Chapter One - Strangers
Izzy opened her eyes, yawned, and stretched. She glanced out the window. The sun had been up for a while now. It surprised her that her mother hadn’t woken her.
She pulled back the coverlet and swung her legs out of bed. Pausing for another stretch, only to hear her mother's voice;
“Izzy, are you up yet? I need you to go to the store.”
Izzy stood up and walked over to the washstand.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” she called back.
She splashed some water on her face. It was cold, but that was good. It would wake her up a bit faster.
Izzy glanced over at the chair. She weighed up her options. Should she wear a dress, or her work pants and shirt?
She grabbed the work pants and shirt. No doubt her mother would complain. She hated it when she went into town, looking more like a boy than a girl.
She quickly tied up her Mousey blonde hair and headed downstairs.
Izzy walked into the kitchen. Her mother looked at her and frowned.
“Izzy, you could at least wear a dress when you’re going into town,” her mother scolded.
Izzy rolled her eyes. “you know I hate wearing them. Besides, it's easier to ride if I’m wearing pants.”
Izzy grabbed an apple out of the fruit bowl and bit into it.
“And I suppose that’s your breakfast?” her mother smirked.
Izzy grinned. Her mother knew her too well. Why waste time eating a proper breakfast when an apple would fill you up just the same?
“What do you need from the store, mama?”
Her mother handed her a list. “You may as well get a bottle of whisky as well. I’d prefer if you stayed home whilst I’m away, and I know you like a little whisky.”
Izzy looked at her mother, a shocked expression on her face.
“Oh, don’t play coy with me, Isabella. I know you drink whisky when you’re out with those boys,” her mother remarked, smiling.
“I just prefer if you stay at home whilst I’m away. There’s been a lot of strangers in town, especially in the saloon, causing trouble.”
Izzy laughed, “so you think it's more dangerous in the saloon with my friends than it is halfway up the side of a mountain, looking for treasure?”
Izzy’s mother walked over and put her arm around her shoulder.
“You know, your daddy would be so proud of you,” she said, with a hint of sadness.
Izzy wiped a stray tear from her blue eyes. She still missed her daddy.
Her mother smiled sadly, “are you ok, honey?”
“Sure,” Izzy replied, “just something in my eye.”
Izzy swallowed the lump that she felt in the back of her throat.
Her mother hugged her. “I know, I sometimes get that in my eye, too.”
Izzy glanced at the box on the kitchen table. “So what are you selling this time”, she asked.
Her mother smiled, “that ruby you found up at Bleak Point, last week”.
Izzy opened the box and looked at the large red stone, remembering the perilous hike up the cliff face. She’d almost lost her footing more than once, but she hadn’t told her mother that.
“How much, you reckon you’ll get for it?” Izzy asked as she closed the box.
Her mother smiled, “oh probably three or four hundred. Depends on what sort of mood he’s in.”
Izzy sighed, “I wish you’d take me with you. I’d like to learn that side of the business, too.”
Her mother frowned, “It’s too dangerous, some of the people I have to deal with, they’d eat you alive. Especially those in Ridgedale.”
Izzy rolled her eyes, frustrated that her mother was going all the way to Ridgedale. It was the nearest city, but it was still a day’s travelling by the railroad, two or three if you rode there.
“I don’t know why you just don’t sell it to Cillian. He’s a lot closer, and probably a lot safer.”
“Because Cillian Murphy is a god-damn crook!” her mother cussed.
Her mother rarely cussed, so perhaps what she was saying was true.
“Anyway, you stick to the maps, and finding the treasure, it's what you’re good at,” her mother added.
Izzy grinned, “Only because daddy was a great teacher.”
Her mother smiled softly. “That he was. Now hurry up, I want you back here, before I head to the station.”
Izzy grabbed her hat and put it on, tucking any loose hairs inside. As she headed out the door, she glanced back at her mother. She worries too much; she thought.
Izzy saddled up her horse. Well, he had been her father's horse, but she thought of him as hers now.
“C’mon, Duke.” she cooed, patting him on the neck, “We have to go to town. If you’re a good boy, I’ll buy you some oatcakes,” she said, reaching into her satchel and pulling out one of her horse's favourite treats.
The horse gently took the treat from Izzy’s hand and whinnied.
She quickly mounted and pushed him into a trot. Heading towards the centre of Oakridge, and the general store.
Jimmy Simmons walked up to the bar in the Oakridge Saloon. He just wanted a quiet drink, for once.
The barkeep eyed him up and down. He recognised him almost instantly.
The dark brown hair that hung down to his shoulders, the rough beard that did nothing to disguise the scars that littered his chin, and piercing blue eyes that had seen more than their share of trouble. He was big too, tall and muscular, which scared the barkeep a little.
He suspected he was an outlaw of some description, but the sheriff was next to useless unless he was hauling harmless drunks to the jailhouse. They were harmless, so weren’t likely to retaliate or put up any resistance, unlike some of the outlaws that frequented these parts.
“We don’t want no trouble today, mister,” he grumbled.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Just gimme a whisky,” he huffed, “and you won’t get none.”
