By Matthew X. Gomez.
Jane Coleman stood on her porch, looking out over the fields. In the distance, she saw a dust cloud approaching. She picked up her rifle and cradled it in her arms. The small size of the cloud meant it was probably only one person, but living out on her own, with her nearest neighbor a good ten miles away, meant Jane wasn’t going to take any chances.
As the rider grew closer, Jane could make out more details. Like how the rider was slumped over the saddle, a rifle dangling from one hand. She stepped down from her porch, but keeping the rifle with her. There wasn’t any sign of anyone following the rider, but a woman didn’t live alone out here on the frontier without being a little cautious.
The horse approached, and Jane recognized the rider. It was Oliver Gunn. She knew him by reputation, having seen him around Colesville, the nearest town. With a reputation as a gadabout and a gambler, Jane had steered cleared of him, but it seemed he’d found his way to her door anyway.
“Evening, ma’am.” Oliver tried and failed to push himself to a more upright position. He clutched one hand to his midsection, and Jane saw where his clothes were wet and dark. “Seems I’ve run into a spot of trouble. Would you mind-”
Whatever Oliver was going to say next was cut off as he slumped out of his saddle, hitting the ground hard. Jane let out a small gasp and hurried to his side. She didn’t think to call out, as there’d be no one to help her. All the ranch hands were away from the house, and there was no one in shouting distance. Jane, no stranger to hard work, got Oliver’s arm around her neck, and leveraged him to his feet. Half dragging, half carrying him, she got him to her spare room.
“My horse…” Oliver gasped. “Is my horse…”
“Shhh. Take it easy,” Jane said. “I’ll be sure to see to you horse, but first I needed to make sure you were all right. Let me get a look at you.”
Using a pair of shears, she cut away at his shirt, and with the help of some hot water and patience managed to peel it away from the wound. It was as she’d feared, he’d been shot. The good news was the bullet looked to have passed clean through, and it didn’t smell of rot. She cleaned it as best she could and applied a bandage. Oliver didn’t complain during the whole procedure, and by the time Jane was done, he’d passed out.
Sighing, she stared down at the young man, easily ten years her junior. “What trouble brought you to my door?” she asked, crossing her arms. “Best see to your horse. You’re not going anywhere.”
Oliver’s horse carried quite the surprise. Hefting the saddlebags down off the mare, Jane gave a grunt as she nearly dropped them. Far heavier than they looked, she decided to peak inside. The gleam of gold caught the setting sun, and she counted three bars in each of the two bags, more than enough to set a man on a life of ease for some time. Repacking the bags, she carried them to her barn, secreting them in the hay until she could decide what to do with them.
Exhausted, she performed her nightly ablutions before going to bed herself.
“Where’s the bags, woman?”
Jane started awake. Oliver stood in the doorway, his hand pressed against his side. Even in the dim light, Jane could see he had bled through the bandage. He carried no weapon, but the size of him gave Jane some cause for concern. Or it would of if she hadn’t pulled her revolver, an heirloom passed down by her father, from under her pillow and taken steady aim at her guest.
“That is no way to treat the person who you are staying with,” Jane countered. “And after I went to the trouble of patching you up, too. And if you don’t want to bleed to death in my hallway, I suggest you let me take a look at that bandage.”
Oliver swayed on his feet, but his blue eyes didn’t waver from Jane. “Where are the bags?”
Blushing slightly as she got out of bed, seeing as she was only in her nightclothes, Jane approached Oliver. “They are safe. Now, you really must let me see to your wound before you get hurt more. As it is, you’ve lost a lot of blood, and I fear you are losing more.”
“I’m fine,” Oliver said, swaying some more. He tried to brace himself against the door frame but missed and ended up on his face in front of Jane instead.
She clucked her tongue and, after placing the heavy revolver on her nightstand, aided Oliver back to his room. Once there, she changed his bandage, easily deflecting his feeble attempts to push her away.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” he mumbled as she worked on him. “Got to get away.”
“You are in no shape to go anywhere,” Jane countered. “Not for a few days at least.” She gave him a strong dose of whiskey for the pain and made sure he fell asleep.
Jane woke early in the morning, as was her want. Dressing, she poked at the embers of the fire, set the pot on for coffee, and pondered what to make for her breakfast. The sound of riders approaching broke her from her reverie. It wasn’t odd for weeks to go by without anyone visiting the ranch, and now two sets of visitors in the space of two days?
Jane made sure her rifle was in easy reach when she walked outside. A group of five riders were waiting outside, still mounted, and all with rifles close to hand.
“Miss Coleman, how are you today?”
“I’m well, Mr. Prescott. What brings you out to my place today?”
Prescott took off his hat and scratched the back of his head. His hair, once sandy brown, was mostly given over to gray, but his face lacked the hard lines of someone used to working outdoors. Jane knew him well enough from town, where he was the banker and the closest thing the townsfolk had to a mayor. Jane had equal use for both.
“I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the bank was robbed two days ago. We caught most of the culprits, but one of the gang that did it got away. We’re worried he might be headed this way.”
“You’re not sure?”
Prescott wrinkled his nose. “Well, not totally. You know how hard it can be to track anything in these parts.”
Jane smiled, wrinkling her nose. “Yes, I do. Would I know this gang member? In case he heads this way, of course.”
