Pretty Maggie is full of secrets as she rides across from her nemesis on the stagecoach that brings her to Ridgefield. The trip is harrowing, as the passengers are forced to defend themselves when Indians attack the stage, and their arrival in town doesn’t go unnoticed.
Sheriff Thomas Benson is quick to offer to show the pretty little redhead the way to the boarding house for ladies, but his feelings are hurt by her rudeness towards him. His quick temper takes over and he flips her over his knee, right there on the street, and teaches her a lesson about being so sassy.
Maggie hates the fact that she is attracted to the handsome sheriff – until her new landlady points out that Thomas has only been in town for a short time so he couldn’t possibly be the same lawman who gunned down her precious brother and his wife. Maggie is determined to make whoever is responsible pay. She just didn’t count on falling in love with the sheriff.
Enjoy the first chapter for FREE of Maggie’s Revenge:
The stagecoach hit another rut in the road, and the dangling little boy landed on the floor again, this time on an elderly man’s feet. The man raised his cane, prepared to strike the child, when another passenger put herself between the angry man’s cane and the rambunctious little boy.
“Come and sit with me, Cornelius, and I will tell you about The Whispering Kid.”
“Do you know him?” eight-year-old Cornelius asked the pretty redhead.
“Really? But, you’re a girl!” the little boy reasoned.
“I am?” she asked teasingly.
“You sure are!” the only other male passenger said with a smirk. “I’d love it if you’d tell me a bedtime story.”
“Not in this lifetime,” Maggie impudently answered the cowboy, her green eyes flashing dangerously.
“Well, I never!” The wrinkled woman traveling with the cane-wielding man sniffed to show her disapproval. “In my day, a decent young woman wouldn’t stoop to answering such a vulgarity.”
“Ma’am, I am sure you never had to worry about that,” the cowboy said insultingly. “A man likes something soft and pretty to cuddle up with, not a scrawny old crow!”
“Now, see here, young man! I will thank you to have a care when speaking to my sister!” The elderly man shook his cane threateningly.
“Mister, I will thank you to put that cane down before I take it from you and break it over your head. You can thank your lucky stars this pretty little lady stopped you from striking this boy. I suggest you and your sister mind your own business for the rest of this trip. I want to hear all about The Whispering Kid, don’t you, Corny?” he addressed the little boy.
“Yes, sir,” the child responded enthusiastically.
“You sit here between us and pretend that side of the coach doesn’t exist. It’s just the three of us in here.”
“You don’t like old people?” Cornelius asked with an eight-year-old’s determination to get to the truth of the matter.
“Actually, Corny, I love most older people. These two are just sour on life; I reckon they got their reasons, but that don’t mean we have to let them ruin our day, does it?”
“No, sir,” Corny agreed, settling against the stranger. “Miss Maggie, tell us about The Whispering Kid. Why does he whisper?”
“To hide his voice; it is very distinctive, and people would recognize him if he used his natural speaking voice.”
“Oh, my pa thought maybe they tried to hang him one time and ruined the talking parts in his throat.”
“That is a gruesome thought.” Maggie shuddered.
“Little boys love gruesome, the more gruesome the better,” the cowboy said with a chuckle of understanding for the child.
“Well, I am sorry. The whisper is to hide his voice so he won’t be recognized,” Maggie insisted.
“Why did he become a holdup man?” Cornelius asked.
“To right a wrong,” she answered, and then launched into her story. “Once upon a time, The Whispering Kid was a little boy, just like you, Cornelius. He lived with his parents and his older brother, and life was fairly normal. He went to school after doing his morning chores, and when he got home, he did the rest of his chores. Since he was the youngest, and not very strong, he did the chores like gathering eggs, feeding and watering the chickens, weeding the garden, and whatever else his mama told him to do. He tried to be good, but sometimes he had to run off and play and he forgot about his chores. His parents didn’t like that, and trying to be responsible parents, they explained why it was important for him to do his chores, and spanked him. He didn’t like being punished, so he learned to do his chores before he ran off to play. One day, while he was off playing, some bad men came.”
“What happened?” Cornelius asked.
“The men told his parents that they had to get up and move away. The bad man wanted the land. The Kid’s pa said he wasn’t moving; it was his land. But the bad man had gone to the bank and bought Pa’s mortgage from the bank, and unless Pa could come up with every penny he owed on the farm, they had to leave. Pa lost his temper. It was their home, and while it was very legal, it was morally wrong. He started for the bad man, intending to hit him, and one of the men with the bad man shot The Kid’s pa and killed him. They told his crying mama and brother that they had to be gone by the next day, or they would throw them out.”
“That isn’t a fit story to tell a child, young woman,” the elderly woman scolded.
“It was business,” the elderly man claimed.
“It was mean! Really mean!” little Cornelius dared to argue.
“What did The Kid do, Miss Maggie?”
