About the book
A well-bred eastern girl
Olivia Davis, an intelligent eastern born woman, was to become a bride to a wealthy man in the Wild West. But what she and her father did not calculate was the crime that would find her on her way there. When a group of bandits attack her train, Olivia is left for dead. Until a handsome stranger comes to her rescue…
A redeemed outlaw
The day Levi Miller saves her is the day her life changes forever. Levi is a wanted man and a bandit, that is. He’s dangerous, intimidating and could very much be her demise. But what no one knows is the pain he holds and the reason why he’s a criminal. And only through Olivia can he truly change for the good Christian man he really is.
An unplanned adventure in the west
As they’re stuck together, Levi offers to take her to the man Olivia is really supposed to marry. But as they travel through three different states, learning more about the west each time, they never expected to fall in love.
What happens when Olivia reaches her destination? Will she choose a safe life or one of true love?
"I have decided that it's about time you found yourself a husband, Olivia, dear. You're twenty-six years old and never been courted."
Olivia's father sat on the couch across from where Olivia nervously hovered. When he said they needed to talk, she hadn't imagined this. He regarded her calmly, although there was a twitch in the corner of Papa's lips that suggested he wasn't as collected as he pretended to be.
Nose crinkling, Olivia dropped onto the nearest armchair and folded her arms. The living room was small; cramped, really, with too-big furniture crammed into every available space and hardly any room to move. It meant that she was practically touching Papa's knees; it also meant there was no escaping his cool stare.
"I'm so sorry, Olivia," Papa continued slowly, "but this house isn't good for you. I found a lovely young man by the name of Charles Duncan, and I've made the arrangements of your engagement-"
"Wait," Olivia cut in. Her chest stuttered at his words, and for a moment she was certain she must have misheard. "Engagement?"
Papa brushed dark auburn hair from his eyes and sat back in the couch, trying for all the world to appear casual. "Mr. Duncan is an incredibly wealthy man. I discovered him in the papers; one of those, ah, mail-order bride advertisements. I took it upon myself to write on your behalf."
Olivia blinked, unable to do much else, really. This was ridiculous. Completely and utterly absurd. Not to mention selfish. "When have I ever suggested that I'm interested in marriage?" she demanded. "When have I ever indicated any interest in courting or men, or-"
"Olivia," Papa cut in, and his blank expression twisted into something darker. "I know this isn't something that you want, and it tears me apart to force this on you - but you know it's impossible for you to stay here. My job at the factory hardly provides enough money for one, let alone two, and there's nothing for you in this town."
Gaze flickering away, Olivia sank deeper into her seat. Papa was only doing this because he thought it was best, but how could he really know? Olivia had never cared that they were poor, because they got by. She had never cared that their hometown was small and boring, because she'd always been capable of making her own fun. It broke her heart to think that Papa wanted more for her, when she was perfectly happy with what she already had.
When she didn't reply, Papa cleared his throat and tried again. He had a pitch prepared, it seemed, because he sat forward in his seat and took a deep breath, as if preparing for some speech. "Mr. Duncan lives in Texas, in a small town named Oakwood. He comes from money - some family business that's been going for generations. He could give you what you deserve, Olivia. An exciting, generous life where you don't have to worry about the next meal. He can give you the life I can't. I know... I know it isn't perfect, but it has to be better than this." Papa gestured around the tiny living room.
The ceiling was beginning to peel, great big patches appearing where the paint had worn away. The fireplace was black with age, and wouldn't clean no matter how much Olivia tried to scrub the soot away. Even the furniture was old, most of it second hand or left when Papa bought the house. It hadn't been perfect when he and Mama moved in almost thirty years ago; but now, it was a mess.
Olivia's nose crinkled as she stared up at the ceiling. "I know it's a state, but it's ours, and I love it." That much was true. "What would Mama think, if she knew you were casting out your only daughter?"
