“We haven’t had a customer for more than two hours, Louie.”
Louie took a final glanced at the display she’d just finished in the shop’s bay window, before she looked over her shoulder at her sister, draped dramatically across the counter. Jenny should be in the next town revue, if they ever had another one; she’d bring the house down with her well-rehearsed performance.
“There’s still time, Jenny. Besides, you know we haven’t had our most important customer of the day.” She pulled her father’s pocket watch out of her apron pocket, flicking open the battered silver case. “Any minute now.”
Jenny perked up, assuming a very stiff posture, her hands clasped tightly in front of her, as she walked around the counter. She walked briskly up and down, titling her head back slightly and raising her eyebrows so that she could look down her nose. Louie repressed her smile, pressing her lips tightly together, so her sister didn’t know just how true to life her impression of their friend was.
Despite what Jenny had said, they had been busy all day with people trickling in and out. There was always a rush at dusk. That was just starting to fall, now, with the sky darkening to a gray-blue, the white clouds tinged with orange as the sun headed below the horizon. Just before six o’clock, which was when Louie closed the store, there would be a slew of last-minute requests for milk, dried ground corn, flour, and eggs, enough to see a family through the night into the next morning when the store would re-open.
“Here she comes.” Jenny peered out of the bay window, and almost squealed with delight at the sight of Miss Lena Olivetti walking smartly toward the store, her cane flicking out and tapping the boards ahead of her.
“Jenny,” Louie hissed, “don’t let her see you. You know how she likes to think she catches us by surprise.”
With a barely suppressed giggle, the younger woman scooted back behind the counter, and pretended to be tidying, just as Louie turned her attention to straightening her already perfect window display, her back turned ever so slightly to the door. They heard the rap of the cane against the floor, announcing Lena’s arrival, making the bell ring.
“Good afternoon, what can we get for you to—” Louie turned with a smile, but Lena’s overly red cheeks and bright eyes caused her concern. “Miss Olivetti, whatever is the matter?”
“Oh, oh.” Lena placed one hand on her chest, her words breathless.
Louie hoped she wasn’t about to faint and ordered Jenny to fetch a chair for the older woman. The sisters helped Lena into the chair, and Louie ducked out to the storeroom to pour a glass of water from the pitcher. Jenny knelt on the floor, holding Lena’s arm gently. Louie handed their friend the glass, and she gulped the water down, leaving her gasping for breath.
“Oh, girls, you’ll just die when you hear what I have to tell you.”
Louie looked at her sister and she was hanging on Lena’s every word; Jenny was easily bored, and loved the daily visit from the seamstress, whose dress shop was just a few stores along the walk from theirs. As well as a talent for gossip, Lena had many stories to tell about her previous life in New York City designing for one of the top fashion houses. Jenny, who had dreamed of being swept off her feet by some dashing hero rather than sweeping the shop floor six days out of seven, had been enamored with Lena since the day they moved to Granville Flats eight years before.
“Widow Brown is getting married.”
“To whom?” Jenny demanded hotly.
Louie knew that Jenny firmly believed that anyone over the age of twenty-five was destined to be remain unwed, a lifelong spinster, a fate worse than death, a view shared encouraged by Lena, and the Widow Brown was well into her thirties. Louie was in bodily danger at the age of twenty-four in her sister’s eyes.
“Doctor Murphy, nevertheless. I knew she’d been keeping house for him and those dear children after poor Isabelle succumbed last winter, but this has come as such a shock.” Lena fanned her hand in front of her face, for emphasis, and Jenny aided by standing and flapping the bottom of her apron vigorously at Lena.
“But she’s so old,” Jenny exclaimed.
Louie shook her head, and set about settling the day’s takings, counting the coins and paper notes into piles on the counter, and noting amounts down in the ledger. She knew where the conversation would inevitably lead and had no desire to become the center of attention today. Jenny and Lena conversed in hushed tones for a while, and Louie left them to it, knowing she’d not get any more work out of her sister.
“I thought you’d be more upset, Louanne.” Louie looked up from her paperwork at the disappointment in Lena’s voice. “Or at least a little disappointed.”
Louie knew Lena liked an audience, and usually Jenny was enough, but clearly, she deemed this particular news more worthy of reaction.
