Trent whistled as he rode along, eager to be done with the day. It had been a very long one, and he was beyond ready to get home and relax. Nothing too exciting had happened, he’d done his standard riding around town and hanging out in the office, chatting with his deputy, Andy, and waiting for some crises to happen.
It wasn’t that he wanted something bad to happen, but he did prefer days with excitement to days without it, and living in the small town of Greystone, Wyoming, meant that he spent more days sitting around and waiting than he did facing criminals.
He often said that a sheriff’s work is never done, but he’d honestly not had anyone come fetch him when he was off duty for months. His evenings were spent quietly at home, eating dinner and sitting in front of the fire. He was a loner. Always had been, always planned to be.
With his dedication to his work, Trent felt that he didn’t have time for a woman in his life. Oh, he had his admirers, but he treated them with the respect any gentleman would, tipping his hat to them and bidding them a good day as he rode by.
It was no wonder the ladies loved him. He was a lean, muscular man with weathered skin and a black shock of hair often looking as though it needed to be cut. His face was angular and thin with a strong jaw covered in ever-present stubble. His hands were rough, his eyes piercing but kind. But, perhaps his most distinguishable feature was the scar running from his left temple across his eye and nearly to his nose.
Tall, dark, handsome with a fearlessness that was enough to make even the married women give him a second glance. There were plenty of rumors that surrounded him. Rumors of his great and heroic acts. But, Trent didn’t have time for those kind of stories.
He enjoyed stories of a different kind. The rumors of the gang members that stalked the hills surrounding his town. He liked to hear what he was up against and prepare for it accordingly.
Trent loved the fierce, wild west. The unforgiving thunderstorms and lawless men who needed to be brought to justice. He could ride for hours on the endless prairie and never grow tired of it.
Satisfied there wasn’t anything around that needed his attention, he turned Red, his beautiful horse and faithful companion of many years, back toward town. The wind was to his back, the grass swooshed around his horse’s legs, and the sun beat down on his black hat.
Greystone rose from the prairie in front of him. It was a small, quiet town; primarily a stop for travelers who were just passing through. A long main street dotted with a saloon, a general store, and a few small businesses were largely what the town boasted, along with a small schoolhouse on the north side.
The people of the town were good, wholesome people. Many dedicated to using the schoolhouse as a church on Sunday, and most willing to do anything to help their neighbor.
As he rode into town, he tipped his hat to a couple of women who were walking by, a basket in each of their hands. They were the young Klein girls, two sisters who had grown into beautiful young women. They giggled at him and covered their mouths with their hands, hiding the blushes that swept over their already rosy cheeks.
His smile faded as he headed toward the sheriff’s office, leaving them to swoon and gossip about their lives. Wagons dotted the street along with horses tied out to hitch posts, waiting for their owners to come back out to get them. Music rang out from the saloon, and Old Frank came stumbling up the street.
“Trent Dobson! There you are! Been wondering what you’ve been up to today!” he called out cheerfully.
“Old Frank! You been spending the day in the saloon again?” Trent called back.
“A man needs to wet his whistle from time to time!” the old man shouted.
“Well you’re in there wetting it every day. Don’t you think you better take a day off?” Trent asked with a laugh.
“I’ll take a day off the when the cows come home!” Old Frank shouted again.
“You ain’t got no cows, and it’s about that time anyway,” Trent said. “I saw them when I was on my way back into town.”
“Well I ain’t got no cows like you said, so I don’t need to be taking a day off,” Old Frank retorted. He stumbled back over to the saloon, and Trent shook his head. There was no changing that old man, but the town loved him anyway. He spent most of his time in the saloon, living off the gold he’d spent years mining down by the river.
He was harmless as far as Trent was concerned, and as such he didn’t need to be bothered. Trent gave Red a kick in the sides, urging him to pick up the pace and get to the other side of town. He wanted to get through with closing up the shop so he could get out of there. Andy always waited for him to get back before he closed the doors, and Trent knew it.
He tied Red to the front hitch post and took off his hat on the way inside the building. There weren’t any prisoners in either of the two cells against the back wall, which made it a lot easier to close things up for the night.
The office was fairly good sized. There was plenty of room for the large desk in the center, with two cells off on the far side. The cells each contained a bench, a pillow, and an old horse blanket, but that was it.
Andy was seated with his feet up on the desk and his hat pulled low over his eyes. Trent could hear the slow, rhythmic breathing and shook his head. Andy was a great deputy, but if he was left on his own for too long, he’d often do things like that.
Trent slapped his hat down on the table, and Andy jumped up.
“What the blazes are you doing? You scared me!” Andy said when he realized Trent had gotten back.
“What are you doing? You aren’t much help to anyone if you are lying in here asleep,” he said. “I thought I talked to you about that last week? Remember, when you said it wasn’t going to happen again?”
