Read Taming of Jessi Rose Online

Authors: Beverly Jenkins

Taming of Jessi Rose

BOOK: Taming of Jessi Rose
3.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
BEVERLY JENKINS
The Taming of Jessi Rose

To Alex, because he is my light

Contents

Prologue

Ten-year-old Griffin Sloan knew his ma, Belinda, was dying.

Chapter 1

After only a few hours of sleep, Jessi Rose Clayton…

Chapter 2

The fat Texas moon outlined a man riding slowly up…

Chapter 3

The next morning, Griff awakened to the ringing sound of…

Chapter 4

The next morning, Jessi awakened to what sounded like someone…

Chapter 5

After supper, Griff saddled up the gelding so he could…

Chapter 6

As they prepared to leave, Jessi hoped her concern about…

Chapter 7

Auntie drove back to town, leaving Griff to sleep off…

Chapter 8

After the Preacher's departure, Jessi and Griffin spent the rest…

Chapter 9

Later that afternoon, Sheriff Hatcher rode up to the Clayton…

Chapter 10

The saloon's repairs were completed a few days later, and…

Chapter 11

While Griff handled the reins, Jessi linked her arm with…

Chapter 12

Back out on the street now, Jessi and Griffin split…

Chapter 13

After Griff rode off to town, Jessi moved about the…

Chapter 14

After the sun started to go down and the heat…

Chapter 15

Because Gillie still had a few last touches to add…

Nebraska
Spring 1873

T
en-year-old Griffin Sloan knew his ma, Belinda, was dying. She'd been sick a long time and the end seemed near. Yesterday, she'd started coughing up blood. This morning, she'd been unable to get out of bed. It scared him seeing her this way, so still and worn-out looking, because he'd never known his ma to be sick a day in her life.

Ten years of age and almost a man, Griffin supposed he shouldn't be scared. After all, he'd been the only man in the house ever since his pa went to war for Mr. Lincoln and came back in a plain pine box. That was nearly eight years ago, according to his ma. After his death, she'd run a layover station for the railroads, serving meals and providing a place to stay for the occasional Black passengers other station managers on the line wouldn't house due to prejudice.

Things were fine for a while. Then everything changed, and Griffin held the railroad responsible.

The railroad bosses promised Belinda she would get the spanking new station they were planning on a newly constructed line of track, but the promises never came
to be. The station went to someone else, and since the new rail line no longer came their way, her station became unneeded.

She had no one to turn to, no family back east, no understanding neighbors to beg charity from. She tried farming for a while, but like many others on the plains, had neither the money nor the tools to make it go. Last year, Griffin began walking the five miles to the nearest farm to steal food so they wouldn't starve. The farm's owner, Ol' Man McIntosh, caught him in his corn field and hen house more than a few times and whipped him like a runaway slave, but Griffin had continued stealing whatever he could, whenever he could. Sometimes at night, as he lay on his thin pallet, he would hear his ma crying softly. He knew she thought he was asleep and wouldn't hear, but he did, and he prayed night after night to be bigger and stronger so he could make her life better, or for the Good Lord to send them a savior.

The prayers were never answered. She'd written to the railroads to see if they could offer her other employment, but her letters were never answered. Griffin's supply of stolen corn had almost gotten them through the winter, but when it ran out two months ago, they were reduced to eating the wallpaper on the thin drafty walls. Because of the lack of food, she'd wasted away and was terribly thin.

Seated beside her now, watching over her as she slept fitfully, he was afraid, not because he would be left alone, but because he loved her so very much.

The hacking coughs that were as much a part of her now as her heartbeat signaled she'd soon be opening her eyes. Mercifully, it had rained last night, and he'd been able to collect some of it in the bottom of an old wooden bucket. He dipped out a bit with a battered tin cup and offered her a small sip, but it only brought on more body-wracking coughs. Undaunted, Griffin wiped her
cracked lips with a rain-dampened rag, then whispered, “Rest now, Ma.”

Her voice had once been hail and hearty; now it was a rustling whisper. “Did you go for the doctor, Griffin?”

He couldn't tell her the man wouldn't come. No matter how hard Griffin had begged, he'd been turned away because the Sloans had no money. “Yeah, Ma,” Griffin lied. “He's coming, should be here anytime now.”

Tears were fuzzing up Griffin's eyes.

She looked into his face and raised her frail brown hand to gently cup his cheek. “I know the doctor's not coming and I know I'm dying.”

He placed his hand atop hers. “No, Ma, you're going to be fine. You'll see.”

“You've been a good son, Griffin. A
good
son. You're strong—smart, too. You'll do just fine without me. It might be tough in the beginning, but the Good Lord will watch after you and keep you safe.”

