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Cowboy from Hell

By Temple Madison

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashword

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Copyright 2018 Temple Madison

ISBN 9781634866255

* * * *

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Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

Cowboy from Hell

By Temple Madison


Storm was getting angrier by the minute when the doctor continued to lean in close to him and peer into each eye with a small magnifying glass. “Who are you?”

“You know who I am! I’m Storm Benedict!”

“What day is this?”

“It’s fuckin’ Tuesday!” Storm growled. “And tomorrow will be fuckin’ Wednesday!”

“And who am I?”

Suddenly, Storm pushed his face as close to the doctor’s as he could get and said, “You’re the fuckin’ doctor I’m gonna shoot a hole through if you don’t stop askin’ me the same dumb questions over and over!” He jerked his head around and looked at the sheriff. “Why in hell do I have to sit here answerin’ these stupid questions? For the hundredth time, I’m Storm Benedict. I live in Thunderbolt, Texas, and it’s 1871! My folks were Ellie and Harv Benedict, and they owned South Wind, but now it’s mine! You hear that? It’s mine!”

“All right, Storm, that’s enough,” the sheriff said.

“What the hell more do they want?” Storm shouted, and then jerked his head around and looked at the men at the table. “How long does it take for these dumb clucks to understand that I’m fine?”

The sheriff turned to the five men who sat at the table looking at Storm with a frown carved deep and ugly on each of their faces. “Are you satisfied now?”

“Satisfied?” Clyde Watkins said. “What the hell do you think?”

With angry, jerking movements, the doctor began putting away his instruments and said, “Well, I don’t know what else I can do. I’ve given him every test I know of, and he’s come through ‘em as normal as blueberry pie.”

“This idiot? Normal?” Clyde Wilkins said and jumped up from his chair. “I’d sooner believe pigs could fly!”

“He is not, nor was he ever, an idiot!” the sheriff shouted as he reached over and restrained Storm from attacking the old man. “He got caught in a fuckin’ mine explosion. He wandered away because he was dazed and disoriented. It could happen to anyone.”

“That doesn’t negate the fact that one day he just got up and wandered away,” Wilkins argued.

“Look, you weasel,” Storm said as he rushed around the sheriff and got into the man’s face. “I can’t help what I did then. I was a kid, for God’s sake. But I’m back, see? And I’ll see you and these other bloodsuckers in hell before I let you take my ranch!”

“All right, Storm,” the sheriff said, stepping between him and Clyde. “Hold it down, okay?”

When Storm saw a smirk on the man’s face, he pushed the sheriff aside and grabbed the man’s collar, pulling him up out of his chair, and pushing him hard against the wall. “You think this is funny, do you? If I lose my ranch because of you, I’ll cut out that lyin’ tongue of yours and feed it to my dogs!”

The man’s smirk turned to fear as his gaze shifted toward the sheriff. “Well, don’t just stand there! Do something! He threatened to kill me! Lock him up, for God’s sake!”

“I ain’t lockin’ him up just because he wants what’s rightfully his, Clyde.” He laid a hand on Storm’s arm and said, “Storm, he ain’t worth gettin’ hung for.”

Just then, Storm pushed Clyde as hard as he could against the wall just before he let him go. “Bastard!”

When Clyde got away from Storm, he scooted around the table to the other side of the room. “See that temper, Sheriff? How do we know that hole he come up out of wasn’t Hell? How do we know he ain’t the devil masquerading as Storm Benedict?”

“Don’t be stupid, Clyde.”

“The cowboy from Hell, that’s what he is, and if you don’t do something he’s gonna end up killin’ somebody. All right, so he knows the days of the week and even his name. What does that prove? Hell, he slipped out of his mind once. How do we know he won’t do it again?”

“Clyde, whether he’s in his right mind or not ain’t even the issue here. We’re discussin’ the validity of the will Storm’s ma and pa left.” “Charley Davis, Storm’s lawyer, says this will is legal and binding, and Storm, whether insane or not, can take possession of it anytime he wants.”

“But he ain’t even the Benedicts’ natural son. He’s adopted, for God’s sake. What kind of parents did he come from? Look at him,” the man said, his eyes raking down his body. “He dresses like an outlaw and acts like the very devil himself.”

“He ain’t the fuckin’ devil! Will you get that out of your head?”

“But look at the way he acts…like he ain’t even in his right mind—”

“He is in his right mind!” the sheriff shouted as he leaned over the table, his steady gaze shooting darts. “The goddamned doctor just said so.”