From the corner of her eyes, Papa winced. "That's not fair, to bring her into this-"
"What isn't fair is that you want to get rid of me," Olivia snapped. She didn't mean to, honestly, but the words came tumbling from her lips without consent. Her hands gripped the sides of the armchair as she sucked in a deep breath; but there was more she had to say. "Why would I want to go to Texas, to marry a man I've never met, and spend the rest of my life in a place I've never even visited before?" By now, her knuckles were turning white from gripping so hard. "Why do you pretend to know what's best for me?"
Papa went still. He gazed at her through narrowed blue eyes, but the rest of his body remained perfectly statuesque. "You're too young," he said coolly, "to know what you need. You only see the world as it is now, instead of looking to the future. Maybe now, you're happy. But in two years? Five? Ten? When you're still stuck here, in this crumbling house, will you still think it's where you want to be?"
Of course she would, because it was home. It really was that simple. "Do you really think that marrying a rich man will suddenly solve my problems?"
"No, but it will solve a damn big chunk of them."
There was no arguing with Papa when he was like this. He got something in his mind and that was it; he would obsess over it until either something was done about it, or it was proven impossible to do. And given that he had already spoken to this Mr. Duncan, it was very much doable.
Olivia wanted to fight. She wanted to kick and scream and demand that Papa forget all about it; but that was childish, and childishness never got her anywhere. Lips pursed, she asked, "What did Mr. Duncan say when you wrote him?"
"He said that he was very interested in meeting you, and that he will eagerly await your arrival in Texas."
So that was it, then? It was already decided, behind her back, and she was only finding out now? Papa had always been a good man, but this was beyond cruel. By now, Olivia couldn't even muster up the energy to be angry. "You say you know it isn't what I want, so why go along with it?"
"You'll hate me now, but once you're there, I know you'll thank me. He can offer you everything you've ever wanted."
But all I want is to stay here, Olivia thought miserably. What good did it do, though, to fight? Papa had his mind set, and nothing in the world would change his mind. It wasn't Texas that she hated, or Mr. Duncan, or even the fact that she was to marry him. What hurt the most was that Papa had done all of this behind her back. How long had he been hiding this from her, pretending that everything was normal and fine?
"Please go upstairs and pack, Olivia. I can have anything you don't take sent to you once you're settled in Texas."
Anger bubbled up in Olivia's chest. She tried to fight it down, really, but it rose hot and horrible in her chest. "Fine," she snapped, leaping to her feet, "but I hope you know how miserable you've made me. I've lived here my whole life and never had a problem - even when Mama died all those years ago, you were the strong one. Maybe I was wrong about that; you're weak, Papa, if you'd rather send me away than try to make it work."
He parted his lips to reply; but Olivia spun on her heel and stormed off before he could utter a word. She slammed the living room door shut behind her, then stalked up the stairs with as much noise as the muffled carpet allowed.
Her room was at the end of a narrow hall, too far away for Papa to hear her slam that door too. She did it anyway though, feeling it rattle in the frame as she gripped the handle tight enough to hurt. Then, with a muffled scream, she collapsed onto her bed.
What a horrid, cruel thing that Papa was doing to her. She knew they didn't have much money. They never had, but over the last few years it had become progressively worse. Rent went up, and now they struggled just to pay that, never mind the price of food, too. Papa hadn't always worked at the factory, either; but Mama died when Olivia was five, taken far too young by scarlet fever when she was only twenty-six, and Papa gave up his demanding job as a farmhand for something closer to home. The hours were less and the factory was only a twenty minute walk; but the pay was terrible, and he had to juggle that and a small child who had just lost her mother. Nineteen years later, and Papa had never managed to escape that factory.
So fine, she understood why Papa thought it was better for her to leave this town. He assumed that she'd be happier with a husband and wealth and a chance to escape this place, which had sucked the soul out of Papa. But surely, wasn’t it better to fight through it as family than for Olivia to run off?
With a sigh, Olivia rolled onto her back and stared up at the graying ceiling. Deep down, though, she knew she had no choice. Papa had made it very clear that arrangements were already made.
Olivia dumped the last of only two bags onto the back of the wagon. The whole structure shook with the movement, and Olivia didn't have much trust that the old thing would make the journey. The same went for poor Alfred, the horse, because he'd never left town before, never mind gone all the way to Texas with a wagon attached to him.
