It was still dark when Kat arrived at the livery stable. She balanced Abby on her hip with one hand and held the carpetbag in the other. The child pressed a day old biscuit to her lips. Kat didn’t intend to creep up on the liveryman, but the hour was early and she was quiet. The wiry fellow collected his coffee mug for one last gulp when his eyes locked on hers. Startled, he choked and coughed—spraying coffee into the air.
Abby giggled and spit biscuit crumbs on her dress.
Kat dropped the bag and shifted Abby to the other hip. “Good morning. I made arrangements yesterday for a buggy.”
“Yes ma’am.” He made a dry sound in his throat. “I reckon the sheriff is goin’ with you.”
“No, we have change of plans.” She forced a pleasant smile. “I’ve handled a horse and buggy all my life. My daughter and I would like to leave now.”
The man raised his bony fingers to scratch the side of his head. “I suppose one of the hands will bring the buggy back tomorrow.”
“Yes. That is fine. I will need directions to the Lucky Chance.”
Her clipped words didn’t encourage him to oppose her plans. This bossy woman might cause a stir if she didn’t get her way. Mercy, he didn’t relish someone hollerin’ this early. That prospect motivated him to fetch the pitchfork leaning against the gate. Then scraping the pitchfork over the packed dirt in the barn isle, he created a crude map. “You stay on this road.” He pointed at a thin line in the dirt.
Kat nodded. “Yes. I understand.”
“Follow the road east and keep the creek north of you. I don’t want people blamin’ me if you lose your way.”
“I can assure you that is a needless worry. I have an excellent memory. Thank you, Mister . . .” She didn’t know his name.
“Wagner, ma’am,” he said nervously, fidgeting with the pitchfork.
“Mr. Wagner, because I won’t be here to meet the sheriff, I’d appreciate it if you’d give him this envelope.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll be glad to.” He tucked the envelope in his pocket.
Kat reached for the bag.
“I’ll get the bag, ma’am.” He kindly loaded it into the seat of the buggy and offered his hand to her.
“Thank you.” Kat squeezed Abby in between her and the bag.
“You take care now.”
She gently tapped the harness with the buggy whip and they were on their way.
Fifteen minutes later, the sun peeked over the valley lending shape to a glorious day. Her confidence rose with the easy nature of the horse and the steady roll of the wagon. Before Chance’s death, Kat loved the city, but now she couldn’t wait to make the ranch their home. She talked aloud to Abby about their new adventure, and Abby giggled at the enthusiasm in her mother’s voice.
The horse trotted another quarter of a mile before it began to limp on the near side of its fore leg.
“Whoa,” Kat commanded. She lifted Abby to the floor of the buggy. “Stay right there while I look at the horse.”
Kat climbed down the side and as her feet touched the ground, the bottom of her skirt snagged. Kat grumbled and ripped it loose. Why didn’t she wear...