Clyde’s frightened gaze darted back to Storm. “So what? I ain’t buyin’ it.”

“You goddamned fuckin’ imbecile,” the sheriff mumbled under his breath.

Suddenly, Charley Davis spoke up, his voice and demeanor very professional as he said, “Clyde Wilkins…” He turned to the others and looked at each one as he called out their names. “Archie Burnside, Leroy Hawkins, Roy Smith, and Bernie Lawson, I demand the town release this property back into the hands of its rightful owner, or I’ll advise my client to sue the hell out of all of you!”

“Charley, not you, too!” Clyde shouted. “You remember how it was.” He turned to the others. “All of you do! Hell, with no word from Storm for ten years, we all thought he was dead. That’s why we took possession of the ranch. Now he comes back and decides he wants it. Well, I’m sorry, but I ain’t handin’ over a ranch like South Wind to a drifter without any roots or assets of any kind.”

“He’ll have assets when you decide to take your grubby paws off his property!” the sheriff shouted, his face so close to Clyde’s the man leaned backward. “Why don’t you admit the real reason you won’t release the property?”

“What do you mean?”

“Hell, Wilkins, you ain’t foolin’ anybody. I know what shape the town funds are in. You even have a problem payin’ me my measly little salary every month. A nice big ranch like South Wind would put Thunderbolt back in the black again, wouldn’t it?”

“All right, damn it, I’ll admit it. But that’s a fuckin’ empire out there, Sheriff. The Benedicts owned half the property between here and Thunderbolt Mountain. In case you don’t know it, that’s quite a spread, and puttin’ it into the hands of someone like Storm is a sin!”

* * * *

Storm listened as the room full of men continued to bicker back and forth. He was itching to get in the middle of it and break a few heads, but he had to admit that everything had happened just the way they said. There was a mine explosion at the Copper Queen, and he was lucky to come away with nothing more than a head injury that made him dazed and disoriented. He didn’t remember it, but they say that during his recuperation period he’d simply wandered away, never being heard of again—until ten years later.

They’d questioned him over and over, but all he could tell them was that one day he was workin’ in the mine, and the next he was in a doctor’s office in Durango, Colorado. He couldn’t remember anything about the ten years in between, but he would never forget the day his memory came back to him.

The day the mysterious veil of darkness began to dissipate, it seemed to come apart in strings. These shadows would stretch and drift apart until they revealed a small dingy office. Nothing was familiar. He even felt different. Instead of having a teenager’s scrawny body, he looked down at his muscled frame, and wondered where he was. Noticing movement, his gaze shifted toward the old, gray-haired man who was cutting bandages. “Where the hell am I?”

The old man looked around and smiled. “Welcome back. By the way, I’ve been expecting you. How does your head feel?”

“It hurts a little,” Storm said as he moved to get up. “Just tell me where I am.”

“No, don’t move yet. You’re in Durango, Colorado.”

Storm looked around. “How the hell did I get here? The last thing I remember I was diggin’ in a mine when suddenly…” Storm’s words faded when the mine exploded again in his mind. “It blew up,” he whispered.

“Right, but that was ten years ago.”

“Ten years? Ten years, hell, it just happened…”

“Look son, it happened ten years ago. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Like a bank robbery?”

“But it couldn’t…”

“Sorry, I don’t know about that. All I know is somebody brought you in here after the bank was robbed.”

“I robbed a bank?”

“No, not you. Johnny August. You were just somebody who got in his way. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow you got whacked over the head, which is probably what brought your memory back. Anyway, you lost a good amount of blood, but I think you’ll be okay.” The doctor put a finger beneath each eye, stretched them open, and looked into them. “Do you know who you are?”

“My name is Storm….” He winced when he felt a pain. “Storm Benedict.” When the pain subsided, he looked curiously at the doctor. “Who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Galen Stoddard. I’m the doctor here. I must say you were lucky to come out of this with nothing more than a gigantic headache. A couple of people were killed in the robbery. You’ll be okay, though. If you feel like it, you can get up now, but no sudden movements.”

Storm threw his legs over to the side and stood up. He began digging in his pockets but came up with nothing. “Look, Doc, I’m afraid I don’t have no money to pay you.”

“I wouldn’t take it even if you did. All I did was put a bandage on that hard head of yours.”

Storm looked over and saw a hat and asked, “Is that mine?”

“It must be. You were wearin’ it when they brought you in.”

