With his past about to catch up to him, Gage longs for the comfort only Debra can bring to his tortured soul.
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Forced to flee his home in Chicago, Gage Cantrell shed his greenhorn ways and joined an outlaw band. He’s spent the last six years dodging bullets and a Pinkerton determined to bring him to justice. Now that Gage has settled for a spell in Revolving Point, Texas, hoping to win the heart of the woman he loves, his past is about to catch up to him. Trouble is, Debra doesn’t know about Chicago. If she’ll forgive his cowardice on that fateful night, he’ll finally know peace. That is if he can thwart the Pinkerton and send him packing—for good.
Raised in the St. Louis orphanage, Debra Moore has known more hard times than good. Riding with her brother and Gage as they raided the west brought about a longing for a real home, and for Gage to return her love. She’s found a comfortable haven in Revolving Point and wants Gage to cease to his bandit ways and put down roots with her. But Gage has never been the settling type, and lately he’s been more secretive than usual. Something’s bothering him. She’s going to find out what that something is and convince him there’s more to life than the tomfoolery of outrunning a posse.
Chapter 1 Scene 1
Revolving Point, Texas May 1864
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
From her seat in the last pew, Debra Moore watched as Eric Devers' neck and cheeks flamed bright red. He cast a gaze toward his mother in the front pew and then turned his attention to his bride, awkwardly lowered his head and planted a chaste kiss on Bethany Lyle's plump lips.
Seated at Debra's right, Gage Cantrell snickered. "The bride's gonna wear the pants in that family. Boy ain't got no backbone."
From Debra's left, the barber chuckled and his wife gasped. They'd overheard another of Gage's gibes and Debra felt her cheeks burn.
"Will you hush?" She whispered to Gage. "You haven't stopped making comments since the ceremony began. And none of them have been nice."
"What?" Gage held up his hands. "Ain't no secret Eric's a mama's boy."
Debra bit down on her lip and turned her attention to the altar, unable to dispute what he'd said. The whole town knew Agnes Devers coddled her only child something fierce. Even now, she hefted her enormously round body out of the first pew and waddled forward as fast as her weight would allow, her arms outstretched.
"My baby boy's a married man," she cried, throwing her flabby arms around Eric's thin shoulders and hugging him tight, her black skirts—who wore black to a spring wedding?—swishing at her feet.
Baby boy, nothing. Debra harrumphed good-naturedly. Eric had turned twenty-one last week. She knew, because Agnes had been inside Debra's mercantile before that purchasing flour and sugar and raving about the grand cake she was baking for Eric. The way Agnes had carried on one would've surmised Eric was turning five. Yet, here he was, a grown man and newly married, floundering in his mother's grasp. Actually, with his nose smashed against Agnes' ample bosom, he looked to be suffocating. The entire scene proved comical, but not to Bethany. She had a perturbed look on her pudgy face.
"Bethany better cut those apron strings before they leave the altar," Gage guffawed. "Or Agnes'll be moving in with them before the sun sets."
Debra glared at him. "Don't you ever have a kind word to say about anyone?"
"I give 'em all to you." He winked at her and she swatted his arm. "You can't say you don't like that. You do. And you like me."
Debra sighed. "Most of the time."
"Coulda told me that last month before I helped your brother load those wagons. He and his wife and those kids of theirs packed enough for their trip to Austin to last a year."
"You offered to help Roth. Nobody made you."
"Shh, here comes the bride and groom. Isn't Bethany's dress lovely?" Debra admired the white lace trimmed with yellow roses.
"She looks like a stuffed sausage," Gage said. "Girl's gonna be as big as Eric's mama one of these days."
Beside Debra, the barber chuckled again. She swatted Gage's arm a second time. He frowned and clamped his mouth shut. Across the aisle from Gage, Debra heard a snicker. She peered past Gage to see Suzanna Grayson elbow her husband. By the look on his face, the sheriff didn't cotton to being in trouble with his wife and slid a dark, dangerous look at Gage.
"Are you happy now?" Debra stared at Gage. "You got Buck in trouble with Suzanna. You'll be lucky if he doesn't lock you up in his jail."
Gage shrugged. "Slept in worse places."
The bride and groom passed by and exited through the double doors at the back of the church into the Sunday afternoon sun. Agnes blew her nose into her lace hanky as she toddled after her son, not bothering to honor tradition that the bride's parents follow the happy couple.
The Lyle family came next. The reverend brought up the rear and then the guests at the front of the church exited the pews and made the short walk down the aisle to the doors.
After the people sitting in front of them had departed, Gage stepped into the aisle and extended Debra a hand. She accepted it and stood beside him, saying to Suzanna when she and the sheriff joined them, "The ceremony was beautiful."
"Reverend Peter did a fine job," Suzanna said. "Bethany looked very pretty. I believe she purchased the roses for her dress from Senorita Martinez' dress shop."
"Believe Eric got that bottle of whiskey I saw him out back with earlier from Miller." Gage joined the discussion. "Can't say as I blame him. A bride lookin' like his ma," he grinned wickedly, "boy's gonna need more 'n one bottle."