“I was up late last night,” Andy whined. “I didn’t think it would hurt anything. If anyone wants us, they come running in here like the Devil himself is after them.”
“That doesn’t mean that you’re going to be ready for them when they do. Is your pistol loaded?” Trent asked with raised eyebrows.
“It’s always loaded; you know that. It’s not going to do me much good if it’s not, is it?” Andy replied with a hurt look.
“It’s going to do about as much good as you are lying in here with your feet on the desk. You know there are plenty of things you could be doing in here besides sleeping. And you know you have to be here, so don’t stay up late,” Trent replied.
“I thought I’d go out for some fun. It’s been a while, and I’d love to meet a lovely lady to be my girl,” Andy argued.
“If you want to do that, I’d recommend you look elsewhere besides the saloon. You know there’s not going to be anyone in there you’re going to want to settle down with. I don’t care how small this town is,” Trent said without looking up.
Andy sighed as he grabbed his hat and jammed it down on his head. “This town is really too small sometimes. I’ve tried my luck with all the women, and they all say the same thing.”
“And what’s that?” Trent asked.
“How’s Trent. I pale in comparison to you, and I’m sick of it,” Andy said with bitterness in his voice.
“Well I don’t think that’s the case. You just aren’t trying hard enough,” he said with a laugh. “Besides, you know me. I’m far too busy doing this job to settle down with someone.”
“Oh, the day is going to come when you meet some pretty young thing and you’re going to want to sweep her off her feet,” Andy predicted. “Mark my words.”
“I’ll pass her along to you; I really don’t think it’s going to happen. Now, I think that’s enough for one day. I’m tired and ready to get out of here,” Trent said with a yawn. “It’s a wonder how these uneventful days are the ones that wear me out the most.”
“That’s because you spend the whole day on edge waiting for something to happen,” Andy said matter of factly. “When you are out there catching the criminals you are doing something you love to do. It’s different.”
“I don’t know about all that, but I’m tired. Let’s go,” Trent replied.
Suddenly, the door burst open and a man came rushing inside. “Help! Dobson, help!”
“What’s wrong? Slow down there Carter before you give yourself a heart attack, what’s wrong?” Trent asked.
“You’ve got to come out to the ranch and see what’s happened,” Carter said. “Please!”
“Need me to tag along?” Andy asked.
“No, you go ahead and get out of here. I’ll take Carter and see what’s going on,” Trent replied. He followed the distraught man outside, and they mounted their horses then they were off. Trent had no trouble pushing Red to gallop, but Carter’s horse was tired from the run into town and was falling behind.
“Are you going to keep up with that nag, or are you going to have to get off and walk?” Trent asked over his shoulder.
“Now is not the time for jokes,” Carter snapped. Trent gave him a look but turned his attention back to the trail in front of them. They’d veered off the main road and were now galloping through fields to get to Carter’s ranch. It was far faster than going around the long way, and Trent wanted to get off the hot, dusty road anyway.
The long grass grasped at the horses’ legs, and the relentless heat from the sun made the shirt stick to Trent’s back. Sweat ran down his forehead, causing dust to cling to his face, but his hat sat firmly on his head, keeping his eyes at least shaded from the bright light.
“It’s right over here,” Carter said as soon as they got to his ranch. He leapt off his horse and hurried over to the fence, motioning for Trent to follow him. Trent dismounted and walked calmly over, seeing that there was no imminent danger in the area.
“What are we looking at?” he asked as he squatted down next to Carter.
“You can see where it’s been cut here and here,” Carter said, pointing to the wire. “I’ve lost half my head of cattle, and the others were about to wander out of here when I caught the fence broken. I put it back together as best as I could before coming to get you, but what do you make of it?”
“Did you look for the cattle?” Trent asked. “You’re sure that this was cut and not broken by one of them pushing up against it?”
“They aren’t going to push up against barbed wire like this, and they are nowhere to be found. As soon as I saw that it was cut, I came to get you,” Carter explained. “There’s got to be something else going on here.”
“I can tell you that,” Trent said as he rose. He scanned the horizon. The deep grass hid the tracks of where the cattle had gone – and what had happened to them. He’d known there had been a lot more cattle stolen in the area recently, and he’d issued a warning to all ranchers who raised the stock.
“Thieves?” Carter asked, breaking into his thoughts. “We haven’t had any issue with those in years.”
“Well, there’s a first time for everything. Have you been around all day?” Trent asked, turning his attention back to the rancher.
“I was out checking the fence lines. I got back just in time to see the remaining cattle trying to get through here,” Carter replied.
“That’s when they struck,” Trent said.
“But why didn’t they take all of them? Half is just as hard to handle as the whole herd,” Carter mused.
Trent turned to him with a sigh. “I suppose you should be glad that they didn’t. If I had to guess, they probably heard you coming back and got out of here before you did. With that dog of yours it’s not hard to hear where you are.”
