Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“Exactly what were you thinking,” Job muttered as he strolled along the sidewalk in the direction of the general store. “You’re going to get yourself killed, trusting that greenhorn to have your back. You should’ve just waited until Travis was able to come with you.”
“Do you always talk to yourself? Is there something I should be concerned about before I go anywhere with you?”
He looked up to see Ansel leaning against the wall next to the door of the store. Job grunted, but didn’t reply to his question. “How do you feel?”
Ansel shrugged. “It comes and goes. Nothing that I haven’t learned how to deal with. Did all your digging get you anything you can use for whatever you’re here for?”
Job blinked at the convoluted question then nodded after he worked it out. “Yeah. Found some interesting stuff. Sent a telegram and just have to wait for a reply.”
He tilted his head toward his horse tied to the hitching post. “You ready to go?”
“Yes.” Ansel didn’t ask where they were going or why they were leaving town right then. He simply went over to a tall roan mare stood at the other end of the hitching post. The mare bumped Ansel in the chest with her nose, causing him to lose his balance then catch his balance.
Chuckling, Job mounted his gelding and looked over at Ansel. “She’s nice-looking. Got clean lines.”
“She’s a bit of a pain in my arse,” Ansel mumbled as he mounted the mare before wiping ineffectively at the snot marring his white shirt. “I think she does it on purpose.”
“She must not be able to stand that pristine neatly pressed shirt,” Job teased as he nudged his gelding in the ribs to get him moving.
Ansel sighed as he joined him. “I think you might be right. I should come down in a wrinkled shirt without a waistcoat or jacket. Maybe then she wouldn’t have the urge to wipe her nose on me. You have a good eye for horseflesh if you can appreciate my mare and pick such a mount for yourself.”
“One of my uncles breeds horses. His sons have carried on the tradition and one moved out here. I lost my old horse a few weeks ago. He’s a replacement. We’re still getting to know each other.” He patted the horse on the shoulder and the gelding tossed his head like he knew Job was talking about him.
“He looks good. My brother would love a horse like him.” Ansel pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose. “I should send him your cousin’s name. Now that he has money, he might be interested in building up his stable again.”
“I can give you the one who still lives back east, though I think Travis’ animals are far superior to his brother’s,” Job admitted.
“And we don’t want to give my brother any chance to ruin a good horse.” Ansel coughed, but waved off Job’s worried look. “Don’t worry. Just clearing my throat.”
“You don’t have a lot of respect for your brother, do you?” Job led the way out of town.
Ansel lifted one shoulder as he rolled his eyes. “He’s family, old man, and while I don’t have to be happy about being related to him, I would die to protect him.”
“Isn’t that what family is about? Whether you like each other or not, you will come to help them if they ask.” Job grunted and encouraged his gelding into a canter.
“I guess. My brother would never ask me to help him with anything. I’m an embarrassment to him. Not only am I of a certain persuasion, I’m ill. Not the best impression to make of a virile family line, right?”
Job hummed in agreement. “I see that. If your brother was trying to woo a lady, it would be best to hide the less then sterling relatives.”
“Thank you for that.”
He laughed and leaned over to punch Ansel in the arm. “I’m sorry, man. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, just that I understand what your brother was thinking.”
Ansel rubbed his arm and glared at Job. “Try not to bruise me, Job. I’m rather delicate you know.”
“Jackass,” Job muttered.
“Will you tell me what you’re doing here? You don’t strike me as a cowhand or a man who likes to spend much time around other people.” Ansel’s question was casual as though he really wasn’t interested. Just making small talk.
“I’m going to wait until we get to my camp.” He held up his hand, stopping what he was pretty sure Ansel was about to say. “I know no one can hear us or anything like that. I don’t think we need to discuss this while we’re riding.”
Besides he’d noticed how breathless Ansel had become and Job figured riding and talking might not be the easiest thing for the Englishman right then. But he was willing to say it was his choice, not do anything to make Ansel feel weak.
“All right.” Ansel coughed and this one was a little harder and longer.
“The dust bothering you,” Job asked.
Ansel nodded. “I will say it isn’t as bad as it was when I first arrived in St. Louis to join up with a wagon train heading to California. The coughing has lessened over the months I’ve been out here.”
“Why didn’t you go on to California? Why stop here?” Job glanced back to check their trail. It didn’t look like anyone was following them, which eased his mind a little. Yet he wasn’t about to stop being cautious.