After grabbing the hat, he said, “Well, thanks, Doc—”

“Before you go, take this with you.” The doctor handed him a box of small envelopes. “I’ve already given you one of these for the pain. It’s nothing but headache powders. When your head starts hurtin’ again, just empty an envelope of powder in a glass of water, drink it, and in a few minutes you’ll be as good as new.”

“Thanks again, Doc, I sure appreciate it.”

Storm was on his way out when suddenly he caught a glimpse of himself in a wall mirror and paused for a moment. He stared for several seconds at the stranger he saw. The stranger that according to the doc, was ten years older. As a kid his dark hair had been short, but now it was hanging down to his shoulders. He’d been smaller then, but now he was muscled and rough looking. He had the shadow of a beard on his face, and he was dressed in a black shirt, pants, and hat. He also had on black boots with silver spurs. Although the image he saw was familiar, he seemed roughed-up and dirty—sort of like a hellish gunslinger ridin’ up out of the bowels of an abyss.

With a big black void in his mind, he turned and hurried out to find a horse waiting. He could barely remember riding this animal, but with a Mexican saddle on it, he knew he must have spent some time in Mexico. It was his only clue as to where he had spent the last ten years of his life. Climbing upon the horse, he gave him a nudge with his silver spurs, and the animal responded as if he’d been doing it every day for the past ten years. As quickly as he could, he headed out of town, toward Texas and a little town called Thunderbolt.

* * * *

Now, as he sat at a table listening to the town fathers discuss him and his ranch, he’d had all he could take and lunged out of his chair. “I’m gettin’ mighty tired of—”

The sheriff rushed over to him and said, “Easy, Storm. Now’s not the time. You got a place to stay?”

“I’m out at Thunderbolt Mountain,” Storm said as he pushed his long hair out of his face. “It ain’t much, but it’ll do until I can move into the ranch.”

“I know all this is hard on you, Storm. Why don’t you go now, and when I get this settled, I’ll come out and let you know.”

“Sheriff, I ain’t givin’ up that ranch. If I have to—”

“Don’t say anymore, Storm, and don’t worry. Me and Charlie Davis will do everything we can for you.”

Storm turned, and in anger, he brutally pushed the men aside as he made his way to the door. When he opened it, he paused and looked back, his gaze jumping to each one of them. “You better hear me and hear me good. I ain’t the same kid that walked out of this town ten years ago. You’re dealin’ with a man now, gents, and my advice to you is to say your prayers because your asses belong to me! If you think I’m gonna sit back and let you take my ranch, you’re the idiots, not me. If I have to, I’ll let my six-guns do my talkin’ for me.” He laid a threatening hand on his gun. “You just remember that.” With that, he turned, walked through the door, and slammed it shut.

“He’s a devil, Sheriff,” Leroy Hawkins said. “Hell, I wish he’d stayed away. Even as a kid he was a live wire, but since he’s growed up, he’s twice as mean.”

“Storm ain’t mean, Mr. Hawkins, he’s just fightin’ to hang on to somethin’ that belongs to him. You’d do the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot.”

“But he’s livin’ on a mountain,” Bernie Lawson said with a trembling voice. “How many sane men do that?”

“And whose fault is that? With no money and no place to stay, he has no choice. Storm’s rough, I’ll admit it, but he knows how to survive in the wild, and that’s more than you or me can do. Believe me, if I was caught out on the prairie, Storm Benedict is the man I’d like to have with me. You sure as hell can’t call him an idiot anymore.”

* * * *

Chapter 1

Storm Benedict was a threatening sight. Although he had shaved, his hair was still long and his body as big as a mountain. His face had a rugged look that warred with his handsome features. He stood over six foot six and was as strong as a mountain lion. Living in a half-cave and foraging for his food had given Storm a few wounds; but to him they weren’t scars, but trophies. Living on the prairie, his gun had become his closest companion, and he’d even learned how to make other weapons as well as implements to cook with. As a result, his life in the half-cave wasn’t that bad. When it was cold, he put up animal skins at the mouth of the cave, but when it was hot, strangely enough the cave stayed cool in the shadows.

Later that day, Storm was cleaning some fish for supper when he heard the sound of a horse outside. He got up and went to the wide opening of the cave and looked out.

“You don’t know how glad I am to see you.”

“I came out here to give you somethin’,” the sheriff said as he dismounted.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

He began digging in his wallet and pulled out a legal-looking document and gave it to Storm.

Storm took it hesitantly. “What’s this?”

“Can you read?”

