A Note From Your Author: This story is meant for an adult audience. There may be (will be) offensive language and themes.
About: After Zetti Sweetwood’s husband is murdered by the Moraday boys, she sets out to get revenge with the help of her friend, Dove. It isn’t long before she learns there was a bounty out for her husband, and she begins to uncover the truth about his mysterious past.
View the Table of Contents for all chapters.
The day after Zetti killed Cassiday Moraday, they finally went downstairs to eat stew with Sal. She sat buttering a piece of cornbread with a distant little smile on her face. Her home was simple, full of only useful things like a tea kettle, a big straw hat, and a broom. “You hear about the sheriff?” she asked lightly, eager to repeat town gossip. Zetti glanced at Dove, and they both looked down at their plates. When neither answered, she kept on. “Someone shot his dick clean off.”
Dove nearly dropped her own piece of cornbread, gaze snapping to Zetti. “They what?” she asked, voice going high. This had not been mentioned to her the night before.
“Someone shot the sheriff’s dick off,” Sal said again.
“What do you mean?”
“They says it was the fellow in the jailhouse. Somehow, he managed to get out.”
Zetti hadn’t mentioned that either. Though she had her head down, she could hardly hide her smirk as she ate a slice of cornbread at the end of the table. She set it down on the little yellow plate and wiped her hands on her pants. “Ain’t that somethin’,” she said.
“Are they after him? The fellow in the jailhouse?” Dove asked, sitting up on the edge of her chair.
“’Course they are. Haven’t found him yet from the sounds of it.”
Old Sal chatted on about other bits of gossip. When she paused to put the kettle on, Zetti and Dove took their chance to go back up to the attic room. There, Zetti immediately began to pack her war bag with the necessities.
“Ornery thing you did,” said Dove, leaning up against the door. She crossed her arms.
Zetti began rolling up her change of clothes. “He don’t need it where he’s goin’.”
“I meant breakin’ that fellow out of jail.”
That’s when she finally looked up, eyes twinkling. “That was a nice touch, wan’it?”
Both women froze at once, their eyes flitting toward the stairwell. Just as Zetti opened her mouth to ask if Dove heard it too, they heard the pops and squeaks of Sal walking across the wood floor. Then, it happened again. It was the sharp, quick rasping of a fist against the front door. They heard the lock slide out.
“We should go.”
Dove snatched up her bag next. “Should we use the window?” she whispered.
“No. Folks will notice if we climb down from the roof. We gotta make it seem like the most natural thing in the world.”
But Zetti stopped at the top of the stairs. The voice that reached her ears made her reconsider.
“‘scuse me, Sal. I hate to bother ya, but word about town is that Zetti Sweetwood finally came back to Little Gulch.”
“You ain’t no bother, Claude!” Sal’s voice rang with excitement. “Come on in. I’ll tell her yer here.”
Zetti turned and quietly shut the door behind her. Dove mouthed “who is it?” and tiptoed to her side to press her ear against the wood.
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Claude.
His boots made a low, hollow thud as he walked inside. They both listened as a chair scraped across the floor. Then, the stairs creaked. Sal was on her way up. With a small start, Zetti slid the chain lock in place and waved for Dove to follow her over to the window.
“Who is it?” Dove whispered, catching hold of her arm. “Why we goin’ through the window? You just said—”
Zetti unlatched the window and pushed it open. “That’s Claude Rivers. He’s the deputy. We gotta get outta here fast.”
“Zetti!” Sal banged on her door. “Claude came by to see ya. Heard you was back in town. Come on down for coffee!”
Rolling her eyes big, Zetti shoved her bag through the window. “She’d crawl into bed with Claude if she weren’t such an old turkey.”
“Don’t say that about Sal,” Dove said, though she smothered a laugh with her hand.
The two women crawled onto the roof after their bags and inched down toward the edge on their butts. Zetti didn’t see any other way of going about it. She kicked her bag off and hung off the edge of the roof to get her feet on the porch railing below. Then, she hopped down to the dusty earth to wait on Dove.
Nervous from the height, Dove took her time about it. Her legs were still dangling off the roof when the back door burst open. The sound of the door made her lose her grip, and she tumbled to the ground with a frightened cry.
“Mornin’ to ya, Claude,” said Zetti as she reached out a hand to help Dove to her feet. “I heard someone shot the sheriff’s dick off. How’s he feelin’?”
“He’s feelin’ dead, Zetti.” Claude scratched his bearded chin. “And I thought you might know somethin’ about it.”
Zetti feigned a confused expression. “Why’s that?”
“Hank saw ya visit the sheriff last night.”
“Hank saw wrong. I was here.”
“You got motive.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I know what him and his kin did.”
“Well then, I suppose that’s just karma.”
“Zetti, I can’t just let ya walk, not ‘til we know the truth. You gonna make this hard on me?” Claude winced as he spoke, and his hand hovered near his gun.
Zetti felt the gun leave its holster, but it wasn’t her who pulled the trigger. The gunshot split the air. The deputy howled in pain and lifted his shredded hand up in shock. The bullet had gone right through it.
“Sorry, Mr. Rivers,” said Dove, lowering the revolver.
As Claude fumbled for his own gun, the two women scooped up their bags and took off into the desert. He shouted curses after them, but the enraged sound of his voice soon faded. Neither stopped. Neither looked back.
Little Gulch faded in the heat and dust. They didn’t stop until pain pierced their lungs, and they could no longer gulp down air. Both dropped to the ground panting and sweating. Zetti tipped her canteen against her lips, then passed it to Dove.
“Ain’t you a good shot,” said Zetti once she could manage speaking.
“If you’re that lucky, you ought to hang onto the damn thing.”
Dove still held the revolver. Now, she looked at it as if it might jump up and bite her. “Nah, you ought to have it.”
A sharp whistle interrupted their back and forth. Zetti’s head snapped up. A man waved at them from behind a boulder. Though he was almost too far away to see clearly, she had a feeling she knew who he was, and she let out a low groan.
As if reading her thoughts, Dove asked, “You know him?”
“I do believe that’s the fella I set free,” Zetti said.
“Should we go see what he wants?”
The two women shakily got to their feet and half-walked, half-stumbled to the grinning man. He had his hat pressed against his chest and gave a low bow when they got close. He was a burly man with a curly brown beard and pale, jade-colored eyes. He placed his hat atop his mop of greasy brown hair as he straightened.
“I hoped that was you,” he said, then pointed out across the boulder field with his hat. “I got two horses down the way.”
Dove gave Zetti a suspicious glance. “You plan for this?”
But Zetti shook her head. “If I planned it, there would’ve been three horses.”
The man cleared his throat. “The name’s Jesse. What should I call you ladies?”
“This is Dove. I’m Zetti. You been waitin’ out here for me?”
“Felt I owed ya,” he said.
“Well, maybe I ought to tell ya that you’re a murder suspect now.”
“Well, I reckon it ain’t no worse than what I went in for.”
“And what’s that?” asked Dove.
The two women exchanged looks.
“Where’d you say those horses are?” Zetti asked, her dark eyes falling on Jesse again.
“Come on,” he said.
As soon as he turned around, Dove leaned in and whispered into Zetti’s ear. “We ain’t stickin’ with him, are we?”
“No, but we sure could use a horse.” At that, Zetti set off after him.
Read Chapter Six
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