Saddled and Spurred

By: Lorelei James
Chapter One



“You’re firing me?” Harper Masterson stared at her boss.

Alice Samuels, owner of the Tan Your Hide beauty emporium, jammed a darkly tanned hand through her salt-and-pepper curls. “Harper, honey, it ain’t nothin’ personal. People ain’t spending money on luxuries, like maintaining a year-round tan and buying customized facial products, when the economy is in the toilet. I gotta close up shop. Truth is, I should’ve done this a few months ago, but I knew . . .”

That you needed the job.

Harper bit the inside of her cheek, hard, to keep from crying—a trick she’d learned from her older sister, Liberty. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, Alice.”

“I know you do. You’ve still got your job at Get Nailed, right?”

She nodded absentmindedly. She’d taken the job at Tan Your Hide last year because working part-time as a nail technician wasn’t paying the bills after the Tumbleweed Motel had closed for the season and she’d lost her job cleaning rooms. For the hundredth time Harper cursed her mother for taking off. She cursed this town for its limited opportunities. She cursed herself for the lack of schooling that would’ve given her a wider range of choices.

“Harper? You okay? You’re awful quiet.”

Harper glanced at Alice, but she couldn’t muster even a small smile. “I’ll be fine. What are you going to do now?”

“Roger is coming tomorrow to load the tanning beds. I got a line on a place in Casper that wants them. I’ll keep my inventory of beauty products and sell ’em outta my house.”

“Does the landlord have another renter lined up?” But it was probably too much for Harper to hope that another business would move into Muddy Gap, which boasted less than a dozen businesses—total.

Alice shook her head. “I’m afraid we’ll have another empty storefront. Sad, how this town is dyin’.”

Dying? This town had been dead since the day Harper’s mother had dragged them here. Problem was, Harper was stuck, at least for another few months, until her younger sister, Bailey, graduated from high school. Then Bailey could realize her dream of attending college. Since Bailey had been through so much in the last year and a half, Harper didn’t want to add more stress by admitting that she’d lost yet another low-paying job.

Three months. Harper needed to find work for just a little over three months. Then they both could shake the Wyoming sage off their shoes and move on with their lives.

She gave the space one last, wistful look. “I’ll miss this place.” She glanced at her boss, even more misty-eyed. “Mostly I’ll miss you, Alice.” Harper removed the front door key from her key ring, set it on the glass-topped counter, and snagged her winter coat from the closet.

As Harper untangled the fringe at the end of her fuchsia scarf, Alice said, “Wait. I have something for you,” and handed her a slip of paper.

Harper squinted at the paycheck, written out in Alice’s flowery scrawl. The amount was a hundred dollars off. She passed it back. “You made a mistake. This is too much.”

Alice squeezed Harper’s hand. “Consider it severance pay.”

She waffled, hating to take charity in any form, but the reality was ... she needed the cash.

“Please,” Alice said.

Pride wouldn’t pay the bills. “Okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Alice leaned in to hug Harper, enveloping her in the scent of Emeraude perfume. “Take care of yourself, Miss Harper. We’ll see each other again. Muddy Gap ain’t that big.”

And that was the biggest problem.



The bitter January wind stung Harper’s cheeks as she trudged to the small rented cottage she called home. Numb, not only from the weather but with dismay, she went on autopilot and fixed herself a cup of tea. Donning her robe and slippers, she curled into the couch and gazed out the window as she mentally listed the businesses in Muddy Gap.

Buckeye Joe’s, the only bar in town.

The Horseshoe Diner, the lone restaurant in town.

Dunlap’s, the only feed store and gas station in town.

C-Mart, the sole convenience/grocery store in town.

Danke Law Office.

The Tumbleweed Motel, the only motel in town.

Bernice’s Beauty Barn, the lone hair salon, which also housed Get Nailed, the only nail salon in town.

McMasters Farmers union   Insurance, the only insurance agency in town.

Wyoming First Credit union  , the only bank in town.

The Methodist Church.

The Lutheran Church.

The Baptist Church.

The Catholic Church.

Yeah, Harper’s options were limited. Severely limited.

Susan Williams, owner of Buckeye Joe’s, would never hire her, since Harper’s mother, Dawn, the former cocktail waitress at Buckeye Joe’s, had run off to Mexico with Susan’s husband, Mac, eighteen months ago.

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