“The Kid cried. He loved his pa, and his ma was so upset. They didn’t have enough money to pay off the mean man. The older brother said he was going to get the money, and he rode off, with their mama begging him not to go. The sheriff came a few hours later and said that The Kid’s brother was shot and killed trying to rob the bank in town. The Kid’s mama lost her husband and oldest child on the same horrible day. She took The Kid and moved away, refusing to take anything with her, but nothing was ever the same for The Kid. He grew up watching his mama fade away in front of his very eyes, and there was nothing he could say or do that would cheer her up. The Kid made a promise that when he grew up, he was going to see the people pay for what happened to his pa. He was also going to see to it that he helped other people caught up in the same situation his pa was; The Kid would give money to those who needed it.”
“Yeah, Miss Maggie. That’s what I heard about The Whispering Kid. He don’t hurt no one unless he has to, but he sure takes money from the rich and helps poor people. My pa says that he wishes The Kid would bring him some money! We all laugh when he says that, but Pa is just joking. He says we’re well blessed by God and it’s our duty to help others who need our help. I think he’s real proud of my ma. She grows two gardens, one for us, and one to share with folks who are down on their luck. She says being able to eat makes for less desperate folks. Do you believe that, Miss Maggie?”
“I think your mama is very special, Cornelius, your pa too. It’s good they are teaching you to have compassion.”
“They are making him weak,” the elderly man dared to interrupt, expressing his disgust.
“They are making him human, mister, which is something you wouldn’t understand. I’ll just bet you are a heartless banker.” The cowboy didn’t bother to hide his dislike of the man.
“I am a banker, and I am not without heart, nor am I a stupid man. I do not throw away my money on people who cannot pay it back.”
“Do you sell mortgages out from under people?”
“It is a common practice, young man. If someone still owes you five hundred dollars, and you are offered six hundred to purchase that mortgage, it would be very foolish to turn down the deal. There is no way to recoup that kind of profit.”
Maggie gave the man a hard look, but she said nothing.
Suddenly, there was whooping and thundering hoof beats. Something hit the side of the stage, as the driver urged the horses to go faster. “Indians,” the cowboy said, drawing his gun. “Corny, get down on the floor and stay there, son. You too, Miss Maggie,” he ordered, but saw she had a gun in her hand and was already pointing at an Indian and firing. He turned his attention to fighting off their attackers. To his surprise, the elderly man also took out a gun, and began shooting. Amazingly, he was good.
Cornelius was frightened, and the elderly woman got down on the floor with him and held him close, telling him that he would be all right. In that moment, the woman earned a measure of respect from Maggie and the cowboy.
They held off the Indians for several minutes, until the attack finally broke off when they’d lost enough of their braves. If not for the skillful handling of the team of horses by their driver, the outcome would have been completely different.
“You folks in there all right?” he yelled down at them.
“We’re all safe, driver. Thanks for getting us away from them,” the cowboy called back.
“You’re the ones doin’ the fancy shootin’.”
“Let me help you up, ma’am,” the cowboy said softly, carefully lifting the elderly woman and gently sitting her on the seat beside her brother. “You showed real courage, ma’am.”
“I didn’t want that little boy to be afraid,” she explained.
“I’m fine, ma’am,” Cornelius told her, and to everyone’s surprise, he rose, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re welcome.” She actually smiled and flushed pink with pleasure.
“Sir, you handle that gun well,” the cowboy said.
“So do you, young man. My surprise was you, young lady. You are very brave and you handle that firearm very well. Who taught you to shoot like that?”
“I taught myself,” Maggie answered, unwillingly to share any of her past history. “I am alone in this world, but, as you can see, I am far from helpless.”
“No one likes to feel helpless. I wouldn’t have let them take you alive.”
“That was not your decision to make, sir. I make my own choices.”
“Brother only meant to spare you, young lady. Do not be angry with him. It is what he was taught by our father.”
Maggie again said nothing, but she was going to destroy the bastard.
“Miss, are you all right?” the cowboy asked a few minutes later.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, you know.”
“I know. I’m fine.” She smiled at Cornelius, who was curled up beside her, sleeping.
“He’s a bundle of fire, isn’t he?”
“Yes. A really cute little boy.”
“He likes you a lot. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Jack Sultan. I got your first name, Miss Maggie, but not your last.”
“It’s Maggie Case,” she answered.
“Are you planning on staying in Ridgefield, Miss Case?” he asked.
“I haven’t decided just yet.”
He nodded in understanding. “I think I’m going to follow Corny’s example and take a nap. It’ll be a while yet before we reach town, and I feel like I’ve been running for hours without a break.”
“I know what you mean; I’m going to try and take a nap, too,” she fibbed, closing her eyes. She didn’t feel like being polite right now. She didn’t like the memories that were overwhelming her, and her eyes were the kind that told the world how she was feeling. She hated the man sitting across from her and she wanted nothing more than to pull her gun and shoot him dead. He was a cold-hearted bastard, a man whose only thought from morning ’til night was money – how to make it and hold onto it. He sold mortgages out from under people, causing them to lose everything they’d worked for when the new owner demanded payment in full and they couldn’t meet the demand. Yes, she hated the banker, and she was going to make him pay.
The rest of the trip seemed to take a long time, but the driver was still rattled by the Indian attack, and he pushed the team hard, arriving in Ridgefield a few minutes early, instead of late as was normal. There were arrows stuck all over the outside of the coach, prompting people to start yelling for the sheriff.
