Holly Goodman tilted her head to the side and looked around the young boy sitting next to her. Noise down the street had gotten her attention. It was just a couple cowboys, loud and rowdy, roughing each other up as they left the saloon. They were soon swaggering down the street, their arms around each other’s shoulders, laughing about something only the two of them found funny.
She sat back, a feeling of exhaustion sweeping over her. It had been some time since she’d had a good meal. She’d been existing on figs and dates and the occasional chicken leg when someone took pity on her and gave her leftovers from their family dinners. It hadn’t always been that way for Holly but for the last year and a half, she’d been stuck in a rut, unable to find the help she needed to find her way back to society.
The young man sitting next to her worked for the local grocer. His name was Phillip and all his friends called him Lucky. It was a name that was opposite of the truth, as the only luck he seemed to have was fairly bad luck. It did seem to be changing, though, Holly could tell. He didn’t sit there with her nearly as much as he used to. Now, he ran errands for some of the people in town and did repairs with the town carpenter, learning how to use the tools of that trade. He would be turning fifteen in two weeks, which was the maximum age children could be before they had to leave the orphanage.
“You think yer gonna git that letter today, Miss?” he asked her in his quiet way. That was one of her favorite things about him. He always called her “miss” like she was a proper lady.
She felt a pang of sorrow in her chest but quickly pushed it away. She’d been a proper lady. She knew what it was like. She wasn’t supposed to be sitting beside the Postmaster’s, close to the alleyway so she could duck in there if someone came along that didn’t want to see her there, wearing nothing but rags and having nothing to eat to fill her aching stomach.
“I hope so, Lucky,” she replied softly. The letter. Her letter. She was waiting to hear from a solicitor in Holbrook who was helping her reclaim what little money she had put aside when she was in better societal standing.
“I hope so, too, then,” Lucky echoed her sentiment, turning his eyes from her to the street out in front of them. There was no one passing by. It was a sleepy afternoon, hot and humid. Everyone was inside. Even the children had stayed inside the schoolhouse to avoid the sweaty, gnat-filled hot air.
Holly waved one hand in front of her face, peering down the street to where the drunk cowboys had gone, leaving behind a silence that seemed to engulf the entire town.
Or perhaps it was just the way Holly felt right then. She had come to the end of her rope. How much longer could she hold on? Her strength was almost gone, sapped by the hardships she’d gone through for nearly two years now.
“When you get yer letter, are ya gonna leave?”
Holly wished she could leave without having to wait for the letter. But it would have ten dollars in it, the last of her money and that would take her where she needed to go.
Holly’s eyes swept down the street, following a tumbleweed that rolled lazily down the dirt road.
Where was it she would go?
She didn’t even know.
“Can I ask ya somethin’?”
Holly looked at him, basking in the warm friendship in his eyes. “Course you can.”
“How come you’re here? I ain’t never asked you before.” He paused, eyeing her closely. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her. “You don’t look like ya should be. Ya look like ya should be tellin’ servants what to do and hostin’ dinner parties.”
Holly lifted her dark eyebrows, peering at him through long eyelashes that had once caught the eye of rich men in society. That was a long time ago, though, and Holly had fallen very, very far since then.
“You weren’t always livin’ like this, were ya?”
Holly pulled in a deep breath, resting her head back against the outer wall of the Postmaster’s office. The money she was waiting for wasn’t much but it would help propel her back where she belonged. She hoped.
“Nah,” she replied, remembering how the many friends of her mother would scold her when she was young for the “lazy speech” she now used on a regular basis. She saw no reason to sound sophisticated when the dirt on her face and clothes and the lifestyle she had been forced into exposed her situation to anyone who cared to look for long than a second or two.
“Don’t talk much about it,” Lucky remarked. “Do ya?”
Holly rolled her head to the side and looked at him. “Nah. No point. Nobody is listening.”
Holly looked at him. Who was he? An insignificant little pug like her, a nobody, nothing, barely even a human being.
Angry at herself for thinking such things and about someone other than herself, a young fellow who was showing her nothing but kindness, she pulled in a deep breath and held it for a moment.
“You want to hear my story?” she asked.
