Ellie Patterson ran until her lungs were burning and her legs turned to jelly. Still, she ran on, sucking in air like some strange machine that needed more than its machinery could supply.
Down the hill from the camp, where the colorful lights and the large white tip of the tent broke above the line of trees, through the streets of the little mining town, a proud, if sun-faded board drew the people of Penance right to the line of stores.
More especially, right to the butchery and the general store where her quarry’s noses had drawn them.
People scattered; some cried out in alarm to see a large group of dogs, twelve to be exact, hurtling along the streets, sniffing everything, picking something up in their jaws only to give it a bite or two before dropping it. Mothers picked their children up and tried to run away, men cried out, some adventurous types even diving in to try and corral the wild pack, but to no avail. The dogs were too quick and far too smart.
“Come…on…you…lot,” Ellie panted when she finally caught up to them.
“Are these your dogs?” an outraged woman asked, her hair escaping her bun, her cheeks flushed red in anger. “They should be on leads.”
“Not…mine…” Ellie said, still unable to catch her breath. When last had she been forced to run like this? She couldn’t even remember. Instead of speaking more, it was easier to point to Lucy, an older woman from the group of Carnival performers that Ellie traveled with. The older lady, her graying hair flying out behind her as she trotted, her knees not allowing more vigorous exercise, came down to meet them.
“Stop!” she bellowed, clearly having enough air in her lungs. “Bobo! Portland! Stop that this instant!”
Bobo was a shepherd cross with something large, and Portland was a malamute pup not yet much more than a year old. He was big nonetheless, and he loved to run. At the sound of their mistress’s voice, the dogs wagged their tails, but that was it. They ignored her as they slathered all over the butcher’s front window. The man had had the presence of mind to close his door before the dogs got in.
“Oh, Ellie, help me round them up,” Lucy said. “I think Trixie, Coco, and Weatherly are in the general store, and heaven alone knows what they’re getting up to.”
Ellie nodded. Clutching a stitch in her side, she hobbled up the steps to the general store. The local people watched her with round, cautious eyes. This was not the kind of introduction that the Adrastos Carnival usually wanted.
How the dogs had gotten loose, she didn’t know. One moment, she and Lucy had been setting up the tents, the dogs happily milling around them, and the next, they were off. It must have been something on the air.
The general store clerk peered at Ellie over his large counter with a pinched look on his face.
“Are you responsible for the mutts in my store?” he asked. His voice was a growl that many of the dogs would envy.
“Yes, sir, but only in that they belong to my friend,” Ellie said. She tried a smile, but it withered in the presence of the man’s stern look. Behind him, two women hid, the counter between them and the dogs.
Ellie didn’t know what everyone was so afraid of. Surely, they had dogs here too. And these were such loving little souls. She couldn’t imagine them causing trouble. Except that they were sniffing the shelves that contained candles, sacking, and a few other odds and ends.
“Come on, you lot,” she said to the dogs. They looked up at the sound of her voice and, with wagging tails, left the general store. It helped that Lucy chose that moment to do her signature call for the dogs.
“Pup-Pup-Pup,” she called in a high-pitched voice, one step, it felt, from shattering glass. “Come to Mama!”
Trixie and Weatherly instantly obeyed. They were older, smaller dogs of the terrier variety. Coco, a strange mix of terrier and something gangly, waited a moment before stalking out on her long, spindly legs.
“Sorry for the bother,” Ellie said as she, too, left the store.
As the door closed behind her, helped by the clerk, she heard someone say, “Honestly, what a mess! And they only just arrived.”
Of the twelve escaped dogs, Lucy had Bobo, Portland, Trixie, Coco, and Weatherly on leads now. There were seven more to find.
A scream erupted from the store next in line with the general store, and Ellie turned to find Sasha, the husky crossed with another shepherd, running out of the store with her tail between her legs and her ears flat. A loud crashing sound came from within, and there were more screams.
A smoked glass bottle, one that a tincture would be sold in, rolled out of the doorway to fall from the end of the porch to the dusty ground.
Ellie walked cautiously to the store, tucking some errant strands of her brown hair behind her ears. Peering in through the doorway, she saw Oscar and Blondie were cornered by two large men. A third, with covers over his sleeves and an apron on, was hovering just behind them.
