More Than Meets the Eye(6)By: Karen Witemeyer
Evie struggled. “Ham-ton! I want Ham-ton!”
She stomped Seth’s toes and broke free. She stumbled forward, tripping on a window frame, but grabbed the edge of a sideways bench to keep from falling. Everything was sideways. Crumpled. Broken.
She spotted Zach hunched over, a giant plate of glass in his hands that he yanked upward and tossed aside.
She was going to ask if he knew where Hamilton was, but when he turned to look at her, his face made her forget her words. He didn’t look mean or tough now. He looked . . . lost.
“He saved my life,” he mumbled, his stare blank. “Pushed me out of the way and saved my life.” Zach blinked, then seemed to recognize her. He jumped to his feet and tore at his coat as if it had suddenly caught fire. Finally, he flung it from his back and tossed it on top of a pile of something behind him.
Seth joined them. “We need to get . . . her out. Shouldn’t . . . see this.”
Shouldn’t see what? Evie looked from one boy to the other. What were they hiding from her, and where was her brother?
“She needs to say good-bye,” Zach argued.
Say good-bye? To who?
“Evie?” A weak voice cut through the argument, stilling everyone.
Evie pushed past Zach and found her brother at last. He lay on his back, not moving. Zach’s coat covered him up. She stumbled up to where his head lay and wrapped her arms around his neck. But he didn’t hug her back. Didn’t rub her hair and tell her everything would be all right. He just lay there. Still. Too still.
“Ham-ton? You gotta get up.” She grabbed his shoulder and tried to pull him into a sitting position. “Get up, Ham-ton!”
“Easy, princess. You don’t want to hurt him.” Zach crouched beside her and patted her back. It felt awkward and stiff, but it was warm, too. And Evie felt so cold, as if her heart had turned to ice.
“Zach’s gonna . . . take care of you now,” Hamilton said, struggling to open his eyes. “He made me a promise, and I trust him . . . to keep it. You can trust him . . . too.”
“I don’t want Zach to take care of me. I want you, Ham-ton!”
Her brother smiled, or tried to. “I know, Evie, but I can’t stay. I have to . . . go see Mama . . . and Papa.” He coughed, and something red came out of his mouth.
Terror seized Evie, shaking her from top to bottom. Hamilton couldn’t leave her. He couldn’t!
Zach helped Hamilton turn his head and wiped away the blood, the tenderness so strange from the rough boy. Once he was done, Hamilton looked at Evie again.
“I love you, sis. Always . . . and forever.”
“Don’t leave me, Ham-ton.” Her voice broke as she collapsed on his chest and cried out her heartache. “Don’t leave me.”
Something gurgled in his lungs; she could hear it beneath the coat. But she also heard voices. Seth and Zach arguing.
“They’ll never let you stay with her,” Seth was saying. “As soon as we get back to New York, they’ll divide us up again.”
“That’s why we’re not going to New York.”
“We’re making a run for it.”
“But we’re just kids. How can we—?”
“If you don’t want to come, don’t come. But I made the kid a promise, and I never go back on my word. I’m gettin’ the girl out of here. If I can survive on the streets of New York, I can survive in Texas. We’ll make do.”
“But they’ll search for us.”
“So we change our names. Become our own family with our own name.”
The boys quieted, leaving nothing but the shallow gurgles of her brother’s chest to echo around Evie. Then even that stopped. “Ham-ton,” she moaned, knowing he’d left her.
“Hamilton’s a good name,” Seth said.
“Yeah,” Zach answered. “Hamilton it is.”
July 1894—Pecan Gap, TX
Logan Fowler dismounted outside the Lucky Lady Saloon, anticipation thrumming in his veins. Seven years. That was how long he’d been waiting to enact justice. Seven years of loss, sacrifice, and preparation. And today represented the beginning of the end—for Zacharias Hamilton.
“I’ll make it right, Ma,” Logan vowed beneath his breath. He patted his chestnut’s neck before wrapping the reins around the hitching post. “For Pop.”
Logan tugged his hat brim a little lower on his forehead. The long white scar that slashed diagonally across his left eye from halfway up his brow to a spot close to the top of his ear tended to draw attention, and he’d rather be inconspicuous while gathering information. Not that the scar didn’t have its advantages. Especially in saloons. Looking dangerous gave a man an edge. Demanded respect.