Amy Louise Douglas had left her home in a quiet town, left her sister and her parents to marry a man she had never met. Her sister, Laura Jane, was happily married with two small children, and the constant pressure in a small town to find a man was something that made her truly unhappy. Everybody wanted her to be like everybody else. When something was not right, Amy Louise had a burning desire to fix it. There seemed no answer where she was, and she took steps to change that.
Despite being quite a pretty girl with a trim figure, dark brown slightly curly hair, and lovely brown eyes, she knew that she frightened boys away with her outspoken attitude.
Amy would be the first to admit that she could be bossy, and she loved to jump in and get things done. If people said something she didn’t like, her first reaction was to tell them. It did get her into trouble from time to time, but that was her personality, and she was stuck with it. Folk that knew her well understood that the Amy they saw and heard covered a good heart and a person who loved to help people, but that didn’t make life any easier for Amy Louise herself.
The church that she and her family attended had messages from other churches, and some of them were asking for good hard-working women to marry and help with the men who had moved out into the Wild West. These men were lonely, and life was hard, but the idea of building something from nothing was something that Amy could not get out of her mind.
The family told her about dangers and travelling alone, but once her mind was made up, it was very hard to change. She packed her bags and jumped into an unknown future. That was all very well, but when the coach dropped her on a dusty track in the middle of nowhere and drove away, she quaked in her boots. The plains swept away into seeming infinity to one side, and in the far distance, mountains reared their statuesque heads. The lower countryside where she stood was clothed in trees and shrubs, and she could hear water tinkle somewhere not too far away.
All of that did not take away the feeling that she was left standing in the middle of nowhere, by herself and yes, she had to admit to herself, frightened. As she did with everything, Amy took action.
A gate was at the side of the main trail, and a handmade sign told her it was Goodacres. The little track to Goodacres stretched away into the distance with no sign of any buildings at all. Amy Louise was nothing if not an action woman, and there was nothing to be done but pick up her bags and walk. She walked.
Fifteen minutes or so brought her to the house. It was a log cabin that looked sturdy enough. There was no sign of life and no smoke from the chimney. Nobody could be seen working in the barns or corral, and a couple of horses were grazing there. She headed for the house, and a little dog came running out to say hello with a wagging tail.
“Somebody must live here,” she said out loud and spoke to the dog. “Hello,” she called and knocked on the door which stood open. The dog ran inside and ran back to her and then went inside again. She called louder, but no one answered, and eventually, she stepped carefully inside.
All of the horror stories her mother had told her came back into her head and she half expected somebody to jump out with an axe and attack her. Apart from the dog, there was no sound at all, and the living room and kitchen were empty. The stove was out and cold. Amy looked around and the dog went back and forth to another room and in the end, she followed him.
The man lay on the bed and looked desperately ill. He was breathing. She could see that at least, and the dog sat beside the bed and looked at her as if expecting a miracle. Amy Louise rushed over to the bed and could see the perspiration on his brow. It was obvious that he had twisted and turned, and when she laid a hand on his forehead, he was extremely hot. He never opened his eyes or gave any sign that he knew she was there. He looked close to death and very pale.
“Oh, Good Lord,” she said out loud. “Please tell me what to do.” Then she told herself, water and cloths and sprang into what Amy Louise did best – action. The first mad dash back into the kitchen was wild, and she flew from place to place looking for anything she could find. In the end, the practical Amy kicked in, and she started to look around systematically. She found the well and brought up some fresh water, found some cloth that she tore into pieces and poured some of the fresh water into a tin mug.
Back in the bedroom she started by wringing out the wet cloth and laying it on his forehead; she wiped his face, and when there was a slight response, she kept putting the cool cloths on his forehead.
“He has to have some water inside of him,” she said to herself and struggled to prop him up a little. She dripped water from the cloth onto his lips and eventually managed to hold up his shoulders and direct some liquid into his mouth. It dribbled back out and she tried again. In the end, a little splutter and cough told her that she was having some effect. The man moaned, and she spoke to him.