The two dogs were mutts of the first order, being so interbred that no one breed stood out. Oscar was a black and tan dog of around four years, and Blondie’s coat was a luxurious copper-gold color that shone in the sunlight.
Now, her coat was dull in the confines of the apothecary store, where there was little sunlight to begin with.
What had drawn the dogs to this store, Ellie couldn’t say. The place smelled astringent, musky, and sweet all at once. With all the herbs drying tied to the rafters, the bottles of medicines lined up on shelves behind the counter, and the drawers of dried herbs that would be sold as teas or, more accurately, as tisanes, what had lured the dogs to come in here baffled Ellie. But now they were stuck.
From a pile of wood and broken and whole glass bottles on the one side of the room, it was clear that a display of some sort had been knocked over.
“Hello?” Ellie called. “I’m just here to get the dogs. I’m sorry for the mess.” Her foot kicked a bottle, and it clinked against the wall.
“Come and get them. They’re back here,” the man in the apron said. He sounded annoyed.
Ellie moved into the room. “Hey, don’t stand like that over them!” she said to the large men. “You’re scaring them.”
“They scared everyone, coming running in like that,” the one big man said.
“Still not a reason to hover over them like you are,” Ellie said. “Step back.”
The man waited for the man in the apron to nod before they moved.
Ellie went down on her haunches and held out her hands to the dogs. “Blondie, Oscar, come with me.” The dogs took tentative steps forward, their ears down, their tails between their legs.
With gentle hands, Ellie soothed their fur, stroking them lovingly. She spent a lot of time with the dogs and Lucy. Despite being too much older, Ellie liked Lucy a lot. She was like the mother Ellie had always wished she’d had. She was kind, gentle, generous, and had a wonderful sense of humor. In many ways, she felt more at home with Lucy and her many dogs than she did with anyone else. Well, almost anyone. Uncle Pierce was a close second.
Getting her fingers through their collars, Ellie led the dogs out of the store. As she went, people emerged from their hiding places. It was amazing how many they had found in the store. She passed a red-headed woman who seemed to melt out of the shadows into existence and offered the woman a half-hearted smile. The woman looked down her nose at Ellie.
Outside, Ellie handed the dogs off to Lucy. They were all accounted for, the last few having been found milling around the back of the butchery, looking for things in the trash cans.
“I’ll take them back up,” Lucy said, indicating the rise she and Ellie had run down to the store. The tent was up now, its roof visible above the tree line that seemed to demarcate the end of the town.
“Okay,” Ellie said, smiling to Lucy. “I’ll stay and help these good folks to clean up.”
She went to the apothecary and offered to help. She picked up the bottle that had rolled off the porch into the dirt and handed it back to the man.
“We’re really sorry about this,” she said.
“Well, sorry won’t pay for the belladonna I can’t sell any longer,” the man said a little petulantly. “What were those dogs doing running wild anyway?”
“They’re usually perfectly well-behaved,” Ellie said. “We’ve never had this happen before. Lucy trains them well. They must have smelled something.” She gave a shrug while holding out the bottle to the man.
He took it, eyeing her. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“It’s Ellie,” she said. “Ellie Patterson.”
“You want to help?” he asked.
“Fine, start with the display,” he said.
The red-headed woman stepped forward. “I’ll help, too,” she said. “I think I was the one to knock the stand over anyway when those mongrels came flying in.”
Ellie ignored her comment and went to pick up the bottles of tincture that were still whole. They had a label on them that was called Good Night Drops. Ellie inspected a bottle as she picked it up to put it on the counter.
For the best sleep. Five drops in your evening cup of tea.
“Does this work?” she asked.
Sometimes Uncle Pierce would struggle to get to sleep. It was all the concerns of running the carnival, which was not an easy job.
The apothecary regarded her with a look of mild irritation. “Of course, it does,” he said. “I wouldn’t sell it otherwise.”
“Precisely,” the red-headed woman said, picking up a bottle and placing it on the counter. “Mr. Preston’s tinctures always work.” She bent and picked up another bottle. Only she didn’t pick it up. She rolled it to another bottle, and one of them disappeared into a pocket of her dress.
Ellie was impressed. It was the fastest sleight of hand she had seen apart from Uncle Pierce’s magic tricks.
