Authors: Heather Blanton
His brow deeply furrowed, he worked his jaw back and forth, and
then nodded. “Yeah.”
Rebecca touched Naomi’s shoulder. “I’m sure with a good night’s
sleep we’ll all be less emotional in the morning.”
But Naomi couldn’t sleep. With the intention of clearing the food,
she instead found herself standing at the head of the table, her fingers
drumming, her thoughts adrift. Over and over, she kept hearing Charles’s
warning about his past haunting them, and his desire for her to believe in him.
She wanted to, badly.
known far and wide as the best judge of female companionship.
a den of all types of iniquity.
what they’ll think you’ve done
The meanings pricked her heart, drawing blood. She could hear John
spouting accusations, but it wasn’t John, it was
. And he didn’t
know Charles. John would have been kinder. For a moment, Naomi wondered what
she would be doing right now if the man upstairs was John, not his brother. She
felt certain she would run to him, but part of her heart had been lost now—lost
She almost growled aloud at the ridiculous scenario. John was
dead. He wasn’t coming back. Matthew wasn’t John and Charles held her heart
Startling Naomi, Hannah hugged her from behind and rested her
cheek on Naomi’s shoulder. “Quite a night, huh?”
Naomi exhaled and patted her sister’s hand. “Did you get Billy
Naomi sensed a question coming.
“Why do you think he’s here?”
She debated her answer and decided to state it flatly. “I think
he’s here because he either can’t live without you or he’s still intent on
doing the opposite of what his father tells him.”
She felt Hannah’s nod on her shoulder. “So how do I find out which
one it is?”
Naomi raised her eyebrows and blinked. “Darned if I know. I guess
you just have to wait and see.”
“I’m scared he’ll break my heart again.”
Naomi squeezed her little sister’s hand tightly. “You are too
smart for that now.”
McIntyre, a shot glass of whiskey in his hand, stood at his
bedroom window and studied Defiance’s main street.
Soft circles of amber light from the street lanterns
intermittently revealed one lone rider trotting down the shadowy avenue. The
gentle thud of the hoofbeats echoed soothingly over McIntyre’s mind.
He let his gaze drift over the rooftops to the points of light
glowing off in the distance. Tent Town, the side of Defiance where vice still
held sway. The faint sound of men laughing mixed with the siren call of girlish
giggles. A piano started up and drunken voices chimed in for the chorus of “Oh,
My Darling Clementine
” the song fading in and out with the breeze
the debauched entertainment he’d spent so much effort propagating now limited
itself to Tent Town. But even over there, the crowds were smaller. Three decent
women in Defiance had caused more than a few men to re-examine their paths.
He shifted his view again and looked down the street at the dark
Trinity Inn, which stood in the elbow of the street, as the town followed the
bend of the river. Like all the buildings on Main Street, it was constructed of
pine lap siding, its golden hue now silver in the moonlight. Four large windows
on both floors faced the street, and a balcony, supported by large logs, hid
the entrance in its shadow. The slats in the balcony’s rail were made of
crooked, though skillfully placed, peeled branches. The sisters had repainted
the trim, once a gaudy red, to a more respectable white. The hotel reflected
the transition of Defiance from wild mining town to civilized settlement. He
could see the future there, see his plans coming to fruition.
Or so he had thought.
Not a jealous or insecure man, McIntyre honestly didn’t know what
to think about Matthew showing up. No, that wasn’t exactly true. He
know what he thought about the big man’s arrival.
He didn’t like it.
He raised his arm and leaned on the window frame, drumming his
fingers on the glass. He’d never been much given to fretting over things he
couldn’t control and wasn’t going to start now. He had to admit, though, this
was a turn of events he could do without. Near as he could recall, Matthew was
the mirror image of his brother. The resemblance was uncanny. That had to have
some effect on Naomi.
Annoyed that he was dwelling on this, he slapped the glass and
turned away from the window. Determined to put Naomi and her brother-in-law out
of his mind, he strode to his desk and snatched up the telegram from Chief
More death coming.
When it came to One-Who-Cries, death never left. The savage’s name
filled McIntyre’s nostrils with the stench of burning flesh … and the sweet,
coppery scent of blood, gallons of it. More than he’d ever seen on a
battlefield. In the early years of Defiance, McIntyre had ridden with Federal
troops hunting One-Who-Cries. Too often, they’d arrived a day late and a dollar
short. The savage reveled in splattering evidence of his hate everywhere.
