by Judi Milling
Jenny McNeill awoke by the jolt from the coach she was riding in. Three long dusty days it had taken her to get to Four Corners. She slightly dusted herself off. She should not have worn the dress she was wearing. It was a beautiful white dress with small, dark blue pin strips. The neck was high surrounded by a small amount of lace. It fitted to her slight figure, emphasizing her ample breasts, and hugging her small waist and hips. The hat, white, with the sides curved up, had dark blue gauze tied around the top with a bow. With her long auburn hair hanging in soft tendrils and light golden brown eyes, the hat framed her face perfectly. She had fallen in love with the outfit the first time she saw it in the window of a little shop in France, during her singing career in Europe. Even though it was a comfortable and cool dress, she hated to get it dirty.
Jenny's thoughts went back to Europe. The countries she traveled were beautiful, and the people enjoyed her singing. The songs she wrote sometimes reflected on her life, and men and women of all classes loved them. In a way she was sorry to have left, but she had felt homesick. She had been gone from the states for over 10 years. Of course, she really didn't have a home to go to. She had left her real home so many years ago and never looked back. She had too many bad memories.
Another jolt from the stage took her away from daydreaming. Normally, sleeping came pretty easy to Jenny in these stagecoaches. She had gotten used to the noise, movement, and dust from years of traveling around the country. It had been more than 30 years since she first started singing in saloons and doing a lot of traveling. She was fortunate. She had a voice and fairly good looks. This helped her to survive. Women had few choices in this world, and hardly any at all at her age. Jenny would be 45 soon, and if you weren't already married, then the alternatives were usually working in a house of prostitution, or being a spinster for some rich family's children. And at her age, usually the spinster role was the only choice. Those two alternatives didn't suit her one bit. Not that she did love children, or that she had her share of offers from men of all ages. It came with the territory of being a singer.
One of the first things Jenny always established with a proprietor was that she was a singer, and ONLY a singer. Most of the offers were never for marriage though. And a majority of men that were interested were already married. They would make offers of permanent housing and expenses, and in return, satisfying their physical needs. She had made many short term friendships with the ladies in the saloons during her travels, and knew what went on behind closed doors. A lot of that knowledge was even embarrassing to think about. Although, sometimes after singing, she would go to her room, undress totally, and lie across the bed. It was scandalous for a woman, even alone, to lie naked. Her body sometimes ached for the caresses of a man, or a least what she thought it would be like.
At least, the "ladies" had tried to explain things to her. But something she had decided long ago was to never sell her body. Men could not be trusted when it came to the heart or anything else. She learned that so many years ago and still had the physical and mental scars to remind her. Jenny had been able to do all these years what kept her heart alive and her life full, and that was to sing. And she didn't stay long in one place, which really would not allow her to start any kind of relationship.
A call from the top of the stage brought her back to reality again. They were coming into Four Corners. Jenny was looking forward to stretching her legs and getting settled in. Luke Branson was the piano player in the saloon in Four Corners. Jenny had met him years before and developed a good working relationship and friendship. In fact, it had gone beyond that. Luke was like the brother she never had. He always looked out for her and protected her. They would sometimes sing together for the crowd, and his piano playing matched her expertise at playing the piano. Jenny always prided herself with her musical accomplishments with instruments. She could play the piano, guitar, harmonica, and the flute. All came in handy in her profession and all self-taught.
Luke and Jenny always kept in touch as much as they could, and when he had written her about Four Corners and suggested that this town was growing and could use a good singer, she jumped at the chance. It had been time to move on from her current employment, and it would be good to work with Luke again. She would only have to sing three nights a week, and along with that came free room and board. The pay wasn't much, but she had prided herself in saving the money she made. Luke had always admired that little package. She sure was pleasant to the eye. He would always watch out for the men in the saloon. A few had tried to get Jenny into a room, but between Jenny's temper and Luke, they were never successful. She was off limits to any man she didn't want to deal with. But what Jenny needed was a man to love her for what she had inside to give them. The right man would come along someday and sweep her off her feet. And she would give him a love that would show no bounds.
Jenny didn't need a lot of money, if she was happy. The only luxury she gave herself was buying beautiful materials to make her dresses for her job. She had absolutely breathtaking dresses, made to fit her slim figure. They had been fashioned after many designs she had seen while in Europe. Luke had always said that no man could take his eyes off of her in those dresses. He always kidded her that it was hard to protect her when there wasn't much left to the imagination when she would move around the saloon, singing to customers, in those gowns.
