Hop on the Bus

Gus has always dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by becoming a Marine. A talented trumpet player, his goal is to join the Drum and Bugle Corp but he’ll need grants and scholarships to pay for college. Without a Musical Arts degree, his dreams will wither on the vine. 


When his guidance counselor advises Gus to increase his community involvement, he realizes he needs to overcome his fear of social interaction and reach out to Shannon Poplin, a talented violinist who plays in charity events for veterans and the elderly. 


Initially approaching Shannon is difficult, but nothing when compared to navigating first love.


Will Gus find the courage to build a relationship with the beautiful violinist? Find out in Hop on the Bus, a sweet new-adult romance.



Available December 10th on Amazon.


Click HERE to purchase.


2020 Romance of the Year on two different fiction sites.








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                                                              COYOTE EYES 

 

Coyote was as old as the wind. Having seen everything and done everything, he grew weary and bored. Coyote spoke to the sky and the creatures that flew and said “Tell me your stories.” They did, and Coyote delighted in their tales. Coyote spoke to the waters and the creatures that swam and said “Tell me your stories.” They did, and Coyote delighted in their tales. Coyote spoke to the earth and the creatures that walked, crawled, ran, and hopped and said “Tell me your stories.” They did, and Coyote delighted in their tales.


When the day came that there were no more tales, Coyote grieved. 


One day Coyote’s sister, Thunder, came to him. “You have not told us your tales, Coyote.” Realizing that she was right, he remembered his own stories. His brothers and sisters came to him, night after night, and listened. Brother Bear sat and listened to Coyote speak. Sister Hawk rested on a branch to hear the stories. One by one, they all came. 


Coyote spoke on and on, finding delight in his own tales. Father Moon chased Mother Sky as she fled into the night again and again and still Coyote spoke. Finally, his tales were complete. He had no more stories. His sisters left. His brothers left. Coyote was alone. 


Mother and Father chased each other from the sky many more times. Coyote approached Sister Thunder. “I have a new tale.”


She calmed herself, lowered her rumble, and listened to his story. When he finished, she was silent for a moment.


“But Coyote, that never happened.”


“Was it a good story?”


“Yes, but it never happened.”


“But it was good to listen to? It tickled the mind and brought pleasure?”


“Yes… But…”


With a laugh of delight, Coyote was off. He had new tales. 


There was no counting how many times Mother Sun chased Father Moon, but eventually, Coyote heard whispers of new tales. Creatures were coming from the north and from the south. They were called men and women and they brought the promise of stories. They settled in The Land and Coyote would take their form to walk amongst them. 


Listening, always listening, Coyote took delight in these new tales. New men and women came, this time from the east. They brought endless new stories. Coyote again took the form of a man and traveled The Land. With a wagon he bargained for, and the whispered advice of the things that grew in the earth, he was now Calvin Barker of Calvin’s Healing Elixers.


Felina sat with her back to the wall and whiled away the hours sipping whiskey and waiting for the man with her money. She no longer took jobs that paid when they were done. Spending the years since Lance died making her reputation, she didn’t have to. 


They had loved each other, but his emotions were a flame that burned hot and bright. When he saw her getting pawed at by Bud Oaksley, he felt his neck getting warm. When she rebuffed Oakley and the man reared back to punch her, Lance put two bullets in him.


Knowing he’d get strung up, he fled El Paso. The famous Tommy Oaksley came to town to get revenge for his little brother. Finding Lance gone, he took out his frustrations on Felina, scarring her good and putting her to work in a brothel. 


When Lance found out, he returned. He had a friend with him and they killed seven of Oaksley’s men, but the love of her life was shot in the back. As Oaksley stood above Lance, she picked up a gun from one of the dead and put a bullet in his head. Felina had begun her reputation, but now she was the Oaksley-killer that had to flee El Paso. 


Felina was taught by hard men who didn’t mind sharing what they knew. She learned that she was a deadshot, had a fast hand, and didn’t mind dealing with those that needed killing.


