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PART 2 “Ambushed” Book I of The Silent Night Gang


by


Morgan Elliot



Edited by Melissa Barker

Copyright December/2022 & January 2023


©January/2023 Morgan Elliot www.morganelliot.com

morgan@morganelliot.com



The Silent Night Gang is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Copyright January 2023 Morgan Elliot

All Rights Reserved


No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—mechanical, photocopy, electronic, recording, or any other, except for brief quotations in printed reviews—without prior permission of the author.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


I am thankful to my wife, whose encouragement and genial tolerance keep me on track. But most of all, I am grateful for not being booted to the curb for my endless questions and proofreading requests.


A very sincere “thank you” to my wonderful Beta Reader Nelda Wrenn. Her diligent and thoughtful suggestion made The Silent Night Gang a better story.


A special thanks to Christine Baker of CB Creative, Inc. for the logistical support.

 

Chapter 4: A Stranger in the House


Antonia was finalizing the year-end bonuses she would give to the ranch’s employees at the Christmas dinner tomorrow evening. She stuffed the white embossed envelopes carrying the Leal family crest with cash until her fingers were hurting. She heard a loud knock on the front door and got up to answer it, waving off one of the kitchen staff who was coming into the foyer.


“Umm, ma’am. This here letter is for Miss Antonia Leal. Are you her?” asked the dusty cowboy. There hadn’t been much snow or rain and the wind, along with the dry, air stirred up dirt devils at every turn.


“I am Antonia.” She accepted the letter and asked the rider if he wanted coffee. He nodded and followed her through the house to the kitchen.


“Nelda, would you please get …ah, I’m sorry I didn’t get your name…”


“I’m Armando Vasquez, ma’am. I work at the stables in town and do odd jobs.”

“Nelda, would you please get Mr. Vasquez some coffee and something to eat? When he is finished, have him stop by my office on his way out. Thank you.”


Antonia double-timed it back to her office and ripped open the envelope. She looked at the signature and saw it was from her friend, Trudy. Reading the short letter, she sighed, and in sotto voce, mumbled, “Shit. How does she get herself into these situations?” She penned a response, stuffed it into an envelope, and sat there thinking about Trudy’s request.

When Mr. Vasquez left with Antonia’s response, she asked one of the house staff to set up her mother’s sitting next to her office room as a guest room. Now, she would have a house full. She didn’t mind Grace, Trudy, or Minnie staying over Christmas night, in fact she liked it. They could gossip, tell tall tales, and drink whiskey without prying eyes. But a stranger? Nope. She didn’t like that at all.


###


Trudy, or Doctor Osler, had come to Hot Springs right out of medical school in Chicago six years ago. She was an altruistic soul that cared for her patients and often treated people without charging money. If she were to be believed, the way she ended up in Hot Springs, was at the fate of a dart she threw at a map of the United States and its territories. At first, she was met with resistance, especially from the men, but over time, she gained a reputation as being compassionate and competent.


She was a hell of a horsewoman too, riding through severe storms to tend to patients was not uncommon. Antonia found it exciting to learn that Trudy was doing some experiments on a substance she called “Cyanase.” She had discovered that the bluish discharge isolated from injured patients’ bandages inhibited the growth of other microbial infections such as gangrene.


Trudy’s first success was with one of Antonia’s ranch hands whose leg sustained an open wound caused by the sharp edge of a water tank as he and others were unloading it from a wagon. Within forty-eight hours, gangrene had set in. The Cyanase stopped the infection and saved the ranch hand’s leg, perhaps his life. Chagrinned, Antonia realized she shouldn’t begrudge Trudy’s request to have a guest stay at Antonia’s ranch. But who was the guest? Why was she so mysterious in her letter? Hmm, guess I’ll find out.


###


Once again, someone was banging on the front door with such force that the glass was rattling. She stormed out to see who the rude interloper was.


“Antonia,” said a tall man dressed in black pants, a white shirt, a heavy black jacket, and a well-worn black hat. A marshal’s badge was pinned to his left lapel. Antonia checked her attitude as Tim Rutledge brushed past her and stepped into the house without being invited. What the hell does he want? She had little patience for bullies, and the marshal was one. She also knew for a fact, he took payoffs from wealthy folks who got themselves in trouble, including raping and killing.


He faced her and gruffly said, “Where can we go to talk?”


“Follow me,” she answered trying not to let her impatience show.

She walked into her office ahead of Rutledge and sat behind the desk, motioning him to sit in one of the guest chairs. “What is it you want to discuss, marshal?”


“I have reason to believe that two of your ranch hands might belong to the Silent Night Gang.”


“What?” said Antonia sharply. “That’s impossible! These people are hard-working. I can’t see anyone doing what you are suggesting. Why would you think that?”


“Look, Antonia, even if I believed that you knew every single one of your ranch hands, and I don’t, how could you possibly know what they were doing on their off time?”


“I do know each and every one of my seventy-five employees. I make it my business to know who is on my payroll. Now tell me why you think one or two of my wranglers are involved with this gang?”


“Sorry, girlie, I can’t divulge my sources.”


Antonia wanted to slap him into next week, but she checked herself and said, “I don’t care who your source is…they are one hundred percent wrong. However, to quell your wild ideas, let me send for my foreman. Juan approves all time away requests. We’re pretty strict around here and do a nightly count of ranch hands in the bunkhouses.”


