his own beloved father, were now buried in a shared family plot behind Evelyn’s home. Those left behind had grown closer despite all the heartache.
Duke and his brothers owned their father’s sawmill now, each of them contributing what they could to keep the business healthy. Kyle and Boyd ran the mill full time. Radford owned the livery, but dedicated two days a week to their sawmill business. When Duke wasn’t busy with his duties as sheriff, he gladly spent his time working with his brothers. He loved the smell of pine and sawdust, and the hard, honest work, but he was relieved he didn’t have to go there this evening. He wanted to sit on Radford and Evelyn’s porch, drink a glass of cold tea, and give his throbbing shoulder a chance to settle down.
The livery sat back from the road with a small paddock behind it where Evelyn trained her horses. A sprawling oak stood in the front yard and shaded the deep porch on their two-story home. A long fieldstone fence girded their property, and was a favorite hiding place for their sons William and Joshua.
As Duke had come to expect, his nephews popped up from behind the fence like well-trained soldiers, aiming their sticks and shooting at him a dozen times before he could grab for his carefully unloaded revolver. He would never draw it from his holster, of course. Not ever. Not even knowing he’d meticulously cleared the cartridges from the chamber.
With a loud groan, he clutched his chest and fell to his knees.
The boys let out a victory whoop. Seven-year-old William planted his hands on the fence and vaulted over, followed by four-year-old Joshua, whose chubby, little boy body forced him to claw his way over the stones.
Duke fell on his good side, let the jar roll away from him, then put his hand over his revolver and turned so the boys couldn’t pounce on his sore shoulder.
William ran toward him, then stretched out his skinny frame and flew through the air like a gangly bird. He landed hard on Duke’s chest, wrenching the shoulder in spite of Duke’s effort to protect it. Gads, that hurt! Joshua barreled across the spring grass and tumbled onto Duke’s head. The two boys grunted and tussled and tugged until Duke surrendered.
They rolled off, then ordered him to get up and get moving. He scooped up his jar of balm then marched to their prison, which was behind the railings of the front porch. Their eyes flashed with excitement, and it struck him that jail was just a game for his nephews, as it had been for Duke and his brothers at that tender age. But it wasn’t a game for a boy like Adam Dearborn. The boy’s tense, drawn face when he’d seen the barred cell earlier said he knew jail was a looming possibility for his ultimate future.
But not if Duke could prevent it. Adam was an intelligent boy in need of a firm guiding hand.
Radford was lounging in a chair with his feet propped on the handrail, grinning like a happy, satisfied man. “It’s nice to see the rascals clobbering someone else for a change,” he said.
Duke leaned his hips against the handrail and rubbed his shoulder. “Sometimes I think that’s the only reason you invite me over.”
Radford’s grin deepened. “Nonsense. I like having my brothers around. That’s why I’m inviting Boyd and Claire to supper tomorrow and asking Kyle and Amelia to come by the night after.”
Duke’s snort drew a laugh from their mother, who was sitting on the porch holding Radford’s seven-month-old daughter Hannah, a dark-haired beauty who was drooling and chewing on her fingers.
“Uncle Duke, come wrestle,” Joshua said, tugging on Duke’s leg.
“Let him be, son.” Radford hauled Joshua onto his lap and tickled him into a wild giggle. “You boys go wash your hands. We’ll be eating soon.”
Joshua squirmed free and charged into the house, bumping into his mother’s legs and nearly upsetting the tray in her hands. Evelyn stood with the door open and looked straight at Duke.
He lifted his
Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner