Welcome to the serial western, The Last Chance. I have some stories in the vault that I will not publish but wanted to share them. I rarely write westerns but I love them, so this was my first. I will be posting the story in segments over the next few weeks. This is Part Three but the story so far is on the Coastal Library tab. I hope you enjoy!
The Last Chance
Wade McCord left his past behind and wandered westward, looking for a fresh start. A stopover in Wickenberg, AZ brought him face to face with an evil land baron and a beautiful woman who was in mortal danger. Was this McCord’s last chance to find his destiny?
McCord awoke, slowly
opening his eyes. Lacy curtains framing the window stirred in the early-morning
breeze casting patterns of pale light across the room. Last night, he had
quickly stripped off his clothes and collapsed into bed, falling asleep at
once. Stretching, he savored the feel of the cotton sheets against his bare
skin. He never slept in the nude on the trail, and he was enjoying the
What he wasn’t enjoying was the pain in his right side. He pulled down the covers to find an enormous bruise just above his hipbone, no doubt from the big man, Bobby’s fist. He rolled slightly to his left, covered himself with the sheet and quilt, falling asleep again.
When McCord awoke the second time, bright sunlight flooded his room. He sat up, reaching for his pocket watch lying on the bedside table, surprised to see it was a bit after nine in the morning. Sinking into the feather pillows, he debated on whether to get up or stay in bed all day. Eventually, he convinced himself that he needed coffee and food, and got out of bed, dressing quickly.
As he reached the bottom
of the stairs, he spotted Maddie leaving the dining room. “Still serving
coffee and breakfast, or is it too late?”
“No, there’s food
left on the sideboard, and cookie just
made another pot of coffee,” she grinned, “for sleepyheads like
you.” She was carrying a newspaper, which she handed to him. “Here.
Stagecoach from Tucson brought papers from back east.”
He headed for the
sideboard, where he helped himself to biscuits, saltback, and coffee, then sat
at a table beside a front window. He was reading the weeks-old news from the
St. Louis paper when Doctor Stewart sank into the chair across from him, coffee
“Morning, Wade. Sleep well?”
“Yes, I did. Long time since I’ve slept that many hours and in a soft bed.”
“Aye, sleeping in a
soft bed is a good thing. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, sore,
but nothing I haven’t dealt with before. How’s Jennifer this morning?”
Stewart shook his head.
“That little lassie is tough. I think she’s shaken, but you wouldn’t know
it. Marik’s done a good job helping her grow up considering the background she
had. She’s smart, and she takes a lot of what happens to her in stride.”
“I thought I heard
last night that she’s studying with Logan’s wife?”
“You heard right,
there was no teacher when she was little, but Marik taught her to read and
count. She’s over twenty now and was too
embarrassed to go to school, so Laura’s been teaching her at night.”
“The Logan’s seem like
“There are a lot of
good folks in Wickenburg, Wade. You ought to think about staying.”
McCord didn’t speak
while he pondered the doctor’s comment. “Yeah, been thinking about
settling somewhere, Doc. Just don’t know if Wickenburg is the place.”
Stewart finished off his
coffee. “I can see you’re thinking about it, laddie. You might be
surprised if you looked hard enough that this is the place for you.” He
stood up. “I need to get back to the surgery. You let me know if you need
anything. I’ll take a look at that cut on your face later and change that
breakfast while he pondered Stewart’s words. He found himself thinking about
staying in Wickenburg but wondered if his
desire to stay had anything to do with the lovely Emeline Spencer. Standing up,
he put on his hat, deciding he was going to have to find out.
First, McCord visited
the barbershop to have his scraggly beard shaved. The barber, Walter, was a
small man with round, wire-rimmed glasses, and he liked to talk. Waving McCord
into the shop, Walter motioned for him to sit in the barber’s chair.
“Well, now Mr.