He nodded, his eyes wide. “I really do. I ain’t got nothin’ to do. Been wonderin’ anyway. People around here talk, y’know. I’m just wonderin’ which story I heard is the real one.”
His eyes sparkled at her and she was suddenly intrigued by him. He seemed like… like an angel… someone from a dream… someone interested in her… the real her…
It didn’t matter that he was just a kid and telling him the story wouldn’t amount to much. She appreciated that he was interested at all.
Holly thought for a moment about what had brought her to the place where she was. It hadn’t always been this way. She’d been raised by loving parents who gave her everything she needed to live, including love. She was sixteen when they were killed in a stagecoach robbery. From that point on, she was helped by her benefactor, an uncle who felt purely responsible for her but felt little sympathy for her plight. He’d encouraged her to marry several times but the men he chose for her weren’t suitable and Holly had always wanted to commit her life to a man she loved, not one who could only provide financial support for her. When it came down to it, she felt she could provide for herself, if only she was given the right opportunities.
She was a strong, able-bodied woman with plenty of brains and a lot of determination.
It was because of her kind nature that she was on the streets, really. She was the kind of woman some people took advantage of because they possessed a ruthless personality that made unkindness easy for them.
Holly’s uncle had sent her to a finishing school and she came out at eighteen ready to tackle the world. She’d made a few contacts while in the school and ended up getting a job as an au pair for a couple who had just returned from traveling Europe. She was tasked with watching their four-year-old and eighteen-month-old while the father worked and the mother spent her time on the social scene.
One typical evening at home for her and the children changed everything. Father and mother were getting ready for a night out with their friends. The mother came stomping in the room while Holly was feeding the children their dinner, demanding to know where her pearl necklace was.
Holly thought about it as she relayed this information to Lucky. She could tell he was listening by the expression on his face and the fact that he was looking directly at her, not staring… just looking.
“Did you know where it was?” Lucky asked softly. She could tell he knew where this was heading.
“No,” she responded. “I had no idea where it was. I hadn’t seen it at all. As in never. Not when it wasn’t around her neck. But they wouldn’t believe me. Neither of them would believe me.”
“I don’t understand why not,” Lucky said. “Why wouldn’t they trust you? They trusted you with the children. Why did they think you were a thief?”
Holly felt tension grow in her chest. She furrowed her brow as she looked out at the street beyond. “Because they were told not to trust me.” She looked at Lucky, pulling one side of her lips back. “I got the job through school and a girl I thought was my friend. I’d been working there for six months, long enough to establish myself and feel like things were going well, and then she told them that I’d stolen some items from her at school and that I couldn’t be trusted.”
“But you got the job through her at first?”
Holly nodded. She lifted her shoulders in a great sigh. “I know it sounds suspicious from our side of things. But she told them she didn’t discover that I’d been the one to steal her things until she saw a bracelet I was wearing and knew that it had been hers.”
“She schemed against you,” Lucky murmured, his voice slightly disgusted. “What a mean thing to do.”
Holly nodded, a little surprised by how accurate his simple statement was.
“I don’t know what I ever did to her. And the bracelet in question? She’d given it to me for my birthday the year before. I knew she was coming over that day and decided to wear it to show her I still had it and appreciated it. I didn’t say anything to draw her attention to it but I made sure she at least saw me wearing it. It gave her the perfect opportunity to do what she did.”
“What happened to the madam’s pearl necklace?” Lucky asked. “Did you ever find out?”
“It was never found, that I know of. Unless my ex-friend produced it after I left with some kind of excuse how it was still me who took it but she managed to get it back.” Holly shook her head, shrugging at the same time. “I don’t know. I had everything taken from me. The master of the house made sure I couldn’t work anywhere else, labeling me a thief. I had ten dollars left and that’s what’s being sent by my attorney. He might take out some but at least I’ll have my ten dollars and can buy a train ticket out of here.”
Lucky turned his head and was on his feet a moment later. “Hey, here he comes. I’ll go get your letter from him!”
Holly stood up, watching the young boy dart down the wooden walkway and hop out onto the dirt road to meet the delivery man. He stopped and talked to the man, who pointed at a sack and waited patiently while Lucky rummaged through it, pulling out envelopes and looking at names.
