Home > Forged in Love(6)

Forged in Love(6)
Author: Mary Connealy

“It’s not safe.”

Mariah settled into being stubborn and unreasonable. It was the only way she could think of to save her home.

She only hoped she was tough enough to also save her life.





Mariah stepped out of the diner onto Pine Valley’s main street.

The first thing that struck her, and it almost always did, was the Cirque of the Towers. Spectacular mountain peaks that stood like guardians on the west side of town. Those towering mountains inspired her in a way so deep it always made her think of God.

A small lake between the town and the mountains reflected the peaks, doubling their impact and beauty.

The rest of Pine Valley was far less impressive.

Where she stood, showing herself for the first time since she’d been “buried,” was called main street, but that was a highfalutin description of the frontier town. It had almost no women. A small school with a dozen students—half of them belonging to Parson Rolly Blodgett and his wife. There were one or two families out in the country who had young’uns. And new homesteaders showed up with some regularity.

They used the schoolhouse as a church, and Parson Blodgett had homesteaded on the edge of Pine Valley, so he was part parson, part farmer, and served as the town’s justice of the peace.

The challenges were legion for Parson Blodgett, because for all the modest amenities in Pine Valley, it supported a good-sized saloon. It was nearly the most prosperous business in town.

The saloon thrived, while the church was far more humble.

The sheriff was by her side, as was Clint. And Nell came hurrying up the street just as they had planned.

In the few seconds it took Nell to reach them, Mariah sent a prayer winging to God, asking Him for wisdom and protection. This was a reckless plan. But the thought of leaving this life, this town, her friends behind was too much.

She’d lost Pa and Theo. She’d almost lost her life. Now for safety’s sake, she would have to give up her home, her friends, a life she understood . . . to the extent she understood anything.

Mariah considered herself a strong woman. You didn’t slam a sledgehammer on a red-hot horseshoe for hours every day and not get strong as a result. She also knew firearms and knives. She was tougher than any woman she’d ever met and a whole lot of the men.

Somehow, when she pictured herself running and hiding rather than standing firm, she became a frightened, scurrying little rodent. A weakling and a coward.

Being afraid of the Deadeye Gang wasn’t cowardice, it was wisdom, and she was afraid. But she’d face that fear from right here in Pine Valley.

As she revealed to her little corner of the world that she was alive, she rested her eyes on those mountains. They were part of the backbone of the Wind River Mountains. Part of the spine of Wyoming.

She’d draw strength from God, from the Cirque of the Towers, and from herself.

Henry Wainwright stepped out of his general store. “Miss Mariah, you’re alive!”

Latta Blodgett was walking toward the store when she staggered into the wall. No small problem because Mrs. Blodgett was very great with child. “Mariah?”

Henry Wainwright jumped forward and caught her, though Mrs. Blodgett was a hardy woman. She’d’ve probably caught herself.

“M-M-Mariah? We held your funeral.” Latta’s voice wavered. Mariah braced herself for tears. But Latta was made of sterner stuff than that. Her chin came up, her eyes flashed with an emotion so strong, Mariah was a little afraid.

But no torrent of scolding came for putting Latta Blodgett through a funeral. Instead, she rushed forward to hug Mariah.

Mariah hugged the sweet lady back, even with her belly in the way. Quietly, she said, “It was decided before I regained consciousness that I wasn’t safe from the Deadeye Gang, so Doc and Sheriff Mast pretended I’d died and buried an empty coffin. They’ve kept me hidden until I healed. But I’m up and healthy enough to watch out for myself now, so the hiding is over.”

Mrs. Blodgett pulled back, nodding. “You have a care now.”

Everyone in these parts had heard of the Deadeye Gang, who never left a witness above ground.

Nell arrived at Mariah’s side a few seconds later. In only a slightly raised voice, she said, “Have you remembered anything?”

“No, Doc Preston said I never would.” Doc had said she possibly never would, but Mariah wasn’t letting that truth be told.

Becky galloped into town riding the magnificent palomino stallion with the creamy white mane she favored. She rode straight up main street to where Mariah stood outside Clint’s diner, on the boardwalk that was several steps up from the packed-dirt street.

Henry Wainwright turned and said something to someone back in the store. He was three doors down from the diner. Mayor Pete, who owned the store with his brother, came hurrying to see for himself.

“Mariah,” Becky said, who was in on spreading the news of Mariah’s lost memory far and wide, “you’re up and around. I’m so glad to see you. How’s your memory?”

This had been staged to draw enough attention to Mariah and her lost recall of that day, which hopefully would help protect her.

“The whole day is a blank,” she replied. “I can’t even remember getting out of bed in the morning. Nor can I remember one moment of the stagecoach ride. Doc Preston said that it’s not uncommon to forget the time before and after a bad head injury.”

Both the Wainwrights heard every word. Someone stood just inside the door to the saloon one building down from the general store. Mariah saw only the person’s silhouette, but she was sure that whoever it was, they’d heard. There were several men loitering on benches outside the saloon. Another man walked along the boardwalk, his heavy boots thudding like a drum.

Several other folks stepped out of their shops and homes. One of them James Burke, who’d buried her. He looked shocked.

A few called out, surprised to see her. She was the center of attention for a while before her story was told to everyone. She and Nell repeated her lack of memory several times.

Not everyone in town was there listening, yet in a small town, news spread like fire through a dried-up fir tree. Soon everyone would know, including, Mariah hoped fervently, any members of the Deadeye Gang who were nearby.

Becky dismounted in her sleek, catlike way. She was one of the finest horse trainers in the territory and ran a prosperous ranch with red, white-faced cattle she called Herefords. A different choice when so many others had herds of longhorns.

“I’ll help you get settled back into your house.” Becky came to her side and slid an arm around her waist. “Nell and I packed up your father and brother’s things. We didn’t dispose of them, just set them out of sight. You’ll have all the time you need before you deal with that. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Mariah walked down three wooden stairs to the street. Nell and Becky walked on either side of her. Sheriff Mast and Clint followed behind. It was like having a group of bodyguards, and Mariah reckoned that was exactly as it was meant to be.


“Aren’t you going to go home?”

Mariah looked at her friends. Mariah had lived in Pine Valley for ten years. Nell and her brother had come to town three years after Mariah. Becky had been born out here.

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