Summary: A burned out stagecoach lies on its side, the victim of an Indian raid. There’s a name on the coach manifest that makes Joe Cartwright’s heart stand still. Can it be that Elizabeth Carnaby is dead? And, as the man who robbed the coach seeks personal vengeance against Ben Cartwright’s youngest son – can Joe himself survive?
Rated M. The story is probably a PG-13 one, but for safety sake – and for the sake of one heavy duty romantic scene – I am calling it ‘M’. Contained in that PG-13 rating would be western brutality and violence, and torture. (101,760 words)
Loaded with SJS, JPMs, JAMs,Summary: Romance, Action, Drama and just about everything including the kitchen handpump.
Wet Bottom, Warm Heart Series:
In the Light as in the Darkness
There was a sound.
A single match struck, followed by a flash of light.
Then, near darkness.
Then, light again as the man who held the match removed a glass chimney and touched it to the wick of the single oil lamp on the only table in the stolen room he occupied that was spare as his soul.
As the pure white wick caught – curling twisting, blackening like skin on a spit – something kindled in the man’s piercing eyes; something akin to the delight a demon felt when gazing upon a soul it had brought to damnation.
For a moment the dark-haired man stood there, breathing in brimstone and relishing the taste and touch of it in his lungs. Then he slowly turned the thumbwheel, raising the wick and the light in the room to a point where he could read the newspaper he held in his hand. Kicking the table’s single chair back with a mud-caked boot, he thrust the tails of his threadbare, well-worn, and much relied upon steel-gray long coat behind him and adjusted his low-slung gun on his hip before sitting down. The paper was a month old, but that didn’t matter. The article in the social column on page ten of its second section, right next to the notices of the entire sorry scope of life – births, engagements, and deaths – referred to an event six weeks away. That meant he had near two left to do what needed done.
His filthy fingers left their own sign as the man turned the paper over and over until the article was on top, folding it like a tall man dropped with a bullet to the brain. With a frown and a grimace he read it again and then released the paper, letting it waft to the battle-scarred surface of the table.
With a shake of his head, he snorted, “Idiots. Oughta be shot at sunrise, every one of them.”
The man’s pale gray eyes returned to the newspaper where they lingered on a name – her name. Then, imperceptible to any but himself, they lost their hard edge as his scarred finger reached out to trace the letters.
Well, maybe not that one.
Fleet Rowse blew out a sigh as he kicked back in the chair. Five years had passed since he’d left his sister Rory behind in Virginia City. Five years of bein’ on the run, eatin’ mud and drinkin’ tequila in one stinkin’ Mexican watering hole after another and managing to stay just one step ahead of the law. Weren’t many banks to rob in good Ol’ Meh-he-co, but there were plenty of fat Patrons with fatter money belts and little or no brains. He’d made a decent enough livin’, fleecin’ them like their over-stuffed sheep and stringin’ their naked carcasses up to dry. Fleet snorted, picked at his teeth, and spit.
Hell, the law should have thanked him. He’d left a line of their lily-white asses danglin’ clean across the border should have kept any Gringo out.
Glancing again at the ragged and oft-read newspaper laying on the table, he leaned over and placed his hand on it. Using one dirt-caked fingernail, he ran it under every line, reading the information it contained there one last time.
“We have it on the best authority that a certain young woman, who is just recently returned to Virginia City after a five year bereavement, has come into a glorious fortune. The woman – whom we shall name at the end of this article – who was forced to abandon the home she loved for the irreconcilable loneliness it brought her following the death of her beloved husband, Matthew, had only recently returned to this fair city a new bride when she was contacted by a California attorney with the most disturbing but eventful news.
Unbeknownst to this young woman, who lost all of her family to the horror and utter degradation of an Indian raid when but a tender child, her late father had a distant uncle living in South Africa. The uncle, being an unfortunate man without children of his own, upon his death bequeathed the whole of his fortune – which rumor says runs in the tens of thousands of dollars – to the children of his beloved younger brother. Due to the savage nature of the attack upon the young woman’s childhood home, there being nothing but a cinder left, she was cast upon the world alone and without succor. While this reporter knows that this gentle young woman was stricken to the heart to find out her last remaining relative had gone to a musty grave, there must have been a small spot of joy when the letter arrived informing her that, due her being the only member of the Rowse family still living, she was now a woman of some means.
And who is this young woman you ask? While the name is being withheld until the matter is settled, our intrepid reporters have done their work and discovered it is none other than Virginia City’s own Aurora Clark, late Guthrie! And we have it – again on the best authority – that Mrs. Clark will soon be taking the stage to San Francisco to meet with her late uncle’s lawyer, with the intent of returning sometime during the first weeks of November. Once back in the bosom of those who love her, she will proceed to a local financial establishment located somewhere between that gallant city and our own in order to deposit the money which is, for a person of her fair sex, far too great a burden to bear for long.”
As Fleet finished, he stood. The busybody of a reporter had gotten everything wrong about his and Rory’s past, but had done a damn good job of predicting their future. The outlaw reached for the lamp’s thumbwheel and rolled it again, turning the wick so high a dark column of smoke spiraled up into the air like a portent of doom. A second later he backhanded the lamp, spilling its contents over the newspaper and the powder-dry table beneath. He watched with satisfaction as both burst into flame and then crossed to the door and stepped out into the night even as cries of ‘fire!’ filled the air of the sleepy Mexican village he was leaving behind.
It if he traveled fast and light, Virginia City was less than a week away. So was his sister.
So was the money.
As eldest, that fortune was his.
Fleet laughed and spit again as he turned to watch the cheap hostel where he had rented a room go up in flames.
He was gonna have one hell of a time relieving his sister of her burden.
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