One Pink Rose, Chapter 1
Rosehill Ranch, Montana Valley
Travis Clayborne was thinking hard about killing a man.
The youngest brother had only just returned home from the southern tip of the territory and planned to stay one night before he resumed his hunt. Thus far, his prey had managed to stay a step ahead of him. He had thought he had him good and trapped near the gorge, but then the elusive devil had vanished into thin air. Travis grudgingly admitted he would have to tip his hat to this stranger who had outwitted him. He might also have to compliment him on his survival skills. Then he'd shoot him.
He'd taken to the notion of doing in the culprit right away. The enemy's name was Daniel Ryan, and the sin he'd committed wasn't forgivable by a son's
measure. Ryan had dared to take advantage of a sweet, innocent, genteel old lady with a heart of gold -- Travis's own Mama Rose to be exact -- and in Travis's heart and mind, killing him was almost too good for him. Now Travis was trying to convince himself that justice would be on his side.
That evening he waited until their mother had gone to bed to discuss the atrocity with his brothers. They sat side by side on the porch with their booted feet propped up on the railing, their heads tilted back, and their eyes closed.
Harrison, their brother-in-law, joined them a moment after Rose went upstairs. He thought the brothers looked content and was about to tell them so when Travis declared his intentions. Harrison sat down hard in the chair next to Douglas, stretched his long legs out, and then begged to differ with Travis. He said that the law should take care of the thief, and that this person, like every other man and woman in this fair country, was entitled to a trial. If he was proven guilty, he would be sent to prison for his punishment. He shouldn't be murdered in cold blood.
None of the Claybornes paid any attention to Harrison's pontificating. He was an attorney by trade, and it was in his nature to argue about every little thing. All of the brothers thought it was kind of sweet the way Harrison believed in justice for everyone. Their little sister's husband was a decent man, but he was from Scotland and, in their minds, naive about the laws in the wilderness. Perhaps in a perfect world the innocent would always be protected and the guilty would always be punished, but they didn't happen to live in a perfect world, now did they? They lived in Montana Territory.
Besides, what lawman in his right mind would take the time and trouble to hunt down a garden snake when there were so many deadly rattlers out there just waiting to strike?
Harrison refused to bend to the Clayborne way of looking at things. He was appalled by Travis's decision to go after the culprit who had robbed their mother; he reminded Travis that he had a duty as a future attorney to behave with honor. He also suggested Travis reread Plato's Republic.
Travis wouldn't be deterred from what he proclaimed was a sacred mission. He leaned forward to look at Harrison when he gave his argument.
"A son's first duty is to his mother," he declared.
"Amen," Douglas muttered.
"It's clear to all of us that Mama Rose was duped," Travis continued. "He asked to see the gold case and the compass, didn't he?"
"I wish she hadn't told him about it," Adam interjected.
"But she did tell him," Douglas said. "And I'm guessing as soon as she mentioned it was gold, that's when he asked to see it."
"He knew he was going to steal it then," Cole said.
"It was clever of him to let the crowd separate them," Adam said.
"Mama Rose told us this Ryan fellow is well over six feet tall. He's bulky too," Douglas reminded them. "Bulky probably means he's got more muscle than most. Seems peculiar to all of us such a big man could be pushed around by a crowd. He meant to steal it, all right."
"For God's sake, Douglas, you cannot assume --" Harrison began.
Travis cut him off. "No one takes advantage of our mama and gets away with it. It's up to one of her sons to right this wrong. Surely you can understand how we feel, Harrison. You had a mother once, didn't you?"
"I wouldn't bet on it," Cole drawled out, just to get Harrison riled up.
His brother-in-law wasn't in the mood to take exception to the remark. "Your reasoning is twisted," he said. He waited until the derisive snorting had stopped before he announced that Travis's plan to shoot the thief was premeditated murder.
Cole laughed at Harrison, reached around Douglas to slap him on his back for saying something so amusing, and then suggested Harrison start thinking about a way to get Travis released from jail should he be arrested for doing a son's duty. He also suggested Travis simply drag the culprit back to Montana and let all the brothers shoot him.
