The men heaved the luggage over the top railing of the Wells Fargo Stagecoach. This was the last way station before Farlow. Kat leaned out the window to watch a shotgun messenger climb into the driver’s box.
“Trouble, Whip?” she asked the driver with staunch directness.
“Naw,” Whip answered. “A man with a sawed-off shotgun makes it easier for me to keep my mind on the team. Don’t fret now.” He shrugged and hurried to the rear of the stage.
Kat frowned. She could have sworn she’d overheard one of the hostlers mention something about holdups. That thought made her take an uneasy glance toward the road.
Two hours later, she fidgeted with the tie on her bonnet and swayed again as the stage struck another rut. She preferred to wear a hat, but the cramped space in the coach required a sensible choice. A fine layer of dust settled on her gored skirt, and she absently shook the folds. The matching jacket with a pleated peplum, showed more dust, but Kat didn’t notice.
Abby squeezed in next to her. The lurch of the stage had turned into a source of amusement for the impish child. Kat smiled and tried not to look worried. She placed a great deal of confidence in the messenger and the driver; she also depended on the Colt concealed in her carpetbag. After several deep, relaxing breaths, she gazed intently out the window.
The rugged countryside spanned for miles and the Texas Longhorns were everywhere. The animals were not a new sight; the Longhorn herds often passed by her uncle’s farm on the way to the Abilene stockyards. Chance teased her saying he was one of the rowdy cowboys who waved to her. Although he’d not been on a drive in years, he’d planned all along to build up the herd for breeding stock. He often expressed his devotion to the ranch. It was rough country, as rough as anyone might ever see, and it could be just as giving. A wise man didn’t take it for granted. As Kat bore those words in mind, she slid the carpetbag closer with her foot.
“You seem worried.”
Kat smiled at the graceful woman seated next to her. “No, I’m just anxious to get to Farlow. How much further?”
“Not more than three or four miles.”
Patricia Herman had spent the last two weeks with her ailing mother. She told Kat that she’d expected an uninteresting journey back to Farlow. Married in the summer, she was eager to reunite with her husband who purchased the general store there. The two women found plenty of common ground and quickly formed a close friendship.
On the opposite bench, Melvin Armstrong snuck sips of whiskey from a silver flask. To Kat’s disgust, the traveling salesman slurped the liquid over the rim of the flask, turning the air foul. Less than keen when it came to children, he roosted on his side of the seat as if Abby could infect him with an unknown disease. His high-pitched, whiney voice, grated on Kat’s nerves, as did the endless complaints. Today his annoyance stemmed from the call for an early rise, followed by a meager breakfast, and the...