Authors: Christina Cole
Series Book 4
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Copyright © 2015 Christina Cole
E-book ISBN: 978-1-63105-643-7
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To my husband, Ken, with love.
And also to Debby Pence, Lee Turner, and Cheyenne
My thanks go out to each of you for the inspiration
behind this story.
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Hawkins drives big wheelers for a
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The Sunset Series Book 4
Sunset, Colorado - May, 1880
Morse tugged the cap down low on his forehead. With luck nobody would recognize
him. Lately, luck had been a scarce commodity. Sometimes, in his more sober
moments—which were less frequent day by day—he reprimanded himself for his
foolish attempts at gambling. When he’d first come to stay in the town of
Sunset, he’d actually thought to make a living of sorts at the gaming tables.
Instead, he’d only lost what little he’d once had. Now, he mostly stayed drunk,
living in the blissful world of solace and sweet oblivion that whiskey brought.
He really didn’t care all that much about money any more, really had little use
for it. Begging, borrowing, and on occasion, stealing provided him the
subsistence he needed.
money had little value. What mattered were the basic necessities that supported
An occasional bath to wash off the stink that settled on him like
ticks on a coon hound, and most of all, a pillow beneath his head when he
closed his eyes for the night—wherever that happened to be.
pillow, Willie often thought
was a source of comfort,
a guard against the bad dreams and wicked nightmares that had plagued him in
the months since his father’s disappearance.
course, he did his best not to dwell on the past and the awful truths he’d
learned about his father, but that didn’t stop others from thinking on it. Nor
did it stop folks from judging Willie by his old man’s actions.
couldn’t take it anymore. Even those little creature comforts that had
sustained him in recent months had ceased to have meaning. Except for one
particular little craving.
bit unsteady on his feet from the previous night’s spree, he wrapped his hands
around the railing as he staggered up the front steps to the mercantile. When
he reached the wooden porch, he squared his shoulders as best he could,
a deep breath, then pushed open the door and slithered
lost quite a bit of weight. Not having regular meals had quickly reduced his
once bulky frame to one of more normal proportions. Along with the ratty old
clothes, the dirty tweed cap he’d purloined from a British fellow with an
odd-sounding accent, and the scuffed boots with the soles worn thin, he looked
nothing like the Willie Morse of days gone by. He squinted. Nobody in the store
so much as gave him a second glance.
close to the far wall, he edged his way past the displays of canned tomatoes
and fancy tins of oranges, past the dry goods, and on past the shelves stocked
high with boots, hats, ropes, nails, and sundry other items a fellow might have
need to buy. A prudent shop-keeper,
offered a wide variety of merchandise for his customers.
Willie had no need for any of it. His sights were set on the big barrel at the
back of the store. He kept his head down and spoke to no one. Already his mouth
was watering for the taste. He sidled up alongside the wide oaken barrel and
leaned against it. One big hand snaked downward.
it, Willie, get your hands out of the pickle barrel. You’ve got no intentions
of paying for what you take, and don’t tell me otherwise.”
whirled around and looked up into the uncompromising glint of Sheriff Caleb
Bryant’s cold, dark eyes.
man’s got to eat.” Willie fished a green pickle from the barrel. As he bit off
a chunk of the tasty treat, footsteps clattered across the wooden floor.
Bryant, you’ve got to do something about that man.” The proprietor, a tall and
gaunt fellow, shook a bony finger at the lawman.
stood his plump, moon-faced wife.
She shook her finger, too, for good
right, Sheriff,” she declared. “Every day he comes in here and pilfers whatever
he can lay hands on before we catch him and shoo him out. Either you arrest
him,” Martha Taylor said in a strident voice, “or I’m going to the mayor to
make an official complaint. Against
she added, jabbing a fleshy finger at the tin star on the lawman’s chest. “If
we’re going to have a sheriff, we deserve one who’s going to make sure folks
uphold the laws. Now, I’ll grant you that stealing a pickle probably doesn’t
seem like a serious crime, and it’s certainly not a hanging offense, but—”
stepped up and placed a hand on his short, stout wife’s
shoulder. His eyes bore down on Willie. “See what you’ve done? You’ve got her
all wound up now.” He nodded toward the barrel. “Just get your hands out and
go. We’d appreciate it if you not come back.”
face screwed up. His mouth puckered.
went to the cash drawer, opened it, and dug
out a few copper coins. “If you’re in need of help, say the word. That’s all
you have to do, not steal. I’m more than willing to help a man out when he’s
down on his luck. Now, don’t make me regret doing this.” He handed the coins to
the disheveled man. “It’s a sorrowful thing, Willie, to see you this way.”
flung the pennies to the ground. “Don’t insult me, old man. I don’t want
anything from you.”
before he got all of the words out, Sheriff Bryant grabbed his shirt collar.
“That’s enough. No call for you to act like a jackass. I’m arresting you.”
Willie jerked away. Though not nearly as tall as Caleb Bryant, and despite the
pounds he’d shed, he was thicker built, more solid. He could still throw a good
punch. He sucked in a breath and resisted the temptation to land a fist in the
You know I don’t allow that in my town.”
isn’t your town, and for your information, I’m not drunk. Now, if you’ll excuse
me.” He tugged the cap down again, drew himself up, and did his damnedest to
walk a straight line from the pickle barrel to the door.
by a pretty, dark-haired girl, he winced,
mouth in a scowl.
you looking at?”
drew back. Willie wanted to think it was his imposing presence that warned her
to step away, but he knew more likely it was his foul breath and the stench of
his clothes. Sure enough, the girl’s pert nose wrinkled.
lifted his head and marched onward.
that’s plumb pitiful,” a soft voice said. He knew it was the pretty girl, but
at the moment he was too far gone to give a damn what she thought of him.
