A valley in the San Juan Mountain Range. Truly, God’s country.
A Lady in Defiance By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton; Cover Photography by Angirias
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, KING JAMES VERSION – Public Domain
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Charles McIntyre stared placidly at his cards and stifled a yawn. He had not expected young Isaac Whicker to present such an entertaining challenge. Their little game had started at three and by seven they were still playing, though in a nearly empty saloon. This was the calm before the Saturday night gale. [During the 1870’s a circuit preacher named Isaac Whicker was well-known in the San Juan Mountain Range. Originally, Isaac was to have a much larger part in this book and the sequel. Alas, he pretty much wound up on the cutting room floor.]
Absently noting the low rumble of thunder, McIntyre decided it was time to finish the game. He had better things to do. Glancing across the table at his sallow-looking, gangly opponent, he could see the boy swaying and blinking as he fought against the effects of the whiskey. Hunched bleary-eyed over his cards, Whicker had fought surprisingly well to keep from losing his mercantile, but he’d never really stood a chance. McIntyre needed the store back and would have it back if he had to crush Isaac Whicker like a bug to get it.
Ironically, he realized, that wasn’t the best way to start this new venture of making Defiance respectable, as the railroad gents had termed it. A lawless town would be a trackless town, they warned. Fine. Get a few legitimate businesses running, calm the town down, put a nice hotel where the mercantile is. Then the great American iron horse would come steaming into Defiance, bringing with it opportunity, success and wealth. Not to mention, carrying his gold away to the mint in Denver.
Oh, he knew he could simply bribe the right people, grease the wheels as it were, but he preferred to seek that as a last option. He even had the funds now to build his own railroad, if he desired, but McIntyre liked his money right where it was–in his own pockets. For the time being, he’d decided to take the easy road.
Ending the game with more boredom than ceremony, he laid down his cards. A royal flush. He thought he heard Whicker’s breath catch and looked up. The boy had turned impossibly pale and his blond hair looked suddenly dull and lifeless, like that of an eighty-year-old man. The tiniest speck of compassion attempted to make itself known to McIntyre, but he irritably flicked it away, like a greasy crumb on his silk vest.
Scratching his thin, black, and perfectly trimmed beard, he leaned back in his chair. “Unless you can beat that, I own the mercantile.”
Whicker shook his head and slowly placed his cards face-down on the table. “No,” he whispered, “I don’t reckon I can.”
Satisfied that was an admission of surrender, McIntyre rose to his feet. This game was over and he was ready to spend some time with the intoxicating Rose, catnapping in his bed. “You played a good game, Whicker,” he drawled in a deceptively charming Georgia accent. “The best I’ve had in some time, but you were destined to lose. I’ll give you forty-eight hours to clear out. As we agreed, the inventory and gold stake are mine. You may keep all of your personal effects, including the wagon and your horse.”
That last was overly generous, but taking a man’s horse was just plain mean and McIntyre did not consider himself that callous−although he was quite sure Rose would have something to say about it. That feisty Mexican wench held on to things with the death-grip of a mountain lion. Whicker replied only with a lingering blank stare. McIntyre concluded that the boy was neither in a hurry to accept his fate nor leave the saloon.
Unwilling to be held up by the gloom in the air, he reached for the deed sitting forlornly in the middle of the table. “Let yourself out, Whicker, and have a safe trip back to…” Kansas, was it? He waived his hand dismissively. “Wherever you’re from.” Then he added generously, “You’re an enterprising young man. I’m sure you’ll be able to start over again.”
McIntyre was almost surprised at himself for offering the words of encouragement and raked his hand through his black, wavy hair as if that would clear these dark thoughts. He supposed it was that accursed Southern-upbringing which equated rudeness with horse-stealing. In the cold light of reality, though, Whicker was nothing to him but an obstacle. And now an obstacle removed.
Well, nearly. The boy still hadn’t moved. Sighing, McIntyre tucked the deed into his breast pocket and headed upstairs to his room. He paused ever-so-briefly at the top of the stairs to again flick away that crumb of compassion. After all, it had been a truly fair game. McIntyre hadn’t cheated. He hadn’t forced the boy to drink, nor had he forced him to bet the store.
