Look! A chapter! Hope everyone has a great weekend :)
Thank you GeezerWench for pre-reading and creative consulting!
October 25, 1866
By the time Jasper came to, he was already inside of the Marshall's covered wagon on the way to Idaho City. His wrists and ankles were bound together with rope. There was a little fella sitting across from him, dressed all in black. He was tied up, too. Jasper felt bad for the lad. He looked young, not even old enough to grow whiskers, and he was pale with fright.
Jasper groaned as he sat up, still dizzy from passing out. The gentle sway of the wagon didn't help ease the bile building in his stomach. He felt sick, and the only thing that would cure him was getting back to Bella and beating the ever-loving shit out of Edward Cullen.
The young prisoner looked as sick as Jasper felt. He was rocking back and forth, and when they locked eyes, he began to chant, his voice barely a whisper. "He's gonna kill me . . . he's gonna kill me."
"Who's gonna kill ya'?" Jasper asked.
"James—James is gonna kill me."
Jasper groaned and leaned his head back against the wagon's side. "Who? The Marshall?"
"Maybe . . . maybe he'll hang me before James finds me." The little fella's eyes lit up with hope for a moment as he poked Jasper with the toe of his boot. "You have to help me escape."
Back at the doctor's house, the women had finished cooking breakfast.
Edward sat at his desk and pretended to read while he secretly watched Bella to see if she showed any signs of distress. She didn't. In fact, she seemed happier than Edward had ever seen her. Maybe he had judged Jasper too harshly. It was possible that the only thing Jasper was guilty of was breaking and entering into his house; something Edward despised, but a forgivable offence all the same.
After everyone had eaten, Edward watched as Bella carried her sheets down the stairs and washed them, which he found strange, because she had only used them a couple of nights. It made Edward suspect that something had transpired between Jasper and Bella, and she was attempting to clean away the evidence. He would never know for sure because he would never ask such a personal question. No matter what had happened, it was becoming crystal clear to Edward that Bella wasn't upset by it.
That realization should have calmed Edward's worries, but instead it only disturbed him more. Could he have been wrong about Bella all along? He had thought that she was an innocent young woman in need of his protection. Was it possible that she had fooled him? Was she actually a common floozy with no morals or sense of self-preservation?
Bella caught Edward staring at her and she hung her head and averted her eyes. She wasn't sure why, but Edward looked angry. She hoped that Jasper would come back soon, and wondered what was taking him so long.
Peter had tried to eat a hearty breakfast, but to his dismay, his appetite hadn't returned to normal. He was also preoccupied with the way the doctor's new patient kept watching the women. That was only one of the reasons that Peter didn't like the man, whose name was James. James had taken laudanum for his pain and then polished off three plates of food, all the while leering at Bella and Charlotte, leaving Peter feeling nervous and unsettled.
After the washing was hung out to dry, Bella pulled a cane-backed chair over to the front window and sat down to darn some socks.
Charlotte noticed the way Bella stared hopefully out the window, looking cold and forlorn. Charlotte dug Jasper's jacket out of their pile of belongings, took it over to her friend, and wrapped it around her shoulders. "A watched pot never boils, you know."
Bella smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. Jasper was taking much longer to arrive than she had imagined.
Charlotte gave Bella a reassuring squeeze. "He'll be here soon enough. Maybe he went to buy you a wedding dress."
Edward overhearing the women's conversation scoffed, "Maybe he's not coming back."
Peter narrowed his eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Edward frowned and Bella's brow creased with worry. "Some men aren't as honorable as others, and these types of unsavory ruffians view marriage as a burden instead of a blessing. A man can find plenty of distractions up on Main Street . . . drinking, gambling, a new conquest every night. . ."
Bella looked like she was holding back tears, so Charlotte ushered her up the stairs, away from the doctor's hurtful words.
Peter jumped to his feet. "Bull shit! Don't say another word against my brother until he gets back, and then make damn sure yer man enough to say it to his face. You might want to step outside and practice gettin' up off the ground before he gets here because he'll be after you when he finds out you made his beloved cry."
