Her parents were dead.
Her parents had been dead, but on nights like tonight, it felt as if it had just happened all over again. She sat up in bed, her sheets pulled to her chest tightly as she tried to regain some sense of normal breathing or a steadier heartbeat.
At first, tears would follow the dream, her grief tantamount to anything else. Over time, though, that grief had morphed and melded itself into something new. Still present, still just as strong, but with a purpose.
The Grizzlies were a stain on the town, on the county, on the whole state. They left behind them a trail of destruction so wide that it was a wonder they had managed to forego being caught yet. Sheriff Braun had told her, when she questioned it, that it was because of how smart their leader was.
Jane wondered if part of it didn’t have to do with how lazy everyone else was, though.
She got out of bed carefully, wrapping herself in her dressing gown and wandering through the cold, dark house.
The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours or more, but there would be no sleep after reliving that memory for her. Her hands felt shaky, even though when looking down at them, she could see that they weren’t, so she bypassed her wardrobe in favor of the door leading out of the room instead.
She grabbed the holster and gun that hung by the door almost as an afterthought, her brow tense as she slung it over one shoulder and made the familiar trek from her room downstairs.
Sheriff Braun’s “We’ll catch them” had eventually morphed into “We’ll do everything in our power” over the months after her parents passing. His certainty had waned along with her faith in their sheriff’s department, leaving an uneasy air between the two of them. Three years was a long time to wait for justice that hit so close to home.
Especially when those responsible for the atrocious crime were still terrorizing the local towns and outlying farms.
Reverend Mason preached peace almost as often, if not more so than Sheriff Braun did patience, but Jane was running perilously short on both of those qualities.
On nights that her memories came to plague her, it was even harder for Jane to put such things from her mind, noticing all too easily how quiet and empty the house was now. It was like a metaphor for what her life had become. Cold and empty.
She’d taken on a job at the local saloon after the money from the sale of the general store had run out, but even that left little room in her life for anything else.
Her boss had told her, time and again, that she should move on. But the words were as empty and hollow as her house. How was she supposed to move on from such a loss before the wound was even allowed to be cleaned?
She went out the back door, walking off the porch and down the steps straight out into the darkness of the yard beyond. It was too early yet for her to go and fetch her targets to shoot, the barely lit yard a poor setting for being able to even see the targets even should she risk setting them up, but the gun in the holster on her shoulder called to her.
Jane had always been a good shot, taught by her father from the time she was old enough to hold a gun. The last three years, though, had seen her honing that skill further, imagining every target she setup as the men responsible for the loss of her parents. She created whole stories around it, being in the right place at the right time and finally carrying out the justice that had held her back for so long….
There was no time after seeing it carried through that she could see, though. Only the act itself and the peace it would bring her.
Jane drew the gun, securing the holster further across her chest, and checked the chamber with a keen eye. Only when she was sure it was loaded did she lift the muzzle from being pointed at the compact earth she stood on. Her eyes narrowed in the dimness of the yard, lifting up to the only source of light that shone down on her.
With a frown, she lifted the gun further, getting one star in her sights and homing in her focus. It didn’t matter that she wouldn’t be able to verify she shot it. It didn’t matter that no earthly bullet could carry to heaven like that. All that mattered was the sight and the strength of her arm as it held the gun steady on the said star.
With a steady exhale, she fired, feeling the reverberation from the gun travel up her arm and into her shoulder as she listened to the whistle of the bullet piercing the air.
And with another exhale, she fired another, and another, her arm barely moving with each one until the depression of her finger on the trigger became automatic until an empty click was all that she was met with as she tried to fire off another shot.
Her arm lowered slowly, her heartbeat more even now that she had released some of that pent-up emotion residing within her breast.
It was a star, not some shadowy figure of a man she had never seen, but it would do…For now.
It was always, for now. Her eyes still lifted to that star as she felt her breathing slow down too, her eyes closing slowly as she lifted her face more towards the heavens and the stars she had just been shooting at.
One day she would avenge her parents.
One day she would be afforded the opportunity to make the Grizzlies, and the cowardly man who ran them, answer for the crimes that they had carried out in the area. One day….
