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    • It was long, tedious work, even though, for the most part, it was just plodding along with the cows, making sure they all stayed together and went the right way they were supposed to.  Even after the wind picked up, there were only a few mavericks who tried to wander off on their own, but the drag riders managed to coax them back to the herd.   As the day progressed, Annie became less jiggy, and Justus could tell she was getting tired.  "It's all right, Miz Annie."  He patted the horse's neck, then tightened the bandanna that was keeping his hat from blowing away.   "Ya think this is just a dry wind?" Justus called to Loredo, "or somethin' more movin' in?"  There wasn't the smell of rain in the air yet, nor clouds, but he knew that the weather could change quickly.  "Will they try ta settle in camp early?"  It seemed to him that if there was 'weather' moving in, it was better to have the cattle settled than moving, but what did he know? He just hoped it didn't impact supper!   @Flip
    • "Wonderful!"  Jonah almost clapped, for this had been going on for so long, that he really expected that this would be some sort of new setback, and Leah certainly didn't need any more complications.  "I'm sure it's going to be a huge relief when they finally break ground.  It's going to be rewarding to watch it take shape, and for you to know you are responsible for it."   He hoped, for her sake more than anything, that the weather cooperated, and that the progress was swift and without complications.    "You'll be overseeing the project?"  He couldn't imagine that she'd step back now, and not assure that every detail was right.   @Flip
    • "Boss, we found us a herd ripe for the pluckin'. Maybe we oughtta move on it afore they change where they're grazin' 'em, an make it more difficult." Toole suggested. "We can take close to a hunderd head easy enough, they move 'em, thet might not be the way of it."   "'Scuse me men, but Toole here is on to something, and cattle is our other business. We've customers waiting up north." Case said, not happy at being interrupted, yet realizing that what he said was true. It was why they were there, and it was what the did. "So go on and make yourselves to home while I get this job situated."   "Oh sure thing, Case, an thanks for the offer. We appreciate it, 'mon boys." Shannon said, and with that they walked outside to find the other building Case was talking about.   "Alright Toole what did you have in mind?" Case asked.   "The place is just at the foothills where they have their cattle. Now any buildin's 'er maybe a mile, mile'n a half away. What we saw was just maybe four riders wit the cattle, may not hav'ta kill any of 'em. We just filter down through the trees and then rush 'em. Maybe eight 'er ten of us, circle the heard an' push 'em back the way we come which was the long way around , and shore they'll be tracks alomst all the way to the dry river bed, maybe  whot, two mile from the tree line. Hard ground to river bed, but they won't catch us, not seein's they're out numbered."   Case gave it some thought, but Toole had been plotting how they would steal a herd for quite a while, and he knew what he was doing. Besides, no County Sheriff, no problem!   "Pick your men, Toole and get it done." Case said, knowing if they got a hundred head, that would be enough to drive north, once the brands were altered.
    • Having a second thought, to bolster the findings he sent for Fairchild before he could leave for New Orleans, and in the vicinity of Elinor Steelgrave, that could be done at another time after this meeting with Elias himself.   It was like hedging his bet on the situation. He wanted Elias to meet the man who could explain what was in the file in detail, much better than he himself.  might be able to. Nothing like being prepared. Elias could be unpredictable when upset, if a man like Fairchild explaining what he had found could manage to keep Steelgrave manage-ably clam then the expense was worth it to all concerned.   He had to congratulate himself on the idea. It just might work!
    • List in hand, they made their way back to town and to the Anderson's Mercantile where they laid out their list of needs. John and Mary Agnes looked over the list and began adding prices, plus shipping where it was warranted.   "So, you're in the mining business Marshal?" John asked.   "We are." Alice replied with a wide proud smile on her face. Speed just looked at her.   "Amos here found a property to good to pass up, so I bought it myself." Speed said, "Actually two properties, the other on is off to the west, but this one is just north of the Evergreen Ranch a couple of miles."   "Ah that would be the Henshaw mine. Sad about his wife passing on so suddenly. Life can be hard out here, it was just too hard for Martha Henshaw, though she tried as hard as anyone could." Mary Agnes said. "Most all of what you have here we have in stock. Most all of this was on Henshaw's list as well, he just quit before he paid for it. I believe we can give you a good price on the machinery out back. Right John?"   "Yes we can, The fact is Speed I'll let you have it at our cost, plus the shipping expenses, of course. Be good to free up that room back there. Let me see here at my cost, yes, well, it looks to be just under three thousand dollars, without the things we have in stock that wasn't Henshaw's."   Fair enough John, and we appreciate it. Now, if you'll let me get up to the bank, we want to use their money until we get started, and then we'll settle up."   "Makes sense to me, it's what we did. Hated those monthly payments, but it worked for us." John agreed.   "We'll be back." Speed promised.

Next Stop, Missoula, Montana


The Old Ranger
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The private train car was older but well-appointed and, to all appearances, would make the journey far more comfortable than sitting in a regular passenger car. The combination sitting and dining area was at the rear of the coach. The sitting area had a couple of chairs and settees arranged near a wood-burning stove. The color scheme was muted, but quite pleasant. The settees and chairs were upholstered in dark green velvet with cream-colored accent pillows. The heavy drapes that covered the car's windows matched the upholstery with cream-colored ties and tassels.


To one side, beneath the windows was a heavy dining table and chairs for four. The table could be folded out to accommodate more diners, but on the comparatively short trip from Sacramento to Missoula, dinner parties were unlikely. All of the furniture was fastened to the car's floor with metal brackets to keep it from shifting with the train's motion.


The sleeping compartment was located at the front of the coach, separated from the living area by a dividing wall and pocket door. A narrow corridor ran between the four compartments. Each berth contained two bunks, and a tiny washstand and a small built-in at the head of each bunk offered storage. The top bunk was made to fold up so that occupants would have more space when it was not needed. Sliding doors offered the occupants privacy when they retired for the night. The small corridor ended at the door that led to the platform between the private coach and the dining car.

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Shade made his way from the horse car and through the dining car, nodding pleasantly at the few people sitting at the tables having coffee while they waited for the train to leave the station. He had been making sure Lakota and Paladin were settled for the journey and had been surprised to see that the horse's accommodations were better than some livery stables he had seen. In fact, it seemed the California-Northern Railroad Company, for all it was one of the smaller lines, took the comfort of all of their passengers quite seriously. Shade slid open the car's door and stepped out on the landing, crossing into the private coach he'd hired, and pausing to look it over. Quentin was already there, having been seeing to stowing their gear, both men preferring to keep their things with them rather than having them loaded into the baggage car. He noted with approval that the car offered separate sleeping compartments. Shade and Quentin had become accustomed to one another over the course of the journey, but a little privacy would still be more than welcomed. He was also pleased to note that the hotel doctor's care and a full day of rest had mostly restored his new friend to his old self.


