The lovely Lori Connelly invited me once again to be part of her Written Fireside with a western romance this time. The story is all finished and I was lucky enough to be able to cap it off with the finale. Make sure to check out the rest of the story first. Enjoy!
Part 9 by Kari Lemor
Fannie pulled the trigger as the blast from the Marshal’s and Anderson’s gun went off simultaneously. Will dropped to the ground and scurried away. Her shot was dead on. Anderson staggered back clutching his chest then landed in a heap in the dust. She ran closer, keeping her shotgun tight to her shoulder and trained on the viper. Blood leaked from his shoulder and his chest. So much for his threat of taking them out too.
The sound of doors and running feet had her looking up. Townsfolk were coming out of the woodwork for the show.
“Here’s the varmint behind all the trouble in town. What do you think we should do about him?”
Carl Boltz strode over and prodded the prone man in the side with his foot. Anderson didn’t move. He reached down and touched his chest and neck.
“Reckon we don’t need to do anything. I’m thinking he’s dead. Ain’t breathin’ and his heart’s not beating.”
Fannie nudged the man with her toe also then looked around. “Best get him cleaned up out of the street then. We don’t need any young’uns seeing this mess.”
Several men moved closer and tended to the body. Fannie wanted to make sure Marigold was okay. She turned and saw several women gathered around the Marshal. Figures, the man was a fine sight and she kind of liked looking at him herself. Not that she’d admit it. A man like him’d never go for someone like her. She’d been told she was too independent and proud. Men wanted a woman who would simper and coo over them. Like all those women were now.
She started to walk past when she heard Daniel say, “Thanks, ladies, but honestly, I’m just fine. It’s just a nick.”
Her eyes whipped to his left sleeve that was dripping with blood. “You got shot! Why aren’t you in there letting the doc take care of that?”
She grabbed his coat and pulled until he followed her back inside the doc’s office. After the door closed behind them, Daniel shrugged her off.
“Like I told the ladies outside, I’m fine. But thanks for rescuing me from their clutches. Wasn’t sure how I could politely get away.”
“You need that looked after.” Fannie knew there wasn’t as much blood as there could be but still, the man had been shot. It could get infected, he could lose his arm, he could— she didn’t want to think of anything more dire. Not for Daniel.
“The doc’s busy looking after Marigold right now. We don’t need to be splitting her attention. I’ll be fine.”
Fannie looked around, nervous. “Well, you at least need it cleaned up so it doesn’t get infected. I can do that.”
Daniel shook his head. “You don’t need to, Miss Fannie. I told you I’d be fine.”
Fannie took a deep breath and grabbed the Marshal’s hand. The touch sent tingles up her arm but she ignored it and pulled. “No arguing. We’ll clean you up in the kitchen.”
Daniel followed along with a chuckle and Fannie wondered what he was laughing at. Didn’t matter, she’d make sure his wound didn’t get infected then he could go back to the gaggle of women who’d been fussing over him earlier. He’d probably enjoy that.
“Coat off,” she ordered as she pushed him into a chair and poured some of the hot water from the stove into a large bowl. She grabbed a clean dish towel and dropped it in the water. Daniel had his coat off but she soon realized he’d need to take his shirt off in order for her to do a good cleaning job of the wound. Maybe she could wait for the doc.
“I’m at your mercy, Miss Fannie. Do your best.”
He was making fun of her. She ought to leave him to do it himself. But he had helped Marigold and been kind to Will, and helped her with Sophie. The least she could do was make sure his arm didn’t fall off.
“I think you might need to … uh, you know…” she waved at his shirt. The bastard laughed again.
“I might need to what, ma’am?”
Fannie crossed her arms over her chest and huffed. “I can’t clean the wound with your shirt covering it.”
“Oh.” His eyes lit with merriment then clouded over as he grimaced. “Not sure I can do it myself, ma’am. Arm’s mighty painful.”
She clenched her fists and fought the urge to punch him. Instead she strolled casually nearer and bent to unbutton his shirt. She turned her head as she got to the bottom buttons then said, “You can just remove the arm from the sleeve. That should be fine.”
He grunted and she looked up concerned. He was trying to hide a smile but there was also a line of pain across his forehead. “Can’t really shrug it off the one shoulder unless I take it off the arm that actually works right now. Maybe you could help me, Miss Fannie, please.”
The last word was what done it. She slowly pushed the fabric off his shoulders, trying to avoid touching him at all costs. She’d seen men without their shirts doing labor around town but this man had broad shoulders and lean muscles that did something to her stomach. She wasn’t sure what it was but it damn sure made her jittery.
When she finally got his shirt off, she breathed a sigh of relief. He did too. That’s when she realized the cut on his arm was a bit deeper than he had hinted at. She immediately got serious and grabbed the towel from the warm water. As she dabbed it against his skin she watched his face in her peripheral vision. He was gritting his teeth and holding his jaw stiff. She tried to be gentle as she cleaned out the wound but knew she needed to press harder to get any lingering debris out.
“I need to put something on this so it won’t get infected. Stay right there.”
“I won’t move, ma’am. Promise.”
Fannie grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the shelf and splashed some on the towel then patted it against his arm. Daniel flinched but didn’t make a sound. She did this a few more times making sure to get the alcohol into the wound.
She found some clean bandages on the counter and wrapped one around his arm then used another to secure it and tie it off. “That should do it. I’d suggest you come back and have Miss Laurel-Anne take a look in a few days. Just to check that you ain’t got any kind of infection. I’m no doctor.”
“Thanks, Miss Fannie. Appreciate your fixing me up.” He stood and picked up his shirt and Fannie was almost sorry for that. She shouldn’t be but she sure was enjoying the view of his manly chest, light hair sprinkled across the top with a little arrow leading down – no, keep your eyes up, smile and check on Marigold.
