“Stay here,” Sawyer commanded.
Sawyer ignored me as he flew out of the bed, grabbed the shotgun, and then made his way downstairs to find out who was banging on the door at three in the morning.
I was doing the best I could to get dressed silently yet be ready to help Sawyer if I could. I cursed how clumsy and slow I was – the cold making it worse – and then cursed again when Sawyer yelled, “No!” The sound being followed by a shotgun blast.
I nearly fell down the stairs when I reached the landing and saw Burt Jr. huddled at the door crying and shivering but managed to get down and pull him the rest of the way inside. The night was freezing and I grabbed up an afghan that I had used earlier to put over Jeannie while she slept. He clung to me and I was torn between trying to see what was happening with Sawyer and taking care of the nearly hysterical boy in my arms. Right as I was about to go to the door Sawyer banged inside carrying Delly and trying to drag an obviously shocked Rissa along too.
Sawyer looked around, spotted me and said, “Help me get them upstairs.”
Sawyer took the stairs two at a time carrying his barely conscious sister and as soon as they were out of sight in the dark Rissa decided to emulate her brother and have a hysterical fit. I almost slapped her but could see she’d already been roughed up. Instead I grabbed both of her arms and shook her twice. “Rissa! Look at me! That’s better. You’re going to have to help me to help you all. C’mon. Calm down so we don’t all come tumbling down the stairs. That’s all your mother needs right now.”
She gave me a look like she’d like to scratch my eyes out but I’d survived several such attempts and was prepared to do what I had to. She didn’t help with Burt Jr. but she didn’t add to the problems I had getting him up the stairs either. We were three-quarters up when Sawyer came to help. He took one look at Rissa’s expression and put her against the wall; he wasn’t rough but he wasn’t gentle either.
“You will NOT cause problems. You WILL mind Kay-Lee without giving her any lip. I come back and find you’ve been any size or shape of a problem and I will turn you over to the aunts for the duration. I find out any of your slack-jawed friends were in on this and you better pray … that’s all I’m saying. You got that girl?”
After a brief moment of defiance she crumbled. “They hit me! They HIT me!”
“Yeah and from what your mother said they did worse to some of the others including your little brother. Stop being a spoiled brat pain in the ass and grow up already. Get in there and help with your mother.”
She scrambled to get away from him. I tried to send Burt Jr. after her but he clung to me. Sawyer finally picked him up and carried him into the room. He put the boy in a chair by the bed but he slid to the floor and stayed there. I saw Sawyer had started a fire but had also locked the old-fashioned fire screen so it couldn’t be gotten to without the key that went with it.
He pulled me into the hallway. “I have to go. Delly didn’t say much before she passed out but a group of about two dozen people came to their place. Claimed they were looking for Mason. Something went wrong and shooting started. She saw Burt fall and then most of the others run off but two of them. Those two grabbed her and the kids, roughed ‘em up, then said they were coming here.”
“Paybacks. From what they said they were the ones with Mason the morning he came here to create trouble. Babe I’ve got to go.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Not much does right now,” he growled while throwing on his heavy jacket after tying his boots on. He stopped and then grabbed me in a tight hug. “Babe … I … I gotta.”
I decided rather than throwing a hissy and delaying the inevitable that I would do what I could. “While you go put some extra shells in your pockets I’m gonna throw some jerky in a bag for you.”
I left Sawyer only long enough to hobble to the kitchen pantry as quickly as I could and grab one of the snack bags that I’d started making up for Sawyer to take when he left the house. I was always worried that he’d get stuck someplace and no one would think to offer him anything to eat. It had happened enough times that I never had to worry about the bags going stale. I also poured what was left of the lukewarm coffee into a thermos. It wouldn’t taste great but it was thick, dark, high test, and that’s about all a Hartford needs. Hot would have been nice but wasn’t necessary in the scheme of things.
By the time I got back Sawyer had added some layers over his long johns, put his coat on, and added his rifle and a hand gun to the shot gun he had already been carrying. I wished one of the cousins was around to back him up but there was nothing I could do to make it happen. I handed him the bag and the thermos for which I got another kiss.
“Bolt the door Babe and don’t open it for anyone but Gramps, Uncle Ned, or Uncle James.”
“And Tommy and …”
“No,” he said harshly before drawing a breath. “Kay-Lee … Babe … just do as I’m asking you to. Don’t open it for anyone but me and those three. Tommy and … and some of the others … are good guys but it wouldn’t take much to break ‘em down if they threatened the right person. So just mind me on this so my mind can be at ease.”
“Sure Sawyer. Just promise me … be careful.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “And don’t let Rissa push you around. She’ll maybe try but no matter my sister or Burt Jr., you can’t let her get away with it or she’ll just keep trying to run you over. Once she figures out she can’t she’ll settle down.”
“Don’t worry about me … or the others. You … you just be careful. And come back. Soon.”
“Soon as possible. Now give me another kiss to warm me up and then you bolt this door. And remember …”
“I’ll remember. Gramps, Uncle Ned, Uncle James … no one else.”