"The horses are fine. They seem resigned to the fact that they'll be on another train," Shade told the other man as he hung up his hat and walked toward one of the chairs, the sound of his boots and jingling of his spurs muffled by the car's thick green and cream carpet. "After reaching Missoula, we'll still have a couple of days of riding to make Kalispell." He dropped into the chair, instinctively stretching his feet toward the warmth of the woodstove although at this time of year it wouldn't be lit unless the temperature dropped drastically at night when they reached the mountains.


Shade fell silent then. Sooner or later he needed to tell Quentin his version of the events that had occurred in Missoula thirteen years before. The events that had led to his self-exile and later banishment from his home and that had changed his life. He knew that Chance and Regina had probably filled Quentin in, but the story would have been from their perspectives, not his, so it had to be done, just not yet.


Quentin looked up from the open newspaper he had picked up at the station. "Deep down they probably don't mind having some rest. We rode them quite a ways..." Quentin nodded his head in the direction of the sleeping compartments. "...I put your gear and rifle in the one on the right. I have the one on the left. There's a basin and pitcher of water in both and in that cabinet over there are a few bottles of beer and harder stuff...must be a perk of the car."


Shade nodded, his eyes surveying their temporary domain, "It was more than I anticipated with goin' to Missoula. Rail to the territory has been added since I left. I was rather surprised there was anything this nice going that way." Using the toe of his boot, he tilted the chair back precariously on two legs. "Conductor said it'd take us somewhere between forty and forty-five hours to reach Missoula, what with stops for passengers and water, freight loading, and unloading." He went quiet for a moment, his mind calculating the journey, "Then a two or three day ride up to Kalispell so with resting up a day in the city and gathering supplies, we should be at the ranch well ahead of the expiration of the injunction."


Cantrell nodded. "That sounds good...you think they'll keep trying to stop us? If they keep on, we'll have some good grounds for charges against the attorney trying to take your land."


"If either of us is left to press charges," Shade stated in a dry tone. "They came mighty close to ventilating your hide at Crippled Horse, and I don't want to be the next one." He lifted an eyebrow at Quentin, "Either way I think we can provide grounds enough to offset Tyndall's objections."


"They got lucky because I was not expecting them to actually go so far as to physically kill us..." Cantrell leaned back in his chair. "...from now on we play by their rules. Someone starts something with us, they don't walk away."


Shade frowned slightly as he lowered the chair, so all four legs rested on the floor of the coach. "The man I roughed up back at the pass said that someone was noising it around Jackson that two special couriers for Wells Fargo would be riding in with a large payroll. They described our horses and us, even said we'd be hitting the Montana Trail. They want us dead, Quent, they just don't want anyone else to figure out it was murder."


Cantrell folded the newspaper closed. "Our best bet is to move as fast as possible. The more we stop, the more chances they get. The closer to home we get the more desperate they will get. I suspect we both shouldn't sleep at the same time. It would not take much work to figure out what train we're taking."


"We'll stop as little as possible after we get to Missoula," Shade paused and uttered a short, sharp sound that was halfway between a snort and a laugh. He indicated the train, "Less than five years ago, none of this existed. You traveled to Montana territory by foot, on horseback or in a wagon. There were some steamboats that ran the Missouri River, and I heard they put in a steamboat at Poison on the south shore of Flathead Lake that runs to the north shore." He looked over at Quentin, "In fact, Kalispell didn't exist until 1872. Before that, it was part of the old Fort Kalispell trading settlement. Gold sure changes things in a hurry."

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Shade stopped speaking again, turning his attention to the floor of the private train car. His eyes traced the intricate cream and gold pattern on the thick carpet. He finally looked up at Quentin again, "Do you remember the first man you killed outside the war?"


Quentin had been in the middle of taking a drink of tea when Shade spoke. The motion had stopped for a few seconds before he set the cup back down. Quentin let his hand rest beside the cup, fingers drummed once before he spoke. "I do...one year after I signed my parole..." Cantrell's eyes got a little bit unfocused as his mind's eye watched the event unfold. "...I was on my way out west after giving up on rebuilding anything in Charleston. I stopped in St. Louis to spend a few days and got into a card game. It seemed friendly enough. The place was as nice as it gets in St. Louis. Anyway...I had made good progress at cleaning two of the men at the table out and one of them...he was already drunk and just got angrier the longer he played. He suddenly stood up and called me a coward. I called him a liar and gave him a chance to apologize. He...decided not to apologize and went for his gun. He probably would have been way too slow sober, but from that distance, he might have gotten lucky."


Cantrell smiled "I wasn't wearing this yet..." his hand tapped his Colt under his left arm. "...so I kicked my chair back into the floor and shot him with my pistol that was still in my holster. I never tried to draw it...just shot him down the side of my leg." The ex-soldier exhaled. "It was a little comical. He missed me twice from that distance, and I missed him once. I guess it was just luck that my second shot hit square. He went down, and I was finally able to crawl to my feet. He died...but it took a few minutes. I got to stand there and watch him while someone fetched the sheriff and the doctor."


Cantrell reached up and rubbed two fingers at his temple. "He was gone before either man got there...it's funny...I probably killed a few dozen personally during the war, but it was quick. A flashing target pistol shot from my saddle...a saber slash during a melee...a distant form with my carbine. This...this was completely different. I watched him die, and he looked at me as he did. I will never forget it."


Shade's eyes studied Quentin's face for a few moments. When he spoke, his voice was a bit distant as he recalled things he wished he could forget. "From the first time Father took me out and started teaching me to shoot and how to handle firearms, I was good with them. The stories of gunfighters, military heroes, all the rest that goes with it seemed so glamorous back then so I practiced anytime I could. By the time I was sixteen, taking down a deer with one shot was no effort." He looked up and smiled, chuckling softly, "It was the one thing I was far better at than Chance was."


