In case you were wondering what “Somewhere Between Love and Justice” is all about, you can get a good look at gunslinger Sarah Walker right here in chapter one. A little girl who’s lost everything, grows into a woman with nothing to lose and hell bent on revenge. She’s got a plan, but soon finds you can’t plan everything.
This is an old west tale of love and revenge and deciding which is more important.
Somewhere Outside Red Lodge, Montana
Kicking and screaming, I struggle to see through my tears as my fingernails dig deep into the dirt. I claw at the ground and pray for anything to hold onto. Angry hands grab at my feet, filling me with terror. I frantically kick to stay free, but their relentless pursuit seeks to prevent my escape. My heart pounds like the thunder of a hundred hooves. The tightening of my chest makes air impossible to find. Sweat and dirt cover me, crawling as fast as my small limbs will take me toward what I hope will be safety under the old house.
All my efforts are in vain. A claw-like grip takes a hold of my ankle and gives me a swift yank backwards. My dress slides up, my belly scraping along the rocks as I scream and flail, desperate for escape.
Won’t someone, anyone help me?
The mid-day sun blinds me when I’m dragged back into the light. I scramble to my feet with the desperate need to run. A fast, hard slap to the face stings as I fall to the ground stunned. My head spins and my vision blurs from more than tears. My body is lifted upward by the arms of a faceless captor. Splatters of my own blood glistening on the orange dirt is the last thing I see before I pass out.
My eyes snapped open wide, darting wildly into the starry night for any sign of danger. Sweat soaked from the struggle and still on edge, every muscle I had stood at the ready. A huff of hot air down my neck stopped my breath. With a shaky hand, I made a slow path for my gun. I was prepared for a fight, but a gentle nudge from behind brought me back to reality. Relief slipped through my lips in a deep, slow exhale. I slid my hand behind my neck and stroked the soft hair of my one true friend and constant companion over the last five years, Clover.
I dropped my head back and sighed. It was only a dream, again. Well, not just a dream, a nightmare. A memory of the worst day of my life that I relived over and over again in my sleep.
I was helpless back then. Even though I was only thirteen, I still harbored a deep seeded rage at my own weakness. Something I vowed never to be again.
“Thanks girl.” My voice flowed thick and raspy from sleep.
Clover was more than a horse. Like a good friend she woke me from my distress. Sleepless nights were becoming more and more frequent. She served as my protector from a subconscious insistent upon reminding me of a fateful day ten years ago I couldn’t change. For the third time tonight, her soft nose brushed my cheek and softened my stressed muscles.
I moved my head to kiss the gentle creature, showing my appreciation for her concern. Often I wondered how my friend got any rest of her own. She probably loved the few nights a year I sought comfort with my own kind.
As of late, the dreams had become more vivid. Some nights the same nightmare repeated until I abandoned the effort of sleep all together, but as I lay quiet, my body calmed. The cold air surrounded me and the sweat dissipated. With a blind hand, I reached for the warm covers lost during the night and pulled them back up.
I propped my head on the edge of my saddle and stared out to the horizon at the few remaining stars. The solitude of night was short lived when an inkling of light broke through the darkness and began the countdown to sunrise. For a brief speck of time I let myself imagine that Clover and I were the only ones in the world.
Like so many other nights, I found little peace behind closed lids, but I kept trying. Never one to give up, I shut my tired eyes and attempted yet again find any semblance of rest before another long day.
The sun’s early light warmed my exposed skin, gently nudging me like mama’s touch waking me from slumber. For a moment I forgot she was gone. I imagined her sitting on the edge of my bed smiling down at me. “Sarah, time to get up,” she would say. And so I did.
Stiff limbs greeted me as I slowly rose to my feet and stretched. My mind drifted back to mama and what she’d think of me these days. Her words often hung in the back of my mind, guiding my actions. She only fell silent when I exacted my revenge, though she never scolded me either. Since she never complained, I assumed she didn’t hate me for succumbing to the demon within. Mama never would have guessed her outgoing, peaceful, innocent little girl would sink so low as to take another life, much less find satisfaction in the deed.
I sighed and gave Clover a pat on her butt. My mind and body were more refreshed than they had been in a long time after managing a bit of sleep. The shut eye was refreshing, even if it was only an hour or so. I’d skimmed books over the course of my travels that made note of sleep deprivation causing everything from foul mood to decreased reaction time, even mental instability.
