“But wait. That’s not the crazy thing. Listen.” Scanning down the page, she found the line she wanted and read, “‘You may be fancy, Mister Buck Larsen, but my mama told me to stay away from men like you.’”
She looked up at him expectantly and caught him stealing a surreptitious glance at the screen of his cell, checking the time. Apparently Damien had a lot more time for sex than he did for old letters.
“Buck Larsen,” she repeated, emphasizing every syllable. In the ranks of Old West legends, Buck Larsen was right up there with men like Kit Carson, or Davy Crockett, or Daniel Boone even. Pioneer, frontiersman, and later, author and statesman—he was a California legend. She jabbed the table with her finger. “He lived here. In Sierra Falls. During the gold rush. Before he became, you know, Buck Larsen.”
A light finally clicked on in Damien’s eyes. “Cool,” he said, and this time it sounded like he meant it.
“I know,” Sorrow said triumphantly. “But it gets better.” She rifled through the pages. “Every single one of these is written to him, from Sorrow Crabtree. I guess she was too chicken to send them. Ah”—she placed one sheet at the top—“here’s where it gets really good. ‘If I’d told you the boy was yours, would you have come back to me?’”
“Wow, they had a kid? That is pretty cool, Bailey.”
“Not just any kid,” said Sorrow. “Don’t you get what this means? It means I’m related to Buck Larsen.”
Her mother appeared at the door. “She tell you her news?”
“Hi, Edith.” Damien stood to greet her, as well-mannered and articulate as his parents. Dabney and Phoebe Simmons were the Sierra Falls answer to royalty, and they’d raised their prince right. “Your daughter was just telling me. Very exciting.”
“We didn’t know before, who the father was.” As Sorrow spoke, she watched Damien pocket his phone in a way that told her he was about to make his escape.
She felt an unexpected breath of relief, and the reaction surprised her. But she wanted to be alone to finish her work so she could curl up with her great-great-great-grandmother.
Her mom noted the same thing, and said, “One favor before you leave, hon?”
Damien tipped an imaginary hat. “Anything for you, ma’am.”
“I’m late for my hair appointment, but the car won’t start.”
Sorrow shook her head, marveling. First the roof, now this. “When it rains, it pours.”
“I’ve got cables in my car,” Damien said at once. “I’ll be right there.”
As her mom went for her coat, Sorrow repeated a thank-you. Damien seemed in the business of saving her family’s collective hides.
“No prob. I’m happy to jump-start the car, seeing as I’m not getting jumped in here.” He winked and gave her a quick kiss. “Seriously, Bailey. It’s all good. Congrats on those letters—pretty cool. Don’t forget us little people when you’re a famous California icon.” He shouldered into his coat. “You need anything—and I do mean anything—just give a call.”
And with that last flirty comment, her boyfriend breezed out the door.
Unloading all this meat in the slushy parking lot was a pain in the neck. Or in the lower back, to be precise.
Sully hauled another side of beef from the trunk. He’d driven the Jeep to Reno for his monthly stocking up, and he supposed he should be thankful he could still do this at his age. There were plenty of men who couldn’t. Look at Bear, shuffling around with his bum leg after that stroke.
Still, sometimes he wanted to get back on his bike and ride off. It felt like he’d wandered for years, searching for something, but he could spend his whole life waiting and that mysterious something would never appear.
Damien breezed out the door, with Edith on his heels. They spotted him at the same time, calling out their hellos.
Edith stopped short and faced Damien. “I didn’t know Sully was back. I’m sure he can give me a jump. I don’t want to trouble you.”
Sully had plenty on his plate already but kept his mouth shut. He knew as well as Edith that her offer had been merely a formality. Lately, Damien seemed to take every opportunity he could to help anyone even remotely related to Sorrow. The kid was worse than a rent collector, coming around like he did. The thing of it was, Sully had begun to wonder just how much the girl even wanted his help.
Sure enough Damien told her, “Edith, you know helping you is never any trouble.”
He certainly was a smooth operator. But Sully was happy enough to be left out of it all. He hid his amusement as he pulled a pallet of bread and buns from the back and carried it to the tavern.
Granted, Sully appreciated the fact that someone was looking out for Sorrow, giving her a hand. But there was something that wasn’t perfect about the fling those two were having. And by the way some of the women acted around Damien, you’d have thought things would be perfect.