It was a woman who was trying desperately not to lose her temper that walked out of the office. When Antonia returned, the marshal was rifling through the papers on her desk. “What on earth are you doing?” said Antonia, trying to control the contempt she felt.

“Just curious,” Rutledge said with a smug smile plastered on his face. “Aren’t you going to offer me a refreshment while we wait?”


“What would you like?” asked an annoyed Antonia.


“Got any whiskey in the handsome sideboard behind you?”


Antonia turned her back to the marshal, opened a door, and pulled out a bottle of Kentucky whiskey and a glass. She poured a short drink and passed it to him.


“Aren’t you going to join me, darlin’?” scoffed the marshal.


“No thanks. I don’t drink when there is work to be done.”


After questioning Juan Marquez, the ranch’s foreman and learning that no one had asked for time off in the last two weeks or was missing, the marshal took his leave, and none too soon. Antonia’s patience was at its breaking point. Juan asked her if she really thought any of their hands might be part of the Silent Night Gang. Her answer was an unequivocable, “No, but good for them if they are.”


###


It was Christmas morning and there was a buzz around the house. Antonia was still bristling about the marshal’s accusations yesterday and tried to keep herself busy. She was putting the final decorating touches on a native silver spruce tree she had dug up and planted in a huge tub. She loved having a live tree that could be replanted after the holidays.


Glancing out of the front window, she saw a wagon approaching and recognized Trudy driving a team. By the time Trudy pulled up in front of the house, a ranch hand was there to help her get down. Antonia watched as a person in the back of the wagon struggled to sit up. Both Trudy and the ranch hand helped the blanketed guest out of the wagon and into the house.


Once inside, Antonia saw that Trudy’s guest was a woman. Surprised, she had her ranch hand and Trudy take her to the room that had been hastily converted into a bedroom the day before. After settling her on the bed Trudy introduced her.


“Antonia, this is, Lucy Rutledge.”


It was a godsend that Lucy was doped up and didn’t notice Antonia’s shock. It took a few seconds for Antonia to recover. “It’s nice to meet you, Lucy. Please let us know if there is anything you need, but I suspect after the long wagon ride, you must be tired and want to rest.”


Lucy’s words were soft and slow. “Thank you Miss Antonia. I won’t be any trouble.” She turned her head and in a minute, was out cold. Trudy barely had time to cover her before Antonia grabbed her arm and dragged Trudy into her office.


“For heaven’s sake, how did you end up with Tim Rutledge’s wife?”


“Not his wife, Antonia. His sister.”


“Okay, fine, but what the hell is she doing with you?”


“Someone from the turquoise mine near Painted Post found her and brought her to me in Hot Springs. She was running a fever and when I examined her, I saw that her leg was infected. There was no choice; I thought I might have to amputate the leg, but she responded well to my Cyanase. I didn’t find out until later when her fever and delirium broke, what her name was.”


“Did she tell you how she got the wound?”


“No, and I didn’t ask.”


“You know, he was just here yesterday!” yelped Antonia.


“Who?”


“Rutledge.”


“No, what did he want with you?” her friend asked gravely.


“He thinks that a couple of my ranch hands are in the Silent Night Gang,” replied Antonia with a roll of her eyes.


“What did you tell him?”


“The short of it was that I told him he was crazy. But now, I am wondering why isn’t he looking for his sister.”


Trudy sighed and offered, “because he has a black, evil heart.”


###


Most of the festivities took place in the indoor training arena of one of the horse barns. It was close to 9:00 p.m. when Antonia, Grace, and Trudy left the party and walked back to the house. Antonia had invited Minnie and her friend to join them, but they declined. She ruefully smiled with the thought that perhaps Minnie and her friend planned to get further acquainted, most likely without their clothes on, in Minnie’s small cottage not too far from the house.


All three women were tipsy from the liquor that had been flowing freely since dinner. It was snowing hard and by the time they reached the porch, they were covered with heavy wet snow. Brushing off each other, they paraded into the house, heading directly up to the second story. A short time later, Grace and Trudy went into a large drawing room connected to Antonia’s bedroom. It had belonged to generations of Leal men, and now, sported more feminine furnishings.


In their floor-length nightgowns with shawls wrapped around their shoulders, Trudy and Grace sat near the huge hearth and relaxed in the heat of the roaring fire. Antonia opened a bottle of Macallan Scotch Whiskey her brother had bought before his demise. By the time the Grandfather Clock in the room struck twelve, Trudy and Grace had joined the Sandman. There had been no magical dust sprinkled in their eyes to lure them to sleep—just 86% proof.


###


Antonia donned an old wool robe that had belonged to her brother. She couldn’t bear to give it away. They would often meet in the drawing room, her in her dressing gown and he in this robe, to discuss pressing problems. She missed him and often found herself lonely and ignoring her true self because of her substantial responsibilities.


Cracking open the door to Lucy’s room, she saw the woman was asleep. There was something about the woman that drew her into the room. Even while sleeping, the woman radiated an energy that made Antonia forget the sadness and shame she felt now and then at having lived so long in a self-imposed jail-house.


She sat in a chair next to the bed quietly watching Lucy. The snow had blanketed the ground and intensified the light of the full moon. The heavy drapes were open and the reflected light sifted through the filmy sheers, casting patches of moonlight on her face and neck. Lucy was serene, her chest rising peacefully under the patch-work quilt. Whatever worries Lucy carried had faded.


