Authors: Heather Blanton
Grace be a Lady
Love & War
in Johnson County
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
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DESIGN by http://www.roseannawhite.com
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE,
KING JAMES VERSION - Public Domain
to my editors and beta readers: Kim
Huther, Vicki Prather, Heather Baker, Terri Sullivan, Lisa Janey, Jean Stewart,
Carole Sanders, and Carol Gehringer!
Thank you so very much for giving
Grace be a Lady
While I’ve salted my previous books with dashes of history, this book is
different. I’ve taken an actual historical event and woven a fictional thread
in with it. My years of research into the Johnson County Range War revealed stunning
passion and amazing cruelty. The things men will do, all the ways they will
sell their souls, for the fleeting taste of power and money is an infuriating hallmark
of our species. At times in this story, you won’t be able to tell the truth
from the fiction as the truth is so incredibly startling.
A big thanks and a kiss to my husband for his unwavering support.
A rough-talking, hard-working, blue-collar guy, he is kind enough to bust his
backside so that I can sit on my ever-widening one and write my stories. He
just hopes one day I’ll make enough money to buy him a private helicopter. It
could happen. With God, all things are possible.
I would be incredibly remiss if I didn’t thank the team which makes
my novels possible. This is far from a one-man show. I have editors, beta readers,
cover designers, and friends who offer their expertise, opinions, and advice.
God has truly blessed me with an amazing support network. So, thank you to Kim
Huther, Vicki Prather, Heather Baker, Terri Sullivan, Lisa Janey, Jean Stewart,
Carole Sanders, and Carol Gehringer!
Finally, and most importantly, I thank my Lord and Savior for blessing
me exceedingly and abundantly. Not to mention, what He did on the cross. I am
overwhelmed by his love and compassion every moment!
I hope at the end of this book, you’ll be sad it’s over. THAT is
what makes a novel great, the way characters linger around the edges of your heart
for days, if not forever. I’ve given it my best shot to make this a story you
won’t soon forget. So, happy reading and God bless!
1 Corinthians 13:12
James Version (KJV)
now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I
know even as also I am known.
family has a legend or two.
These old, familiar stories, told with smiles and winks at family reunions and
holiday gatherings, are often grounded in
facts. Over the
generations, though, the truth and the lies tend to merge, intertwining like
mist and smoke.
This is the story of my great-great-grandmother as it was related
to me one snowy Christmas in Wyoming.
If it’s not true, it oughta be.
Gracie Lisette Walker – Buffalo, WY 1992
Brittle questioned gently as he tapped on the changing room door. No response.
Oh, she was a strange one. What girl wanted to try on her brother’s clothes to
make sure they’d fit him? She was probably a suffocating mother hen.
tapped again and listened. He couldn’t detect any sound coming from the other
side, no rustle of dungarees, no soft whisper of cotton. “Miss, is everything
again with silence, he frowned, debated, and then pulled his key ring from his
I don’t have all day,” a shaggy cowboy hollered from the counter. “The boys are
waitin’ on me.”
slid the key into the lock. “One moment; this won’t take long.” He pushed the
door open ever so slowly, just in case the poor girl had a hearing problem or
something of the like. Yet, the more the door opened, the more he realized the
closet was empty. He saw the scissors she had asked for sitting on the bench.
And then he spied a neatly folded stack of money sitting beside them. He
stepped in, picked up the bills and counted; more than enough by one whole
dollar. The young lady was gone, as were the new clothes, but she had paid. A
strange deal, but a square one.
the man called again, fuming.
walked back to the counter, his active imagination creating an injured brother
who had been hiding in the woods, perhaps shot in a botched bank robbery. His
sister had come in for new clothes. And maybe she and her outlaw brother were
on their way to Hole-in-the-Wall. Maybe there was no brother. Perhaps Etta
Place had come in his store to buy clothes for Butch Cassidy himself!
mind flustered with thoughts of gunfighters, bank robberies, and determined
posses, he finished up with the scowling customer. Then, with a wistful sigh, Brittle
folded his arms and leaned on the counter. Longing for some excitement, he grudgingly
acknowledged that Misery, Wyoming was, in truth, about the most boring place on
you are too beautiful and gentle to be trapped in a loveless marriage with a
man like Bull Hendrick.”
with her photographer in the parlor, Grace allowed Seth Lattimore to slip his
hand on top of hers. She should have stood up, or at least slid further down
the settee, but the young artist’s eager green eyes held her perfectly still.