For a moment, she considered telling Mr. Preston what she had seen but decided against it. The man was clearly impressed with this woman. He might even have romantic designs on her for all, Ellie knew. He would never believe Ellie over this woman.
She looked away and picked up another bottle.
A couple of minutes later, Ellie, Mr. Preston, and the woman with the red hair finished picking up the bottles.
“Well, I must be off,” the woman said. She flashed a brilliant white and rather pretty smile at Mr. Preston.
“Don’t forget your tea, Mrs. Harper,” Mr. Preston said, his voice sounding a little breathless. He reached onto the counter and handed her a brown paper package.
She took it, their hands touching for a moment, and she graced him with another smile. The apothecary looked quite lovestruck.
Ellie had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. This woman reminded Ellie of her mother. Some women couldn’t seem to find their way through the world without relying on what her mother had called feminine charms. Ellie had never done anything like that, and she vowed she never would.
Mr. Preston cleared his throat as the woman left and promptly handed Ellie a dustpan and broom. “Since you’re being helpful,” he said. “Those broken bottles will need paying for.”
“But Mrs. Harper said she knocked the stand over,” Ellie said.
“Only because your dogs scared her,” Mr. Preston said. “She would never have done such a thing if she hadn’t been scared out of her wits.”
Ellie doubted that. If Mrs. Harper was in the habit of stealing, there might be a whole host of things she would do besides that.
The sound of boots pounding on the wooden porch rang through the store, and a moment later, Ellie looked up from her position on her knees sweeping at Uncle Pierce.
He was a tall man, slender, with dark blonde hair. He was in just his shirt sleeves and looked flustered.
“Ellie, what are you doing on the floor?” he asked. “Lucy just told me what happened. Is everyone all right? Was anyone hurt?”
Getting to her feet, the dustpan full of broken glass, Ellie opened her mouth to speak.
“I am Mr. Preston,” the apothecary said. “I am the owner of this store, and who are you, sir?”
“I am Pierce Anderson, the manager and resident magician of the Adrastos Carnival and—”
“Oh, so you’re the one who is responsible for the mess,” Mr. Preston said.
“It would seem so,” Uncle Pierce said. “The dogs knocked this over?” He pointed to the mess that Ellie was still helping to clean up.
“They did indeed,” Mr. Preston said.
“Actually, this other lady—” Ellie began, but Mr. Preston cut her off.
“The accident happened because of the dogs. Everyone was petrified. My customers seem to all have vanished now. Heaven knows what this has done to my business.”
“Probably not much,” Ellie said, “You are the only apothecary in town. I can’t imagine one incident will have such a huge impact.”
Mr. Preston glared at her.
“Ellie, my dear,” Uncle Pierce said, smiling at her. “Why don’t you take that full dustpan around the back of the store? I’ll bet there is a trash can out there just waiting for you to dump it in there.”
“But, Uncle Pierce,” Ellie said. She was afraid that this apothecary was getting ready to cheat Uncle Pierce, a man who had gone out of his way to make Ellie feel welcome and safe, pay through the nose for something that wasn’t his fault.
“Go on,” he said. The slight rise of his right eyebrow was enough. Ellie knew it meant he was working his other kind of magic, and she shouldn’t worry.
She raised her own right eyebrow to indicate that she understood, and without another word, she left the store.
It had been a strange thing to learn, the language of body signals that the carnival folks used to talk to each other. They used certain words that would mean different things depending on the troupe you were with. For example, in the Adrastos crew, referring to a woman as a Bird meant that she was an easy mark for Madam Rosa, their resident psychic and crystal ball reader. Two fingers held up meant to keep an eye on this one, pickpockets being common among audience goers, and the troupe disliked having them around. A slight incline of the head was a query if everything was all right. And so on.
Uncle Pierce’s eyebrow raise, meant that he was going to charm the apothecary. He could charm almost anyone, being able to read people as though they were open books. Ellie was still learning his secrets as to how he did it. He was amazing. After a couple of sentences with a person, Pierce usually had a way in with them, and he would use it to soothe heated tempers, smooth over misunderstandings, and generally make the carnival’s way in the world a lot less eventful.
There were trash cans around the back of the store. Ellie dumped the glass into one and then walked back to the store.