Papa stood on the front porch, a tight smile spread across his lips. "You'll be fine," he reassured, but more to himself, than Olivia. "You've got the route all mapped out, and I've marked towns where you can stay the night, if you need to. I put some money in your bag, too. It's the last of my savings."
Olivia supposed that she should have been grateful. He was looking out for her, in his own way. Yet all she felt was emptiness as she stared at him from across their little garden. "What will you do without Alfred?"
Papa offered a shrug, his smile wavering. "Oh, I'm sure I'll manage. I can haul in groceries from town myself, you know."
He was trying to be reassuring. It was sweet, really, but Olivia felt a spark of annoyance nonetheless. Even now, he was pretending things were fine. Shifting awkwardly, she let the cloth fall over the wagon's back door, and moved to secure Alfred's reins. Once, they had used the wagon to go traveling; but that had been when Mama was alive and things weren't so dire. This was the first time it had been used in almost two decades, and it showed in the musty smell and dust coating every surface.
"Now you be safe, and write me as soon as you get to Texas." He smiled, but it looked forced. Jarring. "You can tell me all about how lovely Oxcreek is."
Letting out a long, tired sigh, Olivia nodded. "I will."
"Now, does your old man get a hug?"
She didn't want to, not really; yet when she wrapped her arms around Papa's shoulders and pulled him close, she couldn't help but sink into him. All of her anger melted away, and she was left only with the hollow knowledge that this embrace could very well be the last one she ever gave him.
Worse. This might be the last time she ever saw him, and that thought only made her cling tighter.
Olivia had never seen so many new experiences, as she had in the last two weeks since leaving home. It almost helped her to forget the reality of her situation. Sometimes, just for a moment, she forgot why she was traveling at all. Then she thought of Papa, her home in Whiteflats, and it all came rushing back in a flood.
As the days stretched into weeks and she journeyed further and further from everything she knew, it became less like an adventure and more like a nightmare. A dull nightmare where every day was the same, and Olivia was being slowly driven mad by the endless roads and emptiness.
Olivia sat with a map on her knee, scowling as she attempted to figure out her next move. Papa had marked the various roads and landmarks she needed to follow; but that didn't help when she barely knew how to read a map to begin with. Having only ever traveled out of Whiteflats as a child, and having never left Maine ever, she hadn't much needed to care about the skill of map reading.
Still, now she wished that she had the foresight to at least attempt it in the past.
The road stretched out in all directions; behind and in front, with three more prongs each vanishing into different points. So far, most of the journey had been following long, winding country roads with the occasional turn into a town; never had she come across a crossroads before. Now, as she stared at the road and the woodland surrounding it, Olivia was truly lost. It didn't help that she hadn't seen another soul in almost two hours.
With a groan, Olivia slumped back against the uncomfortable wagon seat and wished for a cushion. The inside of the wagon was outfitted with the bare essentials; a bed, a handful of shelves, and a little kitchen area with a portable stove top heated by matches. Considering that the bed itself was barely a wooden cot, it was hardly any more comfortable than this awful wooden bench.
In front of her, Alfred whined. His hooves scratched at the ground and he tossed his mane impatiently.
"Yes, I know. You want to go. I just don't know where to go." She leaned forward to ruffle his mane, taking a moment to enjoy how warm he was under the afternoon sun. She had tried keeping to the shade so neither of them would overheat, and maybe that was where she'd gone wrong. She should have stuck to Papa's designated paths instead of finding her own.
Olivia sat back again, a sigh leaving her lips; only to become still when she saw a lone figure in the distance. As they swam into view, it became clear that it was a young woman with dark, thick curls not unlike Olivia's own. Her face was flushed from the sun and her blue eyes were nervous, as she came to a stop mere inches from Alfred's side. "Excuse me, miss?" she asked in a surprisingly confident voice. "Do you perhaps know where the nearest town is?"
"Sorry, no. I'm trying to figure that out myself."
The woman frowned, then did a slow pivot to look around. "Do you have a map?"
Surprise flitted in Olivia's chest as she nodded. "I do, actually, but I'm no good at reading it."