“Well enough, I guess, but knowin’ what the words mean is somethin’ else,” he said as he opened the papers.

“It’s the will the Benedicts drew up leaving you the ranch. Charley says it gives you the right to move into the ranch anytime you want, but just so you know, the town fathers still ain’t givin’ up. They’re holdin’ on to the fact that you weren’t the Benedicts’ natural son, but, more or less, a drifter. It’s a slim thread, and weak, but it’s all they’ve got now, and they ain’t gonna let it go.”

“Do they still think I’m an idiot?”

“No, but with no roots and no place to live…” He looked around at the cave. “You’ve got to admit, Storm, this ain’t the best accommodations you could have.”

“I know, but I didn’t have no place else to go.”

“Well, you have now, and with the Benedicts’ money you can probably hire you some ranch hands to help you.”

“I need that money to stock my ranch with cattle. I can’t afford both.”

“All right, but don’t let that land stand there and go to seed. You gotta figure out some way to work it and make it pay for itself. This ain’t the end of it, you know. They’re gonna be watchin’ every move you make, so don’t do nothin’ to make ‘em suspicious.”

“Hellfire! This is a fine way to live!”

“Well, if it’s too much, maybe you should just forget it.”

“Hell no, Sheriff, I gotta fight this. The Benedicts wouldn’t want that ranch to go to strangers. If they left it to me, it’s because they wanted me to have it.”

“I agree,” the sheriff said as he rubbed his chin. He finally looked over at Storm. “The only other thing I can think of is marriage. They don’t like the fact that you ain’t married yet, and you’re gettin’…” The sheriff frowned. “By the way, how old are you?”

“I’m near thirty now, but—”

“No buts here, Storm. If you want that ranch, that’s the only way them vultures will leave you alone. A woman goes a long way in settlin’ a man down.”

“But married.” Storm looked at the sheriff. “You mean to a girl?”

The sheriff snorted. “I ain’t talkin’ about a horse.”

“It might as well be a horse. I don’t know any damned females.”

“Ever heard of a mail-order bride? A lot of men are doin’ it these days. Not many women out here except…well, you know the kind I mean. Saloon hussies, or dried up school marms. If you want a real proper lady, you need to go back east.”

“Mail-order?” Storm said and looked at the sheriff as if he’d popped his cork. “How the hell do you fit a wife in a little bitty envelope?”

“She don’t get in the envelope, she…” He hesitated a moment, and then continued. “Hell, Storm, the next time you’re in town, just take a walk down to the newspaper office. Clancy’s usually got a paper or two that’s got some pictures in it. Just look at ‘em and take your pick.”

“But how does she get in the envelope?”

“Storm,” the sheriff said. “Forget the fuckin’ envelope, for God’s sake. The instructions will be there. Do what they say, and before you know it, you’ll have a wife.”

“Damn, I do sound like an idiot, don’t I? No woman’s gonna want to marry me.”

“You’re not an idiot, Storm. Hell, you got more sense than a lot of men I know. Just because you ain’t had a lot of book learnin’ don’t mean…Hey, I got an idea. The Widow Spencer’s got a lot of books her boys used in school. I’ll get ‘em and you can read up on a few things.”

“That sounds good,” Storm said, getting excited. “Sure.”

“All right. I’ll go back and tell the town fathers that you’re plannin’ to get married. Don’t forget to keep me informed, Storm. I think it might be the answer we’re lookin’ for. In the meantime, get your ass back over at South Wind so you’ll have a place to bring a woman to.” He looked around. “You sure as hell can’t expect her to live in a cave.”

* * * *

The next day, Storm walked into the saloon with the thought of getting drunk on his mind. “Give me a whiskey, Clem,” he called out to the barkeep.

Just then a cowboy walked up and pushed his hat back on his head as he leaned against the bar alongside Storm. “Well, what’d ya know? A hot wind just blew in from hell. What the hell are you doin’ here, Storm? Ain’t you supposed to be out scarin’ small children or somethin’?”

“Shut up, Slim. I just came into town to get some things I need.”

“Does that include a gut full of whiskey?”

“It includes a woman,” Storm said irritably.

“A woman? What’s the matter? Got a little itch?”

“Not that kind of itch,” Storm said as he looked at the cowboy with a question in his eyes. “Hey, Slim…you and me, we’re about the same age, ain’t we?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So, how come you ain’t got a woman by now?”

“You mean married?”

Storm gave a slight shrug. “I guess.”

