Sections: Free Home | Members' Entrance | Contact

Chapter One


 

Mac Forrester knew the saloon was no place for the redhead to grieve for the loss of Dove.  He didn’t know how she was related to the much older man, but since there was nothing he could do for him, he asked a couple of the men to take Dove’s body to the undertaker, and then he scooped the redhead up in his arms and carried her down the street and into his office.  A few seconds later he opened the door leading to his living quarters in the back, and carried her to his bed and laid her down.  Normally he would just take her to Doc Z for help, but since the grieving girl had already tried to shoot the feisty Lucinda, Mac didn’t think it was a good idea.  Besides, Doc Z was going to set Lucy’s backside on fire for setting foot inside the saloon, and he didn’t want to put the girl in the middle of what was sure to be a scene to be remembered!

Mac poured some water into a clean glass and said, “Drink this, little lady, and try to calm down a bit.  I’m real sorry for your loss,” he said with genuine compassion.  He’d lost all of his family and he knew how it felt.  She sipped the water, and while she was still crying, she had at least stopped sobbing.

“Dove was special.  I want to know why that bitch killed him!”  She turned flaming green eyes on him.  “I’ll get her for this!”

“Now, little girl, you listen to me and you listen real good.  Lucy didn’t hurt Dove.  She’s the Doc’s wife, and she was trying to help.”

“She helped him die!”

“Talking like that is going to get you into some serious trouble,” Mac promised, his dark eyes serious.  “Gracie went and fetched Lucy when he passed out cold and hit his head on the foot rail that goes around the bar.”

“Dove wasn’t drunk!” she argued.

“No one said he was.  My guess is that Doc will be able to tell you what happened.”

“Sure he will!  He’ll lie to protect that bitch he’s married to!”

“Now that tears it.  Lucy isn’t a bitch, and I won’t let you call her that!”  Mac reacted without thinking, flipping the redhead over on her tummy and bringing the flat of his hand down on the seat of her jeans!

“Don’t you dare give me a lickin’!”

“That is exactly what you need, girl!”  Mac put some strength into the next spank and she hollered.  “You got no business calling Lucy names when she was only trying to help Dove.  She didn’t hurt him.  And, you got no business pulling a gun on people, either!”  The spanking continued until his hand was burning.  “Are you ready to calm down now and listen to reason, little girl?”

“You haven’t given me much choice!” she answered, her voice full of accusation.

“What is your name?” Mac asked as he turned her over and sat her on her well-spanked posterior.

“Emily.”

“Emily…?”  He felt his insides melt immediately.  “That was my Ma’s name, too,” he said quietly. 

“I’m sure she’d be real proud of you right now, beating on a girl half your size when I didn’t do nothing wrong!”

“I didn’t beat you, I warmed your backside, and Ma would have put soap in your mouth before she took a switch to you for using that word you called Lucy.  Ma didn’t allow talk of that sort,” Mac said with a grin.

“You don’t have no right to put a hand to me, no matter what I done.”  Those eyes were flaying him alive.

“Better me than Doc Z, and trust me, little girl, he will have your hide if you don’t settle down about Lucy.”

“You’d let him beat on me?” she demanded furiously.

“I don’t imagine he’s going to ask my permission, Emily.”  He tried to soften his words with a smile.  “How were you related to Dove?” he asked.  He had to find out if she had any family he could wire.

“We weren’t related, and before you get any funny ideas, he never treated me like that!”

“Then how did you come to be with him?”

“He was there when my Pa was killed two years ago.  He got hit by a bullet meant for someone else, but that didn’t stop two of the men in that saloon from trying to take me.  Dove followed them out of town, and when they stopped to try and force me, he shot them dead, and took me with him.  He said someone had to keep me safe, and well, he did.  Until today, and I should have been there with him.”

“From the way Gracie tells it, Emily, there was nothing you could have done.  One minute he was standing and fine, and in the next, he fell and died a few minutes later.  I don’t think even Doc Z could have saved him.”

“You aren’t even going to lock up that woman, are you?”