“Can you hear me?” she asked quite loudly and close to his ear. “I really hope that you are Oliver Truman because I wouldn’t want to be in somebody else’s house.” He tried to raise a hand, and she took hold of it. “Oliver, you have to try and drink something.” She held the cup to his lips again and was relieved to feel him try and make the effort. “Good boy,” she added as if she was talking to the dog.
She wiped his face over again and started to straighten the bedclothes as best she could with the weight of somebody in it. She got the pillows back into place and with an arm under his shoulder managed to manoeuvre him onto them. He took more water and seemed to settle into a more normal sleep. She wiped his face again and went back to the rest of the house to see what was available to use.
Inside the place was a mess, and she tutted and shook her head.
“This will have to be sorted out. Poor man has just collapsed onto the bed,” she said to the dog, and after a quick look around the house, she went to see what was outside. “Oh dear, you poor nanny goats,” she said when she saw that they were full of milk. “I’ll come and milk you soon.” The chickens were happily scratching around, but from the feathers she knew that some had been taken by wild animals. She picked up the eggs that she saw as she went around.
The horses were fine because a small stream trickled through the corral, and she headed back to the house to try and get the stove going.
“Need the stove,” she said to herself. “Hot water, cleaning, cooking. Got plenty of eggs so we aren’t going to starve. Nobody but me to do it, so just got to get it done.” She looked at the dog and wondered what his name was. The little man had obviously been able to catch enough food to keep himself going. “Glad you’re here little one,” she said to him. “Gives me somebody to talk to.”
Thankfully, there was a tinder box, and after cleaning out the fire, she managed to get it started. There was wood stacked outside, and the fire made a cheerful sight.
“Better,” she said and went to draw water to heat up. With warm water she could clean the place up a little bit and then feeling hungry she found a skillet and cooked herself eggs. She kept checking on the man in the bed, and he seemed more restful, but when she had eaten, she took a coffee and went back in to see how he was.
She sat at the bottom of the bed and sized the man up as best she could. He had a stubble of beard, and his hair was tangled, but she could tell he was probably about thirty-five or so. That was a relief because the information she had was very scarce. The man she had come to see could have been seventy for all she knew. Oliver had dark hair like her, but it was straight. His eyes were still closed, and she thought he was probably under six feet tall. He wore a checked shirt and buckskin trousers and had probably just lain down out of exhaustion. In her head she said that those clothes would have to be washed.
The man on the bed moved, and she went closer to him.
“Oliver, can you hear me?” she asked and received a little groan in response. “I’m Amy Louise Douglas. I think you were expecting me to arrive.” He tried to move, and she took his hand. “I want you to drink a little bit more water and then maybe eat something. Try and drink some water.”
She held the cup against his lips and let some of the liquid fall into his mouth. With a sigh of relief she saw him swallow properly. When he had taken three or four mouthfuls, she was feeling better about the situation and asked him if he could speak.
“Thanks,” he got out in a hoarse tone and with a struggle.
“That’s better,” she told him briskly. “I am going to wipe your face and then maybe you can open your eyes.” He gave a slight nod, and she squeezed the wet cloth and tried to wipe the remains of the sweat from his skin and especially his eyes. “Try and open your eyes,” she told him and his eyelids fluttered and slowly rose to look blankly around the room. “Take your time,” she added. “I think you have been very ill.”
His head turned slightly, and she saw him focus. His eyes were a tawny amber colour, and he held out a hand.
“What a welcome,” he croaked. “I am sorry.”
“As long as you are feeling a bit better, it doesn’t matter. Do you think you could eat something?” He closed his eyes again, and she knew that it was an effort even for him to speak. “Never mind,” she added. “I’ll try and see that everything is alright and you get some rest.” He didn’t answer, and she went off to start putting things to rights. “Those poor goats,” she said out loud and went to find a bucket and something to sit on.
The goats went off to the corral and started to eat. She collected more eggs and had a good look around the place whilst she was doing that. The barns and fences were sturdy and well-made even if they were not exactly pretty. They did the job, and there was a small cart in one of the barns that could be used to go into town.