Antonia looked away, nostalgic as she watched the moon, and day-dreamed about how she wished sleep came to her, like a lover, carrying her to oblivion. She startled when she heard, “Miss Antonia, is that you?”


She leaned forward in the chair and answered, “Yes, but it’s just Antonia. I’m sorry I woke you.”


“You didn’t wake me. I think the Laudanum has worn off. Is there something wrong? Why are you here?”


“No, Lucy. There is nothing wrong. Dr. Osler fell asleep and I thought I would check on you and make sure the fire was still burning. Do you need anything?”


“No thank you. The pain in my leg is easing up.”


Antonia, curious about her guest, got up from the chair, moved to the side of the bed, and asked, “May I sit?”


Without hesitation, Lucy answered a low breathy “yes.” She removed a hand from under the covers and reached for Antonia’s. “I don’t know how to thank you for your generosity. I really had nowhere to go.”


“What do you mean? Couldn’t you stay with your brother?”


“Do you know him?”


Antonia nodded her head but held her tongue.


“Do you know how I got this wound? I was staying with him and he made me ride with his posse that was hunting the Silent Night Gang. Have you heard of them?”


“Yes, I have. In fact your brother came here to tell me that he thinks a couple of my ranch hands belong to the gang—which of course is preposterous. How did you get wounded, Lucy?”


“The night the gang robbed the Santa Fe National Bank, I was part of the posse. They escaped, but I followed two of them and then got ambushed. They could have killed me, but they fired only one shot, which hit me in the leg. I woke up in Dr. Osler’s dispensary.”

“Wow! I’m glad you ended up with her.” Antonia thought for a moment then continued, “Lucy, how did the posse know where the gang was going?”


“I’m not sure. My brother told me that someone had overhead a conversation in the saloon.”

“I see and if you don’t mind me asking, why did your brother make you ride with the posse?”

“No, I don’t mind you asking, but the answer might shock you.”


“Not much shocks me. Tell me, Lucy.”


“He said that if I insisted on dressing and acting like a man, then I darn well could do a man’s job.”


A moment of silence passed between them, each staring into the eyes of the other in the moonlight as if hoping to find a cure for the heartache both carried. Still holding Antonia’s hand, Lucy spoke first. “Do I know you? Have we met? Your eyes seem so familiar. I swear I remember those soft brown eyes specked with gold.”


“Not sure, but you are not a woman I would easily forget.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Antonia trembled at her own unexpected openness.


“It’s all right, consoled Lucy. Maybe it isn’t your eyes that I recognize, but who you are.”

Shaken, Antonia stammered, “I don’t know what you mean,” but she did know. She had spent her life bolstered by a determination to improve people’s lives, often ignoring her own, and now, she sagged under the weight of this woman’s penetrating eyes. She could no longer hide who she was.


Tears welled up in the corners of Antonia’s eyes and she drew her hand from Lucy’s as she started to rise from the bed. Lucy reached for her arm and gently pulled her down. Their faces were inches from each other, Antonia feeling as if she were in the eye of the storm, not trusting the peace and calmness Lucy exuded.


Lucy wiped the tears from Antonia’s cheeks and stroking her hair, asked, “Have you done this before?”


“Yes…almost…no,” whispered Antonia.


“Hmm, care to explain?” smiled Lucy.


Antonia shivered with fear wondering if she could trust this woman. Her rational side knew it was dangerous to confide in a stranger, even in the dark of the night, but the invitation to unburden herself was too much to resist. She plunged ahead sensing that Lucy understood and perhaps even had been through what she was experiencing.


“What I mean is that I wanted to, but couldn’t go through with it.”


“When was this?”


“When I went to college.”


“You went to college?” asked a surprised Lucy.


“Yes, I went to New Mexico State University when I was eighteen. They had started admitting women two years prior. I pestered my father relentlessly until he agreed.”


“Tell me what happened, I mean if you want to.”


“My father had rented me rooms near the campus with a nice, but strict old woman that was a relative of someone he knew. As I was walking back to my rooms one afternoon, I heard a girl calling me. I turned and saw it was a classmate from my accounting class. I waited for her and over time, we struck up a friendship. She lived in the female dormitories and one night when we were there studying for our finals, she just leaned in and kissed me, more than once.”


Lucy remained silent, giving tacit permission for Antonia to continue or not. After a few moments, Antonia sighed and shared, “I was shocked, probably more so because I liked it, but I knew it was considered by most as unnatural and an evil permutation, so I ran away.

“Did you see her again?”


“I did everything I could to avoid her. I know I hurt her, but I just couldn’t—I just couldn’t.”

Antonia, feeling terrible remorse and dishonor, tried to get up and leave, but Lucy put her arms around her and held her tightly, making escape into the safety of the night impossible.

The most powerful woman in the region surrendered to the exhaustion that often comes from an emotional outpouring and drifted into a soft sleep encircled by Lucy’s arms. Lucy, understanding the trust that had been placed in her hands, looked down at the sleeping woman and whispered, “You would be so easy to fall in love with.”



Chapter 5: Sidewinder


Antonia awoke slightly disoriented. When she realized where she was, she gasped with embarrassment.


“It’s all right, Antonia.”


“I’m sorry, I have to go. No one can see us like this. Please don’t make this hard for me.”

Lucy released her saying, “Don’t worry, you and your secrets are safe with me.”