Holly waited anxiously, kneading her fingers together. Finally, Lucky held one out triumphantly, a huge smile on his face. He ran back to her, holding the envelope out.
Her hands were shaking but Holly snatched the letter and ripped it open down the side of the envelope. A check fell out into her hand along with a tri-folded piece of paper. Holly held up the check, looking at the amount – two dollars and eighty-seven cents, her smile disappearing, her heart plummeting into her stomach.
“Oh no,” she murmured, her emotions raging from anger to humiliation to sorrow.
“What’s wrong?” Lucky asked frowning.
Holly unfolded the paper. “It’s… it’s…” She handed him the check as she looked at the letter.
Here is your money after our fees and penalties have been removed. Some was given to your employer as compensation for their loss. It would have been more but the lady of the house wanted you to have some. You are lucky she was generous.
It didn’t have a greeting or an ending. It was as if the lawyer didn’t feel like she deserved the respect of typical business letter format.
Holly bundled the paper up into a ball with one hand, anger sliding into her chest and making her stomach hurt. She dropped to the place where she’d been sitting, placing one hand against her forehead as she took the check back from Lucky.
“I’m sorry, Holly,” he said softly.
“Lookie, lookie. What you got goin’ over there, little buddy?”
Holly felt a chill when she heard the words and looked up at the three men approaching the two of them. Adrenaline shot through her and she was on her feet in less than a second. She grabbed Lucky’s shoulder when he stood up, his eyes wide as the men swaggered over, obviously drunk, coming from the direction of the saloon.
“Go, Lucky,” she hissed. “Get out of here. They won’t be nice to you and I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“But you will get hurt. I can’t leave you…”
Holly’s fear for her young friend overrode her senses. She gripped his shoulder and pushed him away from her as hard as she could. He stumbled slightly, gave her a hurt look but when his eyes slid to the three approaching men, none of whom were looking at him, he turned and slipped inside the Postmaster’s office.
Holly wished she could do that, too. She wanted to hide from these men, who never ceased to harass her if they saw her standing somewhere in town with nothing to do.
“Leave me alone,” she said in a weak voice, hating that she could do nothing against these men. They would do what they wanted and she had no recourse, no protection. It was these times she wished she’d at least stolen a gun or something to keep herself safe. Getting a dog had crossed her mind but that meant feeding the dog and she couldn’t even feed herself. She wasn’t going to get a dog and make it starve along with her.
One of the men tapped another on the chest with his knuckles. “Hey, Clark. This lady wants us to leave her alone.”
The one called Clark looked past Holly and around him as if searching for something. “Lady? What lady? I heard an animal speakin’ English. Hey you! How’d you learn to speak? I don’t know any animals that speak. How ‘bout you?” He looked at the friend who’d initially spoken, who laughed, turning his head to the other man with them.
“Animal. An animal.” He guffawed like it was the funniest thing in the world.
Holly’s stomach churned as she watched them. Her lip curled in disgust. She had already backed all the way to the wall and down to the end of the block where a side street cut in. She could go around to the side street but that would take her from the eye of everyone on the main street and she thought it best she stay in sight. She didn’t know if anyone would help her but she wasn’t going to make it easy for these men to hurt her.
The one who had spoken first bent down and picked up a rock. His amused eyes were directly on her. She knew ahead of time what he planned to do with the rock.
Holly lifted her arms just in time to keep the rock he’d flung at her from hitting her square in the face. She shrieked, spun around and started to run. Suddenly, she was being pelted with rocks as the other men joined in.
Where were they getting all those rocks? she thought as she ran, choosing to dart down an alleyway, listening to the men jeering behind her. They had followed, running behind her, continuing to throw rocks at her but when she got to the alley and went down it, they stopped. It was as if they didn’t know where she’d gone.
But they did. She could hear them as she kept running, laughing uproariously, probably slapping each other on the back, talking about the great fun they’d had and how they would remember that for some time to come.
Shaking violently, hiccuping and sweating profusely, Holly was astounded to see a basement door down the steps she’d chosen to hide in was cracked open. Slowly, she pushed the door open and peered into the dark room.