“I’ll have to see if I can go in for supplies,” she said to herself. “I wonder if he has any flour. It’s all very well to be able to grow stuff, but you do need extras.”
The water was hot, and she washed all the plates and cups she could find and cleaned the skillet. She started to put things into places where she thought they should be and every so often checked on the sleeping man.
In the end, she took a cup of coffee from the pot she had left brewing on the stove and went to sit in the bedroom. The dog came and lay down beside her, and she took stock of where she was.
“Well, I wanted a new life, and this is certainly different,” she said thoughtfully. She was about to go and see the rest of the house although she had made a quick look around to find what she needed. The man on the bed sighed and struggled to sit up and put his legs over the edge of the bed.
“Whoa. Whoa,” she cried and leapt to her feet. She held his shoulders in time as he fell forward and pushed him back on the pillows.
“I have to get up,” he protested. “I can’t lie here doing nothing.”
She sat on the bed beside him. “Oliver Truman, that sounds good, but you will feel better soon and then you can get on your feet.” He looked at her blankly for a moment and then nodded wearily.
“You’re right, I know. I feel real bad about being stuck here while you work.”
“I like work, honestly. I’ve milked the goats and got the fire going. When you are a bit stronger, you can sit in the chair while I get the bed sorted. One or two chickens have been killed I think, but the rest are fine. The horses are in the corral, and I can make some chicken soup to build you up.” She paused and smiled at herself. “Trouble is I can’t make the soup because I can’t kill the chicken, and I hate to admit that is something I cannot do.”
She glanced at the man beside her, and he smiled. The look transformed his face like sunlight suddenly coming through the window. Amy Louise felt a sensation ripple through her system that was a totally strange experience. She smiled back.
“That’s a good sign that you can smile. Thank The Good Lord,” she said, and Oliver told her that he knew his legs were still too weak to stand up, but if she brought the chicken in, he could quickly do what was needed. Amy was about to say that she would do that when she looked up and screamed. All of her mother’s horror stories leapt right back into her head, and she saw a man fill the doorway. He had made no sound as he entered, and although he wore part of the uniform of a soldier, he also had the dress of a native Indian.
Oliver raised his hand and took hold of her arm.
“It’s okay,” he croaked. “Friend.”
Her breathing gradually returned to normal, and she patted her chest and realised that she was not going to be killed on the spot.
“Friend,” the man in the doorway said and stepped inside.
“Oh, Lordy Lordy,” Amy Louise whispered as the visitor offered her a hand to shake. She tentatively shook it as she stood up and saw that he was not as big as he seemed in the doorway. In fact, he was not much taller than Amy herself.
“Sorry you had a shock,” the man said. “I am Rav.”
“Amy Louise,” she managed in return and sank back onto the side of the bed. Rav sat in the chair and looked at Oliver.
“Wondered what was wrong,” he said. Oliver said that Amy had saved the day. His voice was very raw, but he explained to Amy that he and Rav had both been trackers for the army. Amy regained her senses and told the newcomer what she had done so far.
“Have you any boiling water?” he asked, and she nodded. He took out a pouch and showed her some dried herbs. “These make a drink that will help him.” She went to find a cup of hot water, and Rav followed her out.
“How bad was he?” he asked when they were out of the room.
“I thought he might die.” she admitted, “but he has cooled down now and seems to be picking up quite quickly.” Rav strained the water and put it back in the cup. “What is in the drink?” she asked.
“Mostly pieces of the willow tree,” he told her. “It will make him feel better. I’ll leave you some for tomorrow and the next day.”
Oliver drank the liquid uncomplainingly and lay back on the pillows. He gave a small smile.
“Amy Louise is a wonder, but there is one thing she can’t do, and until somebody kills a chicken, we cannot have soup.”
Rav stood up and said he would go and find one.
“Thank you,” Amy said, and Oliver said that things seemed to be getting better.
“I feel stronger.”
“But you don’t need to stand up just yet,” she interrupted.
“Rav is a good man.”
The good man came back and heard him say that. “Good enough to kill two chickens, and they are in the kitchen.”