Tears ran freely down his face now. He didn't want to be looked after; he wanted her to live.

“Go and get the Bible, son.”

Griffin was reluctant to leave her side, but he knew how much stock she set in the Good Book.

When he returned, she whispered, “Read me Psalm 62.”

Griffin leafed through the worn, well-read pages until he found the psalms, then began to read in a clear but soft voice. “
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation
.”

By the time he moved down to the seventh verse, his tears were so thick he could barely see, but he didn't falter. “
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God
.”

When he looked up, she was dead.

 

It took Griffin six hours to dig his ma's grave. Only last night's rain kept it from being any longer. Digging with his hands and an old ax handle he and his ma once used for plowing, he finally managed to open the earth deep enough to protect her from predators both animal and human.

Going back in the house, he washed her up as best he could, then wrapped her in the tarp that covered the hole in the sod roof. It took all of his ten-year-old strength, but he managed to place her body in the grave, and with all the reverence of a loving son, covered her up with the mounded dirt.

Griffin sat by her grave site until the sun came up again, then went into the house. He had no personal belongings to gather; everything they'd owned had been sold over time for food. So he washed his face, picked up his mother's Bible, and struck out, walking west.

He had no idea where he was going or where he'd wind up, but he knew this: when he grew up and became a man, the railroad bosses would pay. They were responsible for his ma's death, and he swore on her grave he'd have his revenge.

Blanco County, Texas
March 1888

A
fter only a few hours of sleep, Jessi Rose Clayton was roughly awakened by her father. “Jessi Rose, wake up! Stampede!”

It was one of the most dreaded words in cattle ranching, and Jessi didn't need to hear it twice. Jumping out of bed while her father went off to rouse the others, the dark-skinned woman threw off her nightgown and pulled on her shirt, denims, and boots. Only then did she hear the storm. Outside the wind howled and the rain pelted the roof so hard it could've been rocks falling instead. The answering roll of thunder echoed ominously as Jessi ran down the hall to grab her slicker and hat from the peg by the door. She slammed the hat down on top of her short cropped hair and tied the strings tight.

Out on the porch, the wind blew with such tremendous force, it momentarily robbed her of her breath. Someone was calling her name. Peering through the downpour she spied Jeter Lewis, one of the ranch hands. He was mounted and holding the reins of her horse, Snake Eyes. Racing to join him, she mounted quickly, then galloped off fast in Jeter's wake. The wet wind
whipped at her fiercely. It was coming down so hard and the night was so black she couldn't see her horse's head.

She could hear the cows off in the distance, though. Steers didn't like storms, and this one looked to be one of the worst of the season. A flash of lightning momentarily turned the rain-filled night into an eerie day, giving her just the briefest glimpse of the fast-riding hands, the cows, and the chaos. The din of screaming steers, men shouting, and guns shooting competed with the noises of the storm. Jessi raced Snake Eyes up and down the edges of the fray, yelling and firing her pistol in the air. She and the others had to keep the herd from spreading out. She looked around for her father. He and Jeter were riding hard to the front of the line in an effort to turn the 500 storm-maddened steers back toward the open range and away from the house. If it stopped raining, the herd would eventually settle down, but if the storm didn't pass quickly, they could be in for a long night. As she continued her ride, yelling and shooting, she hoped her nine-year-old nephew, Jotham, hadn't decided to join in. A stampede was no place for a child.

Just then a particularly bright flash of lightning showed her father, Dexter, falling from his horse. “No!” she screamed, as she watched him disappear into the blackness of the stampeding herd. Fearing for his life, she spurred Snake Eyes forward, plunging into the lightning lit chaos of riders and fast-moving longhorns to get to his side. Thunder shook the ground and the flashes of lightning again turned night into day. She screamed for help from the hands as she rode but doubted anyone could hear her over the din.

When she finally reached the place where she thought he'd gone down, her years in the saddle showed in how quickly she dismounted. The downpour and the darkness made it difficult to spot him at first, but seconds later
she was dragging him free of the stampede and kneeling in the mud by his side. Cold fear mixed with the cold rain, as she gently raised his head and pillowed him against her body. “Pa?”

A flash of lightning showed her that his eyes were closed. “Pa!”

She shook him gently. “Pa!”

“Jessi Rose?” His once booming voice could barely be heard.

She leaned down, trying to shelter him from the rain and to hear him. “I'm here, Pa. Are you okay, anything broken?”

“Damn coward bastards shot me in the back.”

Her eyes widened. “What? Who?”

“One of Darcy's men. Clem Davis. Saw him over my shoulder in the lightning flash just as he was aiming.”