Travis couldn’t leave his ranch when Job visited, so Job had agreed to go on ahead to help out their cousin. Once things were arranged, Travis planned on joining Job. He just had to stay alive until Travis got here.
“I decided I liked it here. It’s more primitive than California, but it’s simple and at the moment, that’s what I need. I’m trying not to die so young.” Ansel frowned, staring ahead of them.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“No. I would prefer to sleep in my bed tonight. Not that it’s particularly comfortable or anything like that,” he muttered as he stepped from the alley to stand next to Job.
“Why don’t you go back to England?” Job asked as they continued to stroll along the sidewalk in the direction of Ansel’s boarding house.
Ansel chuckled. “I don’t belong here, but, trust me, I didn’t belong in my home country either. Maybe I should just run off to the mountains and become a hermit. Not like anyone would miss me. My family is caught up in my brother’s upcoming nuptials.”
“Why aren’t you there with them?” Job turned to stare at him.
“Because I’m an embarrassment to them,” Ansel said softly, staring ahead of him, not wanting to see Job’s pity or agreement. Though how could he agree with Ansel’s family when he didn’t even know Ansel.
Job grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the way when three cowhands came stumbling toward them. He noticed how Job kept his body between Ansel and the men, which Ansel probably should have been upset about, yet he found that he didn’t have the strength to be insulted.
With a quiet sigh, he rested his head against Job’s back, suddenly weak and his chest hurt. He started to cough, his body wracked with the force of the effort. Job reached behind him to touch Ansel’s hip and the warmth soaking through his clothes eased Ansel in some strange way. He tugged his handkerchief out of his pocket to cover his mouth and muffle the noise.
“What’s wrong with him?” One of the men asked as they tried to peer over Job’s shoulder.
“Nothing that is any of your business. Get on home.” Job must have glared at them or done something to encourage them to walk on because they didn’t say anything, just headed off.
Job turned to put his arm around Ansel’s waist, giving him something to lean on while he continued to cough. “Let’s get you back to your place. You have something there you can take?”
He managed to nod his head. Job basically carried him to the house then up the stairs as he motioned which room was his. He was too out of breath to protest when Job stripped him of his jacket, waistcoat, and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. His gunbelt was taken off then hung on the post at the head of the bed.
“Where’s your medicine?” Job glanced around.
Ansel held up his hand to let Job know he’d answer as soon as he was done coughing. Finally, he inhaled deeply and didn’t start again. He removed the cloth from his lips, grimacing at the spots of blood on it. Damn.
“It’s on my dresser there in the brown bottle. I usually mix it with milk.”
Job wrinkled his nose and Ansel laughed hoarsely.
“I know it sounds terrible, but the milk keeps me from throwing it up.”
He flopped back onto the hard mattress, letting his eyes drift close as he listened to Job wander around the room then the door shut. Ansel forced his eyes open to notice Job had left. Before he could work up the strength to get to his feet, Job was back, carrying a glass of water.
“Your land lady said she didn’t have any milk right now. So I guess water is what you’re going to have to drink unless you want whiskey or something.” Job held out the glass.
Ansel shook his head. “I’ll just take the medicine. Water won’t help. Thank you for getting for me though.”
“Here.” Job grabbed the bottle from the dresser before handing it to Ansel. “Take it and I’ll hang out here until you fall asleep. Just in case something happens before then.”
“You shouldn’t waste your time watching over me, Job. You can go and get your own rest. I’ll see you in the afternoon.” He took his dose then pushed to his feet. Wobbling slightly, he sighed when Job took his elbow to help him catch his balance. “I must admit I wish I had met you when I was younger and far less pathetic.”
“Pathetic?” Job frowned as he returned the bottle to the dresser then transferred one of Ansel’s hands from his shoulder to one of the posters for the bed. “Hold on to that.”
As much as he wanted Job to leave him alone so he could curl up in bed and pout, he could admit to himself that it was nice to feel someone else’s hands on his body. When he was down to his underthings, Job gestured for him to climb into bed.
“I used to be quite fit. Not skinny and pale like this.” Ansel waved his hand in a vague motion encompassing his body. “Before this damn disease started eating away at me, I used to be quite the rider and pugilist.”
“Pugilist?” Job tucked the edges of the blankets around Ansel’s shoulder and sat in the chair next to the bed. He pressed his hand to Ansel’s temple as though he were checking for a temperature. “Do you usually run hot?”