There was light coming down the stairs from the upper floor, enough for her to see the room in front of her was filled with fabrics, dresses hanging on racks, boxes of hats all around her, long tables with packaging materials spread out over them. She stepped into the room and closed the door. It was too dim to see much and the shadows seemed to dance in front of her eyes.
The light from above was blocked momentarily and boots stomped down the stairs. The man was carrying a lit lantern. Her first thought was that it was one of her harassers, come to get her and drag her back outside.
But the face the lantern lit up when he took the last step and turned in her direction wasn’t one of those men. It was a clerk who had given her a blanket a few months back when it was cold outside.
“Hello again,” he said, looking taken aback but not unfriendly.
“Hello,” she replied softly, frozen by her fear of what he would do.
He paused, gazing at her for a moment before shaking his head. “In another predicament, are we? What’s happened?”
Holly quickly told him about her money, the lawyer and what the men had done to her. She touched the back of her head where one of the smaller rocks had made contact. There was already a small knot there.
Her friend blinked at her, shaking his head. “I don’t understand men sometimes. And I’m one of them.” He set the lantern on the floor and looked around him. Without speaking, he went to one of the boxes nearby and pulled a large paper package from it. He tore the end and peered inside, reaching in with a finger to feel the contents.
The next moment, he was bringing it to her.
“You need this. Put it over your head and hide your face. Get to the train station as fast as you can. I don’t have any food or I would give it to you. Give me that check. I’ll give you the money.” He took it from her as he fished the money from his pocket. Holly couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Take the train as far as two dollars will take you. That might be enough to get you as far as Dallas, if you want to go there. Lots of opportunities in Dallas.”
Holly agreed with him. Her heart was beating hard and fast. She had been blessed. All she’d needed was a kind word and a little assistance.
She whispered her thank you and got out of the little shop quickly, turning down the back road behind the houses on the main street – a road that was more like a trail, with a huge meadow on the other side from the buildings.
The train station was across that meadow if she wanted to go as fast as possible. It was worth the possible twisted foot. She held the scarf close around her face and took off over the ankle-high grass.
Marvin Rhodes stirred the pot with the long wooden spoon, lifting it out every now and then to taste his stew. He could hear the Little Gang, four men besides him and their madam in charge, Penny Cook, in the living room laughing. The men were playing cards while Penny “supervised”. They were also planning their next heist and Marvin didn’t want to be involved in it.
He would have to be. But he didn’t want to be.
Marvin had been traveling around Texas with the Little Gang for nearly nine months. He had been introduced to them when they robbed a stagecoach carrying his friends, the Wentworths, who then reported the crime to Marvin’s father, Alexander, a highly ranked and regarded Texas Ranger. The Rangers had put together a plan, recruiting Marvin to infiltrate the Little Gang and lead them to being caught.
It had taken some time for Marvin to worm his way into the affections of the other gang members, who had been with the Cooks for some time.
Penny, though she was the mastermind behind the schemes and robberies the men in the gang committed, was not the only one pulling the strings. Her husband, Franklin, ran the true empire, working out of Dallas, which was fifty miles from the farmhouse Penny bought for her and the men.
Marvin was fond of Penny and the other men. Caleb was considered the second in command. When Penny wasn’t around, it was he who she contacted with instructions or demands. Sid Simerson was a huge ogre of a man with a personality to match. Mike Pentecost and Johnny Freeman were the two that Marvin would have a hard time putting behind bars. They participated in the crimes along with the others, it was true. But they were two young, happy-go-lucky men who were almost like brothers and constantly joked around. They didn’t seem to understand how serious their situation was.
As far as Marvin knew, the gang hadn’t killed anyone. If there were any murders, it was sure to be Sid who carried them out. Sid or Caleb. Penny wouldn’t shoot anyone and didn’t typically go on the raids anyway. Johnny and Mike seemed to be there just to get some quick money so they could gamble it all away, which they thought was great fun. They never cared about losing money at cards. They both claimed it wasn’t theirs to begin with so what was the harm? And they might actually win and make a profit.
A burst of laughter from the other room made Marvin instinctively smile. It was Johnny’s infectious laugh and soon after the others were laughing, too, even Sid. Marvin wondered what it was all about. It was no use going in now and asking. None of them would be able to relay it to him properly and it would probably lose some of its amusing quality in the retelling.
