Home > Love’s Silver Bullet

Love’s Silver Bullet
Author: Julie Lessman

PROLOGUE

 

Virginia City, Nevada, 1872

 

“We are gathered here in this barn today to unite this man and this ‘woman’ …” Voice cracking, Blaze Donovan appeared ready to bust with laughter, mouth pinched and cheeks puffed with restraint while he held the family Bible.

Twelve-year-old Jake Sullivan peered up at his idiot best friend through slitted eyes, not appreciating the smirk on Blaze’s face one little bit. Scowling, Jake nervously shifted from one boot to the other while he stood next to Blaze's four-year-old sister Sheridan, a tow-headed mite that barely came to his knees.

A snort escaped Blaze’s nose as he continued. “… in the bonds of holy matrimony.” Officiating in an empty stall of the Silver Lining Ranch before an audience of dolls propped against logs, Sheridan’s turtle, a bored donkey, and his younger brother Dash, Blaze elevated his chin, his pious stance meant to restrain the mockery in his eyes.

It didn’t work.

“Do you Jacob Michael Sullivan take Sheridan Marie Donovan to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and through games of jacks, hopscotch, and pretend wedding or school, till death do you part?”

Jake singed Blaze with a look that could have set the Bible aflame. “I do,” he said in a terse tone meant to relay his intent for eventual payback.

Blaze’s ridicule relaxed into affection as he turned to his litter sister. Sheridan looked adorable in a pink frilly pinafore dress complete with a makeshift veil her Uncle Finn had fashioned out of wire and tulle fabric from Mort’s Mercantile. “And you, Sheridan Marie Donovan, do you take Jacob Michael Sullivan to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, despite smelling like a cow at the end of the day, stinky socks, and lemon drops and peppermints purchased at Burdzy’s Emporium to hide the stench of onions he eats raw, till death do you part?”

Death do you part. Jake’s mouth compressed. Which for the pastor, could be sooner than he thinks.

Giggling, Sheridan peered up with the face of an angel, blue eyes brimming with so much adoration, that Jake’s scowl automatically softened into a smile.

“Ahem.” Slapping the Bible closed, Blaze laid it on the half wall of the stall behind him before turning back with an evil gleam in his eyes. “Then by the authority vested in me by the horses and cows in this here barn, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” He grinned as he cocked a hip to the wood with a loose fold of arms. “You may now kiss the bride,” he said with an equally diabolical laugh that matched that of his little brother, Dash, the two of them breaking into raucous laughter like a pack of drunken hyenas.

In stark contrast, the congregation remained somber, not unlike Jake at the moment, who hurled a dirty look at his best friend before he bent on one knee to press a kiss to Sheridan’s riot of blonde curls.

“No, Jakie,” she whispered in that little-girl voice that always disarmed him, the tiny crimp above her button nose like a sock in the gut. “You have to kiss me like a man kisses a woman,” she said, dropping her loose bouquet of wildflowers to plant two pudgy hands on either side of his face. “Like this.” She proceeded to pucker rose-petal lips against his, as soft as a butterfly wing.

Blaze bounced off the walls with laughter as Dash literally rolled in the hay, legs dancing in the air with glee while tears spilled from their eyes, both of their faces as red as a baboon’s butt.

Ignoring them, Jake cradled a calloused hand against Sheridan’s silky cheek, thinking she was the sweetest and prettiest little thing he had ever seen.

At least since Josie.

The memory stabbed hard, ruining the precious moment he’d just been given.

“Jakie?” Her soft-spoken scold was accompanied by a serious lift of miniature flaxen brows that were barely there. “You forgot to put the ring on my finger.”

Despite the annoyance of donning his Sunday best in the middle of the week and the mockery of his two best friends, Jake felt a smile tug as her tiny fingers dug into the pocket of his suit for the clover ring he’d made. He didn’t know how she did it, but somehow that sweet, innocent voice always managed a tone of authority that made Jake feel like he was the four-year-old instead of her.

But then she was the wedding expert after all, weekly weddings the favorite game she loved to play with her big brothers. And the game required of them before their Uncle Finn would allow fishing at Silver Lake without their little sister.

Dash lumbered up from the hay, rubbing the tears from his eyes. “By jingo, I just love weddings, don’t you, Blaze?”

“Sure do, Dash, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy than old Sully.”

Jake speared them with a lidded look. “Knock it off, you two, or you’ll be playing the groom next time.”

Chuckling, Blaze backed up with palms in the air. “No sirree, Jacob Michael, that wouldn’t be fittin’, us blood-related to the bride and all. Plus, you’re the only one she ever wants as a groom, and you know it.”

A silent sigh leaked from Jake’s lips. Yeah, he knew it. Little Sheridan Donovan had followed him around like a lost calf since the day Finn had taken him in, a situation he both bucked and embraced. Bucked because Blaze and Dash ribbed him incessantly, and embraced because Sher symbolized everything he’d lost and never thought he’d have again.

An orphan with a family who died, Jake had finally come home at the Silver Lining Ranch, forever grateful to Finn McShane, the man who had not only given him a home, but a job, a family, and two best friends.

Or used to be.

Thumbs hooked in the pockets of his blue jeans, Blaze rolled back on his heels with a broad grin. “So, Dash and I just want to offer our congratulations, Sul, and wish you and the little missus the best of luck.”

“Oh, no—it broke!” Jake froze at the sound of Sheridan’s stricken whisper as the wilted clover ring dangled from her tiny hand, torn in two.

His heart cramped when a pool of tears wobbled on the brim of her tiny lashes, and frantic to stop their flow, he lunged for a pink daisy wildflower from the bouquet she’d dropped at his feet. “Look, Half-Pint, I can make you a new one that’s even prettier,” he said, scooping up the daisy with the strongest stem. “See?”

She watched as he wound it round and round until he could tie it off at the end, finally producing a perfect little ring with a pink daisy on top. Heart pounding, he held it against her ruffled pink dress and pinafore. “And it even matches your dress.”

“B-But it’ll j-just die l-like the other one.”

Jake froze at the fresh tears brimming in her eyes. “Sure, sweetheart,” he said in a rush, desperate to bring a smile back to her face, “but that’s okay because I can make you a real one out of silver from your uncle’s silver mine. Would you like that?”

Her lips trembled into a beautiful smile that made him feel like he’d just beat the pants off Blaze in a shootin’ contest. “Oh, Jakie, yes!” She held out a tiny hand, and he carefully pushed the daisy ring on, amazed at how perfectly it fit.

“It’s beee-uuu-tiful!” she said in a near squeal, tiny arms hugging him the best that she could.

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