You either just LOVED it or downright DESPISED it.
Y’all are not divided on your opinions of my book A Promise in Defiance. If you are in the camp of “the ending was too tragic and it left me sad,” then you should read Daughter of Defiance, the spin-off story of one of the vilest, and yet, I think, most heart-wrenching characters I’ve ever written: Delilah Goodnight, the notorious madam of Defiance. Yes, she was a horrible person who caused the death of some good people.
But her story was far from over. And Daughter of Defiance had TWO endings!
If you haven’t read A Promise in Defiance or Daughter of Defiance, you might want to before you check out this ALTERNATE ending. THIS is the way I originally envisioned Daughter of Defiance winding up, but my editor said, among other criticisms, that I didn’t leave enough mystery for the next book. Sooooo, read or not. It’s up to you, but if you do, WARNING: SPOILER ALERT.
~~~~~DAUGHTER OF DEFIANCE ALTERNATE ENDING~~~~~
Skirt flapping around her knees, whipping out behind her, Victoria galloped out of town, uncaring of the curious stares. Panic clawed at her throat. She couldn’t think of anything the girl at the hotel or Charlie or even Cooley had said that was a specific clue. Oh, God, lead me, please, she prayed. Don’t let anyone else die because of me.
She raced toward the end of town, past Boot Hill, out on to the vast, open prairie. A gray, angry sky overhead reflected her torment. Frustrated, confused, she slowed her horse from a gallop to a canter to a trot…finally to a standstill.
The wind whistled. Dry, amber grass danced and swayed around her. A few cottonwoods stood silently nearby, their shadows growing long in the late afternoon sun. She thought back to her early days here when innocence and youth fed her hopes and dreams. Places she and Logan had gone to…to be alone.
The memory of a favorite place surfaced.
Did the sod shanty still stand down by Crier’s Sink Hole? It was a fine hiding place. The moment she thought of it, she knew she had to go see it.
This was foolish, going in without any help, or even a gun. But she had to try. At least scout out the situation then return to town to find Earp or Toby or someone.
She turned the horse west and in only a matter of minutes reached the bottom of a long, low hill. She dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to the remains of an old wrought iron fence surrounding a grave. A tumbleweed blew into his rear legs and he nearly spooked free. Shushing him, Victoria tied him again, praying he didn’t jerk free from the decrepit thing. Satisfied he’d stay, she crept toward the crest of the hill.
The Kansas prairie, much like an ocean, hid secrets between these swells. Near the top of the rise, she laid down on her stomach and peered through the grass. Below figures moved about, some hovering over a fire, a few sitting back away from it. Wind rippled the water that filled the deep sinkhole. A man in dark clothes stood in the doorway of the dilapidated and collapsing sod house. A rush of sweet memories took Victoria back to seventeen, riding out here with Logan, kissing in that doorway beneath a fat harvest moon…swearing their eternal love.
Pain twisted in her heart. They both had lost so much. So much. She cleared her throat and tried to focus. Eleanor and GW sat by the fire. That was Charlie in the doorway. The two men who had accosted her at the newspaper—Oscar and Lawerence—were sitting on their bedrolls, watching their hostages.
From this distance, the win scattered their voices to the prairie. She’d have to get closer. Scanning the hillside below, she saw a rock outcropping—not big—barely larger than a horse, but it would do. She would wait till dark, slink down to it, and try to negotiate with them from there. If things fell apart, she had enough of a lead to get back to her horse and go for help. She scanned the hill behind her. At least, she was fairly sure she could make it.
It made more sense to go for help now. Victoria glanced at the darkening sky. Night fell quickly this late in the fall. How much time did she have to waste hunting Earp? None. In another hour she could slither her way down to the rock and be close enough to hear what’s going on. Then she could decide.