"If you're willing to let me journey with you a while, I'd happily help. Perhaps together we can figure it out?"
Good enough for her. Olivia scooted over, allowing for more space on the narrow bench, and gestured for the young woman to pull herself up.
She did, settling beside Olivia with a relieved little sigh that suggested she had been traveling on foot for a long while. Then she bent over the map, lips curled into a frown, and hummed softly to herself.
"Do you know where to go?"
Her gaze flickered up. "It looks like we need to go north for a bit, and then there should be another junction with a road that will take us right to the next town."
Gaze flickering down, Olivia followed the route that she suggested. And it wasn't perfect, kind of winding and complicated, but it would take her right back on track to the route Papa had suggested. "Thank you," she said softly, a smile gracing her features, "I really was lost."
"And now you're not," the young woman replied with a grin of her own. "I'm Anna, by the way. I hope it's still all right to come with you?"
"For as long as you need," she agreed, "and I'm Olivia. If you don't mind me asking... why were you on foot? It could be dangerous; a young woman traveling alone with no protection." Although Olivia herself didn't have much, it was better than being on foot with nothing.
Anna winced. Her cheeks flushed pink and she looked away, as if it was embarrassing to explain. "Well," she said softly, "I've been traveling for a long time. I did have a horse, but I was out of money and needed food so... I sold him to a nice farm a few towns ago, in return for room and board for a week."
Oh. Olivia's heart ached for the girl, really, and she couldn't help but frown. "I'm sorry. Where are you going, if you don't mind my asking?" Then, to ease her into the question, Olivia offered, "I'm going to Texas, to meet my future husband."
Anna's eyes lit up at that, and she squirmed in her seat to grab hold of Olivia's shoulder. "Oh, really? That's wonderful, I can't believe it! Congratulations." Her smile fell, then. "I'm afraid my story isn't so happy." She bit down on her lip, casting her gaze into the woods to their left. "My sister went missing, almost six years ago. We lived in Grayrun, and one night outlaws attacked... everyone says that Junie died, but I know she's out there somewhere."
Olivia's stomach turned. This poor woman. She felt a twinge of annoyance that Anna assumed her travel was something to celebrate; but to an outsider, someone trying desperately to find their missing loved one, Olivia saw how it could be seen as a good thing in comparison. At least Olivia knew where her journey ended, and knew that she'd find the person she was seeking.
They fell silent after that. Olivia didn't say a word as she spurred Alfred into action, and she kept her face to the front of the wagon as they continued on. The silence continued to grow between them; thick and tense and horrible. Yet Olivia didn't know what to say. Should she try to comfort Anna? Change the subject? But what could they talk about, when they'd known each other for less than half an hour?
Surprisingly, it was Anna herself who broke the tension first. When she spoke, it was like all of that awkwardness melted away. "What's his name, this husband of yours?"
Olivia allowed herself a smile. Not because she thought fondly of him, but because it was nice to talk to someone after weeks alone. "Charles Duncan," she replied softly. "Apparently he's a very nice Texan gentleman, but I've never actually met him before."
Anna shifted in her seat, curious blue eyes meeting Olivia's apple green ones. "Oh, is that why you're traveling so far? You look like you've been traveling for a long time."
"Almost a month," Olivia confirmed. She felt her heart skitter. "I should be further along than I am now, but I've had to stop off for supplies, and I've gotten lost twice now."
Anna's lips split into a grin; and it was beautiful, the first genuine smile that Olivia had seen yet. "Well, I'm sure it will be worth it when you get there. Texas, you said?"
"Somewhere called Oxcreek?"
Anna only shrugged. "Grayrun is in Texas too, but I'm afraid I'm not good with names. It sounds familiar though." She offered another kind smile, but this one was tinged with sadness, "I haven't been back home in almost two years. Everyone told me not to leave in the first place, but after Junie disappeared, nothing felt right. It just didn't feel like home anymore, so eventually I decided to leave. Even if I don't find her... well, it's better out here than back home, where everyone looked at me like I was crazy."
