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Pretty Maggie is full of secrets as she rides across from her nemesis on the stagecoach that brings her to Ridgefield. The trip is harrowing, as the passengers are forced to defend themselves when Indians attack the stage, and their arrival in town doesn’t go unnoticed.
Sheriff Thomas Benson is quick to offer to show the pretty little redhead the way to the boarding house for ladies, but his feelings are hurt by her rudeness towards him. His quick temper takes over and he flips her over his knee, right there on the street, and teaches her a lesson about being so sassy.
Maggie hates the fact that she is attracted to the handsome sheriff – until her new landlady points out that Thomas has only been in town for a short time so he couldn’t possibly be the same lawman who gunned down her precious brother and his wife. Maggie is determined to make whoever is responsible pay. She just didn’t count on falling in love with the sheriff.
The stagecoach hit another rut in the road, and the dangling little boy landed on the floor again, this time on an elderly man’s feet. The man raised his cane, prepared to strike the child, when another passenger put herself between the angry man’s cane and the rambunctious little boy.
“Come and sit with me, Cornelius, and I will tell you about The Whispering Kid.”
“Do you know him?” eight-year-old Cornelius asked the pretty redhead.
“Really? But, you’re a girl!” the little boy reasoned.
“I am?” she asked teasingly.
“You sure are!” the only other male passenger said with a smirk. “I’d love it if you’d tell me a bedtime story.”
“Not in this lifetime,” Maggie impudently answered the cowboy, her green eyes flashing dangerously.
“Well, I never!” The wrinkled woman traveling with the cane-wielding man sniffed to show her disapproval. “In my day, a decent young woman wouldn’t stoop to answering such a vulgarity.”
“Ma’am, I am sure you never had to worry about that,” the cowboy said insultingly. “A man likes something soft and pretty to cuddle up with, not a scrawny old crow!”
“Now, see here, young man! I will thank you to have a care when speaking to my sister!” The elderly man shook his cane threateningly.
“Mister, I will thank you to put that cane down before I take it from you and break it over your head. You can thank your lucky stars this pretty little lady stopped you from striking this boy. I suggest you and your sister mind your own business for the rest of this trip. I want to hear all about The Whispering Kid, don’t you, Corny?” he addressed the little boy.
“Yes, sir,” the child responded enthusiastically.
“You sit here between us and pretend that side of the coach doesn’t exist. It’s just the three of us in here.”
“You don’t like old people?” Cornelius asked with an eight-year-old’s determination to get to the truth of the matter.
“Actually, Corny, I love most older people. These two are just sour on life; I reckon they got their reasons, but that don’t mean we have to let them ruin our day, does it?”
“No, sir,” Corny agreed, settling against the stranger. “Miss Maggie, tell us about The Whispering Kid. Why does he whisper?”
“To hide his voice; it is very distinctive, and people would recognize him if he used his natural speaking voice.”
“Oh, my pa thought maybe they tried to hang him one time and ruined the talking parts in his throat.”
“That is a gruesome thought.” Maggie shuddered.
“Little boys love gruesome, the more gruesome the better,” the cowboy said with a chuckle of understanding for the child.
“Well, I am sorry. The whisper is to hide his voice so he won’t be recognized,” Maggie insisted.
“Why did he become a holdup man?” Cornelius asked.
“To right a wrong,” she answered, and then launched into her story. “Once upon a time, The Whispering Kid was a little boy, just like you, Cornelius. He lived with his parents and his older brother, and life was fairly normal. He went to school after doing his morning chores, and when he got home, he did the rest of his chores. Since he was the youngest, and not very strong, he did the chores like gathering eggs, feeding and watering the chickens, weeding the garden, and whatever else his mama told him to do. He tried to be good, but sometimes he had to run off and play and he forgot about his chores. His parents didn’t like that, and trying to be responsible parents, they explained why it was important for him to do his chores, and spanked him. He didn’t like being punished, so he learned to do his chores before he ran off to play. One day, while he was off playing, some bad men came.”
“What happened?” Cornelius asked.
“The men told his parents that they had to get up and move away. The bad man wanted the land. The Kid’s pa said he wasn’t moving; it was his land. But the bad man had gone to the bank and bought Pa’s mortgage from the bank, and unless Pa could come up with every penny he owed on the farm, they had to leave. Pa lost his temper. It was their home, and while it was very legal, it was morally wrong. He started for the bad man, intending to hit him, and one of the men with the bad man shot The Kid’s pa and killed him. They told his crying mama and brother that they had to be gone by the next day, or they would throw them out.”