“I don’t know. I guess I just ain’t found the right one yet.”

“The right woman?”

“No, the right horse.”


“All right. I just mean that every man has a woman that’s just right for him.”

“I don’t,” Storm said, looking down into his glass. “They don’t take to me.”

“Sure they do, it’s just that they’re afraid of you.”

“Why? I ain’t gonna hurt any of ‘em.”

Slim looked down at his clothes. “Storm, how come you wear black all the time? Hell, you look like a fuckin’ gunslinger.”

“I don’t have many clothes, and you can’t see the dirt on black like you can on other colors. I live in a cave, so who cares anyway?”

“That’s another thing. Get outta that damned cave and get yourself a decent place to live and a decent set of clothes. While you’re at it, you might tame that hair of yours. If you did, hell, you’d have to fight the women off. Now they’re probably afraid of you.”

He looked at Slim’s sturdy body. “You ain’t no wimp, Slim. Why ain’t they afraid of you?”

“Because I like women. It’s as simple as that.”

Storm had his answer. Since he didn’t like women, he had no chance of getting a wife. With a craw full of anger, he looked over at Slim and said, “Ever fuck a cowboy? If you did, you’d never touch another woman.” While Slim looked at him with surprise in his eyes, Storm put his glass down, turned to go, and said, “You think about it.”

After Storm stomped out of the saloon, he turned and headed over to the newspaper office. As soon as he walked in, he grabbed a paper and began flipping through it.

“Hey, what the hell are you doin’?”

“I’m lookin’ for the mail-order brides.”

The clerk smiled. “You gonna get hitched, Storm?”

“Shut up, and tell me how to find one.”

“First of all, you can’t get married until you have a place to bring a wife to.”

“I got a place.”

“What? Thunderbolt Mountain? Storm, you ain’t gonna get a woman to live out there. You may be used to livin’ in the wild, but they ain’t no woman alive who’s gonna live there with you. They have to have pretty things. You know, silk, satin, lace, and things like that. They like to drink tea instead of coffee, and they eat them stupid finger sandwiches. Besides, it takes money, and you ain’t got any.”

“I got a little money the Benedicts left me.”

“Ain’t you got all that spent by now?”

“Not all of it.”

“Okay,” he said and shoved a few thin sheets toward him. “This catalogue here’s all I got.”

“This? Three fuckin’ pages? Catalogue, my ass. That ain’t even big enough for a dog to piss on.”

“It’s all they sent this month. Take it or leave it.”

Storm looked down at the small catalogue entitled Sweethearts of the West and began looking through it. “Where are these women from?”

“Most are from the east. Boston, I think.”

“Then why do they call ‘em Sweethearts of the West?”

“How do I know? I just get ‘em and put ‘em out on the counter.”

“Real smart, Clancy,” Storm said as he turned to leave.

“Hey, that’ll cost you fifteen cents.”

Storm stopped and turned around. “Fifteen cents? For this little old thing? I can get a damned beer for a dime.”

“Fine, get yourself a beer, but if you want that catalogue, it’ll cost you fifteen cents.”

“It’s robbery, pure and simple!” Storm said as he began digging in the pockets of his pants.

“You think that costs a lot, try buyin’ a subscription to the paper. I charge five dollars for a year.”

“Who’s fool enough to spend that kind of money on nothin’ but paper?”

“Some people like to know what’s goin’ on in the world.”

“Robber,” Storm mumbled as he slapped a couple of coins down on the counter and walked out.

As soon as Storm got back out on the street, he saw the general store and thought about what Slim said about his black clothes. He looked down at himself, and then over at the general store across the street. He stepped off the boardwalk and was crossing the street when he saw a woman who was walking toward him. When she saw him, she turned to go another way. Storm stopped his stride and watched her hurry away from him. “What are you afraid of?” he finally called out. When she didn’t answer him, he mumbled, “Rotten stinkin’ females. You’d think I had two heads or somethin’.”

He stood watching her as she rushed away, and then looked up at the sign that said General Store, even more determined to change his appearance. Hurrying in, he felt like the idiot the town fathers were calling him when he began to pick out some clothes. He didn’t trust his own taste, so he asked the store clerk to help him. By the time he left the general store, his black outfit had been left behind, and he had on a new outfit. A little stiff, but okay. Just then, a woman was walking toward him, coming from the opposite direction. He expected her to cross over to the other side, but instead, she smiled and watched him as he passed her. Once he had passed her, he looked back, and she was looking at him. His eyes widened when he saw her wink. It reminded him of something Slim had said.

