You always give such practical advice. Oh, how I wish I had that advice now.
I’m so lost.
“Char, why on earth would you let me drink that whole bottle of wine yesterday?”
“I’m your maid, not your mother, Darlin’. You’re a grown woman.” Charlotte tutted.
“Oh. Am I?” Tara grinned over her coffee. “I’d almost forgotten with the way you lecture me.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes as she laced Tara’s corset.
“Your father wants to see you before breakfast. Let’s head down to his office.”
Tara sighed, dramatically rubbing at her temples, “If I’m lucky yesterday’s wine will kill me first.”
“Cuore Mio!” Mr.Cabarro bellowed as Tara entered. He kissed her forehead and waved her into a chair. Charlotte turned to leave them.
“Miss Russo. Please stay. I wish to discuss something with you both.”
“What is it, Daddy?”
He sighed, “Show your father just a little respect, will you?”
She rolled her eyes but kept quiet.
“I have to take a trip into the bayou for a meeting. It seems I’ve overextended myself. I’m supposed to be in Tombstone in a few days, but there’s no way I can manage both. I need you to take care of it.”
“But, Daddy,” Tara whined.
“No.” He cut her off. His tone sharper than Charlotte had ever heard him use with his daughter. “Tara. Whether you like it or not, you’re a Cabarro. That name comes with responsibilities. You’re twenty-three, any boy would’ve started working at sixteen. I’ve been more than patient. You will step up and there will be no further arguments.”
Charlotte glanced over to see Tara nod, her eyes shiny.
“There’s a wagon coming over the border.” He paused as if he just realized Charlotte was still there. “I trust I have your discretion, Miss Russo?”
“Good. So, there is a wagon coming from Mexico. They contain a very special type of guns, that have come a very round-a-bout way from Italy. You need to pick them up and get them home. Simple as that.”
Charlotte eyed him wearily. She knew better than most that these things were almost never simple enough. She knew better than to question him though.
“This is a simple trade and they have already been paid for. If they try anything, kill them.”
“I’ve hired two local sharpshooters to go with you since your regular guards will be accompanying me. They are being paid handsomely and shouldn’t be any trouble. If they are-”
“Kill them,” Tara stated plainly.
“That’s my girl.” He smiled.
“I won’t put Charlotte in danger. She stays here.” Tara spoke as if she wasn’t in the room. She tried not to be offended.
Mr. Cabarro gave Charlotte a wolfish grin, “Oh. Miss Russo can handle herself. A lady doesn’t grow up an orphan in these swamps without learning a trick or two.”
“An orphan?” Tara turned, “I had no idea.”
Flustered, Charlotte waved away her concern, “It was a lifetime ago, Darlin’. Your father is right though. I’m more than capable of looking after myself. I’d like to come if you’d let me.”
“Fine.” Tara quipped, “But if I tell you to leave, you leave. I will not have you hurt on account of us.”
Charlotte stifled her laugh with a cough and nodded.
“If only you knew,” She thought.
“Then it’s settled. Let’s go have breakfast and I’ll fill you both in on the details. You’ll have to be on the road by sundown if you’re to make it on time.”
A few hours later Tara and Charlotte stood in the stables.
“Tanner is a wonderful horse but you’ll need something sturdier for such a long ride.” Tara mused as she looked over the horses. “Why don’t you take Guerra?” She pointed to her father’s Turkoman.
Charlotte guffawed at the golden beast, “I couldn’t take your father’s horse. That’s hardly appropriate.”
“Oh please. He hardly rides him anymore. He’s gotten too comfortable with carriages. Guerra could use the exercise. He’s not as scary as he looks. He’s a lovely animal. Julian is his son.” She pointed to her own horse.
Charlotte walked up to the big horse. He sniffed her curiously before nuzzling her for a treat.
“I suppose they were bred for the desert.”
Tara beamed, “Good.” She nodded to the waiting stablehands, “Saddle up Julian and Guerra and bring them upfront please.”
Tara spun to face two burly men.
“You’re our backup I suppose?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m Rex and this here is Warren.” Warren tipped his hat.
“Excellent. Rex. You can call me Tara and this is Charlotte. We’ll be plenty acquainted by the end of this trip. The formalities are not needed.”
“Yes, Ma’am- Uh. Tara.”
Charlotte nodded at the men.
“Now Charlotte has as much authority over whether or not you get paid as I do. So it’d be in your interest to show her as much respect as you would me. If this pretty thing says jump. You two say?”
“How high?” Rex smiled.
“Good. Load up your horses and guns. We’ll be on the road in ten.”
Charlotte followed Tara into the house in a stupor. She was witnessing a side of Tara she had no idea existed. The timid girl who’d cried in her arms only a couple of days earlier seemed to be well and truly tucked away. For the first time, Charlotte could see, in her, the same thing her father did.
“Alright. Let’s get you loaded up too, Char.” Tara led her into her father’s office. She walked up to the bookshelf behind his desk and pulled a red book forward. Charlotte heard a clicking sound and the bookshelf swung forward revealing a hidden safe. She couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it.
“I know.” Tara handed her a black belt with two holsters attached, “Tacky isn’t it?”
Charlotte laughed again and took a closer look. These were not the scratched up hand me downs she’d left with Kane. These were all polished metals and shiny wood. Tara picked up the Colt she used most often in her training. She then picked up a second, identical Colt. She put them on the desk and added a repeater and shotgun to her collection. She methodically checked and loaded each weapon.
She turned to Charlotte who must have looked as dumbfounded as she felt because Tara reached out to touch her arm, “Just in case, Char.”
“What are you most comfortable with?”
Charlotte stepped into the safe and stared at the arsenal. She turned her back to Tara as a huge grin split her face. She ran a hand down the black barrel of a bolt action rifle, “Yes, please.” She whispered.
Tara watched on curiously as Charlotte swung the rifle over her shoulder along with a pump action.
“Do you have a cattleman?”
Tara pulled a shiny revolver from her father’s desk, “You’re in luck. Daddy like’s them too.”
“We should change.” Charlotte eyed Tara’s impractical corset.
“Oh, God. I completely forgot I was wearing this thing.” She took Charlotte’s hand and dragged her upstairs.
“I packed us a bag this morning. Here are some slacks for you.”
Charlotte took the trousers gladly stripping off her skirt and corset.
The two of them threw a few more things in their bags and headed downstairs. Rex and Warren sat on the front steps chatting quietly.
“Shall we gentlemen?”