“Jones,” Stud said quickly before she could remember. Something didn’t feel right.
“I was going to my aunt’s when I had a little trouble and broke down,” Judy said. “I ran across Stud and here we are.”
“Why are you traveling out here by yourself? There’s all kind of unsavory characters about.”
Something in Stud’s belly said that this man was on of those unsavory characters.
“But you folks hungry? There’s a little stew from last night you could have.” The man put the pot over the fire and said, “We’ll just give that a couple minutes.”
“Thank you so much,” Judy said. “I’m so hungry.”
“Consider yourself welcome,” the man said. “I’m Bill O’Keefe.”
Stud was quiet. He couldn’t think of any O’Keefes in his family history. And granted, his knowledge wasn’t great, but it was enough to remember if there was an O’Keefe out there.
Especially when it came to something as sacred to his father as this land.
Judy was inching closer to the fire. She’d been chilled through from the night and the walk. He was just glad she was getting warm and they were getting some food.
Once they got out of this situation, they’d figure out where they’d go.
“I was going to take my aunt into Salt Lake for a wedding,” Judy said.
Bill laughed. “One of them big Mormon weddings? That’s only a big Mormon wedding because all the other wives are gonna be bridesmaids and it’s secret otherwise?” He guffawed to himself. “I don’t know how they think they can keep that a secret, you know?”
The shiver went down Judy’s back. “That’s still going on?”
“You should know if you were heading into Salt Lake, there, Judy,” Bill said.
Stud didn’t particularly care for the way he said it like Judy didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.
“Been a long time since I was there,” Judy said.
Stud fought to not wrinkle his nose. She was just going to let Bill try to make her feel stupid and she was going to make excuses for it.
But he couldn’t be blameless in this either. He’d certainly done it to the women he’d dated. He couldn’t just say he was an enlightened creature now.
Judy sat near the fire, holding her hands out and relaxing marginally. Bill took a scoop of the stew and plopped it into the metal bowl, then handed it to her. He did the same for Stud.
The stew was thin and poor, but it was better than nothing. It was better than the hunger raging in their bellies and they ate with gusto.
“Thank you so much,” Judy said after a minute. “I didn’t plan on any of this happening.”
Nothing could be closer to the truth.
“You folks have horses?”
She shook her head.
“What are you going to do?” Bill asked, eyebrow raised.
“We’ll be fine. With a little food in our bellies and the warmth of your fire, we’ll be just fine. Thank you so much, Bill.”
Bill nodded once. “Maybe I’ll see you folks around.”
Stud held his hand out to Bill and Bill gave it a hearty shake. He opened the door and they were out into the morning.
“Come on, Boomer,” Stud called. Boomer was at their heels and they were walking down the hill at a goodly clip. He held his hand out to Judy and she took it.
“We’ve got to find my family,” he said. “Because as far as I recall, there are no Bill O’Keefes tied up with this land. My dad loved it up here and if there was an O’Keefe, he would have been all about it.”
She shivered. “Claim jumpers?”
Stud nodded. “Something like it.”
“I hope they don’t know about that vein we found.”
“I just hope my people are in a reasonable place. Down near the water and all that. Because up here, it’s just pretty silly. That water wasn’t much and it was just…” He shook his head.
“I’m glad he wasn’t crazy to us,” Judy said.
“Someone else lived there with him. Another man. Maybe it’s good we were there with just Bill.”
Judy tightened her hand on his. “We’ll figure this out. I’m just going to wonder how we can find out the year without sounding like crazy people.”
He laughed. “Exactly.”
With the food in their bellies and the warmth in their limbs, the walk down the slope was much more pleasant. It almost felt like a ramble except for the lack of hydration bags and snacks.
They walked and laughed, looking over the green valley as spring took hold. The early grass growing and the potential for so much beauty.
Boomer ran around them and bounded through the grass.
“What’s Boomer going to eat?” she asked.
“I saw Bill give him a chunk of meat. Probably another dog lives there.”
The shudder went through Judy and transmitted up her hand. “Glad they weren’t there.”
“We’ll find out.”