She quickly scanned the night, but saw no one. “Hold on, Pa! We'll get the doc!”

“Too late,” he whispered. He grabbed hold of Jessi's arm with all the strength he had remaining and said fiercely, “Don't give in. Don't let that bastard Darcy take the land.”

Her fears rising, she vowed, “I won't, Pa.” He was talking like he was going to die.

Frantically she looked around. He needed help. “Just hold on.”

She and her father were now on the outskirts of the herd. Gunshots pierced the air as the expertly riding hands increased their efforts to end the stampede. As the rain continued to pour down, she screamed for someone to go for the doc.

 

The funeral was held the next day. Dexter Clayton was laid to rest deep in the soil of his own land. Only a few people came by to pay their respects, the others were too afraid. Reed Darcy's terror-filled campaign to
take over all the land in their small corner of the county had resulted in burnings, beatings, and the deaths of anyone who stood in his way. He wanted to sell the land to the railroad just to feed his own greed.

The day after the funeral. Jessi rode the forty minutes into the small Black township of Vale. Filled with anger and grief over her father's murder, she ignored the curious looks of the folks who watched and whispered behind their hands about her as she passed. She raised her chin defiantly in response to the women who crossed the street rather than share the planked walk. Jessi's past association with the deadly outlaw known as Calico Bob made her a pariah here in the township. The citizens didn't care for her any more than she cared for them.

When she entered the sheriff's small office, the lawman Casper Hatcher, seated at his desk, looked up warily. “Afternoon, Jessi, what can I do for you?”

“Cap, I want an investigation into my father's death.”

The aging and graying Hatcher went back to his paperwork. “Nothing to investigate.”

“What do you mean, nothing to investigate? He was murdered.”

A patronizing smile crossed his pale brown face. “Nobody murdered Dex. Probably you or one of your hands shot him by mistake.” He then looked up. “At least, I hope it was by mistake.”

Everyone in town knew Dexter Clayton had a stubborn streak as wide as the state of Texas, and over the years, he'd rubbed more than a few folks the wrong way, but Jessi wasn't buying it. Her father was one of the few men who'd openly opposed Reed Darcy, and he'd paid for it with his life. “He was shot in the
back
.”

“I know, but it was pretty stormy that night, right?”

“Yes.”

“Weren't you all out shooting trying to turn that herd?”

“Yes, but—”

“See, there you go, an accident.”

Jessi could feel her rage threatening to explode like cannon fire, and it grabbed her so hard her hands shook. “My father
saw
Darcy's man that night. It was Clem Davis.”

“So I hear, but both Mr. Darcy and Clem say he wasn't there.”

“So it's my father's word against theirs?”

“Exactly. And dead men can't testify.”

Reed Darcy's hired guns had deliberately stampeded the herd that night, and then murdered her father—Jessi knew that as sure as her name. She also knew that she'd had no business seeking help here. Even though Hatcher and her father had been friends for many years, and he'd been very instrumental in Jessi's life when she was younger, Hatcher had been elected sheriff with Darcy money. The lawman now owed his loyalty to Darcy, not to the people he'd known most of his life. “So you aren't going to do anything?”

“Like I said before, no need to. I did see Mr. Darcy this morning and he says to tell you he won't hold a grudge against you for running him off your land, and that he's sorry for your loss. If there's anything he can do, just let him know.”

Reed Darcy had shown up at the Clayton ranch after her father's funeral flanked by his son, Roscoe, and Roscoe's wife, Minerva, ostensibly to pay their respects. Jessi met them on the porch with a raised Winchester and ordered them off her land. Darcy, who was no fool, had acquiesced. Once word got around town about what she'd done, the incident had made Jessi Rose Clayton the talk of Vale once again, but she didn't care. “How can you call yourself an officer of the law?” she now
asked Hatcher. “People you've known all your life have been burned out, run off, and terrorized by Darcy, while you sit here doing nothing!”

“Don't you sass me, girl,” he warned, standing up. “If your pa had sold that land like he was asked to, he'd probably be alive.”

“Oh, really?” she shot back coldly. “Are you saying his death was not an accident after all?”

She had him and he knew it.

Bristling, he snapped, “Get out of my office, Jessi Clayton. Now!”

Giving him a brittle smile that did not reach her eyes, she said, “I'm going, but know this, I am not selling my land to Darcy or anyone else!”

She stormed out, well aware that she would find no champion in Vale. She and her nephew Jotham were in this fight alone.

 

Kansas State Penitentiary
April 1888

 

“Get up, Blake! Visitor!”