“That isn’t a fit story to tell a child, young woman,” the elderly woman scolded.
“It was business,” the elderly man claimed.
“It was mean! Really mean!” little Cornelius dared to argue. “What did The Kid do, Miss Maggie?”
“The Kid cried. He loved his pa, and his ma was so upset. They didn’t have enough money to pay off the mean man. The older brother said he was going to get the money, and he rode off, with their mama begging him not to go. The sheriff came a few hours later and said that The Kid’s brother was shot and killed trying to rob the bank in town. The Kid’s mama lost her husband and oldest child on the same horrible day. She took The Kid and moved away, refusing to take anything with her, but nothing was ever the same for The Kid. He grew up watching his mama fade away in front of his very eyes, and there was nothing he could say or do that would cheer her up. The Kid made a promise that when he grew up, he was going to see the people pay for what happened to his pa. He was also going to see to it that he helped other people caught up in the same situation his pa was; The Kid would give money to those who needed it.”
“Yeah, Miss Maggie. That’s what I heard about The Whispering Kid. He don’t hurt no one unless he has to, but he sure takes money from the rich and helps poor people. My pa says that he wishes The Kid would bring him some money! We all laugh when he says that, but Pa is just joking. He says we’re well blessed by God and it’s our duty to help others who need our help. I think he’s real proud of my ma. She grows two gardens, one for us, and one to share with folks who are down on their luck. She says being able to eat makes for less desperate folks. Do you believe that, Miss Maggie?”
“I think your mama is very special, Cornelius, your pa too. It’s good they are teaching you to have compassion.”
“They are making him weak,” the elderly man dared to interrupt, expressing his disgust.
“They are making him human, mister, which is something you wouldn’t understand. I’ll just bet you are a heartless banker.” The cowboy didn’t bother to hide his dislike of the man.
“I am a banker, and I am not without heart, nor am I a stupid man. I do not throw away my money on people who cannot pay it back.”
“Do you sell mortgages out from under people?”
“It is a common practice, young man. If someone still owes you five hundred dollars, and you are offered six hundred to purchase that mortgage, it would be very foolish to turn down the deal. There is no way to recoup that kind of profit.”
Maggie gave the man a hard look, but she said nothing.
Suddenly, there was whooping and thundering hoof beats. Something hit the side of the stage, as the driver urged the horses to go faster. “Indians,” the cowboy said, drawing his gun. “Corny, get down on the floor and stay there, son. You too, Miss Maggie,” he ordered, but saw she had a gun in her hand and was already pointing at an Indian and firing. He turned his attention to fighting off their attackers. To his surprise, the elderly man also took out a gun, and began shooting. Amazingly, he was good.
Cornelius was frightened, and the elderly woman got down on the floor with him and held him close, telling him that he would be all right. In that moment, the woman earned a measure of respect from Maggie and the cowboy.
They held off the Indians for several minutes, until the attack finally broke off when they’d lost enough of their braves. If not for the skillful handling of the team of horses by their driver, the outcome would have been completely different.
“You folks in there all right?” he yelled down at them.
“We’re all safe, driver. Thanks for getting us away from them,” the cowboy called back.
“You’re the ones doin’ the fancy shootin’.”
“Let me help you up, ma’am,” the cowboy said softly, carefully lifting the elderly woman and gently sitting her on the seat beside her brother. “You showed real courage, ma’am.”
“I didn’t want that little boy to be afraid,” she explained.
“I’m fine, ma’am,” Cornelius told her, and to everyone’s surprise, he rose, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She actually smiled and flushed pink with pleasure.
“Sir, you handle that gun well,” the cowboy said.
“So do you, young man. My surprise was you, young lady. You are very brave and you handle that firearm very well. Who taught you to shoot like that?”
“I taught myself,” Maggie answered, unwillingly to share any of her past history. “I am alone in this world, but, as you can see, I am far from helpless.”
“No one likes to feel helpless. I wouldn’t have let them take you alive.”
“That was not your decision to make, sir. I make my own choices.”