"Mother, Father, and the nuns and priest at St. Francis made sure I knew killin' was wrong. Father tempered that with unless you're defending yourself or someone else," Shade shook his head. "No one thought there'd be any problem with me escorting Regina to Missoula Mills. She needed to shop for the wedding and..." this time his voice trailed off and stopped entirely. Shade took a really deep breath before going on, "...and I was getting married in just a few days. I wanted to get something really special for Hannah. I spotted a locket in a jeweler's shop and went in to ask the price. Reggie said she'd meet me at the hotel and kept going. I bought the necklace but left it at the shop to be engraved. I walked back outside and heard what sounded like a muffled scream, then heard it again and realized it was Reggie. Calvin Steelgrave had dragged her into an alley next to the shop and was trying to...attempting to assault her. I was so incredibly angry that anyone would try to hurt Reggie that I'd beat him bloody before I realized she was trying to pull me off. She got through to me, and we found a deputy and reported the incident. After that, we went on to the hotel."


"The next day, we had a few more errands because it was our last day in town. We walked out of the hotel, and I heard something, a high-pitched whining sound, go past my head. Took me a moment to realize I'd also heard the sound of a gunshot. Reggie was frozen, and there was Calvin waving his gun and screaming that if he couldn't have her no one could and no worthless harlot got away with refusing him. I didn't even think about it. He was bringing his gun back up to fire again. I drew and shot him. Didn't think, didn't even realize I'd done it for a second, and I didn't care. I was so angry. Then Reggie was holding my arm, crying a little bit, more angry than afraid I think. I walked over. Calvin Steelgrave was dead, his eyes were staring at the sky, empty, cold. I remember feeling this weird rush and feeling shaky and sick all at the same time. I've never felt exactly the same way since...when I've had to kill, I mean. Don't really want to, never want to feel that rush, that thrill at having killed a man."


"Anyway," Shade looked up to meet Quentin's eyes, "we found ourselves in the sheriff's office again. No charges were brought, but there were Steelgraves all over town promising revenge. I made sure Reggie was sent home safe, then I lit out. Hoped to draw anyone planning on trouble away from home. After reaching Helena, I sent word home. A few days later, Father showed up at the boarding house. He made it clear that I was no longer welcome at home." Shade left out the part where John Caleb had knocked him to the floor and coldly informed him that Shade was no longer his son.

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Quentin listened to Shade and smiled. "You felt guilty because you and this Steelgrave fella shot it out and you came out on top..." The ex-soldier took another drink of his tea and set it down. "...that feeling you had was your brain savoring the sensation of surviving. I would be lying if I said I never felt it. I felt it after every charge when I was still in my saddle, and I am sure every man who had bullets fly by him or a bayonet or a cannon shell felt it too." Cantrell took a deep breath and then looked Shade square in the eye. "If you did not go looking for the fight or hunt this man down just so you could shoot him then you did no wrong. The only person wrong in this was your father. If he wanted you dead so badly maybe he should have shot you himself...that seems to have been his wish considering the outcome."


Shade visibly twitched, startled at Quentin's final proclamation regarding his father. Instinctively, he defended his father's decision to disavow him with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "It was about the only he had left. I had issues with discipline. Father said I took after my mother and grandmother. Mother was Spanish. Grandmother was Blackfeet, Piegan. I think...I like to think...Father thought it was safer for me if I stayed away. Chance tried to mend the fences. I could've gone home after Father died, so the last few years of traveling the Big Open was my choice." Shade's eyes were troubled, "I should have gone home. Should've been there." There! He'd said it. Maybe not in so many words, but the unspoken words hung clearly between them. If I had just been there, maybe Chance, Regina, and their two children would be alive.


Quentin rested his chin on his hand as he watched Shade flog himself mentally. "Shade, if you had been with them you would be dead also. You know Chance was no slouch with a gun. He could hit anything he could see. He was probably hugely outnumbered. One more gun might have meant a few more Indians died, but the end result would have been the same...Chance, Reggie...all would still be dead, and in your version so would you."


"My head knows all that, Quent. It'll just take my heart some time to believe it as well," Shade told the other man with a small smile. "I'll go find out if we're pulling out of the station on time..." He rose to his feet and turned toward the coach's door.

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Location: The Carlton Hotel, Sacramento    
Timeline: Early July, 1875

Originally published:  Fri Jul 7th, 2017 @ 7:08am

=================================

 

The Sacramento Carlton Hotel was much younger than the Misión St. Eligius which stood across the street from it. In its day, the St. Eligius had been a Spanish mission and a nobleman's villa. As Sacramento's population and prestige increased, it had been bought and converted into a two-story hotel complete with an elegant Spanish style courtyard whose burbling fountains made a peaceful respite for its clientele. The Carlton, far younger, but no less elegant generally catered to a younger generation of patrons. It boasted five floors and several suites, three dining rooms to the St. Eligius' one, and baths in every room and suite. Both attracted the upper echelon of society, travelers passing through, residents who needed the hotel's function rooms, and visitors to the city.


Despite its attractions and the fact that everything was shiny and new, less worn than at the St. Eligius, Harriet Mercer preferred the older hotel. However, the thought of sharing a single room with her sister and continuing to be the recipient of heartfelt sighs, hostile looks, and silent tears, made the idea unpalatable. The St. Eligius had no suites available, and the Sacramento Carlton had several. The decision of which hotel to stay at for the three-day wait for the train to Montana had been made for her.


Harriet, better known as H.G., looked over the bill the clerk handed her and decided it was not worth questioning and getting a new one drawn up over a two dollar discrepancy. Normally, she demanded all accounts be accurate to the penny. Today, she was feeling generous. She reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet, unfolded the requisite number of bills plus a few coins for a gratuity. Promising that she would consider the Carlton for her next stay in Sacramento, but not meaning it, H.G. exited the building. An attendant handed her into the waiting carriage where she took a seat opposite her younger sister.


After smoothing the folds of her dark green traveling skirt, H.G. looked at her sister, noting the small cage with its two feathery occupants on the seat beside her. "You should have allowed Fang to take them to the train station for you."


"No, thank you." Jo's reply was curt as she barely glanced in her sister's direction. "I prefer to handle them myself." She ran a gloved finger along the cage gently before picking up a seed and offering one first to Angel, and then to Blue. "I like their company." If she closed her eyes and tried to tune out everything except for the lilting twitters of her budgies, she could almost forget where they were going. Sadly, it only worked for a second or two before the carriage jostled and she was jarred back into reality. A reality she despised, ambushed at the train station where she and Jeremy had met to elope, then dragged kicking and screaming away from her warm and comfortable home in San Francisco, heading east toward the desolate dust bowl that was Montana. She hadn't been dragged in the literal sense as such a thing is unladylike, but she wouldn't have put it against Fang to do such a thing.