“I should have left her here,” Carter said with a shake of his head. “That is going to cost me dearly through the winter.”
“I know, and I’m going to get to the bottom of this,” Trent replied.
“How? You don’t even know where to start,” Carter countered.
Trent chuckled and turned his attention back to the horizon. “Actually, I think I do.”
The pot whistled on the stove, and Eliza sighed as she walked over to it. It was a cold, wet, dreary day, and she’d spent most of it inside working on her needlepoint. She wanted to have it finished in time for her best friend’s baby to arrive, but with the limited time she’d been having to work on it, she didn’t know if that was going to happen.
She poured herself a cup of tea, looking out the window at the rain dripping steadily down the glass. She dipped her finger in the tea, testing to see how hot it was. The burning liquid caused her to yank her hand back and put her fingers in her mouth, but she knew it would fade soon.
Her blonde hair hung in waves down her back. She was a slender girl, average height. Not too tall, but not petite, either. Her long, lean legs were hidden beneath her prairie skirt, and her beautiful, womanly hands moved with skill as she handled the boiling water.
She had soft features, looking far younger than she really was. Her bright blue eyes took in the light of the fire and danced with life and youth. All who saw her said she had the beauty of an angel.
Knowing she wasn’t going to see anyone that day she hadn’t bothered to pull it up in the bun she often wore. Her blue eyes glistened with a tear from the pain of her finger, but she shook her head, shaking it off and looking back out the window.
She nearly went back to the mug in front of her, but something caught her eye, and she had to go back for a closer look. There were three large, dark blurs and clearly a man on a horse, but she didn’t recognize him through the bleary glass.
Her heart skipped a beat, and she stiffened. She’d heard from her best friend that her brother was back in town, and though she hoped it wasn’t true, she had a feeling it was. Hannah had also wanted to stay out of the situation with Eliza’s brother, but as Hannah’s uncle was part of the same gang, she knew a lot more than she wanted to.
Eliza didn’t think it was fair. She had moved to the west to escape. It was hard to break out of the life she had been living, but she was determined, and on Hannah’s invitation, she’d come. This little, rustic cabin was perfect for her, and with the little money she’d saved and some help from her friend, they’d been able to purchase it from a man who was moving out of town, heading back East.
It was a perfect cabin for her. Small but still with enough room. Hidden in the rolling hills of the prairie, it was nearly out of sight to anyone who was passing by. The long grass concealed most of it from riders, but it was still close enough to Hannah’s house and town that Eliza felt safe staying there alone.
She turned from her mug and walked over to the door, her heart racing. She hoped that it wasn’t her brother, but she also didn’t want any other stranger coming to her. With a sigh, she unlatched the lock and threw it open, ready to face the worst.
Sure enough, when she opened the door, there he was with three cattle.
“Jacob! What do you think you are doing? You could get hanged for all this!” she snapped.
“And these are just the ones who didn’t sell!” Jacob replied triumphantly, sitting tall in the saddle. “Come on, aren’t you happy to see me?”
He leapt from the horse and walked over to the door, dripping wet from the rain, and kissed her on the cheek. Eliza, however, turned her head and made it clear she didn’t want to be touched. “You know how I feel about all this thieving you do!”
“And you know this is how we get our livelihood!” he snapped, jerking back.
“I don’t want to get it this way! Get a job and work for an honest wage, that’s all you have to do!” she argued.
“And why would I do that when we can make so much more doing this?” he asked.
“Because your luck is going to run out one of these days, and then you’re going to wish that you had listened to me,” she snapped once more. He shook his head and laughed, only infuriating her more.
“Why don’t you go out there and drive them into the barn? I’m freezing, and that fire is nice,” he said.
“No, I’m not going to have anything to do with this,” she said, crossing her arms defiantly. Eliza was sick of getting involved in the thieving ways of her brother. More than once she had been the one to patch him up if he was grazed by a bullet, or hide him in the house if a sheriff got too close.
She worried about him, and she worried about herself. She hated knowing she was tangled up in the mess, and she knew she could be tried for it as well. She might not be the one who was out doing it, but she was still an accomplice, and she felt terrible because of it.
“Are you really going to tell me now after all that I’ve done for you?” Jacob asked, letting horror show on his face. “You should be grateful, you know that?”
“I am grateful for what you did for me in the past, but that was before I was able to take care of myself. I can do that now, and you should find a new way to live as well,” she said quietly.
“Oh, you can take care of yourself now, can you? Is that why you moved all the way out here to this little cabin? Because you are able to take care of yourself?” he snapped, once more looking at her with a horrified expression.
“I had to get out of that town. Everyone knew who I was and what you did, and I knew I was going to be dragged into it, just like always,” she said, still keeping her voice low. “You know what you did to me back there.”