Antonia nodded her head as she tossed wood on the fire and stirred it up into a roaring blaze. Without saying a word, she moved to the door. She paused, and with her hand on the door knob, turned to Lucy, took a deep breath, and said, “I’ll be back.”

Lucy wondered what that meant exactly.


###


Trudy, Grace, and Antonia were lingering around the breakfast table when Minnie came through the kitchen. “Morning Ladies. I trust you had a good sleep. Sorry to intrude, but I wonder if I can speak to Miss Antonia for a minute.”


Antonia got up and followed Minnie into the butler’s pantry.


“What is it, Minnie?”


“Oh, nothing bad, I was just hoping to escort my friend back to town and if there was anything you needed while I was there.”


“Of course you can take her back. You could pick up some ammo and would you please ask Nelda if she needs anything for her pantry?”


“The usual ammo?”


“Um-hmm. By the way, I hope the two of you had a good time last night.”


“Oh yes. The dinner and dancing were great, and thank you for the bonus.” Minnie was shuffling her feet hoping Antonia would dismiss her.


“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” teased Antonia.


“Miss Antonia, I mean no disrespect, but I am not the kind of woman that kisses then tells.” Minnie’s face was bright red and it was clear she wanted to bolt.


“So then there were kisses?” asked Antonia innocently.


“Yes, and now I am going to take my leave.”


“All right, off with you. Be careful,” advised Antonia.


###


“Is everything all right,” questioned Grace when Antonia returned to the table.

“Yes, she wanted to take her girlfriend back to town. Speaking of which, do you want me to have one of the ranch hands escort you back into town? It snowed about six inches last night, but it might have drifted in several places.”


Trudy spoke up. “I think that’s a good idea. Let me go check on Lucy, then I’ll be ready. Grace, did you come on horseback?”


“Yes. If you don’t mind, I’ll ride with you and tie Mami to your wagon.”


“Trudy, before you go, can you give me instructions on what care Lucy will need?”

“Just as soon as I check her out. You going to be okay with her staying here a few days?”

“I think so. I sent Minnie to buy ammo. There should be plenty if her brother comes stomping in looking for her.” Antonia had a wicked smile on her face.


“You had better be careful. Don’t get into a pissing contest with that sidewinder.”

“Don’t worry, Doc, I’m immune to his venom.”


###


Knocking on her guest’s door, Antonia waited to be invited in. Once Lucy had called out “come in” Antonia strode into the room, all business-like.


“So, Lucy, Dr. Osler told me that I should be getting you out of bed and sitting you up in a chair at least twice a day. Shall we do that now?”


Lucy laughed lightly. “You’re still shook up about last night, aren’t you?”


“What about last night?” quipped Antonia bustling about. “I recall that it was just two friends divulging their deepest, darkest secrets. Why on earth would that cause me to be shaken up?”


Bursting out laughing, Lucy good naturedly countered, “Indeed, what is there to be flustered about?”


“Listen Luce, are you going to cooperate and let me help you out of that bed and over to the arm chair by the window or do I have to call in the big guns?”


“Just who are the big guns?” asked Lucy with feigned distress …”and, did you just call me Luce?”


“Umm, yes. Sorry. Do you not like it?”


“On the contrary. I like it a lot. My mother used to call me that when I was little.”


“So I remind you of your mother?” Antonia teased.


“Ah, no. Hardly, if you catch my drift.”


Antonia’s cheeks flushed poppy red. “Okay, I’m calling in the big guns.”


“No, no. Don’t do that. I promise I’ll behave,” begged Lucy with merriment.


“All right then. Let’s get you sitting up.”


“Yes ma’am,” said Lucy faking contrition for her attempted flirting.


“Okay. Now, we need to get your legs over the side of the bed. I’ll move your left leg for you. Tell me if it hurts.”


Lucy felt a slight discomfort, but no pain. Antonia, put Lucy’s arm around her neck and told her to stand, and put her weight on her good leg. Upright with the help of Antonia, Lucy tested a little weight on the wounded leg. It hurt, but not as much as she had expected. Slowly, Antonia guided Lucy to the chair, helped her turn, and then supported her as she sat.

Noticing that Lucy was sweating from the exertion, Antonia grabbed a cloth from the wash basin stand and wiped Lucy’s face and neck. When she had covered her lap and legs with a blanket, she said, “Now, you just sit here and look out the window at the birds or whatever else is brave enough to poke its head out today. I’ll be back. Do you want hot tea or coffee?”

“How about a hot toddy?” wistfully asked Lucy.


With the door to the hallway open, Antonia turned and said, “Not with the Laudanum you are taking.”


“Damn,” answered Lucy good naturedly.


Antonia hesitated a moment, then said, “Luce, I like you,” before she left the room.


###


Nelda had just left a tray of hot tea and cookies with Lucy and Antonia when she returned with a worried look on her face. “Ah, Miss Antonia, Miss Lucy, the marshal is here again.”

Before Antonia could rise, Rutledge pushed past Nelda, strode over to the two women, anger etched in his face. Nelda did not leave, rather stood next to the door in case things went from bad to worse.


“So you are here, Lucy, and have you infected this woman with your perversions?” He was like a spitting cobra spraying his toxic secretion onto anything in its way.


