When researching victorian England for my Steampunk proposal I came up with an interesting fact. The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show appeared in England in 1887. I try to remain as historically actuate as possible, even though this book has fantasy elements and thowing a cowboy who is very good with his guns into the mix set my heart all aflutter. I write cowboys well and it seemed much more interesting than writing your typical British Lord of that time. I needed someone who could be in the same social circle as my heroine but also be forbidden. So Dax became a cowboy with a past.
I wanted him to have a rough edge of danger but also be able to pass in the society of the day. So I created a history for him. Dax was raised my his grandmother, a grand society dame in Boston. His mother died in childbirth and his father, who was a Doctor was stricken with grief and took off for the west. When Dax reached his late teens he took off to find his father who was living with the Sioux. Dax fell in love with Rebekah who'd was raised in the tribe. She died from a plague along with his father and once more Dax took off to become a scout for the army. He was part of the hunt for Geronimo and at one time was captured and tortured by the Apache. AFter his rescue he decided he'd had enough of the west and wanted to travel. He hooked up with the Wild West show and became Kid Cochran, the fastest gun alive.
The following is the first chapter which contains the meet between the Hero and Heroine and hopefully draws the reader into the story.
April 14, 1887
“What ever is the hold up?” Thomas Chadwyke, Earl of Pemberton rapped the silver handle of his walking stick on the roof of the carriage to get the attention of his driver. They had come to a complete stop on Gloucester Street and the Earl’s impatience was as usual, quite evident.
“It seems to be some sort of parade Sir,” Harry, the driver called down from his perch. “Coming from the train station.”
“A parade?” The Earl stuck his head through the carriage window.
“Really, Thomas,” Evelyn, Countess Pemberton said. “Don’t be crass.”
The Earl ignored her as he hung out the window and exclaimed quite loudly. “It’s the Americans! And I believe those fellows wrapped up in blankets are Indians.” The Countess leaned forward and peered through the window on her side of the carriage as the Earl continued with his exclamations. “Good Lord, those must be buffalo.”
“Oh!” The Countess said as she sat back onto her seat. “The smell is quite dreadful.” She pulled an embroidered square of linen from her reticule and placed it over the lower half of her face. “Merritt,” she said to her daughter. “Quickly, cover your face before some horrid disease creeps in.”
Before Merritt could respond, or even protest, her nurse and constant companion, Rose, slapped a ready handkerchief over the lower half of Merritt’s face and held it there. Merritt knew from experience that it would do no good to protest, or even move as Rose, in direct contradiction to her name, was extremely strong for a woman.
It was one of the requirements Rose met when she was interviewed for the position after discreet inquires were made by her parents. They lived with the fear that Merritt would hurt herself when she was in the throes of one of her spells, therefore her nurse must have the physical strength to keep that from happening. Merritt always wondered what it was they expected to happen to her since her spells usually entailed her speaking of strange things while seeming to lose all touch with what was happening around her. She was glad to know that with Rose’s constant care she would not throw herself from a window or cut herself with a butter knife which were just a few of the ways her mother’s vivid imagination had conjured up for Merritt to injure herself.
Merritt placed her hand over Rose’s and smiled agreeably with her eyes, since that was all of her face that was showing. She practically sighed in relief when Rose released the linen into her care and went about the business of protecting her own mouth and nose from whatever dreaded disease her mother was going on about.
“I do wish they would hurry,” the Countess said. “We’re going to miss our appointment.” The countess peered out her window once more as if just looking at the delay would convince it to stop inconveniencing her. Merritt sat with her back to the front of her carriage so could not see what was creating the stir. She was tempted to look but knew it would result in more fussing from her mother and Rose so instead she stared complacently ahead and tried not to think about what the day held in store for her.
If only we would miss the appointment…That would not trouble Merritt in the least. It would be cause for much rejoicing on her part. She might even be tempted to join the parade of Americans herself if only to prolong it so that she could miss her appointment. Of course that would be enough to send her mother into one of her own spells. She did her best not to laugh aloud at the vision of her mother swooning into her father’s arms while their rebellious daughter chased down the street after buffalo and wild Indians. Luckily the handkerchief covered the quivering of her lips as she suppressed the urge.
“I do believe they are coming this way,” the Earl said. He resumed his seat. “There are policemen about directing the carriages to move over to the side.”