“I didn’t do anything to you but try to get you some money so you could live in a decent place. I didn’t want you to end up in some cabin like this one!” Jacob yelled. Eliza shook her head and walked back over to the stove, grabbing her tea and taking a long drink of it in spite of the scalding heat.
She didn’t want to talk about what happened back in New York. She’d been studying hard to get her teaching license with dreams of not having to depend on her brother any longer. She had been determined, but he’d gone and tried to rob a bank instead. There were several men involved, and three of them had gotten caught.
Jacob was lucky to get away like he did, and he only had because of her. He’d gone straight to her tiny apartment she shared with an older woman, begging to be hidden from the sheriff and his men who were out looking for him. Eliza had desperately wanted to say no. She didn’t want to get involved, and she certainly didn’t want to hide a criminal.
But, as always, she couldn’t say no to her brother. She couldn’t leave him out on the street to get caught and go to jail, even if he did deserve it. He was right; he’d done so much for her in the past, practically raising her after their parents died. If he hadn’t, she would have ended up in an orphanage, and she hated to think about what that would have done to her.
“Jacob, if you aren’t going to change, I’m going to have to stay away from you,” she said, trying to change the subject. “You know what this does to me, and I don’t want to deal with it anymore.”
“I don’t care what you want to deal with. I need your help, and I expect it after everything. It’s bad enough your friend got you to move all the way out here. I was doing fine with banks, now I have to move on to harder, less paying things,” Jacob growled. “Now you get out there and put those cattle in the barn.”
“I’m not going to put them anywhere. I don’t want to have anything to do with this!” she snapped.
“And I told you to put them out in the barn!” Jacob said. He walked over to her menacingly, and she took a step back. Her brother scared her when he treated her that way, and she felt a lump forming in her throat. “You can cry about it, or you can listen to me and take care of those dang cattle, and the horse, too, while you’re at it.”
He turned back to the fire, and she sighed. She didn’t want to, but she felt trapped. He was intimidating, scary even, and she didn’t dare cross him. She’d seen the wrath of her brother more than once, and she was going to do everything she could to avoid it, even if that meant she was going to have to join in on another of his crimes.
With a sigh, she put her shawl on the peg and slipped into her jacket, not daring to tell her brother he should help. She knew how to unsaddle a horse and put it up for the night, and the cows would be easy enough to attend to. A gentleman, of course, would never ask a woman to tend to such things.
But her brother was no gentleman.
Eliza walked out into the cold rain, bracing herself against the blast. The cattle had started to wander, but she walked up behind them and slapped their haunches, driving them to the barn. They were just as eager to get out of the rain as she was, and they happily went where she guided them once they realized that was what she was doing.
The horse, too, was easy enough to put up for the night, but when she was done, Eliza didn’t want to go back inside. She knew her brother was in a bad mood, and he was likely going to be difficult the rest of the evening.
The other choice didn’t seem any more appealing, however. Spending the night in a cold, wet barn with the animals when she could be in her own bed made it easy for her to pick. She’d put up with her brother through dinner, then she’d retire to her room and leave him out in the living room to sit by the fire.
“You know I like it here,” Eliza said when she walked back through the door. “The people are nice, and the church is nice, and I’m hoping to take on a job as a teacher when Hannah’s baby comes.”
“Hannah has always butted into things she shouldn’t,” Jacob growled. “And if she’s out here blabbing about you, then she’s likely going to get you arrested or killed before you even have a chance to work.”
“She didn’t tell them anything save for the fact she knew someone who might be interested in the job,” Eliza replied quietly. Her hands were shaking with emotion, and her voice quivered. She loved her brother, but she was terrified of him as well.
Too many memories of her involvement within his gang came rushing back to her. The times when he’d even forced her to ride along on his raids, telling her that she would be helpful in carrying the goods they would get. She’d always argued, of course, but being a much younger girl at the time, she didn’t think she could refuse completely. She’d seen him do things she’d never repeat and often wanted to forget.
“You aren’t going to be a teacher,” Jacob said with a sneer. “You didn’t get your certificate, and I’m glad for it to be quite honest.”
“I don’t want to depend on you anymore, Jacob. I’m still working to get my certificate. All I need is for the board at the school to approve my test and I’ll have it,” Eliza said with resolution in her voice. She was scared to stand up too much to her brother, but she would a little.
“Make some dinner,” Jacob replied. “I’m starving.”
“I don’t have a lot in the pantry,” she said. “I didn’t know I was going to have company tonight.”
“I don’t care what you have in the pantry. I’m starving, and I need to eat something!” Jacob demanded. “Now I’m done with your backtalk.”
She sighed. She wanted so badly to tell him to get out of her house, but she knew it would be futile, and only make him angrier. But, even if she couldn’t get him to leave the house, she could have an attitude while she cooked.
She grabbed her shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders, then squared her jaw and stood up tall as she walked to the pantry. If he wanted dinner, she would make dinner, but it would be as simple as possible.
