|Genre||Historical Western Romance|
|Tags||Historical, land wars, land grabs, homesteading, sweet romance, ranching.|
|Cover Designer||Eerilyfair Design
Jim Liberty was a low life coward, sneaking thief and liar. Everyone said so, everyone agreed, but when they pushed him one step too far, they discovered that only the sheriff, who called him a killer, really knew what he was capable of when he went on the vengeance trail.
“Take him? Where?”
Ad shrugged. “Your place or his, just so it ain’t here.”
“If that’s all you’re going to do, why did you even bring him here?”
“Figured to give him a decent burying, the Christian thing to do, nothing more.”
Edwards stepped back and looked Liberty over. Ad had laid him out on a too short cot in a bare room with nothing else but a beat up dressing table minus the mirrors. He hadn’t even removed Liberty’s boots or covered him. He didn’t understand Ad bringing him there with his attitude, but didn’t pursue it. “He’ll die if I move him now. Bring me a bucket of water.” When Ad hesitated, he added, “I’ll move him as soon as I think it’s safe and stay with him until then.”
Ad’s manner didn’t change when he brought the bucket in and slammed it to the floor with a glare. Edwards had to ask for a lamp and no offer of sharing a meal with them that night came either. When Ad shut the door, he as much as shut them out of existence. Not until the middle of the night did any of them acknowledge the man possibly dying in their house. Anna slipped in the bedroom door like a waif, dressed in a too large, patched and worn nightgown that dragged on the floor. She carried a small bundle, a napkin she held by the four corners.
“Will he die?” she asked in a whisper, handing Edwards the bundle.
“I don’t know,” he whispered truthfully, his stomach growling at the smell of ham and biscuit. “He’s very sick. Thank you for this. Will giving it to me get you in trouble?”
“They won’t know.” She took tiny, shuffling steps to the bedside. “Papa will be sorry in the morning for his unchristian behavior.”
As far as Edwards was concerned, Ad was more hypocrite than Christian, though he didn’t say so. “I don’t think you should be in here.”
“They’re mean to him.”
He nodded, easing her to the door. From what Edwards heard happened in town the day before, that was a gross understatement. To ostracize a man from society was one thing. To forbid him the necessities for living was another. The banker had been offered a fair deal, and in refusing to even discuss it, had forbidden Liberty the means to buy what he needed to live. The storeowner had refused him credit and then refused to sell him what he did have money for, humiliated, and manhandled him knowing how weak he was.
Edwards had a tight sick feeling in the pit of his stomach thinking of how Liberty must have felt when, already weak and exhausted, his last resort, what should have been left in Folgers’s house, wasn’t there. Liberty had absolutely nothing to survive on and no way to obtain it. He had no money, was too sick to work if anyone would have hired him, and no reserves to fall back on. If he survived the shooting and stayed in the valley, he’d starve to death. He had no way of leaving that didn’t mean starving on the trail as well with no funds for supplies.
The more Edwards thought of the inhuman injustice of it, the longer he watched Liberty’s body struggle to live, the angrier he got. He recognized the “fight for the underdog” streak he had that only a simple-minded child shared with him, one he quickly pushed out of the room to keep her from censure.
If they wanted Liberty out of the valley, they should give him food and send him out. If they wanted him dead, they should kill him, not torture and torment. Edwards was angry enough to fight, and fight he did the next morning when four homesteaders burst through the door. Clay Winston led, with Seth Adams behind him, and the two Smithers brothers in the rear. All four spun when Ad ran in, rifle in his hands, drawn by the screams and wailing of his wife and children.