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  • An Unexpected Bride for his Haunted Heart

Prologue

Lucille was busy doing her chores on the ranch, an unusual task for her. It was made much more strenuous by the warm Texas sun. Ever since her brother and father had left to fight in the war, she’d had to pick up the slack. Her daily duties ranged from feeding the cattle and horses, to cleaning out the barns and herding the cattle herself.

 

The farmhands were not very keen to listen to her at first, somewhat ashamed that they were taking orders from some young girl, but had come to respect her as she was not afraid of getting her hands dirty. She’d do almost everything the men did, though the men insisted on doing the jobs that required more heavy lifting. They insisted it was because they didn’t want her to get hurt and that her brother and father would kill them if they found out she’d done something to herself on their watch, but she knew that they’d just be embarrassed if a skinny little blonde girl upstaged them.

 

The ranch hands understood the predicament she was in though. Some of them even had family and friends who had gone off to serve in the war. They enjoyed having her as their boss mainly because of the food she’d make them. Since she didn’t have anyone else at home to cook for besides herself, and they got tired of their own terrible cooking, once a week they would take over for Lucille completely and in return she’d cook something for all of them. 

 

Regardless of how the men felt about her doing work around the ranch, she was happy to have their help. Her father had picked a good bunch of men for the job and she felt comfortable working with them.

 

The hard work of ranch life was not all that difficult for her either. She loved working with the animals, be it horse or cow, and always made sure to treat them with lots of love. The animals in turn, enjoyed being around her the most and tended to be more agreeable when she was around. 

 

One day, as she was busy feeding the cows, one of the ranch hands came up to her.
        

“Miss Clark! There’s someone at the house looking for you,” he said.

 

Lucille looked past the hand to see a man in a blue Union Army uniform standing by his horse near the front porch of her ranch house. It had been months since she’d seen her brother and father but she could tell it wasn’t either of them. Her heart began to sink, letter carriers from the army weren’t soldiers.

 

“Did they say what they wanted?” she asked.

 

“No, miss. Only that I needed to fetch you,” the ranch hand said.

 

Lucille swallowed hard and sighed. “Finish up feeding the cows for me, will you?”

 

“Of course, miss. Is everything alright?” he asked.

 

“Just finish with the cows, please,” Lucille affirmed. She began walking toward the soldier, each footstep toward him made time feel slower and slower. The closer she got, the faster her heart began to beat, an overwhelming sense of dread draped over her like a heavy coat. Eventually, she made it to the soldier. He was older than her brother, but younger than her father. He did his best not to meet Lucille’s eyes, hiding them underneath the brim of his hat.

 

“Are you Miss Clark? Daughter to Everett Clark and sister to Matthew Clark?” the soldier asked.

 

“Why yes I am, is there something I can help you with?” she said, feeling like someone was choking the words out of her.

 

The soldier went into the saddlebags of his horse for a moment, and produced two folded up flags, a pocket watch, and a locket. “I’m here to inform you that your brother and father were killed in combat last week. Their bodies were recovered and buried, but this locket and watch were on their persons and we felt it would be right of us to deliver them to you so that you might have something to remember them by,” he said as he extended his arms with the locket and watch resting on top of the two folded flags.

 

Lucille looked up at the soldier and only saw the shadow cast over his face by the brim of his hat. Tears started welling up in her eyes, “…What?” she squeaked out. “Dead?… Both of them? No, no! That can’t be true!” she cried.

 

“I’m sorry for your loss, miss.” The soldier held the flags and personal effects closer to her.

 

Lucille took the bundle with her shaky hands and saw that it was indeed her brother’s watch and her father’s locket. “Are you sure it was them?” she asked.

 

“Yes, miss,” the soldier said. “Give my condolences to your mother.” He started to get on his horse.
        

“She’s… She’s been dead a long while now,” she said staring at the bundle.

 

The soldier stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry, miss,” he said coldly and finished mounting his horse.

 

Lucille took the bundle to the front porch and sat down on the steps. She placed it in her lap and looked at her brother’s timepiece. A fine silver pocket watch if there ever was one. She flipped it over and saw the name M.E. Clark etched into the back. Her vision blurred as tears welled up in her eyes and fell onto the flags and watch. Lucille remembered the day she and her father had bought it for her brother’s birthday, and the ecstatic look on her brother’s face when they gave this marvel of technology to him.

 

She put it face up on the bundle, so she wouldn’t have to look at her brother’s name anymore. Then she picked up the locket, simple and made out of brass but probably the most valuable object in her father’s possession. She opened the locket to see a picture of her mother. She gasped in helpless sorrow when she saw it. She was so young and beautiful in the picture. She began wailing uncontrollably, the only family she had left had been killed on some battlefield however many hundreds of miles away. She hoped that maybe they’d died together or that they’d gone out in a blaze of glory and not alone, forgotten, and stepped over on the muddy ground.

