Six Months Later
“This town needs you, boy.”
Tyler eyed Victor sourly as he drank his beer in the saloon, sitting across the table from him. Outside, a cold drizzling rain fell, turning the street into a quagmire. Horses and people splashed through the muck, hurrying to get out of the weather. “The town has done quite well without me before I came,” he said.
Victor stroked his mustache, his bright blue eyes penetrating. “All right. I need you. I need your help, not every day, I’ll say right up front. But I need a deputy I can count on. It’s just part of the time, boy.”
Tyler sighed and gazed out into the dreary daylight. “I have my ranch and Charlene to consider, Vic.”
“I know. You live only a couple miles out of town. Bandera is growing, and that comes with more trouble.” Victor leaned forward, his beer in his hand. “You have the know-how that can help me. Just Friday and Saturday nights, Tyler, when this here saloon gets to brawling.”
“All right.” Tyler sat back in his chair. “You sure know how to twist me around your finger.”
“I don’t have to twist hard.” Victor grinned. “Being a lawman is in your blood. Them marshals told me you were the best bounty hunter they’d ever seen.”
Tyler shook his head. “It’s been six months since we caught the Miller boys. Why haven’t they come to get them?”
“The wheels of justice turn slow sometimes,” Victor replied, taking a gulp of his beer. “It’s been three since they were convicted. I know I’m sure sick of feeding them. But the marshals got in late yesterday. Want to meet them?”
“Sure. Why not?”
The chilly December rain leaked down the neck of Tyler’s heavy coat as he and Victor dashed through the mud to the sheriff’s office. Outside it, stood a heavy enclosed wagon, steel bars over the windows, a team of four horses hitched to it. Tyler slowed a moment to take a closer look, remembering one similar that took Benji Dawson from El Paso to his prison.
“Wicked looking thing, ain’t it?” Victor asked.
“It is. It’s sickening that it’s taking boys this time around.”
“The law is the law, boy,” Victor said, opening the door to his office. “Even kids have to abide by them.”
Five marshals clad in long black overcoats, black hats and silver stars pinned to their lapels stood inside the office, apparently waiting for Victor. Heavy shackles and chains were hanging from the hands of three of them. With a short smile, one stepped forward to shake Victor’s hand. “We’re ready to take these prisoners off your hands now, Sheriff.”
Victor gestured toward Tyler. “This here be Tyler Price, formerly a bounty hunter, now my deputy. This is Marshal Westbourne.”
Tyler shook his hand, recalling the man’s name and reputation in his past life, but he'd never had the chance to meet him before. “A real honor, Marshal.”
Westbourne grinned. “No, sir, the honor is mine to meet the man who brought down the Dawson Gang. Your reputation was stellar even before that.”
“I was happy enough at having caught Benji Dawson,” Tyler replied with a small smile. “I had retired from hunting to buy my ranch and run cattle. But they came here with evil intentions.”
“Yes.” Westbourne nodded soberly. “That’s what the Sheriff told us. Even so, you took down three armed killers by yourself. That’s no mean feat. If ever you want to quit ranching and become a marshal, you let me know.”
Westbourne accepted it without arguing. “Congratulations on your marriage, by the way. Sheriff Barker, we have a long way to go. Might we collect our prisoners and be on our way?”
Taking the cell keys, Victor led the way into the back where the jail cells were kept. Tyler leaned against the desk and folded his arms across his chest, listening to the sounds of the cells being unlocked, Ian Miller’s crying, Kevin Miller’s harsh cursing. Yet, he heard no noises of a struggle as the steel cuffs were clamped onto ankles and wrists.
Shortly, the marshals led the boys out, dragging their chains. Kevin and Dennis carried defiant, stony expressions while Ian sobbed, tears running down his face. Tyler’s heart wrenched in his chest to see him, knowing there was still hope for the kid. If life on the boys’ farm didn’t turn him into a hardened criminal.
None of them met his eyes as the marshals filed out the door to load the Millers into the wagon. Once inside, they attached the chains to rings on the floor. Three marshals remained inside with them, rifles in their hands as Westbourne and one other climbed to the high seat and picked up the reins.
Westbourne tipped his hat to Tyler and Victor “Gentlemen.”
Standing in the cold rain, the two watched the wagon rumble down the muddy street, those few townsfolk outside also watching it pass them by.
“You want to know what’s really sad about them boys?” Victor asked as the wagon vanished from sight.
“Their ma never came to see them.” Victor gazed into Tyler’s eyes. “Not once.”
Standing behind her mother, braiding her fine hair into a tidy coif. “Do you really love him, Mother?”