A sleeping Griffin Sloan Blake stirred and slowly opened his eyes. He peered up at the armed guard looming over him in the pre-dawn darkness.

“There's nobody I want to see,” he declared caustically and pulled the too-short moth-eaten blanket back over his big body. The cell was cold. The sun had yet to rise and the only heat available emanated from the sleeping bodies of the other fifteen prisoners crammed like cattle into the small fetid cell.

The guard jabbed him sharply in the back with the butt of the rifle. “Get up, damn you, I don't have all day!”

Griffin shot the man a malevolent look but got to his feet. Half awake, he ignored the angry curses of the other prisoners he inadvertently kicked or stepped on as
he made his way to the door. Griffin couldn't imagine who would be coming to see him here, but he didn't ask. He'd know soon enough.

He was escorted to the warden's office and was surprised to see U.S. Deputy Marshal Dixon Wildhorse, a Black Seminole from Indian Territory, a good friend of Griffin's half-brother Jackson. He was Griffin's friend, too—as long as they didn't meet on opposite sides of the law.

“Hello, Dix. What brings you to this little patch of paradise?”

The big Seminole ignored Griffin's sarcasm and turned to the armed guard waiting in the doorway. “You can go. Lock me in if you think it's necessary.”

The guard looked between the two, nodded to the lawman and closed the door. He did turn the key however.

Alone now, Dix asked, “Why didn't you write and let somebody know you were in here?”

Griffin scratched at the lice that'd taken up residence in his clothing in the six months since he'd been sentenced. A prisoner's personal hygiene was not high on the warden's list of concerns. “Who's there to write?”

“Me. Your brother.”

“Why? So you could come and bust me out?”

The lawman ignored the crack. “The warden said they gave you seven years.”

Griff shrugged. “Give or take a few months.” He had been a handsome man at one time, but the red gold hair and the muscular physique were hard to discern beneath all the dirt, beard, and grime. Griffin knew that he smelled as bad as he looked “So, how is big brother? Last I heard he was still back east.”

“No. He and I left Chicago together in '84. We took a wagon train of mail order brides to Kansas, then he headed down to Texas. He was going back to try and clear his name.”

Griff thought his brother's quest would be a futile one. “Those rebs aren't ever going to admit Jack was framed, or that they killed Royce.”

Royce was Royce Blake, a Texas preacher who'd pulled a twelve-year-old Griffin Sloan out of a whorehouse in Abilene and taken him home to be raised alongside his natural son, Jackson. Even though Royce and Griff rarely saw eye to eye, Griff had come to love and respect the old man. Years later, Royce's ambush death at the hands of a well-connected West Texas rancher had further hardened Griff's heart against the rich and powerful. “I wish big brother luck.”

And he truly did. Even though he and Jack often argued about Griffin's profession, they'd had some good times growing up. He hadn't seen his half-brother in many years. “So why are you here, Dix?”

“To save your hide, maybe.”

“You busting me out?” he asked with sarcasm in his voice and in his topaz eyes.

Dix didn't smile. “In a way.”

Griffin studied the lawman. Dix would make an excellent poker player; his face rarely gave anything away, but since the Seminole didn't play cards, the attribute seemed wasted. “What does ‘in a way' mean?”

“It means I have a job for you. Complete it satisfactorily and you could walk away a free man.”

“Could?”

“Could,” was the only commitment the marshal seemed ready to make.

“It wouldn't happen to involve robbing trains, now, would it?”

The lawman did not appear amused by Griff's flippant attitude. “You are about to lose seven years of your life in this hellhole. Robbing trains is the last thing you should be joking about.”

Griff knew he was right. Robbing trains was why he'd
been sentenced here in the first place—that, and the woman who'd betrayed him to the Pinkertons six months ago. Were it not for his attraction to pretty women, Griff would undoubtedly be still robbing trains. “I admit it, you're right. But I had a damn good time while it lasted.”

And he had. Keeping true to his vow to make the railroads pay for his mother's death, he'd robbed trains for nearly five years, from California to the Mississippi and back again, sampling as many willing women along the way as the days and nights allowed. He'd given a good portion of the money away to needy families facing desperate situations, but had kept enough to make sure he'd end his days comfortably. Prison had momentarily derailed those plans. “What do you want me to do?”

“Read this.”

Wildhorse pulled a letter from his shirt pocket and handed it over.

BOOK: Taming of Jessi Rose
3.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Awakener by Amanda Strong
Orchids and Stone by Lisa Preston
A Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer
Under His Domain by Kelly Favor
Come Alive by Jessica Hawkins
A Knight's Vow by Gayle Callen
Pursuit by Robert L. Fish
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Goodbye Arizona by Claude Dancourt