If you did, hell, you’d have to fight the women off.

* * * *

Feeling a little better about getting himself a wife, when he got back to Thunderbolt, he sat down at a crude table and opened the pages and looked at each of the pictures in it. Some were so ugly he thought they’d make a good scarecrow for his garden, but there were others that weren’t so bad. He finally saw one that was pretty enough, but she looked scared, kind of stiff, and solemn. It had him wondering what she would look like if she smiled. Others were okay, but for some reason, he kept coming back to the one who looked scared. He noticed that she lived in the east and had graduated from the East Coast Conservatory for Genteel Women. She could cook. She liked children, and could crochet, sew, and play a lute.

Storm frowned, and mumbled, “What the hell is a lute?”

She sounded like one of them snobbish women who would slap your wrist with a wooden spoon if you slurped your soup. He knew he would have to hide certain facts about himself to get her here, but she would eventually find out. He thought about being honest with her from the start, but he couldn’t make himself do it. He would have to tell her on their wedding night. She would yell and scream at him and call him names, but he would have to sit back and take it like a man. After all, he’d have it coming. He finally sighed, thinking there must be a better way.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Saul Denis sat quietly in church with his Bible opened.

Although he seemed to be reading intently from the word of God as the preacher shouted out his fiery sermon, he actually had a letter lying flat against its pages. It was from a man named Storm Benedict. This Storm character had sent the letter to his sister, Sable, but Saul had found it tucked among her things in her room and snatched it.

Now, after reading the letter, he pulled out the picture that was enclosed. It showed the man leaning over slightly, with one booted foot resting on a chair and one hand resting on the gun on his hip. Saul couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be with a man like this. He’d been used to eastern men. Those with good manners and not a fleck of dirt on them. But this one, God, what a wrangler he must be. He looked as mean as Hades and had the devil’s own good looks. Saul suspected he was some kind of outlaw but couldn’t remember hearing about the escapades of one called Storm. It was a unique name, to say the least.

He suddenly jumped when the preacher shouted, “The devil loves liars and thieves! There’ll be a special place in hell for the man that spews out lies as easily as he breathes God’s fresh air!”

With those words ringing in Saul’s ears, he looked down again at the wild, untamed man in the picture and saw a big, burly bad boy with a sharp gaze that undoubtedly pierced those he looked at. The longer he stared at the sexy half-smile, the more his heart thrashed in his chest. Slowly, his eyes closed as he imagined himself in this man’s strong, muscled arms, his lips—

Suddenly, he was punched by his mother. “Saul, wake up. It’s time to go.” She frowned at him. “Did you get anything out of the sermon, or did you sit there and sleep all morning?”

“Sorry, Mother,” he said and hurried out of the church, trailing behind her and his sister.

* * * *

While Sunday dinner was being prepared, Sable was in the parlor with her mother, arguing. Finally, she angrily put her hands on her hips, and shouted, “How can you ask me to do this, Mama? I went along with this scheme to please you because you promised that we would cheat just this one cowboy, but now…Mama, what you’re asking me to do is against the law.”

“But Sable, you must, dear. If you don’t, we’ll have to sell the house. What will we do then?”

“If we have to cheat to keep the house, then I don’t want it!”

“Brave words as long as you have a warm bed to sleep in and food on the table. But, Sable, if we don’t get that money, we’ll lose everything.”

“Then figure out something else.”

“But this is the answer to everything. You’ll pretend you want to marry him at first, but then you get cold feet for whatever reason, and just don’t bother to send the money back, that’s all.” She shrugged. “A lot of women do it. Not to just one but several of them. Just think of the money we could make! When it comes time to go, all you have to do is pretend to change your mind. The money will be for…I don’t know…pain and suffering?”

“Pain and suffering? Mama, please! If we take his money, he’ll be the one suffering.”

“Sable, I don’t ask much of you. It seems to me you could do this one small thing for me.”

“Small thing? Mama, you’re asking me to lie, to cheat! Have you even thought of Tucker? What would he think about this if he found out? He wouldn’t want to marry a girl who would do such a thing.”

“Then don’t tell him!”

“You want me to start our marriage with a lie between us?”

Just then the cook came in and interrupted their conversation. “Lunch is served, ma’am.”

“Yes, thank you, Ruby.”

“Right there is a fine example of where our money is going, Mama. Why in God’s name do we need so many servants? We can’t afford them. With money so scarce, you should have let them go when Father left.”

