Texas Redemption(6)

By: Linda Broday

“I beg to differ about the time and money part.”

“Just my old ticker wearing out, something to look forward to when you get up in years,” Ollie wheezed. “Nothing to fret about. Help me up so’s I can get to business. Be a good girl and hand me my pipe if you can see where the goldarned thing went.”

“You’re going upstairs and I won’t hear a word about it.”

Pain distorting Ollie’s face matched the dull ache in her heart. Laurel lifted the frail form into a chair.

“Cain’t abide a girl more contrary than me. Don’t let Shenandoah get a good look, you hear? Give him his meal, then skedaddle back here.” Ollie stopped for a breath.

Thankfully, it left a small crack to get a word in. “Yes, General Applejack b’Dam. I’ll handle things.”

Perhaps the root of their worry had left.

After Laurel located the errant pipe, she peeked through a crack in the door. Most of the patrons had vacated, leaving coins behind for their meal.

Yet there sat Shenandoah pretty as you please, with his back against the wall, Colt within easy reach. If trouble called, it’d not take him unawares. A glimpse of his hat again brought chills up her spine and a shiver through her bones.

He’d developed into a calloused, toughened hired gun. And she’d become a lot wiser. The question remained how wise.

Nothing short of divine intervention would help in surviving this meeting. And Laurel had learned at fifteen that miracles didn’t happen for someone in her shoes.

Whispering a desperate plea, she slid her arm under Ollie’s shoulder and helped her stand.

No, the good Lord reserved such things for the good and pure of this earth. That pretty much eliminated her.

Occupied with propelling Ollie up the narrow stairs, Laurel’s heel caught on an uneven plank when she stepped onto the landing. Her shoulder jolted into the wall, causing her tongue to scrape the small chip in her front tooth. Anger of that long ago night flashed as she slammed open Ollie’s bedroom door. The crack of it bouncing off the wall recalled the noise of her head hitting the floor. She clenched her fists.

Miracles? She’d gotten only one—getting away from Taft alive. And at the moment she questioned the blessing in that.

A few minutes later, with Ollie tucked in bed, she braced for the chore at hand. Down in the kitchen she lifted the plate and took a deep breath.

One small hope stood between her and salvation.

Perhaps Shenandoah truly hadn’t recognized her. She’d worn her hair loose and flowing in those days, not pulled back in a severe knot on the back of her neck as she did now. She straightened her shoulders and strode into the dining room.

Walk briskly. Feel nothing.

Shenandoah’s intense gaze burned, luring her concentration from the brisk, firm walk she’d planned. The faint smell of leather, bay rum, and cheroots jogged her memories.

Nights when her world seemed less hopeless.

Nights when she first dared thoughts of a new life.

Nights of passion.

Her steps lagged.

The crooked half smile disturbed her far more than the shock of hair that dangled rakishly across his forehead. Rivulets of sweat trickled down her back. That devilish grin touched a longing deep in the locked chamber of her heart where she could lie to herself and pretend she was worth saving.

Laurel willed herself forward, a desperate prayer sticking in her throat. She plunked the meal onto the table and turned on her heel.

Not quick enough.

He captured her hand.

“Much obliged. Sit with me a spell, Lil.”

Cold fingers of doom clawed their way inside, wrapping around what remained of her soul.

Lavender Lil. No one had called her that since… She gave the other two patrons a skittish glance. Their forks never slowed from plate to mouth, indicating they’d not heard.

“Sorry, cowboy.” She meant to add the layer of flint. The bitterness surprised her though. “You’ve got the wrong person.”

Shenandoah pulled her into the chair beside him. Not a forceful tug, but one that offered no escape. The gentle touch spoke of remembrance and insatiable desire.

A crack in the floor came under her intense scrutiny.

How could so much dirt get into such tiny places? It would take a good scrubbing to get it clean.