McCord, oh… in case you’re wondering, I know your name ‘cause Howard told me
all about you. First, I’m gonna trim most of this hair off, and then I’ll give
you a good shave, but I’ll be careful about that wound. Doc Stewart will get
angry if I hurt you worse.”
As he trimmed McCord’s
beard, he rattled on about Doc Stewart and Howard. How long they’d been in
town, what a good healer Doc Stewart was, how Howard had made a lot of money
from the mercantile. He talked about Marik’s arrival, years before, having
bought the saloon sight unseen. Then he told
McCord about Logan coming from back east where he’d been a policeman but
deciding that he wanted to live in the west. Walter said the town was a lot
safer after Logan arrived.
Assuming that barbers
usually know all the gossip, he decided to ask about Emeline Spencer.
“Walter, what do you know about Anton LeMonde and his granddaughter?”
Walter smiled. “Ah.
Anton LeMonde, what a head of hair he had, still dark and thick even at his
age, only a bit of gray. He was a good man, came in for a shave, and cut about
once a month, and he always brought me a cigar. I don’t like cigars, but I
smoked it anyway. It was a shame when he died, everyone thinks that Mr.
Grainger had him killed, but I don’t know.”
At Walter’s use of
mister to refer to Grainger, the only one in town who had called him that,
McCord was curious. “You know Grainger well?”
Walter pulled two
steaming towels from a covered metal pot sitting on a wood stove, draping them
around McCord’s face, careful of his wound. “Mr. Grainger comes in real
regular, likes to keep his hair just so, and I shave him a couple of times a
week. He tips well. Now relax while I sharpen this razor.”
After listening to the
slap of the razor against the leather strop for a couple of minutes, McCord
mumbled from under the towel. “What about LeMonde’s granddaughter?”
Walter pulled the towels
away from McCord’s face and began to spread lather across his cheeks and chin.
“Miss Spencer sure is a beautiful woman. She arrived in town the day after
her grandfather died. It was real sad.
Mister Grainger offered to buy The Last Chance from her, but she wouldn’t sell,
said she’s going to run the ranch the way her grandfather wanted. Now don’t
talk, Mr. McCord, I need to concentrate shaving you around that cut.”
McCord waited until
Walter finished shaving the left side of his face to ask his next question.
“Where’s The Last Chance located?”
“West of town on
Main Street, then take the road to the right about a half-mile out of town, the
ranch is about a mile down that road.”
“About two miles
down the main road, past where you to go to Miss Spencer’s place, Mr.
Grainger’s ranch is a bit further from the river. Now, when I’m done here, how
’bout a haircut, looks like you could use one.”
“Yeah, a little
trim couldn’t hurt.”
Thirty minutes later,
McCord stepped onto the boardwalk, clean-shaven and chuckling. Walter, as most
barbers did, had become quite frustrated by the cowlicks in his hair. He’d
dealt with them all his life, but his messy, spiky hair made barbers crazy.
Walter suggested he wear a hat at all times, not like he hadn’t heard that
before. He stepped onto the dusty street, put on his Stetson, and headed for
Pegasus pawed at the
ground, throwing up straw. McCord patted
his velvety nose, “Told you I was going to take you out, no need to be
Nick helped him put the
harness and saddle on the big stallion, who continued to display his annoyance.
McCord filled his canteen with water from the well outside of the livery,
mounted Pegasus, and rode west out of town.
Free from the confines
of his stable, Pegasus was at full gallop
before they passed the last building at the edge of town. McCord felt his pulse
begin to pound. He had ridden toward Emeline Spencer’s ranch on purpose, but he
was starting to worry about what he would say if he saw her.
At the pace Pegasus was
galloping, they reached the turn leading to The Last Chance quickly. He curbed
him to a trot as he turned onto the narrower lane. The stallion whinnied
noisily in protest. McCord leaned over, whispering in the horse’s ear. “I
know the boy. I’ll let you run as fast as you want on the way back.”