 

Lucille put the locket back on top of the bundle and closed it, she couldn’t bear to look at the belongings of her dead family anymore. She ran into the house, tears flowing down her cheeks like the Mississippi. She ran up to her room and tossed the bundle onto her bed and then fell to her knees. What am I supposed to do now? I can’t take care of this ranch myself! she thought. Oh God, why did You have to leave me alone on this Earth!

 

 

Chapter 1

Carson closed the gate to where he kept his cattle. “Hope you animals enjoyed all that grass,” he said. “Who am I kidding, they always will, they’re cows.” He turned around and wiped the sweat from his brow and began making his way to his ranch house to fix himself a well-deserved dinner. Owning  the largest independent cattle ranch in Colorado was more than enough work to make any person wish for a huge meal.

 

“Howdy neighbor!” an old, familiar voice called out from the edge of the woods. Carson turned around to see Otis approaching the fence by his cows, and resting on it.

 

“Otis, good to see you old friend,” Carson said dryly.

 

“Well, you sure don’t sound like it’s good to see me,” Otis laughed. He looked around at the ranch; it had been close to a week since he’d seen Carson last. The hole in the roof of the house was still there, part of the porch steps were broken, and the whole house just looked downtrodden and old in general. As he leaned on the part of the fence he came up to, the top beam snapped.

        

“Oh God! Otis I’m sorry, I’ve been meaning to have the hands fix the fence,” Carson said, as he rushed to his neighbor’s side. Carson helped Otis back up on his feet.

        

“Boy, what’s happened to this ranch of yours?” Otis said once he was up on his feet.

        

“What do you mean?” Carson asked.

        

Otis scoffed. “Have you taken a good look around your land recently?” he asked. “Carson, my boy, you’ve really let this place go. It’s a wonder the cattle still stick around. Heck, if it wasn’t for all your hired help I’m sure they’d run off, or worse. You know some of the kids in town think that this ranch is owned by a ghost?”

        

Carson looked down at the ground. He was ashamed at the state of his ranch. Yet he felt no need to try and improve things. He just didn’t care; he wanted to be done with this place and move on. The ranch held too many bad memories.

        

“Carson, I know things haven’t been well ever since your brother died during the war, and then with your missus passing a year ago,” Otis said.

        

Carson looked up and locked eyes with Otis, shooting a bullet-like stare at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, old man.”

        

“I’m just trying to help you Carson, I really am. I hate seeing you and your ranch going to hell like this,” Otis said. “Is there anything I can do at all? I’m more than happy to help you with chores or with taking care of the cattle.”

        

“Otis, the only way you could help me right now is if you knew a way to get me the hell out of this town,” Carson said.

        

Otis nodded. “I understand, I won’t disturb you any further, but you just holler my direction if you need anything.” Then Otis solemnly walked into the woods.

        

Carson watched as his friend disappeared toward his own home, and instantly felt regret. He didn’t mean to get so angry at him, but he hated the mention of his late wife and brother. It was Carson and his brother’s idea to come out west in the first place and start a ranch. They’d built the whole house with their bare hands, and now the place was practically falling apart. But Carson just couldn’t find any motivation to fix the house up. Every time he tried to, his mind would be flooded with the memories of his brother and his wife. He remembered sitting on the steps to the half-built house with his brother, his wife coming in from town with food so the two hard-working men could recover after a long day. 

 

Then there was his late wife, Christine. Every time he closed his eyes at night he saw her. He’d dream about her sitting on the front porch, her sweet smile, and a house that didn’t look like hell had spit it out. But then he’d open his eyes in the morning, and she was gone. He felt his heart break every time he got out of bed.

        

Carson shook his head and went back to his house, deciding to cook some supper. His house contained dozens of memories of better times with his late family. Everything from blankets his wife had sewn, his brother’s old work boots that sat near the door, and of course the portrait photographs of him and his wife and his brother right before they went to war. He couldn’t bear to part with them or hide them somewhere.

 

Throwing away what little memories he had of his brother and wife would surely kill him faster than any bullet or knife could ever hope to. Even his terrible cooking made him miss his wife that much more. He’d practically stopped trying to cook on his own, and mostly lived off of canned and bought foods from the general store. The poor man hadn’t had a home-cooked meal in months, and his taste buds had all but forgotten the taste of a freshly baked pie.

