“You gonna join us, son?” Devon Blake’s voice bellowed over the bustle of the Saturday night crowd in Pete Weston’s saloon.
It was enough to quiet the crowd and turn every head. All except one.
Pete leaned toward the young man sitting at the bar. “I think he’s talkin’ to you, ace.”
The stranger lifted his eyes to meet Pete’s serious face, then took a drink of whisky.
“I’m talking to you, stranger!” Devon stood from his chair, and it scraped across the floor like a cat biting into a tabasco.
The patrons shuffled in their seats, most of them trying to just disappear.
Devon took two heavy, lumbering steps toward the bar, and the floorboards thundered under his weight.
“Son, you best look at me right now,” he said, laying a thick hand on the young man’s shoulder. “You can’t just barge into our town, take advantage of our hospitality, and not give us a chance to extract some sort of payment.”
The stranger drained his glass, then stood and turned to face the town bully.
“Sure, old man,” the newcomer growled. His voice sounded like ground glass. “I’ll be happy to take your money.”
Devon glowered at the scoundrel, still dirty and rough from the trail. The crowd gasped, but the older man bit his tongue.
“Let’s get to it, then.” Devon turned and walked back to his table. The interloper followed close behind.
“Name’s Jess,” the younger man said as he removed his hat and sat down. Long locks of golden hair spilled over his shoulders. “Jess Hammond.”
Suddenly, the features were soft, the voice lilting.
“It’s a girl!” someone crowed from a dark corner.
“Deal!” Jess said with authority.
“I have a feeling I’m going to regret this,” he said, blushing.