She could only pray that that day would come sooner rather than later.
Pray and wait.
Just as she had been doing for three long years.
Being up as early as Jane had the night before had some benefits.
By the time it was time for her to leave for work later that afternoon, she had already done all of her household chores and had time to practice shooting more, with light on her side for target practice that time. She’d even had time to try and do her hair as a way to distract from the pitiful dark circles that seemed permanently bruised beneath her eyes.
Actually, being up as early as she had, she’d almost had too much time on her hands to find anything to do with.
That was why she sailed into the tavern a good twenty minutes before her shift was due to start, a bright smile pasted on her face despite how false it felt there.
Several of the regulars called out hellos as she came in, one of them even going so far as to slur out a request for a song as if expecting her to park herself immediately behind the piano and curry for his favor, but it was the snort from behind the bar that caught Jane’s attention.
“You’re early,” Nellie Whitman accused, not sounding as pleased about it as an employer should.
She was a large woman, larger than most of the men that filled the bar stools in front of her and then some, with shoulders like a mountain and a wit as dry as the dirt outside of the saloon. Some men called her handsome, though in truth, it would have been beautiful if she had been built any different way. Her blonde hair was always swept back up into a bun, highlighting the sharpness of her features, even more so the sharpness of her blue eyes.
Nellie’s eyes missed nothing.
It was how Jane knew that she was being carefully looked over. The dark circles under her eyes were noticed despite her own attempts at making them less visible.
“I’m early,” she called back, forcing levity into the words. “I came to help you out. I know how much you miss me when I’m not here,” she teased, grabbing an apron off of the back counter and tying it expertly around her narrow waist.
“You’d be better off using that time to grab a nap,” Nellie pointed out, her lips a thin line as she pushed a glass of beer over to Old Sam.
“Oh, leave her alone, Nell,” Jack Whitman called out as he came out of the backroom carrying a box of liquor to be stored under the counter. “If she wants to be dead on her feet, who are we to stop her?” There was chastisement in his tone too, though it was warmer, and Jane smiled for it.
Jack was nearly the opposite of his sister Nellie in looks, favoring his mother where Nellie favored their father. He was just as tall, though much thinner-boned and with more rounded, kind features. His shock of red hair made him stand out, his grey-green eyes always dancing with a song whether he was behind the piano or not.
“I’m not that tired, really,” Jane lied, the words coming easily from practice rather than any real belief in them. “I slept plenty last night!” she hedged, dropping down to start stacking the bottles Jack had brought out with him under the bar, readying it for when the dinner rush crowded in.
“How much did you sleep then?” Nellie asked bluntly, throwing the towel over her shoulder, and standing with one hip against the bar as she stared Jane down.
Jane hesitated, unwilling to give any real answer to that question because she knew even if she lied, she’d just be further questioned about it.
“When has it ever mattered how much I sleep?” Jane asked in amused exasperation, trying to change the subject. “Does it impede my work? Do I slack on the job on the nights I sleep less, and neither of you has chosen to tell me?”
Nellie snorted, rolling her eyes so pointedly that Jane could see it even out of her peripherals.
“No, no mistakes, you know that,” Jack said with a shake of his head, wiping off his hands and clearly making it apparent that he was about to go get back on the piano and work the customers up into wanting to buy another few rounds. “It’s just the bags under your eyes…the constant yawning…you swaying if you stay in one place for too long.”
“Not to mention the weight fluctuations that happen because you refuse to eat right when you haven’t slept,” Nellie added, tacking onto her brother’s list.
Jane winced, trying to fight back a yawn that nearly felt like it would crack her jaw as she finished unloading the box. “You two,” she laughed, “fret more than my own mother ever did, and you both know how she fretted.”
She was trying to tease, to keep things light, but Jack and Nellie pointing out the behavior wasn’t helping. Had it really become that noticeable? She thought that she had been hiding it well enough, but they made it sound as if she had a real problem.
Jack shook his head, wandering off towards the piano and cracking his knuckles with dramatic flair as he sat on the piano bench across the room.