A ridiculous laugh escaped. The foreign sound flowing from within floated into the emptiness of the valley. As if I could be any more unstable. I spent my days running around the country in an effort to hunt down the vile creatures responsible for murdering my family and making me their slave. The pursuit of revenge alone would drive a person insane, yet I found the idea oddly comforting. Insanity would suggest I lacked control of these feelings and actions, but that would be a lie. In fact, I possessed no real feelings about any of my deeds, but control belonged entirely to me. I chose when and where to collect the debt owed me from years ago. Black and white. Right and wrong. Cause and effect.
I was simply carrying out the effect of what they had caused. Nothing crazy about that in my eyes. I laughed again and shook my head. My attempts to analyze myself always provided a chuckle.
Mama always said I was my father’s daughter. As a doctor, he investigated everything. He believed in a logical, scientific solution for any problems. I believed the same, even for payback.
Thin rays of sunrise glistened on the river bringing me a rare sense of serenity. The clean, brisk morning air refreshed me in those precious few moments of each day when everything began anew. Well, everything except my body, which hurt from repeated nights on the hard ground and so many hours in the saddle. This had been our longest stretch yet, two straight weeks out on the trail and I felt every minute of it.
The river called to me. I slipped out of my clothes and padded over patches of soft grass and sharp rocks to its edge, begging the bitter, cold water to numb my aching bones. The icy sting stimulated every single nerve ending in my worn body as I submerged myself neck deep. Wonderful weightlessness soothed me. Within minutes my soreness had eased as the water renewed me from the outside in; flesh, bones and soul.
My face shimmered in the crystal clear mirror. When did I last pay attention to my reflection? Months probably. My flaxen hair had grown long and unruly and my amber eyes weary. Small wrinkles perched at the corner of my eyes and mouth. The once fine features of my face appeared hardened. All signs this quest of mine had taken its toll at the age of twenty three. I needed to take better care of myself, but that could wait.
It was only a matter of time until this would all be over. In the meantime, the river made me happy, so I made a promise to myself to travel near the tranquility more often in some small effort to get an ounce of joy out of this otherwise stagnant life.
The time for pleasure was brief. We still had a good many miles to go and if we were going to get there by nightfall, we needed to get moving. On my way back to camp, I smiled at the intense watchfulness of Clover’s big, soft, brown eyes. Her red hair with white blaze and socks glowed as the sun rose higher. Such a majestic creature. I was always amazed at how powerful she was, yet gentle as a mother with her newborn baby.
Wasn’t that the age old question for most forms of life though? Would you use your power for good or evil? It didn’t matter if it were a man, a horse or any other animal with the ability to think. The ability to choose made all the difference. The distinguishing factor in each of us came down to our choices.
Sometimes though, was it possible one really didn’t have a choice, but rather a commitment? Like in the case of justice or vengeance? An eye for an eye? At least that’s how I came about my “choice” when everything I ever loved was taken from me at a young age. My stolen innocence left behind an inner rage that evolved into a life of its own. The monstrous wrath laid trapped beneath a calm collected exterior, waiting for the next possible moment to escape its cage.
I ran my hand down Clover’s neck in a show of affection for keeping me safe. She was the one life on this earth with the ability to bring me peace. Wait, I lied. There was another, but she occupied a mere memory in the corner of my mind, helping me through long days of an otherwise miserable existence. Our brief encounter, two to be honest, teased me with a glimpse of a normal life.
Normal for people who weren’t me. There was no time for such farfetched fantasies. I needed to keep on track.
Yesterday’s shirt served to dry my damp skin. One last set of clean clothes had been saved for the day we headed to town. I was no hobo. My parents taught me to take pride in my appearance.
I combed out my hair then slipped into tan corduroys, a white long sleeved button down and saddle brown vest. My boots had seen better days. New ones topped my list of things to get at the next stop. Boots were a cowgirl’s best friend, well, besides her horse. I tucked my pant legs into my boots to protect them from the brush. The final touch was my favorite; my perfectly worn brown Stetson. The old hat kept me safe, providing shelter from the elements and from the eyes of strangers.
Dressed and ready to ride, I proceeded on to the daily ritual of checking my side arms. Each bullet of my Colt single action would be painstakingly removed and replaced, spinning the chamber to make sure everything operated like clockwork. Like every morning since the day I’d gotten the revolver, I wiped down the steel and polished the pearl handle before placing them back in the holster. The key to precision wasn’t just practice, but maintaining the perfect working order of one’s tool. That’s what Henry had taught me.