Luke had said in his last letter, that ever since Judge Travis had hired seven men to help protect the town, it had become a better place to work. Also, Luke had let on that the saloon might be up for sale, and thought that Jenny might enjoy settling down in a growing town, and have a lucrative business to run. He had no desire to buy it, but knew Jenny had a good head for business, and it was time she started to settle down. "He always worries about me," Jenny thought to herself. He also mentioned that a resident gambler was interested in the sale, so the sooner she could get here, the better. Luke had never steered her wrong. But seven men to protect a town? What kind of town would need seven men to protect it? But whenever Luke made suggestions, they were usually in her best interest. It was worth checking into.
The morning had already started to get warm in Four Corners, and there had not been any rain for days. Vin, Ezra, and Josiah had been up for only a short time. Each had gotten a cup of coffee at the hotel and decided it was too nice of a day to stay inside. All three men grabbed the chairs that were outside of the hotel, and after sitting down, stretched their legs out, and sipped the strong hot coffee. They had no idea where the rest of the seven were, except maybe Buck, who they were sure was visiting a lady friend. It was quiet this morning, and the men were looking forward to some free time. Four Corners had been a challenge some days to protect, but it was worth it. It would be a good town one of these days. Hell, it was already starting to grow with new businesses.
The topic of conversation today was the fact that the saloon was getting a singer, a Miss Jenny McNeill, but not sure when she would arrive. It would be a nice change of pace, at least for some people. Ezra was sure that it would be good for business, bringing in more customers, which could mean more money coming in for drinks and gambling. He had been watching for prospects of growth, since there was mention of the saloon going up for sale. He had really started to like this town, and his interest in owning his own saloon could come sooner than he expected. It was just affording it that worried him.
Josiah was too interested in finishing his church than to think about business increasing in the saloon. Vin had no thoughts about what this singer could mean to the town except that it usually meant more people coming into town, if she was good. That's what probably bothered him the most. He liked the small town, as towns go. When you spend so much time by yourself most of your life, you get use to the open spaces and few acquaintances. He had not really made any friends, while being a bounty hunter. This friendship he had developed with these six men had been really foreign to him. But there was a bonding that he felt was important to survival, his and the town's. It was something he really did not want to give up. When things settled down though, he probably would be going back to Tuscosa and try to clear up his name. Every time he had planned on leaving Four Corners to try and settle things, something else would come up. If he could do some good somewhere, then Tuscosa could wait a while longer. Besides, Vin had made a commitment to Judge Travis and he never went back on his word. The judge was a good and fair man. He deserved his support.
All three men noticed Buck casually walking towards them. Buck had spent most of the night, in the arms of one of his favorite ladies. Getting up and leaving her was not really what he wanted to do, but Lucille had told him that she had things to do, and she would not be able to keep her mind on her work if he hung around. Also, Buck wanted to make sure that when the new singer rode in, he wouldn't miss her. After all, a new woman in town could mean a new challenge. He kept watch whenever the stage came through to make sure he wouldn't miss her. He seemed to have a sixth sense about women, and he felt that today was the day that the stage would bring in Four Corners' new arrival. He had tried to get information out of Luke, but Luke was very guarded about her. The only thing he would say was that her name was Jenny McNeill and she was off limits. But that wouldn't stop Buck from meeting the stage and introducing himself. Buck loved the ladies, and always enjoyed being in their company.
Just then, Buck sighted the stage coming in. He knew this was it. Miss Jenny McNeill would be on this stage. The stage pulled past Vin, Ezra, and Josiah, and stopped just about where Buck was. Buck walked over to the stage and opened the door. Jenny had not expected the door to open so soon, and quickly glanced outside the door. There was an extremely tall man, grinning from ear to ear, holding the door open.
"Ma'am, my name is Buck Wilmington. Welcome to Four Corners." Buck was grinning from ear to ear.
Jenny put her hand in his while gingerly putting one foot on the step. "Why, thank you Mr. Wilmington," as her hand was totally enclosed by his large hand. She pulled her dress up slightly, so as not to trip on it. Exposed was the small foot in a white shoe and slender ankle. Jenny had never liked the hook shoes women had to wear, and opted for the small slipper like shoes worn in Europe. But she was not so sure this was a good idea, when Mr. Wilmington couldn't take his eyes off of her. He seemed very nice, but she had met many men like him. He was very handsome, in a devilish way, and was for sure a ladies man. She would have to watch this one.