* * *
Mae Richards clamped a hand over her mouth. Her face must be beet red judging
by the heat emanating from her cheeks.
shouldn’t have said that.” She lowered her gaze. She’d been brought up better
and knew a decent young girl never uttered such unkind words aloud. A truly
good girl would never even
go apologizing,” Old
wrong to speak the truth, Miss Richards.”
lowered her gaze. “It is the truth, and that’s the real shame of it.” But she
had better things to do than waste her time thinking about a stinking drunk, especially
one who’d been born to a life of wealth and privilege. Although she’d never
been formally introduced to William Howard Morse, Jr., she knew quite well who
knew, of course, that he’d been through some rough times in the past few months,
what people said. Exactly what had
happened, Hattie didn’t know, and it wasn’t her place to pry. Her friend, Emily
Sue, just shook her head when the subject came up and refused to divulge
anything more. The whole sorry state of affairs was best forgotten, she’d
same, to Hattie’s mind, personal misfortune offered no excuse for bad behavior.
Life dealt blows to many folks. She could attest to that from her own
experience. She, however, had not become a wastrel or drunkard. If anything,
hardships, disappointments, and the undeniable unfairness of life should be
seen as sources of strength, not justification for defeat.
was it you
, dear?” Martha Taylor waddled
over to Hattie. The sweet old woman’s usual smile had returned.
So had the pleasantness in her voice.
blinked, pushed aside her philosophical musings, and quickly loosened the
drawstrings of her reticule. “Dr. Kellerman sent me over to give this to you.”
She pulled out a hand-written list and shook it open. “He said you probably
wouldn’t have the items in inventory but thought perhaps you could pick them up
the next time you go to Denver. They’re supplies for the hospital.” She spoke
the final word with reverence.
become a nurse and provide care to the ailing meant everything to Hattie now.
She marveled at how greatly her life had changed. Only a few months before,
she’d been shut away in a dreary little room at Miss
Female Academy, working diligently to earn her teaching credentials. But she
knew she didn’t have the temperament for it. She could never have handled a
Emily Sue—her friend and former roommate—mentioned that Dr. Kellerman was
opening a hospital in Sunset, Hattie realized at once that nursing was her true
calling. She immediately applied to train with him and was on the next stage to
Sunset after receiving acceptance. Hattie adored the big, bear-like Abner
Kellerman with his deep voice and friendly manner, as well as his lovely wife,
Charlotte. They had taken her into their home and made her feel welcome.
once had she regretted her impetuous decision.
Taylor perused the list and nodded. “We’ll be making a trip tomorrow, won’t we,
?” She turned to her husband who nodded,
with a smile, she tucked the supply list into the
pocket of her apron. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
thank you. I’d better be getting back.” Hattie straightened her shoulders. “I
have a lot of studying to do. There’s so much to learn about caring for
patients, passing out medications, and keeping careful records.” Pride was a
horrible sin, but Hattie couldn’t help but feel her heart swell each time she
thought of the tremendous faith the good doctor had placed in her. She meant to
become the most knowledgeable and efficient nurse possible. “I’ll tell the
Kellermans that you’re going to Denver—”
the roadway in front of the store, shouts and cries rose up. A shrill whinny
rent the air, followed by an awful crashing noise. The mercantile itself shuddered
and shook as every man, woman, and child rushed outside to see what had
Taylor and his wife pushed their way
through the door along with the others, leaving Hattie standing alone, her
mouth open, her sentence still unfinished.
her wits, she closed her mouth and raced toward the door. Even before she
stepped out into the afternoon light, she knew there’d been an accident, and
she could probably guess who was involved.
anyone hurt?” she called out as she tried to squeeze through the crowd of
onlookers who stood gawking at the scene. Nobody moved. “Please, let me
I’m a nurse
. As much as she
wished she could say those words, they would be untrue. She was
a nurse, only a hopeful young girl
learning the profession. “Please, move aside.” Hattie pushed her way through to
gasped to see Willie in the middle of
the road, surrounded by the shattered remains of a freight wagon.
Several crates had fallen and broken open, spilling out their
contents—a flock of chickens.
The noisy birds squawked and flapped as a
couple young boys chased them along Main Street.
her best to remember her training, Hattie quickly assessed the situation. The
delivery driver had apparently swerved and run into a water trough, but he’d
hit Willie, too. The young man lay unmoving, covered with blood, his clothes
ripped to shreds. The lower leg of his torn trousers flapped open to reveal a
huge, ugly gash, one so deep the shin bone showed. His skin had a deathly gray
pallor. His eyes were closed.
she knew, he might already be dead, but for pity’s sake, why wasn’t anyone
trying to help?
Serves him right.
Wasn’t your fault,
A knot of men formed around the badly-shaken driver to offer assurance, while a
scrawny adolescent patted the horses’ necks to calm them. Nobody seemed to care
what happened to the injured man lying motionless in the street.