McIntyre’s mind grudgingly drifted back to his first steps into this
valley. The war was over. Georgia was in ashes. He’d come to Colorado with a
desperate need to distance himself from the brutality of the conflict. He had
seen so many good men die, shot through with musket balls, ripped apart by
cannons, hacked by swords and bayonets.
But nothing he saw in the war compared with the gleeful butchery
committed by one insane Indian.
The Utes had attacked his camp as the sky started transforming
from black to steel. Like lightning from a storming sky, dozens of arrows suddenly
streaked into the light of a dying campfire. Unearthly shrieks shattered the
quiet, raising the hair on his neck even now. The raiders had come without
warning, like thieves in the night, and left as abruptly, taking three of his
friends with them. The screams and images of what happened next would never
McIntyre grimaced as he tried to turn away from the picture of a
friend—bloody, twitching, hanging from a pole … skinned alive.
Reliving the deaths of his friends served only to resurrect the
hate he thought he’d buried. Apparently, the grave was shallow.
Billy rolled over on his side. A moment later he rolled over to
the other. Frustrated, he flopped on to his back and stared at a ceiling hidden
in darkness. Off in the distance he could make out the sounds of
saloons—several of them. The crystal tittering of feminine laughter, the
thundering voices of angry men, and the peppering of gunfire. The discordant
chaos of pianos and banjos filled in the gaps. Had it not been for the other cow
towns he’d stopped in on his way here, he would have been shocked at the level
of noise. What did surprise him was how quiet
side of Defiance was.
He laced his hands over his stomach and shook his foot. He
couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t because of the noise outside. He couldn’t get
over how beautiful Hannah was. Oh, he had no trouble recalling the girl whose
favorite spring dress brought out the cornflower blue of her eyes, or how she
blushed a beautiful rose color when he kissed her. He remembered perfectly the
pattern of freckles across her cheeks and the way she was forever tucking a
loose strand of corn silk behind her ear.
The difference was she had grown into a stunning
moved with a grace and confidence that impressed him. Motherhood, her journey
out here, this town, they had infused her with a strength Billy had seen
instantly. What if she had changed too much? Moved beyond him?
Muffled sounds coming from the kitchen interrupted his reverie and
he assumed the sisters were cleaning up. His stomach rumbled for attention.
True, he hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that had only been one skinny biscuit
with a piece of dry country ham. Hunger would be an honest excuse for dropping
He sat up and reached for his boots. If Hannah were there, perhaps
they could talk a little more. If not, maybe Billy could get a sense of things
from Naomi or Rebecca. Preferably Rebecca, who hid her disdain for him much
better than the outspoken Naomi. His father had always said she was too
hot-tempered for her own good, but according to the Pinkerton report, Naomi’s
fiery streak had served the girls well here in Defiance.
He tiptoed down the stairs, trying to soften the thud of his boots
on the hardwood. As he approached the kitchen, he heard Hannah giggle … and a
man’s voice. The sound stopped Billy cold.
He listened, but couldn’t make out the words. Swatting his fingers
nervously against his thigh, he decided he had to know who was in there with
her. Slowly he approached the batwings and peered over them.
Hannah and the Mexican boy from the party sat at a corner of the
kitchen table, the simple, yellow birthday cake between them. Fork in hand,
they each nibbled at the pastry in a clearly intimate way.
“Well, anyway,” Hannah said, twirling her fork on her plate, “at
least now you don’t have to share the cake with anybody but me.”
Emilio leaned in a little closer and smiled at her. The hopeful
expression on his face twisted Billy’s guts. “There ees no one I would rather
share it with.”
Hannah’s twirling stopped. The two stared at each other. Billy
panicked. He burst through the doors with a loud greeting. “Hey, you two gonna
keep that cake all to yourselves?” He felt like a fool, but he hadn’t come
fifteen hundred miles to lose Hannah to a greaser.
Hannah’s expression remained inscrutable, but Emilio was clearly
not pleased to see him. To his credit, he quickly wiped away the scowl and rose
to his feet. “No,
, please join us. There is plenty.”