“Brother only meant to spare you, young lady. Do not be angry with him. It is what he was taught by our father.”
Maggie again said nothing, but she was going to destroy the bastard.
“Miss, are you all right?” the cowboy asked a few minutes later. “You didn’t do anything wrong, you know.”
“I know. I’m fine.” She smiled at Cornelius, who was curled up beside her, sleeping.
“He’s a bundle of fire, isn’t he?”
“Yes. A really cute little boy.”
“He likes you a lot. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Jack Sultan. I got your first name, Miss Maggie, but not your last.”
“It’s Maggie Case,” she answered.
“Are you planning on staying in Ridgefield, Miss Case?” he asked.
“I haven’t decided just yet.”
He nodded in understanding. “I think I’m going to follow Corny’s example and take a nap. It’ll be a while yet before we reach town, and I feel like I’ve been running for hours without a break.”
“I know what you mean; I’m going to try and take a nap, too,” she fibbed, closing her eyes. She didn’t feel like being polite right now. She didn’t like the memories that were overwhelming her, and her eyes were the kind that told the world how she was feeling. She hated the man sitting across from her and she wanted nothing more than to pull her gun and shoot him dead. He was a cold-hearted bastard, a man whose only thought from morning ‘til night was money – how to make it and hold onto it. He sold mortgages out from under people, causing them to lose everything they’d worked for when the new owner demanded payment in full and they couldn’t meet the demand. Yes, she hated the banker, and she was going to make him pay.
The rest of the trip seemed to take a long time, but the driver was still rattled by the Indian attack, and he pushed the team hard, arriving in Ridgefield a few minutes early, instead of late as was normal. There were arrows stuck all over the outside of the coach, prompting people to start yelling for the sheriff.
The sheriff came running. “Are you all right, Max? The passengers?”
“We made it through, Sheriff, thanks to the folks inside. They done the shootin’ while I tried to get us away from them chasing us.” He jumped down and opened the stage door. “This here is Ridgefield, folks, and as far as this stage goes today. I sure do thank you kindly for your help. Son,” he took Cornelius’ arm and pulled him aside, “you need to stay here with me until your folks come for you.”
“I know my way home!” Cornelius sputtered angrily.
“Cornelius, the driver was given the responsibility for you. He is making sure you are safe, please be nice,” Maggie said softly, putting her hand on Cornelius’ shoulder to calm him.
“Corny, you should be thrilled to have the special attention; there are some kids your age who don’t have it nearly so good,” Jack said quietly.
“Aw, I’m sorry, Mr. Max. I’m just anxious to see my folks,” Cornelius said.
“Well, I know how you feel, son. They’ll be along shortly.”
“I’m amazed that no one was hurt. From the look of all these arrows, you all had a close call,” Sheriff Thomas Benson said. “Did you ward them off, sir?” he asked Jack.
“The banker and Miss Case shot as many as I did, Sheriff. They are both good shots. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have made it.” Jack saw no reason to lie.
“How many—” The sheriff was cut off by the arrival of Cornelius’ parents.
“Oh my! Oh no! Cornelius! Cornelius?” a woman screamed anxiously, running forward as fast as she could while holding two small children in her arms. The man with her rushed ahead.
“He’s here, Sophie. Corny is right here and safe.” He lifted the boy in his arms and hugged him tightly.
“I’m fine, Pa. Jack and Miss Maggie took care of me, and Miss Amelia sat on the floor of the coach and protected me from the Indians.”
“Thank you all,” Sophie tearfully exclaimed. “Put him down and hold these two, Ralphie,” she bossed. Then it was her turn to hug her eldest and hold him tight. “If I’d known you would be in danger, sweetheart, Mama wouldn’t have allowed you to go and visit Grandma and Grandpa!”
“Ma, I’m fine. Don’t be a girl now, I was real safe.”
“‘Don’t be a girl’?” she repeated, looking at him. “And where did you hear that expression, young man?”
“From Pa,” he told the truth. His mother immediately looked at her husband, and he could tell that she was not pleased.
“Son, that is something I am permitted to say to tease your mama. It is not for you to say to her; coming from you it is very disrespectful. Please don’t say it ever again.”
“Until I get married and can tease my wife about being a girl?” Cornelius asked innocently, and there were snickers of laughter. Even his mother smiled.