“The nightmares are becoming more frequent, aren’t they?” Nellie asked quietly, coming to stand right next to Jane so that their conversation could be private while the first notes of “Wait for the Wagon” started to come from the piano. “You’re certainly sleeping less and less these days.”
Jane smiled again, though even that motion felt tiring to her, catching sight of a customer’s raised hand, and seeing the drink in front of him while she shrugged in answer to Nellie’s question. She caught the glass as it slid down the bar to her, topping it off with what seemed to be whiskey and cherry before sending it back and replacing the whiskey bottle. “I’m fine,” she promised.
“And Jack’s real popular with the ladies,” Nellie answered back blandly, her sarcasm embedded even into her body language. “If you don’t want to talk about it, just say so, but know we’re worried.” She spoke baldly, without any subterfuge or hidden agenda, and though it was rough, Jane knew the place of friendship that it came from.
“It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, Nell,” Jane muttered, taking one of the dirty glasses over by the sink and picking a wet rag up from the soapy water to start washing it. “It’s only that you don’t need to be worried. Really. I’m fine,” she stressed, lips twitching at Nellie’s searching glance.
“Uh-huh,” the other woman harrumphed, shaking her head fondly as she moved out from behind the bar. “Well, since you’re so fine, I’m going to go in back and get ahead on balancing those books. If you need anything or anyone gets out of hand, just holler.”
Jane knew what that meant. If anyone got loud and needed to be handled, it was always Nellie who threw them out. They were always, even the regulars, expecting the biggest push to come from Jack. But Nellie would just grab them up and throw whatever man, no matter how large, over her shoulder and haul them out of the saloon to be tossed out into the street. God help the ones that tried coming back in, too, because that was a surefire way to ignite the big woman’s temper.
“You got it, Boss,” Jane called after her, grinning as Old Sam hid his own laugh behind the mug of his beer.
“I better,” Nellie mumbled as she lumbered off. “Someone around here has to.”
Old Sam snorted, beer going over the rim of his glass, and on cue, Jane reached across the counter to wipe it up, holding her recently cleaned mug out of the way of the spray.
“Watch out, old man,” she faux whispered. “She catches you laughing at her again, and you’ll be the one to pay!”
His grizzled face broke into poorly hidden laughter, no noise leaving his throat despite how clear it would have if he were able to make any. Old Sam was a mute and had been for longer than Jane could remember. He was covered in scars, one eye half-blind, and the other the kindest shade of amber that Jane thought she had ever seen. People whispered that he had been in the war, others came up with more horrifying stories, but he was just a fixture in the saloon from open to close, only wandering back home once the last call was made.
“Bartender!” A belligerent voice hollered as the doors swung open and an exceptionally tall man strode through. He was nearing six foot six, with a frame slighter than Jack’s, and a good deal of what Jane’s dad would have called high falutin’ fabric and cut to his clothes.
Jane recognized him, though it was clear it was one-sided as he caught sight of her and not Nellie behind the counter. He had fast been becoming a regular over the past month, wandering in at all hours and regaling anyone who would listen to stories that Jane had heard called far-fetched. When he wasn’t doing that, he was gambling off in the corner, and every time Jane had been working while he was in, she had just managed to escape his radar.
Something that clearly changed the moment that his grey eyes landed on her then. Interest was clear in his features, his grin bearing the kind of confidence that usually only hit a man’s face after he’d imbibed several of Nellie’s strongest-made drinks.
“My name’s not bartender,” she returned evenly, being sure to keep her tone light and conversational with no leaning in either direction.
“I bet not,” the man agreed readily, sliding into the stool in front of where she was working and leaning back into it as he looked her over. “Spoke before I saw you, my mistake.”
“Nellie’s name isn’t bartender either,” Jane joked, trying to shake off her misgivings about the man and settle into her usual friendly work demeanor. “Though I suppose with manners like that, she might make you call her Ms. Whitman instead.”
“I got manners,” the tall man argued, albeit with a smile. “I was just joking, is all. Why don’t you tell me what I can call you, eh lass?” A bit of an Irish brogue seemed to creep into his accent at the end there, his smile lifting all the more, but Jane knew her job.
