An Outlaw to Lift her Darkness – Extended Epilogue

Twelve months later

“Dusty!” Sheriff Braun called out as he came up the drive, distracting Dusty from moving the stack of chairs he was setting out among the long picnic tables covering the lawn in front of him. “Where’s the missus?” 

“James!” Mrs. Braun chastised from the sheriff’s side, slapping his arm and huffing. “You’re supposed to have more manners than that!” 

“Manners,” Sheriff Braun snorted, his mustache twitching as he tried to hide his smile. “It’s Dusty, Marianne. What manners am I supposed to—”

“I wouldn’t care if it were the butcher’s youngest son!” Mrs. Braun muttered, cutting him off as she looked around the other people milling about the lawn and putting covered dishes on the set tables with a worried frown. It was almost as if she was afraid one of them would hear. “Really! We’re here to celebrate with the Ericsons, not holler and make fools of ourselves. Dusty, dear, where can I put these sweet potatoes?” 

Dusty grinned, letting their now-familiar bickering roll off his shoulders like water as he pointed over to a table that a group of church ladies stood around. “Over there should be fine. I don’t know where Jane’s gotten to, but I reckon she’ll be around soon enough.” 

“Oh, I can make my own way,” Mrs. Braun assured him with a smile, toddling off to follow where he had pointed to with her dish proudly displayed in her arms. 

“Making fools of ourselves,” Sheriff Braun muttered as she walked off, harrumphing, and shaking his head. “Women.” 

“Don’t corral me into that,” Dusty laughed. “I don’t need any trouble with my own wife, you know.” 

“Trouble?” Jane asked as if mentioning her so many times had summoned her from wherever she had been hiding. “Who’s in trouble?” 

She came up along Dusty’s side, putting her arm around him and leaning into his side with a heavy sigh. She looked tired, as well she ought, having put the whole potluck together and arranged everything to celebrate both the one-year anniversary of the Grizzlies being taken down as well as Dusty’s ‘promotion’ into being named as the next sheriff. 

Dusty smiled fondly as Sheriff Braun hemmed and hawed, avoiding the question while Dusty slid his arm about his wife’s waist, allowing his hand to come around and rest on her protruding subject. 

“No one’s in trouble,” the sheriff finally eked out, glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure his wife wasn’t going to come to argue his words. “I was actually looking for the both of you to give you the good news at one time,” he admitted, his grin growing back twice as large. 

“The good news?” Jane parroted, putting her hand over where Dusty’s hand rested on her belly and cocking her head to one side quizzically. 

“I got word from Nevada City earlier this afternoon after I sent Dusty home to help with your preparations here. Sheriff Anston, he’s still in office up there, wanted to let me know the outcome of the Grizzly Gang’s trial.” 

“Lord, is that just wrapping up now?” Dusty asked, surprised by the mention of them. While he and Jane talked about them occasionally, it was nowhere near as frequent as it had been in the beginning. The ushering in of their wedding two months after he proposed had given them plenty more to occupy themselves with…and then the realization of her pregnancy further after that. 

“Well, there were a lot of charges to try them on,” Sheriff Braun chuckled, looking equal parts disgusted and amused as he said as much. “But there was a hold up a few months back, when their younger members all decided to turn on the leader. They gave the courts so many more crimes that no one had even been aware of…It became a big, muddled mess, I’ll tell you what.” 

“The younger members?” Jane asked, glancing at Dusty to see how he was taking the news. 

He smiled reassuringly at her, rubbing her belly gently as he felt the fluttering of their child moving about from all the emotion Jane must have been feeling. 

“Well, the one you shot in the hand? Tiny? He flipped first, wanted the same kind of deal that Dusty here got, but after realizing that he couldn’t get that, he settled for a few years shaved off of his sentence. Then word got to Rebel? And he wanted the same. It was like a stack of bottles toppling into one another after that.” 

“So, they all turned on Bear?” Dusty asked, surprise coloring his voice. He knew they were selfish, that they were more concerned with themselves than anything else, but still, the news was shocking to him.

“Even Dale Rockingham,” the sheriff acknowledged with a nod. 

“Shew,” Dusty blew a whistled exhale out, fighting the strange emotion that overcame him hearing it. No matter how much he hadn’t liked the men, no matter how willing he had been to see them behind bars, there was still a part of him that felt like maybe he belonged there too. “Well, it’s what the mean old cuss deserved,” he sighed. 

“Are any of them going to…” Jane stopped, hiccupping slightly, and taking a deep breath as her belly jumped with the movement of her little one. “Are any of them going to be walking free soon?” she asked, a hint of nervousness in her voice. 

Sheriff Braun’s laugh was loud and sudden. “Goodness, no. The lightest sentence, I think, was Rebel. And I think he still got twenty-something years. None of them are going to be seeing the light of a free day any time soon. More’s the better for it!” 

