Vulture City, Arizona
His only warning was a muffled feminine screech followed by the high-pitched sound of shattering glass. A large shiny object fell at his feet. Reaching down, Mason picked up the brush. It was sterling silver with an ornate floral patterned silver back and polished ivory handle.
There was the sound of a window sash being raised, then an indignant voice called out, “That is my brush!”
Mason raised gunmetal gray eyes to clash with irate cornflower blue ones.
Large blue eyes framed by a heart-shaped face with a pert little chin stared back. Her lush pink lips were topped by a small, round-tip nose. Thick ringlets of honey-brown hair fell unbound over her shoulders.
Tilting his Stetson back, to catch a better look, Mason drawled, “Not to be contrary, miss, but I believe it is now my brush. I did just find it here in the dust.”
Her pretty eyes flashed with anger as she pounded on the wooden window ledge with the heel of her hand. “I’m the one that threw it! It’s mine!”
Giving a low whistle as he twirled the brush by its smooth handle, Mason responded, “There again, miss. A thinkin man would say when a pretty lady throws a brush through a window, she no longer wants to possess it.”
The woman was leaning out the carelessly broken window of a massive three-story home with brightly painted wood and quarry stone. Its sheer size and purely ornamental garden in stark contrast to the clapboard, ramshackle cabins with their small, withered vegetable gardens lining Main Street and beyond. Only the bank and saloon could rival it in splendor. The mayor’s house…and this must be the mayor’s daughter.
Her comely looks were going to make his revenge that much sweeter.
“Listen, you gray back cow punch! I want my brush!”
He would also enjoy putting that naughty mouth of hers to better use.
Mason Weiser rolled his shoulders, adjusting the weight of the heavy leather saddlebags. Dressed in a navy, spun-wool shirt with leather vest and red bandanna. Buckskin California pants, hugging his waist and falling loosely over a scuffed pair of Cavalry boots and a thick black leather belt secured with a tarnished brass buckle emblazoned with a capital “CS”. He wasn’t exactly hiding the fact he was a cowboy making his way in the world after bearing the brunt of being on the losing side of the War Between the States. The holstered Colt 1860 Army revolver and coiled cow whip hung low on his belt let everyone know he wasn’t keen to talk about it.
At over six feet, there were few men who could look Mason in the eye, which suited him just fine. He preferred to keep folks at arm’s length. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of women of marriageable age…and some well beyond. Sharp handsome features, piercing gray eyes, coffee brown hair the wrong side of church-proper length and a scruffy jaw that had only had a passing acquaintance with a razor was a dog whistle to any woman looking to tame and civilize a man. Mason wasn’t interested. Give him a willing painted lady, a few coins and a decent shot of rotgut without too much turpentine and he was content. After what he lived through in the war, his expectations from life and society as a whole were low.
Until he received the letter.
The letter telling him his brother had been murdered.
Life took on a different, singular, intense purpose. Revenge.
“Do you know who my father is?” snapped the bit-o-honey from the window.
Mason lowered his head, shielding his expression.
“Why yes, miss, I do. Soon, he’ll know me,” he cryptically intoned before stashing her brush in his saddlebag. Ignoring her shriek of fury, Mason strolled the rough-hewed boards down Main Street towards the bathhouse. He had a plan to put into action.
Annabelle was so shocked at the rude stranger’s action she raised her shoulders to shout one last time at his retreating back. The motion caused her to crack her skull on the windowsill. The sudden shock of pain not improving her already foul mood. Pulling her body back into the safety of her bedroom, Annabelle gave a large shard of broken glass from the window a kick, sending it sliding across the polished wood floor before tangling with the thick fringe of her bedroom carpet.
Rubbing the back of her head, she stomped over to the small upholstered stool in front of her mirrored vanity. Sitting down with a humph, she stared at her reflection in the polished glass. The encounter with that outrageous cowboy had given her cheeks a high rosy glow. The soft pink contrasted nicely with her porcelain skin. She took care to never step a foot out of the house without a bonnet and parasol to preserve her milky-white complexion. Cocking her head at an angle, she admired how a stray sunbeam made her unique violet eyes sparkle and her pale tawny hair appear almost golden. Instinctively she reached for her brush, intending to brush the lush locks to a burnished gold. Clenching her fists in anger, she pounded on the small table. Damn that cowboy!
Annabelle didn’t really care about the brush. She would simply buy another but there was a problem. It was part of a mirror and comb set gifted to her by her step-father. Every one of the servants in the large household were his personal spies. Reporting on Annabelle’s every movement. Her fit of anger and loss of the brush would surely get back to him. Even if her own maid did not betray her, as she was wont to do, her step-father was bound to notice the jagged hole in one of the house’s front windows!
There was no point in concocting a lie. He knew why she was upset.
Ever since the death of her mother two years past, her step-father had increased his attentions towards Annabelle. At nineteen, she was well-past marriageable age and yet he had refused every offer she had received. The latest from the rather handsome and very rich banker’s son. This time he didn’t even bother to come up with an excuse. There wasn’t much he could say about her suitor’s respectable family and their wealth. Sure the son was a bit boring with the personality of old dishwater but that wasn’t his problem, it would be hers as his wife. Annabelle couldn’t give a fig about being entertained by a potential husband. She would have his money to buy pretty gowns and jewelry and her own personal coach to travel to bigger cities where they had fancy restaurants and theaters! Entertained by a husband, indeed!
Over breakfast this morning, her step-father had the audacity to hint at forcing her to become his wife. The very idea was outrageous! Even though they didn’t share blood, he had raised her since she was a little girl. They had never been close but that was far from the point. Surely it would be breaking one of God’s laws?
What sent a chill up her spine was he just may succeed with the awful plan. As the mayor and wealthiest resident of Vulture City, he practically owned the entire town. No one stood up to Jacob Waltze. His German ancestry made him a stubborn force to be reckoned with under any circumstance. She might not have a choice. Her step-father had all the money and power. She wasn’t like those frontier women she saw coming into town for supplies. Eking out a living in the wild territories. Having to make do with home-spun cloth and boiled soap!
Annabelle ran a hand down the bodice of her sapphire blue princess cut dress. Sweeping her hair into a loose chignon at the back of her neck, she held it in place with a pearl encrusted comb. No, she couldn’t possibly run away and risk winding up in some shack making her own food and being forced to wash in some creek. She would just have to come up with another plan.
Perhaps she could convince that dumb banker’s son to elope and run away to San Francisco?