Texas Redemption(131)

By: Linda Broday

Moonbeams now trailed through the back window. Laurel adjusted the wick of the oil lamp and counted her blessings. Not a soul had come yet with tar and feathers, thank the Lord.

Perhaps “letting the hide go with the tallow,” as Ollie would put it, had accomplished something.

Florence had actually listened. And even though the gossiping woman hadn’t met Laurel’s stare, Florence showed slight thawing. The tale of Laurel’s abduction had even sparked a hint of human decency as evidenced by the flicker of sympathy.

The clock neared ten when fists pounded on the door. Laurel gripped the knife in her pocket.

Curley lumbered over with his rifle ready. “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Arlo.” The shout belonged to a worker from the Dry Gulch.

He slid back the new, heavier bolt that he’d installed at Laurel’s request. “I told you not to disturb me without good cause.”

“You hafta come quick! Some fellers got liquored up bad. They’re breaking glass, furniture…and bones.”

Deep regret colored Curley’s tone when he turned to Laurel and Adeline. “Ladies, I have no choice but to leave you alone. Lock up and don’t answer to anyone. I mean it.”

An eerie quiet descended after Curley left. Laurel and Adeline finished straightening up the kitchen for the next day’s business. All the while, she listened for Hannibal’s scratch. The animal’s long absence puzzled her. He’d be hungry.

Adeline yawned. “I’m beat down to the soles of my feet.”

“No use in us both waiting up. You go on up, honey.”

The clock’s loud ticking along with the creak of boards above where Adeline moved about filled the kitchen. Then the noise overhead ceased, telling her Adeline had crawled into bed. Laurel rested her head in her hands. Brodie filled every crevice, every corner of her mind. Thoughts of his welfare formed images of the twisting, agonizing kind.

Had she misplaced her trust in the Citizens for Peace?

Were they unable to save the man she loved?

An hour stretched into two and yet Curley didn’t return. Perhaps he figured they’d gone upstairs and didn’t wish to awaken them. Or…the thought of rabble-rousers killing their friend turned her to ice. Losing another would further test her ability to survive.

She pondered venturing out to the saloon, swiftly rejecting it as unwise. For now she’d stay put. That was the best thing.

Checking on Adeline, Laurel lay down fully clothed on Ollie’s bed. In case trouble called she’d be ready.

It seemed she’d just dozed off when low whispers jarred her awake.

Wooden planks complained beneath someone’s weight.

Intruders lurked in the hallway.

Even if Curley had found a way past the bolts, he’d not come upstairs. And nothing would drive Adeline from bed unless she was ill, and the girl hadn’t stirred or made a peep.

The knife slid into place, the pistol into her palm before her feet hit the floor.

A muffled scream froze her midway across the room.

Walking on tiptoes, she slowly opened the bedroom door and peered around the door frame. Shadows moved along the hall in the murky light.

They had Adeline.

Laurel ran after two male figures who hauled Adeline’s kicking form, catching them at the head of the stairs.

“Put her down this instant!”

Will Taft whirled. “Who’s gonna make me?”

Laurel shivered. The face that spawned nightmares and dominated daylight hours stood before her. Well, her wish came true, only now she’d give anything to put the genie back into the lamp. Chewing nails hadn’t been all that bad, she told herself.

She raised her chin a notch and swallowed the fear that strangled her. “I am. I’m going to stop you.”

“What’s a scrawny-ass harlot gonna do?”

“Lessons you taught in survival might not work in your favor now, Taft.” She leveled the pistol at his gut. “I said get your hands off the girl.”

In the dim light she saw his eyes widen. “You’re full of surprises, Lil.”

Adeline jerked free and scooted behind Laurel.

Laurel ordered, “Vallens, lead the way downstairs. Remember, this six shooter will put a big hole in your boss should you make one bobble. I swear to God I’d dearly love to.”