“If your wife can tolerate being teased,” his pa clarified. “It is something I shouldn’t have said in front of you.”
“You didn’t. You and Ma were in the parlor. I came downstairs to get a drink of water because I couldn’t go to sleep. I heard it when I was passing by on my way to the kitchen. I didn’t know it was private and personal. I’m sorry I teased you, Ma.”
“It’s all right, sweetheart. I understand, and your pa has explained. Just don’t do it again,” she warned, kissing him on his forehead. “I’m so happy you are home and safe.” She hugged him again, then turned to the others standing there. “Thank you all so much for protecting our Cornelius. I can’t tell you how much he means to his father and me.”
“We are grateful to you all. Thank you again and again.” Ralph added his own gratitude to his wife’s.
“He’s a fine boy,” Jack told the other man.
“He was a real joy to be around,” Maggie added.
“He is a nice little boy,” Miss Amelia said with another rare smile.
Her brother simply frowned and said nothing.
“Say thank you, son.” Sophie nudged him, and he grinned and thanked everyone. He then held his baby sister’s hand to walk home with his family, his father carrying the satchel with his clothes inside, and an arrow protruding from the side. Corny would keep the arrow and someday tell his grandkids about the wild stage ride, the Indians screaming, and the people who fought to save all of their lives.
Max tossed down the banker’s bag, then Miss Amelia’s. Her brother carried her bag in his other hand, and insisted they go home immediately. He wanted to eat something.
“I was hoping we could get something in the restaurant, Horace?” his sister suggested.
“And waste money when we can eat at home for much less? I think not, Amelia. Come along. I expect something on the table within the hour.”
“Would you like to come and eat with us, Miss Amelia? I’m hoping Miss Maggie will join me for dinner since she is traveling alone.”
“I would welcome the company, Jack. Please join us, Miss Amelia. Your brother can find his own dinner.”
“Yes, I believe I will.” She watched Horace stomp off, angry as could be. It made her giggle. “You have no idea how much fun it is to defy my brother. What is the point of having all of that money if you never use it for anything but making more money?”
“I agree, ma’am. Max, could you put our bags in the office while I take these lovely ladies for something to eat?
“I can do that, Jack. Have something good to eat for me too.”
“You’re welcome to join us, Max,” Jack immediately offered.
“Oh, Lordy no! My wife has supper ready for the table by now, and I want to go and tell her how close she came to bein’ a widow. I’ll get me some lovin’, for sure!” He chuckled.
Miss Amelia blushed, and so did Maggie. Jack laughed, and then took the ladies’ arms and walked them to the restaurant down the street.
The restaurant was busy, and Maggie took that as a sign that the food was good. She certainly hoped so; she was very hungry. She had been traveling by stagecoach for a couple of days now, and the only food she’d had was poorly cooked at relay stations run by men. Not that some men weren’t good cooks; it was hard to cook and tend horses at the same time.
“You folks have a seat at that empty table and I’ll be with you in a minute or two.” The woman speaking was busy serving food at another table. The food was piled on the plates and looked delicious. They took seats, and true to her word, once she finished serving food at the other table, she came over to see what they wanted. “Our specials are on the chalkboard. Do you know what you want yet, or can I get you some coffee while you decide?”
“I’d love whatever it was you served those men over there,” Maggie said. “It looked wonderful, and I am starving.”
“They’re having chicken and dumplings with mashed potatoes and green beans. How does that sound to you?”
“Perfect,” Maggie replied. “Miss Amelia, what would you like?”
“We rarely see you in here, ma’am. It’s good of you to come in,” the waitress said, clearly surprised.
“I am defying Horace and enjoying every minute of it,” Miss Amelia declared. “I want the chicken and dumplings special too, and some cherry pie.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She looked at Jack. “Sir?”
“The same as the ladies are having, ma’am. Could we have plenty of coffee, and I’d like a tall glass of milk.”
“Oh, I want some water too!” Miss Amelia said.
“For me as well,” Maggie agreed.
“I’ll have it out shortly,” the waitress promised. She served another table their hot food, and then brought water and Jack’s milk to the table. Another trip brought a pot of coffee and cups. Then she brought a basket of rolls with pats of butter and a little pot of jelly. By then whoever was working in the kitchen had their food ready, and it was served steaming hot. “Enjoy your supper, folks.”