“I’m happy for both Mrs. Brown and Doctor Murphy, Lena,” Louie replied softly.
“I had a notion you had a hankering after the handsome doctor.”
Lena had taken a shine to Louie and Jenny when they moved to the fledgling town and viewed herself as the pseudo-matriarch of the two young women. She’d been trying to matchmake on Louie’s behalf since the day she turned eighteen.
Louie was well-practiced at gently sidestepping all attempts to fix her up with one suitor after another, never wanting to hurt Lena’s feelings. She stuck with the story that she had enough on her hands in building the store and looking after Jenny, but it was ever harder to convince Lena of this, as the business was thriving, despite only half the town being inhabited, and Jenny now of age.
“If only that were true. But I’m flattered you think me worthy of someone as well-respected as the doctor.”
Louie firmly closed the ledger, and tied the bag of money securely, ready to take to the bank in the morning. There would be no more business today, and now all she wanted to do was close the shutters, lock the door, and retire upstairs to the small flat above the store that she and Jenny called home.
“Hmm.” Lena’s chest puffed out as she stood, leaning heavily on her cane. “Love will pass you by, young lady, and then where will you be?”
“Goodnight, Lena.” Louie smiled as she opened the door and Lena bustled out, muttering under her breath.
As she closed the shutters, Louie knew exactly where she would be should love pass her by— exactly where she was. She’d worked hard to build up the business over the past years, and it was doing quite well. Merritt’s Mercantile had outlasted several other grocery stores in that time, she was proud of what she and Jenny had achieved. Anyway, she thought to herself, as she bolted the door, love didn’t pay the bills.
“What now?” Jenny asked, and Louie realized she’d spoken aloud. “Louie Merritt, there’s hope for you yet.”
“What now?” Louie cupped her ear and pretended she hadn’t heard her sister.
“Do you ever plan on finding yourself a husband?” Jenny teased, as she undid her apron and hung it on the nail on the storeroom door. “Even if the handsome doctor is already taken.”
“You’re the one who loves all that romantic nonsense. I’ll leave that up to you, dear sister.”
As Jenny headed up the stairs from the stock room to their flat, Louie shed her apron and hung it up next to her sister’s. She worried sometimes that her Jenny would stagnate if she stayed her in Granville Flats; age thirteen when their parents had died, Jenny had no choice but to follow sixteen-year-old Louie to the new town after both their parents died, just as she’d had no choice every day since then but to help run the store.
What chance would Jenny have of meeting the love of her life in a town that lay half empty? The only single men that came to town were either vagrants passing through or cowboys looking to make some quick money, and not only were neither husband material, but it made Louie uneasy knowing everybody knew two young women lived alone above the store. These men weren’t hardworking, honest or respectable; they harassed women in the street and brawled in the saloon.
That wasn’t what she wanted for Jenny either, she deserved more. What her sister didn’t know, was that Annie was teaching her how to shoot, and she’d been putting money aside to buy her own pistol. Lena and Jenny might tease her about finding a man, but in truth she was married to the business, and needed to protect that and her sister from any unwanted attention from squatters or criminals.
Later than evening, listening to Jenny’s even breathing as she slept in the bed beside her, Louie thought about what her future did hold. One day, probably sooner than later, Jenny would meet someone and fall in love, and she’d start her own life; that would leave Louie all by herself, and that thought caused a hollow feeling in her stomach. If she thought she felt lonely in the middle of the night, when these worries niggled and kept her awake, what would life be like five, ten, fifteen years down the line? Would the locals refer to her as Spinster Merritt or would she end up like Lena, living vicariously through snippets of gossip or remember days gone by when life was more exciting?
Only nothing exciting happened in Granville Flats, at least not to Louanne Merritt. Was this life enough for her? Was it enough for someone as creative and flighty as her sister? Leaving Orson, West Texas as soon as she’d been able to sell her parents’ general store, had been the most important thing in her life after they’d both died. There were too many memories of working with them from the age of 10, listening to their conversation, watching them smile at each other with tenderness. Although they’d all worked long hours, there was always love; maybe that was what Jenny remembered of them, their love. Maybe that was what Jenny based her hopes and dreams on, that and the promise that anything was possible in those romance novels she read as soon as they arrived in the store.