Wincing as she put down the bottle, Felina flexed her hand and silently bemoaned the pain in her elbow. Men near the doorway began to gather and look out to the street. Unless they were staring at the man coming with the job offer and her money, she didn’t care. 


The voice drifted into the saloon. “Gentlemen, do you suffer from the flux? Do your knees ache and hands tremble? Have you associated with a lunger of late? Are you finding difficulty rising to the occasion? Well, Calvin’s Healing Elixers will cure what ails you! And what will it cost you? A pittance! Some coin from your pocket and a story from your heart. What type of story? Why, whatever story matters most to you! Let me share a few with you good folk.”


He had a voice you couldn’t ignore. It caressed your ear and seduced your soul. Felina sat at her table as he told his tales of people who were cured of an array of maladies by his elixirs. When he finished regaling the crowd, he took customers into his wagon, one by one. They all seemed happy as they left. 


Felina shook herself and it was as if a cloak of cobwebs fell from her shoulder. She’d been mesmerized by his words and realized she’d left her table long ago and stood by the doorway, watching him speak. 


Slowly, she went back and sat down. 


A short, twitchy man with an overly long mustache walked in, spotted Felina, and walked her way. Fingers nervously brushing his red handlebar whiskers, he used his foot to pull back a seat. 


“May I?”


She nodded and signaled the saloon owner for another glass. 


“So, uh, you her?”


Felina’s long, graceful finger ran along the longest of her scars. “I’m her.”


“Alright, then.” He pulled a pouch out of the saddlebag he had over his shoulder. “Here’s the money. It aint much. A bunch a German settlers getting kicked off their land after some silver was found. Claims office had what they’re calling an accident. Burned right down.”


“How far?”


“Bout a weeks ride north.”


She lifted the pouch, weighed it in her hand and frowned. “Gold?”


“Every bit.”


“Still light.”


He nodded. “It is. Your choice. Gotta tell you, they got women and children with them.”


Felina frowned. “No more than a week?”


“Maybe eight days, maybe six. Probably a week.”


She sighed. “Alright, tell me what I’m up against.”


Three weeks later, Felina found herself wounded in the leg, barely less impoverished, and in the small town of San Pellito. As she poured a drink, the pain in her elbow caused her to spill a quarter of the bottle. Grimacing, she carefully set it down and sipped what found its way into her glass. 


The voice rode the dry, hot air as it entered the cantina from the street. 


“Ladies and gentlemen! Does sleep elude you? Do you awaken to pain and stiffness? Does your vision fade in the dawn and the dusk? Well, Calvin’s Healing Elixers will make right what once was wrong!”


The sun was hanging low when he entered the cantina. Lean and wiry, he wore a black suit without a speck of dust. His pale grey-blue eyes seemed to gaze directly into Felina’s soul. She shivered as he walked to her table.


“You… call to me. So many deep, rich little stories you carry with you. They must weigh you down. Why not share their burden and let me help carry them?”


“What?”


“Tell me your stories.”


“Mister, I got pains that are setting my bones on fire. I suggest you peddle your horseshit elsewhere before my finger gets a hankering for a trigger.”


Coyote smiled. “Oh, this is delicious. This way of speaking is new to you, but so deeply burnt into who you now are. Tell me, what changed you? We shall trade. What is your most persistent health concern?”


There was a pause. “I fell in a fight. Hit my elbow on a bar. Something’s wrong with it. Slows my draw and tilts my aim.”


He clapped twice, a deep smile on his face. “Alright. We will fix this issue and you shall tell me your story. If you are not healed of this concern, you owe me no story. Couldn’t be more fair than that.”


They had dinner together and headed to his wagon as the sun set. Larger than a Conestoga, it was pulled by two large horses and was a portable home. As they sat comfortably, Calvin raised his hands and rolled up his sleeves. 


