Neither task is an easy one.
Lily Sutter is a sinner. Just ask anyone in Deadwood. She had a baby out of wedlock and she doesn’t deny it. She was seduced and left by one man; she refuses to be taken in by another. The fact that Zach makes her blood boil and her heart race, just by being near, has nothing to do with anything.
Thursday, June 28, 1877
Zach reined to a stop in front of the Deadwood mercantile. He was looking forward to seeing Lily, but more importantly, Lily had a spare room and he needed someplace to live. Hopefully, she’d be willing to rent to him.
He probably should get a bath and a shave before he talked to her, but he was just too dog-tired. Over the past three weeks, he’d chased Jordan to Cheyenne and then southwest toward Denver. Always behind him perhaps only minutes, but still behind. Only getting close enough once in Cheyenne, to have seen him. Jordan could have killed him then, but Zach had seen him at the last moment and avoided most of the intended damage. The knife only cut him from below his eye to his mouth. It could have slashed his throat. Bleeding like a stuck pig afterwards, Zach had to find a doctor and get stitched up. By then, he’d lost Jordan and didn’t find him again until just outside Deadwood. Jordan was returning to Zach’s home. Returning to the scene of his crime, when he stabbed Ellie, returning to finish what he’d started but Zach would not allow him to hurt his family.
The problem was finding him in the throng of people that now occupied Deadwood. Thousands of people had come and more were on their way. Looking for the same kind of riches that he and his brothers had been lucky enough to find. They’d struck the mother lode with the gold claim that Lily Sutter had sold them.
He should go next door and get cleaned up, especially if he hoped to have any chance of convincing Lily about the room. She wouldn’t want a boarder who was as dirty as he was. He would ask her for meals, too. He needed them and sharing a meal, spending time together at her table, would be a good chance to get to know more about her and Gemma. The little girl needed a father but until the threat that Jordan presented was eliminated, until Jordan was eliminated, he couldn’t think about that. Couldn’t think about a family of his own.
They’d been in Deadwood for ten months, nearly a year before he left to go after Jordan and he’d been trying to court Lily all that time to no avail. She was having none of it. In all his thirty-eight years, he’d never been turned down by a woman. But she said he was a Yankee and too handsome for his own good and wouldn’t have more than a passing friendship with him.
Well, he wasn’t too handsome now, not with the scar on his face from Jordan’s knife. Red and angry, the wound still had the stitches. He needed to see Doc Cochran to get them out, today if possible, after he’d bathed. Then he could get a shave afterward and there wouldn’t be any stitches left for the razor to catch on.
He dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to the hitching rail then noticed a new bathhouse next door to Lily’s store. The sign said ‘Bath, shave and haircut’ five dollars. He went in there first. The old man, Richardson, was there working.
“Good day, Richardson. I’d like a bath now and a shave later.”
“You can do the bath but you have to pay Miss Lily,” he said, the few strands of long gray hair combed over the bald patch on top, though not covering it very well. “And then bring the token back here. She’s the one who does the shaves and haircuts since Sam left. You have to come back later for that, after she closes the store.”
“Alright, let’s just do the bath. Good and hot. I’ll go get the token. I haven’t had a good bath in weeks and am looking forward to this.”
Zach walked next door to the mercantile. The bell sounded as he entered. The one customer in the store took one look at Zach, and left hurriedly, keeping her face turned and her hand over her mouth as she passed.
“Be right with ya’ll,” said Lily.
He walked up to the counter. “No hurry,” said Zach, his voice still gravelly from lack of use.
Lily’s head snapped up and she stared. “Zach. Is that you?”
“In the flesh.”
She came around the counter. “You’re injured.” Reaching up toward the jagged cut on his face, she pressed her lips together, a gentleness crossed her features before she rallied and the starch came back. “You’re a mess. Where have you been? Why didn’t you say goodbye?”
“Enough time for questions later. I need a bath and Richardson said I need to pay you. Here’s the five dollars.” He handed her a “half eagle” gold piece.
“All right, I won’t bother you now. Here’s your token.”