Working was all Louie knew, and despite of Jenny’s desire to head west to the coast, to larger cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, they headed north to a small, new township called Granville Flats, just to the west of Enid, Oklahoma; the town’s founder promised low safety, clean water, low rents, and room for any business to thrive. The business that came and went over the years did have room to thrive, but the relative isolation of the town didn’t allow them to thrive. After a while, they upped sticks and headed for larger towns and cities, where there was more to do, more opportunities to be had. Jenny wanted to follow, to leave the half-empty town, but Louie kept them there. Granville Flats was all she knew.
Jenny’s soul was restless; she wanted adventure. She wanted to explore the new frontiers, not just stay in one place. When Louie had recently told her she wasn’t allowed out by herself after dark, Jenny called her sister old before her time. When Louie had refused her wish to visit a friend who had moved to Dodge City, Kansas, Jenny had told Louie her life was as flat as the place they lived. One time, Jenny snuck out in the middle of the night to visit the saloon because she wanted to taste liquor and see the dancing girls. Louie only found out when Annie told her the following day.
Louie rolled over, knowing if she didn’t try to get some sleep, she’d be no use to anyone the next day, and it being Saturday, it was likely to be busy. That being said, it was the day of the week, apart from Sunday, that she most looked forward to. Her best friends, Annie and Nora, would be over for coffee before she opened the store. It was a ritual that they’d established several years ago, and they spent an hour talking about their weeks, and they were the only two people whom Louie confided in. She could tell them her worries, and they’d listen, and offer support and sometimes advice.
Closing her eyes, Louie let her own restless thoughts go where they may as she drifted off to sleep.
“I don’t know how you two do it,” Annie complained good-naturedly, stifling a yawn, as Louie poured more coffee. “I should take a leaf out of Miss Jenny’s book and oversleep.”
Louie, used to getting up early to get ready to open the store, and Nora, with two young children, laughed. Annie worked late, often until the early hours, depending on when the last customer rolled out of the saloon.
“She can sleep late as long as I know where she is. I swear, she’s just going to disappear one of these days and I’ll never see her again.” Louie shook her head. “She ran an errand for me on Thursday, midafternoon and she wasn’t back by the time night fell. She strolled back in about a quarter after seven, just when I was about to send out a search party.”
“Where had she been?” Nora asked sympathetically. “I panic when one of the girls disappears from my side for just a few seconds.”
“Just listening to some cowboys talking about their adventures in New Mexico. That girl’s head is so full of romance and adventure, there’s no room for her to take onboard my advice about staying safe. She lives in a dream world most of the time where there’s always a happy ending.” Louie sighed.
“She’s got a sensible head on her shoulders, Louie,” Annie told her. “She might be a dreamer, but you keep her feet on the ground.”
“I want to lock her up, but I know she’s entitled to her freedom.” Louie’s voice held regret. “But she’s had more freedom than I ever had, including sleeping late.”
With a sigh, she looked out of the bay window to see a short queue of customers already formed, and it wasn’t even nine o’clock.
“I can stay, help you out,” Annie offered.
Louie hugged her, and then Nora and told them they helped just by stopping by each Saturday morning.
“Jenny will be down soon enough,” she reassured them as she let them out, and saw no point in asking those outside to wait another ten minutes.
It was gone midday when Jenny did make it downstairs. She was full of apologies, but the shop was still full of customers and Louie would have to wait to tell her sister what she really thought.
Jenny looked out the window at about two o’clock, during a lull, and saw that there was a crowd gathering outside of the saloon, just at the end of the boardwalk.
“Looks like something’s happening at the bar.” She opened the door and stuck her head out to see what was happening. “It’s a fight. They’re headed this way.”
Louie could tell by the way Jenny’s voice lifted at the end, that’s she was excited by the drama.
“Get inside, Jenny.” Louie grabbed her sister’s apron strings and pulled her backwards into the store, firmly closing the door and bolting it, then closing the shutters on the windows and door.
“But I want to watch,” Jenny complained.
“I don’t want anyone tumbling in here, thank you very much.”
“Nothing ever changes round here,” the younger woman muttered, as she cracked the shutter just in time to see a group of men fly past in a blur of arms, legs, and fists, with a crowd of people following behind.