“You’re elbow, you say? May I take a look?”


She marveled at the array of draughts in the wagon. There were liquids of every conceivable color in glass vessels. Some liquids were colored and layered, with blue on the bottom, red above it, followed by green then blue. 


He examined her, tapped his chin as he pondered, and finally grabbed a small bottle with a teal liquid. 


“Here we are. Just the thing. All down in one gulp.”


Eyes narrowed in guarded acceptance, Felina drank it down. She began to feel warm and then tired. Her arm grew hot, focusing on the elbow. She stretched, pushed, and twisted, feeling no pain. 


“My bargain is fulfilled, yes? Now, onto yours. Why the change? I see happiness in your past. Dancing and music and soft hands to go with soft minds. What happened?”


She told him. Her story of who she had been and how that ended rolled from her tongue. She had known love, known friends, and known happiness and that was stolen from her by a vengeful outlaw. She told Calvin Barker how her greatest sorrow was the death of the man she loved and next to that loss was her inability to have children after what the outlaw did to her. 


Coyote sat back and listened, enthralled. This one had so many stories and they were so powerful. 


“Madam, I am in awe. You made me love your impetuous young man and hate your attacker. I normally ask that the healed share a bit of themselves, but not you. Come back and share another story with me whenever you need my help. I will never take any part of who you are.”


They would meet again and again and again and she would share her stories. Who hired her, why, and what she had to do would fill their nights. Felina would request healing of a wound, an old ache, or a broken bone, but never her scars. He wondered about that but never asked. 


Eventually, their evenings together grew into nights that extended until the mornings. She again found enjoyment in the arms of a man. She wondered if that was part of his healing, as that desire had been burned out of her long ago.


When they weren’t together, Calvin would deal with others. The lame, the sick, the damaged came to him and they had to pay what Felina didn’t. He took a piece of each of them and added it to his most prized elixirs. The part taken wasn’t large, and was rarely missed, but it held stories and memories that Coyote could feast on when he was of the mind to. 


He had his circuit and she had her jobs but they always seemed to find each other. Year after year they continued and Coyote began to feel something new. After countless years on Earth, he finally felt love. 


                                                                            *****


There came a day when Sister Wolf looked for her pups. They weren’t in their den. She searched the surrounding woodland. They were gone. She searched the drylands to the west and the wetlands to the east. They were nowhere to be found. Sister Wolf searched the hills and up into the mountains. She asked her brothers and her sisters. 


“Have you seen my pups? They are gone.”


“No.” said Brother Bear.


“No.” said Sister Elk. 


“No.”, “No.”, “No.”. One after the other, they answered her fear-filled question. 


Finally, Sister Wolf climbed the tallest mountain. It took all of her strength and all of her courage. At midday, she howled to the sky and asked Mother Sun.


“You who see everything, speak to your daughter. Where are my pups?”


Having mercy and feeling Sister Wolf’s pain, Mother Sun illuminated a cave far, far to the south. Having what was hidden made clear, Sister Wolf found the strength to run. She ran and ran and ran, finally coming to the mouth of the cave. 


She hesitated, not wanting to enter her deepest fears. Softly, she yelped. 


“Children, are you well?”


Sister Wolf heard the fearful whimpering, each distinct. Counting them, she at least knew that all her pups were alive. She entered, ready to kill whoever had stolen them. Confused, she sat back when they scurried from her, terrified. 


“What is this? Why are you afraid?”


There was a jumble of voices, all saying the same thing. “You are here to eat us.”


Tilting her head, Sister Wolf stared at her pups. “Why would you think I would eat you?”


“Brother Coyote told us.”


“Brother Coyote said I would eat you?”


“Yes. A tale we had to hear, he said.”


“I would never eat you. I would never harm you. Can you find your way home?”


“Where do you go, Mother?”


“Never has one of my brothers or sisters died. I go to see if I can change that.”


