Nebraska Center for Writers

ENCHANTED HEARTS
by Lorna Luben

WAS IT THE RIFLE SHOT or the stagecoach shuddering to a stop that jerked Ellen awake?
"Throw down 'at strongbox or ya'll get a bullet in the other arm!" a loud gravelly voice demanded. "Got any passengers in there?"
Ellen didn't need to hear more. Her nerves were already jangling in alarm. Had he caught up with her already? Her heart almost slammed to a stop at the thought. If she were robbed, she would lose everything for the store! Her task of finding employment for women from Ohio would be over before it ever began. At 37, she was too old to start over yet again.
She was on the run using an assumed name. Well, not exactly. She still went by her given name, Ellen Beckwith, but her assets were safely hidden under a different name, the only way to keep everything she owned out of the greedy clutches of the men wanting to take it from her. Please, Lord, help me through this. She often called on His strength, but in her heart, she knew He hadnít come to New Mexico. He had left her long ago in Ohio.
Desperately glancing around, her eye snagged on one of the large tears in the ceiling. Ellen quickly stuffed her papers in behind it. A few dollars left in her reticule and her old wedding band along with some cheap ear bobs would have to be enough for the robber. Quickly, she mussed her hair and pulled her shawl close to appear like a timid woman traveling alone.
The door to the coach flew open. "Git out an' put yer hands up!"
The masked man stood back to watch as the passenger emerged, her eyes wide with fear. He knew the mousy woman with light brown hair and dark brown eyes cowering before him would be easy pickings, but he was looking for another passenger. A rich man carrying a lot of money. He strode forward, looked inside the coach, and turned back to her. "Yer the only one?"
Ellen nodded wordlessly, her mouth too dry to speak.
"What's in yer bag?" He ripped the reticule from her grasp and walked away with it. "Three dollars! Not enough!" Rage flared through him as he spun back, flinging the empty bag down at her feet. He'd been promised a good haul, but the strong box was nearly empty; the man he was supposed to find wasn't on the stage and now just three lousy dollars from this stupid woman! His arm snaked out to whip the earrings from her ears. Her hands flew up instinctively to ward him off, gold glinting on her hand. "Let's have the ring," he demanded, "an' anythin' else ya got."
"N-nothing else, honest. P-please don't take my r-ring, it's all I have left of my p-poor d-dead husband." Her voice squeaked out at a high pitch as fear constricted her throat ever tighter.
Pain exploded when his blow landed on the side of her head. Ellen was trapped against the coach with the robber's iron hand at her neck. Her vision blurred. His many masked faces swam before her eyes until they merged into one. The filthy red bandana covering the lower part of his face almost met the greasy brown hat riding low over his brow. He glared down into her face. She gasped when she looked in his eyes. The malevolence of those gray eyes knotted her stomach even tighter making it almost impossible to breathe. Now she was truly afraid.

Reprinted with permission
from Enchanted Hearts
Copyright © 2004
by Lorna Luben
PublishAmerica


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