Yes, I’m still playing with graphics. 😀 This is Mitch and Heather. Since none of my characters seem to be wanting interviews, I figured I’d go ahead and post a story excerpt. I also wanted to include the bit about Boaz since Boaz will end up with one of Dave and Mary’s daughters.
Also, John who is the creepy guy in the scene is the same John who wanted to marry Patty in The Keeping of Greg Wilson. When I rewrite The Keeping of Greg Wilson, which I’ll title Not The Marrying Kind, I will bring John back. So we’ll be seeing more of him. I’m not sure about Abe, who is Heather’s brother. He might or might not show up in another book, but he does play a role in Mitch’s Win.
I’d like to have Mitch’s Win out around the summer (July), but my latest date for publishing it will be in September. It’s hard to know what the year will bring.
Here’s the story. Please note, this is a first draft. I have done no proofreading at all.
Mitch Grady grumbled as he pulled his horse to a halt in front of the saloon where the other man stopped. This was the last place he should be, but once again, he found himself here. Shaking his head, he slid off his horse and tied the reins to the post. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his dark brown hair. This was the last time he was coming here. He’d had enough of this. He might be the older brother, but he couldn’t keep after his little brother like he was a child.
When they were growing up, it was bearable. But now that he was twenty-five and his brother was twenty, it was time to let Boaz face the consequences for his decisions. And starting tomorrow, that’s just what would happen. He couldn’t keep running around to lodge Boaz out of his latest jam, even if it’d break his mother’s heart.
Mitch turned to Boaz’s friend who remained on the horse. “I won’t be coming here again. You be sure to make that clear to Boaz. So if he ends up in trouble, you’ll be bailing him out, and I don’t care if you’re broke.”
Without waiting for him to answer, Mitch entered the saloon. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the smoke filling the large room where men drank, played poker and did other things he’d rather not think about. He scanned the crowd for his brother and finally found him at a poker table with two other men and a young woman.
Shocked, his gaze went right back to the young woman who couldn’t be older than nineteen. She wasn’t a prostitute. He could tell that by the scared look on her face. She wore a brown cloak that covered her entire body, except for her hood which had been pulled off her head.
He made his way to the table. His brother was in danger of losing all of his money again since the spot next to him that should contain his winnings was empty. All of his money, along with everyone else’s was in the middle of the table. But none of this explained what a decent woman was doing in a place like this.
“I’m telling you she’s my sister,” the man next to her told the men at the table. “She’s not already married.”
“You can’t put her up for a bet,” another man said. “It’s not right. You lost all your money. Count your losses and go.”
“Let’s go,” she pleaded with her brother, her long brown locks falling gently over one of her shoulders.
“I got a good hand,” her brother told her. “I can win this one.”
“Oh, let him try to win,” the leader of the group growled out in his gruff voice.
Mitch’s eyes narrowed at John Meyer. He’d never spoken to John, but he’d seen him before and heard enough about him to know the man was up to no good. At this point, John hadn’t noticed him, but that had to change since he needed to help his brother. Steeling his resolve, he sauntered forward and slapped Boaz on the shoulder.
Boaz looked up at him and relief crossed his face. “Mitch,” he slurred, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Leaning forward, Mitch whispered, “I’m not coming to save your sorry butt in the future.” Before he had the bear the smell of alcohol on his brother’s breath, he straightened up and turned his attention to John. “I came to get my brother out of here. How much does he owe?”
“$50,” John said. “Doesn’t have enough in the pot to cover it either.”
Mitch stopped himself from swearing because of the young woman. $50? That was nearly a month’s worth of wages! “I don’t have $50.”
“How much do you have?” John asked, scanning him up and down, probably looking for whatever was of value on him.
“I brought $30.” And that was all the cash he had to his name. Looking at Boaz, he asked, “Where did you get $50 from?”
Though he was drunk, Boaz managed to slur out, “I didn’t have that much.”
“He’s right,” John barked. “Now stop delaying the game.”
“What else did he bet, John?” Mitch demanded, not willing to show the older man he intimidated him as much as he did everyone else.
“His…?” Mitch slapped his brother in the arm to sober him up enough so he’d understand what was going on. “Do you realize what you’re doing? That horse is all you got.”
His brother turned sorrowful eyes in his direction. “Sorry. I thought I could win.”
John chuckled as if that amused him to no end, and knowing John’s reputation, Mitch didn’t doubt the man loved to take everyone’s money—and property.
“You can’t do this, John,” Mitch growled.
“He’s a grown man. He put up the bet. It’s up to the cards to decide if he’ll keep the horse or not.”