Pancakes it was.
“I’m sorry, but my husband is not home. You’re going to have to come back when he is,” Mrs. Riley said fiercely. “We ain’t doing nothing wrong, and you can take your questions and get rid of them.”
“Mrs. Riley, listen. I’m not trying to tell you that you did anything wrong, and I’m not implying that you will. All I am saying is that there are cattle missing in the area, and I’m searching everywhere until I find them,” Trent replied.
“You ain’t going to find them here!” she yelled. “Now I’ll thank you to get off my property until my husband gets home.”
“That’s not going to be necessary. If the cattle aren’t here, then it’s not going to do me much good to come back, is it?” Trent replied. “But do you mind if I take a quick look in the barn?”
“You are going to stay out of that barn, you hear me! The only cattle that are in there belong to us!” she shouted.
“I understand that, how many are going to be in there?” Trent asked, keeping his cool.
“I told you—you ain’t going to be looking!” Mrs. Riley repeated angrily. “And if you do, I’m going to grab my shotgun and show you how to get off my land. It is well within my legal right to grab a gun when there is someone on my property harassing me!”
“You are within your legal rights, and I’m not trying to harass anyone. I’m just trying to find where these cattle went,” Trent said as he held up his hands. “There is no need for you to grab the gun.”
“Well I’m feeling threatened that you aren’t leaving, and I ain’t going to stand for it!” Mrs. Riley shouted. “You get out of here now, get!”
“Alright, I’ll go. Thank you for your time,” Trent said. He climbed back on top of his horse and shook his head. She stood in the doorway of her house and stared at him the entire time, making sure he really got off her property. Trent sighed. He wasn’t going to give up, but people were making it difficult for him to do his job.
No one wanted to let him look in their barns, and he was growing tired of asking. He knew the people in town much better than those who lived out in the country. They were often only in town when they were going to church, and he’d given up being a church man long ago.
He rode out onto the prairie with a sigh, scanning for another house.
“Hey!” a voice shouted behind him. He turned to see Andy riding up to him, his usual cheerful expression on his face. “How’s it going?”
“Well, Mrs. Riley threatened to pull her gun on me,” Trent said wearily.
“Mrs. Riley?” Andy asked.
“Yeah, those people who moved into the old Washington farm,” Trent replied. “I thought she was going to be pleasant, but from the moment I knocked on her door, I could see she was suspicious of me.”
“Did you show her your badge?” Andy asked. “That tends to help when people aren’t sure who you are.”
“Of course I showed her my badge!” Trent exclaimed. “But she insisted that her husband needed to be there before she would even talk to me.”
“That’s strange. Makes me think they must have something to hide,” Andy commented.
“You know, I thought the same thing, but with how high strung this woman was, I didn’t want to press her too much. The next thing I know she would have been screaming murder outside,” Trent said as he took his hat off and sponged his face.
“That’s the last thing any of us want, though I have to say that it wouldn’t have done her much good,” Andy said with a laugh. “You weren’t going to hurt her, and you are the law enforcement. What are they going to do? Come to you to stop you from coming to them?”
“Well, I thought of that, too, but then I thought if her husband is out in the field and they are that suspicious of the area, he might well have a rifle on him. I didn’t want to have him come crashing down and shoot before he found out the situation,” Trent said. “You know how men are when they’re scared.”
“I still think the whole thing is ridiculous. I’d have asked to look in the barn if I were you,” Andy said.
Trent sighed and nodded. “Thought of that, too, but that was when the threat of the gun coming out happened. I don’t think they did it, but I do wonder what else they have going on to be so suspicious.”
“Do you have any ideas?” Andy asked.
“I think you can guess,” Trent replied. “Who is the one person who is crazy enough to pull all of this off?”
“Jacob Kinsley?” Andy asked after taking a second to think about it.
“Exactly,” Trent replied. Kinsley and the Kinsley gang are just the people who would do something like this. No doubt they’re taking them to the surrounding area and selling them to unsuspecting farmers and such.”
Andy let out a long breath of air. “So why are we going door to door?”
“Because that couldn’t hurt, either,” Trent said with a laugh. “Suppose I’m wrong about the gang and we have a rancher building a herd of stolen cattle?”
“Ah,” Andy said. “Well I guess we better keep searching then.”
“We could go over just one more crest,” Andy said as the light was starting to fade.
Trent shook his head. “I think we’ve done enough for one day. It’s been a lot of dead ends, and I’m not in the mood to be yelled at by another angry housewife.”
“These country folk sure get worked up over things,” Andy said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen anyone get so upset by being asked to look in a barn or the back pasture.”
“I’m sure they have to be cautious. Shoot, what am I talking about? I’m the sheriff, and you are my deputy; they are being far too cautious if you ask me,” Trent said with a shake of his head. “There’s no one better to have around than us.”
