Home > Forged in Love

Forged in Love
Author: Mary Connealy






A bullet slammed into the side of the stagecoach carrying Mariah Stover, her pa, and her older brother.

“Robbers!” The driver’s voice roared in the hot Wyoming summer as the crack of a whip lashed, driving the horses faster. “Everyone, fight or die!”

Mariah heard the man riding shotgun on top of the stage land on his belly and open fire from the roof.

Bullets peppered the coach.

Mariah sat between Pa and Theo, facing the horses. Pa, a Civil War veteran, snapped his Spencer repeating rifle into his hand and fired out the window in a steady, rolling blast.

Theo threw himself to the opposite seat, occupied by two men who looked terrified. He aimed, fired, and fired again with his Colt pistol. Pa’s rifle echoed the pistol in a steady volley of gunfire.

Mariah dug for the pistol in her satchel and checked the load. She looked out the window to her right. No one there.

Her pa and brother were tough men used to Western ways, who knew that civilization was often left behind at the town’s edge. You just had to hope the uncivilized wouldn’t follow you right into town.

You protected yourself, or you died. The stagecoach driver had it right.

Pa fired out his window while Theo used the window beside the two others. Both men looked more city than country, and if either of them had a weapon, he didn’t produce it. Instead, they just slid aside for Theo.

Mariah gripped a six-shooter. When Pa paused from firing his Spencer, the one he’d gotten in the war when he’d been a sharpshooter, Mariah shouted, “Lean forward while you reload.”

Pa did so without looking or speaking, focusing completely on his rifle and trusting her to be tough, competent, and ready.

Mariah watched out the window and saw four men riding ever closer, blasting away. One of them went down, likely from the gunfire of the man on the roof.

She aimed and fired, aimed and fired, and kept going, trying to get the most out of her flying lead.

They were miles from town. No way to get help before these gunmen finished their fight, died trying, or were driven off.

“Get back!” Pa hollered.

Mariah needed to reload anyway, so she gave way to Pa’s superior marksmanship.

A cry from overhead ended the gunfire from the shotgun rider. Mariah saw him plummet from the top of the stage. As the three remaining outlaws rode past him, two of them fired into his body.

Pa growled in disgust at the vicious killers. He opened fire again. Mariah had her gun ready to go when she saw someone coming up beside the window on her side. She whipped her head around in time to see the rider empty his pistol into the city boys until they were riddled with bullets.

Her hair came loose from its knot on the back of her head and blinded her for just a moment as she cried out in horror. Then she glared at the skinny blond man. An ugly scar cut across his left cheek and through both his upper and lower lips. She pressed her body against the door and leveled her gun just as she heard a snap from under the belly of the stagecoach—an axle giving way.

She opened fire on the gunman as the stage skidded sideways. Crimson bloomed on his left arm. He brought his gun up with a wicked smile that revealed one of his front teeth was missing right in line with the scar. Their eyes met. He aimed.

The stagecoach tilted wickedly toward Mariah’s side and slammed into a boulder alongside the road. The gunman fell back to avoid the boulder. The stage hit so hard the door flung open, and Mariah fell out. She felt the weight of the stage smother her.

More guns fired. Pa’s Spencer fell silent, then Theo’s Colt stopped blasting.

A bullet hit her in the side. White fire blazed in her belly as the stagecoach settled hard on her.

The world went dark.


Mariah’s eyes flickered open from where she was caged by . . . by something. Voices sounded from outside. She tried to cry out for help, but the weight on her chest was so heavy she couldn’t draw a breath to manage it.

“They’re all dead—just like always.”

“What about the woman?” Whoever said that sounded on edge. “First woman we’ve ever killed. I don’t like it. And the Stovers. What were they doing on this stage?”

“Like it or not, she’s dead. Crushed under the stage, and I got a bullet in her just to be sure.”

Mariah stopped trying to call for help.

“I’ll get the strongbox.”

A bullet blast made her flinch, which hurt everywhere.

A third voice asked, “Is there a good haul?”

“No, only a couple hundred. When we stripped the bodies, we got a couple hundred more.”

“I thought this stage had a payroll on it for Fort Bridger?”

“We got bad information, or they pulled a switch, sent the money by another route.”

“Maybe they know there’s a leak. Maybe he needs to die. I don’t like talking outside our group.”

“He don’t know why I was asking. He don’t know nothin’.”

“He’ll put it together when he hears about this robbery.”

“The horses broke the traces and got away, too. We’re too close to town. We’ve gotta clear out. When those horses go storming into town, a rescue party will come a-running.”

“You sure everyone’s dead?”

“You helped kill them, same as me.”

“The Stovers were good folks. This is a bad business.”

The stage was pressed to Mariah’s face so that she saw the dark wood and nothing else. She couldn’t move her arms or legs, could barely draw a breath. Her head was pinned and aching. The pain was dizzying, and it came from every part of her.

Her belly was the worst, but her chest felt like it’d been smashed out of shape. Her vision blurred as she fought for each shallow breath. Her whole body was crushed.

Finally, she heard horses galloping back the way the stagecoach had come.

As much as those men terrified her, being left alone was almost worst. Tears slid from the corners of her eyes as she thought of Pa and Theo.

Thought how it felt like she was already in a coffin.


Clint Roberts was loitering outside his diner, hoping to catch Mariah’s attention, when he saw the stagecoach team charging into town. The stage he’d been watching for wasn’t behind it. The thundering hooves and wildly out of control speed told of panicked horses. He could think nothing but the worst. “Sheriff, get out here!”

Clint sprinted for his horse, penned up in the corral behind the blacksmith shop. He’d already lost one family. It would kill him to lose another one. The Stovers certainly didn’t count him as family, but he’d begun to count them.

He didn’t ride in from his homestead every day—it was an easy walk. But today he’d hoped Mariah and her family would be back, and he’d wanted an excuse to stop in, get his horse, and say hello.

The sheriff burst out of the jailhouse, saw the stage horses, and raced for his own mount tied to the hitching post. Willie Minton, the town deputy, was only a pace behind. Other men were coming, too. They all knew the stage was in trouble. And the trouble might be ugly.

Clint was galloping before he reached the edge of town. The stage had been late, so he hoped that meant they’d been close to town.

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