Tall trees, in early
spring leaf, lined the lane, parting only where a well-worn path led to the
river, McCord suspected. Rounding a bend in the lane,
McCord slowed their pace to a leisurely walk. The tree line fanned out around
an enormous open field, a fence following the tree line as far as he could see.
Over the narrow road, a wooden archway marked the gate, iron letters spelling
‘The Last Chance’ fastened across the top of the arch.
McCord expected the farm
to be rustic, but there was nothing rustic
about the two-story farmhouse sitting on a small rise. The house had a
decidedly New Orleans ambiance. A large veranda wrapped around the front and
sides, a balcony along the second floor, ornate black wrought iron enclosing
both. He wondered which of the mature pine and oak trees framing the house
Granger hanged LeMonde.
A large bunkhouse sat north of the house, an enormous horse barn, cupola capping the roof beside it, and to the south, a smaller barn. From his vantage point, tucked in the tree line, he could see at least two paddocks where several Appaloosas, Paints, and Quarter horses were grazing. The small wagon that Emeline and Chuck had ridden into town was sitting to the side of the house.
At some point, McCord
realized he was holding his breath. Even Pegasus seemed to sense that he wanted
silence. He wasn’t conscious of how long he stood hidden in the trees,
wondering what the lovely Emeline was doing at that moment. He muttered, “You’re being an idiot, McCord. Good way to scare the lady off if she finds you
spying on her.”
He tugged on Pegasus’s lead, and they headed toward the main road. Once around the bend, he lightly tapped the big horse’s sides with his spurs. Within seconds, they were racing down the lane.
Back in Wickenburg, he
returned Pegasus to his stall and requested Nick give the horse a good rub down
along with extra oats. McCord decided it was time for his helping of oats, and
he headed for the hotel. Howard and Doc Stewart were already in the dining room
having lunch and waved him over.
Stewart pointed to him.
“Barely recognized you laddie without that beard.”
McCord sat down, rubbing
his chin. “Feels a bit funny to me, been a while since I’ve had a
shave.” He peered at their plates. “That looks good.”
Preening, Stewart pointed
to his plate. “I gave Maddie me mum’s recipe for pot pie, and once a week, cookie makes them for me. Always a surprise as to what meat he
uses, but today it is chicken.”
McCord was looking
around for the waitress when Maddie appeared, holding a pot pie and a cup of coffee.
Smiling, she placed the food in front of him. “I had a feeling you’d be
wanting one of these.”
McCord dug in, then raising his eyebrow approvingly. “This is good,
Between bites, Martin
questioned him. “What have you done this morning besides getting a
McCord didn’t want to
talk about riding to The Last Chance, so he didn’t mention it. “Took my
horse out for a run this morning, got almost to Grainger’s ranch, but I turned
Martin mumbled, having
taken a large bite of pot pie. “Your horse, that big black one in the
livery?” McCord nodded, and he continued. “What kind of horse is
“His name’s Pegasus,
and he’s a Friesian.”
surprised. “Those horses are from The Netherlands. How did you end up with
McCord spun his coffee
cup on the tabletop, wondering why it seemed so easy to tell the people in this
town things he never revealed to anyone. “My father was a horseman, a
hobby, but one he took seriously. He brought two Friesians mares from a breeder
in The Netherlands, and one was in foal. Unfortunately, she died giving birth
to him. I happened to home at the time, and I took a fancy to him. One of the
other broodmares suckled him, and when
weaned, I bought him from my father.”
beauty,” Howard mumbled again, a little gravy dripping from his chin.
“I heard that Nick’s been letting kids into the livery to get a peek at
commented. “He does get his share of attention.” He noticed Stewart
watching him. “Doc, what’s on your mind?”
“Nothing, I was
just wondering why you rode west from town to exercise your horse. The east
road is wider and straighter, the west road narrower and curves quite a bit.