Harriet held back a sigh, instead remarking with a slight, very slight edge of exasperation to her voice, which was all she ever allowed herself. "You could make an effort to act like an adult and not an unruly teenager." She then turned her gaze to the city beyond the carriage. She liked Sacramento and had considered relocating there on occasion, but her heart belonged to the rugged wilderness of Montana. Until this trip, her visits to the territory had been brief. She'd always been assured of her welcome by Chance and Regina Thornton. Harriet's throat tightened with grief held firmly in check. Perhaps once they were settled in their private coach on the train, she could give vent to her emotions, releasing the anger and heartbreak she felt over her friends' deaths.


There was a tone to Harriet's voice, most might not have picked up on it, but Josephine knew her well enough to detect it, and it made her smile a little inwardly. Yes, her behavior toward her older sister was a little childish and immature, but Jo was angry, hurting and heartbroken. After humiliating her at the train station like she had, Harriet deserved less than favorable manners from Jo. She deserved far more than just that. However, Jo would have to settle for picturing Harriet's face imprinted on her embroidery as she could pretend to stab her repeatedly with a needle. "You're right, I could." She replied. But she wouldn't. Acting her true age and setting aside her hostility, no, Jo wasn't quite ready to do anything that would please Harriet just yet.

 

The Sacramento Carlton Hotel was much younger than the Misión St. Eligius which stood across the street from it. In its day, the St. Eligius had been a Spanish mission and a nobleman's villa. As Sacramento's population and prestige increased, it had been bought and converted into a two-story hotel complete with an elegant Spanish style courtyard whose burbling fountains made a peaceful respite for its clientele. The Carlton, far younger, but no less elegant generally catered to a younger generation of patrons. It boasted five floors and several suites, three dining rooms to the St. Eligius' one, and baths in every room and suite. Both attracted the upper echelon of society, travelers passing through, residents who needed the hotel's function rooms, and visitors to the city.


Despite its attractions and the fact that everything was shiny and new, less worn than at the St. Eligius, Harriet Mercer preferred the older hotel. However, the thought of sharing a single room with her sister and continuing to be the recipient of heartfelt sighs, hostile looks, and silent tears, made the idea unpalatable. The St. Eligius had no suites available, and the Sacramento Carlton had several. The decision of which hotel to stay at for the three-day wait for the train to Montana had been made for her.


Harriet, better known as H.G., looked over the bill the clerk handed her and decided it was not worth questioning and getting a new one drawn up over a two dollar discrepancy. Normally, she demanded all accounts be accurate to the penny. Today, she was feeling generous. She reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet, unfolded the requisite number of bills plus a few coins for a gratuity. Promising that she would consider the Carlton for her next stay in Sacramento, but not meaning it, H.G. exited the building. An attendant handed her into the waiting carriage where she took a seat opposite her younger sister.


After smoothing the folds of her dark green traveling skirt, H.G. looked at her sister, noting the small cage with its two feathery occupants on the seat beside her. "You should have allowed Fang to take them to the train station for you."


"No, thank you." Jo's reply was curt as she barely glanced in her sister's direction. "I prefer to handle them myself." She ran a gloved finger along the cage gently before picking up a seed and offering one first to Angel, and then to Blue. "I like their company." If she closed her eyes and tried to tune out everything except for the lilting twitters of her budgies, she could almost forget where they were going. Sadly, it only worked for a second or two before the carriage jostled and she was jarred back into reality. A reality she despised, ambushed at the train station where she and Jeremy had met to elope, then dragged kicking and screaming away from her warm and comfortable home in San Francisco, heading east toward the desolate dust bowl that was Montana. She hadn't been dragged in the literal sense as such a thing is unladylike, but she wouldn't have put it against Fang to do such a thing.


Harriet held back a sigh, instead remarking with a slight, very slight edge of exasperation to her voice, which was all she ever allowed herself. "You could make an effort to act like an adult and not an unruly teenager." She then turned her gaze to the city beyond the carriage. She liked Sacramento and had considered relocating there on occasion, but her heart belonged to the rugged wilderness of Montana. Until this trip, her visits to the territory had been brief. She'd always been assured of her welcome by Chance and Regina Thornton. Harriet's throat tightened with grief held firmly in check. Perhaps once they were settled in their private coach on the train, she could give vent to her emotions, releasing the anger and heartbreak she felt over her friends' deaths.


There was a tone to Harriet's voice, most might not have picked up on it, but Josephine knew her well enough to detect it, and it made her smile a little inwardly. Yes, her behavior toward her older sister was a little childish and immature, but Jo was angry, hurting and heartbroken. After humiliating her at the train station like she had, Harriet deserved less than favorable manners from Jo. She deserved far more than just that. However, Jo would have to settle for picturing Harriet's face imprinted on her embroidery as she could pretend to stab her repeatedly with a needle. "You're right, I could." She replied. But she wouldn't. Acting her true age and setting aside her hostility, no, Jo wasn't quite ready to do anything that would please Harriet just yet.

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Harriet studied her sister's averted profile for a moment, noting the fall of her pale hair and her mutinous expression. She probably should not have interfered. She should have allowed Josephine to escape the confines of her life in San Francisco, but she found the thoughts of her being subjected to the same life as their mothers totally repellant. With luck, time and distance would end any vestige of romantic feelings for young Fitzpatrick. Harriet gave herself a mental shake. No, whether Josephine ever forgave her not, she had done the right thing.


"I have an apartment at the Bell-St. Regis in Kalispell. It is an extremely nice hotel. I have to work, but there should still be time to drive about the countryside, look at houses near the town?" Harriet knew that sooner or later she would have to tell Josephine why she was in Montana, but right now she could not bear to say the words aloud. Chance and Regina Thornton are dead.


Jo managed to hold back a scathing remark about another location where she preferred her sister go, it was going to be a very long train ride if she continued as she was. She was already exhausted, and it had only been a few days. She could just as easily hate Harriet silently. "If you have time. I'm sure there will be little of any interest for me there, but it is better than being cooped up in a hotel room."


For several moments, Harriet seriously considered having Jim turn the carriage around and take them to the Sisters of Mercy at St. Agatha's where she would proceed to have her sister interred for life at the convent. Why could Josephine not see Jeremy Fitzpatrick as clearly as Harriet did? Was she completely oblivious to his rampage through all the young women of a certain age and income in San Francisco? Harriet had had him investigated. Not only had he been a total cad with the women of his hometown, San Francisco, but he had also been forced to leave Philadelphia for the same reason. One young woman had killed herself when she discovered he had deserted her and their unborn child because the grass was sweeter, and wealthier, on the other side of High Street.