“It’s the disease. When it flares like it has, I run a temperature. I’ll be fine in the morning after some rest. A pugilist is a bare knuckle fighter.”
“Ah. Well, since I’m looking for a guy who can handle a gun and not his fists, I think we’ll be okay. I don’t really expect too much trouble, but sometimes people get uppity and think they own something they don’t.”
Ansel could almost feel the medicine run through him as his muscles relaxed and the constrictions around his chest loosen. He rolled his head to the side so he could meet Job’s green gaze. “What are you doing in town, Job Ramsey? I get the feeling that this is not a place you would like to be normally.”
Job lifted one shoulder and said, “When family calls, you answer. Even if you’re not the one obligated to do it.”
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“You always run when someone says something you don’t like.”
Ansel froze in the opening of an alley at the sound of Job’s voice. “It’s not such much that I didn’t like what you said. It’s simply that I didn’t want you to kill me for what I am,” he said softly, knowing there wasn’t any reason for him to keep it a secret.
Job had observed some habit or tell Ansel had that he wasn’t aware of and he’d come to the right conclusion. Ansel wasn’t ashamed, but he knew others didn’t understand why he was the way he was, so he’d done his best to hide it. Yet he should’ve known that a hunter like Job would’ve seen it.
“But you’re dying anyway. You don’t want to go out in a hail of bullets instead of lying in bed struggling to breath until you can’t anymore.” Job moved so quietly that Ansel jerked when he felt Job’s hot breath on the back of his neck. “How long has it been?”
“I have no need to die a hero, old man. I’m perfectly happy to die alone in my bed.” He wasn’t going to answer the question he was pretty sure Job was asking him. Then he couldn’t help himself. “Why are you asking me about this? A man like you can’t be interested in things like that.”
“What things?” Job whispered into his ear and Ansel struggled to keep his cock from getting hard.
“How do I know you’re just not doing this to ensure that I incriminate myself and give you a reason to attack me?” He shrugged off the strange spell Job seemed to have over him and stepped away from the man. “You know what? I don’t want to know anything more. Have a good night, Mr. Ramsey. I’m sure you’ll be able to avoid seeing me again while you’re in town.”
He started to walk away, but Job grabbed his arm and pulled him into the shadows of the alley. His breath shot from his lungs in a rush when he was slammed against the wall of the building behind him. Ansel couldn’t catch his breath to protest before Job pressed his lips to Ansel’s. He kept his mouth shut and held what little breath he had until Job pulled back.
“Don’t you believe in kissing?” Job murmured against Ansel’s neck.
“Not when I have consumption. You shouldn’t even be this close to me, Mr. Ramsey.”
“Call me Job, and don’t worry about me. I’ve seen my own death and it’s not a lung disease that does me in.” Job trailed a kiss along Ansel’s jaw. “But if you chose not to risk it, I’m fine with that. I can find other parts of your body to kiss.”
Ansel gasped, but didn’t fight as Job slid his hand between Ansel’s thighs to cup the bulge in his pants. He grunted when Job squeezed then he pushed into Job’s touch.
“I’m not sure this is the wisest course of action, Job,” he forced out between his teeth.
Job grunted. “You’re probably right, Mr. Woolstem. Never know who might be stumbling by on the way home. Do you want to take this somewhere else?”
God, how Ansel wanted that, but he knew he couldn’t take Job to the boarding house where he was staying. Even though it was late at night, his landlady would still be up, nosy woman that she was.
“Where are you staying?” He gave himself permission to touch Job, letting his fingers run along the strong curve of his shoulder.
Job chuckled. “Not in town. My camp’s about half a mile north of here. You can ride out there with me. If you want.”
Ansel let his head drop back against the wall. His energy was slowly ebbing and he didn’t think he’d be able to ride all the way out there that night. “As much as I’d love to do that, and you have to know how desperate I am when I don’t care that I’d be camping out in the wilderness. I don’t think I have the strength to ride out there tonight.”
He expected Job to denigrate him because of his weakness. It’s what his brother had done while they were in New York. He couldn’t spend time out riding horses and visiting too many people while he was ill. He tried to stay away from most, not wanting to infect them.
“Well, you have had a long night already.” Job gave him a sharp bite on the chin before he backed away. “Maybe you’d like to visit my camp tomorrow before sunset. Give you a chance to rest up. I have got some digging to do during the day.”
“Digging?” Ansel wanted to clap his hand over his mouth. It was none of his business what Job was doing in Gideon’s Crossing.