Upstairs in Bella's room, Charlotte consoled her worried friend. "Don't listen to that fool doctor, honey. Jasper can't wait to marry you. He'll be here any minute." Charlotte picked up Bella's hair brush and began to fix Bella's hair up nice for her wedding. "It's plain to see the doctor is green with envy. He's hoping Jasper doesn't come back, so he can scoop you up for himself. He's been starin' a hole through you all mornin'."
Bella couldn't hold her secrets inside any longer. In hushed tones she told Charlotte everything that had happened between her and Jasper the night before.
Downstairs, all the men were on edge, and time ticked slowly on. The small make-shift hospital room was full of tension. The only sounds that could be heard were the low crackle and pop of the embers in the fireplace and the nervous tapping of James' fingers upon the table. His eyes were trained on the front door, as if he were expecting someone.
Finally, breaking the tense silence, there was a loud, rapping knock at the door. Bella wanted to rush down and see if Jasper had come for her, but Charlotte held her in place. Bella's hair was only half finished.
Suspecting it might be another patient; Edward answered the door and was surprised to find a tall, black cowboy standing on his porch, smoking a cigarette.
"I've come for James," the stranger said. Thick, grey smoke leaked from his mouth as he spoke. He looked like a dangerous man.
Edward didn't want to invite him in, but he did begrudgingly. "You'll have to put that out before you come inside. There is no smoking allowed in my hospital," Edward explained.
The cowboy ground out his cigarette on Edward's porch, tipped his hat, and then strolled past Edward. The sound of his spurs jingled with every step. "Que s'est-il passé, boss?"
James sat up on his cot and rolled his eyes. "What took you so long?"
"I had to get some horses."
As James stood up, he winced a little from the pain in his shoulder. "Doc, I'll just take my gun belt and be on my way."
Edward didn't have James' weapons, but he remembered that Emmett had held a gun belt when they had talked earlier. "I believe the Marshall must have kept it. You may have to wait until tomorrow to reclaim it. He was on his way to Idaho City when he left here."
James found the doctor's words to be amusing. He had inadvertently given him the upper hand in tracking down the Marshall. "I was headed that way anyhow. I'll just need to borrow your guns for the trip."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Laurent, help the good Doctor find his guns."
James' accomplice, Laurent, pulled both six shooters from his hips, spun them around on his fingers, cocked back both hammers, and aimed one gun on Edward and the other on Peter. "Where d'ya keep the guns?"
No one said anything, and no one moved. Upstairs, the women realized that the men were in trouble. Not knowing what to do they froze in fear and waited.
Somewhere along the trail to Idaho City, Jasper was having a horrible time. He was stuck in the back of the Marshall's wagon with the tiny drunkard, who was jawing about how he was going to die. Jasper tried to tune him out, but it was nigh impossible. He had said his name was Brandon, and that he had shot James because James was trying to kill him.
Supposedly, James was a wanted man. According to Brandon, James was wanted for murder on more than one count, including at least one lawman. One of the people he had killed was Brandon's uncle, and Brandon was the last surviving witness that could stand against him.
At first, Jasper just thought the little fella was crazy, but after a while, he started to believe his story. Jasper was usually a good judge of character, and the tales that Brandon told were much too detailed to be the makings of a drunken liar.
Jasper's blood ran cold at the thought of Bella and his family at the mercy of a killer. As far as Jasper knew, James had been at the doctor's house earlier that morning, and he had no way to know if they still might be in danger.
"Hey. Stop cryin' so we can figure a way out of here," Jasper hissed.
Marshall McCarty couldn't help but overhear every word Brandon was saying because he was wailing like a banshee. When Brandon had mentioned that James had a reward on his head for killing a lawman, it jogged Emmett's memory. He had seen a notice posted the last time he had been to Idaho City about an outlaw by the name of James Witherdale. There hadn't been a sketch on the poster, so Emmett had no way of knowing what the outlaw looked like.
If Brandon was telling the truth, then Emmett had arrested the wrong man. The Marshall stopped the wagon and went around the back to question his prisoners.