Something capture your attention out that
Leaning back, McCord
gazed at the doctor for a few seconds before he answered. “What do you
Stewart started to
speak, but Howard interrupted. “He
means you seemed to like Emeline, and she seemed to like you, so he….”
“Howard, I told you
not to say that to Wade.”
“Well, he looked like
a love-sick puppy when he first saw Emeline, and I told you she looked back at
him with the same look. They like each other.”
“You are a nickey,
Howard Martin. What do you know about the attraction between two people? You
can’t even get up the courage to talk to Jennifer, other than to sputter
nonsense like a schoolboy when you’re
Martin’s chest puffed up
a bit, his face reddening as he glared at Stewart. McCord felt sorry for Martin
and decided, once again, to reveal more of himself. “Doc, Martin’s right.
I won’t deny that Emeline Spencer is very
beautiful and quite intriguing.”
“See, I told you,
Duncan.” Martin crossed his arms demonstratively.
The doctor smirked at
Martin, then addressed McCord’s comment. “Emeline is beautiful, and she’s a
fine woman, Wade. You could do worse.”
McCord took a bite of
his pot pie before he answered. “Playing matchmaker doesn’t become you,
“Aye, laddie, a
matchmaker I am not, but we know Emeline, which gives us an advantage. Trust me.
She needs you.”
McCord’s expression was
dour. “I told you, Doc. I don’t want to be needed.”
“Everyone needs to
be needed.” Stewart offered McCord a faint, knowing smile.
McCord gulped coffee and
changed the subject. “Howard, I’m gonna stop by later, need to stock up on
sputtered. “You expecting trouble?”
“No, just used a
lot of bullets hunting for food the last few weeks, need to replenish my ammo.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to start anything.”
“Oh – okay, I’ll
fix you up,” Martin answered, relief in his voice.
The three men finished lunch and parted company. McCord took a quick
detour to check on Pegasus, then headed for the saloon. He wanted to see how
Jennifer was faring. Entering, he touched his hat with his finger in greeting
to Marik, who was wiping down a table. He
spotted Jennifer sitting with a pretty and pregnant strawberry blond.
Jennifer smiled as he
walked over to them. “Hello, handsome Wade, come meet my teacher, Laura
Laura Logan gazed warmly
with clear blue eyes bright. “We owe you a debt of gratitude for saving
Jennifer from those men. As my husband seems to like you, Mr. McCord, I’ll like
you as well.”
Tipping his hat to the
lovely Mrs. Logan, he answered uncomfortably. “Nothing to thank me for
ma’am, glad I happened by in time.” Noticing the math workbooks on the
table, he decided it was time to leave them alone. “Don’t let me disturb
you. I only wanted to see how Jennifer was today.” He hoped that his surprise
at the schoolmarm being in the saloon wasn’t noticeable.
Laura rose. “We’re
finished with our lesson. Since planting season’s underway, school is out for
the summer. I thought it was better we have our lessons during the day, while
we can,” patting her swollen abdomen, grinning. She appeared to sense
McCord’s surprise at her presence in the saloon. “I suppose you are
surprised to see the town’s schoolteacher in the saloon. I don’t judge people,
and Marik runs a very proper establishment. Besides, my husband is the sheriff,
so I think I’m safe.” She gathered her things. “Jenny, finish your
homework before tomorrow. I’ll see you then — Mr. McCord, nice to meet you. I
hope you’ll stay in Wickenburg for a while. Maybe you can come for dinner sometime?”
“Thanks for the
invitation, Mrs. Logan, I appreciate it. Nice to meet you as well.”
As Laura left the
saloon, Jennifer picked up her papers and linked her arm in McCord’s. “I
didn’t have a chance to thank you.” She smiled sweetly at him. “So,
thanks.” Rising on her tiptoes, she kissed him on the cheek, then ran a
fingertip across his chin. “Um, nice and smooth. Come on. I want you to
teach me to play poker.”