The sheriff came running. “Are you all right, Max? The passengers?”
“We made it through, Sheriff, thanks to the folks inside. They done the shootin’ while I tried to get us away from them chasing us.” He jumped down and opened the stage door.
“This here is Ridgefield, folks, and as far as this stage goes today. I sure do thank you kindly for your help. Son,” he took Cornelius’ arm and pulled him aside, “you need to stay here with me until your folks come for you.”
“I know my way home!” Cornelius sputtered angrily.
“Cornelius, the driver was given the responsibility for you. He is making sure you are safe, please be nice,” Maggie said softly, putting her hand on Cornelius’ shoulder to calm him.
“Corny, you should be thrilled to have the special attention; there are some kids your age who don’t have it nearly so good,” Jack said quietly.
“Aw, I’m sorry, Mr. Max. I’m just anxious to see my folks,” Cornelius said.
“Well, I know how you feel, son. They’ll be along shortly.”
“I’m amazed that no one was hurt. From the look of all these arrows, you all had a close call,” Sheriff Thomas Benson said.
“Did you ward them off, sir?” he asked Jack.
“The banker and Miss Case shot as many as I did, Sheriff. They are both good shots. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have made it.” Jack saw no reason to lie.
“How many-” The sheriff was cut off by the arrival of Cornelius’ parents.
“Oh my! Oh no! Cornelius! Cornelius?” a woman screamed anxiously, running forward as fast as she could while holding two small children in her arms. The man with her rushed ahead.
“He’s here, Sophie. Corny is right here and safe.” He lifted the boy in his arms and hugged him tightly.
“I’m fine, Pa. Jack and Miss Maggie took care of me, and Miss Amelia sat on the floor of the coach and protected me from the Indians.”
“Thank you all,” Sophie tearfully exclaimed. “Put him down and hold these two, Ralphie,” she bossed. Then it was her turn to hug her eldest and hold him tight. “If I’d known you would be in danger, sweetheart, Mama wouldn’t have allowed you to go and visit Grandma and Grandpa!”
“Ma, I’m fine. Don’t be a girl now, I was real safe.”
“‘Don’t be a girl’?” she repeated, looking at him. “And where did you hear that expression, young man?”
“From Pa,” he told the truth. His mother immediately looked at her husband, and he could tell that she was not pleased.
“Son, that is something I am permitted to say to tease your mama. It is not for you to say to her; coming from you it is very disrespectful. Please don’t say it ever again.”
“Until I get married and can tease my wife about being a girl?” Cornelius asked innocently, and there were snickers of laughter. Even his mother smiled.
“If your wife can tolerate being teased,” his pa clarified. “It is something I shouldn’t have said in front of you.”
“You didn’t. You and Ma were in the parlor. I came downstairs to get a drink of water because I couldn’t go to sleep. I heard it when I was passing by on my way to the kitchen. I didn’t know it was private and personal. I’m sorry I teased you, Ma.”
“It’s all right, sweetheart. I understand, and your pa has explained. Just don’t do it again,” she warned, kissing him on his forehead. “I’m so happy you are home and safe.” She hugged him again, then turned to the others standing there. “Thank you all so much for protecting our Cornelius. I can’t tell you how much he means to his father and me.”
“We are grateful to you all. Thank you again and again.” Ralph added his own gratitude to his wife’s.
“He’s a fine boy,” Jack told the other man.
“He was a real joy to be around,” Maggie added.
“He is a nice little boy,” Miss Amelia said with another rare smile.
Her brother simply frowned and said nothing.
“Say thank you, son.” Sophie nudged him, and he grinned and thanked everyone. He then held his baby sister’s hand to walk home with his family, his father carrying the satchel with his clothes inside, and an arrow protruding from the side. Corny would keep the arrow and someday tell his grandkids about the wild stage ride, the Indians screaming, and the people who fought to save all of their lives.
Max tossed down the banker’s bag, then Miss Amelia’s. Her brother carried her bag in his other hand, and insisted they go home immediately. He wanted to eat something.
“I was hoping we could get something in the restaurant, Horace?” his sister suggested.
“And waste money when we can eat at home for much less? I think not, Amelia. Come along. I expect something on the table within the hour.”
“Would you like to come and eat with us, Miss Amelia? I’m hoping Miss Maggie will join me for dinner since she is traveling alone.”
“I would welcome the company, Jack. Please join us, Miss Amelia. Your brother can find his own dinner.”
“Yes, I believe I will.” She watched Horace stomp off, angry as could be. It made her giggle. “You have no idea how much fun it is to defy my brother. What is the point of having all of that money if you never use it for anything but making more money?”
“I agree, ma’am. Max, could you put our bags in the office while I take these lovely ladies for something to eat?
“I can do that, Jack. Have something good to eat for me too.”
“You’re welcome to join us, Max,” Jack immediately offered.
“Oh, Lordy no! My wife has supper ready for the table by now, and I want to go and tell her how close she came to bein’ a widow. I’ll get me some lovin’, for sure!” He chuckled.
Miss Amelia blushed, and so did Maggie. Jack laughed, and then took the ladies’ arms and walked them to the restaurant down the street.