There were two more people in it. She stopped in the doorway, surprised for only a moment, before moving to stand beside Uncle Pierce.
He smiled at her.
“Sheriff Elvis Watson, this is my niece, Ellie Patterson,” Uncle Pierce said. They weren’t really family, but she had been with him since she was seventeen, so five years now, and saying they were related made things easier. It smoothed over a lot of questions.
The sheriff, a burly man with a bald head and a cigarillo hanging from his lips, regarded her and nodded in her direction. Beside him stood a much younger man. He wore the badge of a deputy and a nervous smile.
“Oh, yes, this is my deputy, Conner Forbes,” Sheriff Watson said, with a jerk of a hand at the young man.
The deputy held out a hand to Ellie. She regarded it and then shook it. She looked up into eyes the color of the sky under a fringe of blonde hair pressed down by his hat. Her heart gave a jerk in her chest, and she pulled her hand back quickly with a brief smile. He was handsome. There was no denying that.
“Well, as you can see, Sheriff Watson,” Mr. Preston said. “Everything has been sorted out. Mr. Anderson here has kindly covered the cost of my damages, no one was hurt, and I think it’s safe to say that everything is fine now. Thank you for stopping by when everything was already over.”
Perhaps the sheriff didn’t notice the sarcasm in Mr. Preston’s voice, but Ellie did. She smiled and then licked her lips and dropped her chin to her chest to hide it.
The deputy dropped his gaze as well, a brief grin on his face too. That let him rise by several points in Ellie’s estimation.
She and Uncle Pierce left the apothecary store a few moments later, with the sheriff and Mr. Preston still talking.
“How much did he charge you?” Ellie asked as they headed up to the campsite.
“Not that much,” Uncle Preston said. He made a coin appear out of her ear and handed it to her. Ellie chuckled.
“Did you see her eyes?” Conner asked as he and the sheriff left the apothecary store. “They were such a light green they were almost grey.”
“Her eyes? Honestly, boy, how do you hope to amount to anything as a lawman if you’re going to let every pretty smile turn your head?” Sheriff Watson asked, shaking his bald head. “Didn’t you see how that manager of theirs, that Anderson, smooth-talked Mr. Preston?”
Conner shrugged, his eyes drawn to watching Miss Patterson and her uncle walking along the road that led up to the open field where all the town picnics and events were held. It was a large open space just beyond the little forest of trees. He liked it up there. Maybe he would go to the carnival later when it was set up and watch the show.
“Are you daydreaming?” Sheriff Watson asked.
“No, sir,” Conner said. “I was just—”
“You were, no sense in denying it,” his boss said, laying a hand on his arm and turning Conner to face him. “I understand. You’re a young man, and it’s not every day we get new folks in town. Just remember, in a couple of weeks, she’ll be gone. That’s how things are with those folks. They’re never in one place for long. And you’re a good, solid young man. You’ll make an excellent husband to one of the fine young women in this town.”
This was not the first time that Sheriff Watson had pressed this point on him. Conner knew that most folks in the mining town of Penance wanted to see him settle down with a wife and have some children. The thing was, he wasn’t quite ready for such things yet. Heavens, he was only twenty-seven. He still had a lifetime ahead of him. No sense in settling down too soon.
“Conner,” a voice called.
Conner turned to find his mother standing in the doorway of the general store. She worked there, doing their books and stocking their shelves. Conner’s older brother Chad also worked there, stocking shelves, and carting goods from the nearby town of Bisbee, where the railway stopped. Sometimes he had to go as far as Tucson to pick goods up.
“Hello, Mother,” Conner said, smiling at his mother.
Sheriff Watson dipped his head to her. “Ma’am.”
“Would you mind awfully, Sheriff, if I had a word with my son?” Conner’s mother asked.
“It’s not a problem, Mrs. Forbes,” the sheriff said. “I’ll be back at the station.” He walked on up the street, his hands on his gun belt.
Conner’s mother waited for the sheriff to get a way down the street before she spoke. She was a tall woman of what his father called a healthy build. He said it gave her curves, but since she was Conner’s mother, he didn’t know about that. He knew she gave the best hugs and made the most delicious food, which was probably why he hadn’t moved out of the house yet. His own cooking never held a candle to hers.
“Is something wrong?” Conner asked.
