s kinda long, she had it piled on top of her head an’ it was comin’ out in little frizzies. Has light gray eyes. Looks like she’s been on the road some, an’ her face is a little red from the sun. She’s about as tall as….” Luis drew himself up to his diminutive height and gestured a couple of inches over his head. “This. About like Tommy. She’s a little skinny, but she carried them bags into the house before I got to her, so she must be strong enough. She’s sweet lookin’. Got a soft voice, too. I liked that.”

Wash smiled and started back with his boots. “I like her all ready.”

“Yeah,” Luis continued, puffing happily. “And she says she can cook, too. S’anyways, Fiona was buzzin’ around the know how she does...all excited that Miz Lily had showed up, and guess what she just had to do?”

Saint picked up his dog-eared novel and stuck his eyes back into it. “She made tea.”

“She made tea!” Luis quipped. “How’dja guess that, Saint?”

“I’m a damn genius.”

“You know if the world ended Fiona would have to have tea about it. She’s fussing around and I walk in and she says to me, in that proper Brit accent of hers, ‘Oh, good, Luis, here’s a cookie, love, please wait here till Miz Lily is ready to send her bags up.’ So Fiona’s already talkin’ about sending Miz Lily’s stuff up before Lynch even knows the girl’s on the property. Then she goes out and I’m guessing she went to Lynch’s office to tell him he had a new hire or else. You know how Miz Fiona’s been complaining there ain’t no girls out here to be friends with.”

“Isn’t that the truth.” Tommy said, leaning back down onto his bunk and settling his head comfortably into the rag-stuffed ticking pillow. “There aren’t enough girls around here by half. She wears glasses, huh? ” He mused happily. “We have something in common already. I would be so perfect if she had some really great…”

“Tommy,” Storm interrupted him in a warning tone, “You say something disrespectful about Jesse’s sister, and I’ll have to thrash you on his behalf. Watch your mouth.”

“Books, Storm! I was gonna say ‘books!’” You’re the one with the dirty mind! “

“I wish you coulda seen it.” Luis went on, warmed up to his subject. “He sat down across from her at the table, and gave her that look, you know, the one where he makes you feel like he can see right through ya and don’ like what he sees on the other side.”

Saint snorted derisively and with his free hand, continued to pick absently at the playing card that was fused to the table. “Bet that scared the hell out her, him with that naked skull and that beaky nose. He looks like some sort of deranged buzzard staring down something that ain’t quite dead yet.”

Wash laughed out loud, dropping his boots to the floor and wiping the grease from his fingers with a rag. “Oh, don’t ya know it. Talk about coming face to face with Grim Death....”

Luis took another drag on his quirly. “So anyways, Lynch looks her over, and there she’s sitting, just sweating bullets, right? He’s got this trapped, glassy look in his eyes, like he’s having some sort of conversation in his head that he’s losin’. Finally, he just sighs and goes ‘So, Miz McMillain.....a lot of cussin’ bother you?’”

Luis paused, correctly anticipating the gales of laughter broke out in the bunkhouse.
“You jerkin' me?.” Saint looked up from his book and stared at Luis, a grin of amazement stretching his face. “He really asked her that? You’re pulling our legs....”

“Nope. I swear. He asked her that.” Luis waited for the last bit of the bunkhouse chortling to die down before going on.

“So then she says, ‘Well, no sir, but it says right here on the contract there ain’t no swearing, drinking, or fighting allowed, so surely that doesn’t happen here.”

Again the bunkhouse exploded with howls. Luis took the opportunity to enjoy a couple of uninterrupted drags on his quirly. Gradually the snickers and snorts became a few isolated giggles, as Saint waved everyone into silence. Even Storm was listening, a dimple giving up its hiding place on his brown cheek. Luis raised his hand, as if swearing in at a trial.

“Okay, so Lynch hears that and he just stares at her like maybe he didn’t hear her right, and then finally he says ‘Oh, that’s right. My employees don’t do any of those things, swearing especially. What was I thinking?’ At that point, the room got so quiet that the only noise was me eating my cookie…so I stopped. That’s when Lynch turned to me and asked me to take her bags upstairs, so I’m guessing she was hired.”

“That was it?” Tommy raised an eyebrow. “‘Does a lot of cursing bother you?’ That was all he asked her?”

“Well, what else was he gonna ask her?” Saint smirked, abandoning the card and roaching back the tousled strands of hair that fell over his eyes. “Can you imagine him telling Fiona he wasn’t going to hire her? I’m surprised he even bothered to meet her first.”

Tommy frowned. “So, how come her last name’s McMillain?

Saint shrugged. “Jesse told me the two of them have different fathers.”