She arched one eyebrow coyly, laying it on as thick as she knew Nellie had taught her to do, and shook her head. “You can call me ma’am,” she answered with a kind of imperial twirl back to the shelf of glasses. “And you can tell me what drink I’m fixing you here.”
“Maybe it’s you who don’t have the manners,” the man teased, leaning in and his grin widening. He ate up the act that Jane put out as easily as any of the others, even more easily than some, and Jane knew that if Nellie were out, she’d be rolling her eyes and hiding a smile behind her no-nonsense demeanor. “My name’s Tiny, and I’ll be drinking some of that top-shelf whiskey I know you keep back there.”
“You’ll be drinking the dark stuff, you mean,” Jane answered archly, grabbing the bottle in question and filling a glass expertly before replacing it. “Is that your given name, or is that just what you’re called?” she continued, maneuvering her way around his intentions as well as she did the bar counter and engaging him in conversation about himself instead.
Men, in her experience, especially men who frequented saloons, loved talking about themselves.
“My given name?” he snorted, shaking his head. “I guess if you’re asking after what my parents went and named me, that’s Timothy.” He glanced around him suddenly, seeming unsure about using that name as easily as he had the first, and something niggled at the back of Jane’s brain, though she didn’t know what.
She didn’t know why announcing his given name would be such an issue either, but Nellie didn’t pay her to wonder about things. She paid her to sling drinks, sometimes play the piano and sing, and keep the customers happy enough to keep buying alcohol.
“So, how does Timmy become Tiny?” Jane asked, filling up Old Sam’s glass silently as she started wiping the bar top down and Jack, across the room, launched into another lively song.
“‘Cause my last name is Little, and the boss man finds it ironic what with how tall I am,” Timothy ‘Tiny’ Little chuckled, pushing his suddenly empty glass to Jane to fill it up again.
My, but he drank that fast.
Jane hummed as if she understood that sensation that she was missing something rearing its head in the back of her mind again, and she glanced up to find Tiny’s eyes hard on her as if watching and waiting for a response.
It was obvious, from that alone, that he was going to be one of those customers that not only wanted individualized attention but actively expected it as well.
“Boss man?” Jane asked idly, trying to feign some sort of interest in her tone despite the fact that suddenly she was only too willing to change places with Jack at that piano.
The piano didn’t require holding a conversation, and though men might eat her up with their eyes the same way Tiny was doing as she moved to start cleaning glasses while they spoke again, she could at least shut it out and not have to watch them do so with so little to distract herself from it.
Tiny’s silence caught her attention, though, and when she looked up, he seemed vaguely uncomfortable again—though she couldn’t think why he would be.
“Strolling Through The Park!” A man at the other end of the bar yelled, slamming his palm down on the counter and pointing to Jack, who was already moving to start another number. His outburst drew everyone’s attention, Jane’s focus thankfully diverted.
“Well, now, that’s not quite in my wheelhouse there, Boss,” Jack hemmed and hawed, catching Jane’s gaze over the sea of heads between them.
Her lips twitched, only too glad to trade him places at the moment.
“That means I’m up,” she stage-whispered to the men around her, winking at Tiny as a way to keep him from feeling as if she was running away like she actually was and throwing the rag she had been using over her shoulder to come out from behind the bar and escape.
It may not happen often, but sometimes wishes really did come true.
The woods were a gentle, quiet reprieve from the usual commotion back at the cabin. Out between the trees, there were only the sounds of wildlife and wind filtering through the trees and with it a kind of peace that one didn’t often get when living with so many people.
Dusty kept his head down, tying the fishing line that he held so that he could make another cast and trying to ignore the approaching sound of laughter. He had to hope, even if it was wasted hope, that the raucous conversation headed his way was due to pass him and not stop.
Several of the men had headed into town earlier that afternoon, rich with the spoils of their pay and wanting to go gamble and drink it away. Several more had gone even further out, towards a larger city with more to offer in the way of drinking, gambling, and women. Bear had been among that group, thankfully, but that didn’t mean that the cabin was going to be any more peaceful because of it.
Times like these made Dusty wonder how he had gotten entangled in this whole mess.