“Thanks.” He turned on his heel and left. When he got to the door he turned, as he always did, to see if she was watched. He released a pent up breath, gratified that she was, tipped his hat and walked out the door.
Lily Sutter watched his retreating form as he walked out her front door, unbelieving the man she just saw was really Zach Anderson. The rugged, dirty man in worn buckskins was unlike any side of Zach he’d ever shown. He definitely wasn’t the pretty boy, she’d thought him to be. Not with his face covered in scraggly beard and the jagged cut, new and still full of stitches that ran from his eye to just above his lip. It would affect his smile.
She’d always loved his cocky smile. But the man she just met didn’t seem to know the word, smile. No laughter twinkled in his eyes, as there had been only a month ago. Now all she saw was hard resolve. She wasn’t sure she liked the change in him. She knew how to handle the other Zach, she didn’t know about this one. What had happened to Zach to make him the somber, serious man who had stood before her, asking for a bath? Where did the playful, fun loving person go?
Zach was done washing his body and his hair and stood in the tub. “Richardson, pour that bucket of water over me.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Anderson.” The old man responded as quickly as he could, grabbing another bucket from next to the roaring fireplace and climbing on the stool next to the tub, he lifted it as high as his stooped shoulders would let him.
He poured the hot water over Zach, rinsing away all the dirt and grime from the last three and a half weeks. The water couldn’t rinse away the memories of a trip that seemed a lot longer. Hard days in the saddle, being so close to Jordan he could smell him, then finally cornering him in an alley in Cheyenne, only to meet Jordan’s knife with his face. Yet, all that encounter did was make Zach more determined to take care of this vermin, before he could hurt Zach’s family.
Liam couldn’t do it. He was newly married and had two children to think of, as well. Jake was no different—he had a new baby and a new wife. Both his brothers had wives, kids…families that Zach didn’t. There was no one to worry about Zach. He was the only one who could stop Jordan. Stop the evil son-of-a-bitch before he killed the only people in Zach’s life that cared about him, or that he cared for.
Zach dressed with care in the cleanest clothes he had in his saddle bag. He’d have to go to Liam’s and pick up his clothes, but first he needed to ask Lily about the room. Angling his body to see himself in the broken piece of mirror, he combed his hair straight back from his forehead, then put on his hat. He’d needed a haircut before he left town; now his hair nearly reached his shoulders and curled on the ends.
His hat was covered in dust, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He’d had Richardson brush his hat and coat while he’d bathed but they were both still the worse for wear. Rain and blowing dirt had ground the soil into them, and it wasn’t coming out anytime soon.
He combed his mustache and beard, smoothing the curly black hair as best he could. Taking a last look in the mirror, he decided he’d done as much as possible to make the best impression on Lily. He wasn’t the same man that left here a few weeks ago. That man was gone, in his place was a hardened version. A version determined to protect his family by whatever means necessary. He would kill Jordan, the event was just a matter of when.
Zach walked next door to the mercantile and stepped inside. Lily was waiting on a customer, and Zach killed the time by collecting supplies to restock his saddlebags. He wanted to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, if he needed to. He picked up hardtack, jerky and tobacco. He’d also have to get a bag of coffee. His supply ran out a week ago and he sorely missed it.
He put his purchases on the counter and went over to the potbellied stove where the coffeepot sat. A shelf holding several cups hung above the stove. He grabbed one and poured himself some of the fragrant brew. As he took the first sip, he closed his eyes and let it slide down his throat, relieving dryness from the trip.
The bell above the door sounded and he turned to watch the customer leave. Now the store was quiet with just him and Lily.
“Zach. Are you ready to talk now?” She grabbed her coffee cup from under the counter where she kept it when there was a customer in the store. She walked over to the stove and filled the cup with fresh coffee.
He wasn’t, but he couldn’t avoid it any longer. “Sure. I guess you know why I left. I had to. I couldn’t let him get away.”
“Did you find him? Is it over now?” she asked with a pinched mouth.
“No.” He didn’t want to admit he’s failed, not to her, not to Lily. “He’s back in Deadwood and he knows about the family. I’ve a proposal for you.”
She cocked her head. “We’ve been through this. I’m not marrying you… or anyone.”