His mother shook her head. “I just wanted to find out how bad things were for those poor carnival folks,” she said, wiping her hands on her white apron. “I’m sure they didn’t mean to have their dogs get out.”
“It was an accident, and the manager has promised Sheriff Watson to keep them in the camp,” Conner said. “He seemed a good sort. I think he will do what he can. Maybe you all had better be on the lookout, though.”
“And that young woman who came running up here,” his mother continued, ignoring his suggestion as she so often did. “You get a look at her? She is about the right age for you. I’d guess in her early twenties, maybe a little younger. She was mighty pretty.”
“Mother!” Conner chided her, shaking his head. “She works in a carnival. Hardly the staying in town type.”
His mother shrugged. “Maybe you could charm her into staying or go into show business yourself. You’re a good enough shot to do trick shots for them. I’ll bet they don’t have anyone as good with a gun as you are. Heaven knows where that talent came from.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Conner asked playfully.
“You bet,” his mother said. “Having someone else feed you and do your laundry would be great.”
“I do my own laundry,” Conner protested.
“Uh huh,” his mother said with a sigh. “So, how does it end up in the cauldron with mine and your father’s?”
Conner shrugged. He did it on purpose, of course, putting his things in with his folks’ clothes so that his mother would end up washing his clothes. It was sneaky, but she seemed to expect it, and he hated to let her down.
His mother fiddled with his shirt collar and wiped a speck of something off his shoulder.
“Well, go on. Go make Penance safe. I’ll see you for dinner. Don’t be late,” she said.
“I want to go to the carnival later,” Conner said. “You and Dad want to come?”
His mother grinned. “Why not? Let’s go. If they get themselves set up in time. I get the feeling the first show will be tomorrow.”
To Conner’s amazement, his mother was right. Despite taking a walk up to the campsite after dinner, as many of the residents of Penance did, the carnival did not open its doors, or tent flaps, the next day.
He and Sheriff Watson spent a good portion of the day walking up to and around the campsite where the carnival folks were working hard. They had set up a rope barrier around the tent town they had erected to keep people out. A board, stuck in the ground, claimed that this was their home, and they would appreciate it if the public would please stay in the other parts of the carnival, as the performers needed their privacy.
As they walked around, they noticed that most of Penance’s children had made the journey up the rise to the open field. They sat on the clumps of tangle-head grasses watching the men set up the carousel. It was a lot of work, taking all the parts and putting them together, and Conner would gladly have stayed and watched, too, if the sheriff hadn’t gotten bored and wanted to move on.
“Why do you want to watch all that?” Sheriff Watson asked, shaking his head. “It’s nothing but machinery.”
“That is true, sir,” Conner said. “But you know my family likes to build things of a mechanical nature, especially my brother, Chad, and my mother. They would really love to see the inner workings of this machine. I’m certain of it.”
Sheriff Watson nodded. “Well, we have work to do.”
They continued around, walking past the acacias that grew close to the creek that flowed by the edge of the field. Between them and the mesquite, the area was shielded from the view of the town. They found more children talking to and petting the dogs. Despite their wild run through town the day before, the dogs were calm and quiet now, allowing the children to scratch their ears and their bellies.
Contained in a roped-off area, the dogs looked quite at home with their tongues lolling out. Just outside the enclosure was the lady who owned them.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” Sheriff Watson said, slipping his hat from his head. There was a dark sweat stain on the inside of the hat. It was already getting very hot, and it had just gone on noon.
She nodded a greeting. She was standing in front of a bucket of water, a bar of soap beside her, and she was scrubbing something. Looking to where laundry of a sort flapped in the breeze on a line strung between two tents, Conner wondered what small people would be wearing them. The little skirts and tops were too small for anyone but a baby to wear.
“Is there a problem, Sheriff?” the woman asked. “As you can see, my dogs are all fenced in, not that the poor little souls deserve such treatment.” She pursed her lips in annoyance. “They’re not bothering anyone.”
“I see that, ma’am,” Sheriff Watson said. He looked around as though he had completely forgotten what he had planned to say.
“Fine then,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another four costumes to wash, and they’re the bigger ones. We can’t perform tonight without them being clean.” She tutted as she lifted another costume that had something that looked like bat wings in bright pink attached to it.
“Those are for the dogs,” Conner said, as he finally realized who would be wearing them. “The dogs perform?”