                                                                        *****


Tommy Oaksley’s son grew to be a man. That man grew to be a hunter. He had his father’s cruelty and his uncle’s sense of entitlement. His mother fed him a steady diet of whispered poison as a child. 


“You know why we live like this, Clifton? That whore with the scars. She killed your father. Shot him from behind like the coward she was.”


and


“You were born a prince, Clifton. She stole that from you. The scarred whore took everything from us.”


and


“You were meant for better things, Clifton. You have Oaksley blood running through your veins.”


The need to avenge his father’s death was like a toothache that wouldn’t go away. It was always there, just under the surface, agitating Clifton, pushing him and driving him to do more, to dare greater things.


Clifton and his friends followed in his father’s footsteps and became criminals. They killed for money or sport, robbed and stole on a whim, and became feared and wealthy. Eventually, he had enough money to send an emissary to hire Felina. They concocted a story of children at risk, offered more money than was necessary, and laid in wait. 


Felina sat in a makeshift saloon in Blue Valley Moon and watched the men play cards. They gave the quiet woman a wide berth. They’d heard rumors that they mostly discounted, but if even a tenth of them were true, prudence seemed the choice of the day. 


A large man entered and stood at the doorway. He turned slowly, taking in everyone with a challenging glare. He hit the spitoon from three feet away, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and headed to Felina’s table. 


It was one of those arid days when the very air sucked the moisture from your skin and mouth. As much as she drank, Felina was still thirsty. Thanks to Calvin, she was as hale as she’d been at eighteen. Still, she kept the scars. 


“You her?”


She raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. “You need a job done?”


“Not me, my boss.” He tossed a heavy sack on the table. “And a bank note for $20,000 more.”


She smiled. “For what? You need me to take on the Mexican army or maybe swim to Spain and kill the king?”


“Apache. He has a ranch down near Messilla. His wife, her brother and seven ranch hands and six other women. He was driving cattle when he got the news.”


“For $20,000 he wants me to take care of enough Apache to take down at least eight men?”


The large man shrugged. “Money’s negotiable.”


Felina shook her head. “I’m gonna sit this one out. Doesn’t feel right.”


“There’s more than a dozen kids.”


“Sorry. Bump up the pay. You’ll get good men to lend a hand.”


He looked as if he was going to argue, but finally stood and headed towards the door. The man was almost out of the saloon when he heard her voice.


Children were her weakness. Not able to have her own, every child to Felina was precious. Certain her scars would frighten them, she watched from a distance as they would play. She’d think of Lance, the man she’d loved and whose children she’d planned to raise and grow despondent. 


“How old are the kids?”


Smiling, he turned back around.


                                                                        *****


Felina leaned against a boulder, panting and holding her side. Blood slowly seeped out. 


It had been a setup. Someone had wanted her dead and she walked right into the ambush. She’d killed five of them, but she knew she couldn’t make it all the way to Messilla without a horse and she couldn’t stay where she was.


Felina was outnumbered, wounded, hunted and on her own. 


She moved slowly and carefully, traveling mostly at night. Her general plan was to follow the tracks of small animals and hope they brought her to water. Doing so under moonlight wasn’t easy, but the animals themselves helped. For some reason, they seemed to not know fear around her. Maybe they could sense her dying. 


Almost leading her, they’d enter her path, linger and move along slowly. She followed. Eventually, she came across Calvin’s wagon. There were wolf tracks all around and he was nowhere to be seen. Felina had to crawl inside and found difficulty in remembering what draughts he gave her for what ailments. 


Finally grabbing one almost at random, she drank it down. Immediately feeling tired, she stumbled to his bed. Upon awakening, she found the bullet had been pushed from her body and sat next to her with the wound closed. Drinking every bit of water in the wagon, Felina contemplated her next move. Was Calvin coming back? Did the wolf kill him? She shuddered at the thought and realized that there were only two men she’d loved in her life, and Calvin was one of them. 


