Authors: Jade Laredo
He stopped then, and slowly turned.
From behind his makeshift swathe, she sought his sea-spent eyes. They drew narrow, searching for that source of wisdom, which beckoned to his core. She watched his indulgent gaze harden when he realized what he thought
heard was only the
teasing wind. Though his mouth did not move, she heard his thoughts loud and clear.
This is the last time, I promise you.
saw him then, a
nother man dressed in black, his face she could see was all too familiar. The smile, wh
ich perched upon his lips, was
of sheer pleasure, like a cunning fox outwitting his prey.
Slowly, the menacing man
reached for his gun.
With his back turne
d, the silver bullet knocked the outlaw
to the ground. In return, the other two riders whipped out their guns and shot t
leader’s assailant. T
en lie on the dust-ridden road
, one instantly dead, while the other quietly
“No!” She cried frantically. Hovering above his motionless frame, he lied there like
a crumpled scarecrow. T
he bandanna, which covered his face,
from his chin, revealing the rugged outline of his face. He was b
eautiful just as
She heard the concerned voice, whispering to her.
There was a gentle pull at her sleeve, and then she felt a hand caress her brow. Again, sh
e heard her name. She knew the
voice, gentle like a bear it beck
oned to her.
She whispered. Fluttering
, she awoke with a breathless start. The room was dark, and she could see the moon rising through her bedroom window. Disoriented, she quickly arose from her resting position.
l right, honey.” He whispered.
“You were having a bad dream.”
Arabella took a deep breath.
“That bad, huh?”
experienced a dream like that, no
. With that sudden thought, she vaguely
a boy, barely a man. With the
long ago memory she now recognized she was no longer a child, but a
Luke did this for her. He made her into a woman, his woman.
“You want to talk about it?”
She replied. “I’d rather not.”
erhaps some fresh air might do
, patting his daughter on the hand. “Besides, I need so
me company while I have a smoke
The moon bl
oomed full, bright and yellow.
Beneath its unearthly glow, Arabella sat with her father upon the porch swing, listening to cricket’s chirp, which occasionally masked the faraway sounds of a bustling saloon.
“Anything you’d like to talk about?”
At the start of his voice, Arabella pulled her gaze away from the evening sky, and focused on the outline of her father’s shrouded face. She could see the whites of his eyes as they glittered, and a whorl of smoke from which he slowly puffed on a cigar.
“If you’re referring to the hold up,” Arabella returned. “I’d rather not.”
“Fair enough.” He nodded. Taking another puff on his cigar, he leaned back against the porch swing. “Tell me about that day in Sharpsburg.”
Arabella stiffened at hi
shut out the horrific memories of that day
hidden them away in
some dark crevice of an emotionless cave. Dropping her chin, she swallowed hard before speaking.
“I remember the artillery fire, it started the evening before. The Yankees pounded shell throughout the night.
The battle began when the morning
sun cracked just abo
ve the horizon
.” She recalled, extracting images and sounds from the back of her mind. “Aunt Flora
and I crouched in the
root cellar. We covered our ears from the loud explosions, which hammered around the house. For nearly twelve hour
s, we huddled there, thinking we were going to
die. It had to be the longest day of our lives. When it was
all over, we crawled out of the
cellar not prepared for what we’d find.”
Shaking her head, she swallowed hard.
“It’s so funny,” She continued with a brittle laugh fully immersed in her vivid reco
llections of that fateful day. “Little did we know
even more terrif
bullets and shell fire was the thousands of wounde
dying soldiers covering
Arabella took a deep breath. Turning to her father, she shook her head.
“That day at the farm,” She began whispering. Pausing, she shook her head as if to shake the ghastly memory from her mind. “
I never wanted to know
It was all so terribly overwhelming, sifting through the dead and wounded taking only those we knew would survive.”
“Did you have an army physician?” Wyeth asked, tossing his cigar, he leaned forward and folded his hands.
“No.” Arabella replied. “Not right away. For the first few hours, we did everything ourselves. Aunt Flora boiled water and tore makeshift bandages from our linens, while I managed the water rounds, tending the dying soldiers still lying in the cornfield. I gave them sips of water, holding their hands while they talked about their loved ones, and then when it was time, we prayed.”
There was a moment of silence.
Arabella turned to her father, a single tear slipped down her cheek. Shaking her head, she furrowed her eyebrows and drew in a painful gaze.
“I was a fourteen year old girl, Poppa.”
“I know.” Wyeth returned his voice strained. “I had no idea the war would end at your doorstep. I should’ve been there for you.”
There was another moment of silence. Taking a deep breath, Arabella looked back at the stars which shown even brighter now the moon had moved further away into the evening sky.
“Why did you leave me, Poppa?”