Harrison was nearly ready to admit defeat. It was impossible to talk sense into any of the brothers. The only thing that was keeping him sane was the fact that deep in his heart he knew none of them would ever commit cold-blooded murder. They sure enjoyed talking about it though.
"How do you know the man you're after is really Daniel Ryan? He could have made up the name," he remarked. "He could also have lied about being from Texas."
"Nope," Cole said. "He told Mama Rose his name and where he was from before she started talking about the presents she was bringing to us."
"Thank God she didn't tell him about the other gifts. He probably would have stolen my pocket watch," Douglas said.
"I'll bet he would have taken my map too," Adam interjected.
"And my leather-bound books," Travis added.
"The thief's from Texas, all right," Adam said. "He had a peculiar drawl in his speech."
"That's right," Douglas remembered. "She thought it was...What'd she call it, Travis?"
"Charming," he replied with a frown.
"Never did like the names Daniel or Ryan," Cole announced. "Come to think of it, I don't have much use for Texans either. Can't trust them."
Harrison rolled his eyes heavenward. "You never did like anyone or anything," he reminded him. "Do me a favor and don't say another word until I go upstairs. You're making me forget I'm a logical man."
Cole laughed. "You're the one who insisted on moving back into Rosehill with your wife. I'm part of Rosehill, Harrison, like it or not."
"Mary Rose needs to be with her mother during her confinement. I'm not about to go from town to town with Judge Burns and leave her alone in Blue Belle. And by the way, the next time you tell her she waddles like a duck, I'm going to punch you. Got that? She's a little emotional right now and doesn't need to be told she's as big as a --"
Cole wouldn't let him finish. "All right, we'll stop teasing her. She sure is getting pretty, isn't she?"
"She was always pretty," Adam said.
"Yes, but now that she's carrying my nephew, she's even prettier. Don't you dare tell her what I just admitted, or she'll never let me live it down. My sister likes to torment me whenever she can, and frankly, I can't imagine why."
He noticed the gleam that came into Harrison's eyes and knew the man was about to say something to provoke him. Since Cole wasn't in the mood to argue tonight, he decided to turn the topic back to the more pressing business at hand, catching a low-down, thieving garden snake who had slithered all the way up to Montana Territory from Texas.
"Travis, are you going to leave tomorrow?"
"How was it decided you would be the one to go after Daniel Ryan?" Harrison asked. "If the Texan really did steal your brother's compass, and I'm only willing to concede that the possibility exists, then shouldn't Cole be the one to go after him? The compass was meant for him."
"Cole can't go anywhere just yet," Adam explained.
"He was to lay low until old Shamus Harrington calms down," Douglas added.
"What did you do, Cole?" Harrison asked, already dreading the answer.
"He defended himself," Adam said. "One of Harrington's sons thought he was faster with his gun than Cole and forced a shoot-out."
"What happened?" Harrison asked.
"I won," Cole said with a grin.
"Obviously," Harrison snapped. "Did you kill him?"
"No, but almost," he admitted. "It was really kind of strange the way he came after me," he added. "Lester had fallen in with a gang passing through Blue Belle, and the word on the street was that they were planning to rob the bank in Hammond, Saturday next," he added.
"Does seem odd he'd come after you," Douglas agreed. "Lester's been strutting around acting like a big man in front of his new friends. Maybe he wanted to impress them."
"I heard they goaded him into the shoot-out with you," Adam said. "Dooley told me they acted like they knew who you were, Cole."
"Dooley's been hanging around his friend Ghost too long," Cole said. "You can't take anything either one of them says as fact, Adam."
"They probably heard of your reputation," Douglas suggested.
"They were just looking for trouble," Cole said. "Besides, everyone knows Harrington's sons are as dumb as dirt."
"True, but old man Shamus is still going to hold a grudge," Douglas said. "Mountain men do when one of their own gets shot, and since he has five other sons, you're going to have to be real careful for a long time."
"I'm always careful," Cole boasted. "Now that I think about it, I could go after Ryan, Travis. You've got enough to do without --"
His brother wouldn't let him finish. "No, you're staying here," he said. "Besides, I've got everything all planned out."
"That's right," Douglas said. "He's going to kill three birds with one stone."