Jane sagged into Dusty’s side, her relief evident, and he tightened his arm about her in support. 

“How long did Bear get?” Dusty asked despite his best efforts not to. He knew he didn’t need to know, not really, but still, a sick sort of curiosity drove him. 

“Bear? Oh, I think he got around four hundred and fifty years combined with all the crimes they finally racked up against him,” Sheriff Braun muttered, nodding at Dusty’s low whistle. “I don’t think they’ve fully sorted any of that out yet, but I know they’re separating all of them save for the two cousins, Dale and Benji. Apparently, part of their deal was that they get to spend their imprisonment together. They handed in the final verdict on time yesterday, but I reckoned you two might like to hear the outcome.”

“I did,” Jane admitted, snorting slightly. “I mean, I didn’t…but it’s nice to know that they got what they deserved, and that we can finally put it well and behind us.” 

“I know bringing our baby into this world knowing that not one of them has any chance at freedom any time soon is going to help me sleep better at night,” Dusty muttered, shaking his head as he looked over from the sheriff to Jane’s family home. 

The sun was setting behind it, illuminating the recently painted shutters and the flower garden out front. There wasn’t any disrepair left to fix, not since Dusty had moved in after their wedding, and on the porch, he could just see Nellie’s back framing their front door. 

“Well, I know it was a relief for me too, seeing how we ended things with them,” Sheriff Braun laughed, looking off himself in the direction of his wife. “I’m going to go make sure Marianne isn’t volunteering me for anything over there, but I’ll be back around in a bit if you need help setting anything else up, Dusty.” 

Dusty laughed, waving him off as he spun Jane the rest of the way into his arms, cradling her close as he kissed her forehead. “Do you feel better, knowing all of that?” he asked softly. 

“I feel…more settled,” Jane said after a moment of thought, her words slow as if she were considering them even as she spoke. 

“Do you still wish you had pulled that trigger?” he asked, afraid of her answer, despite the year they’d had to talk about it.

Her silence that time was longer, her head resting against his shoulder as she stared off in the distance. “You know…I don’t,” she admitted softly. “I think that my ma and pa would be happier with it ending this way, with the compromise that you helped me find. Justice was still served…but I don’t have blood on my hands from it, and neither do you.” 

Dusty laughed slightly, so happy with her answer that his grin felt as if it might split his face. “You know, I couldn’t help thinking when the sheriff told us how long Bear had gotten, that you predicted all of it the night at the saloon.” 

“Predicted all of it?” Jane asked, pushing against Dusty’s chest so that she could lean back and look up at him in question. 

“You told him he’d spend the rest of his life rotting in prison, and it looks like you were right,” he chuckled.

Jane giggled slightly, shaking her head. “I guess I was,” she muttered. “That’ll make the second time today then.” 

“Oh?” Dusty asked, nudging her. “Only the second? Do tell me what else you’ve been so right about.” 

Jane’s grin took on a mischievous nature, her eyes flickering over to the front porch where Dusty had been looking earlier. “Well, actually—” 

“Ugh!” Jack groaned as he came to stand next to them, making Jane jump as she stopped talking quickly. Jack held a drink in his hand, glowering over at the porch where Jane had just been grinning at. “Is that Nellie over there still? What does she think she’s doing? Making a fool of herself, that’s what. I’ll tell you….” 

Dusty glanced around hurriedly, surprised by the irritation in Jack’s voice, following his gaze to see Nellie laughing. “Making a fool of herself?” 

“Oh, she’s just talking to Mr. Aarons!” Jane giggled, reaching out to swat Jack’s arm. “Stop being so overprotective.” 

“Mr. Aarons,” Jack muttered. “That postman rides into town and says he’s staying here now. Next thing you know, he has the town all aflutter and has Nellie giving him free drinks for his ‘service’ to the town!” He snorted, taking a drink, and narrowing his gaze. “He’s only going to be here a short while, you know.” 

“Why do you say that?” Dusty asked in confusion. He didn’t understand how any of the things Jack had mentioned connected to another, his brain struggling to catch up to what the issue was that had his wife fighting her laughter so hard. 

“Well, because he’s a city boy!” Jack exclaimed. 

“Oh, hush you. Nellie likes him,” Jane interjected, rolling her eyes at Jack’s indignant snort in response. “And he’s not moving any time soon. He just asked the Millers about buying some land from them to set up his own house. Nellie’s enjoying herself. Why can’t you just let her?”

“Of course, Nellie likes him,” Jack said crossly. “All the girls in town like him.” 

The realization of Jack’s issue dawned on Dusty too late, his eyes widening as he suddenly felt himself having to hold back a chortle even in his surprise. He’d never been more grateful he didn’t have a sister himself. 