By nightfall, Victoria was lamenting her thin coat and wishing she’d grabbed her heavy wool frock. Flipping up the collar on the canvas jacket, she quietly slipped through the dry grass toward the rock outcropping. Only a few feet lower, yet the wind died here and she could hear the snapping fire, neighing horses, and Charlie’s voice.
“She’ll be along. Anytime now I suspect.”
“What makes you so sure she’ll find us?” Lawrence said.
Victoria crawled carefully down to the rock, aware sound was carrying easier now.
“The kids have known about this place since I was a boy,” Charlie said. “She probably came here. It’s where you go when you want to hide.”
“I say we go find her.” Oscar tilted his head back, taking a swig from a bottle. “You stay here, Charlie, and watch those two.”
Lawrence climbed to his feet, swaying a little as he did. “I like that idea. She’s probably—” a growling burp escaped him—“alone, moving around, trying to find them.”
“She won’t come for us,” Eleanor said, sounding anxious. “At least not alone. She’ll find Earp.”
“Or Toby,” GW added.
“Earp’s busy,” Charlie said. “He’s on a wild goose chase over toward Cimarron.”
Lawrence tilted his head. “That was a good idea. Why’d you do that? I thought you didn’t want no part in hunting Delilah.”
Charlie straightened, stepped outside the doorway. “I guess it’s time to wrap all this up. Besides, it’s getting cold.” Without any warning, he drew his revolver and shot Lawrence in the head and before the man hit the ground, Charlie dropped Oscar. The fire from his barrel illuminated GW and Eleanor surging to their feet as Victoria screamed.
The echo of the shots and her shrill cry faded together, but all eyes turned up the hill to her. Misery writhed in Victoria’s chest. She pushed herself out from behind the rock. “Stop it!” Tears choked her voice. “For God’s sake, just stop it.” More death on account of me. Oh, God, am I cursed? Please stop all this. “Why did you do that?”
“Come down here and we’ll talk about it, Victoria.”
But Charlie said her name like it was a huge joke. Bitterness, rage, grief, strangled her. “So, this is about me. You lose someone in Defiance?”
“You could say that.”
“Run, Victoria,” Eleanor screamed, stepping forward. “Run.”
“Shut up, old woman,” Charlie cocked his revolver. “Or I’ll shoot you, too.”
“You do, and I’ll kill you,” GW said quietly, ominously.
Charlie snorted. “You saw how fast I killed Lawrence and Oscar.”
Victoria’s feet were rooted to the ground. GW’s comment seemed to rattle Charlie and he took a step back. “Get down here, Victoria. I’ll let these two walk away if you do. You leave for the sheriff and I’ll kill ’em both.”
Her knees buckled and she clutched the rock. She would trade herself, gladly. She deserved to be murdered, but how could she be sure he’d let GW and Eleanor go? Eleanor needed to live. She’d already been through so much.
“Victoriaaaa,” Charlie sang mockingly.
“Don’t listen to him,” GW yelled. “Get out of here. Find Earp.” He cast a quick glance at Charlie. “He’ll handle this miscreant.”
Victoria angrily brushed tears from her cheeks. “Tell me why you’re doing this? Why did you kill those two?”
“I don’t need ’em anymore.”
Victoria’s mind raced. Should she run? No, she knew how this had to play out. “Who are you?” she asked, miserable and heartsick. But, oddly, not afraid.
“I’m Charlie Smith. I’m one of the boys Logan used to run with. Long time ago. My brother took a bullet for him in Nebraska four years ago. A stagecoach robbery that went wrong ’cause Logan was drunker than a rat in a whiskey barrel.” The man cursed under his breath. “He disappeared after that. Thought I’d never catch up to him, then I got wind he was masquerading as a preacher,” he spat the word, “in Defiance. I showed up right after your two-bit drunk went and killed him. Or that’s the way the story’s told. But he aint’ dead. You know it. And I know it.”
“What?” Victoria couldn’t believe her ears, though the man sounded serious. “All this because you think Logan’s still a—?”
