The sound of his boot on the snow announced his presence, causing Birdie to jump up in fear. “Who goes there?” she called out, sounding much stronger than she appeared. Her tiny frame couldn’t even fight off a jackrabbit, but Rem had a feeling she would give it her all. Her stance proved it; she stood ready for a fight.
Placing his pistol back in its holster, Rem stepped out of the shadows and made his way toward the fire. “My name is Rem Langston. I’m an icer down in Boca Town.” He watched as Birdie relaxed her body and unclenched her fists. Her big blue eyes scanned him from head to toe, but she no longer appeared afraid.
“I know who you are. Your ma makes the best biscuits I’ve ever had. She brings them to me from time to time.”
Sounded like something his ma would do. Taking in strays was her calling or her curse, depending on how you looked at it. With a heart of gold and an ornery spirit, that woman was someone you were lucky to have on your side. Rem didn’t exactly like the idea of his ma trekking her way to the Bluebells’, especially with Jedson being there, but it didn’t shock him in the slightest that Ma would do good by them. Charity was part of her makeup.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked, seeming a stupid question since he clearly knew her story and why, but small talk and conversation were not knacks he’d use to describe himself. He didn’t know exactly what to say to this woman, but he knew she was in no condition to weather the elements of the night. “It’s freezing out here.”
Birdie squatted down to stoke the fire. “I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry none.” She didn’t look up as she spoke, seeming dismissive as if he had somehow invaded her space. Her nonchalance resembled a no trespassing sign bigger than he’d ever seen.
“Well, that’s just it, ma’am.” He walked toward her and began unbuttoning his jacket. “I am worried. You ain’t dressed for the cold, and that fire you got there ain’t going to keep you alive ‘til morning.” He removed his jacket and draped it over her shoulders, noticing how her body shook from the frigid air.
The simple grey dress she wore looked so threadbare that he could almost see right through it. She might as well have been naked for how little protected she was from the biting wind that gusted every so often. He half expected her to reject the coat, but she only pulled it shut tightly around her, self-perseverance overriding pride.
She looked up into his eyes with a sincerity he’d only seen in his ma’s. “Thank you.” One of her eyes had the makings of a good shiner, and her lip had been busted wide open. Her brown hair hung limply around her face and matted in different spots. Birdie looked as if she just flew out of a storm.
He looked down at her feet, both turning the color blue. “You ain’t got no shoes.”
She didn’t respond, simply pulled the coat tighter around her throat. Her body still shook regardless of the jacket.
Rem wasn’t a man to be impulsive. Everything he did, he planned out from beginning to end. But staring at this young woman—half froze to death—Rem knew he needed to act. “You’re coming with me.” He didn’t ask—maybe he should have—but words weren’t easy, especially as he fought back the urge to hunt down her pa and put a bullet between his eyes.
“I’ll be all right,” she said softly. “But I do thank you for the coat. If you let me borrow it for the night, I promise to return it to you or your ma first thing tomorrow.”
“I’m not going to leave you out here.”
“That shelter,” she turned her head to look at the pile of old wood that barely stood, “has provided for me many a night.” She nodded and gave a weak smile, which looked like it hurt with the cut across it. “I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about me.”
The easy thing would have been to agree, turn around and mind his own business. But tonight wasn’t going to be easy for Rem, because this broken bird was coming home with him whether she liked it or not. If he were to leave her here, he might as well shoot her between the eyes—the end result being the same.
“You’re coming home with me tonight. My ma is there, and stew is waiting. She cooks plenty, and we can make the room.” Birdie opened her mouth to speak, but Rem stopped her by adding, “Ma would skin me alive if I left you out here to freeze to death.”
Birdie stood there a moment, looking as if she were pondering her options. The sky had started spitting out snow, and it was just a matter of time until her body would be drenched through and through. Her shelter wouldn’t have a chance holding up against the Sierra winds, and by the way she shook, even Rem’s coat wasn’t doing the job of keeping her warm.