“I agree, but good luck getting any of them to see it that way,” Andy said. They rode along in silence for a few moments, and then Trent looked over to the left. There was smoke rising over the little hill, and he pulled Red to a stop.
“Problem?” Andy asked.
“I’m going to check out that little cabin. I heard tell that someone moved in a few weeks ago, and I want to see what’s going on over there,” Trent said as he turned Red to the north.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Andy asked. Trent held up his hand and waved him off toward town. He didn’t want to drag his partner through another argument, especially since he knew Andy was tired and ready to get back to town. He could handle whoever it was living in this little cabin, he’d been in worst situations.
He rode right up into the yard, hopping off and tying his horse to one of the rails of the corral. The little house’s windows were glowing orange in the fading light, and the smell of the smoke from the chimney filled the air. There weren’t any chickens in the hen house, and there didn’t appear to be any life coming from the barn. But, that didn’t mean that these people wouldn’t be able to at least point him in the right direction.
He walked right up to the door and knocked deliberately, then took a step back and waited. There was the sound of someone moving about inside, almost frantically, and then the door opened slightly.
“Hello?” A young woman with delicate features peered out. Trent guessed her to be close to his age, but he was struck by her beauty. It was rare for him to ever give a woman a second glance, but there was something just captivating about this one. He took off his hat and smiled kindly at her.
“Hello Miss, my name is Trent Dobson, and I’m the sheriff in these parts,” he said. He motioned slightly with his hat, clearly surprised to find such a beautiful woman at the door.
She seemed to tense up slightly but was fighting to maintain composure over herself. She fought to speak again. “Hello.”
Eliza couldn’t put her finger on why, but at the moment she saw the sheriff, a host of emotions washed over her. She was afraid he’d find out about her brother, of course, but there was something familiar about him, almost as though she knew him.
She didn’t. She’d never seen him before in her life, but something stirred inside her.
“I’d heard recently that someone had moved into this cabin, and I thought I would ride over and introduce myself. What’s your name?”
“Eliza,” she said simply. She was clearly on edge, but Trent wanted to blame that on nerves.
“Is your husband home?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t have a husband. It’s just me here,” she said nervously, glancing around the barnyard.
“I see. That is quite a feat for a young woman to do all by herself,” he said. “Were you just looking to start a new life?”
“Something like that,” she said quickly. “I wanted to be a teacher, and I know they are going to be needing a new one out here. My friend, Hannah Crockett, is going to be having a baby soon, and she told me I should come out and get my foot in the door before someone else stepped into the position.”
She smiled warmly, putting her hands behind her back and looking at Trent with expectation in her eyes. Once again that familiar feeling ran down her spine. What was wrong with her?
“Very good. Say, I’m sure you aren’t going to be able to help me with this, but I’ve been spending my day looking for cattle rustlers. Do you happen to know anything about that?” Trent asked.
Eliza shook her head quickly. “I’m afraid not, but that sounds frightening.”
“Don’t worry, I’m the sheriff here, as I said, and I keep everyone safe. But ranchers are losing money, and I need to draw this to a close soon,” Trent said. He didn’t know what this girl was doing to him, but he was feeling very attracted to her.
“I’ll keep my eye out, and if I see anything that looks strange, I’ll come to you right away,” she said with a smile. She leaned against the door, strangely feeling more comfortable with the man.
“I’d appreciate it. Anyway, I won’t take up any more of your time,” Trent said. “It was nice to meet you, Eliza.”
“It was very nice to meet you, too,” Eliza said. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Trent said with a smile. He didn’t want to ask her to search her barn, feeling that it would cause her to think no one in town trusted her. It was evident there wasn’t anything going on around the place, and she was such a kind woman, he wanted her to feel welcome in town.
Shoot, he even hoped that she’d liked him.
He had to admit, he was surprised to find such a young, beautiful woman in the cabin. Not to mention he’d taken an immediate liking to her. Though she hadn’t moved from the door, he could see she was full of grace, and in their brief interaction, he was also struck with her kindness.
“What are you thinking?” he said to himself as he mounted Red. “You know you aren’t looking to settle down with anyone. But that girl, she was just so nice.”
He didn’t know if he was talking more to himself or to his horse, but he did know that he wanted to find out more about this mysterious woman. How odd that a young girl such as herself would move into that cabin alone, and just to be a schoolteacher.
He shook his head, trying to focus on the cattle rustlers. He didn’t have time to get involved in any kind of relationship when he had more pressing matters at hand. There simply wasn’t a way it would work out.
But she sure was sweet.
“I told you things are getting too close for comfort!” Eliza hissed as she yanked her brother out of the closet. “If that man had wanted to look around the place, you and I would both be in a heap of trouble!”
Jacob allowed her to pull him out, but he jerked his arm away once he was free of the confinement. Eliza threw her hand down. They were used to rough interaction.