“No, Emily, I’m not.  Lucy was trying to help.  If you weren’t so upset by grief right now, you would see that.”

“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?” Emily demanded.  She jumped to her feet and stomped toward the door.  “Thanks for nothing, Sheriff Jerk!”

“Emily, how old are you?” Mac Forrester asked suddenly.

“Old enough to know I don’t have to answer you,” she said, wrenching the door open.

“I’m going to let you leave, little girl, but you’d best stay clear of Lucy Z.”

“Of course I will, Sheriff!”  Emily gave an unladylike snort and two seconds later he heard the door to his office slam.

Mac shook his head.  Just when the town quieted down from Lucinda wanting to kill Doc Z for her brother’s death, he had the redheaded Emily thinking that Lucy killed Dove!  He hated this job!  Dealing with females was worse than dealing with bank robbers!

********************

Emily didn’t have a lot of money, but she had to stay in town until she had Dove buried… and until she made that black-haired witch pay for killing him.  She went to the hotel and slapped the bell hard.

“Hold your horses!” she heard a man say.  “I got a right to take a break!”

“I want a room,” Emily said forcefully.

“You that female that pulled a gun on Mrs. Z?” the man asked.  “If you are, then you can’t stay here.  I don’t want no trouble no how.”

“Give her a room, Bucky,” Mac said from the doorway, and then he walked inside the hotel lobby to approach the desk.  “She needs a place to stay until we bury Dove.”

“If you say so, Sheriff.”

“I say so.  Put her in Room Six,” he added when he saw Bucky reach for another key.”  The man looked at him, then at Emily.  “Stop thinking that way, Bucky, before I bust your nose.  Emily will be safer in Six and you know it.”

“Sure, Sheriff.”

“I can take care of myself!” the redhead announced.

“Room Six is at the top of the stairs.  If you have any problems, Bucky will be able to hear you calling for help.  Keep your door locked, and that shouldn’t happen.”

“I’ve got enough sense to lock my door, Sheriff.  Why don’t you go and arrest someone if you have so much time on your hands?”

“Someday someone is going to teach you some manners, Miss Emily.”  Mac took off his hat and put it back on his head, tipping it over his eyes.  “When I hear something from Doc about releasing Dove’s body, I’ll let you know.” 

Emily watched him walk out of the hotel, and then she grabbed the key from Bucky’s hand.  Without a word, she went upstairs and unlocked the door to her room.  She walked inside and after taking a look, she locked the door behind her, and then walked to the window and slammed it shut and locked it, and then she pulled the blind all the way down.  Only then did she remove her gun belt, and then throw herself on the bed and cry as if her heart were breaking in two… for it truly was.

********************

“Doc, did you take a look at Dove?” Mac asked when his friend opened the door to the jail and walked inside.

“I did,” Henry answered.  “He died of natural causes, and there wasn’t anything I could have done for him if I’d been in town.  It appears as though he had a massive stroke.”

“Would you mind coming over to the hotel with me and telling that to Miss Emily?”

“Is she the redhead who pulled a gun on Lucy?” Henry asked with a flash of his own redheaded temper.

“Yes.  She’s pretty upset, and she’s all alone in the world.  She won’t give me an answer on how old she is, either, and I’m not sure she is old enough to be on her own.”

“Let’s go and get this over with.  I want to get back home to Lucy.”

“I hope you wasn’t too hard on her, Doc.  She was only trying to help.”

“I know that, Mac, but I also know that she shouldn’t have set foot inside that saloon.  It isn’t safe for her to do that.  What if you wouldn’t have come running?”

“Lucy isn’t Marilynn, Henry.  You can’t expect her to sit and twiddle her thumbs all day long just to keep from putting herself in harm’s way.”

“I know, Mac.  But, I can’t bear the thought of losing her the way I did Mari.  I’ve got to keep her safe.”

“Lucy is pretty special.”  Mac knew he’d said enough.

“She is.”  Henry smiled as they walked into the hotel lobby.

“Bucky, is Miss Emily in her room?”

