In 1892, Sheriff Matthew Wilcox learns that his wife’s niece, Amelia Winters, has been abducted. Once more, he gathers his posse and hits the trail hunting outlaws. What he discovers shocks, dismays, and angers him: Amelia is only one of hundreds of women kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
An exotic auction is about to take place and time is of the essence. The sheriff and his posse are making things difficult for the criminals and a pile of money is at stake. The bandits realize, the sooner they can get rid of Sherriff Wilcox, the better.
But Matthew and his men won’t go down easy.
In this much-awaited sequel to DEADMAN’S LAMENT, readers are in for another thrilling Western ride as these dedicated lawmen put their lives at risk seeking justice.
Amelia Winters stepped off the train and gazed at the dusty little town with delight. Her adventure had begun and she wanted to twirl around on tiptoe with excitement. She was on her way to live with her father’s younger sister Iris, her husband Matthew, and their family while going to nursing school, about twenty miles outside of Spokane. Although she had been helping her father, Dr. Lewis Winters, in his small medical practice in Marysville, Washington since she was twelve years old, he had decided he needed someone to assist in real medical work like surgeries, triage and post-surgical care.
The logical choice for surgical assistant had been Amelia’s older brother James. Indeed, Lewis Winters had groomed his son for years, but James had enlisted in the army four years ago and was subsequently killed in an avalanche, along with twelve other Cavalry officers, two winters ago while on assignment.
Although Amelia’s heart still stuttered occasionally with grief at the loss of her handsome older brother, she was thrilled with the prospect of learning her father’s skills and (possibly) becoming a doctor in her own right. It was 1892, after all. A new, bright future – a whole new century – was just around the corner and she, for one, was ready to embrace all the possibilities!
Her daydreams were interrupted by the conductor, a wizened old man with an enormous pocket watch in hand, who said, “Miss, you can go into the café with the others for refreshments and if you need,” he cleared his throat in embarrassment, “the necessary. It’s right behind the building… you can see the corner of it, just there.”
He pointed and Amelia saw the edge of a smallish outhouse behind the larger café/post and telegraph office. Even as she watched, a small, dirty pony bearing a small, dirty man tore around the disembarking passengers and pulled to a stop in front of the post office section of the building in a cloud of dust.
“Thank you, sir” she said politely and stepped forward a few paces to join her fellow passengers. Mrs. Dorothy Jones, a widow, had stopped and was impatiently waiting for the younger woman to catch up.
“One must not dawdle when traveling alone, young lady,” the plump, middle-aged woman admonished.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Jones!” Amelia exclaimed. “The conductor…”
“Never you mind, Amelia,” Mrs. Jones interrupted. “Just stay close by my side. This is a wild place, as are all of these little towns east of the Cascades. My son told me to step sharp and keep an eye out for riff-raff while on my way to his home.”
She sniffed, adding, “Since your father saw fit to send his daughter into the wilds all alone, I feel it is my duty to serve as chaperone until you are well met at the train station in Spokane!”
It was all Amelia could do to keep from rolling her eyes, but she followed the older woman into the café meekly enough and sat next to Mrs. Jones at a table. The widow Jones was nice, if over-protective, and although she was sure she could navigate her way from the train depot in Marysville to the depot in Spokane, she did not have the heart to be rude or rebuff the woman’s good intentions.
Her bladder was starting to protest – although the train was new, the only accommodations were chamber pots hidden behind a canvas curtain for the men and a smelly bench behind another curtain for the women-folk.
Amelia figured it was the conductor’s job to keep the bench (with its hole that gave a clear view of the tracks whizzing by under the train’s wheels) clean, but he was so old and frail-looking, she wondered if he was shirking his duties. There were odious brown streaks all over the bench and the smell was unbelievable.
Besides that, Amelia had wondered how on Earth she was supposed to squat over that horrid hole with her corset, petticoat and heavy layered skirt. She was determined to be as pretty and fresh as possible when she met her Auntie Iris and her husband, Matthew, at the train depot – not smell like a chamber pot!
Pulling a photograph out of her small, beaded handbag, Amelia studied the two people who would be picking her up at the train station and whose roof she would share for the next year. Her auntie was beautiful in the black and white image. Amelia remembered Iris well, although she hadn’t seen her Auntie in years.
Iris had long, curly auburn hair, much like Amelia’s, ginger freckles and merry brown eyes. She always smelled so fresh, like flowers, and her white teeth sparkled often with mirth. In this photograph, Iris held a young child in her arms. The baby was in a white baptismal gown and seemed to be wailing at something or another, while his parents grinned in resignation.
Amelia smiled. Photographers often told people to sit very still while having their likeness taken and, above all, never smile. Her Auntie and Uncle did not seem to care at all about the rules of photography, as their amusement was plainly obvious. Squinting at the dog-eared picture, Amelia acknowledged the only reason she knew the baby was a boy was that Iris had written and told her so. Chance Jonathon Wilcox was the boy’s name, and Amelia could not wait to meet him, although by now that screaming infant was almost five years old.
The young woman traced her finger over the face of Matthew Wilcox, her Auntie’s husband. As always, two things struck her, simultaneously. First, Matthew Wilcox was one of the handsomest men she had ever seen. Second, he was one of the most frightening men she had ever laid eyes on. She had heard, of course, about the “Granville Stand-off” and she had even read about what her uncle Matthew had done to stop Top Hat and his gang of thugs six years ago in a penny-dreadful.