“Yeah. How about we meet at the general store around four tomorrow?” Job eased a few inches away from him.
“Four o’clock.” Ansel nodded. “I could do that.”
He couldn’t believe he was setting up a time to meet this man for an assignation that could get them killed if anyone knew about it.
“Do you know how to use the gun on your hip?”
Job’s change of topic confused Ansel for a second then he figured it was to make sure he could protect himself if they were discovered.
“Yes, I can. I would wear it if I didn’t. I know how you Western men are. I stand out like tits on a bull, as someone pointed out to me. I’m not going to make it easier for people to bother me.”
“Good. I might ask you to help me with something after I’m done doing my digging.” Job looked around then strolled from the alley.
Ansel wasn’t sure if he should follow or wait until Job was gone before he moved. His decision was taken from him when Job looked back.
“You staying in the alley tonight?”
He realized that no one was going to say anything to Job about what they might have been doing in the shadows. Job struck Ansel as the type of man who lived his life the way he wanted and how other people felt about him didn’t matter at all.
This is the cover for my last Rags to Riches book, Barefoot Dancing. I adore this cover and all of the covers in this series. The dates for this one are:
Pre-Order: October 17th
Early Release: October 31st
General Release: November 28th.
And now that the contracts have been signed and it’s official, I can tell you that Jackie Nacht and I have written a book together. It’s called A Bittersweet Haunting and is the first in a six book series titled Mark of the Jersey Devil. It’ll be out at MLR Press, most likely on October 17th. I hope to be able to share the cover with you soon.
I’m trying to figure out what story to start next. I really kind of want to work on Climbing the Savage Mountain, which is a sequel to Mountains to Climb, but I have more research I need to do on that one before I can write it. I have two other stories I should be working on and Monday, I’ll make a decision…lol. I won’t force myself to decide over the weekend. Maybe I’ll work on all three of them to figure out which one speaks the loudest to me.
I hope you all have an awesome weekend.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“Come on. We’ll go to the other saloon where no one’s going to try and kill you.” Ramsey seemed to hesitate before saying, “Unless that’s what you’re looking for.”
Ansel jerked back. “No. I’m not interested in having anyone kill me. I’m pretty sure that would be terribly painful.”
Ramsey hummed as he gestured to Ansel’s left. “I’ve see it and I think you might be right about that. It’s this way.”
He fell into step with Ramsey, wandering through his thoughts to figure out what he might say to the man at his right. They obviously had nothing in common. Ansel was a man of leisure, never having worked at anything his entire life. He was the second son of an earl, yet that meant nothing in the western part of America.
“I’m Ansel Woolstem. I’m grateful to you for stepping in, though I’m not entirely sure why,” he said when he realized he didn’t know Ramsey’s first name. Not that they were big on names here.
“Job Ramsey.” Job didn’t look at him. He kept his gaze moving from side to side as though he were searching for something—or someone.
Ansel wasn’t sure whether he should continue talking or just stay silent. It wasn’t in his nature to be happy with silence. Too many hours spent on his own wandering the family estate. He liked talking, even if it was to simply hear himself talk.
“I’m not sure why they thought I was cheating. I would never do such a thing. It’s beneath a gentleman to win that way.” He cringed inside, hearing how patronizing he sounded, even though he didn’t mean it that way.
“So you’re just lucky at cards?”
He nodded. “Well yes. It’s always been that way with any game of chance. Even horse racing. My father would take me to races with him and have me pick the winners. Not sure why. Maybe it’s from my Scottish ancestors.”
Ramsey shot him a look and if Ansel had known the man better, he might have said it looked incredulous. “You have Scots blood in you?”
Leaning closer as though he were imparting a secret, Ansel murmured, “My father and mother would deny it even under torture, but I have it on the best authority that we do have some wild Scots blood running through our rather upper ton veins.”
Job snorted. “Maybe you shouldn’t play so much then. These men aren’t interested in being gentlemen. They will shoot you where you stand if they think you’re cheating.”
“I know, but I never gave it a thought until your friend Thompson there mentioned it to me. There’s not much to do in this town.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets then took them out as he thought about how they would ruin the cut of his suit.
Christ! Ansel, you are an idiot. No one here cares about your clothes or how you look. They care about surviving and building a place to live.
“Thompson’s not my friend.” Job bumped his shoulder into Ansel’s, herding him into another saloon that looked almost exactly like the one they’d just left.
