A/N: Here's the next chapter, folks, just like I promised. At 5,000 words, it's the longest chapter I've uploaded for any story, I believe, but it has a lot in it. Lots to learn about the characters. Four more days of work, and they are just dragging by! Then I will be able to upload more quickly, because I plan to schedule daily writing time while I'm on summer vacation. Hope you enjoy this installment. Let me know by voting, commenting, and fanning. I love to hear what y'all think!
“I came as soon as I heard, Callandra West!”
Callie looked up at her sister with a questioning look. Pouring lemonade into two glasses on the front porch, the widow paused as she considered Samantha’s comment. Her sister, with young Willie and Rosemary beside her, had rolled into the West drive a few minutes earlier, and Sam had beelined to the front door, while the children ran out to Noah in the small peach tree orchard.
“Heard what?” Callie asked mildly, placing the glasses on the porch table before seating herself across from her practically vibrating sister. Whatever it was, she knew she was in for a long conversation.
Samantha Peyton leaned forward, eyes widening as she whispered loudly, “You have that gunfighter staying here, that’s what I heard! What are you thinking, little sister? Have you lost your mind? He could kill you in your sleep. Or worse!”
Callie stared at Samantha, unable to believe what she’d just been told. Her gaze cut to the barn, where she knew Sonny McQuade worked at the moment, and then back to her older sibling. The idea of the gunfighter doing anything of the kind was simply preposterous, and she said so.
“Oh, Samantha, quit making my life into one of those dime novels you secretly read. In fact, quit reading those altogether! That man is helping me realize my dream, and you should be thanking him, not vilifying him!”
Samantha stared at Callie, mouth open. Her little sister had never spoken that way to her. She’d always been the quiet one, the biddable one. Samantha had been the one to try her parents’ patience, to go off half-cocked at the slightest inclination. Her husband knew how to handle her, and had toned Sam down considerably over the years. But she had a full head of steam today.
Before she could get started properly, however, the man under discussion stepped out of the shadows of the barn, pausing to accustom his eyes to the bright sunlight. Both women on the porch froze mid- quarrel, staring at Sonny McQuade.
Movement in the orchard snagged the gunfighter’s attention, causing his whole body to tense visibly. Almost instantly he recognized children running amongst the trees, giggling and laughing, and his stance relaxed. Turning his head to take in the wagon, and then the women on the porch, Sonny nodded in acknowledgement, and moved toward the barn once more.
“Ohhh, did you see that look he gave us? My spine positively shivered!” exclaimed Sam dramatically, grabbing her glass and gulping its contents, though her gaze never strayed from the gunslinger’s measured amble across the yard.
Callie shot her sister a disparaging look, smiling to herself as she also watched the man’s long legs cover the ground. Her sister admired a fine-looking man just as much as Callie, only Callie admitted it while Sam pretended otherwise, even to herself.
The two women watched Sonny McQuade stop at the woodpile, study the supply, and then grab up the axe imbedded in one of the over-sized pieces. Immediately he picked up a thick log, placed it on the wood-cutting stump, hefted the axe, and began chopping the block he’d chosen in even, powerful strokes. The women silently watched, mesmerized by the play of muscles beneath the snug shirt and vest the gunfighter wore, the fluid, rhythmic way he moved as he made short work of the wood splitting chore.
“Mama, Mama! Noah gived me a peach!”
“No, he didn’t, Rosie! You stole it! Now give it to me!”
The stomp of childish feet on the porch steps, and the accompanying high-pitched whines of Samantha’s children brought the sisters back to earth from their daydreaming with a resounding thud.
Immediately gaining the porch, both children began running across the boards, an angry game of Keep Away that would most likely end in injury for one or both parties involved.
Irritated with her children and their behavior in the summer heat, as well as with herself for being caught admiring the outlaw, Samantha grabbed her daughter’s arm and hauled her up against her chair, snapping, “Stop teasing your brother this instant! And never take something that isn’t yours! Now, apologize to your Aunt Callie, and maybe she’ll still let you eat it. William, come here, too!”
|Daniel Craig||as Sonny McQuade|
|Reese Witherspoon||as Callie West|
|Ben Affleck||as Sheriff Micah Benson|
|Jason Dolley||as Noah Lawson|