“He likes her too, you know,” Jane informed Jack, more softly, her lips twitching as the man only seemed to look angrier. 

“Of course, he does!” Jack grunted. “Nell’s a real lady, a real catch, but—” 

“Jack, look at them,” Jane pressed, cajoling almost as she indicated where Nellie was leaning in grinning to the new-to-town postman. “Look at them smiling!” 

When Jack looked, though, he didn’t start smiling all doe-eyed like Jane. His eyes narrowed, his chest heaving as he stood suddenly taller. “He’s leaning too close,” he groused, taking his drink in his hand, and stomping away without another word to either Dusty or Jane. 

Dusty couldn’t help the laugh that sprung from him as he rushed off, his arm tightening around his wife to keep her from chasing after them. 

“Oh, Jack’s going to spoil everything!” Jane cried, her distress clear. 

“Jack’s just going to go make a fool of himself,” Dusty laughed, spinning Jane around so that she didn’t have to see it. “And Nellie will put him in his place like she always does.” 

“Nellie really cares for Mr. Aarons, you know,” Jane said softly, checking over her shoulder with a small frown. “She’s really quite taken with him….” 

“They’ll figure it out,” Dusty promised amusedly. “After all, they don’t have a notorious criminal gang, secrets, and secret identities between them, do they?” 

Jane laughed suddenly, falling back into Dusty’s arms, and resting her forehead against his with a fond smile. “No, they just have an irate, protective brother. We really did fight through all of that, didn’t we?” 

“We did,” Dusty acknowledged, leaning down to kiss her sweetly. “And we survived because we were meant to. Stop meddling. It’s never been your thing anyways. They’ll start saying your pregnancy is affecting you,” he teased. 

“It is, though,” Jane chuckled. “My ankles are swollen, I’m so exhausted I could go to bed right now, and I’m so hungry that I feel like I could eat all the food here and leave none for the rest of you.” 

Dusty trailed a finger down the side of her face with a warm smile on his lips. “I can let you do all of that, you know,” he confided. “I’ll send everyone home now and—ow!” He laughed, grabbing her hand as she hit his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare! We have even more to celebrate now!” she chided, bringing them back full circle in their conversation. 

“Our marriage, our baby being born in the next month or two, the Grizzlies officially being imprisoned, the announcement that when Sheriff Braun retires I’ll take his place…Our cup runneth over.” Dusty listed the celebrations with a grin, watching as Jane swayed on her feet to lean even further into him. 

“It really does,” she whispered. “You know…In the years after my parents’ deaths I was so consumed with my grief. It was like a shadow, you know? I never thought I’d be out from under it, or even that I should be.” 

“I still struggle with that,” Dusty admitted, nodding. “Like when Sheriff Braun was talking about their sentencing? A part of me felt as if it should be my own, as well.” 

“You’ve done so much good since then,” Jane whispered, lifting her hand to his face, and cradling one side of it. 

Dusty leaned into her touch, taking the saving grace she offered him. “And I’ll aim to do a thousand times more that in the future,” he whispered. He wasn’t sure it would ever be enough. “But, what I was going to say was that while I still struggle with it…You and our baby? That makes the struggles so much less, you know?” 

Jane gave him a bitter-sweet smile. “It’s the same for me. I sometimes worry that I’m just letting myself be happy because of you, but then I think of how my parents would feel to see this life we have built. To see the man I’ve married…and then I think of everything still that is yet to come. Dusty, for the first time since I was a young girl, I think I’m actually looking forward to my future. Isn’t that a strange notion?” 

Dusty leaned down, resting his forehead against hers, and closed his eyes. His heart swelled as he wrapped his arms back around her, listening to their friends and their community’s hum of talk around them, to the birds still singing, and feeling his wife hugging him back….

“I think it’s beautiful,” he admitted, his voice low. “Because I feel the same way.” Jane sighed, a happy sound, leaning into him as her belly jumped again from how hard their baby kicked. 

Dusty reached down, holding either side of her stomach and feeling the movement within. He hadn’t told her yet that he thought it was a boy, nor had he told her that he wanted to name him Sheldon Mike, after her father and his brother, but as the baby kicked, he knew he would have the fighting spirit of both of them. 

“I think the life we’re building is beautiful,” Jane returned softly, her heart in her words. 

Dusty couldn’t disagree with her. 

It was and forever would be. He had faith, something that was unshakable for the first time in his life. Because he had Jane, his guiding light.

THE END


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One thought on “An Outlaw to Lift her Darkness – Extended Epilogue”

  1. Hello my dears! Let me know if you enjoyed the conclusion of this loving story with your comments here. ❤️ I would love to know which was your favorite part of the story!

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