“Well either way. I do appreciate you stepping in on my behalf. You didn’t need to do it.” Ansel took the seat Job pointed at and watched as the man stalked over to the bar to get their drinks.
His eyes widened as Job carried over two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. “Tis a good thing I won some coins tonight if we are to be drinking the entire thing.”
Job snorted again as he poured out their drinks. “It’s probably not your usual kind, but it’ll do the same thing.”
“What is that? And I must admit that until I came to New York, I drank very little liquor. I don’t have the head for it, I’m afraid.” He bit his tongue. Maybe he shouldn’t admit that he was a bit of a lightweight when it came to the more manly things like drinking and whoring.
A horrified thought raced through his head. He hoped Job didn’t expect him to visit the brothel. Ansel had managed to avoid anything like that even while in London.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you get out of control.” Job eyed him like he was an unusual creature he’d discovered in the desert. “Why pick Gibson’s Crossing to convalesce? I wouldn’t have thought to find a man like you in a town like this.”
“A man like me?” His voice went up at the end, squeaking which wasn’t very manly.
Job raised his eyebrows as he looked at him over the rim of his glass. Ansel had the feeling that Job knew more about him than simply he was English and was a green horn amongst the crude people of the west. Yet Ansel hoped that wasn’t true because he didn’t want to be killed for simply looking.
Oh he wasn’t about to risk anything by even thinking about touching anyone here in this town. Hell, not even the women who tried to talk him into coming to dinner after church on Sundays. He wanted nothing to do with any of them.
He slammed back the whiskey then pushed to his feet. He tossed a coin on the table. “The whiskey is on me and again, I thank you for helping me with an unpleasant situation.”
Job didn’t say a word as Ansel strolled from the saloon. It was time to go bed and hope things looked better in the morning. His chest ached and Ansel thought of the tincture waiting in his room at the boarding house. It would allow him to get some rest instead of lying in bed, coughing and feeling like he was suffocating from whatever the disease was doing to his lungs.
He rubbed his chest, not liking how it felt like bands were constricting around his upper body. “You never should’ve spent so much time at the card table, old man. The smoke isn’t good for you and now you’re suffering.”
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
“Ansel, old man, you have gotten yourself into a bit of a spot again,” Ansel muttered to himself as he stared at the four men sitting with him at the poker table. He slowly set his cards down in front of him then stood just as slowly, not making any moves toward the gun at his hip. “I didn’t realize the time. I should be getting to bed. Must rise early and all that, you know.”
He gathered what he’d used to stake himself in the game from his winnings, leaving the rest on the table. Not taking it all was probably the best idea. Hopefully, they’d let him take that. Of course, from the way they were glaring at him and the silence coming from the saloon around him, Ansel knew he was going to be lucky to get out of there alive. Maybe they would just beat his arse, which had happened before and he could deal with that.
But Ansel had learned that these Americans tended to be far more violent than his British peers. They were less likely to be talked out of their anger, and he had been doing his best not to piss any of them off. Yet it seemed like he’d done something to upset them.
“Maybe you shouldn’t come back here,” one of the card players said. “We don’t like cheaters here.”
Cheaters! Ansel took a deep breath, about to protest being called that when a hand landed on his shoulder and gripped him tight. He shut his mouth, wondering who stood behind him. Whoever it was obviously intimidated the others because Ansel could see fear in their eyes.
“I’m sure you didn’t mean to insult the man, Thompson. I won’t tell you to apologize, if you let him leave without bothering him. And I mean at all. At no time while this man is in town will you—or any of your cronies—say a word to him.”
He managed not to shiver at the deep drawl and warm breath close to his ear. Ansel gave a mental eye roll. Get a hold of yourself, man. If any of them knew what you were thinking, they’d shoot you where you stand.
“Of course, Ramsey. We were just joshin’. He can go.” Thompson didn’t meet Ansel’s gaze, keeping his on Ramsey like a rabbit staring at a snake.
Ansel stuffed his winnings in his pockets and nodded to the men. He bit his bottom lip, not wanting to say anything that might make these men change their mind in spite of Ramsey being there. As he stepped back, the presence behind him yielded, letting him move away from the table.
Once he felt he was far enough away, he turned to look at his savior. Ramsey was several inches taller than Ansel and his shoulders were broad, making Ansel feel rather scrawny and pathetic next to him. He couldn’t tell what color the man’s hair was because of the black hat he wore, but his eyes were the clearest blue Ansel had ever seen. His skin was tanned dark as though he spent a lot of time out under the sun.