“This is so good!” Maggie said a few seconds later. “I mean really good!”
“It is wonderful, better than mine, and that is a fact!” Miss Amelia admitted.
“Best food I’ve had in a long time,” Jack stated.
They finally slowed down a bit when their plates were almost empty. “Do you really know The Whispering Kid?” Jack asked Maggie with a smile.
“Yes, I know him.”
“Really? Do you intend to turn him over to the sheriff?” he asked, still smiling.
“Of course not. I understand him. Are you going to have room for your pie, Miss Amelia?” she asked. She didn’t want to discuss The Whispering Kid.
“Yes, I am going to eat every bite. You should order pie too, Miss Maggie. I will gladly pay for it,” she offered.
“I invited you ladies to supper; I’m paying our tab.” Jack was absolutely determined to have his way.
“You will not spoil my fun, young man,” Miss Amelia argued. “I am going to pay for all our suppers, and make sure I lay the ticket where Horace can see it. Maybe he’ll have an apoplectic fit!” She giggled then, and said, “Please do not be stubborn about this. I daresay I can afford to buy dinners like this one every day for the rest of my life and still have too much money to leave to whom? It is sad to get to my age and have almost no family to speak of. Horace and I just attended the funeral of our cousin. He was the last relative we had on either side of our family. It is just Horace and me, and frankly, Horace is too mean to die. He won’t permit himself to die because he can’t take his money with him. I plan to outlive him, and give every cent he has accumulated to charity. I would like to help orphans, and that story you told about The Whispering Kid? It struck a chord within me. I remember a similar story, and I think that it would be best to give Horace’s money to people who are in need of a helping hand to stop men from displacing families as they will.” Her eyes closed for a moment, as if in sudden pain. “Please, allow me to pay for our supper.”
“Thank you kindly, Miss Amelia.” Jack graciously gave in.
“So order pie, please?” She looked at Jack and then at Maggie. “Please?”
“Ma’am,” Jack called to the waitress. “Could we have two more pieces of cherry pie over here, please?” The woman smiled and nodded, quickly delivering the dessert.
Maggie was stuffed by the time she was finished eating. “Thank you for this fabulous meal, Miss Amelia. It was delicious, and I will probably have breakfast here in the morning, if I am hungry by then. I can’t believe I ate so much.”
“It was delicious, and after that horrible stagecoach ride today, we all deserved a special treat this evening.”
“It sure was good, ma’am,” Jack assured her.
Miss Amelia graciously paid their bill and left a very generous tip for their waitress. “I best be getting home. The streets here in town are not safe for a lady at night.”
“Miss Amelia, we are going to walk you home, and then I will see Miss Maggie to safe lodging for the night.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that!” Amelia argued, but Jack insisted, and she smiled. “You have good manners, Mr. Sultan.”
“My ma tried, ma’am.”
They walked to the largest house in town and Amelia asked if they would like to come inside for some coffee or tea.
“You aren’t afraid of your brother, are you, Miss Amelia?” Jack asked seriously.
“Lordy, no! He knows better than touch me! He is going to have a rant about the money I spent, but I spent my own money, and there is nothing he can do about it. I enjoyed myself tremendously. Good night to both of you.” She walked up the steps, and then let herself inside the large house.
The look on Jack’s face was ominous. “Do you think she is safe with that mean old bastard, Miss Maggie?” he asked, staring at the house.
“I think she would have told us the truth. We need to get our bags from the stage line office before it closes for the night,” she said. They started walking back downtown.
“So, how did you come to meet The Whispering Kid?” Jack asked, being very nosy.
“I said too much earlier. I was simply trying to stop the banker from striking the child with his cane. I would have shot him if he did that! Cornelius was being rambunctious, but that is how eight-year-old little boys behave. I hoped telling him a story would keep him entertained for a long while.”
“It worked like a charm. Corny is a good kid.”
They retrieved their bags from the stage office. “Sir, where is a safe place for a woman to stay?”
“Mrs. Fenwick takes in female boarders, miss. Will you be here for more than just tonight?” the clerk asked. “A weekly rate is cheaper than nightly, and it’s even less for a month!” he told Maggie. “Mrs. Fenwick has an opening, so you’re in luck. She offers breakfast and supper, but you’re on your own for lunch. Are you interested?”