“Well he might not have wanted to look around the place if you weren’t being so darn friendly with him! I’ve never heard you be so sweet on someone in all my life!” Jacob snapped. “It was hard for me to listen to without coming out and telling him to leave myself.”
“I told him that I lived here alone, so if you had you would have made me out to be a liar, and again we both would have been in a heap of trouble,” Eliza shot back.
“You are a liar. You told him that you lived here alone, and you didn’t know where the cattle rustlers are. If that’s not a lie, I don’t know what is!” Jacob remarked snidely.
Eliza hesitated. “You just better be glad that I did, or you would have been the one going to jail right now.”
“You know that he would have taken both of us; I don’t have to tell you that,” Jacob said with a sneer.
“I could have told him that you were here by force, and that is the truth!” she snapped.
“Well, you aren’t going to be around here long enough to really have to worry about that man anyway. I don’t like how you handled that, but we aren’t going to have to deal with him again,” Jacob said after he took a deep breath.
“Why’s that?” Eliza asked.
“Because you are going to be going back home with me. It was foolish of you to come out here in the first place, and I can’t trust that you aren’t going to get sweet with that sheriff!” Jacob shouted.
Eliza laughed. “So now you are going to throw kidnapping in on top of everything else that you’ve done?”
“It’s not kidnapping when it’s your own family,” Jacob argued. “And you are not going to stay here.”
“Yes I am. You aren’t going to tell me what to do any longer. I am a grown woman, and I can make my own decisions, even if it means you are going to be angry with me!” Eliza stated. She started pacing. This was too much for her to handle. Too much.
“Shut up! I’m getting really sick of this new attitude you have. Seems to me like you are forgetting your place,” Jacob growled.
Eliza shook her head. She grabbed her shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders before looking at him defiantly. “It seems to me that you are forgetting I don’t have a place here.”
“You’re right if you are talking about this cabin. Your place is with the rest of the gang. You know we are family, Eliza, stop being so daft,” Jacob said, his tone now soothing. He walked over to her and tried to put his arm around her, but she pushed him away. She didn’t want to be touched by him, ever. Too many times he was rough with her, and she wanted to avoid even gentleness.
“I’m not the one being daft! If you think that those men are my family, you are making a huge mistake. I don’t like any one of them, and I’m not going to pretend that I do!” Eliza said adamantly.
“I don’t know, Cash is pretty sweet on you,” Jacob said with a cruel smile.
“I hate Cash most of all,” Eliza snapped at her brother. She sighed. “Look, Jacob, I know you don’t like hearing this, but I don’t want anything to do with any of this anymore. I don’t want to live a life where I am always looking over my shoulder and afraid of what is going to happen next.”
“You don’t have to. If you just trust me to take care of you, you know that I will,” Jacob argued.
“I had to sew you up in New York after you got yourself shot robbing that bank! Then I had to hide you in a closet so you didn’t get arrested, just like tonight.” She shook her head and looked out the window.
“You realize that all goes with our lives. I know you didn’t choose this, but trust me it’s the best for both of us. We are going to make so much money, and then we aren’t ever going to have to do it again,” Jacob said.
Eliza laughed. “Jacob, you have been telling me that for years, but we are still doing it. How much money is enough for you? You have been sending me money as well as taking care of yourself. It’s never going to be enough for you.”
“I’ll know it when it’s here,” he said with a shrug. “Now you are going to write up three bills of sale for me to take tomorrow.”
“I will not!” Eliza yelled, fire in her eyes. “If you want those written, you can do it yourself!”
“You know you have far better handwriting than I do. If we are going to make this look good, you are going to have to do it,” Jacob said, his voice tense with anger. Eliza knew that he hated her defiance, but she was growing bolder with him. Throughout the years he had used fear and intimidation to get her to do as he bid, and she was growing tired of it.
The only problem was, he did support her. If it wasn’t for the money that he gave her, she never would have been able to afford coming out to the west and buying this cabin. She’d still be stuck in that stuffy apartment with that woman. She had to get her teaching certificate so she could finally tell him enough was enough.
Until then, she was trapped doing what he said, and he knew it.
“I don’t want to be part of this. It’s bad enough that I lied to that man tonight. If I’m going to live here, it’s only a matter of time until he figures out the truth,” she said, tears in her eyes. She hated crying in front of her brother, but she was so frustrated she didn’t know what else to do.
“That’s why you can’t stay here. You’ve got to come back with me and the other members, and we will go back to how things were before,” Jacob said with a sigh. “You are so daft about this I’m not sure if you are thinking at all.”
“I’m not daft! I’ve just grown tired of the way you push all this on me, and I’m not going to write up those papers!” Eliza snapped, suddenly feeling a surge of confidence. She turned to go back to her bedroom, leaving the papers to her brother and the dishes on the table. Those would be washed in the morning, for now she had to have some time to herself.