Most of the men Ansel met out west had the same hard look. They were trying to carve a civilized world out of a wilderness and while Ansel didn’t agree with them about their treatment of the natives, he understood the way they worked hard and played harder. He’d hunkered down in his room in towns when the cowhands had come to spend their wages, hooting and hollering, firing their guns in the air. He’d even relieved some of those hands of their money from time to time.
“I believe I owe you a drink,” he said softly.
Ramsey’s intense study of his face caused Ansel to fidget with his jacket sleeves. His lips thinned and Ansel figured he’d tell him no thanks. It was a rejection he was used to, considering he did stand out as a green horn. His derby hat, well cut suit and accent spoke of a strange land and they all knew he wasn’t a cowhand. Most of them assumed he wasn’t a gun hand either, and he wanted them to continue to believe that.
They walked through a cloud of cigar smoke that Ansel inhaled before he realized. It triggered the illness in his lungs and he began to cough. Hurriedly, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to press against his lips. He waved away Ramsey as the man reached out for him.
Moving as quickly as he could without shoving anyone out of the way, Ansel stumbled from the saloon into the middle of the street. He tried his best to inhale, filling his lungs with fresh air. It wouldn’t get rid of the disease eating away at his insides, but it would clear the smoke out of them and ease the coughing for a little while.
He jerked around. Ramsey stood at the edge of the sidewalk, body propped up by the one of the posts. His arms were folded over his chest which seemed to strain the fabric of his shirt.
Ansel tore his gaze away. Don’t get caught staring, old man. You’re dying, but you don’t want to go sooner than you have to.
Shaking his shoulders and coughing a few more seconds, he straightened and moved the cloth from his mouth. Checking it in the moonlight, he was thrilled to see there weren’t any drops of blood on it.
“I was in New York with my brother,” he started quietly. “He’d finally found an heiress who would marry him and save our family estate. I’d had lungs problems before in England. It’s so damnably damp over there. It seemed to get worse in New York. Probably because of the coal dust in the air.” He paused.
Ramsey grunted as though he were listening and wanted Ansel to continue.
So he did. “The doctor I visited told me I should come out West. That the air is dryer out here and might be better for me.”
“You seem to be doing all right,” Ramsey commented.
“Yes.” But I’m so blasted alone and lonely out here. A fish out of water in so many ways.
The US Open is on and I thought I’d share with you one of the photos my husband took during the London Olympics in 2012. (He was there for work)
I was gone all day yesterday, so I wasn’t able to get the third installment of Shuffle done. But I’ll be working on it today as soon as I get back from taking my cats to the vet. Annual check up for them. They won’t be thrilled with me that’s for sure.
I hope you all have a great Thursday.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Job jolted up in the bed when someone pounded on the door of his room. He ran his hands through his hair as he called out, “What the hell?”
“There’s food on the table. Get your ass out of bed, Job. I’m done waiting on your lazy ass. I want to talk to you,” Travis yelled through the door.
“Fuck you,” he shouted back as he climbed out from under the sheet. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“You got clean clothes or something? I don’t want to see your bare ass around the kitchen. Lose my appetite.”
He listened as Travis stomped away. Job splashed his face with some cool water, slicked his hair back and dug through his saddlebags to find a less dirty shirt and pants. Frowning, he realized there wasn’t anything in them.
“What the hell?” he muttered.
Another knock and he turned when the door open. Eagle threw a shirt and pants at him.
“Here. Rosita washed these so you had something tonight. The rest of your clothes will be done tomorrow.”
Eagle left, shutting the door behind him. Job didn’t have the time to say anything. He quickly got dressed, shoved his feet into his boots then headed to the kitchen where he heard voices.
Standing just outside of the room, he studied the people in it. He never entered any place without assessing every occupant and every exit. It was a safety measure he found worked for him. Not that he thought anything bad would happen to him in his cousin’s house, but it didn’t pay to be careless.
“Are you coming in here or just hang out in the hallway, spying?” Eagle asked from where he sat at the table.
While he hadn’t made a sound—that he knew of—Job wasn’t surprised the Indian knew he was there. Kerry and Travis were in there as well, along with an elderly Mexican lady. That must be Rosita. Nice to see they aren’t going it alone out here. Not sure if either of them can cook.
He stalked in and tipped his head to the lady. “Ma’am.”
“This is Rosita. Her husband, Jose, works with the cattle.” Travis introduced them. “Rosita, this is my cousin, Job Ramsey.”