Josephine was young, but in Harriet's opinion, she was far too old to be suffering from a schoolgirl's crush. She recalled discussing her younger sister's foibles with Regina Thornton one day. Reggie had smiled, her dark eyes full of humor, as she stated that all normal young women went through highly emotional and susceptible periods in their lives. Harriet had replied scathingly that she had never been misled by a handsome countenance and charming smile. To which, Regina had replied archly, "I did say all normal young women, H.G.!" Even you? Harriet had asked Regina. The other woman had leaned back, patted her abdomen that was swollen with her third pregnancy and laughed. "Even me, Harriet. I just happened to have married mine." Harriet felt her heart break all over again. "Oh, Regina!" She said silently, her gray eyes smoky and troubled.


So, what would Regina and Chance do if Josephine were Lilah Beth or Nettie? They would mete out appropriate punishment. Harriet put a check mark next to that item. Removing Josephine from San Francisco and Fitzpatrick's presence was the punishment. They would then explain why the child was being punished. Harriet left that item unticked. She had not explained, not beyond a terse statement or two regarding his character or lack thereof. This part was far more difficult. Harriet was not in the habit of explaining herself to anyone, except maybe Fang.


Explanations would likely be met with rejection, but as Regina often said, one would never know if they did not try. Besides, perhaps it was time for some hard truths. They had time. The rail depot was still some distance away, and they could remain in the carriage. The train wasn't scheduled to depart for more than an hour. "Josephine, you are really behaving abominably when you should be grateful I cared enough to keep that fortune hunter away from you. Jeremy Fitzpatrick is the mirror image of your dear, departed father, right down to leaving death in his wake. I would not have you suffer the same fates as our mothers did. If you wish to see the documentation I have on Mr. Fitzpatrick, I will show it to you once we're aboard the train. He is a cad and a ne'er-do-well no less than Franklin Hartwell Mercer was. Once he learned you could not provide the living he had married you for, he would have been just as cold and just as cruel as Frank was to your mother, mine, and...others." Harriet had almost said and to me, but Frank Mercer's cruelty to her was not germane to the conversation.


For those long moments where Harriet went quiet, probably pondering things over in her head, Josephine occupied herself with her birds. Peeling one glove off, she carefully slid her fingers through the bars of the cage and waited. She had only been gifted the budgie pair a little over a month before, and she was still getting used to handling them bare-handed. A soft smile curled her lips as Angel, the braver of the pair, hopped along her little wooden bar toward Jo's fingers. The bird herself then waited and held still as Jo gingerly stroked her pure white feathers with a gentle touch. Jo often allowed them out of the cage at home so that they could fly more freely in her bedroom, however, there was not room enough to do so in the carriage. 


Looking over when Harriet spoke once more, Jo slowly removed her fingers from the cage, not wanting to startle either of the birds. The trip itself was likely stressing them out somewhat as they did not go out of the house ever. She held back an internal sigh at her sister's words. Every time Harriet spoke Jeremy's name out loud, it was like someone had taken a fist and punched Jo right in her heart. "I'm not ready to be grateful." She stated quietly. "I'm far too angry to even think about gratitude." It was the truth, but at least she didn't spit the words like venom from her mouth. "You call him a fortune hunter, but I know he loved me. I could feel it in my heart Harriet and you..." She shook her head, determined not to let her anger get the better of her in such close quarters. There was nowhere to walk off to cool her temper. 


"You had no right to do things as you did, humiliating me in public like that? I would never have done that to you, regardless of the reason or circumstances. One minute, I'm...yes eloping was probably not the wisest choice, and the next, I'm being shuffled onto a train completely blindsided." Jo looked at her sister for a moment, the pain clear in her green eyes. "You can have all the documents in the world as you like, but I know how I felt and I know he loved me."


"Humiliate you in public?" Harriet stared at Josephine, her expression one of wonder. "You mean at the train depot at an ungodly hour of the morning when there was only me, you, and Fang on the platform? You never cease to amaze me."

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Leaning back, Harriet pursed her lips and tapped one finger on the arm of the carriage's seat. "Very well. If you truly believe that Fitzpatrick is madly in love with you and not just himself as his frequent passes in front of the ballroom mirrors indicate, I will give you your train fare home. You are, after all, twenty-five years old. I am certain that the two of you will find some way to support yourselves until you receive your full inheritance at thirty. Your monthly stipend from your trust fund might be stretched to paying rent - you will have to rent, it is not enough to allow you to purchase a place to live - buying groceries, and the like. I doubt it will run to paying for a housekeeper."


"It was still not behind closed doors," Jo replied shortly, folding her arms across her chest as she prepared for yet another argument. However, her sister's next words gave her pause, and she actually put them to thought. If Harriet were this sure of the truth behind Jeremy's motives, could there actually be truth to it? Harriet was not the type to lie but... no, she had to be this time. Josephine refused to admit to even the smallest grain of possibility. Even as her heart believed one truth, her brain must have believed another, even in the furthest possible corner, as the words that came from her own mouth were not what she expected. "No." She found herself saying. "I do not wish to return home like that. I will accompany you instead." 


Harriet was taken by surprise at Josephine's sudden acquiescence, but before she could respond, her eyes were caught by the advance of a harried-looking ticket agent. She raised her delicately arched eyebrows as he stopped by the carriage, "Miss Mercer, ma'am," his voice wavered, and Harriet's gray eyes darkened with impatience, "there has been a mistake. The only available private coach has already been hired."


Now her visage truly darkened. Harriet had no intention of spending the next forty or more hours sandwiched into a seat in one of the regular passenger cars. Cyrus Thorne, the owner of California-Northern, was a client of hers and part of her fee was the understanding that if he were not using the private coaches, they were at her disposal. This was rarely a problem on the lines running north and south along the Pacific coast as there were usually two or more private cars available. The Missoula line was new, and one private car was all that was available. Harriet smoothed the folds of her dark green skirt, "Then Mr. Thorne is traveling to Missoula?" Her voice was pleasant as she made the inquiry, but the ticket agent visibly quivered.


"N-no, ma'am. Seeing as you weren't expected, Miss Mercer, the agent hired the coach to two gentlemen traveling to Montana Territory," he gestured toward the train, "You usually telegraph your travel plans..."