“Alive? I know he’s still alive.”
“Mister, you’re out of your mind.” Victoria took two steps toward them. “He died in my arms, in the middle of the street.” Her voice rose with hysteria. “He’s dead and he’s never coming back.”
Charlie shook his head. “You’re good but you ain’t convincing. I’ve heard the stories. He’s been working his way here. To you.”
“What are you talking about?” Could this get any more insane or absurdly cruel? “He’s dead,” she whispered barely loud enough for them all to hear. “He’s dead and I’d give any—” She broke off. “Stories? What stories?”
“I lucked out with Lawrence and Oscar there. They could track. They were tracking you. I figured if I found you, I’d eventually find Logan. Sure enough, about the time I realized you were here somewhere in Dodge, I saw the pattern. The stories added up.”
Victoria couldn’t stop her mind from spinning. She felt faint. “What stories?” she asked again. “What pattern? What are you talking about?”
Charlie paused, tilted his head. “A man in black popped up on the trail a few weeks back. Looking for a pretty girl maybe named Victoria. Maybe coming from Defiance. Quiet fella, kept his hat pulled down real low. Nobody got a look at him. One fella in Cheyenne Wells didn’t take to the questioning and our mystery man jerked his Colt on him. Folks said he was so fast, he made lightning look like molasses.”
Victoria felt her heart slow to a crawl. Her head swam. Logan? Alive? She’d sat beside him on his deathbed, held his his cold fingers in hers. It wasn’t possible…
Was it? God? Is Logan alive?
“You think…” Victoria could hardly speak. A maelstrom of emotions stormed in her soul. “You think this man in black is coming for me?”
“I knew once I had you, I’d get Logan. He’s coming for you like a moth to a flame.”
Victoria literally couldn’t fathom this insanity. Oh, hope sparked in her breast, but she knew what she’d seen. She couldn’t let hope catch fire. It would make her go crazy. “I’ll trade for Eleanor and GW, but you’re too late to get vengeance on Logan. Too late,” her voice faded.
“Get down here and we’ll talk or,” he cocked the pistol, “I start cutting baggage loose.”
“No, Victoria,” Eleanor cried.
“Get the marshal,” GW ordered.
No. Victoria couldn’t stand the thought of coming back to their bodies. Charlie was going to kill them if she didn’t play this his way. Probably would anyway. Oh, God, please, please keep them safe. But I should pay for my crimes.
She raised her hands into the air. “I’m coming down.” Everything in her knew Charlie was going to try to kill GW and Eleanor. He didn’t need them. In his sick, twisted mind he believed Victoria was the magnet for Logan. If only that could be true.
Regardless, she believed they all had one chance.
Victoria stumbled down through the tangle of buffalo grass to level ground. Charlie still held the gun on GW and Eleanor. Their only chance lay in a distraction. She prayed they would act when the opportunity arose.
Oh, God, I could get us all killed. Her steps faltered but something kept her feet moving. She came within twenty feet of Charlie and surveyed Eleanor’s and GW’s conditions. “Momma, are you all right?”
Her mother nodded and made a choked noise
“You shoulda run. Somebody has to survive this.”
“Yes.” A peace flooded over Victoria. She knew what she had to do and every muscle in her body readied for the charge. “Someone will.” She would take the bullet and Eleanor and GW would overpower Charlie.
It would be all right. Accounts would be settled. And for the first time in her life, the ugly face of death didn’t frighten her.
The message to move was shooting from her brain to her legs when a shot boomed over their heads from the darkness. Charlie stepped back, waved his gun around, but brought it back quickly to his hostages. Hope surged in Victoria. Earp? Was Earp out there in the grass and shadows?
“Who’s out there?” Charlie yelled, his eyes wildly searching the darkness. “I got hostages. I’ll drop ’em. Back off!”
The silence was deafening as it stretched out. After a moment, a quiet, velvety voice spoke. “No one dies here tonight.”