Olivia smiled. “He’s a cranky old thing, that’s for certain. But yes, I do love him.”
Turning on the stool she sat upon, she gazed into Charlene’s eyes, her happy expression fading. “I hope you don’t think Victor is taking your father’s place, dear.”
“Of course not.”
Charlene embraced her, holding Olivia close to her bosom. “All I want is for you to be happy, Mother. No one can take Father’s place, or those of Dan or Russell.”
“Victor will look after me.”
“Mother.” Charlene pushed her away, but still held onto her mother’s arms, staring sternly into her eyes. “You’re not marrying him because he will take care of you, are you? If so, tell me and we’ll call this wedding off. You are more than welcome to live with Tyler and me at the ranch. There’s plenty of room.”
Olivia squeezed her hands together, avoiding Charlene’s eyes. “It’s part of it, yes. I can’t be a burden to you anymore.”
“Mother, you –”
Olivia’s finger over Charlene’s lips cut her off. “I can make my own decisions about this, Charlene,” she said firmly. “Yes, I do love Vic, and he loves me. We need each other. I can take care of him as much as he looks after me.” Olivia smiled. “We suit each other perfectly.”
Sitting back, Charlene offered her mother a wry grin. “I just worry about you, Mother.”
“I know you do, dear, and I appreciate it. It’s time for you to live your own life with your husband, start your own family.”
Charlene turned her mother around to complete the attractive coif in her hair. “Tyler wants lots of children.”
“That’s so sweet, dear. With you and he expanding the ranch and buying more cattle, you’ll need strong sons to help.”
“We’re also thinking of buying our old ranch, Mother,” Charlene told her, her voice quiet. “It will be back in the family. I hope that will please you.”
Olivia turned around fast and seized hold of Charlene, her eyes wide. “The bank never sold it?”
“No. Never found a buyer. The manager all but fell at Tyler’s feet with joy at his offer. You are happy about this, aren’t you?”
Tears welled in Olivia’s eyes. “Yes.” She swallowed hard, then smiled broadly, “Yes, I am, Charlene. I am very happy. Your father would be so proud of you.”
This time it was Charlene’s turn to walk her mother down the aisle of the small church. Though walk truly wasn’t the true definition of the gait Charlene managed. Heavily pregnant, she knew she waddled down the center toward where Olivia’s fiancé, Victor Barker, stood to marry her. Tyler stood up for him at the small wedding, while Charlene would be Olivia’s matron of honor.
Under Victor’s loving attention, Olivia had blossomed, gaining back much-needed weight, her cheeks rosy with happiness. Tosahwi sat in the front row beside Jean and Harold, his English and understanding of white men’s customs having expanded tremendously. As the ceremony continued, the preacher intoned the lecture of life, love and marriage, Charlene watched her mother’s face. Joy as well as happiness filled it as Olivia listened to the holy man drone on.
Charlene knew Olivia had adored her husband and had mourned him, and now deserved a second chance to love and be loved again. Though if Charlene had been forced to guess as to whom her mother fell in love with, Victor was the last one she might have suspected. But never once did she doubt the crusty man’s adoration for Olivia. In many ways, they were perfect for each other.
After the ceremony, Charlene stood with Tyler as Victor and Olivia spoke to the guests. “I’m really happy for your mother,” Tyler murmured in her ear.
“She won’t grow old alone now,” Charlene replied.
“Neither will Vic. Olivia will be good for him.”
Charlene suddenly felt the baby kick her in the spine. “Oh.”
Instantly anxious, Tyler took her arm. “Is it the baby?”
“Yes. Your son has the strength of ten Comanche warriors. And is making himself be felt.”
Tyler guided her toward their buckboard wagon drawn by his gray mules. “I think it’s a daughter, and she is impatient for a wedding of her own.”
With Tyler helping her awkward body up to the seat, Charlene relaxed as the baby settled down. She rested her hands on her bulging stomach. “Well, if she loves weddings, and I do believe she is a he, she won’t be married for a long time.”
Tyler climbed up to the seat with her, taking a moment to gaze at the happy couple as they stepped into a buggy for the short journey to Victor’s small house. “It’s a new start for more than just me, isn’t it?” he asked, turning to kiss Charlene’s lips. “A new life for us, one beginning in your belly. And one over there for Vic and Olivia.”
“Isn’t it amazing?” Charlene asked, following his gaze. “A new life for many here.”
She took his hand. “I am so glad you left your old life behind and wandered into mine, Tyler. I love you.”
Tyler grinned down into her eyes. “Me, too,little lady. On both counts.”
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