“Yes, I am.”
He gave her directions, then looked at Jack. “You can put up at the hotel, son. You’ll be safe enough there.”
“Thank you. Miss Case wouldn’t be safe at the hotel?”
“Well, from what I hear about her shootin’, she’d probably be safe enough, but Mrs. Fenwick locks up real tight at night. Safe as can be.”
“Is there a problem, Clem?” The sheriff stepped inside to ask.
“Oh, no, not at all, Sheriff. Just giving advice on safe lodging to the lady.”
“Very good. Mrs. Fenwick runs a responsible boarding house for ladies, Miss Case. I’ll be happy to walk you there. I would like to speak to you about your ordeal this afternoon. Sir,” he addressed Jack. “I would appreciate speaking to you sometime in the morning at your convenience. Just stop by my office.”
“Sure, Sheriff. Good night, Miss Maggie. Are you all right with the sheriff walking you? I don’t mind doing it myself.”
“You go on to bed, Mr. Sultan. Thank you again for your help today.”
“You saved us, Miss Maggie. Without your help, we would all be dead.”
“The important thing is that we fought hard, even Banker Horace.”
Jack nodded, then hurried off.
“Did Mr. Sultan tell you what he is doing in Ridgefield, Miss Case?” the sheriff asked as they walked along.
“I didn’t ask him, Sheriff. I didn’t figure it was any of my business.” Her tone of voice was sharper than she intended.
“Everything that happens in this town, Miss Case, is my business. Why are you in town?” he asked bluntly.
“That is my business, Sheriff. As long as I am doing nothing to disrupt the peace, then I would appreciate being left alone!”
“Your father forgot to put you over his knee a few times,” Thomas angrily declared. “I suggest you change your attitude, unless you want me to fill in for him?”
“Are you forgetting how well I use a gun, Sheriff? Go away and leave me alone. I am capable of finding Mrs. Fenwick’s boarding house on my own.”
“Why are you being so rude, young lady?”
Maggie wasn’t answering any more of his questions. She took off at a fast pace, leaving him behind. She heard footsteps behind her; determined to ignore him, she forged ahead, walking even faster. Suddenly, her arm was grabbed from behind, and she was whirled around, then falling to land hard across the sheriff’s bent knee. In the next instant, before she could protest, his hand landed on her rounded rump with a loud whap.
“You let me go this instant!”
“So, you can talk, Miss Case?” Thomas asked in a scolding tone of voice. He spanked her again, and then again, in spite of her struggles to free herself.
Maggie couldn’t believe the sheriff was holding her down and spanking her like she was some naughty child. It was humiliating as could be. Anyone could come along and witness her disgrace. “Stop it!” she screamed at him. “Let me go right now!”
“And have you take off running and ignoring me as if I’m not standing right here? I was raised to believe that was rude and unacceptable. Just because I am wearing this badge is no reason to treat me as though I jilted you at the altar!” His hand fell several more times.
“All right, I apologize. I was behaving badly. I’m sorry!” Maggie finally apologized. Her bottom was stinging like crazy. “Please stop.” She was close to crying, and she couldn’t handle that right now. It would unleash all sorts of feelings she wasn’t ready to deal with in the moment.
“Do you think you can conduct yourself as a lady now and answer me civilly?” Thomas asked, giving her one final hard spank.
“Yes!” she yelped.
Thomas stood her up and rose to stand beside her. “I’m sorry that was necessary, Miss Case. I still don’t understand why you dislike me so much.”
“It’s your badge, not you,” she admitted. “Please, may I go now? My emotions are raw, and I need some time alone to deal with the happenings of today. I used a gun and I killed several living human beings this afternoon. I keep thinking that there are women who are widows because of me, and there are children who lost their fathers because of me.”
“I didn’t think about that, Miss Case. You did nothing wrong; those Indians were out to harm all of you, and you did what was necessary to survive. Now, tell me why you hate badges.”
“Not all men who wear badges are honest.”
“No, they aren’t. I promise you that I am true to my word. Does that make us square?” he asked.
“For the moment,” she agreed.
“That is a start.” He smiled. “What brings you to our little town, miss?” he asked once again.
Maggie looked at him. “It is still none of your business unless I am doing something illegal. If I was planning to do something wrong, I would simply lie and make up something, right?”