Louie went back to the storeroom, pushing the door too, leaving Jenny to her own devices. Town life was becoming more unsettled, as was Jenny. Louie was unusually annoyed with Jenny, because she was increasingly unsatisfied with her life, when all Louie wanted to do was protect her sister, their business, and their home.
Lifting up a loose floorboard under a shelf, she reached down for a tin of tacks, and pulled the lid off, tipping out the tacks that were wrapped in paper. Underneath was the money she was saving to buy a pistol, and counting out the paper notes and change inside, she was glad to see she almost had enough. The deputy told her he would help her choose one as soon as she was ready. Until then, Jenny would have to put up with her shutting up shop, putting up the shutters, to keep them safe.
Stuffing the money away, and fastening the lid, she put the tin back under the floorboard and opened the door.
“It’s all over,” Jenny pouted, looking over her shoulder. “I’m going to take a break and go find out what happened.”
She reached for the bolt on the shop door, and Louie felt a flare of resentment come from nowhere.
“No, Jenny. I’m going to take a break. You’ve only been working for a few hours; I’ve been on my feet since we opened.”
Jenny looked surprised, and Louie dampened down a wave of guilt. She had nothing to feel guilty for. They were equal partners in this business, and occasionally Jenny needed to be reminded of that. Louie didn’t often pull the older sister routine, but this was one of them. Louie took off her apron and fastened her bonnet under her chin.
“Where are you going?” Jenny asked, with a frown.
“I’m going to visit with Miss Olivetti for a change. You can mind the store.”
“How long will you be?” Her sister sounded petulant, but Louie wasn’t inclined to pander to her.
She looked over her shoulder as she opened the door to leave. “What is it they say, a change is as good as a rest? I’m going to take the afternoon off for a change. You’re in charge.”
“Here you are, one Josiah. B. Mcleod, as promised.” Grant dismounted his tired mare and wrapped the reins around the wooden post outside of the Enid sheriff’s office.
The sheriff stood on the verandah of his building, arms crossed, with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, surveying the scene. He was flanked by two deputies who reminded Grant of two of his former bounties, and he wondered if Enid ran a rehabilitation scheme for criminals.
“Well, Mr. Ellison, I doubted I’d ever see you again,” the sheriff said, forming his words around the soggy end of the unlit cigar, which he rolled from one side of his mouth to the other.
“Here I am, Sheriff Blackstone.” Grant knew the drill. First the pleasantries, then the debate, a thrust and parry of whether the lump of a man slumped across the neck of the horse was actually the bounty, and finally payment of what he was owed.
Grant was in no real hurry, but today, he was just a little more tired, a little dirtier and a little more impatient than usual. This rather elderly bounty had led him a merry dance across eastern Oklahoma, and his trail had run cold more times that he cared to count. He’d eventually found him hiding in the dressing room of a one-time showgirl, who now ran a respectable boardinghouse.
She’d begged Grant not to take the love of her life away, crying and screaming, even tried to bribe him with a paltry sum of money, but Grant was a man of his word. The sheriff in Enid had put an enticing bounty on his head, and they’d shook hands some weeks before; the bounty said dead or alive, and now, as the deputy grabbed a handful of the man’s hair to lift his head, to show his face, the cry of another woman could be heard.
“Is he dead?”
Grant met the sheriff’s gaze, and the older man rolled his eyes. A well-kept woman of advancing years arrived, her handkerchief pressed under her nose, her eyes shining with tears, and grabbed a hold of the sheriff’s arm.
“George, is that Josiah? Is he dead?” Her voice was high pitched, and Grant tried not to wince.
“He looks dead, he sure smells dead,” the deputy announced, wrinkling his nose.
“He’s alive.” Grant untied the man’s hands from around the horse’s neck. “He’s just in need of a change of clothes. I’m going to need my bounty, Sheriff Blackstone.”
As Grant bodily helped the man from the horse, Josiah grunted and the woman cried out a “Hallelujah!” and rushed down the steps of the building. “Josiah, my Josiah has come back to me.”
The sheriff shook his head and came down the steps himself to hand Grant a bag of coins. “It’s all there, Ellison, no need to count it.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I will,” Grant tipped his hat back as he opened the bag, counting out twenty-five silver dollars. “Thank you.”
He watched as the two deputies slung an arm each over their shoulders and dragged Josiah away, in the opposite direction to the jail, followed by the woman, who was calling out how much she loved him.