        

All he wanted in life was to live peacefully and settle down with a family that loved him. When he hadn’t totally given up, he’d actually posted an ad for a bride, hoping that someone would answer and fill the hole in his heart. Nobody ever responded to it. It seemed nobody found life with him all that appealing.

 

After dinner, Carson finished up a few more things around the ranch and fixed the piece of fence Otis had broken. Not that it won’t break again, mind you. Then, as the sun set past the trees and the moon started rising, he went to bed.

 

He slept on his side of the bed but tonight when he closed his eyes he didn’t see his wife. Instead he saw the body-ridden fields of the war. He heard the wails of injured soldiers, the explosions of cannons, the smell of gunpowder and blood, and when he looked down he saw his brother, injured and bleeding from a musket shot to the chest. Carson’s hand was covering the wound as best as it could, his brother’s hand over top of his own clutching as hard as it could. He saw his brother’s eyes, wide with shock and fear. His brother coughed up blood, staining his uniform. Over all of the gunfire, explosions, and yelling, he heard the most harrowing thing in his life.

 

“Carson, I don’t want to die!” his dying brother had squeaked. His brother kept breathing heavily, there was nothing he could do for him. Eventually he stopped breathing, his grip loosened, and his arm fell to his side. Carson pulled his hand off of the wound, covered in the blood of his only brother.

 

The next morning, he was rudely awakened by the sound of a knock on his front door. He shambled out of bed, wiped off the sweat from his forehead, and put on some clothes. He heard knocking again, except this time it was more impatient.

 

“I’m coming! Just hold on a minute there!” Carson yelled downstairs. As he opened the door he was greeted by a young, pale face, topped with red hair and freckles.

 

“Mister Fuller!” the young man said.

 

“Stanley, why are you out here at this hour?”  Carson asked.

 

“Well,” Stanley started, “it’s just that I think I found a way for you to sell all your cattle. You’s always talking about how ya wanna get outta this town and all that.”

 

Carson cocked an eyebrow. “No kidding? Why don’t you come inside, kid. You can tell me about it over a pot of coffee.”

 

Carson made some coffee, while Stanley started telling him about the Goodnight-Loving Trail, a huge cattle trail that stretched all the way from Wyoming down into Texas. Stanley had overheard some folk at the post office talking about a man down in New Mexico that was looking to buy as many cattle as he could get and at a good price, to boot.

 

“Well that’s a mighty fine plan you’ve got there Stanley,” Carson said.

 

Stanley beamed. “Why thanks Mister Fuller!”

 

“Only problem is that there’s no way I can drive all these cattle that far by myself. Not sure how I’d be able to get all my hands to go along with this plan either. I’d probably lose all them damn steers before I clear the county line!” Carson said.

 

“Well… Maybe I could help!” Stanley said eagerly. “I know how to drive cattle and I’ve always wanted to see the world outside      Colorado! And I could always snoop around town, see if anyone needs a job.”

 

“Would your parents be alright with you driving cattle with the most hated rancher in town?” Carson asked.

 

“I’m a man ain’t I? I can make my own decisions,” Stanley said, crossing his arms.

 

Carson laughed, almost choking on some of his coffee. “Sure, kid,” he said.

 

“Yes!” Stanley said jumping out of his chair. “We’ll need some cash for supplies and such but we can work that out later! Oh, this is gonna be a whole hell of a good time, Mister Fuller, a real adventure!”

 

“Of course, Stanley. Just make sure your folks are alright with it,” Carson said, but Stanley was already out the door and mounting his horse.

 

“Whatever you say Mister Fuller!” Stanley said as he rode away.

 

Carson finished his coffee, letting the realization that he’d finally be able to get away from this house set in. He looked around at all the memories in his house, the small photo portrait of his wife staring lovingly at him from its spot on the wall. He got up and pulled it off, rubbing the dust off with his fingers. In that portrait, she was still as beautiful as the day he’d met her. A tear fell onto the portrait, then he brought it close to his chest. He hung the portrait back up on the wall, and glared at it for perhaps a second too long. He wiped the tears from his face and got ready for work.

 

His day went about as usual, taking care of the cows and making sure the ranch hands weren’t lazing about. Strangely, the thought of finally getting out of town seemed to carry him. For the first time in months he actually felt a hint of motivation. Such power had not radiated through his bones in so long, he didn’t know what to do with it. Even then, he figured he’d at least try to put it to good use and resolved to truly fix the piece of fence that broke when Otis leaned on it the other day. As he was finishing replacing the piece of the fence, he heard a familiar voice call out from the woods.
        

“Well now I can’t possibly believe what I am seeing,” Otis said. “By God, you’re actually fixing that fence!”