Antonia stood up and faced the marshal. She was seething with rage. “How dare you break into my house and accost us with your venom! Miss Lucy is a guest. She was shot as a result of you forcing her to ride with your posse. Dr. Osler patched her up and now she is convalescing here, since you made it clear you didn’t approve of her.”


Rutledge put his hand on his pistol, a movement not lost on Nelda, who slid out of the room silently and just as quietly slipped back in with a shot gun pointed at the marshal. Antonia raised her arm and pointed to the door. Rutledge looked over his shoulder and removed his hand from his pistol.


“I think you have worn out your welcome, marshal. Now, here is how this is going to go. First of all, your sister is not a prisoner here. She can leave anytime the doctor says she is fit, or she can stay. It’s her choice. But you, you cannot return to my property without a Search and Seizure Warrant—you know that little piece of paper which has been the modus operandi of law for a hundred years.”


“You don’t know what you are talking about. New Mexico isn’t a state so we don’t have to follow that ridiculous law,” sneered the marshal.


“As a matter of fact, you do,” lobbed Antonia. “If you check you’ll see that all territories under the control of the federal government are considered part of the United States for purposes of law.”


“So, now you’re an attorney,” mocked the marshal.


“She may not be, but I am, dear brother.”


“Then maybe you should go back to St. Louis and hawk your wares there,” yelled Rutledge.

“You’ve been useless to me here!”


“Marshal, you should leave now while you can still do so on your own steam.”

Rutledge glared at Lucy and Antonia, then turned and tromped out the door. Antonia hurried after him, taking the shot gun from Nelda and following the marshal out of the house.


“I mean it, Tim. Don’t show up here again.”


“This isn’t over.”


After the marshal and his two deputies that had waited outside, left, Antonia went down to Juan’s office and asked to have guards placed at strategic locations. Juan readily agreed, then asked, “Is he still on that Silent Night Gang kick?”


“Yes, and more. Tell the crews to be very, very careful.”



Chapter 6: Third Party Punishment


The rest of the afternoon, Antonia was not fit for company, but her curiosity was wreaking havoc on her brain. Just who was Lucy Rutledge? All she really knew was that she wanted to learn more. After a light supper, she decided to go and talk with Lucy.


“Lucy, may I come in?”


“Yes,” came the answer.


Antonia didn’t say a word until she sat in the chair next to the bed and then when she did, she averted her eyes.


“May I ask you some personal questions?”


“Go ahead.”


“Did you really go to law school?”


“Yes, I did… in St. Louis.”


“What brought you out here?”


“My brother,” she said with the disgust in her voice evident. “He said there were few lawyers out here and I could make a good living. Unfortunately, it wasn’t more than a couple of weeks that I realized he wanted me here for his own benefit.”


“What was that?”


“He thought that there might be some charges against him for accepting donations—if you get my drift, and he wanted representation he could trust. Plus, he wanted me to represent all his corrupt wealthy cronies. I told him that I wouldn’t do his or his pals’ bidding.”

“Are you planning to go back to St. Louis?


“I’ve sent letters of inquiries to various locations, and have received a couple of letters from firms that seemed interested, but I haven’t made any decisions yet.” She looked at Antonia and added, “This place is growing on me.”


“I am sorry to say that what you have told me about your brother doesn’t surprise me.”

“You have no idea, Antonia. He is furious with me and now with you because I am here. If I had known he would be so irrational, I never would have agreed to come here.”


“Don’t worry, Lucy. I have security all over the place.”


“Oh, I doubt he would come here again, but he might go after a friend, or your animals, or someone you love. Is there someone you love?”


“I have friends and staff, but no one like what I think you mean,” replied Antonia evenly, ignoring her heart wildly thumping.


“Tim knows that third-party retribution often hurts more than a direct attack.”


“I don’t like the sound of that. Dr. Osler left today to visit with some friends in Chicago. I’ll have a couple of guards sent over to Grace’s in the morning. She may be staying in Santa Fe tonight.


Antonia sat quietly for a moment, gathered herself, and continued, “I suspect that you haven’t had a bath since you left Dr. Osler’s. Maybe it’s time to freshen you up a bit.”

“Are you telling me that I am beginning to smell like a compost pile?”


“No, no. Not at all,” laughed Antonia. “Just thought that maybe you would feel better. I brought everything with me if you would like that, but it has to be a sponge bath since I don’t think you can immerse your leg yet.”


“Maybe you’re right. How do we do this?”


“Well, I’ll bring a basin of warm water over here, then I’ll start washing. Seems pretty straightforward, don’t you think?” asked Antonia tongue in cheek. “But first you’ll have to take off your nightshirt.”


Antonia turned and walked to the wash basin, poured warm water, slung a cloth and towel over her forearm, and took a deep breath. She had never seen a completely nude women. Equal amounts of terror and excitement coursed through her.


Seeing that Lucy had not taken off her nightshirt, Antonia asked if she needed help. Lucy, with an impish glimmer in her eyes answered, “Yes, please.”


Antonia pulled back the covers and reached for the hem of the nightshirt. She raised it over Lucy’s legs, stopping to observe the bandage that covered the gunshot wound. “Hmm, I see that your wound has stopped bleeding. There is no more blood on the bandage.”


Her hands were trembling as she asked Lucy to lift her hips. Lucy complied and Antonia lifted the gown to her waist. The idea of seeing bare breasts for the first time in her life, made her dizzy. “Umm, I need to have you sit up now. Let me help you.” She put her arm around Lucy and pulled her into a sitting position, stuffing pillows behind her.