“Because I think you can teach me how to be
cunning and win without cheating.”
“What makes you think I don’t cheat at cards?”
impishly. “Because you want people to think you’re just a drifter without
a care in the world, but I think underneath you care about people. People who
care about people don’t cheat them.”
She spun away from him,
going to the bar to retrieve a deck of cards. As McCord followed her to a table
in the corner, he thought Doc Stewart was right, Marik had raised her well.
They spent the next
three hours playing poker, occasionally only the two of them, sometimes one of
the regulars would sit in on a hand. McCord found Jennifer to be a quick study,
with a sharp mind. They finished the last hand
where she had bluffed McCord and taken the pot, a few pennies.
McCord shuffled the cards.
“You certain that you haven’t played before?”
“No, but I’ve
watched a lot of poker played in
here.” She pointed to a group of miners who had been playing when McCord
arrived in town the day before. “Those boys play nearly every day.”
“Tell me, what is it
you want to do with your life. You seem interested in learning.”
A pensive look crossed
her face. “I don’t want to be known for what my momma did. I want to teach
maybe like Mrs. Logan does, or maybe run
a hotel like Miss Emeline or Miss Maddie.”
“I thought all
young women wanted to marry and have babies.”
She gave McCord a
furtive glance. “I – I don’t think any man in this town would want to
interested in anyone in town, not even a nice shopkeeper?”
“You—you mean— Howard?”
He raised an eyebrow
mischievously. “So, you do know he’s smitten with you.”
that…oh…” Jennifer stammered as she took in McCord’s words.
think…,” McCord stopped as Walter the barber ran into the saloon.
“Anyone seen the
sheriff, there’s trouble at the bank.”
McCord jumped to his
feet. “What kind of trouble, a robbery?”
“No, Grainger and
Miss Emeline, they’re having a huge fight.”
That was all McCord
heard as he exited the saloon at a dead run, his spurs jangling loudly. As soon
as his boots hit the boardwalk, he saw
Grainger and two of his thugs surrounding Emeline and the young man who was
with her the day before in front of the bank. As he got closer, he could hear
“It’s in your best
interest to do what I say, Emeline. It would be so much smarter of you to marry
me and let me take care of The Lucky Chance. Otherwise, you might find running
that ranch a bit difficult.”
“Marry you? I’d sooner marry a horse than marry you. I can take care of
The Last Chance all by myself.” She tried to push her way past him, but
the much larger Grainger grabbed her arm and pulled her close to him.
“You are a little
fool, and if you don’t agree to marry me, you won’t have a ranch to tend to for
much longer.” His voice was menacing, cold, his knuckles turning white as
his grip on her arm tightened.
When Grainger laughed at
her plea, Emeline struck him hard across the face with her free hand. Pure rage
flared on his face. He drew back his hand, intending on returning the slap when
a strong hand grabbed his forearm. The
cold barrel of a Colt Peacemaker pressed against his temple.
“Let her go.”
There was no mistaking
McCord’s tone. His voice was even, low, raspy, and he was deadly serious.
“I said let her go, or you won’t be tending your ranch, Grainger.”
One of Grainger’s two
henchmen was restraining Chuck, the young man who had been with Emeline the day
before. Throwing Chuck to the ground, the man started to rush McCord. Chuck
reacted quickly, throwing his legs out and tripping the man. He wasn’t so lucky
with Grainger’s other thug, who drew his weapon and jumped onto the boardwalk,
shoving his gun into McCord’s back.
“You let him go, or
I’ll kill ya right here.”
McCord spun around,
bending Grainger’s arm behind his back, using Grainger’s bulk to knock the
other man to the boardwalk. He repositioned the gun to Grainger’s neck.
“Now, call your dogs off, and I’ll let you walk away.”
A voice broke through
the low murmuring from the gathered crowd. “Grainger, do what he says, or
I’ll let him do what he wants.” Sheriff Evan Logan stepped up on the
boardwalk. “Eme, do you want me to charge him with assault?”
