“Neil,” she cried, her eyes widening. John put his hands up as if to ward the man off, but he said nothing. What was there to say?
Neil narrowed his eyes as his chest heaved. There was no hesitation, no deliberation. He shot John square in the chest.
The sound reverberated in the room and I covered my mouth with my hand to cover my cry of surprise. Blood bloomed on his chest and John put his hands over the hole. He only looked down at the wound before he fell to his side, dead. I was not the doctor, but I knew a shot to the heart would make death instantaneous. Marie screamed and pleaded with her husband as she shuffled up onto her knees and tugged at the bonds that held her trapped. Instead of a playful game of bondage, it kept her right where Neil wanted her when he shot her, too. Once, then twice.
I barely breathed, my ears ringing from the report of the gun. I didn’t dare move a muscle, afraid he’d see me and come after me next. Neil stood and looked at the bodies for a few seconds. Maybe a minute. I had no idea of time. I just remained as still as possible behind the door, hoping he couldn’t hear the frantic beat of my heart. Surely, he’d shoot me too if I was discovered. While he had reason for his actions, it was still cold-blooded murder. He took a deep breath, then another, then spun on his heels, stomped down the steps and out the door. The quiet left in his wake was just as deafening as the gunshots.
My legs quivered, then folded. I slid down the wall to the floor, a crumpled, wilted heap. My hands shook and I tried to keep myself calm, to keep the excess energy from overwhelming me. That was where the sheriff and my neighbors found me a few minutes later, the dirty secrets of my marriage no longer hidden. Instead, they were naked and dead in my own bed.
“You didn’t have to do this,” Walker murmured, standing with me on the train platform as the westbound train pulled in. It was loud, hissing and clunking as it came to a stop. Finally. Two hours behind schedule and in that time I should have turned around and left. But a woman waited, a woman who was my bride and I could not be cruel to her. It was not her fault I’d been proxy married to a stranger. The blame fell solely on me.
“I do,” I replied, my breath coming out in a big white cloud. The sun had slid behind the mountains and night was falling fast, the temperature dropping well below freezing. Any snow that had melted earlier in the day was now turning to ice on the brick walkways.
Tucking the collar of my coat up about my neck, I looked down the length of the train, knowing she would soon appear. My bride. My mail order bride. A stranger with a piece of paper that tied us in legal matrimony. What would she look like? Tall or short? Homely or beautiful? It mattered not. What did matter was that I was the first to marry under the new law of Slate Springs. I glanced at Walker, stalwart and quiet beside me. “Are you having second thoughts? Is that the problem?”
“Fuck, Luke, I said I’d do it and I keep my word.” His dark eyes flared in anger, but it was quickly banked.
I sighed. “Shit, sorry. I’m just… this is just not how I expected it.”
“What? Freezing our balls off for a woman we’re committed to for the rest of our lives just because Slate Springs doesn’t have enough women?”
Yeah, that described it pretty well.
“Fine, I did this out of duty, but really, I want someone to share my life with, just like most men in town. Children. Companionship. Hell, someone to warm my bed on a night like tonight.”
I tugged the collar of my coat up against the wind that whipped down the platform.
“All you had to do was come down the mountain. Denver has enough women who would gladly marry the mayor of Slate Springs, and a mine owner to boot.” He lifted his hands and cupped them around his mouth, exhaled warm air onto them.
The Trusty mine was putting out silver at a pace that was making me as rich as those up in Butte digging up copper. I knew it wouldn’t last, that the vein would dry up eventually, but I had more money than I needed in my lifetime. Now, it was time to share it with others, like a wife and children.
“I’m more than a mine owner. I don’t want a woman who’s only interested in my money. I want a woman who wants me.”
Standing still, the cold seeped through the bottom of my boots. Passengers began to alight the train. Porters passed us to help the weary travelers with their baggage.
I turned to my brother, trying to justify this marriage. “I took the job just to keep Thomkins from getting the position. If I remember, we flipped for the job.”
The corner of his mouth tipped up. “Yeah, and you lost. Being mayor might keep Thomkins from fucking up the town, but it gets you a bride, too.”