“What was his crime?” Grant tipped the rim of his hat up.
“His crime, Mr. Ellison, was messing with my sister, jilting at the altar, and stealing some very expensive jewelry. She put up the bounty, but she didn’t want to press charges, she was just desperate to have him back. I don’t suppose you found the jewelry?”
The sheriff narrowed his eyes at Grant, who felt a flicker of resentment, reading accusation into the question. Josiah had nothing about his person when he found him in the closet, except for his battered old hat covering his dignity.
“I did not, Sheriff. Had the bounty included the return of such an item, I would have looked for that too. Do you have any other work for me? Any new bounties?”
“Regretfully, no. But if you head due west, there are any number of new townships that may need of your services, Mr. Ellison. I’ll be sure to spread the word that you’re available for hire.”
“Obliged to you. Good day.”
Grant unwrapped the reins, and walked his horse out of town, stopping at a trough to water his horse and splash his own face. The sun was just heading to the highest point in the sky, and Grant looked toward the horizon. It had been a while since he’d had no bounty following on, and he was effectively free to go wherever he chose. But somehow, it didn’t seem right, just roaming the prairie aimlessly with no direction, no purpose. Resting in the saddle, doing nothing wasn’t something that came naturally or easily to him, not since he was age twelve when his ma died in a fire at the factory where she worked, his father taking his own life, leaving Grant as the head of the family, with his younger brother to support.
But there was no real rush to find his next bounty. He had enough money to last him for a good while, and he’d had a book in his saddle bag for at least six months that he hadn’t had time to read in daylight. He couldn’t stay in Enid and let his guard down though; a stationery bounty hunter was an out of work bounty hunter, and he couldn’t let his reputation get tarnished in anyway.
He’d find some little town where nothing exciting happened, where there would be no work for him, and he could be just another cowboy passing through somewhere on his way to nowhere. A town where he could get a bath and a hot meal, maybe a change of clothes, maybe lay in a real bed and get some unbroken sleep without the need to keep one eye open. Mounting his horse, Grant turned her due west, into the prairie, on the hunt for somewhere to lay low.
A few hours later, Grant glimpsed a large painted sign, its letters still fairly bright in the afternoon sun, telling him that the town of Granville Flats was fairly new. But as he approached the start of what appeared to be the main street, he saw nothing but empty buildings, some unfinished, with very little sign of habitation. Between two buildings he saw two vagrants sitting around a small fire, sharing a bottle of hooch, but that was the only sign of life so far.
This wouldn’t be the first failed town that Grant had ever seen. As the frontier spread from east to west over the years, people came together to form some sort of settlement, and one of three things happened: it survived and thrived, it failed, or it was abandoned. The older original settlements back east were often abandoned, only lived in for a short while until the prospectors moved further west and created a new place.
This town looked like it had failed, with boarded up properties that had probably never seen life and was being used just for shelter for vagrants or men like him who were passing through. But the further he went, he started to see a change. There was glass in these buildings, dogs, horses, humans, noise. There were people here. It was a town of two halves, one empty and desolate and the other bustling, alive.
Grant brought his horse to a standstill and looked around him. It wasn’t big, but from what he could see, there were stores, a saloon, some boarding houses, and a sheriff’s office. That was what drew his attention first; yes, he might have planned on taking a few days, but it wouldn’t hurt to let the law know he was in town and was open to work. He tied up his horse and headed inside the single-story small building that stood on a crossroad in the center of town.
The inside was dark, with just the one window at the front, and Grant could see a desk, some benches, two cells at the back of the room, and a stove burning along one wall. The cells were empty and there was just one deputy pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Good day, sir, how can I help you?” The deputy turned and walked to where Grant stood.
“Deputy, I’m Grant Ellison. I’m a bounty hunter, and I just wanted to let you know I’ll be in Granville Flats for a few days.”
“Ellison, yeah, I heard of you. I have a brother back East in St. Louis, he’s the sheriff there.”
“Albrecht? He’s a good man. Pleased to know you, Deputy.”
The two men shook hands.
“Can you recommend a lodging?” Grant asked, taking off his hat and running one hand through his hair. Jeez, it was getting long. “Somewhere to freshen up?”