“I ain’t seen her since she checked in, Sheriff.”

Mac nodded, then headed upstairs with Henry in tow.  He knocked on the door of Room Six.  “Miss Emily, it’s Sheriff Mac Forrester and Doc Z.”

Emily called out, “Just a minute.”  She splashed some water on her face and then dried herself with a towel before walking over to unlock and open the door.  “Yes?”

“May we come in?” Mac asked politely.

Emily stood aside and let them into the room.  Mac crossed the room and lit the lamp since the room was growing dark.  It was immediately obvious to him why she had the light off; she’d been crying and her eyes were swollen.  At that moment he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and offer comfort. 

“What do you want?” she asked quietly, and was immediately aware her voice was hoarse from all the crying she’d done.

“Miss…?” Henry addressed her.

“My name is Emily.  I don’t use a last name,” she stated, and then asked rudely, “You’re married to that evil bitch, aren’t you?”

“Lucy is not an evil bitch, Miss, and unless you want your mouth washed out with soap, you will never refer to my wife in that manner again!”

Emily shrank from the obvious anger in the icy cold blue eyes.  She looked at the Sheriff, and he shook his head in warning.

“Emily, you need to listen to Doc Z.  He’s here to tell you what happened to Dove.”

“I’m listening,” she said sharply.

“I know how hard it is to lose someone you love, Miss Emily,” Henry tried to be compassionate.  “Dove died of natural causes.”

“But he was fine!” she argued.

“I know.  What happened is that he had a blood clot, and it traveled to his brain, causing a severe stroke.  There was nothing I could have done even if I had been standing beside him having a beer.”

“How do I know you are telling me the truth?”

“Has Dove had problems with his vision lately?  With keeping his balance?  Did you notice that he seemed to have problems speaking clearly at times, or in understanding what was being said to him?  Even some numbness in his arm or leg…?”  When her green eyes widened and then filled with tears, he nodded.  “I’m so sorry, Miss Emily.  Even if you’d brought him to me a few days ago, I doubt I could have prevented this from happening.”

Emily started crying again, almost hysterically, and this time Mac did take her in his arms.  “Doc Z, can you give her something?” he asked.

“Yes,” Henry answered, and quickly prepared an injection and administered it.  It only took a few seconds for the medication to work.  “I need to take her over to my place so I can keep an eye on her throughout the night.”  Just that quickly, Mac swept the little redhead up into his arms and carried her out of the room, Henry following him and locking the door.

“Bucky, we’re taking Miss Emily over to Doc’s place for the night.  She has her belongings in her room, so don’t rent it out to someone else.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Sheriff!”  The man sputtered indignantly.

“Lucy!” Henry called when he walked in the door. 

“Yes, Henry,” Lucy replied, coming to the infirmary to offer help.  She immediately spotted the redhead and could see that she was very upset.

“I sedated Emily.  Would you help me get her into bed?” he asked.  Mac laid Emily on a cot and then stood there helplessly.  “Mac, you need to step out of here.”

“Ohhh!  Okay…”  He actually blushed and couldn’t miss the look of humor that passed between Lucy and Henry.  “I haven’t forgotten that you kicked me, young lady,” he growled.

“I apologize for that, Mac.  You dumped beer on me and it made me furious!”  She got a whiff of Emily and then looked at the Sheriff accusingly.  “This poor woman still smells like beer!”

“It got the two of you to stop trying to pull out each other’s hair!”

“Mac, you don’t pour beer on two ladies!” Henry scolded, and then spoiled it by adding, “You should have used milk.”

“Ahhh!  Henry!  Be serious!” Lucy scolded.  “Mac, out of here, now!”  Once he was clear of the room, she undressed the other woman and put a clean nightdress on her.  “We’ll wash her hair and give her a bath tomorrow.”

“Dove had a stroke, Lucy.  I imagine that Emily is blaming herself for not realizing what was happening and getting help for him, but there was nothing I could have done to save him.”

“That makes me feel a little better,” she confessed.  “I always feel so bad when I don’t know what to do to help.”