Victoria gasped. Her heart hammered so hard and fast she thought it might explode in her chest. Desperately, she searched the darkness. She must have misheard. Hope had filled her ears with what—who—she wanted to hear. But she couldn’t help herself. She had to ask. “Logan?”
She held her breath, waiting for an impossible answer.
“I’m here, Victoria.”
Joy ripped a sob from her. Overwhelmed, she collapsed to her knees, weeping with wonder and elation. “Alive. Oh, God, alive…”
Charlie’s eyes widened. “You didn’t—you really didn’t know?”
“Drop the gun,” Logan ordered.
Charlie debated. His gaze bounced back-and-forth between Victoria and his other two prisoners.
“Pull that trigger,” Logan said, “and you’ll be just as dead as your friends there.”
Charlie heaved a deep sigh. “Let me go, Logan. I’ll leave off. No more trackin’ ya.”
A hard thud emanated from the back of Charlie’s head and he abruptly slithered to the ground—revealing a tall, solidly-built man standing behind him, holding a gun. Firelight flickered in his ash blond hair and danced across a strong jaw. His hat threw the rest of his face into shadow but his stance, his presence was hauntingly, undeniably familiar.
Victoria’s whole body jolted as if she’d been struck by a lightning bolt. “Logan?” She could barely speak for the awe streaking through her soul. Forgetting to breathe, drowning in shock and joy, she launched to her feet and leaped into his arms, nearly knocking him over.
“Logan, Logan, Logan, I saw you die. I buried you.”
“Shhh.” He said, gently stroking her head and holstering his weapon. “There’s time for that later. I’m here now. I came for you.” His words pulled another sob from her and she wept on his chest. “Why don’t you get that gun there,” he said, apparently to GW. “Eleanor. It’s been a long time.”
“Yes.” Her voice was husky with emotion. “But you sure picked the right time to come back.”
At the end of the meal, Toby set his napkin on his empty plate and nodded across the table at GW. “I reckon I’ll go get that item you wanted me to, um get.” He should have prepared this better.
GW wiped gravy from his mustache. “I think now is appropriate.”
Ignoring the perplexed expressions from the others at the table, Toby hustled on outside and jogged over to the barn. Delilah waited quietly in her stall. She grumbled softly when he opened the gate and stepped inside with her.
“Let’s saddle you up, girl, and show ’em the new you.”
As he saddled her, he tried not to think about Victoria and Logan, but there was nothing else he could think about. He regretted not having had a chance with her, yet he understood things were as they should be. Victoria had never been meant for Toby. Seemed to him she wasn’t meant for anybody but Logan. When a man comes back from the dead to find a woman—well, there’s no topping that.
Understanding and acceptance didn’t make the situation any easier to bear, though.
“Ah, cowboy up,” he scolded, snugging the cinch. “I just want her to be happy, Lord.” Admitting it aloud seemed to lessen the pain. God was good. Toby would be all right.
He swung up into the saddle and trotted a trusting, surrendered Delilah over to the house. He pulled up in front and waited for GW to usher his guests outside. Momentarily, the door clicked and they all filed out on to the porch. Victoria’s face lit up when she realized the identity of the horse.
“You did it.” She clasped her hands over her chest and leaned into Logan. “He did it. He said he could make her a good horse.”
Toby took a deep breath, patted Delilah on the neck and dismounted. “Yeah, she’s a fine horse.” He pulled the reins over Delilah’s head and held them out. “And she’s yours.”
GW stepped up and dropped a hand on Victoria’s shoulder. “I want you to have her.”
Her chin quivering, Victoria shuffled down the steps and took the reins, but she lingered a moment on Toby. “Thank you.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “You two go together. Some things you have to let happen.” A puzzled dip formed in her brow, but Toby backed up a step to end the questioning. “Turns out she has a tender mouth. Guide her gently.”
A little smile lifted Victoria’s lips. “I will.”