“All right, look,” Lettie Denis said as she got up and took a deep breath. “You’re hungry now. Once you’ve had a good meal, you’ll see things differently. Go change your clothes. I’ll tell Ruby to keep the food warm.”

* * * *

Sable whirled around angrily and strode out of the room.

While she was changing clothes, Saul knocked on her door. “Come in,” she called out.

Saul opened her door, and went in. “So, what are you going to do?”

“Do?” Sable asked.

“About the situation.”

Sable looked at him. “Were you listening?”

“I might have heard a word or two. The way you two were yelling at each other, it was hard to miss.”

Sable was so mad, she almost growled. “Damn, Saul, she’s got me so fuc—”

“Sable, does Tucker know how you curse?”

“No, I don’t suppose he does, but who cares? I’m not changing for any man.”

Saul pushed Storm’s picture in front of her eyes. “Not even this one?”

Sable grabbed it out of his hand and looked at it. “Where did you get this?”

“It was in the envelope with the letter he sent you. Didn’t you see it?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“He might even be worth a little change in personality, don’t you think?”

“He is good-looking. God, what a body. I didn’t think they made men like him.”

“Sable, you’re a beautiful young girl. The fact that you’re not married is all due to that mouth of yours. Why don’t you do something about it? If you did, you’d be married before the week was out.”

Still looking at the picture, Sable said, “I’m almost tempted to take this cowboy up on his offer.”

“What about Tucker?”

“Oh yeah,” she said with a big sigh, “Tucker.”

She looked down at the picture of Storm. “This one, of course, is different than all of them. He doesn’t exactly look mean, just, I don’t know, kind of sexy. Seriously sexy.”

“Seriously sexy? What does that mean?”

She smiled faintly as she gazed at the picture. “You know, like he would sweep a girl up, carry her to his hideout, and have his way with her.”

“Shame on you, Sable. I didn’t know you thought about things like that.”

“Only with men like this,” she said, feeling wicked.

“I know the feeling,” Saul mumbled.

“Oh, God, Saul, how am I going to get out of this? This man in good faith has proposed marriage. What’s going to happen when he gets no bride?”

“I don’t understand. If you didn’t want to do this, why did you submit your name when the Sweethearts of the West were looking for mail-order brides?”

“I didn’t, Mother did.”

“Without asking you first?”

“You know how she is. She doesn’t ask permission, she just does what she wants. Anyway, by the time I knew about it, the letters had already began coming in the mail.” She looked down at Storm’s letter. This one must have gotten lost in the…”

“You didn’t see it because I took it. It was laying on your dresser, and I swiped it.”

“It doesn’t matter. Now that I got the letter I’ll have to write him back and accept.” She sighed. “And then after he sends the money, write him back and tell him I’ve change…”

“Has mother seen it yet?”

“No. I haven’t given her these yet. Why?”

Saul saw his opportunity, turned, and sat down beside her. “Sable, you know I’ve been trying to get away for years, right? But Mama holds on to her purse strings so tight I haven’t been able to get a cent out of her.”

“Yeah? So?”

He took the letter, put it in her hand, and closed it. “I want you to tell Mama you’ll do it. Write this cowboy and accept his offer—”

“Saul, not you, too!”

“—and let me take your place.”

“Take my place?” She snorted. “Saul, you’re a man. He wants a woman. A wife. I don’t care how good-looking you are. He’s going to know right away you’re not a female.”

“My God, Sable, all I’m saying is that since you won’t be using the ticket, you give it to me. Don’t you see? When I show up, he’ll be looking for a woman, not a man, so he won’t know me. By that time, Mama’s got his money, I’ve got a free trip out west, and everyone will be happy.”

“But what about me? What do I get out of it?”

“You and Tucker elope. Can you think of anything more romantic? By the time Mama finds out what’s going on, you’ll already be married, I’ll be gone, and there won’t be anything she can do about it. You’ll be free. We both will. With this solution, everyone will be happy.”

“Saul, you can’t just get up and go. Don’t you think she’ll notice that you’re not here?”

“I’ll make some excuse about visiting—” He rubbed his chin, thinking, “I know. Aunt Edna in St. Louis. If I tell her Aunt Edna sent me the money, she can’t say no. By the time she finds out I lied, it’ll be too late.”

“I don’t know, Saul.”

“It’ll work, Sable. I know it will.”

“Why don’t you just move out? Why all this secrecy? Just get up and go. It doesn’t have to be out west.”