The barkeep passed him a large glass of whisky. It was quiet this morning, so chances were there wouldn’t be any trouble, but he decided to keep half an eye on the stranger, anyway. The last time he had been in here, he’d more or less started a brawl. One of the locals had tossed the stranger through the window, and he ended up having to replace it. The Saloon had steady business coming through, but he didn’t make enough money to keep having to replace the windows!
Jimmy was on his second whisky when a woman approached him at the bar.
“Howdy stranger,” she purred, as she sidled up to him, “fancy buying me a drink?”
Jimmy stared into the glass, hoping that the woman would get the hint. It appeared she wasn’t going to.
“Ain’t interested,” he finally huffed, without looking at her.
“Well, there’s no need to be rude,” she snapped as she walked away, looking for another potential customer.
Jimmy tipped the rest of the whisky down his throat in one shot and headed out of the saloon. It annoyed him slightly that he couldn’t even get a drink without being pestered by some god-damn woman. It wasn’t like the women in the saloon were even his type. Although he was beginning to wonder if he had a type.
Izzy hitched her horse outside the general store. She glanced up and down the main street. She scowled as she saw one of the strangers her mama had warned her about coming out of the Saloon. She recognised him. He was the one that Billy had thrown out the window.
She’d been in the saloon that night, having a drink with some of the stable boys. She wondered if that was why her mama was being a little more cautious than usual.
Anyway, a couple of nights in wouldn’t do her any harm. Especially if her mama was buying her the whisky. She had a new map to decipher, that would keep her busy.
She quickly walked into the store. Best she avoided the stranger. He looked like trouble.
Jimmy stared up the street at the young woman that had been looking at him. He smiled to himself. Now she was definitely his type, except for the scowl on her face. Maybe he would introduce himself and find out why she was scowling at him. He needed a few supplies from the general store, anyway.
Izzy smiled as she walked into the store. “Morning, Mister Foster,” she said cheerfully to the owner. “Mama wants a few supplies,” she added, as she handed him the list.
Seth Foster looked at the list. “I’ll just get these together for you, Izzy. Feel free to have a browse around, and see if there’s anything else you want.”
“Thanks, Mister Foster.”
Izzy wandered around the store, looking to see if he had added any new stock to the shelves. She was disappointed, but not surprised when she found nothing new.
Izzy glanced around as the bell on the door tinkled. Signalling the door opening.
She scowled again, as she recognised the stranger.
Jimmy figured he must have met this woman before. Otherwise, why would she keep scowling at him?
“Mornin’ ma’am,” he greeted her.
Izzy turned her head, completely ignoring him. I bet he’s trouble with a capital T, she thought, as she pretended to be looking at the shelves.
Jimmy was sure that if he’d met her before, he would have remembered. She was just his type. Pretty blue eyes, blonde, and a little feisty. Plus, he could see all her curves through the pants she was wearing. Apart from the fact, someone needed to teach her a few manners.
“I said, Good Morning ma’am” Jimmy repeated, raising his voice slightly.
The store owner looked across. Slightly worried that there might be trouble.
Izzy turned around and walked past him, purposely knocking his arm.
“Is my order ready, Mister Foster?” she asked, curtly.
Seth Foster nodded and handed her the supplies. “Would you like me to put this on your mother's account, Miss Pickett?”
Izzy nodded, “thank you,” she replied, as she headed to the door.
As she approached the door, Jimmy opened it, and smiled, “ma’am.”
Izzy stopped at the door, scowled at him, and left the shop.
Jimmy closed the door and laughed. He turned to the store owner. “Is she always like that?”
The store owner frowned. “I’m guessing you don’t know who that is,” he concluded.
“I thought everyone knew. That’s Isabella Pickett,” Seth Foster hesitated, waiting for a response. When he got none, he continued. “Harvey Pickett’s daughter, the famous treasure hunter.”
Jimmy raised his eyebrows. The name rang a bell somewhere, but he shrugged it off. He tipped his hat to the storekeeper and walked out of the store.
Izzy had just finished packing the supplies into her saddlebags as Jimmy walked out of the store.
She had mounted her horse when she heard her name.
She turned to look as Jimmy approached her horse.
“Did your father never teach you? It's rude to ignore people that are being civil?”
Izzy glared at him. “Yes,” she hissed, “and he also taught me to avoid troublemakers!”
Izzy was about to kick on her horse when she realised that the stranger had grabbed hold of the reins.
“Who the hell do you think you are, unhand my horse!” Izzy snarled.
Jimmy narrowed his eyes. If she’d known who he was, she would have been a bit more respectful, he was sure.
“My name’s Jimmy Simmons, and I really think someone ought to teach you some manners.”
“Well, Mister Simmons. I suggest that you remove your hand from my horse before I call the sheriff. I’ve seen the sort of trouble you cause, so I suggest you leave while you still can!” Izzy snapped.
Jimmy let go of the horse's reins and took a step back. He raised his hands in mock surrender.
“Until we meet again, Miss Pickett,” he smirked.
Izzy huffed and rode off. Not even looking behind her.
If she had, she would have realised that Jimmy had already mounted his horse and was following her.