The lady nodded to him, but didn’t say anything. Job assumed she didn’t know much English, so he tried out his Spanish on her and smiled when her face lit up.
“You guys need to learn some Spanish, so she don’t feel so alone here,” he told the men as he dropped into a chair at the table. He thanked her when she brought him a cup of coffee.
“How the hell did you learn Mexican?” Kerry sounded a little put out that Rosita didn’t serve him.
“It’s Spanish and I worked over the border with some vaqueros a few years back. Learned some of their language while I was there.” Job sipped the hot liquid as he studied the others over the rim.
“You travel all over the place, don’t you?” Eagle said as he helped Rosita set the platters of meat and bowls of food on the table.
Shrugging, Job grabbed a biscuit off one of the plates. “Got no place to hang my hat. Don’t see the point in staying in one place with strangers. It’s a big world out there, my friend. Why not see what I can of it before I die?”
Eagle snorted. “I just think you’ve got wanderlust. Someday you’ll find some reason to stay somewhere. I can’t wait to see what that reason ends up being.”
“Why are you still here?” Job glanced over at Kerry. “I thought you’d have gone home to Texas.”
“Don’t have any reason to go back there. The others can take care of the ranch. They don’t need me around.” Kerry shrugged like Job had. “I like it here. Travis and Eagle listen to me when I have something to say. They might not agree, but at least they let me talk to them.”
It had to be hard to be a younger brother at times. Job wouldn’t really know because he left home when he was sixteen and had never dealt with his family since then.
“Eagle told me about what you did for that girl. I’m sure Barking Dog and his people appreciate it.”
Job finished filling his plate and took a few bites before he answered. “Gave me a horse to replace the one I lost. He didn’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, he did.” Eagle shot him a look. “Laughing Brook is set to become his eldest son’s wife soon. He owes you more than just a horse for doing that.”
“Huh. Didn’t know that. He didn’t say anything. Not that I would’ve taken anything else from him. Just doing what I saw needed to be done. She wouldn’t have lasted much longer with those men.” Job cut out a bite of meat. “Got there before they could do anything to her except smack her around a little.”
“Good, but not every white man would’ve helped her,” Eagle informed him.
“Well, most men are bastards, Eagle. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.” He smirked over at the Indian.
“Shut up. What the hell were you coming here for? We haven’t seen you for over a year and suddenly you show up.” Travis glared at him.
Job ate a few more bites before pushing his plate away from him. He propped his elbows on the table and stared out the window for a moment. “I got a message from Calbert Ramsey.”
“One of our daddies’ cousins by marriage, I think. He’s in a spot of trouble over Santa Fe way.”
“Why didn’t he send me the message?” Travis frowned.
“Don’t know. Don’t really care. I’m on my way over there, but thought I’d stop to let you know what’s going on.” He caught the glance between Travis and Eagle. “I don’t expect you to come with me, Travis. You’ve got a home here now. It’s not your job to help out the rest of the family.”
“Remember when one of us in trouble, all of us come,” Kerry said.
Shuffle of Angel’s Feet copyright c. 2014 T.A. Chase
Maybe he shouldn’t think like that. Job knew a lot of people who would do their level best to kill Eagle and Travis for what they were to each other. Of course, they’d also want to take Job out behind the woodshed and kick the shit out of him as well. He hadn’t done much with the attraction that seemed to simmer inside him at times.
Job wasn’t about to try anything that would end up getting him killed. It might be the reason why he traveled alone out in the middle of the wilderness, interacting with as few people as possible. Not even Indians if he could avoid them.
“You can sleep in here.” Eagle opened the door to a small bedroom. “We added a couple of rooms onto the place. Travis’ brothers show up once in a while.”
Snorting, he walked past Eagle. “I bet you enjoy the hell out of those visits.”
Eagle shrugged. “They don’t matter to me, so no matter what they say, I ignore it. Most of the time, I head out to spend a week with Barking Dog and my mother.”
“Your brother says hi.” Job dropped his saddlebags on the floor next to the chair in the corner. He scrubbed his hand over his neck, grimacing at how gritty he felt.
“I’ll bring you some water and cloth. You can get some of the dirt off. Later tonight, we’ll bring the tub in and you can wash.” Eagle left.
Job sat on the edge of the mattress, not interested in anything except cleaning off a little. When Eagle returned, he watched as the man set the pitcher of water on the dresser.