Like a flower in need of water, her heart had thirstily drunk in Seth’s rain of
compliments and flirtatious remarks. Their hours together as she posed for his
portraits had left them too much time to talk, to move toward one another.
would treat you like a princess,” he whispered, grasping her hand. “
never raise my hand to you . . . and, I swear
never cheat on you.”
felt herself give in a little. Seth pulled her hand to his cheek and held it
there, as if it were the hand of a queen, the queen he cherished.
six years, Harry “Bull” Hendrick hadn’t touched her with such reverence or
affection, not once. Nor had he said a kind word to her. The very moment they’d
married, he’d changed into a monster. He’d gone from gently wooing her in fancy
restaurants to lording over her like a slave owner, the change as
sudden and severe as the outbreak of a summer
bellowed, grabbed, shoved, controlled.
with his smoldering jade eyes and boyish grin, was kind, supportive, and
dangerously sympathetic. The perfect temptation. Now, Grace sat squarely in a
moment from which she should run.
not happy in your marriage
, a voice whispered.
been faithful . . .
warmth of Seth’s hand on her cheek, and the reverent way he touched her
shoulder could almost make her weep. He moved closer and Grace closed her eyes.
She felt so empty and dry.
one drop of water . . .
one kiss . . .
doors to the parlor burst open. Bull exploded into the room like a thunderbolt.
Gasping in terror, Grace and Seth leaped to their feet. Her husband, a huge man
with seething, dark eyes and shoulders nearly as broad as the doorway, whipped
a revolver from beneath his jacket and pointed it at Seth. Grace looked into
the darkness of the barrel and her heart froze.
services are no longer required here, Mr. Lattimore,” Bull spoke calmly, but
she knew his tone belied a maelstrom of fury. He cocked the hammer and the
sound was deafening. “Not here. Not anywhere in Chicago.”
Hendrick,” Seth pleaded, his hands rising in surrender. “You’ve got this all
wrong. We weren’t doing anything, merely talking.”
fired above Seth’s head, the bullet shattering a gas lamp on the wall. Grace
screamed and covered her ears. She wondered if Seth understood his life was
hanging by a fraying thread.
said your services are no longer required.”
photographer got the picture. He shot Grace a look of regret so brief she
nearly missed it and then scrambled out the door, stumbling over an ottoman as
he fled. The parlor was full of his equipment. Somehow, she doubted he would be
back for it.
a rising sense of dread and desperation, Grace lowered her hands, forcing
herself to straighten up and stop looking as if she was waiting for a slap
across the face. Defiant, she met Bull’s gaze as he swung the gun over to her.
well, the missus has been found out.”
cocked the hammer again.
should have been afraid, but, instead, saw the weapon as a possible escape. All
these years of living with a man who would rather beat her than offer a kind
word had turned her soul into a desert of bitterness. If not for the wonderful
gift of their son, Grace was sure she wouldn’t have survived Bull’s cruelty.
she had to want to live. If she was gone, that would mean Bull would raise
Hardy alone. The thought of her child growing up to be like this greedy,
belligerent, short-tempered, tyrant incensed her. “We weren’t doing anything.”
She curled her hands into fists. “Your imagination is running away with you.”
smiled, a soulless expression that reminded Grace of a shark, and released the
hammer on his gun. He shoved the piece back into the holster beneath his coat,
his dark eyes glittering. “Lonnie, boy,” he called over his shoulder. “Come in
here. My wife thinks me stupid, or blind . . . or both.”
Bull’s malicious, but loyal sidekick-henchman, strolled into the room. Leering
triumphantly at Grace, he pulled a notebook from his pocket. Oh, this was the
little limey’s moment indeed, Grace realized. He’d made advances to her over
and over these last few years, and she had rejected him outright, twice with a
stinging slap. A stumpy bloke with the hygiene of a dock-worker, she’d been plain
about her disgust. Now, the smirk on his face said he would relish this moment
of her destruction.
to fight a dry mouth, Grace kept her face perfectly still, perfectly blank.