“Slow, aren’t you?” she said with a sigh. “Oh well, at least you’re handsome, even if you aren’t very bright.” She turned her back on them and went back to doing her laundry.
“Don’t mind Lucy,” another voice said behind them. “She’s out of sorts because of her dogs misbehaving yesterday. She’s as mad with them as with anyone.”
Lucy snorted but didn’t turn around.
Conner turned to see the woman from the day before there. She was dressed in a simple blouse and a pair of men’s trousers. She smiled at them, and Conner swallowed hard. She was very pretty.
A bucket hung from her hand.
“Are you off to fetch water?” Conner asked.
She chuckled. “Can’t think why I would have an empty bucket if not,” she said.
Conner cleared his throat and endured a harsh look from the sheriff.
“We won’t hold you up,” the sheriff said.
“I could help,” Conner said at the same time.
Sheriff Watson sighed. “If the lady will have you. I suppose it’s the neighborly thing to do.”
Conner smiled and, a moment later, he had a bucket thrust into each hand and was following Ellie, he recalled her name was, down to the creek.
“What’s all the water for?” he asked.
“My act,” she said.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“Now that would be telling,” she said. “You’ll come to the show this evening.”
He nodded. “I guess I will.”
Her smile made him think that she was genuinely happy that he would come to the show. For a moment, he wondered why that would be, and then he realized it would mean more money for her. Of course, this was her job, like his was to keep the peace.
They walked down the rise to the creek. It was a swiftly flowing, clear creek that Conner had spent many a sunny summer afternoon fishing and swimming in when he was a kid. He smiled at the memory.
“Have you lived here long?” Ellie asked.
Conner blinked the memory of sun-warmed skin and cool water from his mind. “Ah yeah,” he said with a nod as he bent to put the bucket in the water. “All twenty-seven years of it. And you? Have you been with the carnival all your life?”
She looked thoughtful before answering. “Some might say that my whole life has been a circus,” she said.
That wasn’t a proper answer. Conner filled one and then the other bucket and watched her fill hers.
“What is all this water for?” he asked.
Ellie’s bucket was full, and she stood up, picking it up. “You’re determined to ruin the surprise, aren’t you?”
“No, just terribly curious,” he said.
“You know what curiosity did, right?” she asked.
“It killed the cat?” he asked as, buckets in hand, they made their way back up to the camp.
She nodded. “Poor thing.”
Back at the camp, Ellie thanked him for his help and disappeared behind a curtain of blankets that had been set up outside one of the tents.
Sheriff Watson had evidently been talking to Mr. Anderson again and looked keen to leave. He motioned for Conner to hurry up. Conner nodded and turned to the blanket. The sound of water being poured into something big filled the air.
“Well, I’ve got to go and keep the peace,” Conner said. “I’ll see you later.”
“That you will,” she said from behind the blankets.
Conner really wanted to twitch them aside and look in, but he didn’t dare. She had made it clear that was not in the cards.
He couldn’t stop smiling as he walked to his boss, and together, they went back to town.
“Stop it,” Sheriff Watson chided him. “You look like a buffoon.”
“Sorry,” Conner said.
“Did you find out anything interesting about them, the carnival folks?” Sheriff Watson asked.
“Was I supposed to?” Conner asked. “I thought I was just helping her carry water.”
The sheriff sighed and rubbed a hand over his bald head. “Conner, how on God’s beautiful earth am I to get you to be a proper sheriff one day, if you don’t seize opportunities that come your way? Obviously, I said you could help her so that you could learn more about these people who the mayor allowed into our town.”
“What does Mayor Featherstone have to do with this?” Conner asked.
“He’s the one that invited them,” Sheriff Watson said. “Didn’t you know? Did you think they suddenly found Penance by accident? These folks usually go on to Bisbee and Tucson, but he sent them a telegram and invited them here.”
“How?” Conner asked.
“I don’t know, maybe he sent it to a town they passed through. Anyway, he sat me down the other day and told me they were coming,” the sheriff said. “He said it’s all part of his reelection campaign. Poor old man doesn’t realize that he’s out, and Chester Harper is most likely going to be the new mayor.” He sighed. “Well, let’s get a patrol in. I want us both to go to the carnival tonight and make sure that things are above board there. Don’t want our good folks being pickpocketed.”
