“There’s three of them,” Fannie said, as the Marshall made short work of hitching Georgia to the buggy. “Carl Boltz at the mercantile said they’re young, probably not even twenty years of age. One’s face is marked with pimples and another has a birthmark on his cheek. The third has eyes prettier than a girl’s. Mr. Boltz said his daughter erupted into tears at the sight of the fella’s emerald green orbs and long, dark lashes.” Fannie rolled her eyes. “Milie fancies herself the fairest face in Cold Spring. Maybe all of Idaho.”
“That right?” Daniel chuckled.
“I’m afraid so.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Anyway, those three ruffians are responsible for the fire. Maybe even Sophie’s injury. Stella told me last week three men of the same description imbibed in spirits and cards at her pa’s saloon. Before that, there was a ruckus in the street. Riders galloped their ponies up the main thoroughfare, shooting at water barrels and a wagon filled with hay in front of the livery.”
“Does Stella know for sure the men shooting at the water barrels are the same men she saw in her pa’s saloon?”
A nerve along Fannie’s jaw ticked. “Well, no. Stella was serving drinks when the ruckus occurred. By the time she got to the window, the men were gone.”
“I see,” Daniel said with no real conviction. He handed her up onto the seat and placed the reins in her hands. “Stay here. I’ll get Sophie.”
Fannie watched him amble across the yard toward the woodshed, noted his tall frame and broad back. Beneath his coat, his arms were heavy with muscle. More importantly, there was a swagger in his step that spoke of confidence. He ducked his head and entered the shed, and Fannie gently sank her teeth into her lower lip. His sudden appearance amid the charred ruins of Granddad’s old barn had alarmed her, but with Stella vouching for his character and Sheriff Deeks sending him here to help, Fannie truly hoped he’d track down the trio and arrest them for setting fire.
I don’t like assumptions, the Marshall’s words echoed between her ears as he approached cradling Sophie in his arms. With great care, he deposited the languid collie onto her lap, covered her with a blanket. “I’ll get her pups.” He went back to the shed.
“Thank you,” she called after him, cooing to Sophie and hugging her tight, her gaze falling on the Marshall’s bandanna tied around her pet’s neck. What if the Marshall is right? Other than a strong feeling in the pit of her stomach, she had no proof the evil threesome had set the barn on fire. Or had caused Sophie harm. Then again, no one else in Cold Spring would burn down Granddad’s property or hurt her dog. The Carter family was well-liked and respected among the townsfolk and nearby farmers. Most were grateful to her for having taken the teaching position last autumn… that is, except for Virgil Wells.
Virgil eked out a living doing odd jobs. With his noticeable limp, which pained him more and more each day, or so the rumors claimed, the most he managed was sweeping out the saloon. Or white-washing Mrs. Brachman’s front porch. Where he hung his hat at night was anybody’s guess. Some said he slept in a back stall at the livery. Others said that for a can of peaches and some jerky, he slept in the mercantile, guarding Mr. Boltz’s wares. One thing Fannie did know, Virgil was of the mind book learning was a waste of time. He’d told her so on numerous occasions. Fannie suspected his feelings stemmed from his own lack of schooling and quickly dismissed him as a suspect. Just because he was opinionated and cranky didn’t make him an arsonist. Did it?
The Marshall striding toward her with the crate of puppies shifted her thoughts back to him. He was a handsome man, polite and caring, evidenced by the way he’d cradled Sophie to his chest. Why wouldn’t he believe her suspicions surrounding the trio of hooligans? It’s not as though she didn’t have good reason to point blame in their direction. They took pleasure in wreaking havoc and scaring innocent people.
“Ready?” Daniel asked, setting the crate of sleeping pups on the floorboard near her feet.
“Yes.” She stroked Sophie, the carriage tipping to the left as he climbed onto the seat. Taking the reins from her, he gave them a flick over Georgia’s back.
With Ranger trotting along beside the buggy, the ride to Doc Hartworth’s clinic wasn’t long, and with the sun shining overhead in a cloudless sky, the winter afternoon was pleasantly warm. The Marshall pulled up on the reins outside the two-story building of red at the outskirts of Cold Spring, jumped down and reached for Sophie. Fannie followed him inside and gasped. Sitting behind her desk, her head of braided white hair bowed, wire-rimmed spectacles dangling limply in one hand, Doc Hartworth’s bony shoulders trembled beneath calico.
“Doc, what’s wrong?” Fannie brushed past the Marshall.
The older woman looked up, her gaze watery. “Someone stole my brooch. I left it in the top drawer of my bureau. When I went to retrieve it this morning to wear to church service, it was gone.” She sniffed back a wave of tears. “I’ve looked everywhere. It’s nowhere to be found.”
“Are you certain?” Fannie touched the older woman’s shoulder.
She nodded. “My mother gave that to me when I was a young girl.” Her voice caught. “She said it belonged to her ma.” She rubbed at her eyes then peered around Fannie toward the Marshall. “My stars!” She shot up from her seat. “What happened to Sophie? Did she get hurt in the fire? I saw Carl Boltz and his children ride past not too long ago. He told me you lost a barn.”
“We’re not sure what happened to Sophie, ma’am.” The Marshall came forward. “She’s either been shot or knifed.”
“Bring her in the back room.” Doc motioned to an open doorway behind her. “Set her on the table.”
“Please,” Fannie clutched Doc’s arm, the anger she’d felt upon discovering Sophie’s injury suddenly giving way to tears.
“I’ll take good care of her.” Doc patted Fannie’s hand. “You wait here. Your friend looks capable enough of helping me.” She disappeared into the other room, set her spectacles back on her face before untying the bandanna around Sophie’s neck. “It’s a knife wound.” She raised her eyes to the man gently stroking Sophie’s nose. “She’ll need stitches.”
“Thought she would,” Daniel murmured.
“You hold her steady while I do the stitching.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Daniel watched her gather supplies and thread a needle. “I’m Marshall Daniel Reid, Doctor Hartworth. Sheriff Deeks sent me here to look into the troubles plaguing Cold Spring.”
“Three imps,” she said, matter-of-factly, tying a knot at the end of the thread. “I’m of a notion they’re the ones who stole my brooch. I saw them standing around the mercantile this morning when I went to church. I didn’t think anything of it, but then, when I came home, I saw them again. They approached from the direction of the Carter farm. One of them caught my eye and smiled sinisterly. They didn’t say anything. Just kept walking toward the livery.” She stepped up beside him holding the threaded needle. “Ready?” She met his gaze.
Daniel nodded and held Sophie down, his thoughts churning. Coming from the direction of the Carter farm; Fannie’s suspicions of who burned down her barn held weight. But why would three hooligans terrorize two towns?

Susan Horsnell is writing Part 4, to be posted February 24th. Part 4 can be found here:
http://susanhorsnell.wordpress.com
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Published on February 17, 2015 06:55 • 1,197 views • Tags: barn, children, lori-connelly, marshall, multiple-authors, romance, town

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