“Not that kind of proposal,” growled Zach, angry she still wouldn’t consider marrying him. Well, that’s alright, she’d change her mind; it was just a matter of time. He was a patient man regarding Lily. She was worth his patience.
Jordan wasn’t. He would put everything he could into finding Jordan among the throng of unwashed that teemed the streets of Deadwood.
“I want to rent your brother’s room. I can’t go home. Liam and Eleanor are newlyweds, and they don’t need me hanging around. Jake and Becky just had their baby and need time together without big brother getting in the way. What do you say? Before you answer, you know I need to protect you. Jordan knows about you, about us.”
She gently shook her head. “There is no us,” she whispered.
“You may think that, and it may be true, but our situation won’t matter to Jordan. He knows I care about you.”
“How could he know that? No one knows.”
“Everyone knows except you it would seem.” Irritated she still didn’t believe he cared, he pressed on. “That’s fine, you don’t have to. I want you to think about what I’ve said. I’ll be back in a little while and later when you close up the store, I need a shave and a haircut. I understand you are doing those now. Why?” concern flashed through him. “Why would you take on more when you barely had enough time to take care of you and Gemma, as it was?”
He watched her bottom lip start to quiver.
Ah, hell, she was going to cry.
She closed her eyes and gathered herself together. “I had a man working for me, Sam Toliver.” Her voice quivered. “He was a barber, but also a miner. He managed the bath house and did the haircuts and shaves. I had him watch the store sometimes because I thought I could trust him. One day, I had to go to the hardware store and go get some bread from Mrs. Frederickson. When I got back, the store was empty and so was my strong box.” She swallowed hard. “Three thousand dollars. Money I needed to pay Al Swearengen for my land.”
He was by her side in two long strides. “Honey, I’m so sorry.” He took her into his arms and, much to his surprise, she let him and it was like she always belonged there. “Why did you put have that much money in lying around?”
She buried her face in his chest and cried quietly, for a few moments. Then as if she’d remembered where she was and who she was with, she backed away from him.
He regretted the loss of her warm body next to his. She’d felt so right in his arms.
Leaning against the counter, she wiped her eyes then wrapped her arms around herself. “We don’t have a bank and I don’t have a safe. I was going to put it in the safe at the hardware store, but by then the money had already been stolen. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cry all over you. I haven’t had anyone to talk to.” She sniffled and took a handkerchief from her sleeve. “If I do this, let you rent my room I mean, you have to do something for me. Something in addition to paying the rent.”
Zach narrowed his eyes. “What do you have in mind?”
She dabbed at her eyes with the cloth. “I want you to get my money back. Sam has a claim up on City Creek and I doubt he’s spent all the funds on liquor and whores. Before he does, I want you to get it back. There’s no law here. The sheriff is useless. Unless you’re Al Swearengen or one of his cronies, he has no power to do anything.”
He paused as though he was thinking about it. As if she even had to ask. He’d get back her money and this Sam person would rue the day he dared to steal from Lily Sutter. Zach would make sure of that.
“Okay, I’ll do what you ask, but I want you to throw in meals and I’ll help you out in the store again while I’m looking for Jordan. It should help you give you a little time to be with Gemma.”
The bell above the door sounded.
“Come back after the store closes, and I’ll give you that shave and haircut. Then you can move your things into Horace’s old room.”
“You do realize the arrangement may start some tongues wagging… my boarding here.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Do you really think after all this time, that I really care what these people, or anyone for that matter, think of me?”
“No, I don’t suppose you do. You couldn’t and still have provided for Gemma like you have. You’re a good mother, Lily.” He gazed at her face and couldn’t help but notice how blue her were.
She blushed and waved a dismissive hand. He knew she wasn’t as hard as she appeared, but after all she’d been through, she needed that extra coat of armor she’d acquired.
“I’ve got to see Doc about getting out these stitches, then you can give me that shave.”
“That’s fine. I won’t be going anywhere.” As if to reiterate that point, the bell sounded and another customer walked in.
Lily smiled, patted her hair and turned toward the door. “Hi there. What can I help y’all with today?” she said as she walked toward the newcomer.