The road really did seem to stretch on forever; just a thin break in the trees that carried on past the horizon. Olivia let her gaze cross the road and linger on the trees as they continued on. "I lost my mother when I was five," she said after a moment. "I know it isn't the same thing, but I understand what it's like to lose a loved one. I really do hope you find Junie."
Anna hummed quietly, but didn't say any more. They continued like that for hours, sitting in silence that was so much more comfortable than before. Olivia was content to have Anna by her side, occasionally pointing out interesting scenery, but otherwise content to just be.
It was nice to spend time with another person after so long on the roads alone. Olivia had always been social; as a child, she loved spending time with others and always got fidgety when she was alone. As an adult, she was always helping out her neighbors or volunteering at the church. She missed that; missed her hometown and the people in it. Whiteflats was hardly an exciting town, but the people made it that much better.
It wasn't until the sun began to dip under the horizon, casting a hazy pink glow over the treetops, that Olivia began to wind down. They pulled into a little alcove by the tree-line, just a dent in the road that hid them from view. It wasn't the worst or strangest place that Olivia had stopped to sleep over the weeks.
"We're sleeping here tonight?" Anna asked, eyes wide and nervous. "By the road?"
"It isn't as bad as you think. The wagon has a locked door, and Alfred gets noisy if anyone comes past. We'll be fine."
Anna looked unconvinced, but she hopped from the wagon nonetheless and wandered to the back. "Are you sure this is safe?"
"Perfectly. I've been doing it for two weeks, and nothing has happened yet."
Together, they hauled open the creaky wagon door and ducked inside. The wagon was made of bare, unpainted wood; and without light, it was impossibly dark inside. There were no windows, but the fabric roof could be removed from the outside to allow in fresh air. It wasn't designed for long journeys like these, but Olivia had learned to make it work.
"There's only one bed," Anna murmured, seemingly nervous.
Olivia waved a hand, trying to reassure her. "You take the bed. I can sleep in the chair." She gestured to said chair; an uncomfortable wooden thing that was nailed to the floor, so it didn't move around when on the road. It was so uncomfortable that Olivia hadn't used it once; but with an extra pillow and some blankets, it would do her for the night. "I usually get up fairly early though, so I can't guarantee you'll have a whole night's sleep."
It didn't seem to bother Anna, because she only shrugged. "I've been on the road for so long, I don't think I remember what a full night's sleep is like. I've been staying at inns or helping out for room and board, but it isn't the same as your own bed."
That it wasn't. Even now, Olivia missed her bed in the little attic room, right by the window so she could watch the neighbors go about their day. It wasn't much, but it had been home, and it was impossible not to miss that little house at the end of the street.
Smiling, Olivia gestured to the bed. "Get some sleep, Anna, and I'll see you in the morning."
After a beat, Anna lay down against the pillow and kicked off her shoes. Then, "goodnight, Olivia."
It was the first goodnight that she had received since she left home, and perhaps that was why, despite the horrible chair, it was the best night's sleep she'd had since.
Olivia and Anna settled into a kind of routine. After the first few days, it became clear how much better it was to travel with another human being; so they took turns driving the wagon, stopping every evening to find somewhere relatively safe to sleep. It made the days pass so much quicker, made the long, boring roads a little more interesting. Olivia started to see the enjoyment in the travel again, finding joy in the little things.
It was a decent evening, with the sun dipping low over the horizon and a light breeze to cool Olivia's skin. The sky was cloudless, and the first stars were beginning to twinkle overhead. It was beautiful, how different the country was to the busy towns they had passed through in her weeks traveling. The sky was the same, but there was something different about it, too.
"I always love looking at the stars," Anna mused, tilting her head to stare at the sky. "Where I'm from, we have such long days that I barely ever got to see them. Isn't there just something so magical about the way they shine?"
It was about time to consider winding down for the night, but something in Olivia didn't want it to end just yet. The quicker the days ended, the sooner she'd be in Oxcreek... and every time Olivia thought about what the future had in store, she felt this overwhelming need to prolong their journey. She fidgeted in the uncomfortable wagon seat, eyes drifting across the darkening road.
"Is something wrong?"