Amy hurried off to deal with the chickens and put on soup for the invalid. When he came back, Rav was talking and keeping Oliver entertained.
“Is there anything else I can do?” Rav asked, but she said it was fine and would he like coffee. Oliver said he might manage coffee as well, but she told him sternly that goat’s milk would be better for him and went off to bring in the drinks.
“It is strange,” she thought, “that sitting with these two very different men I never met before in a place I know nothing about feels normal.” She went back in and said the same to the two men in question.
“I will need some supplies,” she said. “Would I be able to take the cart into town myself?”
Both men shook their heads. “We are pretty safe out here, but a woman on her own is a bit of a risk,” Rav told her. “Wait a day or two until Oliver can go with you.”
“There are vegetables in the barn in clamps and some flour in a stone jar in the kitchen,” Oliver said, and Amy said that she had found the flour but asked what clamps were. When they said they were dry soil for storing vegetables, she said she would go out and find them later.
Rav looked at Oliver and hesitated. “She needs to be warned,” he said, and Oliver nodded his head.
“What about?” Amy asked instantly.
“There is bad feeling in town for Oliver, and you should know why,” Rav said. “In the army, we led a party to find some missing soldiers, and we were too late. They died, and a man called Jevison Cutler was brother to one of them.” Rav went on to say that the man hated both Rav and Oliver and spread all sorts of rumours. “Just be careful what you say and who you say it to.”
Oliver joined in and told her that the Woodalls were good people and the Jamesons at the livery stable.
“There are good folk in Juliville, but they mostly stay away from trouble. The sheriff is a coward, but the deputy is okay.”
“What about the church?” Amy asked, and he said that the minister and his wife tried to help anyone they could.
“I saw them about this arrangement that brought you here, and they were sympathetic.”
Rav said he would have to go because it was quite a journey, and she walked to the door with him.
“He’s a quiet man,” Rav said. “The best tracker in the country and as honest as the day.” He paused and told her he was glad that she was there. “I’ll come back in a couple of weeks.”
Amy walked back into the bedroom and found Oliver trying to stand. She put her hands on her hips.
“It will take longer to get better if you try too much too soon.”
He held out a hand. “Get me to the chair, please, and then I will stay in one place.” She put his arm around her shoulders and shuffled him to the chair.
“At least I can change the bed and make you feel better. The soup is boiling away, and that will help as well.”
He gave a slow smile. “I’m guessing you are happy when you have something to do.”
She went on tidying the bed and asked if he had clean sheets anywhere. There was a set of drawers, and she went where he directed.
She stopped work and looked at him.
“I know I talk too much, and I tell folk what to do. Just tell me to be quiet if it annoys you.”
“It won’t annoy me,” he told her. “I really meant it when I put in the letter that I needed company.”
“I argue with people, and I can’t stop myself saying what I think.” She laughed. “If it doesn’t annoy you, I am maybe best out in the wilds away from people.” She sat on the bed when it was tidy and told him that she could cook, sew and clean well.
“I can milk goats and cows and turn my hand to most things.”
He held up a hand. “I can see all of those things. You just walked in and put everything right.” He paused. “Can you shave somebody?”
She put her hand over her mouth, and he could see she was smiling behind it. “I never tried,” she admitted. “What if I cut you?”
“Can’t kill chickens and hasn’t shaved anyone,” he pondered. “Two things you can’t do already.” It had the effect on Amy Louise that was normal for her when challenged.
“Well, didn’t say I couldn’t – just never tried.” He smiled, and she saw that transformation again.
“You knew I would react like that,” she said, and he nodded. Oliver Truman could read sign and track better than most other people, and he could read people as well. Taking notice of detail was what made him good. She found what he asked her to bring, and by trial and error, she very gingerly used the cutthroat blade against his face. The blade was remarkably sharp, and the stubble came away easily. Amy was delighted.
“That was pretty easy,” she said.
“And no cuts on my face,” he added. “It does feel better.”
“You are still weak, but tomorrow, if I boil water, you can bathe and wash your hair.”