I packed up my gear, grabbed my Winchester rifle and saddled Clover. Today we would continue to the north-west to meet an old friend. Last we parted, Jessie and I made a pact to get together in a little town in Montana called Red Lodge around the third day of August. If things went well, we’d arrive tonight. Our stop couldn’t come at a better time. Clover and I both needed a break and I was pretty sure she wanted to get rid of me for a day or so anyway.
“Ain’t that right girl? You need your own space once in a while, huh?”
She threw her head up and whinnied, making me smile. I imagined her mumbling something about owing her a decent meal and a straw bed, maybe even a gelding to flirt with for all her sleepless nights. She could be such a prima donna sometimes.
No offense to my dear four-legged friend, but I found myself eager to interact with another human. I usually preferred the company of animals, but it had been a while. Plus, I hoped Jessie had all the goods on the O’Shea gang. So far, I’d only punished the men no longer involved with the gang, but all responsible for the heinous act would eventually suffer. Soon, very soon, the old man’s time would come as well. Patrick Daniel O’Shea would pay in full for his sins against my family.
Ten grueling hours later, we arrived in Red Lodge. First things first, Clover needed a place to stay. As we rode through town I kept an eye out for the saloon, making a note of its location. I’d be heading over once I met Clover’s list of demands. A shot of whiskey sounded so damn good right now. I could almost feel the burn.
An old gentleman at the barber shop gave me a stall. I went right to work unsaddling, grooming and setting Clover up with a hearty helping of oats. She nudged me and voiced her thanks with a snort and a soft grunt as she packed her mouth full.
I returned my gratitude with a kiss on her muzzle. I loved to see my friend happy. In the back of my mind I hoped this would be over soon so she could relax in a pasture. I never truly thought of what my life would be like when all those bastards got their due, but I often dreamt of a better life for my best friend.
“Now, don’t start any fights among the boys tonight.” I chuckled and stroked her muscular neck before I turned with determination and marched toward my own reward.
I pushed through the swinging door of the old saloon. There was a good crowd inside laughing and carrying on the way a bunch of drunks usually would. At the front of the room stood a tall woman with flowing brown hair that matched her sorrel horse and cascaded down to her waist. A black Stetson set atop her head with matching boots, tight brown trousers and a black holster set on her slender hips that made her a sight to behold. There was no mistaking Jessie in a room full of dusty cowboys and gussied up barmaids. Her appearance damn sure didn’t blend in with the crowd, but her brash attitude fit to perfection. She was early and I was happier than I thought I’d be to see her.
The odor of stale beer and the tinkling of piano keys were pure joy to one’s senses after being alone for two weeks. The short distance between me and the whiskey seemed like miles. For days I’d dreamt of a sip. The drought was about to be over.
A deep laugh roared out from behind and a forceful hand grabbed my ass. I stopped on a dime and wheeled around sporting an amused grin. Someone seemed to think they had permission to touch me. Well…someone did not.
The tall, thick, balding man was all toothless smiles and damn proud of himself. “Hey darlin’. You’re a pretty one. How ’bout you have a drink with me?”
I leaned in close and spoke low, trying to avoid trouble. “I’m sorry, but I’m meetin’ a friend,” I answered politely and turned toward the bar. I mean, I just got here for crying out loud. All I wanted was a shot and a warm bath. Well, maybe a little something extra if things went well.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me back around. This time he stood up, towering over me, not looking quite as pleased as he did a second ago.
Did he miss the guns on my hip? He should have picked a different woman to force himself on. On second thought, he shouldn’t force himself on anyone. The slightest inkling of anger rose to the surface, but I choked the rage down and kept an even keel.
“I don’t think you heard me darlin’. I want you to have a drink with me,” he growled and squeezed tighter. A few patrons took notice of the disturbance.
“And I said, I’m here to meet someone.” Keeping my voice low and calm was a struggle. My eyes narrowed in warning and my body tensed, prepared to deliver a beating if needed. “So I’ll ask you one time to please remove your hand.”
His grin broadened, but his hand stayed put.
