Roth just might reform some of his gunslinging ways when Lydia instigates feeling where there'd been none.
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Fleeing the abusive headmaster at the St. Louis orphanage, Roth turned to gunslinging as a means for survival. Years of looting and raiding put his face on several Wanted posters, and instilled in him an aversion to settling down. That is, until he meets Lydia Tyler, the woman building the orphanage along the Rio Grande. Although he’s the deputy of Revolving Point, Lydia detests his hardened ways. She’s also got trouble on her hands; a headmaster linked to Roth’s old nemesis. Roth will do everything he can to help Lydia. And convince her he's not as deplorable as his guns suggest.
Lydia Tyler has no use for guns and violence. All she wants is to build her orphanage and give her children a safe and loving home. Trouble is, Papa has hired a headmaster without her say-so; an arrogant man who schemes to usurp her authority, a man Deputy Roth despises. When Roth offers to rid Lydia of the troublemaker, Lydia doesn’t approve of his methods. But that doesn’t stop her from melting every time Roth holds her hand. The more she gets to know him, the more she reconsiders his menacing ways. He may be a gunslinger, but the warmth in his gaze hints there's more to him than his pistols.
Chapter 1; Scene 1
Revolving Point, TX January 1864
"Don't know why you agreed to take this job," Roth grumbled as his sister poured them each a second cup of morning tea. "You shoulda stayed at the boardinghouse with Grayson and his wife. There's too much to do here. You'll bust another rib." His gaze traveled to her midriff and the bulge of cloth beneath her dress binding her ribs. "Those two ain't fully healed."
"We spent Christmas and the New Year with them." Debra set the pot on the table then took her seat across from him. "It's time for me to move on. Suzanna's still recovering from being shot before the holidays. She doesn't need another boarder to worry about."
"She's fine." He waved off her concern. "Saw Doc the other day and he said so. Grayson worries worse than a female." He pushed aside his plate of toast crumbs and a cold strip of bacon. "If you want to move on, why'd you tell Grayson you'll take over this place?"
"I didn't mean leave Revolving Point. I meant move on with my life. That doesn’t include returning to the trail with you and outlawing. I'm staying here and running this mercantile." She added two cubes of sugar to her tea. "I think you want to stay, too, now that you're a deputy." She stretched her hand across the table to cover his. "We can have a home here, like we did in St. Louis when we were little."
"Doubt it." He pursed his lips.
"Why?" Debra sat back in her chair. "There's room enough here for both of us."
Seated in the kitchen above the mercantile, Roth looked around the bare white walls of the spacious living quarters. To his right, an archway led to the parlor. A window and the door leading outside were to his left. Cabinets, a sink and an iron stove lined the outer wall behind Debra, and behind him, a doorway led to her bedroom. Another bedroom occupied the front corner of the quarters. The door to that room was off the parlor. "Didn't say there wasn't enough room." He brought his gaze back to her. "What about Travis? Sooner or later he's gonna come for you."
"He won't leave his saloon," she said matter-of-fact. "But on the slim chance he does," she pointed her finger at him, "you're to stay out of the matter and let me handle my husband. Understand?"
"He shoves you down the stairs, busts your ribs and you expect me to keep quiet?" He rolled his eyes. "Got a mind to ride out now and kill him. Shoulda done that after the fancy rig Grayson hired brought you here. Tucson ain't that far away."
"You stay put." Debra wagged the finger she still pointed at him. "Travis is my problem, not yours."
"Shit, too," he spat and then took a sip of tea, savored the warm brew on his tongue before swallowing.
"The townspeople aren't likely to forgive you for shooting a man in cold blood, no matter how rotten he is."
"Don't need their forgiveness."
"Buck won't, either," Debra continued. "He's grateful to you for having helped him and Suzanna. He let you keep the soiled doves you have working for you at Miller's to prove it, but he won't forgive you for killing a man without good reason. He takes his sheriff's duties to heart."
Roth emitted a snort. "Grayson a sheriff. Never thought he'd turn in favor of the law, not after all the men he's killed."
"People change. He did, for Suzanna. He loves her." She paused for a sip of tea. "You've changed, too. Or you wouldn't wear that badge." She nodded toward his coat hanging by the door and the star pinned to it.
"Yeah," he said, irritated.
"You'd best finish your tea. The governor's niece arrives this morning and you promised Buck you'd meet her at the telegraph and mail office. He can't, because he's helping Suzanna with last minute preparations at the boardinghouse."
"Quit championing Grayson. You need to worry about yourself. Who's gonna help you with the mercantile when I'm busy at Miller's or the jail?"
"Mrs. McIntyre's boys. With Mr. McIntyre laid up from his joints paining him and her hands gnarled, they need an income or they won't have money to buy seeds in the spring."
"Really?" Roth arched a brow. "And who's gonna take care of their farm?"
"More women doing men's work," he scoffed and shoved back his chair. "Town's gone mad." He shuffled across the floor, lifted his hat from a peg by the door, plopped it on his head and shrugged into his coat. Checked his pistols in the holsters around his waist and stepped outside. "Be back for the noon meal."