“Aw, shoot,” a thick, country accent laughed, breaking through the tree line next to the creek where Dusty fished loudly and without care. “Whew, for a minute there, I thought I was seeing Dead Mike come back from the grave, but it’s just lil’ ol’ Dusty, ain’t it?”
Rebel stood in a wide stance as he spoke, his gap-toothed grin looking far too proud of the insult that he thought he’d just delivered.
And just that fast, Dusty was reminded of how he’d ended up here.
“Couldn’t be Big Mike,” Tiny laughed, his words slurred as he came out of the trees as well, hitching his pants back up around his waist and making it clear what business he had just been taking care of. “Not big enough…or dead enough….” He hiccupped through his laughter.
Dusty’s reprieve came in the voice of one that Dusty wanted to hear even less than the jackanapes chuckling and calling to one another.
Dale was a good sight thicker than the two men he stood with, his barrel chest and wide shoulder setting him apart. He was a good deal quieter too, with authority in his voice that carried weight being the second-in-command to Bear when it came to Grizzlies. Dusty might’ve been glad to hear him taking the other two to task…if Dale’s cold, dark eyes weren’t trained solely on Dusty himself.
“We don’t speak ill of our dead. ‘Specially not those that gave their lives to make sure the rest of us got out, ya hear?” He didn’t have to raise his voice to make his words heard, the other two’s giggling falling short almost as soon as Dale spoke. “Big Mike was a good man, strong…To compare him to a coward….” Dale trailed off, the implication in his words clear.
Dusty had to bite his tongue, looking away from him to keep from saying the words he wanted to in response.
A good man…Mike had been a good man, more than any of them would ever be able to realize. Dusty hated hearing them talk about his brother the way they did, hated hearing any of the Grizzlies speak as if they had known him beyond just the surface layers that had made up his older brother.
“We’ve all got different opinions on cowardice,” Dusty said instead, his tone placid and without the fire that raged through his veins in response to Dale’s words.
“And we all see who acts like one,” Dale returned back silkily, grabbing an apple Dusty had put off to the side of the log he sat on and walking off without a backward glance.
He’d made his point, smirking as he walked off and left Tiny and Rebel both cackling at his words.
“He ain’t never gonna stop calling you a coward if you don’t make him, ya know,” Rebel muttered finally, eying the string of fish that Dusty had hung up over the course of the day fishing in the creek.
“He ain’t never gonna stop being a coward if he don’t make him, you mean,” Tiny corrected, sniggering under his breath.
“I don’t need to make Dale see me any type of way,” Dusty answered just as evenly as he had Dale, calming his still-excited temper, and focusing on casting his line back in the water. “He can’t rile me into anything like he can the two of you.”
Tiny made a harsh, angry sound in the back of his throat, stepping forward suddenly and only stopping because of the way the loose river rock beneath his feet made him slide first one way and then the other. “Why I oughta….”
“Go back and eat something at the cabin and stop trying to pick a fight when you’re six sheets to the wind,” Dusty replied nonchalantly, setting his line and watching as it sank with the bait on it right where he hoped some catfish might be.
“Drunk or sober, I could take you,” Tiny bluffed, his irritation still evident in his voice.
“You could try,” Dusty agreed placidly, refusing to even turn and look at the tall, drunk man blustering behind him.
Tiny was quick to fire, one way or another, with a temper like gunpowder on a short fuse and the violence to back it up as well, but when he was angry, he was irrational. More than that, when he was angry, he was sloppy. It wasn’t the first time Tiny had threatened to throw fists with Dusty because of his drinking leading to some slight, real or imagined.
It wouldn’t be the first time Dusty had to lay him out for it either if things kept going the way that they were.
Dusty didn’t fight as often as the other Grizzlies. He didn’t throw hands for any perceived insult. He didn’t live for the violence that seemed inherent in their lives…but when he was forced to fight, he fought well enough.
Mike had called him smart about it, comparing him to generals fighting a war.
The rest of the Grizzlies seemed to think it cowardice, though, and even Bear grew tired of his calm nature at times, despite how he occasionally said he praised it.
“Aw, shucks, Tiny,” Rebel interjected, a worried furrow to his brow as he reached out to pull Tiny back by the shoulder. “Let him be a coward then. You ain’t gotta fight him for that…come on….”