“Oh, if only we had known,” the Countess exclaimed. “We could have traveled another route.”
“It was my understanding that they were supposed to ride the train all the way to the exhibition grounds,” the Earl said. “I say, it will not do to have the streets of London run amok with these wild creatures.”
“Are you referring to the buffalo or the Indians?” The Countess asked.
“Both.” The carriage lurched as Harry urged the four in hand over. Merritt barely heard Harry’s faint apology over the drumming sound of hooves against the cobblestones that suddenly filled the streets. Shouts and whistles joined the cacophony of noise. Her curiosity finally got the best of her and she turned so that she could see out the window.
“Do be careful dear,” the Countess instructed.
“I just want to see,” Merritt said. A rider went by and she caught the bright stripes of a blanket trailing over the brown and white splotched coat of a horse. “Is that what they call a paint?” she asked her father.
“I believe so.” He leaned out the window once more and Merritt rose up to join him, conveniently leaving her handkerchief on her seat. Rose tried to grasp her arm to stop her. Merritt managed to gracefully avoid her nurse and looped her arm through her father’s so that she was pressed against his side. She knew they resembled a pair of children with their faces pressed against the glass of the sweet shop but she did not care. It was not often that her father’s natural exuberance took over and she wanted to relish the moment. Who knew how long it would last?
“Oh his hair is nearly as long as mine!” she exclaimed as another Indian rode by. This one had long black hair cascading down his back and a feather sticking up in the back. “I wonder if Buffalo Bill is among the riders.”
“From what I’ve read he should be easy to recognize. Perhaps he stayed with the train.”
“Could that be Annie Oakley?” Merritt saw a woman dressed in fringed buckskin and a gun belt around her waist go by on a beautiful palomino. The papers had been full of stories of the Wild West show and the people who were slated to appear with it. For the past few weeks Merritt read about Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Red Shirt the Indian, and Kid Cochran who the papers claimed was the fastest gun alive, whatever that meant. She supposed it could have something to do with quick draw or rapid firing. Whatever it was, it all seemed very exciting and adventurous, especially when one’s life seemed to center around doctor visits and the constant hovering of her mother, her maid, and Rose the nurse.
“We are going, aren’t we Papa?” she asked as a dozen or so buffalo went by with their shaggy humped backs reeking from too much confinement.
“We shall see.” His usual reply to her requests for some sort of normalcy in her life.
“I do not see how it could possibly be safe,” the Countess interjected.
“Evelyn,” the Earl said dryly. “Or course it will be safe. The Prince is planning to attend and the Queen has requested a private showing.”
Merritt allowed herself a small smile. Her father’s retort was quick assurance that they would attend the Wild West Show and most likely at the nearest opportunity. The first scheduled public performance was for May the ninth but it was well known among the members of parliament, of which her father was included, that there would be private showings before then. It was a small victory she relished to make up for the dreaded appointment that was to occur later on.
“Watch out!” her father suddenly exclaimed. The carriage lurched as Merritt crashed into her father who steadied her with his arm. “Are you hurt my dear?”
“No,” she said. “I am quite all right.”
“Thomas,” the Countess said. “Would you please do something about removing us before we are trampled by these creatures?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The Earl quickly exited the carriage on the side that was closest to the buildings without waiting for his man Jerry, to open the door. Merritt knew it was only because he wanted a closer look at the commotion without listening to her mother’s constant concerns. She turned back to the window and was amazed to see a buffalo staring at her. The head with its protruding horns was immense and the humped back seemed to her to be as high as the carriage windows. If she wanted to, she could stretch out a gloved hand and touch the shaggy coat.
A piercing whistle sounded followed by a shout.” Get outa there!” There was a popping sound and the buffalo jumped away and joined its fellows as they trotted on down the street.
“Sorry about that.” A horse and rider stopped by the carriage. The horse was extraordinary, nothing like Merritt had ever seen before. Its nose was a deep blue black then the color faded to bluish gray before becoming white on its hindquarters. There was a spattering of blue-gray spots across its back that ended in a silky tail that seemed to be a blend of all three colors.
“Oh my,” Merritt exclaimed. “What type of horse is that?”
The rider rubbed the arched neck of the animal with pride. “This here is Katie,” he said. “And she’s what we call an Appaloosa.”