Down the stairs to the street, he turned right and ambled along the length of the mercantile to the intersection up ahead. What had once been a town famous for its row of saloons, gunfights, brawls and a sheriff unable to enforce the law, Revolving Point was now quiet. A fire more than a year ago had destroyed most of the buildings along the main thoroughfare. Lots of folks had fled with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a few coins in their pockets. Those who had remained worked diligently to restore the town and bring peace to the streets alongside the Rio Grande, and that included the one saloon which had remained erect—Miller's.
Pausing at the intersection, Roth looked toward the south end of town, saw Grayson empty a bucket of water over the boardinghouse porch rail and then go back inside.
"Grayson doing woman's work," he snickered. Fitting for the sonofabitch who'd forced his hand into pinning on a badge. But then, he sobered and set his feet moving in the direction of Miller's. He'd do the same for Debra, and more.
His only living relative, and ten years younger than him, he'd been taking care of his sister since their ma had died giving birth to her. Pa had been a drunk who only found his way home when he'd either run up his bill at the saloon or had a hankering to pummel Ma. If not for a friend of Ma's from the orphanage where she'd worked helping with Debra's care those first years, Debra would've died, too. He'd been damn lucky she hadn't.
At Miller's, he fished a key out of his pocket, unlocked one of the heavy doors and went inside. He strolled across the sawdust covered floor, past the bar and into the office opposite the front door. The small room had consisted of a worn chair and a flimsy board thrown across two barrels until a few days ago. While helping Debra sort through the clutter the previous mercantile owner had left behind when Grayson had run him out of town, Roth had come across a desk and a straight-backed chair. He'd borrowed a wagon from the livery, moved the furniture to Miller's and took possession of the office for himself.
He eased his weight onto the chair, extracted another key from his pocket and unlocked the bottom drawer. He reached inside for the metal strongbox and produced a key to unlock last night's receipts that Ginger, one of his soiled doves, had stored inside. But instead of counting the small wad of bills, his mind went back in time, to the home Debra had mentioned earlier, and the one she hadn't.
The house he and Debra had been born in was nothing more than a shack with a dirt floor and two windows. Ma had kept food on the table and clothes on his back from her salary at the orphanage. It'd been up to him to do the same for Debra and himself after Ma's passing and when the woman who'd helped them had been ordered by the headmaster to cease her generosity. Or rather, the orphanage's. At twelve, he'd gone to work sweeping saloons and stores, always taking Debra with him. Then Pa had been killed when he'd staggered out of a saloon into the path of a freight wagon and he and Debra had been sent to the orphanage.
The first year hadn't been bad. The nuns had taken good care of Debra and he'd made friends with some of the boys. But then, the headmaster in charge of the boys had left, a new one hired and that's when life had gone from acceptable to hell. Punishments in the form of beatings, starvation and sleeping on cold floors had become daily occurrences, and for something as minimal as a dead flower forgotten to be removed from the garden.
"Sorry sonofabitch," Roth seethed, shifting his reverie back to the present. "Hope he's rotting in Hell."
Pushing aside his childhood and how, at seventeen, he traded the orphanage for outlawing, he counted the money, tucked a few bills in his coat pocket and placed the locked box back in the drawer. Locked that, too, and left the saloon through the back door. He'd check on the doves later, make sure they hadn't been roughed up last night and made his way to the telegraph and mail office, which doubled as the stage depot until a new one could be built.
He passed the recently opened shop housing tonics claiming to cure the most stubborn of maladies. Folks were skeptical and continued to put their trust in Doc, who had an office at the other end of town. He touched a finger to his hat, greeting the woman who helped her husband run the place as she approached from the opposite direction. She ducked her head and swept aside her skirts, causing Roth to frown after he bypassed her. She wasn't the first woman to shun him. Nor would she be the last.
As for the men who'd crossed his path—some hated him, some feared him and a select few were friends. Here in Revolving Point, most didn't trust him and believed he should have been sent to prison a few weeks back with Percy and his gang.
But they trust Grayson, the worst of outlaws. Now why is that? He wondered, taking in the sight of the fancy, enclosed rig stationed outside the telegraph and mail office. Miss Tyler, no doubt. Fresh off the trail from Austin.
A young woman exited the building. Black hair secured at her nape, drawstring bag dangling from her wrist and cloak covering her dress; their gazes met and Roth sucked in a deep breath at her green eyes. Bright in color, they reminded him of a cat. That got him to thinking about a woman he knew in Tucson, which led to thoughts of Travis and how he should ride out and kill Debra's no-good husband. If he hadn't left her alone after his leg had healed from buckshot, she wouldn't have married and ended up on the wrong side of Travis' fist. But he’d been holed up in one place for too long and Debra was good with a gun, a skill acquired from the years she’d ridden with him and his band.
"Where have you been?" a sharp, female voice demanded. "You've kept the children and me waiting long enough."
Huh? Roth snapped out of his thoughts to find the woman with the green eyes standing beside him, a perturbed look on her sun-kissed face. "At your service, milady." He removed his hat and swept it between them while bowing in a grand gesture of mockery. "The king would've met you himself, but he's been detained. This way." He pivoted on his heel and set his feet in the direction of the boardinghouse.
Damn Grayson! Setting this pretty, little spitfire on me.