“Money, Sable. I don’t have any.”

“Get a fuc…Get a job!”

“Work? Dear God, no.”

“My God, this family…I can’t believe how messed up we are.”

“Sable, this might be the only chance I’ll have to get out of here. I want as many miles as possible between me and this place. Hell, Sable, it’s time I spread my wings. I don’t always want to be known as Lettie Denis’s son. I want my own identity.”

“Saul, you’ve been sheltered all your life. Do you remember when you used to play cowboys and Indians? Saul, if you go out there, you won’t be playing. It’s dangerous out there. Maybe you should think…”

“I know it’s not a tea party, Sable, but it’s the ideal place for a boy to learn how to be a man, don’t you think?”

“Sure, if you don’t get killed first.”

“All I know is, I’ll never learn here in Boston.”

Sable shrugged, picked up the picture, and said, “This killer here might be able to teach you a thing or two. Maybe you should look him up.”

“At this point, I’m ready for anything.” He looked down at the dark devil with his seductive gaze cutting around at the camera and felt a little heat rise inside him. It made Saul wonder if that sexy gaze was intentional. One thing bothered him. If it was, he thought he was making himself attractive for a woman—not a man.

“You be careful, you hear? Don’t let Mama see this,” Sable said as she pushed the envelope in his hand, and then went to join her mother for lunch.

* * * *

Still looking at the picture, Saul’s gaze traced along the big man’s features, one look showing him just how different this tall Texan was from Boston men. They seemed small in comparison, but hell, any man would seem small in comparison. Saul admired his seductive gaze and wondered if the stranger looked as good in person as in the picture. Just then, he heard his mother’s voice calling him, and he quickly shoved the picture in his pocket, then hurried to the dining room.

He tried to look uninterested as the two women talked.

“You have to promise me something, Mother,” Sable said. “Promise me that this will be the end of it. Have you thought about what this cowboy might do if he finds out about this? I mean, what if he—”

“Sable, stop! We don’t have a choice! It’s not me. It’s that father of yours! If he hadn’t run off with that dance hall girl…”

“But he left us money.”

“Not enough!” she answered quickly.

“I don’t believe that, Mama. The problem is you. The way you throw money around, you must have known this would happen. You simply can’t live like a queen with no money coming in. So we’re not rich, so what? If we had lived within our means, we wouldn’t be in this shape.

“Sable, save your morality sermon for another time. Blame me if you want, but it all comes back to the same thing. If we don’t do something quick, we’ll be out on the street. Right now, all I care about is getting that money. You don’t have to worry, you’re marrying Tucker, but me and Saul, we have nothing. Help us, for God’s sake.”

Sable cut her glance over at Saul, remembering their earlier conversation, and felt almost jealous that he was getting out of here. “Okay, Mama,” she said with forced softness, “I’ll do it.”

“Thank God,” Lettie said softly. “As soon as lunch is over, we’ll go into the living room and begin. I have two more names—”

Sable looked shocked. “We’ve heard from two more?”

“Yes. They came in yesterday’s mail.”

Later, while Sable sat at the desk writing, she furtively cut her gaze over to Saul, who was watching from behind the parlor curtain. She nodded her head when he mouthed, “Thank you.”

* * * *

“…very happy to accept your offer…”

Forcing himself to go through the motions, Storm bought a ticket, inserted a bank note for expenses, and sent it off. But the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that maybe he shouldn’t do this. As the days went on, he would sit and stare at her picture. He saw innocence in her eyes, trust. My God, she was beautiful and so young! What the hell had he been thinking? He was going to commit fraud against a young and trusting woman! He thought about his ma and the things she had taught him and was suddenly ashamed.

Finally, he made his decision. Feeling bad about it, he scribbled out a letter to her, telling her he had changed his mind, and asked her to send the money back. Along with a big apology, he sealed the letter, and mailed it the next day. He was troubled when he finally went to sleep on his makeshift bed, and tossed and turned without sleep.

* * * *

The day Sable received Storm’s letter telling her he’d changed his mind, Saul already had the money and the ticket, and was almost out the door. To tell him now that the cowboy had changed his mind would kill him. But she had no choice. With a sad look on her face, she gave the letter to Saul and watched him as he read it.

When he had read the last word he turned determined eyes up at her, and shook the letter in her face. “So what? So he loses a few dollars, he can afford it. Please, Sable, I’ve got to get out of here, and this is my chance. What could he do to me? He’s expecting a woman. He won’t even know who I am.”

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