Travis nodded. "I'm going to take my papers to Wellington and Smith so everything will be in order when I begin my apprenticeship with their law firm in September, and since Hammond's just a jump away from Pritchard, I'll take care of that business Mama Rose stuck me with, then swing on over to River's Bend, shoot Ryan, pick up the birthday present back in Hammond, and come back here in time for the celebration."
"You owe us ten dollars for Mama Rose's birthday gift," Cole reminded Harrison.
"What are we getting her?" he asked.
"A fancy sewing machine," Douglas said. "Her eyes lit up when she saw a picture of it in the catalog Adam gave her. We're getting her the most expensive model, of course. She deserves the best."
Harrison nodded. "Aren't Golden Crest and River's Bend in opposite directions?"
"Just about," Cole said. "Which is why I think I should go after Ryan, Travis. It would save you --"
Once again his brother wouldn't let him finish. "You've got to lay low," he said.
Harrison agreed and offered an alternative that would save Travis time and trouble.
"Surely you can get a sewing machine in Pritchard and save yourself several days' riding."
"I suppose he could," Cole said. "But Ryan wasn't spotted in Pritchard. He was headed for River's Bend yesterday."
"And how would you know that?" Harrison asked.
"We put the word out to let us know if anyone runs into him," Adam said. "Travis, it's a pity you have to do that favor first. By the time you reach River's Bend, Ryan will probably be long gone."
"I've got it all figured out," Travis said. "It should only take a day of hard riding to deliver this Emily Finnegan woman to her groom in Golden Crest, and if it's dry enough, I can cut through the gully and be in River's Bend the following afternoon."
"You're dreaming," Adam told him. "It's been raining off and on for a month now. That gully's going to be filled. Why, it will take you at least three days to go around."
"Who is Emily Finnegan?" Harrison asked.
"She's the favor I'm doing for Mama Rose," Travis said.
Harrison gritted his teeth. Getting information out of the brothers was an arduous undertaking, but he was tenacious enough to persevere. The Claybornes liked to confuse him with spurious facts, none of which were the least bit relevant. They did it on purpose, of course. They were united in their goal to make him stop "hounding" them, as Cole would say, which meant they didn't want him to question either their motives or their ethics. Three of the brothers still believed they could "out stubborn" him. Adam was the only one who knew better. No one was as stubborn as a Scotsman, and since Harrison had been born and raised in the Highlands, he qualified.
"What's the favor?" he asked Travis again.
"Mama Rose had supper with the Cohens last week, and they happened to tell her about a woman who was stuck in Pritchard. Her escort up and died on her, and she's been trying to get someone to take her on to Golden Crest, but hasn't had any success."
"Why doesn't the man she's going to marry ride down to Pritchard and get her?"
"I asked Mama Rose that very question, and she told me it wouldn't be proper. The preacher's waiting in Golden Crest, and it's up to Miss Emily Finnegan to get there on her own. Mama Rose offered my services."
"She must have thought Hammond was right next door to Golden Crest," Douglas said.
"Why can't someone from Pritchard escort her?" Harrison asked. "It's a good-sized town. Surely she can find some willing couple there."
"People are mighty superstitious in Pritchard," Cole said.
"What does that mean?" Harrison asked.
"It means Miss Emily spooks them," he explained.
"It seems poor Miss Emily has gone through quite a few escorts," Douglas said.
"How many?" Harrison wanted to know.
"Too many to keep track of," Cole answered, deliberately exaggerating. "Rumor has it a couple of them died. Travis, you'd better take something with you for luck," he added with a nod in his brother's direction. "I'd give you my lucky compass, but then I don't have it, now do I, and all because that sneaking, no good son of a --"
Harrison cut him off before he could get riled up again. "You can't know if the compass will bring you luck or not, Cole. You've never seen the thing."
"Mama Rose chose it for me, didn't she? That makes it lucky."
"You're as superstitious as the folks in Pritchard," he muttered. "Travis, do you think you'll have trouble with this Miss Emily?"
"No," he answered. "I'm not superstitious, and I don't believe half of what they're saying about her either. How bad can she be?"
Copyright © 1997 by Julie Garwood