Emeline was rubbing her
arm, a grimace on her face. “I just want him to leave us alone.”
Logan caught McCord’s
eye, and with a subtle nod, McCord
released Grainger and shoved him away. “I don’t like bullies, you hurt her
again, and I’ll kill you.”
his tan frock coat, his face a mask of rage. “You’ll pay for this.”
McCord glared darkly at
Grainger. “I’m waiting.”
Grainger stalked away
with his men, heading toward the mining office, while Logan’s deputies
disbursed the crowd. McCord stepped off the boardwalk where Emeline was talking
to Chuck. She turned as he approached, as though she sensed him.
“I seem to be
making a habit of thanking you for protecting me.” She was trembling, but
her soft, sultry voice was strong.
Looking into her dark-green eyes, McCord felt his heart pounding. He needed to
keep her safe.
“Glad to be of
service, ma’am.” He looked at Chuck, “You okay?” The young man
nodded, and McCord turned back to Emeline, who was rubbing her arm where
Grainger had grabbed her. “You should have Doc Stewart look at that.”
“I’m all right. I
need to finish my business in the bank, and then Chuck and I can return to the
Stewart had arrived.
“No, lassie, Wade’s right, I need to look at that arm. Now you and Chuck
come with me and let me do my job.” Stewart led them away, McCord watching
McCord realized that
Logan was talking to him. “Sorry, …I…”
Logan chuckled. “I
know, I’m happily married to a beautiful woman, but Emeline…, well.” He
sighed. “You have to realize that you just made an enemy.”
“I might have made
like to be embarrassed.”
“And I don’t like
bullies who get away with it.” McCord glared at Logan, “Why didn’t
you arrest him?”
“I couldn’t since
Emeline wouldn’t press charges. Besides, the criminal judge is on his payroll,
would’ve let him go.”
McCord sighed deeply.
“This is going to escalate, sheriff, so what do we do about it?”
“We… you joining in
“I’m not leaving
here until I know she’s… uh… the town’s safe from Grainger.”
Logan shook his head
knowingly. “That’s what I thought. Wade, you humiliated him in front of
the townsfolk. He’s not going to take that lightly.”
“I know he won’t,
but I fear that he won’t take his anger
out on me.” McCord took off his hat, running his hand through his hair,
“I fear that he’ll go after Emeline
“I’m gonna send a
deputy to the ranch to inform Ramon and Paul what’s gone on here and help keep
watch for Grainger’s men.”
stay in town until we see what Grainger’s going to do.”
Scoffing, Logan crossed
his arms in front of his chest. “Good luck with that, Wade. Emeline has
the same stubborn trait as her grandfather. I doubt she’ll agree to stay in
town while we deal with Grainger.”
“We can try.”
McCord placed his hat on his head. “Want to go with me to Doc
Logan nodded his head,
giving McCord a tight grin. “Might as well, I’d like to watch you try to
convince her to stay in town.”
As the two men entered
Stewart’s surgery, Emeline Spencer’s angry voice greeted them through the exam room’s open door. “Doctor, I am not
going to let Grainger win.”
“Eme, you’ve been
fortunate that nothing bad has happened since you took over the ranch.
Yesterday and today, you were lucky that Wade was nearby, and that you have
only suffered a bruise from today. I fear things are going to get worse.”
“Doc’s right, Eme,
things are going to get worse.”
Logan dropped his voice as he spoke to her.
Emeline was sitting on
the exam table, rolling down the left sleeve of her blue blouse. She turned
toward the voice, finding Logan and McCord standing in the doorway. “I am
well aware that this is going to get worse, but I will not give in to
Grainger’s demands. I just won’t.” Despite her defiance, her expression
McCord stepped into the
room. “No one is asking you to give in, Miss Spencer, but the sheriff is
right, Grainger’s angry, and there is no telling what his next move will
Emeline started to jump
down from the exam table, but McCord intervened and picked her up, putting her on the floor. For a second, she clung to him
before pushing him away and murmuring thanks.
appreciate your concern, but I need to get to the bank, and then we need to
return to the ranch.” She moved to leave, but McCord stepped in front of
“You are in grave
danger, and the sheriff and I think you need to stay in town tonight.”