He supposed a girl wouldn’t exactly be overwhelmed with dating options in a small town like Sierra Falls. Especially someone like Sorrow, who was too busy to get to nearby Silver City to experience any sort of nightlife.
His eyes cut back to Damien. He liked the kid well enough, but he was a smidge too suave. Maybe that was why, when Sully saw the two of them together, he just didn’t get it.
Damien popped Edith’s hood. “Did you leave the lights on? That’ll burn out the battery in no time.”
“I never do. It beeps if I try.”
“Even the interior lights,” he said. “That’ll burn through the juice, too, if they’re left on all night.”
Sully heard Bear’s heavy step and turned to find him staring at Damien and Edith.
Bear’s cheek jumped, just a little tic. “That boy’s got the town charmed.”
“And your women seem to be at the top of the list,” Sully said, but his comment made Bear scowl, so he added, “Hey, Sorrow could do worse. It’s nice for a woman to have a man around. Buy her dinner, tell her she’s pretty.”
Bear’s expression didn’t change. “My fool daughter seems to want to cook her own dinner.”
“You know what I mean. A girl likes to feel appreciated.” Sully grew serious, thinking how appreciation should start at home. “She’s a special girl. Good on Damien that he noticed.”
“That damned sheriff seemed to be doing some noticing earlier. He’s been coming around more than usual.”
Sully pondered that. “Yeah, I suppose I have seen his eyes on her once or twice.”
“Don’t know if I should encourage it or punch the man,” Bear said.
He laughed. “It’s never wise to hit a lawman.”
Edith’s car engine roared to life, and Damien hit the gas a few times to rev it.
“Looks like Superman saved the day.” Bear said it with a bitterness that sounded like he still wanted to be Edith’s Superman. At least to Sully’s ears.
“No surprise there,” Sully said. Whatever he thought about Damien Simmons, the guy was capable.
Bear turned his attention to the Jeep, peering in the back. “Hey, Sergeant, these groceries ain’t going to unload themselves.”
“That’s Major to you.” Shouldering past Bear, he hauled a couple of beef tenderloins from the back. When Bear bent to help him, he saw the man’s hands tremble and gave him a sharp look. “And I’m ordering you to get your hands off my ground round.”
A cloud darkened Bear’s features. “Seems to me, I paid for it, and I’m perfectly able to carry it, too.”
Sully counted to ten in his head. Bear hadn’t been the same since the stroke—no man would be after such a thing. But he fought his weaknesses, as well as everyone else who was there to witness them.
That got his attention—the woman knew her husband, that was for certain. Bear raised his brows in silent question.
She said, “Damien says we need to keep the car running for a half hour to recharge the battery.”
“And would you do it, honey? Sit in the car for me? I’m so chilly, and these gloves aren’t doing anything.” Edith flexed her fingers to prove her point. “I need to go in and find my good driving gloves. The lined ones make all the difference.”
Sully saw what the woman was doing and wondered if Bear did, too.
The man scowled. “Can’t we just let the damned car run?”
“I’m afraid of leaving it on with nobody in it. Come on, I turned on the radio, so you can listen to the game while you wait. I’ll just be a second.” She paused significantly. “Unless you’re cold, too?”
That got him. “I don’t get cold easy, you know that.”
Bear shuffled to the car, and Edith caught Sully’s eye and winked. She did a good job keeping her husband busy, making him feel needed in little ways.
He got back to unloading the Jeep. He’d wasted too much time jawing with Bear, and now telltale wet spots were starting to form on some of the cardboard boxes as food began to thaw.
Tucking a couple of tenderloins under his arm and a case of corn dogs in the other, Sully thought how he genuinely didn’t mind the work. Physical labor was good for a man. It cleared the mind. And with three tours in Nam under his belt, there’d been a lot of memories to clear.
Besides, he liked helping the Bailey family. Truth was, he’d come to love them. He’d been kicking around there long enough—he’d have to be one hard-hearted son of a bitch not to love someone like Sorrow as his own kid.
There was Bear Junior, too, though he was away on his second tour in Afghanistan. Sully had felt as proud as Bear Senior on the day the boy announced he was going ROTC, and even more so when the kid made the cut and joined the Corps after graduation. Though, as an Army man, Sully could never resist getting in a ribbing around the annual Army-Navy game. Hooah.