That's Texan for "welcome to my home on the range" ...er, web. Yep, I'm Texan to the bone -- which isn't a bad thing. Texans are tough and determined, but we're also downright friendly. Most of us have never met a stranger, and we're always willin' to help out or offer a weary traveler a nice, tall glass of sweet iced tea.
Pardon me for not waving, but as usual I'm glued to my laptop, typing away on one manuscript or another. When I'm not roughhousing with the people in my head, I'm a professional journalist, history buff, animal lover (there's always at least one dog underfoot), and an irredeemable rabble-rouser.
“Making Peace” appears in the Prairie Rose Publications anthology Cowboy Cravings: Four spicy tales of love on the frontier put the “wild” in Wild West.
July 1865, the Texas Crescent
Keeping to the shadows on the porch, Maggie Fannin peeled back the shotgun’s twin hammers and hauled the weapon to her shoulder. She didn’t need to aim. Simply pointing two barrels in the general direction of the Johnny Reb slumped astride a gaunt blood-bay would blast him clean out of the saddle if she pulled the triggers.
And she would do it, if he came any closer. “Hold up right there, mister. What business you got here?”
Head hanging, the horse let loose a long blow saturated with fatigue. Maggie couldn’t see much of the rider’s face with his stained slouch hat pulled low like it was, but the dust coating both him and the gelding said neither had seen rest—or a bath—in a long while.
“Expecting trouble?” The grate that trailed from beneath the hat’s brim bore equal measures of Southern grace and exhaustion.
She adjusted her grip on the gun. “It don’t hurt to be careful.”
The Reb must’ve been some kind of officer, judging by the shabby braid encircling his hat and crawling up the cuffs of his tattered shell jacket. A sheathed saber at his side rattled when he freed his boots from the stirrups with a halfhearted kick and slid from the McClellan saddle. He dropped the reins over the horse’s head, and then clutched a fistful of mane to steady himself.
Muscles aching under the shotgun’s weight, Maggie reoriented her aim. Except for the saber and a knife peeking from one knee-high boot, the stranger wore no weapons. Saddle holsters held a carbine and a pistol. He didn’t seem inclined to reach for either, but she mustn’t drop her guard. Too many dispossessed graybacks, poor as dirt and looking for trouble, had drifted through in the months since the Confederacy surrendered. A woman alone on a rundown homestead made easy prey.
The dilapidated cabin might crumble around her ears, but never again would someone chase her from her home. “I don’t remember invitin’ you to step foot on my property.”
“Your property?” The Reb shoved away from the horse. A boot met the lowest porch step with a thud. Slinging a gauntleted grip around the handrail for support, he pulled off his hat and ran a faded sleeve across his brow. Ragged brown hair, graying at the temples, spilled across sallow skin and hung limp beside hollow cheeks glistening with sweat.
His gaze traveled the length of the shotgun’s barrels until the most startling blue eyes she’d ever seen fixed her with an unsteady stare. “You out here all by yourself?”
Maggie fought her trembling arms to keep the gun level. “That ain’t none of your business.”
The Reb cast a glance over the cabin and the surrounding brush. Tall grass, already seared brown at the tips by the summer sun’s relentless glare, waved in the slight breeze. The man swayed, as though the wind blew him, too. “You’re on Collier land. How long have you been here?”
“How long?” The growl behind the words set her pulse bounding even as the Reb’s face contorted, and a sharp hiss snaked between teeth set on edge. His battered hat tumbled to the ground when his hand rose to grip his temples between thumb and fingertips.
My God. He’s sick, and no tellin’ with what. The gunstock slipped, dropping the barrels an inch. “You need to leave, mister. Right now. Or I will shoot you.”
The shaggy head rose and a fever-bright gaze captured her with a plea wrapped in a challenge. “Then pull the triggers.”