“How’s that stew comin’, Marvin?” He heard Caleb sing out loudly. “We’re hungry!”
“Yeah, it’s comin’,” he called back, removing the big pot from the top of the wood stove. He carried it to the table, where there were bowls for serving. “Ya can come get it now!” he yelled again.
Seconds later, the four men followed Penny into the room. She was the only one Marvin served. He’d made a big pile of biscuits to go with the stew and handed her two of them, propping them on the end of the bowl.
“Enjoy,” he said, smiling at her. It would be a shame to put her away but she willingly broke the law on a regular basis. Maybe not with her own hands but she had others do the crime and she reaped the rewards.
She stepped away from him and sat at the head of the table. Marvin was usually given the seat at the other side of the table, which would have been Franklin’s if he ever ate at the farmhouse. He wasn’t a visitor though, and had never stepped foot in his wife’s house, as far as Marvin knew. He’d met the man once when he first joined the Little Gang and hadn’t seen him since. He’d heard a lot about him but he’d never seen him come to the farmhouse.
The other men took their normal seats and for five minutes solid, the room was filled with only the sound of spoons in bowls and grunts of satisfaction. Marvin always made his meals to the best of his ability. He might be an undercover spy but that didn’t mean he had to eat like an outlaw. And if he wasn’t going to eat that way, his companions wouldn’t either.
“We have to talk about our next plan,” Penny said, pushing the bowl away when it was empty and she’d gotten all the remains out with the biscuit she still held in her hand. Her eyes were on Marvin, which was strange because he wasn’t the one who planned any of their schemes. He merely went along with the other men and made sure no one was seriously injured or killed during their crime.
“You’re looking at me,” he said bluntly, staring back at her. “Why is that?”
“You don’t come up with anything, do you?” she asked, tilting her head to the side.
“I’m not here to do that,” he responded simply with no malice in his voice. “I cook for you and I go on the raids and watch out for everyone. You don’t want me to come up with something, do you?”
Penny grinned at him, her brown eyes sparkling mischievously. One thing Marvin had noticed about the woman was that her hair was a fine copper color, her crowning glory, she said, and it was truly a beautiful mane of hair. Marvin had often wondered how her parents could have picked a more appropriate name.
“Don’t you want to be in charge of a raid for once?”
Marvin’s eyebrows shot up and he gave her one-sided grin. “I don’t know where you ever got that idea but no, I don’t want to be in charge. I like to cook. I don’t mind making a little extra cash at someone else’s expense. But I don’t want to plan something out. That’s not who I am.”
Penny looked appreciative of his bluntness. He’d learned that about her, too. She wasn’t easily fooled. In fact, he would venture to say she could spot a liar so easily, he was constantly astounded she didn’t know who he was and afraid daily that she would figure it out.
He was there to do a job, though, and so far, she believed him and trusted him.
“The Unspoken Spark in their Eyes” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Following her parents’ untimely demise and a false accusation of theft, Holly Goodman, finds herself adrift in a place far away from home. There, she is taken in by a gang, accepting this fate as her only means to survive. While she spends more and more time with them, she gets trapped in a painful dilemma; leaving or going against her morals in order to be part of a family once again. The pivotal factor in her decision will be Marvin, a distinguished member of the gang, who steals her heart and makes her feel more vulnerable than ever…
Can this life give her the happiness she has been longing for or will their corrupt ways consume her?
Marvin Rhodes is not the infamous criminal everyone thinks he is. His gentle nature, which he tries to hide, will emerge when his gang comes across a desperate young woman, Holly. Eager to quietly keep her under his protective wings he suggests initiating her into the organization. Things will get even more complicated though as he starts falling for her and his growing feelings will pose a huge risk of exposing himself and his plan.
A tiny misstep, such as falling in love, could derail his fate forever…
Holly and Marvin are both keeping secrets from one another, building walls and challenges for their newborn relationship. How long will it take for them to discover that they have shielded themselves with an armor of lies that will eventually crumble? Will they ever have the chance to be honest with each other and their emotions, before the other gang members uncover the truth?
“The Unspoken Spark in their Eyes” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.