“I am not concerned about you doing something illegal, Miss Maggie. About six months ago, a pretty little lady like you came to town to meet up with a man she’d never met in person. They met through one of those services that set up mail-order bride marriages. The ornery cuss she was supposed to marry took a dislike to her, and he beat and raped her, left her half dead, and then took off. Ever since then, I try to protect that from happening to other unsuspecting young women. I am trying to do my job,” he told her.
“I owe you an apology, Sheriff. I am not here to meet with anyone. I’m not a mail-order bride. I am here on personal business, and once that is finished, I will be leaving. I’ll be here no more than a week at the most.”
“I’m glad you aren’t here for marriage purposes, but sad you will be leaving. I’d love the opportunity to know you better, Miss Maggie.”
“Thank you so much. It’s nice of you to say that after the temper tantrum I had.”
“You’ve had a rough day. I should have remembered that. May I take you to lunch tomorrow?” he asked.
“I would like that, Sheriff.”
“Please, call me Thomas. I’m not asking you to lunch as a lawman, but as a man.”
“Very well, Thomas. Thank you so much.”
“Here we are,” he announced as they turned into the walk of a tidy house. “Let me introduce you to Mrs. Fenwick.” He knocked on the front door.
It was quickly opened by a woman who was in her early sixties. Her blue eyes were alert and missed nothing.
“Mrs. Fenwick, this is Miss Maggie Case. She needs a place to stay for the next few days, perhaps a week.”
“Well, come inside, Miss Case. It is a pleasure to meet you. What brings you to town, my dear? Are you visiting relatives? I have a lot of young women come and stay here because families have no extra room for guests.”
“No, ma’am. I am here on personal business. I am not sure how long it will take, but I do appreciate having such a lovely home to stay in while I am here. Thank you so much. Would you like for me to pay you now? I don’t want you to worry that I won’t settle up with you before I leave.”
“I usually do ask for payment in advance. I didn’t think I would need to do that, but it would seem that some women are as dishonest as some men.”
“Yes, I have also found that to be true.” Maggie took out her purse and paid Mrs. Fenwick the agreed upon amount. “I will enjoy staying here, Mrs. Fenwick. Your home feels comfortable already.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Case. Sheriff, thank you for escorting this sweet young lady here. I hope that someday it won’t be necessary for a nice woman to have an escort on our streets at night.”
“I am trying very hard to make that a reality, Mrs. Fenwick. Most of the men here are to be trusted; it’s just those few who drink too much on a regular basis that make it hard for a man to permit the ladies in his household that freedom.”
“I heard what happened to Charlotte Taylor, poor thing.”
“She sneaked out against her father’s orders. He was unhappy when I took her home and she had to explain what almost happened. It’s just lucky I heard her screams.”
“Yes, it is. I hope Douglas punished her,” Mrs. Fenwick said. “I know Charlotte wasn’t doing a thing wrong by going to visit with her older sister to see the new baby, but she should have waited until morning to go. That little baby wasn’t going to go riding out of town after just being born!” she said, and then laughed. “I do want to thank you for doing your job so well, Thomas. Our town was fortunate to hire you a few months ago.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m going to get a big head from the praise.”
“I doubt it. You are sensible as can be. Now, if you will excuse us, I am going to get Miss Case settled in her room.”
“Yes, of course. Miss Maggie, I will pick you up at noon tomorrow, if that time is acceptable?”
“Noon will be just fine, Thomas. Again, I am sorry about earlier.”
“So am I. I have a temper sometimes.”
“Yes, you do!” Maggie agreed, smiling. Her tender bottom still smarted from his hard hand.
He laughed, and then left. Mrs. Fenwick led the way up the stairs to the second floor, and down the hallway to the room on the end. “I hope you like this room, dear. The lady who was living here just married a few days ago. Don’t you worry none, I cleaned the room top to bottom, tore the bed apart, and did a real cleaning. I put up new wallpaper, painted the floor, put up new curtains and made a new quilt. I am quite proud of it,” she stated as she opened the door to show Maggie.
“Oh, Mrs. Fenwick, I love this room! Truly. It is very pretty, and I am honored to be the first to stay here.”
“Good. I took one look at you and knew you would like this room. You make yourself at home, and I will get you some tea and cookies to enjoy before you retire. You must be exhausted from your trip.”