“Guilt.” Wyeth confessed. “T
he doctor told us
your momma couldn’t have another baby. She had too many complications with your
birth. He explained to us that
it was wise for us to abstain from having any more children. Your momma knew the risk. Afraid of the consequences, I pushed her away. One night we got into a heated fight about our intimacy, and we
ll your Momma convinced me
everything would be all right. I
have listened to her. Nine months later, she died right alongside the baby.
carried that burden for nearly fifteen years. Every morning when I wake, the pain is still fresh in
So much so I
abide to look at you because, you r
eminded me of her. W
hat I did
was selfish of me, but grief does strange things to a man. I was a coward, Bella.”
“I don’t think you’re a coward.” Arabella murmured. “Look at you now. You’re the Sheriff of Sundown for Pete’s sake.”
“I’m the sheriff all r
ight.” Wyeth nodded. “One who’s
figured the only way to fight his internal guilt was to prove himself a man by putting his life on the line.”
“I’d rather you not.”
“Somebody’s got to watch over this town.” Wyeth chuckled with a confidant nod. “I’d just as soon let that be me.”
Arabella rolled her eyes. Turning the corner of her cheek, she tried not to laugh.
“Glad you’re here, Bella.” Wyeth murmured. He placed his hand over her hand and patted gently.
“So am I, Poppa.”
The incessant ticking of a mant
le clock reminded Arabella
another minute passed. Two
weeks seemed like a lifetime.
Now, the past few minutes seemed like an eternity.
“How many were there?”
bella tilted her chin, eyeing
the Pinkerton agent
warily. She did not like the man. Nor did she care for those penetrating black-Irish eyes. Like a hawk, he stared at her with an intense scrutiny. Dropping his chin, he released a labored breath, and asked once again.
“How many were there?”
“Three, maybe … four.”
“Which one took you hostage?”
Arabella examined the various sketches placed before her. Each sketch looked like the next. Each face covered with the same bandanna, she found it hard to tell one man from the next. Exasperated, she exhaled impatiently.
“For God’s sake, but the man blindfolded me.” She leaned back, fidgeting restlessly in her seat. “How would I know?”
“Did you get a name?’
“Any other names?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Miss Gentry.” Jack drew in his breath, practicing meticulous persistence. “You were alone with the man for nearly a full day. Please tell me this isn’t all the information you can spare?”
“Mr. Rafferty.” Arabella emulated the man’s impatience. “I’m sorry if I seem lacking as a credible witness, but I must insist you stop this badgering, and at once!”
“He’s quite the gentleman, isn’t he?”
Arabella felt her pulse rise and her throat constrict. Taken by surprise, she gaped at the agent dumbfounded. Narrowing her gaze, she sent him a baleful glare.
“No?” He continued facetiously, giving her a cat-traps-mouse grin. “Then it would seem our wayward Lothario has spared you his
“I hardly find this amusing.”
“Oh? Well then, I must apologize for my forthright nature, but if you’ll allow me to expound a bit further on the suspect.”
“Go on then, if you must.” She crossed her arms and released a taxing sigh.
“Long before the war Lukas Shelton was the eldest son of a cotton fortune, very well-known for his scholarly intellect and dashing good looks. Despite his genteel background and Thespian notoriety, he entertained one superfluous flaw. Jack paused, eyeing her with a waning smile. “Quite gifted with a silver-tongue, Luke Shelton had a penchant for seducing young women.”
Arabella jerked her head around at the sound of her father’s voice. Wyeth stood in the jailhouse entry, resting his shoulder against the doorframe. The afternoon sun gleamed down his broad shoulders, bouncing off his silver star, which perched precariously on his vest. Shifting a boot, he made his way toward his desk.
“My daughter has finished.” He clipped his wintry voice firm and decisive. Standing next to Arabella, he placed a supportive hand on her shoulder. “Perhaps it’s best you find someone else to interrogate.”
Arabella lifted her chin.
She met Jack’s skeptical gaze. Starring long and hard, he strummed his thumb against the edge of the desk. With one hand, he brought his palm down on the desk none too lightly, and then pushed back from his seat. With bare-knuckles, he leaned over, casting one last daunting look.
“Very well.” Jack nodded. The guarded man slid his hat over his head and sauntered toward the jailhouse door. There, he paused. Looking past his shoulder, he fixed his heated gaze on her and continued with warning. “God forbid you’re hiding something. For your sake, I should hope the hell it
true. Sheriff, we’re finished for now.”
Arabella watched as the tr
oublesome Pinkerton agent exit
the jailhouse door. She listen
ed to the echo of his heavily booted
steps as they slowly dissipated, leaving behind a wary stillness. After a long moment’s silence, Wyeth cleared his throat and pulled his hand away from her shoulder, heading for the door, he paused.