“Lift your arms, please.” Antonia averted her eyes for a moment, but the temptation was too great as she dragged the night shirt up and over Lucy’s breasts. They were magnificent. She had seen breasts like these only in her dreams.


Her heart was pounding and she realized that she was breathing faster and harder. She was sure that Lucy was aware of her reaction and tried to reel in her emotions but they had other ideas. Grabbing a cloth, she submerged it in the warm water, wrung it out, and added some soap that smelled of elderberry and roses. Antonia had bathed many a time with this soap, but tonight its scent was intoxicating…or perhaps it wasn’t the scent at all. Without a word, she gently washed Lucy’s face. Lucy did not take her eyes from Antonia’s mouth, but took no action.


When Antonia took Lucy’s hand and raised her arm, Lucy’s breath caught. She allowed herself to surrender to the slow, sensual movement up her arm, across her chest and down the other arm. Antonia felt Lucy shudder as she ran the warm soapy cloth over her breasts, first one, then the other. Even though there was a cloth between Antonia’s fingers and Lucy’s skin, Antonia’s senses were on overload. This was like nothing she had ever experienced in her life.


Antonia continued with the bath, first drying Lucy’s arms and chests, then washing and drying Lucy’s legs, careful not to disturb the wound. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she pulled Lucy against her and began washing her back. She savored the chance to feel Lucy’s bare breasts pressed against her and wondered what it would be like if she were naked too.

Still holding Lucy against her, Antonia dried Lucy’s back and reached for a clean nightshirt waiting on the nightstand. Lucy’s head was resting in the crook of Antonia’s neck. She turned her head and pressed her lips to Antonia’s collarbone. In a flurry, their lips came together, and Antonia, wanting more of her, pulled Lucy closer, crushing their upper bodies together in a tango of wondrous give and take.


A knock on the door dragged them from each other’s hands and mouths. Antonia got up, covered Lucy and answered, “Come in.”


“Is it okay if I take Miss Lucy’s tray?” asked Nelda as she poked her head through the partially opened door.


“Yes, and you can take these towels and cloths too. Thank you.”


Once Nelda left, Antonia thought it best that she leave too. It wasn’t a good idea to start rumors with the marshal snooping around.


“Luce, I, ah, I think I should go.”


“Did I do something wrong?” asked a disconcerted Lucy.


“No, you didn’t. The problem is that you did everything right. I, umm, just have to…”

“You don’t have to explain, Antonia. I know this is new for you.”


Antonia nodded, squeezed Lucy’s hand and left.


###


Antonia was already in her night clothes and had secured the house. She was ascending the stairs to her room when she heard loud pounding on the door along with boisterous shouting. She recognized the voice of Juan. She ran to the door, unlocked it, and stood aside for Juan, who came in like a bull who had been taunted with the matador’s cape.

“Juan, what is going on? Is anyone hurt?”


“No, no, Miss Antonia. The marshal has arrested Miss Grace and taken her to jail!”


“What? Are you sure?”


“Sí, sí. I am sure. The husband of one of her seamstresses came to tell you, but the guards wouldn’t let him pass, so they called me.”


“Tell me everything you know, Juan.”


“I don’t know any more than what I told you. I questioned the man, but all he knew was that she had come back from Santa Fe, went to her shop, and was dragged out this evening by the marshal.”


“All right, Juan. There isn’t much we can do tonight, but we’ll ride out at first light tomorrow.”


###


Hearing the Grandfather Clock in the drawing room, Antonia knew it was 1:00 a.m. Restless, she had not slept and the bed looked like a couple of mountain lions had held a wrestling match on it. She huffed, swung her legs over the side, and got up. Walking down the stairs in her nightgown and bare feet, she paused in front of Lucy’s door before she headed to her office. Once the kerosene lamp was lit, she opened the bottom drawer to her desk, and spun the combination lock on the built-in safe.


She opened a large manilla envelope that said, “For Your Eyes Only,” and removed a sheath with multiple sheets of paper inside. Reviewing the documents once again, she wondered if they had something to do with Grace being arrested. Locking up the documents, she turned down the lamp, and left.


As she was passing Lucy’s room, she paused. She was trying to work through her conflicting urges, when a voice startled her. “If that’s you Antonia, please come in.”


Opening the door, Antonia answered, “Did I wake you? I’m so sorry.”


“No, you didn’t wake me. I couldn’t sleep. Come here. The night wind is biting and it’s cold in spite of the fire.” Lucy held the bed clothes open for Antonia, who hesitated only a few seconds. “I know this thing about my brother is upsetting you. I am so sorry I brought this mess to your door.”


“Luce, you couldn’t have known. Besides, I have a plan.”


“You do? Care to enlighten me?”


“Not right now. I just need to find some courage.”


“How about I just hold you and keep you safe for a few hours?”


Antonia settled her head on Lucy’s shoulder, but the nearness to her interrupted any attempt to sleep. Lucy brushed light fingers over Antonia’s back in an effort to calm her, but the sweet gesture only served to inflame Antonia’s desire for Lucy. Feeling an excitement in her lower belly, Antonia could no long ignore wanting to touch Lucy.


“Luce, may I touch you?” whispered Antonia.


“Take off your nightgown,” answered Lucy.