 

Carson laughed. “I just felt up to it today, I guess.”

 

“Well something must have caused this; it’s not every day that I walk on up here and see you doing something like this,” Otis said.

 

Carson sighed. “Well… I think I might be moving on, Otis.”

 

Otis flinched in surprise. “You what? Has consumption taken hold of you, boy?”

 

“God no!” Carson chuckled. “I think I’m finally getting rid of the place and leaving the state.”

 

“What?” Otis said. “Are you serious?”

 

“Sure am,” Carson replied. “Stanley and I are talking about driving cattle down to New Mexico. Figured I’d sell my cattle there and start over.”

 

“Stanley as in Stanley Sims? Little Stanley Sims from town? You and him are gonna drive all your cattle all the way down to New Mexico?” said Otis.

 

“That’s the plan as it stands,” Carson said plainly. “We’ll need a lot more than just the two of us. I’m sure I can put an ad in the paper or something.”

 

Otis crossed his arms. “Now why the hell would you wanna go and do that?”

 

“Otis you know I’ve been thinking about selling the ranch for a while now. There ain’t a damn thing here for me. You know full well how everyone in town feels about me,” Carson said.

 

“I hear you friend, but I mean… Taking Stanley? Do you have any idea how dangerous it could be? You’ve heard the horror stories of those cattle rustlers out there. What if Stanley gets shot, or worse you get shot?” Otis said.

 

Carson hung his head low; in truth he hadn’t considered such awful things. He was only concerned about getting away from this place. “You’re right. I just won’t take him then. I’m sure I can ask around for some help.”

 

“What, in town?” Otis said. “Carson my friend, I think you’d have a hard time finding anybody there willing to help you.”

 

Carson gritted his teeth, his head still hung low. “Well one way or another I’m driving those cattle down there and I’m selling this old ranch!”    

 

“Is this what Christine and Joseph would have wanted, Carson?” Otis said.

 

Carson raised his head up; now there was a tear dripping down his face. “Don’t you… ever say their names again,” he said, his voice choked up.

 

“I’m sorry Carson… It’s just that… I’d hate to see you do something that would be the death of you,” Otis said. “You’re my closest friend, boy. More like family, really.”

 

“I won’t hear any more of it,” Carson said. “One way or another I’m driving my cattle down to New Mexico! That’s my final word on the matter!” As he said this, he picked up his tools and stomped off back to his house. Otis didn’t know what to say, heck it would be smarter not to say anything, he thought. So, he watched Carson drift farther away, and then went back into the woods to his home, worried about his friend’s future.

 

 

Chapter 2

Lucille wiped the sweat off her forehead. Ever since she’d received the news about her brother and father’s death two years ago, she’d resolved to work as hard as she could, day in and day out. It was no easy task, she learned that quickly.

 Every day, she had to be up at the crack of dawn until the sun went down. There was so much to do, but there was only one Lucille. Even with the myriad of ranch hands, there was always something to tend to. She barely had any time for herself. The ranch hands were mighty surprised to see her take charge, to say the least. They wouldn’t admit it, but they admired her ability to step up and take responsibility for things, there weren’t many women in Texas who would ever do such a thing.

        

Lucille stepped out of the barn with a few flakes of hay, ready to feed it to the animals, when one of the ranch hands came up to her.

        

“Miss, there’s some fancy feller that’s been looking all over the ranch for ya,” he said.

        

Lucille looked over to see a tall man next to a black horse with a white splotch that ran from its forehead, around its eyes, and down to its muzzle, making it look like its skull was trying to pop out.

 

“Take this over to the cows and then grab another bale, I’ll see what he wants,” she said. As she got closer to her house, she noticed more and more of the gentleman’s features. Despite being well-dressed, his face was very rugged, with scars of different sizes scattered all over his face, and his eyes were such an icy blue that she felt herself freeze when he looked at her. She’d seen that glare before. She’d seen it when she was in town all of last week, watching her like a hawk. He was no doubt the same man she’d seen causing a fuss with the locals. She could swear she’d seen his picture on a poster in town but then again, the West had its fair share of eerie looking, well-dressed men. 

        

“Howdy there, miss,” he said as he pulled off his cowboy hat, slicking back his jet black hair. “How are you doing on this fine day? I’d heard there was a mighty fine ranch on some mighty fine land headed by an even finer woman.”

        

Lucille stared at him for a moment; his smile was like a wolf’s right before it sunk its teeth into its prey.

        

“Who are you?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips. “Why are you on my property?”