Harriet gestured impatiently, "This trip is something of an emergency. You will inform the gentlemen that your ticket agent made a mistake and remove them from the coach."


"I don't see how we can do that, ma'am," the man replied, quelling before the flash of her steel gray eyes. "They paid the full fare..."


"Then I will remove them," Harriet snapped and stood up, glad that they had used the open carriage, so she did not have to worry about dislodging her hat. Jim, the driver, sprang from the driver's seat to help her alight, nodding slightly at her low-voiced order, "Find Fang, he might be needed."


A steward who looked no less agitated than the ticket agent clambered out of the caboose and fell in behind Harriet as she swept along the platform toward the private coach. From somewhere, Fang appeared and dropped in step behind Josephine. Normally, he'd have taken the birds' cage from her, but with Harriet determined to claim the private coach, he might just need his hands-free. In other circumstances, he'd have tried to reason with Harriet, pointing out that the fare had been paid, and the men were entitled to the coach, but he knew how deep her grief was over the deaths of the Thorntons and that grief was hidden beneath her anger.


Harriet opened the door, managing to not fling it open, and swept into the coach. Her steel-gray eyes took in the two men, one a bit older, taller and well-clad, the other wearing faded and dusty denim with a gunbelt low on his hips. She turned her attention to the better dressed of the two, "There has been a mistake..."

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Harriet opened the door, managing to not fling it open, and swept into the coach. Her steel-gray eyes took in the two men, one a bit older, taller and well-clad, the other wearing faded and dusty denim with a gunbelt low on his hips. She turned her attention to the better dressed of the two, "There has been a mistake. The ticket agent should not have sold you the fare for this coach. You will be recompensed the different and moved to one of the passenger cars."


Cantrell looked at the woman standing quite imperiously in the doorway of the coach and the small entourage behind her. "Apologies, Madame, but what we 'will' be doing is staying right here. We bought two tickets that we both possess and unless you are the President of this railroad you have no right to demand anything..." Cantrell got angrier the longer he thought about what this woman had just done. He stood up from the table he had been sitting at. "...and while we are at it, just who the hell are you, lady?"


Her demeanor amply made up for her lack of inches although having her hair twisted up on top of her head, and the hat helped to add the image of height. Harriet automatically reached into the pocket cleverly hidden in the folds of her skirt and fished out a small, plain leather card case. She fished out one of her business cards and handed it to the tall man. "H.G. Mercer, attorney. And, as a matter of fact, the president of California-Northern is a client of mine. The steward will help you with your things." She did not ask the names of either man because they were simply obstacles to be moved out of her way. Who they were did not matter.


Shade studied the woman and her entourage as she and Quentin spoke to one another. He did not see guns, but that did not make him relax his watchfulness. For one thing, the days spent in Cantrell's company had taught him that the other man was pretty good at sizing up people and situations. He'd also never seen the man ruffled or angered. His reaction to the woman was enough to keep Shade on edge.


Quentin looked at the card, and his eyebrows did climb a bit. "Alright, so you're an attorney. Congratulations, Counselor...but that doesn't change one thing about your right to throw us out of this car..." Quentin's eyes shot over to the steward as he had been moving toward the berths for their bags. "...I suggest you stop right there, Bellboy." The steward straightened and looked into Quentin's eyes, then back at the woman. He then backed up toward the door past the young woman and Asian man as they stood side by side watching the encounter. Cantrell held the card out to the side toward Shade. "You know an H.G. Mercer, Shade?"


Shade glanced at the card and shook his head, "Never heard of her," he told Quentin. "Whoa, there, Mister!" In less time than it took to blink, Shade's gun was out and trained on the tall Oriental who had moved to place himself between the younger woman and H.G. Mercer. The man stopped moving but was no less menacing as he stood wary guard at Mercer's shoulder. "The last thing I want to do is shoot anyone over a train car, but as my friend said, we paid our fare and aren't moving."

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Harriet's eyes surveyed the two men from head to toe, and then her eyes narrowed at the younger one. She tilted her head to one side, lips pursed for a moment as she tried to recall where she had seen the face before. Her gasp was not audible, merely mental as it leaped out at her. "You're Shade Thornton! I've seen your face on wanted posters." That also made him the recipient of her services, at least until the issue of the Thornton twins' inheritance and guardianship was resolved. Harriet saw no need to mention that at the moment. The legal, mental gears were grinding, and she was considering a compromise although Harriet was not ready to give up on acquiring the private coach just yet.


The gun in Shade's hand did not waver nor did he show a reaction to H.G. Mercer's recognition. He shrugged slightly, "None current, ma'am."


Quentin looked at the mysterious man Shade was covering and decided his caution was probably not misplaced. "Everyone easy...just take a breath..." His eyes flicked to the lady lawyer. "Keeping up with wanted posters seems like something a lawyer has no time to be doing, and Shade is hardly Jesse James..." Cantrell waved a calming hand in Shade' direction. "...no offense."


Shade's lips twitched slightly, "None taken, partner." He turned his deep blue eyes on the woman who continued to regard them both with an unreadable expression on her face. "Does beg the question, though. Like he said, why would a lawyer lady be familiar with an old wanted poster of mine."


Harriet looked from one man to the other and made a slight gesture with her hand. It was imperceptible to everyone except Fang. There was no obvious change in his demeanor, but Harriet knew he had gotten the signal to stand down. "Mr. Cantrell," she turned her steel gray eyes on him, "I believe I have a satisfactory solution to our...situation. In fact, you are going to have need of my skills very soon."


Cantrell's eyebrows climbed. "We will?...that's not what I expected to hear..." He looked at the group opposite them then reached for the chair he had been sitting in. "Shade...put that away. Would you care to have a seat, Miss Mercer?" Cantrell waved a hand to the two chairs on the opposite side of the table.

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"One moment, please," Harriet turned to Fang and spoke quietly to him. "I'm sorry, but I need the coach for a meeting with my clients. Perhaps you could take Josephine to the dining car? We missed breakfast this morning. Her birds will be safe here." As Fang moved to do her bidding, she turned to the steward, "Everything is resolved." She reached into her pocket and brought out a few coins which she handed the man. "Please bring us coffee and tea as well as whatever the dining car has available for breakfast."


