The morning Wren’s life had changed forever had been as normal as ever—save for the fact that Bunk McCreedy was banging at the door to her house in the middle of the afternoon.
She sighed when she caught sight of him through the window of the small home she and her brother had lived in for most of their lives. Bunk had never been more of a nuisance, though without her brother there with her, he posed as more of a threat. The big mobster was built like a bull—much more intimidating when standing beside Wren’s slight frame. If Peregrine were with her at the time, he would have at least evened his sister’s stature out a bit.
But with Perry out running errands, Wren had no choice but to face Butch alone. She shoved a knife into the belt at her skirt, out of view where Bunk could not immediately see it. She just hoped she wouldn’t be bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Wren opened the door and leaned against the doorframe. “Mr. McCreedy,” she said, “what a pleasant surprise.”
Bunk sized her up before him before offering a slimy smile. She was used to being looked at like that—she was no desert flower, but for the town of Kill Creek she knew she was a sight for sore eyes. As twins, she and Perry were blessed with favorable genes: Orange hair, clear skin, straight bright smiles. It was how they’d managed to get away with causing as much trouble as they had.
It would hopefully be enough to get Bunk to leave them alone without paying any debts.
“Wren,” Bunk said, his voice gruff. “I come lookin’ for yer brother.”
Wren feigned boredom. She’d suspected he was looking for Perry: Her brother had borrowed money from him not too far back. He must have been late paying him off. It wasn’t exactly surprising for Wren to realize—she’d just wished he’d told her before leaving her alone to deal with Bunk. “I’d fetch him for you, Bunk, but I dunno where he’s run off to.”
He scratched at his face as he thought over what she said. He had a scar running through his left cheek, and his head was completely bald under his hat. His skin was hard, tanned from too much time spent in the sun. His clothes were dusty and mud caked, like everyone else’s in Kill Creek. Wren spotted a pistol at his belt and her stomach tightened at the sight. “Not sure I believe that, Wren.”
She fought the urge to block the doorway as Bunk chanced a look behind her and into their home. It was small, just comfortable enough to accommodate the twins. One large room with a hearth for cooking, a table and two chairs that they’d built themselves, and two small beds.
It didn’t take long for Bunk to realize that there’d be nowhere for Perry to be hiding in the small space behind her. “Say I go into town,” he said, eyeing her once more. “Would I run into Perry?”
Wren was sure he would, but she wasn’t about to admit it. “Like I said,” she told him, “I dunno.”
Bunk braced his beefy hand on the doorway beside her shoulder and leaned in close. He smelled of cigarette smoke and the baking sun against skin. “We can make this easy,” he said. “There don’t need to be any pain on your behalf.”
She fought the urge to pull away from him. She could feel the heat coming from him, and it made her perspire. Still, she steeled herself. Bunk was the type that knew people gave up on other people. Wren would never give up on her brother, though—no matter what he’d done. “Make it as hard or as easy as you want, Bunk,” she told him, her voice hard. “I’ve told you all I’m able to tell you. Now, I’ve got some chores to get back to, if you don’t mind.”
With that, she spun on her heel and closed the door behind her before he could say another word. She knew it was a stupid thing to do—Bunk was the head of a mean gang of men, commonly known as the White Cobras. He could have Wren and Perry killed so fast they’d hardly have time to think twice about dying. She was too sore with her brother to bother worrying about Bunk, though.
The two of them would usually go off and do what needed to be done in order to gain money. They hardly needed to keep each other in on what they were doing and when they were doing it, but if it involved the White Cobras, Wren wanted that information passed between them.
She sighed as her annoyance ebbed. Perry was undoubtedly trying to make sure that they had enough to stay fed for the month. It had been hard growing up with no one but her twin to take care of her, but they’d managed just fine. Wren and Perry had come into the world with nothing but each other, and she was perfectly fine with it being that way. Just as she knew she could rely on him doing what needed to be done to take care of her, she would do the same for him.
Once, a year ago, she and Perry had found themselves starving with no money to buy food. Wren had left the house, refusing to come back until she’d found some way to make the money up. In a stroke of luck, she’d come across a traveler willing to buy her hair. Without thinking twice, she’d let him shear her hair, cutting it bluntly at her chin. It had brushed the base of her back before she’d cut it off. Now it just passed her shoulders.
When she’d come home, Perry had fallen out of his chair laughing at the sight of her. She’d thrown the money on the table and hidden under the blankets on her bed until she could cry no more. It was a small price to pay for food, one she would happily pay again.
The next day, her brother had returned with food and more money, his head clean-shaven.
When her brother returned home, she looked up from the hole she’d been patching in one of his shirts. “Bunk dropped by,” was all she said.
Her brother’s mouth twisted at the words. He was handsome, she knew. Girls followed him around wherever he went, whispering in giddy tones to each other, hoping to get his attention. He was fair skinned and freckled, with a shock of red hair. The resemblance between she and her brother was undeniable, especially considering their eyes.
It was the one thing that made them stand out among the rest even more than they already did. Their left eyes were blue, their right eyes gold. It always gained the two second glances, no doubt to make sure that they were seeing their eye color correctly. Someone had once told them it was a good omen, another had told them it was the sign of a curse. Wren just thought it was one more thing that tied she and her brother together.
“He say why?” Perry asked.
“I was hopin’ you could tell me that.”
Perry smiled wryly. “Took out a small loan. He must be gettin’ hounded by someone he owes money to.”
“Pay it back,” Wren said, going back to her sewing, “before he decides you’ll pay yer debt with blood.”
Her brother chuckled as he seated himself in the chair opposite her. It was a devil-may-care laugh, the same kind that she had when others told her to be careful. She and her brother knew that if they’d been careful, if they’d done what they were supposed to do, they would not be sitting where they were—they’d have died long, long ago, soon after they were abandoned by their good-for-nothing uncle.
“Fixed that hole in the Ditch Lily’s roof today,” Perry said as he took his hat from his head and set it on the table between them. “Wyatt said dinner’s on him this evening.”
Wren rolled her eyes. Bunk’s drop-by was long forgotten to Perry—now he was wholly focused on the fact that Kill Creek’s saloon was offering him a free meal, and surely a complimentary glass of firewater to go along with it. “When’s he want us to drop by?”
“Whenever you get done fixin’ that shirt,” Perry told her with a small smile.
“Mighty kind of him to let me get my work done.”
“He’s just achin’ for me to wear that shirt again.”
Wren tied and snipped the thread she’d been sewing his shirt up with. “You owe me another drink for lyin’ to me, Peregrine. Y'know Wyatt likes you with no shirt at all.”