Chapter One

screen-capture-3sheriffsbadgeIt was 12 noon and Cort was thinking a beer sounded good. It had been a quiet day thus far. As he pushed through the saloon doors, his eyes scanned the patrons. No strangers. Good. The men were either entertaining one of the girls or engrossed in a poker game. Cort approached the bar and nodded to Seth Jenkins, the bartender and owner of the Swinging Door saloon. Seth nodded and smiled broadly. The smile was deceptive. The barrel-chested 6’ 5” bartender was no one to mess with.

“Howdy, Seth. How’s it going?”

“Good, Cort, good. What can I get you?” Seth knew Cort well enough to have had a beer waiting when he saw the deputy crossing the street. Beer was for quiet days. Whiskey was reserved for bad days. However, Seth always liked to let a man say what was on his mind.

“Beer, please.” Cort turned to look at the customers again. He saw a mixture of farmers, merchants, ranchers, and townspeople. Some of them had no business in a bar—they couldn’t hold their liquor. Others gambled a week’s pay and were broke—until next week. It wasn’t fair to either their wives or children. Cort shrugged as he picked up his beer. There was nothing he or the other lawmen could do about it. Drinking and gambling were legal. He looked up to see the saloon madam, Rosalind Harris, watching him. She smiled and waved.

Most men in Tucson fantasized about Rosalind. It wasn’t just her long blonde hair and creamy complexion. Her deep blue eyes could welcome you with an embrace. But, Cort knew there was a lot more to her than a pretty face.

As he finished his beer, he exited the saloon hoping the rest of the day would be as uneventful.

screen-capture-1wagonwheelIt was funny and frustrating at the same time: the moment the driver announced to the battered and travel weary passengers of the overland stagecoach that their next stop would probably be by noon, time seemed to slow down to an interminable crawl. Chloe Grey had to make herself count the number of cactus she saw to keep her mind off how utterly sick she was of sitting cramped in the dusty, battered rattletrap with two other people, both men, whose manners flew out the open windows the minute the horses trotted down the road. Neither one of them proved to be rude or coarse, but they did have personal habits that grew harder to ignore, or forgive. Since starting out from Flagstaff, all she’d thought about was getting to her new home, and her new job. Now that she was in nearly there, it seemed time and comfort warred with each other to drive out the last bit of sanity she clung to.

Tuscon had the look of a new town with old usage, the kind of usage done by people who lived as hard as they worked. It was as busy as Flagstaff, if not more, and seemed full of everyone but the children she was commissioned to teach. Cowboys, gamblers, a mix of tradesmen and business fellows, fancy women, not so reputable women…it was all so daunting and exciting to Chloe, a farm girl of twenty-two years. She thought she’d known what a town would be like after living in Spring Creek – it had always seemed so foreign to her when she visited as a little girl. But after her parents died and she had to sell the farm, Chloe soon found that town life had its dark corners. When the offer to get better pay and better living conditions than she had now came from Tuscon, the one thought that overrode any objections she might have was her one chance to get away from the lonely sadness.

She couldn’t help reflecting on all of that as she watched the stage porter try to wrestle with the baggage perched atop the coach – everything she owned was packed into the single chest buried under the distinctly richer luggage of the other passengers. In fact, she became so lost in thought that she almost didnt hear the shout of the porter above to watch out, and was startled when a strong hand yanked her to the side…just as one of the large black trunks fell to the ground, right where she had been standing.

Chloe turned in shock to see who it was that had saved her and met with a long face crowned with a glorious gray mustache and two sparkling brown eyes beneath two equally glorious shaggy gray eyebrows, all of it topped with a black hat.

“Pardon my roughness, ma’am,” the man drawled, “but you were about to become flatter than a corn cake.” Without much more ado, he helped the porter recover the fallen trunk, which fortunately had remained closed despite its heavy landing. Turning back to her, he gave her a smile and tipped his hat. “Virgil Earp, ma’am. Deputy Marshal, at your service.”

“Chloe Grey, the new school teacher,” she stammered in reply. She liked this man instantly. “Thank you so much…for preventing my injury. It would have been a terrible way to begin my life here.”

“So you’re the little lady.” His smile broadened. “Well, in spite of it raining trunks here, I hope you find Tucson a welcoming place. Will you be staying at Belulah’s Boarding House?”

“Ah…yes! That’s where I’ve been told to go…” Chloe fumbled with her reticule to pull out the letter of acceptance, stating that she would report to the boarding house for her stay, showed it to him as she went on, “Ms Belulah wants me to meet with her as soon as I arrive…”

“May I escort you?” He offered his arm and led her out of the street to the sidewalk. The porter followed with her trunk and left it beside her.

Chloe felt herself flush. She’d seldom received this kind of attention back at Spring Creek – she was plain and mild compared to some of the brighter belles of that small town – but now she had the deputy sheriff offering to guide her to her new home! What was more, he was handsome and his voice was deep and encouraging. She could sit and listen to him all day.

“I’d like that, thank you,” she said, and took his arm.

screen-capture-2pokerchipsRosalind glanced out one of the saloon windows. She saw the noon stage arrive. Virgil told her the new school teacher was to arrive on this stage. Rosalind felt a twinge of envy. Part of her wished she was a young lady starting a respectable job in a new town. But, she sighed, life was what you made of it. For her, being a teacher was never in the cards. She shook off any thoughts of her childhood and parents. Given the hand she was dealt, she had a lot to be grateful for. Rosalind walked away from the window and sat next to one of the patrons.

“How are you doing, Charlie?” She motioned to Seth. “Charlie, here needs a refill.” Seth smiled and brought a beer over.

Peaches Logan, one of the girls came down the stairs. She walked over to the window.

“Did the noon stage come in?”

“Yes,” replied Seth. “Just pulled out again.”

“Anyone interesting get off?” Rosalind looked over her way.

“The new school teacher.”

“That’s all?” Peaches was clearly disappointed. Rosalind smiled.

“Who were you expecting?”

“The rich, handsome gambler that’s gonna get me out of this business and into a big house.”

Abraham Pound, the town drunk, whirled around, almost falling off his seat.

“Hey! Mizz Peaches! I’ll buy you a big house!” Peaches looked at him cocking one eyebrow.

“Just great,” she mumbled walking to the bar counter. Rosalind had to laugh. Peaches’ desire to marry into money was well known. She sighed. Yes, this was her life. And it was a good one.

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