Chapter 1, Scene 1

Coyote, Co 1860

Paige sat in the back of the covered wagon brushing her long blond hair. Night was fast setting in. Her father would return soon, and she had to be ready.
Setting the brush on top of her trunk, she picked up a cracked piece of mirror and studied her reflection as best she could. The nearby lantern proved she had applied the rouge and lipstick to perfection. Picking up the kohl pencil, she quickly lined her eyes as she had seen her sister, Michelle, do so many times. Satisfied she looked her best, she reached for the black dress and changed her clothes.
“Paige,” her brother, Adam, called a few minutes later. “Paige, you almost ready? Pa’ll be here soon.”
Paige laced up her high-heeled boots and climbed out of the wagon. Adam sat before the fire burning low in the center of the rocks, and she made her way over to stand beside him. “How do I look?”
Adam pushed back his hat and looked up.
Paige chewed her bottom lip as her brother critically inspected her attire. With her hair hanging loose over her shoulders and the neckline of her dress cut low, a man’s eye should be attracted to the swell of her breasts. It was more than any decent lady dared. The tapered waist fit like a second skin, and with the hemline at the knee, the amount of leg bared was scandalous. Even her lace stockings and black boots were enough to set tongues to wagging.
“Well, you certainly look the part.”
Paige frowned, hating this nightly routine. “I tightened the waist and shortened the hem. Do I look better then Michelle?” She held her breath for his answer.
Adam scanned her attire again. “You look and play the part better then Michelle ever did.”
Paige breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God. Pa won’t have a reason to take a stick to me again.”
Adam shot to his feet and towered over her. “I told you, I’ll find a way out for us.” He rested a protective hand on her shoulder. “You’ll have a real home like you’ve been wanting, like a girl as nice as you should have. Until then, if Pa touches you again—”
“Adam,” she interrupted in a defeated voice. “You can’t stop him. No one can. He—”
Her words were cut short as their pa rode into camp and reined his horse in beside the wagon.
“Is the food ready?” Richard Morgan swung down from the saddle and advanced on foot, removing the leather strap binding the length of his scraggly beard.
“Yes, Pa,” Paige answered.
“Good. Let me have a look at you before you dish it out.”
Paige moved to stand before him, hating this part of the routine most. If she squirmed even an inch under his narrowed, bloodshot scrutiny, he wouldn’t hesitate to reach for the stick.
“Well." He stroked his beard. "I see you learned your lesson. Maybe next time you won’t put up such a fuss when I tell you t’do something.”
Paige sensed her brother’s anger and responded before he did or said something rash. “Yes, Pa.”
“Well, let’s eat. I’m starved.”
After serving and cleaning up from their sparse supper, Paige rode in the wagon with her pa to town. Every now and then, she’d look over her shoulder to make sure Adam still followed a discreet distance behind on the horse, the only thing of value they owned. Before too long, her pa halted the nag outside Sam’s saloon and waited impatiently for her to climb down from the seat.
“Remember,” he said, sliding his arm around her shoulders. “Keep that coat on, your mouth shut, and don’t miss any of my signals.”
“I won’t, Pa,” she promised, steeling herself for another night at the poker tables.

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