 

“Well miss, I’m Ebb Powell, a new rancher in town. I’ve bought some land not too far from town and I felt like it would be polite to say hello to my neighbors, especially you, since you’re about the prettiest girl around. I’ve seen you walking about when I go into town and I must say, I think you’d make a perfect wife for me. It’ll be awfully lonely on that ranch of mine. What do you think?” he said, leering at Lucille.

 

“I think you’ve come to the wrong ranch,” Lucille said.

 

“Oh I think I’ve found just the right ranch. Besides, taking on all this work must be awful for a pretty little thing like you. Must be hard to keep up with, I wager? And I’m sure you must be wanting some sort of protection. After all, I’m sure there’s all sorts of bad men who’d have an easy time taking whatever they want from a fine ranch like this,” Ebb said, his icy gaze locked onto Lucille.

 

“We do just fine on our own out here, Mister Powell,” Lucille said as she narrowed her eyes. “Now please, leave my ranch.”

 

Ebb laughed. “Fine then, have it your way. But know that I’ll be back and I’ll have an offer you won’t be able to refuse.” With that, he mounted his horse and rode off the ranch.

 

Lucille returned to her work after he rode out of sight, and one of the ranch hands asked her, “Is everything alright, Miss Clark? Was it another one of them people looking to buy the ranch?”

 

“Not exactly,” Lucille said. This wasn’t the first time someone had threatened her, just the first time they’d threatened her with marriage. In fact, just about every week several people would come by asking if she was selling her place, once word got around to them that her brother and father had died. Part of her wanted to sell the old ranch, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it because of all the memories of her family. She just couldn’t move on, selling the ranch would be like selling what little of her family she had left.

 

Lucille finished up her day’s work, and then went inside to make herself some supper. Ebb’s words were constantly echoing in her ear. Most people who came by the ranch were looking to buy it, but she sensed that his motivations were not fueled by a desire for more land. Just thinking about the way his eyes held their gaze on her gave her the creeps. She tried to shake it off, telling herself that his threats were empty, and went back to cooking.

 

 As she was cooking, something caught her eye in an old stack of newspapers. An ad for a mail-order bride stuck out of the stack among the dozens of others. The words “ranch,” “hardworking,” and more importantly, “Colorado”, jumped off the page at her, begging her to read. 

 

She took her food off of the stove, poured herself a bowl of stew, and sat down at the table while grabbing the newspaper. She read the ad.

 

HOUSEWIFE WANTED:

A widowed army veteran, 31 years of age, is seeking to be wed to a fine, hard-working, and loving woman aged 20 to 30 years old, willing to live on his large, successful ranch. Prior experience in the ranching business is not necessary but would be very welcome. For further inquiries, please write to Carson Fuller of Wilfort, Colorado

 

Lucille stopped chewing her stew a second as a thought began forming in her head. She remembered the letter she’d gotten a few months ago from her father’s good friend back east who would be interested in buying the ranch. He even would have allowed her to stay on the ranch. She wondered if his offer might still be on the table, and if perhaps this widower was still looking for a bride. After all, an army veteran would surely be able to chase off someone like Ebb if the need arose. She couldn’t keep living like this, she wasn’t the best rancher on her own.

 

Lucille got up and ran to her father’s old writing desk and lit a candle, opened up the inkwell, grabbed a piece of parchment. First, she wrote a letter to her father’s friend expressing her newfound interest in selling the ranch to him. Then she wrote a letter to Carson Fuller from Wilfort, Colorado

.

Chapter 3

The bank teller handed Carson the wad of bills. “And what is this withdrawal for again, Mister Fuller? I just need something for the ledger here,” the teller said.

 

“Payroll for the ranch hands and feed for my cattle,” Carson said.

 

“Right then, enjoy your money sir. Have a fine day,” said the teller.

 

“Sure,” Carson said as he turned around. Carson hated riding into town. Every time he did, he saw the women turn away and the men would either shoot him looks of death or tip their hats over their eyes. They’d gossip about him, even if he was a foot in front of them. The rumor he hated the most was that his wife left him because he cared more about the cows than he did for her.

 

This trip to town, however, was a bit different. The popular topic dancing off of people’s lips was a huge string of bank and train robberies being committed by a gang of outlaws down South in Texas. Many of them were scared that the gang might take up residence in Wilfort next, due to its high number of old mine shafts and the local wealthy landowners that would make easy targets. Regardless, Carson got up on his horse and began the ride home. Before he got on the road to his ranch, Stanley came up on his horse from the direction of his house.

 

“Oh, Mister Fuller! I been looking for you!” he exclaimed. “I was going down to your place because I wanted to talk more about the cattle drive, but you weren’t home so I was getting ready to leave, when this really pretty lady walked up to your house! I asked who she was and she asked if I knew you and I said, ‘I sure do!’ so I went to go find you and here you are!”