He nodded. “I’m off to find these clamps,” she said and set off for the barns. There was actually a good selection of vegetables, and there was barley as well. She checked the animals and came back to find him lying in the bed. The trousers and shirt were on the chair, and he had a clean shirt on.
“I’ll wash the bed sheets and these clothes,” she said and took them away. When the chores were more or less done, she came and sat in the bedroom.
“I really could drink some coffee,” he said, and she relented and brought him one.
“What a way to start,” he said ruefully. “I never meant for you to come and have to look after me. If you don’t want to stay, I will understand.”
“You are just far too understanding by far,” she declared. “If you still want to give it a try, that is fine by me, and I will really try not to be too bossy.”
He held out a hand from the bed.
“Shake on it,” he said. “Let’s try and see if it suits us both. There is another bedroom, and you can consider it yours.”
“Tell me about these people in town. I like to know what to expect.”
Oliver lay back and looked at this attractive woman in his house that he had never met before but seemed to know just what was needed, and he talked the way he had never told anyone before about the nastiness and the stories. Amy Louise was shocked to the core by the details of the things folk had said about him. Oliver might be understanding, but she was certainly not.
“If I am up and about tomorrow, we can ride into town the day after and meet the Jamesons at the livery stable. Their daughter, Katie, must be about your age. They live behind the livery, and we can find out what has been happening in town.”
“I am twenty-four,” Amy told him matter of factly.
“And I am thirty-six,” he answered in the same vein. “An old man.”
“What a lot of rubbish. You only feel old just now because of the fever you had,” she told him and was rewarded with a small smile. She raised her hands.
“I’m sorry. I can’t help it.”
He told her that the Cutlers who thought that he and Rav were responsible for the brother’s death had a big ranch and were wealthy cattle owners.
“They make sure that their cowboys all keep up the talk about how we let the Apache know we were coming. Some folk, who listen will cross the street to stay away from me.”
“But why? You haven’t done them any harm.”
“Cutler has money and uses it to make sure people are on his side. When some folk stand up to the bullying, they have mysterious accidents, and most folk keep their heads down.”
“So, you concentrated on the farm and stayed out of town?” she asked, and he nodded. “I wonder how they will react to you having company.” He paused and then asked if she rode.
“I like riding,” she said. “Horses and dogs are more pleasant than lots of people.” He asked about the place she came from and her family, and she found out that his parents were both dead, and he had one brother who lived a long way away.
The chicken soup was delicious, and Amy made some dough and left it to rise. The oven stayed hot, and the bread was baked. She was happy by the time the dark was falling that he was a lot better and helped him to walk to the door to test his legs. He seemed quite steady and settled for the night with the dog at his bedside. She climbed into the spare bed to think about the situation in which she had put herself.
“Well, if it doesn’t work out, it is all my own fault,” she admitted to herself honestly, but she also had to admit that she actually did like this man. The day had been long and hard, and she slept almost immediately.
It felt like minutes and was still dark when she felt a hand shake her shoulder and the voice told her to stay quiet. She shot up in the bed with her heart doing a drum roll.
“What?” she whispered. “Are you okay?”
“Wolf knows there is someone outside,” he whispered. She slid her legs out of bed and wrapped a robe around herself. They moved quietly into the kitchen without any light apart from the glow of the stove, and little Wolf, the dog, was standing at the door with stiff legs and his hair standing on end down his back. He made no real sound, but a shadow of a growl was rumbling inside his chest.
She saw that Oliver had picked up a handgun, and she grabbed a kitchen knife herself. Standing behind the door there was no sound, but just once then came the sound of a low voice, and Oliver threw open the door and demanded who was there. The dog shot out and headed for two figures that were running for horses standing at the gate. Wolf almost caught one of them by the leg as they jumped into the saddles and set off into a wild gallop away down the trail.
“No point in chasing them,” Oliver said and turned back towards the house. Their eyes had adjusted to the dark by that time, and he pointed to the side of the wall.
“Was that there earlier?” he asked, and she went over to see a pile of brushwood against the wall. She turned with her hand over her mouth.