She was proud of herself, standing up to her brother that way, but it didn’t last for long.
There was fire in his eyes that burned even deeper when she defied him, and he flew across the room at her, grabbing her arm and turning her back around. His face was only inches from her, and he looked down at her with fury.
“That is enough of this foolishness! I’ve put up with it all night, and you are going to stop it now! I told you to write up those papers, and that is what you are going to do! Stop with your attitude and get those papers done!” He shoved her toward the table, and she cried out.
She wasn’t really hurt, mostly just frightened. Her brother had only grabbed her a few times, but he always grabbed her hard when he did. She was afraid to fight back, he was so much stronger.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” she said. Her voice cracked with anger and fear, but she refused to look at him.
“Good. I’m going to go tend to the cattle, and by the time I get back in, those had better be on the table and ready to go,” Jacob warned.
“They will be,” she said with a scowl. She set to work on the bills of sale, ignoring the tears that welled up in her eyes. There was a part of her that wanted to turn her brother in. If she were to do that, she might get out of getting in trouble with the law herself. It was confusing, and she didn’t know if that’s how it worked, but she was so tired of how he treated her that she didn’t mind giving it a shot.
But the fear of what would happen if it didn’t work came crawling back like a cold hand on the back of her neck. She didn’t want to go to jail, and she didn’t know if a jury would be on her side even if she tried to convince them that she hadn’t wanted to have any hand in what her father did.
Even worse, her brother could be hanged for his crimes, and she was terrified of that happening, too. She hated the way he treated her, but she could never turn him in if he could end up on the gallows for it. She merely had to endure the way he treated her and hope that he would eventually go away.
“But that’s never going to happen,” she said with a sigh as she finished the last of the papers. She set them on the edge of the table, and then she grabbed the plates and cups. If she had to do the papers, she might as well do the dishes, too.
At least he said he’s going to be gone in the morning. I’ll get up extra early and make sure breakfast is on the table. Hopefully that will get him out of here sooner rather than later.
And what about that sheriff who knocked on the door? He was sure handsome. I wonder what he thought of me? He seemed to like me. What am I thinking? I can’t go sweet on a sheriff! That would be the worst idea!
But still, he was awfully nice, and boy, was he handsome!
The thoughts slowly ran through Eliza’s head as she washed the dishes. She was tired of thinking of her brother and what he put her through. It was bad enough that he did, and even worse that he was staying in the house with her. But, if she remembered that he was going to leave in the morning, it would be bearable.
She would get through washing the dishes then go to her room and close the door. He was bound to drink some whiskey and go to bed himself, though he’d have to sleep on her floor. The cabin was so small it only had the one bedroom, and she had given him enough; she wasn’t going to give up her room, too.
Her thoughts drifted back to Trent as she tried to remember his name. She’d been so flustered at the time it had slipped her mind, and she really wished that it hadn’t. It was rare for her to interact so well with a young man, though she felt she had been foolish when she’d done so.
After all, he was clearly confident and accomplished, and here she was, living in a tiny cabin and trying to get a teaching certificate for school. A man like him would never give her a second glance, would he?
But then, did she even want him to? Shouldn’t she be turning and running from him every time she saw him on the street? Eliza sighed as she put the last dish in the cupboard. Jacob still hadn’t come back inside, and that was fine with her. The less she had to see her brother, the better.
She removed her apron and hung it on the little hook next to the door, and then she grabbed her book and headed for her room. She might not ever get to talk to the sheriff again, but she was going to think long and hard about the conversation they had that night.
Because boy, he was so handsome.
“A Mysterious Lady for the Resolute Sheriff” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Cattle thieves, bank robberies, outlaws; for the Sheriff Trent Dobson, life in the West truly is wild! As a man who’s been married to his work since the day he was sworn in as a deputy, he takes his duty very seriously and doesn’t have the time to settle down. He’s only got time to make sure everyone in his little town is safe from all danger – especially from the vicious Kinsley gang! After witnessing a fierce shooting, Trent swore to bring every single one of the gang’s members to justice. For years they eluded him. They’ve become his obsession – until one day he meets someone else who captures his attention. Can he afford to succumb to this alluring distraction?
Eliza Kinsley is a beautiful, mysterious woman trying to get a job as a new school teacher in town. But she has a well kept secret that revolves around her ties with the Kinsley gang. What is she hiding? She wants to make a new start, but someone is holding her back. Trent’s feelings towards Eliza are growing rapidly, but she’s keeping him at arm’s length in order to protect him from the truth. Can she trust her heart, even if the risk is too high for them both?
In this Romeo and Juliet kind of situation, can Eliza follow her heart and be happy, or will her secrets stand in the way of her true love? And will Trent be able to handle the truth about the woman who stole his heart?
“A Mysterious Lady for the Resolute Sheriff” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.