I tried the polite approach. Polite didn’t seem to be working. I hated when someone tested my limits. You’d think a woman carrying two six shooters fitting the description of the elusive “Doctor” could enjoy a drink in peace, but the identity only seemed to create a bigger challenge, especially with men threatened by my abilities. Either that or he was just a dumb ass. Looking him over, I was gonna opt for the later.
“Oh yeah? If I don’t, what’re ya gonna do?”
His condescending tone rubbed me the wrong way. He held such confidence that this little woman wouldn’t be doing any damage. Idiot. “Well, I won’t be having a drink with you. But…” The words flowed without distress. A flurry of anger begged to be released.
His grip tightened even more.
In one swift motion I reached across and peeled away the little finger of the unwanted hand anchored to my bicep. I flexed his wrist and twisted the tree trunk of an arm behind his back. On the verge of snapping the bones in two, I pushed him face first to the table. “I tell ya what.” Gone was any hint of nicety in my tone as I growled through gritted teeth. “How ‘bout a free drink, courtesy of the Doctor and you leave me alone for the rest of my stay, okay friend? Or I snap off this hand you seem so intent on touchin’ me with.”
Holding back cries of pain, he wasted no time nodding in agreement. I released him and motioned to the bartender to get the man another beer. He apologized under his breath while he rubbed his injured arm.
The place fell silent as everyone sat slack jawed and wide eyed. Any other challengers? I searched the room. My glare met with fearful eyes and carefully avoided glances until I settled on Jessie.
She never blinked as she leaned back against the old cherry wood bar, both elbows propped up and legs crossed with her usual smug “don’t mess with me” grin across her face. With two shots waiting atop the bar, she threw a casual wave to the stool beside her.
I headed toward my long awaited drink again, this time with ruthless determination. The next person to come between me and my shot of whiskey…let’s just say bad things would happen. I was hungry, tired and my patience had reached its end.
She didn’t move as I made my approach. Her focus locked on the patrons for any other signs of trouble. “Well Doc, you sure know how to make an entrance.”
“Mhm,” I mumbled, not bothering to hide my eagerness as I slammed down the first shot. I closed my eyes and took a moment to savor the smooth, oaky taste. The long awaited burn hurt so good blazing a trail to my stomach before my eyes fluttered open.
Jessie spun around and signaled for another round.
With my best poker face on display I reminded her, “Don’t. You know I hate that nickname. It’s ridiculous.” Someone gave me the moniker early on in my quest for vengeance as stories of my exploits spread like wild fire. She knew I hated the name. We did this every time. If I didn’t find the game so amusing I’d call it frustrating.
Jessie never got tired of playing though. The woman loved getting a rise out of me. She snickered as she continued to peruse the crowd, who’d gone back about their business. Content no further disturbances would be occurring, Jessie turned her attention to me. “Very well Sarah, what’s with all the commotion?” Her sparkling blue-gray eyes focused on me with more interest than a close friend.
The second shot followed the first in a matter of seconds. I threw a half smile her way. “He said these britches didn’t flatter my backside. I didn’t appreciate it. They’re my favorite.”
Jessie pondered for a moment before she leaned over and took a good look at my ass. Never one to worry what others thought, she ignored the confused mutterings from those around us. She tilted her head up at me with a wide grin puffing the cheeks of her round, sun kissed face. “Well, surely he’s an idiot. There’s not a finer backside in seven states. Some people just don’t know how to talk to a lady.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed at her ridiculousness. “My, aren’t we the sweet talker. Flattery may just get you everywhere.” My gaze drifted down the length of her body. She was attractive, but the imposing demeanor scared many people off. They’d never believe she was a caring and compassionate woman after she steeled those eyes at you.
Fortunately for me, Marshal Walker and I struck up a friendship many years ago when I first started seeking my vengeance and ended up on the most wanted list. I was one of the few people she couldn’t stare down and after I saved her hide one day, she realized I wasn’t one of the bad guys.
I winked, returning her blatant flirtation. All I needed tonight was a hot meal and all the new information she gathered on the O’Shea gang, but looking at her right now, a different kind of need burned deep inside. One involving her naked body on mine.
She recognized the spark in my eyes and flashed a knowing grin as she held up a key.
I couldn’t help but return a flirtatious smile myself. Our times together always served as a welcomed release. Who needed food anyway? I ordered a bottle of whiskey and followed her up the stairs.
If you’d like to find out how Sarah’s journey of twists and turns ends, the book is available HERE.
Wishing you all a wonderful day,