Lights The Storm gave a sigh of finality. “Great. Thanks, Little Brother. I’m sure we are all satisfied now. Everyone ready to shut up and let me go to sleep?” He stripped his pants back off and collapsed onto his bunk. “Good night, guys.” He said firmly.

Luis tossed the butt of the cigarette onto the rough timbers of the floor and ground it out under his bootheel. He got up and walked quietly to his bunk, pulling off his shirt as he went.

Saint blew out the lamp on the table and flopped down on his bed.

In the lamp, a small bit of wick flickered with a few vestiges of flame, rebelling against the walls of night that surrounded it. Swirling around in the smoke, it bounced against the glass of the lamp, refusing to accept its fate. Silent seconds ticked away until finally all of the burning embers had surrendered to the deep blackness of the bunkhouse.

Saint cringed as Tommy’s voice cut through the quiet darkness. “So, do you think she likes younger men?” He quipped. “I can’t wait till breakfast.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chapter 2: Spring

Lily McMillian sat down carefully onto the blue quilted coverlet on the bed, almost afraid to touch anything. A handful of fragrant crocus, freshly picked by her new friend and co-worker, Fiona, wafted a welcoming scent through the crisp new bedroom from their vase on the little writing desk. A whippoorwill called from somewhere near the river, it’s voice sweet on the night air outside the window.

So this was to be her room. This was to be her new life. It made her a little sad that her brother Jesse had to be off on a mail run the evening of her arrival, but at least he would be able to maybe find out about the deed while he was gone. Knowing he was coming back, and that his things were just outside in the bunkhouse, had made the huge weight she had borne for months lift itself from her narrow shoulders.

She sighed, and walked over to the window, looking out over the neat yard from her view on the second floor, and gazed down the worn, dusty road she expected her brother to return by, and hopefully soon.

She sat down at the writing desk and pulled the lamp over closer as she turned the worn paper over in her work-callused fingers. She’d been carrying this old, dog-eared thing with her for years. A deed to a piece of land I’ve never even seen, that someone I never met gave to Uncle Chet to pay off a poker debt.

He’d said the land wasn’t worth much. Just some played-out, used up stake. But someday, he’d said, maybe she could build a little house on it if she wanted. So three years ago, he’d given it to her for her 16th birthday, apologizing because he didn’t have anything better to give her.

When she thought of Uncle Chet, the year-old loss of him hit her like a pang. He was her strength and her salvation after her father’s death, and they had been friends as well as family. Her world had seemed to stop in it’s tracks when her father died, and then it had seemed to shatter when he died many years later, succumbing to a lifetime of drink, cards, and hell-raising. The experience of coming home to find him dead amidst a ransacked house was something she’d carry to her grave. She’d had enough. She’d hoped for years Jesse and she could get a fresh start, away from that lifestyle. If Jesse were to get caught up in that, she doubted she’d survive the inevitable blow. He was all she had left. All that mattered, anyway.

She moved to put the lamp out, stopped, and then instead placed it carefully near the window. Ride safe, Jesse.

© 2008 Regina Shelley

Monday, September 1, 2008

Story Background

Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company runs a stagecoach line connecting Missouri to Utah. In 1860, the company hires a team of riders to man the new Pony Express mail running from Saint Joseph to Sacramento.

In a stationhouse in the east end of the Nebraska territory, life's about to get a whole lot more interesting.


So, when I finally get fired from my job for, you know, not working, someone's gonna ask me what all this is about. They're gonna say, "geeze, you couldn't just write this stuff out and send it off to some romance publisher like normal people do?"

I've thought about it. Nah. Nothing about that process appeals to me. Besides, while I've learned all about romance stories and how to write them, I'd like to try something a little different with the story flow. I'd like my stories to branch out more, to be a bit more adventuresome and sprawling.

I just want to tell stories. I have all these people crowded into my head, all these stories. I just want to let them breathe, let them feel a little wind in their hair. And if anyone else decides to come along for the ride, then that's awesome, too.

Hold on tight, my boys ride fast.

Chapter 1: Welcome to Green River Station

Howdy! If you are a new reader and just joining us, I have migrated most of this story over to Wattpad. Now that the book series is published (Book 3 is in the pre-release stages right now, so it will be out by the end of this summer (2016), sending traffic over to Wattpad is making it easier for me to reach current and potential readers. 

I absolutely can still be reached on this site. All comments go straight into my inbox, and I will still be responding to them. 

I will be removing parts of the story from this site, as earlier announced. Again, I really would like to encourage traffic over on Wattpad. The artwork, extras, fan contributions, etc. will remain here. 