“Is there a leatherworker in Bitter Creek?”
Eagle shot him a quick glance. “Actually yeah. Why?”
“Lost my saddle when my horse went down. Need to see about getting a new one made.”
“I’ll see if we have any extra ones that might work with your horse, then you can go on into town tomorrow. Check and see if he can make you one. If not, you can keep what we have until you get something else.” Eagle nodded before strolling out of the room.
Once the door shut behind him, Job began stripping off his shirt, pants and boots. He sneezed as a little cloud of dust rose from the clothes as he dropped them to the floor. Christ! I need to take a bath. Maybe I should just ride down to the creek and bath there before I nap. A yawn surprised him and he realized he probably wouldn’t make it without falling asleep on his horse. While he’d done that before, he certainly didn’t want to do it when he could just sleep on a soft mattress for the first time in months.
He poured out some water into the bowl then soaked the cloth for a few minutes. He appreciated that Eagle had warmed it up as he washed all over, rinsing the cloth out each time. By the time Job finished, he was feeling better.
Falling into the bed, he wiggled and shifted until he got the sheet pulled up to his hips then he sighed. Fuck! It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in a house and at a place where I feel safe enough to let it all go.
But he didn’t feel safe enough to not keep his gun right next to the bed. Even though he trusted Travis and Eagle to deal with any problems, he hadn’t survived this long without being careful.
His eyes drifted shut and Job didn’t fight the exhaustion sweeping over him.
“He’s looking rough, Travis,” Eagle said as he and Travis sat at the kitchen table, drinking some coffee and catching up before Travis headed back out to work with the men. “It’s more than just helping that girl get back to her people.”
Travis frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Job was moving like he was sore, and not just from sleeping on the ground. I went in to get his clothes for Rosita to wash and his back is covered with bruises.”
“He didn’t wake up when you were in there?”
Eagle shook his head. “Wasn’t like he even pretended to sleep. I know the difference in how a man breathes. He was dead to the world.”
Rubbing his chin, Travis narrowed his eyes as he thought. “I guess we’ll wait until he gets up, then we ask him what’s going on. He said he was heading our way when he ran across the girl and those bastards.”
“Makes me wonder why. Job doesn’t visit people, not even his own family back in Kentucky.” Travis pursed his lips, making Eagle want to lean across the table and kiss him. “I’m curious, but not enough to worry about it. Job will tell us exactly what he’s doing here when he wakes up.”
Eagle stood then moved over to where Travis sat, leaned down and pressed his lips to Travis’. They didn’t have time for more than a quick kiss, but Eagle couldn’t stop himself from tasting his lover’s lips just once before they went back to work.
Travis tangled his fingers in Eagle’s long hair, keeping him from moving away. Like Eagle was going to do that. He’d stay like that forever if he could, but he knew they had things to do and—other than Kerry—none of the men knew about them.
They broke apart and Eagle panted. He stepped away and Travis stood.
“We’ll continue that later tonight,” he promised and Eagle nodded. “We’ll talk to Job as well and see what’s going on with him.”
Eagle watched Travis stalk from the kitchen then he rinsed the mugs before going back outside to work with the horses. They were getting a reputation for well-trained mounts and Eagle wasn’t going to screw that up.
Kerry met him at one of the corrals. “Saw Job ride in. Looked rough.”
Eagle lifted one shoulder. “Yeah. He’s sleeping now. Don’t think he got any while he was on his way here.”
“Course not. He was out trying to save someone. He should’ve been the Ramseys’ Helper instead of Travis,” Kerry commented.
Not going to argue with that. Eagle held out his hand for the rope. “I want to work with the dun.”
“Yes, sir.” Kerry gave him a look to let him know the man understood that Eagle didn’t want to talk about it.
For those of you who buy books at All Romance Ebooks, Losing Sight is available there now. Yay! Still not up at Amazon. Not sure why. But I’ll let you know.
I turned in a YA over the weekend, The Deepest Cut, and when I know anything about release dates and such, I’ll let you all know as well. It was going to be one big book, but I decided to split it into two smaller books. So the second book will be The Deepest Hope and I plan on working on it in Sept.
I have to change the title of my Amber Allure PAX contribution from Search & Rescue. Haven’t come up with a new title yet, but I should probably have one before I turn it in later this week…lol. That’s what I’ll be working on along with the three installments of Shuffle that I promised you. There will be one up tomorrow.
Well, I hope you all have a good Monday. I have to go for a run then come back and start writing.