No, Olivia meant to say. What she actually said was, "maybe."
Anna turned, a hand placed over Olivia's so that she had no choice but slow Alfred to a stop. She didn't speak, not until the wagon came to a rest by the side of the road, but she didn't drop her gaze, either. She regarded Olivia with a knitted brow, worry written across her face. "What's bothering you? I know we've been riding slow the last few days, but I thought we needed a rest?"
Oh. Did Anna really think that she wanted to travel faster? A smile quirked at her lips but she fought it down with a sigh. "It's not that," she said quietly. "It's just... I don't know what to expect, when I get to Texas. It will take months to get there. All of this traveling, and what if I hate it there? It's so far from anything I've ever known, and I've never even met Charles. If I regret it, I won't be able to leave."
Anna's features relaxed. Her hand squeezed Olivia's, gentle and reassuring. "It's a big change. You're scared; I think it would be more concerning if you weren't, honestly."
Maybe she was right. Olivia wanted to be angry; at Charles, at Papa, at this whole horrible situation. Yet she knew, deep down, that anger wouldn't solve anything. She was already on her way there now, and her fiancé was waiting for her. What could she do, except go along with it?
"He's your fiancé, isn't he? You could do worse than a wealthy Texan man." Anna hummed quietly, turning to stare down the long, empty road. "You'll be comfortable, and I'm sure he'll keep you happy. You almost sound like you don't want to marry him."
"I don't." The words slipped from her lips without Olivia even realizing; her cheeks flushed pink and she winced. "I mean - the decision was made for me, and I didn't even know until my father was ready to send me on my way. He thinks he's doing what's best for me, and I appreciate the care, really..."
"But it isn't what you want?"
"No, it isn't."
Anna's smile was kind, if a touch pitying in the way she ducked her gaze. "A lot of people would be thankful to have money and a husband," she replied softly. "Even if it isn't what you want, you'll have an easy life. For some, that's something they can't even dream of."
Olivia winced. Her hands clenched around the reins, knuckles turning white. "Maybe," she agreed softly, "but I'd rather live in a tiny, damp little house with my family than in some huge Texan mansion with a man I hardly know."
"He has a mansion?"
Olivia shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know anything about him, even what he looks like. When I think of him, he's just some blank spot in my mind that I have to fill in myself." All she had was a name, and a vague promise of a family business that earned him wealth. It wasn't much to go on. Forget that, it was nothing to go on.
It was truly dark now. In the minutes since they had stopped, the sky had darkened and the road became a murky, shadowy silhouette of its former self. The trees seemed to loom above them, dark blots against an even darker sky. Sometimes, the woods were comforting. Not these ones, not the way the trees seemed to creak and whine in the breeze.
Beside her, Anna shuddered; as if she too had only just realized the eeriness of their surroundings. "Should we keep going?" she asked, "or stay here for the night?"
The nearest town was hours away, and everything would be closed by now anyway. As much as she hated the thought of staying here, they didn't have much choice. It was either that, or to continue riding in the dark. Olivia knew what she preferred.
"We can sleep here for tonight, and keep going in the morning. We should eat, too."
As if on cue, Anna's stomach let out a low growl. She flushed, visible even in the darkness, and quietly agreed. "All right. How much provisions do you have left? I know you didn't anticipate another passenger."
Their food was meager, coin purses even more so. Yet the company made up for it. "We have plenty," she replied kindly, "enough for another few days at least, and we can stock up when we get to town tomorrow."
"All right." Anna climbed down from the wagon, dusting off her skirt on the way, and offered Alfred a gentle pat on the head as she passed him. She vanished into the back of the wagon first, humming a quiet tune.
Olivia didn't follow right away. She took a moment to comb a knot from Alfred's mane, murmuring a soft apology when she tugged too hard. Was it her imagination, or did he look skinner than she remembered? She'd been feeding him plenty, but he wasn't used to such long days on the road without breaks. Perhaps they needed to take it easy for a few days, give the poor horse a break.
Speaking of horses, was that hooves that she heard in the distance? She swore she heard the thud, thud of hooves on dirt, followed by the distant voices of men. She turned to peer down the road, but it was too dark to see more than a few inches in front of her face. Even so, her heart skittered.