 

Carson stared at Stanley, mouth agape. “Boy you’re gonna have to go a little slower than that because what you said didn’t make a lick of sense.”

 

“There’s a pretty lady at your house looking for you for some reason,” Stanley said.

 

Carson cocked his eyebrow, spurred his horse, and rode off toward his ranch, with Stanley in tow. He prepared himself for this to be another one of Stanley’s little pranks. He performed them every once in a while in an honest attempt to make Carson laugh, but they usually just ended with a big mess. In fact, Carson still shuddered at every thought of the raccoon incident. But Stanley seemed serious this time, and it wasn’t often his mouth ran like that, unless it was something urgent.

 

As he rode, Carson wondered why on earth a pretty woman would even be at his ranch. He thought about the possibility of maybe having some long-lost family member. Maybe a distant cousin had lost their family and he was their only remaining relative. Or, more on the side of wishful thinking, maybe the woman was looking to buy the ranch from him.

 

Very much to his surprise, Stanley was not kidding. Sitting on his porch was a woman of innate, natural beauty next to two bags full of clothes and other possessions. Her long blonde hair cascaded around her face and shoulders, and her big eyes were gray like a cloudy day. She was slim, but not unhealthily so. Her facial features were soft and feminine. Every step closer to her made it seem like he was approaching a princess.

* * *

 Conversely, Lucille wasn’t sure what she was looking at. The figure in front of her looked more bear than man. He was tall and strongly built, with curly brown hair that came down right above his shirt collar, a big brown beard, and eyes that looked like they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in months. Every step forward with his boots made her a little more nervous.

 

When Carson finally made it to Lucille, he asked, “So are you the girl looking for me?”

 

“Yes sir, I am here in reply to your ad. Mister Fuller was it? I’m Lucille Clark,” she said.

 

“My ad?” Carson asked.

 

Lucille reached into her pocket and pulled out the folded up newspaper ad Carson had sent in about a year ago. “Your ad, Mister Fuller,” she said.

 

Carson looked at the newspaper scrap and sure enough, it was the ad he had posted for a bride. “It’s been a while since I’ve posted this,” he said. He handed the newspaper back to her and then said, “I didn’t know you’d be coming, I thought people usually sent letters before they showed up on people’s doorsteps.”

 

“Did you not receive my letter?” Lucille asked. “I sent it before I made my way up here.”

 

“Oh, he don’t care much about getting the mail, miss,” Stanley, who had made his way with Carson, interjected.

Carson gave him a you’re not helping look, before looking back at Lucille and saying, “I’m sorry for that. But the kid is right, I don’t usually bother with checking for mail. I don’t get much these days.”

 

Lucille smiled awkwardly, wondering what exactly she had gotten herself into. “Well, I’m sure you have your reasons.”

 

“Why come all the way out here?” Carson asked. “Wouldn’t a girl like you be more comfortable living somewhere more fancy?”

 

Lucille crossed her arms. “Before I came here I lived on my father’s ranch. I know how to handle myself around animals, Mister Fuller. I believe your ad said you wanted someone hard-working, right?”

 

“Oh,” Carson said, a bit embarrassed. “I suppose I can show you around then.”

 

Lucille sighed and then smiled. Carson led her around the ranch to all the important buildings like the house, the barn, the pens, and the guest house. Lucille couldn’t help but notice that the ranch didn’t exactly look like the picture she had painted in her mind.

 

Many of the buildings looked like they hadn’t been repaired in months, maybe years. Most tools were broken, or just about,      and rusted. Parts of the fence needed replacing badly, but not in any areas the cows were living in. The cows at least seemed happy enough, and according to Carson they never had a problem with cows trying to escape the ranch. 

 

“Looks like the place could use a little love,” Lucille said.

 

“I’m doing my best, there ain’t exactly a lotta love here,” Carson said rudely.

 

“Well… I’m sure I can help with that. But, I came here to live with a responsible rancher,” said Lucille.

 

“Oh he’s responsible, miss! He just don’t like doing things,” Stanley chimed in.

 

Lucille chuckled, and Carson gave Stanley the please close your mouth before I close it for you look. Stanley promptly stopped his jabbering for the rest of the walk around the ranch. Eventually the trio finished their tour around the property and they made it back to the house.

 

“You can stay in the house Miss Clark,” Carson said. “I’ll just stay in the bunkhouse for the time being.”

 

“Oh, well, thank you Mister Fuller,” Lucille said, somewhat reluctantly.

