Satin Boots: Six Short Western Romances
“Cordell, you got a minute?” Daniel Harper asked his foreman. Being the newest hire on the Lazy Five, he didn’t want to stir up trouble.
The foreman, a man around Daniel’s age who had his eye on the boss’ daughter, got to his feet and replied, “Sure, Dan.”
Dan followed the man who still carried a tin cup full of coffee. They walked to the picket line, a good distance from the campfire, for privacy.
“What is it?” Cordell asked without preamble. “It’s … well, it’s about Jesse.”
Cordell raised a blond eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Well, I was washin’ up in the creek and … well … I saw her.” Dan looked around to assure himself that no one listened in. “Jesse’s female.”
“Yeah, we know,” came the laconic reply. “But … but—”
“But nothin’, Dan. The whole crew knows. She’s like a little sister to all of us, and iff’n you think to bother her, don’t.”
“But she’s a girl!” Dan protested, every particle of his being outraged and offended. He’d thought himself going loco because something about the boy attracted him.
“Yeah, we know.” The foreman took a sip of his now- tepid coffee. He sighed, because he went through this with every new hire, especially the handsome, cocky ones like Daniel who enjoyed a little too much popularity with the ladies in town. “She does her job and does it well. So, what’s the problem?”
Satin Boots: Six Short Western Romances
Excerpt from Coming Home
Life is hard. No one knows this better than Dessie Humphrey who’s trying to hold onto the family farm. When aid comes in the form of a wanted gunslinger, she’s in no position to refuse.
There was a reason gravediggers were men. They had greater strength and could dig faster and deeper than any woman. Desdemona Ophelia Antoinette Humphrey—so named by her late mother, unlamented for saddling her with such a cumbersome name—wiped her sweaty forehead with the back of a dirty sleeve before shoveling the last few spades of dirt on her father’s grave. The milk cow lowed in the barn and the horses neighed from the corral, reminding her that they were hungry.
“I’m hungry, too,” she muttered to no one in particular and silently promised to say a few prayers over Papa’s grave the next morning. She still had work to do.
With a sigh, Dessie tamped the dirt and then dragged the shovel behind her on the way to the barn. She fed the horses first, then returned to the barn and fed the cow. The usually placid beast munched hay as she grabbed the milk bucket and a stool. After taking a moment to crack her knuckles, Dessie set herself to the task of milking the cow.
When the pail was full, she carried it into the house and set it on the countertop. The cat meowed, wanting her share of the warm, creamy liquid.
“Here you go, Faust,” she said, pouring him a small dish and setting it on the floor. Sighing, she straightened and groaned as stiffening muscles protested. She looked about the small cabin, two days of chores undone because she’d had to tend to her father’s body.
Damn him for leaving her all alone.
Dessie chastised herself under her breath for such uncharitable thoughts. Papa did the best he could. It wasn’t his fault he’d been gored by that bull. It wasn’t his fault the wound had festered. It wasn’t … Oh, yes, it was. I told him not to mess with that bull, but, no, he wouldn’t listen to me.
Her very bones ached with exhaustion, yet there’d be no supper if she did not cook it. She’d eaten the last of the bread the day before. Her eyes watered with self-pity as she hauled in a bucket of water to fill the kettle. After putting the kettle on the hearth to boil, she fetched the last few logs from the wood pile and added them to the coals. If she were lucky, the coals remained hot enough to ignite the wood. She wasn’t. So, she fetched some kindling and nursed the coals into igniting the kindling which then did their job by giving the logs enough time to catch fire.
She scooped out the last of the flour, made a basic dough with two eggs gathered from the hens that morning, a generous spoonful of bicarbonate of soda, and a splash of milk.
“I think we have some cheese left,” she muttered to herself and the cat, but found none. “Damn.”
She smiled, though the expression was bitter. She repeated the profanity a little louder. That felt good. Liberating.
She added more milk to the dough and kneaded it until the sponge felt elastic. Dessie plopped the dough into a Dutch oven and set it into the coals to bake. She’d have soda bread, fried eggs, and milk for supper. While the bread baked, she poured the remainder of the milk into the butter churn and began moving the paddle to make good use of the cow’s contribution to the household before the milk spoiled in the summer heat.
By the time she went to bed, Dessie was almost too tired to wash. However, her mother’s admonition of cleanliness being next to godliness mandated she expend the last of her energy fetching another pail of water and making good use of that. Respectable ladies did not retire for the night stinking like a stevedore.
Dessie’s last thought as she closed her eyes was that she had no idea what a stevedore was.
The merry chirp of birds mingled with barnyard noises of hungry animals woke her the next morning. Dessie regarded the soiled dress she’d worn the day before with distaste and decided to wear her other dress. Possessing a sum total of three dresses, all in various states of threadbare deterioration, she donned the one clean gown that remained. As had become her custom, she took care of the livestock before feeding herself.
Satin Boots: Six Short Western Romances
The Mail Order Bride's Choice
Moira headed to the small attic room she shared with the Swinburnes’ other maid. Caroline, who had the next Sunday afternoon off, likely toiled in the kitchen at that moment helping the cook prepare a lavish feast for that night’s supper party. Moira collected her meager belongings, stuffing them into a worn satchel purchased secondhand and given to her by her mother five years prior. Mama had also given parting words of wisdom: “Stay true to yourself, Moira. Your virtue is all you truly possess. Give it to no man without the security of wedding vows.”
Having grown up the bastard daughter of a tavern wench, Moira knew her mother spoke from harsh experience. A butler’s daughter who had learned to read and write and expected to rise to respectable employment as some nobleman’s housekeeper, Edith Saccarrigan had fallen for a nobleman’s blandishments and false promises with the obvious consequences. Poor decisions and ruin followed her from Ireland to America. She gave her daughter the only gifts she could: advice and the skills to read and write.
Moira could still hear her mother’s soft Irish brogue as she sang the sad, lilting songs of her homeland.
The Swinburne’s butler met her at the back door—the servants entrance—with the salary owed her. He gave her a melancholy look and said, “You’re a good worker, an honest girl. Should anyone inquire of me, I’ll recommend your employment. I’m sorry, girl.”
“I’m sorry, too,” she replied. “You’ve been good to me, Mr. Conley.”
He nodded and stepped back to allow her to pass through the doorway. Neither acknowledged that no one would ask the butler for his recommendation of a potential employee. Moira carried her belongings to the post office where she greeted the clerk and picked up the single letter waiting for her. Stepping aside and taking a seat on a public bench, she opened it. What good fortune! Her expression brightened as she picked up a ticket for the stagecoach from within the folds of paper.
Dear Miss Saccariggan,
Our amiable correspondence has convinced me that we will make a good life together. Please use the enclosed ticket to meet me in Redstone Falls in the Colorado Territory. I will greet you at the stagecoach depot and we’ll marry.
Very truly yours,
Tucking the letter and ticket securely into her satchel, Moira left the post office and walked to the nearest stagecoach depot.
“When does the next stagecoach depart?” she inquired.
The clerk looked at the schedule posted on the wall beside the ticket window and replied, “Tomorrow morning, promptly at six o’clock.”
Moira pursed her lips as she considered what to do next. She had little money to spend.
Raking his gaze over plain clothing, the clerk frowned and said, “You can’t spend the night here, miss. The company don’t allow passengers to loiter.”
She sighed. The clerk obviously had experience with passengers like her.
“Do you know of an inexpensive place—someplace respectable—where I could stay for the night?” she asked.