“You always try, and I am proud of you for that.”  He kissed her and then said, “You best see if Mac has eaten and feed him if he hasn’t.  He feels about the same as I did when I first met you.”

“You spanked me!” Lucy reminded him.

“And Mac put a hand to Emily,” he said with a grin.

“He did?”

“The lady called you a name and Mac didn’t like it.  Now go and offer him some supper, wife,” he leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose.

********************

Emily slowly opened her eyes and her memory came flooding back.  Dove was dead!  “Oh no!” she whimpered.

“I know it hurts right now, Miss Emily, but in time you will feel better,” Henry told her with a smile.  “Are you hungry?”

“No.”

“Well, will you at least try to eat something?  Lucy is a good cook, I promise you that.”

“Why would she want to cook for me?” Emily demanded caustically.

“Because Lucy is a very nice lady.”

“Henry, Gibbs just came to the kitchen door.  Lorene is in labor.  You need to go now.  He didn’t want to wake you, so she’s been at this since last night…”

“Oh for Pete’s sake!”  Henry grabbed his bag and took off running, leaving the two women alone and hoping for the best.

“We weren’t properly introduced yesterday,” Lucy said.  “I’m Lucinda Zabarski, but most folks either call me Lucy or Mrs. Z.”

“I’m Emily.”

“Emily, I am truly sorry about Dove.  I know how much it hurts to lose someone you love so much.  I lost my brother a few months ago, and I came out here from Boston with every intention of killing Henry.  I thought he was responsible for Philip’s death.  I was truly awful to him.”

“But you didn’t kill him?” Emily was curious in spite of herself.

“No, I wanted him to suffer first,” she said quietly, and then told Emily of the things she did, watching the other woman’s eyes widen in shocked disbelief.   “That is my long-winded way of telling you I understand how you felt yesterday.”

“I am sorry, Lucy,” Emily made her say the words that the other woman deserved to hear.

“I know you are, and you are forgiven.  Would you like to eat first?  Or have a bath and wash your hair first?  You smell like beer, thanks to Mac Forrester!”

“I would love a bath,” Emily replied truthfully.

“I thought you might, and I have water heating for the tub.  Come along.  I’ll loan you something clean to wear.”

********************

Mac wasn’t too happy that he had to deal with a fight between two store owners first thing that morning.  Both men wanted to sit out merchandise in the space between the two storefronts, and neither was willing to budge an inch.  Mac finally decided to close both stores and lock the two men up for the day, thus bringing an end to the dispute.  Both agreed not to use the space, and instead decided to keep their doors open for the day.  It was nearly ten o’clock by the time Mac was able to go and check on Emily.

He ran up the steps and went on inside.  Doc Z didn’t come out to meet him right away, and he frowned.  He opened the treatment room door and called out, “Doc Z?”

“He isn’t here, Mac,” Lucy said as she came running.  “Is someone hurt?”

“No.  I wanted to check on Emily,” he growled.  “I guess she’s left by now?”

“Actually, she is finishing breakfast.  Have you eaten yet?”

“Yes, but I could use some coffee.”  Mac followed her through the infirmary and into the living area of the upstairs.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Emily.  “Good morning, Miss Emily.  You sure look pretty this morning.”

“Thank you, Sheriff,” Emily replied, blushing.  It had been a long time she donned a dress and left her hair down and curly.  She actually felt pretty and would have enjoyed the sensation if she could have shared it with Dove.

“Are you feeling some better today?” he asked, taking a seat at the table.

“Not really.  Dove and I have been together for a long time, and I don’t know what I am going to do now that he is gone.”

“You don’t have any other family at all we could send a wire to and ask them for help?”

“No.” 

Mac realized the girl was lying and he didn’t like it one little bit.

“You said your Pa was dead, but you didn’t talk about your Ma, or any brothers and sisters…”

“No family, Sheriff, and I wish you’d stop prying into my personal business.”

“I’m just doing my job, Miss Emily,” he insisted as he accepted a cup of coffee from Lucy.  “Thanks, Lucy,” he said with a smile for the brunette.

