03 – Agua Luna (Annie)

The rest of the train ride is uneventful. I make George take me with him by not remaining in the cabin and following him every time he leaves. Much to his dismay he does not get to spend the entire train ride drinking and gambling in the car adjacent to the dining car.

He learns the hard way that I have no issue with sitting down at the table and gambling his money away. I also learn that I absolutely hate the taste of alcohol. That vile liquid has to be from the devil himself.

I can barely contain my excitement as the train comes rolling into our final stop, Agua Luna. It is currently the end of the tracks as they work out a way to continue through the mountains from here. George is amused and irritated with me as I rush him out of the cabin.

In my enthusiasm to get onto the platform, I misstep on the iron stairs and am sent toppling down them right into the arms of a man waiting at the bottom. He is taller than any man I have ever met, with piercing blue eyes, copper stubble that reminds me of fire, and he stinks to high heaven. My face scrunches in disgust at the mix of sweat and horses, causing my delicate senses to be overloaded.

“Easy, there, Missy.” His hands are on my waist and my heart flutters with how smooth and gruff his voice sounds at the same time. In the seconds it takes for me process the man holding me upright he gently shifts and sets me on my feet next to him on the platform.

“Do not doddle, sister,” George’s irritating voice cuts through the fog of me staring at the man paying me no attention to me.

Now that I am not falling to my demise, I can take in his ensemble. Dark clothes, dirty from travel, a pistol at his hip, and a dark hat shadowing most of his face. I swallow hard, as I realize he is likely one of the many ruffians George has been warning me about.

I scurry to catch up with my brother as he strolls down the single street of Agua Luna. The sun is high in the sky. It’s moments like these I wish women did not have to wear so many layers. My fan is moving double time in my hand. I regret having to fan at all as the smell of this town is far more pungent than anything in New York. It’s like everyone here decided to roll in manure as a method of bathing.

George stomps his way to the largest building at the end of the street. On the first floor is a large open dining room with a desk off to the side. The few patrons inside are better dressed and smell much nicer. After a brief discussion with the clerk behind the desk, George takes me by the elbow and guides me upstairs.

“Why are you being so rough with me?” I complain when he lets go only to unlock the door.

“Aside from the fact you have spent the last several days making my life hell? I will tell you, dear sister.” He whirls around to face me and jabs a finger in my face. “I step off the train to see you making doe eyes to some gunslinger.”

“Georgie,” my lip quivers. He has never been this cross with me before. “I fell down the steps, and he caught me. What is going on? Why are you so interested in guaranteeing I will marry Edward?” I wipe the sweat off my brow with my sleeve and take a deep breath to keep from blubbering in front of him. He is being unreasonable and directing all his anger towards me.

He does not answer me right away. Instead, he takes me by the forearm and pulls me into our room, slamming the door shut behind us.

I jerk my arm free and cross my arms, expecting him to turn and resume yelling at me.

“I am sorry, Annette. You are right, I have been a lousy brother,” his tone softens.

“You still have not told me why.” Now I am cross and want to continue adding to his misery.

“The mine is in trouble. Joining our families will help solidify the partnership father is seeking to make. Edward suggested the union to father months ago, and they have been waiting for the right time to…”

“To tell me.” I droop. My ego takes the bruising hit as George explains that my marriage is not for love, but for business. Would Edward even like me? Would he be kind, or cruel? While I thought he was only a nice gentleman, being friendly to me, the truth is he was planning on claiming me like cattle. It makes my blood boil the more I think about it.

“Now, you listen,” George’s tone grows firm again. “I see that hurricane you are brewing in your head. You promised,” he waggles a finger at me. “Edward’s a fine choice for a young lady. He has power, influence, and money. You will be taken care of Annette, and safe.”

“I DON’T WANT TO BE SAFE!” I roar at my brother. Something wild screams from within my mind and I feel the ache to run in my bones. I pant in anger, unable to draw a sensible breath. My fists clenching and unclenching.

George’s eyes narrow, and he stalks forward, closing the distance between us. “This, right here,” he motions at my angry state, “is why father delayed telling you. He placated Edward and bought you some time to give you the ability to come to grips with his decision. You would not want to disappoint father would you?”

I suck in air through my teeth to keep from screaming at him again. The answer is no, I would not want to disappoint our father. I love my father and he always given me whatever I wanted. “No,” I mutter as my anger deflates and George looks so smug in winning this fight.

“Good. I have arranged for your meals to be brought to the room. Do not leave this room, Annette. I will be back in three days.”

“You cannot leave me here, George! I can take my meals downstairs.”

“No. That is the final word. Agua Luna is a dangerous place, Annette. I will not have some prospecting fool catch wind of your presence and trying to use you for leverage.”

“Who is the dramatic one now? Honestly, do you really think that highly of yourself? That someone would kidnap me to get to you?”

“Not to me, to father. What better way to bring a man to his knees than to threaten his only daughter. Annette, men have gone missing from this mine. I am here to solve that mystery. Two miners have been discovered dead. I will not add you getting kidnapped to the list.”

Guilt fills me at how selfish I have been about this entire adventure. George did not want me here at all, and now I know why. All I can think is he must really love Sally and is taking this time to find a way to convince our father to let him marry far below our station. “I won’t leave the room,” I grumble and sulk. A knock at the door interrupts any further conversation as the men from the train have arrived with our luggage.

The two young men grunt from the efforts of bringing my six trunks into the room. Their brows are covered in sweat and I can only imagine how much work it must have been to carry all that up the stairs. The younger of the two stops when he sees me and then smiles brightly. His teeth are rotted, and he’s dirty. I smile back and blush, trying not to stare at the rotten teeth in his mouth.

George clears his throat and the two men turn from me to face him, then scurry out of the room.

“I will be back in three days, Annette. Please stay in this room. I promise, as soon as I return, I will show you the rest of the town. I will even take you over to the saloon.”

“I promise!” This time I mean it.

George comes close again and kisses my forehead. “This town will not know what hit them when you get unleashed.” He chuckles, hands me the key, and then departs.

I kept my promise for the three days he said he would be gone. On the fourth day, I venture out of my room three times. Once to use the tub in the single room downstairs. This building does not have the luxury of a tub in every room, and I needed to bathe desperately. The second time to ask the clerk at the desk if they had heard from my brother and to inform them I would be dining downstairs for the rest of my stay. The clerk seemed relieved at the change in request. Leaving the third time I break my word is to have dinner. When nothing terrible happens, I decide to extend my adventure tomorrow if Georgie has not returned.

I wait until well after midday before I make my way out of the inn and onto the wooded slat walkway of Agua Luna’s street. My destination is in sight, the jail. I will recruit the law to track down my wayward brother.