“She’s extraordinary.” Merritt said as her eyes moved from the horse to the muscular thigh that held the animal in check. Her breath quickened at the sight of the raw wildness that was within her reach.
“Yes she is.” The voice had a lazy drawl and it captured her, drawing her gaze to his face. She saw a strong jaw and straight nose beneath the brim of a wide hat the types of which she’d seen pictures of in the newspapers. The jaw was covered with a stubble of beard and strong white teeth flashed a grin at her from full lips. He wore a short brown coat with the collar turned up against the crisp cold air. There was a blue paisley scarf tied about his neck and buckskin pants tucked into brown boots. Much to her surprise a gun belt rode low on his left hip and was tied off around his thigh to keep it from moving. He coiled a short whip around a knob that protruded from his saddle.
Her mother craned her neck to see who she was talking to and gasped at the blatant display of weaponry.
“They’re all a bit frisky after being cooped up for so long,” he said with a wave at the small contingent of buffalo that trotted on down the cobblestones with the riders doing their best to keep them contained. “We all are,” he added.
“I would imagine so,” Merritt said. She felt a flutter of excitement inside as she studied the cowboy. He seemed mysterious and forbidden, like one of the scandalous romance novels she kept hidden beneath her mattress or the champagne her mother would not let her drink at parties lest it bring on another spell. She heard her mother’s hiss and felt the sharp tug on her skirt. She ignored it as the cowboy pushed back his hat so she could see the rest of his face.
Deep blue eyes gazed at her from beneath a flop of golden brown hair that touched his incredibly long lashes. He pushed the recalcitrant locks aside and gave her a wide grin. “I hope you’re coming to the show.” He looked at her, boldly, brazenly and a lazy smile turned up the corners of his full lips.
Merritt felt the heat of his eyes and her cheeks burned with his look. He sees me… For the first time someone was looking at her, as a person, whole into herself. She was so used to the whispers about her spells and the sympathetic looks of the servants or the constant worry that lined her parent’s faces. No one ever truly saw Merritt. They only saw the circumstances that surrounded her.
“It is my intent.” She returned his smile with a shy one of her own.
“Merritt!” Her mother’s voice was loud enough for the cowboy to hear. She was not surprised. It was unusual for her to engage in conversation with the prim and proper gentlemen of the peerage. Of course it would shock her mother to see her hanging from a carriage window, talking to a complete stranger who seemed so rough around the edges. It might even be considered dangerous, enough so that a thrill went down her spine.
“That’s a pretty name,” he drawled. “Don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before.”
“Thank you,” Merritt replied. “My father gave it to me.”
As if on cue her father stepped round from behind the carriage with Jerry close behind him. “Taking in the scenery?” he said to the cowboy.
“Yes sir,” the cowboy said as he looked between Merritt and her father. The relationship had to be obvious to even a stranger on the street. She had the same blonde hair and the same piercing blue eyes although she was grateful to be blessed with her mother’s nose and chin. Her mother was still considered to be a great beauty. Merritt’s beauty was always an addendum to her condition.
“That’s an interesting piece you’re wearing there,” the Earl said, motioning towards the gun strapped to the cowboy’s hip.”
“It gets the job done,” the cowboy said. His eyes changed, along with his posture. He was no longer open and easy. Suddenly he was more reserved, as if there were secrets that he was trying to protect.
“The way seems to be clear, sir,” Harry said from his post.
“Oh,” the Earl said. His disappoint was evident. “Well then, I supposed we must be off. The cowboy backed his horse away as Jerry opened the carriage door and her father stepped in. He leaned out the window once more. “Will we see you in the show?” he asked as Harry set the team in motion.
“Yes, sir,” the cowboy replied. “Just keep a lookout for Kid Cochran!” he called out after them. He tugged on the reins and Katie, the beautiful appaloosa, rose up on her hind legs and pawed the air as her rider lifted his arm in the air and let out a farewell whoop.
Merritt and her father clapped their approval of the show as Katie took off in a clatter of hooves after the retreating buffalo. The crowd gathered in the melting snow let out a collective gasp and then a cheer at the cowboy’s bravado.
Kid Cochran…The fastest gun alive. And to think she had met him boldly on the street. Her friend Caro would never believe it.
It would make for much better conversation than the coming appointment.