Chapter One: A Stroke of Heat
As the sun rose to greet another day, Maxwell Harrison hammered a hot strip of iron over his anvil, shaping it into a U. “Add some coal to the forge, Tim,” he said to the lad who sat on a bench in the blacksmith’s shop, organizing tools into the new wooden toolkit Max had built. Like a doctor who traveled around town with medicine to fix people, Max traveled with tools to fix just about everything else.
Tim set his small task aside to do as Max instructed. They were expecting two newly broke horses for shoeing that day, so they needed to shape eight horseshoes. After ensuring the mustangs were properly shod, they needed to fix an axle on a rancher’s buggy.
Max had been a blacksmith or blacksmithin-training for most of his thirty-four years. Nearly as soon as he could pick up a hammer, his father began teaching him the trade. Because much of the work Max and his father used to do, like sculpting nails, could now be done by machines in the factories found in bigger cities, Max’s work evolved into more than just blacksmithing. The folks of Weston, Arizona could count on him to fix or build just about anything made of wood, metal, or leather.
Max taught everything he knew to Tim, his sixteen-year-old apprentice and unofficial charge. The son of a man who liked to swing his fists as much as he liked to sling back whiskey, Tim had been living with Max for nearly two years at Max’s insistence. Tim’s father agreed to the arrangement, provided that Max pay him for the use of his son. It was ridiculous, Max knew, to teach the boy the tools of the trade, and on top of that pay for his service and room and board, but he couldn’t stomach another day of Tim showing up with a black eye, so he agreed to the terms without much argument.
Max heard the hinges of the heavy door to the shop whine behind him. Expecting Jack with his two horses, he was surprised when he turned to find Marshal Robert Davis striding in.
Max set the hammer and half-bent horseshoe on the anvil and removed his work glove from his right hand. “Howdy, marshal. What brings you here?”
The marshal shook his outstretched hand and spoke hurriedly. “I must ask a favor of you, Max, and before you answer, let me say two things. One, I wouldn’t ask unless I urgently needed it, and two, it might not be entirely unpleasant. It involves the company of a rather fetching young woman, if her picture is any clue.” He handed Max a photograph the size of a playing card.
Max studied it. The woman in the photograph who frowned back at him was certainly pretty, though she had a stiff look about her with a back held very straight. Her chin tilted upward just a bit too high to appear biddable, or even friendly.
“What sort of favor, marshal?”
“That’s to be Weston’s new schoolmarm. She’s on her way from Boston, and I’m supposed to meet her at the train station in Arcadia tomorrow morning. Trouble is, I can’t make it. Not ten minutes ago I received a wire from the sheriff in Tucson that two baddies are headed here with a law posse in pursuit. The sheriff requested that I form a posse of my own to cut them off at the pass.”
“So you want me to fetch a girl, not join your posse? I’ll try not to let that injure my manly pride, marshal.”
The marshal let out an amused snort. “I’ve never even seen you pack iron, Max, so I wouldn’t ask you to join in a hunt for outlaws. If you leave now, you’ll reach Arcadia by nightfall. Take a room there overnight and meet the schoolmarm in the morning. The county will pay for your boarding, of course.”
Max scratched his head. “I can shoot a gun, you know. I’m not a terrible aim either. But, well, I suppose I could have Tim attend to the work today and head for Arcadia. I just need—”
“Great,” the marshal interrupted, turning to leave. “Appreciate it, Max.” He walked at a quick clip toward the door.
“Hey, marshal,” Max called. “Mind telling me her name?”
“It’s Charlotte. Charlotte Rose. Give her my regrets for being unable to meet her,” he said, and left as abruptly out the door as he came in it.
Max instructed Tim on what to do while he was away and went about fitting his buggy with food, water, and a few emergency supplies, including his old Remington, his new toolkit, and a quilt. In less than an hour, he climbed into the buggy seat and directed his horse toward the path headed east.
He studied the picture of Charlotte Rose. She was truly beautiful. She had almond-shaped eyes and long hair that fell to her waist. The photograph captured her in a seated position from head to toe. Max’s eyes lingered on her breasts, the ample size of which couldn’t be concealed despite being draped with modest clothing.