Candice Jane sat on a wooden stool with a shotgun across her lap facing the front door. There was a rocking chair in the corner that was far more comfortable, but she didn’t trust herself not to fall asleep in it. It had happened before. Most often when she was quilting and not when she was as high-strung and alert as she was tonight. But still, the price of comfort was too high when added to the possibility of failure.

She pinched her cheeks and shook her head.

The cabin was nice, by homesteader standards. Davis had built it up against a stone embankment and mined out a shallow larder, a warm alcove for the bed, and built the fireplace right into the rock. Low embers warmed the room, but the oil lamp on the table lit it. The wood shed covered the Western wall and was accessible from inside as well as out. Opposite, large windows let in the morning light. They were barred with metal and had shutters to seal them against both invader and cold. Candace had done so in the occurrence of one and anticipation of another. It was a good defensible home. The only easy way in was through the heavy front door.

Candice listened to the blowing wind, laden with approaching winter storm, and waited. Trouble was on its way. While she’d had no direct confirmation that they were coming tonight, she’d dealt the cards and read them, just like she did every night. The tarot said they would come with the snow and there were already a few flecks in the gusting night. They probably figured her for an easy target. A lone widow on a rich claim, a dead husband, and weather fierce enough to kill a deer. She could see their plan clearly enough; drag her into the cold and leave her. Let nature run its course. Later, they could return and discover the tragedy. The land would become available again. Somebody’d get rich.

But she knew they were coming, had Davis’ gun, and was ready. If she were lucky, she wouldn’t die tonight. The snow started to fall in earnest, fat and thick. Soon now.


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