“I think I’ll go see how Doc is doing with Marigold.” She sounded out of breath. What in tarnation was wrong with her? She needed to pull herself together. She’d never had anyone affect her in such a way.
Daniel shrugged into one arm and Fannie watched as he tried to slip the other one on. She bit her lip then finally gave in and helped him. His injured arm lay limp at his side and he tried to button the shirt with only one hand. Fannie sighed and did it for him. Her fingers itching to do more.
Fannie made the mistake of looking up into his sparkling eyes. There was something more than gratitude in them.
Fannie stopped and held her breath. What had he been about to ask. She looked at him expectantly.
Daniel cleared his throat and his eyes grew serious. “I was wondering, Miss Fannie, if after all this mess is cleaned up if you’d be interested in having dinner with me. I hear you’ve got a nice kitchen in the hotel.”
“Um…” How had her voice suddenly dried up? He couldn’t possibly want to court her. Maybe it was simply a way of saying thanks. “You want to take me? People might get the wrong idea, Marshal.”
“You mean the idea that I’ve taken a liking to you, Miss Fannie? I have.”
Fannie shook her head. “No, I’m far too outspoken. I’ve been told that before.”
“Maybe I like a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. One who isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in and is stubborn enough to keep a man in line.”
Heat rushed to her face and she turned to move away but Daniel gripped her elbows and pulled her close. “You never answered my question. Dinner? We can ask Doc to come along if you need a chaperone.”
“No,” Fannie squeaked out. When she saw the disappointed look on Daniel’s face she rushed out, “I mean, no, we don’t need a chaperone. I’d like to have dinner. Let’s check on Marigold first.”
Daniel grinned. “First, I think I’d like to thank you.” He lowered his head and Fannie held her breath. His lips touched hers gently then…
“Where’s Marigold?” The yell made Fannie and Daniel spring apart and stare at the half-crazed teenager who banged into the room. His clothes were tattered and dirty and his hair stuck up around his head.
“Who are you?” Daniel asked sternly.
“I’m Lester and I just saw them carting my old man away. They say my sister, Marigold got shot and was in here. I want to see her.”
Fannie stepped closer and Daniel moved to stay between her and the boy. The over protectiveness rankled but she appreciated the gesture.
“We were just going to check on her too. Why don’t you wash your hands and then you can come with us.”
The teen looked like he was about to refuse then shuffled over to the bowl of water and dipped his hands in. He swished them around a bit then shook them off.
“Good enough.” Fannie walked into the back room where Miss Laurel-Anne did her surgery. Marigold lay on a bed with her eyes closed and Will sat in a chair, his hands covering his face.
“Doc?” Daniel said, his voice apprehensive.
Doc looked up and smiled. “She’s just fine. She’s sleeping comfortably now. I got the bleeding stopped and her wound cleaned up.”
She looked at Daniel’s partially unbuttoned shirt and torn sleeve. The Marshal shrugged his good arm. “You were busy so Miss Fannie helped me with a little cut I got.”
Doc chuckled and stared at the teen behind them. “You must be Lester. Marigold was asking for you. Was hoping you’d agree to live with them.”
“Live with who?”
Will stood up and walked toward his brother. “Doc said she had lots of room here in her house. And as she’s getting older she could use some help keeping up with chores. She was wondering if we were interested in staying here. You, too if you want, Lester. You will stay, won’t you?”
Lester sneered at his brother. “Why should we help her? No one in this town did anything to help us when our parents were killed ‘cept Anderson.”
Doc frowned. “I’m sorry about that, Lester. Most people didn’t know where you’d gone. Guess we didn’t do enough to find out. We should have.”
“And Anderson killed your folks, Lester,” the Marshal said. “He only wanted you for his dirty work.”
“Oh,” Will said and dug in his pocket pulling out the brooch. “I took this and I’m real sorry. Maybe you don’t want us here now.”
Doc Hartworth stood and took the piece of jewelry, tears coming to her eyes. Daniel quickly explained all that had happened. She shook her head and smiled.
“I would still like you all to come live here with me.” She turned to Virgil who was curled up in a corner staring at Marigold like she’d disappear if he looked away. “You too, if you can do some of the outdoor chores for me.”
Virgil only smiled but kept his gaze on his niece. Will walked over and stood behind him, patting his shoulder. Lester still glared at everyone in the room. Fannie figured he’d be a bit harder to convince but maybe his concern for his sister would be enough to turn him. The doc would be good for these kids. And she’d make sure they got a good education.
“I’ll just hang around until I know that Marigold is okay,” Lester mumbled then looked at Daniel. “Unless you plan on throwing me in jail.”
“I think we can overlook what you’ve been doing considering the circumstances but you’ll need someone to keep an eye on you until we can trust you again. Any ideas?”
Lester glanced at his sister and brother and then at Doc. “I guess she can do it.”
Doc smiled. “Marshal, thanks for helping out here. You know this town’s in need of a good Marshal, too? Any chance you’d consider taking on the challenge of this place?”
Daniel looked at Fannie and what she saw in his eyes made her blush and sent heat all the way to her toes. Would he refuse and head back to where he came from?
“You know, Doc, I did a great job of cleaning up Cedar Camp. But there’s not much for me to do anymore. Maybe it’s about time I thought of moving on to find a place that needs my services and can challenge me.”
Daniel took a few steps and stood beside Fannie looking down at her. “Or maybe finding someone who will challenge me.”
Fannie’s heart beat in double time but she turned her face to Daniel’s and grinned. “You stick around here, Marshal, you’ll definitely be challenged.”
Doc laughed but Daniel’s eyes were serious. “I’m looking forward to it.”