They both sat up and helped each other disrobe. They were skin to skin for the first time. Feeling Lucy against her, holding her with her entire body, was the most sensual thing Antonia had ever felt. Each kiss brought with it a fiery ardor that ramped up their longing for each other.


Antonia softly caressed Lucy’s face with her fingers until she was sure she had memorized it. She let her fingers trace down Lucy’s arm, leaving a trail of tenderness and devotion. When she reached Lucy’s hand, she intertwined their fingers, brought both hands to her mouth, and kissed the back of Lucy’s hand, her fingers, and her wrist. Lucy moaned with pleasure. When Antonia had kissed every single finger on Lucy’s hand, Lucy used her lips to unfurl Antonia’s index finger. Hungrily, she closed her mouth around it, drawing it in as her tongue caressed it, slowly and sensuously.


Antonia felt a jolt of electricity and without withdrawing her hand, rolled on top of Lucy. Staring deeply into her ice blue eyes, Antonia murmured, “Luce, I’m not sure what to do.”


“Do what you want. Touch me like you want to be touched.”


Antonia cupped Lucy’s cheek, gave her a quick kiss, then ran her fingers through Lucy’s hair. She traced the outside of her ear with a finger, pausing to caress Lucy’s ear lobe between her thumb and forefinger. She swooned at the velvety feeling and Lucy’s reaction to her touch.

Sliding down Lucy’s body, Antonia kissed the tops of her breasts, moving from one to another. As Lucy arched into the contact, Antonia covered a nipple with her mouth, sucking gently. While Lucy was content to give Antonia free rein to explore and discover, she was throbbing with passion and yearning. She wrapped Antonia in a firm embrace and deftly rolled them over.


When Lucy’s lips covered Antonia’s nipple, she cried out in an ecstasy she never imagined possible. As Lucy continued caressing Antonia’s body, she became dizzy with desire. Lucy’s hands and mouth seemed to be everywhere and Antonia was unable to think, only to feel.

Lucy too was lost in the heated sensations. Never had she before felt such unabated eagerness to please. As they moved together, entwined and connected, both experienced a sensual release that took over their bodies and left them shaking in the wild wind of the night.


###


Holding Antonia, Lucy whispered, “Are you all right?”


“Yes,” responded an emotional Antonia as she snuggled into Lucy’s body, “but I’m real sleepy.”


Lucy laughed gently and said, “Then let’s go to sleep.”


“Yes, but I have a question first,” responded a sated Antonia.


“Ask it,” replied Lucy.


Antonia hesitated for a moment then shyly asked, “Is it always like this?”


Lucy looked deep into those milk chocolate brown eyes and simply said, “No, it’s not.”

Pulling back from Lucy’s arms, Antonia was dismayed. “Was it my lack of experience? I mean I thought everything was wonderful, but if you didn’t, I’m so sorry.”


“Oh Antonia, honey, I meant that it was perfect. You are amazing and there is really no way for me to describe how you make me feel.” She kissed Antonia on the forehead feeling a sense of peace and “home” she hadn’t felt since she was a child.



Chapter 7: Confessions


At least the sun is out this morning, silently groused Antonia as she added wood to the fire in Lucy’s room.


“What are you doing?”


“I thought you were still sleeping, Luce.”


“No, I was watching you. You move so gracefully, even with a pile of cedar in your arms.”

Lucy sat up and hung her legs over the bed. “I’m coming with you this morning. No way are you going to walk into the jail by yourself, and besides, Grace is going to need a lawyer.”

“Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to come. You are still healing.”


“I don’t have any pain and you, yourself told me the wound had stopped bleeding. I can ride a horse. I just need some breeches and a shirt.”


“I’m not so sure about this, but let me see what I can find for you to wear. You’re tall. I think some of my brother’s clothes might work. Do you have any objection to that?”

“No, Antonia. Not at all. I’d be honored.”


###


Juan accompanied Antonia and Lucy to town. After two hours in the frigid weather, all three were chilled bone deep. While Juan was taking the horses to the stable to warm up and munch on some hay, Antonia, followed by a gimpy Lucy, opened the door to the marshal’s office.


“Morning Miss Antonia, Miss Lucy,” said a surprised Pete, one of the marshal’s deputies.


“What can I do for you?”


“We’re here to see Mrs. Garabaldi, Pete.”


“I’m sorry, but the marshal gave orders that she wasn’t to have any visitors.”


“Pete, I can appreciate that, but you are a smart man and probably know that Mrs. Garabaldi is entitled to see her lawyer whenever she wants.”


“Yes, Miss Antonia. I know that, but she ain’t asked for her lawyer.”


Lucy spoke up. “Pete, I am Mrs. Garabaldi’s lawyer and would like to see her now.”

“Mmm, Miss Lucy, if you are sure you are a lawyer, you can see her. Just don’t tell your brother. I don’t wanna lose my job.”


Lucy nodded her head, turned to Antonia, and whispered to her as Pete walked towards the jail cells. “You had better stay here.”


“Why?” mouthed back Antonia.


“Lawyer-client privacy and I want you to keep Pete busy so he can’t snoop. Okay?”


“All right. Just tell her I’m here and we’ll do whatever we can to get her out.”


###


“Grace, how are you?”


“Lucy, I’m fine, but what are you doing here?”


“I’m your lawyer and I assure you I am a bona fide lawyer with a piece of paper to prove it.”

“Really? That’s outstanding.”


“Okay, tell me what happened.”