If he was dead, she didn’t want to go on. Her ambushers had been stupid enough to use their names. The young man in charge was Clifton Oaksley. She knew he had to be the son of the man who gave her the scars and ensured she’d never have children. Felina decided she’d head to Messilla, regroup, rest and then head back and kill Oaksley. 


After that, the fates could have her. 


Calvin’s horses knew her. She fed them, groomed them and gave them water. Hitching them to the wagon, she headed out the next morning. It took two days to get to the town. The first order of business was whiskey. Placing a draught in an inside pocket of her coat, she was about to head out when she spied the other elixirs, the ones she’d never tried. They were layered with different coloring, some with as many as five vibrant hues. 


She put one in the other inside pocket and headed out. 


Walking through the swinging doors of the Raindrop Cantina, she saw Oaksley. He had a young woman on his knee and was talking loudly. 


“She killed my pa, like the coward she was. Now she’s food for vultures. Let that be a lesson to you. It took years, but an Oaksley—”


“Can’t shut up. I sure hope that was the end of your story, Oakley, ‘cause I’m about to kill you as dead as your father.”


She never saw the man who shot her in the back. Felina lay on the wooden floor, numb and groaning. Her mind froze as she flashed back to Lance laying in the front of a cantina, also shot in the back. As she started to blackout, she heard laughter. Oaksley’s laughter. Gritting her teeth, she reached into the pocket and pulled out the multicolored draught. 


Taking a swig, memories flooded her. As a young boy, she wrestled with her brother. They were evenly matched, having been taught by their French Canadian father. Turning her head, she saw the man who shot her. He was so close. Remembering again, she knew what to do. She’d done it before when she was twelve, before her voice changed. 


Twisting on the ground, she grabbed his calf with both her arms, slid one leg between his and the other towards his buttocks. Pulling, he topped to the ground. Yanking him halfway up, she used his body as a shield as she shot one of the men who now stood with his gun out. Felina then shot the man she was holding and scurried to the side of the bar. 


She was scared out of her mind. Felina had never wrestled in her life and had certainly never been a twelve-year-old boy. This draught was weaker than what she was used to and she had to deal with the searing pain. She took another swig. 


New memories flooded her. The cards on a nearby table pulled her eyes like they were a magnet. So many late nights of gambling, so many tricks of the road. As she had so many times before to try to get a glance at another man’s hand, she surveyed the glass in the room. A reflection betrayed an older woman with a grimace who held a gun in both hands. Felina turned and shot, putting a bullet in the woman’s head. 


“Ma!” Oaksley screamed. 


Felina shifted, still feeling some stiffness. Her third swallow from the bottle was silver. The image of the badge came unbidden. Always the badge. She was neat and clean, representing the law as she should. Oaksley’s crimes came to mind. She could recite them effortlessly. The personality washed over her and she became Arthur Condit, Texas Ranger. 


The ranger shot two men and Oaksley was alone.


No… No, she was Felina. She wouldn’t let some long ago memory steal this moment from her. Wrenching her mind from the false memories, she steeled herself. Forcing her hand to stop its shaking, she stared at the man who’d set her up. 


“What… what are you?”


“I’m your death, Clifton Oaksley.”


His hand reached for his gun. Hers was faster.


She soon left town with Calvin’s wagon. Never again did Felina see the man who had healed all but her scars, but she had more than his memories to sustain her.


                                                                    *****


“Here, Mama. I brought you some cobbler.”


She smiled down at little Calvin’s handsome face and couldn’t understand why people were sometimes put off by his grey-blue eyes. 


“Thank you, baby. Go back to play now.”


A few minutes later Felina saw him with his friends as he told them one of his stories.


                                                                *****


But my love for Felina is strong and I rise where I've fallen

Though I am weary, I can't stop to rest

I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle

I feel the bullet go deep in my chest


From out of nowhere, Felina has found me

Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side

Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for

One little kiss and Felina good-bye


El Paso

Marty Robbins