*** Lord James Sebastian Chivington the third sat in a dirty bar in San Luis Valley, Colorado. It was ten o’clock in the morning, and he’d just started drinking.
“All right, boss,” his guide, a man called Cage, sat down beside the lord, and gave a world weary sigh. “What’s the plan for the day?”
Sebastian shrugged. “The usual,” he said, and watched Cage’s shoulders slump. For the British lord, a typical day looked like drinking, smoking, and spending his father’s money, with the occasional hunt or lay with a lightskirt thrown in for good measure. Not quite the adventure the older man had been looking for when he signed on to Sebastian’s entourage.
Cage looked as frustrated as Sebastian felt.
“Any news, my good man?” Sebastian called to the bartender.
The man shrugged. “Not much around here. The war ended a week ago. Lee surrendered.”
Sebastian raised his glass in mock toast. “Well done. About time you colonists stopped killing each other.”
The bartender turned away, shaking his head at his foreign customer. Lord Sebastian wore an outfit of his own design: a fine suit that flattered his lanky frame, with the addition of a neatly pressed bandanna around his neck and over-sized black hat to keep the sun off his fair skin. The effect was rather ridiculous. Cage had warned him about standing out too much from the rugged, dirty men who made up the sparse populace of the West, but
Sebastian didn’t care if he looked a fool. He found life was more interesting when people didn’t take him seriously.
“Just so you know, boss, most folk here don’t like being called colonists,” Cage said.
“No?” Sebastian lifted a blond brow. “I shall inform the Queen Mother.”
Two more of Sebastian’s hired hands joined him as he sipped his drink. Behind their table, a card game started up.
“Want a whiskey?” Sebastian offered his three companions.
“Is that what you call that horse piss?” Cage said. “And no. I’ll stick to coffee until midday.” The two others agreed.
“Suit yourself,” Sebastian shrugged. “You Americans and your coffee. Haven’t you heard of tea? It’s much better if you don’t try to steep it in Boston harbor… and then when your king sends help, throw a Revolution.”
The men at the card game stopped to glare at the blond lord. Sebastian gave them a cheery wave. He’d found in life you could say whatever you wanted as long as you acted ridiculous. The old court jester trick.
“I prefer coffee varnish for breakfast.” He drained his glass and raised it to signal the bartender. “Garcon! Another!”
If his guides felt disgust they hid it well. Then again, they were used to seeing their employer drink a quarter bottle of whiskey before noon.
“Milord.” Cage used Sebastian’s title with more sarcasm that respect. But that was all right; as the third son of a duke, and slated because of birth to receive no more than a fraction of his father’s estate, Sebastian felt the same way about his breeding. “Perhaps you might give some thought to where we’ll travel next.”
“I don’t know, Cage.” Sebastian raised his glass and pretended to squint at the amber liquid, all the while studying his hired man.
Cage was typical American western stock. Practical. Ageless, timeless, tanned skin with wrinkles around his faded blue eyes. Dark hair with a touch of silver. Popular enough with the ladies, but mostly a loner, married to his horse and saddle, the wind and sky, and wild outdoors.
Compared to Cage, Sebastian was a pale blond cherub, a bit long in the face, and too old and tall to be a good addition to any Raphael painting. There was a rakish twinkle in his blue eyes that boredom and general malaise hadn’t quite dimmed. He saw it every morning in the shaving glass, and supposed that when it was gone, he would give up and go home.
His fingers tightened around the glass. Home was not a pleasant thought. As the third son of a duke he had all of the prestige, some of the money, and none of the title—or the power and land that went with it. Completely lacking responsibility and cursed with brains enough to know it, he’d been kicked out of school and then was shipped off to the navy. Then, on his mother’s insistence, brought back into society until he made a mess of things and his father sent him to America.
“Go,” the duke had said. “And don’t come back until you’re a man.”
Sebastian had amused himself in the American West hunting buffalo, but after bagging two, had no more desire to kill things. That alone set him apart from the typical British upper crust. Studies bored him, familial duty bored him, the ton was interesting until his father realized he was skirt chasing and banished him to the colonies.
And now Sebastian was in a saloon in San Luis Valley, looking for answers in the bottom of a dirty glass.
Frowning, he announced to the Cage, “I need a quest.”
“A quest, a cause. Like King Arthur’s knights of the Round what-sit. A chance for heroics, valor. Perhaps a lady who needs rescuing from an evil…something. You know…a Grendel. Or whatever.”
Cage’s blank face reminded Sebastian that book learning was rare in the Wild West. Men learned to read a sky or an animal track, not Keats or Tennyson.
“A damsel in distress!” Sebastian slammed his glass onto the table for emphasis.
“You mean a woman?”
“Yes! No! Not just a woman. A fair lady who needs my help. I’ll perform heroic actions in her honor. Pledge my troth. Whatever that is.”
Cage tipped back his chair, balancing it on two legs. “Hate to remind you, boss, but ladies aren’t exactly in plentiful supply ‘round here. And I sure as hell ain’t never seen a damsel.”
Sebastian sighed. “Then lets be on our way.”
Cage’s chair came down with a thump. “Really?”
“I think so. Pack the bags and saddle up at once.”
All three men rose and hurried off, returning a few minutes later with their bags. They’d probably been packing them every morning, in hopes they’d be leaving soon. Two of the men headed out towards the stables while Cage sat down.
“Took the liberty of throwing all your things into the packs. The men will saddle up the horses so we’ll be ready as soon as you want to go.”
Sebastian winced, but finding a good valet was a bloody impossible feat in the colonies. His mother would be horrified at the current state of his suits.
“So where are we going, boss?”
“California, Texas.” Sebastian shrugged. “One thing for certain: we’ve seen all this valley has to offer.”
As he finished speaking, the door to the saloon blew open and a woman stalked inside in a flurry of skirts. Clad in black, from her boots to a large black veil falling over her face and down her back, she paused in the door with the light behind her. Every man’s head whipped around. As Cash had pointed out, a woman was a rare enough sight this far in the rugged west. Other than the soiled doves, Sebastian had never seen a lady in a saloon, and certainly not one dressed in widows weeds.
“Charlie the Red?” she called in English with a slight Spanish accent. The card game had stopped, and the man with the red bandana turned, rising out of his chair with a smirk on his face. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
The woman threw back the black lace veil, revealing a lovely, narrow face, caramel skin flushed and dark eyes sparkling with passion.
“Yes,” she said. “You can die.” The woman pulled a gun out from her voluminous skirts and shot the man in the chest.
Sebastian and Cage leaped to their feet, guns already out, even though they’d have to be hard pressed before they shoot a woman. The force of the woman’s bullets sent the man crashing backwards into the card table. The other players scattered. The man in the red bandana was dead before his body hit the floor.
“Blood for blood,” the woman spat. She turned on her heel and was gone, leaving all but the dead man staring after her, guns in hand.
“By Jove,” Sebastian burst out, breaking the terrible calm. “Who was that?”
Rocky Mountain Ride coming soon…