“You heard him, though,” Tiny grumbled, straightening his jacket out like he was trying to be intimidating.
Things like that became less and less so when you lived among people just as scary, if not scarier, on a daily basis.
“You were gonna tell us more about that pretty barmaid you met though, wasn’t ’ya?” Rebel coerced, casting a half-glance Dusty’s way as he asked. Even out of the corner of his eye, Dusty could see the weariness laying beneath his faux geniality.
Tiny huffed, puffing out his chest, a kind of sly grin taking over his features at the mention of whatever poor woman Rebel was referring to. “I was, yeah,” he muttered, glancing at Dusty again and shaking his head before his mood switched, just as quicksilver as ever.
“She’s a feisty one, that one, I’ll tell you what…Got a tongue on her, and you know how I like that.” Tiny’s eyebrows waggled, and Dusty suppressed a gag.
Would anyone prefer them tongueless?
Well, Bear might, but Bear preferred his women silent all around if he could help it. His misogyny ran almost as deep as his cruelty.
Dusty wanted to ask if feisty meant uninterested too, but he kept that to himself just as much. There was no call to go stirring the pot when Rebel had just done him the odd kindness of redirecting Tiny’s drunken mind.
“She’s the one that sings and plays the piana’ sometimes too, ain’t she? I seen her. She’s got short hair, but whew-ee ain’t it pretty.” Rebel whistled, sounding impressed.
Dusty didn’t know what for. It wasn’t as if Tiny was any sort of real suitor for the girl or as if he had earned anything just by saying that he found her attractive. For all either of them knew, the girl was married, but that was the way of things around the Grizzlies.
Women were very rarely seen as anything more than a conquest, and even on that odd chance that they were, it was rarely for long. They were good for morale and play, as Bear liked to say, and not much else.
Mike hadn’t liked the way they talked about women either, even if he had been swayed to many of their other lines of thinking—but he’d done good to keep his mouth shut and keep from any anger being taken out on him because of it. And he’d taught Dusty to do the same.
You didn’t have to agree with every little thing a man, or even a group, stood for. As long as they paid your way, you could live with them, and it kept you off the streets…Well, that was all you could really ask for.
At least it had been when Mike and he were younger and fresh off the streets….
“She is that,” Tiny agreed, cutting through Dusty’s inner dialogue. “She sings real nice too, but it’s the way she talks that really gets me. She’s so…fiery,” he all but gushed.
Dusty rolled his eyes, his gaze back on the creek and off of the two Neanderthals that had stopped unluckily so close to him. Feisty, fiery, was she a firecracker? Better if she was a raging inferno, less likely for Tiny to risk getting too close for fear of getting burned.
“So, did you ever get her name?” Rebel asked through his chuckle, sounding way too interested in the meager goings-on that seemed to have taken place.
They were worse than a bunch of gossiping schoolgirls, Rebel and Tiny.
“Well now,” Tiny hemmed and hawed, sounding too big for the words as he clearly used them to buy time. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out,” he finished smugly, looping his thumbs through the front of his belt loops and rocking back on his heels, all victorious.
That would mean the answer was no, Dusty thought. But, again, he kept such musings to himself.
“Unlucky, more like it,” he muttered, not aware that he’d spoken aloud until he heard a grunt from behind him.
“What was that?” Tiny asked, his voice gathering a mean edge again as he took a step forward.
Dusty winced, forcing his face into one of congenial curiosity before he looked back over his shoulder again at them. “I said, uh, Lucy, I’d bet,” he answered louder, shrugging one shoulder as if he were just thinking aloud. “Sounds like a Lucy to me, offa what you said,” he continued, explaining himself and his mindless blunder.
Tiny’s watery gaze narrowed, his hand going up to scrub through his short-cropped, ruddy hair with a shrug. “Nah, that’s too ordinary,” he mumbled after a moment, clearly buying Dusty’s save. “I’d go with something like Lolita or Star….”
Which, to Dusty, sounded way more like the non-deplumes the brothel girls along Settler’s Rest were likely to give out rather than fancy. Though it was no surprise someone like Tiny would compare those two things.