A little guilt panged Billy, but only a little. “Thank you.” He
took a seat and eyed the cake, and a plate of roast venison that hadn’t been
stored away for the night yet.
Sensing Emilio’s awkwardness—and enjoying it—Billy stuck out his
hand as the young man sank back into his seat. “By the way, we haven’t been
properly introduced. I’m Billy Page, the father of Hannah’s baby. Maybe you’ve
heard of me.”
Daggers flew at him from Hannah’s eyes, but Emilio didn’t even
hesitate. He shook Billy’s hand and nodded. “
. Hannah has told me all
about you.” His voice was deep, steady, revealing nothing of his emotions. “It
is nice to meet you.”
Billy nodded as well, sure of the undertones in the polite
response. He assumed he knew where they each stood in regards to Hannah. He
wondered if Hannah knew where she stood with each of them.
Fidgeting, she stood up. “You need a plate, Billy. Help yourself
to the venison. Would you like coffee or water?”
She slid the meat over to him. Billy picked up a slice and popped
it into his mouth. Cold, but still tasty. “Thank you. Water will be fine.”
As she shuffled about in the kitchen, Billy nibbled on another
piece of the meat and stared at Emilio. “So, what do you do around here,
Emilio? Are you the custodian?”
The boy frowned. “Custodian? I do not know this word.”
Emilio sought out Hannah for an explanation. She slid the plate,
fork, and a cup of water in front of Billy and tossed him a thinly-veiled look
of displeasure. “It means someone who takes care of a building.” She retook her
seat on the other side of the table. Billy saw the firm set to her jaw and
realized his jabs at the boy could backfire if he wasn’t careful. “In that
case,” she continued, “we’re all custodians. We all take care of the hotel.
Emilio just does the heavier work. The more
The challenge in her raised chin was clear and Billy decided to
tread more lightly. Still, a
? Surely she wasn’t thinking about
getting involved with him … if she hadn’t already.
Emilio took one last bite of his cake then licked the yellow icing
off the fork. “This was the best birthday cake I ever had, Miss Hannah. You
should do more desserts.”
“She always did have a sweet tooth,” Billy interjected, trying to
keep the two from talking directly to each other.
Hannah raised a skeptical brow at Emilio’s comment, ignoring
Billy’s. “Is it the best because it’s the
birthday cake you’ve ever
Emilio laughed and Billy was left sitting out in the cold.
Agitated, he tapped his foot. An undercurrent of emotions definitely swirled
here, but he was relatively confident the friendship between the two hadn’t
gone any further yet. So what to do? If Emilio would just do the gentlemanly
Popping the last bite of venison into his mouth, Billy reached
over with his unused fork and carved out a piece of this bewitching birthday
cake. “How old are you today, Emilio?”
“Eighteen, I think.”
Billy raised his eyebrows. “You think? Don’t you know?”
“Not for certain. I—”
“Emilio is an orphan,” Hannah offered too quickly. “He’s moved
around quite a bit.” She locked her eyes on Billy. “But that’s the way it is
with a lot of people here in the West. Who you were in one place isn’t who you
have to be in the next.”
Billy didn’t really understand her point. Was she saying she’d
reinvented herself? Or that he could? Maybe both.
Delighting Billy, Emilio rose and stepped behind his chair. “I
have logging to do tomorrow. I should get to bed.” He paused over Billy as if
he wanted to ask a question but thought better of it. He nodded instead and
turned his attention to Hannah. “Thank you for the party. Maybe you can finish
teaching me this Virginia Reel another time.”
Billy almost slammed his fork down. He knew a jab when one hit
him. Hannah bid her friend good night and watched him drift through the
batwings. As his footsteps faded, she settled back in her seat. Billy felt her
stare, but decided to savor the cake for a moment. When the silence dragged on,
he raised his head. She sat with her arms folded tightly across her chest, legs
crossed, her foot bouncing, eyes boring into him. This didn’t bode well.
,” she repeated, clearly unhappy with his choice
of the word. “You know who you sounded like when you said that? Your father.”
“I didn’t really mean anything by it. I was just trying to …”
Make him look bad in front of Hannah.
That had certainly blown
back on him. “What is he to you exactly?”
“A good friend … and a good man.”
Jab two. Billy found himself wishing for the bell.