Deadly

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Meg McKenzie stood in yet another hotel room, another dusty frontier town, on the hunt for yet another wayward criminal. She pulled out her Baby Dragoon revolver from her holster, spun the cylinder, and checked to make sure a bullet graced every chamber. With a gentle tug, she checked the leather case, and then she slid the weapon back into its holster, just a fingertip away.

She wore her gun low on her hips just below the waist of her father’s hand-me-down pants. No fancy dress for Meg.

“The McKenzie sisters are about to strike again,” her sister Ruby said, as she slid her own gun into the hidden sheath-like case neatly tucked beneath her petticoats. Her saloon dress dipped low in the front, to the edge of her breasts, the straps completely off her shoulder. She flipped her blonde hair back and checked her image one last time in the mirror. “How many men have we brought to justice?”

In the last year, they had learned the bounty hunter trade and continued the legacy of their father. With his death, the girls had been forced to find work in order to save the farm and in a desperate moment chosen their current path. Meg and Ruby chased wanted criminals, and Annabelle maintained their family farm. At least until they returned and could join their sister once again. They’d never intended to make this their lifelong occupation. Just long enough to pay off the mortgage on the farm.

“At least twelve. Seems we’ve spent more time on the road than we have at home,” Meg said, homesickness surging through her like an open wound.

“Just as well with Sheriff Zach still coming out to the house looking for you.”

“Zach Gillespie wants a quiet, retiring woman who wears a dress and has tea parties. Do I look like that kind of woman?” Meg shook her head. Her heartache was nearly healed, though she could never look at Zach again without smiling and remembering him naked.

Ruby laughed. “No, but you could if you wanted.”

Meg glanced out the window. The glow of the setting sun cast a shadow, but she could still see the dress shop down the street. After she’d spoken to this no-name town’s sheriff, she’d spent time in the little dress shop, gazing and fingering the available dresses and the patterns of the latest fashions. Inside these pants, a woman longed to emerge and live like a lady, not the rough bounty hunter façade of a life she lived now.

“I’ll never change for any man. As soon as we pay off the farm, then I’m going to begin my life and do things the way I want to,” Meg vowed. She had dreams, she had plans, and soon, it would be her time.

Circumstances required she dress like a man. But the girly-girl in her had a hidden vice. Her own little secret pleasure…a rouge pot. Just a tiny bit of color to her lips helped her remember she was a girl. A girl who had the same desires as every other woman.

As the sun continued its descent, cloaking the street in darkness, she knew it would soon be time to carry out their plan.

“Your weapon’s ready?” Meg asked one last time. She worried about Ruby and hated leaving her alone with the criminal they were chasing.

“Yes,” Ruby said. “And you’ll be there with me?”

“Until you give me the signal.”

“Remind me how much this guy’s worth?”

“Five hundred dollars.” This could be their last bounty if things worked out like Meg planned.

Ruby smiled and walked over to the window. “Papa would be so proud of us.”

Meg shook her head, knowing their Papa would have been furious at the chances they were taking. “Maybe secretly, but he’d tell us we should have taken jobs in town. He’d have been more concerned about our safety than how quickly we were paying off the farm.”

Ruby turned, her mouth twisted with displeasure. “No. I will never become a maid again. Never. This last year has been exciting, and criminals are too stupid to realize a pretty woman is going to pull a gun on them.”

Meg nodded. In the last year, Ruby had changed and matured. She’d gone from a love-crazed girl to being driven to catch as many low-life criminals as they could. She enjoyed the chase, the thrill. “Annabelle said we need six hundred dollars more, and the farm will be mortgage free.”

“Old man Bates will fall out of his chair when you pay off the note.”

Meg smiled. “Annabelle said he wasn’t too friendly when she took in the payment on the note this year. He had plans on repossessing the farm. Too bad.”

“I miss Annabelle,” Ruby said, with a wistful whine in her voice.

“Yeah, me too. But someone had to take care of the farm, and she’s good at the bookkeeping.”

Meg glanced out the window and watched as men entered the saloon, the doors swinging wide. Now was when her nerves had her stomach rolling, her heart racing, and fear choking her throat. What if something happened to Ruby? How could she live with herself?

“The drinking has begun,” Meg said quietly, listening to the music spilling out into the street from the local saloon.

“And will soon end for Simon Trudeau,” Ruby said laughing, her eyes shining with excitement.

There was no fear in her gaze, only excited anticipation. Only reckless adventure. And that worried Meg.

“The horses are saddled and ready to go. Give me your satchel, and I’ll secure it on your horse. I can’t go in with you, or they’ll make the connection between us.” Meg stared at her youngest sister, fear sitting like a pit in the bottom of her stomach. “You’re all set? Your weapons are ready?”

Ruby shrugged. “My knife is in my boot. My gun is in my holster.” She smiled. “And my charm is ready to ensnare this poor bastard.”

Meg was always stunned at how much Ruby enjoyed the chase. They used her as the bait, and then Meg would pull a gun on some poor unlucky bastard, and Ruby would tie him up. Every time before a catch, her blue eyes would sparkle and shine with excitement. She loved being a bounty hunter. She loved catching criminals, and most of all she loved playing her many roles.

They’d done everything from the distraught woman, pregnant wife, and now a saloon girl. Wherever the unlawful resided, they’d lay a trap and ensnare the wanted.

“Where’s your hat?” Ruby asked.

“Right here,” Meg said and picked up her black cowboy hat and pulled it down tight.

But for Meg it was just a job. A means to an end. A way to earn a decent living and pay for the farm. Once they had enough money, she would retire and never chase another criminal. But Ruby loved the chase, the entrapment, and the thrill of turning in the longrider.

Music echoed down the street, and Meg knew it was time. “Are you ready?”

Ruby smiled, her lips painted red, her cheeks tinted with the same color. “Let’s get this done, so we can go home for a while.”

“Let’s go.”

The two walked out of the hotel room together, but once they reached the street, Ruby walked to the saloon alone.

Meg gave her just enough time to get inside, and then she followed. Time to go to work.