Nobody knew what she looked like, but they all had opinions. And Saint had been hearing them, over and over, for the better part of the evening. Blathering on like idiots about the newly hired housekeeper. He ignored them as best he could, turned up the lantern wick, and tried to read his threadbare hardback. No use. The chattering voices flying around the warm dimness of the bunkhouse buffeted his concentration like a dust devil kicking up in his face.

Saint sighed and shook his head, half in amusement and half in exasperation. He genuinely liked the men and boys he shared the bunkhouse with, but he had to admit to himself a little peace and quiet would have been nice on occasion. Since the Company had hired a bunch of very young men to man the brand new Pony Express mail service, the bunkhouse had gotten a bit more crowded and a lot more noisy. With the new additions, Saint and Wash were the oldest men the bunkhouse now. Still, sharing quarters with a pack of youthful, noisy mates was not anything new to him- coming from a large family, he had quite a few siblings back east.

“She even has a pretty name. Lily. I bet she’s blonde.” Tommy offered wistfully. The young, brown-haired Pony Express rider lay staring dreamily into the dim shadows above his bunk, no doubt seeing some statuesque Nordic goddess hovering in the rough-hewn rafters. “Jesse’s blond, and she’s his sister, you know. I bet she has hair like his. Only clean.”

“Nah.” Wash snorted in his light Irish lilt, sitting on the edge of the bunk beneath Tommy’s, and rubbing grease into the seams of his worn work boots. “Nah, she ain’t blonde. I’m bettin’ she’s got black hair, dark, like secrets and magic. And bonny blue eyes.” He held up his hands, one with the greasy rag in it and the other wearing the boot and outlined the dream girl’s form in the air with exaggerated curves.

Tommy smiled happily. “Well, I don’t really care, long as she can cook…”

Lights-the-Storm Peltier rolled over in his bunk and stared across at Tommy, his black eyes popping open in an exasperated snap. His long fall of blue-black hair draped across his face like a shroud, and he apparently didn’t see fit to brush it aside. “That’s the first intelligent thing either of you’ve said all night.” He mumbled through it’s sheltering darkness. “Will you two shut up already?”

“Ha.” Tommy’s hazel eyes gleamed with merriment at his bunkmate. “Listen to you. You aren’t fooling anybody. You’re just as curious as the rest of us. Admit it.”

Lights-the-Storm’s direct gaze and sharp cheekbones gave him an air of seriousness and authority that the younger riders respected…usually. Tonight, however, his eyes were dulled with exhaustion and annoyance. He glared at Tommy, clearly wishing the boy would go to sleep.
“Go on. You’ll feel a lot better.” Tommy dug.

“Go to sleep.” Lights-the-Storm shushed him, closing his eyes. “We have work tomorrow.” He blew out his candle and fell silent. Saint hoped the rest of the riders would follow suit.

“So. Saint Peter.” Tommy continued, ignoring Peltier and focusing his attention where it was nearly as unwelcome.

Saint sighed, dragged into the conversation against his will. Tommy is a lot like a cat, he thought silently. Always wanting to sit in the lap of the least willing person available. He reluctantly peered over the top of his book and fixed the young express rider with what he hoped was a dark, forboding glare.

The boy continued, obliviously, “What do you think she’s like?”

Well, so much for that tactic. The rangy stagecoach driver blinked his eyes before tucking them firmly back into his book.

“C’mon, Saint. Aren’t you Eye-talians supposed to be experts on women and such?”

“Hell, Tommy, I don’t know.” He finally growled, his northeastern accent curling heavily around his words. “I hear she’s got six nipples. Alright? And teeth under her skirts. How ‘bout that?”

Lights-the-Storm snorted in disgust. “Oh, that’s a hell of a thing to say.”

Wash put down his boot and picked up the other one. “Miss Lily McMillain might as well have teeth under her skirts, eh, lad?” He laughed. “The lot of you should’ve heard the threats and oaths Jesse warned Saint with before he went on his mail run. ‘Don’t mess with my sister. I’ll kill ya if ya mess with my sister.’ It was almost funny, it was.”

“He sounded like Old Man Lynch warning us off Fiona.” Saint smirked, remembering his boss’s tirade. “First day on the job, we have to hear the boss going on and on with ‘ My niece is the housekeeper here and I’ll kill the first one of you sumbitches that messes with her. Blah blah blah. Geez, you’d think we were in the House of the Vestal Virgins or something.”

“It would be great if she was about Fiona’s age, too...” Tommy mused, ignoring him. “Or even younger! What if she was my age?”

“I am up before dawn tomorrow.” Storm snapped, swinging his legs down out of his bunk and dragging a pair of pants after him. “I am just going to ask Luis, alright? He was here when she showed up. He needs to turn in anyway, and maybe then you’ll all shut up and let me sleep.”
He shrugged into his trousers and shuffled out the door, muttering.

© 2008 Regina Shelley