Generally, riding into a town around midday wasn't greeted with as much noise, Emma thought. She rounded the side of a building, the General Store, and guided her horse onto the well-packed dirt of the Main Street. The hollerin' and general hell-raisin' sounds made her search for the saloon.
The saloon's wooden doors were still, no one entering or exiting. No, the noise was coming from somewheres else. She geed her horse forward, watching his ears atwitchin', and looking around herself as she tried to decide where the sounds were originating. The sounds now were beginning to separate into voices. She heard men, and some women, and then one woman's in particular, arguing with a man. But she still couldn't make out all the words. Somethin' about getting off her property.
With one hand she slid the leather strap off her holstered gun. She was definitely gettin' the feelin' it was gonna be needed.
She slid off Bug's back, slapping his rump, her signal to find a safe place to hole out. She watched him lift his nose and then trot off in the direction of what was likely the town livery. They'd traveled a long road together, she and Bug, and he'd never failed to reappear or find himself a sweet hay bale given out by an even sweeter hand.
Emma smiled. She'd often had a touch of those sweet hands in the aftermath of a gunfight herself. Silently she wished her traveling companion luck and then focused her mind on handling whatever this was coming up ahead.
She strode around the corner and found herself on the outskirts of a mob scene. People were shovin' and hollerin' and now that she was at ground level with 'em, it was again hard to separate one voice from another. No one had noticed her yet, so she circled around the crowd, seeking a clear line of sight to the inside to identify the central characters in the conflict.
A woman in an expensively tailored fashion from the Continent stood with her hands on her hips regally staring down the burly man in duster and covered in the typical trail duds of a cowman. The dark brown hair piled artfully atop her head added to the general "don't mess with me" attitude coming off the woman in waves. Emma smiled at the sight of another woman who, like herself, clearly didn't take shit from nobody.
"Bring her out here right now!" the man shouted.
"The young miss doesn't want to come to the likes of you," the woman replied.
"She's mine, and she'd come when told if'n you wasn't keepin' her!" The man's bluster was rapidly shortening his speech and Emma knew that the violence was only a word or two away now.
Since everyone's eyes were on the man and woman facing off, Emma slipped in along the group unnoticed and was just behind a man encouraging, "You tell 'er, Jameson!"
"And you keep out of this, Mr. Walton, or I'll deny you any of my girls when you come in from the trail next."
"But Miss Regina, she's his."
"She has decided to end her association, and I won't tell her different. A woman has a right to her own choices."
"She's not a woman, she's my girl, and I make her decisions!" Jameson hollered and stormed onto the porch of the house. "I found her a good 'un and she's gonna take him." The man had obviously, finally, had enough of shouting and decided action was needed.
Emma was there, blocking his raised hand before he finished his thought. Her hand wrapped around his wrist, turning the bones, taking his strength from his hand. "It ain't your place to school the lady, sir."
His eyes were wide, startled, and then as she twisted his wrist further, rapidly filling with pain. "Who the hell are you?"
She twisted effortlessly and brought him to his knees. His eyes were wide as silver dollars, staring up at her. "Ain't you nevermind that. I aim to see this lady is left alone." She lifted her gun out of her holster with her other hand and cocked it in the same motion, barrel pointing down and not at him, but the implication clear. She'd shoot him if he made a move.
"Now, this is a mite better."
"Who are you?" came at Emma from behind her. She glanced back at the well-dressed woman who now had a name. Regina.
"Name's Swan," Emma replied. "So's I got it clear, you wanna tell me the story?"
Shocked sounds rippled through the crowd. Emma twitched her gun and for good measure twisted Jameson's wrist and everything fell to silence once more.
"His daughter came to my establishment last night, asked for help."
"Your establishment is..."
Her back straightening, Regina's brown eyes leveled at Emma as if daring her to judge. "I offer company and comfort for the trail-lonely man."
"Brothel," shouted someone in the crowd.
Emma nodded. "And shelter to runaway girls it would seem." The woman inclined her head slightly, but did not reply. "Where's the girl?"
"Hiding in the parlor."
"Fetch her. We'll all hear what she has to say."
Regina looked around at the crowd, then back to Swan, who nodded reassuringly. She disappeared into the house, and Emma could just make out the low sounds of two females talking.
Regina stepped outside again, this time holding the door for a young girl who couldn't be more than 13. The blond was just getting her womanly curves, but still had much of her baby face about her. And her hair was still in child's braids.
Jameson tried to wrest his hand away from Emma and she warned him down with another sharp twist. Too bad she couldn't muzzle him. He shouted at the girl, "Grace, darlin'! You gotta come home."
Grace looked around at the mob assembled then at Emma. "Who're you?"
"Just givin' you the space to make your own choices."
The girl looked at her father. "I don't want to marry Mister Whale, Pa."
"He's paid 23 head of cattle for you."
"Just 23," Emma interjected. "Your daughter and she's worth only 23 cows?"
"Around here that's a goodly sum, Swan," Regina informed her.
"It's ridiculous." Emma pushed Jameson away from her, kicking her boot into his face. He stormed to his feet. She leveled her gun at his chest, drawing him up short. "And what do I get if I shoot him dead right now for sellin' his girl for 23 cows?"
"A passel o' trouble," Jameson growled. "My hands and my town. You walkin' out o' here wouldn't be in the cards."
"How much does 23 head go for over at the yard?" Emma said.
"Almost a hunnert bucks," Jameson said.
Emma nodded. "Buyin' and sellin' people went out with the War," she said withdrawing and throwing a wad of bills at Jameson. "There's your hundred bucks. I just bought your girl."
"You cain't do that. You're a woman."
"My money's same as another's, now git out. Your girl's mine now. And I defend what's mine."
Jameson looked at the money, then at Emma again. He pocketed the bills. At that sight, the mob, some mumbling, began to break up.
Miss Regina held Grace by the shoulder as the three women watched the town walk away. A few glanced back when Emma uncocked her gun, settling it back in her holster. "Swan?" Emma looked at her. "Is that your first name or family name?"
"No family. First name's Emma."
"Well... Emma. How would you like a glass of the best apple cider you've ever tasted?"
"Got anything stronger?" She let out her breath quietly, but the nerves were slower in dissipating.
Regina smiled. "I might."
To cover her shaking hand, Emma patted Grace's shoulder. Regina turned and entered the house, followed by Grace. Finally, Emma scanned the empty street before following the madam and the runaway inside.