Rebel frowned, his eyebrows furrowing as he looked to Tiny, and Dusty had to withhold a laugh as Rebel caught onto Tiny’s blunder.
“Well, what is it then, Tiny?” Rebel asked, his pea-sized brain trying to connect the dots. “Did you get her name, or are you still guessing it?”
Tiny’s glare sharpened, his disgruntled snort carrying through the clearing. “Well, why would I want to go tell a thunderhead like you for either way?” he complained loudly, taking a step back and shoving his hat back on his head with more force than was needed. “Ain’t like you ought to know, I called dibs on her, ya hear?”
“Oh, come off it,” Rebel complained, with a roll of his eyes, becoming more and more fed up by the second with Tiny’s grandstanding. “Sounds like you blew a lotta smoke up me for nothing at all,” he muttered, turning away from the creek to walk off.
“I didn’t have to tell you nothing!” Tiny yelled after him, turning to follow with an irritated huff. “I just thought you might like to know, is all. My bad!”
“Know what?” Rebel called back, his voice growing fainter as he headed back off in the direction of the cabin. “You ain’t got nowhere with her. You ain’t even got her name! All you had to tell me in the first place was there’s a real pretty barmaid over yonder at the saloon, and I already knew that much!”
“I doubt that, very much!” Tiny argued. “You ain’t never said nothing about her before, and we all know how you like to go chasing skirts around.”
Their bickering carried on even after the words were able to be distinguishable from the distance they had gotten to, making Dusty shake his head.
In all of their arguing, it seemed they had forgotten about him, which suited him just fine.
He looked up at the sky above, seeing how low to the tree line the sun had gotten, and sighed. He’d be lucky to get another hour uninterrupted before he was expected back at the cabin. If he’d gone into town with the rest of the crew, he wouldn’t be expected back until morning at the earliest, but Dale had seen him out here, and Dale would be expecting him to help with whatever needed doing that night.
Another hour of fishing…and then he’d need to be right back there with the rest of them and the noise, though with any luck, Tiny and Rebel would have gotten into some of the liquor kept back at the cabin by then and passed out cold from imbibing so generously.
Dusty just didn’t trust that luck.
If he were very, very lucky, someone would have challenged them to a drinking contest, and they’d all be passed out cold or near to it—it’d happened before.
But then again, Dusty didn’t feel like that was in the cards for his evening.
He wiggled his line, pulling it back up little by little to simulate the movements of a much smaller fish in hopes of catching one of those big catfish he had seen earlier.
No, his evening was likely going to consist of going back and descaling these fish, helping with dinner, and then being sent on some errand or another for Dale.
All while listening to the overcrowded, raucous goings-on of his fellow Grizzlies who had all celebrated with too much alcohol and too little sense.
He sighed, eying the water one last time, and forced it all out of his head. That was his evening’s problems, after all. He still had an hour to pretend that that wouldn’t be the crate and an hour of the blessed, welcome silence to soak in before he had to go back to all of that.
And, by God, he was going to enjoy that hour.
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After the bank robbery that left her parentless, Jane Black has become obsessed with taking revenge on the ones responsible for her sorrow, the infamous Grizzlies. So, when the opportunity arises, she can’t resist joining the gang under a fake identity and intentions. Fate plays dangerous games though, as she soon finds herself charmed by one of her sworn enemies. Could those feelings help her escape from the darker corners of her own mind?
Her frozen heart starts melting…
Dusty Ericson has been having second thoughts about being a Grizzly for far longer than he cares to admit; a concern that none of his other ‘brothers in arms’ seems to share. Stuck with a life that he never chose and left with no way out, he is invigorated when an enigmatic woman joins the gang. The spark between them is undeniable but her unclear motives worry him. Could she be the salvation he has been seeking?
He is balancing on a tightrope…
As Jane and Dusty’s lives are entangled in a whirlwind of unexpected events, they will realize that the only thing that lights their darkness is each other. Will their love be enough to shield them from the perils that lie ahead? Or will it be a call of the void that will lead to their demise?
“An Outlaw to Lift her Darkness” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.