One couldn’t find two siblings more different than Romeo and Romilla Beaumort. Where Romeo had always been the softer, calmer one, Romilla had been the quintessential wild child. Where Romeo was more interested in living the easy life, he could never understand his sister’s fascination with guns, violence and bloodshed. The only saving grace for the brother-sister had been their parents who had allowed their children to grow as they had wanted.

When Romeo and Romilla turned eighteen and it was time for them to choose partners, Romeo expressed his desire to remain unmarried. There was a mild scandal at that declaration but the Beaumorts had enough fingers in enough pies to calm any prolonged wagging of tongues.

Romilla, however, though ready to marry, shocked everyone when she chose J.D. Verd. An unassuming farmer who loved his land more than Romilla loved him, their marriage was often the subject of gossip in Lowso’s high society. Of course nobody discussed it in front of Romilla (she had a temper).

But Romilla loved Verd dearly and so did Romeo. Verd was perhaps the only thing that Romeo and Romilla could agree on. And Verd was the (hitherto missing) bridge between the two siblings and the three of them lived a peaceable existence until Lincoln Eastwood came into the picture.

No one in Lowso knew how the Eastwoods had collected their enormous wealth. No one dared ask questions either because questions were often met with a gun pointed directly at your head. But the Eastwoods had enough of a bad reputation to leave Lowso’s female population sighing with longing into their kerchiefs and enough of a good reputation to allow them entry into Lowso’s high society. It also helped tremendously that the Eastwoods were blessed with god-like looks, charm and luck.

Now Lincoln Eastwood fancied himself in love with Romilla. He had decided to go on a quest to impress his ladylove and thus win her affection. Romilla, taking advantage of his absence and having no intention of marrying the alpha male, decided to indulge her affections and charmed the pants right off Verd and into her marriage bed. She assumed she’d give Lincoln one of her smiles and he would allow her to keep her happy ending.

She should have known Eastwoods took their quests, love and betrayal very seriously.

Eastwoods had threatened to kill many families in Lowso and it had become a point of pride to be on the Eastwoods’ Kill List. When Romilla and J.D. Verd’s name came onto that venerable list, no one took the threat seriously.

The Beaumorts were in the midst of organizing an intimate gathering to celebrate their daughter’s marriage when the Eastwoods sent an acceptance to the invitation that had not been extended to them. Unsure of how to interpret the acceptance, the Beaumorts decided maybe the threat was behind them. The gathering had gone smoothly and though the Beaumorts had hired extra security to avoid or contain any violence, it had been unnecessary. The security had only served to transport the inebriated guests to their homes at 3 in the morning.

It wasn’t until Lola was born that the threat was revisited. As a gift of congratulations, the Verds had received the severed head of a child. This time taking the threat seriously, the Verds decided to leave Lowso behind and become farmers instead. Though Romilla terribly missed her life, the gift had truly terrified her and she had swallowed her pride and run.

Romeo had been on his way to the Verd Farmstead to celebrate Lola’s seventh birthday when things took a sinister turn. When Romeo reached, he had found a couple trembling with fear, hovering around Lola’s bed as if she’d disappear if they didn’t keep a hawk eye on her. Once Romeo had served them two stiff drinks, the story had come stumbling out.

The Verds told him how the Eastwoods had been sending Lola macabre gifts on her birthday. The gifts had lost their sting after the initial three. Romilla had made a joke about it and despite Verd trying his best to protect his family; the gifts had appeared, on time, every year. This year, the gift had been a lock of Lola’s hair. The Verds had refused to believe it was hers until they had found the corresponding chopped lock on her head. When they had questioned her, she had told them calmly that a man had promised her a pony if she would let him cut a lock of her hair.

As promised, the pony had arrived – maimed and bleeding. But Lola hadn’t cared. She had got her wish.

That night, as Lola slept in her bed, dreaming of her new pony, Romeo and the Verds made a plan to end the harassment. It was a good plan. It might have even worked. But they did not factor in that when an Eastwood had a grudge, he held onto it as tenaciously as a hungry babe its mama’s teat.


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