Story Excerpt
My Outlaw

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Texas, 1880

“Are you traveling far, sir?”

Daniel Branson glanced across the dusty stagecoach to the young woman sitting across from him. He smiled at her and shook his head. “No, ma’am, I’ll be getting off the stage at Brownsville.”

“You have family in Brownsville?” she asked.

Daniel nodded. “You could say that, ma’am.”

The woman glanced at the older gentleman that seemed to be sleeping beside her. Daniel didn’t understand how anyone could sleep through the rough road the stage coach traveled over. It was filled with ruts and potholes. His ass felt like it had been dragged through a pile of cactus brush.

“Do you know any outlaws?” she whispered as she glanced over at Daniel again.

Daniel chuckled. “I haven’t met any personally but I hear that Black Bart and his gang hole up out this way.”

“Black Bart?” the woman gasped, her eyes widening. “Is he an outlaw?”

“One of the worst, ma’am,” Daniel replied. He leaned forward a little. “Why, I hear he’d just as soon shoot you as look at you.”

“And he’s in Brownsville?” the woman asked, a hand covering her mouth in shock.

Daniel shrugged, sitting back in the seat. “I can’t rightly say, ma’am, but I’ve heard a lot of tales about Black Bart since I entered the territory.”

Daniel glanced out the small side window as the woman’s face paled. He could tell from her manners and dress that she had never set foot west of the Mississippi River. He’d wager she was from way back east, maybe even as far as Boston.

He wished the best for her. The west could be an unforgiving place for people not prepared for the rough, harsh realities of life in the uncivilized country. Many didn’t make it through their first winter before high tailing it back east to civilization.

“You don’t think he’s around here now, do you?”

Daniel turned his attention back to the young woman. He felt a little bad that he had worried her but not enough to take back what he had said about Black Bart. Most of the people he had met on his travels west had no business being out here. He wished that they would just all turn around and go back home.

The west was no longer paved in dreams from the 1849 gold rush. It was paved by the blood and sweat of cowboys and ranchers and settlers strong enough to fight tooth and nail for every inch of land that they could dig out of the cold, hard earth.

“No, ma’am, I’m sure he’s moved on to some other area.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Brownsville isn’t a big place. It’s mostly ranchers, some townspeople, and a few outlying farms. I don’t imagine that there is a lot to keep any outlaw in the area for too long a spell.”

The woman seemed to regard Daniel for so long he began to get uncomfortable. He tried not to fidget, clasping his hands together in his lap to keep from pulling at the collar of his white woolen shirt or the blue bandana tied around his neck.

“If there’s not much in Brownsville, why do you stay there?” the woman finally asked. Daniel could see the curiosity covering her pert little face. Underlying that was a spark of interest Daniel would just rather ignore.

“I live just outside of Brownsville, ma’am,” Daniel replied. “I was point rider on a herd of cattle we drove up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene. My horse stepped in a prairie dog hole just outside of town and I had to put him out. I injured my ankle when my horse went down. Cattle boss told me to catch the stage back to the ranch.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the woman said quietly. Daniel could see the sympathy in her face, hear it in her voice. Even a woman from back east knew the heartache a cowboy felt when they lost a horse, especially a cattle cutting horse. It took years to train a horse to work cattle the way Stickler had for Daniel. He’d missed that damn peg pony.

When the young woman glanced at the man beside her again then smiled over at him, Daniel’s stomach fell through his feet. He had seen that particular look on enough female faces to know that the flirting was about to begin.

Before he could dissuade her, a loud gunshot sounded outside and the stagecoach jerked to a stop. Daniel leaned out of the side window to see what was going on. His heart pounded frantically in his chest when he spotted the five masked men surrounding the stagecoach, their guns drawn.

“What is it?”

Daniel turned to see the young woman he had been conversing with nearly shaking with fright. The older man next to her still slept. Daniel held his fingers to his lips. “Ssshhh.”  He glanced back out the window to watch what happened.

Daniel grimaced as the shotgun rider tossed his rifle down to the ground and climbed down from his seat, the stagecoach driver following behind him. They both immediately held their hands up in the air and moved off to one side of the stagecoach. This was not good.