Excerpt from The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge
Cedar Ridge, Idaho – Spring 1891
Her eyes popped open. In the darkness that enveloped her, Evie Rolfe swallowed hard. Sometime during the night, her lamp died and left the young woman alone. Her fingers tightened into a white knuckled grip around the rifle while she listened for anything unusual. She didn't dare move, waited untold minutes locked in fear until light trickled through the cabin’s only window.
While ebony grayed, shadows faded, she gained a measure of courage. Evie scanned the modest room in search of what had woken her. A simple chair sat beside her in front of the stone fireplace. Cast iron pots and a frying pan were stacked on the hearth by short rounds of pine. Along the walls was a long low bench with towels folded neatly on top, a four-drawer dresser, a metal pail then a bed in the corner. Nothing appeared out of place so far.
Nervous Evie twisted so she could look at the wall behind her. A gap in the window curtains allowed a glimpse of crimson sky. Against the door, a crudely made wood table remained snug with the oil lamp in the center. To the right of that her cloak and a large tan wicker basket hung side by side. A rough broom she’d fashioned stood propped in the corner. Relief seeped through her.
The breath she’d held released. Evie sagged against the chair her grandfather made. Her left hand lifted, rubbed over her face then lowered to slide palm down over a scarred, oak arm. Loneliness, a muted ache, haunted. The worn rocking chair was all she had left from her family. She sighed, soft almost soundless.
A distinct thud carried through the log walls. Her short-lived calm vanished. Blood raced through her veins. Heart in her throat Evie gathered the edges of the quilts close around her. Slow, cautious, rifle cradled to her stomach, she pushed up to her feet then turned to face the window.
A minute then another passed. Evie heard nothing, saw nothing. She drew in a breath and stepped close to the glass pane. With the rifle muzzle, she pushed the washed out material aside. Her gaze found the source of the sound, what likely woke her, right away. Fear evaporated.
Drained, her grip loosened. The blankets slipped, sagged around her waist. Anger whispered. Evie turned around and, jaw clenched, stalked to the fireplace. She hung the weapon back on the hooks above the mantle where it belonged. The hard packed dirt floor chilled her bare feet, hastened her pace as she moved to the corner.
Beside the empty bed, Evie stilled, stared at it for a few seconds, her lips compressed into a hard thin line. With a snap of her wrists, she spread the thin patchwork quilts over the mattress.
Sadness, resentment and frustration crashed over her in waves as she pulled her nightgown over her head, tossed it on the covers. Goose bumps soon dotted her skin. In quick, jerky movements, she donned stockings, undergarments, a faded blue long sleeved shirt and a brown ankle length skirt.
Another thud sounded. Evie ground her teeth. She sat down on the bed and pulled on well-worn black boots. Her hair fell across her face in the process. Exasperated, she plucked her hairbrush off the wall where it hung by a leather thong.
With the ease of long practice, she swiftly tamed her waist length dark brown hair into a single thick braid that hung down her back. Evie stood and slapped the brush back in place. Her hands shook as she stomped over, shoved the table away from the door.
Orange and pink stained the clouds on the horizon when she stepped outside. Tall pine trees populated the landscape to her right, a sea of green as far as the eye could see. On her left lay the road to town and a couple of small cleared fields. Daisy, her cow, called out, impatient. Four hens scratched the grass for bugs. Evie noted it all but focused on what brought her out at dawn.
A mare, all black except for a short white stocking on each leg stood just outside the barn. Its open door swung in the gentle wind. It hit against the wall, and again created the sound she’d heard while inside. Evie hissed through clenched teeth, irritated, as she moved with swift steady strides to the horse.
Her temper simmered as she led Sugar into the fenced area attached to one side of the barn. Evie stripped off the mare’s tack, propped the saddle against a fence post. With bridle in hand, a pat and promise of oats later, she headed to the barn.
Evie stepped into the shadowed interior of the weathered structure. While her eyes adjusted to the low light, she took a couple of hesitant steps forward, one hand on the interior wall for assurance. She hung the bridle where it belonged then moved on.
It didn’t take long before she found him near Sugar’s stall sprawled face down on some loose hay.
For a second, intense emotion seized her. Evie shook with the force it. Although the desire to turn around and leave held strong appeal, she just couldn’t do that. She knelt down beside him, leaned in and whispered his name. He didn’t react. With both hands, she shook him, called his name with force. As she half expected, Ben still didn’t respond.
Evie got to her feet and with some effort, rolled him onto his back. Shaggy brown hair fell across his face. She crouched down, reached out and swept the mass to one side. His familiar features stirred a storm of conflicting emotions.
Tears burned tired eyes. It’d been some time since they’d been affectionate, intimate and, unable to resist, her fingers ran down the side of his neck, a light caress. Scratches and purple bruises marred his skin. Her hand came back up to rest her palm on his cheek. As upset as she was, Evie savored this simple physical contact.
Caught up in the moment, his groan startled her. She gasped. A hand came up, covered hers. His eyes opened and sorrow pierced her. The amazing forest green eyes that had captured her fancy years ago were so bloodshot it was painful to witness. A crooked smile spread across his face.
“Hey doll,” His voice low, rough, almost playful.
Strong whiskey fumes slapped her and Evie reared back as if physically struck, sparking her temper. His hand dropped to his side when she pulled away. Words she’d mulled over for months were on the tip of her tongue, about to explode from her when she noticed he’d passed out again.
An incoherent sound of pure frustration passed her lips.