“They were going to make a fire?” she asked in amazement, and he nodded. “Looks like it.”
They went inside and lit a lantern to see by. The pot was still on the stove, and she poured two coffees and sat down as her legs were decidedly wobbly. Oliver sat as well, and he looked at her.
“This is too dangerous for you. I’ll take you back to the stagecoach. They have never done this before.” Wolf was pressed against her side, and she dropped a hand onto his head. She looked at Oliver Truman with his long john underwear and his worried and handsome but still not very well face and knew there was no way she was leaving him and the dog in this situation.
“And they blooming well won’t do it again,” she declared and stood up to pace the floor. “Did you recognise them?”
He shook his head. “They would be cowboys from Cutler’s ranch, and I am thinking that he heard that you were here and planned to make things bad for me,” he answered.
“Can we prove that? Can we find out who it was?”
“I could track them easily,” he told her. “That was my job.”
Amy came and sat beside him.
“I am here and I am staying. No crooked, nasty people sneaking up in the dark are changing that. If you feel up to it, we track them and find out where they came from. Then we tell the sheriff – even if he is useless.” She took his hand. “If it worries you trying to protect me, I will go. If I am just bringing more trouble to your door, but I would much rather fight.”
He linked his fingers into hers.
“Tomorrow we will work it out, but just now, we need to be on alert in case they try again.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. What should we do?”
“The dog is good at knowing if there is trouble. I think we stay in one room with Wolf, and he will wake us if anyone appears.”
“Well you need to be back in bed. You go to bed, and I will sit in the chair,” she told him.
“Other way round,” he answered. “I do feel a lot better.” She looked at him and for once in her life let somebody else make a decision.
He found another handgun and asked if she could use it. They put a rifle by the bed as well and took the blankets from the spare bed.
She made for the chair, but he pointed at the bed, and she had the grace to smile and get under the covers.
“Oliver,” she said tentatively, and he waited. “Wrap yourself in the blanket and lie on the bed. A chair is too uncomfortable when you are still recovering.”
“You sure?” he asked, and she nodded.
“I know the arrangement was marriage, but I didn’t expect to share a bed the first night I got here.” The man laughed out loud for the first time in a long while and told her he was too weak to cause any trouble. They settled down in the darkness with Wolf at the bedside and talked quietly until sleep took over once again.
She opened her eyes when daylight appeared and saw him in a deep and what looked like a normal, sound sleep. The hollows in his cheeks had filled out, the shave had rejuvenated him, and this man that she found herself sharing a bed with was quite handsome. She touched his cheek with a finger, and he woke instantly. Eyes wide open and reaching for a gun.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “Years of having to be on guard all of the time. Old habits die hard.”
The dog had climbed onto the bed and was still sleeping.
“Wolf is not worried, I see,” Amy said. “Let’s have a good breakfast. Have you got bacon anywhere?” When he was standing, she asked how he felt.
“Amazingly, I feel just about normal,” he answered. “Breakfast sounds good.”
Bacon, eggs, and fresh bread later, they both felt much better.
“I’ll milk the goats and let out the hens,” Amy said, and he watched her set off with a determined step. She watched him move over to the gate where the two horses had been the night before and looked closely at the prints. Amy followed him over with the egg basket in her hand, and he pointed out that one particular print was quite unusual.
“That is a heavy horse, and he has one hoof that is a slightly different shape to a normal one.”
Amy knelt down and looked closely. “I can draw that,” she said. “Have you got paper and pencil?”
“Your skills are endless, Amy Louise Douglas,” he said when she handed him a very accurate pencil sketch of the hoof print. “That is so good, it should be framed.”
“Back to the milking.” She laughed and set off to find the goats. He went to the corral to check over the horses and came to find her finishing the milking.
“That unusual print will tell us if we are following the right people,” he said and took the bucket to carry it to the house.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked as they walked to the kitchen.
“Pack some dry rations and water and try to see where they went. The animals will be fine until we get back, and Wolf can stay around the place. If anyone comes, he will keep out of their way.”
“Are you sure that you feel well enough,” she asked, and when he said he was fine and the horse would be doing the work, she laughed and sped off to find food and change her clothes.