“The marshal said that they have extradition papers to send me back to Philadelphia but he wouldn’t let me see them. I know he is lying.” Grace knew she would have to reveal the tawdry details of her east-coast arrest.


“What happened in Philadelphia?”


“I killed my husband.”


Lucy seemed not to react at all to the blunt confession. Instead, she asked, “What were the circumstances around you killing him.”


“He beat me, raped me, and abused me in other ways for years. One night he came in drunk, hit me with his fists several times, tore my blouse off, and threw me to the floor. He told me to stop struggling or he would kill me. I didn’t stop struggling and managed to gouge his eye. It inflamed him more, so he took his pistol out of his holster and put it against my head. I was able to push his arm away when he was unbuttoning his pants. We struggled and the gun went off. The bullet pierced his heart.”


“Were you actually arrested for the murder?”


“Yes, Lucy. I was. I spent months in jail until the trial. The jury acquitted me when Mrs. Rosetti, the neighbor across the hall, came to court to testify what she saw. Apparently, my husband was so drunk he forgot to close the door to our apartment and when she heard yelling, she came out of her flat and witnessed everything.”


“So you were acquitted?”


“No, the jury found me guilty, but the judge overruled them. The man that prosecuted me believed that I had paid off Mrs. Rosetti to lie for me. It turned out that her son was visiting and he backed up his mother’s story.”


“Okay, Grace. I’m guessing that there is no extradition order. Did my brother have people search your shop and house?”


“Yes. He told me they found a half dozen stash of six-shooters which just proved that I was a murderess.” Grace sighed and wondered if she should tell Lucy why she had the guns.

“Grace, where did you get the guns?”


“Santa Fe yesterday. They were in the house.”


“Why did you have the pistols?”


Grace took a breath for courage and said, “Come closer.” Grace pressed her face up against the bars, reach through them, and positioned Lucy’s ear next to her mouth. She whispered into Lucy’s ears. Grace paused for a moment, and continued their intimate conversation for the next few minutes.


“Listen Grace, do not, under any circumstance, say anything to anyone about our conversation today. Let me do my job. I will have you out as soon as I confirm the story with the Philadelphia police. I’m going to go now and start working.”


“Are you sure your leg is all right?”


“Yes, thank you. Antonia has taken good care of me.”


###


When Antonia and Lucy left the marshal’s office, Pete was waiting for them across the street in front of a café. Over hot coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs, Antonia handed Lucy a manilla envelope. “You will need this,” she said. “If you have questions, I can answer them later.”


Lucy knew that Antonia was warning her not to open the envelope there in front of Juan. She replied, “Would you please keep this in your satchel until we get back to your ranch?”


Antonia took the envelope back, relieved that Lucy understood what she had meant. “Yes, of course.”


###


It was mid afternoon when the trio reached the ranch. Antonia thanked Juan and helped Lucy back into her room. Her leg was hurting like crazy. Antonia poured out a spoonful of Laudanum that Trudy had left, set the envelope down on the night stand, and left her to sleep.


Hours later, Antonia checked on Lucy and was surprised to see that she was sitting up in bed, a sandwich in hand reviewing the papers.


“Antonia, however did you get these papers?”


“I hired a detective in Philadelphia to find out what he could about Grace when she first moved here. She was so mysterious and secretive about her life back east.”


“You are something, honey. These will blow my brother’s charges out of the water. We should be able to get her released tomorrow. It would be a good idea to ride into Santa Fe first to find a judge to order her release.”


“I know one that was a friend of my father. I’m sure he’ll help.”


“Getting her released is just part of the issue. I don’t think my brother will be sanctioned. He can argue that he didn’t know about her exoneration. At some time, he’ll try again.”


Antonia grimaced. “I guess it’s one thing at a time.”


“Yes, I think you are right. A small win is better than no win at all. Now how about the sleeping arrangements…”


“What about them?” asked Antonia curiously.


“Are you going to keep sneaking into my room, or do I get to move into your room sometime in the near future?”


“Let’s get that leg totally healed before we talk about you climbing stairs. Since both my legs are in pretty good working order, I’ll go up, change, and come back here. Can you live with that?”


“Umm, I think so, but just so you know, I am feeling no pain right now, so maybe you should hurry so that we can take advantage of that.”


Antonia placed a chaste kiss on Lucy’s lips and as soon as she was out the door, thundered up the stairs. In fifteen minutes, she was snuggled into bed with Lucy.


###


As Antonia slowly came back to herself, Lucy lovingly looked down upon her face. “Look at me, darling.”


Opening her eyes languidly, Antonia looked into the eyes of the woman she was falling for. “Yes?”


“I have never seen anything as beautiful, never felt anything as exquisite as you letting me pleasure you. You know that, don’t you?”


“Yes, I do, Luce. The look on your face, in your eyes, when you make me… well you know what I mean, says it all.”


Lucy stared into Antonia’s eyes with adoration. “You know, dear, I do recognize your eyes.”

“Oh? You think so?” tempted Antonia.


Lucy kissed her deeply, held her with tenderness and love and said, “I think I am falling in love with you, my dearest, darling, Dunder.”


The End


Be sure to watch for “Marshal Law: Book II of the Silent Night Gang Series,” coming this summer. Find out the gang’s latest caper and the romance that spring in the Rockies brought to the cabin in the woods!


Please let me know how you liked this novella. You can send me an email right from here or from my website.

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