“Yes, I expect you would. It’s Oliver Gunn. Seems he finally decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. If you see him, send word to me in town. He’s much too dangerous for a woman to handle alone.”
“I’ll be sure to bear that in mind, Mr. Prescott. But not all of us women are as hopeless as you’d think. Now I’d kindly ask you to leave my land. We wouldn’t want people to get the wrong impression and think you were courting me.”
“Of course not, ma’am. Good day.”
Jane walked back into the house, her heart hammering in her chest, only to see Oliver sitting in the kitchen, a pistol held across his lap.
“You didn’t sell me out.”
Jane wrinkled her nose and snorted. “Prescott is a snake in the grass. He’s a banker looking to buy up as much land as he can, so he can lease it back to the people that bought it in the first place. No thank you. I’m guessing the gold you stole belonged to him?”
Oliver nodded. “My family’s been fighting the Prescott’s since we both moved out here. My dad fought his dad, and now I’m continuing that tradition it seems. Did he say what happened to my friends?”
“I don’t think they made it out of town.” Jane rested a hand on his shoulder. Oliver lowered his head and pounded his fist down on the table. “I’m not even sure he believed me when I said I hadn’t seen you.”
Oliver nodded. “They’ll probably have someone watching the ranch. I can’t stay here. Look, I’m sorry I put you in this position.”
Jane snorted. “You’ve done nothing of the sort. If I truly wanted you gone, I would have told Prescott where you were. As it is, tweaking his nose is a pleasant but unexpected benefit. Now, can I get you some coffee?”
“That’d be lovely, thank you.”
As Jane poured the coffee, Oliver asked, “Do you mind if I ask why there isn’t a Mister Coleman?”
Jane nearly fumbled the pot, spilling some of the coffee on the hot stove. “First of all, Mister Coleman would be my father, and second of all, it isn’t any of your damn business.”
“Ah, uhm, sorry,” Oliver said. “I just thought, well, you are awful pretty. I’m surprised you haven’t had more courters.”
Jane smirked and finished pouring the coffee. “I’ve had a few, but most men don’t want anything to do with a woman who knows how to run a ranch, ride herd, or mend a fence. They’re after something a bit… daintier. Besides, I feel my best years are behind me. I’ll be thirty next year.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, most men are idiots.”
Jane cocked her head to one side and studied Oliver. He was good looking in a rough sort of way. A bath and a shave would probably work wonders on his appearance, not to mention clothes not caked in road dust. “Why Mister Gunn, are you flirting with me?”
“What if I was?”
“Hmm. In that case, I imagine I’ll have to get out my fancy dress. But if you were serious, I’d be expecting flowers. A girl can never get enough flowers.”
“Are there any particular kind you like?”
Jane blinked. “Well, if a gentleman wanted to court me properly, I’d be expecting violets.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to let any gentlemen interested in courting you know what to be on the look out for.”
“Hmm. Now what do you want for breakfast?”
Jane woke to the sounds of shouting. Gathering her shawl around her, she grabbed her gun and headed out to the kitchen. Peering through the window, she saw men with torches and a figure kneeling down on the ground. She hurried to her front door, but not before picking up her rifle as well.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded. “What are you doing on my land? Mister Prescott, I believe I asked you to leave.”
“Miss Coleman,” Prescott said, doffing his hat with a sneer. “As you can see, we found this varmint trespassing on your land. Now, I’m a man who usually let’s people deal with their own pests, but this little bastard took something that belongs to me, and that I cannot abide. And as for you, where is the gold?”
“Go to Hell,” Oliver replied, spitting blood from between his swollen lips. “You leave Jane out of this, she didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“Is that so? I bet it was the two of you, conspiring against me. Go get her,” Prescott instructed two of his men.
Jane lifted her rifle, drawing a bead on one of the members of Prescott’s posse. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Just get her, she’s only one woman,” Prescott said.
“Yeah, but I’ve got help,” Jane replied. She tossed the gun to Oliver, who grabbed it out of the air. As everyone was distracted, Jane pulled the revolver from her dress and aimed it at Prescott.
Prescott opened his mouth to shout, and caught the butt of the rifle in his gut, dropping him from his horse.
“Go on and take your boss back home,” Jane said. “No one is dying here tonight.”
Prescott’s men picked him up and pulled him back across his horse before turning and heading back toward town.
“We’d best be going,” Jane said, helping Oliver to his feet. “I can’t imagine Prescott is going to wait long before getting more men.”
“Where are we going to go?” Oliver asked.
Jane shrugged and smiled. “No idea. We can probably go anywhere with that gold you stole, and before you get any ideas, I expect a proper courting before you try any funny business, understand?”
Oliver smiled. “With violets, right?”
Jane smiled and punched him in the arm. “Hell, right now I’d settle for roses.”
Matthew was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, though he inexplicably finds himself much further south than he ever anticipated. Now he lives in Columbia, Maryland, with his wife, two children, and two cats. He has been writing for forever, getting his real start writing for a number of student run publications in high school and college. He has been previously published by Death Throes and Dark Futures, and his work can frequently be encountered at writerscarnival.ca. He possesses a number of esoteric skills, not the least being fencing and historic swordplay, which, if he weren’t a writer, would be pretty useless. Matthew hopes to have an anthology of his own short stories out in 2014.