Written in 20 minutes. No time for rereading.
Elizabeth hadn’t planned to return to Diamond Springs — ever — but when she’d received the telegram from Jason about Ric’s sentence, she’d asked Patrick to follow up and find out when the execution was planned.
Part of her felt uneasy at the idea that Ric would executed for what he’d done—but there was also a part of her that thought that some people were too evil for the world. If Ric were still alive, maybe he’d find a way to do this again one day. Elizabeth didn’t want to feel like she had any more blood on her hands—not after what had happened to the Lewis family for simply trying to help.
When Patrick had given her the execution date, Elizabeth found herself buying a train ticket and arranging for his wife, Robin, to look after Cameron for a few days. She still wasn’t sure why she was going back until she saw Jason and his grandmother step out of the jail.
He looked at her, blankly, almost in shock as she approached him. Elizabeth frowned when she saw Lila hand something back to him, then walk away. “Is that your badge?” she asked as she reached him.
Jason exhaled slowly, looked down at his hand. “Yeah. Today is my last day.” He rubbed his finger over the gold star. “You—” He looked up, met her eyes. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Not today.”
“I wonder if part of me just couldn’t believe it would really be over. I saw the telegram, and Patrick brought back some newspapers, but…” Elizabeth turned to look at the gallows, at the noose that hung from the strip of wood. “There was no other ending, was there?” she murmured. “Once he was charged with theft.”
“No,” Jason said. “But—”
“He’d only hurt someone else one day,” Elizabeth cut in. “I know that’s true. But I suppose after Alexander and his brother, after my grandfather, Cameron, even my father for all his faults—” She sighed. “There’s been enough death.”
“No, don’t—” Elizabeth touched his arm—just a brush of her fingertips against his sleeve. “He knew the penalty for theft as much as anyone else. He simply never thought he’d get caught.”
“Do you want to—Are you sure you want to watch?” Jason asked. He grimaced as he saw his cousin leading the sullen Ric towards the gallows where the judge and the executioner were standing. Dillon’s face also looked pasty and pale.
“No, I think—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Can we go somewhere? Or do you have to—”
“They won’t notice if I’m not here.” Jason took her arm and they turned their back on Ric Lansing to walk across the street to the house where Jason rented a room. His landlady would normally not countenance an bachelor escorting a woman to his rooms, but Faith Roscoe had never turned down the chance to go to a public execution.
When he opened the front door, he heard the trapdoor across the street drop down and he closed the door—not even looking to see what happened to Ric.
Elizabeth pressed a hand to her stomach as the crowd’s cheers rose. “I’ll never understand it,” she murmured. Jason agreed and led her upstairs to his rooms.
“If you didn’t come back for the execution,” Jason asked, “then why—”
“You’re leaving your job,” Elizabeth interrupted. She licked her lips. “Where are you going? Back to the marshals service?”
“Maybe.” Jason took her hand in his. “I was actually planning to go to San Francisco first. To see you.” He searched her eyes. “I want a chance.”
“I—I came back to see you. To see if there was a way—” She swallowed hard. “I don’t want to spend my life running away. I still don’t know if I can live here, in town, but I don’t want to look back one day and regret—”
He tipped her chin up and kissed her. After a moment, Elizabeth slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back. He drew back slightly, brushed his fingers over her cheek. “I love you.”
Elizabeth smiled, kissed him again. “I love you, too.”
Three Years Later
Elizabeth laughed as her son picked himself up from the mud puddle and brushed at his trousers. “Mama!” Cameron said with a glare. “You said you wouldn’t laugh.”
“I didn’t say any such thing, Cam.” She opened the gate to the paddock, the reins of her horse in her hand as she led Penny inside. “I told you to slow down and not to run when we’ve had all that rain—”
Cameron stomped his foot. “I’m gonna tell Papa—”
“Tell Papa what?”
Elizabeth turned, her smile broadening as her husband strode towards her, their two-year-old son in his arms. “Oh, you’re just in time! I’m putting Cameron on Rusty for the first time.” She nodded at the pony tied to the post.
“I’m glad I’m didn’t miss it.” Jason stopped just outside the gate and leaned over to kiss her. “We just came back from seeing Grandma Lila.”
“Candy!” Jake proclaimed with a grin. He had his father’s sunny blonde hair and his mother’s bright smile.
“I can see the chocolate,” Elizabeth said. She looked at Jason again, her own smile matching his. “She can’t help herself.”
“Mama, I wanna ride!”
“Better go help him,” Jason said, “or he’ll skip Rusty and move on to Penny—”
“He wouldn’t—” Elizabeth whirled around just as Cameron stopped, his hands dropping from Penny’s reins. He turned an innocent grin towards his mother. “Cameron Hardy Lewis—”
“Fine,” Cameron said with a huff as he stomped back towards the smaller pony.
“That boy will be the death of me,” Elizabeth muttered as Jason laughed. “And don’t start. I know he’s exactly like I was at that age.”
“As long as you know it.” Jason leaned over to kiss her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”