“I think you need to stop asking so many questions, Mac,” Lucy told him firmly.  “Emily is grieving right now and she doesn’t need you trying to boss her around.”

“Lucy, Doc Z must be losing his touch if you can be so sassy today.  Do I need to tell him he needs to cut a switch?”

“You’d just better not!” Emily jumped to her feet to yell at him.

“Hey now, what is going on in here?” Henry asked as he joined them.

“He is being mean to Lucy!” Emily pointed her finger at Mac.  “Make him leave!”

“Lucy?”  Henry was not pleased.

“Never mind, Doc Z.  Lucy is right.  Emily is too upset right now to be questioned.”  He got to his feet.  “Well, did the new arrival at the Gibbs household cause a stir?”

He sure did,” Henry grinned.  “Gibbs is dancing and Lorene is happy, too.  Poor kid is going to have five older sisters bossing him around all of his life.”

“You know as well as I do that Gibbs loves all those little girls of his, and he’d love this baby, too, no matter what.”

“I know that, and so does Lorene,” Henry agreed.  He then looked at Emily and said quietly, “The undertaker has Dove all ready to be buried, Emily.  He would like to have a small graveside service for him at two o’clock today.  The Reverend has agreed to come.”

Emily felt tears sting her eyes.  No one but her would grieve for Dove and it made her very sad.  “Two o’clock will be fine.”

“I have another dress that is more suitable that you can use, Emily, and, I will go with you.”

“Unless I have an emergency, I’ll be there, too,” Henry added.

“I’ll be there, too.”  Mac tried again.  “Is there anyone who needs to be notified of Dove’s death?”

“No,” Emily whispered.  “I think I will go back to the hotel now.  I need to be alone.”

Mac offered to walk her back, and took her up to her room.  Emily quietly shut the door in his face.  He decided to respect her privacy, and went back to his office to work on the paper work that never seemed to get done.  At one thirty, he started across the street to the hotel to escort Emily to the service, but found Doc Z sitting in the lobby.  “Lucy is upstairs helping Emily get dressed.  She’s been crying again.  If she doesn’t calm down, I’ll have to sedate her again.”

“I don’t like the idea of her being alone, Doc Z.”

“You don’t have much say in the matter, Mac.  She could very well be of age.”

“She has no one to look out for her, Henry.  I can’t just turn my back on that.”

“You’ve got it bad, my friend.”

The women came downstairs then, and Mac offered Emily his arm.  He half expected her to refuse, but it was soon obvious she needed someone to lean on.  The service did not take long.  The minister offered prayers, and when he asked if anyone would like to speak, Emily stepped forward and recited a poem she had obviously written for Dove.  It was a sad little ceremony and Mac held Emily’s hand tightly as he offered her strength and comfort.

“What are your plans now, Emily?” Henry dared to ask when they arrived back at the hotel.

“I need to find a job,” she answered.  “What is there to do in this town?”

“Not much of anything,” Lucy replied in disgust.  “You’ll almost have to create a job for yourself, Emily.  The men around this town won’t give a mere woman a chance!  What sort of things can you do?  Sew, perhaps?  Cook?  Take care of children?”

“I can use my gun!” Emily answered. 

“You’d better not think of trying to get a job using your gun!” Mac was instantly furious.

“Sheriff, what I do is none of your business unless I break the law in some way!” she retorted.

Mac started to say something, but Henry chuckled and just shook his head.  Mac threw up his hands in disgust and left the hotel.

Later that night as he was making his rounds, he heard running footsteps and then shots rang out, spraying the ground all around him.  He drew his gun to fire, but another shot rang out, and Frank Bedloe fell from a doorway and onto the sidewalk.  Mac turned to see who fired the shot that saved his life and was stunned to see Emily standing there with her Colt in her hand.

Would you like to read more? This is currently a "serialized" story on Bethany's Woodshed, updated every 6-8 weeks until completed.  Click HERE to Join and you'll be reading more within minutes.