“Yes, sir,” Conner said. He had wanted to watch the show as an audience member, not as a deputy sheriff keeping an eye out for criminals. Still, it was better than missing the show entirely.
They fetched their horses from the station stable and rode out to the surrounding farms. There weren’t many in the area, since it wasn’t great farming country. Too dry. But they managed to make enough to keep everyone in town alive, and that was great. They rode out to the mine as well.
It was a copper and silver mine and doing well. The miners lived in town, and things were generally peaceful enough.
They finished their patrol with nothing to report. Conner went home to change his shirt since the one he was wearing was soaked in sweat from the heat of the day, and they were to meet at the carnival later.
Conner ate dinner with his folks, younger sister Louise, and his older brother. Chad was back from his trip to Bisbee. He was stepping out with Delilah Jameson, whose father was a supervisor at the mine. She would be going to the carnival with them.
“And she’s bringing her cousin from Phoenix,” Chad said and wiggled his eyebrows.
Where Conner and Louise were blonde like their father, Chad was dark-haired like their mother, but the boys shared the same blue eyes and facial features. Now that they were both adults, they looked more alike than ever. Louise was blonde with brown eyes and every bit as pretty as their mother was.
Conner shrugged. “Okay, that’s nice for the cousin, I guess.”
“She’s bringing her with us for you,” Chad said pointedly.
“I’m fine,” Conner said. “Thanks. I don’t need to be set up with—”
“Really?” Louise asked as she cut her meat into smaller bites. “You don’t think you need help in the romance department?”
“I hate to agree with Lou, but you do need help,” Chad said, grinning. “Come on. Let’s make Mother and Father proud and give them grandchildren before they’re too old to enjoy them. That means you too, little sis.”
Louise glared at Chad. “I’m doing fine in that regard, thank you. Austin Peters should be asking me to step out with him any day now. He’s been making steady advances for a month.”
“Wow,” Chad said. “Give Conner some tips, Lou. How did you do it?”
“Hey! Leave Conner alone,” their father said. “He’ll get around to finding a wife when he’s ready.”
Conner nodded. He would. Although all he could think about was Ellie and wondering what her act was.
He wolfed down his chicken and rice, and leaving his family to follow when they were ready, and hurried up to the carnival. When he got there, Sheriff Watson was waiting and looking annoyed.
“Sorry, I had to have dinner,” Conner said.
“Well, you’re here, and that’s all that matters,” his boss said. “Now, keep your eyes peeled. Some folks from Rusty Hook have come to town, and you know those no-good folks can’t keep their sticky fingers to themselves.”
“Yes, sir,” Conner said.
They were given a free pass into the tent by a man with a mustache that was so long its owner had to wind it around his neck to keep from tripping over it.
With his heart beating fast and his nerves singing with excitement, Conner stepped into the tent and was instantly transported into another world.
“Whispers of the Carnival Night” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amidst an enigmatic carnival that conceals her haunting childhood, Ellie seeks refuge from the painful memories that torment her. Her mysterious past is a closely guarded secret, one that even her fellow performers have yet to unravel. However, as the town where the carnival arrives is gripped by a chilling murder, Ellie becomes entangled in a web of suspicion. As the labyrinth of uncertainty unfolds, an unexpected alliance emerges…
Can Ellie trust the charismatic deputy sheriff, Conner Forbes, with her deepest secrets, or will he become another enigma in her tumultuous world?
Conner Forbes, with his unyielding determination and genuine compassion, is more than just the town’s deputy sheriff; he is the guardian of its hopes and dreams. As he ventures deeper into the puzzle of the murder investigation though, he finds himself irresistibly captivated by Ellie’s ethereal presence. Surrounded by darkness, he finds solace in her arms, but doubts continue to linger…
Can Conner protect Ellie from the shadows threatening to consume her, or will his dedication to justice become an insurmountable barrier to their love?
As the carnival’s mysteries collide, Ellie and Conner’s hearts intertwine, forging a love that defies reason and convention although Ellie’s haunted past resurfaces, threatening to pull them apart. Can their love survive the test of trust and loyalty, or will the chilling truth that looms ever closer be the harbinger of their heartache?
“Whispers of the Carnival Night” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.