 

Carson showed her inside and told her where everything was and to come get him if there were any problems, the hole in the roof notwithstanding. He also helped her take her luggage inside and unpack a few things. Then he went back outside to continue his work, but not before Stanley could catch up to him.

 

“So… does this change things, Mister Fuller?” Stanley asked nervously.

 

“What do you mean, kid?” Carson asked.

 

“Well, it ain’t exactly known that you’re planning on selling the place and your cattle. Would getting hitched be a smart move right now?” said Stanley.

 

“Well I can’t exactly send the poor woman packing back to wherever she came from on her lonesome now, can I?” Carson said sternly. “Where’s your manners, boy?”

 

“You’re right, I’m sorry Mister Fuller,” Stanley said. “Does that mean you’re going to take her with us?”

 

“I’m not sure Stanley,” Carson said. “This is as much of a surprise for me as it is for you. We’ll just have to see how things go.”

 

 “Right… Well, I’ll head on home now,” Stanley said. “I’m sure my pa will be fumin’ that I haven’t done my chores for the day.” And Stanley ran off and mounted up, waving to Carson on his way out of the ranch.

 

After Stanley ran off, he went back into the house to check on Lucille and to see if she was settling in well enough. When he opened the door he found her in the kitchen, going through all of the cupboards and drawers seemingly looking for something.

 

“Is something wrong?” Carson asked.

 

Lucille turned around with a can of baked beans in her hand. “Is this all you have to eat around here?” she asked.

 

Carson looked around the room, nervous and embarrassed. “Uhh… maybe.”

 

“No wonder you seem so sour,” Lucille said.

 

“Sour?” Carson said, slightly offended.

 

“I’ll head into town once I get all settled in and I’ll make you a nice meal,” Lucille said. “Does that sound nice?”

 

“I suppose so,” Carson admitted.

 

“It’s settled then!” Lucille exclaimed.

 

“Uhh, sure,” Carson said. “I should get back to work, let me know if you need anything.”

 

Lucille went back to unpacking, and Carson returned to work for the day. He was beyond confused with the events that were currently unfolding.

 

 

Chapter 4

Ebb and some of his gang members rode back into their hideout, whooping and hollering. They were coming back from yet another successful bank robbery. It was the second one this week, and the take was even larger than the last. Every one of the gang members that went with him had a sack of cash secured and hanging off of their saddles.

 

“See boys?! Wasn’t that easy? They didn’t know what hit ‘em!” Ebb shouted at his gang. “A couple more scores like this and we’ll be living like kings for the rest of our lives!”

 

His gang cheered at his affirmation. More money was always welcome for them. 

 

“I’d say this calls for a celebration!” Ebb shouted again. “Let’s all have a little fun tonight, you deserve it, every one of you does!”

 

His gang cheered again, eager to let off some steam by drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and likely getting in a few fist fights because of it.

 

Ebb turned back around to the men who had ridden with him and said, “I want you to take all of that cash over to my place and bring it inside. I’ll do the counting and then I’ll decide who gets what out of the loot.”

 

This was a trick Ebb loved to use. After big scores like this, he would keep most of the money for himself and he would reward his gang with just enough to keep their thirst for money quenched. It was like keeping starving dogs fed just enough so they wouldn’t eat you. If one of them did try to eat you, you could just shoot them and set an example for the rest. 

 

Ebb then rode his horse over to his house in their hideout. It was an old derelict colonial house that had been abandoned after the war. He pretty much had the place to himself, and his men had to sleep in tents or other housing outside. The lucky few men whom he considered the most loyal, but the least dangerous, got a room inside.

 

He hitched his horse nearby and then walked inside. Close behind him were the men he took on the robbery, who went upstairs with him to his room where they left the bags of loot.

 

“Good work again, boys,” he said. “I’ll be sure to give you your share tomorrow.”

 

 When they left, he looked out the window of his room. From it, he could see his gang of outlaws beginning to start their celebration. They cracked open various bottles of alcohol and began drinking.

 

Ebb decided to also celebrate a successful job. He opened a cabinet in his room and pulled out a fancy whiskey bottle and a glass. He poured himself a generous two fingers of whiskey and took a sip. Suddenly, he heard the rushing of two sets of feet up the stairs until they stopped right in front of the door. Voices could be heard chattering beyond it.

 

“You go in there and tell him, Gary,” Cooper said.

 

“No way, Cooper! You go in there and tell him,” Gary said.

 

“Wait… I’ve got an idea, we’ll flip a coin for it! Whoever loses has to go in and tell the boss,” Cooper said.

 

“I like that idea!” Gary exclaimed.