As soon as Josephine, Fang, and the steward left the coach, Harriet took a moment to make sure her sister's birds' cage was safe from tumbling to the floor when the train pulled out of the station. She also picked up a fine hand-tooled leather attaché case before returning to take a seat at the table. From it, she took a stack of files all neatly bound together with dark ribbon and a pair of wire-rimmed reading spectacles which she slipped on. She continued to busy herself until the steward returned bearing a large tray which contained the requested coffee and tea services and covered dishes of bacon, sausage, eggs, and toast. Once again, Harriet tipped the man generously before glancing over the rim of her glasses at Quentin, "Would you do the honors, Mr. Cantrell?" She indicated the coffee and tea.


Cantrell nodded and proceeded to pour coffee for Shade and then a cup of tea for himself and H.G. He asked her preference for milk and sugar and set the cup beside her and sat back down with his own.


Shade had been reluctant to holster his gun until after the tall Oriental left the coach with the younger of the two women. He took the cup of coffee that Quentin poured for him, finally settling in a chair that he angled in a way that allowed him to watch the coach's two doors. It also put his rifle near to hand where it leaned against the table. "Who are you? Why do you have old wanted posters on me and how do you know his name?" He nodded at Quentin. Shade's entire demeanor and body language showed how suspicious he was of the sudden developments in the car and of the woman seated at the table, prosaically sipping tea and sorting files.


"I am, or was, the attorney on retainer for Mr. and Mrs. Chance Thornton," Harriet answered the first of Shade Thornton's questions. She flipped through the files and pulled out a neatly bound document. "This is the contract for my services duly signed by all three of us, witnessed by Mr. and Mrs. Hap Forest and notarized." Harriet handed the document to Cantrell as he was seated nearest to her. "I have old wanted posters on you because I do my due diligence on behalf of all clients. Before I wrote you into Mr. Thornton's will, I wanted to make sure his estate and the ranch were not being handed to a total criminal. While your flirtation with the other side of the law is reprehensible, I found no evidence suggesting you'd settled into a life of crime. Lastly, if you were Shade Thornton, it stood to reason, based on the Thorntons' wills and the letter I received from Judge Mandrell, that this gentleman was Quentin Cantrell. I must admit, though, that I never expected to encounter you before reaching Kalispell. I assumed you would be traveling there directly from Wyoming Territory."


"We did try that, but apparently the people behind this little land grab decided to get rid of us with some story that we were money couriers. It almost worked, so Shade came up with this little idea to circumvent most chances at ambush with this train ride." Cantrell took another drink of tea as he finished recounting their recent troubles.


Harriet frowned. She was not surprised that Tyndall had made an effort to insert himself back into the Thorntons' business, taking advantage of her absence to try and further the cause of his clients. That it had gone to the point of violence disturbed her. It also brought up concerns regarding the safety of the two heirs. Her frown deepened. Make that four heirs, she thought as her gaze swept over Quentin Cantrell and Shade Thornton.


"I want it known that I was not in favor of the recent changes Chance and Regina made to their wills," Harriet's gaze fell on Shade again, noting the dust and the gunbelt. "However, as their attorney, I must make sure their wishes are carried out. I do not know how much you know about the conditions of the original trust?" She raised an eyebrow at Shade.


Shade shrugged slightly, "My grandfather put the ranch and all his business interests into a trust that he called the Thornton Legacy Trust. Its terms dictated that the eldest male child of each generation inherited everything. The younger children would be given a monetary endowment when they reached twenty-one years of age that was to be used as each determined." He paused for a moment, "The trust further stipulated that the younger children would leave the ranch to make their own way in life."


"There were other conditions, and terms as well which would come into play should the eldest son not have children," Harriet added as she tapped another thick folder with a long, perfectly manicured fingernail. "In essence, however, Ishmael's children received a generous portion of the estate and scattered to the four winds. John Caleb Thornton inherited the ranch and businesses. He increased the success of the businesses, but never worried much about putting the ranch on a profitable basis until after the end of the Civil War saw a severe reversal in the family's various business interests. Before all that happened, Caleb Thornton took legal steps to have you removed from the trust," Harriet's attention was on Shade, watching for his reaction. He merely nodded, showing no overt reaction.


"After Caleb Thornton's death, Chance Thornton retained me to investigate certain suspicious business activities and requested that I break the Thornton Legacy. He heartily disliked the structure of the trust. While he focused his energy on the businesses, Regina focused on the ranch which she loved. She also agreed with Chance regarding dismantling the trust. It was not an easy task and took some years in court to accomplish, but we did it," Harriet now turned her attention to both men. "Now for how it all affects the two of you."


"Once the trust was broken, Chance restructured things to give Regina controlling interest in some of the businesses and made her the ranch manager. They rewrote their wills as separate documents to cover all contingencies. Regina's will left Mr. Cantrell her interests in the shipping, mining, and timber businesses, not quite a controlling interest, but significant. She also left you some of her personal property, a few things belonging to the Cantrell family that had been shipped to her over the years before the war. The remainder of her assets were to be divided among her living children." Harriet paused for a nod of understanding from both men before continuing.


"Chance Thornton's will left the majority of his assets to his children, to be divided equally amongst them. It also left them one-half of Lost Lake Ranch and building sites for homes of their own should they wish to remain on the ranch. The other half of the ranch and Blackbird Lodge, the main house, was left to Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton, his younger brother." This time there was more of a reaction. Shade Thornton looked faintly stunned. She found his reaction interesting.


"Chance Thornton and Regina Thornton named you as the legal guardian of their minor children and trustee of their estate. Should it be determined that Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton cannot discharge his duties and responsibilities in that regard, the guardianship devolves to Mr. Quentin Aloysius Cantrell."

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After this very long discourse, Harriet leaned back in her seat and picked up her teacup to sip from it. There was more. She had the letter from Judge Mandrell, but she needed to gather her thoughts and allow the two men a few moments to digest the full contents of their relatives' wills. She also did not consider it the proper time to encourage Shade Thornton to consider renouncing his inheritance in favor of the Thornton twins. Harriet would tackle that in good time. Right now, it was not in the children's best interest that their paternal uncle be maneuvered out of the picture.


Cantrell's eyes widened, and he looked over at Shade. "Don't you dare do anything to lose this inheritance...I am no patriarch!" He shook his head. "I can't go from a bachelor to a gentleman rancher and family man in one day's time."


Harriet looked from one man to the other. In other circumstances, she would have been amused. This situation, however, was far from laughable. Quentin Cantrell was all good looks and charm in his tailored suit, but something about him set her teeth on edge. Shade Thornton looked as if he'd just stepped in off the trail. At least Cantrell gave off some semblance of being civilized. She had her doubts about the younger man.