Lonnie flipped through the notebook, found something interesting, and started
reading. “Mr. Lattimore: You are looking particularly lovely today, Mrs. ’endrick.
I pray you ’ad sweet dreams. Perhaps even abou’ us?” His limey accent,
indicative of his rough background, added a tawdry layer to his quotes, one he
willingly played up. “Mrs. ’endrick: You cross my mind quite frequently, Mr.
Lattimore, often at the most inappropriate times.”
heated Grace’s cheeks. Bull’s lips tightened. Lonnie flipped to a new page,
scanned the passage silently, leered at Grace for an instant, and then went
back to the page to perform again. “I observed Mr. Lattimore approaching Mrs. ’endrick
in the study. ’e began to re-arrange her curls on her shoulder. Moving in very
closely, they whispered to each other, but I could not discern their words. ’owever,
Mr. Lattimore brushed his mouth across Mrs. ’endrick’s forehead, and then
proceeded to pull the pins from her hair—”
enough,” Grace snapped. She speared Bull with a glare that most likely had no
effect on him. “You make my friendship with Mr. Lattimore sound so filthy.” But
bordered on inappropriate. She turned away from Bull’s and Lonnie’s
victory stares. Truthfully, the border had been crossed, weeks back. Nothing
physical had ever happened between her and Seth, but her mind had been filled
with him. Bull’s groping and gruff advances had pushed her dreams into a realm
where a married woman, even one who had been cheated on and beaten repeatedly,
should never go.
will be leaving us, Grace,” Bull said, still using that chillingly-calm voice.
“Lonnie will escort you to the train station. Ride to where the ticket takes
felt raw panic trying to rise to the surface as Bull walked over and grabbed
her arm, spinning her around. “I’m sure you’ll find suitable employment there
for a woman of your loose morals.”
didn’t respond to her indignation. Instead, he swept a black curl off his
forehead and dug his fingers deeper into her flesh. “I cannot abide a lying,
cheating wife.” His fingers sank deeper. Grace tried to twist away from him,
and hold back a cry. His fury emanated from his beefy hands as they gouged into
her flesh. “You and Mr. Lattimore are mighty lucky I’m in a good mood.”
Finally, she cried out, and he thrust her at Lonnie. “No one makes a fool out
of me, Grace. Not without paying a price.”
sat silent and motionless in the carriage as the vehicle stopped and started,
working its way through the congestion of horses and wagons, pedestrians and
trolleys. She desperately wanted to sob, scream—pound her fists on something as
panic crept in.
glanced at Lonnie eyeing her with that ever-present leer, and knew she couldn’t
give him the satisfaction. Instead, she fluffed her mutton sleeves and
attempted to pull together a plan of some sort. She
to remain calm
and rational if she wanted to have any hope of getting to Hardy. No matter
where the ticket was taking her, she could get off early, in Wheaton perhaps.
She’d managed to grab her reticule on the way out, and kept it hidden in the
folds of her skirt. The purse contained some spending money. Not much, but she
could sneak back into Chicago, take Hardy, and then they could seek refuge at
Father Benetton’s church …just until she could figure things out.
luv,” Lonnie said, cleaning his nails with his pocket knife, “I’ll explain to
you ’ow this is going to work. The train ticket in my pocket,” he patted his
chest, “will take you all the way to Misery, Wyoming.”
twitch in Grace’s eyebrow betrayed her reaction to the name.
Bull picked the town out just for you, luv. Said he ’oped it delivered. Anyway,
you will get off the train there and not before.” He snapped the knife shut and
leaned forward. “If you don’ check in with Misery’s lawman, luv, Hardy will be
shipped off to some boarding school in Paris. Or maybe Rome. Possibly even Timbuktu.
Do you take my meaning, luv?”
heart broke as the threat sank in. Her chin quivered and the lump in her throat
tried to explode into a sob. Completely out of hope, she could do nothing but
prayed she would dance on Bull’s grave one day soon.
back on the loathing that Lonnie so readily evoked in her, Grace raised her chin.
“Don’t call me ‘luv’.”