 

Ebb listened, quite frustrated by the noise from the other side of the door, as the two outlaws flipped a coin. By the sound of things, Gary had lost. He then heard a knock on the door.

 

“Enter,” Ebb said flatly.

 

The door creaked open, standing on the other side was Gary. He had a very dreadful look on his face as if he were staring down death.

 

“Uh, hi there, boss,” said Gary.

 

“This better be good,” Ebb said, taking another sip from his whiskey.

 

“Well I wish it was,” Gary said. “Because it ain’t.”

 

Ebb narrowed his eyes at Gary. “Let’s hear it then.”

 

“Well… Y-you know that girl you sent us after?” Gary said and then took a big gulp. “The pretty blonde ranch girl… What was her name?”

 

“Lucille…” Ebb said impatiently.

 

“Right, Lucille! Yeah, well uh, she’s uh- well she’s gone…” Gary said, bracing himself for Ebb’s fury.

 

“WHAT?!?!” Ebb threw his glass of whiskey across the room. It smashed against the wall sending glass and alcohol everywhere, “What do you mean she’s… gone?!”

        

His underling took a few steps backward. “Well boss we went over there to check up on things like ya asked and uhhh… She weren’t there no more.”

        

Ebb pulled open the cabinet that contained his liquor and pulled out another whiskey glass. “Well, I’m sure she’s just hiding around. She’s smarter than she looks, we’ll find her. Did you check the whole ranch?” he asked Gary, who was now a nervous wreck.

        

“Well, that’s the funny thing boss…” he said, sweat beginning to bead on his brow. “We checked the place, she don’t even sleep there anymore,” he sighed. “There’s a whole new family that lives there now.”

        

Ebb looked up from his whiskey glass, still pouring and letting it overflow.

        

“They uhhh… We asked them who they was and uh, well uh,” he gulped. “They’re family friends of hers… They said she sold the ranch to em’.”

        

Ebb stopped pouring and looked from his henchman to the mess that had accumulated on the floor of his room. “Look at that, you son of a gun, you made me waste good whiskey.” He looked up and glared at his henchman. He was now shaking as if the frigid winds of winter had blown over him. “Did you happen to ask these people where Lucille up and went?”

        

Gary tried to squeak out the answer, “Well you see, we tried. B-but he said that uh, h-he ‘don’t l-like our type, uh, a-asking after his deceased fr-friend’s daughter’.”

 

Ebb walked menacingly over to Gary, whiskey bottle in hand. “Now… listen well to what I’m about to tell you,” he said, his eyes still locked in place on the henchman’s. “You and the boys are gonna find that girl, with all that money she’s bound to be carrying.” He smashed the whiskey bottle on his desk and held the sharp end up to his henchman’s throat. “Or else I will be drinking your blood from a fancy glass, instead of this whiskey. Do you understand me?”

        

Poor Gary’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates, and he was coated in sweat, shivering. “Y-yes, b-boss.”

        

“Then get out of here and find me that girl!” He smacked his henchman on the back of the head and pushed him out the door. Ebb stepped out onto the balcony of his room and started yelling at the rest of his gang. “And that goes for the rest of you too! I want that girl found! I don’t care if you have to turn over the entire state!” He slammed back the whiskey in his glass and wiped his mouth off with his sleeve. As he went back into his room, Cooper was now standing in the doorway to his room.

 

“Boss, I know you said that Lucille girl is pretty and all but shouldn’t we focus on making more cash?” Cooper said.

 

Ebb cackled. “After that bank job in Mayfield and now this place we just hit? You think we need more cash? My boy we’ve got more money than we know what to do with right now. Plus, you’re not seeing the big picture here. That girl, she had a big ol’ ranch which means she must have a big ol’ wad of cash in whatever luggage trunk she carried off of that place. We’re really just after the money,” he lied.

 

“Ohhhh, I see now, boss, yeah,” Cooper said. “I’ll start rounding up some boys and we’ll ask around for her.”

 

“Good man,” Ebb said, turning around.

 

“One more thing, boss!” Cooper said. “We’ve already got ideas for some more places to rob. There’s talk of a big town up in Colorado that’s home to a huge ranch! I know cattle rustling isn’t our thing but it might be good to head that way after we rob everyone blind in this state. The best part is that I hear the place is pretty run down, it’ll be easy pickings!”

 

Ebb nodded. “Good thinking. Now please, get out of my sight,” he said and turned away from Cooper, who promptly skittered away and slammed the door to Ebb’s room shut. He couldn’t get Lucille out of his head. He was beyond furious that she’d slipped through his fingers. That beautiful blonde hair, those big gray eyes, her face, her lips, her body. Everything about her was perfect. He had to have her.

 

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