Maybe that is what made her see such menace in his handsome countenance, but Amelia didn’t think so. Although he stood tall and straight and had a fine, strong body, there was something about the look in his eyes and the set of his lips that made her blood run cold. She had no way of knowing what color those wide, pretty eyes were or what made his stare so fierce, despite his grin, but there seemed to be a sort of gloom about him … a dark shadow.
Amelia shivered and prayed she never gave him reason to be angry with her! She also hoped that he was not too strict when she moved into his home. Iris had written, though, and said that she couldn’t be happier with her husband so Amelia felt confident that this hard-faced man was kind at heart… at least she hoped so!
Amelia jumped a little in her chair as a tray of tea was set down on the table, along with some milk, butter and a small plate of muffins. “Well, it’s about time, I say!” Mrs. Jones grumbled. “I was beginning to think the train would leave before we had time to eat lunch!” She eagerly plucked a muffin from the plate and grabbed a knife.
Amelia was famished as well, but she could ignore her bladder no longer. Regretfully, she pushed her chair backward and said, “I must use the facilities, Mrs. Jones. I’ll be right back.”
The stout woman glanced her way and muttered, “I will come with you if you like…”
Amelia saw the look of frustrated hunger in her companion’s eyes as she held her butter-laden knife in the air and she shook her head. “No, that’s alright, ma’am. I’ll only be a minute.”
Stepping outside, Amelia moved down the boardwalk toward the outhouse. She plucked at the lace of her shirtwaist as sweat sprang up on her skin and trickled between her breasts. It is the middle of September and still hot as blazes, she thought and then stifled a gasp as a man came around the corner of the building and bumped into her, causing her to back up a step.
The tall, barrel-chested man grabbed her by the upper arm and said, “Pardon me, miss… didn’t see you standing there.”
Amelia tried looking up into his face, but the sun was directly behind him so his features were silhouetted in darkness.
Still, there was no harm done and she REALLY needed to relieve herself, so she smiled up at the stranger and said, “That’s quite all right, sir. Excuse me!”
He released her arm and she stepped off the sidewalk, onto a dirt path and into the outhouse building, which she observed with approval. Unlike the train, this building seemed spanking clean with a private stall, a deep basin sink sitting next to a water barrel with its own hand pump, and a cracked but serviceable mirror.
She stepped into the cubicle – heaved up her skirt, unbuttoned the lower part of her corset, pulled down her petticoat and sighed with relief. She watched for a moment as an industrious spider spun a web by the ceiling and heard the door to the outhouse open.
Someone had stepped inside the small building while she was busy and now Amelia heard water being drawn into the sink. “I’ll be done in just a moment!” she called.
A woman replied, “Take your time, m’dear. I’m just fetching some water.”
The woman sounded foreign, perhaps Irish, and Amelia hastened to finish her business and get back to a couple of those muffins before Mrs. Jones ate them all. Corset buttoned, petticoat and skirt back in order, she stepped out of the stall and saw an older, very tall woman standing by the sink.
The woman might once have been pretty but now she looked hot, dusty and tired. She had black hair, liberally streaked with gray and slightly slanted green eyes. Whatever beauty she might have once possessed, however, was obscured now in crow’s feet and bitter, down-turned lips.
There were a number of canteens and water receptacles lined up on a narrow shelf above the sink. Although Amelia wanted to wash her hands, she hesitated to disturb the woman’s task.
As though sensing the girl’s discomfort, the woman, whose name was Margaret Donnelly, stepped away from the sink and said, “Please, help yourself.”
Smiling, Amelia said, “Thank you,” and pumped the lever for more water, washing her hands with a sliver of harsh lye soap from the shelf. Two rumpled towels hung from wooden nails by the sink, and as she stepped toward them, she saw the lady suddenly step up behind her in the cracked mirror.
Amelia was tall for a seventeen-year-old girl, at 5 feet and 6 inches, but as Margaret grabbed her from behind and wrapped her left arm around Amelia’s chest, the girl realized that the woman was huge … maybe six feet tall and frightfully strong!
She squealed in alarm but Margaret placed a wet, smelly rag over her mouth. Panting in fear, Amelia locked eyes with her captor in the mirror. The older woman gazed back and smiled as the girl’s eyes grew dim and then closed.
Placing her “catch” on the floor Margaret stepped quickly to the door and hissed, “You there, Patrick?”
“I am,” her brother’s voice answered. “You got her ready?”
“Just about… hurry up, now!”
Margaret Connelly tied the girl’s hands together and tucked the little bitch’s fancy reticule into her own carpetbag, along with the water bottles. She heard the surrey pull around to the front of the small building and then a quick two-tap on the wooden door. Unlatching the hook from the door, she let her brother Patrick inside and watched as he grabbed the girl’s limp body from the floor and placed her in the back of their closed carriage.
Margaret stared around for a moment, making sure that nothing of hers was left behind. Then she stepped into the back of the carriage with the girl. All the heavy canvas drapes were tied down so neither she nor her captive were visible. She felt her brother Patrick step up onto the front bench, and then heard him snap his whip above the rumps of the horses.
Within moments, Patrick and Margaret Connelly, along with their latest victim, were trotting down the dusty road. Taking her Da’s pocket-watch out of her coat, Margaret checked the time. Eight minutes … a record!
Of course, the brother and sister team had done this many times before, and as Da always said, “Practice makes perfect!”