Slapping the rail twice as if dismissing Whicker from his conscience, McIntyre strode across the hall to his room. Imagining a bath and Rose’s heady kisses, he turned the brass door knob and entered his room. From below, and barely above the soft thump of rain drops, he heard the boy mutter miserably, “Missouri. Hannibal, Missouri.”
But the words were lost. McIntyre eyed the voluptuous Rose seductively draped in his silk sheets and, undoing his tie, closed the door on Whicker.
[This scene was not in the original two drafts, then it was the opening, then I moved here. At one point, it was the accompanying scene to Naomi weeping over John’s grave in the rain.]
In the dream, Naomi sat alone at the campfire waiting for her guest. She tended to the fish in the skillet and kept a watchful eye. Shortly, Jesus joined her. He sat down on the other side of the fire and offered her a tender smile.
“Naomi, do you trust me more than these?” She was surprised to see that Rebecca and Hannah had joined them, too, though they acted unaware of her or Jesus.
“Yes, Lord, you know I trust you.”
“Then go where I send you.” She put the fork down on the rock next to the fire and looked at him, puzzled by his statement. Again he asked, “Naomi, do you trust me?”
Her brow furrowed. “Yes, Lord, you know I trust you.”
“Then go where I send you.” She sat back and crossed her legs, puzzled, but sure there was more. Staring at her with dark, intent eyes, Jesus asked again, “Naomi, do you trust me?”
She sighed, frustrated with him. “You know everything; you know my heart. So you should know that I trust you.”
“Then go where I send you. There are those around you living in defiance. Take to them the Good News.” And then he pleaded softly, “Love them as I do.”
“I will go where you send me, Lord.” Her heart ached to ask one question of him, though. “But can’t you please tell me why you took Jo−”
Jesus put a finger to his lips, cutting off the question. His countenance and voice were gentle when he replied, “You’ll have your answer in time. I have children lost in darkness. Take to them the Light…and don’t stand on eighteen.”
[Clearly taken from the Book of John, but this is Jesus asking Naomi if she is really committed to him and really loves him. She has to put her faith into words because the action will keep her accountable.]
Naomi opened her eyes and looked up at the bottom of the wagon. A gray light crept stealthily upon them and she knew it was time to get moving. Slowly, gingerly, she climbed over her sleeping sisters and crawled out from underneath a home she now despised.
A lonely apprehension seized her as she wandered over to the dead fire. As she moved to sit on a fallen tree, she stopped short. Either Rebecca or Hannah had left John’s map out, folded to reveal a small section. She picked it up and studied the lines and topographical details. John’s accident had happened on what he’d called the Million Dollar Highway, the way most of the gold and silver was taken out of the valley. She let her finger dance over the map as she looked for something, some land mark or town, some hint of what to do next, where to go…
“Defiance…?” She stopped her finger at the town. The name tweaked her memory. “What…?”
But the Lord’s words leaped to her mind: There are those around you living in Defiance. Take to them the Good News. Love them as I do.
She stared at the word. The town was only a few miles due west. She also knew, with a searing dread, that it was their destination. Feeling sick and overwhelmed, she closed her eyes and went back to that dream which was now painfully vivid. She had told Him three times she would go where He sent her. Not willingly, she admitted. Forgive me, Lord. I go grudgingly, to say the least. With John beside me, I would have gone to Hell and back. I had my heart set on growing old with him. Where didn’t matter. Now nothing matters.
The truth be told, Lord, I don’t like You very much right now.
The admission broke her heart as much as the loss of her husband. If she didn’t have the relationship with God that she had always counted on, then she had nothing. Yet, getting past her anger at this sudden destruction of her dreams was proving nigh unto impossible. She cried over her loss and her smoldering resentment and begged God to help her get past them both.
[I did a lot of cutting here. In the original draft, a man (an angel) comes into the camp and talks to the girls. I still like the scene, but it took too much focus off Naomi. She’s the one who has to wrestle with her faith. Also, I had a reader connect with me and tell me she had said these exact words to God. When she read them in my book, she broke down and cried. I’m really humbled by that, but that is why writing is a gift and can be a ministry.]
If you’d like to read ahead, you can get A Lady in Defiance here: http://www.amazon.com/Lady-Defiance-Romance-Rockies-ebook/dp/B0078T6YHY
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