Vin, Ezra, and Josiah had been watching Buck, shaking their heads at their friend's interest in the passenger. It had to be a woman. And maybe it was the new singer. They continued to stay stretched out, enjoying their friend's ultimate interest. They were not too far away from the coach, so when the bottom of a white dress, the white shoe and exposed ankle appeared, each man quickly stood up and just stared. After Jenny stabled herself with her footing on the step and her hand in Buck's, she was able to step completely out of the stage, and lightly step to the ground.
Josiah was the first to speak out loud, really to himself. "Only a God could send something so beautiful."
Ezra was the next to speak, in his usual gentlemanly manner. "A true beauty to grace this establishment."
Curiously, Vin said nothing. His blue eyes took in every part of this woman. A strange feeling came over him, one he had not felt before. Here was a woman he had never met, and strangely she had some kind of an effect on him. Hell, he wasn't even close to her, and he felt her presence. He shook it off, and stood quietly watching her. Even when Ezra and Josiah quickly walked over to Buck and this woman, Vin stayed behind, eyes still frozen on her. Jenny slightly turned her head, and noticed the two men striding towards her. But what got her attention was the man leaning against the post farther back, all dressed in buckskin, seemingly staring at her. Feeling uneasy, she quickly turned back to Buck who still possessed her hand, not wanting to let it go.
It didn't take but a few steps for Ezra and Josiah to reach where Buck and Jenny stood. From a distance, both men thought that the woman was extremely young due to her stature. As they approached, they noticed that although the woman was much older than they had originally thought, the years had blessed her, in looks and figure. This was a woman who prided herself in her looks. She was stunning and beautiful in her own way, and definitely a lady, a lady who demanded respect. As she turned, the sun caught just a glimpse of the auburn hair cascading down from just under her hat, shining like rubies and hints of fall colors on the trees. Her skin lacked that milk white look. It had the tint of brown from being in the out of doors. Here was a woman who was heavenly, but unintentionally expressed a hint of daring and freshness. It was all Ezra and Josiah could do to introduce themselves. Josiah had always had a hard time expressing himself around a lady of such quality and strength. Ezra on the other hand had always been the type to eloquently express himself, especially in the presence of a lady, in a manner depicting breeding and manners. But this woman caught him off guard, if not for only a second, but caught off guard indeed. This was a woman who was worth discovering her likes and dislikes, no matter what her age was. Ezra felt this was a woman deserved a second look.
Jennifer studied these three men. She had always enjoyed getting the upper hand with men, and she seemed to be doing just that. She prided herself in studying men's traits and learn from them. It was the way she learned to protect herself. She had already sized up Buck from the first time he offered his hand. He was a ladies man -- very handsome indeed -- but nonetheless a ladies man. The man, who introduced himself as Josiah, seemed like a man who would worship the ground a woman walked on. Rough on the outside, inside he seemed sincere and a very sweet man, a man who any woman would love to be around because she would be his center of attention and a protector. On the other hand, the extremely handsome man dressed in the finest attire, Ezra, was one to watch and learn from. Sizing him up was easy. He was a gambler, and apparently a good one by his dress. She did feel a slight kinship towards him. They both gambled with their talents. She might learn something from him.
Again, her glance went past Josiah and Ezra, to the man in the buckskin. His eyes seemed fixed on her. It was all Jenny could do to remove her gaze from him. She felt frightened, yet drawn to this man. "I've been on the road too long," Jenny chided herself. "It's the heat or something," she thought. After all, she had not even met the man. He made no attempt to even come over to the group and introduce himself. From the short distance between them, Jenny decided he was very handsome. His long brown hair fell smoothly down to his shoulders. His stance gave her the impression of distance and strength. He was a man who knew all he needed to know and had all he needed to have. And besides, she was not a sweet, young thing anymore. To have a seemingly younger man affect her this way was ridiculous. Jenny shook off this feeling of a trapped wild animal, and turned to the three men who surrounded her.
"Gentlemen," Jenny said as she pulled her gaze from the man in buckskin, and pulled herself together, facing the three men. "My name is Jenny, Jenny McNeill. I'm the new singer at the saloon. If you could direct me where that is or to a Mr. Luke Brandon, I will take my leave." All three men volunteered to take her to the saloon, along with all her luggage. Ezra stepped in and gracefully offered his arm. Jenny wrapped her arm in his, and all four headed towards the saloon. As they walked off, Vin's gaze never wavered from the dark haired woman. Admittedly to himself, this woman stirred something inside him. Something he didn't want to admit to. It wasn't the normal urgings that directed him to the ladies in the saloon. This feeling was deep inside. Finishing his coffee, Vin turned away from the four and headed back to the hotel.