For a moment, Mitch debated whether he should just walk away and let Boaz lose everything. He’d spent his entire life being irresponsible, and it was long overdue for him to hit rock bottom. Had it not been for their mother, Mitch would have washed his hands of him.
John motioned to the man and woman sitting next to Boaz. “So, you gonna stay in and offer her up or fold and walk away?”
She shook her head, but the man nodded to John. “I’ll bet.”
Mitch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing that concerns you,” John barked.
Mitch decided he’d had enough. “Let them all go, John. Take the money on the table and get out of here.”
“Stay out of this game. You aren’t a part of it.”
“Well, maybe I ought to be.”
The silence that followed was in stark contrast to the rowdy men in the joint. John turned his steel gray eyes in Mitch’s direction, and Mitch noted the challenge in them. Refusing to back down, he kept his gaze level despite the fierce pounding in his heart. He didn’t often give himself to confrontation, but even he could only take so much.
Finally, after what seemed like an agonizing hour, John motioned to the empty chair across from Boaz. “$30 gets you in the game.”
Mitch scanned the others who sat at the table. His brother’s hopeful expression indicated that he expected Mitch to bail him out of his bind. The woman made a move to leave, but the man with her grabbed her wrist and forced her back into the chair. She winced and tried to pull away from him, but she was no match for him.
“Let her go,” Mitch snapped, hating this even more than the thought of his brother possibly losing his horse.
“I’m going to win,” the man growled through gritted teeth.
Beside him, she broke into tears, and Mitch’s heart went out to her. Turning to John, he said, “Fine. I’m in. Put my horse into the pot and let her go.” She didn’t need to be a part of this. If he lost everything, so be it, but he couldn’t stand there and watch a man sell a woman in a poker game.
“I’m not giving up my hand,” the man next to her said.
“I’m not telling you to,” Mitch replied, not hiding his disgust that the man was so insistent on selling a woman. From the looks of it, he didn’t think they were married, so she had to be a relative. A cousin or a sister, perhaps. Maybe even a niece. “I’m offering my horse in exchange for her.”
The man glowered at him. “You think you’re going to walk out of here with her?”
“No. I just don’t want her to go home with the likes of him.” Mitch pointed to John.
“Ah now, what’d you take me for?” John grunted and tapped the cards in his hand. “Ante up there, boy.”
It was on the tip of Mitch’s tongue to point out he was twenty-five and was raising two children but decided it’d be a waste of time to do so. He put his money in the middle of the table and told John, “She’s not in this. We’ll use my horse.”
“Like hell we will!” the man next to her yelled, slamming his fist on the table.
“The woman stays,” John said as he dealt Mitch five cards. “I already have a horse from Boaz over here.”
Mitch glanced at Boaz whose head remained bowed so Mitch couldn’t see the expression on his face. With a look at the poor woman who continued to softly cry and then a look at the resolute man beside her, Mitch knew he didn’t have a choice. His only hope was to win the game. Then the woman could go back home where she’d be safe, and his brother could go home on his horse.
John motioned for him to check his cards, so Mitch did. He had nothing. No pairs or partial straights. Nothing. If he hadn’t been watching John, he’d swear the man set it up so that he’d have to lose. But John hadn’t shuffled the deck or anything. Trying not to give away the fact that he had a bad hand, he saved a jack and king of hearts. Might as well pretend he had a pair.
He tossed the other cards face down on the table and held his two cards. “Give me three.”
As John handed him three more cards, he glanced at the woman and prayed she wouldn’t have to end up doing whatever John planned to do with her. The possibilities of that scenario made him sick to his stomach.
He turned his attention back to the three new cards that sat in front of him, face down. Well, this was it. He was either going to win or lose.
Heather’s face was hot from the heat of her brother’s rejection. How could he be willing to sell her? She’d never been so humiliated in her entire life. Her eyes stung with tears, but her mounting anger held them at bay. She’d never been so mad in her entire life. Her brother had enough money to send her back East, but he got greedy and tried to win more. And now her fate—her life!—hung in the balance.
Glancing at the four men at the table, she wondered which one would win the hand…and her. It seemed to her that all but one of them were good for nothing. The other man who’d been at the table, the one who encouraged her fool brother to keep playing poker, had long since bolted. So it was John, Boaz, and her brother Abe. And every single one of them weren’t anyone she wanted to leave with. John was disgusting, and even if she wasn’t a tried woman, it didn’t take much imagination to know what he’d do with her. Boaz was miserable and drunk. Who knew what he’d do with her? Probably sell her for a good meal and lodging for the night. As for her brother, that sorry excuse for blood could rot for all she cared.