"Anna?" she called into the wagon, "please tell me I'm paranoid, but I think I hear someone coming." Several someone's even.
Anna poked her head through the door, dark hair spilling over her shoulder. "I don't hear anything - wait, I do." Her face pinched in concern. "Quick, get inside. Maybe they'll move on." She reached out to grab Olivia's hand; and before Olivia could stop her, they were both tumbling into the wagon with strained gasps.
Olivia collapsed onto the wooden floor, wincing as her elbow knocked against the wall. She rolled to sit up, risking a quick peek through the partially opened door and tarp.
There were horses; and people. Two men on black horses rode up to their wagon, slowing to a stop at the side of the road just behind the wagon itself. Olivia sucked in a breath; but it seemed that they couldn't see her in the dark. She inched forwards, trying to get a better view, only for her knee to knock into the door and send it skittering open.
The tallest man, dark haired and broad shouldered, snapped to look at her. They locked gazes then; Olivia's dark green and his own beady gray. "Look what we have here," he said in a gravelly voice. "Get out of the wagon, nice and slow."
God, how could she have been so stupid? Olivia froze, staring at him in wide-eyed horror; but that horror only increased when she spotted the second man. He looked identical to the first, twins perhaps; except for the long, ragged scar cutting through his jaw and part of his nose. It stretched too tightly across his skin, pale in the moonlight, tugging at his lip in a way that set his face into a permanent scowl.
"Don't you know it’s rude to stare?" the tall one demanded. "Now get out here before I have John here get his gun on you."
Wordlessly, Olivia slipped from the wagon. Don't look back, she told herself, don't let them know that Anna is just inside. If they could get out of this unscathed, that was all that mattered now.
"Now, a pretty young thing like you must have some valuables. Money, perhaps, or some nice jewels?" He quirked a brow, letting his beady black eyes rove across her. He was checking for jewelry, but his gaze lingered just a touch too long on the slope of Olivia's collarbones.
It made her feel sick. Dirty. Yet she forced herself to keep quiet as his gaze wandered.
"Cody," the scarred man - John - demanded. "Hurry it up, will you? I'm damn tired and this is taking too long."
"You're right." Cody straightened, back cracking as he did so. His horse kicked anxiously at the ground, but he ignored it. "Give us whatever you have. Valuables, food, supplies. Don't try to hide anything for yourself, because we'll know."
Beside him, John drew back his coat to reveal a gun, glimmering in the moonlight. A threat.
"And get that other girl out here too. Oh, you didn't realize I knew?" Cody grinned, revealing rotten and yellowed teeth. "I'm not stupid, I saw her trying to hide in the back."
Olivia paled. With her hands clenched, she slowly turned to haul herself back into the wagon. There she saw Anna, pressed against the back wall clutching a black frying pan, still dirty from last night. "I'm not going out there," she hissed, head snapping to the door. "They can't make me."
Olivia's heart stuttered, because she knew that simply wasn't true. "If we cooperate, they'll let us go," she whispered. "Now help me gather the food and we'll take it out with us."
"Then what?" Anna snapped, her eyes wide with fear. She was trembling so terribly that she could hardly use the pan - she was hardly fit to use it as a weapon. "Without food or money, what will we do? I need to find Junie, I have to, and if we can just make it to the next town I know we'll be all right-"
"Anna," Olivia cut in, feeling her pulse quicken, "we can worry about that later, but right now we need to survive." Carefully, she pried the pan from Anna's fingers. "Now grab some of those cans and come with me."
"I don't have all night you know," Cody's voice called from outside. It was gravelly, like an old man who'd smoked for decades, but he couldn't have been older than Olivia herself. When he cleared his throat, it sounded like sandpaper scraping across walls.
Then they stepped out of the wagon together, Olivia and Anna, holding an armful of tinned food each.
Cody's smile turned leering as he reached for a sack inside the saddle pouch at his side. "Good, now drop the tins into the sack here, and stand nice for me by the wagon."
With no other choice, they did as they were told.
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