The barber chortled as he stepped out of the pew. His wife's violet eyes flashed daggers at Gage and then her husband. Ducking his head, the barber sheepishly followed her out.
"C'mon, Suzanna." Buck Grayson swallowed a grin as he cupped his wife's elbow. "The sooner we get to the shindig the Lyle’s are throwing the sooner we get home." He tugged at his stiff collar. "Can't stand these fancy duds you made me wear."
"We'll see you at the party," Suzanna said to Debra.
Grayson leaned close to Debra and whispered in her ear, "Remind me to clobber your brother when he gets back. He shoulda taken Cantrell with him."
He should have, Debra thought as the sheriff escorted his wife to the doors. But then, she would've missed the bandit. Beneath his tomfoolery and insolence was a man with a good heart. The man she loved. Unfortunately, he chose that exact moment to chortle at Grayson's retreating back and Debra curled her hand to keep from swatting him a third time.
"He's more henpecked than the Devers' boy."
"Do you find fault with a man who loves his wife?" Debra pivoted on her heel to face him. "Or are you jealous, because he has a wife and a home and you don't?" She lifted a brow.
"Jealous of Grayson?" Gage pursed his lips. "The day I am is the day I'm buried." He took her arm. "Let's get to the party. You promised me a dance."
"In a moment." Debra pulled free from his grasp. "I want to light a candle and say a prayer before we leave."
Gage shrugged. "I'll be outside."
Debra went to the altar and opened her drawstring bag hanging around her wrist. She reached inside, took out a coin and placed it on the pewter tray beside the row of candles. Picking up a stick near the pewter, she inserted the tip into a candle that was lit, watched it catch flame and then touched it to the wick of a cold candle. She doused the glowing stick in a pail of sand on the floor and then went to the front pew and knelt.
As was her routine at Sunday service, she said a prayer for her brother, sister-in-law and their children, and one for Buck and Suzanna. Back in March, Doc had broken the news to the couple that Suzanna couldn’t have children. Suzanna had been heartbroken and rarely spoke of the matter.
Debra said a prayer for Gage, that one with a catch in her throat and longing in her heart. Then she turned her thoughts to the man and woman she not only prayed for at Sunday service, but each night, as well.
The woman she'd barely known. The man she didn't know at all, not even the color of his hair and his eyes. But she'd taken their lives and the only way to ease the guilt she carried was to pray for them daily, and for the Lord's forgiveness.
"Amen." She made the sign of the cross then went to join Gage.
Outside, he offered her his heavily muscled arm and led her down the steps to the road leading into town, to the newly built eatery where the party was being held. "Another prayer for those two?" he asked.
"You prayed for them this morning. Don't know why you let their deaths bother you. The woman almost killed Suzanna. The lawman your brother."
"Sister Mary Margaret at the St. Louis orphanage always said a person can't pray enough. She also said it isn't right to take a life. I should've wounded them and…" She blinked back the wetness stinging her eyes.
"What? Let the law take over?" Gage snorted in disgust as they approached two sets of framework at the edge of town, one for the stage depot and the other for the newspaper office. "Your brother told me you were behind Ida Mae when she shot Grayson's wife. She would've tried to kill you, too."
"Still…" She lifted her skirts as they climbed the steps to the boardwalk.
"And you were riding alongside your brother when that lawman blew him out of the saddle. You had no choice but to return fire. Besides," he patted her hand, "you don't even know if you killed him."
"I'm sure I did," she said, regrettably. "You and Roth taught me well the years I rode with both of you."
"Let go of the guilt, Debra. Sometimes, you don't have a choice but to kill. I learned that long ago."
Debra sighed heavily. "Perhaps you're right. But that doesn't mean I won't stop praying for them."
They approached Miller's, the only saloon in Revolving Point to have survived the fire that had nearly destroyed the town more than a year ago. She watched Gage look past the swinging doors into the barroom.
"Quiet," he said. "Just the doves resting their feet." They stepped off the boardwalk, crossed the side street and strode up the stairs to the next boardwalk. "You ever pray for that bastard you married?"
"Travis?" She glanced up at him, saw the nerve along his jaw tick. "No, I don't pray for him. He was as rotten as the day is long. I always knew someone would kill him, only not over a game of poker. He was a drunk, not a gambler."
"Good to hear. Man shoves you down the stairs and breaks your ribs, he doesn't need your prayers."
She nodded as they passed the barbershop. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Do you pray for anyone? Or for something that's important to you?"
"Nope," he said quickly, lowering the brim of his hat.
"I jested with you back at the church about Buck having a home and wife." She halted their stride and gazed up at him. "Don't you want the same someday? And children? Hasn't staying here with me squelched your desire for outlawing? And instilled a yearning to settle down?"
"Can't say that it has." He resumed their pace.
"Oh." Sadness cascaded over her shoulders and shimmied down her back. That wasn't the answer she'd been hoping for. She'd pray extra hard for Gage to have a change of heart at next Sunday's service. Being his wife and having a home and children with him was what she wanted most, and had been since he and her brother had stolen her out of the St. Louis orphanage.