“No, I’m going
“You should listen to them, lassie.”
Logan smiled. “You
can stay with us. Laura would love to have you.”
going to give birth any day now. She needs to rest and not bothered with company. I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
McCord felt exasperation
building. Just as Logan said, Emeline was not going to listen to reason. He
decided to try another tactic, if he could get her to delay, then he and Logan
would have time to determine how best to keep her in town until they dealt with
Grainger. Her reluctance to release him when he
helped her from the exam table told him she was seeking support, or maybe she
was looking for something else. No, he wouldn’t think about that.
“Miss Spencer, why
don’t you stay in town long enough for Logan to send a deputy along with Chuck
to out to check on things, let your people know that Grainger’s men might try
something. Once there is security in place, Logan and I will take you home in the
gazed at McCord, “I don’t like letting him win, and if I don’t go home,
“No, if something
happens to you, Grainger wins. We are going to keep him from winning and keep
Stewart patted Emeline
on the shoulder. “Listen to Wade, let Logan make certain you have
protection, then you can go home.”
Logan spoke up.
“I’m going to send Dwayne and Clyde out to the ranch with Chuck. They’ll
tell Ramon, Paul, and Julio what’s happened so they can start keeping watch.
Are you certain that you won’t stay with Laura and me?”
“No, besides, if
Grainger tries anything, I don’t want Laura anywhere near me.”
Smiling, Logan replied.
“Laura wouldn’t be worried, but I understand.” He turned toward Wade.
“Would you escort Emeline to the hotel so that she can get a room for the
Sheriff. Miss Spencer, shall we?” He swept an arm toward the door, and she walked out
Emeline insisted on
finishing her banking business, and McCord went with her. She spent close to a
half-hour with Halley, reading then signing several papers. Waiting near one of
the windows looking onto Main Street, McCord was sure he spotted a couple of men who had been nearby when Grainger’s
men accosted Emeline the day before. More of his thugs hanging around convinced
him that Grainger was planning something. They needed to be ready.
The sun was low in the
sky, and McCord wanted Emeline in the hotel and safe before nightfall. She had
turned toward the mercantile, but he stopped her.
“If you need
anything from Howard’s, we can go there in the morning. It’s almost dark. I
need to get you to the hotel.”
Emeline glowered at
McCord but agreed, and they walked to the hotel, where McCord requested a room
for Emeline as close to his as possible. Maddie, who had already heard about
the incident with Grainger, gave her Room 205 next door.
“How ’bout dinner.
You need to eat.” McCord pointed to the dining room as they walked toward
She smiled. “I am
hungry. Let me freshen up, and I’ll join you in the dining room.”
McCord watched her
ascend the steps, his heart pounding, being close to Eme was clouding his
rationale of why he decided to become involved. He did hate bullies, but he
realized he cared for her more. It had been a long time since his blood stirred
as it did now.
He entered the dining
room, taking a table near an open window. The late spring night was unusually
balmy, occasional flashes of lightning and muffled thunder reached his ears.
Thoughts about settling down swirled in his head, but he pushed the thoughts
away as Emeline arrived. He stood up and held out her chair.
“A hero and
gentleman, not a combination that one sees
very often in this part of the world, Mr. McCord.”
He pushed her chair
under the table, then sat down. “No hero, but my mother would have
insisted on my being a gentleman, and please, call me Wade.”
“I want to thank
you… Wade, please call me Emeline. I’m sorry that you had to become involved
this afternoon. Grainger caught me as I was entering the bank when he was
leaving. The smart thing to do was walk away, but my grandfather taught me when
I was young, not to run from my troubles.”