Rising to her feet, Harriet crossed to the sideboard and surveyed the heavy cut crystal decanters arrayed along its top. Frank Mercer had made sure that she knew how to recognize the finer things in life, such as how to tell one hard liquor from another by the subtleties of its color. She picked up two matching crystal whiskey tumblers, selected a decanter and poured the dark honey-colored liquid into the glasses. She carried them back and set them on the table, one in front of each man. "Here, this may help. Bourbon."


Shade picked up the glass, his eyes drawn to the rainbow colors of the light being reflected in the crystal. He polished it off in one gulp, grateful for the liquid's fiery burn as it flowed down his throat. He wanted to ask what the hell Chance had been thinking, but there wasn't much point. And, there wasn't anyone else, not that he'd hand off his responsibilities even if there were others able to take them on. "That's more than..." Shade looked at the empty glass, "...more than I expected." His mind balked completely. He'd thought after Quentin had told him about the twins, that he was to be their guardian, that maybe Chance had gone around him and left him the ten acres by the lake. Never could he have imagined that it would be half the ranch. He didn't want it! Not like this!

 

*History Note: In the classic era of the Old West— the 1870s and 1880s—most reward posters were just handbills or postcards sent to law enforcement officials with printed descriptions of the wanted men. No photos—although an exception was made in the case of the assassins of President Abraham Lincoln. For game purposes, we will go with how wanted posters were portrayed on television and in movies, some with images (usually sketches, occasionally a photograph), and some with just descriptions..

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The blast of the locomotive's whistle signaled the imminent departure of the train from the station. The train pulled away from the station, gradually picking up speed. The private coach barely lurched as it began moving, obedient to the pull of the car in front of it. In fact, the delicate china sitting on the dining table barely rattled. Cyrus Thorne, California-Northern's owner, prided himself on the skill and competence of his railroad's conductors and engineers. As much as it was possible for humans to influence the ride and comfort of a train, it was done. Even the general passenger coaches boasted padded seats and the livestock cars offered individual stalls for traveling horses. Thorne was a wealthy man, long before he had gotten into the railroad business, and he had always loved trains. No expense had been spared in the hopes that comfort and luxury for even the common traveler would lure more people into taking the train north. The destination might be a hovel, but the trip getting to it would be a pleasure.

Harriet let the silence linger for a few minutes. She had revealed a tremendous amount of information to the two men seated at the table with her. There was within her the urge to assure both of them that Carson Tyndall did not have a legal leg to stand on, which was true, he did not. Yet she waited, studying the two men, wanting to see their thought patterns.

Shade was the first to move. He poured himself another cup of coffee from the silver coffee pot, noting with satisfaction that the beverage was still scalding hot. He took a cautious sip, glad for its warmth even on such a hot summer's day. "There are a couple of things I don't quite understand, ma'am," Shade began, almost hesitantly as he formed his thoughts into words. "If the wills were so tight and legal 'an all, how can this Tyndall challenge them or even think he can? Why'd Quentin have to get an injunction to have time to come find me?"

She actually smiled which softened her features. Shade couldn't help but notice how the dark color that encircled the irises of her eyes made their steel gray depths appear lighter and even more striking. The sweep of her long, black lashes added shadows to their depths, and he'd noticed as she spoke that they often darkened to the color of smoke. Despite that, her face gave little of what she was thinking or feeling away. Shade wished he had her control over the expression of his thoughts and emotions.

"Your brother and sister-in-law were not comfortable with the usual way of doing things. Although it is not legally required, yet, they had copies of their wills registered with the territory, just like one does with land deeds. The other copies and the originals were placed in my custody. All that was immediately available to the Judge at the time Tyndall brought suit were the letters stating there were wills and the basics of what they contained. Mr. Tyndall was, of course, able to present the old Legacy trust documents since he had once represented Caleb Thornton. The injunction allowed the Judge to put off making a final decision for a reasonable amount of time while you were located and I could be notified." Harriet picked up her tea cup again, drank from it and refilled it from the pot. She wished there was a verbal shorthand when explaining legal matters, but there was not.

While Shade digested the answers to his questions, Harriet turned her attention to Quentin, "The twins and their inheritance are vulnerable until you and Mr. Thornton record your own wills which should be done as soon as the estate is settled."

Quentin's eyes met Harriet's, and he watched her for several long moments. "I would think that would be easy enough. If anything happened to myself or Shade, the ranch stays in the family...I guess that family being the Hales. Wouldn't you agree?"

Shade nodded, "The Hales would do their best for the kids." He did not have to think twice on that. Ezra and Kate would fight tooth and nail for them.

"Excellent choice," Harriet stated. "We will make it legal before reaching Missoula...just in case. Fang and Josephine can act as witnesses for the document when it is ready for signing." She set her tea cup down and regarded Shade and Quentin coolly. "Regarding this coach," she gestured at their surroundings. "Since I will be handling some minor legal work for you during this journey, I suggest that I reimburse you half the fare and we share this coach." If Harriet found the suggestion distasteful, it was not apparent in her tone or expression. Her voice was matter-of-fact and businesslike. "It might even be beneficial for the two of you to have witnesses and additional allies for the duration, although Mr. Thornton has already proved himself quick to react." The last sentence was uttered with sarcasm.

Shade noted the tone in which Harriet's last comment was uttered, but it amused him more than anything. Her presence and that of the twittering birds on the table near the sofa were annoying, but not a huge concern. He shrugged, "If Quentin has no objections, I don't."

Quentin looked at Harriet for several long moments. "We are not causing these encounters. There are people out there who obviously just want us dead. Shade and I are trying to do the right thing by our dead sister and brother, and out surviving niece and nephew...make no mistake, Ms. Mercer...we will deal with anyone trying to kill us in the same way you have already seen..." Quentin waved an arm to encompass the car. "All three of you are welcome to travel with us because I suspect you may have just painted a target on all of your backs because of who you are now working for." Quentin then stood up. "I will clear my things out of my berth, and you and your sister are welcome to use it." Cantrell swept around the table and headed to his room, passing through the door and banging it closed with more force than was necessary.

Harriet's gray eyes darkened, reminding Shade of storm clouds building over the Chogun Mountains. Those incredible stormy eyes followed Quentin's exit from the room, and as the door slammed, not easy to do with pocket doors, so Shade was quite impressed, she muttered, "Insufferable man!"

Shade predicted an interesting train ride to Montana.

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