Early the next morning Jena, Randy, and Luis sat at the kitchen table making a list of needed supplies, sugar, flour, coffee and other necessities. Jena penciled in several more items while she told Randy and Luis about the episode at the corral. Her account was interrupted by the clatter of horses' hooves entering the yard. Randy pulled back the curtain covering the window.
"It's the Walkers," he snapped and rushed out to the back stoop.
"What could they want this early in the morning?" Jena muttered. She hurriedly stuffed the list into her skirt pocket before going out to join Randy.
Luis grabbed her arm and handed her the rifle. "You take. I get shotgun," he said.
Gripped with tension, Jena stepped out onto the porch. The sunshine highlighted Carl's twisted leer. He tightened the rope that had settled around Randy's shoulders and yanked him off the porch, gleefully dragging him about the yard. Everett, ignoring his son's antics, was intent on counting the horses shifting restlessly in the corral.
Jena jumped down into the yard, set the rifle's hilt against her shoulder and trained it on Carl. "Let him go!" Her loud, demanding tone attracted Everett's attention.
He leaned from his horse and snatched the weapon from her hands. "Don't point that gun at Carl. Foolish girl, ya could hurt someone." His eyes blazed with fury, his lips thinned to an angry gash as he glared down at her. "Carl, leave the boy alone." Everett did not once look away to make sure Carl did as he commanded.
Walker's gray hair was barely visible beneath his huge black hat, the shadow of a beard showed on his weathered cheeks. He held Jena's gaze. His tone rumbled harsh and threatening through the cool early-morning air. "Miss Grant, ya'll cain't run this ranch. You two cain't even take care o' yurself."
Everett glared down at her, eyed every inch of her body making her feel unclean. Fear rose up in her throat lodging against the breakfast she'd just eaten.
"I bet ya cain't even make yur next payment." He paused as if waiting for her to admit the truth of his taunt. With the motions of an expert, he opened her rifle removed and pocketed the ammunition snapped the rifle shut and tossed the weapon down at her feet.
"I'll give ya a fair price." He looked from Jena to Randy then back at Jena. "Y'all can go back east where ya belong." Arrogance dripped from his tone.
"Go to hell," Randy said, untangling himself from Carl's lariat.
Jena glared back at the elder Walker. The fear she felt had dissolved leaving a pebble of anger in its wake. The more Everett talked the more her anger grew. "This is our home! This is where our family is buried and this is where we intend to stay," Jena said, putting emphasis on each word.
"Y'all could git dead," Carl said. He spat on the ground in front of Randy; then, ever so slowly he coiled his rope, a cocksure grin on his face.
Everett Walker edged his horse closer to Jena, backing her against the porch. He studied her from head to foot until she flushed indignantly.
"Ya got another choice, girl. One of my boys would marry ya. Ya ain't ugly. Got a good piece of land here to seal the bargain." A smirk contorted Everett's mouth and he looked incredibly pleased with his suggestion.
"Choose, they is both willing. Y'all can speak the words tomorrow."
"Never! I...I don't want to marry anyone," Jena said. She slid along the edge of the porch trying to put room between herself and Everett.
"Hey, pa, maybe she'd rather have you." Case chided in an attempt to diffuse the tension.
Carl shot his brother a dirty look. "She's mine! You git the preacher. I'll stay here and get better acquainted." His cocky leer froze Jena's backward motion.
Carl steadied his horse, prepared to dismount. He was already lightheaded with lust.
His expression jolted Jena back into action and she continued to back along the porch toward the steps. "Never. You can't make me marry anyone."
"An you could have another dead brother," Carl said, leaning from his horse to catch her attention.
Color drained from her face. She was terrified of Everett and his sons, and of the power they wielded in the area. No one ever tried to stop the Walkers from doing or taking what they pleased. Her anger exploded from rock to boulder shoving her fear to the back of her mind. She lifted her chin a notch and stared back at Carl and at Everett. I need time to think. Time to figure a way out of this dilemma. I'm lost if I back down.
The door slammed shut behind her. She turned her head and there stood Luis, a double barrel shotgun pointed straight at Everett Walker's head. Without saying a word, the short wiry cook walked down the steps and moved to Jena's side. Everett's hand snaked toward the gun resting on his hip.
"I wouldn't," Luis said, not once betraying the tension he felt.
There was no doubt in Jena's mind that Walker longed to regain control of the situation. Luis's steady aim, his steely gaze, stayed Everett's hand movements.
"I just buried my brother. None of this is proper," she said, using the only tactic that came to mind. She covered her anger, kept it out of her voice. "Even here in Texas I'm sure proper mourning periods are observed."
Everett Walker considered her response then grinned, convinced he'd won. "Carl will make ya a good husband. Time he settled down." Everett eased his hand away from his weapon.
"I ain't waiting. Ta hell with proper," Carl said his tone belligerent.
"She's right, boy. Give her some time." Everett backed his horse away from Jena, his eyes never leaving her face.
"October first, young Lady. Forty-five days to get over yur grief and git ready fur a weddin. We'll bring preacher." He patted the gun at his side, an unspoken reminder. "Y'all be a Walker and we'll be a family."