Brandon was a blubbering mess. His hat had fallen off and his short, inky-black hair was standing up every which way. His little pixie-like nose was covered in snot. "You . . . you have to believe me," he stuttered as he blinked the tears from his red, swollen eyes.
"If what he's saying is true, you have to turn back," Jasper pleaded. "My fiancée and family could be in danger. At least go back and check on them. I didn't want to say it in front of the doctor, but it was my fiancée who invited me in last night. You can ask her when we get back and then release me."
A slow smile spread across Emmett's lips. "So that's what you were up to? Ya' bunked down with a light-skirted woman under the doctor's roof, did ya'?"
Jasper fought to free himself from his restraints. "That right there is why I didn't say anythin'! My fiancée is a fine lady and we'd be married right now if it weren't for you and that damn doctor. He's got designs on my woman, and that's why he had me arrested."
Emmett tilted back his hat and laughed. "Calm down, mister. I was only foolin', and just so you know, I'm pretty sure the doctor is a Nancy boy, if you know what I mean. The young widder Denali has been after Edward all summer, and he don't pay her no never mind."
Jasper was practically vibrating with anger, but it didn't faze the Marshall. His favorite form of entertainment, besides frequenting the brothel, was riling up his prisoners. "All right, ya'll have talked me into goin' back. I have to lay eyes on the woman who finally turned Edward's head. She must be somethin'. If'n I fancy her, I'll just keep you locked up, and I'll marry her myself."
Jasper nearly lunged out of the wagon, trying to break loose. Emmett just laughed, and rolled him over on his back. "All right, settle down. I'm goin' back to arrest James. I sure could use the reward money, and if your little filly confirms your story, I'll let you go free. I'd hate to ruin her weddin' day."
Brandon sucked in a lungful of snot and spat it out, clearing his throat. "James is comin' for me. He'll kill us all."
Emmett suspected that Brandon was a little paranoid and didn't give his warning any credence, until a short while later; he heard the sound of riders approaching from the South.
The thundering hoof beats were soon accompanied by the sound of shots being fired.
It was clear that whoever was approaching the wagon was aiming to kill them. The bullets began whizzing past Emmett, and the horses that pulled the wagon had gone wild with fear. One of them had been shot, and she started to buck against the wagon, trying to break free.
Emmett ducked inside the wagon and hurriedly cut the ropes from his prisoners' wrists and ankles, then gave them back their confiscated gun belts. He hoped that they'd help him take down the blood thirsty outlaws that were trying to kill them.
Emmett cut a slit in the side of the fabric of the wagon and started taking shots at the two men on horse back. With the first shot he took, he hit one of their horses and the rider was thrown to the ground.
Jasper, who was a very accurate marksman, shot the other rider directly in the chest, and he fell limply to one side. His horse carried him a few steps before he dropped over dead and fell off.
The uninjured outlaw jumped up and took cover behind a boulder. He began to take shots at the wagon.
A shrieking cry alerted the men. One of the bullets had hit Brandon in the thigh.
Emmett and Jasper realized that they were going to be next. The wagon provided good cover, but it wasn't going to stop a bullet. They were essentially sitting ducks.
Brandon keeled over, bleeding and shaking, and began to cry. "Leave me here. I'm gonna die anyway, so you all just go!"
The men felt bad for Brandon but they had to think fast to save their hides.
Emmett and Jasper opened fire in the outlaw's direction as they ran from the wagon and hid behind a group of trees.
The men took turns firing shots back and forth, until the outlaw suddenly stopped shooting.
"Maybe he ran out of ammunition," Emmett surmised.
"That could just be what he wants us to think." Jasper had fought in many a battle, and he knew better than to jump to conclusions about whether or not the enemy had a loaded weapon.
"I hate standoffs," Emmett grumbled.
James hated standoffs as well. He had only a few bullets left in his gun, and he had to make them count. If he was going down, he was taking someone with him.
His plan was to draw the Marshall and his helper out. He hated lawmen, but enjoyed toying with them. They were so predictable. He'd wait them out and track them down once he stole some more ammunition. Then he would have the advantage.