This adventure is growing as I write it. I'm going to have to return to Goodwin's for more writing paper if I don't resolve it soon. But as I remember it, more and more details emerge. Shh, Jared! I'm in the middle of the scary part. But Jared won't be comforted. I wonder if I can feed him and write at the same time. Hmmm, it's worth a try.
Andi clutched Riley’s arm. Her throat felt dryer than the dust swirling around the carriage. Unbelievable!
The two masked men stood in the middle of the roadway, only yards from the stomping snorting horses. They didn’t move a muscle.
Both men were dressed in black and wore their clothes wrong-side out. The smaller, older man was armed with a shotgun, but it was the tall man who grabbed Andi’s attention. He held a .44 Colt pistol, and it looked like he knew how to use it.
This fellow meant business.
Andi swallowed and tried to make herself small. “The stage is being held up,” she whispered to Riley.
His eyes widened. His fingers found her hand and squeezed. “Stay calm. We do what they say, and they’ll let us go on our way.” He smiled at Andi, but his hazel eyes were dark with concern.
When the horses had settled down, the taller of the two men hollered, “All right, everybody out!”
From behind her, Andi heard Amber gush, “Oh, a robbery. A real-live robbery. How romantic!” She tittered and pretended to swoon.
Andi rolled her eyes again. Foolish young woman. There was nothing romantic about being robbed at gunpoint in the middle of nowhere.
The highwayman stomped to the coach’s open side. “I said”—he yanked Andi’s arm—“out!”
Andi flew from the stage but caught her balance just in time. She pushed herself away from the man and scowled. “Leave me alone.”
He backed away and raised his pistol. “Shut up, miss, and you won’t get hurt.”
Andi shut up. But she couldn’t help staring. There was something familiar about this road agent’s voice. Now, where have I heard it before? She peered up at him.
To her surprise, the highwayman’s hazel eyes behind his mask opened wide. “Get moving,” he barked, motioning Andi back to the carriage.
Riley sprang from the stage and put his arm around Andi’s waist. “We’ll do whatever you say. Rob us and be on your way.”
The highwayman jabbed his pistol into Riley’s chest. “I’m giving the order here, mister.”
Andi bit her lip. I should know him. Her thoughts whirled.
The robber poked his head inside the coach and waved his pistol around. “Everybody. Out. Now.”
The shorter man with the shotgun motioned the driver and two men down from up top. “Throw down the box,” he demanded.
Thunk! The heavy wooden Wells Fargo strong box landed in the road. It no doubt held the payroll for any loggers or other businesses up near Yosemite.
The tall road agent lined the fourteen passengers and the driver up against the stagecoach. “Empty your pockets.” He removed his wide Stetson and tossed it on the ground. “Toss the money into the hat . . . and be quick about it.”
With frantic jingling, the hat began to fill up.
“You ladies,” the man said. “Take off your charms, bracelets, rings, and other jewelry and put them in the hat with the cash.”
Amber yanked the earrings from her lobes and dropped them into the hat. When she passed the road agent, she batted her eyelashes at him. “I do hope you won’t hurt us,” she murmured.
“Shut up.” He reached out and yanked a diamond-studded brooch from the lace at Amber’s throat. “Don’t forget this, ma’am.” He chuckled and tossed it in the hat.
Amber pressed her lips together and returned to the arm of her companion.
The hat filled up. The male passengers added their wallets and watches and cuff links. When the road agent waved his gun in front of Riley’s belt, he sighed and began to remove the silver buckle.
Andi choked back a yell. The fancy belt buckle was her wedding gift to Riley. She opened her mouth to protest, but Riley shook his head.
He wrapped the belt up and lowered it into the hat.
Shorty dropped his Stetson on the ground. “Quite a haul today, eh? Gonna need another hat, ain’t we?”
The tall one grunted. “Please, your buttons too.”
Gasps came from the passengers.
He laughed. “Not from the ladies’ frocks, but the sleeve buttons of you gents. I see some of them are pearls.” He singled out the older couple. “Hurry up.”
The older gentleman was clearly a rich man. He popped his sleeve buttons off and lowered them into the hat. His wife sobbed quietly. She looked ready to keel over.
Andi’s blood boiled. How dare that rotten road agent terrorize an old man and an old woman! She clenched her fists.
“You there,” Shorty demanded.
“Yes, you.” He nodded at her hands, which were clasped in front of her split skirt. “Hold out your hands.”
Andi’s stomach turned over, but she did what she was told. Sparkling in the sunlight, her brand-new wedding band—the one with the pretty blue sapphires and tiny diamonds—came into full view.
The taller road agent whistled. “Now, that’s what I call a prize.”
“Hand it over,” Shorty growled.
Andi thrust her hands behind her back. No! she screamed silently. Never!
She’d had this ring on her finger for little over one day. She’d told herself she would never take it off.
“Andi,” Riley said firmly. “Give the man your ring.” He lowered his voice. “Now.”
The tall road agent jerked his head around at the sound of her name. His eyes narrowed through the mask’s holes. He turned to Shorty. “We’ve got enough treasure. I don’t need the ring.” He chuckled. “I wouldn’t want to cut off her finger to get it.”
Not funny, Andi thought.
He motioned toward their horses. “Let’s—”
Bang! A gun went off.
The ladies screamed. Andi and Riley hit the dirt. The older woman swooned.
Another shot went off.
Andi raised her head in time to see the portly gentleman who’d carried his flat case on his lap dig into his valise and yank out another small derringer.
The shotgun went off, and the man dropped to the ground.
Andi squeezed her eyes shut. He’s dead!
“Fool,” the short highwayman muttered. He walked over and grabbed the valise. “These are right-nice derringers. Too bad your hero played the fool.”
The road agent should not have turned his back on the driver.
The driver shouted, “Let’s overpower them, men!”
Leaping forward, the stage driver and two of the passengers went for the two highwaymen. The driver snaked an arm around Shorty and began to wrestle him for the shotgun.
The tall one reacted like lightning. He grabbed the closest passenger.
Andi gulped. She winced when his pistol jammed into her temple.
“That’s enough,” the tall one barked. “Back off. Let my partner go.”