“I like to do things,” she told him as they mounted up, and he said that he had actually noticed that. Her horse was called Star, and she was not an old horse but old enough to know how to behave. He folded the paper sketch into his pocket, and they walked sedately down the trail towards the main coach road.
Occasionally he jumped down and looked around in the earth. She knew that it was what he did best and waited on Star until he remounted and they went on. The trail turned towards the town and followed the main way all the way to Juliville. The main street was dusty, and there were folk about their normal business. Oliver just seemed to be able to see what he wanted from the saddle and stopped outside the hotel.
“The horses went in behind the hotel,” he said to Amy. “The hotel belongs to Cutler’s cousin.”
“So, we have seen a connection,” she answered.
“That fool that is supposed to look after the stables wouldn’t tell me anything,” Oliver said. “I think we will go and see the sheriff.” They tied the horses outside and mounted the steps to find the law officers. Both men were having coffee and seemed to be doing absolutely nothing.
“Mornin’ Truman,” Sheriff Baxter said but kept his feet on the desk.
“Hi Oliver,” the deputy added, and Oliver said that this was Miss Amy Louise Douglas, and they wanted to report that someone tried to set fire to the house through the night. That brought a reaction, and the men put their feet on the floor.
“Did you see them?” Baxter asked, and they told him it was dark but two men rode away.
“Thing is,” Oliver added, “I tracked the prints, and they led into the hotel stable. I figured you could ask who it was.”
“Don’t suppose anyone was about through the night,” Baxter answered and obviously did not want to be involved.
Amy spoke up at this point. “It wouldn’t do any harm to ask,” she said. The sheriff looked her up and down. She felt herself stiffen at his insolence.
“And you would be?” he almost smirked.
“Mister Truman’s housekeeper, Sheriff Baxter, and I expect to be treated civilly by an officer of the law.” She saw the slight smile that almost materialised on the deputy’s face, but he quickly wiped it away. “Perhaps you would be kind enough to accompany me over there, and I will ask them myself.”
“Let’s all go,” the sheriff said and took his hat from the stand. The group of four walked across to the hotel and bypassed the main building to find the stables. A young man was aimlessly forking straw about, not really doing anything much at all. He had lank, straggly blond hair that looked much like the straw on the ground, and a thin, pinched face with a look of discontent etched across it.
“Elmer? the sheriff asked. “Did two people come in and stable horses through the night?”
“Dunno. Wasn’t here,” he answered sullenly.
“Well are there two extra horses here now?” Amy joined in, and Elmer looked at her as if she had landed from the moon. He shook his head. “Have you looked? Do you know what is in there?” He just stood there leaning on the fork.
“What on earth is the matter?” a female voice asked from the main building, and a smartly dressed woman walked across. The sheriff visibly straightened up, doffed his hat, and said good morning to Miss Callaghan. He tried to explain, but Amy broke in and told the woman the story herself..
“Two men did arrive in the night, had breakfast, paid the bill, and rode away. I don’t know who they were or where they went. That tends to happen in hotels.”
“Thank you, Rose,” Oliver said, and she gave him a smile. “The dog heard intruders, and someone tried to start a fire against the house.”
“How awful,” she said. “Are you going to introduce me?” Oliver did the introductions and said they would go and let the work continue.” They turned to go, but Amy looked at Elmer.
“You really do appear to be a useless sort of person.”
The boy smirked and gave her a lecherous wink.
“She’s right, Elmer,” Rose said. “You’re fired.” The deputy laughed out loud at that point and even Baxter managed a smile. Elmer’s slitty little eyes looked venomous as he turned and walked away.
“Oh, Lord. I shouldn’t have said anything,” Amy said, but Rose echoed that she was right, and she was glad to see the back of him.
“We’ll leave the horses tied at your office,” Oliver said and pointed down the street to the livery.
“Was that the Cutler man’s cousin?” Amy asked Oliver, and he nodded.
