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From Author Margaret Brownley – COURTING TROUBLE (from the Four Weddings and a Kiss anthology)
Here’s a peek at Margaret’s Story:
Brock Daniels scowled at the legal brief he’d been studying for more than an hour. Obstreperous conduct? It took thirty-two pages to list a complaint that added up to little more than one shop owner calling another a name generally reserved for crooked politicians and stubborn mules.
Hardly a week went by that a similar freewheeling lawsuit didn’t cross his desk. No wonder Lone Pine was on litigation overload. They sure didn’t do things here in Colorado like they did back in Philadelphia.
Tossing the brief down, he reached for his fountain pen. No sooner had he dipped the nib in the ink well and started to write than a slight sound made him lift his gaze. A boy about eleven or twelve stood in front of his desk, staring at him with big rounded eyes.
It wasn’t the first time someone had sneaked up on him while he was working at his desk. The two-room office had been his for six months, and he still hadn’t gotten around to attaching a bell to the front door.
Brock stuck the pen in its holder and reached into his vest pocket for his watch. The gold case opened with a flip of his thumb. It was nearly ten p.m. Too late for someone so young to be roaming the streets. He snapped the watch shut.
“May I help you?”
Instead of answering, the lad placed four coins on the desk with such care that the money had to have been hard earned. The coins added up to fifty-six cents.
“I want to hire you,” the boy said.
There wasn’t enough money there to hire a mule, but the boy’s youth demanded special consideration.
Brock slid his watch back into his pocket. “What’s your name, son?”
Brock was pretty sure he’d not seen the boy before. Certainly he’d never seen a more sorrowful pair of trousers. Innocent of anything resembling the original fabric, they were patched so thoroughly that they resembled shingles on a roof. The child’s shirt didn’t fare much better. The thin cotton was more suited to hot summer days than cool spring nights.
“What kind of trouble you in?”
“No trouble,” Jesse said. “It’s my ma.”
Brock’s eyebrows shot up. “Your ma’s in trouble?”
Jessed nodded. “She’s in jail.”
Far as Brock knew, the only woman in jail was the one they called the Black Widow. From what little he’d heard, it sounded like an open-and-shut murder case. What he hadn’t known was that she had a son. More’s the pity.
The boy twisted his porkpie hat in his hands. Reddish brown hair reached his shoulders and curled around his neck and ears. “The sheriff said she killed her husband and that ain’t true.”
Husband, not father. Brock pinched his forehead. It was late and he was tired.
“I’m sure the judge has appointed your mother’s legal counsel.”
The boy nodded. “Her lawyer’s name is Mr. Spencer.”
David Spencer was one of three lawyers in town. Far as Brock knew, the man had no formal education in law. But neither did the others, which explained why the Lone Pine legal system was such a mess and, in some cases, a joke. The closest any of them had been to “passing the bar,” which consisted of a simple oral exam, was to walk past a saloon.
“If your mother has a lawyer, why do you want to hire me?”
Jesse set his hat on the corner of the desk and pulled a piece of paper from his trouser pocket. With as much care as he’d afforded the coins, he unfolded it and straightened out the creases.
“Mr. Spencer loses most of his cases,” he said. He placed the paper on the desk and pointed to the names carefully printed beneath a hand-drawn gallows. “Those are the men he let hang last year.”