Caroline Fyffe

Excerpt: Sourdough Creek

Historical Western Romance

Chapter One

Broken Branch, Nevada Territory, June 1851

I don’t want to call you Cassidy,” Josephine announced boldly. Her eyes filled and her bottom lip wobbled. “You’re Cassie. My sister.”

Cassie almost winced at the distressed expression on her little sister’s face. But there was no changing what had to be done. Time had run out. “From now on, and until I say different,” she responded, looking into her sister’s eyes to make her point known, “I’m Cassidy, your brother. Remember that.”

Cassie smeared some dirt down Josephine’s cheek and a tad more across her forehead for good measure. She rubbed a little on her own neck, too, just enough to seem as if she hadn’t bathed in a good while.

Picking up shears, she lifted a handful of sun-colored locks from her sister’s head and, with a sound akin to cutting wool, wacked it off one inch from the roots, leaving only thick stubble behind. A cry tore from her sister’s throat as she pulled back.

“Sit still, Josephine. I’ve told you a hundred times this is only for a while.” She sectioned off another portion and cut, unmindful of the tears running down Josephine’s cheeks. “It’ll grow back, when this is all over.” The younger girl wiped her face with the back of her hand and nodded compliantly.

Forcing a smile, Cassie continued to cut. “I’ll call you Joey. That’s short for Joseph. It won’t be so bad. Think of it—as a boy you can get away with all sorts of shenanigans. Remember Clarence? How he’d tell his ma lies and make rude noises? Well, I don’t expect you to be fibbing, but being a boy does have some advantages.”

Her little sister chewed on her bottom lip, considering her sister’s words. “Can I spit and holler?”


Love lifted Cassie’s chest. Josephine, only five, was strong and resilient. She was a survivor, a true testament to their ma’s goodness. How Cassie wished her ma was here with them now. Every fiber of her being ached with the unbearable sadness of the loss.

Prickly heat burned behind Cassie’s eyes but she willed the emotion away. She’d even appreciate the help of her Uncle Arvid, if he were around. Provided that he was sober. Despite being almost twenty years old, she wasn’t used to being the sole decision maker of the family.

Finished, she helped Josephine, who now resembled a moth-eaten little muskrat, off the pine cupboard and set her on the floor. She held her by the shoulders and looked into her face. “Go put on the dungarees I altered for you. Use the cord for a belt.”

Josephine’s face was resolute, her beautiful hair already forgotten. Her gaze held all the trust in the world. I wish she wouldn’t do that. A whirl of dread cramped Cassie’s insides and she looked away from her sister’s innocent blue eyes.

Go on now. Be quick. Make sure everything is in your satchel. There’s not much time to cut my own hair before those good-for-nothing Sherman brothers show up.”

She rubbed the top of Josephine’s fluffy head. “And don’t you go thinkin’ you’re the only special one, now, you hear?” Ignoring her request, Josephine stood rooted in place.

Cassie had no time to push her along. She propped the cracked mirror against the wall, angling it back and forth until she found her reflection. Gathering her waist length chestnut hair behind the nape of her neck, and before she could think twice, she cut it off just under her ears. The blunt remains swung loosely around her face. She swallowed, looking at her reflection. “There.”

Josephine’s eyes narrowed. “It ain’t as short as mine.”

Cassie picked up the mirror to get a closer look. “That’s because I’m older. I’m tying it with a cord, like the older boys do.” Replacing the mirror she took a thin strip of leather from her pocket and raked her hair back with her fingers, tying it in a knot, taut against her scalp.

Josephine scrunched her face. “It don’t look too good.”

“It’s not supposed to. Question is, do I look like a boy?”


Cassie plunked a tattered old hat on her head. “Now?”

Josephine nodded, wide-eyed.

“That’s good enough, then. Run, put your clothes on. Time’s short.”

Cassie was just finished binding her smallish breasts and pulling her chemise over her head when a loud pounding sounded on the front door. Josephine came dashing into the room and threw her arms around her waist with the strength of Samson. “They’re here!”

She peeled Josephine’s arms from her body and quickly threaded her own arms into the bulky, green plaid shirt of her boy costume. “Go into Miss Hawthorn’s bedroom and lock the door. Scoot under the bed and cover yourself with the quilt I put there, just like I showed you. Make sure nothing is sticking out. I’ll call when the coast is clear.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

The doorknob rattled violently, jiggling back and forth. Josephine’s eyes grew large and frightened.

Cassie wished she believed the words she was about to say. “Don’t you worry a smidge,” she whispered hurriedly.

We’ll be eating cherry pie before you know it. Bristol Sherman isn’t worth a barrel of monkeys. And neither is Klem. I’m way smarter than the two of ’em put together. Once I tell them Arvid Angel has moved on and took his nieces with him, they’ll go away.”

“What if they don’t believe you?” Josephine asked quietly. “I wish Uncle hadn’t made ’em mad by stealing Klem’s watch.”

“We’re not even sure he did,” Cassie replied, not wanting her sister to think their uncle was a thief. “You just stay put under the bed.” She gave Josephine a little shove. “Go on, now.”

When her sister’s bottom lip wobbled, Cassie knelt down and pulled her into a comforting hug. Her little body was shaking uncontrollably. In a moment of painful clarity it occurred to Cassie that this could be it. This could be goodbye!

Cassie put her face just inches from Josephine’s. “You know Psalm 23. I want you to say it to yourself over and over.”

When Josephine didn’t move Cassie began, “‘The Lord is my shep—’”

A pounding on the door rattled the room. Trying to ignore it, Cassie took Josephine’s hands into her own and gave them a little shake. “Come on, sweetie, say it with me. ‘there is nothing I lack.’” As Josephine’s raspy little voice melded with her own, Cassie turned her sister’s body toward Miss Hawthorn’s room and gave an encouraging push. “Go on now and do as I say. Hurry.”

Josephine moved away, her whispered words scarcely audible.

“And remember, be quiet as a mouse.”

“I will, Cassie. I promise,” she called in a small voice over her shoulder.

Cassie snatched her ivory cameo off the dresser, and with fumbling fingers pinned it to the bodice of her chemise, hiding it beneath the heavy shirt. She heard her mother’s words as if she were standing here before her. “Take my guardian angel cameo. I pass it on to you.”

Boot steps moved across the porch toward the parlor window. She cinched up the rope around her waist, making sure the knot was securely tightened. The pounding sounded again, but this time on glass with a force so great Cassie was sure it would break the pane.

Cassie hefted her pa’s Colt 45 from the mantle and hooked it inside her pants on the rope belt, making sure her shirt concealed the bulge. “Hold your britches on,” she shouted back crossly, forcing the deepest voice she could muster. “I’m comin’!”

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