“She seems to stay away from him, but she is family. She probably did know who the men were.” He hesitated. “Before I was in the army, I knew her. That was before she had the hotel and was much younger.” Amy looked at him, and he gave her that smile that made him look so different. “Her parents were still alive, and we were friends.” She gave him a quizzical look, and he said, “Just friends.”
The livery was a cheerful change, and the welcome they received there made up for the glances along the street. Bert Jameson and his wife, Hannah were hardworking people who loved horses and had built up a good business from scratch. Oliver introduced Amy to them and their daughter Katie who was in her early twenties and had curly blonde hair that would never stay where she wanted to wear it. She was dressed in working clothes to help her father, but the belt was tightened in at the waist, and she managed to look very pretty and trim at the same time.
“I am so happy to meet you,” she said to Amy Louise and gave her a hug. “We wondered why we hadn’t seen Ollie for some time.” Oliver told the tale about Amy finding him and bringing him around.
“She walked the mile with her bags from the stagecoach to the house.”
Bert and Hannah told them to come into the house and have a seat. The story about the night before and the visit to the hotel was retold, and the Jamesons listened in horror and then amazement. Katie actually jumped up and down and did a little dance.
“I wish I had been there to see you tell them straight. That Elmer is a lazy, nasty little toad. I never knew why she kept him there anyway. Rose Callaghan has a good business head, and nobody sane would employ him.” Hannah Jameson told her daughter to calm down, and they talked around the situation. That anyone would try and set fire to the house was horrifying.
“I know you know how Amy came here, but at the moment, we are saying she is my housekeeper.”
“Good idea,” Bert agreed.
“We were coming in tomorrow for supplies, but the tracks of the intruders brought us here today,” Oliver said. He pulled the paper from his pocket and showed it to Bert. “Amy did this sketch of the hoof print. The man dealt with horses every day and noted that it was an unusual shape, but he didn’t recognise it. Katie was more impressed with the actual drawing and took the paper.
“Do you draw pictures of other things?” she asked, but Amy said that she used to but it had been put to one side.
“You should try one or two. If you could draw horses, Dad could have them in the livery.”
“I’ll give it a try sometime,” Amy told her, and Oliver took the paper back.
“So tomorrow we can see you again?” Katie asked Amy, and she nodded. Suddenly, it seemed that maybe Juliville was not as hostile as it had seemed. They said that they would call the next day. Hannah said she would make a meal for them, and they made their way back to the horses tied outside the sheriff’s office. Nobody came out to speak to them, and the hotel looked quiet. Amy asked where the church was, and he waved a hand towards the other end of the main street.
“Will show you around properly tomorrow,” he said, and they clicked the horses into a brisk trot. When they reached the farm, nothing was out of place, the dog was wagging his tail, and it seemed the place had been left alone. There was still chicken soup from the day before, and they sat in the kitchen. Oliver knew Jevison Cutler of old and thought he would make preparations in case the fire starters came back.
“I think,” he said to Amy, “that we will pile lots of noisy things at the gate and fasten it securely. If anyone climbs over, they will make a noise.”
Amy shivered and said that she hoped they had been disturbed the night before and would stay away. They went out together and made things secure before locking up the house.
“Love Finally Takes Control” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amy Louise decides to leave her home in order to find a new life and a man she had never met. She is outspoken, determined and often annoys people of her cohort when she speaks the truth. Amy Louise needs some action in her life but when she is dropped in the middle of nowhere and finds the man she has come to meet unconscious on the bed, what is she going to do?
Oliver Truman is a man with a secret past. His friendship with a member of the Apache, as well as prejudice, has created all sorts of rumors on his regard. People in town have treated him with cruelty, and he cannot stand this loneliness anymore. When his intended bride arrives, will he prove to be a good man, or just a friend of the Apaches and someone who may had caused the death of several soldiers?
Amy Louise, determined to help, does exactly what she’s best at, looking after Oliver and wondering if he was the answer to her prayers. Their mission is tough, but not impossible; they have to form a strong team to help other people and fight their way through to a place where they could look ahead. Would they move ahead as business partners or would love really take control and rearrange their lives?
“Love Finally Takes Control” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.