That left her with only one viable option. The newcomer. Mitch. He seemed to take mercy on her plight. Perhaps if he won her, he might take her under his wing. He struck her as a good man. He’d come for his brother, so he didn’t come here trying to gamble. He tried to pay his brother’s debt off. That meant he was planning to head right back out of here, right?
She studied Mitch, trying to determine what kind of man he’d be if she worked for him. Surely, he was married. He was good looking. Dark brown hair with only a bit of stubble on his face announcing he hadn’t shaved since this morning. He had nice blue eyes. By the looks of his plaid shirt, denim pants, and hat, she judged him to be a rancher. She guessed he was in his mid-twenties. Men that age were usually married unless they were drunken miscreants. No decent woman would marry a man like that. But Mitch didn’t seem to be that type. He looked sober, kind, and—best of all—not greedy. He just might be the answer to her prayers.
Her mind turned back to the game while Mitch checked the new cards John dealt him. Oh please let him win! Her stomach was doing flip flops, and not in a good way. John scanned her up and down in a way that made her feel naked despite the fact that she wore a cloak over dress. She shivered and pulled the cloak tighter around her body. Boaz was shaking his head as he stared at the cards in his hand. His fingers went to the empty shot glass next to him, but there was nothing to drink so he drew his hand back to the cards. She actually felt sorry for him.
Refusing to look at her brother, she focused on the cards as the men started laying the down on the table. Boaz had a pair of Jacks. Well, Abe had a better hand than that. He had three fives. She sure hoped John didn’t!
“You’re next,” John told Abe, his eyes narrowed at him.
Her brother smiled and laid his cards on the table. “Read ‘em and weep.”
Just as he reached for the pot in the middle of the table, John held his hand up and turned it around, revealing a straight. Heather tried not to give away her dread. She felt as if the wind had been knocked right out of her. She turned her gaze to Mitch. If he couldn’t be a straight, she didn’t know what she was going to do. Could she run away before John had a chance to get his grimy hands on her?
John snorted and motioned to Mitch. “Beat that one.”
For a moment, Heather couldn’t hear a thing. Mitch’s mouth moved as he talked to John, but her head was spinning and there was a strange ringing sound in her ears. She was going to faint. She just knew it! Mitch was telling John he won and she’d have to do whatever John wanted to do to her.
But then Mitch laid his cards on the table and John’s smile turned into a scowl. Heart pounding, she leaned forward to get a good look at the cards and cried with relief when she saw Mitch had a royal flush. Her hearing returned, and beside her, Boaz muttered a thanks for being able to keep his horse while her brother slapped the table and swore under his breath.
John stood up from the table and shrugged. “You got lucky, but next time, don’t count on it.”
Mitch grimaced. “There won’t be a next time.”
John grunted but headed up the stairs to the prostitute’s quarters.
Heather shivered again but in with it was a mixture of relief. She was spared from John, thank goodness.
Mitch stood up and divided up the earnings between himself, Boaz, and her brother. “My advice to both of you is to never darken another saloon. Boaz, I’m not bailing you out anymore. I mean it. If you get into trouble again, Ma will just have to deal with the heartache.” He collected his portion of the winnings and headed for the exit.
Without waiting for her brother to tell her what he was, or wasn’t, going to do with his sudden good fortune in gaining enough money for her train ticket, she bolted to her feet and followed Mitch as he strode out of the establishment. She ignored her brother who called out to her. Knowing him, he’d probably look for a way to “increase” his winnings once again.
“Sir?” she yelled to Mitch as he untied his horse from the post.
When he glanced in her direction, his eyes grew wide. “Shouldn’t you be back in there with…” He shrugged. “With that man you went in there with.”
“I can’t go back in there.” She hurried over to him so no one else would overhear what she had to say. As it was, the stares by the seedy men standing outside the saloon was enough to embarrass her. “Please, don’t go until I’ve time to explain my case?”
His eyebrows furrowed and he gave her a good look. “Explain your case for what?”
“I can’t return to my brother. That’s the man I went in with. You see, he was supposed to buy me a train ticket to go back East, but I don’t think he’ll take the money you gave him and do that. Our parents died, and I don’t have anyone who can take me in. The nearest kin we got is our aunt in Rhode Island. Our mother was a mail-order bride, and my father…” Realizing she was rambling, she stopped and took a deep breath. He didn’t need to know her whole life story. “Anyway, I can’t go back to my brother.”
He nodded. “I understand your problem.” Digging into his pocket, he pulled his wallet out, but she stopped him. “Ma’am, I’m offering to buy you that train ticket, not take advantage of you.”