“Mrs. Blunt runs a respectable house. Head up Main and take a left by the grain store, it’s a dead end. You can’t miss it. She also runs the laundry, so there’s always lines full o’ shirts and pants across the street.”
“I’m obliged, deputy.”
Grant exited the building, and donned his hat again, leading his horse in the direction of the lodging house, taking in everything that he saw. He missed nothing, from the few children chasing around after a dog, to the woman sweeping the boardwalk outside of her store, to the fighting men exploding out of the saloon, scrapping as though their lives depended on it. The woman sweeping smartly stepped out of the way of the brawl as it carried on along the parade of shops, a crowd gathering behind, even the children abandoned their pet and ran alongside on the dirt road, the dog barking excitedly at their heels.
He spent a good deal of his time watching the world pass him by, such was the nature of his work. He could spend hours hiding in an alley waiting to see if the person he was looking for would happen by. He might sit for hours in a bar, waiting for a criminal with on his head to stop by for a drink or ten. As such, he missed nothing. Even in this town, he saw two men deep in conversation as they stood opposite the row of stores. To anyone else, that’s what it would look like, just two men talking, but Grant noticed the sly looks across the street, a finger pointing, the wave of a hand indicating something. It could be nothing, but it could be two criminals planning something untoward.
That said, it could be any small town he’d ever been to, and nobody but the deputy knew who he was or what he did, for now. The buildings were in good repair, there were no drunks lying on the boardwalk, the people were clean and well-kept, and the jail cells were empty. All a good sign that nothing happened in the town of Granville Flats, which was just fine with him. He looked forward to a hot bath, hot meal, and a good firm pillow to lay his head.
As Grant approached the lodgings, an older buxom woman, gray hair piled up on her head in a neat bun, was hanging out washing, her shirt sleeves rolled up to her elbows.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. Would you have a room free?”
“You got money, I got a room, sonny.” She turned to face him with a rosy-cheeked smile.
“Yes, ma’am. Could I also trouble you for your laundry service?”
“You got money, sonny, you can have whatever you want.” She laughed. “Come on inside. I’ll have the stable boy take care of your horse.”
Grant, conscious of the prairie dust he carried on his person, stood on the porch, and used his hat to beat as much off as he could, stamping his boots on the wooden boards at the same time.
Just a short while later, as he lowered himself into a copper bath half full of soapy water, which he suspected had been destined for a load of dirty clothes, Grant let out a satisfied groan as the heat permeated skin and bone, soothing his aches and pains after days in and out of the saddle, hoisting Josiah B. Mcleod back onto the horse every time he slipped sideways, and also a very sore fist where he’d had to knock the prisoner out because he wouldn’t quit complaining. That had only been a few miles outside of Enid, which is why he’d been slumped across the horse’s neck.
Mrs. Blunt had taken the clothes he’d been wearing, after checking he had something else to wear, to be washed. She promised to have them clean and dry by the morning, which suited Grant just fine. He’d quite happily stay in the hot water until it got cold, which could be a while given it was a copper tub, rather than the tin tub he’d last bathed in. That was some time ago, and he’d had to do with cold creeks or the odd lake since then. Copper cost a pretty penny, and he wondered if this town was prosperous from gold or by some other means. He hadn’t noticed any signs of mining on his way in, but the lakes he’d passed did mean fresh water, which was a godsend in the dusty plains.
Grant lay back and contemplated how civilized he felt on this one day out of so many that were anything but. Tonight, he’d sleep on a thick mattress on a bed with legs, rather than on the ground with the snakes and bugs. He’d eat from a plate using cutlery, sitting on a chair at a table, rather than scooping his food from a canteen more often with his fingers, whilst perched on a log or a rock. He’d sip whisky from a glass, rather than slurp it from a bottle. He’d listen to music played on a piano by someone with talent, rather than play tunelessly to himself on a holey harmonica.
He wondered if he’d turned a different corner all those years ago, and instead of running into a beat-up old bounty hunter, he and his brother, Nathan, had been found by a missionary or a kindly widow. What skills, different from the means to survive on the streets of San Francisco that he’d been taught by Lee O’Toole, would he have developed? Might he and Nathan have been brought into society with a full education, and the finer things in life? If they had, then Grant would not be so appreciative of a hot bath, a bed, and a hot meal. He’d be taking what he had for granted, and that was something that he did lightly.