“Grainger is more
than trouble, Emeline. He’s vicious and will stop at nothing to get what he
“And what he wants
is my land.”
“Not just your
land, he wants you.”
“Well, that is not
going to happen.” She sighed, “I’m certain that Doctor Stewart or
Evan has told you that I arrived the day after my grandfather died. Grainger
was already plotting to take the ranch by the time I got here. If it weren’t
for Evan, along with Doc Stewart intervening, he would have succeeded. I’m not
going to allow him to take what Papere worked so hard to build.”
She gave him a coy
smile. “We are Cajun, ‘Papere’ is what I called him, it means
waitress interrupted to take their order, and when she left, McCord wanted to know more about her
grandfather. “What did your grandfather tell you about Grainger? Did you
know how serious the situation was when he last contacted you?”
Emeline’s eyes widened
slightly, a haunted look crossing her lovely face. “Mr. McCord… Wade, my
grandfather’s last letter was disturbing. He was angry, worried, even though he
didn’t say it with words, I knew he was in trouble. He mentioned Grainger and
told me that he was certain that vile man was behind the troubles he was
“From what I’ve heard,
you have Chuck, who I’ve met, and three other hands. The ranch is big, that may
not be enough to fend off Grainger’s men.”
“I suppose I could
hire mercenaries to protect the ranch, but that’s not the answer either. I want
to keep my grandfather’s dream alive. My only choice is to keep going.”
McCord didn’t reply
immediately. He took a moment to assess the beautiful woman sitting across from
him. She had redone her hair in a French twist, but tendrils had escaped and
framed her face in soft curls. Her eyes were the color of emeralds, sparkling
in the glow of the burning candles on the table.
Before he could speak,
Maddie appeared with their food, two plates of chicken and dumplings, and hot
cornbread. They ate for a few moments in silence, both hungrier than they
realized, or both hiding behind the meal, so they didn’t have to discuss
After a few bites,
Emeline put down her fork. “Why are you helping me? Doc Stewart said you
just arrived in Wickenburg yesterday, and that you are just passing through. I
don’t understand why you got involved.”
He wasn’t certain how to answer her. Would he frighten
her if he told her the truth? Telling
her he had fallen in love with her would do just that, he decided — not the
time to be honest.
“I don’t like
bullies. I’ve seen Grainger’s type too many times. Men like Grainger will not
stop until they get what they want or until someone stops them. So, I’m going
to help the sheriff stop him.”
She picked up her fork
and stared at her plate, moving a piece of chicken back and forth in the thick
broth. “What makes you think you can stop him?
Evan is a good sheriff. He’s not afraid of Grainger, but I don’t believe he can
difference, Emeline. Evan has the entire town to protect. I can concentrate on
you and your ranch.”
They finished their
meal, and McCord suggested that they step out onto the boardwalk. The early
spring storm was closer, and the
lightning was putting on quite a show. He and Emeline had just sat down on the
bench in front of the hotel when the clatter of a fast-moving wagon echoed over
the thunder. As the wagon sped past,
driven by Dwayne, the deputy, Emeline
sprang from the bench.
“That’s my wagon.”
Before McCord could
react, she had jumped onto the street and was running toward the wagon, which
has stopped outside of Doc Stewart’s surgery. He rushed to catch up. When he
reached the wagon, Emeline was climbing
into the back.
on…?” He stopped when he saw two savagely beaten young men lying in the
Emeline knelt beside the
one conscious man. “Paul, what happened?”
The pale young man, his
face bloodied, stammered. “We were
fixing a broken… fence row in the northwest field w-when six men rode up.”
He stopped to spit out blood. “They told us they were gonna… teach you a
“Enough, stop talking, chere.” Emeline turned to McCord as her eyes filled with tears.
Parts One and Two can be found Here