Her face grew warm. “Oh, no. I didn’t mean that. I know you wouldn’t take advantage of anyone. You’re a good man.”
Looking uncertain, he nodded again. “So what’s the problem? You worry because you can’t pay me back?”
“No. I… Well, Montana is all I know.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d never been forward with a man before, and she didn’t know how to do so with grace. “I don’t want to leave here.”
“But you just said you have no kin to live with.”
“I don’t. I was hoping that maybe I can work for your wife. I promise I won’t get in the way. All I need is a room and food. I can sew my own clothes. I can even help with the meals. I’ll be quiet. You’ll hardly know I’m there.”
“I’m not married, ma’am.”
She blinked in surprise. An attractive, good man like him wasn’t married? Well, she certainly wouldn’t mind having a husband like him. She could use someone decent and honorable to spend the rest of her life with. “I can be your wife,” she blurted out before she had time to remind herself that women didn’t propose to men.
“What?” he asked, his eyes wide in shock.
“I can be a real good wife. I grew up helping my ma with the running of the house. I know all about cooking, sewing, cleaning… You need it, I can do it. I’ll be agreeable, too. I won’t be one of those wives who bother their husbands about anything. You can do whatever you want, and I won’t raise a fuss.”
He shifted from one foot to the other and adjusted his hat. “I have two kids I’m raising and a sick mother, so I’m not sure—”
“I can take care of children! I don’t have experience with them, but I can learn.” The poor man was a widower! If anyone needed a woman to step in and help out, it was a man without a wife and an ailing mother to care for. “But I do know how to care for sick parents. I took care of mine before they passed away. I can help you out.”
Sighing, he said, “I could use an extra hand out there. Most of my days are spent with the animals, so it would be nice if I knew my mother didn’t have to take care of the children by herself.”
Encouraged by the direction of his thoughts, she smiled and nodded. He took off his hat and ran his hair through his wavy dark locks. Oh, he was a looker alright! His wife must have fallen in love with him the moment she laid eyes on him.
He set his hat back on his head. “You don’t have any other men wishing to marry you?”
“No. There’s just you if you want me.”
It took her a moment to realize he’d agreed to marry her. Relieved, she relaxed and her smiled widened. “Thank you, sir. You won’t be sorry. I promise I’ll be a good wife and mother.”
“I suspect you will.” He returned her smile and added, “Now that you’re going to be my wife, I think it’d be best if you called me Mitch instead of ‘sir’.”
“Of course. Anything you say.”
He glanced down the vacant business street with its flickering lanterns lighting the way. “I can’t take you home without marrying you. It wouldn’t be right. The preacher lives four blocks down there.”
She followed the direction of his gaze. “I hope he won’t mind if we wake him up.”
“I don’t think he will. He knows my family well enough to know I need a wife. I’ll just explain the situation to him. He’ll understand.”
That was good. He led his horse away from the post and waited for her to join him. Her heartbeat picking up, she did. As they strolled down the street, she glanced back at the saloon, grateful her brother hadn’t run out to stop her. With any luck, she wouldn’t ever see him again. It was unfortunate she thought so ill of her nearest kin, but she’d been around him long enough to know he wasn’t worth knowing.
Putting the past behind her, she faced forward and walked with the man who would be a part of her future. She hoped he wasn’t upset with her for being so blunt. If she’d been in any other situation, she would never have acted in such haste.
The journey to the preacher’s house was quiet. If she could think of something to say, she would. She thought she could ask about his children, like how old they were or what their names were. She could even ask about his mother. What was her illness? But she couldn’t quite figure out how to word these things without seeming nosy. Surely, she had a right to ask them since she was going to be his wife, but she’d already talked him into marrying her.
By the time they made it to the preacher’s house, he tied the horse’s reins to a nearby post and turned to her. “It’s a lot of work you’re asking for. No other woman wants to take it on.”
“I’m not afraid of work.” He wasn’t going to change his mind about marrying her, was he?
“I just want to be sure.”
He studied her for a moment, as if trying to determine the sincerity in her statement and then nodded. “Alright. I suppose it’s only right that we know each other’s names. I’m Mitch Grady.”
“I’m Heather Curtiss.”
“Heather’s a nice name, and if you don’t mind my saying so, it suits you just fine.”
With a shrug, he offered her a shy smile and said, “You’re pretty.”
Her face warmed with pleasure. “Oh. Well, thank you.”
He cleared his throat and nodded to the front door of the preacher’s house. “We’re here. I suppose we should get married.”