He wondered what Nathan was doing now. It was hard to keep in touch with his brother, because Grant never stayed in any place long enough to receive word back, but he did write to him once in a while. Grant daydreamed often about settling down somewhere, making a life for himself, sending for Nathan from San Francisco where he’d stayed, but he knew no other life than that of collecting bounties. What could he possibly turn his hand to that could support him, and possibly a wife and family, that was on the right side of the law? Maybe security, but there was never anything of sufficient value in any of the towns he’d been in over the past decade that would warrant that type of employment. He’d have to head to one of the bigger cities, but that wasn’t what he dreamed of either. Life in ‘Cisco had been hard, tough, living hand to mouth, and he hadn’t wanted to spend his life like that. That was all Nathan knew and so he’d stayed.
The water grew colder, so he got out, glancing out the window and saw the sun was lower in the sky. His stomach rumbled to remind him that he hadn’t eaten since yesterday evening, and so he dressed quickly, and walked to the Last Stop Saloon.
“Hello, cowboy,” Grant was greeted at the bar by a young woman, with a real genuine smile. “Haven’t seen you around before.”
“Just passing through. Mrs. Blunt at the guest house recommended me to come here, said you serve a decent meal.”
The girl’s smile changed to a grin. “Good old Ma. Stew with fresh biscuits and grit coming right up. Where will you sit?”
“Right here is fine. I’ll take some coffee too, if you don’t mind, ma’am.”
The girl nodded and headed out back, returning quickly with a plated of steaming food and cutlery.
“I’m Annie,” she introduced herself, as she poured coffee into a tin mug.
“Pleased to know you. Ellison’s the name.” Grant nodded his head, before spooning the stew into his mouth, and closing his eyes in pleasure.
The girl melted away to serve other customers, and Grant ate appreciatively, asking for another helping. It was more out of habit than necessity, stemming from living hand to mouth in the few years after his parents’ death. It had changed somewhat when they’d come across Lee, and he’d taught them where to find food even when they had no money to buy it. But it was deeply ingrained, and Grant made the most of what he had when he had it.
He noticed the girl, Annie, look over his shoulder at someone entering the bar. At first, there was a look of surprise, and then pleasure, but it was soon replaced by a frown. She gave Grant his food, and then rushed from behind the bar. Grant looked over his shoulder to see Annie talking to a young woman who had entered the bar with the deputy. He watched their animated conversation, but it was the newly arrived female who drew his attention. Her long tawny blonde hair was escaping from her ponytail, and her cheeks were pink, her eyes flickering around the room as the deputy spoke. She was very beautiful, but she looked extremely worried, almost scared. He turned on the bar stool, and at that moment, he saw Annie point in his direction, and he met the young woman’s gaze, feeling himself pinned to the spot, unable to move. What was happening to him?
She was rushing toward him, and Grant felt the full intensity of her gray eyes on his as she stopped just a short distance away from him. Her chest heaved up and down, her voice a little breathless as she spoke.
“I need you. Now.”
“Enthralled by Love’s Call” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Louanne Merritt is happily settled in Granville Flats, where nothing ever happens, and the company of her sister, Jenny is all she asks for. Her life is violently disturbed when her little sister’s dream of running away with a cowboy, turns into a nightmare and she gets kidnapped by a ruthless gang. After being denied any help by the sheriff, Louanne turns to an off-duty bounty hunter who is looking for his next job. Blaming herself for failing her sister, she is determined to find her, even if it means working alongside this handsome but unusually cold stranger.
As they follow the outlaws’ trail, will Louie be in danger of losing not just her life, but also her heart?
Grant Ellison has realized that married life can’t be combined with chasing outlaws around the country and having no place to call home; he has nothing to offer a woman except for worry and eventual heartache. He only has himself to take care of until he accepts a new job and a client who insists on joining him. Grant does his best to deter her, but Louanne is determined to bring her sister home safe. As he battles to remain professional, the need to protect her awakens emotions he thought were long gone.
Will he find the strength to resist his heart’s desire to belong to someone?
Grant and Louanne are forced to rely on each other, putting themselves in danger to save Jenny. As they approach the kidnappers, will they manage to keep their promises? Will their faith in each other be rewarded in their hunt not just for Jenny, but for love?
“Enthralled by Love’s Call” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.